Tuesday, November 25, 2008

0811251300 Uncle Dan.

One of my earliest memories of Uncle Dan is of him competing in a motorbike race. He was racing for something that was apparently worth risking his neck for when he was involved in an accident.
It was a bright day, the track was out in a field that had just the right amount of rolling green hills to make seeing the entire race almost impossible. As a kid, I was looking for the motorbikes, but they were always going into a valley where I could not see them. Suddenly, Everyone seemed very concerned – Dan was in some sort of accident – he came off his bike and, according to the story that I was told when I was five years old, another rider ran over his arm.

Later, much later, about 25 years later, Uncle Dan told me more about what happened. There are no details on who, what or how this particular accident occurred, but it does not take a great imagination to see how an accident just might possible when a bunch of young amateur motorbike enthusiast get together for the sole reason of seeing who can go the fastest.

Dan came off his bike and in a manner that is feared by bike riders, he slid along the rough hot asphalt, rolled into the gravel and finally stopped on the edge of the track with, among other injuries, a broken nose, a broken arm, various cuts, abrasions and a temporally deflated ego. He was smacked in the face by a racetrack at a speed that can be described as "as fast as I can go" and it sure made his eyes water. Dan just lay there, on his back, gathering his thoughts, with his eyes closed. There was blood on his face and his eyes were stinging. He heard the approaching footsteps of a track marshal as he ran towards Dan, the marshal stopped nearby and there was a long silence. After a while the marshal started to walk away. "Aren't you going to help me?" Dan asked, mustering all the dignity that he could given that he could not see and his arm, between his elbow and his wrist, had an extra right-angle bend. The track marshal was surprised and said "Oh sure, I thought you were dead!"

Uncle Dan had some amazing stories about his adventurous outdoor lifestyle that frequently involved some sort of horrific injury. The stainless steel pins that held Dan's broken arm in place were later used as a macabre trophy for an athletic event at one of the fabulous family picnics.

Dan Nightingale 28/07/1934 - 23/11/2008.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

0811182030 Staff training day at Our Lady's Primary School

Sometimes I feel like I am an observer sitting inside David Nightingale's head and I am merely along for the ride, curious to see what he will do next.

When I was a soldier in the Australian army there were some instructors, who had no idea about political correctness, who said that if the Chinese wanted to take over Australia then all they would have to do is send one million troops into Darwin, unarmed and unprovisioned and then simply surrender. The whole idea of this mythical Chinese tactical masterplan would be that the Australian army would not have the local resources to manage one million Chinese prisoners of war and would then, and in a manner that was never explained to my satisfaction, surrender to the Chinese. Some of the army instructors that I worked with had actually been in a war when they were young men and while I was in primary school, and although they never mentioned the Chinese specifically, they did mention a few of Australias northern neighbors.

I was thinking about what these army instructors said about a Chinese invasion the other day while travelling on a bus full of Chinese Catholic Nuns on my way to the Chinese border. It was one of those moments when I asked myself “What am I doing and how did I get here?”. As an Australian soldier, one of my main tasks was to avoid going to the Chinese border. The Chinese Catholic school at which I work had a staff training day and we all went to the Mai Po wetlands. It is a sanctuary for migrating birds and thousands of migratory birds go to Mai Po on their way to Australia from Siberia.

We all had a pleasant day at Mai Po walking, talking about life the universe and everything and being generally relaxed. Although I have worked at the school for nearly a year, I have not met some of the other teachers because we are all in classes at the same time - so the only time we see other teachers is for a few minutes in passing. It can take days to exchange pleasantries in this manner. The department head for the English program, Catherine, was the Chinese teacher that drew the short straw and had to be an interpreter for me all day. We mostly talked about languages.

The Mai Po bird sanctuary is like a military base. Visitors are reminded to avoid wearing bright colored clothing that may disturb the flora and fauna - it is this minor detail that makes the dedicated staff take this small point seriously and wear camouflage. There was even a wildlife scientist who was riding a camouflaged mountain bike. The guided tour took us to an interesting observation post overlooking the lake. The entrance to the observation post was via a covered walkway set up so that the birds would not be disturbed.

The observation post was a three story high rustic timber building made from solid railway sleepers and built in the style of a Chinese army field shelter type ZW-45 sans OHP. The design had been adapted from a military design for the avian scientists - the machine gun mounts had been replaced with camera tripods. The building had small but serviceable open windows on every side. The minimal area makes a small target. Each station had a diagram of the view with labels showing the distinct features. This is the standard operating procedure for artillery forward observers. There were a few bird watchers who reminded me of an anti-aircraft crew – every time a bird flew past they would open fire with their cameras sporting huge telephoto lenses while panning smoothly across their arcs of fire. The whirring sound of motor drives replacing the din of a Chinese PGZ95 25mm machine gun. When the cameras stopped there would be a short debrief while they gave a target description and damage report. I instinctively looked on the floor to see if there were any spent cart cases. I had such a mix of emotions.

We watched some scientist tagging and releasing some rare and endangered birds. It was all explained in great detail at the time, however I don't remember much of what was said because I only understood one out of every seven words. It only takes a few missing words to completely alter the gist of a story.

Lunch was fantastic. A huge Yum Char with all the staff. The delightful Chinese teachers decided to teach me some Chinese table manners. The sort of Chinese table manners where it is socially acceptable to drink from a bowl, slurp noodles and I literally can only begin to describe how we ate Bok Choi. As a foreigner, and only at first, it seemed strange to me to see educated, attractive and intelligent women elegantly spit chicken bones onto the table. I can eat using fie tse,( 筷子) but there is a lot more than just being able to pick up a ready-cut morsel. The real skill comes when trying to hold a chicken wing, and to hold it in such a way so as to keep control of all the bones but still be able to get to all the meaty bits without dropping anything. I did not feel entirely comfortable using the new table manners and so when it came to the "how to eat rice" lesson I shoveled some rice into my mouth Chinese style, but in an awkward sort of way that actually caused the very situation that I was trying to avoid, that is spilling rice on my chin. The happy Chinese teachers said that I should practice at home and that there would be a test on Monday. I have a new nickname – Chicken Bones.

They dared me to eat chicken’s feet.
They dared me to eat Pig’s skin.
They dared me to eat spicy seaweed.
They dared me to eat marshmallow.

Seeing as the meal is called Yum Char which means "Drink Tea" they naturally asked why I do not drink tea. I told them that there is a long story and a short story, but in the end of both stories I still don’t drink tea. The simple reason is this - I am too lazy. It seems to me that it is simply too much trouble to go through all that mucking about with boiling water, tea bags, tea cups and waiting. Waiting for the water to boil, waiting for the tea to steep and then waiting for whole thing to cool down again. I will not even mention the ghastly process of cleaning up. The whole rigmarole does not pass the “effort vs. reward” test. Same for coffee, mostly the same for hot chocolate.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

0811152230 I have my Vespa back

I have my Vespa back.

The repairs took about 37 days – most of that time was waiting for parts. Enough said.