Friday, February 27, 2009

0902271700 Proof

The other day I was talking with some of the other teachers at the Chinese Catholic Girls School at which I work and one of them kind of, in a friendly, happy, joking sort of way, expressed some doubt that I could have had more than one job in the forty odd years that I have been keeping an even tally on the number of times that I have breathed in and breathed out. It seemed to me that one of the only ways to convince her that I really have had a varied career path would be to simply show her a picture of me doing the various jobs.

It was not that simple. I sent an email to one of my old friends at Telstra and politely asked him, as a special favor, if he could look in a particular file for a picture of me working on the roof of a telephone exchange installing an antenna. I may have mistaken the name of the town because my friend could not find the picture. It was not there. The picture may have been removed because it was damning evidence that I was not wearing a safety harness while working at heights – but I doubt it. It is odd that even though
I worked for Telstra for about 15 years, I don’t have a picture of me actually working. There are no pictures of me working at my desk, no pictures of me carrying test equipment and no pictures of me managing the design and construction of any particular mobile phone tower. None. I do, however, have hundreds of photos of where I worked and of projects in various states of completion, but none of me at the site, on the job, actually working. It’s like I was never there. It is as if Winston Smith, while working at the Ministry of Truth, received a request via his telescreen to make me an un-person.

" Your name was removed from the registers, every record of everything you had ever done was wiped out, your one-time existence was denied and then forgotten. You were abolished, annihilated: vaporized was the usual word." George Orwell, 1984.

The only record of what I actually did while working from 7:30am to 17:00 for five days a week for
fifteen odd years is safely hidden from the prying eyes of the general public in the Brisbane Telstra office basement, in the dark, on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying 'Beware of the Leopard'."

I did manage to dig up a few photos of me of when I was in the army. Although I constantly carried a camera around with me for years while on an army exercise, I took very few pictures. I was always too busy with some sort of machine gun thingy that they made me carry. It would have given the sergeant a raving conniption if I suddenly stopped the accurately aimed suppressing fire on that unarmed but altogether menacing figure eleven target just to take a quick happy-snap of the event to help explain to my mum exactly what I had been doing for the last three months. There was also the niggling
problem of deciding what would be an economical choice of subject. You see, I usually had only 36 or so pictures stored in a truly ingenious mechanical/chemical invention that consisted of a thin layer of flexible yet mechanically sturdy plastic that was evenly coated with a variety of special light sensitive chemicals. It was called “film” and I am told that film is still available in some parts of the world. Even though each picture only cost a few dollars to process, I only had about 36 pictures and I had to be prudent and wise in my choice of subject so that I had some pictures in case something really interesting happened. My camera had a self timer but I rarely pointed it at myself, there was no need – the proof was the picture – it was always generally assumed by the more reasonable portion of the population that a hardcopy print was evidence that you were actually there. Nowadays, you have to be in the picture. And even that carries some doubt due to the amazing skill some people have with photoshop.

George Orwell. 1984.
Douglas Adams. Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy.
This photo was taken somewhere on the Cape York Peninsula in Queensland Australia in 1987. That was my Land Rover and I don't remember the name of the guy in the front seat.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

0902162030. Things that cannot be explained before they are experienced.

0902162030. There are many things that cannot be explained before they are experienced firsthand.

There are some customs and manners in other countries cannot be explained until they are experienced. Sometimes it is impossible to understand the directions regarding how to operate a new appliance until you actually know how to use that appliance, only then do the instructions make
sense. The things that we need to know how to do, we learn by doing them.
When we arrived in Hong Kong we were told that we would need a certain appliance called a dehumidifier. This device was, as we were told by many friends and associates, essential to maintain a healthy living environment in the warm humid climate that is typical of any place that is as far north of the equator as Brisbane is south. The weather in Hong Kong lately has been indescribable – I have no other experience for a comparison: I have been hot on a humid day in the summer and I have been cold during on a dry day the winter, but lately it has been cold and humid. It doesn’t make sense. There is a thick fog over the beach while the local Chinese people go swimming. Do I wear shorts or a ski-jacket?

Vespa in the rain.
One of the many interesting things about a Vespa is the well-known historical fact that this gorgeous modern icon of personal transportation was designed by a brilliant aeronautical engineer who did not actually like motorbikes, in particular, he did not like the way that a typical motorbike offered no protection from the elements. In fact, on most motorbikes of the day, it was the rider that kept the machine dry.

The other day while scooting along the picturesque winding mountain roads on the south side of Hong Kong, the heavy grey skies sagged and the perfect combination of temperature and humidity was reached, clouds formed, saturation limits peaked and then, and only then, did it start to rain.
There are two major concerns that every motorcyclist has in this situation, first is adequate traction and the second is keeping dry. My little Vespa is fitted with a fairly new pair of Pirelli hoops so traction was not a real concern, not while commuting at a stately and dignified fifty kilometres per hour. Keeping dry was the next concern. A few seconds after the rain started I instinctively waited
for that familiar but unwelcome cold wet feeling of water seeping through the stylish outer layer of my chucks and chilling my dainty pair of tups. The first dreaded sign of impending cold feet is the noticeable absence of warmth, the comfortable feeling of warmth silently departs like a shy guest at a loud party, then the inkling of cold as the persistent rain tunnels its own torturous path past the shoe laces and through the loose weave fibres of pure cotton socks, and then, like a predator coming face to face with its victim, comes the inevitable cold, wet feet. It is futile to resist, pointless to do anything in response, the only remedy for wet feet is to get home and peel off the wet disgusting messy socks as if they were two dead lifeless soggy fish that died in an attempt to swallow whole, two oversized steamed Dim Sims. I waited, I waited a bit longer – the feeling never came. My feet stayed dry and warm. Apparently that front bit on a Vespa is there for a reason, not just style, not just to hold the headlight at a convenient height, not merely an engineering structure designed to add stability. It actually keeps the rider dry. Not only did my feet stay dry but most of the rest of me did also.

Friday, February 13, 2009

0902131900 Friday the 13th.

Happy New Year and Happy Chinese New Year. I have not checked the figures on this so any corrections would be welcome, but I think that Hong Kong has the most public holidays of anywhere in the world and surrounding districts. Australians are generally seen as fairly happy and relaxed due the amazing amount of holidays we enjoy and even our allies in the war against terror in the United States of America think themselves fairly lucky to have two weeks’ vacation per year – but here in the Special Administrative Region of the Peoples Republic of China we have just had two weeks off for Christmas, a brief and sobering five days at work, then another two weeks holiday for the Luna New Year. In five grueling weeks, there will be yet another two weeks off for Easter. All these holidays occur in the most lucrative and dynamic capitalist economies in the entire universe. Economists can talk all they like about productivity.

There are two perfectly correct and yet completely contradictory theories on relationships. One theory says that a couple, that is each person in a couple, has to constantly work at the relationship and always put the spouse first and constantly think of what can be done to make their collective lives better, happier, more fulfilling and more nutritious. The other more simple theory is that the couple will always get along if they simply like each other. This can almost be explained with another story:
When I was a soldier in the Australian army, I was taught how to fire a rifle with the accuracy needed to pass the marksmanship test. The test required that I fire five rounds into a five centimetre wide circle that is 100 metres away. To accomplish this
amazing feat a soldier simply holds the rifle in comfortable position and closes both eyes and gets very comfortable. The soldier then checks to see if the rifle is pointing at the target – if not, the soldier then moves his or her whole body so that the rifle naturally points at the target with no physical effort. This is the important phrase – with no physical effort. As much fun as it is to fire a few hundred rounds from a 7.62mm rifle at an innocent paper circle, the sad truth is anything, no matter how enjoyable, becomes work if it requires constant physical effort. The whole idea behind this marksmanship skill is that a rifle must point somewhere – even if, and especially if it is not being aimed on purpose, and that somewhere might as well be smack bang at the centre of the intended target.

So getting back to my theory on relationships, a couple that actually like each other with no effort should be happy for at least the rest of their lives and according to your belief in God, be happy for the remainder of eternity.

Facebook is soaking up my life – it is a time-sponge. I can use Facebook to post a few quick photo’s of my adventures but it doesn’t have the depth and feeling of a blog.

Our Lady’s Primary School.

Today was yet another celebration of the Luna New Year, apparently there is a need to have some kind of festivities for the waning of the moon when everyone returns to work so Sister Maria, the wonderful kind principal at the Chinese Catholic girls school at which I work decided to throw yet another party.
When I arrived at school, some students were wearing Red Cross uniforms and practicing marching. Marching up and down the square is a subject with which I am familiar and so I took some interest in the drill movements and wondered if the wonderful little Red Cross volunteers were doing Chinese or British drill movements. It looked familiar to me and so I guessed that the Hong Kong Red Cross must be doing British marching as a remnant from the old colonial days. They were being instructed on “turns at the halt” – which in layman’s terms means - how to turn left and right when you are not going anywhere.
The drill instructor was good – he toned down his drill instructor’s voice with good reason because shouting at little primary school kids can make them cry. I mentioned to another teacher that I was an Australian soldier during the nineteen eighties and that the drill movements look British. Chinese soldiers march with straight legs like Russians. I did not mention that most of the time while in the army my fellow soldiers talked about how we were training to repel an imminent Chinese invasion. Looking back on it now, it sounds like I was Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984 – other soldiers would never mention that Japan had actually bombed Australia – we are at peace with Japan, Australia has always been at peace with Japan…
Later, while talking about how the Facebook farm is soaking up my life, one of the teachers conveyed a feeling of doubt that I could have been an Australian soldier and a telecommunications technician and worked on a farm all in one lifetime. I never even mentioned my short career as an Avon representative.