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Low defensive walls

27 January, 2009 Leave a comment

That’s what you get if you go to an archeological site in the UK. The Oval Forum, JerashThe descriptive plinth will nearly always say you are looking at “a series of low defensive walls”.

Perhaps people who lived within our fair shores were just really small, never needed a roof over their heads and thought columns, pillars and architecture in general was for those flash italians, so they’d just wait till the Romans pitched up.

Today I spent a couple of hours in Jerash. It had the same effect on me as Tikal in Guatemala. It transports you.

I think it’s because our imaginations are just so limited that low defensive walls don’t stimulate us. But then you visit a site which is so large and impressive that you don’t need any imagination whatsoever to feel the city moving around you in antiquity.

Jerash only (in comparison with Tikal) had 30,000 people at its height, but you still get the grandeur and the vision from Hadrian through Alexander and Diocletian.

And this was after seeing Ajlun castle – built by Saladin in 1184 – in the morning. I love castles. Always have. Alnwick, Leeds… great memories from childhood.  But there’s a certain sanitised nature about them… whereas Ajlun, though well presented and clearly with a lot of restoration work, just has a rawness to it. You can clamber all over it. Ignore the ineffectual ‘danger’ signs and no-one bats an eyelid. Fun.

And yes, I am aware that I am just regressing on this trip. castles, days spent looking at mosaics in churches… it’s ayers family holiday 1978 all over again but without the siblings. I look forward to a family trip to Leeds Castle when I get back. Race you to the top, Steve…

Location update

23 January, 2009 Leave a comment

Today the girl left and the pollution ranking is the highest it’s been for months. So I stay indoors and online – happy as larry with web, chinese radio 3 equivalent and BBC world news repeating itself.  Suppose I must eat at some point and will maybe go to the gym, grab a massage (cheap and good here: about £30 for 90 minutes. more on massages anon) and perhaps catch a movie.

Tomorrow night I fly to Amman in Jordan via Dubai on Emirates. First night will be in Madaba and after some confusion over flights and faced with the inability to get from Jordan to the Lebanon, I shall spend the next 18 days in Jordan seeing the deserts, the biblical spots, Petra, Wadi Rum and making my way down to Aqaba for some Red Sea diving.

And then home.

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Pina. Dirty.

23 January, 2009 3 comments

The Po Lin monastery on the island of Lantau just off Hong Kong is a peaceful and spiritual place. It is the home of the the monks and, in ’93 they inaugurated the Big Buddha which is big and… a buddha.

However, despite all that tranquility, I had not expected the following conversation while at the vegetarian cafe in the monastery and looking for somewhere to relieve myself.

“Here, I show” says the old man who’s just come out of the kitchens and is clearly heading in the same direction.

“You go here” he says, gesticulating towards a cubicle. I feel honoured he’s picked out this one for me especially. Naturally there isn’t a toilet seat… that’s a westernised thing of bringing in something which purports to be cleaner and better, but actually is less clean and not so good for your bowels. like wearing trunks in a sauna. anyway, i digress. … but the lack of toilet seat isn’t an issue as I only need to… er… do a number 1. (was going to say “have a waz” but caught myself using 1980s slang and showing my age)

I do my business. He does his and finishes first. We meet again at the wash basin. I want to say “how nice to see you again” or “that was indeed a most splendid cubicle, thank you” but know that smart-arse attempts at wit will be met with incomprehension.

He washes his hands. I mine. Then the conversation takes an unusual turn:

“Wash, wash”

I am confused and don’t move.

“wash” he repeats, “dirty”. Now, I was brought up well and always wash my hands. Plus, he’s just seen me wash them in front of him. Ok, so there’s no soap, but you can’t be fussy. What on earth’s he still on about??

“Dirty. Wash. Dirty,” he keeps going. This time gesturing towards my flies. Oh no, think I, have I split something? been a little messy? are my flies undone? is it traditional to wash your zip, perhaps.

“dirty,” he repeats, with more insistence in his voice “Pina. Dirty. Wash.”

What? what the hell are you on about old man…. oh… hold on…

“Pina dirty. Wash,” and this time his hand nudges me in the base of my spine. “Wash pina.” again, more vigorously pushing my groin towards the basin and at the same time gesturing with his other hand.

As the penny drops it flits across my mind to say “after you” but think the resulting images could have ruined my entire trip and leave me scarred for life. Is it normal to wash your nether regions after urinating? in a public toilet? in the hand basin? Admittedly the height was about right for me, but I suspect my.. er.. host might have had to be on tip toes. Perhaps they have a little bank of steps, like in a library, for the smaller races to get up to the right height. But if this was the case, don’t you think somewhere as resourceful and ingenious as China would have designed a hand basin which had a special outcrop to enable the easy ablution of the old chap? And what the hell happens in the ladies’ loo? do they have little baths that extend?

Ok, I conclude in a moment’s thought, this is not right. Perhaps the old chap (not mine) is just having me on. But he looks so serious. having said that, I can’t tell whether he’s smiling or not, he has so many creases on his face. Would it be insulting to refuse? Will it really be much of a problem for me to acquiesce? I suppose I could, but my shorts will get wet and anyway, will he turn his back?… I catch myself thinking the unthinkable and I decide to fall back on the old British response to anything culturally confusing / alarming: polite refusal.

“No thanks,” I respond, and not wanting to seem dismissive of his local approach to local cleanliness, I still can’t quite believe I added “Yes, you’re right, dirty pina, but I’ll take care of that when I get home. Thank you.”

Location update

19 January, 2009 Leave a comment

last couple of days saw:

Snorkelling in Goat Island Marine Reserve with lots of wrasse, angel fish, cat fish, …

Down to Cambridge to hang out with the Laws. Oh, and on the way getting stopped by the law as well for doing 122kph in a 100 zone. The speed limits are ridiculous, and what they call a motorway, we call a road. Sunday was Rotarua’s excellent Te Puia and then to the amusingly titled Agrodome for some agroventure. Nothing to do with aggro. But in this case getting thrown about in a tiny boat with a huge engine on the back riding on about a foot of water. thoroughly recommend it.

Then back to Auckland for the final 24 hrs in NZ. Dinner with the Marshall and then, 24hours ago, getting up to drive to the airport, fly to sydney, then here to HK.

NZ advertising rules

19 January, 2009 Leave a comment

Rule #1: Shout. Always. If you think you’re shouting loudly, you’re not. Shout louder. It’s like british people who can’t speak a local language when they’re oversease. When in doubt, shout slower and louder.

Rule #2: Create a banal slogan (preferably with a terrible gag in it) to go with the company name and the special offer. Then shout it.

Rule #3: If at all possible, get the owner of the company to do the ad. There are more personal endorsements on air here than when Viktor Kiam and Richard Branson were doing their worst.

Rule #4: Remember that there appears to be no regulation of taste and decency whatsoever. 10am on a Sunday morning and you will hear an ad for “Make her happy, make yourself happy. Get over that embarrassing erectile disfunction with…” on their equivalent of talksport. And of course there’s the ad for “Christchurch’s most discerning gentleman’s club.”

Rule #4a: This can be extended to the sensibilities of the inhabitants, who won’t think twice about putting rather unfortunate messages side by side. To amusing effect, though, it has to be said. See here.

Getting Luckier – in Russell

19 January, 2009 Leave a comment

Just when I thought it wouldn’t get any better, the Bay of Islands, and in particular Danielle and Dino, our hosts at La Veduta in Russell, topped it all.

This was, I think, the 4 best days of holiday I have ever had. That’s not La Vedutahyperbole either.

Danielle and Dino are hosts of the old school. Their home is immaculate and the attention to detail tremendous. But best of all is their joie de vivre and the obvious delight they take in hosting their guests’ every need. There are so many things I could mention, but afternoon tea with homemade cake on the terrace, followed by a cool glass of something and watching the sun going down… or returning from town with 4 americans in tow to be filled with the house port and (blaming the girl here) starting up a round-the-piano singsong (Danielle’s Je ne regrette riens was a masterpiece. I bellowed Danny Boy with only 30% of the words and in a pub singer style. Nana would have been proud).

Russell itself is a very picturesque little town of 650 inhabitants, swelling to 2500 in peak season, which was the original capital of NZ – and then became the den of iniquity, earning the name The Hell Hole of the Pacific. Nice. Couldn’t be more opposite now.

And then the highlight could be the day on a massive cat sailing round the bays but that’s beaten to the post by behaving like a pair of adventurous ten year olds and winding our way round Topeka point. (will find a link in google maps, but HK web access proving a handicap). Anyway, the point is that there is NO path round the point. It’s impassable. You have to climb, slither, and at some points swim round craggy rocks. Well, I say impassable… clearly there is a path now – forged by us. Much fun.

Getting lucky

11 January, 2009 Leave a comment

The weather was pouring down… chucking… bucketting… but we were told that would make the waterfalls even more spectacular. And it did.

Doubtful Sound is the place they used for the last scenes of the LotR trilogy. 1km peaks drop straight down into the dark waters, covered with unfeasibly verdent life which shouldn’t be able to hold onto such a sheer cliff… and when the waterfalls flow, they pour from every crevice.

The rainforest’s balance is out of kilter. The signs are there for those who know, and our experienced skipper Lance knows all there was to know about this area after 20 years sailing it. But despite the depressing signs, it is still some of the most impressive wilderness you could ever see.

Snorkelling with wrasse, starfish, box fish and an abundance of flora… Walking free in the rainforest and getting lost in the undegrowth… Finding a pod of 12 bottle-nosed dolphins larking about in the West Arm of the Sound… watching the seals 5m away as they play and preen and soak in the sun.

In between came ever-flowing tea, cake, hearty breakfasts, lovely lunches and delicious dinners mixed in with a splash of wine and a dollop of banter in the galley. And to add a bit of variety with a game or two of cribbage, poker, a sing-song and a professional dulcimer-player.  I love you Neal.

And now back to Arrowtown, and tomorrow the drive to Christchurch and a flight up north. It’s difficult to see how anything can top the last 4 days, but you never know…

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