Saturday, September 27, 2008

Biking Lijiang

Yesterday we had a great bike ride around the outskirts of Lijiang, finding some authentic and some theme park dongaba culture. Where the road turned to cobbles then dirt we found the old village of Baisha, I played some tunes with the local orchestra. We missed Doctor Ho the famous medicine man and quickly found ourselves on the recently developed Dongba cultural theme park. What was described in the lonely planet as a 30minute walk up to an old temple is now a smooth ride up a slashing tarseal motorway to the temple and hawkers, complete with admission fee. There are also several new monuments and traditional areas which we suspect are designed for phototaking with a view of the spectacular Jade Dragon Peak in the background. Unfortunately Jade Dragon only showed us its forbidding ramparts, hiding its midriff and summit in the cloud.

As we were heading up to the former home of Joseph Rock, an Austrian botanist who became famous for his research in China (for a great great blog on Jospeh Rock see here) one of Pennys cranks fell off! 15km back one legged and with my foot elasticised to the pedal the Chinese hardly blinked an eye. But it was a great adventure and after a pleasant evening and a big sleep we set off all refreshed to...

Into the WopWops

This is our intended route I sent to my Mum, slightly tongue in cheek it remains to be seen if we manage to find our way out of town.

"we fly to china tomorrow: Kunming, the plan is to head straight off to Lijiang, then west maybe with a small trek to Weixi, then north up the mekong but not far to Cizhong, a wierd tiberan catholic church then west into the hills and trekking across to the Nu Jiang a little tibetan village called Bingzhongluo or something, then one more valley west to the Drung, its a small pocket of china near Myanmar. Its otherwise known as the valley of death. Then back to Bingz and hopefully a big trek across the mountains towards Deqin and the mountain range callled Kawa Karpo, we might encircle this possibly. The locals call it a kora or pilgrimage. Then back down to Shangri-La (or Zhongdian). Will try to keep in touch with cell and internet. We have some of our flights back, pk gets back to well mid nov, I am staying on a couple of weeks and back in chch 6 dec."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Yeah China Yeah

I wouldn't have said that 16hours ago when we were wandering the streets of Kunming in the rain. The mission was to find a stove and a method of creating drinking water then the long distance bus station. We had been stoked to get through customs a breeze, despite last minute stresses caused by an out of date check in girl at Bangkok telling us we needed tickets out of the country. (Penny now has a rushed ticket from Hong Kong). but by the time taxis abandoned and snobbed us in a rainy rush hour we were half wishing we had been deported.

Kunming, the spring city of China, is massive. Apartment blocks cover the huge valley like didymo covers the stones of the Buller. Peter Jackson scale. The taxi driver didn't quite believe our ignorance of mandarin. After much gesturing he resorted to writing down some scrawled Chinese characters...haha, good luck. We eventually stumbled upon a store by walking round, and a stove and gas which will help warm our bellys on the cold nights when no chinese hospitality can be found. The lonely planet city map then guided us to the bus station where we boarded early upon a sleeper bus bound for Lijiang.

Sleeper bus's are great, they even gave me a space designed for a long person, and I curled protectively round Penny who even had a window. Even the Chinese man edging me from behind didn't stop a comfortable sleep making up for those hours of jet lag in Bangkok. It was just before dawn when we alighted. Lijang to quote the groovy old map I have beside me "is located in the crossing of Yunnan, Sichuan and Tibet. It was also the crossroad at the South Silk Road and Charma Ancient Road", just out of town and not yet visible in this grey day is Yulong Snow Mountain (or Jade Dragon Mountain) which "erects high in the sky with huge profile and charming purity".

Lijiang Old Town which we strolled around this morning is what I imagined Japan might be like but wasn't, and even has a touch of the atmosphere from Diagon Alley (the wizards shopping mall for any non Harry Potter fans). Early in the morning the air lies thickly on the quirky cobbled lanes riven by clear flowing streams. Arched stone bridges with worn slippery curves provide a perch for staring at the goldfish swarming below. Chinese lanterns beckon visitors into the courtyards of cosy looking inns. Mandarin characters look so much better on gateways and doorways than they do tatooed into the shoulders of fashionable westerners. We stopped briefly at the "loyalty and righteousness" gateway celebrating the alliance between local leaders and the Ming dynasty.

After missioning back to our hostel, Penny now naps, waiting for me to wake her for our afternoon bike ride, which should feature Tibetan Monasteries, lovely lakes and hopefully a 1000 year old lucky Camellia tree. Will be great to do some exercise anyway. Better go wake her up!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008


Ross's bookcase in Narvik

I have been meaning since Ross's to blog on bookshelves. It was fantastic in Narvik to enter the home of a kiwi, the little things, korus, kiwi music and a familiar space. But what really attracted me was the bookshelf, rows of it (not all in English mind you). It got me thinking of the way bookshelfs shape you and some of the bookshelfs that have shaped me.

First I remember my parents bookshelf in the hall at Waitati. The hall seemed so long, you could play hockey up and down it when you were 7, and the books stretched 2/3 of it on one side. I didn't really get many of those books then, except Alistair McLean, I was addicted to them, the Guns of Navarone and Where Eagles Dare still pop into my head. So do the boys own adventure stories, and my all time favourite Charles Upham's "A Mark of a Lion" The bookshelf at my grandparents at Bowenvale was less fruitful for a young eye, too many books about alpine plants;-) I do remember a couple of books though, one a fictionalised account of oil drilling in the north sea, the other a story of someone who had 12 kids, later made into the film "cheapest by the dozen".The best thing about their bookshelf was its mustiness and mysteriousness, it felt like the books had been there forever.

My other grandparents had rugby books galore, and all kinds of other stuff, which I have only come to appreciate later. Indeed their books have a bad habit of ending in my bookcase, I can think of a couple of goodies; Michael Kings "Hidden Places", a lesser known work by the brilliant NZ historian reflecting on his early career and some of the people he metand John Glubb's "A short history of the Arab people" a fascinating and readable record of the spread of Islam.

Overtime I developed my own bookshelf, overfill with political ravings and natural history, short of the fast paced novels (which keep disappearing). Still half full of books I intend to read. Occasions such as the 24hr book sale or the re-organisation of the Amerley Public library, leave a long backlog. Its sitting in boxes around the country at the moment.

Other bookshelves of note, include that of Tom (six mug) Riley my twice flat mate who has enough in common with my tastes, but not too much, so there are new challenges, and Zoe and Nicks little collection I was known to retreat to during long winter Gisborne nights talking about medicine. Family friends Bruce and Dinah also deserve a mention for their bookshelf, and their Footrot flats and Bogor collections.And yeah Marquita (not Garden) has some good books to, I submitted to Harry Potter there and Tuesdays with Morrie.

But yeah I'm missing the point about bookshelves really, its not so much the reading, its the browsing, the hunting, the curiosity of eclectic collections. The feel and smell of the books! The shelves themselves, the arrangement, the neatness or messiness, piles or symmetry, the shelf of bigger books with pictures to flick through....heres a toast to bookshelves and all that have them!!!

Finding Meaning

Ok, heres an arty farty, existential post about mortality and our narrow grip on it.

Penny, Matt, Lara and I probably saw a man die the other day in Narvik. He was plopped in a roadside verge, scruffy, overweight and a paper bag in his hand. Another Norwegian man had his cell phone out...

"is he drunk or heart attack?"

"I'm not sure, I rang the hospital 10 minutes ago, they're not here yet"

The mans colour was death. The same colour as the bottom of the sea. There was a pulse and struggling air movements. We cleared the garden from around his face and attempted to rouse him. I grabbed the paper bag, a box of heart medication not cheap booze. Funny how we make assumptions. The paramedics arrived as his heart stopped. We hadn't been looking forward to desperate CPR. The lifted him out of the garden, ripped his shirt off and shocked him with the defibrillator. We stood around. A second group arrived, with white suited medical students in tow. We stood back further. They huddled around, chest compressing, 15-2. We looked at each other and picked up our bags and wandered down the street to the train station.

We don't know what happened next, or indeed what had happened before. Was he a good man? Was he a Norwegian or was he one of the many refugees that have turned Narvik into a multi-cultured ice-box. He was a nearly dead man lying in a roadside garden as we walked past.

The train ride to Kiruna was grey and scenic. Winding round the fiord or canyon. Norway turns to Sweden when the seaside influence ends, when the final canyon fades into the plateau of Lapland. Summer houses site beside small tarns. There is a sense of permanence in this landscape except for the trees which now have their last throes of colour. Yellow now clumps the woods where greens and golds flared when we entered this country 10 days before. It is easy to understand the worship of spring gods when travelling through an environment like this.

Kiruna was shutting down to. The bus service had ceased for the season when we were in the hills, and the owner of the Yellow House backpackers had decided that he had done enough cleaning for the year. It was just a night there, before we flew to Stockholm and went our seperate ways. Penny and I bound for Helsinki then Bangkok, Lara and Matt for Goteburg, America then home. By flying south we had rejoined the indian summer, the gold was just beginning to strike the leaves of Stockholms inner suburbs as we strolled through them to our ferry, the Silja Symphony.

The ferry was big, comfortable and completely unsophisticated. Duty free alcohol left the shop in trolleys. Bollywood tunes, banners and costumes littered the ships mall. The overall feeling was kind of like being in Willy Wonkas factory. Lifts hoisted people to the upperdecks like syringes.Meanwhile outside we glided through the Stockholm archipelago silently and effortlessly 30 metres up.

We woke up in Helsinki, and alighted. It was Sunday morning and people were out walking with their dogs around the waterfront where we found coffee. It seems Finnish people are allowed to smile on Sundays, even to scruffy strangers. In fact even the trees in Finland smile on Sundays.

In no hurry we strolled into the city centre. Heading eventually for the Kiasma, Finlands premier contemporary art gallery. There were wierd types there and wierd type. To explain a blank image "some of the meaning can be traced back to the structure of the image and our initial perceptions of it when faced with a lack of figurative motifs". Meanwhile I was making profound notes myself"whirring kaliedoscopes, industrial video and the glow of a golden rabbit did not show me the way out of a darkened room as I bumped my head in the corner".

I guess it all comes down to whats art? And if theres no such construct as art, can one construct such thing as a purposeful life? So identifying art might help us out of an existential dilemma, but can you? Which of the following photos are a) "art" b) pieces of a building c) pictures of me d) a moomin..........

Answers at a later date. But meanwhile I'll have to conclude with an observation that we all hang to life by a thin thread for a short time. So go hard.

(UPDATE) Oh yeah some answers: top row, art - building - building, bottom row, art - moomin - art....yeah thats actually art not me being erotic. So if you scored 100% I think that your art identification skills are such that maybe you can live a life that you believe is purposeful. If you didn't you might as well just have an absurb journey. I recommend reading a bit of Camus here.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Where in the World are we???

I think all travellers wake up in the morning (or middle of the night) sometimes and wonder "where the hell am I". The senses become a bit dislocated at times. Sometimes friends and family start to wonder where the travellers are as well, "haven't heard from them in a while". Thats really what this is about, a bit of real life Carmen Sandiego. The photos give clues as to where Penny and Jamie are and what they did today! (which wasn't really much at all as they woke up jet lagged at about 11am local time).

We are somewhere with patterns...and perhaps flowers, although I think they probably have flowered patterns places where flowers are now extinct, like Iraq (don't worry we are not in Iraq!

Somewhere with reflections, indeed multiple reflections of beautiful people. Is it just me or are reflections always beautiful?

Somewhere where there are monks? But what is unusual about these monks? They look very concerned about some harmless, and flightless kiwis?

Somewhere where they were doing the haka way before the All Blacks, Te Rauparaha, or indeed any polynesians.

Somewhere where the white witch of Narnia still rules and Che Fu is under her spell (when was his last album?).

And finally the answer.....Bangkok, and more specifically the Grand Palace, mass tourism at its finest on the banks of the lovely Chao Phraya river.

Monday, September 22, 2008

For Another Take...

Just checked out Chris and Em's blogspot "Silly Billys Roam the World", Em has written of our recent shared adventures, attending a Swedish wedding and kayaking the Stockholm archipelago, as well as some good stuff on the World Mountain Bike orienteering champs and World Rogaine champs recently held.

Sifting through Lofoten

We were so close, it just felt like we had to. We went to Lofoten. It was only for an evening and a morning with lodgings in the ugly Solvaer (the problem with developing an aesthetically pleasing and quaint fishing village for tourists, is that it inevitably loses whatever charm it had. We were left with a tantalising glimpse of the adventures that lay in the surrounding areas if one had time, a good rope and a full rack, or some sea kayaks.

The mountains rise out of the sea like the teeth of a giant saw, and travelling at night the skylines look surreal, mountain patterns cut in profile by the vivid imagination by a child.

A brief google found some more adventurous stories from Lofoten, from some friends of ours Clare and Greig who climbed here a couple of years ago, check here for general stuff and here for climbing info.

The View from Ross's House

Its hard living in Narvik, you either live on the mountainside with a view down the fiord and suffer from sunsets (when the some actually comes up or goes down). Or you live on the hill looking back at the mountain, and further right to the snowy ridges known as the sleeping queen. Ross's new house has the latter...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Norwegian Woods

Writing now, late at night, from the luxurious home of Ross Wakelin an old friend from NZ now resident in Narvik, Norway. We swam into Norway a few days ago through a mountain tarn (I will for the time spare you the shots of my big white butt glistening in the Arctic Sun).

Matt, La, Penny and I had a fantastic tramp from Abisko in Sweden to Narvik over five days of amazing calm and clear weather. It was the height of Autumn and red and gold forests and fields surrounded us whereever we went, apart from when we ventured up into the land of granite slabs.

The first day was heightened by an encounter with some Sami people. Following a trail of reindeer fat up a rugged ATV track we encountered a man and his son at their secluded cabin...

"does this track continue up the hill"?

"No, you come the wrong way, this track goes to heaven!"

"Well, that sounds about right then"

After some brief and entertaining conversation they got rid of us and went back to whatever on earth they were up to with that reindeer fat, reassured hopefully that we were nearly as crazy as they were. We camped that night on top of a barren hill near a Sami encampment and reindeer corral, empty now for the coming winter. We glimpsed for the first time Storsteinfjellet (the big stone mountain)and the fluffy little flowers that floated on the marshes like cotton wool.

Day 2 we had some serious walking to do to wander through the Swedish tundra to the hills of Norway. We then had our border swim (photos again spared), climbed a snowslope then stalked our first herd of reindeer. We killed an hour or so doing this then had to descend through the heinous sub-alpine belt which consisted almost entirely of blueberries, or other types of berrys. We arrived at our campsite not wet and muddy but with stained fingers and faces from delightful engorgement.

Storsteinfjellet was now at our mercy, and we ascended up its grantite ridges and gentle snow slopes before being pole axed by its chossy summit ridge. The descent past the foot of its glacier was lovely however and we camped in a freaky barrow downs landscape that provided us with pleasant views and mossy beds.

Time had come to get cranking and Day 4 we just walked all day through a few little mountain passes alongside some silted glacial lakes and amongst some more bemused reindeer.

Then we had to get the hell out of there because the aioli in a tube was running out (although we still had plenty of tomato paste) and we wanted to finally see the sea, which was beautiful. Regrettably Norwegians dont pick up groups of four hitchhiking so the 15 or so km from the road end to Ross and Hildas house, despite been alongside a beautiful fiord was testing. We could however always look back and get some satisfaction from how far we had come.

Ross and Hilda have been awesome hosts, providing us great digs, food and conversation. This morning Hilda showed us around the Narvik musueum while this afternoon Ross took us to the top of a massive great big mountain above town. Ill try and write more on this soon. Sweet take care out there!

Dr Derek facing Deportation

I was stirred from my relaxed mood this morning by a tragically farce news story on sent to us by Pennys Mum Doff recently My aggravation has been only partially addressed by the follow up this evening here

This is the same Dr Derek that Penny and I worked with for a month just recently on the islands of Pulau Pulau Batu off Sumatras west coast.

It appears Derek is in trouble for his rescue of an injured Australian surfer. The link to the details of this rescue and its aftermath is here Check out particularly the update dated 15\06\08.

Derek has his faults, his medicine is not applied or focussed in the rational western fashion. He clings to patients he decides he can make a real difference for rather than following a more utilitarian approach. An example recently has been his devotion to Leone a six month old baby with a cleft palate and TB who would surely have died had it not been for his personal care for a month, a task he undertook gladly although it probably left him less able to undertake other work. My theory is that it is these personal conections or "saving of lives" as Derek would put it that have sustained him through 20 years of working in environments which border on the ridiculous and would leave lesser people screaming with frustration. It is no surprise at all that Derek undertook the flight to rescue the Australian surfer and I am sure he would do it again even if he had the Indonesian airforce on his tail

To put this in context, Tello is the centre of an island group containing around 30,000 people. It has a private $2 million NGO funded hospital with 35 fulltime staff which no-one can afford to use. It has a community health centre with five fulltime staff who do absolutely nothing and it has Dr Derek, his translator Given and a rag tag bunch of volunteers primarily from NZ who run 2 clinics a day treating about 100 people a time.

A public service job in Indonesia once bought (as that is how they are acquired, including sometimes with qualifications) is a licence to do no work. Incompetence and corruption is endemic. While one bureaucracy is trying to kick Derek out of the country, another trys to extort money for the return of his helicopter. Its like 50% of the people in the country sit around all day trying to figure out ways to get money for doing nothing. Im glad in NZ there are far fewer of us.

Derek acts with a humanistic, romantic view of the world to make positive change, Im glad someone in Indonesian society has recognised that with his award, I hope the less far sighted bureaucracy get off his back.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Aaron and Saras Wedding

I'm writing now from a backpackers hostel deep inside the Arctic circle. We flew into Kiruna today swerving between the sparse fluffy grey clouds that failed to obscure the beautiful chain of mountain peaks including Swedens highest, Kebnekaise. Kiruna is a mining town and this is immediately clear as the giant piles of tailings dominate the eastern aspect. The iron ore is mined from 500 metres underground and taken by giant trains across the mountains to the Norwegian Port of Narvik. A direction we are heading off into tomorrow morning. Although our plan is to get off the train halfway at the mountain resort of Abisko and spend 5 days hiking through the birch, tundra and fiords to Narvik.

This morning we awoke in the Stockholm Archipelago, in a great little flat camp spot on a sheltered island with woods of wood on the rounded hill behind it. We spent a couple of nights in the archipelago with some sea kayaking in between. Myriads of low, rocky, rounded islands, the occasional swan and summer house complex of house, jetty, and sauna. Some of my favourite spots had arched wooden bridges linking the small channels between islands, more for picturesque value I suspect than any utilitarian purpose. We were an armada of six double kayaks; Matt and La, Gordon and Lance, Jackie and Aaron, Russel and Viv, Chris and Em, as well as Penny and myself. Great times!!

But to get to the big story, Aaron and Sara are now married! The big day went smoothly despite a bit of rain and the beautiful couple, looked well, I'll let you decide when I manage to chuck some photos up.

The best man managed to not lose the ring, crack a few jokes and toast the brides maid, and avoid mentioning ex boyfriends and girlfriends. So he's stoked to survive without stuffing anything up too bad.Here he is pictured with the cutest one year old in the world

Friday, September 5, 2008

And Stockholm...

It was with some relief that we found the wonderful Sara Wallen there to meet us on the stroke of midnight at Stockholms Arlanda airport. A night spent in a corner of the airport was an inferior option to a night spent on Saras parents lawn.

I hadn't experienced suburban Sweden before, low slung wooden houses, a maze of fences and walls and miniature parks, enclosed in a bunch by fingers of forest. We woke early and enjoyed the family breakfast, crispbread, caramel cheese, cheesy spreads and cucumber as well as the more usual museli and yoghurt. Dairy products are ridiculously cheap here, subsidised I think, great that the masses can afford to eat cheese, a sad reflection on the state of affairs in NZ.

We stayed last night in a really nice hostel in Central Stockholm. Our room was actually on a boat, the AF Chapman.

We have met up with Prince family and friends over for the wedding, Viv, Russel, Matt and La, Jackie, Gordon and Lance. Rumour has it the fabulous Chris Forne and Emily Wall will also soon join us.

I'm sitting in a mall now in central Stockholm, waiting for Penny to find some mascara. We spent the morning wandering over to the suit place, to meet Aaron, be prepared for some pretty hot photos from the wedding.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Photos from Helsinki

Caught some rest at the luxurious pad of Helsinki's most famous orienteering snakebreeder and unofficial world record speed record holder for naked roller blading.

Penny reports from Tello

Finally, some memories from the Doctor. We are currently in the luxurious pad of our newly domesticated Australian friend BJ, the snake breeder from Tasmania.

Currently in Helsinki, staying at a friends place and half way through our mission to get from Indonesia to Sweden for a friends wedding, which Jamie is bestman at. Left Tello a week ago, since then had a 24 hour bus ride across Sumatra ( I never want to smell another cigarette again), a few days in Bukittingi, where our friend Kate was persuaded into acting in a tourist promotion video, and hired scooters for my birthday and scooted around Lake Maninjau, a steep sided volcanic lake surrounded by fish farms and paddy fields.

For the last month we have been living on Tello Island, off the west coast of sumatra, working with Derek Allen, a kiwi doctor there. Several other kiwi volunteers there arrived at the same time as us, providing a physio, nurse midwife, another doctor (Nick), several other helpers. Too much to write about all of it but here are some snippets...

*Day one, relaxing drinking a beer, I am called to see my first patient, an old lady who has been lying on the concrete floor of her hut for months since she broke her hip. Her family are worried that she has a foot infection. Sweet, I think to myself, I know how to handle infections, thats what we have antibiotics for. Unfortunately I realise as I walk into the house that the smell of rotten meat is coming from her, and her foot is gangrenous and full of maggots! Good way to be broken in to the job...

*Day 3: we are thrown in the deep end, Derek has to leave for a week to sort out some paperwork, and our translator decides to go off to sell mungbeans for a couple of hours (I can't quite justify buying the 10 kilos of mungbeans from him just so we can have our translator back, but chip in and buy one). Nick and I attempt in our 2nd rate indonesian to run the clinic. Tello is an island of 5000 people with medical care which is made up of a hospital ( kindly built by an NGO after the tsunami but too expensive for anyone to go to so it sits empty all day and night with a couple of useless doctors and nurses sitting there too), a government funded primary health centre ( the doctor doesn't like tello though so lives somewhere else, and the nurses turn up to work for 2 hours a day, do nothing and then go home). While we were there we took over the rooms of the health clinic in the morning while the local nurses looked on in vague amusement. We saw up to 50 patients each morning with diseases like TB and malaria, both rife on the island but very treatable. In saying that, the most common patient were the ones with 'pain everywhere' who I diagnosed as having paracetamol deficiency and treated accordingly. Each afternoon we visited the villages around the island, running clinics in peoples houses, crowded with the curious and the sick.

Worth mentioning is the slightly unusual sewerage system. I don't know how I thought it worked, but on an early morning run along the beach past the villages, I came across about 10 people doing their business on the beach. This isn't really what shocked me the most, I was well aware that a lot of people use the beach as their toilet, but what was surprising was that next to each person there was a fat pig, who just gobbled up their pooh! I retched the first time I saw it, but realised that it is actually quite simple and efficient (at least that is what I told myself...)

Team Tello goes to Beluta. There had been talk of visiting this outlying island for a couple of days but no-one knew when the boat would go. With a couple of hours notice, we ran around, grabbed some medicines and hopped on the boat. We landed safely at the island after a 2 hour boat trip ( arriving safely not to be taken for granted in Indonesia), and started a clinic at someones house who Derek knows. There was almost a mutiny when we discovered that the only food sold on the island was rice and noodles, but this high carb, low fibre diet was appreciated for obvious reasons when we were shown the toilets, a ditch on the other side of the kitchen door with a handy pooh-eating pig snorting excitedly by it! Suddenly Tello seemed quite civilised after all...