About This Time Of Year…

I get antsy.

It’s not the calendar and it’s not the temperature. It’s the approach of an interstate holiday trip. I’m going to Melbourne and Sydney in a few weeks. And the mental engine is starting to rev up.

It is not like a trip to either of those cities is great wampum amongst other people – there are no end of Facebook posts from my 223 contacts that list trips to Europe, North America, or Asia and glory in the tourist sights that will be seen. Melb. and Syd. do not have that bragging pressure.

Yet…they have a real place in my psyche. I am comfortable in each city, having visited them annually for years. I know the shops, galleries, and restaurants. I know the transport system. And yet…I do not know them…there is still adventure enow.

There are always shops that wink out of existence – sadly. And others that appear. I adopt the wise Western Australian practice of never assuming anything I desire in shops will ever be there again – and I make sure that I have enough money saved to swoop while the swooping is good. Oh sure, I make some duff choices, but I also make some brilliant ones.

The same goes for the amusements and the nourishments of the towns. Not every plate is a winner, but there is a memorable event and taste somewhere each day. All you can ask is one per day – and in Syd. and Melb. you can find them.

Parochial? Dull? Staid? Why thank, you, don’t mind if I do. Please let me have a glass of water that is not a swimming pool for guardia and a sandwich that does not wriggle. I have the money to pay for it. And the hotel room? The one with the clean bed and bathroom…? Fine, and I shall be down at the bar in an hour.

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Sentimental Journey

We all know the song ” Sentimental Journey “. It’s very good – music and lyrics are spot-on. But they raise a question for the listener; what do you do if there is no such thing as a sentimental journey that you can go on?

Migrants and refugees who moved from dreadful places or people know this feeling. They ran like buggery to get away from whatever it was back there and going back there is generally not an option – it’d be the poorhouse or the jail house at best. The only sentiments that they could reasonably expect to experience would be fear and regret.

People who have come from easier circumstances might be able to return to a former location and feel a bit better. If they came from a place that is conservative, well-off, and untroubled by war or invasion, they might be able to enjoy a vestige of their former culture. If time has erased this and substituted something else, the sentiment would be loss and sadness. It’s a risky business – the wise traveller makes a study of Google Earth to see what the old neighbourhood has become. Smoking holes or multiple McDonald’s are a warning sign.

The same caution that you exercise toward the place should also be extended to the people. You don’t need Google Earth to prepare. Go to a mirror and look at yourself. If what you see is grey and saggy or red and swollen, expect to find that the rest of your high school graduating class will look the same. You may have to see yourself, but decide whether you have to see them as well.

One sentiment that you can encourage in a journey is  longing for adventure and new experiences. To do this all you have to do is avoid the old haunts – the new ones may be awful, but they will be a novel pain. If you survive it you can file it under the ” Goode Olde Dayes ” and stay home next time.

Note: it is perfectly alright to not feel any sentiment toward any place at all. It is far better so to do than to generate a false attachment to some imagined location.

 

The Local Traveller

World travelling, we read, is a marvellous thing. It is said to broaden our minds and make us one with humanity.

I expect everyone who has ever stood in line to get their baggage checked onto an international flight…and then stood in line to board, use the toilets, get off again, pass the immigration and customs desk, and then collect the remains of their luggage has an appreciation of the delights of the experience. Then as they are attended by taxi drivers, desk clerks, tour guides, cafe owners, street beggars, local militiamen, and all the varied members of the aforementioned humanity, they get a warm, fuzzy feeling.

In most cases it is a yeast infection.

I have done my share of it, but as I’ve not re-enlisted in the Traveller’s Regiment and I’ve kept my discharge papers, I feel I’m safe for the foreseeable future. The world may turn, but I’m required neither to push it around nor grease the pintles.

But I do like the occasional drive in the country or air hop to another city in Australia. And, contrary to the overseas experience, I find the actual travel quite relaxing.

In the air, whether you are in the Business seat or Cattle Class, you are provided with a number of entertainments and stimuli – videos, music, frequent meals, etc – that you are allowed to ignore. You can sit there with a book, or a notepad and a pencil, and think. No-one that you are with ever interrupts you to stick another household chore or family revelation onto you. Your phone and tablet are in Aeroplane mode which means you are officially ordered to ignore them. ( Yay! ) and even Mark Zuckerberg cannot pester you.

Likewise on the road. As a driver you need your wits about you and cannot be talking on a telephone or reading a Mills and Boon while at the wheel. You need to obey increasingly complex speed and passing laws, and to avoid those who don’t. So you are in a cocoon of concentration. Break it every hour or so for a coffee or a wee and the experience becomes all the sweeter – you might step out of your Suzuki a little more fatigued than fresh from a Boeing but then you’ve seen more interesting things on the side of the road. And if they are recently flattened, you might have been able to scoop them up for dinner.

The trick is to pick a place to go that is worthwhile going to for your own reasons – not just the fulfilment of some travel agent’s urging – and to go there at your own pace. I pick country towns that might have a friend or an event nearby or a city that has stores I’ve not visited for a while. These will cheer the heart both in prospect and retrospect, and as long as you don’t overstay your welcome, every journey will be a gain.

Overstay? An Australian capital city is worth about 1 week, a regional city three days, and a country town 2 days. If you think the time too short to justify the return journey, then combine several destinations in a round trip. In all cases, leave ’em wanting more of you rather than less…

Taking Back Life – Part Four – From Whom?

The catch line about taking back life begs a question – where did it go and who has it now? I’ve only just started to find out that answer for myself.

It’s one that all the readers can ask themselves – because the answers that they find will all be as different as their own lives.

In my case a great deal of time went out to learning – all the years from 1953 to 1972 were spent in formal education. It was not unpleasant, and paid me handsomely by giving me a profession that I could trade upon. Subsequent years also educated me in a subsidiary art that I could turn to employment after the initial profession petered out. So I was set for earning power.

A great deal of time was spent in travel – this means re-location, socializing, and the discipline that comes from experiencing the solitude of the newcomer.

And a certain amount of time was spent in pure amusement – in my case I found most of it from the construction of scale models. All through my life I have had a chance to try my hand at a number of types of modelling. Most were successful – the only exception being model flying. But even here the act of constructing the failed airplanes was rewarding – training hand and eye to small tasks. Teaching visual proportion. And also teaching patience – very few models were ever dashed to the ground in the workshop. Most of them suffered that fate at the flying field.

So what am I now going to take back in my retirement? Why the pure amusement. I now collect scale models and make scenes and dioramas with them. I then use these in my studio for art and commercial illustration. I have discovered the joys of scratch-building as well as kit assembly. I look daily to solve new problems at the workbench – I haunt hobby shops and toy stores looking for parts. I have even started to exhibit some of the models at fairs and shows.

The real benefit this gives is internal – it brings me back to my roots – the little kid at the kitchen table making models – and stimulates my memory. I’m starting to get back some of the scenes and scents of my youth. Daily life took them away for 50 years and now daily routine can bring them back.

The Gift Of Languages

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There is only one thing better than being able to speak a foreign language – being unable to speak a foreign language.

In the first instance you can take your linguistic skills to said foreign country and participate in the life of the common people. You will not be restricted to hotel staff and major stores in major cities. You will be able to find where the locals eat and where the toilets are and you will be able to catch public transport without fear of unexpectedly ending up three cities away.

On the other hand, the local people generally live far less well than the hotel…and the markets, food, and general experience that they undergo might be hellish. The toilets you find may be one step ahead of finding you. And riding the local minibus rather than a taxi may be hazardous to your health – you can get robbed and beaten as easily by a person whom you can understand as by one who is speaking gibberish.

Now if you do not have any of the local language, you do not have to understand or react to casual insults or demands for money. No-one can force rugs or bracelets on you if they cannot make you understand the words for rug, bracelet, or pay. You can shamelessly utilise English-speaking guides and couriers provided by hotels to do the simplest of communication tasks.

Of course you can still be made to feel uncomfortable by gestures and behaviours, but as you do not comprehend the words, insults lodge in the mouths of the speakers. You miss out on cultural performances, but remember that all cultural performances are not necessarily elegant or sophisticated – every nation has a Kath and Kym somewhere.

Be particularly careful if you are feigning ignorance that you do not let on that you understand any of the words. Do not be tempted to return snide fire with snide fire, unless you can do it in a language that is so far removed from where you are that no-one will twig. Best combo: speak Inuit when in Indochina and Navajo when in Japan. Smile, nod, and sound polite while calling them slimy walrus turds and you will probably get away with it.

Note that international traveler’s signs are pretty universal – you can travel on the Tokyo trains without getting into too much trouble. And I suspect that they can travel on ours as easily.

A Holiday Is Not A Vacation

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And a Vacation is not a Tour. And a Tour is not a Journey.

And a Journey is not a Holiday…

Welcome to the circle of someone-else’s-life. The glossy brochure discount special website revue of us telling you where to go for a fee, and you paying that fee. It’s Travel Time.

I expect that every reader of this weblog column has taken a trip at some stage of their life. They have set out from the place where they belong and gone to where they do not…and then reversed the process with a bag full of dirty underwear. Bus station sandwiches and airline trays are familiar fare. They have arrived at accomodation that does not match the brochure with no alternative available. They have discovered that there are extras on the bill. They are seasoned travellers, and the seasoning is either salt or ashes…

Well, take heart. It is possible to find the good and avoid the bad. You can attain peace and happiness and recruit your frazzled nerves  during a well-earned break. Here are some simple tips:

a. Make sure it is a well-earned break. If it is a holiday a week after your last holiday or if it is just another jaunt instead of doing something useful in the world, you are likely to have an underlying feeling of shame. That feeling is real and should tell you to stay at work and get something done.

b. Make sure you can afford the holiday. If you can’t, you are better off staying at the desk, counter, or plough. Debt is not a holiday.

c. Make sure you really want to see the people who live wherever you are going. If they are someone you would avoid in your home town – as being dodgy, dangerous, smelly, uninteresting, or ugly – you can be sure that they will be doubly so in their own country, and they will not have to try to conceal it  – you are going to be the stranger and you’ll have to put up with it.

d. Look at the tourist brochure and see if the sights that they are offering are something that you really care about. If not, you are sacrificing comfort, money, and tranquility for no good. If you couldn’t care less about ancient ruins at the bottom of your street, you don’t need to see them up the side of the Andes.

e. Is the destination likely to put you in danger of death? Or crippling debt? Or shame? Yes? So why are you going? You could get that in the rattier parts of your own town and be home in time to watch Australian Idol. Note: If you are going because the government is sending you to kill people than this caveat does not apply. Remember to pick up your brass.

f. Those people in the travel doco or brochure are actors. The people a metre away from the airport door are not. The former have to be attractive, interesting, polite, and welcoming. The latter – no. Expect ugly, rude, and greedy. Hell, you get that at the local IGA on Thursday Pensioner Day, so why should Middle Europe be any different. It’s the same damn people…

g. If they tell you that you need an International Drivers License it is because they wish to fleece you for petrol, insurance, repairs, and baksheesh. If they tell you that you do not need one, it is because they wish to fleece you for all the above plus a local permit to apply for a permit to apply for…

h. Militia. The common characteristics of militia in any country are that they carry firearms and that they want you to give them money. John Dillinger would have been a militiaman if he had thought of it.

i. If you go to a country where you can officially drink you will be sold expensive bad liquor. If you go to a country where they forbid drink you will be sold expensive bad liquor and then fined for buying it. If they have been drinking it themselves you may be beaten in the bargain, for the sake of God’s pleasure. Don’t expect that to make sense, but reflect that they do not sell bad liquor at Dan Murphy’s and they rarely beat the customers.

j. If you throw a cardboard box of old clothes into the back of a ute you can drive it on vacation for free. If you lift it onto the counter of an airline company you can pay a stiff price for the same old clothes’ vacation. If you take the ute rather than the Boeing, your clothes usually arrive at the same time you do.

k. Try something out this weekend. Find the smallest and hardest seat in your house, put up a partition either side so that you cannot move your arms, sit down in it, turn on your stereo set with the sound of a jet motor whining at about 95 dB, and stay there for 24 hours. Every four hours have someone bring you coffee or baby food in a tray. Allow yourself one toilet break.

At the end of this, stand in the lounge room for 45 minutes slowly shuffling forward. At the end of the 45 minutes ask your next door neighbour to sneer at you.

Welcome to London.

 

Car Models In The Lion City

Singapore 2014 378

I have just returned from a 10-day holiday in Singapore – the island/city/nation north of Australia. During the stay I visited botanic gardens, zoos, bird parks, casinos, shops, and museums. I rode the MRT – the public transport system – above and below ground. I ate on the beach, on the top of a skyscraper, down the hawker centre, and at roadside stalls.

And I shopped.

This is easy to do as Singapore has more than one shop…many more than one shop…and they have as wide a selection of the world’s goods as anyone could want. So wide, if truth be told, as to outstretch my imagination. Here are three Chinese statues expressing my amazement at the variety of goods…

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Once I had overcome my initial shock at the size of the stores and the level of the stock, I repaired to my notebook and looked out all the model car shops in the city. I had made a careful list of them from the internet – the locations in shopping malls and the floor and location number were all listed. Then I hopped on the MRT for Orchard Road ( The big-time shopping hub ) and hit the shops.

Or…hit the place where the shops had been…while I did find one shop with some die cast cars on the road, three vendors were missing – replaced with bridal shops or empty spaces. It started to look as though there were to be no die cast models in the city. The hobby had died. How sad.

But I took one final chance at 14 Scotts Road – the Far East Plaza just a little further on from the Hyatt Hotel. The first shops in the plaza were not encouraging – tailors and tourist shops touting for business. I kept on until the directory panel came into sight. It finally got me to Auto Models Pty Ltd. A real die cast store with a real stock of models.

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I browsed, as we all do, and one of the ladies serving in the shop mentioned that there were certain levels of discount on the stock dependent upon how many you bought. She was discrete but helpful.

There were all scales, types, and brands of model available – vehicles and aviation in particular. I toyed with a Minichamps three-wheeled German delivery truck but eventually settled for a 1:10 scale Indian motorcycle that was older stock. Older stock is exactly what I want for my collection. The deal was done with a discount, carded carefully, and I was able to show off some of my Hot Rod Honeys images on my iPad. I asked for permission to blog a report and it was granted.

What a pleasant experience! It is a shop I would certainly recommend  a collector to visit if they are in Singapore. I have a new model and will watch their website for anything that crops up in the future. Their site is:

http://www.nikkodiecast.com.sg

If you are in their city the telephone number is 6732 7717. The shop is easy to find, and there is even a plastic model shop further around on another section of the plaza to make it worth a double visit.

A successful day.