Thoughts about living in China – All quite random – Part 1

Between about 2006 and 2009 we lived and worked in Beijing, Lotty in one International School (Beijing City International School) and I in the Western Academy Beijing (WAB). I was employed as what they called their Production Engineer, which effectively was the equivalent of what I used to do at the Roundhouse in London, in other words, I functioned as their Production Manager, being responsible for the sound and lighting crew of the school. As we had something like 7 venues to deal with, and as they tended to start each morning at about 8 am and finish some time in the evening – with rock concerts, classical concerts, film shows or whatever, we tended to work for about 70 hours a week.

I had a number of Chinese guys working with me, so I found it relatively easy to learn Mandarin (the Chinese dialect spoken in Beijing, and thus the official language of China), except that it is a tonal language, and the tone used can change the meaning of a word totally – for example, the word “Mar”, can mean the following:- Horse, Wife, Arrow and who knows what more? So if you happen to get the tone wrong, you could be saying something like, “I shot my wife at a straw target”, or “I would like to introduce you to my arrow”. When the Chinese use their tones, it is very subtle, and hardly noticeable, but for us Long Noses (Western foreigners) it is extremely tricky! Which makes a language that on the face of it is very simple and logical, incredibly hard to use properly, so I spent my entire time making that sort of mistake – oh well……

While we were living there, the number of cars increased exponentially. When we got there, most people still used bicycles, but by the time we left, every week another 10 000 cars were registered in Beijing alone! This, of course, caused huge traffic jams, sometimes they were up to 100 km long!!!!

Also, the Chinese hadn’t grown up with cars, the way we in the west had done, so they did the most extraordinary things when in cars, or even when simply crossing the road. For example, when driving on a motorway, if they happened to miss their turning, they were perfectly happy to turn around, and drive against the other traffic until they got to their turning, and then leave the motorway. I have seen the crew of a police car happily having a picnic on the hard shoulder of a motor way, and I have also seen a shepherd happily putting his herd of sheep across a motorway – altogether extraordinary!

Also, in all the cities, the two opposing lanes of the roads have large, and very secure, fences on them, to stop people crossing the road anywhere but at the places intended for them to cross – this because people tended to simply wander across the roads anywhere they happened to be – the results of many, many years of only bikes on the roads.

Another hang-over from the days of no cars (for the ordinary people), when an official is being driven somewhere, they have a total right of way, so all other vehicles have to give way to them and their hugely important passenger(s), and the military have even more right of way than the politicians – so if you happen to be driving in Beijing, watch out for large cars with special number plates, they have, and will take, an absolute right of way!

In another post, I shall dwell on yet more curiosities of life in Beijing – a city that I truly enjoyed living in.

Ebook Review – Golden Biker; An Insane Romp Through India.

I have just read an amazingly funny and anarchic book called Golden Biker, written by the splendidly named Alexander von Eisenhart Rothe which apart from anything else disproves totally the idea that Germans have no sense of humour.

This wonderful ebook which is a sort of “The Marx brothers Meet Easy Rider” story is set in contemporary India and tells the tale of a most unlikely group of people who are – for a whole range of idiotic reasons – chasing each other across India.

I can do no better than quote, rather fully, from the author’s own description of this story. This description sets the tone of the story and is written in the same style as the story itself, so it will give you a good idea of the atmosphere of the ebook:

Brought together in India through a series of hare-brained adventures are Arthur, an old bohemian from Cologne; Albert, otherwise known as Bear, a snack bar owner who emigrated to Goa; Gerd, a German businessman with a mid-life crisis; and Sherie, a stunningly good-looking prostitute from Bombay.

Together, they embark on a mission to find a mystic figure in the Himalayas: The Golden Biker, who supposedly cruises through the mountains on a golden motorbike, to punish the evildoers and give to those who mean well some of his no less mystical marihuana… known among aficionados as the best grass in the world.

However, the route the foursome has to undertake riding some ancient motorbikes called Enfield Bullets, across all of India is rather long and full of danger. Increasingly so, if you have a gang of ill-tempered Indian Mafiosi, two permanently stoned Israeli secret service guys, a gang of politically correct gypsies, one involuntary guru, a stark-naked blowgun expert, a muddle brained but fanatical old Nazi including his private army, as well as two freelance killers from Bombay at your heels.

Continue reading “Ebook Review – Golden Biker; An Insane Romp Through India.”

We head north and get a better idea of how huge Australia is.

Recently we (Lotty and I) went for a trip to the north of Brisbane, our first time to the middle of Queensland, and it was an amazing experience – to put it mildly!

The first thing that it showed us was how damn big Australia actually is – we drove for days and hardly covered any ground on our map of Queensland. The trip north was reasonably quickly done, as we were signed into a Yoga Retreat at an area called Mission Beach, about almost 2000 km north of Brisbane, so we simply went up the coastal road, which was for the most part, a motorway.

Once the Retreat was over, we headed further north, through Cairns and onto Daintree, where we camped for a few days. Whilst there, we indulged in a river expedition to gaze at the millions of different birds who live in the rain forest up there – and in passing, also gazed in horrid awe at the huge crocodiles who live in that river.

A huge male crocodile, at least about 5 meters long! – king of that section of the river!

We also saw cattle drinking from the river, with a female crocodile about 2 meters away from them – happily she didn’t grab any of the cattle, presumably she was full?

We then set out to get back to Brisbane, but this time taking our time about it, and using the “inner” road, so we could see the actual scenery of Queensland.

This was an odd experience, not least because of the distances between towns (mostly actually small villages). We quickly came upon road signs that said that the next village was about 400 km away. And that was actually how it was! The road disappeared into a geometric vanishing point.

And the only thing we saw on this road (apart from the very occasional village) were trees and Termite nests and very occasionally, another vehicle.

There were literally thousands of these huge towers dotting the landscape

We passed small villages, small towns and occasionally even ghost towns, sundry old buildings, but no one living there, which was odd, but given that most of these villages were built by prospectors who when the gold, coal or whatever mineral they were after was finished, simply moved on, leaving their town to rot. Odd though.

And to cap it all, on the last leg of our journey we found ourselves in a forest, just about 200 km north of where we live, this forest was about 100 km wide, and the road through it was simply a dirt track, so for about 100 km we bumped along a very rough road – which caused my back to be screwed up for several weeks after our trip – the infamous corrugated dirt tracks of the Australian outback!

Almost 100 km of this track….. Not good!

So, an amazing trip which told us a wee bit more about the country we are living in.. an amazing place!

If you have ever travelled in this area, please let us know via the comments below, so we can share your experiences.

MATALA – I live in a cave in Crete

Just before the time that the CIA caused a coup in Greece, popularly known as “The Colonel’s Coup” I found myself wandering around in Crete – an amazingly wonderful and slightly alarming place in those days – about the mid-60’s. A lot of the men walked around with huge and highly decorated knives in their belts, which I gathered they were altogether prepared to use at the drop of a hat.

I got a lift across the island from the guy who was in charge of security at the huge American Airbase on the island, who told me that he had to regularly get airmen taken off the island with no warning as there were fathers, brothers and male cousins looking for them as they had spoken to local girls – a definite no-no.

Anyhow, all that aside, I was heading for a village called Matala which I had heard about – a place where a load of Travelers were living in what we thought were Roman Burial Caves (it turns out they were actually Neolithic living caves) and I thought that might be a pleasant way to spend some time.

So I duly arrived in the village of Matala, which in those days was more or less deserted, just a few houses were inhabited and I seem to recall there was one café and a bakers shop and a couple of inhabited houses. However, the caves, which were on the opposite side of the bay from the village was almost full of people who could be described as Hippies, though they were mostly part time Hippies, not the real thing. So I wandered along the beach to the caves and hunted for one that was empty, which I found on about the third level of the caves, so I moved into it and made it my temporary home.

General view of the caves – mine was in the top layer on its own.

It was in fact a very pleasant cave to live in, as it had a front door and a window that gave a view over the bay and to the – then tiny – and almost deserted village of Matala. It also had a bed, which was simply a flat area dug out of the wall of the cave which had obviously been intended ( we thought) for the dead Romans, but it now turns out was the original beds of the Neolithics who lived there and who had dug the caves out.

On a slightly gruesome note, during the war, the Cretan Resistance used the caves – we were told – to dump the dead bodies of the German soldiers they had killed, so there were quite a few human bones knocking around the caves, which the people living in the caves used as jewelry which was rather odd… Young girls wandering around with Human collar bones on string around their necks.

All that aside, the people who lived in the caves formed a friendly and close-knit group of people, much given to communal meals around bonfires to gaze at the stunning sunsets over the sea and I had no trouble fitting into the group.

So I spent a couple of months pleasantly in among these good souls, enjoying the peace and tranquility of living in the Cave Community and then headed out again to further explore Crete – An amazing island full of the most extra-ordinary people. I mean the actual Cretans here, they were still living in those days as they had for centuries. The film Zorba the Greek gave a very actual picture of how it was in those days – both the good and the bad aspects. Notably the police were all mainland Greeks, as the government in Greece knew damn well that when dealing with an “honour killing” or some similar, there was no way that a Cretan cop would deal with it as a crime. Odd folk I found.

They all had an enormous admiration for Australia as Australian soldiers had apparently had the same enthousiasm for killing German soldiers as the Cretans when Germany invaded Crete, so many an elderly Cretan villager expressed happily how Australian soldiers had killed German paratroopers with their knives – Gruesome!

Here is a video that I came across on Youtube of a bunch of elderly women describing how they passed their time on Matala in their youth. Altogether rather amazing – seeing how those Hippy like young girls I knew then had grown up into really rather reasonable adults…..

Fun, eh?

If this post sparks any thoughts in you, please share them via the comments section below – simply scroll on down and you will see it. We will be really appreciative of any thoughts you might have on the topic of how people deal with life, deal with living in historical ruins and similar…

I experience the horror of the Olympics – In Beijing

While I was working at an international school in Beijing, the Western Academy of Beijing – affectionately know as WAB – I had the unforgettable experience of being involved in the Olympic Games as they were being held in Beijing while we were there.

This is the song that was recorded by about 100 famous singers, including Jackie Chan rather surprisingly.

Unforgettable is the right word for this, not happy or pleased.  Apart from the various changes that were made by the Chinese government (closing down all polluting activities for the duration of the games themselves, renewing all the taxis and buses with super clean modern ones, establishing an anti-pollution system for cars so that those with odd number number plates could drive on alternate days, and those with even number plates on the other days – which led those who could afford it to buy two cars and making sure they had odd and even number plates – and no end of such ideas), we were also involved in a number of ways.

WAB was chosen to be the base for the Australian team for all the non-training activities – physiotherapy, offices, equipment stores and similar, so we enjoyed the company of all the Aussie athletes and trainers for the Games themselves, which was a pleasing experience by and large.   But we were also used by loads of extremely commercial companies as a training base in the months leading up to the Games.   So TV camera men were being trained for months by English guys who worked full-time on the Olympics for a British TV company.  These got horribly in our way, as we had to also set up lights and sound equipment for the multitude of school activities every day, and these idiots got under our feet a lot!

I was also briefly employed by the local cops to  (of all things) try to teach them English.  This turned out to be a publicity stunt on the part of the City of Beijing, as what I had to do was stand in front of a class of Tourist Police and pretend to teach them English while being filmed by a full team of cameramen and sound guys – all good fun and harmless stuff.  In fact all the Tourist Cops in Beijing speak perfectly good English.   In passing, it was a joy to live in a country where (unless they needed guns and similar) the cops didn’t wander around laden down with guns, tasers and bullet proof vests, after having lived in too many countries where they did that… and also it was great to live in a place where the cops wore smart uniforms rather than black combat suites.

As the time for the Games approached, more and more of the companies who live off the games appeared, and we became aware that in fact the Olympics were all about earning large sums of money for no end of companies and the athletes were the produce, the coca-cola bottles as it were.

This rather depressed me, and those of us who were witnessing this hyper-commercialising of the athletes endeavours.  Not only did we see the direct commercialising of the athletes work, but we had to listen to the lies of the various broadcasters who were sent to China to report on the Olympics, but also were apparently also ordered to say the strangest and untrue things about China.   The Chinese government is absolutely not a nice one, but then plenty of others around the world are even worse, and the total lies we heard everyday on the BBC and other apparently honest broadcasters was depressing, to say the least!  They went out of their way to find nasty things to say about the country, its people and its government, and as one who lived there and knew the realities of Chinese life, I found the various lies hard to take.

So, to sort of sum the whole experience up, I hated the reality of the Olympics, the huge sums of money that apparently everyone earned from it all, the pomp and ceremony of the whole idiotic and expensive mess, the chaos it caused in everyone’s lives and the hypocrisy of it all…

The Joys (and otherwise) Of Scuba Diving Off Australia

While I was living in the Philippines (Cebu to be precise) I took up scuba diving in a very serious fashion, and ended up becoming what is rather dramatically called a Rescue Diver.  This simply meant that I was supposed to be master of a number of techniques to help other divers should they get into difficulties underwater – panic attacks, running out of air, getting stuck under water and so on – and I had a number of moments when I had to put my training into action, but always as a result of an accident, as the various Dive Masters I dived with took their work very seriously and avoidable mistakes were……. avoided.

However, during this period in my life, I also had to come to Australia reasonably often, to just outside Brisbane to be exact, and I thought it would be pleasing to dive here as well.   So I hunted around for affordable ways to dive in and around Brisbane.

As a result of this, I found a club attached to one of the Universities in Brisbane as well as a couple of straightforwardly commercial operations, and I signed up with them and went on a number of dives with them.

I had already discovered that Australia is the Land Of Health And Safety Rules, so I wasn’t surprised to be confronted with a number of forms that I had to fill in every dive I went on, listing my diving qualifications and so on.  All perfectly reasonable stuff, if slightly over the top and unheard of in the Philippines where all one had to do was to show the Dive Master one’s log book which listed all one’s dives and level of qualifications.

This paper work cheerfully filled the time one was on the way to where we were going to dive, about several hours out of Bribie Island to an artificial reef just off Morton Island – also, of course, we got our gear on during this trip.

Being an experienced Paddi Rescue diver, and having dived hundreds of times off Cebu, I was expecting that we would divide ourselves up into buddy pairs before leaping into the water – a very basic safety rule for scuba divers, but nope. these people simply arrived at the diving site, and leaped into the sea regardless.  And then swam off in various directions on their own or with several other divers, but in a completely random fashion.

Another daunting experience was on one of these dives a fellow diver simply leaped into the sea without bothering to turn on his air-tank – added to which, he had not bothered to put any air into his BCD ( a sort of life jacket divers wear to sort out their buoyancy underwater) so he of course simply sank like a stone.   This was a problem for him as it is very tricky to turn on your tank while you are wearing it.  Luckily I had noticed him disappearing under water, so I was able to follow him down to the (luckily) not very deep sea-bottom, and turn on his air, so all was well.

But no one else had noticed him sinking, and as no one was his “Buddy”, he would have simply drowned if I hadn’t happened to see him.  Nasty….

But the paperwork was all correct happily, so all would have been well if he had drowned.

The other problem I had here was the temperature of the sea…  It was cold!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Anyhow, after several of these experiences, I decided that scuba diving in Australia was not for me, and went back to the Philippines for my diving, and since living in this otherwise admirable and enjoyable country I have not bothered with scuba diving.

Namibia – Africa For Beginners.

A proper African holiday complete with lions, elephants and all the other trappings of Africa – most of which were absent from Angola as they had all been killed during the civil war (Mostly by Generals shooting them with heavy machine guns from Helicopter Gun Ships – Ah big game hunting is such fun!).

Generally when we had holidays or breaks from our work at the Luanda International School, Lotty and I went and wandered around in Angola, since we wanted to come to grips with this fascinating and complex country while we had the chance.  But on one holiday, several of our colleagues asked us to join them on a holiday in the neighbouring country of Namibia.   A proper African holiday complete with lions, elephants and all the other trappings of Africa – most of which were absent from Angola as they had all been killed during the civil war (Mostly by Generals shooting them with heavy machine guns from Helicopter Gun Ships – Ah big game hunting is such fun!).

So in due time the great moment arrived, and we all boarded the plane to fly us from Luanda to Windhoek International Airport.

On arrival we were first somewhat stunned by the modernity and cleanliness of the terminal, and then even more stunned by the fact that the guys from the travel company we had arranged our hire vehicles with were actually there.

We were swept up by these good men, taken to remarkably modern and clean pick-up trucks and driven off to Windhoek.  This was also a serious form of culture shock for us Angolan refugees… The roads were perfect, the vehicles driving on them were all new, clean and driven sensibly.   No weird battered, rusty ancient wrecks creeping crablike down the pot-holed roads here…  Everything was modern, clean, well maintained and impeccable.  After the mess and chaos of Luanda this was an eye-opener for us all.

Then we got to Windhoek, which turned out to be a small and also totally neat, tidy and clean little city, full of well dressed and well fed looking people.  Not a cripple, street kid or dead body to be seen anywhere.

By this time we were all reeling somewhat from the totally different place we now found ourselves in.   In a matter of a couple of hours flying, we had gone from a war-torn, medieval city to a 20th century, well organised and normal place.

I was later told that the first thing the Namibian President ordered when they became independent of South Africa, was a huge clean up of the country.. It took them a year apparently, but the results were truly impressive…

We were taken to our hotel, and signed in and as one we all rushed straight out of the hotel to see for ourselves what it was like in the shops and cafes of this place.   Another shock, the Supermarket’s shelves were filled with all manner of food and other necessities, the cafes were clean and relaxed places serving delicious coffee in clean, uncracked cups – just like any normal western city in fact.   This was a very strange feeling for us, coming from a place where the Supermarkets frequently had almost completely empty shelves, cafes were rough and ready and the only drink you could rely on them having was beer.

Anyhow, we wandered around in a sort of daze for a few hours, then retired, confused and relaxed to our beds at the end of our very disconcerting first day in Namibia.

The next day, Lotty and I in one camping truck, and Jayne and Mathu in the other one set off northwards to go to a nature reserve way up on the Namibia/Angolan border.

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……………………… Sort of flat!

This entailed a drive of something like 1200 km over countryside that made Holland seem mountainous.    I have never seen such a flat landscape in my life…. Not even a pimple to be seen.   If it wasn’t for the occasional Elephant, or warthog wandering across the road and the regular police check points it would have been the most boring bit of driving I had ever done.  Occasionally one came to small remarkably neat little towns, all of which still showed very clearly that the Germans used to be the Colonial power in Namibia.. Sort of miniature German villages dropped in the middle of this vast African tundra.

When we finally reached the northern border of Namibia, which was demarcated by a wide, muddy and sluggish river, with Angola on the far side, we camped in an amazingly luxurious camp site and in the evening, we sat like good colonialists beside the river, with long cool drinks in our hands, listening to the frog chorus and gazing over the river at the darkness of Angola.  Not a light to be seen on the Angolan side of the river.. Just darkest Africa.   And then suddenly drums started up on the Angolan side… Very strange feeling, listening to that drumming in the pitch dark night.

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Gazing over the river at Angola…….

The next day we headed off into the Caprivi strip, a curious narrow strip of Namibia that runs west-east between Zambia and Botswana, where there was a nature reserve we wanted to explore.

We duly arrived at the entrance to the park, to be told that no one else was currently visiting, but that we were very welcome to stay if we wished.  And directed to the camp site – with dire warnings about not getting out of our vehicles anywhere except in the camp site – Lions you know.  The remarkably solid and tall wall around the reception offices rather reinforced this warning.

So off we drove, into the park.  Which was beautiful, sort of tall elephant grass and groups of trees.  Lots of warthogs and various sorts of deer, and loads of monkeys leaping about the place.   Not a lion or elephant to be seen.

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Warthogs with their ridiculous tails

We duly found the camp site – we recognised it as there was an outside lavatory block there – for the rest, nothing, no fence, electricity, water or even a place to dispose of our rubbish.  Obviously one of those places where if you brought it in you took it out when you left.  Reasonably enough, given the monkeys around the place.

The bit that worried me was that it was on the edge of a river, and had what was obviously the place where large creatures came out of the river right slap bang into the middle of the camp site.  Since these animals could only be crocodiles or hippopotamuses, both of which are highly dangerous, I wasn’t too happy about this.

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The camp site with our campers

We could see no crocs, but we did see the noses and eyes of quite a few hippos in the river.  Unsettling feeling.

Anyhow, we settled down, set up our camp and relaxed.

As the evening drew in, two wonderful things occurred.  The first was the arrival of a huge family group of baboons, who settled noisily down for the night in the trees around our campers.  In spite of having the reputation of being a real pest, and even dangerous to campers, this family group ignored us totally, and simply got on with their own domestic affairs.  Loved watching them doing this.

Then the second joy of the African countryside started up.. namely the evening chorus of hundreds of different sorts of frogs and toads.. Each sort with its own song…. These different songs combined to produce the most wonderful and huge choral work, that went on for about an hour… totally entrancing to listen to.

During the night we could hear the Hippos snorting and coughing in the river nearby, so I was extremely glad to be sleeping on the roof tent of our camper, rather than in a tent on the ground..   Hippos are generally considered the second most dangerous animal in Africa – the first of course, being humans – but they stayed in the river and didn’t bother us in any way, I am happy to say.

I shall write the second half of this Namibian thing later……..

Roadkill – The Depressing Side Of Driving In Oz

One of the most distressing aspects of doing much driving in rural Australia – which includes Tasmania obviously- is the high rate of road kill here.  When driving outside cities or largish towns for every kilometer one drives, one will see probably two or three dead animals that have been hit by cars during the night.  

One of the most distressing aspects of doing much driving in rural Australia – which includes Tasmania obviously- is the high rate of road kill here.  When driving outside cities or largish towns for every kilometer one drives, one will see probably two or three dead animals that have been hit by cars during the night.

roadkill

Every sort of wild creature that lives here is represented in this depressing parade of corpses – kangaroos, wombats, crows, ichidnas, wallabies and so on, literally every sort of wild animal will be seen sooner or later lying dead in the road or on the edge of the road.

As far as I can see, no one clears away their corpses, as one sees them in all states of decay.   From freshly killed to a bag of skin around a skeleton and all stages of putrefaction in between.

The crows are obviously very happy with this state of affairs, as it represents a continuous source of easy food for them to gobble up, and being crows they generally judge to a second how long they can stay eating as a car approaches, only leaping away at the last minute – or slowly stalking away in time for the car to pass harmlessly, before returning to their feast.

Even they miscalculate on occasion and end up as a sad bundle of disordered feathers lying next to their last meal – sad to see.

Last year we camped in parts of Tassie that are famous for the high numbers of Tasmanian Devils that live there, and hunt every night, so we had hoped both to see and hear them while we were there – but nope, the only one we came across was a very dead one on the road..  Another victim of the car.

It is not for nothing that someone years ago produced a book called ¨Flattened Fauna of Australia¨, made up of photos of all the different types of animals and birds this amazing country has, but all as corpses on the road.

So, as I said, seeing this mass of dead creatures when driving is deeply saddening, but a very typical aspect of this country – always has been and probably always will be.

I Learn To Scuba Dive – Bliss Is To Be Underwater!

On retirement, I discover the joys of scuba diving – Flying like a slightly intoxicated bird over the deep reef edge…. Such pleasure!

After we left Beijing, we moved to Cebu (One of the several thousand islands that make up the Philippines) where Lotty had been given a job at Cebu International School.   As by that point I was about 67 years old, we decided that perhaps it might be as good a moment as any other for me to stop working and to settle back into the joys of retirement.

So that is exactly what I did.

However, I was then confronted by the problem that most people who retire are confronted with – what to do with those hours when you are not asleep?

For me, this was no real problem, since when in the Philippines one dives.. Simple.

By diving, I of course mean scuba diving, not high diving or anything like that.

Apart from one dive I had had in France many years before, during which I spent the better part of my time under water on my own, except for a friendly octopus who was busy arranging his/her garden outside the old paint tin he/she had squatted in I had never scuba dived before.

Loads of time with snorkels, but not with airbottles.

So I was introduced to a fellow called Alfred Alesna, a local dive instructor – a superb natural teacher and simply splendid guy.   He had worked for many years as a professional working diver cable laying and similar, and was more at home under the sea than on the shore.

Anyhow, he was one of the many local Paddi qualified dive instructors, and he became the guy who introduced Lotty and I to the wondrous world of scuba diving.

Alfred in full diving fig, at Kon Tiki Dive Centre

In due time we both qualified as “open water divers”, which roughly means we had dived a handful of times and knew the basics of diving, how to change our bottles underwater, not get killed and so on, but were far from experienced divers, and in no way safe to be allowed to head off on our own to dive off the reefs around Mactan Island where we did most of our diving.

Poor old Lotty at this point was busy earning our livings, but I, oh joy, I was as free as a lark, and thus went diving several days a week…  Which as each time I went, I probably dived three or four times, I very quickly worked up to several hundred dives, and had reached the dizzy heights of being a fully qualified Rescue Diver – which meant I was one step down from being a Dive Master, which would have meant I could train other divers.

 

thresher

My First Thresher Shark – So Elegant!!

However, that didn’t really appeal to me, so I stopped climbing the qualification ladder and settled down to simply enjoy my dives.

By this time I was also diving regularly with a bunch of cheerful divers who dived with Eric Vincent, the happy owner of Aquadive, one of the many dive centres there.

Continue reading “I Learn To Scuba Dive – Bliss Is To Be Underwater!”

We Get Arrested In XinJiang – Interesting………

A few years ago while my wife and I were working in China, we went for a long holiday in Xinjiang Province, which is the most westerly and northern province in China, bordering onto Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and several other Stans.    By the way, “Stan” is a Farsi word which simply means “place of ……. People”   So Pakistan means “Place of the Paki People” and so on.

Anyhow, we had just completed a 36 hour ride in a sleeper bus from Urumji and arrived at a small town near the Kazakh boarder and were sort of standing beside the bus wondering what to do next, when a couple of young Chinese girls and their tiny kid brother who had also been on the same bus as us came over and and started to talk to us.

This resulted in an invitation from them to rejoin them on the bus and head on off to the end point of the bus’s journey where there was apparently a very beautiful area of alpine countryside.

So, having no other pressing appointments, we agreed, clambered back onto the bus and headed off for another 5 or 6 hours driving and duly arrived at the small provincial town near to this especially beautiful landscape.

With their help we booked into a reasonable small hotel and enjoyed an evening in the town with them and their tiny little brother.

The next morning we hired a taxi for the day and headed off with our friendly Chinese girls to explore the famous area of natural beauty.

As we approached it, we ran into a serious Chinese Police road block – machine guns and so on very much in evidence sadly, and here our passports were checked extremely carefully.   There seemed to be some sort of problem with our passports, but it wasn’t made clear what the problem was, so we were told to leave them with the cops, and carry on into the hills.

Continue reading “We Get Arrested In XinJiang – Interesting………”