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Monday, 25 July 2016

Trading everything # 7 -Watching where you step

 In your new country you may have to watch your step a bit.  Australia has more than a few types of poisonous snakes and I wrote more than a few emails about them. Here's one to get us started.

  According to this week's issue of the local paper, a 50-year-old man from nearby Nabiac got a ride in the Westpac Rescue Helicopter courtesy of a death adder that bit him in the arm. One of the activities that we keep missing out on due to either bad weather or previous commitments is the local "bushwalk". This means a hike in the wilds, and apparently this is the best time of year to do it because, according to the organizer of this social event, "At this time of year the snakes disappear." Well I guess we all know now where they disappear to.

  I don't know the individual circumstances of the bite but I wouldn't be surprised if the man just didn't see it in time to avoid it. In one of the interpretive centres that we visited last week there was a terrarium about half a metre wide and one metre long but only about a standard ruler length deep. It sat at waist height and seemed to contain only leaves, rocks and bits of bark. We had a look and left. On the way out we were asked how many death adders we had spotted in the terrarium. We walked around it again. After about 5 minutes of the four of us looking we managed to come up with three snakes. Apparently there were actually four.

   Okay I can see how you could accidentally be bitten by one of these things but how to you think you would feel sitting there as the doctor informs you that you have been fanged by a DEATH adder. Things would already be bad enough without having the word DEATH tossed about in the waiting room. Just think about it, every question that the doctor asked you would involve him saying the word DEATH. "How big was the DEATH adder?" "How long has it been since the DEATH adder struck you?"  "Do you know how deadly a DEATH adder is?" " Were you playing with or tempting the DEATH adder?'"

I don't know about you but all things being equal I would rather hear that the culprit was a:


     Or a


Or a


 Or a


Or a even more hopefully a


   I'm sure that you can add to the list while I think of excuses as to why I'm not going on the bushwalk this weekend. Ken

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Trading Everything #6 Just get on the bus Gus

 Trading everything also means that you may have to rethink your transportation. This might be a steep learning curve.
                                         Just get on the bus Gus
 from the original email

Trouble in Paradise. We have managed to work ourselves into a transportation dilemma. Jan needs to be at work and often has meetings either after school or during the day at other campuses. Gord goes to his Lifestyles program three days a week . He has to be there and be picked up at specific times. Dan works downtown on the weekends but needs be with his friends whenever. I work three days a week but at a schedule which is at odds with everyone else
. Thus we have transportation "issues".

 Being a good Scot of deep pockets and short arms I decided against buying another car. For the first week we tried the cheapest method – walking. I can get to my work in an hour if I keep a brisk pace. I leave in the daylight and if I have to come home in the dark I'm just old and ugly enough that no one bothers me. Jan's walk home, which is also an hour if you know the short cuts, starts at sunset and gets progressively darker. She doesn't have the old and ugly advantage working for her. The first time Jan tried it she also didn't have the shortcuts mastered and ended up walking a mini marathon. So okay, Jan gets the car.
   This would seem to leave the bus as a logical answer to our problem. Approaching this head on I went to the main and only bus depot. I entered the Main Office (not that there were any other office buildings to confuse me) and spoke to what must have been the Main Employee. I asked him for a schedule of the bus routes (no problem as there were a number of photocopied sheets in a rack right in front of me) and a map of the routes.
  Being a good bloke (guy), he began taking maps off of the walls and piecing them together. "I'll make a photocopy for you." Then, "Wait a minute I think I can make a coloured copy for you!" Talk about being made to feel special. I was beginning to wonder if the second customer of the year would also get the red carpet treatment, when he emerged with, " Oh we found a brochure. It's the last one."   The last one – that's still in the "special" category.
  Sitting out on the deck, map unfolded in my lap, tracing with a finger the 305 route to the downtown, I was becoming sensually aware of the sea air mixing with the heady smell of transportation victory. Stop 22, indicated by a large red dot, it seemed, was only a block away. Being a man who now has ample time to check things out, I ambled down to Hume Street to see the actual bus stop first hand. No sense being in a dither and missing it due to lack of preparation. Hume Street is on a steep incline that would make a Sherpa home sick. I huffed up and down this a few times but couldn't find the bus stop. Well no wonder, I had the left the brochure at home and had obviously missed some important detail.
 Fetching the map gave further insight. The red dot #22 as you remember was clearly midway down the hill. So calves and gluteus slamming, down I went. Now there are a bewildering number of potential markers- wooden sticks with plastic ribbons, neighbourhood watch type signs on posts, but nothing that says Bus Stop. Clearly this was another one of those cultural riddles. In need of the oracle I phoned the bus depot directly.
   After a short intro I came straight to the point that being from out of town I had failed to locate the bus stop on Hume Street.   "Oh that would be because we haven't gotten around to putting the markers there yet." Apparently if I wanted to be picked up at a marker, I could go down to the bottom of the hill, turn left, find the entrance to the second street and then cross the road. Simple, but now I would be walking a good ten minutes in the wrong direction.
 "If I wanted to wait on Hume Street where Stop 22 is indicated, is there a house number there that I can stand by?"
"No they actually won't stop on Hume Street. It's too steep. Just go to the top of the hill and wait round the corner on Becker Rd."
"Is there a bus stop marked there?"
"Is there a house number that I should be standing in front of?"
"No, just wait round the corner."
 Just where "round the corner" is or what gestures are required to convince the driver that I am a worthy candidate for pickup was not explained. Closer examination of the map route showed the 305 buses travelling along Head Street and crossing Macintosh. This would be a much more direct method than the currently legal route. Maybe they just give the cops a special wave or figure that nobody is going to argue with a bus heading the wrong way on a one-way street.
  In the entire process I had neglected to ask about fares. Not sure if I'm up for another round of this. Maybe I'll just walk.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Trading Everything #5-How to catch bait using nylons and feet

   As Jan had to work I was left to my own devices.  I love to fish and I was told that the best way to catch them around here was with bait.
  My first attempt was to go after the elusive sand or beach worms. They are quite large - if you ever get to see one and quite desirable as bait - if you ever get to catch one. The idea I was told was to fill the bottom of a nylon stocking or onion type bag with some stinky dead fish then drag it around the sand until one of these big worms latch on and then presto you have your bait. When I was first told this I thought that they were having me on but sure enough I saw a few blokes down at the shore giving it a go so I joined in.

  I couldn't beg any nylons from Jan so I headed down to the local shopping centre and found a women's clothing store. When the salesperson asked if she could help me I said that I was looking for a pair of nylons.
 "What size are you looking for?"
 "It don't know. They're not for my wife, but probably something large would do."
 "What colour would you like?"
"It doesn't matter but it would be good it they were heavy duty because I need them for fishing."
She must have liked to fish herself as she managed to give my legs a brief glance, reach behind her, snatch up the package and hand it over in one fluid motion in the time that it took her to say, "I think these will do."
 Next I was off to the grocery store to ask the meat counter for the cheapest fish that they had, something that would give off a good odour if it was left out. Apparently I was after mullet.
I arrived the next morning with high hopes and a high smelling bag of dead fish. I dragged my bait bag this way and that making figure eights and circles and artist shapes that I felt would surely be enticing. After a morning of this I had zero worms and a bait bag that Jan was not going to welcome back in the house.

  Next on the list was the pipi or cockle. This is at least fun to try to catch because all you really have to do is get in the water up to your ankles and start to shuffle around with your feet until you find something. I found it a lot more fun and a whole lot less stinky

One early pipis gathering trip was quite memorable:

  We've all been on class trips. Usually the kids are pretty good, but sometimes they can be easily distracted and get a bit goofy especially if it is early in the school year. Today I was out walking on 9 Mile Beach. It was a beautiful day and not too surprising the local school was taking advantage of it, and having a group walk of some sort. It would be about their 3rd week of school after their summer break. There seemed to be 2or 3 classes, all wearing red shorts and white t shirts. I'm guessing early high school. No books, no equipment, but clearly organized and guided along by a few young looking teachers. They passed e as I dug for pipis . About 30 seconds following the passing of the school group, but clearly in their wake were three young ladies all seemingly the age that had just passed by. The first one wore a 2 piece outfit - fine. The second one was well built and topless - legal. The third one was carrying what looked like what might have been her red thong style bathing suit bottom. I took the time to notice (because I'm a trained teacher of Visual Arts) that she didn't have much in the way of tan lines.
I found 5 pipis. I wonder what the kids found?     

Monday, 18 July 2016

Trading Everything #4- Trading Waters -a painful introduction

 Part of the reality of trading everything is that the waters where you grew up may not be the waters you are going to.
  Dan, our youngest son, had arrived in Australia after having travelled in China, Japan and New Zealand. Going back to Canada wasn't really an option because of course there was another family living in our house now. Dan was familiar with swimming in fresh water lakes and ponds but meeting the ocean was a bit of an eye opener for him.

From the emails:

 Yesterday I got Dan up before 6 am for a beach walk at dawn. Once again the beach was littered with washed up blue bottle jellyfish. At one point there was a loud pop and Dan asked if I'd stepped on one. It turned out that he had and it was stuck to his heel. He scraped it off in the sand with no ill effects. Shortly after he announced that he was never going in the water because he didn't know what was going to be in there. This commitment lasted until one of his new buddies came over with an extra surf board and an offer to show him how to use it. His buddy Tim told him to wear board shorts which he didn't have so he borrowed mine. Board shorts are longish and have no liner. They have net pockets so that the water will drain. My shorts were a little loose on him but otherwise fine. Dan was still a bit reluctant, his last words before heading out were,"I'm going to die".
  Well he didn't die but he got a rude introduction to the ocean. As he was paddling on his surf board a blue bottle jellyfish managed to slide up his pant leg and lodge itself between the pocket liner and his thigh. He danced around the shore in pain and ended up using his hands to pry it off. His hands were now stung. His buddy was also stung on the foot.
 Apparently the lure of the surf must be a strong one as he is eyeing up a body board to head out again today.

and later...

 So after his jellyfish experience, Dan had a shower and hung the board suit up to dry. Today a neighbour invited us for some drinks and a swim in their pool. I grabbed the now dry "swimmers" and put them on. Somehow those barbs remained potent in the suit. By the time my body had convinced my mind that in fact this could be taking place, my hand, forearm and thigh were burning and starting to welt up red. Oh well, off to drink some wine and swell up by their pool.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Trading Everything #3 The Death Pencil, the Arrival, the Dark

 From New Zealand we landed in Sydney, but the city with the opera house was not our exchange site. To get to Forster (pronounced Foster) we would have to fly north to nearby Taree. We were glad to hear our boarding call, until we saw the plane. It was small, very small. We were told that depending on what the other passengers were bringing our luggage may not be going with us on this flight. Luckily our fellow passengers were mostly businessmen who were carrying little more than their laptops. After bending and cramming our way into the fuselage we were greeted with a choice of one seat on either side of an abbreviated aisle. The seats seemed similar to those that my parents would call card table chairs only they were somehow affixed to the floor. There was no division between passengers and crew so I sat directly behind the co-pilot. This degree of coziness had its advantages such as all the co-pilot had to do was twist around in his seat and toss the peanuts to us. Wisely he just had us pass back the water and pop. The other advantage was that the pilot could give us an ongoing travelogue as we flew low over interesting terrain. This helped to keep our mind off of the stomach churning bumpiness that is the hallmark of such small craft which are often referred to as vomit comets.
The disadvantage was that I could hear the muted voice concerns that the co-pilot had about the right hand prop engine. The pilot gave it a definitive shrug off but the co-pilot kept watching the engine and I kept watching the co-pilot watch the engine. Let's just say that the engine was well watched.

  When we arrived at the small airport in Taree, we were greeted by Wayne who was one of our official sponsors. His wife Kathy would be our other one. He asked how our flight was and I pointed to the plane. He said,"Oh you took the Death Pencil."

 As for the rest of the day Jan's original email probably says it best.

Hello family and friends!
All I can say is YOU NEED TO COME HERE!
What a beautiful place Forster is!  The beach at the bottom of the street is absolutely gorgeous - soft sand, warm water, sand dunes....they will have to remove us from here with a hook!
Our community rep, Wayne, met us at the airport in Taree this morning.  We had a wonderful tour of the area.  I went to my campus and met the principal - the resources and facility are amazing.
Tonight Wayne, and his wife Kathy, who manages a lovely cafe in town, invited us for dinner. They live just around the corner.  Kathy prepared a typical Oz dinner - roast lamb, which I had never had before - I LOVED it! 
I have a meeting at school tomorrow morning at 10:00.  After that, I don't have to show up until Monday!
Kathy and Wayne have 3 children - a daughter, 21, and 2 sons, 18 and 16. They are already eager to take Dan around the town and entertain him.  Dan arrives on Feb. 4.
The house is spacious and elegant.  There is a huge deck and swimming pool in the backyard.  I have promised Ken that I will be the spider killer should we see any.  There is plenty of room for guests so come and stay as long as possible.  
It's been a beautiful day - a bit humid - but with the lovely breeze it's very pleasant.
Will write again soon..

And then darkness came.

 As this house was only a few streets up from the beach there wasn't much light coming from the east, the town had two large patches of forest and the surrounding area was single family housing so all in all the amount of light pollution was fairly low. I'm not talking cabin in the woods dark but certainly much darker than your typical Canadian city. Now I know that every house has its own noises and you don't hear them after awhile because you just get used to them. But here on our first night were lying in bed with our ears tuned to the darkness. Due to a milder climate and a regular evening breeze the house was both heated and cooled via open windows and large screened doors. In Canada our windows are usually closed at night to keep the cold out in winter and the air conditioning in for our hot humid summers. The result wide ears and eyes for much of the night. Something kept scurrying across the deck just beyond the screened sliding door. Vegetation swayed audibly.There were bird/animal sounds that sounded roughly like monkeys. We asked each other if there were supposed to be monkeys here and wondered aloud about what we had gotten ourselves into. 

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Trading Everything #2 Whop,Whop,Vroom,Vroom, Pop,Pop- The Road to Oz

A 13 month visa gave us a bit of travel time before landing in Australia for the exchange so we decided to see what the Kiwis were up to.


  Jan thought it would be fun to start the day before breakfast by strapping me into a helicopter so that I was pressed against the window. Next apparently it was supposed to be fun to go land on top of some perfectly good, freezing cold, glacier that is located just under the summit of some ridiculously high mountain. Then wouldn't it be more fun to cruise by Mt Cook (the highest mountain in NZ)? What about cruising over an ice field of giant crevices?
  Our pilot was excellent, and apparently my screams were not responsible for the sudden violent changes in direction and altitude. We had a good look at Mt Cook but you can see it better if your eyes aren't squeezed shut. When the helicopter finally landed I won the prize for being the first out.

  So for today's morning adventure, Jan tossed me in the front bench of a jet boat and told me to hang on. These things do 85km/hr while going down the winding Shotover River. The idea is to try to get as close as you can (literally inches) to a canyon wall at the highest speed possible while somehow trying not to end up in the evening news. For those who somehow seemed to need more they throw in a number of high speed 360 turns. It kind of reminded me of my favourite ride as a kid, -the tilt-a-whirl. The only difference is that when I was a kid the people beside me were able to hang on to the bar and didn't crash me into the side of the boat. Getting to the river and back was much worse than the actual river trip. The wind was howling on the lake that lead to the river,and the white caps soon gave way to enormous waves. Being at the front of the boat, it would rise up and then fall like an elevator out of control. When we hit the bottom of the wave the crash would send a jolt up your spine that would make you a star at a chiropractor convention. My tail bone is now located just under my right shoulder. We got soaked! They only thing dry was my life insurance policy that Jan has been keeping in a plastic bag in her purse.   Later we did a wine cellar, tour in a cave. We left them some wine.
Then we watched some people bungie jump off of a high bridge over a raging river. Nooooooooooooooooo!

 Last night when a major wind storm hit our area, I insisted on going down to the ocean to see the waves. Unfortunately the sun had already set so you could see them but not clearly. In my haste I had left my running shoes on, which is not generally a good idea as they will get really stinky.  As we walked along the beach, every now and again we were surprised by sharp, loud, popping sounds. We started to look for what was causing these little explosions. In the dim light we could make out what looked like finger sized blue balloons that had been left on the beach after some child's party. A closer look showed the long blue threads hanging from the balloons. The wind had blown in a beach load of the stinging blue bottle jelly fish and we had been merrily walking along, stepping on their heads and popping them. How Jan didn't get stung I don't really know.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Trading Everything- The Great Exchange #1 -The Prequel

From Toronto...

 What would make a busy family decide to trade everything they have- house, car, job, even friends for a year?  In our case we had been hearing about the experience from several of our friends who did just that and we were frankly getting a bit envious.  They all had had interesting adventures and were able to see a part of world much more cheaply than if they had been doing the normal travel routine.  We heard about an exchange fair coming up and after a bottle of wine or two decided to attend.

There are many agencies that arrange for such exchanges and they all have their rules. In our case we got to  pick three countries from a list but from there on it would be luck. For awhile it didn't look like anything was really going to happen and we were among the last to be placed. We found out that it was going to be Australia but since Oz is a huge and diverse country we didn't really know what we were getting into until we got there.

  If you wait for the perfect time in your life to do it, you never will. There are no perfect times. Spouses and children will adapt. Older parents will not want to hold you back, and yes you may need to find some extra support for them. The biggest reason why I have seen people hold back is and I quote,"But they'll be touching our stuff!" Yup and you will be touching theirs too. When you get too old to be adventurous you don't want to be sitting around thinking that stuff you probably no longer have stopped you from a perhaps once in a life time experience. I say perhaps once because some people love the concept so much that they start as early as they can and keep doing it as much as they can.

   Most people's travel experience is seasonal short term holidaying where you hit the highlights and then go home.  Actually residing and working in a community for a year is a far different and fuller experience. However we had a few things to do before we set out.

Preparing for new family who will be living in our home:
  • sort everything - discard, store, or keep out for exchange family's use
  • remove personal family photos, heirlooms
  • clean every cupboard, closet and drawer
  • clean stove and refrigerator
  • replace worn or missing essentials - e.g. coffee maker, steak knives, cookie sheet
  • complete minor household repairs - e.g. squeaky doors, dripping taps, sticky drawers
  • take car in for tune-up and detailing
  • sell other car
  • inform car and house insurance company of change in occupants/drivers - provide driver's abstract from Australian family
  • arrange for a friend, neighbour to act as community support and leave contact information
  • arrange for a work colleague to serve as mentor
  • arrange for mail pickup by a relative
  • leave notes on how "things" work - e.g. VCR, stereo, TV, dishwasher, oven, BBQ, jacuzzi, lawnmower, trimmer, water softener, AC, humidifier, furnace, sump pump, garage door opener
  • leave contact names/numbers for plumber, electrician, appliance repair, snow removal 
  • leave payment information for hydro, water, phone, cable TV, internet, gas
  • leave list of local banks, grocery stores, banks, restaurants, doctor, dentist
  • leave instructions for feeding fish in aquarium and pond

Preparing for departure:

  • plan flights and stops/destinations for travel en route to Australia 
  • arrange for visas for family members
  • arrange for letter from bank manager to give to new bank in Australia
  • arrange for foster family for cats - leave money for cat food/vet
  • leave Australia contact info and travel itinerary with family members
  • renew driver's license if expiring during year away
  • provide driver's abstract for Australian insurance company
  • have an early Christmas with both sides of family
  • determine clothes for packing - must fit in 2 suitcases each
  • arrange for sons to take everything from house they will want for the whole year
  • arrange for financial power of attorney for relative in case of emergency e.g. roof repair, flood, unforeseen bills
  • provide health certificate for exchange agency
  • arrange for health insurance to cover any medical costs in Australia
  • arrange for flights for sons to come to Australia
  • exchange currency for countries visiting (Fiji, New Zealand)
  • arrange for travel to airport
  • put fresh linen on all beds
  • complete final laundry
  • make sure house is thoroughly clean top to bottom
  • vacuum on way out the door!

 These stories evolved as way to tell family and friends back home about what we found interesting being on the other side of the world. Luckily a number of people liked the stories enough to save them as what I didn't know was that the programme I was using would automatically delete my work a few months after it was written.  It took the effort of many people to restore all of my stories and then quite a bit of time to put them all back in order.  Many thanks chiefly to Art and Janice Vernon, Thomas and Debbie Searay-Gaston,  Marj Bellingham, Margaret and Sam Axford, and  Kathryn McLeod. From these I have selected the ones that  I feel will give you a good sense of what it is like to step out of our comfort zone and into a unique life.  I hope to post two or three a week so please keep checking back.  Ken