Sunday 29 July 2012

Fried Insects with that Vow?

Oh my, I’m visiting my dad in Poppo for his 69th birthday and the internet is intermittent out here in the wheatbelt so it will be touch and go whether I can actually get photos on this post. I thought I’d let you in on my impromptu vows to R at our monsoon Buddhist wedding.
We had watched ‘The Vow’ together about a month before flying up to Thailand and R, being an incurable romantic, was quite taken  with the exchange of vows in the museum so I thought I’d surprise him. On our wedding night we had a delicious Thai dinner and a walk in the moonlight by the ocean. I said ‘You’re a dog you need motivation, so I’ve written you some vows.’ (For those of you that don’t know, that’s a line from ‘The Grinch’ oft quoted by various members of our family.)
1.       I vow to always go where the wild things are.
2.       I vow to always want to Moonbake with you.
3.       I vow to always agree to disagree on the ‘I jump, you jump’ thing.
4.       I vow to always partake of  lots of champagne and marzipan with you and remember the ‘Ris A La Mande’ on Jule Aften  Christmas Eve)
5.       I vow to always live in the warmth of your heart and love you.
Vow no. 5 is taken directly from the movie. Vow no. 4 refers to the comic first Christmas R had with my family in which he stoically chewed his way thru the cement textured Danish rice pudding my dad had baked (it’s meant to be light and fluffy….) that even our St Bernard wouldn’t eat, just to make a good impression. Vow no. 3 is from ‘our’ movie The Titanic, when Jack says to Rose ‘If you jump, I jump’ and R often quotes that to me to emphasise the fact that we are in everything together and he won’t be parted from me to the point that if I jumped off a cliff he would to! I always tell him not to be so ridiculous. Vow no. 2 – well what can I say, what can be more romantic than the thought of moonbaking together? 

 Vow no. 1? Well that happened pretty soon. The next night we went into Patong and soon found ourselves ensconced on barstools outside a bar with a large group of new Aussie friends, watching the amusing assortment of people wandering up and down the street at midnight. There was large number of beautiful women in very short skirts and very high heels sauntering past looking very alluring. One of our new friends lent over and said, ‘Look at the Adam’s apple, they’re actually men’. Wow – they certainly look so much more feminine than our transvestites.
At some point in between a rather lot of Pina Colada's that followed the lot of Elephant beers a little old wrinkled Thai lady came up to us bearing an enormous woven basket tray.
  The tray was sectioned like a pizza into eight pieces and in each section was a different type of fried insect. My mum had had fried insects in Vietnam and had positively waxed lyrical about their deliciousness so I leapt from my barstool and surveyed the offerings. I chose the grasshoppers and the tiny frogs and acquired a bagful of each. The giant cockroaches – no, I couldn’t quite convince myself that they would be nice.  I could imagine biting into one and some pus-like substance oozing out – hmmm, no thanks, gag material. 

The grasshoppers were dry and delicious, just like really tastey spicey chips but healthier with loads of protein and calcium, and the wee little frogs were to die for! They tasted like crispy bacon - yum. Yes I would definitely recommend them.  Everyone else squirmed on their stools and made noises of ‘Oh yuk!’ but R seeing how much I was enjoying them braved a taste and to his surprise declared them delicious. One other brave soul gave it a whirl and agreed that ‘they weren’t too bad after all!’

Sunday 22 July 2012

Lucy and the Apes

For todays post I've finally managed to go back and add photos of the trek to the Orang Utans in north Sumatra.  Children can be amazingly ape-like.Last week when I was over visiting first daughter Venus in Perth I managed to catch up with some old friends. Our gorgeous friend Maddalena (our second daughters namesake)has a beautiful girl just over 1y.o. named Lucy. A clever little poppet, she uses sign with her small collection of words to extend her vocabulary. This reminded me of another Lucy, a very famous chimp. Chimps can master a few hundred words in AMESLAN (American sign language) and they reason, form abstract ideas and associate abstract ideas by similarity. Lucy, one of the earliest chimps to learn signing in the sixties, signed 'candy drink' after first tasting watermelon, and 'cry hurt food' after her first bite of radish. Other chimps were able to sign 'water bird' after seeing a picture of a swan. They can also understand verbal language but their physiology isn't designed for speech.
Chimps can reason to the extent of 'ArB, BrC, therefore ArC,' and if you didn't get that then there's a few chimps out there that are smarter than you! Now Lucy is a chimp after my own heart. She could open a fridge and various cupboards, find bottles and a glass and pour herself a gin and tonic! She would then take her drink, sit on a comfy couch and flick through a glossy magazine, identifying things she saw in AMESLAN. She would sign 'cat' when she saw a picture of a tiger and 'drink' when she saw a picture of a bottle of wine.
I am in fact expecting great things of our little Lucy given she's being brought up in an all female household with two mothers (poor little thing, the weight of expectation on her shoulders already - the inhumanity of it all!)But just look at the evidence-
In 1952 on a small island off Japan called Koshima, Japanese primatologists observed a group of 20 macaques.   Their food was inadequate on the island and was supplement with wheat and sweet potatoes dropped onto the beach.  In '53 a one and a half year old macaque called Imo worked out that if she took the sweet potatoes to a nearby stream she could wash the sand off them. Imos playmate soon also worked out to wash the sand of her sweet potatoes by observing Imo. In the following year Imos mother and another male began washing their sweet potatoes. In subsequent years other close peers and relatives of Imo learnt to wash their sweet potatoes. After 1959 when infants were born they were taught by their mothers to wash their potatoes. The colony of macaques had become a sweet potatoe washing community.
In 1959 Imo worked out that she could also take the wheat to the stream, drop it in, the wheat would float and the sand would sink to the bottom. She could then scoop the wheat out. This took a while longer to catch on in the colony because it requires more complex relation-thinking between objects, the monkey having to discard his food first, whereas in potatoe washing he can still hang on to his potatoe whilst washing it.
The really interesting thing that happened here was that after Imos initiative, other females copied her then youngsters of both sexes. The adult males were the slowest to pick up the cultural innovation. Carl Sagan speculates that perhaps because the males are fiercely competitive and heirarchy conscious,they would feel subservient if they followed Imos 'lead'. They would rather eat sand.
The Adventures of Princess Snapperhead: Trekking the Orang Utan: Sleeping in the hotel on our first night in Bohorok, Bukit Lewang, where the Orang Utan rehabilitation centre is in Leusa national park,...

Sunday 15 July 2012

Sundays with Princess Snapperhead

Okay so the Blog Gurus tell me that I should post on a regular basis. I'm not even going to pretend to commit to a few times a week, being notoriously unreliable in the old time-commitment department but I am going to schedule my posts for Sundays. Look this one is posting on a Sunday so the outlook is promising already! Apparently readers like to know when to expect new posts and it builds a sense of anticipation. So from now on I herewith announce it will be 'Sundays with The Adventures of Princess Snapperhead'. I can see you all eagerly awaiting next Sunday already ;-p
So for the last week I’ve been sequestered down in the small country town of Manjimup, Manji to the locals (we’re Australian we shorten everything, and if it’s already short we’ll obligingly put an i/y on the end of it to make it cute and endearing and show that we’re not formal and stuffy) population 4000 plus a few horses and cherry trees. Actually this is virtually a thriving metropolis, especially compared to the one horse town my dad lives in out in the wheatbelt, Popanyinning (How do you pronounce that? I hear you ask, well of course the locals obligingly shorten it to Poppo, so no worries mate!) Poppo only has one general store and if you blink you really will miss it. By comparison Manji has two, TWO!, supermarkets, three cafes, numerous smaller shops and even a public library.
R and I decided to join the public library, mainly for want of anything better to do, so off we trundled to be greeted by the gracious librarian Margaret. We filled out the required membership forms and then Margaret said, ‘I’ll need to see some form of I.D. though I really feel like I should know you’ looking at R.
‘I’m the doctor at the hospital’ says R.
‘Oh of course, I should have known,’ says Margaret ‘Well, no need to see any I.D. then!’
R is the sole emergency department doctor on so anyone who has, and even those who haven’t will know him. Word gets around fast in Manji and if you don’t know something, don’t worry, you soon will.
Manji in winter is ff (fuc**ng freezing) but great for that one thing we have no need of in tropical Cairns – a roaring fire. Top that off with toasted marshmallows, a nice glass of the local red and it's prime snuggle up to a movie material. We actually got to watch the whole of Snow Falling on Cedars without some inconsiderate patient that could easily wait till normal daylight hours calling R in to emergency.

Thursday 12 July 2012

Monsoon Monks - wedding no.5

'They're Buddhist in Thailand, aren't they?' a rhetorical question from R at 40,000ft as we were en route to Phuket for our 20th wedding anniversary (29-5-92 - note the palindrome - R has a fascination with number symmetry)
'We like Buddhists, don't we?' he asked.
'Yes, we like Buddhists,' I smiled at his need to check we were in unity on an idea, but the real question was why was he asking me this - it had come out of left field.
 We landed in Phuket to a torrential downpour from ever darkening skies.
'It's monsoon season!' our driver informed us.
The hours drive to our hotel  at the southern most tip of the island was a turbulent ride as the wind gusted, whipping palm trees back and forth and pushing against the side of the car. Our suite faced onto the beach, a living, writhing black mass of heaving waves. No picture postcard turquoise and idyllic water here! In true Addams Family style I quipped 'Why darling, the weathers perfect for a wedding anniversary!' It certainly reflected our stormy and passionate relationship. Only one problem - this was supposed to be our first ever holiday of just lounging by the pool, sipping cocktails and reading books instead of madly rushing around trying to see as much as possible. After all, we had already been to Phuket for R's 40th a few years back with the children and done all that.
Personally I prefer the old-fashioned way travelling, which requires lots of time to slowly absorb the culture, have conversations with people, sample unique food, listen to local music and inhale the ambiance osmotically on a deep molecular level, something not possible on tight a time schedule.
We spent the first three days with cocktails in hand playing Yahtzee (R seemed to score a disproportionately large number of Yahtzee's - I'm almost positive there was a considerable amount of cheating going on!), dominoes and Pass the Pigs - a mindless but fun game easily played at dinner. This kept the wait staff entertained as they'd obviously never seen anyone tossing around a pair of miniature pigs hoping they would land in piggy positions like 'snouter', 'sider', 'double trotter' or blast and damnation 'makin' bacon' in which the two pigs land touching each other and you loose all the points heretofore acquired.
On the Sunday, as we were strolling between gusts thru the gardens to play some table tennis, I asked what we should do the following day.
R said rather off handedly 'Oh we have an appointment tomorrow morning with the Wedding Planner.'
'Haha! Very funny.' I replied.
As it turned out he was secretly delighted I didn't believe him but in fact he had planned wedding no.5!
Fortunately the 29-5 turned out to be a lovely sunny day. The makeup artist, hairdresser and photographer arrived early in the morning and proceeded to paint, blend, curl and shape my face and hair finishing off with a cascade of frangipani flowers pinned thru my hair. All the while the photographer was merrily snapping away as R managed to fall asleep on the sofa.
Finally we were both dressed in traditional Thai wedding costumes and taken an hour north to a small Buddhist temple where 5 Buddhist monks were waiting to bless us. R needed to pee (he always does when he's nervous) and they tried to dissuade him saying it was a long way down the back but he wasn't to be put off. When he came back he had a rather odd look on his face.
As we entered the temple hall the monks sat in their saffron robes in a line facing the entrance, the altar with the large statue of a golden Buddha behind them. We entered the temple barefoot and went first to the great altar and lit candles with a taper before the Buddha, our hands joined. Next came the lighting of the joss sticks for good luck followed by lots of bowing to the Buddha with hands clasped as in prayer to our foreheads. We then went to kneel on the hard marble floor in front of the first monk, the scent and smoke of incense surrounding us.
Because monks are supposed to live only on donations we were presenting each one with an orange plastic bucket(that they could use for their washing) filled with food and basic necessities like toothpaste and soap. R held the bucket as he presented it to the monk and I held his arm, it being forbidden for me to touch the monk as a female. Then we shuffled along to the next monk and presented his bucket and so on.
Offerings proffered we were then given blessings by the monks.Holy water was sprinkled on us and a white cotton string tied around both of our wrists to symbolise being tied together - both our eyes were moist with tears at this point. The central monk (who was a bit grumpy) daubed white paste in three dots onto our foreheads in a trinity symbolising good luck, good life and good love. Conjoining headbands were placed on our heads, the string connecting them representing a telepathic link to each others thoughts.
'Put this under your pillows tonight and whatever things you dream of will come true' we were told. I was slightly worried because the night before I'd had a vivid dream that one of our Siamese cats, Tiger Lily, had eaten a metre long snake head first and it had managed to bite the inside of her stomach on its way in and she died an agonising death!
Next a ball of multicoloured yarn was looped around both of us and then all the monks. More blessings were said and this tied us together with the monks blessings for all eternity (the second time we'd been sealed for eternity-see post Four Weddings, No Funeral) and we exchanged words of love to each other.
This involved process interspersed with lots lots of bowing (and scrapping ;-p)with clasped hands to forehead to the monks, Buddha and each other took nearly an hour, at the end of which the monks arose with graceful ease as R and I staggered clumsily to our feet, trying to overcome the cramping and pain of kneeling on the floor for an hour.
We exited the temple hall to a shower of white rose petals in the brilliant sunshine.We were both over the moon - 'uberlunar' - after our rather tumultuous last year we had managed to find ourselves rather much in love again. R rather poetically said we were like the 'Golden Phoenix' couple, rising from the ashes to something completely new and wonderful. Our four teenagers thought it was rather vomitatious the way we carried on with each other in this new phase.
Anyways, back in the temple grounds we were given two huge paper 'Sky Lanterns' to light and send up into the air - the Thai version of releasing love doves. The first floated up into the nearest trees and the branches caught fire(whoops!) but we had more luck with the second one which drifted up away towards the clouds where it would float for the next half hour.
As we drove back to our hotel R said 'I wish I'd had my camera with me when I went to the toilet. It was in a new section of the temple still under construction way down the back of the grounds and there were all these huge statues of Buddha but they were all holding AK47's!'
Completely surreal!