Thursday November 24th, 2005

This is me trying to do my homework ... trying being the key word here ... everytime I flip a page, one of the cats attacks it as if it's the best toy a cat could possibly have! It doesn't make for easy studying.

Tuesday November 22nd, 2005

You know you are immune to hot weather when ... this morning I awoke to cold floors, cold walls, cold taps, cold clothes, cold everything ... I now have my heater on, which is too small to heat this big apartment ... thinking it's got to be about 10 degrees outside, I decided to check the weather ... it says it's 18 ... I guess when one is used to humid 40+ degree weather ... 18 is winter! Brrrrr!

Moments of 2003 - 4

What to say about my time in Australia (澳洲 ) ... I wasn't going to write anything, but I did spend 5 months there, so I figure there must be some things to be said.

The trouble with Australia was that I had high hopes ... too high ... I had a one year working visa in my passport and being a lover of the beach and the ocean ... I imagined Australia would be a place I wanted to be forever.

After 5 months of being in Taiwan, 3 weeks in Malaysia, 5 weeks in Thailand and another week in Taiwan, I found myself landing at the Brisbane airport. I hadn't even collected my luggage and I already had a sinking feeling in my heart of not wanting to be there. It was a strange feeling as I couldn't figure out why I felt this way ... but it stuck with me, growing stronger with each passing day.

I spent 3 weeks living with two friends on the Gold Coast, trying to find me some work in a bar. I was able to find a job, but it only lasted a week as I kind of bumped heads with the gay night manager there. My 'working holiday visa' only allowed me to work at one place of employment for three months, at which time, I had to move on ... hence the name 'working holiday visa'. Most companies aren't interested in training you for three months, understandably.

Almost a month in, still having no luck with work and finding the Gold Coast to be a bit of a pretentious and boring place, I decided to make my way up the coast ... first stop, Bundaberg. I had called a working hostel as I had heard fruit picking was the way to go. My account was telling me I needed to stock up some funds as diving, Fiji and NZ were in the plans.

Bundaberg was a great little town. The work was hard, the money sucked and I think I was one of the oldest travellers in the hostel. For $25 a night, I got the top of a bunk bed in a two bedroom house, living with 8 people ... 4 to a room. Ugh. I was to be up for work every morning at 430 am and was on the farm by 5. By 10am it was in the high 30's to low 40's, so one was happy that the work day was almost over. I planted and picked sweet potatoes, planted squash, picked chilis. Nothing great.

After two weeks of work and with a cheque in my pocket, I found myself continuing on. My next stop, Rockhampton. Rockhampton was where I had some of my hard working money stolen. I spent the afternoon playing cards with this Welsh guy, I found myself trusting enough to leave my door open to run downstairs for a moment, only to come back to find my wallet empty. Of course, I confronted the guy and, of course he denied ... but seeing as though him and I were the only ones in the hostel and he had his bags packed ready to leave on a bus ... one has to wonder. The hostel did have video surveillance, but the tape had run out, so they weren't able to confirm my thoughts. Oh well ... it was only money, but nonetheless, I was a little bummed out.

After Rockhampton, I made my way up to Airlie Beach. I went on a three day boat cruise of the Whitsunday Islands. It was quite nice, but the diving wasn't that great. After Airlie, I went to Ayr ... what a hole. I stayed at a working hostel there, which wasn't anything like the organized one in Bundaberg. There was hardly any work, I was the oldest one there ... including being older than the owners of the hostel ... kids ... well, early 20's had been stuck there for months as they were drinking away their money at the bar every night. I stuck around for 4 days before getting out ... I met some interesting characters in that town, oh my goodness. I cut mangoes for 3 days on a farm. The farmer was 70 and had a 19 year old girlfriend. His girlfriend worked on the farm with us, but that didn't stop him from inviting me out for beer and then making a pass at me at the end of the night ... I mean ... as if?! I did find out later, that Danny's Backpackers ... the hostel ... was rated the worst hostel in Australia ... surprise, surprise!

Next stop ... Townsville. I thought Townsville was a great place. I had met two South African's on my boat cruise of the Whitsunday's and they happened to be there the same time as I. It was nice to have some people to chum around with for a bit. I only stayed in Townsville for 2 nights before I moved on to Magnetic Island. Friends of friends lived there, so I was staying with them for a few nights. There wasn't much to do on Maggie Island, but I was waiting for the weather to clear so I could do a dive trip of the sunken S.S. Yongala.

The dive was worth the wait ... the huge vessel was built in 1901, sunk in 1911 and wasn't discovered until 1948. It sunk in the middle of nowhere ... a few people were sick on the way out as the trip was quite bumpy. The boat itself was 30m below, so the dive trip was for advanced divers only. I was in awe of the things to be seen ... it's been my best dive to date. There were schools of fish that were as big as me ... there was a huge Hawk Bill turtle that resides inside the boat ... you could make out certain parts of the boat, like toilets and the anchor and the bathtubs and some of the rooms ... it was an amazing thing to see ... it brought tears to my eyes.

After leaving Magnetic Island, I spent another night in Townsville with my two new SA friends. The next day I was making my way to Mission Beach. The further up I headed, the hotter it seemed to be. In Mission Beach, I ran into a girl I had housed with in Bundaberg. That was the thing about OZ ... you'd always run into the same people here and there as everyone seemed to stop at the same places. Mission Beach was nothing to write home about, so I will continue on.

Cairns ... at this point, I have to admit ... I wasn't having much fun. I had managed to pick up some kind of skin rash thing somewhere along the way ... the doctors weren't sure what it was ... they figured it was a reaction from sea lice, perhaps from one of the wet suits I had been wearing ... anyways, I was put on steroids for a few weeks to try and get it cleared up. I had scarring on my arms for months. Besides that ... I was looking forward to diving in the Great Barrier Reef. It wasn't as great as my S.S. Yongala trip, but it was still very beautiful down below. I stayed in Cairns for about a week and then decided to hop a plane back down to Brisbane.

I had a few days to get packed up and express my thanks to Dan and Becky before hopping a plane to Fiji. My return flight from Fiji dropped me in Sydney as I was making my way to Newcastle to stay with my friend, Warren and his girlfriend. I lived at Warren's for about 3 months. I, again, had no luck finding work. I did do some telemarketing for about a week ... but I wasn't very good at it, so I was let go. There wasn't much else to be found. I had great fun with Waz and I was very thankful he had opened his home to me. I probably would've left OZ a lot sooner had it not been for him. He was my saviour through the bummed times.

I did go to NZ for 3 weeks within that 3 months, but funds were running low and my spirits were kind of down, so NZ probably didn't get the chance it deserved. It was a beautiful country and I made the absolute best of my time there ... I just wish it wasn't so far ... there were so many things to do, I'd like to go back one day if funds were ever to allow it. I did manage a dive day in NZ ... man oh man, the water was cold!

After getting back from NZ, it was only a few short weeks before I found myself making my way back to Taiwan. I stopped in Malaysia for about 8 days on my way ... I mean ... why not ... I had no money and I needed a boost before trying to make a new start in a new country.

So ... yeah ... Australia ... it had amazing beaches ... cheap Indian food ... lots of weird or deadly creatures ... great diving ... some good folk ... lots of weird folk ... weird lingo like, 'heaps' and 'how ya going' and 'mate' but most importantly ... it had good, cheap wine which one could purchase at drive through liquor stores which seemed to be on too many street corners ... now, if only I had me a car maybe I would've stayed!

Memorable Moments of 2003 - 3

Bula ... meaning hello. Upon my arrival into the Nadi airport, it was quite late. There are no flight curfews in Fiji ... planes (飛機 fei1 ji1) come and go all hours of the night.

The thought of having one month to do absolutely nothing was an amazing feeling. I suppose I felt this way upon my arrival in Malaysia ... but I quickly realized that Fiji exists on a time of it's own ... Fijian time ... there really isn't anything to do there ... one may have to go to see exactly what I mean, but let me tell you ... it didn't take me long to adapt.

Prior to Fiji, I had spent 10 weeks travelling up the east coast of Australia ... starting from The Gold Coast and ending in Port Douglas ... I did one month of fruit picking here and there on the way up ... it was to cover the costs for diving in the Great Barrier Reef.

Fiji was a nice escape from the tough travels I seemed to be having throughout Australia. As it was quite expensive to island hop, I didn't get to see as much of Fiji as I would've liked. I did manage to make it all the way around the main island, Viti Levu, which would take about 7 hours if you were to do it in one shot ... My travels started in Lautoka, then New Town Beach, Nadi, Suva, Korovou, Riki Riki, Nananu-I-Ra, which is another island, then back to Lautoka to grab my luggage from a storage locker.

A memorable thing from the trips around ... just when one was thinking about being in the middle of nowhere ... no villages ... big, lush greenery ... small two lane highway ... what should appear? ... a man ... dawdling on the side of the highway wearing shorts and holding a machete ... no shoes, no shirt ... just shorts and a machete ... now, if this were to happen anywhere else in the world, I would think the cops would be notified and an institution might come into play ... but this seemed to be a fairly common sight throughout Fji.

One of my favorite places was Levuka, a bigger island off the mainland, near Suva. The bus ride up was crammed, three people to every two-person seat ... boxes, full of supplies being taken back to the villages, covered the aisles ... there were no glass windows, only tarps that could be rolled down if a storm was to roll through ... happy Fijian music blasted (and I do mean blasted) from the front of the bus as people fanned their faces to keep the flies and heat away for the long journey.

We arrived on Levuka at sunset and I was blown away by my surroundings. Fiji is the most beautiful country I've been to thus far. The colours it can create is unbelievable. I would awake every morning at 5 am so I could enjoy those pink, serene beaches. There always seemed to be a few dogs willing to tag along for the dawdle.

From Levuka, I was able to catch a small boat to Caqala (pronounced than-ga-lie) island ... this is the island I seemed to get stuck on. I went there for what I thought would be two days and ended up staying almost two weeks. There was one other foreigner on the island ... an older lady who taught in Australia. Other than the two of us ... there was the family that ran that place which consisted of about 18 people ... 5 of those being adults, 4 of them being young adults and the rest being young children. It cost $40 Fijian a night to get a very basic man made bure (hut) on the water and included three square meals a day, plus tea time in the afternoons. During the day there was a beach that surrounded the island which you could walk around in about 30 minutes, Fijian time ... regular time, perhaps ... 10 – 15 minutes? At night you were only able to walk within the island as the tide came up quite high.

Three meals were served per day and you were called to dinner with this shell type horn. The meals were very basic, and not varied, but I noticed there wasn't much food offered in most places around Fiji. The tiny shops in the streets would never sell much more than taro, carrots, green beans, cucumbers, pineapples and bananas. The main staple in Fiji seemed to be fish, as it could be caught daily. The food was simply delicious. I mean, how could one possibly get enough of freshly cut pineapple?

My bure had no windows, a door that kinda closed ... if I wanted to get changed I had to move a chair over to hold the door shut. There was a small single mat on a man made wooden frame. There were toilets, but they weren't able to flush ... big barrels of water which contained a smaller floating bucket sat outside these man made outhouses ... one has to pour water in until the water flushes ... the shower area consisted of thin sheet metal ... 4 sheets of it placed together to make a box with no roof. You could, thankfully, latch the door with a small rope. It wasn't too private, but the island was pretty lonely. The shower, of course, had no running water. Water sat in a huge barrel within the 4 metal walls ... with a big red bucket that one receives upon arrival, you are able to pour the water over yourself. It took me about 4 days of being on the island (and probably 4 days of not taking a shower) before the other foreigner told me the ticket over dinner one night.

As it was the rainy season, a storm rolled through early evening every night. It never really lasted long ... anyways ... the ticket ... taking a shower during the storm ... one, it's quite dark so you feel alright stripping down to nothing ... two, it's absolutely pouring rain so there is no way you aren't getting soaked ... three, the shower was placed under a coconut tree ... the tree contained no coconuts, but apparently the natural oils from the leaves run down on your skin leaving it feeling soo soft ... what an amazing thing it was ... truly awesome!

Snorkelling around the island was unlike anything I could have hoped for. I would go in three times a day to follow fish around, check out what was up under the sea. I ran into, I'm pretty sure, the same barracuda on two different days ... his eyes said he was very interested in eating me. I also ran into a small reef shark ... while diving in Thailand we ran into 7 reef sharks ... though, it's amazing how much more protected I felt with all my scuba gear ... with nothing but some fins, a swimsuit, goggles and a snorkel, the shark was very intimidating. I was lucky enough to stumble upon a lion fish ... my best find yet. I must have watched him for a half hour ... what an amazing creature.

I spent my birthday and Christmas on this island. On Christmas day, we were taken across to a bigger island to go to a Fijian church service. I couldn't understand anything, of course, but the singing was beautiful. The church was simple, no seats ... you were to sit cross legged on the floor. It was hot and all of the locals brought with them a fan or some other device as there were a ton of flies within the walls of the church. After church we had a Kava session.

Kava is a ceremonial and social custom in Fiji. It's common in Fijian villages and it is quite normal to see groups of men gathered around the tanoa as a half coconut shell is passed around. A tanoa is a large wooden bowl in which the Kava is prepared. Kava is made from the root of a pepper tree. The root is pounded with a pestle and mortar ... I assume ... until it becomes a fine powder. The ceremony is performed in the presence of a guest ... the guest is, traditionally, seated cross legged in front of the tanoa. The master of ceremonies, acting on behalf of the guest, directs the chairperson to add water to the powdered root. When he is satisfied that the mixture is right he then calls upon his chairperson ... the one who hands off the drinks after the master serves them ... this chairperson takes a cloth and with his bare hands mixes the cloth in the water as if he's cleaning it ... soaking it and ringing it out, soaking it and ringing it out, repeat, repeat, repeat ... one hopes the chairperson has washed their hands before the ceremony ... this continues until the master says it's time to drink. The master presents the guest with the first bowl. When the bowl has been drained ... in one drink ... no sipping allowed ... there is a cry of 'maca' (pronounced maatha) meaning "it is drained" accompanied by two firm claps. The master is next to drink followed by guests in order of rank. It's quite an interesting thing to do, it seems that they take Kava drinking very seriously. Kava itself looks and tastes like dirty water and it mostly left me feeling tired.

After Kava ... it was time to head back to the island. A big Christmas dinner was going to be prepared. As I had been playing volleyball with the kids on the island just before dinner everyday, they invited me to help with the preparations. Their traditional style of cooking is known as a lovo ... basically they stack rocks in rows above some flames and heat them like a grill, then they place fish, chicken, taro and other food on the rocks .... banana leaves are placed over the food, and dirt is piled onto the leaves. The whole thing is left to simmer underground for several hours. Just before dinner ... the men will go with their garden shovels to dig out the evening’s feast ... yummy!

I think I will end my story here as I could go on and on about the many great happenings. Thoughts of Fiji will always bring a big smile to this face of mine.