10 December 2012


Contents 10 December 2012
Stephen O’R’s Sydney
Burma: Tonia Matthews
A Greek Beach: Joselyn Duffy Morton
Mitch’s India: Mitchell Morton
India: Vivienne Chandler

10 December 2012
This was a slow unsteady posting. Even today, I had barely got going when I had to stop and go outside to give directions to the charming young man driving the Semat lorry, as to where he should plonk the stuff he was delivering to us. I had thought Roger, Mitch and I would be forming a chain gang (me the weak link of course). No, none of that - his lorry had a big crane on it and once he had positioned himself to miss our car and table tennis table whoosh up in the air went the load and ever so gently it was then lowered to the ground to sit calmly beside the last of my fading chrysanthemums. Smart crane.
The sun has even come out, so we should be able to get it all undercover before any damaging rain arrives. Hope so because it cost 630 euros and it is stuff that won’t be seen -  it’s the new guts for the old attic in which we are going to install a bathroom. I predict we won’t be spending 630 euros on a long comfy bath – one in which one’s shoulders and knees can be under the hot water at one and the same time. Alas, by the time everything has been bought for the walls, the ceiling and the floor we will probably be mooching around to find a bath for a measly 77 euros, or some such paltry amount.
Actually I am trying to convince Roger to keep the old existing floorboards. He thinks they are manky, skanky, mingin even  – which they are. Consequently I have promised to scrub, scrub them and rub them with whatever it takes until they meet with his antiseptic approval. This is because I want the (non-existent, imaginary ‘floor’ money to go towards the non-existent imaginary ‘bath’ money.)
Last night we drove for 2 hours in a thick terrifying fog. Luckily there were few cars on the road. No one else daft enough to venture out.  I  think I’ll stay home  today to let my frayed, flapping nerve ends twang back into place.
I’m pleased to note that the press have finally picked up on the fracking and fucking with the earth that is going round the globe. ‘Bout bloody time. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch a documentary called Gasland. You will then be prepared to do anything you can to stop it, as I am.
Somebody we admired tremendously, New Zealander Marcia Russell has just died, after being diagnosed a few short months ago with lung cancer. Life! Why don’t we just call it ‘Death’ and be done with it?
Let’s hope David Cameron doesn’t get it into his head to start cutting cancer research funding. I don’t know where Obama is placed on medical research. I am hoping Francois Hollande won’t make cuts to the Health budget and I am proud of the way he stood up to billionaire steel magnate, Lakshmi Mittal who had previously promised to guarantee the long-term future of the steel workers.
There are around 100 French  industrial sites in which this firm employs around 20,000 people. Let’s face it – employment promises are important, as is Francois Hollande’s promise to reverse France’s fortunes. So, the big smoking gun threat of nationalisation has appeared. And those in support of  privatisation are furious.
State-owned or billionaire-owned; Pretty fucking simple isn’t it? Do people want profits ploughed into the community to fund roads, health care, education, libraries, theatres, sports stadiums bla,bla, bla or do they want them in the tax-avoidance bank accounts of blowsy billionaires who can grandly spend £300million on a daughter’s 3-week wedding.
So Francois Hollande, good luck in your contretemps with the richest man on the planet. It’s not a no-brainer, it’s a no-boner. Talking of boners. A cartoon this morning stated ‘Retour de la Momie’ (Return of the Livng Dead) The figure potrayed was clearly Berlusconi.
Already I’ve been to a few march├ęs de noel. The little villages around have got their stars and trees lit up. I’ve even been in the storage attic and found our Xmas box.
Whatever the origins of Xmas - it is a great excuse for parties and makes the cold winter nights go faster. But if I am being utterly honest, I find it astonishing (or an example of a world-wide marketing exercise that any international conglomerate would be proud of). What I find so astonishing (in a world rift with wars in the middle east) is that a 30 year old Middle Eastern man called Jesus, wearing nothing but a long cotton robe and leather sandals is the person worshipped, revered and followed by right-wing bigoted Americans, British, Germans and so on and so on. They might not give an Arab, a Jew or a Muslim the time of day and yet they worship someone like them who was alive just over 2,000 years ago. He clearly could not be white or European. It is pretty weird. These followers of Jesus Christ call themselves Christians and they can be powerful and influential.
Have they not thought it through? They know all the place-names – Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Nazareth, Damascus. Yet these Christians worshiping afar in Sheffield or Ohio or Frankfurt or Rome would most likely never think of setting foot in the Middle East. What a charade. Mind-bending manipulation.
Look at the facts: He didn’t speak English. His mother was not married – in fact, not only was there no husband, there was no conception, no bloke at all involved. No sperm, the Angel of the Lord organised this immaculate conception. Jesus’s Dad was God. Put that on the birth certificate why don’t you?
We swallowed it whole. It is a bit mind-teasing, don’t you find? (In a society obsessed by swearing on the bible to ‘tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth’ how did this fanciful, tale get believed?)
On a more pedestrian note, Elise Benjamin (ex-Lord High Mayor of Oxford) posted the anti-MP’s grocery allowance poster on fb. It does stick in your craw, doesn’t it?
I am going to try and do another posting before xmas, but as the silly season is already in full sway, I can not guarantee my chances, being so weak-willed, I could get side-tracked – so in the meantime bonne chance avec your lists, present-sourcing and family-preparations. Don’t stress, have fun.
Joselyn Morton

9 December 2012

Stephen O'R's Sydney

John Goodman, Ben Affleck, Bryan Cranston, in the cast of A rgo
Cranston and Affleck
Have you ever had the thing (ok the experience if you wish) of being on a journey
and then the car breaks down or the plane doesn’t come and there you are not
where you thought you would be and suddenly there is time to look around,
hear voices sometimes human sometimes windsong and birdsong and you smell
new or long forgotten things. There is no reason no requirements no errands no
deadline no promises to make or break just the world going on in its own sweet
way whether you notice it whether you like it whether you care about it just is.
Once we were on our way to a caravan in Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula named
after Joseph Banks just in case the Maoris hadn’t noticed it. We had just passed
through Little River a small hamlet at the bottom of the steep hill that was the
side of a volcano which had at its centre Akaroa a perfect natural harbour almost
just waiting for the industrial revolution to make itself useful but like a lover in
times of deep loneliness it never will come.
The old dodge had done its best to carry mum dad and five kids but half way
up that steep hill the big end gave out and dad had to reverse all the way to the
bottom keeping just enough traction to pull into the garage in Little River where
he was told it was going to be a big job. So I got to see Little River and look at the
hills and sit beside that little stream with a pub raspberry and wonder where
the big river was.
Another day another road this time a motorway south of Auckland 4 actors 2
boys and a girl hurtling along then – no power. No hill to take us to a little river
we abandoned our schedule of playing potted Shaw and Shakespeare to two
different high school audiences one in the morning and one in the afternoon. In
the days before mobile phones how we rang the schools or head office I can’t
remember but I do remember lying flat on my back in the grass arms and legs
stretched out looking at the sky and the clouds as the cars swished by on the
motorway. We were off the hook and it felt good.
After a night of being introduced to the delights of bedbugs in a hotel room that
had one wall missing we made our way to Kupang airport. After a very long time
the word came that the plane was not coming today and we should come back
tomorrow. Two Hare Krishna monks from Canada, my English girlfriend and
I and a couple of relaxed Aussie travellers decided there was no way we were
going back to Kupang, the bed bugs and the Police and Army shooting at each
other in the middle of dinner so that we had to lie on the concrete floor till they
stopped. There was a school a little way off and we headed for that. It was
Christmas eve, and the Verhandah with its benches would be a fine setting for
our nativity play.
A wise man appeared a Dutch Catholic priest with the air of an engineer pulled
up in a jeep and invited us all to his house for xmas. For years people had
sent this Priest boxes of this packets of that and as we unpacked the cigars the
chocolate the sausage the beer the biscuits and laid them out on the tablet it
did indeed feel like Xmas. Entertainment was provided by the two Hari Krishna
monks who avoided the end of the table where the meat was like it was the
plague waiting to pounce on their orange clad white patsy bodies.
Now the point to all of this is as Xmas approaches in Sydney peoples big ends
start to give out and as the motors fade the rich people leave town while the
remaining population starts to go troppo. Of course there is the horror of
realising there are presents to be bought or stolen but gradually the warmth
or even the rain wins out. The schools close there is room to park and torpor
settles like the nectar of the gods and we all begin to let go and hit the parks and
beaches in groups eating and drinking more than is good for us and wondering
how quickly the year had gone but thank Christ it had.

Merry Xmas to you all wherever your big end is about to drop you.

Fort my preso I have the Oscar nominated films to trawl through. Hot tips so
far are The Impossible a family thriller about a family swept up in the Xmas
day Tsunami of a few years back. Take your kids or borrow one its very good
for PG. For the hedonist my pick is the sultry On the Road (Jack Kerouac’s
xmas tale) it took me back to days of complete irresponsibility with lots of sex,
great cars, dope and tequila. For the masochist try sitting through Arbitrage
or maybe Argo a feel good flic for the Americans getting something right
occasionally, albeit a little to slickly (thank merciful God for dumb Muslim
Iranians in usual Hollywood style). Argo has a strange ending which makes us
think Jimmy Carter’s attempt to get the rest of the hostages out did not end in
total disaster like we all thought but in fact everybody got home safely. Huh?

Hurray for Hollywood Happy Noo Year –who loves ya, baby?
Stephen O’R


Umbrellas at the temple
family washing
boat in the river

“Do you think” an elderly English woman asked our guide, “that they will ever change Yangon back to Rangoon?”
“Madam” said our guide, coolly, “The ordinary people have ALWAYS called it Yangon”.
Kipling’s poem, turned into the well known song, The Road to Mandalay, echoes through my head constantly since our foray into that magical country.  I cooked  a Myanman dinner the other night and Kate’s partner, Michael Lawrence, recited the entire poem in the perfect Cockney in which it was written. For those who don’t know it, it is the lament of a Cockney soldier for the beautiful Burmese girl with whom he fell in love and for the ambience of the country.
Er petticoat was yaller an ‘er little cap was green,
An ‘er name was Supi-yaw-lat  jes’ the same as  Theebaw’s queen,
An I seed her first a-smokin’ of a wackin’ white cheroot,
An a wastin’ Christian kisses on an ‘eathen idol’s foot:
Bloomin’ idol made o’ mud –
Wot they called the great god Buddh—
Plucky lot she cared for idols when I kissed ‘er where she stud,
On the road to Mandalay.
Where the flyin’ fishes play ……………etc.
Just one of the many verses which encompasses many memories.

We went to Theebaw’s and Supiyawlat’s palace, rebuilt after the Japanese invasion during the 2nd World War, the huge teak pillars from it  being used to construct a bridge over a Mandalay  lake where we had a sunset row, drank champagne and watched the local Mandalayans walking home silhouetted against a magnificent sky. Champagne was quite a feature of our cruise on the Road to Mandalay, originally a Rhine boat, shipped out by the Orient Express company to ply the Ayeyawaddy River from Mandalay to Bhamo, 50 miles from the Chinese border in Shan State. It was there we saw young girls deftly rolling the cheroots that Queen Supiyawlat and her women attendants continually smoked. They were not bad either – pleasingly mild. We also engaged frequently with the ‘great god Buddh’ and though we didn’t kiss his foot we were given gold leaf to place on him.  One of the enormous gold buddhas we visited was reputed to have more gold on him than is found in the Bank of England. 
Buddhas, buddhas, buddhas of every size and shape. Some of the early ones were slender and waisted, showing their Sri Lankan origin which is where Myanmar’s Theravada Buddhism  came from  in the 7th century. We visited a street where artisans were crafting hundreds of marble buddhas of all sizes. Our guide Moe was an expert on every aspect of Buddhism and was invaluable when we attended a novitiation ceremony in the village  of Moe Da, on the banks of the Ayeyawaddy, where 5 young boys (6 -11 years) were preparing for a 5- day monastery retreat.  First, sumptuously clad and led on highly decorated ponies they headed a parade through the streets throwing sweets, enacting the young buddha’s youthful affluence. They were followed by a procession of family, dressed in their finery, friends, traditionally clad dancers , and music coming from a loud speaker attached to batteries on a bicycle.  Arriving at the monastery, they were stripped of their fine clothes, their heads  shaved and wound up in the brick red monk’s cloth. Their hair was thrown into the Ayeyawaddy river along with rice. For 5 days these small boys, would have a meal at 5 a.m. and another before mid-day and after that nothing till 5 a.m. again. I found it hard to imagine the 6 year olds I know coping with such absence and abstinence.
The trip was an experience of contrasts. The luxury of the boat with its 80 staff for the 60 or so passengers, the superb food, the air conditioning,  dining on the upper deck in the sultry  Myanman nights, the magical entertainment provided – the famous elephant dance, scores of coloured paper balloons powered by candles floating into the night, traditional Shan dancing and music, puppetry, face painting with thanaka, the paste, ground from bark and  smeared on cheeks and noses to prevent sunburn,  Katchin drama with its colourful costuming and one night hundreds of candlelit floats gliding past the boat into the darkness – colourful, fascinating. Contrasting with this comfort were our daily trips ashore, even more fascinating but hot and sticky and I understood why the Myanmans walk slowly and gracefully. To hurry is to quickly exhaust oneself. The villages up the Ayeyawaddy are charming, lush with foliage and flowers, the pale mauve morning glory climbing rampantly. The houses are bamboo or teak, thatched and walled with woven bamboo in a similar pattern to the  tuko tuko panels in Maori meeting houses. The thatched roofs need to be frequently replaced so unpainted  corrugated iron has become popular  which quickly rusts to blend in with the jungle greenery. Bright blue seems to be the only paint colour available and perhaps the favourite colour, as the ubiquitous tea houses all use blue tarpaulins for their sun protection awnings and low blue plastic stools and tables for their customers. 
Every day we went on the transfer boats to the river banks, where the only way to get ashore was by plank with a bamboo pole held the length of it  by two of the red t-shirted logistic team to help the unsure across. Once there,  it was a different world. It was like stepping back 100 years. Transport was pony cart, ox cart, trishaws and a rickety train for our  ride into the jungle, which in true jungle style flipped whippy  foliage in through the windows hitting faces. We were in Katchin  state and on arrival at the small town of Naga, the town had gathered on the station to welcome us with traditional music and dance and then a walk through the town and a clamber between two carriages of an abandoned, rusting train, again not so easy for the less agile. Likewise, when visiting a teak logging camp, getting into an elephant  wicker basket for a short amble was a challenge.   The oozies(trainers and handlers),  take over the elephants when young boys and grow with them teaching by reward.
Bagan, the first of Myanmar’s moving capitals is now an archeological site with over 4000 pagodas in various states of  repair and disrepair. To see them silhouetted in the haze of the setting sun from high up on another pagoda was a delight, as was visiting  Mt Popa, legendary  sacred home of the Nats, the other prevailing spiritual belief in Myanmar  and followed  frequently by rural people. It is an animistic belief with a pantheon  of 37 Nats most of whom died in a violent way before becoming spirits.  Chris climbed the 700 steps to the top but I chickened out a quarter of the way up and watched the monkeys chasing each other in the trees.
There are three defiles on the Ayeyawaddy and the second,  according to an English traveller writing in 1870 was the most spectacular he had ever seen. Not quite for we New Zealanders with our magnificent  gorges but the champagne flowed at 10 a.m. when we entered the second and it was a time to stay on deck and soak up the scenery.  According to the diarist from 1870, Bhamo, the last stopping place before returning, was then surrounded by a 15 foot high fence to keep out tigers and dacoits.  None of those in sight when we arrived, only a bustling market town, nestled in the jungle, full of cheap goods from Chin, and a superb food market.  
In Katha we went by trishaw to George Orwell’s house, a large teak house with a rusting iron roof, fine curved staircase and termites infesting the rooms. The remains of a formal garden could be seen under the encroaching jungle, orange robed monks lounged in the shade and a civil servant and his family were living in the bare rooms, waiting until a house could be found for them. The old British club rooms were still in use for the local officials but their  grandeur had dissipated and their gardens were also overgrown. 
Inle Lake, famous for its fishermen who paddle with their feet so their hands are free to throw out the nets,  is perhaps Myanmar’s Venice. We reached  it from the small town of Nyaung Shwe by long boat in which the locals sit on the wooden bottom but the ones used by  tourists have blue chairs with cushions, life jackets and umbrellas for the sun.  Our beautiful hotel of black teak blended in with the village architecture  of stilted houses in bamboo  and teak. The lake has a thousand floating islands, many of them just water hyacinths but the ones with bamboo poles anchoring them to the bottom were constructed of reeds and hyacinths and mud and were carefully tended vegetable gardens growing, our guide told us, the best tomatoes in the Shan State. The only means of transport is by boat and the canals are as busy as any main road as people visit, trade, shop and  take their children to school. The excellent, daily  market rotates on a five day basis to the different villages to which people come from all over the lake bringing their produce and crafts. On full moon or dark moon days there are no markets. We visited traditional silk weaving workshops and paper making from the water hyacinths and even a blacksmiths where old car parts were being recycled into farm tools. I did wonder where they found the car parts there being no roads anywhere. 
Inle Lake has its archeological site  reached by a three quarter hour boat ride along canals fringed with tamarind and rain trees and moored canoes. It lies behind the  Pa-oh(a local tribe) village of Indein and is as mystical as Bagan. There is no repair, only disrepair and greenery sprouts from the stupas but inside them can still be seen faded murals watched over by  crumbling Buddhas.  A couple of tethered bulls munched calmly, butterflies fluttered, the heat penetrated and the stillness and surrounding antiquity made the outside world seem very remote.  As did sitting on the deck of our room watching the reflections on the lake as daylight faded and  the water lillies  gently swayed underneath.  Across the bridges to the dining room 60 year old Mr Bobby from Yangon, who couldn’t speak English except in song,  was waiting to sing  Elvis Presley and 50’s and 60’s pop songs.  It was a hard place to leave and we promised the beautiful young receptionists that we would return.
Text and photos: Tonia Matthews