Monday, June 18, 2007

Time off

Well, just had 4 days off. relaxed, socialized and ran around getting things done.
Talked to David, corporate manager, who was on a 4 day course with international school kids from Penang. There was one autisitic kid in his group, quite hard to manage. But after the course, the kid's parents emailed him, saying that he had changed for the better. So as David said: "what we are doing is more critical than we think".

Got diarea from a kid on the last course, just ending today, after more than 3 days. also an ulcer in my mouth, a slight headache, a sore throat. And got run into by a car while on my bike front wheel totalled. I was OK. yikes - at least I'm a young athletic punk and I rebound quickly.

That candlebark school in Victoria is amazing. I read the media reports on the website. A model for all future schools, one hopes.

Friday, June 15, 2007

On Camp with Sara

photos: The kids, and Sara my co-trainer, on the ship to the reef explorer (RE);
Myself on the RE;
The kids doing high ropes on the RE.
(click on a photo to enlarge)

Last week, I was on camp with Sara. Had a cheerful bunch of 16yr old kids. One interesting kid, David, chinese Malay, asked me lots of questions about how to choose a career , money versus interests and so on. He said something which should be heard more often in Oz, and the west in general:
"I am always interested in talking to westerners - I'm from a small village, and I beleive they are superior physically, mentally and socially"....
He asked me if I did not consider it a waste of study to have studied engineering, and then end up being an outdoor instructor. I explained that there are many ex-engineers, including "Cham", who worked several years in the UK, who work at WC. And I went on to try and explain that following your heart, or true vocation, is more important, in the end than following what convention advocates. In the end you will only be succesful in an endeavour if it is your choice. He said that there is a saying in Malaysia: "no money: no talk", and earning a high salary is the greatest priority. I said that money is important, but watch out with making it your only priority.
I gave the example of Britney Spears, who is a multi-millionaire, can have sex with any guy she chooses , but has gone into rehab after problems with bulimia and drugs. Just goes to show, we all need meaning in our lives - sex and money alone won't satisfy us.

One night - we did a "star session" - where we point out constellations, stars amd planets like Venus (the brightest). I ended up on a real roll, talking about how stars can become black holes, how even light is sucked into a black hole, so great is the gravity. And that the idea that light has a mass was introduced by Einstein, and then verified experimentally in the 50s, if I remember rightly, by two physicists who pointed a telescope ast two neighbouring stars when a planet came between them, and witnessed that the stars appeared to come closer together for a time - ie the planet was bending the rays light slightly as they went past it. Then went on to talk about protons, neutrons, fusion reactions going on inside the sun. And how experimental fusion has been obtained in a UK laboratory (JET). using superconducting magnets to maintain the plasma that is created when you fuse hydrogen atoms together.

The US, Europe and Japan are building the first Fusion power station, due to come on line about 2025 or so. Fusion power can use sea water as a raw material, and can produce huge amounts of energy quite cheaply. By mid century, we will have unlimited virtually free electricity, I reckon. Kind of a counter to the doom and gloom issued by the greens, who's judgement I do not trust at all.
past green doom scenarios: by the 90's , we will have no more oil (Jimmy Carter);
By the 80s, there will be 60 million starving americans (Paul Erlich in the 70s on food scarcity).
I also remember a new Ice Age being predicted in the late 70s..
So lighten up, Greens - the earth will change weather patterns, have tsunamis and so on, even if the entire human race dissapeared - in my opinion.

Quebecois Gil, Aussie girls Tamara, Selena

Pictures: My hammock between 2 rubber trees on the last 5 day course;
Gil, Quebecois flatmate, back from the Tall Ship.

Gil, my quebecois flatmate with Marie-Eve, has come back after 2 months on the Puteri Matsuri tall ship. Marie stays on another month. It's good to have a flatmate again.

We talked about outdoor activities being therapy if you are too mentalized - or caught up in thoughts, as we both tend to be. He said whitewater kayaking had helped him ground himself and "encarnate" into his body, rather than be disincarnated. The same can be said for me - I have a tendency to ruminate, or think too much, and outdoor sport is good for me.
On the same note, David, who is from OZ and head of corporate activities here at WC, is a good example of how outdoor activities can transform a person. He explained that in his teens, he was a bookworm, and was starting to take drugs, then at 17, his mother sent him for a month with outward bound Queensland. He trekked in the jungle, canoed, abseiled, suffered, and failed at everything. But at the end of it, he had enjoyed using his body for the first time, and it changed him. Later, he worked for OB for 2 years as an instructor. He's also worked in Switzerland.
Gil's parents are interesting - his father is 55 and cycles, climbs up mountains with snowshoes and skiis down with a snowboard. Gil never has to wait for him - he is very fit. His mother is a doctor. When they were younger, their parents covered a room with paper, and got he and his sister to throw paint as they wished - free artistic creation.
The other evening, after the MOE course, we had Tamara and Selena - two aussie girls over for drinks, talking and a DVD. Watched "the Guardian" about rescue swimmers in the Alaska coast guard. Pertinent to our jobs, as it involves first aid, risky situations, fitness, the outdoors.
Selena said she knows the first aussie female rescue swimmer, who has just graduated in the Coast guard. Selena hails from Victoria, where she has worked in a variety of summer camps. Also was on course with a guy who done 3 tours of duty in Irak, and had killed numerous terrorists - interesting.

Tamara graduated from the same place as me - Cairns TAFE, but a year before me. Has worked around Brisbane, with Coefficient, an agency that sends you out for a few weeks at a time to various camps. I had heard of it before, and it sounds like a place I would like to work for, for a while. A good way of avoiding routine, and of seeing how different camps operate.

I gave them tips on how to handle the Malay students, the long hours that we do and so on. The kids rarely say "I don't understand" - they smile and nod, then you realize they did not understand you at all. Which can make teaching difficult. There are ways around it - to use mime instead of talk, to get them to perform a kayak stroke in front of you, etc. The other thing is, the kids are passive - you get more initiative from 12 yr old in oz than 16 yr olds here. example: a tarp needs folding: 4 people will gather around the tarp and just stare at it.... So they need to get kicked in the backside - I actually mime kicking them , without hitting them. they laugh, and understand I want them to move their butts.

I explained my hammock system to them - as pictured above. Much lighter than a tent, and fun to be in. Also my cooker system where I make porridge for myself in the morning, as well as coffe or Milo 3 times a day.

Selena had a good 1st aid story, where she had to stabilize and evacuate a boy who has a big gash in his leg. We also talked about John Marsden, who wrote the "Tomorrow series" book for kids, about a group of kids who have to act as guerillas when their town is taken over by an armed band - very politically incorrect to actually stand up to thugs and shoot them, but healthy as, in my opinion. Marsden has opened a special primary school in victoria, called "Candlebark", where kids can cycle around huge grounds, use power tools (yes), and where other innovations have been introduced. It was great to be mixing with such stimulating people, and it made me realize how pleasant young outdoor aussies can be to talk with.

Here's the website for the Candlebark school in Victoria, set on 1100 acres. sounds healthy:

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Meetings with Malaysians

Had David - the new Chinese Malaysian guy over to watch a DVD last night. It's good to have a bit of social life, and not just be focused on the outdoors and the job. We watched "Babel", with Brad Pitt. several different stories, all linked. One in Morroco where you see the beautiful high Atlas mountains, and the way the police gets information quickly (beating up an old couple outside their home), after an american tourist (brad pitt's wife) gets shot in a bus. It's a stray bullet because of 2 kids with a rifle, but the police worry it may be terrorists, and all are concerned that Morroco may loose out on tourists - an important source of income - as a result.
You also get to see utra-modern Tokyo, where you follow a deaf teenage girl who is miserable because boys won't pay attention to her - because of her deafness.
Back in the USA, Brad pitt's nanny takes his 2 kids to a wedding in Mexico, where they gleefully discover the easy way hispanics dance , play music and celebrate. A nice contrast to Pitt's typically white neurotic wife who asks the waiter in Morroco what they have on the menu that doesn't have too much fat... and then throws out Pitt's ice cubes for his coke - to ensure he doesn't catch something like diarrhea which might be the end of the world (not).
A great music score with guitar, and a film that you remember for quite a while.

I talked at length with David about Malaysia, girls in Malaysia, quantum physics and other topics. he says some girls at university who wore headscarves would not talk to him "you're a man and you're not a muslim" goes their reasoning. ie friendly talk is out - I only talk to men who are potential husbands.
Well, they can marry a non-muslim, but by law the non-muslim partner must convert to Islam. (and then carry around their ID card with religion: Muslim written on it). yep... Interestingly, in Indonesia, this is not the law - there are couples with partners of different religions.

Mila, a girl with a headscarf I was talking too this week during work, is very open minded and tolerant. She explained that her mother was christian, but converted to Islam in order to marry her father. But that both parents encouraged their kids to think for themselves and be tolerant of all religions. We talked about the lack of venues in Kuah , where we live, to go dancing or clubbing. there are clubs on Langkawi, but they are in the resort areas on the other side of the island.
We talked of the women in Hijabs - head to toe black covering with a slot for the eyes, that you see in the shopping center here, with their husbands dressed in shorts, sneakers and a baseball cap, USA-style. They are tourists, and I was wondering where they came from. Probably from the UAE - united arab emirates, she says.
She doesn't approve of hijabs, and says Islam doesn't condone them -unless the woman is very beautiful. It's a very clear way of enslaving women, in my view, along with forbidding them to drive, as in Saudi Arabia. She is quite cynical about UAE men, as she sees them in the resort strip here, and on planes, drinking alcohol (forbidden in Islam). She says when you ban everything, as soon as they are out of their country, they go to excesses.

She was reading an american novel, which she had bought in Kuala Lumpur. and she said I could go with her to KL some weekend - she goes almost every weekend - and she would show me cafes and the interesting club scene. That would be great - to have a local along with me on such a trip. The novel she was reading was set in the fifties, small town USA - romance and such. The front cover showed a girl in a long dress, and I commented on how in the UK and the west in general nowadays, a street can have stacks of girls with their belly-button showing, pierced, and other openely sexual come-ons. In Switzerland, I saw 12 yr old girls with short tops and piercings, and short tops are now banned in Swiss schools in an attempt to get the kids to study, play instruments, do sport and other stuff that is healthy to do as kids, rather than play at being miniature versions of Britney fuck-me Spears...
well, darling, if you want to get fucked in a back alley and offered hard drugs, you're on the right track...
We talked about how good ol Britney got massively overweight, took drugs, went into rehab - maybe young girls will think twice about idolising her now. Stars like her serve a useful purpose as a warning sign to teens and the rest of us. Yeah sex and drugs are exciting - damned alluring, actually, and it's probably healthy to taste everything once. But western popular culture has gone overboard in encouraging us to live our lives in one non-stop self-destructive orgy, as soon as we reach puberty.

Don't think I'm a hypocrite - I like sex, I drink alcohol, and I've had my share of hot girls and sex. But I know excess when I see it, and popular culture in the west is in excess. particularly in the UK. read a copy of "Zoo", or another UK "lads" magazine, and you see a celebration of binge-drinking, throwing up, taking drugs - a country where office-girls binge drink EVERY friday has something wrong with it. Throw romance, spirituality and a meaningful life in the dustbin, and this is what you get, I reckon. Binge behavior is way of trying to fill an inner gap which is left when you take those things away.