The last couple of days have been busy

I haven’t posted anything on my blog for the last couple of days, as I’ve been busy with a few things.

On Wednesday I had a bit of running around to do for my upcoming overseas trip to Malaysia and Vietnam. Vietnam requires a visa so I had to get photos taken and then I had to go the Vietnamese consulate (I could’ve done it all by post but I feel uncomfortable about posting passports), which is about hour’s drive across town.

What is it with consulates? The staff at those places always seem to be rude. I don’t just mean only the Vietnamese. I’ve seen the staff at the Australian consulate in Toronto Canada be so incredibly rude to people applying for visas to Australia that it made me feel ashamed to be Australian.

I’d say I’m a connoisseur of the little tin gods who sit behind the plate glass in the consulates and embassies of many parts of the world.

I’ve had immigration in Cambodia mess me around, hint at bribes and then try and get me to go to government offices on public holidays, only to delay me for a total of two weeks. I’ve had the Japanese consulate in Korea refuse to give me another visa to Japan because I already had a multiple entry visa that was valid for one more day! I explained, very calmly and politely (Rule number one: Don’t flip out in foreign consulates or embassies as I’m sure it just makes their day) that it would be good to go to Japan for one day only and then I’d have to leave the next day because it had expired and then come back again. It just didn’t make sense, but I could see they were enjoying messing me around. It’s the oxygen that they breathe.

The granddaddy of them all is when I crossed from the Spanish enclave of Ceuta into Morocco in 1982. At the border there was a little building that looked a bit like a pillar-box with a little open window in it. Around this little building, and I’m not exaggerating, was a mob of about two hundred people shouting and waving their passports. At first I couldn’t figure out what was going on so I watched the proceeding for a while. People were putting some money (I can’t remember how much) into their passports and throwing them over the crowd into the pillar-box. While this was going on, passports were being throw back out into the crowd and people were scrambling and then fighting to get back what they thought might be their passport. It was truly bedlam. The fact that one had already paid for a visa didn’t matter. The deal was; that to get over the border one had to go through the very disconcerting toss the passport with money through the window and then fight a mob to get it back, weirdness.

I guess by that standard the Vietnamese consulate wasn’t so bad. I was the only person in the consulate and the two staff members had a ten-minute convivial chat to their courier friend while I waited. Finally when the courier left, I presented my paperwork to have it snatched out of my hand and then, without so much as a hello, I had “hundred and forty dollar” spat at me. One would figure that $140AUD ($118 US or 87EUR) for two visas (one each for my wife and I) would at least also get me, one hello; one please and one thank you. For a moment I thought to myself that maybe they were still pissed off at Australia and our participation with America in the Vietnam war, but then I remembered that on the Vietnamese Embassy website there is written on the home page the following “The launch of this website is aimed at further promoting understanding and friendship between the people of Vietnam and Australia.” I don’t think the staff have seen their website.

Since I had to drive across town I thought it would be good to catch up with Joseph, an old friend that I went to Art College with, back in the late eighties. We studied photography together for four years. Joseph is a very creative guy with his own design business and he’s always learning something new. Over the last five or six years he has taught himself how to play the guitar and plays in a band (L.I.P.P.). Recently Joseph has also mastered flash and you can see his work and listen to some of his music on his website.

Joseph lives near Leichhardt, an Italian area of town.  Leichhardt is not Italian in the modern cool sort of sense, even if many of the buildings have had face-lifts. Italians who came to Australia in the 1950s people Leichhardt and the Italian culture they exhibit is one that modern Italian visitors find rustically old fashioned. Norton Street is the restaurant lined main street of Leichhardt and at the bottom of Norton is the “Bar Italia” which is almost an institution.  Bar Italia serves very cheap pasta meals and probably the best gelato in Sydney. It’s not the prettiest restaurant, especially if one compares it to the new ones that seem to be popping up all over Norton Street and the staff is only vaguely aware of the concept of service. As a matter of fact, don’t even dare to ask for skim milk in your cappuccino, never mind soy; but you will get a real coffee. Not like that Starbucks muck!


 At the back of the restaurant is a shabby little enclosed patio that has ivy and bougainvillea growing on the walls. I just love the place and it’s a great place to go and meet with friends. It’s best not to go during the regular eating times, as it can get crowed and noisy. A lot of people bring their kids at dinnertime and for that reason my favorite time to visit is in the afternoon, after the lunch rush.

Today (Thursday) I went to my wife’s grandmother, (on her mother’s side) Beryl’s funeral. Beryl Derrick died in her sleep without warning on the 29th of May at the age of 92. The funeral was eight days after the death because my in-laws were in Italy when Beryl died. Both my Mother in-law’s parents have died when she was overseas.

Beryl Derrick

 One thing that can be said about Beryl is that she had a rich and full life. Both of Beryl’s children have been very successful in their own ways. Her son Ray Derrick invented the world’s first home theatre system (that’s right the first home entertainment video system with surround sound) that could decode the sound that was used in cinemas. Her Daughter, a statistician, had two over-achieving children, a son who won the University medal for being the top graduating student at his university and a daughter (my wife) who went special schools for the gifted and who now works as a senior engineer doing computational fluid dynamics.

Me marrying into such a family is nature’s way of bringing the gene pool back to the shallow end.

Cliff dwellers. West of Lee’s Ferry, Arizona, USA

It’s starkly beautiful country out near Lee’s Ferry. The land has very little vegetation and the soil underneath ranges from pink to orange. It’s the sort of land that beggars the question of how do people make a living out there? The population density is so low that I imagine that it would be a lonely life. Perhaps that’s why people move out there, to get away from the teaming masses.

If the architecture of the houses that they live in is any indicator, I’d say that they are certainly individuals who are following the beat of a different drummer to most other people. It is disconcerting to see how closely some of the houses have been built to the cliffs with all the loose rock above.

Cliff dwellers.jpg

Lee’s ferry was named after John D. Lee who led the infamous “The Mountain Meadows Massacre” where Mormons with the help of local Utes wiped out a party of settlers from the east.

Juanita Brooks has written a fascinating book titled “The Mountain Meadows Massacre” (strangely enough) which illuminates this dark portion of Moron history. The book is not a Mormon beat up. As a non-Mormon I was almost totally ignorant of their history and Ms. Brooks book very skillfully details the incident and helps me understand why the Mormons moved out west and why they were so fearful at the time.

Chopper. Jemez Springs, New Mexico, USA

When I was a kid I thought that choppers were so cool. Then again at the same time, much to my eternal shame, I also liked the bubble-gum classic by Hot butter, “Popcorn”. 


Now as an adult I look at choppers and I ask myself, what kind of person buys an over priced, badly designed, overweight, piece of crap and then spends a pile of money to decrease it’s performance and handling? Talk about style over substance.

I had to laugh when I saw the guy who owned this bike. Long blond hair, leather waistcoat with the stars and stripes sewn to the back, aviator sunglasses, headscarf, and the obligatory correspondingly attired female clone. It was like he’d looked in some stereotype catalogue and picked himself a look and then went out and bought the costume. When he left the restaurant, he self-consciously swaggered out to the bike, to mount his steed with a shampoo commercial toss of his locks to be mortified by the fact that it wouldn’t start. Eventually after about five minutes of fiddling, as his girlfriend sat lopsidedly on the stationary machine, he got it started and off he roared down the road, with much loss of face. Everyone who witnessed the scene had a big smile on their face.

As we drove down the road about ten minutes later, we saw him again by the side of the road as he was tinkering with the engine trying to get it started again. We have names for people like that here in Australia. We call them “wankers”.

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