Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Taxis and Traffic

New York, USA

My experience, travelling with locals, is that it is compulsory to argue with the cab driver from the moment you open the door. Before you get in. The assumption is that the driver is definitely trying to rip off his or her passengers. Passengers therefore need to be aggressive just to get a fair. Deal. What-ever route they take, regardless of actual traffic conditions, must clearly be the longest, out of the way roads possible just to build up their fare. They are also intentionally going slow. The traffic could literally be at a standstill, 5 lanes deep, but the passenger seems to be in their rights to yell at the driver for not finding a way to move through traffic.

Traffic does come to a standstill. As a passenger in a private vehicle coming off the New Jersey turnpike into New York the traffic stopped dead before creeping forward only centimetres at a time. You could get out and walk faster. I did. With my camera walking ahead to take photos of the traffic getting back into the car 300m and 30minutes later. When they caught up to me.

America does this weird thing of driving on the other side of the road, which at first is unnerving. Round a-bouts are insane. Sitting in the passenger seat entering a roundabout in the wrong direction the brain is certain this manoeuvrer will lead to immediate death. The brain, however, can not determine from which direction the vehicle will come that is sure to end your life. The resulting feeling is that you will be hit by cars – at  speed – from every direction.

Windhoek, Namibia

When I was visiting the city of Windhoek was preparing to introduce its first roundabout. Like an Aussie in New York, the entire population believed these circular traffic island were engineering death devices. The paper published articles to educate the driving public. Basic rules.
  1. Enter to the left (because they drive on the correct side of the road America!)
  2. Drive in a clockwise direction
  3. Give way to vehicles on the right, already on the roundabout

Easy, common sense rules. Then there were added instructions for a population who had never seen let alone used a roundabout before.

  1. Do not stop on the roundabout.
  2. Do not change directions on the roundabout.
  3. Do not drive straight over the top of the roundabout.

Taxis in Namibia, during my visit, did exist but were not marked. So it really felt like the population were quite friendly and drivers just stopped and gave people lifts. It looked like some sort of structure hitchhiker program, but it worked.

Lima, Peru

In Peru the taxis are 12-seater mini vans. One of those seats contains the driver. The front passenger seat has another employee whose job appears to be to hang out of the window yelling at people on the side of the road in the hope this will encourage them to get in the taxi. Unlike other cities, Peruvian taxis do not limit themselves to a single fare per trip. The one time I caught a taxi the remaining 10 seats were taken up by 17 adults three children, a breast feeding infant, two dogs and a chicken. The fare per ride appeared to be the same regardless of the length of the journey. It was the smallest note you were carrying. Do not give them coins.

Traffic in Lima is chaotic. And loud. Not just the unregulated mufflers and the taxis yelling at potential customers. Horns. Drivers literally drive with one hand on the wheel and the other hand on the horn. They beep at everything. When they pass a car, in case the other vehicle was thinking of changing lanes. When being passed, in case the faster vehicle was thinking of changing lanes too soon after passing. If passing people on the sidewalk in case they were thinking of suddenly jumping out into the traffic. Vehicles that are to fast, slow, big, small, old, new, red… I am not convinced there actually had to be a reason. They just beeped there horn, and there was a lot of traffic. Over the top of this the traffic police blew whistles, for reasons as obvious as to why drivers beep their horns.

Kathmandu, Nepal

There are two sets of traffic lights in Kathmandu, and neither of them work. There is only one definite road rule, give ways to cows. Otherwise it is just keep left…ish. It is accepted to go right, if there is a gap where your vehicle will fit, or almost fit. A gap where your vehicle will fit once everyone else jiggles and shuffles around a bit. What appears to be single lane, one way road will always have at least two lanes of traffic in each direction. I use the word “lane” loosely, as it implies that the vehicles are all travelling in orderly lines one behind the other. In reality the traffic is more like some sort of intricate indigenous weaving pattern. The trick is to never come to a complete stop.

Crossing the road as a pedestrian is an adrenalin rush. Like George Costanza in “The Frogger” episode of Seinfeld.

For a extra level of complexity the man-hole covers (I know this sounds sexist but person-hole just sounds silly) sit approximately 20cm higher than the road. A little obastacle just to add some bonus fun to the driving experience.

Kathmandu does have regular taxis, but why use these when there are bicycle rickshaws? What could be more fun than weaving through traffic, dodging cows and manholes than sitting in a cage on the back of a bicycle? Being a pedestrian, that’s what. Trying to survive this vehicular onslaught on streets without footpaths/sidewalks. Just like vehicles the general rule is stick to the left, on the edge of the road. But sometimes the easiest and safest area to be was walking down the middle of the road.

Zurich, Switzerland.

As expected the traffic is very orderly in Switzerland. Everything moves, well, like Swiss clockwork.

Taxis can be opportunistic. I needed a taxi from my hotel to the main railway station. It should have been two roads. Approximately 700m on the road my hotel was situated and then 1.4km on the road parallel to Bahnhofstrasse. As the meerkat would say, “simples”. The 2 road, 10 minute journey took 40 minutes and included all of the sights of downtown Zurich.

I needed a New Yorker with me to yell at the driver from journey’s beginning to end, just to keep him honest.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Getting the Band Back Together

Apparently all we ever want is a reunion, until it happens. Blues Brothers has given everyone false hope that getting the band back together is going to be a roaring success. In reality they are more police cars at the end of the most famous cinematic car chase.

Have we learned nothing from catching up with high school reunions. Despite all of the cliques and power struggles of our youth everyone has turned out pretty much the same. The high school athlete, the prettiest girl at school and the academic super star are all now middle aged, over weight and. slightly balding. Even the magic from your closest friends has gone. The rapport, the timing just isn’t quite there any more.

Despite this, the media and some fans are desperate for any former television show with either a cult following or high ratings in its prime consistently call for the cast to reunite.

Hey Hey It’s Saturday should be a warning to us all. It was a rating juggernaut in its day and every international celebrity gracing Australia with their presence would want to be book onto the show. Saturday nights did not start until 8.30pm.

Then after ten years off the air, the cast reunited for a series of shows in 2009…crickets and tumble weeds.

What was fast, improvised and sharp-witted was now awkward, forced and cringey.

The chemistry was right for its time. But times change and even with the greatest sense of nostalgic anticipation, the reboot is never quite like the original.

The latest call is for the cast of Married With Children to reunite after they all gathered to celebrate Katey Segal’s star on Hollywood’s walk of fame. Ed O’Neil whilst still a great comedic actor is now looking a lot older, heavier and balder. Would the politically incorrect, misogynistic and exploitative humour still get the same laughs from either the live audience or the laugh track? Or would it soon appear to be a bit worn and same-same.

I personally have wanted a Seinfeld reunion since the day the final episode first aired. I loved the mini reunion between Jerry Seinfeld and Jason Alexander/George Costanza for an episode of Jerry’s web series, Comedian’s in Cars Getting Coffee. It was great, very funny, but relationship was only a shadow of its former glory. The timing had slipped. In the show Jerry played himself, and Jason played George. In this reunion Jerry was playing Jerry playing himself and Jason was playing Jason
playing George. As desperate as I was for this to be one of the great moments in entertainment history, what I got was more like an impersonation of one of the great shows in sitcom history. Don’t get me wrong still it was still miles ahead of any sitcom being produced now

Along with being older Jason was also fatter and balder!

Arrested Development was ground breaking and won critical acclaim. The 2013 reboot series was critically dismissed.

Friends was a stalwart of television through the 90s into the early 2000s and is another show that regularly gets touted for a reunion   Depending on the timing of any reunion Matthew Perry will have either gained or lost a lot of weight.
series. This would raise the other awkward challenge of a television reunion. The casts careers and personal lives have taken vastly different trajectories. Apparently, for some of them, no-one told them that life was going to be this way.

At least the actors, if not their careers, are still alive. Unlike the cast of Golden Girls. Sophia, Dorothy and Blanche are now in the Golden Palace in the sky. On the upside they no longer have to worry bout their weight.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Baby news

Oh glee, rapture, excitement and wonder The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge are expecting their second child. Oh happy days. The young couple living a life of privilege have had unprotected sex. Though I am not expecting the couple saved footage of the royal rogering on iCloud.

In case any of the general public cant work it out, the world’s media have gone on to say Prince George will have a baby brother or sister.

My grade five teacher was pregnant and referred to her unborn child as “Gonzo”. Let’s stick with that.

Gonzo will be the fourth in line for the throne, regardless of gender. It must be had for Prince Harry to be excited, knowing that each time his brother and sister-in-law get jiggy with it he drops in the ranks. On the upside has fewer reasons now to cub his partying lifestyle much like his great-step-aunt Margaret. Hew can also maintain his politically incorrect/racist ways following the example of his step-grandfather.

Will Gonzo be a boy or a girl. Gush. What will it be named? Coo. Will the birth be celebrated with a commemorative plate? Sigh.

The world will watch Gonzo grow, attend and graduate from school. Regardless of the level of education completed the world will be in awe. Whether it be no formal qualification like Great Grandma (A true queen needs no qualification) or be academically talented like Great Uncle Edward the Commonwealth will wait with baited breath for the exam results. Uncle Harry, with a B in Arts (assisted by his teacher) and D in geography is well qualified for doing the odd jobs he does in between socialising.

Gonzo is will join an ever growing list of people likely to never be Monarch of Australia. Grandpa Charles is first in line to be not-king. Gonzo could also be the first royal born in Good Britain. With the Scottish referendum only days away and the “yes” vote gaining momentum Scotland may succeed from Great Britain taking 1/3 of the land mass with it.

With Scotland cutting the umbilical chord would this leave the Union Jack just being “Jack”? This would seem appropriate as it would represent the sentiment of the Scots.

I would write more but I have to decorate my house in Jack flags and bunting and settle in for 6-7 months of speculating about when the baby bump is showing, Kate’s maternity fashion, the gender and official name of Gonzo, and how quickly Kate loses the baby weight.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Unlucky 7

God reportedly created the earth in seven days. If taken literally, this is quite a feat. But just like renovation make over shows that rebuild a property in only a matter of weeks if not days you have to question the quality. There has to be a few things that God sits back during time of self reflection and thinks “ok, so I could have done better there.

Volcanoes. If nothing else it proves  that the soil – like an old hot water system – of heats a bit and as a result leaks occasionally.

Platypus. Don’t tell me this wasn’t one of his first creations as he tried out a few component parts. Duck bill, beaver body, mammal but lays eggs, poisonous spine that would eventually find its way onto scorpions and some fish.

People. Enough said?

Sure he looked at what he created at the end of each day and saw that it was good. Imagine what earth would be like if he took his time and saw that things were great.

We have a seven day week, in theory to represent the seven days of creation. Who hasn’t said if only there were more days in a week? When it comes to employment or household jobs there is always the desire for more time. Whether it is to complete more tasks or be less rushed with the tasks to improve the quality. No-one likes to create a platypus. Alternatively just to have another day to rest. God appears to have rushed both his work and his rest (on the seventh day he rested).

There are seven colours in the rainbow, and hasn’t that proved to be lucky for the LGBT community. That might explain why they really only use six colours. To be honest indigo always sounded a bit gay anyway. There is never a Leprechaun at the end of it and definitely no pot of gold.

Game of Thrones the people of Westeros worship the seven gods (The Mother, The Father, The Warrior, The Crone, The Smith, The Maiden and The Stranger) and there are seven kingdoms (The North, Iron Lands, The Vale, The Westerlands, The Reach, the Stormlands and the Dorne). Although this is all proving to be more than lucky for the author George R.R. Martin and for the senior management of HBO. There is not much luck for the people who live in the area. Sure the sex appears to be pretty free and easy but so is death. What does appear to be an indication of luck if penning epic fantasy narratives is to have initials in your name. Lord of the Rings – J.R.R Tolkien, Harry Potter – J.K. Rowling.

Like GoT, Japanese mythology also has seven gods. Seven Lucky Gods at that
Hotei, the fat and happy god of good health. Fat may be jolly but it is not healthy.
Jurojin the god of long life, clearly a god who did not live near Fukushima…or maybe he did!
Fukurokuju the god of happiness wealth and long life. Lucky to be a god, but not lucky enough to have his own portfolio. Like a Parliamentary Secretary, the title sounds impressive but turns out to be nothing more than number one dog’s body to the Minister. If the Japanese Gods were a theatre group, Fukurokuju would be the understudy.
Bishamonten god of warriors. War is not lucky for anyone. Ever.
Benzaiten the goddess of knowledge, art and beauty. What a patronising title. She may as well be goddess of cooking, light cleaning and babies. Secondly being the only female in the group who know at some point all of the gods are going to at least try it on. “Want to really get lucky? I’m a god!”
Daikokuten the god of wealth, commerce and trade. Another of Fukurokuju’s bosses. To be honest Daikoku (as he is known to his friends) has proven to be a lucky god for Japan, at least in the 70s to 90s. Japan was king in the manufacturing world of electronics and textiles, until Bali and Thailand discovered the art of counterfeit. All luck runs out sometime and for Dikoku and the Japanese people it was the day Tony Abbott declared he wants Japan to be his Asian BFF.
Ebisu god of fishers and merchants. Ebisu works closely with Daikoku to sell Japanese made product around the world. The 2011 tsunami and resulting nuclear disaster has put paid to any luck that the Japanese fishing industry.

If seven is so lucky why are there seven deadly sins. There were also seven Beethoven movies including five that went straight to video and seven editions in the Smokey and the Bandit franchise including four that were made just for television, not even video.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Father's Day

Dad’s were traditionally seen the source of all strength and knowledge, hence the school yard argument of “my dad is better than your dad”. Not until Master Chef or My Kitchen Rules were there arguments about whose parent could make a better risotto.

Growing up in the 70s dads were expected to be able to fix anything from a flat tyre to a hole in the fence to a broken washing machine. They were also meant to teach their sons (yes the 70s were still structured around gender stereotypes) how to do these things for when they become fathers themselves. My dad taught me how to swear when fixing things.

Normally very mild mannered and quietly spoken, but when he took off the back of that washing machine then linguistically he resorted to the language of his youth when he served in the navy.

I did also learn to fix a flat tyre. I will not have children until I can fix a fence and a washing machine. That is my vow.

Mum’s were expected to know about school things; the three Rs. Dads were meant to know about everything else. Dad’s were meant to answer the question “why?” My dad could and did. I was always amazed at how much he knew. As a teenager growing into an adult it was intimidating, how was I ever going to know so much?

As an adult I learned that it was not that dad knew everything but rather he knew a little about a lot. It turns out this is something that I did get from my dad. The ability to absorb snippets of information about a wide range of topics without getting bogged down in the details, the more trivial the better. I know that you can tell the gender of a giraffe but its horns and the shape of its dropping. I know that 90% of the world’s opals come from Australia. I know that construction is considered a sign of the areas wealth and that approximately 25% of the world’s cranes are in Dubai.

Unfortunately this type random fact, although useful in creating an impression of knowing a lot about everything  actually fill the brain preventing it from knowing much about anything. I do, however, have something to add to every conversation.

I do, just ask me.

Before the era of quinoa, reductions and deconstructions, dad’s were not expected to cook. Except for BBQ’s in which case the hot flames were clearly too dangerous for the lady folk who were constrained to making the salads, in the kitchen. My dad could make stew. I do not remember this stew fondly.

Dad’s stew did not have any flavour. Dad only made stew on the rare occasions that mum was too sick to cook dinner. On these day’s Dad also  got us ready for school. This meant that all day we knew what was going to be served up for the evening meal. Dad’s stew consisted of whatever ingredients Mum had arranged for dinner, which was always meat and three veg. One of the vegetables had to be green another one red/orange the third was up for grabs though nearly always potato.

Dad’s stew meant he took these ingredients, chopped them into pieces of roughly the same size placing them in a pot covering them with water and boiling them till all the flavour was cook out of them.

This would be served with some bread to help mop up the “gravy”.

Gift purchasing was always left to mum. All but one gift. Birthdays and Christmas there was always a Dad gift. He even wrote the gift tag. The Dad joke on the day prior, every year was “Oh is it your birthday tomorrow?” or “Is it Christmas tomorrow, I hope Santa remembers”. We were never sure if this was a joke or a statement to try and cover up the fact that Dad had only just remembered and was yet to buy a gift. Hiding in plain sight. Either way Dad’s gifts were always a cherished present to be opened last.

They were usually a little abstract but clearly represented Dad’s understanding of us kids. I think we also knew what an unusual thing it was for Dad to enter a retail area for something other than hard wear. This always added to it value, regardless of how much he paid.

Into his seventies Dad still repairs driveways, installs kitchens and buys those special dad gifts. Although he still knows just as much about everything the recall of this information can be somewhat slower. Not to fear it is all just on the tip of his tongue. Sometimes I do not know how he can still close his mouth.