15 December 2014

Bah

“Bah” I say, and “humbug” too.
No I am not an ovine with a sweet tooth – I am an irate Australian who is already pissed off with Christmas – even though it is still two weeks away.
Many people will recognise the term “Bah Humbug” from Charles Dickens’ tale “A Christmas Carol” where the grumpy character Ebenezer Scrooge uttered the same in his declaration that the Christmas season was a fraud. Scrooge was a miser who believed that the giving of gifts commercialised the concept of Christmas. He was accused of lacking any Seasonal ‘spirit’ – and several ghosts haunted him into liking Christmas.
Sucker.
Last night I battled my way through the crowds of Boat Quay to meet with some friends for dinner. Boar Quay is one of the main tourist districts of Singapore. It is located on the banks of the dirty Singapore River.
It is neither a quay nor are there any boats.
This is typically Singaporean.
Whilst beating my way through crowds of locals and tourists – many of whom were tinselled up or adorned in some other way in Christmas garb – I heard someone yelling, “Ay Oop ‘ep”
The voice was male and the accent was unmistakably that of a Northerner.
I paused in my stride and was looking around when I once again heard the Northerner voice, “Ay Oop o’er ‘ere ‘ep”
My roaming eyes quickly identified the voice as belonging to a Northerner friend of mine who we call the Hammer. He was perched on a bar stool at an outside table of a pub called the Penny Black.
Some readers may already be confused – as is the spell check function of my computer. The automatic spell check function on the word processing software of my computer does not recognise the Northerner dialect.
It is rejecting the term “Ay Oop” and is bewildered by the absence of consonants in the Northerner diction.
As it should be.
A Northerner is someone who comes from the northern part of England. They are doubly cursed by being both English and coming from a part of the country that is subject to ridicule and scorn by their own kinfolk.
I however quite like them.
“Ay Oop” is a Northerner greeting that is fairly flexible in its use. It can be used to say ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ as well as a form of general acknowledgement in conversation.
The phrase, “Ay Oop o’er ‘ere ‘ep” directly translates to “Hello – over here Hep”
I am not ‘Oop’.
I am ‘ep.
The Hammer is quite a typical Northerner in that he is a large and dour unit. Like many Northerners he is an enormous consumer of alcohol, is a spendthrift of the highest order – and he normally oozes misery. The Hammer is a modern day Ebenezer Scrooge.
I beat my way through the throng of map-carrying and sweaty tourists and Santa-hat wearing bar attendants and arrived at the Hammers table. He was seated with another Northerner named Harry and a fat German bloke named Horst.
“Ay Oop ‘ammer, Ay Oop ‘arry, Ay Oop ‘orst” I greeted the trio.
I am fluent in Northerner.
“Ay Oop ‘ep” the Hammer repeated.
“Ay Oop ‘ep” echoed Harry.
The fat German named Horst muttered something guttural that was difficult to make out as he was also drinking from a bottle of beer when he was saying it.
The fat German bastard Horst does not like me - and he has told me as such - because I refer to him as the fat German bastard Horst.
I call him this because he is fat and a German and a bastard.
There are of course other reasons that Horst and I dislike each other – however I will not elaborate further here as that is a tale unto itself.
“Y’Oright ‘ep?” asked the Hammer.
“Y’Oright ‘ammer innit” I replied.
This is essentially a Northerner exchange of pleasantries where we are asking each other whether we are alright. “Innit” in it’s literal form is asking “Isn’t it?” – however the English tend to drop this word indiscriminately into many conversations.
As do I.
“Y’Oright ‘ep?” enquired Harry.
“Y’Oright ‘arry innit” I responded.
“How are you fat German bastard Horst?” I jibed at the fat German bastard Horst.
He glared at me in response.
“Fookin Christmas” the Hammer said as he drained the contents from a bottle of Tiger beer
Harry nodded his head grimly in agreement.
“Ay Oop” I concurred.
“What are your plans for Christmas Hammer and Harry?” I enquired of the Northerners.
I was ignoring the German Horst for the moment.
“Nout” they replied in unison.
This is Northerner for "nothing".
“You are staying on the Island?” I enquired.
“Aye” said the Hammer.
“Ay Oop” grimaced Harry.
Both “Aye” and “Ay Oop” mean the same thing in this instance – and the meaning is an affirmation.
“Wha’ abou’ youse ‘ep?” enquired the Hammer.
The Northerners often have difficulty in pronouncing the letter ‘t’
“’ome to Oz ‘ammer” I replied in perfect Lancastrian.
The fat German bastard Horst made another sort of phlegmy guttural noise that could have been just clearing his throat – but I took it as a form of derogation.
“What about you then Horst – are you and your kind planning another crack at world domination - or perhaps a bout of genocide?” I asked.
Horst spat on the ground in contempt.
I was about to launch into the German however at that moment a pair of tiny and quite young green-clad Singaporean girls appeared at the outside bar – each carrying a basket of what appeared from where we were sitting to be Easter eggs. They were handing these out to patrons.
The desire to set them on fire was immediate and compelling – however I resisted.
I was surprised when the munchkin type creatures made a fairly direct beeline towards our table and I was even more surprised when one of them embraced the fat German bastard Horst in a rather intimate fashion.
Horst looked much chuffed.
The phrase ‘beeline’ relates directly to the behaviour off bees – the buzzing type – not the second letter of the English alphabet. When one of the forager bees finds nectar or pollen it flies back to its hive and communicates the source to the other bees. It does so by releasing a chemical and also performing a type of dance that bee enthusiasts refer to a ‘waggle dance’. The collector bees then fly directly to the nectar following the shortest possible route.
This is referred to as the beeline.
“What’s going on here Hammer?” I enquired of the Northerner as the fat German bastard Horst cuddled and embraced the tiny munchkin girl.
“I assume that is one of Horst’s many illegitimate children?”
“Tha’s ‘is girlfriend” replied the Hammer.
“Jaysus” I retorted.
The fat German bastard must be sixty years old – if he is a day - and the tiny Chinese girl appeared to be no older than twenty.
Love really is blind methinks.
Now that the baskets that the little munchkins were closer I could see that they contained not Easter eggs – but humbugs. These are hard boiled sweets that contain peppermint. They are distinctive in that they are small, white and egg-shaped decorated with colourful stripes.
“What creatures are you dressed up as?” I enquired of the other girl.
“Guess” she responded.
“Smurfs?” Harry offered.
“Gremlins?” I suggested.
“Imps?” enquired the Hammer.
Horst again made some disgusting and indecipherable Germanic noise as he continued to embrace his girlfriend and it was unclear to me whether he was contributing to the conversation.
“We are elfs lah” the Singaporean girl squealed.
“Elfs?” I enquired.
“Yes Christmas elfs” she giggled.
As with the Northern dialect, the auto spellcheck and correct function on my Mac is rejecting the word ‘elfs’ – and quite rightly so. I momentarily considered the merits of informing the elf that the plural of elf is elves – but I simply couldn’t be bothered.
“And what do you think these sweets that you are handing out to patrons are?” I asked
“Christmas candy” she replied.
She thrust her basket towards us and both Harry and the Hammer took handfuls. They then put the handful into their pocket and grabbed some more.
Free stuff and thrift is irresistible to the Northerners.
I have seen many examples of this before.

It is the Northerner way.
“These are humbugs aren’t they Hammer?”
“Ay Oop” he replied.
The only relationship that I could fathom between the humbugs that were being handed out by the elves and Christmas was the Ebenezer Stooge connection. This was either a brilliant public protest against the consumerism of Christmas by the Bar owner who had employed the elves - or a confused Singaporean interpretation. 
I am leaning heavily towards the latter.
“’Ave a beer ‘ep?” asked the Hammer
“Cannot Hammer” I replied to the Hammer in Singaporean.
“You know very well that I do not drink and I must go now and meet some friends for dinner”
I cast the fat German bastard Horst a withering look of disgust and contempt – for his elven girlfriend was now sitting on his lap and their tongues were entangled in messy kisses.
I grabbed a handful of humbugs from the other Singaporean elf as I stood.
“So long Hammer and Harry” I said as I departed
“Merry Christmas ‘ep” nodded the Hammer.
“Merry Christmas ‘ep” echoed Harry.
“Bah humbug,” I said to them both.
Then I walked away.

5 December 2014

Pagan Christian Festivals

 I erred today.

"To err is human; to forgive, divine".

The English poet Alexander Pope penned this line in his work, "An essay on criticism". This was a very long-winded work which I have started a couple of times but have never finished.

I may some day.

One of the big Christian and pagan festivals is on soon.

Christmas.

There are lights and trees and strange Singaporean Christmas moose creatures erected everywhere down Orchard road.

I will soon have to don my Santa Suit in the tropical heat and be mauled by my friend Jo Bo and other kids in her condominium.

I did it last year.

Orchard road is one of the main tourist retail places on the Island and I tend to avoid it. It is crowded and full of tourists and I don’t like it.

I had to go there today though.

This evening.

To do some stuff.

Back to the ‘erring” bit.

 In "An essay on criticism" Pope was expressing his thoughts on critics and other poets and writers of his time. It is a rather bitter and lengthy piece of writing, 

Alexander wrote this more than 300 years ago. Pope didn't actually coin the term, "To err is human". It is an English translation of a much older Latin proverb. "Errare humanum est". Pope just added the "To forgive, divine" bit.

There are a couple of other fairly well known lines from Pope's "An essay on criticism". These are, "A little learning is dangerous" and "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread". He was a bit of a legend.

It is not a bad word.

Err.

I like it.

The Latin "errare" meant to wander or go astray. It is also the verb form of the word 'error' which pretty much means the same thing. It is also an often and commonly used type of pausing word or a response when someone says something to you and you don't quite no how to respond. You say 'Err".

This is how I erred today.

I was out in the mayhem of the Orchard Road shopping district today. I was sitting outside having a cool drink and a cigarette between doing my stuff when a young Singaporean man approached me. He reached out to give me a plastic flower and he told me, "Jesus loves you"

I was sipping the last of my lime juice when he approached me and my initial verbal response was "Err". So I erred. My mental response was, "Argh".

I do not like being confronted by random Christians.

I noticed that there were a cluster of young Singaporeans wandering around the area and all of them were clutching plastic flowers. They were handing them out to passers by and to people like me who were sitting down in the smokers’ area. They were all attired the same in plain black trousers, black shoes and bright orange tee-shirts upon which were emblazoned the words "JESUS LOVES YOU". Front and back and in black bold lettering. They were all bespectacled and looked to be very clean-cut and blissfully happy Singaporeans. My best guess was that they were a Christian movement as they were all saying "Jesus loves you" as they were handing out their plastic flowers.

I had a cigarette in one hand and my near finished cup of lime juice in the other so I couldn't really accept the flower from the chap who approached me. I smiled an "Hello" though.

"Jesus loves you", the young man repeated and he again thrust the plastic flower towards me

"I am not sure that he does" I responded.

I refused to drop either my cigarette or my lime juice to accept the flower.

"He does lah" the smiling Singaporean repeated.

"How do you know lah?" I enquired.

"He loves us all"

"All of us?" I asked.

"He loves us all" the bespectacled Singaporean beamed.

"He loves Kim Jong Un and Bashar Al-Assad?"

"All of us"

"And he loves evil people like pedophiles and rapists and murderers?" I persisted.

"Yes" the young fella asserted although he didn't sound so assured anymore.

"And he loved Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler, Hosni Mubarak, David Cameron, Tony Abbott and George Bush?" I continued - reeling off the first few evil dictators that came to mind.

I was beginning to enjoy myself a bit now.

The poor young fellow withdrew the hand holding the flower now and he gave me a blank stare. This is a fairly common response in Singapore that I am quite used to.

"I met Jesus a couple of weeks ago you know" I told the stunned Singaporean Christian. I wanted to add a little to his state of bewilderment.

I did actually meet a guy named Jesus.

I wrote about this in a piece I titled, "Jesus and the Thunderbolts"

He was a Mexican tourist I chatted to during a big thunderstorm quite a while back.

Maybe a couple of years.

"You met Jesus?" the young fellow asked. His tone and expression was one of mixed wonderment and uncertainty.

"I did,” I asserted.

"We had a coffee and a smoke at Starbucks in Novena and we watched a thunderstorm together. He told me that the correct pronunciation of his name was 'Yaysoos' but he didn't mention anything about loving me". 

I repeat this is all true.

I did meet a Mexican guy whose name was Jesus. We talked a bit about lightning and thunderstorms in Singapore but he definitely did not mention anything that suggested that he loved me.

I would have remembered this.

The poor young guy seemed a little baffled by my comments so he moved onto a rather gruff looking western fella who was also smoking a cigarette and was sitting a few meters down from me.

I watched the young Christian Singaporean endeavor to hand his plastic flower to this bloke. He said "Jesus loves you" to him and I nearly choked on the remainder of my lime juice when the man grabbed the plastic flower from the nice young man's hand and threw it to the ground. He told the poor Christian boy to "Piss off" in a very loud voice. He said this in a broad cockney English accent so it sounded more like "Poos off".

I didn't think that this was called for.

I also doubted very much that Jesus would love him after such an act. Neither the Jesus referred to in the Bible not the Mexican bloke that I shared a coffee and a cigarette with in Starbucks a couple of weeks ago.

I stubbed my cigarette out and as I walked past the rude Cockney bastard I paused and stooped and picked up the plastic flower and I tucked it behind my ear.

"Jesus will never love you" I remarked as I walked away.

"You poos off an all" he said to me.

I just laughed and continued on.


Merry Christmas.

3 December 2014

The Project

 
So if you have read a couple of my immediately previous stuff you will note I am in Nepal.

Kathmandu to be precise.

I don’t like to use the word ‘post’ in writing. I don’t particularly fancy the term ‘posting’ either.

Or ‘blog’

To me the word ‘blog’ has toiletry overtones which I don’t like and posting to me is firstly letters, and secondly things that you put in the ground that hold things.

Like a lamp post

Or a doorpost.

I just write.

Stuff.

I am not a ‘blogger’ I am a writer.

But I ‘blog’.

Dam it.

Anyway – I am in Kathmandu.

Again.

I come here a lot because I like it.

I like it for a lot reasons – one of which is these are some of the most impoverished people on the planet – and I am not.

The diametric opposites attract and humble me.

Singapore is a tiny Island that is Affluent, Educated, Lavish and drowning in Opportunity and Plenty.

Nepal is Tall, Land-locked, Impoverished, and starved of Opportunity. 

It has very little.

The inequity of it all motivates me.

It gives me perspective.

We all need jolts of that I think.

Empathy and kindness are easily given and greatly rewarded.

I love these resilient and polite and happy people who reside in a country that is on the roof of the world - and it is ancient.

Really ancient.

Nepal is where the Lord and great teacher Buddha was born. In a village called Lumbini.

In the year 624 BC.

His full name was Buddha Shakyamuni and his mother’s name was Queen Mayadevi and his father’s name was King Shuddhodana.
It is taught that one night, Queen Mayadevi dreamed that a white elephant descended from heaven and entered her womb. The white elephant entering her womb indicated that on that very night she had conceived a child who was a pure and powerful being.
The elephant’s descending from heaven indicated that her child came from Tushita heaven – which the devout believe to be the Pure Land of Buddha Maitreya.
Later, when she gave birth to the child, instead of experiencing pain the queen allegedly experienced a special, pure vision in which she stood holding the branch of a tree with her right hand while the gods Brahma and Indra took the child painlessly from her side. They then proceeded to honor the infant by offering him ritual ablutions.
The tree was a Boddhi tree
They are associated with all things Buddha
They are beautiful and I love them.
I really do.
Nice huh?
When the king saw the child he felt as if all his wishes had been fulfilled and he named the young prince “Siddhartha.” He invited a Brahmin seer to make predictions about the prince’s future. The seer examined the child with his clairvoyance and told the king, “There are signs that the boy could become either a Chakravatin king, a ruler of the entire world, or a fully enlightened Buddha.

There are other reasons of course – that I love Nepal - but none of which I will divulge here or now.

I have written about this at great length before – well sort of - but I simply couldn’t be bothered repeating myself right now.

Click on the bloody Hyperlinks.

I have written much and often about my association with Nepal and in particularly the children of the Snowland Ranag School of the Light and it’s Holy Patron – the Buddhist Lama and a fifth reincarnation of a Master – the Guru Rinpoche. I have written that the Guru and the children come from some of the most remote and impoverished and inaccessible parts of Nepal.

Really really high in the Himalaya

So I won’t write about it again.

I shall cunningly insert some hyperlinks here:


…… to give more background on the Country, the people and my friends and my association.

If the hyperlinks do not work then I am obviously not as cunning or as clever as I thought I was and you will have to use Google.

My smart-ass children and nephews and nieces think I am technologically incompetent.

They could be correct.

I can live with that.

So the Guru and his various advisors and myself have been in total agreement that the facilities in which the Snowland Ranag School of the Light are poor at best and the school is at its peak capacity and over-crowded and the children have nowhere decent to even play.

The property is a rental and we have done some improvements over the years - but is has been the Guru and his advisors and my shared dream that Snowland have its own property and grounds that are comfortable and safe and beautiful - for the children and the staff.

If the hyperlinks have worked – then you would have already read that the school is also the children’s home, and they are separated from their parents and families for ten years or more to get an education.

If the hyperlinks haven’t worked then you need to know this.

Here are some photos of the current school and the children.

They may not work either:




I am technologically a bit incompetent.

So for 4 years we have been looking - and the Guru and his advisors and I have seen countless buildings and blocks of land. I inspected at least a dozen abandoned and semi-occupied schools around Kathmandu and many, many blocks of grazing and farming and commercial land.

I have always very much favoured an existing building - with space – for play and expansion but Rinpoche seemed to be set on land and then build.

I have consistently told him that this would be far more expensive and would take many years.

It seems my logic and my perseverance may have paid off.

We appear to have bought a school.

Documents have been signed.

Fingerprints inked and pressed.

Money paid.

We are on the move.

At last.

I first saw this property in April of this year but I wasn’t allowed very close as the Guru and his advisors did not want the owner or neighbours to see me and know that a foreigner was involved in the purchase – as they would then charge a premium.

It made sense so we did a dawn viewing.

It looked OK and was on a very big plot of land. The main building was big enough for twice the number of kids the Snowland currently has and boys and girls dormitory much more spacious than the current ones. It had a rooftop area with a large room than could and will be converted to visitor’s accommodation and a beautiful rooftop garden. 

Our volunteer friends and visiting doctors and nurses and friends can stay there. 
.
In warmth and in comfort

There will also likely be big water tanks up there on the roof section too - to harvest rainwater and solar panels and perhaps even a mini-turbine to generate what I think will need to be about 8kW of power.

We want to have a computer laboratory and good lighting in every hostel and classroom and they all chew a little.

Electricity.

Kathmandu has an energy crisis.

It always will.

Load shedding occurs for more than 8 hours every day.

Every day.

I have good friends I have worked with before in a Nepali Solar and Energy Company called Gham Power.

Gham is Nepali for the Sun.

They solarized basecamp of Mount Everest and we have worked with them before.

They do very good work .

The owner of Gham Power is a man named Sandeep and he is a friend. So too is one of their Engineers Anjul who came up to the mountains with me and we installed a solar system on another school. We had to take all of the massive equipment up a shudderingly steep mountain in trucks up sort-of-roads.

Tracks really.

Then Anjul and his team installed at all and I had a hot shower the next morning.

From our solar heater

It was an excellent week of engineering and conversation and quiet contemplation with Anjul in the Himalaya.

It was brilliant.

Another really good thing about the new school I think-we-have-just-bought is that on it’s ground it has a natural spring. We have our own water supply and together with the rain water harvesting – the school will never be without water.

We can pump it everywhere. 

It will be used liberally.

Happy days.

There is also a water shortage in Kathmandu and public wells are commonly dry in Summer.

The water will be used for washing and cooking and cleaning and irrigating vegetables and the garden on what is a big piece of property. There will be room for a football field and there is already a slab for a basketball court and there is room to grow as much fruit and vegetables as they want.

There is room to keep chickens and goats as well.

I may even be able to build a type of grotto where the spring is - and we will have all the pipes underground.

The options and opportunities are endless.

I went into the buildings the day after the thumb-printing and signing and money-giving was done and I took these photos:

You need to look at the potential.




The school is in the Bagmati Zone in an area called Jorpati - and is close to the road that the Chinese are building all the way to Tibet.

It is a nice neighborhood in a good location.

There is enough room for an assembly area for perhaps 400 children and an art room and a computer room and even a gymnasium. The boys and girls will have their own hostels not just with beds – but with some lounge and sitting and chilling rooms all children love.

Beanbags and stuff.

The Internet.

Books and games

A Library.

I want a playground for the little ones with see saws and a slippery dip and a sandpit.

Like we had.

There will be proper toilets and hot and cold water and a filtration system to keep it all clean. We will want a funky waste treatment and handling systems to go to the vegetable gardens and be as green as possible.

We will be generating all our own power.

I have already put the call out and am at this moment getting drawings and CAD’s done.

CAD’s are Computer Animated Designs for you non-building types – three Degree images my friends the Architects and Engineers and Builders and Designers and Landscapers and Plumbers and Electricians are going to need.

Many phone calls have already been made and emails sent and received.

There will be more.

I have worked with a lot of people in the building industry for 20 years or more.

We have built bigger things than this.

Vastly bigger things.

Most of us have done bigger home renovations.

But we have none of us done anything as important as this.

We have done nothing as life changing.

So stuff is happening

It will be BIG.

It will be easy.

All hands on deck in April

Project Eden.

Here we come.