Saturday, April 30, 2005

Leaving Manila

Alas, I still have no return date to the US. I was booked to leave yesterday but of course it didn't happen. Heck, the guy that booked my flight even knew it was mendacity but he didn't let that stop him!

It's not so much that it's not nice to be here in Baguio, it's more the open endedness of it. That and the fact that since mid December last year the longest unbroken stay I've had at home was 8 days! Travel's fun at first but it gets old real fast when it's work related.

Most flights to the US from Singapore seem to leave in the late afternoon, arriving in the US late afternoon 17 or so hours later. Thus it is that we tend to leave Manila mid morning. And that means that we leave Baguio around midnight. Which in turn means that we've done a full days work at the plant before we leave for Manila. It all adds up to a very very long day. Generally, unless you can sleep in a small noisy van, you find you've been awake more than 18 hours before you even arrive at Manila Airport.

So one arrives at the airport. Depending on the season it may be anytime between 3:45 AM and 6:00 AM. 6:00 AM is better!

You can't even enter the building without proof that you have a flight booked that very day! Given that I've never yet managed to return on the date of my original itinerary that poses a problem. One has to get past another level of security to get to the airline offices to get the proof that one is entitled to enter the building!

Interesting process. Understand, please, that I really don't mind the security; as I've said many times, the intent is to pass through focal points safely. But some of the methods used to 'improve' security do make one wonder. In the US the current method is to prevent we smokers enjoying a smoke when we arrive. In the Philippines they poke one's luggage. The Philippine method does at least have some merit! My first time through the security barriers to the airline offices went something like this;

Woman without larynx (at least based on aural observation - not a word, not even a grunt, passed her lips) armed with a long stick. Pointed at my bag! I drop the bag. She points, using the stick, at the main zip. I wasn't quite sure what she meant, so she poked almost violently at the zip. So I unzip and she pokes the stick in, very vigorously. Satisfied she points at the zip at one end of the bag. Unzip that and poke poke with the same vigour! The she points at the zip at the other end of the bag. Unzip and poke poke! You can't imagine how relieved I was that she didn't point at the zip on my trousers!

Obviously she's looking for a bomb. It probably never occurred to the people who mandated this routine that not only would I, should I be foolish enough to have a bomb in my bag, be blown up, but the stick poker would also be blown up. Or maybe it did. But it obviously never occurred to the stick poker herself!

If you arrive at 3:45 AM you have to wait until 6:00 AM when the airline offices open, so there you are outside the building with no means of entering. This is a two edged sword. If you're outside you can smoke. Inside you can't until after you've passed immigration control. On the other hand, outside, they keep moving you along! Don't imagine you can set your bags down somewhere and wait patiently for the time to pass. The airport cops constantly pass by and bark 'not there!' as they wave you away from whatever place you've settled on. So you grab your bags and move somewhere else. Settle, only to repeat the process 10 minutes later. Same cops. This time they wave you back where you started! I suspect a little bribery here might help but that can get out of hand so I just keep oscillating back and forth!

Eventually 6:00 AM arrives. Usually by that time I'm in hour 22 of awake. The door to the airline offices opens and one passes through the poking routine aforesaid. Oh, one also leaves ones driving license with em to be collected when one leaves. At least that way they can identify the bodies!

Then one does the business with the airline. Usually I travel Singapore Airlines; they are, so far, the best airline I've ever travelled on. Efficient, polite, comfortable, everything one would want.

Then, proof in hand of travel, one passes through security to enter the main building. Nothing unusual there except that I'm conditioned to taking my shoes off; they always say 'no need' and always my shoes set off the metal detectors. No point in telling em my shoes will set off the detectors; they don't want to know until it's happened. *shrug*

After getting ones boarding pass one passes through immigration control. Be sure you have 550 pesos or US$10 for the airport tax. I didn't know I needed that sum first time and had to pass through security again to find an ATM machine. Took at least an hour.

After you've paid your 550 pesos you enter a large area with writing desks on the walls. That's where you fill out your departure form. Lots of forms. Not a single pen! Fortunately I learned many years ago to always always always carry a pen on international travel! Not everyone has so much foresight and I've loaned my pen to discommoded travelers more than once there! Then one passes the immigration control people and emerge into the gate areas. Have to admit; it's not the swankiest airport in the world. It is swankier than Burnie Airport (North Tasmania). But it does have the most uncomfortable gate seating I've ever experienced. On the other hand, there's a smoking lounge.

And here's the final insanity, one not unique to Manila International Airport. When you get to within an hour or so of departure time they shoo you out of the seating area and recheck your boarding pass and passport. So far so good; they do the same at Frankfurt. (In Frankfurt you also have to undergo a second set of metal detectors and baggage xray if you're on a flight to the US). But the smoking lounge is outside the area they consider sanitised; so if you've passed through the boarding pass/passport check and want a smoke you have to exit the sanitised area and undergo the checks yet again. And again. And again! Uh huh. I've already run the gauntlet of boarding pass and passport checks to even get as far as the smoking lounge!. Did I somehow manage to slip past all the security and enter the gate area?


It's always fun watching someone approving a bottle of wine. You know how it works; you order a bottle of wine in a restaurant and when it arrives you go through an elaborate ritual which looks like more than it is. What it is is verifying that the wine hasn't corked. What it looks like is rather more. And until you know how it works it's easy to fall into the trap of assuming that, if the wine isn't to taste, that you can send it back and try again.

Of course you can only send it back if it's gone bad; if it's ok but not to taste you're stuck with your choice.

It took me a while to learn this; one reason being that no one ever actually tells you that's how it works! So, if you're dining with someone who knows the drill and they nod in approval one is apt to assume that what's coming is something special. Ain't always so!

Heh, in the midst of writing this the bottle I ordered arrived and the waiter put me through the rigamarole. Quick sniff; smells ok, quick taste; it's not vinegar. Uh nope, I don't have my laptop computer down in the restaurant; I'm talking about a post-prandial bottle in the solitude of my room. Not quite that solitary; Australian TV is running and I'm lapping up the accent!

There are subtle nuances to it of course; the waiter will show you the label so you can protest that he's brought the 1999 when you specifically wanted the 1998! And sometimes (with older vintages) they'll show you the cork. You're supposed to sniff it and reassure yourself that the cork hasn't shrunk in storage. Keep your eye on that cork! I guarantee it won't be left behind; some wineries pay a bounty on returned corks.

As I was finishing that paragraph another knock came on my door. Someone delivering a loaner corkscrew! I didn't ask for one but what the hey? Sign a receipt for it; I have to return it in the morning .

I guess that's an omen. Cheers and your good health!

Friday, April 29, 2005

Not a lot of fun...

Tonight was an 'interesting' evening. Sometime during the day one of our customer contacts 'invited' me to dinner. This is code for 'you're going to be paying'. Not a big deal; I get to list his name as a participant and it goes onto expenses. Frankly I'd rather not dine on that basis, even if it does mean I don't have to pay for my own meal out of my per diem but sometimes one has to play the game.

Thus dinner. Beer was consumed; food eaten and stories swapped. During dinner some 'hints' were dropped. Though I thought I'd headed em off at the pass I was wrong. So I found myself in one of the seedier parts of Baguio; in a 'girly' bar.

Three levels; the middle level has a glass floor for the stage. Girls dancing on the stage - you get the idea. The girls were uniformly clad in black gowns that covered the bare minimum! I don't think I've ever seen girls looking so bored in my life as those girls were! I say girls advisedly; to my eyes they looked like they were 16 years old. Probably older but not by much! Top level one looks down upon them. We ended up in a private room on the top floor. Lest you be wondering, I wasn't in control at this point (and no I don't mean I'd drunk so much that I wasn't in control - merely that the customer contact was calling the shots). The contact intimated that it was easier to talk in the private room. Uh huh.

Time passes; beer is ordered. And then 6 girls troop in. Drinks waiter flashes his torch on each face in turn, intoning their names. And then all eyes seemed to turn upon me, the only westerner in the room. I have to choose a girl! Now maybe I'm wrong; maybe it was really only 'talk to the girl' but I'm prepared, even in the light of previous experience with bets that go wrong, to bet my hat there's more to it than that.

I shrugged; on what basis would I choose a girl even assuming I wanted to choose? Size of breasts? Shape of face? Name?

As if to underline the nature of the business the drinks waiter, upon our failing to choose, shooed the first 6 girls out of the room and announced (and I quote literally) 'next batch'. This time 9 girls marched in. Two of the five of us chose girls at this point; another swore he'd be the last to choose.

Enough was enough! I walked out, saying 'I can't and won't do this'. If my customer is offended then so be it. I'll dicker over the cooking of a steak; I'll smile kindly when the customer demands a new feature but I'm damned if I'll put prostitution on my credit card. And I'm damned if I'll participate. And if my employer wants to make an issue of it...

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Comments on 'Arriving in Manila'

Philip Laureano wrote this in response to my post about arriving in Manila. I think it deserves better than to languish as a response to my post (I'm sure I'm the only one who reads my posts more than once! :-) ) So let me quote.

'Hi rob,

I am a Filipino-American living in manila, so here's a few tips just to help you out while you're still there. :)

[About those cops you mentioned--you might have given them $20 dollars
each, but to them, that is equivalent to an entire week's pay.]

Overall, watch your back. The taxi drivers that you spoke of will try to rip you off for up to four times the cost of the ride; just remember that the average cost of a taxi ride should never exceed about 150 pesos (about three dollars or so).
Common sense rules apply here, of course. :) If the taxi driver refuses to turn his meter on, do NOT get in. That's a surefire guarantee that he is going to rip you off.

Another thing you have to watch out for are pickpockets and cell phone snatchers. They are all over the place, so if you have to use your mobile phone in public, be careful. Don't let those smiles fool you. (They're smiling at your money).

Now, for the geeky stuff. :)

If you are a coffee addict like myself, there are starbucks coffee shops all over the place to cater to your addiction--and the best part is that they are 50% cheaper than the prices in the US.

If you are the type that is looking for bootleg DVDs, you can literally find them all over the place (one such place is called Uniwide Coastal Mall, on the way to the airport). They are typically screener quality, and get this--the average cost of a DVD in Manila is $1.50 (about 80 pesos). You can even ask the vendor to let you preview the movie before you buy it.

Hmmm...what else? Oh, yes, that reminds me about the malls in Manila. They're absolutely huge. Filipinos absolutely LOVE their malls. We're talking malls literally a quarter of a mile long, stacked over eight stories high. If you have some extra time, I highly recommend that you give them a visit. :)

Anyway, that's just a few things I know off the top of my head about Manila that I just wanted to share with you, Rob.

If you need help with anything else, let me know. I might look like one of the natives here, but I'm about as foreign to this land as you are. The Filipino exterior just fools the natives :)'

A couple of comments by me (Rob). Yep, I'm very aware of the need to 'watch my back'. My wallet is never in my pocket when I pass through Manila airport. Always in my carry on luggage, which is going to be a lot more difficult to get out of my grasp than a wallet. But those aren't precautions I reserve specifically for the Philippines. I'm careful anytime I'm in an unfamiliar environment. To this day that includes Phoenix Sky HarboUr Airport.

I remember the time, a couple of years ago, when I arrived at Tullamarine Airport Melbourne. I put my bags on a trolley and turned away for maybe 10 seconds to light a smoke. When I turned back some old bastard (I mean old - he'd have been 70 not out) was trundling it away. He had the face to claim that they were his bags! What he didn't have the face to do was brazen it out - I was fully prepared to call the cops and detail exactly what was in each bag; he didn't know so he departed with his tail between his legs.

Each night I catch a cab from the plant to the hotel. The usual fare is about P60 (a little over a dollar US). That's excellent value from my point of view given that it's a 15 minute drive over some very hilly country. Come time to pay I always hand over a 100 Peso bill and I don't wait for the change. I'm tipping maybe 80 US cents. Not much to me; maybe a lot to the cabbie. They always seem happy when I wave away the change .

I've been to the SM Mall in Baguio City a few times. First time I was amused to see, at one side of the main ground level entrance a Starbucks. Opposite side of the same entrance? A Seattles Best coffee house! It was good to see a Starbucks; there's a good market on Ebay for the more exotic Starbucks mugs. My wife makes about US$400 a week on Ebay and the Cebu mug I brought back in October last year netted about 6 times the cost despite the handle that was broken in transit. This time I'm taking back a Cebu mug and a Tagaytay mug. (I'd never heard of Tagaytay).

I'm digressing! I have to agree that the malls I've seen here dwarf almost anything you'll see in Australia or the US. Can't speak for Manila but in Baguio you have to pass the gauntlet of security before you can even enter a mall. Sticks to poke bags and a pat down. Had to show my wallet twice because it set off the metal detector!

Philip, I thank you for your response. If I ever find myself spending more than a couple of hours in Manila I'll drop you an email; maybe we can go see some of Manila together - I'd enjoy that. Oh, and a plate of boneless Bangus wouldn't go astray either.

Duck's definitely off

You'll remember that I wrote, in January[^], about the paucity of duck at the hotel here in Baguio. I also wrote about blue cheese though I never tried to order that; blue cheese is wonderful if served with a nice Botrytis Riesling; disgusting otherwise. Alas, they don't seem to carry dessert wines here or if they do my ability to convey what I seek is sadly lacking. I suspect a bit of both!

I reckon someone here's reading my blog; I noticed on the hotel menu tonight that duck has been dropped completely (also blue cheese). Pity - I enjoy a nice duck. Ah well. I had pork schnitzel instead - served with thinly sliced boiled eggs and anchovies. Bliss! And to follow? Mango and Banana wrapped in crepes.

I have to say that the standard of cooking here at the hotel is considerably better than it was last September.

Last night I had the strawberries marinated in cognac. Puzzled em a bit by requesting some freshly ground pepper on the strawberries. 'Are you sure, sir?' she asked with something akin to horror on her face. 'Quite sure' I said. 'It's delicious'. Which it is. I first heard about the idea of pepper on strawberries about a year ago; the concept intrigued me. She obliged by grinding some pepper onto my dessert though she did it very reluctantly; one might have thought that turning the grinder was torture.

If you've been reading my raves you've probably worked out that I sometimes do things just for the sheer contrariness of it. Thus it was in June last year, at Lake Tahoe, where I met, at a family reunion, most of my wife's living relatives. I still find it hard to imagine that my brother in law is 66 years old; that's just not right .

Strawberries were served and, true to form, I decided to try em with pepper. Perhaps a bit tentatively at first, but I have to say the pepper really does complement the flavour of the berries.

Shocked em; not least Andrew. He still can't bring himself to try it. You? You're all open minded flexible people; I'm sure you'll give it a go!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Buying cigarettes

Back in the 1960's in Australia you could buy a 5 pack of cigarettes. No, not 5 packets, 5 individual cigarettes in a small, almost cute, packet. Sometime in the 1970's though I don't remember exactly when, an act of Federal Parliament made it illegal to sell cigarettes in quantities of less than 20 in Australia. You can still buy 20 packs but these days (or at least those days in 2002) it's more common to see packs of 25 or 30. Heck, you can buy Longbeach 1's in packs of 40; there are one or two brands sold in 50's and at least one brand that comes as 100 to the pack.

You need one helluva large pocket to hold that one!

I understand the reasoning behind the minimum count is that it makes it harder for juveniles to purchase a pack of smokes.

Nice theory. Somewhat akin to that of King Canute.

On the other hand, I'm remembering my childhood. Back then we had the option of purchasing a 5 pack, but given that there were 3 or 4 of us sharing the one pack that wasn't a realistic option. I've already written about how we stole 13 coke bottles to buy a pack of 20.

In 1964 that 3 and thruppence was significant money. My pocket money at the time was sixpence; at that rate it would have taken 7 weeks of saving to purchase a 20 pack. A 20 pack these days costs less than a weeks pocket money.

Today I went in search of smokes in Baguio City, Philippines. I've done it before; it's an interesting experience to descend into the street markets. Incredibly crowded. Black market money changers, old women bent almost double, an amazing array of unfamiliar foodstuffs - it's an olfactory experience. There are also many street vendors selling single cigarettes! Down in Manila it's nothing to see hawkers walking through the slowly moving traffic selling one cigarette at a time.

I was with a local; he warned me to keep an eye on my wallet; 'mate' I said 'see where my hands are?'. He saw and laughed. Both hands thrust into my pockets; no one is going to lift my wallet without me knowing about it

We found a cigarette seller (like they're hard to find ). A carton of 200 smokes that would cost me over A$60 or US$35 costs a mere P245 (that's about US$5). I bought 4 cartons. What was interesting was that instead of the carton containing 10 packs of 20 smokes, it contains 20 packs of 10 smokes. Even more interesting, they're bound up as 10 sets of 2 packs. Each set is wrapped in cellophane. When one peels off the cellophane to obtain 2 10 packs it's amazing to discover that each 10 pack is wrapped in it's own cellophane.

I can't imagine why they've done it that way; it has to add to the cost.

There's a story going around

to the effect that all Australians enjoy Vegemite[^]!

Rubbage (as my grandmother used to say). Yes, certain of my countrymen do enjoy Vegemite. Personally I've always felt that if you really wanted to spread the stuff that one would develop between ones toes if one wore the same socks for 3 weeks in a hot and humid climate onto hot buttered toast one ought, at the least, to be honest about it. I'm told that in Iceland a delicacy is fish buried for some weeks. The worse it smells the better it tastes. I'll give it a try if ever I'm in Iceland but that's because I'll try anything once!

No, I'm sorry to say that Vegemite has never appealed to me. Maybe it was because of the advertising campaigns which, to put it mildly, appeal to conformist tastes. If you're going to advertise your product as something every true 'fill in the blank' has to consume in order to be a true 'fill in the blank' you can already include me in the non-target group.

But I suspect it's really because Vegemite is truly vile. On a scale of 1 to 10 I'd put it at about 12 million!

I took a jar of it with me when I moved to the US. I know how to spread it (very very thinly - this ain't peanut butter) but my American family proved their essential sanity by uniformly turning their noses up and rejecting it.

I've felt this way about it as long as I can remember so don't go blaming it on the Yanks!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Happy Birthday

To Dan.G who has, I noticed over on CodeProject, attained the majestic age of 40. Well done mate! Wait till you're 50 though . I found the saying is true; life really does begin at 40 - at least mine did.

Alas, Dan, you're going to have to share the limelight with some observations. Would you expect it to be otherwise?

Tonight, at the hotel here in Baguio City, Philippines, a birthday celebration was held. There was one last night too. You know the drill; the lights dim for a moment and the restaurant staff stand around the embarassed party singing Happy Birthday. They used English words which isn't surprising; this part of the Philippines thrives because of the US businesses it's managed to attract and almost everyone I've met here can speak English, at least English of a sort. Their English is much better than my (non-existent) Tagalog so I wouldn't dream of quibbling.

What struck me though was a pair of recent memories, both of which passed almost unnoticed at the time.

The first is of a similar event that occurred in a small restaurant in Beppu, Japan, January this year. A group of Japanese singing Happy Birthday. Not a word I could recognise but the tune was unmistakable.

The second is of a similar event that occurred in another small restaurant; this time in Nice, France. Once again a group of people singing Happy Birthday. I think I recognised a few words though I'm not sure of the spelling - 'naissance?'. But it was the same tune!

A long time ago and far far away...

On Friday December 1 1995, to be exact, I was on my way to the US. Third trip. My flight was from Melbourne to Auckland, thence to Los Angeles.

I was in the transit lounge waiting patiently for the next flight when a plane load of Americans arrived from Cairns. Most of them seemed to be senior citizens and most of them were joining my flight to Los Angeles.

They were there maybe 15 minutes when one of their number broke, almost breathlessly, into the throng and announced 'hey - they've got a MacDonalds here!'.

Imagine my surprise when they, most of them, ran off in pursuit of MacDonalds. To quote Oscar Wilde, the unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible!

Monday, April 25, 2005

Be careful the bets you make

you just may have to follow through!

In 1996 I lost a bet with some co-workers. I can't remember what the bet was about but I well remember the stakes! If I lost I had to purchase and eat a hat!

So I lost and they were implacable . They did compromise to the extent that I was permitted to eat a paper hat washed down with any sauces or condiments I felt would make it palatable. I tried good old Aussie Tomato Sauce.

The event took place in one of the meeting rooms complete with a small audience and cameras to record the result.

I think I got about half way through the hat before they relented and allowed me to stop. Gotta tell you, there's nothing on earth could make the consumption of a paper hat a pleasurable experience!


Back in July 1994 - July 28th to be precise - my best friend Heino's second daughter entered this world.

For some reason I remember it as a Sunday but a quick check using Windows Clock shows me it was Thursday. Whatever. Dutifully I and my second wife, Peta, showed at the hospital.

The newborn cried and cried; I'm not surprised. Thrust rudely from a warm safe world into our world little wonder. And, wonder of wonders, of all the people who cradled her that afternoon, her first in this world, I was the only one who could calm her. I have no idea why; I don't think I did anything that all the others didn't do but indubitably when I cradled her she was calm and quiet - when others cradled her she cried. Pissed my second wife off no end .

Peta is now way in the past but Heino and his family are of now.

In February 2002 I broke the news to Heino that I was going to marry an American and go live in the US. One Sunday afternoon very soon after he and the family called in on me. I'll confess it now; I'd been drinking some wine that afternoon - not so much that I couldn't function but perhaps a tad more than was consistent with the hour - about 3 PM.

We talked about this and that and I said, among other things, that when I went to America I was going to give away all the stuff I couldn't take with me. Yeah, I could have sold it but I don't want to become one of those hatchet faced people you meet at garage sales. Much better to give it away to good homes.

The elder daughter asked me, very politely, as I'd expect from the daughter of my best friend, if she could have that clock. The clock she meant was a rather large kitchen clock with a sunface; it was a wedding present to me and Peta from my sister. I gave it to her on the spot.

The younger daughter started jumping up and down and pointing at a stuffed toy on top of the fridge. It was a five pointed star with a smiley face; bright yellow. She wanted it. Two seconds later it was hers!

I can't describe how much I enjoyed that moment. The smiles on those two young girls faces was way more than enough.

Now that's magic!

Sunday, April 24, 2005

The fine art of crossing the road

We all know how to cross the road. Look right, look left, look right again and, once sure all is clear one proceeds. I had that drilled into me at something like age 4.

Well, it's look right, left, right where I come from. After something like 45 years of doing it that way it became almost fatally easy to make the mistake when crossing roads in the US. Because, of course, in the places where they drive on the right hand side of the road it's look left, look right, look left again.

The idea, obviously, is to check for approaching traffic based on risk. If they drive on the left where you live and you step onto the road you're going to be hit by traffic from your right first. Looking to the left only matters once you get halfway across the road.

In my first week living in the states I managed to step right out in front of a speeding bus because the habit was so strongly ingrained that I paid insufficient attention to traffic on my left. The driver hit the anchors; I'm sure that's why I'm here to relate the tale.

Similarly, we learn that when the lights turn to green one should hesitate a fraction of a second to be sure someone isn't running a red. Of course I look to the right; I've been doing that for more than 30 years. Wrong in the US! Thus far I've managed to catch myself and look to the left as well (but always after I've looked to the right first).

So I find myself checking left and right much more in the US than I ever did in Australia. It's really hard to break habits that go back two thirds or more of my life. Yet intellectually I know I have to check the 'other' way so I tend to do both; the one because it's wired into my neurons by now and the other to survive.

Not a particularly original insight I might add but that's been my experience.

Did you ever notice that pedestrians in pedestrian-only areas tend to follow the 'sidedness' of driving? I first noticed this when I was at Disneyland 3 and a bit years ago. When approaching another pedestrian I naturally move to the left and expect the other pedestrian to move to my right. Didn't work at Disneyland! I moved to the left and they moved to my left! It took a while to work out that they expected me to move to my right - exactly as a driver would in the US!

You know those moving walkways in the larger airports? Usually wide enough for two people to stand side by side. There's one in Amsterdam with a prominent sign, in English and in Dutch instructing that one stands to the right if not walking, leaving the left open for those of us who walk on moving walkways. When I was there a couple of weeks ago I was secretly delighted to notice a group of Japanese tourists standing on the left side, leaving the right open for those who wanted to walk. They drive on the left in Japan!

In Singapore Airport this week I was on another moving walkway. Lots of people not walking and a little over half of them stood on the right hand side, leaving the left open for those of us who walk on moving walkways. It's not as though it's not clearly sign posted that one stands on the left leaving the right open for walkers. They also drive on the left in Singapore.

Clearly we don't read signs; we follow the habits ingrained in us by coping with traffic where we grow up.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Arriving in Manila

The first time I arrived in Manila was a mere 10 months ago. I was lucky; I was chaperoned by 3 colleagues who'd been here, done this. All I had to do was follow their lead. Thus through immigration, customs and then outside. Light a smoke and follow them across a two lane road and down a ramp to where the rest of the Philippines greet their returning relatives. Hectic, crowded, incredibly humid and warm and intensely interesting. Siew disappeared to find our driver; HI and CP and I waited. Siew returned with our driver and off we went on the trek to Baguio.

My second time in Manila I was alone and somewhat nervous. It must have showed! Scarcely had I appeared at that two lane road outside the terminal than I was assailed by what seemed like a thousand taxi drivers all of whom wanted my business. Flattering. Driver after driver I spurned with the news that I had a driver waiting. Eventually I made it to the ramp leading to where the rest of the Philippines... well you get my drift.

At the bottom of the ramp it wasn't much better. Again I ascribe it to nervousness. As it happened, my driver was late to arrive and I was left as pretty much the only westerner in the waiting area. He was late because of floods on the road between Baguio and Manila; those floods killed 1200 people so I'm not inclined to apportion blame.

So there I was, feeling left out to dry with the vultures circling. First up was a friendly woman who offered me her mobile phone. Now I wasn't born yesterday; I knew there'd be a price to pay. On the other hand... So one phone call later and I know he's on his way but when's he going to arrive? My guess was as good as anyone elses. About this time the airport cop decides to notice me. He wants to see my passport. Now if this had been in Australia I'd have refused. None of his business; if immigration had passed me that should be good enough for him. In New Zealand I'd have asked why he wanted to see it. In Europe I'd probably also protest. In the US? No way! Likewise in the Philippines. I have no desire to discover first hand the inside of a Philippines gaol! Cowardice? Of course. So I showed my passport. Three times in 45 minutes. To the same airport cop. It was becoming obvious that money was going to change hands pretty soon.

The timeline is a trifle hard to describe. Remember the friendly woman with the mobile phone? She hadn't yet approached for the shakedown. But she took good care to keep me in sight. Likewise the cop. Eventually my driver arrived. I hadn't met him before so I asked to see his card; proof that he was indeed my driver. Card proferred. He turned out to be an incredibly nice guy who I was sorry to have doubted. But my benefactors realised that the pigeon was about to depart and hadn't yet been plucked. Suddenly it all turned real (not that I hadn't already realised it was real). Woman approaches, loud in her unctious benevolence, hand outstretched 'pay for phone call'. Airport cop standing close by watching... I reached into my wallet and realised a great truth. It's not good to travel if the smallest note you have is a US$20. It's not like they're going to give change! So over I hand a twenty. Smiles. 'And my friend?' she says, nodding at the airport cop. What could I do? He also got a 20.

Yeah, I got lucky; they only got US$40 which, for we in the first world, isn't a lot.

So now we come to my third passage through that aiport. I'd learned. No eye contact and certainly no saying 'I have a driver'. Just plunge on regardless. Got out of it unskinned.

And my fourth passage through Manila Airport (yesterday)? Incredible as it seems; I didn't even notice anyone. Got across that two lane road like a gazelle; got down the ramp, smoke hanging rakishly from my gob and got to the M line just in time to see my name on a banner. Total time spent? Maybe 3 minutes.

In a few days I'll write about leaving Manila.

I broke the record!

I made it from the front door of my apartment to the check-in desk at the hotel in Baguio City, Philippines, in just 38 hours.

My worst time is 46 hours.

We're not talking those cheap as chips trips from Melbourne to London with 12 hour stays in obscure airports taken by backpackers on a very tight budget. Nope, we're talking travel booked on 3 hours notice where the price seems not to be an object as long as it's not outlandishly high.

I've mentioned our travel agent in previous posts. He's not great but he does have one overwhelming advantage from my point of view; I don't have to do an expense report on him. I ring him, arrange the flight and it's a done deal. I half suspect I could arrange a flight to Melbourne and no one would notice; but it's only half a suspicion; I'm not game to put the suspicion to the test!

The downside is that he tends to take the first flights that offer; this means that one often finds oneself sitting in an airport for 7 or 8 hours waiting for the next connection. When I need to fly within the US I now spend the hour necessary, on company time, searching for the best schedule and I ring him with exact flight details; not, 'I need to fly to A this arvo, book it' but rather 'book me on flight X to Y and then flight Z to A', where I've done the legwork and minimised the sitting around waiting for the next flight.

I usually can't do that for international flights.

This time he surprised me; a mere 2 hours wasted in Los Angeles.

So how does that 38 hours break down? Remember I'm flying international so I really do have to front up 2 hours ahead of first flight time even though that first flight is Phoenix to LA. There's the little matter of my checked baggage (and let's not even mention that booking a flight on only 3 hours notice is a guarantee you're going to go through secondary inspection!).

So here's my timeline!

Left home at 3:35 PM Tuesday. 30 minutes to Phoenix Sky HarboUr Airport. First flight at 6:09 PM Tuesday. 2.5 hours.

Arrived in Los Angeles at 7:15 PM AZ time, Tuesday. 3 hours 40 minutes.

Leave LA at 9:20 PM AZ time, Tuesday. 5 hours 40 minutes.

Arrive in Singapore at 3:15 PM AZ time Wednesday. I've crossed the International Dateline so it's 6:15 AM Thursday Singapore time. Flight time was 18 hours so that makes a total, so far, of 23 hours 40 minutes.

Leave Singapore at 9:45 AM Thursday Singapore time. 27 hours 10 minutes.

Arrive Manila 1:00 PM Thursday Manila (Singapore) time. 30 hours 25 minutes.

Find driver at 1:35 PM Thursday Manila time. 31 hours.

Arrive at hotel at 8:35 PM Thursday Manila time. 38 hours!

It's still the dry season here so that helped with the drive from Manila to Baguio (about 250 Kms) but on the other hand, we set off early afternoon on a weekday. It took almost 2 hours to cover the 20 Kms from the airport to the start of the Northern Luzon Motorway. Believe me when I tell you, Manila traffic is heavy!!!

Smelly socks!!!

I'd put on clean socks maybe 5 hours before I left; when I still, rather naively, believed I'd be spending Tuesday night in Phoenix.

By the time I was maybe a third of the way from Los Angeles to Singapore my feet were feeling a tad hot, so I took off my shoes. Less than a minute later I put em back on!

An airplane is a enclosed system and not one of my fellow passengers deserved to suffer my socks without the insulation of my shoes. Not even if they'd been a serial killer! Heck, even WITH my shoes on I could tell they were there!

By the time I got to Manila my feet were causing me some pain. I could feel the skin rubbing against the socks; all caused by the extended amount of time I'd been wearing em.

So, taking advantage of the Manila smog and the rushing of air on the North Luzon Motorway I took off both my shoes and my socks. My socks were wet with perspiration and my shoes not a lot better. I stuck those feet out of the window to let em dry off. When we stopped in Tarlac they were dry and I took out another pair of socks (take out in the sense of shooting dead! ).

I did have a fleeting sense of sympathy with my driver; but he's paid to put up with it

Should I admit that when I got back to my hotel room tonight I almost gagged? Nope, I think not!

I must be getting old. I can't imagine anything better than that feeling of cleaning my feet! And yes, this will serve as a lesson to me; no travel kit is complete without clean socks and the means of washing ones feet in an airplane dunny!

You know you're getting old

when it become necessary to constantly swap between unaided vision, reading glasses and driving glasses. Yep, I'm at the point where I find myself judging the distance between my eyeballs and the point of interest and deciding what will give me the best focus!

I've needed driving glasses for at least 30 years. I got my first set in mid 1974 when I discovered that I could no longer skulk at the back of night school and expect to read the blackboard; if I wanted to read that I needed to be at the front. Gotta confess, I really got that first set of glasses to look 'cool'.

Rather in the way that shaving is 'cool' for the first 5 days or so and is ever after a pain in the arse so became those glasses. I never believed those stories about fogging up ones glasses until the first time it happened to me. And keeping the damn things clean! If ever you wanted proof of the disgustingness of being human just wear a pair of spectacles for a week!

About 3 years ago I gave in and went for a second set of glasses. Understand, I've not been using the same prescription for driving glasses for 30 years. I've probably updated them 10 times over that period but always as driving glasses. But eventually one has to admit that the fine print can be a tad hazy. When I went for my prescription for reading glasses the optician advised me that I no longer qualified for an unendorsed driving license but he left it up to me to tell VicRoads. Yeah, like I'm going to advise em? They still don't know.

Of course, when I moved to the US I had to get a new drivers license. Had I come from a country where they drive on the wrong side of the road I'd have probably managed it sight unseen. Alas, in Australia we drive on the correct side of the road so I had to do the complete rigamarole. And I totally failed the eyesight test without my glasses. So I now have an endorsed license. Bummer!

Strangely enough, I don't need glasses at all when working on the computer. I've tried with and without the reading glasses and it's much clearer without. Yet a printed page at the same distance definitely needs the glasses. Contrast?

So how do I break it to you that I think it's time for bifocals? Having two sets of glasses is a complete pain in the bum. I'm constantly having to snap open the case; swap glasses and repeat the process 2 minutes later as the focus shifts. This is particularly galling when flying; one moment I'm reading my book and the next I'm watching Japan pass by and I really do need to swap from reading to driving glasses.

I think the best way to break the bad news is to say:

I need bifocals!!!

There. That didn't hurt a bit did it?

Thursday, April 21, 2005

G'day Y'all

from Singapore. About an hour and a half till boarding for the next flight. The bastards got my lighter at Phoenix; I begged for lights at LA. Fortunately they're sane in Singapore; I was able to buy a lighter inside the airport. Methinks the TSA (Transport Security Administration) are perhaps a tad paranoid! That first smoke after 21 hours in security and then flight is wonderful!!!!

Just been having a Gin and Tonic at Harry's bar in the airport; would you believe it; the bartender remembered me from half a year ago. Of course, it could be the long hair!

Tuesday, April 19, 2005


Now I'm off to the Philippines again. As usual, indeterminate return date and 3 hours notice. Expect spasmodic updates at best; no internet access at the hotel and very restricted access from the customers site.


Idiots, if true

you'll remember my post a few days ago about Schapelle Corby? The Australian woman on trial in Bali on charges of marijuana smuggling. It's been a couple of years since I lived in Australia but I know the Australian media have been jumping all over the story.

How then to explain this[^]?

Matching reality with expectations

yep, another story from my first visit to the USA.

Sunday, February 20th 1982. Toward the end of a long day though it was only just after 1500 in California. I arrived at my hotel in Santa Rosa having successfully negotiated the San Francisco Freeway system and made it across the Golden Gate Bridge. Sleepy but hungry. So I looked at the room service menu and noticed they had corned beef sandwiches - 5 bucks. Whoa I thought; that's a bit steep. On the other hand, it was on expenses so I ordered two of em.

If you live in the US you know what's coming; if an Australian you don't. I can't speak for other countries. Half an hour later there's a knock at the door; I answer and there's a waiter with a tray fairly groaning under the weight of the food I'd ordered. My corned beef sandwich consisted of two slices of bread enclosing at least 2 inches (5 cm) of corned beef. Didn't stop there though. There were enough fries to fill 4 McDonalds large fries boxes. And coleslaw. And a green salad!

Now that's the reality. What had I expected? Two slices of bread enclosing two slices of corned beef maybe 1 millimetre thick each; three if I was lucky. Sure didn't expect the fries, the coleslaw or the green salad!

I didn't need to order breakfast the next day!

Wickenburg and thereabouts

yesterday we went for a drive through Wickenburg. It's a smallish town NNW of Phoenix, oh, maybe 90 kilometres away. Any town that has a secondhand bookshop where I can purchase 20,000 Years in Sing Sing, The Fatal Shore (a historical account of the early years of European occupation of Australia) and Zola's Le Debacle is worth visiting! The bookshop is fascinating. The most amazingly egregious collection of rubbish I've seen in years. My wife had to drag me away; she was hungry. So I substituted perhaps the worst corned beef sandwich I've ever tried to eat for one of the best secondhand bookshops I've ever seen. This is what marriage is all about of course!

My wife, it seems, was on a mission. She wanted to visit here[^]. I enjoyed it. I loved the Nella-Meda Opera House. It would seat maybe 50 and the walls were lined with glass cases filled with mineral specimens and rattlesnake skins. Orchestra pit? Not on your life. A piano and maybe, if one were to reduce the stage area, room for a string quartet.

Well worth the 5 bucks admission.

I took some shots[^] that might be of interest.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

If my father had lived

today would have been his 82nd birthday. He's been dead nearly 45 years. I've already written about why I don't much regret his passing.

Nonetheless, I often think of that man who I only dimly remember. He was hairy as I recall, back and front. When he was sober he was fun as even my mother will attest. When he was drunk...

Yet I still have fond memories of him scaring the shit out of me when he hoisted me onto his shoulders. And of the day in 1959 when we walked home from the Footscray Football ground and stopped for steamed dim sims along the way. I still remember him telling me they'd 'stick to my ribs' and believing it literally! I was six years and a couple of months old when he died so it's only natural that I'm ambiguous about his passing.

Yet there was the day in 1960 at the same football ground where I saw him pee into an empty beer bottle to save himself the trouble of going to the toilet...

I remember he was a jazz drummer. By the time I was aware of what was happening it was way in the past. But it seems he was so in the 1940's and he even made some records. Alas, to this day I've been unable to trace the bands let alone the records. I do remember seeing his drum kit before he sold it, piece by piece, for drink. I can remember playing with his xylophone and being enchanted by the sound. I also remember the night, sometime in 1958 when he presented me with one of his records. It was a 78 - possibly 15 years old at the time. He was probably drunk at the time but let me be charitable. I believe he gave it to me as a token of fatherly love. I was 4 years old. I can still remember in vivid detail the blue walls of the bedroom, the alternating blue, black and white stripes on the mattress. And I can remember how I held that record close; and how I, not knowing how fragile a 78 was, sat on it and broke it.

My father will always be an enigma to me; my memories of him conflict so... but I cannot be in Footscray and not go to his grave (shared with my grandmother and my grandfather) and not talk to him, even if the talk be only internal.

Rest in Peace, Robert George Gwillim Manderson, my father!

Doing it proud

On our trip to the US East Coast nearly two years ago we visited a theme park of sorts. It was in Massachusetts close to Plymouth Rock. The idea is that tourists (we) walk through a village that looks and feels much as it might have done in the year 1627. Indeed there's a sign that warns us that though we can converse with the inhabitants they won't know of any event in world history that occurred after 1627.

Uh huh. A challenge!

I have to admit that the village did indeed look, feel and smell as I'd imagine a village of 1627 to look, feel and smell like. Like I know? I'm old but not THAT old .

The actors who play the parts did well; they engage in what we 21st century inhabitants imagine are authentic pursuits (but I add that we didn't see livestock slaughtered, thank god). They speak in what we fondly imagine are the correct dialects.

Thus, after a moments conversation I was asked where I was from. 'Australia, mate'. I answered. He shook his head. 'No, never heard of that land'. Score one for the actors. If I'm not mistaken in my history the Australian continent had been discovered by Europeans by that time but it wasn't called Australia, it was New Holland.

We moved on.

Second conversation with an actor. 'Which part of the world be ye from?' he asked. (I'm not sure it was worded that way but it feels right for the purpose of this post). 'New Holland, mate' I answered. He shook his head in disbelief. 'Ye couldn't be from there; you be a Christian' he says. Now let's stop the firefight right now! In 1627 Australia, as far as it was known to Europe, was inhabited by what any decent god fearing European of the time would have regarded as heathens. I was obviously middle aged so if he allowed say 40 years as my age (and that's flattering myself) that would have meant I was born in New Holland in 1587. Impossible for someone with a European ancestry. Score 2 for the actors!

We moved on.

This time the conversation was with Morgan, my step daughter, who at the time was 15. When asked where she was from she answered Arizona. He paused a moment and then said, 'is that one of those western parts?'. I've been unable to establish if Arizona would have been known to a pioneer on the East Coast in 1627 though I doubt it; so I think Morgan won that exchange.

The Gauntlet

I've just watched and enjoyed this movie[^]. A totally unbelievable but thoroughly enjoyable movie. I first saw it about 20 years ago and that was my reaction - nothing special but still a good watch. Clint Eastwood is usually good value.

So why am I writing about it? Because some of it was shot in Phoenix of course. If you live in one of the 'much filmed' cities such as London, New York or Los Angeles the seeing of yet another movie shot there is probably ho hum; for the rest of us it's an added extra to see familiar scenes in the movies. Thus, I always enjoy movies shot in Melbourne. There have been a few ya know . Part of the fun is in seeing, for instance, a chase where they're running down Swanston Street and they cut; but now they're running down Lonsdale Street 5 major streets away. The observant local smiles and says 'yeah right'. My wife tells me she took great pleasure in observing such incongruities on Hawaii Five-O; she lived in Hawaii when it was shot and indeed was on the (non filming side of) the crew. On one of our walls is a framed poster signed by Jack Lord, of whom I'd never heard until she pointed it out. Fair's fair, she'd never heard of Gary McDonald.

What's truly interesting about the movie, for me, are the locations used in Phoenix. The location for the police department is actually Symphony Hall. Early in the movie the camera does an almost 360° pan around Civic Plaza, which is where Symphony Hall is. Now this movie was released in 1977; it could have been shot in 1976. But for the visuals it could have been shot in 2004 except Clint Eastwood would have looked a whole lot older. I attended a Microsoft Dev Days at the Hyatt there 13 months ago and the scene looked exactly the same 27 years later! Same multi-level carpark, same globular fountain, even the same road markings. Of course the old Catholic Cathedral was there but those building are constructed to last centuries so that was no surprise.

I'm glad I went to that Microsoft Dev Days now (at the time I felt it was a waste of money save for getting the Whidbey Preview). Last night, after dinner, we went for a stroll through downtown and I was surprised to see that Civic Plaza is being rebuilt. The entire area is fenced off and access to Symphony Hall is blocked. If I hadn't been there a year ago I'd never have remembered how it looked.

And talking of Phoenix in the movies; try the first 10 minutes of this movie[^]. Shot in 1959, it opens in downtown Phoenix. That building on 3rd Street (?), the one with the metal tower on top, is there. The camera starts by looking in at the window of a hotel room and pulls back. It keeps on pulling back and, if you watch the edges of the screen, you can see Phoenix peters out into the desert maybe 2 miles from Central and Washington! I gotta tell you, Phoenix is a LOT bigger than that nowadays!

Saturday, April 16, 2005

It's all a conspiracy

we all have our opinions (those of us who've experienced it) about US airport security in the post September 11th world. In general I don't mind the extra rigamarole - as said more than once if it gets me to my destination alive I'll go with the flow. Which comment of course assumes that everyone on the plane including the flight crew are subject to the same checks. Seems fair to me. With the exception of late flights the extra security isn't that much of a problem. So it takes 10 minutes to get through security instead of 5? Big deal (unless your arriving flight was late as aforesaid). Secondary inspection takes 15 minutes? Ok, plan for half an hour, that'll give plenty of time to go through the formalities.

So on April 14th 2005 (yesterday) I had to pass through airport security at Detroit. The date is significant; it's the day upon which the TSA decided that cigarette lighters are no longer allowed. Neither on carry on luggage nor checked luggage.

Say what? I don't recall a rash of airplane crashes traceable to cigarette lighters in checked baggage! I do recall one incident where someone tried to set off some bombs in his shoes on December 18th 2001. That incident led to a couple of million people taking their shoes off and revealing the sins of their socks as they passed through security. It even led to my being deprived of my second lighter at Manila and Sydney airports. But a cigarette lighter in one's checked baggage?

So up I front to Detroit airport security after my experience with CBP. They're asking the question direct; do I have a cigarette lighter? If there are two things I've learned in this life they are these; never lie to an immigration officer and never lie to a TSA officer. So I surrender my cigarette lighter. Boy do I feel safe now that I know there's one less lighter on the plane! Naturally, after missing my original flight to Phoenix because of CBP I'm sent off to secondary inspection.

When I got to Phoenix I had ciggies and the desire to smoke; no lighter. Outside the terminal I found a TSA person smoking. So I asked for a light, which she graciously gave me. I couldn't resist. I'm already past all the barriers so what could she do? Some comments on how this is going to raise the sale of cigarette lighters in US airports. 'Oh no' she said. 'They're not allowed to sell cigarette lighters in airports. You'll have to wait until you get to your hotel'. Well I have an Australian accent so I'll forgive the assumption.

So this is really a conspiracy by the AMA isn't it? Having failed to convince Americans that they shouldn't smoke by 'legitimate' means they're attacking em by the impossibiltity of actually lighting a fag? I can't think of any other reason for banning the travel of cigarette lighters even in checked baggage; especially considering that there is no other country in the world I'm aware of with a similar ban.

No, I don't really think it's the AMA. I just think it's beauracratric stupidity; a decision by someone who's not a smoker and has no idea of the angst she's causing. But isn't this how conspiracy theories start?

For the record; there was a lighter in my carry on luggage that I'd forgotten. Obviously the flight from Detroit to Phoenix didn't crash and burn because of it. As the millions of flights from Anywhere to Phoenix before April 14th 2005 hadn't crashed.

So now the question is; do I hide a lighter at the bottom of my bag? It passed through secondary inspection at Detroit undetected. Indeed, of all the secondary inspections I've passed through (they've been legion in the past 4 months) not one would have detected my second lighter.

Friday, April 15, 2005

And to cap off a long day

In my previous post I related the tale of my adventures with CBP. You'll remember I mentioned the woman who comes out to get your flight details; luggage count, flight number and name? No? Tsk tsk .

Well she passed me over so, when I was finally released, I went into the baggage hall, three hours late. No sign of my luggage. I asked one of the baggage handlers. If it wasn't one of the bags littering the edges of the hall I needed to continue my flight and make a lost luggage claim at the end point. It wasn't; so I did. I have to admit that this didn't sound completely plausible; I asked the customs guy if that was how it worked; he assured me it is. Got home and about 4 hours later they delivered it to my home most apologetically. It seems a lot of luggage was lost between Amsterdam and Detroit today.

Well it was about my turn. In 23 years of international travel that's the first bag that's ever gone astray. Kudos to NorthWest Airlines for correcting it as fast as they did after being notified of the loss.

Gee, they even gave me a voucher good for $25 off my next ticket with NorthWest .

Maybe I'm too forgiving of human frailty; on the other hand I do write software so I'm intimately aquainted with human frailty. That one can check a bag in at Nice Airport in France and expect it to arrive on the same flight as oneself two flights later and have it work almost 100% of the time amazes me. It's not like the bag can go read an itinerary and argue if it's on the wrong pallet.

Fun with INS

So today I came home. Nice to Amsterdam, Amsterdam to Detroit and thence to Phoenix. Nothing all that remarkable about the itinerary and it would hardly merit a post except for what went wrong. All was fine until I reached Detroit. Oh sure, I had a moment in Amsterdam where I thought I would have problems getting past security; as you don't know, I have a slight tremor which caused the fine security people there to wonder if I was nervous and which led to a third degree prying into every aspect of my 11 days in Nice. I've learned to allow extra time for that. And, as I've posted in the past, I don't have a problem with the extra checks; the point of getting on a plane is to reach the destination in one piece; in an imperfect world one has to allow security some leeway in judging who's a risk and who isn't. Someone with a tremor that looks like nervousness surely fits the criteria for risk!

After that it was a short 8 hour flight to Detroit which is where the wheels fell off the wagon. As a greencard holder I'm allowed to use the US citizen lines at immigration; up I front with my Australian passport, my greencard and my customs declaration. Done it dozens of times before. This was the first time using my new greencard. She swiped the card, stared at me a moment and then, rather coldly I felt, said 'follow me'. So I followed her to the secondary inspection office. She deposits my passport etc in a pigeonhole and says 'sit over there and wait'. Over there are maybe 70 people patiently waiting. Not a word of explanation. Sigh... this is going to take more than the 2 hours between arrival and departure to Phoenix.

Now we come to an interesting catch-22 in the way immigration works. There are no public phones in the waiting area; nor are you permitted to use your mobile phone. Indeed more than once I saw an immigration officer order, in no uncertain terms, someone to turn theirs off. The immigration officers are armed - don't mess with them. They probably do their training with the LAPD. So, once you disappear into the bowels of secondary processing, you're totally cut off from the outside world. Fortunately it's a 4 hour flight from Detroit to Phoenix so provided it only took a reasonable amount of time I could ring my wife and tell her to hold off on coming to the airport to pick me up.

I saw one guy refused admission to the US and given the choice between paying for a return ticket there and then or being deported; the penalty for deportation is a lifetime record of having been deported (which makes subsequent returns that much more difficult) and a 5 year ban from the US. Oh, jail was also mentioned as his location while he waited for the deportation to take effect. If he can pay his own airfare they treat it as a 'withdrawal of application' and don't record anything. Poor bugger; as far as I could tell he hadn't the resources on him to pay for the ticket himself and, with the phone ban, no way to call friends or family to arrange it.

How about the poor bastard who'd lost his greencard. He was, as far as I could judge, a Filipino. The immigration officer obviously didn't believe he'd lost the greencard. 'Sure you didn't sell it to someone for a few pesos?'. I heard that line just after reading a list of pledges from CBP (Customs and Border Patrol - their new name which I'll use in future posts) which promises, among other things, that they will treat everyone with courtesy and respect. You're just reading the words; I heard the way it was spoken and I'm still indignant at it.

2 hours pass. A woman comes out and demands the flight number, count of checked luggage and name of every person there; every person except me for some reason. By the time I realised I'd been passed over she was gone. It seems they pull your baggage off the carousels and put it aside.

Half an hour more passes and I notice someone over at the counter processing a passport that might be mine. By dint of careful observation I'm about 90% sure it's mine; I caught a glimpse, upside down, of the photo. So it proved to be. He calls my name; over I trot! (Trot because if you don't answer instantly they drop your paperwork and turn to someone elses).

'G'day. What's the problem?' I ask. 'Just a routine secondary inspection!' he answers.

Words are almost inadequate to describe my feelings at THAT reply. I've missed my next flight; I'm incommunicado; I've already been travelling about 18 hours by this time; I badly need a shower and it's 'just a routine secondary inspection?'. Not a skerrick of that reaches the outside world. These people have the power to make your day go seriously bad!!!

Then he asks me what happened to my old greencard. 'Oh, I've got it here' I say and whip it out of my wallet. 'That's the problem' he says. 'Oh', said I, 'should I have destroyed it?'. Here he turns belligerent. 'That card is government property, you should have returned it'. My exterior is meekness personified. 'No one told me it had to be returned'.

So he took the old card and bade me sit down again.

Another half hour passes and I'm called up again. 'What's your fathers name?'. 'Full name?' I ask. He nods and I give it (all four of em). Likewise for my mothers name. Dismissed I go sit down again. More minutes pass and he calls me again; this time to stamp my passport through, hand me my new greencard but not my old and release me.

When I got home I went over all the paperwork I've received from CBP and nowhere, I repeat nowhere, does it say that I need to return my expired greencard. Thinking it through I can understand what happened; the old card, not having been returned and actively cancelled, is still active even if expired; so when I turn up with a new card having a different PID (for lack of a better term) but the same name and details that rings alarms.

So why couldn't the initial young lady (the one manning the US citizens line) have noticed that this is a brand new greencard and asked a simple question; what happened to my old one? Could have cleared it up in 2 minutes instead of 3 hours. Possibly she didn't have the authority; once a red flag was raised she probably lacked the discretion to do anything other than refer it to secondary inspection.

And why wasn't the old card surrendered? As I say, there's nothing whatsoever in the paperwork I've recieved from CBP to say I should have returned it and I thought of it as an expired card - I kept it as a souvenir. God knows what would have happened if I'd imagined it was like a credit card; something to cut into 71 pieces and discard once it was expired! And, had I not thought of it as a souvenir that's probably exactly what I'd have done with it. I'm inclined to believe it should have been taken from me back on March 4 when I did the processing for the replacement card and somehow it was missed.

Surely any reasonable person would think that a card with a clearly marked expiry date expires on that date? Yes, I've used the card to re-enter the US after that date but always with the supporting document from CBP that says my permission to live in the US has been extended. No one else would have an original of that document. So even if I sold my expired card to someone else they'd need that document? And if I sold that document also? In that case that someone else, if they looked like me could conceivably use it to enter the US illegally. But surely the issue of a replacement greencard should have automatically made the old one invalid? And once invalid (by the issuance of a new one) the supporting document would also become invalid (I mean when used as a pair).

Ah, it's the end of a long long day. I got home eventually.

Remember the dingo?

The one that ate Lindy Chamberlain's baby[^]?

Well I don't actually believe a dingo ate the baby. At the time, 1980, I infuriated some of my friends by refusing to have an opinion on the case. As I said at the time; I wasn't there, I didn't sit in the court reviewing the evidence and I didn't know what to believe. But in later years I didn't think it was likely that Lindy had killed her baby, or if she had, that she'd have chosen that method. As a student of murder methods (you didn't know I've studied that subject did you) it seemed unlikely. Mothers who kill their babies almost overwhelmingly do it in 'gentle' ways. Pillows to stop breathing and suchlike. They never draw blood. So, on the balance of probabilities, if I'd been on that jury, I'd have voted for not guilty.

Enter Schappelle Corby. If you're not an Australian you've probably never heard of her. She's on trial in Indonesia charged with smuggling 4.1 kg of 'high grade cannabis' into Indonesia. I think, based solely upon what I've read of the case in the Australian on-line media, that she's not guilty. See here[^] for one report. I've been following this case in the online media ever since it started.

I can only imagine (imperfectly at that) what she's going through.

I don't know what else to say.

[later update] here's a good explanation[^] of the case
[/later update]

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The perils of Jury Duty

However in this case it's not my jury duty; I'm not a citizen of where I live yet so I'm not eligible to sit on a jury.

No, in this case I'm unable to leave France due to a curious coincidence of circumstances. I was supposed to leave last Monday and, had everything been just right, I would have. But our customer wanted me to stay for another week even though I had nothing specific to do; it was a 'comfort zone' thing. Of course, another branch of our customer, located in The Philippines, was screaming that I wasn't there! So some negotiation took place and it was agreed I'd stay until Wednesday morning. You understand that I had no part of those negotiations; I'm just a spare part.

So I fronted at the airport this morning at the ungodly hour of 6:30 AM for a 7:30 AM flight. They had no record of my booking. This hardly came as a surprise; I'd contacted our travel agent in Phoenix on Friday last week asking for a flight change; he sent me an email saying it was a done deal (including a full itinerary) but when I rang the airline on Monday they had no record. Some tooing and froing took place where our travel agent was swearing it was arranged but the airline was saying I was a no show for the Monday flight and they had no further reservations for me.

In that situation the airline wins. However, for some strange reason my return flight was still open; the problem is that they can't give me a seat until April 19th! I don't particularly mind; yeah I'm not at home but even if I'd flown out today I wouldn't be at home; I'd be off in The Philippines. If you had the choice where would you rather be? The Philippines or Nice? They can't give me an earlier flight because the conditions on the ticket require that I fly Nice to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Washington Dulles and thence to Phoenix. They might have an empty plane flying to Chicago but I can't change to it. Go figure!

This wasn't acceptable to the boss; he instructed me to order a new flight. So I called our travel agent. Alas, Kenny wasn't expected until 11 AM Phoenix time. So I bided my time and called at that hour. Now he's not expected in the office all day. I asked for a mobile phone number; it's urgent that I talk to him. No dice. They won't give it out (I wish the people I work for were so careful). So I ring my boss. He offers to ring Kenny directly. This is when I discover that Kenny is out on jury duty.

It gets better. Kenny doesn't normally arrive at the office until 9 AM Phoenix time. That just happens to be 6 PM France time this time of year. The phone number for the airline allows for the possibility of talking to humans up until 6 PM France time. After that it's just recorded messages. So who knows when I'll get to return to Phoenix? I sure don't!

[Late breaking news] It's 12:10 AM and I've just recieved an email; I'm flying out of Nice via Amsterdam to Detroit and thence to Phoenix at the even more ungodly hour of 6:30 AM.... Off to bed for this little black duck!!!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Misplaced Optimism

In 1968 or thereabouts I went through a phase where living off the land seemed a cool idea. I'm not talking Montana style survivalist where one makes stashes of weapons and canned food against the inevitability of the US government. It was more a romantic ideal of living rough and dining off the produce of the land. Those who've known me in later years might be surprised but it surely was so.

Of course, a 14 years old teenagers idea of living off the land is somewhat different from the reality!

So one night in 1968 as aforesaid a friend and I 'lived off the land'. Our idea of living off the land was pitching a tent in the wasteland 200 metres to the east of the house where I lived and dining on packaged dinners cooked over a camp fire. Some survivalists huh? Perhaps I shouldn't add that this was all of 10 kilometres from Melbourne CBD .

The next morning was a Sunday as I remember very clearly; we found a car with someone asleep inside. Doubtless he was sleeping off a night on the tiles. My friend suggested that there was a reward for anyone who found a dead body and reported it to the police. From that moment I wanted that dude to be a dead dude!

So off we set. I confess I had visions of maybe a hundred bucks apiece as reward money and I devoutly hoped we'd really found a dead body. The police, as one would expect, were somewhat less convinced and didn't take us seriously. So we set off back to where we'd found the dead body fully prepared to return to the police with stories of a second sighting.

The bastard had in the meantime awoken and driven away! Man I felt cheated. That reward for finding a dead body had been mine and now it was gone!

Monday, April 11, 2005


I made it to Italy! Without the help of the A8

A colleague and I went east from Nice today; he has the rental car and I'm not a nominated driver so he drove. We left about 11 AM with the avowed intention of visiting Monaco.

Now logic tells you one thing; but childhood images teach you another thing. I imagine I first heard of the Principality of Monaco sometime in the early 60's; this was way after Grace Kelly became Princess Grace of Monaco. I imagined a fairytale countryside with a great castle. The reality was somewhat different.

See my photo gallery down there on the left for what I saw yesterday! Yes, that's really me in the photos; ugly ain't I.

We stopped in Monaco for a couple of hours; long enough to take some shots of the Casino at Monte Carlo. Alas I was unable to enter those hallowed halls; they don't allow cameras and I could hardly brazen out that large lump in my pants as natural! We ate pizza at a little restaurant; I ordered a Napolitana with anchovies and it was wonderful - the best pizza I've ever eaten.

Then we drove on; through Menton. Back in Melbourne there's a suburb on the bay called Mentone; I can see why it was named Mentone; the vista is exactly the same.

And then we hit Italy.

We drove through some town who's name I can't recall and ended up on the beach road. It terminated abruptly in a cul-de-sac beside a park. We both needed to pee by about this time; that Italian beer we'd drunk with our pizza had made itself known. And over there was a building obviously provided for our convenience! We walked beside; the smell was overpowering! I have to record that this was one of the few times in my life I've been glad that a dunny door was locked!

So we, still needing relief, drove on to San Remo. We parked in a tiny cul-de-sac and emerged on the Via Palazzo. Not a very grand street so we were at pains to remember where the heck we'd parked. From there it's a short stroll to the medieval part of San Remo. Well they call it medieval but it didn't quite match my gothic imaginings. Most of it looked like it had been built about 1600 which is, by Australian standards, incredibly old (no building in Australia is older than about 200 years and even those are very few and very far between).

We made the need to pee the excuse to imbibe of a glass of Italian wine. Bars means restrooms right? But it's hardly sporting to use their facilities without being a customer right? I knew you'd see it my way! Pretty good wine. Perhaps a trifle sweet on the initial taste but with a very satisifying aftertaste.

Coming back we took the opportunity to photograph ourselves in front of the signs marking the Italian/French border. See down there on the left for a link. Again, that's me being a dag

We finished off the daylight part of the day on Mont Boron. Some amazing views of Nice including the airport. As for how we finished off the nighttime part of the day; can you spell wine? I knew you could!

Spare parts

Ever felt like a spare part? No, I don't mean when you're out with a mate and his girlfriend and they're pashing on and... well you get my drift.

Nope, I mean as when management say they'll ship you off to the customers site tomorrow.

Today I'm in France. I was supposed to be leaving today but the customer insisted I stay. So I'm leaving Wednesday morning and, due to the wonder of timezones, it'll still be Wednesday when I get back to Phoenix. On Thursday I'm off to The Philippines for god knows how long. So far so bad. But what really stuck in my craw was the way it was expressed.

Picture, if you will, a phone conference. I'm in France, our sales guy is in Texas, the boss is in Phoenix and our customer is in The Philippines. The customer is yelling, yet again, for support for the software he won't upgrade. So the sales guy says, and I quote, 'we'll ship Robert over to you on Thursday'. 'Uh, Kevin', I said. 'You're talking about me, not a carton of spare parts. You'll ask me politely if I'm able to travel'. He didn't get it.

This is the same guy who rang me from France a couple of weeks ago and, as part of the conversation, complained that he was stuck here and had to stay another week. Would it surprise you to learn I was rather unsympathetic? I thought not.


If you grew up, as I did, in a part of the world where tipping isn't expected then life in the US is fraught with frustration and puzzlement. Do I tip here? If so, how much? How one knows is beyond me. I know you don't tip at McDonalds but I'd sooner starve than eat there anyway so that knowledge isn't of much use.

Back in Australia you tip if the bill runs to a hundred bucks or more a head. 5% if the service was barely adequate, 10% if average and 20% if it's the kind of place where a cigarette lighter magically appears over your shoulder when you stick a ciggy in your mouth. As an aside, I've never appreciated that; I'm perfectly capable of lighting my own fags and it can get quite annoying to have that lighter appear just as you've lit your own. But I digress.

As I've recently discovered, it's much the same in France. One doesn't tip unless it's a 5 star or better restaurant. Of course, compared to most of the restaurants I've eaten at in Phoenix, almost every restaurant here is 5 star but it's pretty easy to judge when a tip is expected and when it isn't.

Not so in the US. Dennys for example. I don't choose to eat there but when you're participating in the bringing up of two teenagers sometimes you have to settle for third best. Third rate food and second rate service and yet you have to leave a tip or else! Village Inn is much the same and the only good thing I have to say about Coco's is that they serve wine!

Of course we know why this is so; in the US they pay minimum wage to the serving staff. That would work out to about $220 a week before income tax and medical and the whole folderol. Hardly a living wage. Thus the tip has become an essential supplement.

I posted a while ago about marked prices versus real prices in the US. It seems to me that the whole tip thing is another facet of the same issue; the essential mendacity of pricing in the US. Whenever I'm reading a menu I have to be constantly reminding myself that the $22 for a steak isn't the real price at all. On top of that are the taxes and the tip. That $22 steak will probably end up costing me $30.

Frankly I'd be a whole lot happier if the steak was marked $30 and that was the price I paid at the register - but only if it's also agreed that the serving staff get paid a living wage and don't have to rely on tips.

It'll never happen in my lifetime. Oh wait a moment, it happens in Australia and France :)

Monday, April 04, 2005


back in 1962 we moved into Seddon. About 500 metres from where we lived, on Buckley Street, was a very small strip of green enclosed with cyclone wire fences and proudly showing a sign announcing that it was a Trugo club.

When you're 8 years old you accept as givens a lot of things; when you're 20 you're much more interested in the opposite sex and when you're 45 and find yourself living within spitting distance of Seddon you find a renewed interest in the minutiae of Seddon (especially as you lived in Seddon when you were 8) . Thus my curiousity about Trugo. See here[^] for a description.

Alas they only play on Tuesdays at noon; and when I lived there I was always at the office on Tuesdays at noon. But sometime soon I'll be back in Seddon to visit the place where my heart lies and I'll be sure to be there 50 metres west of the corner of Victoria Street and Buckley Street at noon on Tuesday.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Alka Seltzer

was relatively new to the Australian market in the early 1960's. I don't remember when I first saw the ads but I think it would have been 1963, maybe 1964.

One Sunday morning my step father awoke with a stomach upset. I'm certain it wasn't a hangover - I only ever knew him to drink at Christmas time and then it was maybe one beer with the boys or perhaps a gin and tonic.

So he, influenced by recent new ads for a wonder cure, despatched me to the local chemists to buy a bottle of Alka Seltzer tablets. Off I rushed. Came back with a bottle. He tore the seal off and unscrewed the cap. Took the first thing beneath the cap and dropped it into a glass of water. It stubbornly floated and refused to effervesce as seen in the ads. It took maybe 10 minutes for him to realise that what he was trying to dissolve was the polystrene filler between the tablets and the bottle cap!

I have to admit I was so ungraceful as to laugh uproariously!

So I'm still in Phoenix

a whole bunch of things conspired to keep me in Phoenix this weekend. I'm not complaining; I managed to catch that second episode of Coupling and was amazed to hear 'the' four letter word on American TV.

You'll remember that I thought I was going to France this morning; I still am, just not leaving until Monday. If I were to describe to you what I went through searching various websites for a suitable itinerary you'd appreciate the value of a good travel agent. Alas, ours is merely so so (he thinks it's okay to arrange a business trip so that one spends 12 hours in a stopover) but even so...

So I found an itinerary that was reasonable (as described yesterday). Booked it on the internet. To achieve that feat I had to raise a couple of travel advances; the first ($2000) was to cover my hotel bills whilst in France; I was operating on the assumption that our agent would arrange the ticket. Alas, the ticket he could arrange was for Monday morning, arriving in France on Tuesday afternoon. I was happy with that - my boss wasn't. So I arranged another travel advance ($2900) to cover the cost of the ticket. An amazing thing. At 1:30 yesterday afternoon the round trip price from Phoenix to Nice was $2300. By the time the second travel advance had been arranged and the cheque deposited on my credit card (90 minutes later) the ticket price had risen to $3700. So we went searching for other deals and found one at $2500 (that's the itinerary I described yesterday).

Now having booked it on the internet and printed out the confirmation number one might imagine it was a done deal. So I fronted up at Phoenix Sky Harbour today in plenty of time to complete the formalities. My checked baggage (one bag - I travel light) was accepted and disappeared into the machine. But she kept asking me if I had the paper ticket and I kept answering that I'd booked it on the internet yesterday and didn't have one. After dancing around that question the third time she admitted that the ticket wasn't paid for so I handed over my credit card. Nope; it won't go through. Half an hour on the phone to the credit card company and they'll allow the first travel advance to go through; that would be just enough to cover the cost of the ticket but they won't let the second travel advance go through until Monday at the earliest. Hmm, so I have enough credit to travel to Nice but not enough credit to secure a hotel room. On those conditions I'm not going to travel. I'm way past the age where it'd be fun to sleep on the beach!

So we fell back to the original plan; I'm leaving Phoenix on an 8 AM flight Monday morning. Yikes! That means rising at 5 AM to be at the airport by 6 AM. It's been so long since I was awake that early I'm not sure but I imagine it'll still be dark at that hour. On the other hand, this way I get at least one weekend in Nice and our customer is civilised - they don't work weekends so we can't either! Maybe I'll be able to make it to Italy this time, if I can find that damn A8!

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Speaking of TV

each year for the past few years my best mate Heino shoots a video for his daughters and their friends. The daughters are 10 and 14; Heino himself has worked as a professional cameraman; has won awards and now teaches.

Heino likes to pretend that he's just the cameraman and what appears is entirely their work but I know better. Having worked with him on a little movie we made in 1990/1991 I know that he's really making a lot of subtle suggestions to improve their ideas. Nonetheless, the kids come up with the ideas, write the scripts, appear on camera in various roles and generally seem to have a lot of fun. I know this because it's becoming a tradition I hope will continue that each year they make the video and each year Heino sends me a copy of the production on DVD. He packages it up well; menus, bloopers, behind the scenes - the works.

I have three of these DVD's; and watching them in sequence I can see just how much the kids are learning; each production is more polished than the one before. It's not technology that gives the extra polish; it's the experience of writing and mugging in front of the camera.

If I look forward to Christmas for anything it's for the next DVD. (That's a hint mate!)


about a year ago I stumbled on Coupling[^] on PBS. I've been a fan of British Comedy for almost as long as I can remember. I bet not many of you have even heard of this[^] let alone seen it. So PBS is a godsend. Almost nothing can come up to the standard the British set, though Drew Carey comes close.

Back in August last year they ran the first episode of a two part story. I saw and enjoyed the first part and was sent to the Philippines on the following Monday.

Last Saturday night the same episode cropped up, ending in the dreaded 'To be continued'. I said to my wife; 'you know what this means don't you? It means I'll be out of town next week'. Shoulda kept my mouth shut!

Uh huh. I'm off to France again tomorrow. All being well it'll be for a week and I can certainly think of worse places to spend a week in. Truth is I'm just about ready for some fine French dining again . Dallas BBQ is quite tasty but...

This time it's via Houston and Paris, returning via Amsterdam and Houston. Of course, that 'returning via' is optimism; it assumes I'll be returning on the day we've set.

It seemed only reasonable

having seen a quail running down Jackrabbit Road on my way home tonight that I should see a Jackrabbit on Quail Run Road.

Friday, April 01, 2005

I'm going to have to exercise tact

which will be a new experience.

As a result of our disaster yesterday the customer hit us with exactly what I expected; a request that we document our test procedures. I'm still trying to wrap my head around how tactfully to convey the image of a forefinger extended and lubricated...

Yeah I'm being facetious. The real problem is time frames. It takes time to develop new features requested by our customer; it takes more time to test them. Yet every new feature request is represented as something that 'must' be in production today or else. For example, today I received a request for some new stuff that they hope will be in the April 15 release. Never mind that it requires hardware samples I don't have access to. Never mind that it requires hardware samples even they don't have access to; they want it in the next on cycle release. I have the docs on how it's supposed to work and I can come up with code that 'ought' to work. Oughts don't go for much in this business though; if I can't test it against the hardware that doesn't yet exist what level of confidence will I have that my code is correct?

Experience tells me that we have to draw a line in the sand and say 'this far but no farther. If you want a quality release you have to allow us the time to do it right'. Sales demands the delivery 'right now'. We all know who wins that argument; moreover, we all know the outcome of that win.

What makes this particularly galling is that I know that most of our hardware hasn't been upgraded to the January release, let alone the February release. You'll remember that I had to travel from Dallas back to Phoenix in mid-February to do that months release. It contained stuff that 'just had to be there'. Production is STILL using the November 2004 release. You'll also remember I had to do an early March off cycle release for one particular site; they were screaming for some updates that 'just had to be there'. I found out today that they are STILL running the February release.

So why am I knocking myself out doing CD creations? It's not like I don't have better things to do. Heck, it's not even like I'm being paid nearly enough to go through this angst! It's a rhetorical question.

Come to that, if they're not even installing newer releases why should I even call them to admit to a mistake?

End rant!