Helping Others, How Far Would You Go? ...

For many life is one miserable day after another.  A seemingly endless parade of catastrophic events.  Others seem to dance through life, suffering little more than the occasional bump or bruise.  Recently it was brought to the attention of the Chiang Rai community, that there are some unfortunate foreigners in our midst.  Of course that should not be news to anyone who has been around for a while.

A cry for help and sympathy from one distraught soul, trying to help a friend through a bad time in the hospital, was met by a strange mix of concern from some and unbridled distain from others.  After some heated debate, one brave peacemaker in our midst, took it upon himself to find out if the story was true or lived in the realm of imagination and fantasy.

Not only was the story true, but yet another unfortunate foreigner was discovered in the same overcrowded local hospital.  This is the hospital where our local villagers would go, as opposed to the two upmarket hospitals, frequented by many local expats.

Upon receiving a report on the individuals in question (both the teller and victim), one brave individual in the negative camp, summoned the courage to both apologize and visit the hospital.  Others maintained an eerie silence, hiding behind the anonymity of the internet.

Clearly these events are not unusual.  One could, and I believe some do, make it their calling in life to look after the many foreigners who fall on bad times here in Thailand.  Visiting jails and hospitals, or even the local bars would surely provide an endless stream of even more desperate stories than the two gentlemen referred to above.  I’m not sure what it is about Thailand, that lends its self to so many sad tales of woe about unfortunate foreigners.  That is a discussion for another day, perhaps.

It is the variance in response to these situations that interests me.  The concern or sympathy is understandable but the hostility and distain begs a closer look.  While some might genuinely be mean spirited, others may simply have difficulty dealing with adversity or prefer to keep their distance.  I for one avoid bars and jails and find hospitals depressing places, along with retirement and nursing homes.  Except for dealing with my immediate family I would find it hard to spend time in such depressing places.

Some religions take the position that life is suffering and do a good business providing guidance to the multitudes, in their effort to escape said suffering.  I suspect there are relatively few of us who view life in a more positive light and who’s choices and opportunities have led them down an easier path.  I’m not at all sure how long I could maintain my outlook on life if I were mired in the tragedy of other’s lives.  I do admire those who can give of themselves and step into the lives of strangers, offering comfort and help in their time of need.

Sadly I seem to lack the capacity to step out of my comfort zone for anyone other than my wife and my parents.  That said, there runs under the surface, a theme of the savior or knight in shining armor, here in Thailand.  How else could one explain the multitude of odd couples that perpetuate here, with seemingly nothing in common.  Desperate young girls with the need to receive and desperate old men, with a savior complex, and the seemingly even more desperate need to give.

So when you hear these tragic stories that abound in Thailand, how do you respond?  Break into tears, hover around hospitals, turn a blind eye, say it serves them right, accuse the messenger of telling untruths or some more imaginative response?  Is your attitude toward desperate Thai women different from your attitude toward desperate foreigners who are down on their luck?  Would you help her but not him?

There is of course no correct answer here, just an acknowledgement of how we deal with such things.  I for one find myself a little numb after so many years in Thailand.  I deal through avoidance when I can, with the realization that I cannot realistically carry the burden of all those in need.  The dance of life, whether short or long, ends at the same place for everyone.  I’ll dance to the music I have been given and try my best to stick to that rhythm without disturbing the dance of others.  Perhaps you are a better person than I, willing to sacrifice your own wellbeing for the good of others?

Signposts

Author's note: A story from many years ago. My, how life has changed! and it all began with changing my perspective.

"Most of the important things in the world have been accomplished by people who have kept on trying when there seemed to be no hope at all."
- Dale Carnegie

Just a few blocks away from my home, there is an empty warehouse with a large ditch on the side of the building. For months, I have walked by this unattractive ditch - noticing the broken bottles, discarded shoes and flattened cardboard boxes, heavy with rainwater and stuck in the terrain. Small tufts of grass appear to struggle and gasp for air in between the trash and bumpy landscape.

Every day, I walk by this ditch, and every day it's the same hopeless and forgotten ditch.

That ditch reminds me of the place I was not too long ago. I was in a rut. A really big rut. More like that ditch.

At that time, all of my attention was focused on my frustrations and disappointments. I had been working long and hard to make some progress in my life, and it seemed that nothing was moving forward. Even though I have much to be grateful for, all I could see was the debris that seemed to be stuck in my life - a job situation that wasn't changing, a sense that there would never be that special someone in my life, and a business that didn't seem to be taking off as I had hoped.

The tape playing in my head looked a little bit like that defeated neighborhood ditch.

The other day, as I angrily marched my way down the sidewalk, my frustration growing, I noticed something different as I approached the ditch. It appeared as though it had turned into a field of daffodils! As I got closer, I saw that it wasn't daffodils, but dozens of plastic sticks stuck in the ditch. At the top of each plastic stick, there was a yellow flag attached to the top.

Curious, I walked closer to the flags. Each flag was a yellow sticky note, labeled with a different plant name.

Rose. Lavender. Sage. Oregon Grape.

Someone had removed the debris from the ditch and in its place there stood signs of a new perspective.

I thought about this change in perspective and wondered how I could do the same. Would it be possible for me to look beyond the debris - the things that seemed stuck in my life - and create a vision for what it could be?

Yesterday, I walked by the ditch, now a soon-to-be garden, and to my delight, noticed that despite the wind and rain the day before, those yellow flags of promise and light were still committed to their plastic sticks. Firmly attached to the idea that beauty and joy are on its way.

As you look at your own perspective, notice where you place your attention. If your focus has shifted to your disappointments, see if you can look beyond the debris and create a vision of new possibilities, bright with hope and expectancy of the beauty to come.

© 2003-2010 Lisa Ann Edwards

Koh Panyee (เกาะปันหยี) Village on Stilts in Phang Nga Bay

Koh Panyee (or Koh Panyi if you like) is a village built on stilts in Phang Nga Bay. We visited Koh Panyee on the same day as James Bond Island, having hired a longtail boat from Samchong Seafood, a restaurant in Phang Nga. My original plan was to visit only James Bond Island, but we were ready to leave Scaramanga's lair by 4pm, and Koh Panyee is only about 7km further north. Sunset at this time of year is around 6:30pm, so we had time for a quick dash (our longtail had a new engine) to Panyee and time for a good wander around this fascinating village built over the water next to one of Phang Nga Bay's many huge limestone outcrops. We visited again during another trip later in the year - see Phang Nga Bay - Doing it OUR way! And we've done another trip more recently in 2015 - see Phang Nga Bay Revisited.

Koh Panyee is a small island, less than 400m long, and there is not really any flat land. Instead, over the last 200 years since the village was founded, a community has built up over the shallow waters to the south of the limestone cliff / rock that makes up Panyee island. Indeed, at low tide, the waters are shallow enough to stand in, or disappear completely which must aid in building these houses, all supported on a network of stilts. Some websites refer to Panyee as a floating village. It's not floating, the houses are all on stilts. Fishing was the main trade here, and is still important, but tourism is now well and truly established - all the way through the village, stalls are selling crafts, cloth, souvenirs, but there is still the old life here - other stalls sell vegetables, fish, and "Nam Prik Kung Siap" - a spicy shrimp paste, which my dear wife wanted to buy a few kilos of (it's very tasty!)

On the way to Koh Panyee from James Bond Island we passed an island used as a base for kayaking tours. You can pass through a cave full of stalactites, which our kids loved. The longtail fairly sped over to Panyee, it only took about 20 minutes from James Bond Island.

Longtail boat in Phang Nga Bay

Through the cave

The trick with Panyee, if you want to see the village, rather like Phuket - you have to look beyond the tourism. OK, on Panyee it's low key. There are no hotels or bars, but half the island is taken up with restaurants that serve day trippers on tours. If you walk through the village, there are plenty of stalls selling things... some of these things are actually very nice, for sure, if I was a tourist on holiday I would buy a few souvenirs here. We did buy a few little gifts for the kids like key rings and a drum made out of a coconut. I was looking more for a real feel of Panyee. First thing - I felt that the people here are very friendly. A lot of the people must spend the day selling crap souvenirs to the hordes of day trippers, but we arrived late in the day, only a few tourists around by 5pm.. I saw many smiles and happy people. And it was the people that I mostly wanted to photograph. Photos on this page are from our visits in March and September 2010. I want to go again sometime soon!

Old lady at Koh Panyee

Old dude at Koh Panyee

Jewelery seller at Koh Panyee

Young girl at Koh Panyee

The construction of the village - it's a maze of houses, paths, elevated walkways, everything built over the water on stilts! It's quite an impressive place when you think about it. A few photos to give an idea of how Panyee is built...

Formula 1 Longtail at Koh Panyee

Koh Panyee

Koh Panyee

All these wooden planks and stilts need looking after. Wood does not last forever. There are places where I worried that the wood looked a bit old (and since I weigh well over 100kg, I do not want to step on a plank that's likely to break!) I found a couple of people in the process of repairing their houses or fixing up their boat dock...

Building work at Koh Panyee

Fixing a hole

Fixing up the house

I was walking around with our kids - my wife and her sister were searching for the best shrimp paste - a lady suggested we detour off the main path and check out the school. I think, or would like to think, that the Koh Panyee school made some impression on our kids. A simple wooden construction built around a playground.. with great views!

Koh Panyee School

At Koh Panyee School

Heading home from school

I liked that we arrived at Panyee village after most of the tours had already left - throw in a dozen boat loads of foreigners and the narrow walkways would be more crowded, and the hawkers more vocal. We found this guy working on his glass fish - the little pufferfish are indeed a work of art.

Glass artist at Koh Panyee

Glass puffer fish

I love faces. Everyone has a different face. If people are happy to pose, I like to take their photo. Koh Panyee is a unique place with unique people.. OK, they were probably more unique 30 years ago. Now they have the internet and daily contact with tourists, but sometimes in a place like this, I wonder "who is watching who". You think the life in Koh Panyee is strange, is very different to yours? I am very sure the people here are watching the visitors, and I think Koh Panyee is still a special place.

Fixing the nets

(above) Fixing the fishing nets

Man on bicycle at Koh Panyee

(above) A man rides a bicycle.. that's heavy traffic in Koh Panyee.

By the time we left, I can imagine everyone settling in for the evening, tourists gone, only the Panyee people here. A very small village like this has a sense of community that you can grasp. Everyone knows everyone. I used to live on a small island some years ago. I get that feeling here in Panyee, there's no trouble, no worries, no crime. Hardy a bad word. Lots of smiles. And we'll be back again.

Koh Panyee (Phang Nga Bay) - Location Map


View Koh Panyee, Phang Nga Bay in a larger map

Finally - a video (actually an ad for a bank) which features Koh Panyee. The story of the kids on Koh Panyee starting their own football team, despite the lack of a pitch to play on! Nice story - great scenery!

Wanaka to Christchurch then Kaikoura

Decided I needed to get up to the North Island with only 3 weeks left in New Zealand, my aim was for Christchurch, 400km away but I would settle for halfway there. I took myself and my backpacks out to the road and before I had even stuck my thumb up I had my first lift out to the next junction. My next lift was with an English man, his well spoken father and his dog Millie. They dropped me near where they were playing golf and then I got a bit stuck for an hour. A French-Canadian girl joined me and her hitching technique was most impressive, arm straight out, thumb proudly aloft and a massive smile plastered across her face.

We were picked up by a kind man called Richard who fortunately for me was going nearly all the way to Christchurch, a 3 hour journey. Richard is a grandfather who is a fan of Lady Gaga, his ipod also played Irish folk music, drum n bass, Celine Dion, Genesis, Techno and a Japanese cover of the song that has the chorus 'this is my united states of whatever'. The cover went 'This is my SU-BA-RU don't touch the leather'. Richard dropped me off near his house at the junction for Chrischurch and it wasn't long before a 19 year old with a ginger mullet picked me up in his pick-up truck. The git only offered because he needed petrol and we negotiated $15 for the 100km to Christchurch. He looked nackered and I found out that was because he'd been out on the piss the night before and then went to his job as a dairy farmer at 4am and had only just finished.

The mullet dropped me off at 8pm by which time all the good hostels were closed meaning I had to check in to a Base hostel which was indeed a proper shit-hole. The bar directly beneath my room played loud music until 1am and so I only got 5 hours sleep.

Next morning on the Kiwi bus to Kaikoura again. Walked around the peninsula and then got a proper night of sleep.

Bacione



“Is not a kiss the very autograph of love?”
-Henry Finck

I’ll never forget the first time we met.

My first cat, Eponine, had been with me for sixteen years. Eponine was a sweet cat who supported me through more downs than ups, and when Eponine’s body started to fail, I had a hard time accepting it was her time to go. I had hoped to bring her with me in my move to the West Coast; and, I think Eponine wanted to make that last move with me, too--she held out until the night before I departed.

Months later, my mom brought Eponine’s ashes to me so that Eponine could have her final wish, and I buried Eponine in the garden below my window.

It took me a long time to be ready for another cat after that. But, a year after I had gotten settled into my new home in a new city with my new job, I realized I was also ready for a new cat.

And, just like the start to many great love affairs, I found my new cat, now named Harley, on the Internet.

Harley was living with a foster mom at the time and registered under the Humane Society. In her online photo, Harley had a cute little mischievous smirk on her face and seemed to be someone who needed extra love and attention. I thought we might make a good match, so I arranged for an introduction.

Alice, Harley’s then-foster mom, brought Harley over for our first meeting.

Alice took Harley out of the carrier, placed her in my arms and watched, like a protective mother, to see if we had any chemistry.

Moments after being placed in my arms, Harley stretched out her head toward mine. Excited, Alice said, “Do this!” and demonstrated how to stretch my head out towards Harley, leading with my nose. Harley stretched her head further towards mine and touched her nose to my nose. Alice shouted, “She kissed you!”

That was a kiss?! It felt a little bit cold to me. But, uh, ..okay.

“Alright, well, I guess I should keep her, then” I said. I mean, I wanted to do the honorable thing.

“On no,” said Alice. “You can’t keep her!”

What?! Is this a trick? First, I just kissed a cat with my nose and now I can’t keep her!?

“No, she’s got ringworm! She has to be in quarantine for 14-more days!”

“But… we just kissed!” I said, looking for something to wash my face.

And so, this is how our six-year relationship began. A little bit awkward. A little bit funny. And, a little bit sweet.

Harley left that day with her foster mom, Alice, for her 14-day quarantine, before returning to live with me. And, I never developed feline ringworm.

Over the years, I’ve come to learn that Harley’s kissing is a good sign and my dates who don’t get a kiss from Harley on the first or second meeting usually don’t last long with me. Harley has a nose for knowing these things and I’ve learned to trust her intuition.

But, don’t think Harley’s all sweet and roses. I didn’t name her after a motorcycle, for nothin’.

Harley’s an adventurous, mischievous cat. In fact, there was a long period of time where I thought I could write a series of books about the adventures of Harley.

I would have three books about Harley. The first would be, The Adventures of Harley the Cat; the second would be, More Adventures of Harley the Cat and sadly, the last would be, The Final Adventures of Harley the Cat. Given the direction I was headed with the series, I decided to abort the idea. I didn’t want to put any weird ju-ju out there that might give a pre-mature ending to our budding relationship.

Still, it was fun to think about everything I could write about.

For example, there was the time that Harley fell out the window and survived. And then there was the time that Harley got completely soaked when she fell into the bathtub while I was soaking in it. Or, there was the time that Harley fell off the curtain she was climbing it and we stayed until two in the morning in the Animal Emergency Hospital with Harley getting her limbs x-rayed and tested out. Then, there was the time that Harley had an allergic reaction to a rabies shot and we spent an entire fourth of July holiday weekend in the Animal Emergency Hospital. I was certain Dr. Death was knocking at the door that time.

But, nothing tops the time that Harley was constipated and we spent three days at the Animal Emergency Hospital waiting for a very effective laxative to stop working its magic.

Yes, life with Harley has been exciting, fun and filled with kisses. We have been together for six-years now and things are better today than ever. I’ve learned to live with the nearly 800 little kiss-prints on the windows of our lake-view condo. I no longer think anything is strange about Harley’s kissing; and, I find nothing odd about how she likes to snuggle into bed at night. Harley and I have got chemistry, after all.

But most important, I hardly even notice the nights when Harley, comfortable in our relationship, forgets to give me a good-night kiss.


Author’s note: I tried to take a picture of Harley, but she had to kiss the camera lens. That’s her nose, close-up. I think it means she’s kissing you. ;-)

Gemstones



“Before a diamond shows its brilliancy and prismatic colors it has to stand a good deal of cutting and smoothing.”
- Author Unknown


Have you even noticed how some people really stand out from a crowd—they seem to be clear about their purpose and direction in life and as a result they seem to sparkle and shine. It’s just like how a gemstone stands out from the rest of the rocks.

The funny thing is that it’s hard to define that something extra special.

For example, in trying to describe that something special that makes a stone a gem, I did some research; and, I discovered that it’s not that easy to define what a gemstone is.

The standard definition is, “minerals that have been chosen for their beauty and durability.” That sounds simple. But in actuality, this is not a complete definition of what makes a stone a gem and when it is merely a rock. For example, pearls and amber are created by living organisms and not at all minerals as the definition describes. And, opals are not at all durable as the definition says. Instead, they are notoriously delicate and fragile.

It seems there is not a clear what way to define what a gem is. We simply know it when we see it.

Likewise, defining what it means to live on purpose is equally elusive.

When I do coaching in organizations, I often have people come up with a description of what they think it means to live on purpose. And, so far, the best definition I have heard is, “It’s the opposite of living accidentally.”

Just like the gemstone, we know it best when we see it.

Rather than a definition, I have found it easier to describe the characteristics of people who seem to be living on purpose. For example, I found they tend to be:

Content

Focused

Generous with their time and money

Principled

They walk their talk

And, they go beyond what is expected of them without any prompting.

But, the biggest thing I have noticed about people who are living on purpose is that they are better able to navigate the bumps of life with ease.

Just like a gemstone, there is something special that radiates from a person who is living on purpose.

.....Well, I know a woman who is a gemstone.

In fact, I think she’s a diamond.

Mary is brilliant and rare. She’s an incredibly successful and busy entrepreneur, and yet, she is accessible to everyone. Mary’s purpose is to help others be successful and as a result, people work hard for her and perform to the best of their ability.

On the outside, it looks as though Mary must have it easy. She’s beautiful and kind. Smart and funny. It would be easy to think she’s just lucky.

But just like the rest of us, Mary has faced many challenges. What shines about Mary is the way that she navigates the bumps of life with ease.

For example, when Mary was a young girl, her father passed way. The situation left her family struggling financially and could have put Mary on a path to poverty. But instead, Mary learned valuable life skills from the situation and used those skills to become financially savvy.

And, while still a young woman, Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer—a disease that had taken the life of her mother and sister by the time she received the diagnosis for herself. Can you imagine the fear she must have faced? Yet, Mary kept her trademark good humor and smile in tact and prevailed beyond all statistics.

Mary has become more radiant because of her challenges—not in spite of them.

Mary is a gemstone because she lives on purpose. It is evident that she recognizes her purpose is to positively impact the lives of others by genuinely caring about them as she helps them to succeed.

The thing that clearly stands out about people who are living on purpose is that you don’t even need to know the words of their personal mission. You can see their mission in the way that they live.

People like Mary are exceptions to some only in that they are clear about their purpose. In truth, each of us has a purpose that we bring to the world—our only job is to recognize it and allow it to shine.


© 2010 Lisa Ann Edwards



James Bond Island

A trip to Phang Nga Bay is part of many visitors holiday to the Phuket area. We've done several trips before, although we don't go with organised tours. In the past we have driven up to Phang Nga (just over an hour from our house) and hired a longtail boat from the jetty which is a few km west of the town. I blogged one of these trips in March 2007 : Phang Nga Bay. I do recommend people to try doing it this way, rather than signing up for a tour. Getting your own boat gives you more freedom, and a boat trip to James Bond Island could be combined with a visit to other attractions such as Suwan Kuha Temple, or a visit to the lovely Sanang Manora forest park.

Well, we took another trip on 20th March, and wanted to try something different. Last year we found a restaurant that we liked - Samchong Seafood, which is nearly 20km closer to Phuket than the main Phang Nga Jetty, and I could see on Google Earth that the mangrove river where the restaurant is located led right out into Phang Nga Bay just a few km from James Bond Island. Only thing we were not sure about was whether or not we could hire a longtail boat from anywhere near the restaurant. But for sure there are plenty of longtails around there....

View at Baan Samchong, Phang Nga

No worries! We sat down to eat and asked for a boat - sure, no problem, 1800 Baht for the boat for the afternoon. So we enjoyed lunch over the water and went to meet our boatman. (Update 2012) - for more about doing it this way - see Phang Nga Bay - Doing It Our Way!

Read on for more about James Bond Island ...

Longtail boat for hire at Samchong Seafood

Longtail man at Samchong

It was a gorgeous sunny day, typical for March in Phuket. We headed out along the mangrove river and I was pleased that this longtail had a new engine which purred rather than the normal deafening put-put-put. This was a Rolls Royce longtail. It was about 10km from the restaurant to James Bond Island, the first few km passing the mangroves and then out into the bay. I love this scenery. I'd love to have a boat and spend days cruising around. There are (based on my quick count on Google Earth!) over 50 islands in the bay. We saw some new scenery this time, as we were starting from a different base. I'll say it again - I love this scenery.

Phang Nga Bay

Thai Longtail boat and Blue Sky

Our kids enjoyed the ride too. Last time we did this our son was maybe to small to remember. This time they both loved it. If people ask me about "things for kids to do" in Phuket.. I mean, yes you can try the new waterpark or play minigolf or use your hotel kids club.. but they'd be missing out. Our kids like this great scenery, rides on boats, it's an adventure!

Kids on the longtail boat in Phang Nga Bay

After passing several spectacular islands and massive rocks rising from the sea, we approached the famous "James Bond Island". That's not it's real name of course, it's called Koh Khao Phing Kan or Ping Gan or however you wish to transliterate the Thai spelling. But thanks to Roger Moore and Christopher Lee and that little guy called Nick Nack, well the island got it's nickname, and really nobody calls it Ping Gan, which means leaning rock. It's Bond, James Bond...

Saruman.. I mean.. Scaramanga and Bond.. not my photo, must be copyright of some movie company I guess

Longtail Boat - James Bond Island

We landed at a small beach where there used to be a jetty. Not sure where that's gone. The National Park staff have a desk under an overhanging rock where you get your tickets.. the whole bay is a national park but you only pay fees if you land here :)

Now, the main attraction of this island is the standing rock just offshore, which itself is sometimes called James Bond Island, but is actually called Koh Tapu, meaning nail island. You can't see it from where you land - have to clamber up and down some stone steps to get views of (perhaps) Thailand's most famous rock. When you look out over the water to "the rock", it's beautiful. Somehow, you can ignore the fact that you are sharing the island with several hundred other people. We tried to avoid peak time - we got the longtail from Samchong a little after 2pm, so were at James Bond Island around 2:45 and stayed for around 45 minutes. Still plenty of visitors at that time. Next time, now that we know the route, we'll go later. I want to get photos in the late afternoon light, and surely by 5pm it'll be too late for most of the day trippers? But if you look out to sea, your photos will be uncrowded...

A few views of Koh Tapu

James Bond Island - Koh Tapu

James Bond Island

James Bond Island View

It's a small island, a few little caves to clamber into (kids like), and of course if you are gazing at the rock (Koh Tapu) and turn around, you see a collection of stalls selling souvenirs and drinks and shells and ... as much as I wish that they were not there, I know they will remain.

Souvenir stall at James Bond Island

What of the leaning rock? The real name for this island (Khao Ping Gan), nothing to do with movies, comes from the amazing rock formation here modelled by a visiting monk. The islands here are limestone and in this case a huge wedge of the rock has been split, creating this massive leaning slab which rests on it's other half, a real work of nature. This old monk kept his hand on the rock as if feeling the energy of the world. Or something.

Monk at James Bond Island

Monk at Khao Ping Gan (James Bond Island)

Our kids meanwhile went off exploring...

Kids exploring at James Bond Island

We had hired the longtail for the whole afternoon, and there was time left to head about 4 miles further north of James Bond Island to Koh Panyee, the Muslim fishing village built next to a towering rock - a quite wonderful place. Lots of photos. And we'll be back. Many times!

A private tour like this can be booked with my friends at Easy Day Thailand - the tour is pretty much based on the way we do it.

Nearby sights and attractions:

Koh Panyee
Suwan Kuha Temple in a cave
Samchong Seafood Restaurant
Wat Thamtapan in Phang Nga Town

Back to Wanaka and a bit of a naughty story


Wanaka is the one. I'm in love with it. I got very emotional returning here and turned in to a soppy soft shite sitting in the sunshine looking out over the lake. I walked around to the Edgewater resort with the individual hand towels in the toilet and I began to well up with happiness, not at the hand towels, at the whole area. Wanaka is without doubt my favourite town on Earth, maybe they put opium in the water here because everything just seems better. The water bluer, the sun sunnier, and the mountains, err, pointier? Just better.

Took a walk up a hill called Mount Iron and in the early evening saw 'Peed my pants' and the Scot who, coincidentally, had also come from Dunedin that day. I joined them and an Aussie called Clayton for a couple of jars and Clayton offered us all to come back to the house he was staying in and drink the insanely wealthy owner's champagne. I declined because I wanted to go for a dance and annoyingly 'Peed my pants' joined me. I soon pissed off the Yank by dancing with nicer girls and she left in a huff. Yay.

The next day I walked up the mountain that had defeated me on my previous visit to Wanaka - Roy's peak. Then I walked back down. It took 8 hours in total. To celebrate my ascent and to make the most of my last night in my favourite town I went to a bar and had several drinks and then several more.

What happened next I am not proud of. Mum, you should remember that this is an isolated incident and there were lots of mitigating circumstances - my drink was probably spiked or umm... I had heatstroke and was dizzy and not myself.

Well here's what happened anyway, as much as it pains me I think the story is worth telling.

At the end of the night of drinking I got in a taxi with a girl back to her house, twenty minutes outside Wanaka. The next thing I knew I was waking up on a sofa. I was still a bit drunk and the heatstroke was kicking in so I didn't worry myself with questions like where I was, I just walked down the corridor to find a toilet and sat down planning to take a while.

I then heard footsteps outside the toilet and a woman's voice said 'Are you okay?'
'Are you talking to me?' I replied
'Yes'
'Yes I'm fine'.
Who was this woman? I tried to piece together where the hell I was.

Oh shit

Oh big shitty shit shit. No no no no no no no. Shit. No. Shit.

A little bit of the previous night came back to me. I had not gone in to the girls house. I had said goodnight and tried to walk back to my hostel. I walked for hours only wearing shorts and flip flops and it was very cold.

At some point I became completely lost in residential streets that all looked the same in the dark and I had no idea which direction I was heading. Because I was so cold and lost I decided I needed shelter so I went up to a patio door and tried it. It was open and the sofa looked comfortable so I opted to get a couple of hours sleep and leave before the owners got up. Only I hadn't done that. I was now in the house of a stranger, sat on their toilet, having a crap and they were understandably going to be concerned as to who I was.

Shit.

I could now hear a man's voice, I could guess what they were discussing, probably which household object would decapitate the intruder - me - the most efficiently.

How the hell do I explain this? Should I start crying? No. Try honesty. Through the door I said 'I'm so sorry, I got lost walking home last night and I was freezing cold and I needed somewhere to sleep and I'm so sorry but I tried your door and it was open. I'm really sorry'. I flushed the loo and made sure I put both seats down, well I was in enough trouble as it was. The couple whispered to each other, my guess was that it was something like 'You stand on the left with the rolling pin and when he comes out and I've kicked him in the crotch batter him over the head'.

There was nothing for it, the window was too small to climb out of so I would have to face the music. I opened the door and repeated my story. The couple were middle aged and looked shocked but thankfully weren't holding any weapons. 'Oh was the door open, I thought we locked it'
'Yes it was open and like I say I'm so sorry but I felt like I didn't have much choice. I'm sorry to confuse you and be so rude but if you could just point me in the direction of Wanaka I'll get going'
The man responded 'It's alright we've got kids your age, you seem genuine' - I suspect he thought I was 19 because 26 year olds aren't supposed to do things like this. 'Do you want a drink?' he added.
'No, thank you, if you could just point me in the direction of Wanaka I'll be getting back to my hostel'
'Give me a minute to get dressed and I'll drive you back there, which hostel are you at?'
I couldn't believe it. Instead of beating me up for entering his house uninvited this man was going to go out of his way and give me a lift to my hostel door. And he did just that. In nearly any other country in the world I would have come away with at least a black eye and possibly have been arrested but here I was treated like a friend who needed a hand, what astonishingly wonderful people.

Dunedin

Most people I'd spoken to about Dunedin said it's a bit rubbish and don't bother going but I was still optimistic that I would have fun wandering around a new city. Got on to the bus sat down and then it hit me. I had done something stupid and unforgivable. Herman. I'd left my stick in the hostel store room. I was distraught and even considered getting off the bus and foregoing the fare and the cost of the hostel I had booked in Dunedin. I didn't, the sane, reasonable side of me took charge and I stayed in my seat thinking up ways of reclaiming Herman on my way back to Wanaka, my onward destination from Dunedin.

In the evening I checked in to the hostel, the cheapest and worst hostel I had been in so far. Crap banana shaped mattress, no locks on doors and one toilet between 5 dorm rooms. I checked out of the hostel the next morning and started walking. I wanted to see some of the Otago peninsula, a place where you can see rare yellow-eyed penguins and a host of other birdlife. It was not walking distance but it's my preferred method of transport so I carried on regardless. The walk was pleasant at first along the water's edge until the path ended and I was left walking along the verge of a busy road looking like a plonker. I felt a bit self conscious and thought I should hitch-hike along the road but as I was already a couple of kilometres along it by then I figured it would be silly. I got used to walking on the road, stepping out of the way of cars every time the road got narrow and I remembered that I wouldn't see anyone I knew anyway so I could happily continue to be a plonker.

After an hour or so a car stopped on the other side of the road and I realised that I had been spotted by someone I knew, Claire who I had met in Queenstown. Bugger. Now I would have to act like I'm enjoying walking along the verge. Couldn't she just have carried on driving.
'Hey, it is you, how come you're walking along the side of the road? You know it's another 15km to the penguin beach? It'll take you all day'
'Oh that's okay I'm just out for a walk, be better if there was a pavement but it's a nice day so I'm happy'. As I spoke I realised that I had no idea what I was doing or where I was going, I changed the subject. 'How come you're in Dunedin?'
'Oh just a couple of days break from work, borrowed the bosses car. Seriously where are you going? There's not much on this road until the end'
'Oh I'll work that out as I go and like I say it's a nice day. Anyway, better get going, enjoy your break. Bye'
'Err, okay fair enough. Bye' she said with pity in her eyes.

Five minutes later it turned out it wasn't a nice day and the heavens opened up soaking me through. I arrived at a shop and was delighted to see a sign pointing up a walking track saying 'walking track' - finally somewhere I was supposed to be. It was a nice walk over a hill, the rain stopped then started again eventually settling for stopped. The end of the track left me on another road with no pavement and because I'd been walking for four hours it seemed sensible to head back towards town.

Along the road there was a sign pointed at an empty field saying Site of NZ's first Cheese Factory. I took a photo and wandered what the point of the sign was. A little further along the road there was a sign on a gate saying Bolder Bay closed, on closer inspection this was from November to February for penguin breeding season and as it was now March I jumped over. I followed the track and bushwhacked out to the bay where there were unfortunately no penguins but still got a good view. It was now 5pm and I was an hour from the road let alone Dunedin. At the road I knew I needed to hitch hike and luckily for me the first passing vehicle pulled over on the hill I was walking up.

The driver was a Greek/Swiss man called Alexander
'I'm not very good driver, I have only have this van for 3 days' was the first thing he said to me and then we rolled ten metres back down the hill before he found a gear that went forward. He took me all the way to Dunedin driving slowly and badly all the way almost causing 2 accidents by stopping in the middle of the road giving way to people who didn't have right of way and confusing the hell out of a poor learner driver. I was still very grateful but happy to say my thank you and goodbye. I rewarded myself for the long walk with a tour around the Speights beer factory, a pretty boring tour made worthwhile by help yourself tasting for 20 minutes at the end.

The next day I spent drifting through the city's parks, art galleries, museums and the University followed by a game of Cranium in the hostel with a German guy, a Scot girl and a yank girl. The highlight of the game was when the yank laughed so much she literally peed her pants and had to run off to her room to change. Apparently this is a common occurrence for her.

Dunedin was pretty good all in all. I had fun.

Some more days in Queenstown

27/2/10 - 2/3/10

Planned to cycle the Central Otago Rail trail, bought a tent and a sleeping bag and phoned up some companies to get a bike hired. On my way back from celebrating the Swiss paraglider passing his paraglider test I met some slightly mad but excellent people dressed as Cheetara, the Joker and Robin Hood who invited me to their spare house (!) where they keep alcohol and not much else. Cheetara's real name was Morven (or something similar), the Joker was really Darcy and Robin Hood was a lovely girl called Steph. I ended up sleeping on their sofa the next night which I thanked them for with a tasty curry.

I was due to start the cycling on the 2nd but when I got up it was pissing down and I decided my mac in a pack wouldn't quite cut it if I had 3 days cycling in that weather. Instead I walked to the shop bought a box of beer and let Morven cook breakfast whilst the rest of us hung around looking like shite doing very little all day.

Becauase I delayed there were no bikes available the next day and I had missed my opportunity. With accomodation booked in Dunedin for the 4th I chose to head there a day early and explore a city that no-one had recommended.

ZleepFishes


- a poeme fur yew

zleep tight tonite
da ztarz, dey dwinkle zo brite
da mune
eet zmilez fur yew

flootie dreamz
lik fluffie wipt kreme
happie leetle noze
keep ett warm, like yer toez!

da zun in da morn
a new dey ez born
da birdz dey will zing
yew know? eetz jist aboot zpring!

Author's note: This blog post has absolutely nothing to do with the purpose of this blog except for the fact that fish live in water.
© 2010 Lisa Ann Edwards

Spark

“There is real magic in enthusiasm. It spells the difference between mediocrity and accomplishment.”
- Norman Vincent Peale

One of the things that I really miss about the Midwest is the enthusiastic way it rains. It doesn’t just sprinkle or shower. Instead, the rain comes down in bucketfuls, quickly filling up streets and creeks, not to mention shoes.

But the best part about the Midwest rain is the thunder and lightening. It lights up the sky like the Fourth of July. Everyone runs, bristling with excitement, for candles and battery-powered radios, just in case the electricity goes out.

Ka-boom!

My friend Larry reminds me of this electric excitement. I met him through swing dancing, where this 6’2” basketball-player-turned-swing-dancer performs in a way that lives up to his last name: Peacock.

Yes, Larry certainly brings his own style to swing dance. When you dance with Larry, instead of a dip at the end of the song, you get a “high-five!” And, when Larry’s not on the dance floor, he can be heard from the sidelines yelling, “Swing ‘er OwwwwUT! YAAAAAH!” as if he were at a baseball game.

But no one seems to mind. Everyone seems to enjoy Larry’s enthusiasm, and he definitely has added a new level of excitement to our small dance community. So when Larry organized a dance last Friday, I was more than happy to say that I’d be there.

When Friday night came, my friend and I hopped in the car, anticipating a night full of fun and dancing. We were not prepared for what happened instead.

As we pulled into the darkly lit parking lot, we were sure we were at the wrong place; there were only six cars. Our hearts sank as we looked inside, where we could see two - just two - couples dancing in the brightly lit room. We were indeed at the right location.

“Oh no” I said. “I don’t want to go in.”

After a few minutes of discussion, we decided to go in, but only to demonstrate our support of Larry. Clearly, we were not going to have the night full of fun and dancing that we had hoped.

As we walked in, it looked as if someone had let the air out of Larry. He shuffled his way to the front door, shrugged, looked at the ballroom and then back at us. “Everyone’s at the Swing Session's concert,” he said, in what could be the saddest voice I’ve ever heard.

We kept smiles on our faces as we handed Larry our money, walked in and sat down on the bench, where we’d likely spend the rest of the night. If we could make it that long.

A few more people trickled in and soon we had a dozen. Which isn’t a lot, but it’s better than a half-dozen. We were doing our best to look at the bright side of things.

About 10 o’clock, I was looking around, trying to figure out how we could escape without being noticed, when I noticed someone walking in the front door: an old, white-haired man, who looked no younger than 80, dressed in a suit and tie. I figured he was lost and had stopped inside for directions. Larry thought so too, running up to the guy to help him find his way.

But instead of asking for directions, the old guy handed Larry money to come in to the dance.

“What’s he doing here?!” I thought to myself. Everyone else must have thought so too because we all looked at each other, then back at the old man.

Oblivious to our stares, the old guy took off his suit jacket, neatly placed it on the bench and sat down to watch the only couple on the dance floor. As soon as that song finished and a new one began, the old guy stood up, straightened himself out, turned to the young woman who was seated near him, extended his hand and asked, “Would you like to dance?”

Seconds later on the dance floor, the old guy morphed into a young Lindy Hop dancer. He was hitting the breaks with flare, adding his own jazz styling and even singing… yes, SINGING with the music! While he was dancing!

Our jaws fell open and electricity filled the air.

Larry started yelling. “Swing ‘er OwwwwUT! YAAAAAH!” Everyone got up from the bench, headed out to the dance floor and started dancing. Extra women danced with other extra women. One woman even danced by herself. And Larry couldn’t stop yelling.

We danced the rest of the night that way. The old guy, who we later learned was named Arnold, had lit up our evening with his own unique style and special enthusiastic spark. And we saw how one person, no matter what age or background, has the ability to ignite a roomful of people when they tap into their own unique talents and gifts that they bring to the world.

© 2004-2010 Lisa Ann Edwards