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Monday, April 25, 2011

Hero

"A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles." - Christopher Reeve

"A hero has faced it all: he need not be undefeated, but he must be undaunted." - Andrew Bernstein

 "A hero is someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself."
- Joseph Campbell




What does it take for someone to become a real hero?

The word “Heroism” conjures up depictions of masked characters in comic books; highly unique persons who, given or accidentally bestowed with unnatural powers and abilities, strive to better the world and all those around them.



Heroism evokes thoughts of remarkable bravery and extraordinary selflessness; men and women who soar above what is simple and expected. Heroism is gloriously embodied during times of significant challenge and duress.



Heroes recklessly place their lives and well-being in peril, in spite of the obvious danger. Heroes are unduly dedicated to the greater good. Heroes fight for what is right. Heroes are brave and steadfast; they dedicate themselves to others.



When we consider Heroism, we tend to associate what it takes to become a hero with the ever-elusive ideal of near or total Perfection: a radically supreme example of limitless human potential; a flawless and idyllic embodiment of Good. It seems as if, for an ordinary person to become a real, live hero, he or she must pursue human Perfection. But outside of the realm of fantasy, real Heroism oft and ironically begins with flaw, fault, and setback: hero stories are actually written in natural human Imperfection.


The embodiment of Heroism in real life — outside of the pages of comic books — is rarely ever exemplified through Perfection. Quite to the contrary, heroism is most often exemplified through the efforts of ordinary men and women who persistently strive to overcome their natural imperfections: individual shortcomings, social disadvantages and personal demons that render all human beings far from perfect creatures.

Human beings are naturally imperfect; it takes as little as to flip on the television or read the newspaper to be reminded of the flaw, sin, and corruption that grips humanity. The feats of strength and courage from real heroes are implicitly routed in their natural imperfections: the shortcomings, failures and mistakes that make them human and challenge them to relent their dedication to bettering themselves and those around them.

Striving to overcome our natural imperfections — to persistently strive to rise above and beyond life’s challenges — is what makes ordinary men and women truly heroic. But, if the real embodiment of begins with imperfection, then how could heroes ever be worthy of society’s respect, emulation or adoration? We must make an important distinction between heroism and idolatry.

When heroes become false-idols our collective, societal reaction to the perception of an exemplary embodiment of heroism is that a heroic man or woman is subsequently deserving or worthy of individual emulation and collective adoration. However, a naturally-imperfect human being who we admire for his or her embodiment of heroism must only remain such; for, far too easily can our respect and appreciation for heroes suddenly become idolatry.

Popular culture and the mainstream media often elevate mere human beings — all of whom, however heroic, are naturally flawed and imperfect creatures – to the echelon of Idolatry. Those who willingly subscribe to or are seduced by the apparent embodiment of near or total Perfection are all too likely to be disappointed.


A recent and notorious example of a flawed human being who was elevated to the stratosphere of idolatry because of his amazing athletic feats and his deliberately crafted public image was none other than the billion-dollar international golf sensation, Tiger Woods. Woods’ heroic style of play on the golf course certainly made Tiger’s unique athleticism, sharp focus and champion spirit deserving of respect and emulation by golfers and other competitive athletes. But Woods’ off-the-course debauchery would have had little relevant connection to his hero status as an athlete on the golf course if Tiger had not been elevated (by the media, by fans, and by his own “TigerInc” corporate backing) to the level of a global idol.

Regarding heroism, we should appreciate the feats of the individual who strives for greatness in spite of limitations and his or her imperfections, if only to emulate his or her refusal to quit. Idolization is a recipe for disappointment. Other examples of naturally flawed human beings who persistently fall from grace in the public eye are those of elected politicians, many of whom spend lifetimes crafting polished images of themselves as straight-laced family persons who are selflessly dedicated to public service and devoid of ulterior motives. Politicians strive to mold an image that is a flawless embodiment of perfection, and for the sake of electability.


Should we really be surprised when any human being, however polished in appearance, is ultimately revealed as Imperfect?


Misconstruing ordinary human beings as near-perfect representations of Heroism — elevating someone to the level of Idolatry — can hold severe and detrimental consequences if we neglect to take resulting lessons to heart. False-idols who fall from grace can spur resentful sentiments of disdain, distrust and cynicism. But equally as much, the rise and fall of false-idols can serve observers with important reminders: human beings are inherently flawed and naturally imperfect.


One increasingly recognizable pop culture figure, Duane Chapman, stars in his own reality television program called “Dog the Bounty Hunter” on the A&E Channel. A Hawai’i-based bail bondsman, Chapman and his amiable family of bounty hunters track and arrest fugitives across the tropical Islands where crystal methamphetamine use is notoriously high. Chapman is credited with 6,000 fugitive captures over the course of his 27-year career, and, along with his wife Beth, have received recognition from the State of Hawai’i for their efforts to combat drugs across Hawai’i.



For all of the Dog’s heroic feats and impressive crime-fighting efforts, he remains far from perfect, and hardly an idol. In the 1970′s and while a member of an outlaw motorcycle gang, Chapman was charged as an accessory to murder and incarcerated for 18 months in a Texas prison. Some thirty years later and now a well-known crime fighter, Dog suffered a major career setback when an audio recording of him using racial slurs was sold to a tabloid magazine, costing the famed bounty hunter his reality TV show contract and spurring sentiments of disappointment and anger.


Hardly an idol that a parent would point out to a child as a figure whose mistakes and shortcomings (in the past and the present) would make him worthy of emulation, Duane Chapman embodies the essence of Heroism because of his striving overcome the circumstances of the disadvantaged life he was given, as well as his persistence to rise above the ranks of an outlaw and ex-convict to become an internationally-revered bail bondsman and a figure of inspiration to other ex-convicts.



Chapman doesn’t just arrest fugitives on the run, but persistently looks to provide hope to those who need it the most — as exemplified in his bounty-hunting motto, “Find ‘em and Fix ‘em.” The distinction between Idolatry and Heroism is that Heroism is less about reverence and unequivocal adoration than it is about the respect, appreciation and emulation of a naturally imperfect person’s spirit of hope — his or her refusal to quit.


As naturally imperfect beings, what does it take to become a hero? Whether you realize it or not, hero stories often begin when you’re at the bottom. Heroism isn’t exemplified through perfection; it’s actually rooted in natural human imperfection. Heroes are made by striving to overcome failures, mistakes and life’s disadvantages. Are you faulted? Imperfect? Good, it’s all a gift; your hero story begins by admitting, recognizing, and striving to overcome your shortcomings. Our hero stories begin with our failures.



Though we humans are naturally imperfect, we also have unlimited potential. And while forever imperfect, if we choose to always strive and never quit, there is no limit to the heights we can reach. The lower you start, all the higher the view will appear when you reach the top. Our hero story awaits. It’s our choice alone to write it.


From Dave Ursillo  (March 9th, 2010)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Rest

“Rest when you're weary. Refresh and renew yourself, your body, your mind, your spirit. Then get back to work.” - Ralph Marston

“Try to relax and enjoy the crisis.” - Ashleigh Brilliant

“Who among us hasn't envied a cat's ability to ignore the cares of daily life and to relax completely?”

- Karen Brademeyer 

2010 has been a busy year. Lots of work along with lots of fun and travel.

It was nice then to take a break and enjoy a holiday that involved very little of any physical or mental effort.
Christmas time at home. It is always a time of serenity - opposite to what most people experience. Coming from a small family, it's a time for some peace and quiet with a few close family and friends. It allowed the opportunity to stop and reflect. To count some blessings and to consider the year that has passed. It also allowed me to enjoy some quiet 'me' time.



My 1970 HG Holden Kingswood. Just an old car, but I love driving HER around. Dad had one when I was a kid and I have always liked them. I bought this from a good friend of mine who had it in his family from new - originally owned by some nuns. There aren't too many of these left now.





 Room with a view - From my bedroom window at my parents. This was the view everyday for my first 20 years or so. The garden that has been lovingly looked after for nearly 50 years has never demanded my attention. On this visit however, I actually stopped and admired the view. It was great to see the green trees, plants and colours of the summer flowers. More striking was the scent from the garden. I think my senses have been heightened by the lack of any meaningful vegetation in the desert. The sweet aromas were like a punch to the face in the early morning. A nice punch.



A blast from the past - it's always fun to go through old stuff and blow the dust off things you've almost forgotten about. Having some time to chill out and play with some old favourites was a nice way to spend some evenings. I'm a video games fan and, although the graphics weren't as good as I remember, I still kicked plenty of ass in Wrestlemania 2000 on the Nintendo 64.




Matilda (above) must be the world's most spoiled and over-protected dog. My Mother won't even have people refer to her as 'the dog. She rules the joint and thinks she owns the place. She does however chase the cats away and barks at anyone who dares to walk down the street.






Going along to my favourite restaurant is always a highlight, let alone when living abroad. It becomes even more important to get along there and enjoy the food. Jimmies, at Crafers, in the Adelaide Hills offers the world's best wood oven pizzas. Nothing beats the garlic prawn pizza with a bottle of local wine - it has been number one on my list for many years. Open fireplaces in winter and a cool and calm atmosphere in summer makes this my favourite restaurant any time of the year.



Was enjoying a family get-together at a local park, when a visitor ran past and down to the nearby creek. The koala was certainly thirsty....must have continued to drink for at least half an hour. I stayed around to try to get some video as he left the creek........


 
...but typically it wasn't until I needed to visit the bathroom that he decided it was time to climb up the nearest tree. It's almost as though he's up there mocking me.


I was fortunate once again to enjoy a quiet and peaceful Christmas. Visiting friends and family and being with those who are close to you is what it's all about. I feel somewhat refreshed and (almost) ready to embark on what will hopefully be another eventful and enjoyable year in 2011.






Sunday, December 12, 2010

Festive

I normally like to begin with a quote or some other creative way to start a blog. I cleverly (adjective open to opinion) add the quotes to the beginning of my own writing as an introduction in the (mostly) vain attempt to create interest.
But this time I have truly outdone myself (again, open to interpretation) - and thought I'd post a blog made up of quotes! Creative or plain lazy? Neither, probably.
Approaching the festive season I have started to prepare for my own Christmas celebrations. Being a resident in a non-Christian part of the world, I wondered what Christmas would be like. Sure, it's multi-cultural enough, with a small percentage of people who celebrate it, but would it still 'feel' like Christmas? No carols, no trees, no decorations and no tinsel. Very different, sure, but then, what is Christmas?

So I got to reading and have come up with some Christmas 'quotes'. Some have given me something to think about while others I have heard long ago and wanted to include.



"Christmas is not a time or a season but a state of mind. To cherish peace and good will, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas." ~Calvin Coolidge, 1927


"Christmas is a necessity. There has to be at least one day of the year to remind us that we're here for something else besides ourselves." ~Eric Sevareid


"A Christmas candle is a lovely thing; It makes no noise at all, but softly gives itself away".~Eva Logue


"Christmas gift suggestions: To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect." ~Oren Arnold


"There is no ideal Christmas; only the one Christmas you decide to make as a reflection of your values, desires, affections, traditions." -Bill McKibben, Author, Hundred Dollar Holiday: The Case For a More Joyful Christmas


"Christmas, children, is not a date. It is a state of mind." -Mary Ellen Chase


"What is Christmas? It is tenderness for the past, courage for the present, hope for the future. It is a fervent wish that every cup may overflow with blessings rich and eternal, and that every path may lead to peace." -Agnes M. Pharo


“I am not alone at all, I thought. I was never alone at all. And that, of course, is the message of Christmas. We are never alone. Not when the night is darkest, the wind coldest, the world seemingly most indifferent. For this is still the time God chooses.” Taylor Caldwell


"Once again we find ourselves enmeshed in the Holiday Season, that very special time of year when we join with our loved ones in sharing centuries-old traditions such as trying to find a parking space at the mall. We traditionally do this in my family by driving around the parking lot until we see a shopper emerge from the mall, then we follow her, in very much the same spirit as the Three Wise Men, who 2,000 years ago followed a star, week after week, until it led them to a parking space." -Dave Barry

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Snow

My recent trip to London was something of a hastily planned jaunt, the reasons for which will become clear.

It was a fantastic start. The plane was only half full, meaning I was able to stretch out and occupy the 2 seats on the side. And it was a great flight. Smooth, quick and I even managed to get a short 10 minute snooze. Win!

On my previous visit 12 months ago, a taxi was necessarily the mode of transport from the airport due to the seemingly obscene amount of luggage we had. This time however I was on my own and staying for less than a week, so the train was a viable option. From the terminal it was a short walk to the Heathrow Express. Almost immediately the train arrived. Advance Token to Paddington Station. From there it was a short walk to the Underground to Charing Cross Station. This is where the overground trains depart to South East London. It is here, in this station, that on many occasions I have waited an hour for a train. Not so this time, for there was a train waiting to greet me on the platform. I couldn’t believe my luck. From one side of lovely London to the other and I had been made to wait all of 5 minutes altogether.




It was like the city was greeting me like an old friend. I certainly felt like I was back ‘home’. I felt safe. I felt comfortable. I love that feeling of familiarity – when things are just the same as you remember them when you pass a place somewhere that takes your mind back to sometime in the past – a memory of a song, or a feeling or emotion that you remember with fondness. I have history here and I love it. I have no need for a map. I know my way around the city. The backstreets. The small pubs and old buildings that most tourists don’t know exist. I enjoy the intimacy of being there. I know I’m sharing it with 10 million other people, but it’s almost like I’m there by myself.
It was all working out for me, from trains to pedestrian crossings. The lights would just change as I approached the edge of the road, as though it was planned. To top off an awesome day I was able to spend the evening with some close family friends over a wonderful meal and 1 or 8 drinks, and caught up some way on the previous 12 months. It all fell into place for me and it would remain so for the remainder of my stay.

Wrong.

I remember my first English winter and how much I was looking forward to a ‘White Christmas'. All the naysayers were telling me that snow in London was a thing of the past and that a decent snowfall hadn’t happened in years. Still, I would not be discouraged. It was early December, as I recall, when the first flurries of snow arrived. I had never seen snow before and I was excited to be out in it. To be honest it was probably more sleet than snow, but it didn’t matter. I could touch it, feel it and catch it before it fell to the ground. It must have lasted all of 15 minutes and I loved every moment. It wasn’t until I went to Scotland later that month that I would see real snow. But my first experience of the stuff us very different to my latest...



Up and on the move by 6am. This was the way I started my days last week in London. The local shop had the papers and I liked to begin the morning by reading through the tabloids. I miss the London papers. They're trashy (the ones I read are), but they're amusing. On the last morning I took quite a while to get the papers, as it was snowing heavily and, as I do, I was enjoying the sight of the snow falling. The 'snow show' was all for me, I pretended, as a parting gift on my last day before returning to the Dubai desert. I figured I had time enough to do what I needed to do in the morning before readying myself for a 3pm taxi ride to the airport. London traffic can be unpredictable - leaving yourself too much time at the airport is always preferable to departing too late, especially when leaving from the other side of the city as I was. The M25 motorway is unpredictable and traffic can come to a complete stand-still. It is not referred to as 'The World's Largest Car Park' for nothing. I figured if I left at 4pm for a 9pm flight, it allowed me 2 hours to get there. This soon changed however, when I realised the day before it would be snowing. So I changed the booking - better to be safe and allow another hour, just to be sure. However, now that it was snowing so heavily, I wanted to be safe and so I decided to request the taxi immediately. I was told it would be an hour - time enough for me to finish packing and be ready.....2 hours later I was still waiting - at 3pm it arrived, delayed by the slippery, icy, snowy conditions. Still, 6 hours until my plane left for a 1 hour journey to the airport. No problem. And so began the longest, most treacherous and easily the most eventful taxi ride I have ever experienced.



The journey to the airport necessarily takes you in the wrong direction for the first couple of miles in order to reach the M25 motorway that circles London. Imagine the M25 as a clock, where I was beginning at 4o'clock needing to get to 9 o'clock. I needed to drive from slightly inside the clock face to the edge in order to begin the route. That small journey to the edge, not much more than about 5 miles, took two and a half hours......The traffic was jammed solid, on the motorway and all the way back to the roads leading to it. Trucks, cars, buses and bikes were going nowhere. It was hopeless. Pointless. Why wait to get onto the motorway - once you got there you weren’t moving anyway. The driver changed tact and decided to go back the way we had came to try a different motorway entrance. This involved side streets - less traffic but more snow, ice and untreated roads. We were a-slip slid'n away, and I had to get out not once but twice in order to push the car out of an icy grave.

By now it had been dark for some considerable time and my faint hopes of getting to the airport for the flight were all but gone. Still, if we could somehow make it onto the motorway the snow might clear and the traffic might get moving. Wrong on both counts, as the traffic was even more congested and the snow got worse. I have never been in a blizzard, but I can only imagine that what I was in would be something like it. Strong winds and snow pounding the car windows meant that even though we were now crawling onto the motorway, we couldn’t see where we were going anyway. A 6-lane highway full of cars going nowhere. Engines were turned off. Lights were out. An eerie sight and an even stranger feeling. It was silent, save for the wind and the tiny ticking sound that each flake made against the increasingly frozen windows. I was going nowhere, and had nowhere to go.



4 hours into the trip and we had only just made it to the motorway. Between cheesy 1980's songs, reporters on the radio continued to read about how conditions across the city were worsening, especially over the South East. Great - right where we were. Some guy next to us braved the elements for a much needed potty stop. Hope he remembered not to walk in the yellow snow.
The trip continued in slow motion and we were crawling along with intermittent stops. At last the main problem presented itself - no less than a dozen trucks had skidded and jack-knifed across all 6 lanes. Cars had to weave through the carnage, but with the road resembling an ice skating rink, weaving anywhere was a treacherous risk. Slowly the cars inched towards the trucks, now marooned and iced over, and through the small gaps that allowed the traffic through at a painfully slow pace. Finally we were through and on our way. The driver picked up the pace and we were finally out of first gear for a while. Soon however, we had caught up to the traffic and were once again left jammed behind the pack.
It was edging towards 9 o'clock. Not that I had any hope now of getting there on time, but there was something psychological about that departure time. What if the plane had been delayed? Maybe I could get there. But as 9.30 ticked over, I sent another text message. 'Still 23 miles to go'. It was all over. And it was too for the snow, for it had finally cleared. We had moved onto the western side of the city where the weather was less hazardous. Less snow meant greater speed and we were on our way. We made the final half of the trip in less than 30 minutes.

I arrived at the departures area of Terminal 3 at just after 10pm. Gathering my cases I hurried hopefully over to the check-in desk, where promisingly, I saw at least a dozen people lining up. Had I made it? Had the plane somehow been delayed? Alas no, these other people had also missed the flight, having been delayed on a previous flight from Manchester. Waiting patiently in line, thoughts of the following hours began to make themselves known. I had missed my flight and it was late at night. I don’t know what I’m doing and I don’t know where I’m going. I should be in the air and instead I am waiting in a poxy line. I needed to find out how to get myself on the next flight, when that next flight was and what I needed to do in the mean time. Right, all sorted. Time to try to put together a coherent sentence after sitting through the cab ride from hell for 7 hours. As I reached the front of the line, in true 'Truman Show' style (see previous blog), the check-in desk closed right in front of me. "Sorry, we are now closed". Imagine that check-out at the supermarket closing as you are about to get the shopping out of the trolley, and multiply it by, well, 7 hours. WTF? As I pleaded my case, the staff showed absolute contempt and an amount of empathy for my plight that could fit on a pin head, with room to spare. I was given a torn piece of paper with a scribbled phone number on it and told to call the reservations number. They would 'deal with me'. Lucky me. “Hmmmm, is this the same number that was strangely experiencing 'Techincal difficulties’ 4 hours ago when I tried to call from the cab?" I asked, to be replied to with a blank look and a shoulder shrug.
I made my way to the arrivals section and booked a hotel (where I was proverbially 'bent over' with the price of the room as it was apparently the last one available). Upon checking in, I called my wife who at 3am her time was, luckily, able to book another flight for less than the $3000 quoted from my airline. I was looking at least another day in the airport, if not more, if it weren’t for Michelle making that booking for me. My fondness of snow has been severely dented by this trip, and I can safely say I don't need to lay eyes on the stuff again anytime soon.

The reason I found myself stuck, stranded in the snow in the first place, was because I was visiting a dear friend who is unwell. Through her illness she has always maintained, outwardly at least, a positive outlook on life. If anyone could be forgiven for being negative and pissed off with the world, it would be her. Sharing time with her over the past few days was a tremendous, uplifting experience. She has always looked out for me and has gone out of her way to do things in the past to help me out when she never had any reason to. Over the past decade or more she has been there for me. Returning the favour was the very least I could do. Throughout the snow / cab / airport / hotel ordeal, I remained completely calm. Almost a strange state of equilibrium, a sense that it would all work out, somehow, in the end. What would happen if I missed the flight? Don't know. Where would I stay? Don't know. How would I get home? Don't know. I have never been anything resembling late before, let alone missed a flight. I think it comes from being married to an ultra- organised wife. The phrase 'drill sergeant' comes to mind when readying for appointments of any kind. Lucky for me because it seems to work in perfect unison with my own forgetful and flighty ways. We always get to where we need to be. I may still be sitting in the airport, dealing with less than helpful staff if it weren't for my wonderful wife.
But as I sat there in the cab, knowing I wasn't going to make the flight, I kind of accepted it and, in a strange way just enjoyed the trip. Not that it was in any way enjoyable, but I could do nothing about the situation except sit and ride out the journey filled with tunes from The Eurhythmics, George Michael and Lionel Richie.
Through snow, icy roads, crazy drivers, traffic jams, endless throngs of rude people, missed flights and late nights. Who would do it?

I would.  Every time.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tall

"Architecture is not all about the design of the building and nothing else, it is also about the cultural setting and the ambience, the whole affair."

- Michael Graves

“We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.”

-Winston Churchill

"Don't clap too hard - it's a very old building."

-John Osborne



In the space of 48 hours, I visited two of the worlds' greatest human-made structures. They were extremely different in just about every aspect - design, material, location, purpose, history. Yet, both are beautiful, inspiring, enchanting, mysterious and famous. Both are in interesting parts of the world and both are written in the history books many times over.


The Burj Khalifa


From the 126th floor

It was with much fanfare that, when it opened earlier this year on the 4th January, the world's tallest building became known as the Burj Khalifa. Named after Sheikh Khalifa, ruler of the UAE, the Burj stands at a world record 828 metres tall (2717ft). The world watched as this marvel of modern technology and engineering was officially declared open for business.



Comparisons to other tall buildings

It holds the following records:

Tallest structure ever built: 828 m (2,717 ft) (previously Warsaw radio mast – 646.38 m/2,121 ft)

Tallest freestanding structure: 828 m (2,717 ft) (previously CN Tower – 553.3 m/1,815 ft)

Building with most floors: 160 (previously Willis Tower – 108)

Building with highest occupied floor in the world: 160th floor.

World's highest elevator installation, situated inside a rod at the very top of the building.

World's fastest elevators at speed of 64 km/h (40 mph) or 18 m/s (59 ft/s) (previously Taipei 101 – 16.83 m/s)

Highest vertical concrete pumping (for a building): 606 m (1,988 ft, previously Taipei 101 – 449.2 m/1,474 ft)

The first world's tallest structure in history to include residential space.

Highest outdoor observation deck in the world (124th floor) at 452 m (1,483 ft)

World's highest mosque (located on the 158th floor)

World's highest installation of an aluminium and glass fa├žade, at a height of 512 m (1,680 ft)

World's highest swimming pool (76th floor)

World's highest nightclub (144th floor).

The Address Hotel opposite the Burj, is a huge structure in its own right. 'Lego' houses surround it.


It was with great anticipation then that I finally got an opportunity to visit the highest part open to the public - the 126th floor. The elevator moved skyward at 10 metres per second - and the ears popped all the way up. Upon stepping out, the outside balcony beckoned a look. Over the side was a small city that looked like lego pieces. The huge shopping mall directly next to the Burj was a small box. The large hotel opposite was a small building that seemed tiny compared to how I viewed it at ground level. I have seen documentaries about how they built the Burj - the concrete being pumped, the thousands of labourers who worked around the clock, the stages of construction, the heat endured to complete the seemingly impossible. Yet here it stands. And stands out. There are many tall buildings here in Dubai, but they all look insignificant compared to the Burj. Indeed, most of the buildings around the world would look ordinary....

If the Burj Khalifa were in Adelaide.....

A day later it was on to Athens, Greece, the site of one of the world's most important historical structures and one of humanity's greatest architectural achievements - the Parthenon. This was my second visit, but it is one of those places that is always awesomely breath-taking. It inspires deep thought and reflection - how did they build it 2500 years ago? How is it still (partly) standing after all this time. It has survived the Persian invasion and numerous upheavals since. It has survived the Nazis. It has survived decay and misuse. It has survived the weather and all the elements that nature has thrown its way. And it still stands.



The Parthenon - still standing

I find it hard to believe that something so important and significant has been allowed, over 2000 years, to be so weathered and beaten up. It is seemingly only now, in recent times, that care is taken to begin restoration. Indeed, much of the original building (what's left) has been replaced by replica parts, with the original pieces being placed in museums. I just wonder what people during the previous centuries were thinking. If more care had been taken then, surely less damage would have occurred.

As beaten up as it is, The Parthenon is still an amazing piece of history. It's one of those sights that you simply can't stop taking photos of. As I stood there marvelling and wondering, my mind began thinking of ancient times and what life was like back when it was a new building. This part of history is well documented, but to actually experience being there - I need a time machine!




Both buildinigs are icons. Both are places you can sit for hours and do nothing but look. I've spent many hours at both, in absolute awe. But somehow I keep going back to the Parthenon as my favourite of the two. Maybe I have become too spoilt by seeing the Burj every day from my bedroom window, or simply walking past it each time I go to the mall. Maybe those who live in Athens feel the same about the Parthenon, and that it's just another building. I wonder whether the Burj will stand for 2500 years and if so, will it have the same incredible stories to tell in the year 4500.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Turbulent

"Airline travel is hours of boredom interrupted by moments of stark terror."
-Al Boliska

"Why don't they make the whole plane out of that black box stuff?"
-Steven Wright

"The strength of the turbulence is directly proportional to the temperature of your coffee."
From 'Gunter's Second Law of Air Travel' 


Dubai Airport - or a scene from Star Wars?


I am in the fortunate position of being able to travel. Often. It's something I have always wanted to do for as long as I can remember. Sitting in my primary school classroom flicking through atlases, I would be trying to remember the shape of the countries and continents, memorizing cities and looking at statistics like populations and all the time comparing them to what small part of the planet I was familiar with. Yep - I knew how to have a good time.

I have always been fascinated with the United Kingdom ever since my grade two teacher visited for her Christmas holidays and came back the following year to show her class the 'slides'. She set up our classroom just like a plane, complete with the aisle down the middle and cramped economy-class seating either side of it. As the slides flicked around their carousel she gave a running commentary, all the while serving her second grade passengers with light refreshments of orange juice and candy. Similarly when she visited Japan we were all given an insight into her enviable world of travelling the globe. It seemed teaching would be a fun occupation that would also allow for travel during the holidays.....

A Piazza in Florence, Statue of David in background


I have always been interested in watching people who travel 'on business'. You see these people at the airport, sitting there in their expensive suits busying themselves on their laptops or checking their briefcases. I wonder where they are going and what they are doing. I'm just back from a 'business' trip myself, having attended a conference in Florence, Italy. It was awesome trip and a wonderful time was had. But. But the whole traveling thing might be wearing a bit thin. It's not the destinations, or the discovering, or the learning, or the food, wine, people, sights, sounds, smells or secret side streets to be discovered that are the issue here. I don't think I'll ever tire of doing what I do. It's simply the getting there and the getting back that are grating. I'm just about over it.
Entering the airport en route to wherever, is just like walking through another dimension into Bizzaro World. How can seemingly normal, polite, and (for the most part) considerate people all of sudden morph into rude, arrogant, pushy, smelly, inconsiderate inbreds who have no manners nor concept of personal space? All of this is encountered before a single bag is even checked in. Then the fun really starts. If there's a slow line, I'm on the end of it. If there's a rude customs official, they'll find me. If they stop the belt on the x-ray machine, it's my bag that's in there and if there's a machine that beeps incessantly, I'll walk through it. Actually, that last honor goes to Michelle. I'm the one who gets to wait for her to be searched. Almost always more than once. It's honestly difficult to describe the intensity of my disdain for airports.

So much fun and I'm not even close to getting on the plane. The coughers, the sneezers, the screamers, the guy who puts his chair back while we're still in take-off mode, the hard seat, the broken tv screen and the snorer - are all sitting, conveniently, where i'm sitting. Amazing. Yet, despite all of this. Despite my ill-feelings toward airports and general discomfort once i'm airborne, I consider myself extremely blessed. How, one might ask? Considering the gigantic bitch session above regarding all things to do with air travel? It's simple. Read on.

I scarcely remember a flight I've been on, no matter the level of discomfort, where I haven't uttered the words - "It doesn't matter, as long as we get there safely". Strangely, the more I fly, the more uncomfortable I have become with the whole notion of being airborne. Generally, once the journey begins I find that I don't really think about the fact I'm sitting in a chair 10 kilometres above the ground. This all changes however at the slightest bump or hint of turbulence.
Enter Flight 186 from Florence to Paris last week. A smallish plane seating around 100 passengers, it is always going to be more susceptible to a bit of rough and tumble after take off. The captain noted that things could get a 'little bumpy' as we climbed through the cloud layers. Bumpy? The turbulence I was about to experience was to 'a little bumpy', as a barrel of oil is to 'a little greasy'. We didn't so much pass through the clouds as we were 'flung'. Sideways mostly. The cramp in my hand resulted from the 'this is it - it's all over' grip I had on my seatbelt. I could actually feel my sweaty, clammy face turning a ghostly white colour as I may have (definitely did) let out a few expletives. I think I can be pardoned. See circumstances above. Upon leaving the plane the source of my discomfot became painfully obvious. Gusty, ice-cold Parisian winds, cloudy rain-filled skies and an afternoon temperature of just 6 degrees. Enough said. Even when disembarking from the smoothest flight, I need to fight the urge to be Pope-like. Kissing the ground in equal amounts of sheer joy and relief seems like a natural thing to do. I was in love with the ground on this day.

Pontevecchio Bridge, Florence


The heart slows to almost normal again. I can relax. Bask in the glory that another flight has ended successfully. But then all too soon it's the cheerful, positive, welcoming, 'happy-to-be-alive' customs officials to meet and greet you. Followed by the dreaded luggage carousel. Guess when my bags usually appear? Yep, that's right. Then to rub salt into my air travel wounds, a few weeks ago I literally walked into an all-time low moment. I inadvertently went through the 'Goods To Declare' exit, where I was immediately summoned by the guards to empty my bags and explain myself. Nice.

I write this half thinking that the world is against me. Everyone else out there is sitting and waiting for me to appear so they can set up some kind of 'Truman Show' the moment I appear at the airport. Somebody screams 'Places people - he's coming!'. The cast set out to get in my way. The make-up department go to all kinds of lengths to get the realism just right - although they could probably tone down the body odour just a tad. The fact is, that all this is slightly amusing because it happens to us all. Everyone has been last to collect their bags or worse, not had bags to colect at all! Everyone has met the customs people who are less than polite and we have all had to sit next to the yawner, the screamer or the guy who doesn't know when to shut up.

Another lunch, another treat for the senses


Sometimes I stop for half a moment and wonder why I do it. It's those times when I'm stuck in that longest line at 2am waiting to have my passport stamped by the guy who doesn't care how long my flight was, or how long I have already been standing there. But then I think back to my travels and I look at the photos in this blog and I sit for hours thinking up new adventures or talking over old ones. It's funny how the 'Bizzaro World' always gets forgotten amongst the memories of all the great times.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Envy

"A sound heart is the life of the flesh: but envy the rottenness of the bones."
Proverbs 14:30

“Envy is the art of counting the other fellow's blessings instead of your own.”
Harold Coffin


The men sat and laughed as they read over some papers. Contracts, I guessed. One of them clearly the salesman. The other two, far more casually attired in shorts and sandals, were going into the deal in a partnership. They carefully read over the documents before putting pen to paper.
"How can that sort of wealth even exist?" I questioned myself, watching ever more carefully as the three of them joked around on the back of the luxury yacht. With the deal almost done, a woman and two children joined 'the party'. She was the wife of one of the new owners and with children in tow, they were about to enjoy their new prized posession.

I sat and watched and imagined it was me about to enjoy the boat. It glistened in the evening lights. The woodgrain fixtures shined in the illumination of the interior. White leather seats contrasted with the darker surrounds of the spacious cabin - a large tray holding a number of expensive looking carafes of liquor pulled out of a cupboard before being pushed away for a later time. Stainless steel rails led up to the upper deck of the boat where the view would have been amazing. My 'boatwarming' party would have taken place up there. Sparkling champagne and a seafood buffet would be on offer for a few close friends to share in the Christening of my new toy. I had it all planned.

As the waiter delivered another drink to our table I realized it was not to be. The yacht belonged to someone else. As I sat at our restaurant table, I was merely daydreaming about something that would never happen. It was absurd to entertain the thought. Me? Ever own something like that? Right. Those boats belonged to the 'lucky' few who somehow were able to afford it. How exactly they did this still eluded me.

And so I sat there. Disappointed somehow. Jealous somehow. But I sat there. At one of the city's most extravangant hotels. Enjoying a lavish meal. On the marina where few people could afford to enjoy the opportunity to do what I was doing. Sitting opposite my wife, in a happy and contented relationship. And I'm complaining? Well not complaining, but maybe a bit envious of those on the boat. What the hell is wrong with me? I remember the 'wake up' moment of realizing my thoughts and feeling guilty. The guilt of not appreciating the fantastic life I have. My health and well-being. My freedom and wealth of experience. What about all those people worse off than me. Those who cannot afford housing, electricity, education. Those confined to poverty. Even here in my city, most could dream of the life I lead. The selfishness of wanting evermore and the ungrateful nature of that envy I had just felt began to weigh heavily.

The Pandan Chicken and King Prawn Spring Roll tasted even better once my head had been cleared of those previous thoughts. They could have their boat. Good luck to them. I realised just then, once again, how I was fortunate to be where I was. It's a feeling I need to be aware of much more often in future.