You are currently browsing the monthly archive for August 2007.


Given the one shared characteristic of the earliest English settlers down under, you might assume that a criminal record would be de rigeur for becoming a permanent resident. You would be wrong, of course. The peccadilloes of those who survived the voyage in leg irons are not, in fact, celebrated. Newcomers are even required to prove that they are as clean as a sheared sheep, that they have no criminal convictions for ten years prior to entry.

Fortunately, we are only required to obtain “police clearance certificates” from anywhere we have lived a year or more. Canada doesn’t count. The Philippines barely qualify. If we had waited eight months, Hong Kong would have dropped off the list. The U.S. is the one that will take forever and a day.

To get the process underway, we traipsed down to Melbourne’s version of”The World Trade Center.” It is a lot less imposing than the Twin Towers. We took the escalators up to a little office (just off the Food Court) where the police do their messy business. Much of it is internal. Anyone who works with children, for instance, has to have an Australian police record check.

It is still done the old-fashioned way, with ink and pink digits, one at a time. Tomorrow, I will send off the forms and the prints and the bank drafts and they will run them through their computers and eventually come up empty. One more hurdle will have been surmounted in our quest for legitimacy.

We are lucky. My wife has a good job and we are living in a lovely city in an amazing land. Some unscrupulous Australians are taking advantage of the same visa program to bring skilled foreign workers from low wage countries to do dangerous work in the outback. It has been compared to modern slavery.

In June, a thirty-five year old, University-trained, Filipino farm supervisor with three children was thrown from a pick up truck and killed. His Aussie supervisor was said to be driving fast over rough roads. Two days earlier, a man from Inner Mongolia was crushed to death felling a tree in Queensland. He had never before used a chainsaw.

The lives of skilled workers from other countries are being jeopardized for the profits of businessmen. To my mind, that behaviour actually merits the treatment given the unfortunates on the “first fleet.” That is criminal. Too bad there’s no “terra nullis” left.


I got the bicycling bug after a week-long trip with my son in California. We rode from San Francisco to Mendocino, camping along the way. Until I got the hang of riding very, very slowly, I would often have to stop and push my bike up the longer hills. He wasn’t at all sure I was going to make it.

At the campsites we ran into many long-distance riders, people who had ridden across the U.S. or Canada. A few were planning rides all the way to South America. We took an entire week to ride the 150 miles, so it wasn’t a quick trip, but it was invigorating to be under pedal power, spinning slowly enough to appreciate the spectacular scenery and able to enjoy the benefit of churning up calories.

When I returned to Gainesville I bought a second-hand Trek. I would head out for a twenty-mile ride every other day on Millhopper Road, a lovely, tree-lined highway. Weekends I would usually ride with a group who went at a moderate pace on various country roads around Gainesville. I learned the trick of riding in a pack, what the French call a “peloton.”

Then I succumbed to the siren song of recumbent bikes. We invested in a tandem so my wife could accompany me. Shortly before moving here I bought a single. Now, I’ve found a pack of recumbent and trike riders, many who have built their own bikes (see the post on cycle recyclers.) Someone in the group usually organizes a “spontaneous” Sunday ride.

For my regular exercise fix, I’m dependent on the Moonee Creek Bike Path. It is not one of the most attractive paths in Melbourne. The first part of it looks very much like a shrunken version of the Los Angeles River. And there is graffiti, lots of it. For reasons I have yet to determine, Melbourne and its many suburbs are addictive to people with cans of paint.

But it is extremely accessible from where I live, and parts of it are beautiful. It goes north, following the meandering path of Moonee Creek. It ducks under a spectacular trestle bridge and rolls through a newly-reclaimed wetland area. A few kilometers from where I turn around is Tullamarine airport.

The WestMeadows coffee shop is my usual stop, offering cappuccino and pain au chocolat. Reason enough to stretch out and enjoy the sunshine, stoke the body’s engine with sweet tasting fuel, turn the bike around and fly south, fly towards home.


How Man Wong is in town. His name came up in a previous post, when I wrote about a trip to Hong Kong. We had lunch together at a floating restaurant while I was there. This time, it was burgers on Brunswick street. I met HM a little over a decade ago when I got lost and stumbled into his village on the southern end of Hong Kong Island.

I had succumbed to an invitation to join a “Trailwalker” team. The name signifies an annual fund raising event in the colony. Every expat loves to have done it. The idea is to walk or run along the Maclehose Trail 100 kms (66 miles) with three of your mates within 48 hours. The trick is that the trail goes up and down every peak but one in the New Territories, an elevation equivalent of Everest. Getting lost was the least of my worries.

How Man had returned to Hong Kong to pursue his dream, building a small, effective non-profit organization to explore, research and undertake cultural and environmental projects in China. After college studies in the U.S., he did his training with National Geographic. His ambition with China Exploration and Research Society was to do much more with a whole lot less. Surprisingly, with a little help from his friends, he has done just that. Check out the web site– http://www.cers.org.hk.kittens

The last authentic Burmese cat, named Wong Mau, was said to have left the country in 1930, with an American sailor. It was sable colored with dark brown points. It was later given to Dr. Joseph Thompson of San Francisco, who cross-bred it with a Siamese and then established a breeding program to reproduce Wong Mau’s characteristics. It was accepted as a new breed in the US in 1934. From there, the offspring were introduced in Europe and elsewhere.

When we lived in Hong Kong, one of my daughter’s playmates had a Burmese kitten. The two children used to put that cat through a multitude of indignities, dressing it up and parading it in petticoats and a bonnet down into our inner courtyard. She was very tolerant.

How Man didn’t come all this way to have lunch with an old friend. He is here in search of kittens. He wants to bring them back, reintroduce them to their native land. He has a place picked out. From the pictures I’ve seen it looks idyllic, perfect for the purpose. It is a village of houses on stilts at Inle Lake. From there, if all goes well, dark, sable kittens will be placed in homes across the land. A proud breed back home at last, full circle.


We finally got our Medicare cards, so I went to see my doctor yesterday. He’s not really my doctor, of course. He works for the University of Melbourne health service, sees a lot of patients, a cross section of students, professors and dependents. I told him I was giving him an opportunity to brush up on his geriatric skills. He gave me an odd look and informed me I hadn’t quite entered that category, as far as he was concerned. After all, I had come to him to get permission to join a gym.

To use the facilities at the Windy Hill Fitness Centre you must first obtain a medical clearance if you are over the age of 45. It is age discrimination, but I can understand their concern. I did have my one and only heart attack in a gym. After reassuring himself that I was straining my heart more on my bike than I would inside the walls of the gym, my doctor produced the required piece of paper.

And then we talked. That is the extraordinary thing about Australian physicians. They seem to have time for patients. I wanted to know about the prostate gland. About tests and potential problems, about biopsies and drugs and tests etc. And he explained things, admitting that the state of the knowledge was not very good and that the approaches in the US differ from those in Australia and Great Britain. That the design of the prostate gland itself was not very good. Now, that is an odd notion.

We are not meant to live this long, he said. It is perfectly fine for creatures who live just long enough to reproduce, but we have moved well beyond that. The average Australian male lives to be seventy-six or seventy-seven. Hold on, said I. Is that all? When you are sixty-two years old it isn’t hard to do the calculation.

I had raised the ticklish issue of mortality. I asked him at one point if he had a second major in philosophy. He chuckled. Medicine is an intellectual discipline, he said. Glancing at me as if he expected me to challenge his assertion. At least it has been, historically. Money may be changing that. I reflected on that. May be? I wonder what Michael Moore would have to say about that.

Besides bringing on a sudden confrontation with mortality, the visit reminded me of a bizarre story we heard in France. A Canadian colleague of my wife (who was teaching in Paris) had been offered an opportunity to teach a course of comparative law in California. Immigration required him to produce his academic qualifications at the port of entry, which was Montreal.Arc de Triomphe

“You’ve got a PhD,” said the American immigration officer. “Yes,” said our friend. “Two, actually.” “What?” “I have two PhD’s.” “That stands for Doctor of Philosophy, doesn’t it?” “Yes,” said our friend, humoring the immigration officer. It is always a good idea to humor immigration officers.

“So, what gives you the right to teach law?” My wife’s colleague stared at the American, somewhat dumbfounded. “I have a doctorate in law,” he said. “Doesn’t say so here,” said Mr. Immigration. ” Says you have a doctor of philosophy.”

Fortunately, our friend was able to have someone at McGill University fax a letter to the immigration officer stating that he did, actually, have the credentials to teach law. They faxed his BA to the immigration office.  It was enough to indicate that he had studied law.   True story, so help me.

Now, if only my doctor would take that back, about the life span, I mean.


My wife woke up worried about the basil. It was chilly last night, and she was afraid the potted plant might be shivering out on the patio. We have come back to a different country. The heat wave that greeted our discombobulated senses in January is long gone. It is winter and the temps are in their teens (centigrade), thirties and forties (Fahrenheit). There is rain and wind. Clouds skittering across the sky almost every day.

One of my fellow recumbent riders in Melbourne is a weatherman. Such an easy job, I tell him, whatever you predict is bound to come up during this city’s climate lottery on any given day. Cloudy with a chance of meatballs? You got it. To demonstrate his perversity in the face of the elements this time of year, Alan heads for the snow in upper elevations. This weekend he is winter camping.

The political climate has changed as well. Premier Bracks stepped down on the very day I landed. Citing personal matters. It seems that he is having trouble with his children. Having endured more teenage turmoil than he is ever likely to witness, I commiserate. John Brumby, the treasury secretary has taken on the task, launching a scathing attack on Prime Minister John Howard. There’s an election coming up.

Aside from the time zones and the complete change of seasons, the change has included a geographic shift from an old colonial home in the rural farm country of Nova Scotia to an eccentric, modern house in a muliticultural, vibrant city in Australia. Slow to fast. Right now, the Royal Shakespeare Company is in town; a film festival is in full swing, a lively poetry festival has just started and the luminaries attending the Melbourne Writer’s Festival will hit the City in two weeks.

My transition between these two worlds was San Francisco. I parachuted in for a brief visit with my son, daughter-in-law and grandson. They tucked me into their busy, young parent lives on their last weekend of normalcy. While I was there, Dolan got an offer from an up-and-coming software company in Portland. It will be a big change after six years at Cisco. Like the weather, it will all take some getting used to.

By the way, Eric and his companions sailed into safe harbor in County Clare, Ireland on July 26. I’m sure the weather there was sunny and fine. Trust the Irish to plug it into their deal with the EU. No more bad food, no more rain. Stay tuned.

Flickr Photos

Categories

Blog Stats

  • 40,513 hits
August 2007
M T W T F S S
« Jul   Sep »
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 141 other followers

Top Rated

August 2007
M T W T F S S
« Jul   Sep »
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  
August 2007
M T W T F S S
« Jul   Sep »
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Categories