Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Politics is Development, Why Boast?

I get upset when politicians and political parties try to claim credit for carrying out development work for the communities they serve. Aren't they elected for that in the first place? Doing a good job well means constituents will re-elect the candidates or the parties they represent because of good governance and credible performance.

I was bemused recently to see a poster erected prominently that proudly declare Project XX specifying the resurfacing of all the roads in the residential section I live in. These roads were first built 15 years ago and were not regularly serviced. Suddenly the government which was formed by the XX political coalition takes a keen interest in our welfare. Not that we don't appreciate. Their interest was our expectation and if carried out regularly and without telling the world about it, will be appreciated much more, and genuinely too. The poster was looked upon rather cynically and suspiciously. More so with the general election months away. Can this sudden keenness be associated with vote buying? Or as some suspect one of many ways to spread funds to their cronies? Different voters react differently to this development work. For decades this has been practiced. New roads, new bridges, new community halls, even new schools, water, electricity and telephone supplies were promised in particular to the new villages and kampongs months or even weeks before a general election when top brass pay them visits. Some village heads were given grants to spend as they like. The difference then and now is this: people are better educated, people can think and analyze the many news coming off the Internet news media. In short people are not easily bought over like before when there wasn't a viable alternative coalition to form the federal government.

The roads are being resurfaced. It is nice driving on a new road. What is even nicer if the government of the day, whoever they may be, take real interest in the affairs of the people who elect them into office, on a day to day basis, not come out of hiding months before a general election. Certainly I want my road resurfaced again every 5-8 years, not 15 years!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Auckland Trip - Photo Gallery

I had the pleasure of travelling to the northern most tip of North Island, New Zealand, in my recent trip to Auckland to visit my friend Aaron. I spent 3 days at Bay of Islands. It was winter and the tourist crowds were non-existent which gave us lots of space in the coach, the ferry, the walkways and the beach. Highlights of the holiday were the trek to the lighthouse at the Cape Reinga, the sand tobogganing down the sand dunes at the 90 Mile Beach, the scenic Russell Mini Tour and the Ferry Cruise to the Bay. Below are some pictures I'd like to share.

This overview map shows the location of Cape Reinga and the 90 Mile Beach where I visited on Day 2. The day started with a light drizzle. I felt like this outdoor event will be a washout especially with strong winds making my umbrella unusable. Thankfully at both locations the drizzle stopped for us to came out of the coach and trekked to the lighthouse as well as sand board down the dune. I felt young doing them. Holding my iPad steady in the wind to take photos and videos is no joke but I'm glad to have captured several memorable pictures.

This is the route our Dune Rider driver Paul took from Paihia (where we stayed for 2 nights at the Kingsgate Hotel Autolodge on Marsden Road, facing the Bay) to Cape Reinga. The width of the narrowest strip is just 8 kilometres.

This picture was taken on the afternoon of Day 1 on our ferry ride from Paihia to Russell, a scenic little town 10 minutes away. Russell had a very notorious history as landing point for European sailors who used it for gambling and prostituting. Today it is a quaint seaside resort where people owns retirement and holiday homes.

I couldn't help exhibiting myself upon reaching the highest spot overlooking the lighthouse. The feeling was too exhilarating to conceal. Behind me are the Tasman Sea joining to the Pacific Ocean on the right. It was extremely windy and the climb up the grassy slope was exhausting. After this picture was taken came the more challenging task of walking cautiously down without falling and hurting myself, which I didn't.

Like an explorer reaching the South Pole I have to pose next to the lighthouse to prove I was there. The iPad was faithfully taking all the holiday pictures and I must confess severely abused through rough handling. If you noticed, the top right corner of the picture was blackened and the reason was in our excitement we didn't realise the lens opening on the iPad case had moved to partially cover it. This affected many of the pictures taken.

I got a fellow tour member to take this picture before I started my sand boarding. The next 20 minutes was a test of my physical health. Climbing up the dune, at some stage angled quite steeply and against strong side winds blowing fine sand into my face, is not an experience I relish. I managed to get to where the others started to sand board down. We were all bare-footed and with our pants rolled up. Lying flat on the foam board, our legs parted and toes dug into the sand, we steered down the slope. Where needed to slow down we dig the toes into the sand, otherwise we just free zoom down to the cheers of those who stayed away from this adventure. I sand boarded twice and deemed it an achievement. Fortunately my heart didn't gave way.

Relaxing on the catamaran on our way out into the Bay of Islands. The ride wasn't as smooth as this picture depict, many a moment I almost puked when the boat pitched quite badly in rough seas. The pilot apologised that due to bad weather condition we won't get to see the Hole in the Rock at Cape Brett. She said if we don't mind the risks of losing our breakfast she would take us there. Fortunately none of us on board asked. We also didn't get to spot any dolphins, whales or orcas. The operator gave us complimentary vouchers to try our luck the next time we come to Paihia.

The highlight of the Bay cruise was landing at Urupukapuka Island to take in the scenic view of the Bay. It also gave us an opportunity to see sheep up close and step on their dungs. Fortunately they don't smell as bad and prior to re-boarding the boat we had to clean our shoes on brushes provided.

On top of the Urupukapuka Recreation Reserve Lookout. This panorama picture was captured using an app that auto-stitch several frames. Very nifty. Click picture to see the enlarged view.

Another panorama of the Cable Bay from the lookout point. The dampening skies fail to diminish the majesty of the beauty before us. Click picture for enlargement.

I can't help bringing out my youthful spirit with this John Travolta's Saturday Night Fever pose. This was at the ferry on the Urupukapuka Island before we leave for Paihia.

Finally this is the hotel we stayed. Ooops, by 'we' I mean my travelling partner, TCS, and I. We came to Auckland to visit a very dear friend and decided to enjoy the Bay at the same time. It was a good holiday. But we didn't have good impressions of the airline we used.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Guys Just Wanna Have Fun

From Chalet Chevron@Parnell, Auckland

The Bay of Islands holiday started slow on June 4. The morning drive to Paihia was uneventful. We stopped by Parry Kauri Park to see the second largest surviving tree in the world, the Kauri tree. At Paihia we learned about the history of New Zealand from the historic Treaty of Waitangi signed in 1840 between the Maoris and the British government and the culture of the Maori people who was, prior to arrival of the Europeans, the majority, but is now a minority race in its country. The Maoris themselves were not indigenous to New Zealand for they had came from Polynesia.

The June 5 trip to the northern most point of North Island, Cape Reinga, capped the tour. Although the day begun gloomily, and continued to remain so with non stop drizzle, except for the breaks we prayed for and was answered, we have never enjoyed ourselves this much. The adventure brought back memories of our school days. CS was go-go when the coach arrived Cape Reinga parking ground. We are to walk a distance to the Cape, where visitors are wowed by the merging waves of the Tasman Sea on the left and the Pacific Ocean on the right. It was absolutely windy and more than once I was nearly blown off my feet. Carrying my iPad to take pictures and videos I struggled between shooting and standing in the wind.

Where the walkway began a natural pathway up an incline challenged us and CS beckoned to me to take it. I accepted the challenge and followed. Now I have to deal with a third element, walking steadily up and down the slope. I remembered my knees are weak. Fortunately the soil and grass weren't slippery in spite of their wetness. We got to the iconic lighthouse at the Cape and spent several minutes savoring the sights. We praised and thank God for stopping the drizzle just as we arrived and amazingly soon after the coach left for our next destination it drizzled again!

As if being physical at the Cape wasn't enough for two kids aged 64 the next activity at the Ninety Mile Beach was one I had to think hard to participate or not. The drizzle had again subsided for us to get off the coach. The activity was sand tobogganing down a sand dune using a surf board. Honestly I've never done that in my life. I asked should I embarked on this stressful exercise? Firstly I have to climb up a steep sand dune with the surf board in hand against strong winds blowing fine sand across my way. Secondly I have to learn how to balance and steer the board as it speed down the dune. I decided I am not too old to miss this opportunity and throw caution to the winds. I prayed to God for protection from injuries.

As I came down the first slide I felt energized and seeing CS move up again I followed although I was heaving and panting. My second slide was from a lower level but an achievement nonetheless. As I reentered the coach, my pants sandy and feet dirty, I beamed victoriously that I did now what I should have done 45 years ago.

The final day of the tour is to Cape Brett to view the Hole in the Rock but has to be aborted due to choppy waters there. We also didn't managed to spot any dolphins, orcas or whales. I wasn't disappointed as I've seen lots of the pictures on the Internet. Compared to Halong Bay cruise, this was rough. I mean rough by my standard that I had to stay quiet when the catamaran was rolling and pitching to avoid throwing up. Thankfully we didn't have a real breakfast, just muffin and coffee, so my stomach had nothing to give.

The highlight of the cruise was at Urupukapuka Island, the largest in the Bay where we spent an hour climbing up to the the Lookout and viewing the Bay and surrounding sights. The path was littered with sheep dung which dirtied our shoes that we have to clean up before we re-board the ship.

We returned to Auckland and to our Chalet Chevron hotel at 8pm and after freshening up re-visited our good friend Aaron and his family who served us dinner. We had so much to talk that we are forced to tear ourselves away after 11.30 so that Aaron can rest. We thank God for the marvelous ways the many events had turned up.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

A Day To Remember

From Chalet Chevron@Parnell, Auckland

My friend CS and I arrived Auckland International Airport at 12.45pm local time. The weather was clear and cool. Another friend, PL, very graciously came to the airport to fetch us to the Chevron where we bathed, changed and at 3pm crossed the road and knocked at the door of Aaron whom we've come to visit.

We weren't sure of Aaron's condition after his brain surgery to remove a tumor followed by radiation and chemotherapy. As the door opened it was Aaron who greeted us, not his wife Gabrielle. That was an encouraging sign. I hugged Aaron to express the joy of meeting him and more, of seeing him well, and able to speak with reasonable clarity and memory. Years of missed contact melted away. The three of us sat down with Aaron in the living room and for the next 3 hours hear from him how he discovered the poor coordination while playing tennis, the difficulty in articulating words, the anxiety of hearing the bad news and the pre-surgery worries, the gladness of finding friends and relatives the world over linking their prayers for him and the remarkable recovery he made the days following the treatments. Even CS who is a medical surgeon pronounced Aaron's state of health nothing short of a miracle since prognosis of recovery is typically poor. But Aaron's case isn't typical because we believed that God has heard our prayers. Although he isn't physically strong to walk much or do gardening the vast improvements we saw gave us reasons to hope he will be restored to his former health.

The surgeon removed the offending tumor and left the humor cells intact because through the trial Aaron can still joke and stay fiercely positive and faithful that God will heal him. We took pictures to share with other friends. As we took our leave at 6pm we took away the joy of knowing that our dear friend is well. We promised to visit again before we fly home.

To top off a great day, PL invited CS and I to a sumptuous dinner with his relatives.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Preparedness - Don't Leave Home Without It

I get the feeling that nowadays many people, especially the youth tend to live in a state of reacting to change instead of preparing for it. Granted that change is a game of probability, some may even suggest that preparing to anticipate change takes the fun and challenge out of dealing with change as it evolve. However lack of any preparation exposes the person to unknown risks. Preparing is part of planning and requires a keen mind and eye to anticipate likely situations and take steps to counter them. I believe a prepared person gets more out of his project than someone who tackle issues as they arise. Take holidaying. My recent US trip took some planning and preparing, althought I admit much less than I used to do previously. Perhaps it was the familiarity, or the confidence of knowing what to expect. Or the Internet and weather forecasts have given me valuable information to plan my traveling wardrobe and medication. Or my philosophy that one should always prepare, but never over prepare. Leave perhaps 20% to surprises and the excitement of stimulating the mind and body.

Tomorrow I'll be leaving for Auckland for the first time minus my family. Naturally they take a special interest in my state of preparedness. Are you taking enough warm clothings since it is winter down south? Make sure you bring enough shirts, socks and underwears as you won't have time to wash. Bring along the knee guard just in case. Have some snack bars packed should you get hungry. I thank them and said I am well prepared. Over a week before I've started trial packing and every day I'd think if I had missed anything. Last night I checked the tour itinerary and discovered a pair of walking shoes for the sand dunes is necessary so I asked my traveling companion TCS to be prepared too. And for photography, I never ever travel without my camera, but this time I'm leaving it at home. For the first time my iPad 3 will double up as my camera aside from serving as my journal on the go and entertainment centre. I am pleased with the quality of the pictures taken especially scenic ones. To be extra prepared I purchased an app that allow me to take and auto stitch panoramic pictures on the go. I've tried it and with experience I will be able to build fantastic sights of the upcoming holiday.

For our visit to AL we've prepared some Foochow hot buns and I a collection of class photos on my iPad to share. I'm sure I'd missed something but I know it is minor and should be left that way.


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