[This is the final tantrum in the series Smiling Kodiak Volunteers]
It has been six months since I left the Philippines, so it is high time I wrapped up this series, Smiling Kodiak Volunteers. In fairness to myself, I arrived home only two months ago, after gallivanting around the planet for a while. Life is just starting to get back to “normal”, whatever that is. I have struggled to get my thoughts and feelings in harmony regarding the volunteering experience, which signals that there is something profound in there – if only I can find it.
The Philippines faces enormous problems, problems that will take generations to address. Foreign volunteers will be, at best, a microscopic part of any solution. The Filipinos are very much aware of this. From time to time over our assignment, I could detect frustration and perhaps even a little resentment arising from our contribution as foreign volunteers, particularly from movement leaders. That is fair enough – we fly in with grand recipes, then fly out leaving things half-baked. The simple reality is that in the long run, only the Filipinos can fix the Philippines. Continue reading 24. Parting Shots
After nearly a century of railroading Victorians with the stuff, V/Line banned alcohol from its trains in 2008. This presented something of an ethical dilemma, as I consider a glass of wine (or twelve) on a train ride to be an unalienable right. Thus, I filled my bicycling “water bottle” with a pleasant Sauvignon Blanc. In the spirit of Thoreau, Gandhi and King, I nonviolently perpetrated civil disobedience all the way to Warrnambool, the elixir helping me ignore the leper whacking my seat back.
We arrived in Warrnambool at ten-thirty in the evening. It was cold, windy and damp, a thick mist verging on drizzle filling the air. Collecting our bicycles from the baggage car, we strapped on our bags. It did not seem a good idea to ride in the dark and wet the single kilometer to our AirBnB accommodation, especially given the amount of “water” I had drunk. We set off on foot, pushing our bikes alongside. Continue reading 04. Dumb Luck
The Warrnambool real estate office had some encouraging listings. It was 1999, and we were in the process of moving back to the US to deal with dead and dying parents. We had sold our Port Melbourne house, and now we were looking for a place to invest the proceeds so it would keep pace with the real estate market until our eventual return. A beach house would have been perfect, but that was out of our price range. Instead, a rental hovel, or even just a plot of land, was more in line with our means. The window display showed three or four such places around $100,000, which is what we had.
An agent, at once handsome and slimy in short-sleeves with slicked-back hair, black rim glasses and – could it be? – a clip-on tie, greeted us as we entered. “Good Morning” I responded, “We’re looking for an investment property to park some money for a few years. You’ve got some promising prospects listed there.”
He gave a grin and looked us over — two middle-aged men in shorts and polo shirts wearing running shoes and sunglasses. “Right, then — we should have a chat…” he suggested, motioning us into a small glass cubicle: a chair for him, stools for us, the Formica counter demarcating his space from ours, fluorescent lighting completing the picture. Continue reading 03. The End of the Line
Melburnians complain bitterly and constantly about their public transport system. This can strike a newcomer as strange, because Melbourne has a pretty fabulous public transportation network. If you spend enough time here, you come to understand that Melbourne has such a wonderful system because nobody here thinks it is anywhere near good enough.
Melbourne came of age during the latter half of the nineteenth century in the throes of Victoria’s gold rush. For a period it was the richest city on Earth by many measures. Unlike its kin in New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania, Victoria had little in the way of convict roots, and was consciously eager to demonstrate that by behaving “more English than the English”. Amongst much else, that meant they needed to have trains, and lots of them. Continue reading 02. Railroaded
I love a free ride.
At the moment I am riding a V/Line train, first class from Melbourne to Warrnambool, Victoria— free! You could be doing the same.
Two days ago, I had little in my calendar for the coming week. Then, a series of screw-ups caused a tremendous number of persistent, repeated delays, delays which will plague V/Line passengers for weeks, if not months, to come.
First, much of the V/Line train fleet, particularly the relatively newish Vlocity model, was determined to lack round wheels. This was attributed to normal wear and tear, nevertheless has caused all sorts of technical and philosophical difficulties. Those trains had to be taken out of service, leaving many trips replaced by buses which proceeded tediously through traffic, finding their way to train stations just far enough off the major thoroughfares to make the journey painfully slow. Continue reading 01. A Free Ride
No one is more eager to get out of a hotel than parents and children sharing a room, no matter their age or stage. I thought we’d be amongst the first to get breakfast when it started at 7 am, but when we arrived at 7:10 am the restaurant was vibrant with energetic children, Moms on the edge, and Dads all too aware of how close their energetic children were putting Mom to the edge.
We found a relatively quiet spot in a windowed corner where the echoes of generational recrimination waned in acoustic insignificance. In preparation for the day’s exertions we gorged ourselves on all sorts of things real mountain climbers wouldn’t touch. And bacon.
We headed back into the park to get good use of the last five hours of our twenty-four hour pass. Regarding the shuttle bus, we adhered to the old adage “Fool me once, fuck you.” Instead, we took the more dangerous and less environmentally friendly option of driving to where we wanted to be so we could leave when we were done. The drive was easy, although it helped that we had toured it by bus the previous day.
Continue reading 03. The Ends of the Earth