Sunday 20 December 2015

Xmas Missive

Capelin Lynch 2015                                                      34 Doris Street Hill End 

   We say it every year but 2015 has been another beauty.
   There was travel, weddings, house purchases, more travel, family reunions, job changes, writing projects AND PATCH TURNED 100.
   Patch came to us as a stray from the RSPCA in 1994, the year we moved into this house. He was part of helping the kids adjust to a new home. As with most cats he’s very zen, living a simple life catching the occasional bird and bringing it to us as a trophy. He caught a noisy minor recently to celebrate his 100th. Otherwise you’ll find him sleeping in the sun, wandering the local streets looking for treats and watching the possums and brush turkeys walk past him to eat his bowl of dried food. He’s never been an affectionate cat often sitting just beyond reach, his back to us as if to say “I’m here. I’m not going anywhere but don’t think you own me.” Talk about good value. He’s only been to the vet four or five times in twenty one years and, when he’s looking poorly, a worm tablet, administered about every five years, seemed to have magical properties. These days he’s slowed down but keeps his regular rituals. At times he stands and stares at the wall wondering where he is or what to do next, at others he demands to be fed when he’s got a full bowl sitting in front of him and when in doubt finds the coolest (or warmest) spot in the yard and goes back to sleep. I hope I grow old as gently as he has. We’re thinking of throwing him a party to celebrate.
   Other news.
   Nick got married in April to Dimitee Henderson. It was a great event – the service in a cute chapel in bushland followed by a grand reception at “Shangri La” at Wynnum where I remember dancing at formals when I was a teenager. This brought to ten the number of weddings we’ve attended over the past three years. We only had four this year – Liz Capelin and Tim Lang, what a great day, Harriet Bebendorf and Jason Langford and Loani Prior and Julian Pepperell. Nick and Dimitee have just bought a house at Alexandra Hills which settles on Xmas Eve. It’s bigger than any house Andrea and I have ever lived in - two bathrooms - luxury!
   Jess and Warren had a big year. Having got smashed by the rogue hail storm last November they are still waiting on the final repairs to their apartment over twelve months later. They treated themselves to a trip to NZ in the middle of the year where Jess jumped out of a plane and lived to tell the tale.
Brother Mick and I headed off to Northern Italy in June to attend a “Perin” family reunion. Perin is our original Italian surname which became Capelin in Australia – it’s a long but interesting) story. We joined 400 people in the foothills of the Dolomites, San Vandemiano, and met a bunch of Perin cousins, Australians we had never met before and learnt how to pronounce our name in Venetian which the locals still speak. We also door-knocked the local villages and uncovered some links to my Great –grandmother and her first husband. He died on the voyage to Australia – you can read all about it in my forthcoming book. We also lucked on an eighty year old cousin (second third or fourth?) of my Great grandfather. She is the first direct link we have discovered to living relatives in Italy and demands a follow up trip to explore further. Mick and I had a ball over our two weeks culminating in a few days in Venice during the Venice Bienniale. He then headed home and I headed for Sicily for two weeks – that’s a story for another time.
   Andrea has lost and found employment in the latter part of the year and we celebrated by traveling to Laos and Cambodia for a three week holiday. We fell in love with Laos, Luang Prabang in particular, and had one of the funniest days of our lives in Siem Reap, Cambodia, where a young guide spent seven hours walking us around the Ankor Wat temples while regaling us with stories of love and life and ghosts and a one minute version of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana.
   I’ve reached the end of draft two of my novel, Paradiso. It feels like a real book with an introduction and acknowledgements etc etc – all the real stuff real writers include. I have had a couple of people read it and the feedback has been positive. There’s another year to go and a rewrite to plug the holes and cut out the rubbish but it is nearly ready for a publisher to snap up. I wish! That’s the next challenge.
   We’re mostly well and enjoying ourselves. Andrea wants to continue working – her new job is again in the “post adoption” area and she loves her work. I want to continue playing golf badly and writing and don’t miss paid work at all.
   With 2016 beckoning we wish you a peaceful Xmas break and everything you hope for in the next year.                
Andrea and Steve                                                                                                                                                                PS For some photos and stories of our year you can visit my blog at:    e:  
Ph. 07 38445985 Mob. 0423733108 (Steve); 0402819364 (Andrea)

Monday 23 November 2015

When the third world gets to second base

Had 12 hours to kill at Bangkok Airport so we decided to jump the Airport-Link train and head for the centre. Simple. Twenty five minute ride to the end of the line (seven stations from the airport). Grabbed a cab with a couple from Germany and got out at the Royal Palace.

Ignored the Royal Palace and went looking for food. Not much by way of street food and finally found a place that looked promising. Went in, came out. Buggered if I was going to be in Bangkok for a day and eat French Fries and burgers. Found a chain that did passable Thai/Chinese - more than passable in fact given that the dish Andrea ate nearly blew her head off with the chilli heat. And she likes chillis (thats my memory of Bangkok 38 years ago. Pointing at what looked like fantastic food in a market and having to run for the water trough and dive in to put out the fire in my mouth).

Anyway to cut a long story short this story is about affluence and traffic. Phnom Penh is 85% motor bikes and tuc tucs and 15% cars - as was Bangkok in 1977. Now it seems the ratios are reversed. Barely a tuc tuc in sight and relatively few motor bikes. The result: gridlock. We hailed a cab at 6pm and asked to be taken to the closest Airport-Link Station. Our flight was boarding at 11pm. At one stage I thought we might not have allowed enough time - you do the maths. We sat in traffic for an hour and a half moving less than a car length every ten minutes. I swear the traffic lights 100 metres ahead changed at least 20 times before we reached them.

We made the station at 7:30 and were at the airport at 8pm. Easy.
It's ridiculous to want people to remain poor but there is a cost to affluence and status and its called gridlock. Poor Phnom Penh doesn't know what's coming.

Friday 20 November 2015

Cambodia/Laos Day 16 - Social Enterprise

Social Enterprises (not for profits which work to create job opportunities and training for people with limited access to employment).
        Cambodia and Laos are full of them, all unique and often started by outsiders, but not always, and some more pure in intent than others. Let me list a few: Daughters of Cambodia (working with young girls sold into the sex industry), Friends (a network of initiatives across both nations and in multiple places - mainly working with street kids and mainly in the hospitality and restaurant skills areas), Cambodian Creations (ethical/fair trade enterprise selling hand made jewellery, clothing and toys supporting those with few prospects), Made (providing sustainable and viable employment for girls involved in sex trafficking and/or sexual exploitation), the list goes on.
               My estimate would be up around 100. They also include organisations targeting those maimed by land mines, or damaged by their exposure to war and family breakdown (remembering that Pol Pot's   regime killed 1 in 4 of the Cambodian population in the late seventies). When people speak of his reign of terror they speak about it down to the years, months and days and almost hours it lasted. He was welcomed as a liberator but things soon turned bad as he pursued his extreme vision of a socialist agrarian state. He killed the teachers and intellectuals first and ultimately turned on his own supporters having become paranoid and unwilling to accept the most minor of infractions.
            The intention of these Social Enterprises is always good but I worry a little if the enterprise is actually making people dependent rather than independent. To their credit the majority understand the difference and support their groups to study, learn new skills and then help them to gain outside employment or in some cases to become businesses in their own right. Some provide ongoing employment paying living wages and  healthy and fair working conditions.
            The best meals we ate in Laos and Cambodia were from the Social Enterprise restaurants. The best and most interesting craft (traditional and modern) also came out of these places.
           My favourite was the simplest. These two Aussie sisters in their 20s were on a travelling holiday through Asia and landed in Siem Reap intending to stay three days and five years later they're still there. They opened a coffee shop trained local staff and use the profits to pay for the education of their staff and their families. It's a simple win win formula. They don't have any fancy Community Development philosophy - just a grounded common sense approach to an idea with mutually beneficial outcomes.
          The most sophisticated is the 'Friends Group' whose program is layered with training and successful employment outcomes plus beautiful cookbooks and other merchandise made by the participants. It appears to be run by locals at this point in time.
           The most ambitious is 'Daughters of Cambodia' which is attempting to not only liberate young women from the sex trade, but has aspirations to undermine the sex industry across the board - a big stretch given that they only work with small numbers at any one time.
            What, if any, difference was there from similar ventures in Australlia? The philosophy is common but perhaps the desperate nature of the lives of these people makes the ventures seem so much more effective and necessary. The participants appeared extremely willing; they certainly have an enhanced sense of self and self esteem (as would be the aspiration of Australian based programs); they are enthusiastic to work, something which is sometimes a challenge in Oz. There is no other option in these countries. It's a survival story.

Thursday 19 November 2015

Cambodia/Laos Day 15 - Rob Overtoom at FCC (Foreigbn Correspondant's Club)

Day 15. Met a Dutchman at the FCC (Foreign Correspondant's Club). We were having an Ankor beer on the rooftop terrace of this dishevelled old colonial building. The view was impressive. A panorama of the junction of the Mekong and one of its major tributaries, one which flows backwards in the monsoon season as the floodwaters push upstream into the largest lake in the country. A giant expanse of water 150 km north.  For the first time in memory the backflow failed this year. The locals put it down to the new dams the Chinese are building upstream along the Mekong. It could kill the lake - the livelihood for thousands of fishing families surrounding its shores (and living on the lake in floating villages).

'Are you local?' I asked. He looked it. Dark tanned skin, a face that had seen a lot of life and an easy manner. 'I've been in Cambodia since 1991' he told me. 'I came here by accident. A medical colleague called me in Holland and said "we need you out here." He was in a Thai border refugee camp where thousands of Cambodians were stuck fleeing the war being waged by the National Liberation Army against the Vietnamese.' I learnt that the Vietnamese, hot on the heels of their success against the Americans had, in 1979, driven Pol Pot and his regime from the country at the same time installing their own clique in power. Ironically Pol Pot's forces then reinvented themselves as the Liberation Army and were again waging a war for the independence of the country.

Rob was 66, had worked as a medico in Cambodia for the ensuing 25 years and had recently retired - not to a quiet life but to begin a new life as a father ((1 year old twins and a 3 year old). He had married a Cambodian woman twenty years ago and hard as they tried had never been able to conceive. And now she, at 47, and he at 66, were beginning a family. He was meeting a few old mates from the Development Community (doctors, engineers, project managers) for a reunion, some of whom he hadn't seen for ten  years. Later I googled him and found he was also a fine photographer having been the man behind the camera of a publication documenting, for the first time, the exhaustive pictorial representation of Cambodian bird life.

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Cambodia/Laos Day 14 - tuc tuc tuc tuc t...

Day 14. Phnom  Penh.  A  city of motor bikes. Five  abreast, three up, meandering,  dashing, slicing, on the wrong side of the  road, weaving through oncoming traffic, daring cars to run them down, on the footpaths, across vacant lots, deftly avoiding pedestrians; pulling carts loaded with building materials, people, rubbish;  side cars designed as ice cream vans, as night market  food stalls,  for delivering produce, fish, ice, rice. Tens of thousands of them playing a giant game of 'chicken'.

Pedestrian crossings exist but are  totally ignored. Only once did a  car stop for us as we crossed a road. He took pity on us - we had made it  to the centre (half way point) but were stranded, frozen at  the prospect of taking  on the next tsunami of bikes and cars. Didn't  see a single accident - remarkable.

Oh, I  forgot  to mention the swarms of tuc tucs and their drivers, each  intent on outdoing the others with their decor and design.-

Tuesday 17 November 2015

Cambodia Day 11 - 13 Suk Veasna - Temple Guide, The Blacksmith and others

Day 11. Flew fro Vientiane to Siem Reap.Got abused by immigration for not getting my departure card stamped on arrival - go figure?

Day 12. Day of Temples. Second 4am start in row. Spent 7 hours with Sok Veasna, our 22 y old guide with an obsession with pretty girls and the havoc they wreak on the world. His 20 word take on the Hindu epic, the Ramayana,  was priceless. Many years ago I saw Peter Brook's theatre version of the Mahabharata, the sister story to the Ramayana. It ran over three nights, a total of ten hours. Vesnae's took less than a minute  (there may  be more to it as  it's an epic poem  which runs over several hundred pages).

"A big fight between two gods over the Goddess Lakshmi  aka  Sita  which involved  all their forces. So God  versus God, man versus man,  animal vs animal  (the Ramayana is full of mythic animals  - monkeys as minor gods  (Hanuman), giant birds (Garuda) which carry the gods into battle, seven headed cobras etc etc)  all to win the favour of the beautiful girl. Pretty girls always cause too much trouble!"

I said I couldn't comment as I had avoided that problem. Andrea  glared  and stored it away for the future.

Veasna had apologised at the outset for his poor English and then proceeded to talk and play the comic for the remainder of the day. We fell in love with hi and his quest to understand women. He was concerne3d that he  would never be attractive to the  pale skinned Cambodian girls as he was too dark. If that were  to happen he said it's called: "Frog eat Goose" (their frogs are big brown monsters similar in appearance to our toads).

Beautiful temples, Great Hindu/Buddhist history.  You  had to be there. (Some photos on this blog)

Day 13. Became a blacksmith  for a  day. Made kitchen knife using a sledge hammer and an angle grinder- with a  little help from a master blacksmith and his three assistants.He was 69 and as fit as a malley bull. The knife began life as a length of steel reinforcing rod. I wielded one of the hammers and the sound of metal on metal rang through the  streEt as we changed the shape of that thing until the magic happened. I did bit of angle grinding to remove  the black coke from the surface and he did the  final shaping and sharpening. Luckily I had an interpreter as no one  spoke a word of English.  His  workshop was a ramshackle patchwork of corrugated iron thrown together to protect the space from  the sun, no walls, set up  in front of his humble house.fro there he produces scythes, hoes, cutting impleents of many shapes and sizes at the  rate of about 20 a  day.He's been doing it for fifty years.

Wednesday 11 November 2015

More from Laos - Day 6 - 10


Day 6. Nam Kiau. The mad bus ride took us to Nam Kiau. Surrounded by vertical cliffs and in a bungalow overlooking  the Ou River this was a special place. Hard to describe really. It was just the quiet, the tranquility.When we returned to Luangprabang the next day that serene town seemed like a madhouse.

Day 7. Ever driven at breakneck speed for three hours down a mountain passing other vehicles (always) on blind corners or crests of hills? It's adrenaline rushing stuff. We had the good fortune to be sitting directly behind the driver so we saw all the near misses in technicolor. Amazing how many dogs, ducks, bullocks, chooks, children can find their way into the path of a minibus in one afternoon. This was the bus we passengers had bribed to leave on time - so it wasn't as if we were running late.

Day 8. Ben (Beh), the manager of our hotel in Luangaprang, has flown to Vietnam for a few days to check out his (prospective) new wife. Turns out the woman/girl who is filling his role while he's away is his sister-in-law and is also Vietnamese. I know Laos custom requires you to marry outside your immediate village community but is that taking it too far?

Day 9. So any French speaking tourists in Laos. French colonial history seems to draw them back. They are by far the largest group of travelers in the country.They are mix of young and old and are invariably charming and unpretentious..To Stephane, Nicola, Cecile, Olivia and all the other intrepid explorers - bonjour et merci beaucoup.

Day 10. Vientiane. Feels like a city albeit a pocket sized one. Traffic, rubbish, building projects, signs in our hotel declaring sex workers were not permitted to use the rooms. Still it feels largely untouched by the scourge of rampant drugs and sex tourism. It is sedate. Great coffee served by a lovely and helpful Chinese girl who came here to work on the hydro schemes and now makes flat whites and great espressos. Paul Ryan, who scoured Europe searching for "flat whites", would be impressed.

Laos Women's Rugby.

Okay, how strange is this? Women's  Rugby (Union)  in Laos is booming. Even more weird is that the national competition is being organised by a young woman from the USA who is a Rugby tragic. She plays front row in local tea (she's a giant by Laos standards). She studied International Development at Uni in the States and wanted to get into Development work in Asia, saw an ad for a volunteer to work in the Laos National Rugby Office and arrived 6 years ago. Only in the past year has she begun to be paid.

Why Rugby? Why women? Well soccer is seen as a man's sport - that's what the TV programs they see tell them. No one had heard of rugby, so when it arrived the girls said lets make that our game and while there is also a men's comp the women own the code in this country.

It's widely played in the villages where it's used as a way of getting young women involved in leadership and education programs. This young American knew far more than I did about the recent world cup. In fact she was there at the final in London and was able to give me detailed account of the final which Australia lost to NZ.

We met her in a coffee shop where she was online  organizing an international comp for Laos for February next year.

One of the more unusual stories of the trip so far.

Monday 9 November 2015

On the River

These  boys were great fun to watch.

Buddhist Monks' Dawn Ritual

 Strange dawn  ritual where saffron robed  monks receive  alms from Tourists (arriving  by the busload) pretending to be locals  having bought  their offerings  from real locals making a buck. Monks appeared to be real. And  some real  young.
Point  of interest  - lower case m  is achieved by applying  CAPS  LOCK and then "shift  m"  - in case you were wondering.

Tea Cosies disguised as hats - for Loani

Head  pieces  worn by the woMen  of northern hill tribes  - HMong  and others.  The  original  tribes migrated here froM China about 1000  years  ago.

Laos Week 1

One  week  without writing and  I’m out of practice.  Not to Mention the  frustration with a coMputer which  I have to trick into working. The  space  bar  will only  work  if I press  the shift key at  the saMe tiMe and  lower  case M  has  died.  Other  functions are conspiring  to  follow  suit. I  need  a new  coputer. Hence My blogging will be short. A  constraint which Might teach Me soMething.  A  new awareness of the  frequency  of  the use of the letter M in the world for example.

Brevity  HMMMMM,  not My best suit. IMpresssions.

Day 1, Flying into Luangprabang below the height of the surrounding Mountains, following the line of the valley like a sfighter pilot, wild jungle-clad country below and deep green forest crawling up the hills on either side.
Day 2. Wide brown Mekong River. Barely a sign of life as we Motored upstream for two hours. The river is at summer height  -  Metres below  wet season  level.
Day 3. Tourists are like  plagues of locusts – they swarm. At the beautiful waterfalls 40 Minutes outside Luangprabang they  are there in full force. The rock pools are beautiful – a powdery  blue colour.  Laos is a conservative country, odest, but the tourists ignore this and strip to their skiMpy g-strings and  plunge in, I’Mn no different, I suppose, in My budgie sMugglers.
Day 4. The technical deMands of weaving silk thread on a hand loom (where did that lower case M coMe from?). I watched a young girl for five Minutes and she completed about ten rows. Every tiMe she shot the spindle across through the warp (or weft – can never reMeMber which is which) she had to reset the threads and adjust the tension etc etc. Talk about painstaking. It takes seven weeks to complete a three Metre length.

Day 5. OMG. A simple (there’s that erratic M again) bus ride turned into an epic journey. SoMe local rules I was unaware of. 1. Buses leave when they are full – so tiMetables are a guide. 2. Buses can be encouraged to leave on tiMe if the passengers pay the cost of the eMpty seats. 3  All buses going to the saMe destination Must share the passengers equally – lots of negotiations and enticing beMused passengers to change buses before we can get under way. Add to those rules abuswhich turned back half an hour into ours trip to pick up soMe passengers we had Missed and asset ofBrakes which the driver stopped to check a couple of ties Making us very nervous as the trip was into the mountains. A 3 hour trip becaMe a  6 hour ride. The destination (for a one night stay) was nevertheless beautiful and worth the trip.

Sunday 8 November 2015