Sunday, August 10, 2008

In the country

It began with a rip-off a.k.a the train ride to the airport. Because the station is privately-owned, it has been decided that any poor suckers who lands on it has to pay more than 5 times the price of a usual ticket. The fare jumps from $2.60 to $14.00 passing through the airport and back again making this one of Ision’s travelling pet peeves. But I guess nobody can have anything against convenience for the domestic airport is only 6 stops away.

The budget ($69 one way) domestic plane ride went better than I expected most probably because I slept through more than half of it. Also, it was timed just long enough to not make Ision complain about the crammed conditions. Come to think of it, there weren’t any screaming babies either and that helped a lot. Ision later mentioned that I was the only Asian on board which on closer thought was not that surprising for we were going to the Australian countryside, not a crowded shopping centre or cheap city restaurant. I guess it was high time for a city boy like me to get immersed in all that Australia has to offer, somewhere untainted by city lights.

We landed in Ballina slightly more than an hour later in a small domestic airport which was nothing like an airport at all (more like a bus interchange). It was easy to spot Roger (Ision’s father) in the crowd. I didn’t expect it but I did feel a little surge of family when I saw him. I lost my father when I was 8 years old and the last time I saw Roger, he went on and on with his fatherly tales and that brought me so much warmth, something valuable that I missed out on all my adolescent and adult life.

We travelled very lightly and so the next instant we were on our hour-long way to our destination in Ashby. We were greeted by much small town scenery punctuated with vast fields of sugar cane, open spaces and perfect weather. The land rover finally pulled into this dirt road with a mailbox so I thought home must be near but we went on, rising, dropping and winding (they call those sheer drops and hairpin turns) for another kilometre or so till the landscape opened up to reveal a cozy-looking house on top of a hill with a “lawn” that stretched beyond where I could see clearly. Welcome home.

Ision has not been home since 4 years ago and his father wanted him to go home urgently to help him with some chores (more on that later) that he could not perform himself due to old age. The trip was also timely as I am starting work on Monday and this could be my last getaway before I get swept up and lost in the much-needed focus on my career. Frankly I don’t think I deserve this vacation for I have not undergone much stress (other than the stress of relocation and finding a job. Hmm… maybe I deserve it after all) and more importantly I am not earning an income. But what the heck, I am in a laid-back country so I might as well flow with the culture. Besides, the bank interest rates are high here and July’s interest alone paid for the entire trip, and more.

We got down from the car and were shown our room, which was Ision’s when he was a boy (up till he was 18 when he left for Japan). It was getting dark (winters here get dark by 5pm) and waited for Jennifer (Ision’s mother) to come back from work (and cook us dinner. Hehe). The wood-fired heater in the centre of the living room kept us warm as we sat down listening to stillness.
Of course Ision felt at home immediately the second we touched down but my heart and brain kept going on -- "what can I do", "what can I do", only to realize that there is nothing much at all I can do except to just relax and let the stillness flush all these errant thoughts out of my system.

Jen works at the recruitment agency in Yamba (more on that town later) and I had a very good impression of her from the last time we met in August 2007. She is very refined and well-mannered (think of those high-class British ladies we see on TV) which was not surprising as she came from a good family, went to finishing school (an English thing – a school that teaches etiquette and stuff to girls) and was a Home Economics teacher.

Slightly after 6pm we saw Jen coming home and the familiar image of that energetic middle-aged woman with perfect figure and poise came into vision. She is only slightly younger than my mother but much more energetic (which never failed to amaze me) – I guess country-living does have its perks. As soon as she entered the room, I could see an immediate change in Ision. He went into a child-like state as if all the cares of his adult world got parked into the corner. I found that quite endearing because in my opinion child-like innocence is one of the rarest and most elusive gifts an adult can receive. To be able to feel that again is a very good thing and I am happy for the happiness that instantaneously filled his heart.

And very soon there was the old-married-couple quibbling between Roger and Jen. If they were a young dating couple, you would think that the relationship would be over soon. However years of love and bonding had transformed security, familiarity, intimacy and all the other good stuff into this little oral war playing out right in front of us. Ision later told me it felt a little scary that we have developed to something close to that in such a short time. I told him that was not a bad thing at all and he totally agreed.

It was the middle of the week on a Wednesday night and Jen did not want to bother herself with her usual perfectionistic style of cooking so she just threw in whatever she could find in the fridge and whipped up a delicious risotto for all of us. It is worth mentioning the pantry they had – imagine a walk-in wardrobe but replace clothes with condiments, dried goods, canned food and all the ingredients of a perfect kitchen. I was so impressed with the things I found in that micro-supermarket!
We then had a short discussion on the itinerary of our 3-day stay. Well it is almost a crime to use the word “itinerary” in such an idyllic setting but I guess my limited city vocabulary can only bring me this far. Roger’s plan for us included the chores he wanted us to do but not much detail was given at that stage and I figured I’d know it soon enough. You see, the country bug had finally caught up with me as I relinquished control and allowed myself to blend into the rustic yet sophisticated backdrop. And blend I did into the absolute still of night, something that some city dwellers might not be used to and hence would find it too low a noise level for slumbering. But not me, I slept like a log very soon after I closed my eyes.

That is the end of day 1. Feel free to take a break before continuing. Hehe.

The next morning we rose to a beautiful sunrise right in front of the house and as the sun warmed the shallow waters, mist formed above the surface clouding the entire landscape and then surreptitiously disappeared.
Nature changing its form before our eyes, surely this is not what one can get in the city. We had a simple breakfast and lazed around sipping coffee, reading newspapers and chatting. I found a pile of spherical brown nuts along with a device and soon found out that those were macadamia nuts. How wonderful it was to crack those nuts and eat them fresh.

I think I will never get back to eating de-shelled macadamias from the supermarket again. The thing about living in the country is that a lot of people grow their own food and Ision’s parents bring home-horticulture to the limit. I had a chance to taste fresh strawberries, passionfruit, macadamias, pecans, lemons, kumquats, tomatoes, lettuce and the list just went on.
Ision is really fortunate to have grown up in this environment and I finally understand his distaste for over-priced and over-processed food from the supermarket.

At about mid-morning we changed into our work gear (boiler suits) and went on the tractor and were driven by Roger into the forest where we got to work. The task of the day was to clear a jungle path and what made it super tough was that it was along a reclining slope – something that I grew to hate in the army. Roger headed the pack with his chainsaw which cleared the thicker branches and we followed behind clearing the vines and undergrowth with huge shears to form a path.
The land (with the rainforest) surrounding the house was to be sold and the path was to make the forest more attractive to buyers. I coined the work as “extreme gardening” and Roger loved the term so much that he told us he would use it very often.

It was lunch-time and Jen prepared a filo pastry roll with vegetable filling for us in advance. How thoughtful of her. Of course there was home-made vanilla ice-cream at the end of every meal. This explained for the extra 2kgs I put on after the trip. But it was a vacation for us so I went with that weight-gain in mind (I will slim back down for sure after I start my new job). We then had a brief nap (very very wrong to sleep after eating) followed by my usual 30-minute jog but this time along the undulating country roads where wallabies, cattle and horses could be seen everywhere.
Ision told me that he was chopping firewood whilst I was napping and that was his cardio for the day. Well I missed out on that country experience.

We went out for dinner in the small town of Maclean and we met Ision’s only friend from school whom he still keeps contact with (she is a no-holds-barred kind of girl). We dined at this straight (duh, what else was there in the country) pub that did not seem to serve nice food from the outside and later had coffee and dessert back at her place. It was Sara Lee’s chocolate pudding bought from the nearby supermarket (it has its own guestbook, how strange) which tasted like a chocolate cake that fell into water. She gave Ision and I a tarot reading and Ision later gave her a lengthy one. It is usual for people to have a question in mind before the reading but if they didn’t have one, it is common to ask “what should I know”, which was exactly what I asked. Initially I thought that something would come out along the lines of my new-job anxiety but it was more about my skepticism and how that is preventing me from progressing. Well that has always been my biggest foe but I must say I am really getting better and Ision has played a huge part in that (read my posting about Reiki).

This trip saw yet another first for me – Ision driving me around. It felt kind of strange at first but he is a good driver so after a while, it was as if he had been driving me around all along. The night sky brimmed with stars and it has been a while since I saw such a clear night sky. I did not see any shooting stars though maybe because I have almost all my wishes come true at this point. Travelling along the pitch-dark country roads really brought all the horror movies and thrillers I have watched over the years to the surface (eg. the beginning of “Vacancy”). I started asking Ision questions like “what would you do if all the headlight bulbs were to burst at the same time” and got quite boring answers. I like hypothetical questions a lot and he doesn’t. That is the fun of relationships, isn’t it? Upon reaching home, we went straight to bed and I realized that I could still get tired from relaxing too much.

We woke up the next day later than the first morning and after a slow breakfast (with home-made bread -- yummy!), we were whisked into the forest again to complete the half-finished path-clearing task. Following that was a quick lunch and then Roger drove us out to Yamba, another small (beach) town 30 minutes away for coffee and drinks. It was another day of perfect weather and being out by the sea really makes you wish that the day would never end. Ision read in the newspaper that the weather back in Sydney was hellish with hail and rain and he decided to MMS his friend a picture of me by the beach with the calm sea in the background to irritate him.
There was mobile reception only in the town (not at home) and I got a call from the recruitment agency asking if it was OK for a company who has interviewed me to give me a call to confirm if I really wanted the job. This was the first time I ever experience this – of course I want the job which was why I applied for it in the first place! This company put me through multiple levels of reference-checking, a 4-hour long psychometric test, a lengthy medical check-up and now this. I was rather impatient (as I’ve already got another job) and told him I would find the call pretty pointless (he was a little upset I said this). Well if he’s perceptive enough he would know by now from the recent change in the tone of my voice that I have found another job. The reason why I am still hanging on to this is because I want to know how much remuneration the company is willing to offer. I know it is bad on my part to string them along like this but hey, it is a dog-eat-dog world out there and I am sure they know it too.

It soon got dark and we proceeded to pick Jen up from work to meet up with other friends for a family dinner at the same place we had dinner the night before. It really IS a small town. After dinner we went back to their place for coffee – this seemed like a tradition of small town folk. Ision found 2 potential Nu Skin customers and spent the rest of the night showing them the products and website. Too bad he did not bring the right products to show them this time round as they were really interested. I could see the sparkle in his eyes as he went on with his advertising and this made me feel so good. One of the major draws of Nu Skin products is they are really cheap compared to the same stuff from brands like Clinique and Biotherm and on top of that they work better. I am currently using Nu Skin’s Clear Action system which aims at clearing the skin of pimples and other blemishes. The stuff really works.

Under Roger’s and Jen’s instructions, we rushed home to watch the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics only to fall asleep soon after it started and taped the rest. It WAS a very long ceremony but I must say I saw special effects that I have never seen before. And talk about the scale of the event! Kudos China, wealthy wealthy China.

The next day was a short one as we had to leave by mid-afternoon. We helped to do chores around the house like cleaning bird poo off the railings as well as feeding the exotic wild birds that flew to us when we offered them food.
We were rewarded with Jen’s famous rhubarb, strawberry and apple crumble (again with ingredients plucked fresh from the garden). I photographed the process while Ision wrote down the recipe. I hope I can get to have a taste of that again soon (with Ision making it of course). Jen is a great cook which is of no surprise seeing that she had undergone formal training in cookery. The time after lunch was whiled away with more relaxing on the verandah sipping coffee and tea (this was perhaps the thing I enjoyed doing most during the trip).
Soon it was time to pack up and we did the customary group shots and said our farewells.
It really has been a nice 3 days and I got to know Ision’s parents even better, not to mention having a chance to relax to the max. Roger drove us to the airport and before we knew it, we touched down in Sydney and arrived home in our studio apartment. How different 2 places could be, I began to wonder. But we are currently looking for a new apartment and hopefully we will find one soon. I simply CANNOT wait to move. More on that when it happens. Thanks for reading this extremely long post. Ciao for now.


Roy Tan said...

You make life Down Under sound like one never-ending holiday. I'm eating my heart out!
About my Facebook profile pic - I'm never ever going to be blond again so I may as well preserve that image of me for posterity. Have a great week ahead.

Ision said...

It was a great time Roy but not never ending... He has fronted up to his first day at work today hehe

The Boonster said...

I enjoyed reading and amazing photos indeed...

Kim said...

Thanks guys!! I really enjoy blogging and I guess beginners always get a little addicted at first!!!

Kenneth said...

Dear Kim ...

Amazing - that's a word I would describe your life journey ... truly. :)

You are an inspiration, to met at least.

Cheers to you and Ision.


Kim said...

Thanks Kenneth. I don't believe we have met online or otherwise. It is so nice of you to drop by my blog and leave a comment.


Kenneth said...

Hi Kim -

No, we have not met before :) I just happened to be reading someone else's blog who linked to Ision who linked to you ... :)

Kim said...

I guess we are all connected in some way in this age of cyberspace communication.

Roy Tan said...

Yo, Ision, with you around to keep an eye on Kim, I'm sure he'll stay on his toes. Wishing the both of you every happiness in your life ahead.

Kim said...

Thanks Roy!!! Miss you so much my dear.

jean said...

Roy came to me almost in a panic a few days ago asking if I am really moving with jin to sydney. What a pity it will be for Singapore's glbt communitY! Htehehtee. I think in the same way, I almost always expect to see Roy in all these events and not seeing him around is of real concern.

I don't know when i'll leave, when the girls are ready, when I feel like my work is done here. Or maybe when friends like Roy leaves?

Kim said...

I guess seeing how Singapore is moving ever so slowly towards gay equality, you won't be here any time within the next 5 years! But it'd be so great to have you two here I must say.

Sometimes I don't understand why Roy would stay in Singapore as his way of thinking (like me) doesn't fit into the Singapore model at all.

Oh well, life goes on. Hope you are having a ball at IndigNation. It is SUCH a pity I cannot be there.


Daniel said...

To think I'm reading this after a horrible 2 x near 24h of shutdown work experience... U gotta show me around if I get to Australia next time!

Kim said...

Well, you always have the choice of leaving if you're unhappy with your current situation...

And yes, I'll show you around though I'm no expert in Aussie tourism.