Over Christmas, I went back to my in-laws' back in northern NSW (Ashby). I had a really good time the last time I was there (details here). Well nothing much has changed over there since then and so this post might not be as interesting since I am now writing more from a been-there-done-that perspective.
The one-way train ticket to the domestic airport has risen to $15 (ie. an increase of one dollar since July 2008) but after having lived in Sydney for two and a half years, you do get used to things that cost a lot more and work half as well as those back at home. I have always thought they reserved the cleanest and newest trains for services to the airport to instill the best first impression possible on the tourists. Clearly I was wrong for we got the usual filthy and freshly-vandalized variety, the type that I travel in daily to work. Well. The plane ride was comfortable enough as we got to the airport with ample time to spare which made the journey a whole lot more relaxing. Roger greeted us at the airport in Ballina just like the last time and we were transported back to that quaint house perched on top of the hill. Welcome home again.
The huge backyard, the shed with the heavy duty gear and the expansive garden with the bounty of fresh fruit and vegetables were all still there. Food was still prepared using freshly-harvested ingredients and the walk-in pantry was still fully-stocked. The nights were as still and dark as ever filled with the same annoying buzzing bugs of all species. But this time round the weather was not as good as there was rain throughout our stay in Ashby.
The highlight of the first day was the chance to put up my first-ever Christmas tree. My OCDs kicked in almost immediately as I insisted that the colour scheme be only green and gold. Of course that worked out perfectly even without the fairy lights which were only put in two days after. Apparently the sequence of putting stuff on should be ornaments, tinsel, streamers, fairy lights and finally the star. Though it is obvious now that I have done it, I still had to be given instructions before. Roger commented that for a first-timer, it was a very good tree.
The next day we visited Ision’s high-school mates. We had greasy fish and chips by the bank of Clarence River in Maclean and later went back to their place for more catching up. We met with another group (Roger’s and Jennifer’s first Australian friends) in Coffs Harbour where I again had greasy fish and chips at the Surf Club (note to self: exercise more or be prepared to lose the six-pack). I finally met someone (the daughter of the above-mentioned friends) I have added on Facebook (under Ision’s command) a long while ago–she and Ision had been friends ever since they were born. More catching up went on, which was one of the main things we did during the vacation.
We concluded the day with a trip to one of Coffs Harbour’s attractions–The Big Banana. Before anyone cracks any banana-related jokes, yes, we all had a frozen chocolate-coated banana and it was yummy (albeit a little filling).
On the way home, we stopped by the Sealy Lookout in Bruxner Park where the line separating the national park and the banana plantation could not be distinguished.
Extreme gardening (a.k.a clearing jungle paths) is always on Roger’s agenda whenever we visit but this time round, a blessing in disguise came in the form of bad weather and we were spared several days of menial work (but not other chores). One of the things they were really grateful that we have done was to help clear the boxes in the attic. It sounds like an easy task but the attic was a very tight space where we could only move in a crouched position whilst stepping on narrow beams to prevent the collapse of the ground floor ceiling and at the same time carrying not-so-light boxes. Other minor tasks included the domestic (eg. clearing leaves in the driveway that could have easily filled several oil drums) and the I.T. kind (eg. setting up Roger’s new iPad). We also did “work” that we knew would benefit us in the end eg. shelling pecans (payout being the pecan pie).
Apart from my usual jogs around the estate (and alarming the kangaroos in the process), we also did the token nature walk. Because of the much-higher-than-normal rainfall, the grass grew to excessive lengths and Roger made my jogging a little easier by clearing a path using his tractor/lawn mower thing (pardon my lack of knowledge in this department).
Then came Christmas Eve when food preparations for Christmas dinner started. Mind you, Jen had prepared the Christmas cake and pudding about three months and one year in advance respectively! Here is the list of things Jen had to do before Christmas dinner (I feel so right at home whenever I see Jen's OCDs pop up).
I helped in the preparation when I could but most of the time I was just standing, watching and making sure working hands were not in the way of a good clear shot (hehe). Note that the traditional Christmas turkey was done not in the oven but on the barby (just because the oven was used for something else).
Of course family gatherings always come with the usual family drama (of which I am not a big fan) and once that was done away with (and once the turkey was fully-done), it was time to sit down and have the Christmas dinner proper (do you know that the English call lunch dinner and dinner tea? So our Christmas dinner was actually taken at lunch time). Finally Jen could have a breather from all the hard work (THE WORDS IN THIS PARENTHESIS AFTER THE STRING OF UPPER CASE LETTERS HAVE BEEN ADDED UNDER ISION’S COMMAND–Ision helped of course).
Just as we could finally eat, my camera-attached fingers went into overdrive and snapped some heart-warming pictures. I then sat down together with Ision, Jen, Roger, Alan and Ision’s maternal grandfather Anthony for my first-ever traditional Christmas dinner. For dessert, we lit up the alcohol-covered Christmas pudding as per tradition and Ision had to accelerate things by pouring the rest of the alcohol in one shot. I guess that achieved greater results although for the best effect, it should have been done in total darkness.
We stayed on and chatted for a long while after dinner when Alan left to pick Deizel up (he was with his mother camping in wet weather whist nursing a monkey-bar-related broken arm). This little boy of three years received a lot of presents (including a go-kart with a complete set of expensive apparel and accessories to complete the look) because his birthday falls on the day after Boxing Day. I totally understand why modern parents spoil their kids (and the definition of “spoil” being subjective) but if I were to have a child, I would make sure that he gets less presents/rewards and more of the cane when he deserves it.
As an aside, I just figured why there are usually so many presents at the foot of the Christmas tree in print ads–if there were six members in the family and each member had a present for each of the other members, there would be six-squared presents. I know it is a very duh thing but I still had to “realise” it.
If not for the need to await Deizel's arrival, we would have opened our presents on Christmas Day after breakfast. When Boxing Day (our last full day at Ashby) finally arrived, the mount of presents were distributed by Deizel to everyone. I got a giant binder of brain teasers from Deizel (ie. from Alan), a class-10 16GB micro SD card (for my HTC Desire HD that was only bought post-New Year) from Jen and Roger, and Chanel Sport Homme perfume and Nu Skin Age Loc Vitality nutritional supplements from Ision. As for Ision, I gave him a Christmas “ang-pow” (the most practical gift a person can receive). He also received black raspberry liqueur from Anthony, a safety deposit box and more money from Jen and Roger, and a cocktail recipe book from Deizel. I like my micro SD card present the most because that was bought under my instruction–another reason why I love Jen (for how practical she is).
Whilst it is nice to exchange presents during special occasions, which I totally understand and enjoy, I still in principle am against the idea because at the end of the day, everything just cancels off in monetary value. For instance, Alan’s present to us was a deduction of our contribution to Deizel’s present. Before anyone labels me a killjoy, I have to say this–what I find important is spending quality time with family and friends, not the gifts themselves. But I guess we have all been conditioned over time by the media to engage in holiday-spending and interpret that as holiday-spirit.
So this brings us to the end of our trip to Ashby but that is certainly not all. To make our trip even more memorable, the flight out of Ballina airport (the one closest to Ashby) had to be delayed for an hour before the announcement that we would be transported to another small provincial airport since the plane from Sydney could not land at Ballina due to inclement (wet) weather. Come on! It's only rain! Anyway we waited for half an hour more and then we were told that the plane could not land at that other airport either and we had to be moved to the bigger Brisbane airport instead. Goodness! Of course the bus had to come only half an hour later because there was a lack of drivers over the holiday period. The journey to Brisbane consumed another two hours of my life and we were finally put on the next flight leaving for Sydney due to depart in another two hours. And this was still not the end of our ordeal! The weather gradually worsened and that so-called confirmed flight got pushed back three hours! By this time, all that was left in our mind was to get home and nothing else mattered (Qantas compensated us with a $15 dinner voucher by the way, which was close to but better than nothing). We then FINALLY got on the plane, took the hour-long flight and got through our apartment door eleven hours later than scheduled. That was the entire public holiday gone but hey, at least we got back in one piece and with the weather around the world wreaking havoc on travelling itineraries, I say we should count this as a blessing.
With lots of Internet backlog to clear (think downloads, emails and Facebook) as well as trips to the gym to shovel away the piled-up calories, we were well on our way back to the reality of it all the next day. Goodbye country life, I will come visit again soon.