A lazy Sunday in Hong Kong

Sunday was our last full day in Hong Kong. We hadn’t quite given up on the shopping yet, but this time we headed towards the city centre on the island, with Causeway Bay on the way. The hotel’s shuttle bus dropped us off at Hong Kong’s World Trade Centre, which is an enormous shopping building. Hong Kong cranks up late (as far as we’re concerned). Arrive before 12 and you won’t find too many shops open – even the big ones. So it took a while for the crowds to build. We were surprised at the number of women around wearing Muslim dress – there may have been lots of men, too, but they don’t stand out so much. Some women wore really lovely, flowing dresses and hijabs in pastel colours, and a number wore bright red. A few wore face coverings, but I saw only one wearing the full, black burqa. We decided there must have been some cultural event happening, because we hadn’t seen such a concentration of Muslim women anywhere else.

As always in Hong Kong, the modern rubs up against the old. Here’s the bamboo scaffolding on one of the buildings. OH&S inspectors would have a coronary. The picture below is what those poles on the left are supporting.

The main streets were crowded, as was every one of the Macdonalds restaurants we passed. The franchise is clearly doing a roaring trade in Honk Kong. If you ducked down the side streets, though, they weren’t so packed. We walked along a street where market stalls were being opened up for the afternoon and evening trade. Just around the corner the street signs indicated a row of guest houses.

Guest houses and down-market accommodation. One signs offers rooms by the hour, with a discount rate after midnight.

We went into a computer shop looking for a cover for my new tablet. It’s too new – they are not out there yet. But the young man behind the counter mapped a route for us on our Maps.Me to a computer centre further up the road. It was fun pottering around in this building full of tiny, independent computer and camera shops, but we had no joy with the camera lens, or with the tablet cover.

It seemed to us the easiest way to get back to the hotel was on the tram, but they were all packed. Even the Chinese couldn’t push their way on. Eventually, we gave up and went down to the nearest metro station. The trains are fast, cheap and clean – after you’ve worked out the ticketing system. It’s fairly simple, but we had the added complication of being entitled to a concession fare on account of being old. We got there in the end.

High tea set with dessert. It’s a stock photo, not as nice as what we were served.

Today seemed to be an excellent time to enjoy that quintessentially English meal, our complimentary High Tea in the hotel’s lobby bar. It was delicious. We had a pot of tea of our choice each, and the staff delivered one of those three-tier serving towers filled with goodies. I’m sorry I didn’t take pictures. The stock photo at left doesn’t do our spread justice. We had a couple of savoury items, cake, scones, moulds, and a wonderful peach custard. That was lunch sorted. We ordered a club sandwich in our room for dinner.

The following day we kicked tyres for an hour or two in the morning before boarding the ferry for Macao. Instead of going in the direction of Causeway Bay we caught the shuttle bus to ‘Central Plaza’, a shopping and residential area further north. Central plaza turned out to be four huge buildings with acres of glittering shopping below and apartments for the well-heeled above. This certainly wasn’t a cheap area, but we scored breakfast at a fraction of the hotel’s prices.

A glittering shopping centre full of dress shops

This is an ice skating rink in Central Plaza. A teacher is working with a few kids

So there are plenty of people in Hong Kong earning more than a subsistence wage. And good luck to them. We wished them well as we made our way to catch the ferry to Macao.

 

Hong Kong shopping

City crowds. This was taken at Causeway Bay. We didn’t take pictures in Kowloon

Years ago what attracted Australians to stay a day or two or three in Hong Kong was the shopping. Sure, it was an accessible way to get a look at the Orient, but mixed with that was the great exchange rate, and the quality goods for sale at substantially less than the prices in Australia. Even when the sales taxes were altered back in the Keating years, you could still snap up a bargain in Hongkers. With that in mind, Pete and I set out after our lunch escapade in search of bargains.

I’ll interrupt that story with a small side arc. The cost of ‘roaming’ on mobile phone plans in Australia is outrageous, but it’s possible to buy ‘roaming’ plans that charge just the cost of a local phone call. Using Travelsim, we put $5 on such a sim and inserted it into a cheap phone, then told a few close friends the number so they could contact us in case of emergency at home. I also downloaded an app called Maps.Me. It’s free and lets you download a functioning map for overseas travel. Yes, Google does this, too, but Google has upset the powers that be in China, and you can’t download Google’s China maps. We put the app on Pete’s tablet, which he always has with him to take photos. Pete fell in love with Maps.Me. You don’t need access to Wifi, and of course the GPS function will locate you on the map. It certainly helps with navigating in foreign parts.

Back on the streets of Hong Kong, we made our way towards the electronics street. We had already discovered that our mate Andy (tour guide) had given us a bum steer as far as directions went. But Pete is quite happy to ask for help, and managed to find an Aussie working in a shop to tell us where to go. So we worked our way across Nathan Road, which runs up the middle of Kowloon, and into the back roads where the shops line the streets.

Hong Kong was always a busy place, and this was the weekend, but the throng of humanity was extraordinary. The streets were sardine packed everywhere. For Aussies, think sideshow alley at the Royal Show on steroids. The demographics had changed, too. Not so many years ago, the crowd would have been mostly Asian, but there would have been a good number of European people. Now, people like us were a rarity. I hate crowds at the best of times. I don’t get anxious or claustrophobic, but I hate the press of people invading my space, brushing their bodies against me as they pass. When I find myself in a crowd I start to move faster, ducking and weaving my way between the people. Where there’s rudeness, pushing, shoving and the like, the nostrils flare, the elbows come out, and although I won’t push first, I’ll shove second. We were both struck by the rudeness and total lack of consideration for anyone else on the street. And we discovered we weren’t the only ones with that perception.

We were looking for a camera lens. We had done our homework at home and knew what we wanted, and what it should cost. I leave all negotiations about price to Peter, who enjoys the cut and thrust, and is very good at it. But while he would have had a lovely time haggling in years gone by, it doesn’t happen anymore. For a start, far fewer Hong Kongers speak English. We would go into a shop, they would wheel out their English speaker, we would tell them what we wanted, and they would give us a price. That was it. No negotiation. Take it or leave it. You can get it for that in Australia? Shrug. In days gone by, they wouldn’t have let you out of the shop, at least trying to sell you something else. That’s how it still is in Singapore. But not here.

What was happening? What had changed? The answers came from our tour guide in Macao, a Portuguese gentleman who had lived in Macao for 33 years. The vast majority of tourists in Hong Kong (and Macao) now are mainland Chinese. They require less personal space and have a different perception about how to behave in a crowd. And they pay whatever the vendors ask. They have money, and they know they will get a quality product in Hong Kong. I have never seen so many stores selling up-market merchandise like Gucci, Armani, Yves St Laurent, and all the other big-name designer brands. Every fifth car (that wasn’t a taxi) was a Mercedes. I must have seen half a dozen Maseratis (I’ve never seen one on the street before) one red one being driven by a kid with P plates, doing his best to hoon around a packed Hong Kong block.  The best-selling item for the Chinese? Tins of powdered baby milk. There is a ration of two tins per person. They also love to gamble. But I’ll leave that to my Macao post.

After a fruitless few hours fighting our way through Kowloon, we gave up and caught a taxi to the star ferry which plies the waters between Kowloon and the Island. It’s a short ride, and not very crowded on this Saturday afternoon. The ride in a lift made up for it, though. The last fellow to insinuate himself in could only just lean out of the way of the closing doors. Now that WAS claustrophobic. I keep on wondering how it would be if the lift failed…

That evening we decided to go out for dinner. I’m not a great lover of Chinese food – I hasten to add that there are very many excellent Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong, I just wasn’t in the mood. I love Indian, though, and on the concierge’s recommendation we went to a restaurant tucked away in an arcade in an alley less than 10 minutes from the hotel. We spent a lovely evening there. The menu listed a vast array of dishes, but since the owners were Hindu, not beef. Peter asked the Indian waiter where he came from, which was greeted with a big grin. “I was born here, sir.” Turned out his ancestors had been in the British army stationed in Hong Kong, and had decided to stay. The barman was from Indian, though. He didn’t speak much English, but that was okay. We tried a shot of Indian whisky (better than Johnny Walker IMO) and Pete had Indian beer. I had a glass of house white, which arrived in a bucket (not really – just a very generous serve). The menu included standard combinations, so we picked the ‘Happy Meal’ – tandoori chicken for starters, then lamb tikka marsala served with naan and condiments, sweets and coffee.

We slept well that night. Join me tomorrow for our last day in Hong Kong, pottering around in a different part of the city.

Hong Kong – the cheap seats

The Yuen Yuen Institute with cauldron for burning incense

After our tour of the gallery parts of Hong Kong it was time to take a look at the cheap seats. We signed up for a tour called ‘the land between’ – meaning the parts of the territory between the teeming streets of Kowloon and the border with China. It’s more generally known as the New Territories. We spent the day with three other people, all elderly folk from UK, who had just completed a holiday in Australia. I was the youngest passenger on the bus, and Pete was a pretty distant second-last. The tour guide, Andy, came across as having a chip on his shoulder the size of a tree. Before we reached our first visit stop, we’d learned he worked three jobs – tour guide, pizza delivery guy, and bartender – 6 days a week, 18 hours a day. Even so, he earned around HK$19k a month – which I thought wasn’t too bad, but he seemed to think was a bit off. The Government collects 15% tax, and then he explained he lived in one room, around 140 sq ft, which had a bunk bed, a place to cook noodles, and a recess for washing. For that he paid a fifth of his net income. I forbore to tell him that although apartments in Australia are generally larger, people pay a much greater percentage of their net earnings in rent, as well as a MUCH larger slice of tax. Hong Kong actually has pretty good social security for those in real need, but the Chinese way is always for people to support themselves. At the moment Hong Kong is kind of independent – although, as we know, the Chinese Government keeps a close eye on who is in charge. The territory will maintain its status as a separate entity for fifty years from 1997 – that is, until 2047. After that? Who knows.

First stop on the fringes of the city proper was the Yuen Yuen Institute, a religious complex incorporating the Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist faiths. The place was packed with people practising their faiths, lighting incense and praying.

Offerings for a funeral plane, house, furniture…

Funerals take place here. Mourners buy or bring paper offerings to burn for the dead to use. Items include whole paper houses – complete with servants, cars, and (especially) money. Our guide told us his grandmother, who was obsessed with mah jong, had recently died, and he and his sister had created a paper mah jong set for her as their offering. The temple complex doesn’t have a crematorium – the bodies are taken elsewhere. But people can buy wall niches here where they place the ashes, with a black and white photo of the deceased to mark their place. We were asked not to take pictures of the niches, or of people participating in a funeral. Fair enough. Andy also explained the Chinese zodiac that plays a large part in the temple.

I particularly admired the beautiful koi pond at the temple.

Back in the bus we drove on to Tai Mo Shan, Hong Kong’s tallest mountain, with views back to the city. I was shocked at the murk down there, much more apparent from this distance. Tai Mo Shan is in a park with hiking and cycling trails, and is very popular on weekends and holidays.

Our next stop was the fortified village of Fanling, owned by the Pangs, one of the five clans in the area. The houses are only three stories high, and packed close together. Each house is owned by a Mister Pang, and there are only 99 houses in the village. There is a spill-over zone away from the village – and I think I’d prefer to live there.

The walled village of Fanling. The pool contains fish and tortoises, and you can glimpse a couple of cannon.

The entrance to the village. All the sreets inside are as narrow as this.

Just inside the entrance is a shrine to the ancestors, and a pair of protective warriors

The spill-over area outside Fanling

The rest of the tour was kind of a country drive. We saw the fish farming villages as we drove past, and the smog-enshrouded towers of the nearest Chinese city just over the border, we stopped briefly at Bridal Falls, a permanent waterfall that’s in need of rain.

Bridal Falls. The story goes that a bride was being carried across the top of the falls in a sedan chair. One of her porters slipped, and the porters and bride all fell to their deaths

On the way back to the city we spied a runway in the valley that looked in excellent condition. It was part of a British military base vacated in 1997. These days it belongs to the People’s Liberation Army. Despite Hong Kong’s need for housing, the accommodation buildings are empty. Andy clearly had a poor opinion of the PLA, muttering comments about 1989.

Fish farms on the Hong Kong side, Chinese Shenzhen on the other

We finished our tour in Mong Kok, heart of Kowloon’s shopping district, where we left our fellow tourists and went off shopping. But first, we needed lunch. We found a row of eateries in a narrow, crowded, street – tiny shops with a few tables and chairs. They say eat where the locals eat, and there were plenty of them everywhere. Menus consisted of pictures of the food with a name in Chinese and if you were lucky, in English – very few people here spoke English. We grabbed a table and perused the menu, looking for something familiar like a stir fry, or fried rice. I don’t remember much on the card, but one offering was beef tendons. Well, they do say Chinese food is famine food. Nothing goes to waste. Eventually we picked out the most expensive dish – a three-beef curry. One of the people at another table recognised our inability to make the lady serving us understand we didn’t want any of the colourful beverages on her chart, just Chinese tea, and translated for us. We expected a nice pot with jasmine tea and little china cups like we get in Australia. We got large mugs of very black tea, but it was drinkable.

The food arrived – a large mound of rice on a plate, and the curry in a side dish, all substantial helpings. The curry had potatoes, so that was okay. The beef… some of it look like well-stewed gravy beef. But some was obviously tripe, and the third component I couldn’t even guess. I ate the potato, and the gravy beef, then settled for rice with gravy. Pete did the same. I’m sure the locals thought we were very odd, and I have no doubt added our leavings back to the pot.

Peter was brave enough to use the toilet at this place. He told me the floor was covered with water, which he didn’t understand until he’d finished. The flush was broken, but there was a bucket of water in the ‘courtyard’ to do the job. Hence the wet floor. Fortunately, I wasn’t in need. Even if I was, I think I would have crossed my legs a bit tighter.

That was lunch done. Now to go shopping. But that deserves a post all its own. Join me next time, won’t you? Oh – and if you like my writing style, why not take a look at my books? None of them will set you back for more than the cost of a decent cup of coffee.

Hong Kong – the better parts of town

Aberdeen typhoon shelter

Our first morning in Hong Kong started off a bit misty, but cleared to a fine day. We joined our guide, Biddy, and a dozen other travellers for a half-day tour of Hong Kong. She rattled off stats like a pro, and I’ll try to remember the most important ones. 245 islands, the largest is Lantau, the next largest is Hong Kong. The islands, plus Kowloon and the New Territories, have a population of seven million. Most of them live on Hong Kong and in Kowloon. Housing is very expensive, but the Government subsidises poorer people – usually in housing estates on the outskirts of town (sound familiar?). Real estate is sold by the square foot. Most people live in apartments, with blocks becoming taller all the time. Biddy lives on the fortieth floor of a sixty-story building.

The crowded boats are not as crowded as they used to be

Our first stop on the tour was the Aberdeen typhoon shelter, where a dwindling number of boat people live on small boats. It’s also the site of the famous Jumbo floating restaurant. I remember having lunch on a tour there in the 80’s. Peter could remember when the little Chinese boats were so close together, you could walk across the harbour from one boat to the next. These days, some of the boats are… um… a bit more up-market, shall we say?

Some people still live on the boats

This isn’t a bum boat

The front of the jumbo restaurant

The back of the Jumbo restaurants isn’t quite as flash as the front

From there we went on to Stanley, one of the more affluent suburbs of the island. Apartments here are expensive, with views across the water. We poked around in the market near the waterfront, bought a very nice leather backpack at probably multiples of the price we could have paid in Mong Kok, and bought a very expensive cup of coffee. Like most parts of Asia, you’re better off going to one of the big chains – Macdonalds, or even Starbucks if you’re desperate (sorry, Americans). Asians don’t make coffee with real milk, so flat whites are just not the same.

Stanley street markets. It’s not busy yet – too early

Hong Kong is trying to preserve some of its past. The Murray building used to be a military barracks set on the site of the Bank of China tower. It was dismantled brick by brick and rebuilt on the waterfront at Stanley. Nowadays it’s full of dress shops and restaurants.

 

Murray barracks and the beach front at Stanley

Next we went up to the peak. Back in the day you drove up the long and winding road to a lookout – just a walled terrace – with panoramic views over the city. The views are still there, but now there are buildings all over the summit, with the best views offered from restaurants, or a (paid) viewing platform. You can buy souvenirs and very expensive ice cream. We’re talking around AU$20. We passed. Biddy pointed out a couple of the large houses nestled against the mountains. You don’t need to be a Rhodes scholar to work out the people who own private houses on the peak would have a bit of money. We were told the going rate was HK$89,000 per square foot. Which means the room in which I’m writing this at c80 square feet = HK$7,120,000 or roughly AU$1,300,000. If you look at that article I linked, you’ll see HK$89k is peanuts.

Hong Kong from the Peak. This was a fine day – that air pollution was a constant. Across the water is a typhoon shelter

It seems Stanley Ho was the first Chinese to own a property on the Peak. He’s a fascinating man, a Eurasian who married a Portugese woman. It’s said on Hong Kong that he had four wives, but our Macao guide told us he had one wife and three very good friends. He’s still alive at 95, and had seventeen children. This Wikipedia article gives some basic information about him. Anyway, back to the Peak. That was where the British colonial masters lived. I got the idea that the Chinese weren’t allowed to live up there, or maybe (until Mr Ho) they couldn’t afford to.

We took the Peak tram down the mountain. It hasn’t changed in its century plus years, but today it’s packed with tourists. Towards the end of the trip there is a very interesting optical illusion which illustrates how the human brain interprets what it sees. There are towers on both sides of the tram line. We KNOW they are upright. They do not lean. But that’s what we see – buildings leaning to compensate for the fact that we are sitting at an incredibly steep angle, which our brain decides is impossible. Peter took pictures, but the camera sees the truth, so I haven’t posted them. Trust me, my brain said the buildings were set at an angle.

We drove past one of the most powerful places in Hong Kong. Or maybe I should say the people who run it have the power. Happy Valley race course, run by the Hong Kong Jockey Club, is adjacent to the city. Horse racing is the only form of legal gambling in the territory, and the Jockey Club runs it all. As a result, it is fabulously wealthy and owns many other business interests in Hong Kong. One of the more prominent is Ocean Park perched high on a hill above the city. It’s reached by cable car, with fabulous views over the water. I went there in the eighties. We didn’t visit this time. Nor did we visit Hong Kong Disneyland, which is on Lantau Island. There’s plenty of room for it there.

So far we’d seen the more affluent side of Hong Kong. Later in the afternoon we took a short wander around the Causeway Bay area, then took a tram more or less back to the general area near our hotel. The trams are double deckers, following a short route of about nine kilometres long. We expected that would be one line – but there are a couple of branches. One went through a local shopping area, where the residents do their food shopping. Greengrocers, grocery stores, bakers, and butchers all plied their wares from open air shop fronts. Sides of beef hung from hooks and butchers chopped up cuts for customers as the tram, bells ringing, inched its way between meandering shoppers. I would have loved to get back there with a camera, but it never happened.

In the evening we made our way back to the ferry jetties near the CBD to catch a boat for a ninety-minute trip on Victoria Harbour to admire the city lights. A fifteen-minute laser show happens every night, with many of the glittering towers participating in lighting up their edifices. In fact, I think many of them leave the displays to run all night. For today I’ll leave you with photos of the night. They were taken with my hand-held 70D at a very high ISO, but they’re good enough for the internet. (In case you’re wondering, using a tripod would not have helped, because the boat tossed around a bit. The swell – mostly caused by the wash from the many boats on the harbour – was enough for a couple of people to be seasick.)

Everybody has to have an Eye. This one has lit up trees to go with it.

Many boats carry visitors out to enjoy the spectacle

A junk, its red sails illuminated, adds to the spectacle

 

Hong Kong – then and now

The city and Perth Water from King's Park

The city and Perth Water from King’s Park in Perth, Western Australia. Clean and clear and flat.

We’ve just come back from a week in Hong Kong and Macao. I remember my first visit to Hong Kong in the eighties very, very well. I’d grown up in clean, flat, thoroughly Anglo-Saxon Perth, capital of Western Australia. My then-partner taught at a TAFE college, preparing students, many of them from Hong Kong, for the examination which would give them entry to Australian universities. So when we decided to make our very first foray outside Australia, we went to Hong Kong. In hindsight it wasn’t the best place for such a baptism. A starker contrast to Perth I can hardly imagine. Instead of sprawling suburbia where a two-story house was rare, we flew into a teeming metropolis which resembled an anthill. Towering apartment blocks lined narrow streets, covering every flatish piece of land – of which there wasn’t much. People crowded the footpaths. Washing fluttered from grubby balconies. Scaffolding was bamboo, not metal. Shops selling just about anything huddled together, dwarfed by up-market department stores. Hong Kong island itself was dominated by Victoria Peak, where the rich people live. Even landing at the airport was an adventure.

Kai Tak airport was well known as one of the most dangerous approaches in the world, with the flight path on approach going between those towering apartment blocks and down onto the runway at Victoria Harbour. Even down in cattle class you could almost wave to the people in their apartments as your plane landed. Peter had the privilege of being in the cockpit for one of those landings. Wow. Just wow. Together, we’ve had a drink in a bar overlooking the airport, watching the traffic coming in and going out. Ah. Those were the days. Here’s a few pictures you might enjoy.

Kai Tak closed in 1998, replaced by a huge airport off Lantau, largest of the 245 islands that make up Hong Kong. Guides were at pains to stress that ‘Hong Kong’ includes all the other islands, and also incorporates the Kowloon Peninsula and the New Territories, all leased for a trivial sum by the British from the Chinese. The 99-year lease ended in 1997, and from there, the character of Hong Kong has changed.

Since that first visit in the distant 1980’s I have been to Hong Kong several times, and Pete has been a lot more often than that. For Australians, Hong Kong and Singapore were the usual stepping stones to the rest of the world. The journey to Hong Kong takes about 9 hours, and from there planes leave for Europe. It’s a good place to break the 24 hour journey, especially on the way home when jetlag is an issue, so many Australians have spent a day or two in Honkers, picking up some bargains and seeing the sights. On this trip, Pete and I spent four nights in the city, rather longer than we’d stayed on other occasions. Moreover, this was a holiday, not a business trip.

We stayed in the Harbour Plaza North Point, on the island with views over the harbour. I’m not sure why we got upgraded to a harbour view suite, but we weren’t complaining. The apartment had a kitchen, dining area, sitting room with views across to Kai Tak on Kowloon, a king bed you could have used to host an orgy (while admiring the view), and a well-appointed bathroom. I shudder to think what an apartment of that size would cost to buy. We certainly couldn’t afford it.

Bedroom with view

Dining area. Open door is to bathroom

The sitting room.

 

 

 

 

It was kind of nostalgic that we could see the end of what used to be the end of Kai Tak’s runway from our suite. These days it’s a port for cruise ships. Since the airport was relocated, the height restrictions on buildings in that part of Hong Kong have disappeared and the suburbs have crept up, and out.

I made a point of taking a photo every day from our sitting room across the harbour.

Tomorrow I’ll tell you about our city tour and our visit to Aberdeen Typhoon shelter, Stanley, and the Peak. And then the light show from the harbour. For now, enjoy some views of Kowloon from Hong Kong’s North Point.

Kowloon from our suite. A cruise ship is leaving port – maybe for a journey to international waters where gambling is legal.

Early morning on the first day. Sun’s coming up and dissipating the mist. The site of the runway is clearly visible just behind the ship.

By late afternoon the sky had cleared – or at least, as much as it was going to

Next day the mist was fairly thick

The mountain behind the apartment blocks is invisible.

A Western dilemma

This is my blog, so I can talk about whatever I want. And today I’m going to spill some thoughts that trouble me. And here the emphasis is ME. I expect some of you (especially those who communicate regularly with Himself) will have another point of view. As is your right. So here we go. This blog is about Jews, Muslims, Islam, and ‘racial’ hatred. For I hasten to add that neither the Jews, nor the Muslims, are a race, .

I cringe at the notion of pointing fingers at people and saying, “You’re a <insert religion of choice> therefore I hate you.” I hate extremists of any ‘faith’ who will kill and maim in the name of god. This includes Crusaders, Inquisitors, Conquistadors, Sinn Fein – and, of course, the followers of Mohamed who surged across Africa and the Middle East in record time in the sixth century.  Most people are not extremists. But even so I do not want to open the flood gates to Muslim immigration. Immigrants who are prepared to integrate with Western culture are fine. But people who come here and cannot and will not integrate because their basic beliefs are different should go somewhere else where they will fit in.

The Koran was written in the sixth century – the world was a different place. Rules that made sense then no longer make sense now, but Muslim clerics persist in peddling this antiquated belief system. We don’t need Sharia law here. We don’t need women having to wear clothing so they don’t provoke men. (It doesn’t work, anyway.) National hijab day? Give me a break. I don’t care what anyone says, it is a form of dress dictated by the mullahs. Look at pictures of young people before the overthrow of the Shah in Iran, or in the streets of Afghanistan before the Taliban. If women want to wear head scarves, that’s up to them. But the fact is the hijab (let alone the burqa) has become something that singles out Muslim women in our society. They’d be better off without it. This article from the Sydney Morning Herald expresses that view from a more compelling source than me. Note her comments about little girls wearing head scarves.

You might be wondering why I mentioned Jews at the beginning of this. Ah, that’s the other side of the argument, the point at which I am faced with a quandary. The Jews have been persecuted for thousands of years, because their religion was different, or they were an easy target, or they were rich. European Jews in 1920-30 Germany didn’t pose a threat to anybody. They contributed to society, paid their taxes, ran businesses. Lived. They were part of the community. But that all changed when the Nazis pointed fingers at them, and blamed them for everything that was wrong with the German world. Ordinary people either joined in, or turned a blind eye. The end result is well-known, although I fear it is starting to recede into distant memory, something that happened so long ago it doesn’t count in our modern world. Take heed, people. The Holocaust was genocide, a deliberate attempt to wipe anyone labeled JEW off the face of this earth. Sure, other people – homosexuals, the intellectually disabled, gypsies and others – died in  front of the firing squads, or in the gas chambers. But the vast majority of those six million people were Jewish. And for those who say it never happened, here’s the proof, pictures taken by the Allies as they liberated the death camps.

Think it can’t happen again? May I remind you of Rwanda. And of Kosovo. And of what’s happening right now in Sudan. And the slaughter of Christians in Syria by Daesh. In the name of Allah.

We must protect our nation from extremists. I watched the horror of the Lindt Cafe siege unfold.  I saw a kid shoot down an accountant in Sydney because he worked for the police. I recoiled at events in Nice, Brussels, Paris, Berlin. Some of the perpetrators were imported, but most were home grown. Home grown happens because the immigrants don’t integrate, don’t feel part of the society in which they find themselves. I can’t help but feel we’d be better off spending our money to help them stay at home, to rebuild their homelands and create a place like Lebanon used to be, when Beirut was the Paris of the Middle East.

Where do I stand with immigration to Australia? I’m an immigrant myself, tagging along with my parents not long after WW2. My parents got nothing from the Government, not even the ten pound Pom thing (on account of not being Poms). My family was dropped off at Northam and basically told to get on with it. No instant welfare, no handouts. I’m not saying it was ideal – but then, the country had just finished a punishing war and needed to rebuild. We integrated. Nearly twenty years later, my husband’s experience in 1974 when he arrived from UK was no different.

And there is the dilemma. On the one hand we have desperate people wanting a better life, on the other, people taking advantage of what we offer without contributing anything in return, in fact wanting to change the way we live. Yes, I’d prefer to allow Christians into Australia – because I think they would be more likely to integrate.  No, we should not let in everybody, because if we do, we will sow the seed for the destruction of the very thing they want to come for – our prosperity and our peace.

Bear in mind, too, our society has changed over the decades. Back in 1955 jobs were plentiful. Now, not so much, especially for unskilled people. Which is a good reason not to bring more unskilled people here. And we should certainly vet anyone who does want to live here, and extend the amount of time before people can claim Australian citizenship. Those who flout our laws should pay the price, as happened recently with a father arranging an underage ‘marriage’ for his 12-y-old daughter.

The very best thing the world could do for places like Syria is first, to end the fighting, and then offer the people help to stay at home and rebuild, just as what happened in Japan and Germany (and the rest of Europe) after WW2.  Accepting thousands of refugees won’t change things, anyway. I urge you to watch this 6 minute presentation that illustrates why it’s better to help the people where they come from.

Yes, folks, fundamental Islam frightens me. Any ‘religion’ which subjugates women and treats them as inferior frightens me. What is especially terrifying is that the barbaric custom of female genital mutilation is rising in the West – and this torture is carried out BY WOMEN on their female children. Seems to me the West is becoming a fast-dwindling outpost of sanity.Unlike the Jews, Islam is more than a religion; it’s a set of social mores than do not sit well with our democratic principles. I don’t want that in my country. Equally, I don’t want people being burnt at the stake because they espouse a different faith. For me it is a moral dilemma with no easy answers. We cannot change Islam. Only Muslims can do that. And they don’t seem to be in a hurry to consider the possibility.

If I were in the least bit religious, I’d be praying that we stand fast. Since I’m not, I’ll just have to hope our ‘leaders’ take note. One more thing – this is long, and was probably the reason I’ve written this post. History doesn’t repeat precisely – but it has trends. Things are trending right now.

And on that happy note, it’s picture time.

The Rhine at sunset

Eagle with snake in its talons

A Brahmani kite carries off dinner – a sea snake

Picture of a Noisy Miner Bird bathing

Noisy Miner Bird bathing in the swimming pool

The abbey at Melk

The trials of technology

It has been an interesting week as far as household goods go. We prefer to cook with gas, on account of it being easier to control than electricity. These days we have to contend with idiot regulations that stipulate one cannot own a cooker with gas burners, grill, and oven. One must choose either a gas grill OR a gas oven to go with a gas cook top.  So we elected to have a gas oven.

We don’t have household gas mains in our part of town, so we use bottled gas. And it appears some bottled gas is not as equal as other bottled gas. Before Christmas, being in somewhat of a hurry, and having 5 9kg bottles to refill, we bought ‘swap and go’ gas instead of waiting an hour or more to get them refilled. For those who don’t know, swap and go allows you to swap your empty gas bottle for a filled one for just the price of the gas. It’s also a good way of getting rid of your “soon to be” ten year old bottles that then need re-certifying.

When the oven started to play up, we called the gas fitters. We were informed that swap and go gas is not of the highest quality – although it’s fine for barbecues. Apparently our law makers, (yet to find out if it was State or Federal, suspect Federal), a few years ago passed a law that stated that bottled gas only needed to contain 51% gas or phrased another way, must contain at least 51% gas. We don’t know what the other (possibly) 49% is made up of but oil of some description is certainly part of it. Anyway the gas fitter explained that this “other” component of the gas cylinder’s content, (let’s call it gunk) will clog up your regulator and in particular the jets in the oven which although still working will reduce the pressure and result in less heat.

There you go. Lesson learnt, but only after the lasagne came out of the oven at the same temperature it went in. Thank goodness we have an outside oven/bbq. Needless to say, a late dinner ensued.

So we resurrected an idea we’d had for a time. Why not try an air fryer? We did some homework and decided upon a not very expensive model with good reviews.  You know the old saying, you get what you pay for? It’s not always true – you can often get a better deal by shopping around – but there are times when, yeah, it might have been wiser to shell out a little more. Anyway there were a heap of these things, all the same model, with prices from $110 to $299, so we took the $110 one and paid for delivery. Many others offer “free shipping”.

It wasn’t so much the unit’s performance. When it comes down to it, they all do the same thing – super heat air and circulate it quickly around the food to cook it with a minimum of oils or fats. But there are differences in the design of the oven. The one we bought looks a bit like a UFO, with a stainless steel removable tub. It said it came ‘with accessories’ but didn’t nominate which ones, so we ended up with less ‘accessories’ than the slightly more expensive units, some of which also had a non-stick tub. The one we bought was the same as the unit in this link – but we didn’t get the four items on the left (oil spray bottle, two flat plates, and the sort-of rotisserie thingy).

Hey ho. I had decided that we would try cooking a chook using a rotisserie provided with the oven. The (very meagre) instructions said that a whole chicken (and chopped roast potatoes, pumpkin, and carrot) would take 15 minutes at 250 degrees. After working out how to turn the bloody thing on (not explained in the Chinese Engrish) we gave it a whirl. Pun intended. We didn’t think the chicken would be cooked in 15 minutes and we weren’t disappointed. Apart from that, the prongs to keep the chicken on the rotisserie were a bit dinky. The chook slid down the pole to one end of the device and stopped turning – fortunately the cycle finished before we ended up with burnt on one side. The vegies weren’t cooked, either. We took the chook off the rotisserie and placed it in the tub with the veg and gave it another 20 at 220. Then we turned the chook over and gave it a final 15. By this time the green veg (on the stove top inside) was over cooked. But the chicken was lovely and moist.

Even after all that time the chicken could have used a little more cooking – it was still a bit pink at the joints. But that’s trial and error, isn’t it? And the oven was very easy to clean.

Apart from that, I have been watching the train-wreck that is America with growing trepidation. And I know it’s not just me. The highly respected New Yorker has an extinguished flame of liberty on its cover and Der Spiegel caused uproar with that highly evocative cover of somebody vaguely resembling Trump holding up the cut-off head of Liberty. There has been a rash of videos from many European countries urging Mister Trump to – sure, have America first – but what about us for second? I’m proud to say the Dutch started it. Many countries have joined in, but I think the best is Germany’s entry. (You’ll find the others listed on the Youtube page.) I don’t recall ever seeing a country’s leader lampooned quite so severely in his own country, and outside.

Meanwhile in Washington Trump has surrounded himself with a cabal of billionaires who know bugger all about the portfolios they have been given. The legislature’s descent into right wing Christian fundamentalist ideology is breathtaking.

On the other side of the world in Moscow several people who were suspected of being complicit in the West finding out about Russian hacking in the US election, have allegedly ‘disappeared’, and it seems one of Putin’s rivals has succumbed to mysterious poisoning. What’s the bet Putin will take over Eastern Ukraine any minute now?

And on that happy note, a few photos that have been artified by Photoshop.

Ancient hills in the Pilbara. Photo taken from the car (so a bit blurring and not great) but rendered acceptable by a PS filter. Paint daub.

Changing of the guard at Windsor Castle. This one was filtered as a poster, accentuating all those lines.

Autumn on the Rhine. I evened out the light in the water bottom left, and took out the power lines. The paint daub filter really brought out the Autumn colours

Geikie gorge. This was a good photo – but the dry brush effect is rather nice.

 

The Stuff of Legend is live!

It has been a long time coming, but I’ve finally finished what was for a very long time “the current WIP”. I had hoped it would be out in 2016, but life-as-we-know-it got in the way. Anyway, it’s finally done.

Dreams2Media’s Rebecca Poole has done a wonderful job on the cover (as usual) and I had some fun with the graphics. The story revolves around an open cluster in that galaxy far, far away and the legends and tales that have been told about that formation. (No, not that one.) As an analogy, consider the Pleiades, also known as the Seven Sisters. Just about every society on Earth seems to have had a legend around it – many very similar tales about maidens escaping from a suitor, whether they are Greek, Roman, or Australian aboriginal.

My two protagonists have very different views on ancient tales. History professor Olivia Jhutta thinks there’s often a core of truth; Admiral Jackson Prentiss is only interested in facts. This snippet illustrates their differences. Olivia and Jak are walking through the woods.

“How much do you know about the Ghria?” Olivia asked.

Jak shrugged. “Space demons that lie in wait for the unwary. They swallow ships whole. And that’s about it. Oh, and I’ve seen the pictures.”

Fanciful illustrations of non-existent creatures with huge mouths and slavering jaws. “That’s very likely fabrication.”

He chuckled. “You think?”

“We don’t know for certain, do we? What we do know is the Gh’ria legend dates back thousands of years. Although it pops up across Confederacy space, it has its roots here, in the Helicronian planets.”

Jak brushed an errant leaf off his shoulder. “I didn’t know that.”

“It’s because in its original form, the Gh’ria are linked to the Maidens. That thing about space demons is later, much later. The earliest stories are about maidens protecting a dragon’s hoard. ‘Cloaked in stardust, draped in shadow the maidens guard the dragon’s hoard’. From a poem written by Elivior San Brindel two thousand years ago.”

Smiling, Jak shook his head. “That’s better than space demons, is it?”

“It’s interesting. The story goes that if you get past the dancers protecting the place, you still have to avoid being swallowed up by a dragon.”

He laughed. “Oh please. A dragon? We have swirling gowns making up the dancers’ clothes, and now we have a dragon as well? That’s a first. Can you show me?”

Show him? Olivia riffled through the images she kept on her implant, including a few for the Maidens which she’d collected recently. “Can I transfer an image to your implant?”

“Please do.”

She waited for the invitation to access his private inbox, then transferred the one with the three women superimposed over the stars. “This shows the dancers.”

“Sure. Where’s the dragon?”

His tone bristled with scorn. But then, she should have realized he’d react like that. Bracing herself, she said, “The dragon is invisible. It’s beyond the ability of humans to see it.”

Jak shook his head slowly. “Professor, I deal with facts, not made-up stories. These legends are just idiotic notions made up by ignorant people trying to understand something beyond their knowledge. I can see it now. Some kid asks the teacher what that thing up there is, so teacher tries to explain, using things he understands. But there are no star women up there. Just an open cluster with a nebula behind it. If you look at the Maidens from Rigmont or Sallazar, the stars don’t look the same. As for an invisible dragon… give me strength.”

********************************************************************

The Stuff of Legend

When history professor Olivia Jhutta receives a distress call from her parents, she sets out into space with their business partner, her grandmother and injured Confederacy Admiral Jak Prentiss to find them. But she’s not the only one interested in the Jhutta’s whereabouts. The Helicronians believe Olivia’s parents have found an ancient weapon which they can use to wage war on the Confederacy.

Jak goes on the trip to fill in time while he’s on enforced leave, helping Olivia follow cryptic clues in what he considers an interplanetary wild goose chase in search of a fairy story. But as the journey progresses and legend begins to merge with unsettling fact, Olivia and Jak must resolve their differences and work together if they are to survive. The two are poles apart… but it’s said opposites attract. If they can manage to stay alive.

You’ll find The Stuff of Legend here.  Amazon  Google iBooks  Nook Kobo  Print

Be sure to visit everyone else participating in the showcase.

It’s all a matter of perception

Everlasting daisies in King’s Park

A few days ago a friend shared a set of pictures from Gardening Australia on Facebook. They are stunning photographs of flowers taken by Craig Burrows. It’s a shame they didn’t tell us what the common name was for each photo because with the “ultraviolet-induced visible fluorescence” process, they are transported to the extraordinary. In fact, I was very much reminded of the world-building in the movie Avatar. Just for fun I took the above photo and changed the photo’s temperature right down to purple. This is what it looked like.

Not quite ultra-violet

Which got me thinking. We see the worlds around us very much from our own point of view, and we miss so much. Bees see the world in ultraviolet. I wonder if their view is like those pictures? Our sense of hearing is vastly inferior to that of dogs and other predators. I love Terry Pratchett’s description of sense of smell as experienced by the Watch’s werewolf, Angua. For her, smell tells a great deal about the maker of the smell. It comes in layers, and it has a history, so dogs can sense how long ago bitch X was here.

Then there’s hearing. Once again, dogs and cats can hear things we don’t. Elephants can communicate in wave lengths so low we can’t hear them, while dolphins use much wider frequencies that overlap our sense of hearing only to a limited extent. Here’s a brief article on that subject. Dolphins in fact use sound to ‘see’.

And all this is on our own small blue dot. We can’t begin to know what’s out there in the vastness of space. What will a;ien species be able to do? How will they use their senses? And you know, that was the disappointing part of Avatar for me. Pandora was inhabited by wondrous, diverse (if recognizable versions of Earth) creatures. But the dominant species was a new version of pick your location of indigenous tribe. I suppose that was necessary in a romance movie for humans.

For this week I thought I’d share some lorikeet pictures. They brighten our lives, amuse, and annoy. We wouldn’t have it any other way.

Jostling over the apple juice. Note that one hanging upside down. I think they think that’s how the apple juice gets there. Also the two in the middle about to have an animated discussion.

This bird inserted himself between the two arguing – because there was a tiny gap

Things get a bit raucous

And sometimes they look like they’re dancing on the air

Who you gonna call?

This is a tale of woe we want to share with you because it’s interesting – and it’s a great example of ‘buyer beware’. It’s technical, so read on at your own risk.

Like everyone else (almost) on the planet, we believed we had to have a third party anti-virus system on our computers. We’ve had a few over the years – Macafee, Norton, AVG. A few years ago we switched to Avast’s freebie, then I decided to upgrade to a paid plan because it countered risks like malware. We had the Premium package, and have run that for a couple of years. Last November, I splurged on the $80 secureline option which was supposed to secure my internet connection.

In the last few weeks, around Christmas time, Avast started coming up with error messages informing Pete, whose machine is connected to the router, that such and such network had been changed from private to public.  At first, we didn’t take much notice, but as it became more common, we paid attention. We didn’t even recognise some of the network names. We couldn’t find out anything much about the message, so we contacted what we thought was Avast’s Australian online support. This was conducted via a chat interface.

Peter explained the issue and asked if the network switching from private to public was something to worry about. Yes, was the answer. We were transferred to someone else, who put us in contact with technical support. The tech’s name was (apparently) Jones. He asked for permission to take over the machine so he could check the status of the firewall and settings. Since we were connected to Avast we granted permission, and the conversation proceeded. Here’s a transcript.

11:36 AM Connecting…

11:37 AM Connected. A support representative will be with you shortly.

11:37 AM Support session established with Jones.

11:37 AM Jones restarting application as Windows system service

11:37 AM Connecting…

11:37 AM Application running as Windows system service

11:37 AM Connected. A support representative will be with you shortly.

11:38 AM Support session established with Jones.

11:38 AM You have granted full permission to Jones. To revoke, click the red X on the toolbar or press Pause/Break on the keyboard.

11:38 AM Remote Control started by Jones.

11:39 AM Jones: Hi, May I have your full name and your email address please?

11:39 AM Customer: Gret Johanna van der Rol gretavdr@gmail.com

11:39 AM Customer: Greta

11:40 AM Jones: Thank you, May I chck your fire wall settings?

11:40 AM Customer: Please do

11:41 AM Jones: Thank you, please dont move your mouse while I check

11:47 AM Jones: do you see those errors?

11:47 AM Customer: Yes, windows update failure

11:48 AM Jones: Most of the services were got effected. It seems already the security layer of your computer might have severely got effected  that may allow others to access your computer without any authorization anytime.

11:49 AM Jones: Did you download anything from internet recently?

11:49 AM Jones: From a non reliable resource

11:49 AM Customer: Free books from Instafreebie?

11:50 AM Jones: Okay, Let me check one more thing

11:50 AM Jones: Please wait

11:51 AM Jones: Do you see that, windows has stop defending itself

11:51 AM Jones: The defender is not working anymore

11:52 AM Customer: Yes. Can you turn it back on?

11:52 AM Jones: Sure, Even If I turn it on the onfection on your computer might turn it off soon

11:52 AM Jones: Let me show you something important

11:54 AM Jones: I hope you cane see the number of infections

11:55 AM Customer: Yes. What should I do?

11:55 AM Jones: We need to get rid of all these values fast, they could alter the functionality of software on your computer and may finally crash it. Eventually when the other programs are executed, even more programs may get “infected” with these self-replicating infected files.

11:56 AM Customer: Sure. How do we do that

11:56 AM Jones: Not to worry, We will do that for you. we found the exact locations to fix it. Today we will do a complete clean-up of your PC, fix your email issue, secure all the Pc and email ports, reconfigure all infected programming files, so that this issues is fixed and your computer would be safe without any data loss and computer crashes.

11:56 AM Customer: Excellent

11:57 AM Jones: Now for me to perform this task, we have few fix options for you. Let me give you a brief about the options. May I?

11:57 AM Customer: Yes please

11:58 AM Jones: 1. One time fix [Manual Clean-up + Today”s Fix] : $179.99

  1. Unlimited Tech support & Protection Plan for 1 Year : $299.99 (Includes today’s fix)
  2. Unlimited Tech support & Protection Plan for 2 Years : $399.99 (Includes today’s fix)
  3. Unlimited Tech support & Protection Plan for 3 Years : $499.99 (Includes today’s fix)

* The Unlimited plan also includes today’s fix.

* We will also install a calling card on your computer wherein you can reach our technicians automatically just by one click at any time.

Benefits of Unlimited Tech Plan : (Best value for money)

  1. Help to protect your privacy, data and online identity.
  2. Support for all kinds of Software related issues.
  3. Security against hackers programs, Viruses, spywares.
  4. Complete manual check-up periodically
  5. Cleanup of Registry & infected files.
  6. On Demand System Security Check.
  7. Fixing will be done in no time.
  8. We are just click away, no hold time to reach us.

I would suggest you to go for the long term as there are several issues on your PC and better value for your money.

12:00 PM Customer: Isn’t this what we’re paying Avast for, so this doesn’t happen?

12:00 PM Jones: the truth is no anti-virus is fool proof, so that’s the need of manual clean-up of any threats like Trojans, spywares at least once a month so that you can eliminate any threats immediately. This is where the human intervention is required.

12:01 PM Jones: Manual clean up is completly different from software clean up

12:03 PM Customer: I’ll do the option 1. Please make sure everything that should be turned on, is.

12:04 PM Jones: We will ensure that all the issues will be fixed

12:04 PM Jones: Shall I proceed with the one time fix

12:04 PM Customer: Yes please

12:06 PM Jones has sent a link: daskanini.com

12:08 PM Customer: Jonesy, we thought we were talking with Avast.  How did Log Me Rescuue get involved.

12:09 PM Jones: We do support for Avast products

12:09 PM Jones: Logmein rescue is the remote tool which is used to take the remote control

12:09 PM Jones: Thats a third party tool which everyone use

12:10 PM Customer: So who are you?

12:10 PM Jones: We are daskanini LLc

12:10 PM Jones: We support for Avast products

12:11 PM Customer: Well we’ll talk to Avast before we do anything.

12:11 PM Jones: Okay, I understand that, we gurantee 100 percent fix, if not you will get your money back

12:14 PM Customer: Send me your email address so we can get back to you, shortly.

12:18 PM Customer: You still there?

12:19 PM Customer: Email info@tekfixgo.com

12:19 PM Customer: Thks

12:19 PM Customer has revoked all permissions.

12:19 PM Remote Control by Jones stopped.

12:20 PM You have denied full permission to Jones.

12:21 PM Jones has ended the session.

We started getting suspicious at the size of the fee, although we seemed to be trapped between a rock and a hard place. So we got an email address, and closed the call. Then we did some homework.

First , note this statement.

11:51 AM Jones: Do you see that, windows has stop defending itself

11:51 AM Jones: The defender is not working anymore

In fact, when a third-party product like Avast is installed, Windows Defender has to be turned off.

Next, here’s a screen shot of Event Viewer from my machine. This was what Jones was showing us when he says ‘do you see all those errors?’ (Remember, my machine was fine – we were working on Peter’s)

Note the error messages. Scary stuff, huh? Well, no, actually. Scammers use that technique to trick people into thinking there’s a problem.
http://www.howtogeek.com/123646/htg-explains-what-the-windows-event-viewer-is-and-how-you-can-use-it/

The next thing to do was make sure the system on Peter’s machine was clean of any malware. I followed the steps detailed in this PC World article. Make sure you download a malware program such as MalwareBytes before you reboot your machine in safe mode. We were not surprised to discover there was nothing wrong with the machine and made sure to get rid of logmein, the program the scammers used to take over the machine.

We were pretty incensed that the support person had put us through to a scammer, so we contacted the company via email. After some discussion, we learned that we had not been talking to Avast at all. If you google Avast support you’ll see a list of sites purporting to support Avast customers. A couple of them are Avast.antivirussupportaustralia.com and getavast.net/support. They’re all scammers. We should have gone to the Avast site (Avast.com/en-au/support.) There’s nothing Avast or any of the other companies hit by these people can do to stop the scammers. They buy a domain name that sounds right (antivirus support australia). That’s perfectly legal. If we’d looked more carefully at the site, we would have found a very badly written disclaimer in the footer, stating that the company had no affiliation with Avast. But we didn’t.

So, we’ve learned a lesson. However, at least we had the sense to back off and investigate.

Take care out there, people. There are unscrupulous people who want to take advantage of you.

*******************************************************************************

Oh, and by the way, I’ve good a new book out if you’re into SF romance. Not too much romance, lots of intrigue and planet-hopping.

When history professor Olivia Jhutta receives a distress call from her parents, she sets out into space with their business partner, her grandmother, and injured Confederacy Admiral Jak Prentiss to find them. But she’s not the only one interested in the Jhutta’s whereabouts. The Helicronians believe Olivia’s parents have found an ancient weapon which they can use to wage war on the Confederacy.

Jak goes on the trip to fill in time while he’s on enforced leave, helping Olivia follow cryptic clues in what he considers an interplanetary wild goose chase in search of a fairy story. But as the journey progresses and legend begins to merge with unsettling fact, Olivia and Jak must resolve their differences and work together if they are to survive. The two are poles apart… but it’s said opposites attract. If they can manage to stay alive.

Buy it now on Amazon  Google iBooks Nook Kobo  (I’ll add them as they go live)