Saturday, April 25, 2009

Tripping down under (part 2) ... journeying over water for our zoo adventure.

Suzi and I caught a bus round the corner from our lodge (more about the Sydney public transport later). It is good to go on a trip with someone who had the foresight to research transportation dues before going on a trip. Suzi had purchased transport passes for AUD 38 at the airport: good for seven days and gave us access to most bus, rail and ferry lines in Sydney. This is truly value for money: a regular bus ticket for a 7 km trip cost about AUD 4.90 a single way. I guess they are trying to make it easy for the tourists to move around a lot; then they would spend more, no?

The bus wound around the suburbs. It looked to me as though Sydney doesn't believe in zoning. You could see mid-size shopping malls in the middle of the suburbs and just a few blocks away, rows of shops offering everything from dry cleaning, Lebanese bread, lotto and liquor to real estate. The houses seem to be on a small side, but Suzi pointed out that it gets really cold in winter and that smaller houses are more efficient to heat. However, although the gardens of the homes are the size of a postage stamp, they are immaculately kept and boasts a variety of colours. Some even shaped their shrubs into topiaries! None of the apartment buildings are over 5 stories high, which is amazing. I don't know whether this means Sydney doesn't have very many people (which I doubt) or because the development sprawls away into the countryside.

We got off near a train station to try out the double decker train to get to Circular Quay.

On board the train we were giggling away like demented girls as we craned our necks about, commenting at the age of the well-preserved vinyl seats and generally just oohing and ahing. Circular Quay housed the ferries harbour that we took to get to Taronga Zoo, where I got this cute little fellow for my niece.

However, it seems that he spends most of the time on my bed. Huh.

We bought breakfast at a cafe at the port?dock? of the ferry heading towards Taronga. Suzi told me that the school holiday had just begun with Easter last weekend. There was a large number of families also waiting for the ride. Many comprised of three generations; so for those who generalise about the moral and family institution decay of Western society, better shut your trap. There was quite a few where it was the grandparents who took the kids out; no parents. It was noisy and cheery and this atmosphere continued on board the ferry.

The ferries weren't very large and are quite old, I think. Autumn in Sydney was blissfully cool and the delicious cold breeze over the water was a fantastic contrast to the heat back home. The journey took us past a few major landmarks of Sydney such as:

The famed Sydney bridge. Apparently there are guided tour to the bridge inclusive of a climbing expedition. Those crazy mat sallehs.

The Sydney Opera House reminded me of some building in Shah Alam. Don't ask me why. I was just shocked to see how close it was: something that I had not thought to see except on postcards and television. The harbour water looked quite clear and did not carry the unpleasant reek that one often associates with a busy harbour. No debris, no floating pseudo jellyfishes (i.e. plastic bags) either. Fantastic.

I was admiring that white structure on the foreground of this picture; no idea what it was. You can see sailboats moored in the cove in the background; there are all kinds of water vessels to be found here, from paddleboats, schooner-types, water taxis etc.

The ride on this baby wasn't covered by our transport pass, so we only took pictures.

Boats big and small idylly made their way around the harbour, unhurried and casual.

Some of the hydrofoils carry passengers for special tour trips around the Darling Harbour and stuff. They serve food and provide some kind of entertainment on board.

This classic ship also carries passengers for tour trips to reminisce about the historical beginnings of Sydney. Unfortunately none were moored when we were at the quay; it would have been nice to be able to get on board to see what it's like.

Next: Wildlife encounter!

Tripping Down Under (part 1)

Gotta thank the MAS travel fair that made it possible for me to make my trip down to Sydney last month. My whole family endeavoured to send me to KLIA that Thursday (April 16th), so I didn't have to take the train from KLSentral like I used to when I taught part-time at UDM. We had dinner there, which was a little disappointing, as my kuey tiaw tasted like raw dough. Ah, c'est la vie. So I ate most of Chomp's dinner of hotplate noodle, which she barely touched.

Killed some time walking around the airport with Chomps before my gate call. Yongie bought a cute little dress for Iman at the airport with the Petronas Twin Tower on it and it was wrapped up nicely by the sales clerk. Thankfully it wasn't too big that I could place it in my knapsack comfortably. Wish I had thought to get Iman something, but decided to give her angpau before coming back home instead (Yongie gives good suggestions).

Hugged everyone and got a little teary eyed as I made my way through the immigration, with Chomps cries for "Achu! Nak ikut Achu!" echoeing in the cavernous KLIA. Huh. On the days when she declaim that she "Tak nak kawan, Achu!", I will recall those cries. Drama queen.

I had no real idea of the vast dimensions of the KLIA until I made my way through the international departure area. Had to take a train to get to the plane. Goodness. There were plenty of shops for last minute gift shopping as well as getting duty free goods. Strangely enough, the cosmetics aren't all that cheaper than counter prices. What a rip off.

We departed Malaysian soil at 2229 hrs. I had the window seat, but I gave it to the Indian gentleman who shared my row; he had the aisle seat, but since his limbs are so much longer than mine, it was better that he got my seat. There was only the two of us in that row, which makes for a comfy journey, judging by the other rows that were fully occupied. It was pretty okay for an economy class fare; slightly more space than the domestic flight (which is shorter so it makes sense). The lift off was smooth and the nifty screen showing us the flight path was really cool. Love the idea of going over land and sea and knowing how fast we were going. Whee!

We were served a peanut and juice snack, followed by dinner at around 2345 hrs; I chose a delicious chicken dish and secreted away the cheese and crackers for future consumption. Tried watching the movies available, but my seat was over the wings of the plane so the engine was too loud for me to hear the dialogue. Watched a bit of The Transporter; one movie where dialogue was unnecessary. However, the mammoth book of paranormal romance that I brought had greater appeal and so I read that until I fell asleep at around 0040 hrs.

Sleeping in the plane wasn't very comfortable; there was an elderly lady sitting behind me so I didn't want to lower the back (not to mention I failed in my attempts to do so). But my gift for falling asleep under any and every condition came through so I managed about a three hour nap, waking up every 45 minutes or so to blearily look around and nod off again. I woke up proper around 0400 hours, went to the loo to brush my teeth and tidy up a bit. The plane windows were opened by then; the sky was beautifully streaked with light. If you weren't keeping Malaysian time, you would have thought that it was nearly 7 am.

We were served a cold breakfast at about 0420; the Indian gentleman seated with me complained that his bun was too cold, poor thing. We spent some time chatting after breakfast; he was from India, had lived in Malaysia for some time before making a home for himself in Sydney. He reminisced of what life was like in the sixties and how much things have changed. His son is a free-lance journalist in Malaysia, I gathered, and he was here visiting his son and his French wife. Our conversation lapsed after a while and we both woolgathered until the announcement to land.

I arrived at 7.50 am local time. Once the light for the seat belt was off, I turned on the phone and was delighted to receive a message from my friend Suzi, whom I was meeting in Sydney. There was a bit of time to collect my luggage and get my passport stamped; gotta say that the Aussies are more efficient than the Americans at the Los Angeles airport. They were friendly enough and the little doggie (a spaniel or beagle of some sort, I think) who was sniffing for contraband was so cute. I got away with my crackers and cheese, but the dude behind me had apples in his bag; he claimed they were snacks his wife brought. Can't recall if it was confiscated though.

The beauty of cellular telephone connection meant I could warn Suzi that it took a while to find my bag and that she had to wait a bit. Her plane had arrived earlier from Melbourne and she had to take a ride from the domestic flights terminal to the international one; that's how big the Sydney airport is. After meeting her, we took a taxi to the inn where she'd booked us a room and we chatted a storm. Bits we didn't want our cabbie to hear was in Malay; I think she was glad to have someone she can talk to in her native tongue, even though her English is excellent.

Since we couldn't check in yet, we left our luggage in the office of the lodge.

... and left for our Sydney adventure!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What to do when the villagers come knocking with pitchforks and torches ...

If you are about to be flambeed for some screw ups of your organisation, do not panic. It is not the end of the world, although you could feel the noose tightening and the horse beneath you bucking. All you need to do is go to "Dealing with an Angry Public", a Program on Negotiation offered by Harvard Law School.

I guess the PR people of the giant automobile corporations and failing banks the world over should go for it. It offers to help you communicate effectively when you are, "Confronted by the need to take effective action in the face of public anger (e.g., over a devastating accident, the failure to regulate products or services adequately, or the siting of a controversial facility)".

Endorsed by many. Look at some testimonials below.

“A great program! I’m walking away with a principled approach to deal with an angry
Col. Boykin Jordan, Jr., Commander, 55th Communication Group,
U.S. Air Force

“ . . . more than thinking ‘outside the box’. You learn to stand on top of the box.”
Brian Hague, Communications Director,
County of Bergen, NJ

Perhaps then you won't have to worry about being lynched (or at the very least, tarred and feathered) by the angry mob.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Pride Without Prejudice

Well, apparently denial/The Nile is not merely a river in Egypt; it is also a coping mechanism.

Go figure.

Love is a Splendiferous Thing

To love and be loved unconditionally is the penultimate gift, no?

Please don't wait until that person is no more for you to show your love, even if you never say it.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Learning Sans Ego

It was reported at a meeting of the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America in San Diego on Saturday that something as simple as balling up your paper gown and stuffing it in your gloves prior to disposal has a 26 - 62% rate of success at reducing hospital acquired infections. This measure has been included as one of three "Positive Deviance approaches that the CDC has found reduced infection rates at hospitals. PD is based on the premise that in any group there are natural problem-solvers".

The innovator: a humble patient escort named Jasper Palmer.

I'm glad to hear that august surgeons, clinicians as well as other hospital staff are willing to learn from Mr Palmer. Many a time people are not willing to learn from those they deem to be beneath them, no matter how egalitarian the society. It is nice to hear that people are serious about the problem of nosocomial infections that they are willing to listen to sensible solutions proposed by someone without a PhD.