Another Spectrum

Personal ramblings and rants of a somewhat twisted mind


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30th anniversary of Needle exchange program

One of the country’s most successful public health initiatives, the needle exchange program has become a network of hundreds of outlets. The first exchange outlets began operating in 1987 following legislation earlier that year that legalised the practice. The early adoption of the exchange program is one reason why AIDS/HIV is low within the intravenous drug using community in Aotearoa New Zealand compared to similar countries elsewhere. Thousands of lives have been saved by the program.
//players.brightcove.net/963482464001/HJiGOMree_default/index.html?videoId=5682891395001

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Murphy has a lot to answer for

When I was a an I.T. Engineer, one of my clients had the family name of Murphy. Whenever something went wrong, she would comment that her uncle had a lot to answer for. She was of course referring to Murphy’s Law. She knew several hundred of variations of the law and she could apply a specific variation for practically any circumstance:

  • The faster you need a hard-copy, the more people will be using the only office printer.
  • no matter how idiot proof you make a program, the boss will employ a bigger idiot.
  • Debugging is at least twice as hard as writing the program in the first place.
    So if your code is as clever as you can possibly make it, then by definition you’re not smart enough to debug it.
  • The odds of toast landing butter side down is directly proportional to the cost of the carpet.
  • Parts that are difficult to install will freely fall out on their own.

Why mention Murphy’s law? The weather has been unseasonably hot and stable for more than a month, but after yesterday’s Too Hot! rant post, the weather has changed. Strong blustery winds and 15°C (59°F) temperature, and it rained heavily overnight. Murphy most definitely has a lot to answer for!


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Too Hot!

Since returning from our holiday in Japan a little over a month ago, I’m beginning to wonder if somehow we’ve moved into a parallel dimension.

The people look and behave the same, places look the same, even the politicians seem the same (although the government has changed). What is different is the weather. It’s not New Zealand weather as I know it.

Aotearoa New Zealand is well know for its temperate climate. Not too cold in winter. Not too hot in summer. The average daily maximum temperature in December in my home town is 20°C (68℉), But not one day this month has the maximum daily temperature been below 24°C (75°F). I started writing the piece late morning and already the thermometer is at 23 24 25°C (77°F) outside and climbing. According to my weather station, the maximum temperature so far this month has been 34°.3C (93.7°F)!

Perhaps if you reside on or near a continental land mass, you’re wondering what the fuss is all about but weather in Aotearoa New Zealand can change unexpectedly, and newcomers to NZ frequently get caught out. Sustained high or low temperatures feel oppressive when one lives where daily temperature variations can be as large as seasonal variations, and it’s not unusual to experience four seasons in one day.

And I suspect being an Aspie doesn’t help the situation. For me, anything below 15°C (59°C) is cold, and a trigger for the symptoms of Raynaud syndrome. Anything above 23°C (76°F) and I begin to sweat profusely, and within a relatively short time I’m saturated. As I’m unable to use any antiperspirants (hypersensitive skin), the result isn’t pretty.

When hot, I find clothing extremely uncomfortable – especially typical NZ male attire. I’ve resorted to wearing a yukata in an attempt to make life more bearable. It definitely helps.

The MetService (meteorological bureau) informs us that this summer is going to be exceptionally hot, dry and windy. Already many regions have seen new seasonal records set and it’s barely mid December! Ocean temperature in many places is 2°C warmer than normal for this time of year and toxic algal bloom is affecting the gathering of kaimoana (seafood) in some areas. Not good.

There’s another issue  I have with the summer season: hay-fever. It’s started somewhat earlier this year than normal. Typically it doesn’t start until mid to late December, but this year it started in mid November. For me it lasts continuously for around two months. Let’s hope that this year will be the same – over in mid January instead of the usual late February.

If you get the impression I’m not fond of summer, you’d be right. Roll on Autumn!


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Strolling through a winter summer wonderland

For the 90% of the world’s population who live north of the equator, Christmas carols such as Jungle Bells and Strolling through a Winter Wonderland have some meaning, even if it doesn’t actually snow. At least in comes in the cold season. Like minorities everywhere, the 10% of us who live in the southern hemisphere are denied our rights: Our right to celebrate a seasonally appropriate festive season.

I say it’s time to take a stand! No more Christmas cards with snow and holy! No more songs about white Christmases! Down with them all.

Here’s something a little more appropriate:


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Stupidity knows no bounds

No, I’m not referring to Trump, although he could be used as another example. I’m referring to myself. I’m kicking myself in hindsight and calling myself a bloody idiot.

So what did I do that was stupid? I drove to a local fast food outlet to pick up dinner for the wife and myself on Friday evening. No, I’m not referring to the consumption of fast food occasionally as stupid, nor to the fact that I drove instead of walking. I chose to leave home when it was potentially unsafe for me to do so, and I chose to drive at a time when I posed a danger to myself and others.

We all know that alcohol impairs one’s ability to drive safely, and most of us won’t drive after drinking, either because we don’t want to put ourselves and others in harm’s way, or because of the repercussions that will be heaped on us if we get caught.

(Drink Dive ad from 2007)

What many people aren’t aware of is that a migraine can seriously affect one’s ability to drive safely. Even fewer people realise that driving can be impaired up to three days before a migraine headache occurs.

Not every migraineur is impaired this way, but for some, cognition is impaired before the headache stage: during the prodrome and aura stages. I fall into that category.

Migraine goes through four possible stages: prodrome; aura; attack/headache; postdrome. Not every stage occurs in every migraine attack. For those unfamiliar with the stages, a very brief description follows:

Prodrome: Begins hours to days before the attack stage. Experienced by about 60% of sufferers. Symptoms can include: mood changes such as depression, irritability or euphoria; food cravings; sensitivity to light , sounds and smells; fatigue and yawning; frequent urination; muscle tightness.

Aura: Typically lasts for up to an hour, but in rare case can last considerably longer. Experienced by one in 5 migraineurs. Symptoms can include: visual disturbances such as zigzag lines, stars/strips/spots, scintillation, blind spots, and tunnel vision; Numbness; loss of motor skills; confusion; Alice in Wonderland syndrome; loss of spacial perception; vertigo; memory loss; visual and auditory illusions; aphaia; disorientation.

Headache: Typically lasts hours to days. Occasionally migraines can occur without this stage. Symptoms include: severe throbbing headache, sensitivity to light, sound and smells; nausea; vomiting.

Postdrome: Typically lasts hours to days. Symptoms include a “hungover” feeling; symptoms similar to the prodrome stage.

They may appear to be 4 distinct stages, but in my case, the transitions can take hours and there’s considerable overlap of symptoms. I’m unable to distinguish between the prodrome and aura stages unless the visual clues kick in, and sometimes I recognise the prodrome and aura stages only in hindsight. And that is where my stupidity arose. The clues that I was in the prodrome stage of a migraine were staring me in the face, but I failed to notice them.

I am very mindful of the potential hazards that I might be confronted with during a migraine, and I tend to err on the side of caution. While I can accept a higher level of risk for myself that results from my migraine symptoms, I’m not prepared to place that risk on others. Before I undertake any activity I normally take some time to consider the possibility that a migraine might be just around the corner, or even if a silent migraine has already arrived. Except Friday.

I drove while visually impaired and initially didn’t realise that I was. To make matters worse, when I realised that my vision was impaired, I drove home – an executive decision I should not have made.

So how did all this play out? The first clue surfaced on Wednesday. We decided to have sausages for lunch and I offered to drive to the supermarket to pick some up. That was the first clue. “How so?” you may ask. Well, I’ll tell you.

We have no idea what are the triggers for my migraines are, except for one: the red tone lighting frequently found over the meat section in supermarkets. It takes less than a minute under those lights before I start to feel light headed and within a few minutes I am completely disoriented to the point where I can’t find my way to the checkouts or exit. In fact I exhibit symptoms that can be confused with a stroke. When we first discovered this phenomenon, I first I thought it might have been a psychological reaction to seeing all the meat, but when we realised that it was related to specific shops, but not others, we eventually were able to pin it down to the lighting.

These days I avoid supermarket meat sections like the plague, and in stores where the meat section runs along the side of the shop at right angles to the isles, I avoid going to the ends of the isles, and keep my eyes diverted away from the meat. So what possessed me to even offer to pick up the sausages? And why didn’t the wife pick up on it? She knows what happens  when the lighting triggers an attack even better than I do. She has to manage me while I’m kind of spaced out and not totally aware of the situation. Clue missed.

At the supermarket I had already picked up the sausages before it dawned on me what I done. To say that I was concerned is an understatement. I was by myself and if the lighting triggered an attack, I could be in an ambulance and on the way to hospital with no choice in the matter. It’s happened before. Several times.

What I should have done when I realised my mistake was phone the wife or another nearby family member about what had happened and for them to come and get me. I didn’t. I hastily paid for my purchases and sat in the car waiting for the worst to happen. That was a stupid thing to do. If an attack had come on, I might have decided to drive, but I would not have had a clue where I was going. I wouldn’t have known where home was. Clue missed

I waited for nearly ten minutes before concluding I was lucky on this occasion, so I drove home. It was there that I realised that I had made a poor choice of sausages. One pack was Angus beef. No problem there, but the other pack was venison and herbs. To the wife, venison equals Bambi. Because of her sensitivity over this, I never bring home food containing venison. Clue missed.

At 2 am on Thursday morning I got up and made myself a couple of sandwiches. I haven’t done that since my twenties. I felt really hungry. I never feel hungry except before the onset of a migraine. It never occurred to me that this might be one of those occasions. Clue missed.

Later on Thursday I drove into town on some errands. I drove for the fun of it. Heavy acceleration and braking. Feeling the tyres grip under fast cornering. It was exhilarating. I don’t drive like that. Well not for the last 45 years. Clue missed.

I chatted with every one I met and enjoyed it. I have no idea if it was reciprocated. I didn’t care. Normally I converse as little as possible with persons I’m unfamiliar with. Experience has taught me to be cautious as I’m completely unable to read body language and only the most basic of facial expressions. I usually can’t read between the lines. I’ve learnt the hard way to carefully measure what I say and how I say it. But not on Thursday. Clue missed.

I went to bed four hours earlier than usual. I was unable to stay awake. Clue missed

In the very early hours of Friday morning I got up and made myself some sandwiches. Second night in a row. Clue missed again.

On Friday I worked on a number of Websites, but I frequently forgot HTML and CSS coding I use regularly and had to resort to cheat-sheets. I frequently found myself editing the wrong files. Clues missed.

Late Friday afternoon, I found that words were disappearing off the screen, or lines of code started undulating in front of my eyes. I knew I had to stop. I put it down to eye strain. Clue missed.

I this point I should have been fully aware that I was well into the aura stage. The sunlight was very bright, the shadows very dark. The face of the wall clock was blank. We discussed what to have for dinner. I kept tripping over words. I Couldn’t think of the words Turkish kebabs. We “agreed” on KFC. Clues missed.

There’s a deep dip where our driveway meets the street and I normally cross it at an angle to avoid the front air dam scraping the road. Except then. Oops. Clue missed.

I drove to the kebab shop. Wrong place. Headed for KFC. Clue missed.

At KFC the illuminated menu above the counter had pictures but most of the words kept shimmering in and out of view. And I couldn’t remember what we had “agreed” to purchase. It was then that it finally dawned on me that I was in the aura stage of a migraine and that I should get home as soon as possible. Decided to telephone the wife to confirm what I was supposed to order. No phone. I never go out without my phone. Decided to order what the wife probably wanted, No problem ordering the Hot Wings, but I could not think of the name for a Zinger Burger. Finally I resorted to describing what it was.

By the time the order was ready, everything before my eyes was shimmering, and my peripheral vision was all but gone. I should not have driven home. I could no longer see the speedo and other dashboard instruments and still it didn’t occur to me that I should not drive. I can remember thinking I must hurry home before it got worse. So I did hurry. How stupid can one get?

If someone had stepped out into the road in front of me, (a) I probably wouldn’t have seen them, (b) I would probably not have known how to avoid them if I did see them, and (c) even if I did, my reaction time would have been too slow. As it was I didn’t see a vehicle approaching from my right at one intersection until I started to move into it. In fact I’m very lucky to have made it back home in one piece.

Today I’ve been re-evaluating all the procedures the wife and I have developed over the last decade or so to prevent exactly what happened yesterday. It had been working very well up until now. I still don’t understand why so many clues were missed. I am very angry at myself and to a lesser extent my wife. Was it a one off slip of our guard, or have we become complacent because it has been working so well? Or are we both are loosing the ability to recognise the signs.

I really don’t want to hand in the keys for driving just yet. My mother drove until she was ninety and I’d like to think I can do the same. But yesterday has given me a scare.

 


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The far right is poisoning New Zealand!

How the far right is poisoning New Zealand is an opinion piece in the Washington Post, and I suspect most who read it and are not familiar with the politics of Aotearoa New Zealand will reach the conclusion headlined in the piece.

But do the “facts” used to support the headline stack up?

First of all, what is meant by the far right? I don’t think we’ll all completely agree what is meant by far right in politics, but this definition from Wikipedia seems reasonable:

Far-right politics is a term used to describe politics further on the right of the left-right spectrum than the standard political right, particularly in terms of more extreme nationalist, and nativist ideologies, as well as authoritarian tendencies.

The term is often associated with Nazism, neo-Nazism, fascism, neo-fascism and other ideologies or organizations that feature extreme nationalist, chauvinist, xenophobic, racist or reactionary views. These can lead to oppression and violence against groups of people based on their supposed inferiority, or their perceived threat to the nation, state or ultraconservative traditional social institutions.

With that out of the way, let’s look at some at the claims made.

New Zealand First has traditionally been an afterthought in New Zealand politics. Really? The New Zealand First Party has been a coalition partner in 3 of the last 4 governments. Its leader, Winston Peters has held the post of Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in two previous administrations, and held the role of Treasurer in one.

And no matter what one’s of opinion of Peters might be (and mine are not very favourable), those under forty are unlikely to have known a time where he hasn’t been in the headlines. There’s no doubt that he’s a populist, cares little for political correctness, enjoys controversy and being in the spotlight. Peters formed NZ First in 1993 after resigning from the National Party, and has been its leader ever since. The party and Peters are so closely intertwined, that the two names are frequently used interchangeably. Being an afterthought in NZ politics? Absolutely not.

Mack then stated “a far-right party that received just seven percent of the vote had the power to decide who would rule“. Two problems here: far right and power.

New Zealand First policies do not fit with the definition of far right as defined above. Most political commentators here call the party centrist, fitting somewhere between the two major parties: National (centre right) and Labour (centre left). To put the left/right divide in NZ into perspective, the centre right here is further left than the centre left in the USA.The left wing of the American Democrat party would be in alignment with the NZ National party.

Peters is guilty of making racist comments in the past, although never when in government, and I think he would qualify as a bit racist, but he has shown no animosity towards immigrants and ethnic groups already in NZ. The party is anti immigration, although they support an increase in the number of refugees being admitted to the country. The party is socially conservative and Peters voted against the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the 1980s, civil unions in 2005 and marriage equality in 2013, but as far as I can see, neither the party nor Peters has advocated repeals of the legislation. At one time he and the party campaigned for a repeal of the so called “anti-smacking” legislation, but that seems to be off the radar for the time being.

In many ways Peters is an enigma: Highly combative yet liked and respected by political allies and foes alike. I’m not fond of his style, nor many of the policies held by NZ First, but it really does take a vivid imagination to paint either as being far right.

If one does the maths, there were some 15 different possible scenarios that could have been played out in the formation of a stable government after the September elections. Some, admittedly, were unlikely to happen but there were a number of scenarios that could have formed stable governments without the involvement of NZ First. To claim that a party with 7% of the popular vote had the power to decide who would rule, is a failure to understand the nature of negotiation. Labour, the greens and NZ First reached an agreement to form a viable government. Let’s see: Labour 36.9% + NZ First 7.2% + Greens 6.3% = 50.4%. I think that’s sufficient public support to give them the right to form a government. National did not have a moral right to form a government simply because it had 44.4% of the popular vote.

Mack claims that Peters and NZ First held the country to ransom by delaying a decision for weeks while making increasingly extreme demands. Huh? Negotiations started the day after the final vote was declared, and were concluded ten days later. Given that any agreement had to be ratified by members of three political parties (four if you include the negotiations between National and NZ First that were going on at the same time), it was quite an achievement to conclude negotiations in less than two weeks.

And what were the extreme demands that apparently Ardern had kowtowed to? Slashed immigration? A plank In labour’s election platform was the reduction in the net migration gain, currently running at over 70,000 per year, which is placing a strain on housing stock and infrastructure. The section of the coalition agreement on immigration starts with “As per Labour’s policy…” So no far right plan imposed on the new government.

Mack also claims they’ve also put forward legislation banning non-citizens from owning property. Ah, no they haven’t. The proposal is to prevent overseas investors from purchasing and speculating in existing housing stock. There will be no restrictions on non-citizens who reside here from doing so. And foreign investors will still be able to build and own new housing stock. This has been Labour policy since 2013.

So what has NZ First achieved? An increase of the minimum wage to $20 per hour by 2020. This is about $2 more than labour had proposed. The biggest “concession” gained by Peters is funding of regional development to the tune of 10 billion dollars over 10 years. There’s also an agreement to review the existing Super Gold Card with the possibility of replacing it with a new generation Super Gold Card. If these are extreme demands from the far right, I’ll eat my hat.

As for the white supremacists clashes outside Parliament: Six National Front members were holding an annual rally on the steps of parliament when they were glitter bombed and man-handled by several hundred anti-racism protesters. If this is a sign of increased support for far right ideals, what should I make of 60,000 who took part in a far right rally in Poland?

When we look at the new Labour NZ First government, it must be noted that 41% of the executive are Māori or Polynesian, and within the combined caucuses of Labour and the Greens, 50% are women. Hardly a good sign for white supremacists and bigotry.

Before I close this rant over the Washington Post’s appalling journalism, I need to point out that governance agreements between parties in New Zealand tend to form very loose coalitions. To maintain party distinctiveness, the agreements have “agree to disagree” clauses. These allow parties in government to vote against each other on matters important to them.

An example of this is likely to arise when the TPP free trade treaty comes up for ratification in Parliament. Both NZ First and the Greens oppose the treaty and will most likely vote against it. This will not be a threat to the government due to the agree to disagree arrangements. In this particular case, the government will be able to rely on support from National, but there will be other occasions where it will be unable to raise the support necessary to pass legislation, even with major concessions to other parties. However, such events are very unlikely to bring down a government.

If you’d like to know more on how our novel arrangements for multi-party governance is developing in New Zealand, you might like to read the PDF document MMP and the Constitution published by the Victoria University Faculty of Law. It’s a little old, being published in 2009, but it does illustrate how pragmatism rather than ideology influences how the country is governed.

Sorry Ben Mack, but if New Zealand is being poisoned by the far right, then the rest of the world must be in its final death throes.


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So we’re teaching our kids to hate wild animals?

Well, according to professor Marc Bekoff in this article and this article in the Huffington Post we are.

Yes, we want to eradicate some species from our shores including possums, rabbits, stoats, weasels, hedgehogs, rats and mice, and some of want to go further and include goats, pigs, deer, peacocks cats and dogs in that list.

Does that mean we hate those species? Or does it mean we love kiwi, kōkako, kākāpō, takahē, tīeke, tuatara, wēta and powelliphanta more?

The good professor objects to the organised killing of possums. In fact he’s been recorded as saying “It’s time to put away the guns, the traps, the snares, the poisons. The lives of individual animals matter, and killing is not the answer”. Perhaps the good professor would like to have a quiet word in the possums’ collective ear about the harm they are doing by destroying the forest canopy and that their predation of eggs, birds and insects is contributing to the extinction of many species. He might also like to mention that as they have no predators here, they might like to reduce their birthrate to a manageable level.

Alternatively he might like to find a viable method of non-traumatically capturing 30 million possums and shipping them to Australia. I’m sure the Aussies would welcome all 30 million of them back with open arms. Then perhaps he can suggest solutions for the other invasive species I’ve mentioned.

The professor makes the ridiculous claim that as these invasive species have been here for more than 50 years, they have every right to live here in peace. Our native and endemic flora and fauna have lived here for up to 80 million years. Do they not have a right to live here in peace? Those invasive species we wish to eradicate have contributed to one of the greatest mass extinctions in recent history. As around 80% of our fauna is endemic to New Zealand, if they disappear here, they’re gone for good.

I’m all for treating animals compassionately, but these foreign pests have been anything but compassionate to our native and endemic species. If they can’t learn to get along with the original inhabitants, it’s time they moved elsewhere. We are facing a conservation crisis, so the time to play nice with these critters has passed.

For a viewpoint that contrasts starkly with that of Professor Bekoff, see this article by Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker.


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Internet? What Internet?

As I mentioned in my previous post, accessing the Internet in Japan was problematic. On board the cruise ship, WiFi was free, but that only provided access to on board facilities. Internet access was expensive. I made the decision to purchase 10 hours of access which set me back US$200. I shouldn’t have bothered. Communication by smoke signals would have been faster and more reliable. Frequently the network went down, and while down it was impossible to log off, meaning the clock kept on counting down the time I had left.

On board, the transfer rate was very slow. Who remembers dial-up internet of the early 1990s? That was fast compared to what I could get, even when the ship was in port. I found it better to go onshore and seek out a WiFi hot spot. But even then I frequently ran into problems.

WiFi hot spots are to be found everywhere in Japan, but most seem to require a subscription with a service provider to use for anything other than a very short trial period. Often the amount of personal information that had to be divulged even to use the trial period was too much for my comfort, and I’d abandon the sign up process. Those that really were free often had very little bandwidth, and weren’t much better than on the ship. I noticed too, that many of the hot spot providers required the use of a smart phone that had been purchased in Japan. Foreign purchased phones simply would not work.

The best connections I found were in restaurants, shopping centres and railway stations. Hotels and inns were a mixed lot. It seemed that the bigger the place was, the less reliable the Internet connection. There were two factors here. In large establishments the WiFI signal strength could be patchy, and while it might be strong in the lobby or dining rooms, it frequently was very weak in our room. The other issue was bandwidth.

I swear that the larger the establishment, the smaller the capability of the router. We stayed at a number of small inns with as few as five guest rooms. Here I could get speeds approaching the ADSL speeds at home. But in larger places, data transfer slowed to a snail’s pace, especially in the evenings. Even achieving 1KB/sec in some places was an achievement. Talk about being frustrated! I abandoned all hope of blogging, and managing my part time online business became a nightmare.

I use Google Photos to automatically sync pictures and videos taken on my phone to the cloud and my other devices. By the time we left Japan, less than 5GB of the 32GB I’d taken had been uploaded. A similar amount uploaded while we waited for a connecting flight at Auckland Airport. The rest uploaded by the time we woke the next morning.

We don’t have a fast connection at home: 10MB download and 1MB upload, but it still seems fast compared to what I experienced in Japan. I don’t know how unique my experience with the Internet in Japan is, but both my daughter and her husband had similar experiences. Perhaps we were just unlucky.

Speaking of Internet speeds, I really must hurry up and choose a high speed fibre provider. After all, there’s been fibre running right past out gate for more than a year now. Most providers charge no more, and frequently less than I’m paying for my copper ADSL service. The only problem I’m having is choosing which provider to go with. Soooo many of them, and every one of them has numerous plans. Contract or no contract? With or without phone line? 100MB or 1GB? With or without Netflix? Metered or unmetered? According to one comparison website, I have 1,960 different plans to choose from. Help!!


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Where’ve you been?

I have recently returned to Aotearoa New Zealand after an absence of seven weeks. During that time, I made a startling discovery. I miss the blogosphere when I can’t reach it!

Before leaving these shores, I had convinced myself that Internet access would not be a problem. I would be able to manage my part time business/hobby, and keep up with the numerous blogs I follow while I frittered away my children’s inheritance on a luxury holiday. But it was not to be.

So where have I been?

Japan – home for the first 24 years in the life of my wife. The trip was divided into three legs:

  1. A 17 day cruise around Japan with excursions to Korsakov in  Russia, and Busan in South Korea plus a few days in the Tokyo area either side of the cruise.
  2. A short stay at Sendai, my wife’s home town.
  3. An exhausting 14 onsen (Japanese inns with volcanic hot springs) in 15 days.

The cruise

The great thing about cruises is that it’s like booking into a hotel but finding yourself in a different location each day. No hassle with packing bags, or booking and catching public transport, or finding somewhere decent to eat. The bad thing about cruises is that you find yourself in a different location every day, and after a while, the food, even though it’s of an extremely high quality, becomes a little too predictable and monotonous. (I can’t say anything bad about not having to pack bags every day).

We had brief visits to many parts of Japan that my wife had never been to, some of which will become destinations in future visits to Japan when/if they eventuate. We would have liked to have spent longer at some locations, but time, tide and cruise ships wait for no man.

We were accompanied on the first two legs of our holiday by our daughter, her husband, and their three children. Some excursions we did as an extended family, others we did by ourselves, and on occasions when a migraine got in the way, my daughter or grandchildren would take my place.

What in the world possessed North Americans to call the main course of a meal an entrée? To avoid confusion among passengers, the cruise English language menu referred to the courses at dinner as Starters, Mains, and Desserts. Each day there was a different choice of 5 or 6 starters, 5 or 6 mains and 5 or 6 desserts. There was another 15 or so dishes that were available every day. The menu started to repeat itself after the tenth day.

What I like about cruise dining is that one is not limited to just one starter, main and dessert each meal, but one can eat as many dishes as one wants. I typically had 2 or 3 starters, occasionally 2 mains and often finished with 2 desserts. My son-in-law, not to be out done, at one meal consumed every starter, including one starter twice, 3 mains and at least 2 desserts! I had visions of being able to roll him off the ship at the end of the cruise, but of course he was unable to maintain such an appetite for long.

Highlights of the cruise? There were many memorable occasions, but not always of the pleasant kind. In particular, the visit to Korsakov was rather sobering. One had the feeling that life was kind of hopeless. Everything was run down and people had that kind of resigned look in their eyes which said life was grim and not likely to get any better. Our Russian guide more or less confirmed this by stating than many Russians have moved to Sakhalin Island due to the low cost of living only to discover the low cost of living comes with even lower wages (around US$2000 per year) and find it impossible to earn enough to leave.

On the other hand I can claim another Kiwi victory over the Aussies!  On an excursion to the Kushiro Marshlands in Hokkaido, we found ourselves in a bus with 4 Australian couples, and another 8 passengers of assorted nationalities. At the visitor centre, we were fitted out with lifejackets and wet weather gear for a canoe ride through the marshlands. As each canoe held a maximum of eight people plus a guide, we seemed to naturally divide ourselves into three groups: Our extended family of 7; the eight Australians; and the rest.

We spent spent a wonderful time exploring. Nature there was very different to what we experience in Aotearoa New Zealand. I think everyone in all three canoes were enthralled by the experience. However it all changed on the last leg of the return journey shortly after we entered a large lake. We had just finished watching a flock of ravens harassing an eagle, and were slowly starting to paddle towards the visitor centre in the distance, when we heard the the sound of a canoe approaching from behind at full throttle, eight paddles dipping in and out of the water in unison. Then we noticed that they were paddling to the chant of “Aussie, Aussie, Aussie”.

They were fully aware that we were Kiwis and that their action would be like a red flag to a bull. Naturally we responded. They had caught us by surprise, and they were a good boat length ahead by the time we got up to speed. I’m sure they were confident they could beat us to shore 800 metres away as they had the benefit of surprise and had a crew of eight adult paddlers ranging from their mid twenties to their mid fifties. Our canoe consisted of six paddlers as my wife was unable to paddle due to back problems: three children (5, 8 and 11 years old), Two adults in their forties and myself in his late sixties.

The guides were clearly perplexed by what was a mad race for the shore. We had an advantage here as both my wife and daughter speak Japanese. As we made ground on the other canoe, my wife and daughter explained to our guide the nature of the rivalry between Kiwis and Australians. It wasn’t long before were were paddling neck and neck and over the sound splashing of paddles and gasping breath as we each jockeyed for the lead, we could hear our guide explaining the insanity of antipodeans to the other and it was very evident by their laughter that they both though were were all quite mad.

Slowly we drew ahead, pain in arms and back almost reaching breaking point, and when we were some 200 metres from shore we had about a two boat length lead. At this point the Australians realised that that there was no possibility of beating us and abandoned the race. We on the other hand were out to prove a point and continued on at the same pace until there was no more water under the keel much to the consternation of our guide.

I’ll cover other aspects of the trip in future posts. In many respects, it was a journey of discovery. Those discoveries being mostly about myself, some quite surprising. If I can make sense of some of them I might share them on this blog. That is if I can find the courage to do so.

All in all, the seven weeks away from home went too quickly, but I was really pleased to get back home. There’s something about the comfort of familiarity that eventually overtakes the excitement of adventure. At least it’s that way for me.