Archive for the ‘Comment’ Category

The worst drivers in the world.

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

It doesn’t matter if you are in Barcelona, Brisbane or Berlin, the world’s worst drivers are the ones that drive taxis.

Japan is a country where manners and civility are part of the culture. Road rage is non existent and people respect each other.

Here the taxis are retro 70s’ Toyotas and Nissans, with the occasional ‘green’, Prius. The drivers all wear ties and hats and many also have white gloves. They will even get out of the cab and help you with your luggage.

But, and there is always a but with cabbies, once they are behind the wheel they are as rude, arrogant and selfish as any of their counterparts around the world.

Cabbies are professional drivers who spend 8 to 10 hours day behind the wheel. They should be the best drivers in the world but almost to a man (and most of them are men) they are the worst.

 

The church and I don’t normally agree.

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

I am an agnostic and it’s my belief that a dogmatic adherence to religion has been one of the biggest encumbrances to human harmony since faith became organised.

However this poster, hanging on the facade of St Paul’s Cathedral in Melbourne, struck a chord.

It’s a direct reaction to the politicisation of refugees seeking asylum in Australia.

Both sides of politics, in an attempt to win favor with the electorate, have demonised people escaping the horrors of war, famine and persecution.

They aren’t criminals, they are just people trying to make a better life for themselves and their families.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugee (UNHCR) reports that there are currently 45 million refugees worldwide. This year people arriving in Australia, to claim asylum, rose to 15,800 people. That, according to UNHCR, is about 3% of the total asylum claims made in the industrialised world.

The politicised fear of immigrants in Australia isn’t new.

The Chinese were welcomed in the gold fields in the 1850s, until the gold ran out, and then they were sent packing. In the late 1940s the Ten Quid Poms, although sponsored by the government, were despised by the average Aussie, who believed they would take their jobs. Then there were the original ‘Boat People’ – the refugees from the Vietnam War who came here in the late 1970s.

With the civil war in Syria and sectarian violence in Egypt, the flood of refugees will continue.

It’s about time both sides of politics developed a bipartisan policy to welcome these people rather than ostracise them.

I agree, Australia can do better than this.

Made in China.

Thursday, August 1st, 2013

When I was growing up in the 50s, we scoffed at products that were ‘Made in Japan’.

They were seen as massed produced, poor quality copies of quality goods made in the UK, Europe or the US.

Over the last 50 years that has all changed.

Japan’s manufacturing industries developed the intellectual and engineering skills to become world leaders in automotive, computers and consumer electronics.

Their companies now compete on every level with the products they originally copied.

Japan is home to six of the top ten largest vehicle manufacturers. In fact the top selling luxury car in the US, is Lexus.

With a population of over 1.3 billion people and an ever increasing middle class, the growth of Chinese manufacturing has been fueled by internal consumption.

Owning a car, TV or mobile phone has been a priority. The quality of these new possessions hasn’t been that important.

Now internal consumption in China has slowed and manufacturers are looking abroad to expand their markets. They will soon realise that quality is just as important as price to these new overseas consumers.

Many Apple products are ‘Designed in California’ but ‘Made in China’ so it won’t be that long before the Chinese learn how to design as well as make desirable consumer products.

Once that happens we may be soon proudly driving our new ‘Made in China’ luxury car.

 

For Turkey’s sake, I hope history repeats itself.

Friday, June 7th, 2013

In our 12 months of travelling, Turkey was high on the list as being our favourite country.

The people were friendly and open, the country was beautiful, easy to get around and we always felt safe.

What also impressed us as tourists was the secular society, where religion didn’t dominate life and the freedom of the people.

Secularism was a primary principle of Mustafa Kemel Atatürk (1881-1938), the first President of the Republic of Turkey.

An excellent example of Atatürks strategy of unification and conciliation, was the way he dealt with the sensitive subject of Hagia Sophia.

Built in 537 as an Eastern Orthodox Cathedral, Hagia Sophia was to become a Roman Catholic Cathedral an Orthodox Cathedral again, and then in 1453 an Imperial Mosque.

In 1935, under the direction of Atatürk, it became a museum and it still is today. Thus diffusing the divide over what religion this ancient and important building should represent.

Atatürk transformed the Republic of Turkey into a modern state by introducing social reform and separated politics and religion.

As we travelled throughout Turkey we spoke with many Turks about their society and the possibility of them joining the European Union. The consensus was that their country was doing well, especially compared to the EU, and that they might be better off staying out of the partnership. There was also a feeling of disquiet about the current regime of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Especially his desire to move Turkey from a secular, Eurocentric society to a more Islamic, Middle Eastern one.

When we travelled to Gallipoli we were overwhelmed by the Turks love of all things Atatürk. There are quotes, statues and monuments everywhere on the peninsula. It’s therefore not surprising to hear that the average Turkish citizen is mistrustful of a government that seems to want to distance itself from the legacy of what many see as their founding father.

In fact the name ‘Atatürk’ was bestowed on Mustafa Kemel in 1934 by the Turkish Parliament and means “Father of the Turks”

This name is forbidden to any other person.

The last 10 years have seen the economy strengthen under the rule of the AKP, but this growth seems to have been at a cost.

It would be a disaster for Turkey if this current civil unrest plunges it into the rule of fundamentalism and it goes the way of many other countries in the Middle East.

It must be remembered that Turkey is a democracy and the current government have been elected to power.

What is going on right now is a struggle for that power.

The only real way change should take place is by the democratic process, but that requires an opposition capable of winning the vote.

Currently this doesn’t exist, which has allowed the present government, feeling  invincible, to deal harshly with any form of dissent.

However what does appear to be a bi-product of this conflict is the emergence of a meaningful opposition. It’s to be hoped that they will find a leader that has the intelligence and vision of Mustafa Kemel Atatürk.

Right now, Turkey needs him again.

The camera never lies but photographers cheat.

Saturday, June 1st, 2013

When framing a photograph I like to eliminate superfluous things like power lines, satellite dishes, garbage, solar heating panels and graffiti.

I try to get rid of anything that makes the scene look less than idyllic.

My snaps therefore give a false view of what I have seen.

In a moment of total honesty I decided to take a few shots that show things as they are, warts and all.

I often wonder why governments, local authorities and individuals,visually pollute the locations that they try so hard to get us to see?

The death of the written word.

Sunday, May 19th, 2013

I no longer buy a hard copy of newspapers but prefer to read them online. They’re portable, easy to read and have high quality resolution for the graphics and photos.

In many ways they’re far superior to the printed versions.

However many of the online news and editorial articles are increasingly containing video. In fact one of our local Melbourne newspapers, The Age, is becoming more of a TV station than a newspaper.

Audio books are also on the increase and now Google has announced that their primary mode of search will be voice activated not written.

The result of this visualisation of content is that many people will prefer to have their news and information read to them rather than reading it for themselves.

When I was a kid I loved having books read to me but I only got to really appreciate the joy of literature when I started to read them for myself.

It was my voice, in my head, interpreting the words and filling in the gaps.

My voice was painting the pictures and creating ’The World’ of a particular story or author.

Advertising used to be a combined craft of the visual and the verbal, with quality pictures complementing excellent writing. Now most ads consist of an average picture, headline and a short, boring, piece of copy.

Long copy ads, that involved the reader in a journey of discovery about a product or service, have vanished. They’ve been replaced by a fast grab of visual and verbal cliches.

The beauty of the written word is that it involves you in a two way communication. You read the words, interpret them and are subsequently rewarded by that creative act of interpretation.

I loved reading the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkein. Through his craft he was able to described a world that was beyond our creation. Yet because of our imagination we were able to see that world, in our mind’s eye and visualise it for ourselves.

Seeing Peter Jackson’s interpretation of the Hobbit was exciting but no more so than creating my own vision of The Shire, Gollum and Middle Earth.

If we lose the written word we will lose the ability to create visions of our own.

And what a loss that would be.

Not just a logo but an idea.

Sunday, March 24th, 2013

This is the South Australian Economic Development Board’s new logo.

I think it’s terrific.

It is not only pleasing to look at but it also has an idea that makes you think. And if you can make the viewer think about what you are saying then you will also have them remember you.

Once you get them to remember you, you’re on the shopping list.

This applies to any product, service or even a state.

Well done Cato Partners for the design and the South Australian bureaucrats who could see the idea in it.

Let’s hope that it does open some doors.

SA a portal into Australia

“Sorry”

Saturday, March 9th, 2013

I grew up with a very English perspective on public behavior.

I never wanted to offend.

Whenever there was any hint of confrontation I would always back away with the word “Sorry”

This isn’t the case in many parts of Europe.

Many Europeans come from the original ‘Me Generation’, the concept of a queue, especially while waiting for public transport, in shops or even buying a stamp, doesn’t exist and sorry isn’t in their vocabulary.

Now this proves to be a great frustration for those of us who have been brought up with this, seemingly outdated, English gentility.

You either stand back and let everyone push in front of you, or you take a stand and try and teach a small number a lesson in civility.

Much to the frustration and amusement of many, I opted for the second strategy.

This won me plaudits from people with a similar background to mine but questioning looks from everyone else.

I still used “Sorry” but this was usually followed by “…this is a queue, do you mind going to the back?”

Get a number to buy a stamp

The soundtrack to our trip.

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

From Malaysia to Madrid we have been continually reminded of Australia, in a rather weird way.

Wherever we have travelled the world wide hit song, ‘Somebody That I Used To Know,’ by the Belgian-Australian singer-songwriter Gotye, has been constantly played in taxis, bars, restaurants and shopping malls. Even during the odd sleepless night, I have heard it repeat endlessly in my head.

It’s not surprising, considering that Gotye has just won a hat-trick of Grammys, two for this song and one for the album ‘Making Mirrors’.

Even on our flight home, Gotye was again being played on the Emirates inflight entertainment system.

It’s been our musical companion for nearly 12 months and whenever I hear it in the future, it will remind me of our trip.

You get what you pay for.

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

For our last adventure we booked a packaged deal through eDreams to Tenerife. The flights were with Ryanair, who’s positioning is ‘Low Cost’

It’s true that the initial airfare is cheap but that’s where cheap ends. If you want to reserve a seat, check-in luggage or have a drink of water, then it’s all an extra and expensive.

The weight of your suitcase is limited to 15kg and your hand luggage has a strict size and weight limit as well.

The airline staff police the line of waiting passengers, checking that they are within the limits. If you’re not then there’s a heavy price to pay.

Once you are on board the cabin staff are more anxious to sell you something than an African hawker on Barceloneta Beach in August. They try to flog you lottery tickets and to my amusement there were ads on the overhead lockers and the seat backs.

There are even ‘smokeless cigarettes’ for sale, so you aren’t forced to abstain or sneak off to the little room at the back of the plane for a quiet puff.

However the flight was on time and it was a very pleasant 3 hours journey to the Canary Islands.

Our hotel in Puerto de la Cruz was also part of the package and again relatively inexpensive.

On arrival we were told that because the hotel was full our room wasn’t that good, but if we wanted to we could change rooms in the morning.

We did change and got a much better room with a terrace and garden view, which was worthwhile considering that we were going to be there for seven days.

We were even offered a free meal in the restaurant as compensation for putting up with the dog box on the first night.

On our last night we took up the offer of the free meal and were happy that we hadn’t taken the ‘Full Board’ option. The bonus that night was an excellent bottle of wine that only cost us €6 (A$7.60).

Tenerife, with its sub tropical climate, is a destination favoured by Northern Europeans wanting to escape their bitterly cold winters.

They are there to get a tan, keep warm and drink beer.

The Canaries are Spanish and 100km to the west of Africa and the outermost region of the European Union. Tenerife is the largest island in the archipelago measuring 2,034.38 km².

We decided that we would replace ‘getting a tan’ with touring and went shopping for a hire car. We thought that a Citroen C3 was great value at €65 (A$82.40) for 3 days, that’s until we drove it.

This little car had had a tough life.

There were dints and scratches on all panels, no sun visor on the passenger side, the glove box had been screwed shut, the key was held together with gaffer tape and the warning lights on the dashboard had been blacked out.

Under the bonnet wasn’t much better.

The clutch had gone (where do clutches go?) and every time I changed down a gear the engine lost 1000+rpm. This became an issue on the climb to Mount Tiede, the highest mountain in Spain and the world’s third highest volcano.

Tiede and the Tiede National Park are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Most of the park is formed by a caldera that was created when the original volcano walls collapsed into the sea about 160,000 to 220,000 years ago. This has resulted in the most spectacular moonscape appearance of towering escarpments, jagged rock formations and rubble strewn valley floor.

There is a cable car that runs to within a few hundred meters of the summit and you can then hike to the rim of the volcano, if you get permission first.

The Citroen managed the trip down the mountain with far greater ease.

On the second day we drove north east to Park Rural Anaga and enjoyed the ‘Path of the Senses’. This was through a beautifully preserved laurel woodland, one of the oldest on the planet.

Signs were placed along the walking track encouraging you to Touch, Listen, Smell and See the surrounding forest and spectacular views of the coastline.

From there we drove down to the capital, Santa Cruz de Tenerife. This is a port town, and there is no hiding it, as the harbor and container cranes dominate the coastline.

We wandered through Parque Garcia Sanabria, a large urban park in the centre of Santa Cruz with its amazing cactus garden. There you can see, close up, many of the succulents and cacti that are prevalent all over Tenerife.

Buoyed by the survival of the Citroen on the first two days, we became even more adventurous on our third and final day and travelled west. Our first stop was Icod de los Vinos, a quaint village overlooking the northern coast and home to one of the world’s oldest trees. Within the Parque del Drago, with its collection of Canarian flora, is the Millenary Drago which is believed to be over 1,000 years old.

The Drago or Dragon tree is shrouded in legends and mystery and get its name from the deep red sap, known as Dragon’s Blood, that it produces.

From Icod de los Vinos we drove around the coast to Buenavista del Norte then struggled over the mountains to Santiago del Tiede and finally reached the western coastline at Los Gigantes.

Then, to the whine of the failing wheel bearings, we drove back through Parque Nacional de Tiede to Puerto de La Cruz.

We travelled over 400km around Tenerife, had a great time, and to our surprise the Citroen kept going.

When we weren’t touring around the island we were exploring the streets of Puerto de la Cruz and the nearby village of Punta Brava.

It’s a tourist town without a doubt but there are some quaint churches and interesting architecture, but for me, the tourists were the biggest attraction.

We chose to pay for reserved seats on the flight to and from Tenerife. A decision that paid for itself, if only from the looks on the faces of the other travellers. They watched in envy as we went to the front of the line, that’s after they had been standing there for at least an hour. Not only did we board the plane first but we had a row to ourselves and didn’t have to fight for overhead locker space.

This little extravagance cost us €20 (A$25) and was worth every Euro Cent.

I guess we got what we paid for.