Tuesday, 2 September 2014

An update on MHP#2 (karate kicking guy)

Today while sitting in the coffee shop again, MHP#2 (aka the karate kicking dude) put on a display right in front of my window. He tried in vain multiple times to fall into traffic. I have no idea how he didn't get cleaned up by a car in one particular instance, it must have been damn close. 

I've now worked out that he is not attempting to karate kick but to practice Baseball pitching! He stands sideways, brings his hands together then very suddenly kicks out his left leg and throws his right arm back. This leads to an instant and explosive loss of balance, I'm quite impressed that he never actually goes down and somehow regains his balance. 

taking a break from practice

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

A couple of interesting characters

While sitting at the local coffee shop this morning I was reminded of a couple of the local 'interesting characters' aka Mental Health Patients. I thought it might make a humorous read so here you go:

One day after dropping Amanda at work I was headed for the coffee shop. While heading down the driveway from her work to the main road there was a guy walking right in middle of the small lane. He obviously had not heard my car come up behind him, so instead of beeping him I thought I’d be patient and wait for him to finish walking down. At some point he suddenly noticed me (a respectable distance) behind him, he jumped and ran to the edge of the lane. I waved and smiled at him as I passed him. As I turned onto the main road he yelled something and waved at me. I slowed as I thought he might have something important to say. This was a mistake! Turns out he was just looking for a lift into town. I was put on the spot so I said yes...

We introduced each other but I found it very hard to understand him. He asked me about why we were here and wanted to guess where we were from. After wrongly guessing numerous American states I told him he was guessing the wrong country entirely, after a few more wildly inaccurate guesses (he wouldn’t let me to tell him the answer) I started giving him some hints like Southern Hemisphere, Starts with the letter ‘A’ (he then immediately guessed a country not starting with ‘A’). After he guessed a few more American states I decided to tell him it was Australia. I’m not sure he’d ever heard of it as he still seemed convinced it should have been an American state. I tried to tell him where it was and mention Kangaroos and Koalas but this made him more confused. I changed the topic. 

He told me he worked for the local office supply store and was headed back to the office in town after a meeting at the hospital. I thought this was a little odd seeing he was bumming a lift off me, he wasn’t well dressed and he smelled a little. He went onto babble some shit I couldn’t understand and we had a fairly uncomfortable ride as we couldn’t converse particularly well. As we neared his workplace I had to slow the car down to allow someone to finish crossing the road (away from a zebra crossing). MHP#1 flips out at this and leans way across me to scream out my window at them. He yells some crap about how they shouldn’t be jay walking and how it was a crime in Palau. I don’t think the jay walker would have heard his rant but I sure did. After shrugging him off so I could hold the steering wheel without him leaning on me we finally neared his workplace moments later. I gladly let him out and continued on to the coffee shop. 

Wouldn’t you know it, not more than half an hour later I caught him (beer in hand) jay walking twice across the main road causing all sorts of traffic issues. 

Since this incident I’ve seen him a pile of times jay walking and wandering around town with a beer and smoke in hand. Obviously it’s been a while since he worked at the office supply store if he ever did at all.

There is this older guy maybe about 60 years old, tall-ish, thin who has clearly had a hard life. Often he is wandering around town, walking right on the edge of the road. This in itself is rather unremarkable but what what makes this guy unique are the massive karate kicks he'll attempt to pull off, these are completely random and without any warning. And I'm talking massive somewhat uncoordinated spin-o-rama heel kicks! 

I don’t think he’s necessarily aiming at cars but in his (probably) inebriated state and his preference for standing right on the edge of the road it becomes a rather significant issue for passing cars. Especially when he starts to lose his balance and almost falls into traffic after an attempted kick. 

At one point I hadn’t seen him for some time, I wondered if he had either successfully landed a kick or if he unsuccessfully kept his post-kick balance. But I’m glad to say he’s ok and back to his karate kicking best (with vengeance!)

Monday, 21 July 2014

Tales from the High Seas

Yes I am alive! Despite my lack of blogging I did in fact survive sailing some 600 nautical miles across the middle of the ocean. I have plenty of stories to tell about fighting monstrous sea beasts, trading with spice merchants and drinking with murderous pirates, but I’m sure you’ve all heard those stories many times before so I won’t bore you with those details. 

After our departure was delayed by a rather tardy Palauan customs officer we were finally underway around high noon. We headed out of the Malakal bay towards Palau’s west passage and were promptly hit with a pretty solid squall with up to 30 knot winds. While it didn’t last long it did give us a little taste of what we would experience later in the trip. 

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful, I learnt the ropes of the boat (literally) and I reeled in a black fin tuna that we had for dinner that night. By nightfall, the seas had increased enough that the constant bouncing around started getting to me. After eating and dividing up the night shifts I thought I’d grab a shower and try and get a quick nap in before my first shift at 11pm. The shower cubicle is rather small and the seas were rough enough that I was physically bouncing off the walls. This didn’t help my stomach at all and I promptly had to locate the toilet, lucky it was right next to the shower.
Somehow I got a little bit of sleep before the first of my two shifts overnight. With the exception of one night we normally ran shifts of 2 hours on, 4 hours off. Tasks for the night shift are; regularly checking for any obstacles in our path, watching the AIS electronic tracking system (and radar), keeping the boat on course, watching the wind strength and direction and adjusting or putting up and down the jib as appropriate. 

Despite still feeling sea sick I enjoyed my two night shifts on the first night. In fact the night shifts were my favourite part of the whole trip. I truly enjoyed the peacefulness of sitting by myself up on the deck, listening to music, staring at the wide open ocean and regularly checking the controls.
What became a little tough over the next few days was the lack of a decent length sleep. You’d regularly sleep 4 or 5 separate times in each day. Add to that the difficultly in sleeping in a boat… Imagine your bed quickly rising and falling between your ceiling and the floor in your room. Then add the noise from waves hitting the hull and various typical boat noises; winches, pullies, motors, sails etc etc

But back to #2 two, after getting sea sick on the first night this lasted throughout the next day and only abated late on the second night. Thankfully I was now used to the constant rocking and bouncing around that I didn’t suffer any further from sea sickness. 

The next few days continued much the same, we only passed two other boats in the first 3 days, both very large container ships heading towards Palau. Otherwise there was nothing to see at all. Before the trip I wondered if I’d have some sort of epiphany with being in the middle of the ocean but you can only see so far and it’s rather difficult to comprehend the size of the ocean and just how small you are in comparison. The only way you could get any concept was to check the GPS system.

Outside of the shifts and sleeping there often wasn’t a huge amount of time left in the day. I did a little reading but not as much as I had expected to do. We also did a number of maintenance jobs around the boat. I’m now an expert in hatch repair and also am pretty good at scrubbing the decks and washing dishes ;)

We had a day or so with average weather which made it less enjoyable, more so because I couldn’t sit in my favourite chair on the top of the deck during my shifts. 

As we neared the Philippines things got a little more exciting, we had to keep an eye out for FAD’s (Fish Activation Device). These are anything from ropes, chains or more complex metal structures anchored or hanging down from a large metal float. These are supposed to help coral and fish grow, but the Philippines are so overfished that everyone just goes and fishes around these devices. So nothing gets a chance to grow or spawn. The biggest issue to us with these FADs is that they often don’t show on the radar and are sometimes painted black. Perfect for running into and smashing up your boat. 

As well as looking out for these we started encountering various sized Filipino fishing fleets and huge container ships heading North. 

The weirdest encounter we had was at 125 nautical miles off the coast of the Philippines we suddenly noticed this guy on a tiny motorised canoe come up alongside us. At first he wanted some petrol from us, after saying no we continued to see him around us for a while until he again came over asking for water. We filled up his container and also gave him some juice and a pair of sunglasses. He was so thankful he gave us his rather meagre catch for the day. Again he was visible around us for a while longer before coming back a third time, this time I was not sure whether he wanted some food off us or whether he wanted to give us more for the juice and sunglasses. Either way we said no and he thanked us again and headed off. Given how far we were away from the coast and how little he was provisioned with, we can only assume he had a mother ship around somewhere. 

After almost 5 days we finally saw land again at the bottom of Davao, down the southern end of the Philippines. We rounded the point late in the afternoon but still had near another 12 hours of sailing up to the marina on Samal Island. We would only run for another few hours before stopping for the night. The biggest concern was running into one of the hundreds of tiny unlit fishing boats crawling everywhere. 

The next day we headed up to the marina, the boat was due to be hauled out to have some significant repairs and maintenance completed. Once safely moored we did some more work around the boat before retiring for a hard earned beer. 

I stayed only the boat another couple of nights before heading up to Manila for a few days prior to flying home. If I can find the impetus I’ll write a post about my Davao City/Manila experiences.
I thoroughly enjoyed my trip and am very thankful for the opportunity and experience. I don’t think they’ll ever make a true sailor out of me but I’m open to doing another trip like this if the situation is right.

my bunk for the week

the open ocean
my favourite spot on the boat, bonus points if you spot the container ship!
old mate 125 nautical miles off the coast
a near miss with a 300m long container ship

the controls
One of the rainy days
not much to see on the open ocean
another 'close call'
Land Ho!
Morning mist around Davao
Heading into the marina

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Sailing the seas

Early this week I received an offer completely out of the blue. I was asked to help crew a 60ft catamaran from Palau to the Philippines. (with a return flight included). I've never done any proper sailing but how could I say no to such an amazing experience.

So this morning we depart on what should be a 5-6 day journey. I'm excited but also a little nervous at the same time. After we get to the Philippines I have towards a week to check out Davao and Manila. I haven't been there before so would be happy if any of my readers wanted to recommend anything to see, do or more importantly to eat.

Hopefully I'll have some good stories to post about on my return.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Japan Food: Chitose Okonomiyaki Restaurant

In a former post I mentioned how I’ll be forever thankful for Korean John for taking Alex and myself to what has become my favourite restaurant in the world – Chitose Okonomiyaki.
Chitose Okonomiyaki
tastes way better than it looks ;)
Chitose Okonomiyaki is a smallish restaurant located in the back alleys of Shinimamiya, Osaka. It’s solely run by a great man called Hideki. His restaurant has been family owned for generations and was handed down to him by his parents when they retired.

Ok so for the uninitiated, what is Okonomiyaki? It’s often referred to as a Japanese savoury pancake (or pizza), personally I think it’s a little more accurate to call it a Japanese version of an omelette. It’s basically shredded cabbage mixed with egg, flour, green onions, your choice of beef/bacon/shrimp/squid, topped with okonomiyaki sauce and seaweed & benito flakes. It’s cooked (and served) on a hot plate in front of you. Sometimes noodles are included in the mix as well. Also Hideki does a version with cheese that is pretty awesome as well, but very filling.
Okonomiyaki in progress

Hideki’s okonomiyaki is by far the best I’ve tasted. After my first visit with Alex in 2011 it was only a matter of 1 or 2 days before we were back again and by the end of the trip we had eaten there 4 times. Each time Amanda and I return to Japan we tend to eat there at least twice a week. Hideki cooks some amazing side dishes that you must try, my picks are: Squid with butter, pan fried oysters and shrimp cooked in egg. Amanda and I have worked out that if we order one mixed okonomiyaki (shrimp, squid & bacon) and one or maybe two side dishes we get a huge feed.
As for prices, a mixed okonomiyaki is 750 yen, side dishes are about 350 yen. A large bottle of beer is 500. This is a super cheap meal, you’ll be hard pressed to find such a great feed for so little yen anywhere else in Japan. 
Prawns (shrimp with eggs)
Shrimp with egg
Fried Oysters


Squid with butter

Hideki himself is a great guy. His English is very good (he does have English menus), he is very funny and very generous. He has often given us a free beer, umeshu (plum wine) or side dish and typically tends to round down our bill. This often ends with us trying to force extra cash on him. He was so generous with Alex and I that on our last day in Japan we stuck our head inside his door, threw a 2000 yen note at him then turned and ran. Running away probably wasn’t a great idea as when I rounded the next corner I almost knocked a cop off his bicycle. I still wonder what the cop thought of two white boys sprinting away from a small restaurant in a non-tourist area in Osaka. 

The restaurant itself is a little small by western standards, it has two small ‘hot-plate’ tables that can fit 4-5 people and a counter that seats another 4. Sometimes we’ve gone to eat there to find the restaurant completely full with locals, this is no problems as most people are in and out fairly quickly. 

Fun times at Chitose
We’ve had some great nights at Chitose, the most recent when Amanda and I crashed a birthday party on our last trip. We stepped inside to take the two spare seats at the counter to be greated with a massive round of applause and cheers. I’m still puzzled as to whether Hideki had mentioned us the party or whether they were just drunk enough that two whiteys entering the restaurant was the best thing to happen all night. In true Japanese fashion we quickly made friends with the group and were topping up each other’s beers. Unfortunately the birthday boy got so drunk he lost the use of his legs, this was quite funny at the time until we found out later he was sick enough the next day they put him in hospital. (Yes he’s fine now). If you want to really see Japan and not eat with a bunch of fellow tourists here is a great place to do it. 

And just in case you’ve tried okonomiyaki elsewhere in the world (like Australia) you absolutely have to try it again here. Since first eating at Chitose I’ve tried to find comparable okonomiyaki in and out of Japan and have failed miserably. Some are hardly even recognisable as okonomiyaki, case and point Mizu Restaurant in New Farm, Brisbane – it was more like a McDonald’s hash brown.

To sum up, great food, great chef, great customers, great fun… if you aren’t staying in the area, make the effort to eat here. Combine it with an afternoon/evening walking around Shinsekai and Dobutsuenmae areas. And please say Konnichiwa to Hideki for me!

Here is the Chitose website complete with a Engrish menu and a map. The easiest way to find Chitose is to find the start of the Dobutsuenmae shopping street, then take the 3rd alley on the right. 

NB. Chitose is closed on Wednesdays.