There are some moments in life which bring a rare loveliness. Many of these you remember, some you think of long after the event and some you even write about…….

Winter seems long passed. It wasn’t a particularly cold winter here in Newcastle and  although we are now in the midst of spring, it feels more like summer due to the unseasonably high temperatures and hot winds which have been blowing in from the west.  I somehow feel as though we have missed spring.  Missed the lightness it brings and missed those moments when all seems at its loveliest.

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My soft wool jumpers have been relegated to the back of my wardrobe for now, the days are longer and there is little need for my wetsuit as the water temps have risen to a very welcomed 20 degrees.  Happy days indeed…….

Earlier in the year I headed out on a road trip of sorts which took me inland of Newcastle.   There is something quite charming about heading out to the country as this trip took me over bridges and through our flawlessly beautiful Australian bush of towering Blue Gum, Wattle, Ironbark and Turpentines’.  Beauty existed quite comfortably right alongside a rough dirt track or a harsh bitumen road and perspective loomed around every bend.

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The drive is lovely on weekdays as there is little traffic so I let my eyes wander from the winter blue sky to the green pastures to the Kookaburras which sat on overhead wires.  This was a trip of local radio stations and of a road which ended in a valley lined by steep granite peaks, part of the Great Dividing Range which runs from the tip of northeast Queensland to the Grampians in Victoria.

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My destination lay at the end of this winding dirt track.  This was wine country, splendidly beautiful and unashamedly romantic, yet something had dogged my road trip and as I approached, I began to regret my decision to do this.  Out here, my heart suddenly held a fresher hurt and I knew the reason why……… I would be ‘living’ and working alongside five other women!

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Perhaps I had clung to the notion this trip would somehow heal my heart.  That amongst the vines and beautiful countryside lay some sort of restorative healing which would magically put distance between sorrow and myself.   Deep down though, I knew that there are some things which just cannot be fixed and this is especially true when your heartache is like that of a massive fist punch to the chest.

Though guarded, I met each of the other women as we began to gather.  Watching them, I could not help but wonder at how they all seemed nice but perhaps that’s the thing with nice.  Someone can be nice until they feel the need to no longer be nice and from experience, it can become not so very nice at all!

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The work in the vineyards captivated me. Perhaps it was in the gathering of the dusty purple grapes or the snip, snip, snip of the petite secateurs so deceptively sharp they can cut through wire or it was the deep satisfaction of time well spent.  Life seemed to tremble among the branches of those robust old vines and there is something quite soothing in the weathered patina, that worn surface of the big wooden posts which held up the trellised vines.  Save the snip of the cutters and the occasional call of a Bell Bird it was deeply serene.  It is a lovely way to work and it almost felt as though this is how the world of work should always be.

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Late afternoons in the vineyards is lovely. The sun lowers and the landscape and sky change.  The shadows become long and the kangaroos, those most beautiful and singularly exceptional of all creatures, come out and you realise these are the moments you wish you could pause and holdfast to just a little longer.

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In the evening we retired to the house for a well earned shower and where a warmth and experience began to unfold that would sustain me long after this ended.  There was also little connection to the outside world as mobiles, internet, TV and social media were all willingly surrendered yet they were replaced with serenity, good company, laughter and stories.  What I found most wonderful was that the beautiful lost art of conversation was rediscovered and there is a lovely moment to appreciate when you go from being strangers to feeling connected and relaxed.

Meals were shared around a large farmhouse table.  A simple table graced with comfort food, the sort of food which can nourish and is ready for sharing and where a simple glass of very good wine can change everything.  Moments such as these make you want to hunker down, build a raging fire in the open hearth and never leave…..

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When first meeting these women my head told me to be wary but after picking and a good evening spent in each others company my heart was in surrender mode.  Later in the evening when the other women had retired to the warmth of their beds, I sat quietly and jotted down some notes.  Small transcripts, honest and heartfelt of this experience.

The next day I woke early to a morning of light fog.  No one else was up so I took a walk through the vineyards and adjacent bush land.  Early morning it seems, will willingly reveal much.  The vines and the native bush are at their loveliest and the air is so clean.  As the sun rose the Bell Birds and Currawongs called and the kangaroos began their quiet movement into the day.

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As I walked, a moment of sadness washed over me.  One very acute wave which I then dismissed with a vow not to think of it again while in the company of these uniquely diverse and glorious women.  The things which had so brutally punctured my heart in America and after, although most acute when I arrived had begun to lose its sharpness.  Perhaps I will always carry that time of sadness with me but I knew there to be good, kind and amazingly wonderful women still out there.

Women and girls very often face unimaginable obstacles but one of those barriers should never be another female. I have always believed a measure of a woman is in the worth of how she treats another woman yet some so easily devalue their worth through jealousy, malice and spite.  The basis of any human decency is not demean or attack another. No one ever deserves that sort of brutal antagonism yet for some it is far too easy to disrespect their intellect with a frail ego, self-loathing or they wallow in a sinkhole of negative arrogance.  When women support and encourage other women there becomes such potential for change and achievement and it is in these moments that truly wonderful things are made possible.

The Bell Birds lifted their song, the sun rose a little higher and I stumbled in a wombat hole but somehow, all seemed very right in my little part of the world.  Perhaps we all search for  acceptance from others and we can also look for an intimacy of sorts which can, when the time is right, strike the numbness from our hearts.

Not so long ago I was back in beautiful wine country with oenophiles and those just happy to taste a very good seasons’ harvest.  It was a lovely day being surrounded by people whose company I enjoy as they are passionate, inspiring, beautifully natured and open-minded.  When you are open and grateful, good things really do come…….xx

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“Don’t look back. You’ll turn into a pillar of shit!”…….

Don’t look back.  You can only look forward and look toward a place you do not know until you reach it.  Sometimes, as difficult as it seems, you must learn to leave what you have grown to love be it somewhere you have lived and where perhaps your yesterdays are all buried deep.  It is an odd feeling leaving.  You not only miss the existence of the life you have built for yourself but most of all, you miss the person you have been at that time in that place and you know you will never feel that same way again.

Perhaps there are times where the bottom is supposed to fall out of our lives.  We lose what we love, we lose our trust and faith and we lose the truth of what we thought we believed so very deeply in.  When this happens, you can find yourself in a very dark place and it is from here you have the choice whether to move on or not.

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So very Southern.  The glorious magnolia flower………

Our trip home, documented in the last 15 posts, was disconcerting at best.  Amazing yet heartbreakingly difficult all at the same time.  Our lives thrown into careless turmoil and all the while dearly missing our family Gus and Zoe.  How were we to know when we packed up our home and our lives in the beautiful state of South Australia (a wonderful posting, as every one of our postings have been) in November of 2013 to begin that remarkable journey, that it would end as it did.  That life would change in an instant!   A single very ordinary instant and that we would be made to forfeit all which we never believed we could forfeit.

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November 2013.  Our entire home and lives packed up in readiness for this wonderful adventure.  How could we have known it would end as it did………

Packed and ready to go………

Last moments in Sydney Australia.  Cheers to a wonderful adventure……….

There is the realisation that one grows from something like this, as well one should, and  you will learn much.  During the most harrowing of times, although I thought I had lost absolutely everything, I gained so very much more.  I only had to look for it.

I have learnt that I need not tie myself to the weight of other peoples’ worth for when they are not made of heart they hold no purpose in my life.  I have discovered the world has people in it who will want to destroy you at any cost however the dehumanising process they use will only make you stronger and your determined courage will see you take your rightful stand.

In times such as these you also come to know your worth and you learn not to allow it to be measured by anyone else.   That although overwhelmed by sorrow you won’t give up. You learn grief has no mercy but you endeavor to fight a good fair fight even against an opponent who will play the lowest and grubbiest of hands.  That something like this also shows you that different people will spurn you in different ways and this is especially true the sly and cowardly piss weak when they have backing and the promise of immunity.

I have learnt I needed to allow my hurt to leave as though casting a stone and that in the baptism of fire of how truly cruel and hateful some women can be, you just need to hold fast your grace.  Don’t ever allow those very disagreeable trolls who favor spite, unkindness, calumny and profound negativity to ruin your benevolence.  Believe me, they are not worthy of it………xx.

I have come to understand I will still struggle with moments of bleak resentment toward those who so brutally drove all that happened.  When my forgiveness wavers, I fret at my lack of compassion for them and this is only because it sees me momentarily lose sight to empathy and humility which I hold dear.

I am also able to recognise that although some have felt justified through misguided, outdated and restless social barriers they had the right to dislocate and make inconsolable, they in turn unwittingly unleashed the singular power of my self respect and this has driven me on.  Regardless of the heinous bitter and very nasty shit they have thrown my way, I am stronger and more resilient than ever.

Most importantly though, I now know when assaulted from all sides and unsupported by those whom I should have been able to turn to yet were exiled from, I learnt to rely only upon myself.  Big tip – Trust only yourself and believe in yourself always.

We met some wonderful people and their friendships will be with us life long.  We had the most amazing time in America, as we have done in all of our postings, and we are so deeply grateful of our time there.  We made the absolute most of every single opportunity to explore, to travel, to experience and to see and do……and believe me, we did 🙂   We took road trips of thousands of miles.  Driving through the golden forge of Americas’ heartland.  Through sleepy forgotten towns where a richness often lies in such brokenness yet these places become an awfully human place to exist.  To vibrant cities of architectural beauty.  Those magnificent steel and glass cities that sound of car and taxi horns and the thrum of a million people.  We rode trolley cars and trains.  Walked hundreds of miles on streets we could only have dreamt of walking.  We flew in American skies over patchwork pastures and smog settled cities.  In moments I remember the small things such as Dorothy’s ruby slippers, the dusting of snow Georgia received in our first weeks there, a terrace house in a neighborhood of Washington, glorious magnolia blossom, my first Georgia peach, blackened catfish and the very spot where Elvis fried up his peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

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Touch down in America saw us touring the incredibly beautiful city of San Francisco for a few days………..

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A wealthy neighborhood where the hand of a Buddha statue held a leather catcher’s mitt.  Where Martin Luther King died for his cause and where Presidents have been inaugurated.  Blue Ridge Mountains,  dear little chipmunks and ‘bandits’, diners and corner cafes, juke joints, those long long four lane concrete freeways, the slow drawl of the beautiful southern accent, water towers and the desolate painful trail of tears in Chattanooga.  Sugar dusted beignets at Café du Monde, Spanish moss and mocking birds.  Fresh home-made waffles and pancakes, fried chicken, pecan pie and corn bread.   Sometimes it was the America I had always imagined and often it wasn’t, but perhaps this is what it means to travel.

Our teeny tiny snowman made from a dusting of Georgian snow……….

I missed the hot clotted air and heat of the south which wrapped around me, tanned my skin and frizzed my hair.  The south has a heat which is indescribable yet it lets you discover your porch, friendships, lazy afternoons and a pitcher of anything icy cold.

Once back home in Australia, unsettled and with a sorrow I could not comprehend, I unpacked my bag and shook out a raging aching heart.  It may have been over but really, it was only the beginning…………

And here in Newcastle, as unforeseeable as it was at that time, my life is all I imagined it to be.  From the moment I arrived I knew I was home.  Nowhere I had ever lived before gave the warmth of knowing I was home and you know instantly where you belong and that is the true beauty of life .  At home and at one with that beautiful ocean and where optimism, one of humanities great traits, beguiles and where soul expanding moments continually happen.

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Don’t look back.  What matters is now.  Go only forward and go with courage and dignity and summon that great value of the human spirit which is to never ever give up……..xx

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Footnote:  “Don’t look back. You’ll turn into a pillar of shit”  is a line by Ellen Burstyn in the 1974 movie Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.   

Japan Part III: ‘Nana korobi, ya oki’ and the mother of all sucker punches!!

One of the best reasons for travelling to Japan is to experience their thriving and very vibrant food scene.  Food in Japan is a serious business and although the region is famous for dishes such as sushi, donburi, noodles and the staple rice, this enthusiastic culture has embraced cuisine with a passion.   The obsession the Japanese have with food is to be admired from the simplicity, their exquisite presentation to the very best of quality ingredients they use.

Within an hour of arriving at our hotel we were out an about and had scored a seat at a local gyoza bar which served these classic little dumplings up to perfection.  Accompanied with mugs of ice cold Sapporo, we could think of no better way to begin our first hours in Japan with our evening ending in an uber cool little cocktail bar.

It would be fair to say that seafood is a major part of the Japanese diet and where better to see, sample and appreciate the very freshest of seafood than the fish markets.  Tsukiji Markets are the largest seafood markets in the world and they are a favorite with locals and tourists alike.  Most of the foot traffic generated at these markets comes from the famous tuna auctions with more Atlantic Blue Fin and Giant Pacific tuna traded here than anywhere else in the world.

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If travelling to Japan, you really should experience these amazing, busy and very fast paced markets but do not expect the usual manners and genteel courteousness of the Japanese as you will get jostled, shoved and pushed about.  That my friends, is the nature of the beast!   You may also need a stout heart and an open mind at these markets as you will come in contact with still living creatures, their impending demise and you may even see floors puddled with watery blood.

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A tradition in Japan is that every part of the sea creature be appreciated and eaten which is a nod to the humble reminder of sustainability.   We loved the seafood on offer and we pretty much tried everything, as one should, with the exception of shark fin!

The outer markets are made up of hundreds of tiny cramped stalls and like circled wagons, they appear to surround the fish markets themselves.  Here you can buy anything from Japanese knives made of carbon forged steel, real wasabi (there is such a thing), beautiful ceramic bowls and pots, fresh fruit and veg, dried fish, wooden chopsticks and freshly cooked seafood.  And do take cash if possible as many of these little stalls do not accept credit cards.

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Now comfort food is one thing, but to eat the freshest of seafood prepared and cooked then served straight from the street vendor is just wonderful.  Sticky caramelised grilled eel, fresh oysters, urchin roe and scallops.   Just amazing!

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There are also many restaurants tucked up narrow alleys and laneways and here, you will very easily consume copious amounts of fresh sashimi.  And who doesn’t love their seafood fresh……….especially if it is straight from the water at 3am!

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We tried a myriad of things at the markets from the most delicate and beautifully presented sashimi to umi budo which are sea grapes, also known as green caviar.   These pretty little pearl like morsels are very salty and very moorish and they ‘pop’ in your mouth.  They are even better chased down with an ice cold Japanese beer.

Shirako, another delicacy,  is basically cod sperm and the word ‘shirako’ means tasting creamy.  For me, they would probably be best pan fried in lots of rich butter but I guess no amount of cooking will take away the small grimace some may have just had when reading about this lux food 🙂

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And do try Uri which are sea urchins.  Well, more to the point they are the gonads of the urchin which are scooped out and eaten raw.  Kinda’ creamy yet salty…..the jury is still out on this one for me.

Now the mother of all sucker punches will come from Sake which is the national drink of Japan.   This stuff is potent and for the uninitiated Sake drinker a word of warning: this unassuming liquid can harbour the absolute kick of a mule……….. and it also makes you perform uninhibited karaoke!

Sake is traditional, been made for centuries to a simple recipe using rice and it is really quite lovely.   It is drunk in Japan as one would drink wine in France but perhaps it is best enjoyed in small doses.

One evening, we were so very fortunate to be seated in a Sake bar between two Japanese couples.  Neither couple had ever met yet these gracious people welcomed us and spoilt us with acceptance and a truly wonderful evening.  The men found it an honor to select, order and serve the Sake and if your Sake is poured until it spills over then this is a token of admiration.  The overflowing Sake signifies abundance and gratitude.

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Tea is the other popular drink in Japan and the tea houses are just lovely.   As a coffee lover, I actually do believe there really should be more tea houses in the world.  Less Starbucks (please!!) and more tea houses…….and those dear little Japanese sweets.

The legendary Mt Fuji……….

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Photo courtesy Yamanashi Tourism Association…….

What can be said of this magnificent world heritage listed mountain. This still active volcano is one of Japans highest peaks and Mt Fuji is also considered a sacred and holy mountain.   It is an impressively captivating sight be the mountain snow-capped, cloud kissed or soul baringly natural as it was on the day we visited.  In the hours we were there, cloud followed by a gentle fog rolled in over Mt Fuji and the cloud presence soften the volcanic landscape yet this alluring mountain needed nothing more.

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Even the village at the base of Mt Fuji is an eclectic and interesting mix and there is plenty to experience for those who do not climb.

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A return trip to Japan is planned and when doing so, I intend to climb this notoriously fickle mountain.  Climbers perish each year in their pursuit of the summit of Mt Fuji but my great concern is the profound impact so many hikers take on this stunningly beautiful but fragile environment.  Be assured my foot-print will be light…………

There is much wisdom and beauty in the Japanese language and in particular their proverbs.  These sayings have a rich history of lessons, the eloquent expression of truth and superstition and some  enlighten with emotive inspiration.  The proverb in the title of this blog, nana korobi, ya oki,  relates to the encouragement of perseverance and it translates to fall down seven times, rise up eight.  Another proverb I love is a stake (or nail) that sticks out will be hammered in.   My reason of admiration is not with regards to having to bend to conformity but it is a gentle reminder for me to always be that stake.   Be unique, be individual and do not follow but most importantly – always stand up for what you believe in no matter how much they try to force you to concede.

Our time in Japan over though difficult, heartbreaking, beautiful and intoxicating all at the same time, we headed for Sydney…………xx

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Flying back into Australia over Sydney Harbour……….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Japan Part II – Japan became a blur as we both became more heartsick…….

This has been a very difficult post to write.  It doesn’t require comment nor judgment and nor does this post necessitate analysis but it does ask the contemplation and quiet consideration of humility…………

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Two thirty am Japan time we received the call.  Gus had been rushed to the emergency vet and his prognosis was poor.

And then he was gone…….

I have no way of understanding why this happened or what possible purpose Gus’s passing served.  The moment was of crippling agony as it was brutally raw.

Our dear, beautiful and gentle Gus.  Lost.  There is no shame in saying we both cried our hearts out.  Sorrow at the loss of Gus and despair of Zoe’s terribly suffering.  Later that morning, and after very little sleep, I wrote down seven words.  A promise.  I always keep my word and my promises and of course I will honour this to the very end regardless of any consequence.  Always keep your word and especially keep it to the dead.

We grieved for our family so cruelly and forcibly removed from our care.  We grieved for the terrible impact this very poorly executed decision created and we grieved for the incomprehensibility of it all.  Emptiness can be so final and grief can be a strange and foreboding place to find oneself especially when the impact of it pushes you to the very edge.

I still cannot believe we lost Gus.  That he did not return home and that we also very nearly lost Zoe.   It has been almost two years and I still find his fur, his beautiful soft fur on the occasional piece of clothing and I do not want to wash it for fear of washing him away forever.

After he died, I drank until my head and my body hurt but it did not stop the ache of my heart.  I did not know when being forced against our very will to surrender our beautiful companions, a move so callously ordered of us, that we would never see Gus again.  I knew both of my companions would suffer terribly during that forced separation and I very clearly stated that fact to those who were driving this.  I am not too proud to say either that I begged for both my beautiful cats and for the smallest crumb of compassion yet this was so callously dismissed.  The entire circumstance of what happened is very untidy and very dirty and be assured, when a door is slammed in your face and you hear it bolt you also know things are about to get very, very nasty.

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Don’t think me oversentimental nor dare consider me a poster-child for victimhood in writing this post as the nefarious process used to order our removal, the clandestine execution of the QA and RTA, the gross administrative failings exposed, the duplicity and so very much more have been difficult and deeply painful paths to tread.   For almost 24 months I very gently pulled at clusters of tiny little threads.  Though often a challenging and laborious task, these seemingly innocuous little strands unraveled to reveal a great deal and their unfurling bestowed light to the very dark underbelly of all that occurred.

During these very long months, moments of uncertainty and a terrible bitter darkness crept in but thankfully now this steaming festering pile of feculence is no longer my burden to carry.  You will finally hear the truth and you will be given the opportunity to dissect between that and the force-fed bullshit and lies you have been constantly been told.  This candour too will come from those who hold positions to rightfully and legitimately do so and that is all that matters.

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The last photos taken of Gus and Zoe before their forced separation and the splintering of our family……

I am aware too that to be vindictive and abjectly mean is something that sets itself so deeply in some that it can never be changed.  These sorts of people need to harm and demean in order to bolster their own flailing self-esteem and because they hold such unhappiness within themselves and their lives.  I am also well aware of the little victory celebration held on the very day of our farewell with notable ‘toasts’ to our demise over large Margaritas and that the word Karma was uttered after Gus’s passing.  As deeply distressing as that all was, I accept that to endure this sort of cruelty does not deem you to respond in the same manner.  When the word Karma was stated I thought, how very vicious and heartless are some in that they have to bandy such cruelty around, but I understood that I could not hate those so sneeringly gleeful at Gus’s passing as my compassion for their displays of hate, shallow ignorance and their great senselessness needed forgiveness not retaliation.   Karma is in fact a beautiful Buddhist term which relates to fate, actions and intent.  What it simply means is that when you intentionally set a course to destroy another you then must be fully responsible and accountable for your actions.

I am also very proud of the fact we paid for all of our vet bills which ran into many thousands of dollars US and we paid to have Zoe returned home without begging for money (not that we would ever lower ourselves nor our standards to that) as some have done recently in order to have their pets returned to Australia.  Even though the organisation and its actions contributed to these massive accounts, to the death of Gus and to the suffering of Zoe they have stated they will not be responsible financially or otherwise.  Please note:  I am able to state this as it is a fact.  It is the truth. It is the actuality of what was stated by the Australian Defence Force.

I believe however, the most difficult of all to contend with during this entire time has been the breach of trust.  A trust placed in the ADF that they would uphold and follow all of the correct procedures and processes required for a QA and RTA, that the exercise be an ethically and lawfully managed action, that there would be transparency and accountability and that morally, no personal agendas would influence an outcome.  When this sort of betrayal is perpetrated it robs you of your innocence, your faith and it robs you of all hope.  It requires of you to re-evaluate all that you have believed in and it allows you to see how truly cruel and how truly deceitful humans, especially those in positions ‘power’ and organisations can be.  The entire process just seems now to come across as, I don’t know, almost schizophrenic in its implementation!

Despite all that has occurred, I very much intend to live my life with kindness, empathy and humanity for these values hold the greatest space in my heart.  And this is regardless how much the organisation, its hierarchy and the ‘very objectionable pussy posse’ (last four words copyrighted for an essay to be published) who the organisation recruited to do their very dirty work, tried to strip me of my very being.  The sadness of this terrible mess has been catastrophic but I will not allow myself or my life to be a reflection of those who so brutally drove, encouraged and supported this.  Perhaps though, you cannot get to somewhere good unless you have come from a deeply troubled and difficult place.  When you endure arduous times only then can you truly appreciate wonder and the good which comes from it.

There have been times where I have felt completely powerless.  Defeated by masterful stonewalling, evasion and lies but at no time did I give up.  I will never not raise my voice to injustice and wrongdoing for when you are silent, when you become a bystander or when you become a fence sitter you do nothing more than encourage persecution and I for one will never cower to injustice, to hatred, to hate speech or to oppression and I will certainly not cow down to the Australian Defence Force.  We are all truly capable of accomplishing the most extraordinary things when we are pushed to our very limit, so I most graciously acknowledge those involved in this heinous onslaught for pushing me to a point which has made me the strongest and most formidable person you are ever going to encounter.

Hate, defeat and despair are all part of the human existence just as love and kindness and compassion are and I know which I would rather have in my life.  Don’t ever allow anyone, no matter who they are nor how powerful they believe themselves or their organisation to be to rob you of your dignity, your spirit and your ultimate humanity.  No one has that right. No one!

You can either sit around feeling sorry for yourself or you can get up and do something about it.  We all have and will have to face terrible moments in our lives.  That is the very simple privilege of our human existence but it is how we choose to deal with them and those who have perpetrated these acts that ultimately counts.  Be the one to challenge when you know something is very very wrong, champion change, be inspiring and be the one to stand up and say ‘Not on my fucking watch you don’t!’  The choice is ultimately yours.

Stay graceful in your darkest of moments and do not let your grief become indulgent.  It will linger long after an event so do something constructive and good with the agony it brings.  Pain may surround you but you can transform its discomfort to become something powerful and very positive.   Hateful barriers and those who build them are meant to be knocked down so do not ever, ever give up.

Part III of Japan coming soon……..xx

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A little yen for Japan…….

Japan.  The land of the rising sun and such a peaceful place of immense beauty……..

Japan has a rich history and a culture which has formed over thousands of years yet the traditional and a modern Japan fit so elegantly together.   This beautiful land has a tranquil air of mystery to it and it appears to be a place where you could find yourself as a respectful outsider looking in on such loveliness.

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The people of Japan are hardworking yet delightfully courteous.  They have odd little mannerisms, they are welcoming and at times a little quirky, they have a quiet sense of composed beauty and their genteel politeness is utterly charming.   It seems too that good manners are paramount and these manners are taught at a very young age.   It makes for sweet yet respectfully dear children and who doesn’t appreciate that.

Traditional to hipster, this is modern Japan…….

Throughout Japan, and due much in part to Shintoism and the adopted Buddhism, there are thousands of beautiful public shrines and temples which you can respectfully wander through.   It is a very peaceful experience and at one temple midweek, we were so fortunate to witness the beauty of a hushed Shinto wedding ceremony.

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Japan has a troubled war history and due in part to this, they have denounced all military aggression for which I salute them.  As most reader know, I struggle with war.  Those bitter, unbearable and horrific conflicts where no one ever wins!   Japan was decimated after WWII – see previous post of Pearl Harbour – yet somehow, it rose from atomic ash to become one of the biggest economies in the world and one of the most beautiful places on earth.

There is war between the ones who say there is a war and the ones who say there isn’t…………Leonard Cohen

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This is also the country of 6 million vending machines offering anything from ice cream, hamburgers, floral arrangements, hot ‘frozen dinners’, deep fried hot chips……how do they do it! to fresh eggs and hot coffee in a can.   Ubiquitously Japanese, your can of coffee will come out steaming hot and tasting of caffeine and your ice-cream will be frozen to perfection.  You can buy almost anything out of these machines including undies and they are incredibly convenient as they are situated everywhere.  I am in no doubt to the world having vending machine envy.

Somehow, I think one could very happily live in Japan, if only for a year, yet barely scratch the surface of this enchanting land.

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The rail system in Japan is brilliant.  It really is a great way to get around and in itself, it is a tourist attraction.  Think the ‘Mag-Lev High Speed Bullet Train’ which has a maximum operating speed of 320 km/h and which reached 603 km/h in testing.

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Image courtesy – indulgy.com

The commuter rail system is slick, fast and very clean.  It can be slightly complex to navigate at first, which is half the fun, but there is always someone willing to help you out.  In our case, an elderly gentleman helped navigated us through the underground network of tunnels and twist and turns to walk us right to our platform.  Not only was he delightful company for this brief encounter, but his gesture was also very kind.

And the trains are punctual!   I would recommend purchasing the unlimited rail card as train travel really is, apart from walking, one of the best way to get around.

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You will eat well in Japan and often only for a few yen at noodle bars or Yakitori’s.  And who doesn’t love a noodle bar.   We tended toward the smaller bars with their dark spaces and narrow benches which faced the kitchen to look upon the huge steaming pots of broth and noodles.   And do slurp your noodles as it will not only enhance their delicate flavor but in Japan, this is also the correct and most polite way to eat them.

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Another food tradition are the Bento boxes.  You can travel like a Ninja as these boxes were initially designed to eat whilst in a nomadic state.  It is quite an appealing way to eat although I suspect if travelling on the bullet train, you may not have much time to truly savor one.

Something quite lovely to try while in Japan are Rakugan.  These are sweets, not too sweet, that have been hand shaped into animals and flowers and objects of beauty.  Some of them really are works of art and I often found them just too lovely to eat.  Naturally, they come beautifully packaged – as is everything in Japan – and they are often served at traditional tea ceremonies.   The thing with the Japanese is that it is all about the aesthetically pleasing aspect of presentation.   The attention to detail, the precision and the art of giving with love and joy appear paramount from the presentation of a simple tiny Rakugan to the most expensive and elaborate of gifts.

‘The Princess and the Pee!’……. aka, my fascination with Japanese toilets!  What can I say.  The lav’s in Japan are everything I had heard and dreamed them to be.  Elaborate, modern, high tech, sophisticated, sensory, heated seats, melodic – they really do play music to camouflage any ‘noise’ – and they make for very happy travellers.  Give me a futon and a Japanese toilet and I’m a happy girl…….. 🙂

Japan Part II coming soon………..xx

Last days in Hawaii……..

A final snapshot from our trip to the beautiful archipelago of the Pacific.

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The lovely Ananas Comosus as it should be……in ice-cream

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693916‘Gilligan’s Island’.  Located off Oahu’s coast, Kaneohe Bay is where a small part the 1960’s sitcom was filmed.  The island is now home to the Institute for Marine Biology.906815845825842DSC_4596[1]Waikiki-sovenir-stands[1]

9088877421352.jpgNext stop, Japan…….x

‘A warrior is worthless unless he rises above others and stands strong in the midst of a storm’ – Hagakure: The book of the Samurai…….

Remembering Pearl Harbour………..

“A date which will live in infamy”…….President Franklin D. Roosevelt

The shipwrecks of Pearl Harbour have become the most iconic sites to ever lay upon a sea bed.  These incredibly somber yet deeply moving monuments of war, declared National Historic Landmarks, have become a place of healing, grace and contemplation and they are a very powerful national symbol for peace.

In the early hours of December 7th 1941, 353 Japanese planes from the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service which included torpedo planes, bombers, dive bombers and fighters, launched a surprise attack against the US Naval Base at Pearl Harbour near Honolulu in Hawaii.

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This really was a simple yet brilliantly executed attack where bombs and bullets literally rained down upon a Naval Base ill prepared for such aggression.  During the attack, a 1,800 pound bomb hit the USS Arizona.  The massive amour piercing missile smashed through her deck coming to rest in the ammunition hold setting off more than one million pounds of gunpowder.  The Arizona exploded into a fireball and sank with most of her crew trapped below deck.  Torpedoes struck the battleship USS Oklahoma.  She rolled then slipped beneath the surface of the water taking with her 429 crew.

The attack on Pearl Harbour lasted less than two hours.  Although short by any standard of war, most of the damage was inflicted within the first 30 minutes.  Twenty American Naval vessels were destroyed with eight of those being massive battleships and more than 300 US planes were destroyed.  In the aftermath it was realised that every US battleship at Pearl Harbour – The USS Arizona, USS California, USS Maryland, USS Nevada, USS Oklahoma, USS Pennsylvania, USS Tennessee, USS Utah and USS West Virginia had sustained significant and near irreparable damage.  This attack however, did not destroy the American fleet.

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Inconceivably, 2,403 people were killed including civilians and 1,178 were injured.   1,177 service men were killed on board the USS Arizona alone and they remain entombed almost 76 years on.  This world shattering act of aggression altered the entire course of the history of the world forever and it has never been forgotten.

Following the attack, the United States of America immediately declared war on Japan with Australia following suit.

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The above images are photos taken from photographs on the walls of the museum………..

Sunday morning August 6th 1945, the ‘Enola Gay’, a United States B-29 bomber dropped an atomic bomb code named ‘Little Boy’ on Hiroshima.  Thousands died instantly.  ‘Bockscar’ dropped the second bomb ‘Fat Boy’ on Nagasaki August 9th.  There are no definite numbers on how many were killed in Japan but it is thought 80,000 people died instantly in Hiroshima with the death toll there eventually reaching 190,000 due to injuries and radiation poisoning.  70,000 were killed at Nagasaki and many thousands more were injured and listed as missing…………..

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The ships bell from the USS Arizona…….

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Accessible only by boat, the USS Arizona memorial has been built to straddle the sunken wreckage of this once mighty super-dreadnought.  When standing above the wreckage, you will see a small oil bubble rise to then rainbow itself upon the harbour waters.  This oil continues to leak from the Arizona herself.  On December 6th 1941 the Arizona had taken on a full load of fuel, almost 1.5 million gallons of oil in readiness for a scheduled trip.  During the attack that fuel fed the explosions and the fires which raged for days on end.  500,000 gallons of oil remain locked below the harbour and it will continue to slowly seep from the wreckage of that great war ship.

It is difficult to imagine that almost seventy six years on that a tiny droplet of oil still escapes the sunken hull to ascend and spread its quite reminder of such tragic loss.  It is extremely emotional to see this war grave and the oil which is referred to as ‘tears of the Arizona’ or ‘black tears’.

Although the Arizona and most of her crew were lost there is an undeniable bond between her and the remaining survivors.  In a remarkable stand for dignity and humanity, the US Navy has agreed the surviving crew members of this tragedy will be able to have their cremated remains interred in the ships wreckage.  It is thought when the last of the survivors is interred the leak will then be sealed.  There are just five remaining crew left, all in their 90’s, who saw action at Pearl Harbour on that fateful day……….

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These unit blocks were built to mark the flight path of the Japanese on the day Pearl Harbour was attacked.  At 0740 hours the first wave of Japanese fighter planes flew low through cloud toward Oahu.  They came over the mountain range and ‘through the gap of the unit blocks’ to attack the Naval Base.   Wave after wave of fighter plane, launched from four carriers stationed off the coast flew this path.  During the attack the Japanese lost 129 service men, 29 aircraft and 5 midget submarines.

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Being at this incredible memorial really does make you stop and think.  It requests of you to consider gratefulness and it will render your heart humble with quiet respect.  I often wonder what peace truly means and where does peace really exist in our tortured world.  Is peace dependent upon war for its existence?  I hope not, as I would like to think peace is of its own making but of this I can no longer be sure.

The human tragedy, horror and brutality of war will always spread itself over many generations but perhaps one day soon, there will be an awakening of the world and its leaders to finally give an accountability for armistice and peace………… xx

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Footnote:  Tuesday 18/04/2017 – A USS Arizona sailor, Retired Master Chief Petty Officer Raymond Haerry aged 94 years, who survived the attack on Pearl Harbour has passed away and been laid to rest inside the hull of the sunken battleship USS Arizona.  Mr Haerry, it is stated ‘decided he was going home, going home to the USS Arizona’…….

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Photo from KITV4 Island News Hawaii