Dabendan’s thoughts on the Newtown Massacre

I’ve been sick all day since waking up this morning to hear about the murders of children and teachers in Connecticut yesterday. Usually stories like this sadden me but then I become preoccupied by something in my daily life and it moves into the background noise of my day, before exiting my mind more or less completely.

This one however, like many other people I suspect, has really hit home, casting a pall over everything I did today. Was it the age of the victims? Probably. Going to the gym this morning I couldn’t help but notice the beautiful weather, parents walking by me hand in hand with their kids. This was a beautiful day that those murdered boys and girls will never get to experience. They also won’t get to play in the sunshine tomorrow. They will never have another Christmas. Or birthday. It sounds asinine to say this in our jaded age, but it isn’t fair.

Online, many have been calling for stricter gun control laws. Predictably, others have taken up the banner for the second amendment. Here are a few tweets that captured my attention, from a Yahoo! news story:

SamEwinks (@SamEwinks), for instance, wrote, “The only gun reform we need is to allow people the ability to defend themselves, not provide nut jobs with easy targets #nra.”

josefsmith2011 (@josefsmith2011) posted, “Guns don’t kill people people do! Practice the 2nd amendment—keep your gun loaded with you at all times—the younger you are the better.”

And Cutty (@LilCutty) tweeted, “Changing the 2nd Amendment wont stop ppl from doin foolishness.”

(Source: http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/gun-control-debate-erupts-twitter-195914529.html)

Josefsmith2011’s tweet really got to me. His argument, that more guns in responsible hands would save lives in these situations, is a 2nd amendment fundamentalist’s go-to response to these situations. However, the logic escapes me, especially in this instance. Is josefsmith2011 actually advocating that 5 year olds and kindergarten teachers pack heat on a daily basis? Surely that’s one of the craziest things you’ve ever heard, regardless of your political beliefs. I can’t recall offhand a single instance of gun ownership stopping this kind of random violent act. Since these shooting sprees are by definition perpetrated by the insane, making them impossible to prepare for or predict, even carrying around your own AK-47 and dressing your kids up in Kevlar every day wouldn’t be effective as a preventative.

Do I think that gun control is the answer? No, not by itself. America is in love with guns. It is a part of our culture, like driving on the right and saying the pledge of allegiance in school. Many say that just changing the laws will do nothing. That is true. The American government must have the will to enforce those laws. Think back at all the most negative episodes in our history. Many said that slavery could never be eradicated, because laws wouldn’t change human nature. Admittedly, a war was fought over the issue, but I’d say that the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th Amendment, both laws, had quite a bit to do with changing the situation. Segregation in our schools and other Civil Rights abuses against African Americans also changed, thanks to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Laws must be enacted before effective cultural change can take place. All that is missing to end the ease psychopaths have of finding guns in the US is the political will to act.

Some countries, China and Japan both spring to mind, have strict gun control laws, yet still occasionally have attacks on children and the general public perpetrated by the insane. One attack on Chinese children happened recently in Hunan. However, those gun control laws mean that these attacks necessarily involved knives, not guns, so the casualties were relatively few. In the Hunan attack, four children were killed, 12 children and 4 teachers were injured. (Source: http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-10/07/content_380142.htm) Most experts chalk up these attacks to a failure by the Chinese and Japanese health systems to care for their dangerous mentally ill. Looking at what happened yesterday, though, I think America’s track record of containing and caring for the mentally unhinged is in even greater need of improvement than the Chinese and Japanese systems. But that is an issue for another post.

Frankly, all I want is to not have to wake up in the morning and not have my heart broken. As a teacher of young children myself, I can’t imagine what the boys, girls and teachers at that school went through in their final moments, nor what the survivors are experiencing in its aftermath. Not to mention the mothers and fathers who have lost the most precious things in their lives. I’ve always considered myself a libertarian. Live and let live. Freedoms inviolate excepting when they impinge on the liberties of others. However, I can’t reconcile the right to gun ownership to what transpired in Newton 30 odd hours ago. I don’t think the right to bear arms is worth another human life. Especially not the lives of twenty five- and six-year olds. It’s got to stop. We have to change.

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Meet the Marbells Chapter 2

The Fetal Pig Incident

            Micah always had a heart bigger than his head. I don’t mean the kind of enlarged heart fat men whose customary dinner was several meat lover’s pizzas and a bathtub’s worth of beer have, but one who cares deeply about things. Things whose wellbeing other, less sensitive people would normally not look at with anything more than a passing interest.

Take, for example, the Fetal Pig Incident. This happened during the fall of our ninth grade year.  A separate facility had been built specifically for the ninth grade students, mainly so that we couldn’t inflict our paleolithic sensibilities upon much smaller students, or get the beatings from upperclassmen which we so richly deserved. Segregating the freshmen from the wider population made both middle and high schools calmer and less prone to random acts of insanity. This isn’t to say that students of other grade levels weren’t equally strangers to common sense or good taste, but the middle schoolers didn’t quite yet have the experience necessary to commit truly stupid acts of senseless vandalism or petty thuggery, and the high schoolers had already got most of the taste for stupidity out of their systems.

This proclivity for wanton dumbassery led directly to that fateful day in late November, 1992. Micah and I were in Mr. Spunknell’s life sciences class that year, and the time had come for that moment that every budding science student either longs for or dreads: dissection day. We had done frog dissections the previous year, and many of us boys had learned how to smuggle random frog parts out of the classroom after the dissections had finished. All the following week in eighth grade, detentions were up as a result of a spate of frog’s hearts, legs, and eyeballs being left in the bookbags or Lisa Frank trapper keepers of the girls who had protested the most at having to do dissections in the first place, or who were the unrequited objects of affection of the perpetrators.

By our ninth grade year, however, both the boys and the girls had learned something from their previous experiences. A group made up mostly of girls opposed to vivisection had learned that an individual protest carried little to no weight with the teachers or the administration. They decided to create an organized pressure group devoted to ending dissections in public schools. The movement was spearheaded by a cadre of proto-vegans who decided that the best way to attract attention to their movement was to hand out pamphlets to people rushing by in the corridors and harrassing people during lunch time.

This, of course, did not go unnoticed by the neanderthals among us boys, who considered any form of vegetarianism to be a crime against nature, on par with homosexuality or driving on the left. Since our town was smack in the middle of a rather rural part of a very conservative southern state, the number of boys who felt that this protest struck against the core of their being was somewhat greater than if, for example, our town had been located just outside of San Francisco. The anti-anti-dissection movement had its vanguard as well. It was led by certain recidivist elements of the FFA, or Future Farmers of America, who also made up most of the defensive and offensive lines of the ninth grade football team. Most of the members of the FFA were the scions of long lines of gentlemen farmers to whom tradition was something that must be protected at all costs, and from all attackers. The fact that the anti-vivisectionists were girls did bring about a bit of brutish debate, since most of these Southern Gentlemen had been taught since infancy to never lay a hand on any woman for any reason. It was a tradition, and traditions had to be followed, at least in public. So a decision was made to strike back against the anti-vivisectionists in a more indirect way, so that they would remember their place and be averted from a path that would inevitibly lead to the nightmare apocalypse of feminism.

Neither Micah or I were members of either faction. We were excluded from the anti-dissection league on the basis of our gender. I wasn’t asked to join the anti-anti-dissection clique for several reasons, first among which was that my dad was chief of police, and at best I was suspected of being a narc, even by my closest friends. Underage drinking and illicit marijuana use magically disappeared whenever I arrived at a party. I also wasn’t considered for membership since I wasn’t a member of the FFA or a football player. My mom insisted that I continue my cello lessons until I graduated high school, and what my mom wanted me and my sister to do was what we did. I also had Chinese and kung fu lessons at the temple on Saturdays, so pick-up football games were out as well.

Micah was a football player, though, and came from a long line of farmers and staunch traditionalists on his mom’s side. He had been made aware of the plot against the anti-dissectionists, and when he showed no interest in joining, he was left alone with only a few epithets thrown at him. Micah never let something like that bother him, though. He was kind of like the bull in that children’s story, ‘The Story of Ferdinand’. He’d rather ignore insults and gibes than let them provoke him. I used to get upset and yell at him to stick up for himself. He’d just look at me in that Marbell way, combining the glassy eyed stare of a barnyard animal with the stoicism of a Medieval saint burning at the stake. “It doesn’t matter what they say. They won’t remember it in a month, and neither will I,” was his usual response. I couldn’t ever come up with an effective argument against such lowbrow wisdom, and in any case it was his life, not mine. Other than the other members of the football team, most people didn’t call him stupid or retarded or a coward to his face, though, because he was built along the lines of the aforementioned bull. Only his family and I really knew that the seeming indifference to other people’s remarks wasn’t just a front, and that Micah would never explode into violence against his tormentors. But since he was a football player, and the Jackson High ninth grade center’s starting linebacker, he did overhear the other boys’ plans to take the anti-dissectionists down a peg or two.

It happened in this way. The day of the big dissection finally came on a late November Friday. That night our ninth grade football team, the Jackson Emancipators, was playing our rivals from the neighboring town, the Gravelton Generals. One of the leaders of the anti-anti-dissectionist movement and our current quarterback Adam Eichart had a cousin on the football team and managed to wangle some of their wornout uniforms for use in that night’s extracurricular exercise.

The administration had come to an agreement with the parents of the Anti Dissection League to excuse its members from actual dissections in the classroom. They would be placed in study hall for the class period, and they would have to watch a film explaining the internal organs of a frog. The video had been produced in the 1950’s and all of the actors were scrubbed and wholesome white kids who constantly broke into song about the wonders of the endocrine and digestive systems. We had yet to be exposed to the wonders that were the sex-ed films produced about the same time, but the video became legendary for one scene in which a frog is subjected to electrical stimulation, resulting in it flipping over and hopping away. Subsequently a number of budding mad scientists recreated the experiment with secondhand information, and that summer became known as the Summer of Exploding Frogs.

Meanwhile, we boys and the few girls who didn’t have a problem with handling a dead animal were busy inexpertly slicing up our fetal pigs. Micah and I were science partners, and as usual I was doing most of the work while he stared out the window. I looked up from my examination of the pig’s brain to see that Micah didn’t have his usual expression of amused abstraction on his face. “What’s up?” I asked.

“Nothing. Just don’t like the smell.”

The formaldehyde odor was quite strong. It took my mom a long time to get it out of my clothing. “Yeah. It does stink. But at least we’re getting to do something cool for once, instead of listening to old man Spunknell going on and on about Mendelian genetics or Darwin.” Micah looked at me like I was speaking Swahili. I remembered then that he had failed the last midterm when he had written that Mendelian genetics were the theory that explained Howie Mandel’s fine head of hair and that Darwin was the starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox. “Never mind. Are you going to help me with this or what? Even Spunknell will get suspicious if it’s all in my handwriting.”

Micah looked at me, and I could tell that he didn’t care what grade he got on the dissection. I did. His parents had long become resigned to the fact that Micah would never be a genius, at least by the measurements used by schools. To them, every C on a report card was a major victory. My parents, and my mom in particular, were never satisfied with anything but an A in all subjects. My mom was a small Asian lady, but what she lacked in physical presence she more than made up for in ruthless determination. Anyone who had watched ‘Shogun’ back in the 80’s and who expected my mom to conform to the stereotype of the passive Asian woman were in for a very rude surprise. I resigned myself to finishing the report alone, and let Micah go back to contemplating the infinite.

Since I was the one doing all the work, I didn’t notice that, once again, portions of porcine anatomies were dissappearing from the examination dishes. This time, however, each team was secreting the same body part away inside plasic lined hoodies and the cuffs of baggy pants. By the end of the class, the only boy team whose fetal pig remained (almost) intact was ours. (I had taken one of the pig’s ribs as a souvenir.) Each of the other boy teams’ specimens were all missing their heads. Mr. Spunknell, well passed the retirement age and fighting tooth and nail against being forced out of the classroom by the administration, woke up when the final bell sounded to see students streaming out of his class and decapitated piggies heaped together in a medical waste bag. He decided not to investigate further because his next class would be coming in for their dissections shortly and he had to clean and restock the trays before he could continue his nap.

The upshot was that by the end of the day the Anti-Anti-Dissection League had gathered over a hundred decapitated piglet heads. And for some reason the cafeteria experienced a run on cherry Kool-Aid, which most students wouldn’t drink if you paid them. The lunchladies soon ran out of their doomsday stockpile of the disgustingly sweet concoction, and started offering blueberry instead. This proved much less popular.

The ninth grade team played the first game of the night. We lost to the Generals 34-3. This was actually considered something of a victory since we actually made it onto the scoreboard and none of our players were sent off for vicious fouls. Micah was the hero of the game for our side, since he managed to tackle a player who both had the football and was on the other team. The rarity of such a double triumph was something most of the fans had never thought to see from one of our players, and it made Micah the man to watch in the future.

The junior varsity squad also went down in defeat in the next game, and the senior varsity team was well on their way to joining in the spirit of things when the ref finally called halftime. The varsity cheerleading squads from both schools came out and began their routines, joined occasionally by an overly enthusiastic member of the ninth grade or JV squads.

Before we go any further, I need to tell you a bit about the makeup of the crowds that came to our football games. Back in the early ’90’s, the Internet had yet to become the timewaster’s go to outlet for all of his or her timewasting needs, and especially in the South, small towns effectively shut down on Friday nights during football season. All stores were closed, houses were dark and all the streets were empty. Towns took on the apocalyptic feel of a George Romero movie. The reason for this was that everyone was at the high school football game. It didn’t matter that the team sucked, as ours inevitably did. There simply was nothing else to do, so no matter who you were and no matter what your feelings were on the subject of football, you went to the game, even if you were sick or had a broken leg. The only exception to the rule was me. I was always at home with my cello.

Thus it was that the girls of the Anti-Dissection League came to be at the game. They sat together in their usual spot in the front section of the bleachers, chatting about whatever it is that girls chat about and completely ignoring the game being played only feet away. Most of the girls in the front rows had their backs turned to the field and therefore did not notice when twenty guys wearing Generals jerseys and helmets ran up to their section, some carrying bags and others with coolers.

With all eyes on the cheerleaders, it took most of the spectators several minutes to differentiate the screams of the girls in the Anti Dissection League from the normal roar of the crowd. By the time that the cheerleaders of both teams finally stopped their routines and turned to see what all the fuss was about, the ADL girls were covered in sticky red liquid and were shrieking  at the tops of their lungs. Small severed heads were still raining down upon them. Some of the girls tried to run away, but many slipped on the pools of cherry Kool-Aid and pig skulls, going down in the filth and adding to the chaos. The school police liasons and the ambulance crew stationed at the end of the field tried to help the girls and restore order, but it was a lost cause. Rumors started of a school shooting, and some members of the crowd swore that they had heard gunshots, and parents soon began scrambling to find their children.

The football game was soon forgotten and a riot was only just averted when my dad arrived at the scene to calm everyone down. The Jackson High ninth grade football team was discovered in the locker room literally red-handed due to the cherry Kool-Aid and in possession of the stolen jerseys. Once he made sure that no one was seriously injured and that this was all the result of an immature prank, my dad left their punishment up to the school principal, a Good Ole Boy named Lester McCracken. Principal McCracken sympathized with the jocks, having in his DNA (the existence of which he was personally dubious) a strong streak of good old fashioned American values. But the chaos and near riot at the Gravelton-Jackson high football game trumped his personal convictions, and in order to save face he decided to suspend the football program at the ninth grade center for a year. This was at first met with strong resistance from the families of the boys on the team, but since we hadn’t won a game all season anyway and the exclusion of the ninth grade center fixture from the schedule meant more drinking time at Harry’s Tavern between the end of work on Friday and the beginning of the JV game, the matter was widely considered to have been well handled.

The only one truly upset about the Fetal Pig Incident was Micah. He was not a member of the group who perpetrated the outrage against the ADL girls, and was therefore the one person who should have felt the most unfairly treated, but he didn’t really care about losing football for the rest of the year. His problem was how the fetal pigs had been treated. He hid out under the bleachers until everyone had been evacuated from the field. He then found an empty trash bag next to the refreshment stand and went over to the ADL’s Kool-Aid stained crime scene. He picked up all of the severed heads and gently placed them into his bag. The even found all of the skull pieces that had been trampled in the rush and bagged them up as well.

He snuck out of the stadium and hiked through the woods and the fields to my house. I heard him outside my window. We had long ago developed a special system whenever we wanted to get the other’s attention at home without our families knowing of it. He tossed a pebble against my window then made a sound like an owl with a bad case of laryngitis. I looked up from my comic book and went to open the window. “What do you want? Did you guys win the game?”

“Hey Andy. Come down. I want you to help me with something.”

Expecting it to be about his homework, I ran out of the house with just a quick word to my mom in Chinese. “I’m going out. I’ll be back before curfew.”

“You’d better be. Your dad has been called in to work, but you’d better be back before he gets home,” she said, the threat implicit.

“All right. God.”

When I finally made it outside, Micah was waiting with a garbage bag. Something in the bag stunk of sugar and death. “Micah, what the fuck?” I asked.

“I need you to help me bury something.”

“What did you do?” I asked, not bothering to hide my suspicion.

“Nothin’. You didn’t notice the guys in our class stealing the fetal pig heads today in life sciences, did you?”

“No, I was too busy doing the work of two people. What happened?”

Micah gave me the rundown of that nights events at the Jackson High football field. “Holy shit,” was my witty rejoinder.

“Yeah. I collected all the pigs’ heads. Now we have to go bury them.” Andy said this with a finality that meant that no problems I may have with his train of logic would divert him from his chosen course.

“I’m not gonna ask why. Where do you want to do it?”

“The graveyard, of course.”

We started walking towards the graveyard, about a mile over country throught the dark forest. The sweet death smell from the bag did nothing to make the pitchblack trees less spooky. I was using my keychain flashlight, and it was just enough to see the path by. I was worried that the smell from the bag would attract a lynx or a cougar, even though cougars hadn’t been seen in Georgia for decades.

I felt some relief therefore when we finally left the woods and climbed over the crumbling brick wall to the graveyard. Micah found an old rusted shovel behind the caretaker’s toolshed and we both took turns digging small individual graves for each of the fetal pigs’ heads. After what felt like hours we stood shivering in the cold November air as the sweat dried off our bodies. Andy started to say a prayer.

“Oh God, and the baby Jesus, please watch over these little baby pigs. They didn’t even get a chance to be borned, but what happened to them afterwards was wrong. I know that they gave their lives to make us smarter, so that we could learn something, but some of us decided to use their body parts in a mean way. It wan’t right, and I hope you and little baby Jesus and the little baby pigs will forgive us. So you know that I’m serious, I won’t eat pig meat ever again. Thanks, umm, Amen. Micah signing off.”

We stood together for a few minutes, looking at the tiny graves we had dug. I wondered what would happen when the undertakers dug up this plot for a new burial one day and found a hundred small pig skulls buried just beneath the surface, but Andy’s heartfelt eulogy had touched me. I didn’t know he was capable of such emotion. Usually he was as cavalier about the feelings of others as any normal teenage boy. But you never knew what he would care about. When he did decide that he cared about something, as in the Fetal Pig Incident, all bets were off. He would go his own way and there would be no stopping him.

He kept his promise. To this day, no piece of bacon or other pork product has passed Micah’s lips. All because of a hundred headless fetal pigs.

Next week (maybe): The Cautionary Tale of Wayne the Whelk (Finally!)

Australia 2011 (Part IV: Top End. Litchfield and Kakadu National Parks and Darwin)

Hello All,

And welcome to Dabendan’s last post on his 2011 trip through Australia. We both had a blast everywhere we went, experiencing the upside down and inside out world of the great Down Under. The far north of Australia, in true iconoclastic Aussie style, was quite warm. July and August are part of the dry season, meaning little water and lots of bush fires. Most of the fires are set by the aboriginal peoples, in their roles as caretakers of the land. It does make for a smoky drive down the last stretch of the Stuart highway, though.

After Katherine, we made a slight detour west to visit Litchfield National Park. Litchfield is often overshadowed by its eastern neighbor, Kakadu, but we found it to have some of the best scenery the Outback has to offer.

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Magnetic termite mounds, Litchfield National Park. These termite mounds are built by thousands of termites with a north-south orientation to control the interior temperature. So if you get lost in NA without a compass, let these be your guides.

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Yours truly next to a magnetic termite mound. These things are enormous, or else I’m extremely tiny. Either way, it’s an interesting picture.

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Wangi Falls, Litchfield National Park. All of the swimming holes were closed when we went there thanks to recent saltwater crocodile activity. As you’ll see it the later photos, I’ll leave the swimming to the crocs without a fight.

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Wild Sulphur-Crested Cockatoo, Litchfield Park.

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The road out of the park to Darwin wasn’t finished, and it was a long bumpy hell in our 2WD Caravan. All part of the experience, though.

Litchfield Pales in comparison to Kakadu. Kakadu is half the size of Switzerland, and possesses Aboriginal rock paintings older than those found in Lascaux, man-eating saltwater crocs, and gorgeous national scenery. It’s one of the only World Heritage Sites both for its natural beauty as well as its importance to humanity. It’s also home to the largest, most productive uranium mine in the world. Can’t forget that.

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Alligator Rivers Floodplain, Kakadu. Weirdly beautiful.

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Rock painting, Ubirr, Kakadu. The aboriginal elders regularly touch up paintings, so it’s difficult to date them, but archaeologists reckon this one to be upwards of 20,000 years old. It’s an anatomically accurate painting of a local snake-necked turtle, by the way.

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Rock painting, Ubirr, Kakadu. This one’s from the oldest part of the rock art gallery at Ubirr, estimated to be about 50,000 years old. (For comparison, the ones at Lascaux in France are estimated to be 30,000 years old). This is part of a long stretch of paintings representing the animals and spirits of Kakadu over thousands of years. There’s even a painting that’s reckoned to represent a Tasmanian wolf, extinct in the Northern territory for many thousands of years. One sad story told by the very knowledgeable rangers was that once in the late 1980’s, when the park was first opened for tourists, one of the tourists walked up to the gallery and started to wipe away the paintings with a wet rag! The damage is still visible, and kind of heartbreaking if you think of what was lost. What a prick.

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One of the few Aboriginal representations of the Rainbow Serpent. The Rainbow Serpent is viewed by many Aborigines of Northern Australia as one of the most powerful Ancestors of the Creation Time. It’s most often associated with water and oil, but it can be capricious if not respected.

We were a bit tired of photography by the time we got to Darwin, and also a bit depressed that our trip was nearing its end, so we didn’t take many pictures of the town itself. We did visit a reptile zoo in downtown Darwin itself, though, because although we did see many salties in Kakadu, we naturally were a bit heistant to get up close to them for a photo.

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This is Big Burt, who starred with Paul ‘That’s not a knife… THAT’s a knife’ Hogan in Crocodile Dundee. Crocosaurus Cove, Darwin. He’s over 5 meters long, tips the scales at over 700kg, and is over 80 years old.

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Close up of another of the park’s crocs, William. He was originally named Houdini, but his and his mate Bess’s names were changed to William and Kate in honor of the royal wedding.

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Why you don’t want to jump into just any lake or river in the Northern Territory.

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A pair of Goannas, Crocosaurus Cove, Darwin.

Well, that’s it for my 2011 Australian adventure. Thanks for sticking around, and if this gets enough feedback I might post a travelogue of my 2007 Transsiberian Railway trip from Hong Kong to London overland some time soon. Get to commenting and liking! Happy travels,

Dabendan

Australia 2011 (Part V: Daly Waters and Katherine Gorge)

On the road north from Alice Springs to Katherine, a distance of over 1100 kilometers, towns are few and far between. This is the deep outback, where you kind of have to take what you can get. One of the big draws on the road is the marker for the Tropic of Capricorn. The anticipation of seeing it, even though it marks a purely notional concept, is immense. The reality of the marker is a bit of a letdown, though.

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See, nothing much to write home about.

Towns in the outback are little more than a single pub and a filling station or two, if you’re lucky. Several enterprising towns have come up with their own gimmicks to entice tourists to stop. Here’s a picture of the gas station at Wycliffe Well, the UFO capital of Australia:

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It’s no Roswell.

By far and away the best town at enticing tourists in the Northern Territory is Daly Waters. It describes itself as the last pub for almost a thousand kilometers, and tourists from all around the world have adorned its walls with driver’s licenses, clothing (including bras and underwear), car license plates, caps, sports memorabilia, and what have you. I’d long wanted to visit the place, because it was the setting of a memorable scene in Bill Bryson’s travelogue of Australia, ‘Down Under’ (or ‘Life in a Sunburned Country’ for Americans). He had a great time there, getting blotto and arranging for a house swap with a South Korean family that he had no recollection of making the next morning. I found it disappointing, however, since apparently the owner, to save costs, decided to fire his professional wait staff and allow traveling students to work there in exchange for room and board. The service was atrocious (we waited 45 minutes for a glass of lemonade), and I found that the atmosphere resembled a gimmicky chain restaurant in the States. My girlfriend, having no preconceptions of the place, enjoyed it immensely, however.

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Kitsch, Outback style.

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Quite a few people lost their knickers in the Daly Waters Pub.

Much more impressive, in my opinion, was the Devil’s Marbles. It’s a sacred site to the area’s Aborigines, and it’s strange and impressive in a very Australian way.

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Balancing rocks, Devils Marbles

Our last stop before Kakadu and Darwin was the town of Katherine. Once we finally got to Katherine, Australia took on a vaguely tropical feel. We had been through the cold and wet of Victoria, the temperate climate of Adelaide, and the desert of the Outback. now we were in the tropics. Katherine Gorge, or Nitmiluk in the local Jawoyn language, is a series of gorges created by the Katherine River. The wildlife was spectacular, and so was the scenery.

Katherine Gorge, Northern Territory, Australia

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We were greeted at the entrance by thousands of fruit bats. The smell is indescribable.

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Wild Agile Wallabies at Katherine Gorge

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This little guy was scrounging for handouts at the car park. He even let my girlfriend pet him.

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Freshwater croc, Katherine Gorge. There can be Salties in the river, but rangers remove them or close the river down, as boaters and swimmers regularly use the river.

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The Katherine Gorge. Lovely place.

Next time we’ll be exploring Kakadu national park, one of the most spectacular places in Australia, and the tropical city of Darwin, Australia’s gateway to Asia. See you then!

Australia 2011 (Part IV: Uluru and King’s Canyon)

Hello all, I’m back after a bit of an absence. Life tends to get in the way, but enough excuses. Onward and upward!

Today we come to Uluru, which is the aboriginal (and official) name for Ayer’s Rock, located in SW Northern Territory. It surprised me to find that getting to Uluru by road is a bit of a slog, necessitating a 7 hour (one way) detour from the main Stuart Highway and even further from Alice Springs, the closest appreciable city.

But I assure you that the extra mileage was worth it. Uluru is one of those places on Earth that must be seen with one’s own eyes to be believed, and even then it’s hard to fully encompass its beauty. Australia is Topsy-Turvy land anyway, but walking around Uluru makes you feel like you’re on another world. The only other place, at least in my experience, whose grandeur even approaches it is the Grand Canyon.

My girlfriend, being Taiwanese, couldn’t say ‘Uluru’ properly, so instead she used the Chinese name for it, ‘世界的肚臍’, which translates as ‘the bellybutton of the world’. I found that name oddly appropriate.

On to the photos!

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After a few weeks in SA, this was a welcome sight.

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First glimpse of Uluru.

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Detail of the base of Uluru. I liked it because it reminded me of a human skull.

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Balancing rock at the base of Uluru.

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Aboriginal petroglyphs (dated at approximately 10,000 years old), base of Uluru.

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And it changes color at sunset!

Our next stop, located about halfway between Uluru and the Stuart Highway, was King’s Canyon (or Watarrka in the local Aboriginal language). This is Aus’s answer to America’s Grand Canyon, and while it doesn’t come anywhere near the Grand Canyon’s colossal scale, it has a peculiarly Australian charm and beauty of its own.

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View from the Rim Walk

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Detail of King’s Canyon wall.

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The classic photo of Uluru at sunset.

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A bit more of any arty photo incorporating some local flora.

That’s it for this edition. Next up is Alice Springs and the road to Kakadu. I’ll try to have it up by the weekend. See you then!

Australia 2011 (Part III: Coober Pedy and the Road to Uluru)

Sorry it’s been a while, but I got a bit busy with school, work, and family. Anyway, here’s the belated post that I promised: Nothern South Australia, including the amazing Coober Pedy.

From Wikipedia: Coober Pedy is sometimes referred to as the “opal capital of the world” because of the quantity of precious opals that are mined there. Coober Pedy is renowned for its below-ground residences, called “dugouts”, which are built due to the scorching daytime heat. The name ‘Coober Pedy’ comes from the local Aboriginal term kupa-piti, which means ‘white man’s hole’.Image

Free range chickens, Aussie style. We literally saw flocks of them by the side of the road as we were driving north from Port Augusta.

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A view of the Outback. Lovely place.

ImageAn Aussie road train.

ImageFirst sight of Coober Pedy. They filmed the Mad Max and Pitch Black films  here, as well as some less well known films (outside of Aus of course.)

ImageWorld’s only underground Catholic church, as far as I’m aware.

ImageUnderground church interior.

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An opal store. Coober Pedy people are nothing if not imaginative.

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This man and his wife runs an ‘orphanage’ for baby kangaroos whose mothers were eaten by aboriginal hunters or hit by road trains. Most of the orphans he reintroduces to the wild, but some, like this male red, become family pets.

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Another of the man’s orphaned kangaroos. He and his wife have about a dozen.

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And some kangaroo meat we picked up at the local Cole’s supermarket.

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Kangaroo stir fried with some onions and spicy chilies. Yum. Coober Pedy also had a great pizza restaurant whose specialty dish was ‘The Australian Coat of Arms’: half the pizza was covered in emu meat, and the other half was topped with kangaroo meat. Kicking myself that we didn’t get a picture of that one.

ImageKulgera Pub and RV (Caravan) Park. Last stop on the Stuart Highway before reaching the Northern Territory. I’m still not sure what all the shoes mean.

That’s it for South Australia. Join me next time (hopefully tomorrow) for the jewel in Australia’s crown, Uluru and King’s Canyon, Northern Territory.