Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Soaking in its people

Today is Australia Day - as the name suggests a day to celebrate our national identity, and a public holiday as well!   On the radio the lives of ordinary Australians are being told - how they came here, how they adapted, what Australia is to them.   As the countries of the world grow closer and closer, the story of Australia is becoming a global one, and for me anyway, one where there is so much to learn and enjoy about other cultures.

Last year on Australia Day I was in the last week of a month long cycling tour of Sulawesi in Indonesia.  The Australians in the group sang Advance Australia Fair (our anthem) before we headed out for what was to be the hardest 14km of our 1200km trip - uphill and around bends, and uphill again, the sun beating down on us in the way that it does when you are inland away from the ocean and major waterways.

At the end of this ride, still early in the morning we arrived at a national park, and spent the day and night at thermal pools, underneath a canopy of lush green bushland.  There were several pools with water of varying temperatures, and as we sat and lay on the edge of the pool we were cooled by gentle rain falling through the trees.

Eventually as the day progressed, the pool and surrounding grounds filled with Indonesian family groups of all ages, middle aged couples with children and uncles and aunties, and groups of young Indonesian, out on picnics to celebrate what is one of their public holidays - Tahun Baru Imlek or Chinese New Year.  Needless to say we made many new friends who were very interested in what we were doing, and keen to practice their English and take photos, as Indonesians do.

That night after dinner we met with the workers from the national park who asked what could be done to make the park better - much of that conversation being about the need to find ways to remove the rubbish in the park.  Much had been piled up prominently along the 500m walk to where many of our group were sleeping in fairly basic huts.  The lucky among us enjoyed a night in the wooden cabins on stilts, among the trees, and near the stream that fed the pools.

It was an idylic day, and a nice mixing of different cultures.  Indonesia itself a country that has developed its identity through the many different cultures that have colonised and traded with it over time - the chinese, portugese and dutch influences layered over ancient hindu and islamic traditions.

The night before our Australia Day ride was also a cultural experience - we stayed in traditional Buginese long houses at Batu-Batu.  The houses were owned by an academic from Java, who had set them up as a living museum, and we slept in and among the four poster beds, did yoga around the chinese ceramics jars, and sat on the wooden floors to eat our dinner.  Needless to say we did this as respectfully as we could but not before the need for some bargaining with the doctor's second wife.

I don't have photos of the thermal pools, but here are some in and around the Buginese houses.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Reflections on the lotus 2

Lotus plants grow best when sown in shallow muddy waters.  Their roots spread under the water and then the plants rise up, metres above the surface, leaves and flowers and pods.  Because these all appear on the plant at the same time, the lotus represents the past, the present and the future.  Rich, beauty that fills the space more than might be thought possible, while preparing its seed pods for the plants of tomorrow.

Like the muddy pond beneath the flowers, the romantic poet Keats believed that man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without reaching after fact and reason*.  He was saying that acceptance of the unknown is needed before beauty can emerge tall and strong. It is this belief that led him to write poems of great beauty and passion.  And it is a way of looking at the future, at how to make beauty from the spaces around us.  To encourage richness and completeness from where it doesn't yet exist and to allow the space for it to be.

Long ago, before Vishnu and Laksmi were tiffing in the kitchens of Javanese puppet makers, the god Shiva emerged from the Absolute, the highest way of being, golden and pure, space.  Or so it is represented in some delightful paintings from Rajastan, currently on exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW (Gardens and Cosmos).

So, when times are quiet, remember the spaces are needed for new growth to emerge.  When things are murky, remember that the muddy waters are needed to enrich the roots.  And if you are a lotus, your inclination, without knowing, will always be to reach up, towards the sun and to regenerate for tomorrow.

*As described in a letter to his brother dated 21 Dec 1817, he called this theory 'negative capability'

Monday, January 11, 2010

Reflections on the lotus 1

The lotus flower, symbol of purity, fertility and growth.

Apparently in Indian mythology Laksmi grew from a lotus flower that sprang from the head of Vishnu.

Both were good guys, or so said the puppet maker in Jogjakarta who sold me two beautifully painted Wayang Kulit representing these two characters last year.   He explained that Vishnu represented protection, cleverness and true love, and that his partner Laksmi was a good mama, beautiful and wise.

Then he explained that he had these two puppets in his kitchen, and that his wife moves Laksmi's hands around to show how she is feeling.

It was raining, and I had been brought to the puppet makers workshop on the back of a motor bike, so he carefully wrapped the puppets in layers of paper, cardboard and plastic to protect them.

Kulit means skin and these puppets are carved from animal skins.  Then they are delicately painted on both sides in beautiful colours.  Their arms and legs are hinged to move.  When the puppets are used in a play the story is told through their shadows.

The puppets are used in set plays most commonly the Ramayana and the Mahabarata.  The complete plays go over several nights (or overnight) and involve many puppets each representing different characters.  They are accompanied by a traditional gamelan orchestra.  In Jogjakarta you can see the Ramayana every night, and my puppet maker who also plays in the orchestra threw in a free ticket.

In this story I let the puppet maker move my hands and legs in the role of compliant and innocent tourist.  And yet I was overawed by the reverence this man had for what he produces in his work, the tradition it continues and the way it beats music in his life today.

 I am still working out how to display these beautiful puppets in my home so they can also cast shadows.

Hot, hot, hot

January, Canberra, and no surprises it is hot, hot, hot.  Stagnating, stifling, dry heat hot (38 degrees for about three or four days).  We got in a bike ride on Sat morning with the aid of plenty of water, and the promise of coffee.  Then shopping took over, as an excuse to be inside in air conditioning.

Had a lovely picnic Saturday night at an outdoor cinema at our National film and sound archive.  Friends got there early and saved great seats at the front - lovely deckchairs, with cushions!  We saw an Australian film from the 80s, Malcolm, in which a slightly apsberger afflicted guy rents out his spare room to a bank robber and his girlfriend.

Malcolm loves trams, and mechanical gadgets, including a car that splits in half and a motorised letterbox.  The three of them flee to Portugal after staging a successful robbery using mobile ashtrays, complete with cameras, microphones and stun guns.  Great getaway scenes and overall very funny.

Since Sat it has continued to be hot, and there has been more shopping, and work, pleasantly air conditioned.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Seen in the city

View from YHA Darling Harbour

Lotus flowers in bloom in the Botanic Gardens

An island campsite (for next time - maybe)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Dear blog - here I am, taking a break in Sydney - three nights at the YHA at the Rocks, and the chance to catch up with friends and do a bit of shopping and touring.  Today the art gallery and botanic gardens, the first to meet up with a cousin, and the second a friend that I did a cycling tour with 12 months ago. 

Saw a fabulous installation at the art gallery, they have built faux rooms around the brass statues outside the building.  Famous men on their horses are now placed within a bedroom and a living room.  In the bedroom the bed sits under the horse, rider still atop.  In the lounge room built higher into the status, a horses head sits on the coffee table, and a brave warrior's head inside the wall unit.  Fabulous.  Also saw some Indian art from a Raj's palace in Rajastan.

Then met up in the gardens with N who is a keen artist and writer.  So no surprise we talked a lot about writing and creativity. 

Finished off the night seeing Nowhere Man at the Dendy at Circular Quay - about a 10 min walk from the YHA.  Missing the keyboard, and the funny piano pieces I've been teaching myself.  Its great to be in the big smoke for a few nights though.

Friday, January 1, 2010

And welcome to 2010. This year began for me with a morning swim with friends at the pool, then I welcomed my father as a guest for lunch in the garden, and went with a friend to see Bright Star followed by a Thai dinner. Now some rest.

And can't you tell I'm a new blogger. First banner picture a bit too big - I will have to learn how to trim these. I like it though - it was taken at the end of a big ride (cycling that is) through the Blue Mountains and the Hunter Valley to Newcastle. It is colourful, and reminds me of a fun day at the end of nearly two weeks of riding and camping with over 1000 people.

As well as thoroughly enjoying cycling and cycle touring, I also love music. Over the last year I have been working towards a goal to better understand how music works. This started with the purchase of a music theory book. It wasn't long before I learnt that I also needed an instrument to test out the theory, so I bought a keyboard. And I have been working my way through a series of tunes in a Preliminary primer. I love it. I am slowly learning music as if it were another language, and love how the tunes emerge from the page after much tentative striking of the keys. I love how the notes on the keyboard are so clearly laid out and how that makes the patterns in the music clearer. I hope I will slowly improve.

Here on this blog you might read more about my cycle trips, and my adventures with music, and the other adventures that shape my life In many ways each of the things we do, and each step towards a goal or interest is an approximation towards perfection - and as long as there is some movement closer, it is fun taking those steps. I hope you will enjoy hearing about my steps, and the views along the way, too.