Friday, December 25, 2015

The Tasmanian Christmas Gift for Mom - (Part 4 of 4)

The inside of an abalone shell
Getting the abalone was only half the quest, now I had to bring it home. I froze the meat.

In the morning, the couple made me coffee again. They were leaving on the ferry with their SUV to the mainland of Australia soon. I gave the wife one of my abalone shells - a trophy and prize for her too.

Before they left, I thanked them for their hospitality and kindness. They drove off.

I stayed longer to rest. Then, I gathered up my stuff and hitchhiked on the side of the road. My gear was heavier now because of my abalone catch.

An older, gay, married couple picked me up in five minutes of hitchhiking. One was from Sussex in England and the other was from Germany. They now both lived in Germany. The German was the older of the two, and I assumed he was the one with the money because they lived in Germany instead of England.

They dropped me off at the fork in the road. I hitchhiked there for 40 minutes. Nobody was going to the ferry port, but people were coming from there because it was a Saturday and not a Sunday. Then, a young Chinese couple picked me up.

They had never picked up a hitchhiker. They had never toured on their own either. They weren't in a tourbus, like most Chinese that travel.

We had a conversation. The girl was very pleased I spoke Mandarin. We switched in English and Mandarin but we spoke mainly in English. She was an accountant, and he was an engineer. I was surprised a Chinese couple picked me up, but maybe it's perhaps it's because I'm Asian. In China, people don't hitchhike. I told them I had caught abalone, and they were surprised.

Eventually, I admitted to them I was an attorney. I'm surprised they didn't stop the car and throw me out. No. No. They were actually also amused by the fact that a lawyer didn't have a car on holiday and was hitchhiking. She told me in the far West of China, in the area near Afghanistan, there are travelers like me, who travel on a shoestring.

We arrived 2 minutes before the ferry departed. After the ferry sailed into mainland Tasmania, I thanked them and took an hour bus ride back to Hobart - the capital city of Tasmania. Along the way, the bus picked up these two German girls. They sat behind me.

I was tired and exhausted. I had another dive before I left and didn't catch anything because the currents were too strong again. I was cold. I didn't sleep well. So, I slouched on my bus seat.

To keep awake, I eavesdropped on the German conversation behind me. I could pick up a few things here and there and thought to myself: I really need to learn better German.

I walked back to the hostel carrying my heavy gear. I unpacked it. I froze the abalone once again. I met my roommates for the night. A couple was Dutch. We got along. They started teaching me Dutch, and because I knew some German it wasn't so hard. I actually corrected them at one point that the word they taught me couldn't be a correct translation because I knew the German word for it. They agreed, and we laughed.

I sat outside by myself. Then the German girl, I met on the bus, was there. She sat next to me. It took me awhile to remember where I saw her. But it was obvious, she remembered me. She even mentioned that I looked tired in the bus. (I was.)

I asked her if she'd like a shot of whiskey I had brought with me. She agreed. Then we chatted, until I was ready to sleep.

The next morning, I said good bye to her. I brought my abalone and caught a shuttle into the airport.

My flight was over 25 hours long from Tasmania back to Los Angeles. I laid over in Honolulu. There, Customs inspected my catch. The officers knew what I had and said, "You know, that's worth a lot of money."

"I guess so," I said.

One officer said, "I can smell it." It smelled fresh like the ocean.

The officer in the back said, "Enjoy it. I'm sure it'll taste good."

I boarded my flight to Los Angeles from Honolulu and made it back with the abalone. Outside the airport, my brother and mother met me at night at the airport. It was a long flight, and I wanted to go home.

I handed her the ice chest of abalone. I said, "Take it. Isn't it heavy?"

She said, "Yeah. What is it?"

"Abalone. It's from Australia. It's your Christmas gift."

 I looked at my younger brother and said, "I'm the favorite son now."

He laughed.

We went to my favorite pizza place by UCLA. I told them about my travels. My brother ordered so much food and said, "It tastes better when you pay for it." We laughed.

I walked home. I saw my cat, Jeh Pan. I picked him up and hugged him. Mother turned on the heater, making the home feel warm and cozy. After about six weeks, I slept in my own bed.

When I woke up in the morning, "I smelled abalone soup cooking." I was back home.

Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays, everyone!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Abalone Catch - Part 3 of 4

Quiet Corner, Bruny Island
Copyright PC1134 of RedBubble
Inside the kitchen shed, shivering, I struck up a conversation with the couple. They were in their 70's, married for forty years, and traveling the world for retirement.

I kind of adopted them, like a cat adopts a family. They took kindly to me too. They offered me food and drink because I was cold, pathetic, and didn't bring enough supplies.

After awhile, I warmed up to them and asked them how to have a successful marriage. They both look surprised I asked such a question because they didn't really know the answer to it. They just seemed to have a happy marriage for forty years. The most I got out of them was that you should have similar values and get over being hurt and just make it work.

At about 10, we all said it was time to go to bed. It was cold outside. I had a thin tent.

I slept inside. But, at about 1 am, I was woken up. The rain pounded down so hard, it flattened my tent, and my tent collapsed.

And as I woke, I had a number of thoughts racing through my head. They weren't keeping me up, but they were on my mind. I started to pray. I wondered if it was better to stay in my tent, or go to the kitchen and sneak in and sleep on the couch. It'd still be cold in there, but at least, the rain wouldn't smash down the tent I was in.

But because I was in such peace and meditation, I felt better just continuing on in quiet thought. Then, I fell asleep again, until the cold, rainy morning, woke me.

The couple was in the kitchen before me. They made me coffee. That was nice. They also offered me oatmeal, which I refused, because I didn't want to take so much. They were very a kind couple. After the rain eased, we walked to the local cafe.

There, I bought them hot chocolate, which warmed them and made them feel fuzzy inside. I ordered a cappuccino. We all ordered scallop pies and took our time eating them.

That was the last day the cafe was in operation. And the owner was ugly and mean to us because that was his temperament.

I procrastinated to gear up to go diving. I didn't want to get back into the icy water. But, I put on my wet suit and grabbed my gear and went back to my dive site.

This time, I went during low tide. The water was much calmer. And within ten minutes of searching, I found huge abalones. And like a sea bird, that plunged in the water, foraging for food, and rising for air. I dove down, and used my knife to scrape them off the rocks. I'd only come up for air. Within an hour, I had collected 10 abalones, and placed them in my cheap, grocery, plastic bag. They were so big and heavy, that my bag ripped.

I felt victorious. I took the ripped bag and my ten abalones, and retied the bag. I shucked the abalone shells from the meat. One of them, had some caviar in it. I ate it raw. It seemed savage, but it tasted good.

I hurled the guts into the water, until a seabird noticed and started catching them in the midair - only to the abalone guts. I felt bad because I was killing abalones. And that was taking life.

I kept the two largest shells. And I walked back to my camp ground with a heavy bag of abalone.

The locals looked at me, upset that I took what they thought they owned. The cafe owner shouted: "I'm gonna call the police on you."

I thought - whatever, there's only one officer in the island.

I told him: "Go ahead! I have a license." And yes, I did purchase an abalone fishing license.

After taking a shower, I entered the kitchen. The couple was there. I told them, "I got my full catch."

They both told me well done.

Later that night, I took an abalone, which the couple never ate. I cooked it into soup. We all ate it. We all liked it.

She asked me, "Are you cooking it from a recipe?"

"Yes," I said. "My mom's."

I felt satisfied I earned my catch for Mom. It'd be her Christmas gift. It was raining hard still that night. This time, I decided to sleep in the kitchen shed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Abalone Quest (Part 2 of 4 of the Quest)

Bruny Island
I had only a small backpack on with a few clothes on a sunny day, and I was also lugging around a heavy weight belt and dive gear in my hands, when I boarded the ferry to Bruny Island. Bruny Island is a remote island off of Tasmania, and it only has 500 people that live there. It looked like this trip was becoming visits to remote and extreme islands.

When I boarded, a blonde teenager of 15 was the only other person without a car who boarded Bruny. His name was Hector, and I told him I was going to Bruny to dive for abalone. He told me where to go. Hector was shy, and he seemed excited to meet someone from Los Angeles. Later, he would tell all his friends he met an Asian-American on the ferry from Los Angeles.

Hector also told me that there's no public transportation on the island; so, I had to hitchhike to get to the camp ground. Another hassle. Soon, Hector left downstairs where his friends were.

Without having a car, it was a hassle to come onto Bruny Island with heavy dive gear: a two piece wetsuit, a lead weight belt, fins, and a mask. As a result, I was ill prepared for the harsh weather of Bruny because I only had a small pack. I didn't have enough clothes. I didn't have enough food.

On the ferry, I saw a jeep that had the label Dive Bruny Island. I chatted the guy up. I asked for a lift. He said he would.

Peter drove me to my camp on Bruny Island. He was most hospitable. He pointed out the most southern wheat that grew in Australia and the smoking house for fish and the chocolate factory and the oyster farm and the cheese factory.

It was a most sunny day. But because it was my first day on Bruny, the first day of fair weather deceived me. It was cool and sunny, but no wind. That would change later.

Peter pointed out a good dive site for Abalone. It was where Abel Tasman and Captain Cook landed hundred of years ago. Then, he went out of his way to drop me off at my campsite. I pitched my small little red tent. I geared up and went for a dive in my wetsuit.

As I walked to the spot, Hector and his friends found me. Hector kicked a ball across the road and ran to the ball to run up to me. His friends came. They were shy too but were happy to be introduced. One of them said, "So, he's the one from Los Angeles."

I smiled and nodded. Then they went off their way to play more soccer in the sunshine with the ocean on the coast next to them.

I reached my point. I plunged into the water. I felt the icy water swish against my skin. I hate the cold.

I swam through the great Kelp Forest and couldn't see anything. The seaweed kelp grew massively, and sometimes I felt engulfed by it. It certainly tangled me up a lot. And when it tied up my mask, I felt like I couldn't come up to the surface for air, which felt like suffocation.

The currents were also strong. It was like a whirlpool against the tides. It was like a great sea monster was sucking in the water and me with it. Then spitting me out. Then it'd suck in the water again and spit me right back out.

After about 30 minutes of this, I felt seasick. I think it came more from the dizzying effect of seeing the moving seaweed (like when someone can't read in the car because of his peripheral vision) than the strong currents.

Yet, there was a point when the swishing water calmed, and I spotted one. An abalone. And it was huge. I took in a few deep breaths and swam down to take a look. Yup, that was it. I went back up for air. Caught my breath.

Then, I took my knife and tried to pry it off the rocks. But because I hesitated, the abalone suctioned itself on the rock. I pried and pried with excitement, but I was losing my oxygen from doing so. Then the current swept me away, and the knife got stuck between the rock and abalone. I was dizzy from not having enough air.

I surfaced and inhaled more and more air. I couldn't find my abalone and knife because of all the seaweed covering it. So, I had to wait once again for that split second when there was a pause between the waves, and I found it.

I dove down. I grabbed the knife and wrenched up. The abalone flipped over. I picked it up. I was awed by how big it was. It was the size my hand. I put it in my bag. Success. I captured my first one.

But as I went to the surface, I felt dizzy and sick. I took out my snorkel and vomited my lunch into the water. A red mist of stomach acid and chunks of food mixed with the ocean water. Oh, I thought - I'm not feeling well.

But on I went, and later I found another one and called it a day.

I was cold and shivering. I got two abalone. I must've been in the water for a little over an hour.

Upon coming to shore, I took my catch and stabbed a knife between the shell and the meat of the abalone. I felt bad for killing the creature; I hadn't killed game in awhile. And to do it now, made me realize how awful death was. I told myself, It's for Mom. I cut off the abalone gut and tossed it into the ocean. I thanked God for my catch, and put the meat and shell back into my plastic bag.

I went to my campground kitchen. I boiled some water. I put it in an instant noodle soup. I drank it. It felt good to touch the warm bowl. My hair was cold and wet. My body was icy. My body sucked out all the heat when I drank the soup.

I went to the restroom. I had no change for taking a paid shower. So, I turned on the faucet and cupped my hands and then poured the hot water over my body. It felt good.

I was successful, but not very successful as you can get 10 per day. I was annoyed I got seasick too.

I changed into my regular clothes, and in the kitchen was an elderly couple - who was now drinking Bailey's Irish Liquor. It looked good.

I sat and slumped on the couch, looking worn and pathetic. But I thought to myself, if I caught two, that means I could get more.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

The Quest for Mom's Tasmanian Treasure (Part 1 of 4)

I had to end the trip with a treasure hunt. Boys must be boys, and sons must be heroes in the eyes of their mothers.

After leaving New Zealand, I could feel that the time was running out on me. It's like when one is having a good time and wishes it would never end. And unlike money, you can't borrow more time. When a good time is gone; it's gone, and don't let anyone tell you different.

It's hard to find a gift for my mother. She doesn't like jewelry or clothes or other ornaments. But the one thing she does appreciate is abalone.

Abalone is a delicacy in Asia. It's a shellfish that's worth much, tastes good, and is wonderful to eat.

I heard that Tasmania, the furthest southern point of Australia had a lot of it. So, I took a flight from Wellington to Hobart, Tasmania. Along the way though, I had a layover in Melbourne, Australia.

There, an English friend named Luke invited me to stay. I met him in Bali.

He showed kindness to let me sleep in his bed, while he slept on the couch. Nonetheless, his flat was dirty because it was two bedrooms with eight people. There was black mold that was growing in the restroom.

With that said, I still appreciated the hospitality and stayed with him. Luke took some time off work for me, and we ate by the Melbourne river and explored the city. We caught up some. Then, I caught my flight to Hobart - the capital of Australia. (I almost missed my flight - by the way.)

From Hobart, Tasmania, I hitchhiked. A friendly 19 year old Maori (indigenous person of New Zealand) guy picked me up. His name was Jessie. He was doing well in school and was an athlete and worked at the airport.

He drove me around Hobart and pointed out the landmarks of the Tasmanian capital city. That was nice.

I asked him where to dive for abalone. He said he didn't know.

Jessie dropped me off at my hostel. There were a lot of Japanese and German people there. They all seemed to be having a good time.

I asked the hostel owner Theresa, where the abalone was. She said, perhaps on Bruny Island. Well, I suppose that was where I had to go.

I was tired though. I didn't sleep enough in Melbourne; after all, it was a two hour time difference, my flight was late, and I went to bed really late.

I wanted sleep, but I was hungry. So, I grabbed some fish and chips from the pier - where there were heaps of Chinese tourists getting fish and chips. I ordered crumbed scallops and trevella (a fish native only to Tasmania). All the while, it was on my mind - where was I going to get abalone?

The day I arrived into Tasmania; it was nice and sunny and fair and warm. It was slightly windy.

I had the room to myself, even though there were seven other beds. I thought about things that were on my mind for some time now. Although it was early at night, I soon fell asleep and didn't remember my last thought.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Having Fun in Wellington, New Zealand

Silly Picture of Us Being Silly
In Wellington, New Zealand, the windy, capital city, I left feeling like I belonged, and that made me realize that I need to come back sooner than later. I used to live in Wellington for three and a half years. This was the first time I was back in six years.

Because people wanted to see me, I changed my flights. I cut my days short in Australia and extended my stay in New Zealand for five more nights. During that time, I stayed at three different households. I had dinner and lunch every day with different friends.

People kept asking me to stay longer, but there was not enough time. It's as Jim Croce sang in Time in a Bottle, "But there never seems to be enough time / To do the things you want to do, once you find them". (Incidentally, it's one of the main theme songs in X-Men's Days of the Future Past.)

A lot of this trip has had some exciting adventures: like when I walked through the clouds on the Kepler Trek or when I spotted Kiwis on Stewart Island. But, coming back to Wellington, made me appreciate the quieter but more valuable aspects in life - the ties I had and the strengthening of them.

For instance, my friend Kirill and his wife, took their entire weekend off to take me on a small hike, make me breakfast and dinner, and to go to a winery. My friend Andre invited me to his home, and he took an entire day off of work to spend time with me. His family and I walked through the city, bought ice cream, and watched the sunset together.

You can't really buy moments like that. Either you've invested enough in the relationship or you haven't, but there's not much in between.

My time in Wellington made me reflect on the busy and lonely lives that Angelinos live - where you're expected to earn more and work more and be someone. But to what end? It's almost like community doesn't exist in Los Angeles.

I've observed that people want to be happy and have friends and have community. But those things, take a sacrifice of time and resources. How many people are willing to take time off work, just to spend time with a friend that's visiting?

Well, it's as Oscar Wilde once said, "Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing."

Friday, December 4, 2015

A Second Summer in Christchurch

Jumping off a pier in the French Village of Akaroa,
Canterbury Plains - New Zealand
Climbing out of the water
I was grateful that Shen, my former coworker, a programmer and amateur comedian, took half a day off of work and took me to the French Village of Akaroa, an hour's drive out of Christchurch. Although it was December, it was a hot and wonderful day.

It may be obvious, but because New Zealand is in the southern hemisphere, we're approaching summer; while, back at home, we're approaching winter. So, it's quite nice that I had a summer in July, and now I have a second summer in New Zealand.

I can't say I was that impressed with Akaroa. People have told me it's a lovely French Village; so, having been to the South of France, I was expecting people to be telling me Bonjour everywhere and carrying baskets full of bread and cheese. Nope. That didn't happen.

But, it was hot and nice and I was able to jump off the pier a couple of times to cool off. And, that was good fun.

We also entered the 1887 historic courthouse, and I walked passed the barrier and pretended to be a barrister arguing in front of the judge. Shen was a killjoy and told me I wasn't being respectful for trespassing into the historic barrister platform. I told Shen he was being a killjoy and to let me have some fun. Oh well, don't tell the Kiwis I did that.

In the evening, Shen showed me how the earthquake destroyed the downtown area of Christchurch. In many areas, there was nothing left. There was also construction everywhere I looked. It was no longer the lovely city I remembered.

It was good to catch up with Shen. Must come back to New Zealand, again. I fly next back to Wellington.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Last Frontier

In the French Village of Akaroa, New Zealand on Dec. 2, 2015:
In contrast with the picture below, I finally got a haircut.
From the Fjordlands of New Zealand, I wanted to see the last frontier of New Zealand - Stewart Island. Stewart Island is the furthest south you could get in New Zealand, and I've never been. There's nothing between Stewart Island and Antartica, except ocean. You're only three hours away from Antartica by flight from there.

Stewart Island has all the wild birds that the rest of mainland New Zealand doesn't have because it's mainly undeveloped and introduced animals such as rats and stoats don't exist. So, the birds can exist.

Did you know - that in New Zealand - there are only two native mammals: they're both bats? Everything else, such as dogs, cats, mice, possums, and stoats have been introduced.

I had to hitchhike out of Te Anua to Invercargill to go to Stewart Island. In total, it took four and a half hours, about two hours of drive time, and two hours of wait time. I've never waited so long to be picked up, but nobody was leaving to the city down south called Invercargill.

The first person who picked me up was a furniture maker that was a Kiwi. The second person who picked me up was an Irish carpenter and fisherman. The third person, who I waited an hour for, was a swim coach. I felt tired from trying to convince people on the road to pick me up and take me to Invercargill.

In Invercargill, there was a motorbike championship called the Burt Monroe challenge. Burt Monroe is a Kiwi Hero for setting the world record for the fastest motorcycle of a 1000 cc engine. You can watch the movie sometime called The World's Fastest Indian - starring Anthony Hopkins.

The town was full of bikers. And I bumped into one of the bikers coincidentally. He was a former manager of my former employer. We chitchatted, had tea, had coffee, and ate biscuits. He was in town because of the Burt Monroe challenge.

After being in Invercargill, I flew to Stewart Island in a tiny airplane that could hold only ten people. I was so lucky because the pilot let me fly in the cockpit with him.

Me, flying in the cockpit with the pilot
After landing on Stewart Island, I took a speed boat to a place called Freshwater Creek. You have to go in high tide. Because at low tide, the ocean water doesn't reach the freshwater river. Then the speedboat gets you across the river and drops you off in a swamp.

Walking through the swamp is dirty businesses. I've never been through a swamp before. But it looked like pictures out of the Florida Everglades. And you walk through mud and water and it's just really wet. Nonetheless, it was beautiful to see the sharp blades of long grass grow. It was also nice seeing all the small birds come up to me and watch me.

The Swamps of Stewart Island, New Zealand
At the end of the trail, you reach a hut at Mason's Bay, where a farm used to be. There, I met two hunting families. I befriended one of them, who I gave eggs for his breakfast bacon.

Mason's Bay is reputed to have the most kiwis anywhere in New Zealand. A kiwi is a native bird, that's like a mini turkey, except with a long beak.

At midnight, we went to spot Kiwis in Mason's Bay. Twice, I saw them. I was quite surprised by how big they were. They looked like miniature turkeys.

The next day, I had to return back to Freshwater Creek to get my speedboat back to the main town on Stewart Island. While waiting for my next speedboat, I met the hunter who I gave eggs too.

He was kind and repaid me. He gave me a piece of meat from the deer he had just shot. I was grateful.

Kaka - the endangered New Zealand Alpine Parrot
Then, I took my speedboat back to the mainland. At my hostel, I saw the other only alpine parrot, called a Kaka. It's endangered; so, I was lucky to get its photo.

On my last day of Stewart Island, I needed to catch my flight from the small city of Invercargill to Christchurch. A fog came in. The flights off Stewart Island were cancelled.

After two hours; however, flights reopened. I was able to catch my flight from Stewart Island to Invercargill.

My next post is about being in Christchurch with Shen - my former coworker and friend.