I really did have so much to say about Bali, but racing back to my room each day to write about it wasn’t really top of my priorities! Now back in the UK, suffering from a mix of emotions with a bit of insomnia thrown in, I guess it’s time to catch up!
After a few days in Ubud I was keen to get to the coast and experience another aspect of Bali, so having done a bit of reading and chatting to other travellers I decided to head to Amed and work my way down the East coast to finish in Sanur.
The journey to Amed took much longer than it should have thanks to a ceremony. This didn’t seem to bother anyone at all, and I found this quite surprising as traffic was backed up for kilometres in both directions as a procession was slowly making its way along the road. Sitting in a bus with no air conditioning when the temperature is 30 something and the humidity is high wasn’t ideal. Most people got out of their cars, and I asked our driver how long we’d have to wait. “No idea” was his response. I asked what the ceremony was for ” No idea” was the response again. I understand that it’s perfectly acceptable in Bali for ceremonies to stop everything, and that such ceremonies can occur at any given time, often without much planning or warning…
On our arrival in Amed, as I ranted about earlier, we were dropped off outside a hotel and told we weren’t to be taken any further. You can imagine my horror as I looked at the uneven roads, hoisted my backpack onto my shoulders and wondered how far my suitcase would allow me to walk. To our rescue came Kadek ( very conveniently of course) who drove the French passengers to their hostel and me to his cousin’s homestay. It wasn’t where I had planned to stay, and once I looked around I realised it wasn’t where I wanted to be either, as I had to walk 45 minutes to go snorkelling. However, such is life, and at the mercy of two years of luggage from Australia, I had little choice.
Once I had freshened up and had a ridiculously cheap lunch of omelette and tea cooked at the homestay, I had a look around. I had been invited, and I later realised, possibly caused great offence by saying no, to a ceremony that was taking place on the beach that afternoon.
Kadek told me all of his family would be there and I would be most welcome to join, I could take photos and experience something of true Bali. Yes I was intrigued, but desperate after a week in Bali to immerse my aching body in the sea. I enquired as to what happened in this particular ceremony and was told that thousands of people would go to the beach at 4:30 pm, dressed in white. And what do they do there, was my question. Everyone brings animals which are sacrificed on the beach, to the gods. What?? Yes, goats, sheep and I thought he said dogs, but perhaps he said ducks. Never-the-less – keen though I am to get involved and experience something magical, I just didn’t feel I could support, let alone watch something like that. I hold no religious standpoint in this area, but my “religion”, or at least my way of life, does not agree with things like that. Sorry!
So I walked along the beach, past the angry dogs, and children asking me to take their photo and then asking for money for it, past the nice looking guesthouses on the beach, all the way to Jemeluk to snorkel.
Oh the relief to get into the water, and oh the wonderful things I saw. Ouch, I bashed my knee on the coral and saw blood spilling out as I understood the sign I had read about snorkelling only in high tide. Oops. So I got out, and went further round the bay, refusing a few massages, drinks and beds to reimmerse myself in the refreshing water to watch the underwater spectacular and pass away an afternoon finally doing exactly as I pleased.
My day officially starts at 7:30am when I leave my “house”, that is my granny flat in the garden, and I walk about 12 steps to the back door of the house.
On a good day I will have had time for a peaceful breakfast and might even be strolling over with a cup of tea in my hand. Yorkshire Tea, purchased recently, which makes my day start an awful lot better than Bushells.
Breakfast time consists of teamwork to get T & S dressed and fed, so T can get out of the door for school on time with Dad. It doesn’t always go smoothly – Fridays are particularly painful mornings. When the TV is switched off – my preference – the morning is a breeze. When it’s on, which it usually is – it’s anyone’s guess what will happen.
After T goes to school, S and I can start our day. My morning tasks are getting S to have some breakfast, as it’s unlikely this was successful earlier, and a second attempt at dressing her. When she is pottering about with the dog, or today’s teddy, I unpack and repack the dishwasher, tidy the kitchen and make a start on the laundry, make the beds and have a think about today’s plan.
If I haven’t already had a conversation about tonight’s dinner, it will be written down somewhere. Making dinner is an important and enjoyable task for me, so it needs to be factored into the day’s plan.
Very often S and I will pop to the local shop to top up on ingredients. She will go in the pushchair, and my bag will be loaded with snacks and supplies and off we go. Sometimes we pick something up and turn around and go back. Sometimes we have coffee together in the cafe. And less recently due to bad weather, we will come home via the park.
Most sunny days lunch is a picnic at the park. We sit on the picnic benches together making crow noises and discussing what dogs are doing. We lie on the grass and find shapes in the clouds, sing songs on the swings or we go on an adventure to the wooded area of the huge park we live near to “see what we can see”. This is a general term I use for any journey we embark upon, as it seems to give it some purpose.
After lunch S usually has another energy spurt, so whizzes around the back yard on her bike if we are at home, and I use the opportunity to lock the dog away and make dinner. Not locking the dog away, as I very quickly learnt but surprisingly often forget, very often results in something or everything being stolen by the pesky Labrador.
S often helps me make dinner: I give her a bowl and she does “mixing” which consists of her collecting all the peelings and leftovers in her bowl – we often season it, add water and “taste” it to see what she has created.
On these recent boring rainy days I have been doing a number of little baking activities – scones, or cupcakes perhaps, which we later eat at a teddy bears’ picnic in my granny flat, sometimes under the table if it’s raining really heavily! Getting a 3 year old interested in baking isn’t difficult. I measure things out, she pours them in: complimented all the time on her great pouring skills. We can’t wait until it’s in the oven, so we can both be naughty and lick the bowl.
After a few stories and cup of tea it’s time to locate shoes (never an easy task, as they never stay on for long) and a cardigan, a book or two, some snacks for the ride, water and anything else I can think of before we head to school to collect T. Very often I have to do “fast walking” because the previous tasks took longer than I wanted them to and we race to school, nattering all the way, looking for things to point out, so S doesn’t fall asleep.
T gets a high 5 if he’s eaten all his lunch. If he hasn’t, “nasty nanny” makes him eat his sandwich before he plays footy. We hang out at school for as long as the weather and the caretakers allow, or we head to a park and we kick and pass the ball or have running races before heading home. Apparently I am “awesome” at this. I have tried to teach him “English football” (I refuse to call it soccer) but I can’t get him to stop picking the ball up!
Dinner comes round pretty quick, as I’m doing a few last minute adjustments and bringing in the washing, it all happens at once. Countdown is on: tidy up music is playing on my computer, play area is tidied, hands are washed, table is set and bottoms are on seats for a 5pm sit down. The 3 of us sit together and enjoy our dinner with silly conversations and mostly good manners. Politeness and table manners are greatly rewarded and seeing empty plates and smiling faces makes me happier than I can express. Dinner done, everything is put away and we might just have time for a story before mum gets home. Or if she’s stuck in traffic we run the bath and they hop in. To pass the time we sing songs about frogs, or tell stories.
When mum gets home, we have a debrief and the children turn from calm collected creatures to manic little monsters on their second, third of fourth wind of energy, so I bid my farewell and head to my room.
I later meet with a fellow au pair and friend and we go for a good stomp and a vent… often all the way to the shopping centre for frozen yoghurt.
Doesn’t sound bad? No, very often it’s wonderful. I adore T and S and on GOOD days they are my two best friends…
Perhaps I need to write a post on the trials and tribulations of life as an Au pair…
Sitting through a cyclone
New Italy, Northern Rivers, NSW
Two weeks have passed since I arrived back in Australia and though I seem to have plenty to say in my head none of it is making its way out of fingers and into this blog.
I had 4 interesting days in Singapore with a good set of photos I have yet to type about, I have met up with the Maltese/Australian connection of my family and I have reinstated myself on the little farm belonging to my mum’s cousin, whilst I look for a new job and a new challenge.
All of that is a little stilted at the moment as ex tropical cyclone Oswold is traversing down the East coast of Australia and here on the little farm my second cousin, the cows, horses, dogs and the cat are waiting to see how bad it will get and what it will do when it hits us.
It’s already caused tornados up in Bundaberg and the Sunshine Coast, widespread flooding throughout the East and South-East of Queensland and winds of up to 144km are pushing down into New South Wales as I type. The rain is lashing on the windows, the wind is whipping round the house, the trees are bowing and Sky news is informing us of its route and what it’s done so far.
It doesn’t make for a very good night’s sleep when you wonder if a tornado will come, or a tree might fall on the house. Or you worry that the horses are distressed, as dear Kasimir didn’t know what to do with himself yesterday – galloping from one side of his paddock to another, bucking, rearing and farting wildly – which did make it quite amusing.
I feel thankful that we are not on the coast itself, seeing the terrible devastation this cyclone has left in its wake, knowing there are people waiting to be rescued from their roofs and seeing people whose houses are submerged up to the bedroom windows. But instead we play a waiting game. We wait and see what will happen, when the news tell us it’s “not arrived here yet”.
Maybe I will at least get some writing done, as sitting here, in the safety of a one storey, brick house, on a hill, all I can do is sit and wait to see what happens.
My first day in HongKong was spent elbowing my way through the throngs of market goers, wandering through the busy streets of Hong Kong with a dead camera battery and my mouth agape at the colours, lights, noise, smells and everything that was being offered to me.
Day two, I took a more tranquil trip to the Island of Lantau to pay the Buddha a visit.
The 34 metre Buddha, on the top of the mountain took 12 years to construct and towers 34 meters high, facing north to offer Hong Kong and China his blessing. Out of the hustle and bustle of the busy city, Buddha sits calmly on the mountain top, unbothered by the tourists rushing to have their photograph taken in front of him and creating a sense of calm and serenity as soon as you catch a glimpse of him.
But with all things religious of course, it’s not just a pilgrimage for Buddhists to visit: It’s also, rather unfortunately, a money creator. A “village” has been built to cater for the hordes of tourists, with restaurants to feed you, shops to tempt you and a well marketed cable car to get you there.
A sucker for heights and seeing things from a different point of view, I opted for the cable car to get there. Little did I know the rest of the world would be doing the same thing. It was a Sunday after all, and I guess everyone had the same idea. Queuing politely, we waited over an hour just to buy the tickets. In countries such as Hong Kong people queue politely – It’s wonderful! After buying the ticket, you then stand tantalizingly close to the cable cars, but realise that the line snakes back and forth and you have at least 30 minutes more to wait. There are two options: the standard car or the “crystal car”, which of course is much more advertised and twice the price of the standard car. It’s got a glass bottom. I do not what want to be swinging over a mountain with no solid floor thank you.
When it was time to get into the car, I clambered in with 9 other people who were a family together. Once in, then broke out the cakes: eating and talking with their mouths full, crumbs spraying everywhere as we swung up the cable, over the waterways, past the airport and up over the mountains.
On arrival, you are accosted by people wanting to sell you a photo they took of you as you got into the cable car. There it is, ready printed and in a frame, or wait for it, in a snow globe! You are told how beautiful you look and what a great Christmas present it would be. Really?? Do my family want a snow globe with a picture of me sitting in a cable car that is still in the station?? Doubt it, but thanks anyway. Next there is a stream of restaurants and gift shops with Buddha paraphernalia offered to you before you have even him.
Breezing past all of that, I made my way to the monastery. At the foot of the steps to Buddha, as I passed glass window, I was asked if I wanted to have lunch. I had been recommended to do so, so I complied and bought my lunch ticket. Instead of visiting Buddha, I was redirected to the Monastery Restaurant. Now, I had imagined a quiet, zen-like place to eat a beautifully cooked vegetarian mean surrounded by monks. Instead it was a clangy canteen restaurant, where I was quickly parked at a table for one, my chopsticks and crockery plonked on the table in front of me, all the time being barked instructions in Cantonese. Not very Zen. A friendly couple caught my eye from a few tables away and invited me to join them, so I gingerly moved tables, upsetting the staff furthermore. Oops sorry.
There are 254 steps to get to Buddha. He’s worth it, but it’s not an easy hike to get there. Once there, you are rewarded with what I can only describe as a majestic presence and despite the tourists getting in each other’s way for photos, a sense of calm descends upon you. In front of Buddha you can see the lush green mountains and behind him, the outlying islands sitting in the haze. There are bronze statues of other gods presenting their offerings to Buddha, with signs in English and Cantonese asking you not to throw coins. Everyone was throwing coins to be caught in the hands of the gods. You could see areas where the statues are starting to be worn, after 20 years of having coins tossed at them.
In the area also, there are options for hiking the island, which if I had had company and better shoes I would have loved to have done. The Path of Wisdom is on at the start of one of these hiking trails.
There are a number of stray dogs wandering around the monastery. I guess they are safe here, as the Monks are vegetarian.
To get back to the metro, I decided to take the bus, rather than pay another $94HKD for the cable car back down the mountain. The bus ride is an attraction in itself, as you wind around the island up and down steep mountain roads and hairpin bends, in a crowded bus. I tried to put my seatbelt on, of course, but it was stuck. So I clung onto the seat in front of me for dear life.
Here’s a selection of photos that show a totally different view of Hong Kong.
Lessons from the Bush – a reflection.
Some time after leaving the bush, having had another stint in the city, I am sitting on a rainy afternoon in Northern New South Wales, taking a moment to reflect on what was gained and learnt out there.
It seems obvious to say that I learned a lot from that experience, but when you take yourself away from an existence you understand and place yourself in that of another family, another way of life, another way of seeing things: it stands to reason that you’ll start to think and feel differently about a number of things.
My attitude to that number of things has, of course, changed since being on a cattle station. My aversion to animals I don’t know, particularly dogs has changed drastically. I have never really liked dogs, perhaps because I never had one, nor really knew anyone that did when I was growing up. We were a cat family through and through. Dogs have a horrible smell, need their poo picked up and often dribble. Then there are bush dogs, who roll around in dead things, shit everywhere, live outside and eat anything. Yuk. Yet today, when I was cuddling the cattle dog where I am staying, who was sitting on my lap, frightened of the impending storm, smelling like a dog, I realised how far I had come. I never used to like touching a dog unless I knew I could wash my hands immediately afterwards. I never wanted my clothes to smell of a dog, nor to have a single hair on me that wasn’t mine. But as I was sitting in the paddock, with my arms around this dog as if she were a small child I laughed at the girl who used to hate them.
Living out in the bush, miles away from anything and anyone but the people you work for, you soon learnt to adapt your way of doing things to make life easier. I quickly had to get over the fact that I couldn’t always wash my hands when I wanted. I had to get past my food anxieties regarding use-by dates. I had to rapidly defeat my fear of what might be outside my room at nightfall.
I also stopped wearing make up, sometimes didn’t brush my hair and never did any ironing. I had to swallow my thoughts regarding safety and logic on a number of issues and try letting go of my need for logic and planning on a number of activities.
I swam in a damn that had cow shit around the edge and a number of interesting insects in or around it. I walked and jogged through the bush knowing there were snakes ready to visit. I played with dogs who smelt of dead things, or hunted pigs.
I had to learn to feel ok about a ten year old driving a car, and then that ten year old driving me in that car, and better still, that ten year old driving the 5 of us from a party in the early hours of the morning. I had to learn to let go of the idea that shoes should be warn, helmets on heads and rules should be followed.
Above all I had to learn who I was, so I could effectively live in a place that challenged some of my ideas and compromised some of my beliefs. I had to reassess what was important to me, what was necessary for me and what was acceptable for me. I adapted my eating habits, sleeping patterns and exercise routine to fit in with my surroundings. I learnt to laugh when things annoyed me. I learnt to make things simpler if they were too complicated. I learnt to trust people younger than me, and learnt what it was to be trusted too. I learnt to teach everything I know and make it a learning process. I learnt to take myself away from certain situations and give myself time out. I learnt to look at the sky and see it differently every day.
I learnt that I can make a situation that is wildly unfamiliar for me familiar and that I can make anywhere my home if I need to. I also left that cattle station for the second time, knowing that I had done my best with what I had and can absolutely definitely say that despite moments of sheer frustration at times, or confusion, or just bewilderment, I absolutely definitely wouldn’t change a moment of it.
I was told this an uncountable number of times in my first two delicate weeks here and it puzzled me each time as I never thought I was being particularly weak!
However, life in the bush IS tough, it IS harsh and it’s not for the fainthearted.
I have never considered myself to be a girly girl: although I do like to paint my nails occasionally, I am not afraid to get my hands dirty. I also enjoy wearing a pretty dress and heels occasionally, but I am just as happy in jeans and trainers.
The family obviously consider to me to be more delicate than daring and simply because I wasn’t brought up in the bush, I have the disadvantage of being much more sensitive and affected by the ways of life out here.
My second day here was a good introduction to what was to come, when the cut up carcass of the cow we have been eating for the last three months was dragged through the kitchen, leaving a trail of blood and hung in the cold room for several days before it was butchered.
When C put an axe through his foot and didn’t go to hospital because “it’ll be alright”, I was shocked. When K’s horse tripped, threw her and rolled over her, she didn’t go to hospital for scans or x-ray, cos “she’ll be alright”.
When the puppies were born to a work dog and fathered by the randy Labrador, I was told we’d be lucky if any survived. The previous three litters didn’t have a very high survival rate, thanks to bush harshness. In this litter, one of them escaped watchful eyes, and was savaged by its father at 6 weeks old. The puppies had a deadline too, and i did my best to help rehome them, having been told that their fate would be sealed with a pair of pliers if they couldn’t find homes to go to.
Their mother, apparently a useless dog, was “dealt” with once the puppies were weaned. Thank goodness it was done whilst I wasn’t on the property. The Cats here have a pretty harsh life too, and I have learnt that no animals get buried if they don’t make it.
The work dogs have a very short life: It’s rare that they reach retirement. If they don’t get killed by something, they are done away with once they no longer serve their purpose. If they hurt themselves they either have to get on with it, or they are shot. There are two right now running around with open wounds. When I asked if there was anything that could be done (thinking that despite the idea of touching it making me heave, perhaps I could sneakily give them some care), of course I was told that could lick it so they’re fine.
Then there are us humans, who are not allowed to feel pain or emotion sometimes. Only the other day I was eating lunch when a particularly strong onion in my potato salad made my eyes water and my nose run, when I remarked upon it at the table, simply because I was surprised, I was told to “suck it up” and “move on”. Thanks
And that’s not to mention the other dangers here like spiders and snakes that could kill you. Or dingos that can rip young cows to pieces. Naturally I was worried about all of the above and asking the relevant questions regarding my safety. Some of the responses I got were that dingos can’t pick locks (goodness, there I was thinking they were the local locksmiths) and that I was obsessed with snakes! Well, I said in my head, Obsessed no: well-read, concerned, aware: yes!
Every time we go for a drive I pray we don’t see a Dingo or a wild pig, as I know there is a loaded rifle in the Ute, and every time I go for a walk I desperately hope I won’t see a snake.
And if I dare to mention something that hurts or upsets me I know that I will be told to Toughen Up, which on them the irony is lost when I think about just how silent I have been …
A day in the life of a governess on a cattle station…
The alarm goes off at 6:50, and as usual I feel I have been robbed of some sleep because the crows have started cackling at least half an hour earlier, and the dogs would have had something to bark about at least once in the night, so I hit snooze.
It goes off again, this time I reach down for the remote and switch on the tv, letting breakfast television into my life, and starting my day. I resist another snooze, get up, stretch, open the blinds to see another sunny day in the bush. Sometimes Tiger, one of the old milking cows is in the paddock outside my window or one of the horses has come up for a different patch of grass. The crows are there, sitting where I can’t see them, but taunting me with their child-like cries.
Flip-flops on, I head into the house yard, to my “bathroom”, which is a glorified shed. It’s got a toilet in one room, washing machine in another and then a shower, which is like a walk-in wet room. Sometimes there is a frog there to greet me, or one of the dogs comes for a sniff on my way.
The shower is fed by the dam, which I am now used to, but the smell used to put me off getting washed in the early days. I nip back to my room, have a cuppa, shovel down some breakfast, get dressed and pack my bag for work.
I have to walk approximately 15 paces to the classroom, which is where I spend the next 8 hours. On a chilly morning, I have my gloves and scarf on, switch on the heater and wait for the burst of energy that comes over from the house at 8am. Now internet is part of our lives, I plug in my laptop, and wait for any school notices of sickness, timetable issues, or last minute requests for phone lessons to appear. I also get some funky music on if it’s a Tuesday, cos that’s when we have an early morning boogie.
First class of the day is at 8:30am. One goes off to the phone room, and I stay and have a concentrated hour with the other one. This time it’s maths, which isn’t always easy! 9:30 we have a quick brain break, which is a new invention, and helps marvellously. We chuck some soft balls around between the three of us, improving our catching techniques and taking our mind off the previous lesson.
Just enough time after that for a spelling lesson, or some maths revision before Smoko at 10am. That was a new word for me, originating from Smokehouse, which perhaps is where morning tea used to take place? In we troop to the house, although the kids usually have some energy to burn outside first, and it can be a battle to get them back inside. If I have had a good morning, I go for a piece of fruit, but if we’ve had a bad one, I seem to hit the cake.
The next two hour session is broken into chunks, which depending on the day, consists of reading time, handwriting practise, journal writing, or a simultaneous spelling lesson: which can be quite complicated running at the same time, with two kids on different levels. It goes something like this: “Ok, C, exercise A, write this down, E spell NOISE. C, what’s the spelling rule for those words? E, spell SIGHT, C, do exercise B, No E, that’s not how you spell that, C, what are you doing?”
11:30 there is another phone lesson for the other student, so one-on-one time for E and I, again it’s maths. We have a quick brain break between activities, and if things are going particularly bad, we have to put pens down and they do laps around the house. It works, trust me!
Pissing me off, answering back, getting into class late or fighting results in a yellow card. I am a referee in so many ways. Two yellow cards and they get a red card and are sent off ( we like football here), and have to make up the time after school. This has only happened once, and I made sure the other student was doing something REALLY fun, so we haven’t had a sending off since!
After lunch we have science or history, and this lesson is conducted to both at the same time. Again, it goes something like this: “Ok, C, start on task 6, read that for me, and tell me what you have to do. E, go to task 4 on the disc. Ok C, what do you need to do? E, click on that, C write down the answer please, E let’s try this activity. One Sec C, I’m explaining this, do your maths sheet whilst you are waiting. Ok, have you read that? Let’s try the next one. E, draw a picture of what you just saw….” It’s exhausting!
Half past two rolls around and if we are on schedule, we have an hour of craft or project. Paints come out, we get messy! Then it’s tidy up time, there is always a squabble about whose turn it is to sweep. Jelly babies are given out for good behaviour, classroom is tidy and they literally burst out of the room.
I have a few minutes to myself, go to the house for a debrief with mum and a cup of tea. At 5pm, sometimes earlier it’s time for a walk or a jog. This is sometimes accompanied by children and/or dogs and the length and destination change according to mood. 6pm, shower time, minute to catch my breath.
6:30 over to the house to help dish up dinner: this is the only way to ensure you don’t have to eat a bushman’s portion of meat (which is a lot for us non-bushies!) it’s meat and veg of course. Then the station hand and I clean up the kitchen, knowing we both have stories to share, and few moans to have, we clink and clang in the kitchen as the family sit down to the tv.
Off to the classroom to get first lessons ready for the morning, make sure exercises are cut up, books are ready and read up just in case! And then I go back to my shipping container after checking my emails in the classroom. Now it’s getting hotter and there is a station hand to share my evenings with, we sit in my hut, with the fans on, crack open a beer, have a whinge, let off some steam and chill out, before getting an early night for it all the start again the next day.