Auld Lang Syne

As I was clearing out the garage this weekend, I came across three bottles of wine I hadn’t realized was there. Fortunately, they were still quite drinkable (our garage isn’t as constantly cool as our basement.)

I also came some greeting cards and postcards I received in my college/early working years. Some of the people with whom I was close and hung out with from that era, I have lost touch with them, or our relationship has become less close due to distance. Some folks – I had completely forgotten about their existence!

Does anyone send postcards anymore? Yet while I recycled all the Christmas cards with their banal messages, I kept the postcards. I guess it’s the travel-holic in me. I always like to know where people go.

In that pile were two postcards, both from Dave/David. One was sent from Japan, the other from Thailand.Neither of them had signed their last names. And interestingly enough the one from Thailand had some Thai written on it, which David wrote he was learning.

Seeing handwriting today makes me feel like I’m looking at a quaint museum artifact. We may write emails and text each other today as much we wrote letters back them, but in the impersonal pixels of type, the individual stamp from forming letters by hand is lost. That loss is a little sad. And I guess no one makes “Your handwriting is so illegible, you should have been a doctor” jokes anymore.

I used to instantly identifying notes from different people by their handwriting, even before I looked at the names of the sender. You can get a sense of what people’s personalities are like from their handwriting.

I looked at the handwriting, which was a little different between the two postcards. But I could only remember one David (‘Loutz’) amongst my acquaintance from those days with whom I’m still in contact. I couldn’t imagine why Loutz would have been learning Thai.

I took a snapshot of each postcard and emailed it to Loutz. “Did you send me these? I only knew one Dave back then.”

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“What, there are lots of Dave’s born in the 1960s/early 70s one of the most popular names…where have you been! :)”

Loutz had indeed sent the one from Japan. Loutz had also been to Thailand also, but didn’t remember learning Thai.

How awful! I could not remember knowing another David . . .

Then I suddenly realized who the second David was. It was the French guy. He was at Cal as a foreign student, but was about to go work in Rayong, Thailand for a year or two, in lieu of participating in the French military draft, or something like that. Like Loutz, he had also lived in I-House. I guess he had sent me the postcard after he arrived in Thailand

I got to know David the French guy when he contacted the Thai students club, to see if anyone was interested in doing a French-Thai conversation exchange. He wanted to learn some Thai before he arrived in Thailand.

So we would meet weekly at the café on the corner of Oxford and Center. He learnt some Thai, and I brushed up on my French, even though I didn’t have any immediately use for it. It was a lot of fun talking about different cultures and people. It’s one of those everyone should try it at least once during their college years. And I guess it slightly made up for the fact that I never did study abroad stint, which I so regret now.

It was though these café meetings that I acquired the very European taste of drinking fizzy mineral water. (Calistoga was still being bottled.) I didn’t want to drink coffee at night.

Unfortunately, I still can’t remember David the French guy’s last name, although I remember that the name of his street in his hometown in Brittany was named after a pirate: Surcouf. It was such a funny detail that it has stuck in my head. I wonder what he’s doing now. (I mean David. The pirate is long dead.)

That was the year that I had different people read poetry in their native language for the lagniappe compilation. David read a short French fable/poem about the fox who tricked the crow into dropping the cheese. I got Truc to read a Vietnamese lullaby. My mom read 黃鶴樓送孟浩然之廣陵 by Li Bai. Prinya Pinying read a Thai poem, Carlos Castellanos read something by Pablo Neruda. And maybe Nancy Ding read an Akiko Yosano tanka? This was when the lagniappes were still in cassette tape form, so they may all be lost now.

Maybe one copy of the tape will turn up as a flashback surprise, like the three bottles of wine and postcards I excavated from the garage.

Proper Placement

When we went on our epic trip to South America several years ago, we decided to rent out our home . . . about a month before we were leave. This forced us to clean out some stuff and pack away everything else for storage in a mad dash. After living in the same place for over a dozen years, we had naturally accumulated a lot of stuff. Moving out was a good exercise – it forced us to get rid of things we hadn’t used, or hadn’t gotten around to getting rid of before, like a broken filing cabinet, our CRT TV, etc.

Now we’re doing the same thing again. Some boxes were never unpacked since our South America trip! This time, there’s less stuff to purge, since we got rid of the obvious ‘low hanging fruit’ last time. But with longer advance notice, the process is slower, since I can be deliberate more about that to keep or discard. This is not a good thing: I feel like I’m dragging things out, and in the end, it’ll be another frantic mad dash to finish it up.

Last time, we knew we were coming back within a year, so we kept all our furniture and appliances. This time it’s long term and long distance, so it requires a different approach in deciding what to keep and what to discard. There’s also a timing issue: some items I am still using (bed, tea kettle), so I’ll have to wait until the last to get rid of them (and hope I’ll find a quick taker). Others like the pressure cooker I haven’t used in years I could sell now on craigslist.

I’d read both Marie Kondo’s  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and  Spark Joy. One of her premises is to keep only things that spark joy in you. Even if they don’t have a practical use, you can still keep them. Conversely, if something is functional, but doesn’t spark joy, you should get rid of it anyway. Regrets, swung both ends of spectrum.

OCD: One personal hang-up is slowing me down. Some items have worth and value and value to me, and while I could just give it to a thrift shop and forget about it, I want it to go to  a good home. This isn’t even a pet I’m talking about, but inanimate objects. Yet I feel concern for its welfare even after we part. It’s a bit like leaving a job under amicable circumstances: you hope the person after you will take care and do well in those tasks that used to be yours, even after they are no longer your responsibility. Legacy issues.

I want the my discards to go the appropriate someone or someplace where it will be appreciated, used, and even needed. Even things most people would simply throw away, I try to find a use for them. I want to recycle things and avoid adding to landfills.

Finding the right recipient for different things takes a lot of work and thought. Which one of my friends would like it or could use it? Who has tastes or interests which are similar to mine? What good cause/charity would take it? It’s an obligation and a responsibility.

I have been foisting things on people. My friends are probably cringing each time they get an email from me “Hey, want a . . ?” But I also don’t want my discards to become a burden on others. Problem is I’m at that age where most of our friends already have their own established households, and/or trying to get rid of de-clutter/ downsize also, so they don’t want to take more stuff!

Sometimes I give something to a friend who wants it, which makes me happy, yet slightly guilty because I know they have too much stuff cluttering their home and I’m adding to the problem! I sold an insulated teapot and a set of nesting colanders to an acquaintance. When I went to drop them off at her house, I was surprised by how much stuff she had piled up around her place. She’s really into cooking, so I’m sure she already has a teapot and a colander. But these were really nifty versions, so I knew she would also appreciate them.

My four main avenues to discarding: (1) emailing/talking to our friends, (2) Freecycle (an online bulletin board for giving away stuff for free), (3) craigslist (both for selling and giving away for free), and (4) donating it to the appropriate charity.

Some of my recent adventures in discarding . . .

Lonely Planet books (travel guides):

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I had a hefty collection of LP’s, now very outdated. Still I’d kept them because I thought one day I would write up travelogues, and use them then as reference. And sometimes it’s fun to read the descriptions of how things were before they became how they are now. Neighbourhoods they didn’t mention or even told you to avoid, which have now cleaned up/gentrified, like Times Square. Restaurants that have since closed down. (I don’t like the new format of Lonely Planet, it’s not as informative as the older layouts. Nowadays, I tend to check out the latest editions from the library, rather then buy them, to save money and space, since I still like browsing hard copies.)

I did an email blast to my friends who are afflicted with wanderlust. I was quite surprised when I got quite a few takers for the books. It’s amazing how some destinations are so in-demand. Every one wanted Pacific Northwest. Europe locales were popular too. No one wanted Venezuela . . . or Brazil. I guess I don’t know anyone going to the Rio Olympics. (I ended up never going to Venezuela.)

Bandannas:

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I collect bandannas and use them for travelling. They are versatile, multi-purpose, decorative, and keepsakes all in one. A makeshift towel, a jaunty scarf for my neck, I can also tie them up to bundle gummi bears or pinon nuts.

The recipient was a no brainer: Fifth-graders at Lincoln School for science camp, where bandannas are used as lunch plates, i.e. ‘crumb-catchers’. Last time I chaperoned, I had brought along one extra bandanna, for just-in-case. But there was more then one student who hadn’t brought a bandanna. So now those ten bandannas can be spares for future science campers.

Bike water bottle:

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I spent $13 mailing a bike water bottle worth $2 to Hong Kong! Yes, I am THAT anal. But Pat really wanted a pull-top water bottle. “Remember those palmolive dishwashing liquid bottles?” he asked me. When Pat takes his dog for walks in Tsimshatsui, he rinses the spot where Brownie has done a number one with water. Pat is a very, very responsible pet-owner. So I gladly sent it to him.

 

 

 

Holey socks and ratty old T-shirts with fraying collars that thrift shops won’t want because no one would want to buy them:

I had accumulated a lot of them to use as cleaning rags, but I don’t clean often enough! A friend of a friend of Anne’s collects them for a group who will use them as stuffing for the pet beds and toys they make for a local animal shelter. It warmed the cockles of my heart that I was helping unknown Fidos and Fluffys out there. And I still have holey underwear to use as cleaning rags.

Ironically, when Marcella organized a crafts booth at Zoe’s school last year, she recycled the stuffing from a dog bed that her dogs had torn up, for the students to use in making pumpkin pin-cushions.

Cardigans:

It’s hard to get rid of winter things in the summer – people don’t think about unseasonable things. I foisted a couple of them on Anne. One she liked, because it’s machine washable. The other was a cashmere one I wore around the house quite a bit. She didn’t really want it “I’m a sweatshirt person!” but I persuaded her that come winter, she could wear it under a sweatshirt, and she’d thank me for the warmth and coziness!

Books:

I discovered there’s a non-profit program called Prisoners Literature Project here in the Bay Area. They will take all old dictionaries, thesaurus, current text books, self-help books, how-to books (especially drawing/art) and books by/about people of color, because there’s a constant demand for them amongst the incarcerated. You can drop them off in the hidey-hole under the stairs at Moe’s Books in Berkeley, so it’s very convenient.

This is a case of giving your items to someone who really NEEDS them rather than just casually wanting them. You might be able to sell such books, or you could donate them to a thrift store where eventually someone would browse and buy them. But those in jail who are trying to improve/educate themselves would most appreciate them, since their access to books is most limited.

I emailed one of the project coordinators to double check what they would and wouldn’t take, because I didn’t want them to be burdened with things they couldn’t use. Hardback books are generally a no-no, because they can potentially be used as weapons? There wasn’t as much demand for books by/about Asians – not too many people of yellow color in the prisons around here, I guess.

Postcards:

In my 20’s, I liked visiting art museums, and buying postcards of the works of art in the museum that had spoke to me. I also bought postcards of tourist attractions, since often they looked better than any photo I could take with my 35-mm camera. Now I had too many. But who needs postcards nowadays when you’ve got smartphone cameras and digital mail?

Perhaps prisoners could use them to send notes to their friends/family outside of prison? I consulted PLP again:

“Thanks for thinking of us regarding your postcard collection.  Because we’re a ‘books-to-prisoners’ group, we don’t receive prisoner requests for postcards; but we do get plenty of requests for art books (particularly drawing & painting).  If you’d kindly donate a shoebox or small filebox of postcards, we could tuck them into packages, along with the art books.  I don’t think we’d be able to take more than a shoebox full. As you suggested: Please omit any nudes. FYI, prisoners seem most interested in drawing and painting (representational, not abstract), and sometimes copy the work.  Few have access to sculpting materials.”

I could understand PLP being a little wary of getting too many postcards, if they didn’t get many requests for them. I sifted through for censorship, keeping Manet’s Le dejeuner sur l’herbe and Matisse’s La danse II. I had enough to fill one of the Lindt boxes in which I had stored some of my collection.

“OK, the postcards will be in a small pink chocolates box (less than a shoebox) at Moe’s,” I wrote back.

“Thank you for giving prisoners a gift much more valuable than chocolates!”

I never thought about that. If I were in prison, would I long more for art postcards or chocolates?

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A teapot missing its lid:

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This garnered 5 wanters on freecycle! (I suggested using it as a planter, which is what I used it for, for a water-based creeper plant.) Maybe that did the trick: a bit of copywriting to give people ideas of desiring something they didn’t even want.

There’s a reason why I’d kept it for so long. I used to use this a work. I dropped the lid and broke it at the office on September 11th.

 

 

TV tray tables:

I think it was the strawberries that did sealed the deal.

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It takes some effort to sell stuff on craigslist: not only do you have to write a compelling-enough description, but you have to stage it for photo, setting up the lighting. Lots of people are selling the same item you are selling on craiglist, so how do you make yours stand out other than low balling the price? I’m convinced my TV tray tables sold quickly because I put a bowl of strawberries on top of one in the photo . . . and my description said “Strawberries not included.”

Wooden blinds:

We replaced our kitchen blinds recently. They still worked, the wood slats still in good condition, but the paint was starting to flake off from countless sunny mornings. I didn’t want it to go to landfill. Perhaps someone could use it for a Burning Man orcraft project.

Things I give away for free get posted on freecycle. Things I sell go on craigslist. Having no takers on freecycle, so I posted it on craigslist as well, since that gets a wider audience. I had 2 takers. I offered it to the first respondent, who volunteered that he would use it for gardening, either as a trellis or shade structure.

He also offered to give me some tomato and pepper seedlings in return, which was icing on the cake. I wasn’t looking to get anything for the blinds, being happy enough they weren’t going to a landfill. I asked if he had basil instead. I had made caprese salad last week, and bought a bunch at Milk Pail, forgetting that I should have gone to Trader Joe’s instead to buy a plant for a little more money.

He wrote back:

There’s a quote “Every time it’s different and every time it’s good” I read in a BBC magazine interview about making pesto that’s stayed with me. I think it says so much about basil – how can one not fall in love with basil and the art of making pesto.

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-36014143

Yes I do have couple basil plants remaining but it’s not doing well (think it was too cold). I’ll bring them and also bring some seeds. Unfortunately I mixed fhe seeds by mistake during harvest last year and I forget which one is which (3 kinds – I think Italian Genovese basil is the smaller black seeds).

You meet some pretty thoughtful people through random craigslist transactions.

A blue cheong sam:

Other people I know have the same philosophy as I do in wanting their discards go to someone they know, rather than a complete stranger, in which case, they’d rather keep it themselves even if they have no use for it.

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My step-mom was culling some old clothes, and came across a blue cheongsam, a gift she’d never worn. It was polyester brocade with flowers, the type you’d find in souvenir shops in San Francisco Chinatown selling to tourists.

I accepted it, more to relieve her of clutter, rather than to wear it myself. I ended up foisting it on my cousin on my mom’s side and mailed it to her in Minnesota. She has two daughters and two nieces who might have fun playing dress up in it. There’s no Chinatown in Minnesota, so I think they would appreciate its exotic Chinese-ness more than people in California.

Black patent leather rainproof boots:

I gave them to Truc. We have shared memories of the boots: I got them at Bloomingdales, when we were on a trip to New York. They fit her. I’m glad she has them now, I’ll be able to see them again.

Tall purple suede boots:

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They are flat and comfy, not “slutty”, an impulse buy from Nordstrom Rack. But I understand that they are not to most people’s taste. I offered them to two high-school age girls (daughters of friends), but no takers.

 

 

 

 

 

I’m going to stop writing here, and stop procrastinating, as I have lots more stuff to get rid of, and to pack. Well, actually, I’m going to procrastinate some more and go cook/bake.

Creativity strikes twice in a row

My ego got not one, but two boosts in a row over the weekend. Two of friends thought I was a genius for coming up with solutions to their problems. I thought my ideas were common sense, but they thought I was genius. I’ll bask in the glory anyway.

  1. On Saturday, I was comparing notes with my friend Dr. DJ about swimming. She alternates between two pools in the East Bay, one of which has a handy-dandy centrifugal swimsuit water extractor, and the other doesn’t. When she swims at the one that doesn’t have spinner, she has to bring an extra towel to squeeze out the excess moisture from the swimsuit.

“I actually looked into buying a portable swimsuit spinner, but it would take up too much space in my house.”

“Don’t you have a clothes rack for hanging clothes to dry?”

“I do, but then the wet drip would ruin my hardwood floors.”

“Why don’t you put the clothes rack in your bathtub or shower, that way your swimsuit drip will just drain away . . .”

“OMG, I never thought of that! I’m so excited now, I feel like that alien in the Little Caesars pizza commercial, spinning its head in glee after discovering about cheese-filled pizza crust….”

This idea was not really genius on my part. It’s precisely what I do at home, since I swim regularly at one pool, and it doesn’t have a swimsuit spinner. Still, I was very happy and proud that Dr. DJ thought I was really smart.

By the way, I couldn’t find the commercial she was talking about (I tried youtube). If anyone else knows, please send me a link!

  1.  On Sunday, I was talking to A. She was still getting over a cold, and preparing for trip out of town. But most of all, she was stressed out about her brother who lives in a very small town out-of-state. He’s functionally homebound due to ill health, and his housemate-cum-attendant had gone the grocery store with his debit card on Friday, but hadn’t come home. So he was stranded at home with no cash, and no groceries. A was frantically trying call his neighbor and his social worker to help.

“Well, why don’t you look up online for pizza places in his town and order him pizza delivery? You can charge it on your credit card. Then he’ll have something to eat.”

A was dumbstruck for a moment. ”Wow, I never thought of that! That’s a great idea!”

Later she told me she’d ordered her brother a pepperoni pizza, and a large milk, so that he could have it with his cereal for breakfast the next day.

I thought the milk was a stroke of genius on her part.

“Did you add the tip to your credit card?”

“D’oh!”

She ended up ordering him another pizza the next day, so hopefully she remembered to tip extra to make up for it.

Actually it’s a generational/cultural context thing. When I was in college, we ordered pizza delivery a lot. When A was in college, there was almost no such thing. (A is actually my parents generation. Her children are my age – in fact they were at Cal the same time I was, but we didn’t know each other then.) And here in Silicon Valley, almost every restaurant posts a sign offering food delivery via Grubhub or waiter.com. I eat out a lot, so I’m constantly reminded that there’s such an option. A doesn’t eat out as much, so she wouldn’t really think about it.

Charmed Life

“Can I swap places with you?” asked Bart.

Bart and his wife Sofie, both Belgian, were walking by, and had stopped to chat with Wendy and I as we sat at a poolside table on the Lido deck. The two of us were in the midst of 宵夜, a late night snack of leftovers from lunch at a Bergen seafood restaurant: steamed mussels and boiled fresh shrimp, washed down with Grolsch beer (me) and hot tea (Wendy). Since seafood tends to smell rather fishy, we decided not eat them in our stateroom, nor bring them into the Lido restaurant to eat. Besides, peeling shrimp is quite messy.

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No, Bart was not asking for a sample of the crustaceans (he’s from the land of moules-frites, after all). I had just told him the itinerary for my six-week European trip. “You’re going to all these beautiful places I want to go to!” he exclaimed.

Six weeks in Europe. Never mind complete strangers, pretty much all my friends were in awe and envy that I was going to go gallivanting around the world, while they were stuck at home with work/raising kids/saving the world, etc.

But as I related my news to each of my friends, I caveated and asterisked the heck out of my impending travel plans. (I tried to downplay my charmed life, untethered to any productive responsibilities. But my friends aren’t much fooled by my act.)

The first two weeks would be spent with my mom Wendy (and her cousin Shujun with husband Harry) on a cruise to Norway*.

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Disembarking from the Rotterdam in Rotterdam

The second two weeks would be spent with Dad (and Joe) traveling independently around Scotland and England**.

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The boys in Edinburgh

The third two weeks would be spent with my step-mom Yeeta (and 20 other people) on a Thailand-based escorted package tour of Slovenia and Croatia***.

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Roving in Rovinj

(Thank goodness I only have three parents, and none of them are Elizabeth Taylor.)

The downsides of this trip were:

  • – I don’t like cruises.
  • — Taking my Dad traveling is indeed ‘travail’ – hard work.
  • — I don’t like escorted package tours.

The upsides of the trip were:

  • + I’d never been to any of these places before.
  • ++ I wouldn’t have gone to any of these places, if it weren’t for my parents.
  • +++ After six weeks in Europe, my spoken Cantonese and Thai would improve immensely.
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And I got to do cool things like photograph drying fish in Norway. By the way, it smelled exactly like Thai or Chinese salted fish.

Even though I’m an over-planner, I couldn’t have planned the trip this way even if I set out to do so. It was just a complete fluke that the dates fell into place, and that all these destinations were conveniently grouped in Europe, the most densely compacted of continents. (Ah, Europe. Where the language changes every 50 miles, and until the euro came along, the currency changed every 100 miles.)

Dad wanted to go to Scotland and England (even though he’d been there before.) Yeeta wanted to go on a package tour, to anywhere, so long as it was somewhere she had never been to before. Since it was a milestone birthday for her this year, I told her I’d go with her, even though I generally avoid escorted package tours like I avoid Ebola.

(Dad absolutely refuses to go on package tours as well. It’s been a long-standing bone of contention between them. But they’ve now figured they could go on vacations separately, and the sky wouldn’t fall on their heads.)

I told them I wouldn’t be available until October, since my work contract ended September 30, as did my house-sitting stint.

“October? It’ll be cold in Scotland by then! I want to go in September,” said Dad.

“Well, my work contract ends September 30 . . .”

There was a tour of Slovenia and Croatia put on by Yeeta’s favourite tour operator starting in mid-October. Neither of us had been there before, so Yeeta and I signed up for it. Yeeta didn’t want to go to Scotland with us because she didn’t want to be gone for such a long time.

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Our tour was ‘sponsored’ by a bank, which got us a discount if we paid with their credit card. Hence the obligatory social media photo pose.

This would work out quite nicely, I thought. After I wrapped up work and house-sitting in September, I would spend October in Europe, and be back by the first week of November, in time to do the Rim-to-Rim hike in Grand Canyon, which had been arranged even before I even knew I was going to Europe.

Meanwhile, Wendy had signed up with Bob for a 14-day cruise of Norway during the last two weeks of September. They were going to go with her cousin Shujun and her husband Harry from Canada.

In mid-August, Bob found out he wouldn’t be able to go on the trip. Wendy asked me to go as a substitute. I said no, I had to work and house-sit, and besides she had Harry and Shujun to hang out with. Plus she had a single supplement by default, from Bob.

Pleeeeease……”

Wendy never pleads. Underlying that entreaty was: “You’re taking your father on a trip to Scotland. You’re going on a package tour with your step-mother even though you hate package tours just because it’s her milestone birthday. Yet you won’t come with your mother on a cruise, even though it’s my milestone birthday too.”

Solomon had me not only at the umbilical cord, but the jugular. I have three parents; and if I was obliging Dad and Yeeta by going on a trip with each of them, I should also do the same for Wendy.

I agonized over the pros and cons. I didn’t want to flake out on my responsibilities, but it was possible to cut short on the work contract. And I could make arrangements for the house-sitting. These really weren’t sacrifices. It wasn’t like a “if I had to decide which of my three parents to save if I could only save one or two from a burning building” kind of dilemma. This was a good problem to have. It’s a blessing that each of my parents are still healthy enough to walk, eat and go see the world. It’s a rare luxury for adult children to be able to join their parents traveling. Lucky Celia indeed.

I slept on my decision. The next morning, I told my client I was quitting early. I made arrangements about the house-sitting. I emailed Wendy to say I’d go with her. But if things miraculously worked out for Bob by Labor Day such that he could go on the cruise, I could change my flight and let him go instead according to the original plan.

Then I got the following text from Wendy:

“It is not right to make u make major changes to accommodate me. Bob said the third option is to forgo his part and I go by myself. I think that is best so you can keep your plan to work till end of September.”

Argghhh! I had told her the exact same thing the first time around, but she was deaf to the message, until Bob said the same thing to her.

“I said I would go, so I’m going!” I told Wendy through gritted teeth.

Then I emailed Dad.

“Since you haven’t bought your plane ticket yet, it turns out I can meet you in Inverness earlier, as soon as September 27, since I’m going on a 2-week cruise with Wendy to Norway that ends on the 26th.”

Dad called me back. “You couldn’t go with me in September when I asked you because you said you had to work, but now you’re going with Wendy on a cruise?”

Sometimes, you just can’t win.

Trapped

“Don’t get lost and don’t forget to be back here by 6!” was Yeeta’s parting shot. One of my step-mom’s phobias is being lost, because she has no sense of direction. And she tends to assume the same of others, even her me who’s traveled independently in lots of places without knowing the language. Doubters just gotta doubt . . .

We had just finished the ‘obligatory’ portion of the tour of the coastal town of Split where we walked through the walled city that was built into Diocletian’s palace, and now had free time for almost an hour before the tour group was to meet up in front of the bell tower to go to dinner. Free time meant shopping, sitting in café to rest one’s weary feet, get an ice cream cone or walk around to take more pictures. Yeeta was going to sit with and hang out with some of the other folks, since she was tired from all the walking we’d done.

I started off walking down the same alley as Gig and her mother, but then they stepped into a shoe store. I kept going on my own. A few twists and turns later, I found myself outside city wall and on the waterfront Riva promenade sandwiched between Napoleonic-era buildings and the sea. It was a clear, sunny Sunday afternoon. The water was clear enough that you could easily see schools of brown fish swimming beneath the bronze-spangled surface in the twilight.

Ferries were pulling in and out—Croatia is home to a thousand islands. There was also a cruise ship docked for the day. I smiled at the sight of the familiar orange-bottomed lifeboats. Not so long ago I was on such a ship myself.

I caught sight of a Tisak (a Kwik-E Mart type convenience store), which occupied a narrow storefront in one of these early 19th century arcades facing the sea, and remembered that I wanted to look at Croatian cooking magazines. One of the things I like to do when I’m in a foreign country is to browse the local magazines. Even though I can’t read the text, there’s usually enough of interest which you can pick up from seeing the photos. And if it’s in a roman alphabet, you can sometimes tease out the gist of the text.

I was engrossed in comparing between two cooking magazines, flipping through the pages, trying to decide which one I should buy. I vaguely noticed that the store clerk, a middle-aged bottle blonde in a red uniform vest, and a burly guy were discussing and fiddling around with the sliding glass doors. At one point, they were both outside the glass doors, but came back into the store. I resumed browsing the magazines. Finally I decided on one, and turned to pay for it. It was already 5:40, and I wanted to go walk around town some more before dinner.

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The view of Split from the bell tower of St. Domnius (St. Duje) Cathedral

Then I noticed that the people in the store were rather interacting in an animated fashion. It seemed unusual: people usually walk in, buy what they need (gum, cigarettes) and walk out without saying much.

Along with the shop clerk, and the burly man (apparently a handyman), there was another Asian woman in her late 30’s. They were banging and prodding and trying to pull/push the closed sliding glass doors with some urgency.

Because the doors were stuck.

I could see outside the squeaky-clean glass so clearly: the resort vista of palm trees, a setting sun, the cruise ship horizontally dotted with windows . Vacationers strolling on the promenade licking ice cream cones. The view from our ‘cell’ would give that from San Quentin a run for its moneyIt seemed incongruous we couldn’t go outside. I was sure we’d be out in a few minutes. It would probably be a minor fix.

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The view from our ‘cell’ would give that from San Quentin a run for its money

“There’s no other exit through the back?”

“No.”

I realized I was glad that this wasn’t a hold-up/burglary. Then it dawned on me to be even more thankful that this wasn’t a fire, although in which case, we might have been more willing to take something to smash the presumably bullet-proof glass to break out for our lives. I was appalled there was no emergency exit in this shop. But as it stood now, none of us wanted to incur property damage.

The shop clerk and the burly man got the attention of a few passersby outside, as well as a waiter from the café next door, who tried to force the door open, but only managed to force it open a couple of inches. Wide enough for the shop clerk to hand him a can of beer, but not enough for any of us to get through.

The Asian woman was upset and getting agitated. Not because she was Korean, but because she was the tour leader/guide of a group of Korean tourists, who presumably spoke no Croatian, very little English, and were dependent on her to shepherd them around this exotic and foreign country. To make things worse, her group was supposed to be getting on their tour bus with her for a 3-hour drive to the next town where they would be checking in their hotel for the night.

Having seen how hard Oy worked as our tour guide shepherding us around, I could imagine the immense responsibility resting on this Korean guide’s shoulders. I felt for her. Me, I was just a tourist client, so I could just kick back and wait for someone deal with the situation for me. She was the one her clients depended on to address whatever issues they had on their tour, but now she herself was having a major problem that she was powerless to solve.

It was now 5:55 PM. I had a phone, but no SIM card. I don’t like being late if it is going to hold up/inconvenience others, and none of my fellow tour group knew where I was. I had Oy’s mobile number. I asked to borrow someone’s phone so I could call her. Unfortunately, no one in there could call a Thailand mobile number. Then I remembered I just happened to have Mr. Drago’s (our Croatian coach driver), and Mr. Burly used his cell phone to call him for me.

“Mr Drago! It’s Celia. Can you please tell Oy I’m stuck in a Tisak. It’s facing the sea!” I asked Mr. Burly to explain (in Croatian)what was going on to Mr. Drago . . .

“OK, don’t worry,” Mr. Drago said.

The minutes ticked by. We tried switching the power and fuse box on and off. Mr. Burly examined every corner and around the glass door for any possible give, fiddling with the wires, trying to figure out if there was some sort of motion sensor thing. There was also a tiny lock on the door frame, outside and inside. We tried the keys inside. We handed the keys to someone outside for them to try the outside lock. Nothing happened. The way the doors were hung, they were inside the lip of a ceiling wall. There must have been some sort of electronic mechanism that controlled the doors, which seemed to have been designed to refute brute/mechanical force.

The Korean guide was pacing around, fuming and complaining. She was frantically calling on her phone to the other tourist clients in her group to let them know what was going on and figure out how to get out. Passersby came and went, peering inside at the four of us in the retail aquarium, offering suggestions, making half-hearted attempts to open the door. For them, we were a mild diversion, fodder for discussion at dinner.

The clerk was pretty passive, considering this was her store. She wasn’t doing much, mostly looking on. I wondered why she wasn’t calling her boss/manager or even the corporate office for help. Was it because it was Sunday? I wondered how often something like this happens. Maybe it had been Mr. Burly’ fault for trying to fix the door, but causing it to get stuck instead. He had called a locksmith, but since it was Sunday evening, and/or may it was Croatia, the locksmith would get here in an hour or two. Maybe.

A couple of the Korean men from the guide’s group showed up outside the glass door. They tried prodding and fiddling with the door from the outside, but they had no better luck. The guide stuck inside shouted some instructions through the door to them, probably telling them to take everyone else to the bus and she would call the hotel and figure out how they could get checked in.

By now, it was 6:30 PM. The cruise ship was pulling away from the dock, headed to its next destination. I was really glad that I wasn’t a passenger on that cruise boat, because there was nothing I could have done about being abandoned ashore.

If this had happened while I was on the cruise in Norway with Wendy, Auntie Shujun and Uncle Harry, it would have been much worse. There would have been so much more fuss. (In fact there had been a passenger on our cruise who had been late in returning to ship, past its designated departure hour. But at least he came on board.) There was no way I would have been able to call Wendy, and none of them got wifi to check email on board. They would have freaked out. Good thing this was the package tour portion of my trip. I crossed my fingers, hoping that Mr. Drago would have told Oy and Oy would have the situation under control. Especially with Yeeta. It was 100% given that Yeeta was having a fit. I sighed. She was probably more upset than I was about the situation.

Then I did freak out. I saw a few of my fellow Thai tourists walking along the promenade, presumably headed to dinner. I jumped up and down and banged on the glass like a madwoman to get their attention. “Hey! Hey! Hey!” I needed them to know where I was, and that I was OK. I also wanted to make sure Oy knew where I was and what was going on, since I didn’t know if Mr. Drago had told her.

Auntie Mee and her niece Bomb were the first to spot me and walked over. “Hey, Celia what are you doing here? What’s going on?”

“Are you OK? I told you not to get lost and hurry and come back. You’re always . . . “ Yeeta had appeared at the door, and launched into a nagging litany was somewhat (thankfully) obsfucated by the glass. But she could see I wasn’t in any physical danger, so it was more to vent her annoyance at the worry I’d caused her. Then Oy came up to the door and told me that she’d walk the group to nearby restaurant where we were slated to dine, and then come back for me. Phew, I didn’t want her to think I was flakey in showing up late for dinner.

I settled down for the long wait, if it really was going to take that long for the locksmith to come. This wasn’t such a bad thing, being trapped in a Croatian convenience store. There were snacks (Kinder chocolates, pretzel sticks, peanuts, potato chips). There were beer and soft drinks. There were magazines to browse, even English ones on the top shelf. There were postcards, souvenir magnets and keychains, and guidebooks to Dalmatia, so I could read about the sites I was being kept from seeing, in any of a dozen major tourist languages. They only thing missing was somewhere to sit. I didn’t really want to sit on the hard sandstone floor.

It could have been worse. I could have been trapped in a shoe store. (“But then you could have spent the time trying on shoes,” said Gig later.) I bought a can of Ožujsko beer. I’d been in Croatia for an entire week, and still hadn’t tried the local beer. I offered to buy one for everyone else in the store, but no one took me up on the offer.

“Wait!” I paused before I handed over my money. “Is there a toilet in here?” I needed to make sure there was somewhere to empty my bladder, even if there was no emergency exit.

Come to think of it, it was pretty stupid of me to pay for the beer; I could have probably just taken it and drank it. The convenience store owed me at least that much for the inconvenience they’d caused me.

Two police officers came, a man and a woman. Finally! They tried the same ineffective poking and proddings we had tried, to no avail. Then they shrugged their shoulders, said they couldn’t do anything about it, and said it wasn’t their problem/responsibility and walked away.  With the arrival of the police, the crowd of lookers-on grew larger. Oy had came back, along with Mr. Drago. I raised my can of beer at them, and asked if they wanted anything from the store. No.

Darkness had fallen. I started to feel bad that Oy and Mr. Drago were still waiting patiently outside. Mr. Drago at least had his cigarettes. I asked the clerk for some paper and a pen, and wrote Oy a note in English, telling her that she and Mr. Drago should just go back to the restaurant to have dinner with the rest of the group, and I would take a taxi to the hotel on my own, since I knew its name, and I had Croatian kuna (local currency) on me.

“Of course not,” Oy said. “I’m not going to abandon you like that.” I got the sense though it was more out of obligation to Yeeta, because Oy knew I was perfectly capable of getting back to the hotel on my own.

Next, the firemen showed up. They were more capable of dealing with the situation than the police – they had brought along useful equipment like a manual/hydraulic jaws of life. It was rather like jack/lever. The first one was too small to force the doors open. Someone went off to fetch another one, one size bigger. With forceful, scissoring movements, the glass doors budged open, bit by bit. As soon as it was wide enough, the Korean guide leapt out the door. I ran out next, and gave Oy and Mr. Drago a hug. I didn’t even mind Mr. Drago’s eau de cigarette smoke. “Woohoo, freedom!”

There was large crowd gathered outside, and they probably applauded and cheered, but I didn’t really notice. It must have been a like a Chilean miner moment.

“I’m so sorry to have caused you so much trouble,” I apologized.

“It’s OK, it could have happened to anyone.” She grinned. “Although, it’s a good thing it was you and not your mom. You were pretty laid back about it. Really, drinking a beer!”

We got to the restaurant in time for desert, although they had saved me some fries and the main course of grilled Croatian sausage rolled up like a snail. It tasted like ไส้อั่ว sai-ua (an Isan/northeastern Thai style sausage).

The experience hadn’t been too bad. One of my favourite books recently is Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, which is based on a real life incident where some Peruvian revolutionaries invaded a diplomatic party and held the dinner guests hostage for four months. In Bel Canto, there is an opera singer among the party. Consequently, Chicago’s Lyric Opera commissioned a real opera out of it, which premiered this month. If I were to be trapped somewhere for four months, I can’t imagine what a nutcase I would become.

The next day, as our coach drove past the outer walls of Dubrovnik, we spotted a fire station. “Hey,” Auntie Mee poked me in the ribs. “You should take note of where the fire station is at, in case you get trapped again.”

“No, she had better not go into any more Sevens from now on,” said Yeeta (the Thai slang for convenience store is taken from 7-Eleven)

“That’s right, I’ll only go to Family Mart!” I joked. (Family Mart is a rival convenience store chain in Thailand.)

Two days later, Mr. Drago told me I was in the newspaper.

“No! You’re kidding me!” It must have been a really slow news day in Croatia that something as trivial as malfunctioning Kwik E-Mart doors would rate a mention in a national tabloid. Then again, Croatia is a nation of merely 4.3 million people. I bought a copy from a Tisak (a free standing kiosk this time.) The front page of the 24 Sata (24 Hours) featured migrants/refugees struggling to transit through Croatia to northern Europe, and the 20,000 Croatian kuna (US$2,800) handbag carried by a pretty young politician who’d been charged with ‘irregularities’. The Tisak snippet was buried on page 18.

I got a friend of the friend to translate the article for me when I got back:

On Sunday, around 6:00 in the evening, two Japanese tourists went into a kiosk on the Riva in Split.  In the kiosk was a saleswoman and a worker who was fixing the sliding door.  The sliding door got stuck, so the worker called for help.  The women were panicking.  People were trying to help open the door.  After a half-hour, the police came.  After the police, the firemen came. After 1 hour and 15 minutes the “hostage crisis” was over and the Japanese disappeared into the night.  The onlookers cheered for the firemen.

“Japanese”?! We were one Korean and one Chinese masquerading as a Thai.

“Panicking”?! Bullsh-t! One was very pissed off, and the other was vey relaxed.

It was more than 1 hour and 15 minutes, but I’ll let that one slide.

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Page 18

Considering I didn’t like escorted package tours to begin with, this incident made me disdain them even more. Even though this could have happened when I was traveling independently with Dad in Scotland or on the cruise in Norway with Wendy, I can’t help associating this with the package tour trip. So it’s could be my excuse for not going on any more such tours!

Polar Reversal

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“So after you’re done with the car, you just park it here, in front of the gate to the dock [where our cruise ship was docked], and you leave the key on the little ledge inside the driver’s side wheel well. Then we’ll come pick it up.” The car rental company agent took a photo of my driver’s license, jotted down my credit card information, and that was it. I had rented a car, a little blue Subaru for the day we were on shore in Narvik, Norway to drive ourselves to Polar Park.

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Before I left home to go on this cruise, I had looked up the shore excursions for each port, out of curiosity to see what kind of attractions there were at all these little coastal Norwegian towns I had never heard of. I had also talked to my friends who had been on cruises before, and they were only too happy to give me advice.   “Really? I get to give you, Miss World Traveller, tips on cruises?” joked Hubert. He told me that the shore excursions booked through the ship were usually overpriced, so one could often just show up on shore and there would be local tour companies offering a similar tour for much cheaper. The only saving grace of the ship’s excursions was that if there was a delay, the ship would definitely wait for their excursion clients to come back, and not sail off without them!

Narvik had boasted of an attraction called Polar Park, which billed itself as the “World’s Northernmost Wildlife Park”, about 68 km away inland. I can easily skip churches, but I didn’t want to pass up the chance to see animals like wolves, bears, and deer. The exchange rate was 1$US = 8.6 NOK (Norwegian Kroner). So I had persuaded Wendy (my mom), Auntie Shujun and Uncle Harry that if we rented a car for $80 US, and paid the zoo admission of 215 NOK (about $30 US) per person, we’d still come out ahead, instead of $150 per person by going with the ship’s excursion. They agreed, so I booked the car online.

“Are there signs telling us how to get to Polar Park?” I asked the rental car agent.

“Oh yes, there’s signs.” I had printed out google map directions before I left home, but still, it was good to know. I figured we couldn’t really get too lost in a rural area; there weren’t too many roads. It was a big attraction for small town Norway, so I was sure there would be signs. Even on Highway 5, there are tons of signs for Andersen’s Pea Soup, and that’s hardly worth writing home about.

“This car isn’t very clean,” said Wendy and Auntie Shujun from the back. An empty plastic soda bottle rolled around on the floor. Small town in Norway, end of tourist season, I didn’t expect to find much choice in the fleet. “So long as it gets us there and back . . .” I shrugged in the driver’s seat and shifted into first gear.

I was glad I had rented the car. So far on the cruise, Uncle Harry had been paying for all the wine we ordered for dinner each night, and wouldn’t let Wendy or me pay, even though we tried to insist. It’s a very Chinese thing, to fight for the honor and privilege of picking up the check. In a way, it’s also chivalrous or chauvinistic, so I call it the ‘old geezer’ act. It usually amuses non-Chinese whenever they see it happen, whether or not they understand what they are seeing. So in my renting the car, I would be able redress that balance a bit, along with paying for the zoo admission and filling up the gas later. I would be drinking the wines Uncle ordered with a clearer conscience.

It was a clear, sunny crisp day. We left Narvik, driving north across a suspension bridge that was also slightly cloggy due to reconstruction. Wendy and I ooh’ed over the pretty fall colours, since we don’t get much of that in California. Uncle Harry and Auntie Shujun aah’ed as we skirted the coast, winding through mountains and a couple of long tunnels, since they live inland in the flatter areas of  Ontario. After being on the ship for so many days, and walking around the port towns we stopped at, it felt a little odd but liberating to be driving a car.

An hour into the drive, someone requested a pit stop, so I pulled into a restaurant/convenience store parking lot. To back out of our spot to continue our journey, I had to shift to reverse, which was to the left of 1st and 2nd gear (In my car at home, the reverse is to the right, below the 5th gear). I tried to shift, but each time I pressed the gas pedal, we went forward, not back.

“Here, get out and let me try,” offered Uncle Harry. He got into the driver’s seat, and tried shifting. “The clutch is a bit soft. Maybe it’s worn out.”

“Well, the rest of the gears shifted fine on our way driving here,” I pointed out.

“Maybe it’s just the reverse gear doesn’t work, maybe it’s broken.”

“Ai yah, not only is the car dirty, but they gave us a car that doesn’t work!” chorused the back seat.

“That is pretty awful,” I agreed. How could this company be so irresponsible and reckless to rent out a car that without a functional reverse? It was shock to have something like this happen in Scandinavia, where you expect everything to be orderly, efficient and done by the book. “I’ll email them when I get back,” since I didn’t have a SIM card in my phone to call them.

Wendy, Auntie Shujun and I got out to push the car backward, while Uncle Harry steered the car. What to do now? We decided to press onto Polar Park, since we were more than halfway there, rather than waste our limited time to go back to complain and exchange the car for a fully-functional one. The car’s forward mobility was fine. We simply had to cross our fingers that when we got to the parking lot of Polar Park, they had drive-thru type parking spaces so we wouldn’t need to reverse!

We ended up missing the turn at the major roundabout for Polar Park. Continuing along the coastal road E10 for 20, then 25, 28 miles, we found ourselves in a rural area, with buildings far and few between, with no sign of Polar Park. We eventually found another gas station and asked.

“Oh you’re in Bogen now, you have to go back and turn at the roundabout at Bjerkvik about 28 km back to take E6.” said the clerk. It always blows my mind that even in the dinkiest of towns of Norway (and the Netherlands), the locals are pretty fluent in English. I can’t imagine a gas station clerk in the US being able to give directions to lost European tourists in German, French, Spanish, etc.

When we backtracked to the major roundabout there was no sign for Polar Park, but tons of official directional signs for the site of the 1940 Battle of Narvik. I thought that was odd; I would have thought that most tourists who come to these parts would be more interested in seeing a zoo than a battlefield, and that the directional signage would reflect that.

When we arrived at Polar Park, it was already noon. There weren’t too many people there. We found a drive-thru parking spot. Uncle Harry elbowed me out of the way and won paying for the admission tickets, though not before incurring the ire of European man in front of us, thinking we were trying to cut in line.

Polar Park is set on a long swath of hillside, along and above a creek. The day we were there, they had wolves, arctic foxes, brown bears, lynxes, elk, musk ox, deer and reindeer on display. (They also have wolverines, but not on display then.)  While some of these animals have been socialized and are used to humans, the setting itself seems to have been kept natural. There are various enclosures each the size of a neighbourhood park, spacious enough to give the animals roaming space; even in confinement, they need enough elbow room. Each enclosure is habitat for one species of animal. For the human visitors, it really does take a lot of walking uphill and downhill to get around and see them all. The enclosures are full of bushes, trees and natural vegetation, so you have to peer mindfully in stillness, until your eyes are tuned in to little movements that are not of leaves and plants rustling in the wind.

Just a short distance past the ticket office as we headed towards the main enclosures, we passed a wolf-visit enclosure, where some other visitors had each paid 1,500 NOK to hang out with the wolves for 30 minutes. (It was also possible to hang out with the arctic foxes for the relative bargain of 200 NOK per adult.) The wolves had been socialized enough to interact with visitors, and were excitedly loping around the group. One wolf stood up on its hind legs, resting its paws on the shoulders of a trembling young Asian woman, as if to waltz with her while trying to sniff and lick her face. “Don’t be scared, don’t show fear,” said the zoo guide in a firm voice.

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Dancing with wolf

Once we got to the main enclosures, we usually had to walk all the way around the chain link fence perimeter to spot the animals. There were only a handful of other visitors when we were there. One stocky, middle-aged woman by herself seemed to be pretty good at quickly spotting where the animals were, so we followed her wherever she went, very quietly, so as to not scare or disturb the animals. Perhaps she was a professional wildlife photographer, or simply had honed instincts. Or maybe she had that vibe that drew animals to her. Being a photography buff, Uncle Harry was very interested in her camera, with a very long/large lens. Later she told him she had driven up from Switzerland in her own car over the course of a month, and her camera cost over 200,000 Swiss francs.

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The animals can be in an elusive, private mood and cocoon themselves away. Or they may deign to show themselves and come closer to the fence where people are. Who knows why animals do what they do, or when they’ll do what. Maybe sometimes they’re curious about the visitors. Maybe sometimes they’re bored and want to people-watch. Maybe they like getting attention from visitors who are respectful, calm and quiet (when they’re not fighting over who’s paying).

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Arctic Fox

The coats of the arctic foxes had changed into their winter whites from the summer browns. Covered in snowy fluffy long fur, and bushy long tails, they looked adorably cuddly, like a doggier type of cat. Their faces and pointy ears were grey. With their squinty eyes, they looked drowsy and relaxed basking in the winter sun, although they were very aware of us as they curled up in front of us, with the chain link fence separating us. “After you walk away,” their expression seemed to say, “we’ll relax our guard and take a real nap.”

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There were two wolves in the next enclosure. We’d spotted one deeper in the enclosure and walked up to the chain link fence to take closer-up shots by zoom. Wendy was so engrossed in taking pictures of that wolf in the distance, she was completely oblivious to other wolf that had come up to her, scoping her out.

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…oblivious to the other wolf that had come up to her

The wolves began to walk away, but still sticking close to the fence perimeter, as if to entice us, so we followed. They would glance at us, as they paced around, stretched, yawned, and sat down to rest in front of us. Maybe they had caught scent of the ham and cheese sandwiches in our backpacks we had packed from the breakfast buffet.

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These wolves had calm demeanors and dignified expressions. I didn’t find them intimidating, and it wasn’t just because they were safely separated from me by a tall fence. They just looked like leonine dogs. Whereas before I had pooh-poohed the idea of paying 1,500 NOK to interact with the wolves, now I began to think it might have been worthwhile after all.

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We stood there taking photo after photo of them through the diamonds of the chain link fence, until we had enough shots, put out cameras away, and simply gazed at each with mutual unabashed interest. Then one of them howled, as if to communicate with the wolves higher up the hill that were out of sight in another enclosure. That set off a call and response racket that went on for a few minutes. Maybe they were lamenting their enforced separation from each other. Or maybe they were just exchanging gossip about what they might be having for lunch. It was an eerie racket, mournfully fierce, unbearable to my untutored ears. If I heard such noises while camping in a nylon tent, I would be terrified.

The lynxes were the most reclusive of all the animals of Polar Park. With their tawny coats with black splatters, reminiscent of a leopard, they were very hard to spot. The tips of the tail and the points of the ears are a solid black on adults; on the cubs, the black was a more faint smudge. I primarily know the lynx as model of Mercury car; I really had no idea what they were. They are bigger than domesticated cats, and much smaller than wild cats such as tigers and lions.

Luckily, we were with the Swiss Miss, who saw the mother followed by two cubs. The mother was very wary: as we came in closer to look at her through the fence, she would move to the right. We started walking towards the right as well, following her. Her cubs stayed close to her, and as she ran as if to shake us off, we started jogging too. The mother ran though the tall grass, but followed the inner perimeter of the fence, so we could still track her, pausing intermittently. It made her hard to see (and photograph). It was curious: if she didn’t want us to see her, she could have run inwards towards the center of the enclosure and be completely out of our sight. But she was always within several feet of us. Was it a form of practice, a game for her of cat and mouse? Her cubs, with the naiveté of youth, paused to check us out with unabashed curiosity.

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Lynx cub

Having seen the highlights, Uncle Harry headed back to the car to rest and eat his sandwich, since he was tired. The rest of us, continued on to look at the red deer and the musk ox. The red deer stag reminded me of my high school classmate Kevin, with its wide set eyes perched high on an inward looking face.

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Red deer stag

The musk ox is the most cartoonish looking of bovines(?). With a short bow of a horn over its eyes, the tips taper into a flip up curl on either side of its face, giving it the look of a Tory judge on a bad-wig day. One of them entertained us by getting up and using a stump still rooted in the ground to scratch the inner ‘armpit’ of his front left leg and then backing up to scratch his rear. The stump had been carefully sawn off to the right height. The musk ox wore a shaggy coat of long fibres, like a bison. His front hump was taller and more pronounced than his hindquarters.

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Musk ox

“There will be a special feeding today at the lynx enclosure at 1:30 PM,” the ticket seller had told us. It turned out that it had been arranged for a large group of tourists . . . from our very own ship. Even though we had already seen the lynx and her cubs, we thought it would be fun to see them again while feeding. So we tagged along with the group, but stood at the far end. The zookeeper had a bucket of food in her hand, and she stood by the door to the enclosure, calling “Josefa . . . Josefa!” a few times. But the mother lynx didn’t come out, and neither did her cubs.

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 . . . waiting in vain . . .

The three of us smiled lightly at each other. We all felt lucky and smug that we had gotten to see Josefa and her cubs, even without feeding, and that our visit to Polar Park was a bargain, compared to what the tourists in the group paid. “The only benefit of going with the ship’s excursion is that you won’t get lost driving yourself!” we joked amongst ourselves.

We headed back to the visitor’s center and the car. Uncle Harry would probably be worried that we would be late in getting back, and missing the ship, but we figured if we left BEFORE the ship’s tour group, we should be able to get back to Narvik in time. Uncle Harry had tried fiddling some more with the reverse gear, but the problem remained.

On our way through Narvik, I had spotted a gas station and pulled in to fill up the tank. “Let me pay for the gas,” said Uncle Harry.

“No way,” I said. I ran off into store/kiosk to pay. “I’m at Pump 4,” I said. “Do I give you my credit card now or later.”

“Someone is already paying,” the clerk nodded towards the window. Uncle Harry had spotted the ‘pay at pump’ option, and had whipped out his credit card to pay, while I had wasted precious seconds going inside.

“Garghh!!!!!!!!”

“You’re not supposed pay,” I scolded him, as I started up the car. “Please let me pay.”

“No, you already paid for the car rental. That is only fair.” Uncle Harry retorted.

“Well, you paid for the zoo tickets as well. So you better not buy any more wine for dinners!” I glared.

“Then what am I supposed to drink? Gasoline?”

All four of us burst into laughter simultaneously in the little blue Subaru.

FAST FORWARD to one week later. I was a tautly strung up bundle of nerves driving to pick up Dad from Inverness airport because:

  • I had gotten lost trying to find the Inverness Railway Station car rental office – which turned out to be in a kiosk in the shopping mall across the street
  • I was driving a beast called the Nissan Qashqai (Qinghai? Qaddafi? Is it a Chinese or Libyan name?) that was much larger than what I normally drive at home. (This was on behalf of Dad. Apparently he prefers to ride in bigger cars now. When he last came to visit us in the States, he made me rent an SUV to drive him around.)
  • I had not driven on the left hand side, on narrow roads, liberally peppered with roundabouts since five years ago. I was rusty.
  • I didn’t know if my Dad would actually arrive at the airport on the flight. If he missed his connecting flight to Inverness from Manchester, he would have to figure out how to contact us (he had no smart phone) and how to get to Inverness, since the next direct flight would be the following day. He is not quick on his feet, literally or metaphorically.
  • We were late – if the flight had arrived on time. We were critically late – if Dad had indeed arrived on the flight – we might have missed him. If Dad didn’t see us at Arrivals, he would conclude we weren’t coming to pick him and simply catch a cab to the hotel on his own.

I found an empty parking space in the airport short-term parking lot, but misgauged the turning radius. I shifted to reverse to back up. The ‘R’ was to the left of the 1st and 2nd gear.

Once again, the reverse gear did not engage. I was stuck, blocking the lane.

“Let me see,” Joe tried to shift it to reverse, but he couldn’t figure it out either.

When it rains, it pours: everything had been going wrong today, and now this? How was it even blinking possible, that two rental cars in a row couldn’t go in reverse?? Argh!!

I spotted a man walking in the parking lot with a roll-on bag, and rolled down the window.

“Excuse me,” I hollered with the most sheepish of smiles. “We’re American tourists. We can’t get our reverse gear to engage. Can you help us?”

He came over. “Usually you have to press a button or knob or pull it up,” he said fiddling with it. He pulled the waist of the skirt around the gear stick up the shaft. The reverse gear clicked into place. “There you go!” Aha, maybe that’s what I was supposed to have done in the Norwegian rental car as well.

And fortunately Dad was waiting in the arrival lounge. “When I didn’t see you, I thought maybe you had missed your flight to Inverness and weren’t in town yet!”

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Can you name the six languages on this sign?

Loss of memory and/or sweatshirt

I have this habit of giving things away, and then not remembering at all that I gave it away, much less whom I gave it to.  It’s embarrassing how often someone will be talking to me and say “See, you gave me this when . . . ” I’ll look blankly at them and say “Really, I gave you that? When?” I have no recollection whatsoever.  (In some of those cases, it may be that I was recycling a gift I thought would be better appreciated by someone else.)

So this is awkward . . . I made an ugly X’mas sweatshirt last year. I was looking for it so I could wear it for the season.  But I can’t find it. I might have given it away to someone, but I can’t remember. You’d think I’d remember something like that – after all I made the sweatshirt. But I can’t remember.

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So, if you’re the person I gave the sweatshirt to, and happen to read this, please let me know who you are.  I’m not asking for it back.  I just want to know whom it’s with. Hopefully you’ll wear it at least once this season, with a sense of enjoyment.  (But if you finally decide you really don’t like it anymore, and where planning to get rid of it, I’ll take it back.)

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