the Golden Gate Bridge

Withstanding the ridiculous weight of millions of cars, trucks and people . The bridge, like most other bridges shook precariously everytime a heavy weighter drove by. The bridge is located in the valley of the San Francisco Peninsula, where the basin in the bay area fills up with crashing salt water, and drains out freshwater twice a day,all through this one narrow strait. Weather patterns make for consistent westerly winds, sometimes rising to gale strength in the worst winter storms. All of this makes for a place of roaring surf, and very strong currents and winds, I was almost blown right off my toes in an attempt to get a photograph instagramed.

With its apparent difficulty just making my way across in the elements, one could imagine what a hellacious place to build, not forgetting divers had to go down 100 feet underwater to place dynamite and construction in the frigid cold waters…of the 1930s. Were wetsuits even invented yet? Geez.

America was symbolic to me for so many reasons. The  whole story of the Golden Gate from its building to its eventual completion and its presence is a personification of that.

The bridge was built in the PEAK of the Great Depression. I’m not a history buff, but I think I know it must have been a pretty hard time living all around. Still, the Cheif engineer Joseph Strauss was determined to get it up. And so he did. It was not funded by the government, and the local people put up their own houses and farms as collateral for the bonds that were sold in their districts.

Not bad for a 100 year old steel structure built in the early 1900s, having to deal with all these elements…..and being essentially held together by 2 steel cables no wider than your study desk. Yes, if those two cables gave way, so would the bridge. You wonder, how incredible and durable these oldies but goodies are.

Something about being at the top of the bridge (and under it at a point) lifted my spirits, and blew all worries away.

Were the pack of free swimming dolphins right below me telling me something?

 

This post concludes my stint in the States, a long awaited time of wanting to be here. I want to shout out a big thanks to all the wonderful friends I’ve met and people who’ve helped me and let me bunk in along the way! 🙂 The land of dreams indeed!

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Psychedelic Jellyfish & Otters

“I’ve been living close to the ocean and can’t imagine living anywhere else” – Maura.

I spent an entire day basking in the glorious sun in the comforts of the 60’s vintage styled cottage of white and ocean blue painted on neat slender vertical strips of timber with a glass of Merlot and my lappy penning down thoughts. I found solace in this sleepy town away from the city, just the way I like it, away from the hustle and bustle, in reach of the waters.

Awoken with a breath of crisp air, I headed down towards the sea where otters paddle about with such child-like adorableness laying back and propelled themselves lazily with their tiny little flippers, belly up. In 2 seconds the warm golden lit rays were engulfed by a fog that suddenly somber, like a imminent scene of a shipwreck from a movie. It too brought stole the warm and brought the chill right down to my toes. Just as quick as it came, it went away, clearing up to the blue skies. The bipolar weather of california of fog and gale winds were fairly confusing to the mind.

I headed back to the crib where little pieces of mermaid figurines, magnets, hung from lights, were stuck on doors, and scribbled on pastel colored designs. Maura loved mermaids, and always dreamt of seeing one. She worked in the Monterey Aquarium, where marine biologists and scientists educate people through the weird and wonderful world of the sea. Thanks to her, I saved $30 for the entrance. Maura was Jenny’s childhood friend,where they both grew up in the water, and thank goodness for her! My highlight at the Aquarium was the jellyfish which had incredible smooth form and floated around in water-space organically. Otters feeding, psychedellic jellyfish, Sharks, dogs and the cute kid at the bottom, whats there not to like at Monterey, and Carmel by the Sea, California. 🙂

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The American Dream

White picket fences, children riding on their pastel bicycles with straw baskets and string streaming through the wind,  just like ‘My Girl’. A pastel colored house, with traditionally stitched upholstery, wooden armchairs, a fireplace.

Reflections of sunrise along the creek. Rodeo cowboys with dark sheen horses. The scale of the nevada peaks, the magnificent Grand Canyon. Towering trees of the Redwoods, temperate fir and oak trees releasing their earthy scent.

Snow, Christmas in Central Park, couples cuddled up by the fireplace, people skating on the ice lake. Festivals-Pumpkins, halloween, thanksgiving, friends, lots of laughter, a communal table, silliness.

Academia, Harvard, prestigious colleges, wild college parties, American football, cheerleaders, geeks…beer pong. Silicon Valley, instant college-drop out millionaires.

The White House, the President, Air Force one. The strength of a nation, their power displayed in invincible fashion. Leaders of the nation so powerful it rings throughout history past and present, each proclaiming a better prospect for the American dream.

Wait…….a….minute.

I might have gotten it mixed up with the American life. It seems to overlap, though.

. . .

My sole reason of traveling North America, was to explore the very romanticized ‘American Dream’, and to understand what it means to the people living there, compared to what we from 13 hours away perceive it to be, based on TV shows and hollywood. I truly wanted to see what makes American so American, what makes San Fran such a capital for creative minds, innovation, and culture.  As a young geek I enjoyed watching Junkyard Wars – it was a competition where two teams were given 10 hours to find resources from within a junkyard and build kickass stuff like pumpkin catapults, hovercrafts and racing derby cars! They would go head to head in a spectacle with freshly welded steel and motors!  That really impressed me by the know-how of the Americans in being creative, technically adept and making a bloody craft out of pure scrap metal and old washing machine motors.

Back to the question: IS the American dream?

First, I think it cannot be answered for everyone, for the sole reason each demographic has their own causes for living, and that is why there are democrats and republicans as they wish to make the country suit their preferred style of living. Also, times have always been changing at a phenomenal pace causing great paradigm shifts in everyday living, modern mobile technology and connectivity for instance has made a huge impact. There is not a single day where many find it difficult to live without checking their Facebook accounts for updates of friends etc. I sense that a lot of the stereotypycial American dream impressions I get were presented in the 80’s, suburban living with the a nice house, car, a good family atmosphere, access to amenities and nature, basically representing – a comfortable life. Now fast forward to the 21st century where cities move at breakneck speed, for many people, a simple life with simple pleasures isn’t easy to achieve due to the nature of it.

No doubt we all seek to achieve greater happiness, with minimal suffering, a mantra of life for many. The road to achieve it however varies greatly – a group called the hippies, or the middle income demographic prefer to be fed happiness in small doses regularly, over an extended period of time and appreciating each passing moment, squeezing out the best of it. Comfort and security is a lesser concern for them, but they are happy for a longer time. They earn less, but spend less, relying on nature, friendships, and simple living for enjoyment of life.

There are the corporates, the businessmen and the savers, they work their hearts and guts out, often sacrificing happiness, rest, and sanity in a bid to have a greater value of enjoyment and satisfaction at the end of it all. In the process they receive much internal stress to their bodies, with hard work, little rest, but in the end – high risk high gain. Usually a greater monetary reward, phenomenally greater than what the hippies can imagine. That is a very rough generalization of living, but this is way I perceive it to be.

After spending time in California, I think the greatest difference the city, and country has over the rest of the world is its freedom of choices for most, and the freedom to do things no matter the colour of your skin, or the language you speak. No doubt every city in the world has an over-the-top influx of immigrants, the difference is how each country accepts and integrates them. Spending time in California, I have observed that there is little segregation between ethnic groups, if you are American, you are all the same. They make it seem so comfortably common, but this is definitely not the case elsewhere in the world, where a foreigner often sticks out like a sore thumb, and either becomes a screaming target for touts to try to strip dry their wallets, OR, a target for inferiority and discrimination. People on the street never failed to welcome me, chat me up, someone even offered me a place when having a chat at the cafe! In the social aspect, I think the equal opportunities irregardless of race or background is the main thing that defines the American dream.

“People often over romanticize the American dream, thinking that coming here, life just seems rosier, like a holiday”,  a friend mentioned. The truth is that work, in most places, is hardwork. It sure is, America IS expensive. That is the reality of things, it is something we should not overlook. But to come through it, with a positive attitude that, hey, its still alright, I’m pretty happy here with life still. That’s a great indicator of good living.

In the end, it all comes down to the environment that people create to determine a particular vibe, and experience. Being in the stands of the baseball game watching the crowd yell as the San Fran Giants almost scrape through for that win, but end up losing, coupled with the classic ‘stepping up’ sounds leading to the huge cheer at the end was pretty defining. So was staying in the retro 60s styled wooden shack at Monterey, where Maura lives and works by at the aquarium, and lives a life close to the ocean, being completely chilled out. I too remembered being brought to tour the university of Berekley, where there sat parking lots for nobel prize laureates who are their lecturers, and absorbing in the energy that academics have in doing research and trying to make a difference in the world.

 

From all these experiences, I’ve soaked up the good vibes of young people living the life they choose for themselves completely, and not something pressured by family, or society. They absolutely LOVE their work, their friendships and their social life. With such great passion for the things they believe in, zest for life, and given the freedom to make choices to go places, given such a vast array of spectacular nature, in their own way, this is what encompasses living The American Dream. 

. . .

I remember standing on the top of the Golden Gate Bridge, its red massive steel cables above me, its supports weaving in and out of the dreamy fog. I looked across the distance at San Francisco city. Below, the clouds cast a shadow of the bridge on the blue waters, and I saw surfers close to the breakwaters, weaving in and out mushy swells. And then I saw dolphins, in a pack, with all joy and energy, being so free and happy. Blue skies, sunshine, and a cool breeze, in that moment I stood still watching all of it go by, I loved America. And no wonder millions of others love it too. 

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EXTREME FISHING Pt 3 – Catamaran & Net fishing

 

 

 

Taking a stroll along the beaches of Mt Lavina, a group of fishermen gathered around a boat, it was 7 in the evening.

“Come come!” they signalled for me to join them.  They shouted in Singhalese, though I did not understand, I understood the rythm. I pressed my lips and I did a dead lift, and dragged the boat couple of metres each time. Back in the military, I had an affinity with boats. We’ve had to carry dinghies on our heads during ‘Hellweek’, drag the seaboats upshore after each day of diving, it was a nice reminder of my connection to the sea. The boats were in.

Some 40 minutes later,  the boat is in, and double the number of people join in the fun. There are 2 parallel lines, and each side has at least 10 people. They waved again for me, and I joined in. There was a  motley crew of fishermen, guys in formal attire, maybe wanting a change of environment, and tourists-me. After a good while, the nets were brought in, hundreds of small fish flapping in it. There was a HUGE fugly thing in the net, the size of a small pig. I was sure it was a turtle.. They dragged it out, and it was a puffer fish! Not good for dinner, it was hastily flung back into the ocean.

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We travelled out to sea on a local Catamaran fishing boat with the Midigama surfer boys.  The catamaran is basically a twin hulled boat, with the second and smaller hull providing stability. We wished to observe the entire trawling fishing process with the boat, however with these things, it is seasonal and the fishermen waits for a call from his fellow mates. No forward planning, it’s all ‘snap snap!’  Unfortunately, it wasn’t our day for fishing, and we just went out to see, did some line fishing, and island hopping. This method of fishing is tedious, the nets are huge, and they are brought in manually. It requires 10-15 strong, experienced men to bring in the nets, and the boats head out up to 5km into the seas. Sometimes, spending days out before returning.

 

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Up and about on in a local fishing village.  Heaving boats, yellow fin tunas, a small catamaran, and preying crows.

This is my last post on extreme fishing, as I leave the fishing coast of my travels and head up to the deserts and mountains of India!!

EXTREME FISHING 2 – Stilt fishing

As I climbed onto the wooden pole in the midst of trashing waves in the surf zone, fingers crossed in my heart that the flimsy looking seat would hold my weight. It looked fragile and weathered, some other poles had missing parts.

Thankfully, the unintended slimness test proved that I was still in shape, and we were alongside the stilt fishermen, practicing a mythical tradition way of life – Stilt fishing.

The poles only appear in the South-western coast of Galle Rd, in general close proximity to one another. It was always assumed as a ‘tourist attraction’, only appearing in postcards, guide books and paintings. I’d never thought I’d be having a chance at it as I read somewhere that the poles were handed down from the fishermen’s generations, and regarded as somewhat sacred As we were making our way to see the sharks in the outdoor aquarium, we approached some local stilt fishermen and they welcomed us to have a go!

It’s an extremely rudimentary, and painstaking way of fishing, absolute respect to the guys. The target fish- Sardine and Herring, no more than 5cm in length are caught one by one and put in a plastic bag tied to their belts. The fish don’t sell for much, and the fishermen sit on the poles for easily 4 hours at a time, preferable during dawn and dusk.

The intention of stilt fishing, is its unobtrusiveness to the fish in the reef. They believe that if you use a net, the fish in the area might be scared away and never return. It is a simple way, there are no live baits, just a little shiny yellow bob would do the trick.

Within seconds of casting, Ban Jo, the local guy caught one! His friend unhooked the fish, transferred it to Tiffany’s hook, and smiled cheekily, “for the picture!” It was great fishing with these guys..unfortunately, our novice skills caught us none in the sea of sardine that swarmed the reef around us. Better luck next time!

Another one ticked  off the bucket list!

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EXTREME FISHING 1 – Spearfishing

“EXTREME FISHING!!!!!” we’d do the hand accompanying hand actions – the X, the casting of the rod, and the reeling in. It was HILARIOUS, and heaps of fun!

We were CRAZYYYY about the show, it was our en-route show in the 6 man seater Caravan during our grad trip across South Island NZ. It starred Robson Green, the Englishmen going to exotic destinations, trying out even more exotic means of fishing. I reckon I could give him a run for his money..having done some pretty extreme fishing myself! Spear fishing was the sport I did back in Aussie. Gab & I shared a love child – a 1.71m tall sniper rifle looking-ish water harpoon gun. It was massive, it was sleek, it was a killing machine!!!

Spearfishing was a mix of ‘Free-diving’, and Sniping. Whilst holding your breath,one duck dives as stealthily as possible, and hunts for his game. Usually,the bigger fish hide under the rocks for shelter, but you know, they could also be anywhere really. Sometimes, you go as deep as 15-20m.  It gets challenging as you fight the cold, try to hold your breath as long as you can, whilst playing hide and seek, with your body in all sorts of  anti-gravitational positions. It does take knowledge of the fish species, how they move, where they hide etc. Like snipers, it’s 1 shot 1 kill. Once you’ve pressed that trigger, if you miss, you’d have to surface and reload. It takes AGES, by that time the fish would have been scared off. If you do get it, you’d have to do the humane thing of killing it instantly, to end it’s suffering. Take a dive knife, stab it in the brain, and remove its gills. It also helps prevent blood from being retained in the body, where it stiffens and makes a not-so-pleasant dinner. You string the fish you’ve caught together with the float, and PRAY PRAY PRAY they don’t attract sharks!

Other gems you could grab off the sea-bed (seasonal), include Crayfish, Lobster, Abalone, and Sea Urchin! You could live in seafood luxury if you know what to do I reckon!

Singaporeans LOVE Sambal Stingray don’t we!! Chomp Chomp ones especially rock! I caught a couple…and gosh, you cannot BELIEVE how good they are fresh! The finger being cut by the Stingray picture – that’s a story for another day!

Today I headed out with the local boys who spearfish – Indira and friend, we combed the entire waters of Midigama, fought the surf zone, and came out Victorious!!! YEAHHHH!!! Octopus, an eel, and some small reef fish!

Now now, though it looks really gruesome and gory, it is actually very humane. Spearfishermen choose only the fish that are of legal size, no poor babies, and also the species that can be eaten. This is unlike rod fishing where you might hurt dozens of fish with hooks left dangling in their lips, and the trauma of being brought out and thrown back in.

Spearfishing Sydney

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Spearfishing Midigama

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Full moon on a lake

the lake catamaran friends the lake

The wolves were howling, the boat lay still, full moon cast a eerily soothing grey hue across the horizon. Out of the woods, in the middle of nothingness was the lake, it was totally unexpected when we stepped into the boat for drinks that we’d be brought out. It was a beautiful night, an interesting mix of Finnish, English, Israeli, and Singaporean, the diverse backgrounds of climate, culture, and language was shared under the stars. We even bartered a ride on the transiting local catamaran, a twin hulled, asymmetrical boat. Overlooking the river was the restaurants warm single tungsten bulbs, which reflected what we were all feeling – warm, and comfortable. What seemed like the makings of a typical American movie, with 1 girl (who’d likely not be the first to die), we were pondering when it would begin. “guys, I need to pee of the side of the boat!” “Chris! you’re gonna be the first one gone!” hahahaha..

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