On the Road – Mount Vernon, Illinois – A Church that ROCKS!

Posted in On Tthe Road on April 15th, 2008 by MadDog
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I always loved that Monty Python interlocutor who came to switch the scenes with, “And now, for something completely different.” Well, this morning that works on a couple of different levels.

When’s the last time you had fun in church. For that matter, when was the last time you went to church? Never mind. You out there who know me appreciate that I don’t shove that in your face. You either dig the faith thing or you don’t. You also know that if you ever need me, I’ll be there. (Sounds like a sappy country music song title, eh?) I’m like the tiger lurking in the bush.

But, I gotta tell you, I had me some fun at church yesterday. Central Christian Church at Mount Vernon Illinois has been a highly significant contributor to our paychecks forever (well, since 1981, anyway). We went there yesterday to visit old friends and report to our bosses there about our work. (All went well.)

The best part for me, however, was the worship service itself. Does this look like any church that you’ve visited (or imagined, if you don’t go)?

Central Christian Church - Mount Vernon, Illinois

When the beat’s in the groove and the lyrics are whacking me in the guts, I just want to get up and dance like a wild man. Well, that might not be appreciated in this context, but my body was egging on – Go, man! Dig it! Eunie was clapping her cute little hands and singing bravely in her sweet monotone (poor baby is completely tone-deaf, but she belts it out anyway, God bless her).

I think that just about every professional-class musician in Mount Vernon must have been on that stage – there can’t be many in a town that size. This is no garage band. There was rock, ballad, a little funk . . . the guy at the microphone with the guitar did a very credible and street-wise rap segment that made me whoop! A trio of young women delivered a side-stage number that was every bit as edgy and gut grabbing as anything I’ve heard from Alanis Morrisette. It was great music – never mind the setting. It was all soulful stuff. And I don’t mean that in a churchy way.

When preachin’ time came round, Jamie Allen presented one of the most cogent and concise lectures on how to manage your money that I’ve ever heard. It was all solid advice. Americans seem to be having a lot of trouble these days coping with economic problems. Many desperately need to learn how to manage their money effectively. Hey, how about that? Not what you’d usually expect from the pulpit. Of course he did mention that you should give some it back . . . to the church, of course. It’s a given for believers. But, whether you are or you aren’t, if you heard some of the stuff this church is into, you’d be reaching for your wallet no matter. (Just a small sampling – shelters for abused women and children, Habitat for Humanity, safe water supplies for villages in India, health clinics and children’s homes in Brazil and Africa, to-your-door meals for shut-ins, soup kitchens . . . the list goes on and on.) These people know how to spread the love. It’s what they’re about.

This is a trend we’ve seen in churches we have visited. Kaimuki Christian Church in Honolulu is another terrific example. If you have nothing to do there on a Sunday morning, hop on over and get down.

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On the Road – Plainfield, Indana – Hog Heaven

Posted in On Tthe Road on April 14th, 2008 by MadDog
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I’d be willing to bet that the U. S. of A. has more intriguing little restaurant/bars per square kilometer than any other country. When we’re on the road, we always have an eye out for these special places.

Last night, in Plainfield Indiana, we found a great one. If you ever discover yourself hungry or thirsty in Plainfield, treat yourself to a little dose of down-home culture at Hog Heaven (Texas Hold ’em Poker). (They have imported beers – you don’t have to choke down anything with the letters BUD in the name.) Here’s their trademark:

Hog Heaven - Plainfield, Indiana

“Pork with an Attitude” – I love it! Hog Heaven is a delightful mashup of all the familiar clichés of hometown Americana. I state that with no overtones mockery. It’s got lots of neon, plenty of retro deco, a biker feel, floods of richly raunchy country music, adorable waitresses that call you Honey, Sweetie, or Darlin’, and oh, so much more. In short, it’s just the way (uh-HUH, uh-HUH) I like it. Here’s a view of the bar:

Hog Heaven - Plainfield Indiana - The bar

They also have a ‘family dining’ area which we didn’t see. We were greeted by a lovely lady with a smooth mid-western drawl who asked us if we wanted the bar or the family dining. She did a cute little eyebrow-lift when we answered, “The bar!” (Duh!) She took our order for drinks and was back in a flash. We browsed the menu for a moment while soaking up the ambiance. Some young studs were out for a night of pool. I took this covert shot (I love available-light photography. You can snap away without startling your prey into panicky flight.):

Hog Heaven - Plainfield Indiana - Shooting Some Pool

Our sweetheart waitress, Laura, brought my Yardbird Livers (hand breaded chicken livers) and “Tater Peeler” fries, stating that they were her favorites. I can understand why. I quietly wondered how she stays so svelte.

In most of these extraordinary sort of places you’ll find no plastic food. The owners and their employees take pride in serving truly excellent and distinctive fare. The chicken livers were thinly coated with a wonderful crunchy deep-fried batter. Inside they were dark and aromatic. Yum!

Between nibbles of splendor and slurps of Heineken I stalked around snapping. Eunie was not amused:

Hog Heaven - Plainfield, Indiana - Eunie in her cute little shoes

She did look cute, though, perched on her stool in her tiny little shoes frowning at my unseemly behaviour.

My gratitude goes out to Hog Heaven and all the nice people inside who provided us a haven from a cold rainy Indiana night and refreshment that went far beyond fine food, and a restorative cold beer.

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On the Road – America – Some Observations on Culture

Posted in On Tthe Road, Opinions on April 13th, 2008 by MadDog
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I’m going to skate on some thin ice this chilly morning. Some will cheer me on. Some will hope for me to fall through.

Last night, after a frustrating day culminated by a heated argument (about two minutes is our limit) concerning back-seat driving, I was seriously considering writing a series of posts raving incessantly about all the things that irritate me about today’s version of American Culture. I could go on for weeks describing with grim humor all the things that have, in my opinion, changed for the worse. I’m sure that most of my readers would eat this up. Others would not be amused.

But then, this morning, I saw this:

Brownsburg Sunrise

My heart softened a little. I used a mental technique that I have recently patented (you have to ask my permission and pay me a royalty to do it). I turned it about and tried to see it the other way round.

A tourist who can only find fault and constantly comments on cultural features that displease him is not welcome. I must admit that today, in America, I am a foreign tourist. I’ve spent the majority of my adult life (actually nearly half of my whole life) in a culture so radically different from today’s America that I can no longer reasonably claim American cultural citizenship. To me America seems sad and morally confused – a once great, powerful, and (possibly even) noble beast now horribly wounded and unable to recover full health and well-being.

Individual responsibility and respect for others has been replaced by a confusing myriad of rules. People seem unaware of or apathetic to the vast number of personal freedoms once held sacred which are being surrendered to the false promise of security. They are unable to accept that America will never be secure as long as most of the rest of the planet’s occupants see America as a self-appointed cop. There’s always going to be some kid hiding around a corner with a brick in his hand panting for revenge. America seems to me to be a once-great empire on the decline. Americans might take solace in the fact that no empire has survived recognizably intact for more than a few hundred years.

Papua New Guinean culture has its own faults – I’m not going to make comparisons to America. To me, PNG feels like the old American Wild West – without all the guns. We complain of many things. Most of my readers are expatriates in PNG. You know what I’m talking about. However, most of us are also optimistic (though we would grudgingly admit it) about the future. Many of us are in PNG specifically to devote our energies to improvement.

All the above is meant to be an encouraging essay – not a critique. I also believe that I’m fully qualified to make these comments because of my personal history and the fact that I am an American Citizen and have full access to freedom of speech under the Bill of Rights (God Bless the Constitution).

I love the America in which I became a man. I have great respect for its founding principles.

So, I’d like to end on a positive note. Keeping in mind that it has been four years since I was last in America, I am compelled to say that there have been some significant changes for the good. Americans are nicer today. They treat each other with more respect. The Insect Authority (Read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain.) that was so prevalent has been replaced by a bemused contrariness concerning obnoxious rules (Well . . . I’m not supposed to do that, but let me see how I can get around the rules to help you.) I was dreading dealing with the bureaucracy. But two experiences in particular (one at the Social Security Administration and the other at the Bureau of Motor Vehicles) amazed me. Bureaucrats were falling all over themselves to help me with my complex and unfamiliar problems.

To wrap this up I’ll say to America (as if it cares what I think – HAH!), God bless you and good luck with your recovery. And, because I’m so cranky, I’ll add: You might have a better go of it if you learn to play nicely with others. As we used to say in the ‘60s, “Make love, not war.”

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A Lovely Lass Addresses the Haggis

Posted in CWA, Humor, Madang Happenings on April 11th, 2008 by MadDog
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Finally! I got a couple of photos from a friend (I think that Lorraine Collins provided them, but that’s been weeks ago and my memory . . . excuse me, what was I saying?).

A few months ago, CWA held what I thought of as “Not Burns Night.” It was just like Burns Night except it wasn’t (not his birthday).

Anyway, Laura Carse did Burns’ Address to a Haggis. Please click on the link for an interesting site telling all about haggis and the special poem that Burns wrote to honour it. (It is too long to put here in this post.)

Here’s a cute shot of Laura attacking the haggis.

Laura Carse Attacking the helpless haggis

Here’s Laura capturing the delicate (an aquired opinion) aroma.

Laura Carse sniffing the haggis

Eunice, my multi-talented wife, actually prepared the haggis from locally available ingredients. Though some were skeptical concerning its pedigree, most declared it as tasty as a mongrel haggis can be.

Sadly, Laura is no longer in Madang. If you’re reading this, sweet Laura, we all miss you and hope and pray (those of us who do so) that you will soon be back with our little family of strange people here in Paradise.

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On the Road – Honolulu – Miscellanea

Posted in On Tthe Road on April 10th, 2008 by MadDog
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Here is one that sparked a connection that stopped me dead in my tracks. Those who’ve lived in Madang will make more sense of it, but it might be of mild interest to others. On the East side of Oahu there is a large rock formation with a giant hole in it. It lies like a huge stone ship that’s been savagely torpedoed a few hundred metres off the beach:

Hole in the Rock - Honolulu

This reminds me of a favorite picnic and dive location North of Madang called “The Hole in the Wall” except that this one is above the water level instead of underneath. The scale is not apparent from the photo, but I can tell you that the big rock in the middle is about the size of small house.

Now, as I tear myself away from Honolulu (no more posts on this until I get back there someday), let’s get to the classic. We can’t leave without visiting the “Wahines on the Beach” scene. Okay, here it is:

Wahines on the Beach

SO, with that taken care of, I’ll show you a place that is supposed to be a closely held secret. Everybody knows that the tourist industry had been hard hit. The Hawaiians have found an ingenious solution. Down a dusty road we found a seemingly secluded beach with a strange purpose. I asked a local what it was all about. He looked around as if to determine if anyone might be listening and then declared, “Ah . . . That’s the Tourist Plantation.”  Here’s a covertly obtained photo:

Honolulu - The Tourist Plantation

This crop was planted only a year ago. I don’t know the details, but it seems that, if carefully tended and kept supplied with nourishing food, plenty of sunscreen, and camera batteries, they will soon be ready to be uprooted and fitted out with appropriate footwear. These specimens will soon be browsing the Waikiki shops with gusto.

This leaves countless questions unanswered. Does the money grow in their pockets? Is it paper or plastic? What happens when they are penniless or their cards are maxed out? Are they composted? Has anybody closely examined the ethical considerations?

Finally, just because I’m feeling feisty, I challenge you to be the first to leave a comment telling the world exactly what this is: (We’ll see if anybody actually reads this drivel.) 

What is This? (Be the first to leave a comment with the correct answer.)

Aloha to Honolulu until I stumble through there again.

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On the Road – Spring is Busting Out All Over in Indiana

Posted in On Tthe Road on April 10th, 2008 by MadDog
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Spring is just busing out all over here in Indiana. I can see the buds on the Sugar Maple tree in front of our house growing day by day. We’re also spotting Robin Red-breasts hopping around on lawns looking for nesting material. Here’s one I stalked yesterday:

Cock Robin - First Sign of Spring in Indiana

We’ve always looked for Robins as the first sign of spring.

Another sight that that brings back memories is the huge Canada Goose. If you are a North American, you’ll be familiar with these beauties. Here’s a gander guarding his goose as she sits on her clutch of eggs: (Eunie got this very nice shot while I was in the Bureau of Motor Vehicles getting a new registration for the Harley.)

Canada Goose and Gander - Indiana

As you can see they are quite large. Guessing, I’d say an adult might weigh 10 kilos or more. They always fly in pairs or in large v-shaped formations of up to maybe fifty or so. They have a beautiful cry something like, “a-LAA, a-LAA, a-LAA,” in a nice contralto voice.

Here’s another one of the goose on her nest. Coming too close will make her start to honk and the gander will hiss and get very aggressive. Here’s the goose honking softly at me as if to say, “Hey, this is family business here. Please go away.”:

Canada Goose Sitting on Nest - Indiana

As you can see, they will nest practically anywhere. This nest was in a metre wide strip of grass between a garage and a busy parking lot. When I was a lad, we always saw them flying over in migration by the millions, but never saw one on the ground. I suppose it might have been because they were heavily hunted. Now they are so common that some people consider them vermin. I’m sure that they must now outnumber all the dogs and cats in the area. A large population no longer migrates, but stays year-round.

More about Spring in Indiana as it rolls in.

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On the Road – Honolulu – Cute to Bizarre

Posted in On Tthe Road on April 9th, 2008 by MadDog
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Buzz . . . buzzzzz . . . Some twisty little junction in what poses as my brain just can’t seem to point away from Honolulu. It reminds me of the round-about in National Lampoon’s European Vacation. “Hey kids. There’s Big Ben.” Anyway, I’ll do a couple of more days; then maybe my circuitry will sort itself out.

This strange contraption caught my eye the first day. I stalked and captured the image; then promptly forgot what it was. The interesting gizmo appears to be some kind of giant crawly thing that goes up and down the side of a building as the workers are constructing it. See: it’s almost lined up with a row of windows and there’s some sort of scaffolding under it. What do you think? Weird, eh? Do they have to recruit small people to wriggle through it? What will they think of next?

Giant Mechanical Crawley Thing

As I was musing about the patterns around me, a cute diminutive aviator descended nearby and shot me a quizzical stare. He queried, “Whazzup, mate?” I couldn’t respond, since I’m not fluent in Birdspeak. He (she?) was very patient, however, allowing me to snap several images, accepting as a model’s fee only the pledge (I could only nod in the affirmative) that I would post the best one on the internet. Since I always keep my promises to small creatures, I now introduce this polite little bird-person for his fifteen minutes of fame:

Cute Little Bird - Honolulu

This next one is very curious. On Ala Moana Boulevard, right next to a place where you can hire a Harley by the hour for a mere month’s mortgage payment (no, I didn’t), is a modest Japanese Steak House. Eunie and I have been strolling in this area since 1981 (intermittantly, of course). In front of the doorway is this extraordinary little effigy. We’ve greeted it with polite bows many times. It has never moved a muscle in response. Possibly it is distressed by its sorry fate.

A Bear or What? - Honolulu

It is wearing a sun-hat with a chinstrap. He (not much doubt there) also seems, if I might be permitted a trivial vulgarity, rather well endowed. Is it a bear? Do they have bears in Japan? What does it mean? Do bears in Japan eat only Kobe steaks? Is that why he is so chubby? He appears to be well looked after. Do they bathe him regularly? Ah, . . . so many questions. I may someday pluck up the courage to step inside to ask what I’m sure that every employee in the restaurant has been asked a thousand times. In the meantime, I’ll allow it to remain one of the amusing little mysteries of life. Someday all will be made clear. I’m a patient man.

I don’t have a lot to say about this next image. It’s just a big crane. Nothing existential here – it just caught my eye. If you know me well, you are painfully aware that I enthusiastically subscribe to what are probably the most significant words that Sigmund Freud ever uttered, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.” This big crane is (I think) just a big crane.

Big Crane - Honolulu

Whoops! I’m so sorry. Mea culpa. I was momentarily distracted by my memory of meeting a woman at a gathering last evening who graduated from the same high school as I in 1964. (How many George Washington High Schools do you suppose that there are in the USA? Millions?) I escaped that torture palace in 1962. My first words to her upon discovering this luxuriously bizarre congruency were, “Did we date?” She answered, “No, I don’t think so.” And then, of course, I had to make it worse by saying, “Oh, sorry. I thought I got around to all of you.” She demurred to reply.

Anyway, I’ll now correct my image dyslexia by adjusting the orientation of the first image I presented. It seems I got it turned about. It’s actually a giant garbage disposal. Look here . . .

Giant Garbage Disposal - Honolulu

I guess the workers simply shovel all the superfluous bits and pieces into the chutes and the whole mess tumbles down into a waiting something-or-other for disposal at some conveniently nearby endangered animal sanctuary. How clever. I wondered what all that clatter was about.

As you may have feared, I’m now on a roll. Does this mean that building a building is like sculpting a sculpture? Do you simply pile up a gargantuan heap of construction material (analogous to a huge lump of clay, I suppose) and then cast off whatever does not look like a building (or, for instance, whatever doesn’t look like David, if you’re Michelangelo)? I’ll have to sleep on that one. Aloha.

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