The Orion – Best Hotel in PNG

Posted in At Sea on April 23rd, 2010 by MadDog
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I’m still not clear about what my Facebook pal Justin Friend’s job is on Orion,  a luxury cruise ship which usually tip-toes into Madang at dawn and scurries out at dusk. His primary duty seems to be to live up to his surname. It seems that he organises a million things that would never occur to me. Anyway, yesterday he organised a visit aboard Orion  for me and my gorgeous wife, Eunie.

The joke aboard Orion  is that, when in port anywhere in PNG, it’s the best hotel in the country. Well, I’ve not been to all of the hotels in PNG, but I’m inclined to say that it’s no joke. From glitz to service, especially service, I’ve seen nothing to compare with it since I stayed in the Hanoi Horison Hotel. A place such as that would normally not be on my itinerary, but I booked a room on the Internet for US$80 per night.

Here’s a shot that I filched from Google Images of Orion  strutting her stuff:She’s a single constant-speed engined ship with a variable pitch propeller, two double-jointed rudders, and bow and stern thrusters. She can turn in her own length. She was purpose built (and, man, is she built! ) for getting into and out of small, interesting ports. She spends much of her time cruising Antarctic waters. I’ll give that a pass.

The bridge was like Disneyland to me. They have so many wonderful toys to play with:Note the golf ball knobs on the controls.

The crew is primarily Filipino and the engineers are Russian. Orion  was built in Germany. She’s simply the biggest Mercedes Benz that I’ve ever seen. This is the deck bar. I can imagine myself schmoozing here with the rich folks. I’d have to go browsing through the used clothing shops here in Madang for a new wardrobe:There is also a huge lecture hall. I’m dedicating myself to wangling a cruise on Orion  as a guest lecturer. There must be something  that I could talk about. I used to do cruise guiding and lecturing on the Melanesian Discoverer  until the tourism industry collapsed and the boat was sold.

Here is the dining room. No matter what I was wearing, I’d feel like a bum in here:Everything is so perfect, that it seems as if it’s not quite real. I kept expecting to hear a director yell, “Cut; that’s a wrap.” and see a crew of stage hands come in to tear the whole thing apart.

Well, somebody’s got to cook all of that delicious food, some of which we consumed at a sumptuous luncheon buffet:It all happens in the galley, which was very businesslike. There was no screaming chef, at least I didn’t hear him scream. He was a very dignified looking fellow, German as I remember. By the way, Orion  has two  captains who take turns commanding the ship. That seems comforting to me.

It never occurred to me that cruise ships might have elevators, but that just goes to show what a bumpkin I am:

Orion’s  elevator runs up the middle of a huge circular well in the centre of the ship which also features a stunning spiral staircase. The entire top of the well is glass, so the natural daylight, and moonlight I guess, illuminates the three deck high area. Everything is incredibly shiny and colourful. Yet nothing comes off as gaudy.

This is the kind of atmosphere you can expect everywhere aboard Orion:The Walter Mitty in me imagines me in a black tux with a burgundy cummerbund and bow tie to match, a Walther P-38 bulging in my armpit, and a mysterious and beautiful spy whispering secrets in my ear beside this staircase on Orion.

The watchword on Orion  is service. The boat usually sails with a passenger to crew ration of about one to one, which seemed incredible to me. Justin was particularly proud of this notice board. Note the grid of little squares:There is a picture of every passenger there. Crew are required to know the names of the passengers at any table which they serve. Justin mentioned that one of the most common questions of the passengers is, “How do they all know my name?”

That’s class, baby! If this ship were really a woman I would fall deeply in love with her in an instant.

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I Can See Clearly Now – The Fred Hollows Foundation PNG

Posted in Mixed Nuts on April 22nd, 2010 by MadDog
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Ever since I first came to PNG in 1981, I’ve heard of this guy Fred Hollows. When people speak of him their demeanour changes. His very name commands respect. Few pop stars or politicians affect people that way. Nobody’s calling him a Saint yet, but there’s a certain awe that accompanies personalities that have clearly put the needs of their fellow humans at the top of the list of their concerns.

Since this is an upbeat post, let’s start if off with a rather dramatic sunrise panorama:Big storm over the Finisterre Mountains. Mighty fine sight.

Speaking of sight, I guess Fred was a fellow who simply couldn’t stomach the thought that indigenous people and poor folks who had no access to fancy medical care should be kept in the dark. He also seemed incensed at the disparity between the rich and the poor, a subject which is dear to my heart. He devoted much of his too-short life to bringing first-class eye care and surgery to places which had virtually no other services. One estimate is that a million people can now see as a result of his personal work, the training of surgeons and the work of his foundation.

I was amazed when I visited the The Fred Hollows Foundation PNG’s clinic here in Madang. I found out about it from Jade, a friend who regularly dives with us. She and her workmate Kate, also a diver, invited me to have a look. What I found gave me a severe case of the warm and fuzzies.

They have a stunning array of diagnostic equipment. Here you can see Melissa and a student examining the eyes of a patient:Considering this is all going on at the Modilon General Hospital, a place which I usually avoid like the plague, I was all the more impressed.

Here we see Dr. Rob and Adolf checking the eyes of another patient:I was most impressed to see that every piece of equipment was in use; everything worked!

This is Clancy and Gertruth. It takes a lot of skilled people to handle the large number of patients. This is a very impressive operation:Wherever there were no masks, there were smiles. It’s nice to be around people who enjoy their work.

Here we see Kauni working with a student. There were many students, nearly as many as staff, as near as I could tell. I count this as a very good sign:From what I have read of the foundation, training of new workers has always been a given a high priority. In the military, this is a kind of “force multiplier”. It works just as well for humanitarian purposes.

There are people who care about our needs here in PNG. This huge new instrument has recently been donated. I can only guess at its purpose, but it certainly looks impressive and expensive. Notice the large monitor on the column. This allows trainees to observe without getting in the surgeon’s way. I’d bet that an operation can probably be recorded also, so that other students can observe it even if they were not present:The huge expense for this machine was shared among approximately ten large commercial donors. That also impressed me.

And this is what it all comes down to. Here Dr. Matt performs surgery on a patient. It’s amazing to me to think that, as I watched, someone’s eyesight was being restored:There’s just not much more to be said about this.

I had my eyes opened today.

I feel like Paul.

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Waterspout!

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on April 21st, 2010 by MadDog
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I had intended today to write a post called “Green’s the Thing”, but then Trevor Hattersley came into the office with an image on a flash drive which upset me very much. Last Sunday, work seemed more critical than fun. I turned down an invitation to come up to the beach at Blueblood for the second week in a row. As if that’s not bad enough, I missed seeing something that I’ve wanted to see all of my life – a waterspout!

Here’s Trevor’s nice shot of the waterspout:You can clearly see that it appears to be a hollow tube. He said that the base was visibly sucking water up from the sea. He tried to get a telephoto shot, but a temporary brain malfunction prevented him from remembering what I’ve told him a thousand times about focusing his camera. Thanks, Trevor for the shot. I sneer at you for not telling me that a waterspout was on the entertainment schedule.

So, to the green. Green just happens to be my favourite colour. Green stuff is easy to find on the reef, especially if you pay attention to corals. Here is a close-up shot of a Brain Coral (Platygyra lamellina):The tracks of skeletal material are not always squiggly; sometimes they are straight:The area which you see in the image above is about 10cm wide.

Acropora  corals can also be green. This one is about the size of a large coffee table:In this shot, you can see hints of the spiral shapes that dominates the large scale growth pattern of many corals.

We’ll take a brief break from coral to adore this cute little Linckia multifora  starfish:Three of its arms have been bitten off, but are growing back nicely.

Prepare to use your imagination. Look at the right side of this Acropora  coral:Does it look a little like Australia to you?

Well, it’s almost 07:00 and I have to quit now. When I got back from diving on Saturday the motor on Faded Glory  would not go up, only down. Down doesn’t help. Up is what I needed. So, this morning, I have to take the boat over to the marina to get it fixed. I’m often reminded that a boat is simply a hole in the water into which you pour money.

I’ll leave you with a nice shot of our lovely orange lilies:Now I have to haul the fuel tank and the battery out to Faded Glory.

If I leave them on the boat they will be stolen within a week. Security guards seem to believe that their primary duty is to get a good night’s sleep. Useless! Why do we bother?

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The Sunrise Canoe

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on April 20th, 2010 by MadDog
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The weather in the mornings is very mixed up now. Most mornings are still grey and lifeless. The change of seasons from wet to dry is going to be very welcome. This morning a big storm over the Huon Peninsula was battling the rising sun for control of the sky. It was fun to watch the fracas from a distance:On calm mornings the water of the harbour makes a beautiful reflecting pond.

I heard a little commotion to my left. Usually all that I hear in the morning is the sound of fish jumping. My neighbours were getting into their canoe to paddle over to town:I asked them if they would make a little detour so that I could get a shot of them back lit by the rising sun.

At the risk of boring you, I’ll insert a little photographic note here. If you look at the two images you can see that the colours have been massaged differently. One of the pleasures of modern-day digital photography is that, if you don’t like what your camera (or nature, for that matter) gave you, you can easily change it. If you don’t like red roses, make them yellow or even blue. For the first shot, I liked the overall warmth of the tones more or less as they came from the camera, with only a huge gob of saturation to punch them up. However, when I got to the canoe shot, it just didn’t sing to me. The artificial addition of the blue to the water gave me just what I was after – creating a vignette around the canoe.

Okay, now let’s get wet. I have a mix of the unusual and the common today.

Though this is a common enough critter, many people have never seen one. That is unless you are a regular visitor here, in which case you may be yawning now. It is a kind of Sea Squirt (Polycarpa aurata):

Aside from the ridiculous colours and peculiar shape, it does indeed squirt. If you get too close to it, it puffs water out and closes its two openings. Here you can see them all puckered up, locking out anything that might come inside for a nibble of its innards.

I’ve also shown Solitary Corals (Fungia fungites)  here many times. This one had a particularly outrageous purple edge:I devoted a few precious minutes to Googling, but I can’t find the cause of the purple discolouration. It is not species related, since it occurs randomly in individuals. Of two lying side-by-side, one may have purple and the other white or brown edges.

You’ve also seen the famous Sailor’s Eyeball (Valonia ventricosa)  here before:It is basically a huge single-cell green algae. It is sometimes refered to as a seaweed. When I Googled the taxonomic name I was amazed at the amount of scientific interest in this golf-ball sized cell. Here’s an example:

The degradation of microfibrils from Valonia ventricosa  by cellulase has been studied. As a result of enzymatic attack the elementary fibrils making up the microfibrils tended to separate and the ends of the microfibrils became oblique or pointed. The terminal planes made angles of 60 … 66°, 33°, or 20 … 25° with the microfibril axis. These planes are assumed to correspond to the 41 , 43 and 45 planes of the cellulose lattice and it is suggested that they are planes along which it is progressively more difficult for hydrolysis to proceed. On the basis of these considerations a suggestion has been proposed to explain the form of erosion cavities formed by soft-rot fungi described by previous workers in wood fibres and tracheids.

Please, if you understand that, would you explain it to me? I get the gist of it, but details make my head go funny.

Moving on to something more connectable to our familiar world we have three Clark’s Anemonefish (Amphiprion clarkii)  playing tag:This is one of the rare shots in which I was able to capture the amazing blue glow that is often seen in the white bars. It is a very weird thing to observe. I think that it is not true pigmentation, but rather some strange sort of refraction, similar to the colours of some butterfly wings and bird feathers.

On the other hand, they are simply very , very pretty.

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The Perils of Karaoke

Posted in Humor on April 19th, 2010 by MadDog
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There are times when I’m a little tired of the smell of fish. I never have anything important to say, so nobody accumulates any critical information by stopping here for a couple of minutes. And, some days I feel distinctly more silly than others.

This is one of those days. I shocked you yesterday with a “Thousand Year-Old Man” shot of me murdering Billy Joel’s wonderful New York State of Mind.  I also managed to butcher Georgia on My Mind, Yesterday  and a couple of others before nobody would hand me the microphone.

The fortuitous party, just in the nick of time, was to celebrate the happy birth of Brioni, the lovely young lady on the right. The soulful beauty on the left is Marleen. I don’t remember what they were singing, but they seem to have markedly different attitudes toward the lyrics:The theme of the dress-up party was The Letter B.  This type of party is very popular in Madang, as the used clothing stores are packed with exotic wear that can be had for a few cents.

Here Marleen and Erin belt out another number:The older I get the more I enjoy seeing young people have a good time. It’s not that I’m immune to the pleasures of partying nor unable to participate to the max. I demonstrated my “Old School” dance style a couple of times, to the amusement of all.

As for the Karaoke, my intention was firmly set on being a pure spectator. It’s easy for me sit back and let the party come to me. It seems that being a crazy old dude generates some kind of weird magnetism. It’s quite gratifying. I sometimes feel as if I’m a highly treasured museum specimen. I remember seeing statues which had diverse bits that were especially shiny. Apparently, good fortune follows those who rub those bits, a dog’s nose, a sword hilt, the hoof of a steed. If I wish to stay relatively immobile, people will come around once in a while for a witticism or a wink:Above you see Jo comforting The Old Hippy. The young folk of Madang are particularly kind. I think it is because one must be adventuresome and open to life to even get here.

Here’s Jo and Christian delivering an exuberant performance:Christian is obviously very serious about his music.

Well, I’ve had my fun for today. I’ve sent up a few of my friends and remembered yet another of thousands of wonderful times here in Paradise. How blessed I am to live such a rich, rewarding and genuinely enjoyable life. I even found time this morning to engage in one of my favourite pastimes: Pretending To Be an Artist:That one is The Hippy Commemorative Daisy.  I don’t think that there are any true Hippies left in the world. What I see of so-called Hippy communities these days is a pale, distorted shadow and insulting to the Hippy manifesto. The word is defined in Princeton’s WordnetWeb as:  someone who rejects the established culture; advocates extreme liberalism in politics and lifestyle.  How many of those  do you  know?

Peace, man.

The Skunk and the Crystal Goblet

Posted in Under the Sea on April 18th, 2010 by MadDog
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Yesterday was a dirty water day. I had a boat load of people; I think there were ten. With seven divers in the water, I had to actually do my Divemaster thing, keeping an eye on everyone. This was not easy, as there was only about ten metres of visibility. We went to the south end of Leper Island  first. It was uninspiring. After our surface interval to dump the excess nitrogen, we did another dive at The Eel Garden  near Pig Island.  There was no point going any farther, since everything near Madang seemed to be equally nasty.

At The Eel Garden,  directly under Faded Glory,  we found the resident Skunk Anemonefish (Amphiprion akallopisos)  lurking in a similarly rare and beautiful Merten’s Anemone (Stichodactyla mertensii).  Anemones can stay a long time on one place. Most of them, in their final stage, become sessile. This simply means that they don’t move around:This anemone has been in the same spot for several years. I think that its wandering days are over.

I love patterns, as regular readers will know. I use many of them as desktop backgrounds. This shot of coral polyps really pleases me:There is a delicious combination of randomness and order here. The arrangement of the polyp tentacles suggests dynamic action. This is an entirely correct visualisation. The coral was only about five metres down and there was a constant surge. This was keeping the tentacles in constant motion.

I have no idea of the species of this coral. I was struck by the outrageous colour:I note that very few underwater photographers treat coral seriously. Truthfully, I find coral as interesting and as rich with photographic opportunities as fish. However, most people want to see fish. I try to give a bit of both.

Here’s an elegant example of coral beauty, a young fire coral:There will be no doubt concerning the common name of fire coral commencing with the first contact between it and your skin. It burns like billy blue blazes. Immediate treatment with vinegar, making one smell like a salad and suddenly reminding everyone on the boat that they are famished, is the best immediate treatment. This needs to be followed up by 1% hydrocortisone ointment, which we always have on the boat. It causes no permanent damage except possibly to the dignity of a grown man with tears running down his cheeks after scraping his inner arm across a patch of fire coral.

Here are a couple of Nemofish, as the Japanese now call them. It is probably the only species on the planet that has ben permanently renamed by Hollywood. It is, of course, the common Clown Anemonefish (Amphiprion percula):If you watch them for a while, it’s easy to understand why they are called clowns. They bob about in the anemone as if they were bright orange and white striped toy balloons in a tornado.

As for the Crystal Goblet, you will need to exercise your imagination a little. If you can’t do that, then I will bet that you are not a regular visitor here. This is some kind of Sea Squirt, a fairly rare one in these waters:I say that it is rare not because I’ve researched it, but because, in over 2,000 dives here, this is the first one that I have seen. It is large for a Sea Squirt. The larger individual on the right, which I presume is a more fully developed version of the one on the left, is about 4cm in diameter. It is extremely transparent, as you can see.

We had a very good time at Jed’s house last night. The theme of the party was The Letter B.  It reminded me a little of Sesame Street:

It was a no-brainer for me to come as a Beach Bum. I didn’t even need to dress up. My normal casual attire needed only minor accessorisation. Karaoke was an integral part of the entertainment.

In the image above I’m performing my own crusty rendition of Billy Joel’s New York State of Mind.  It was intensely forgetable.

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Saturday at Last!

Posted in At Sea, Mixed Nuts on April 17th, 2010 by MadDog
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What a week! It was a long slog through the muddy wasteland of servers oozing error messages and tangles of wires tugging at my feet like “wait a minute” vines. We did, however triumph. I can’t think of a single thing in the IT Dungeon that is not humming along in harmony with the organisation and my happy boss. We’ve even got a new web site up for my employer, Pioneer Bible Translators – Papua New Guinea Branch. I would never have gotten it done if not for the help (okay, he did it – I just made a few adjustments) of our former Director, Kyle Harris. He volunteered to do the job and I owe him big. Thanks, Kyle. It’s nowhere near finished, but I’ll be adding more content soon and the blog section will be updated at least weekly.

I’ll start this off quickly, because it’s 08:30 and I have to picky my divers up at 10:00, with this morning’s sunrise:Amusing, but hardly spectacular.

The panoramic view is similarly uninspiring:

Who am I to complain? I’m lucky to still be seeing sunrises here in Paradise. I’ve been nearly fired so many times that I’ve lost count, mostly for being a jerk. It’s happening less and less these days, so they are either getting used to me or I’m improving. I tend to accept the former explanation.

Might as well throw in yesterday’s sunrise:I’m ready for the rainy season to be over. During the dry there’s a good sky almost every morning. I can get back to rising at 05:30, grabbing camera and tripod and sitting down for a half hour of introspection while the big dude upstairs puts on a spectacular show just for me. Sometimes I pretend that I’m the only person on earth seeing it. Maybe I’m right . . . sometimes. Anyway, I certainly enjoy sharing them with you.

And, often when I return to the house, this is what I see:A hungry Sheba, our mutt, with that expression that says, “Okay already. You’re going to feed me now. Right?” The tail tattoos on the floor for emphasis.

My goal is to crank out six works of fake art each week to develop my so-called skills. This week I managed only one. It is an outrageously coloured faux watercolour rendition of the Yellowmargin Triggerfish which we teased a few days ago:Pseudobalistes flavimarginatus  if you care.

Okay, I have to rush now, since there’s always the chance that there will be a problem with Faced Glory,  since she’s probably nearly as old as me . . . in boat years. In an hour and a half I’ll be looking at something very similar to this:Not a bad life for an old man, eh?

Oh, and there’s a big costume party tonight with the theme being the letter “B”.

I’m going as a beach bum. I don’t even have to dress up.

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