What Can Make Me Happy?

Posted in Mixed Nuts on October 17th, 2010 by MadDog
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At the end of my last post, I talked about my current inability to derive joy from activities which have previously provided me with the emotional, intellectual and spiritual satisfaction which we all crave. This disablement has resulted in a strangely lifeless life. I’m sure that for many readers this will be preaching to the choir. As I’ve said before, this is my first experience with dire personal tragedy. I’m a late comer just catching up with most people my age.

My friend suggested that, as I engage in these experiences, say a Saturday out with friends on the boat SCUBA diving, that I pretend  to enjoy it. I took this to mean that I should try very hard to not let my mind wander to subjects best left alone for the moment and that I engage with others as if nothing had happened and laugh when it seems appropriate and so on. You can make up your own list of fakery. The theory is, I suppose, that if one does this consistently it will become real. This makes some kind of wacky sense to me.

A day or so later I got a Facebook message from Ush Antia who has departed Madang, but is fondly remembered by her friends. Having read my remark about pretending, she sent to me a very interesting link. A guy named Dan Gilbert presented a twenty-one minute lecture titled Why Are We Happy? I’m not going to go into detail about the content, because you can watch it for yourself. I’ll just say that our prefrontal cortex gives us some remarkable abilities that we may not ordinarily recognise. Here’s a little blurb about the lecture:

Dan Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness,  challenges the idea that we’ll be miserable if we don’t get what we want. Our “psychological immune system” lets us feel truly happy even when things don’t go as planned.

Really, if you are less than ebullient concerning life in general, you might want to view it.

In order to investigate and reorient myself to what my current standards of happiness are, I decided to conduct a little experiment. All of the images which have speared in Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  are in one folder on my computer. I set out to scan through these several thousand images as quickly as possible, getting as far as I could in five minutes and pick out eight pictures which instantaneously, as in a word association test, elicited the response, “happy”. This is not as easy as it sounds.

Some of the images seem logical responses while others are puzzling. I’ll comment briefly on each one, if I can think of anything to say.

This one is so obvious that it requires no analysis. It is a composition of many tiny images from MPBM in a mosaic which simulates a picture of Eunie and I at our anniversary party.

Who would not respond with “happy” to this?

This one is not so straightforward. It’s important to remember that analysing these lightning responses one-by-one is a bit like Monday morning quarterbacking.

I think that I responded with “happy” here because, though the surface message of the image is decidedly not happy, the experience of expressing these feelings in an artistic manner was  happy. I derived considerable pleasure from the process of capturing a precise mood in an image.

This one of Carol Dover goofing off during a dive is another obvious choice. Friends always make me happy. That’s because I have no troublesome ones. That has not always been true in the past.

While it is sad that Carol is no longer here in Madang, true friendships never leave the heart.

This shot of a Bulb Anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor)  got the “happy” tag because it is one of my favourite underwater images and always makes me think about the great mysteries of the sea.

It is one of the few underwater images in which I have deliberately fiddled with the colours. This is not the natural colouration of this anemone. However, I wanted to accentuate the surreal beauty and alien quality of the creature. So I did. That’s the beauty of digital photography. You can do anything you like.

This one is not to difficult to figure out either. It immediately brought to mind all of the wonderful times I spent with Eunie in far away places. I don’t remember anything about this lovely statue which we found in Berlin of a young woman releasing a bird. I do remember that we both were captured by its beauty and significance. It belonged in that place.

Eunie and I were very fortunate to have been able to travel considerably during the last thirty years. The necessity of moving back and forth between Papua New Guinea and North America gave us the advantage of seeing many places without spending much extra money.

As I looked back over my choices and pondered my response to each, this one gave me slight pause. It is of a lady selling her produce at the Madang town market.

I did enjoy working with the image. It required quite a bit of effort to get it just the way I wanted it. However, I don’t think that is why it struck the ‘happy” chord. Maybe it represents home to me. That’s a bit of a stretch, but it is close enough.

This baby balancing shot taken up at Blueblood is a no-brainer. Kids, friends, tropical warmth and water, a party . . . who would not think “happy”?

I’m beginning to see a pattern here.

The last shot also is obvious – family. I got this image of Tamara, Pippa and Audrey on the train returning from the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto. It is one of my favourite images of Hans’ little family.

Though there is the sadness of so seldom seeing them, happiness is the feeling I enjoy whenever I think of them.

What can I take away from this little exercise? I’m not sure that I know. All that I can do is make an observation.

Of all of the ideas, things and people in the images above, only one is physically missing. While it is a very crucial point that my wife is no longer on the scene, everything else remains, at least for the time being.

So, the question is, can I take what remains, do a lot of pretending and take the lessons of Dan Gilbert’s lecture to heart, trusting my brain to rewire itself in its own self interest as a function of its natural immunity against adversity and despair? Will my prefrontal cortex kick in and create a new standard of happiness?

I trust that it will. And when it does, it will feel real to me. Right now, I don’t see how it can happen. That it will  happen requires trust in something much bigger than my brain. God will have to handle that one.

I trust that God will do that for me.

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Nadi – Hotel City

Posted in On Tthe Road on June 26th, 2010 by MadDog
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Nadi (pronounced [ˈnandʒi]) is the third-largest conurbation in Fiji. It is located on the western side of the main island of Viti Levu, and had a population of 42,284 at the most recent census, in 2007. Nadi is multiracial with many of its inhabitants Indian or Fijian, along with a large transient population of foreign tourists. Along with sugar cane production, tourism is a mainstay of the local economy.

Well, that is obviously ripped right out of Wikipedia, but that’s okay, because I’m on holiday and I’m lazy.

In previous posts I have been spelling the name of the city as Nandi, because that it how it is invariably pronounced. I have asked several local people to pronounce the name of the city (getting some strange looks by doing so) and they all pronounce it as Nandi. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me. It is, however, named on maps as Nadi. So much for my knowledge of geography.

Let’s go for a bus ride to the market:

The buses run every few minutes and cost only one Fiji dollar. They do rattle vigorously, but seem safe enough.

This is a shot of the market we visited, called Namaket:

It was very clean and well organised. Everybody was very polite and there were no hard-sell tactics. People were happy to explain items that you might not recognise.

You would probably not find a market in Fiji where kava could not be purchased:

The kava drink, which is an icon of Fijian culture, is mildly intoxicating and tastes to me much the same as muddy water. I’ll have more on kava later.

Taro is a staple in the local diet. I have seldom seen any this large:

This young fellow was proud of his taro and wanted to be in the shot.

Another staple is cassava, of which there were tonnes in long lines stacked for easy purchase:

Unlike some places where I have been, nobody was fussed about someone walking around taking pictures. Nobody asked for money. That’s good, since I never pay to take a picture. If someone asks for money, I just thank them and say no. I don’t back off and try to sneak a long shot.

If you are looking for bright colours to feed your camera, you can’t beat a market. Namaket was no exception:

Tonight we are going to a touristy function at another hotel featuring a kava ceremony and some other cultural performances. I’ve had kava before in a private home with a Fijian friend. It didn’t do much for me. Anyway, I’ll report the tourist version later.

I can’t finish without a giggle:

Your answer to this question will depend on your culture and your language. Would you like a nice cup of Coffee Barfi?

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A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Market

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Under the Sea on April 15th, 2010 by MadDog
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In reality, nothing at all funny happened on the way to the market this morning. I was just stuck for a title. In fact, my blood was set on a slow boil. I hate it that there’s only one reasonable path by which I can reach the market. I could go out of my way to get there, but I just don’t have the time nor am I inclined to do so.

Therefore, every time I go to the market, I have to pass monsters such as this slug who calls himself  a human:If you click to enlarge and you can read Tok Pisin,  you will see that he claims that his “medicine” can cure, among a host of other diseases, HIV/AIDS and TB. He is selling tickets to the graveyard and suckers so uneducated and steeped in the nonsense that if it’s “traditional” then it must be good are buying those tickets and climbing aboard the Death PMV.

I’m not even going to bother to go into all the reasons why this is so wrong. You either know it or you don’t.

Here’s another guy who will kill you for a few bucks:I shouldn’t even bother blurring their faces, because they should be publicly shamed. However, a new windscreen for my car is more than I can afford to risk to expose their identities. Anybody can find out easily who they are. Just go to the market.

I know that it’s useless for me to nag about this. Nobody but me seems to care. Nobody cares that these people kill more humans in PNG than all of the criminals and silly tribal warfare put together. And, they do it for money.

Okay, that’s enough rage for the moment. Let’s move on to something happier. I shot this panorama and Zoomified it for you so that you can see the details: As you can see, if you’re familiar with the market, there are several new morota  roofed buildings to make shady places for the vendors. This is one of the few genuine improvements which I have seen in Madang for some time. Everything else is falling apart. In another decade the whole town will go back to bush if we don’t get competent governance.

Before we leave the market I’ll show you The Soap Lady:

She makes her soap at home. It must be pretty good soap, because she always seems to have a brisk business. I very much admire this kind of spirit. Many people could do much better than they are if they would only search out ideas which can provide a modest, but steady income and forget about the “get rich” schemes that never work. I hope she gets rich selling soap, but I don’t think that that is in the cards. If she puts food on the table for her family by the work of her own hands she will be doing better than most.

I can’t leave today without showing you The Deadly Wires:This is about a third of all of them that I had to sort out the other day. The red bottle is metal polish for my Harley, which I never seem to have time to ride. I want to sell it, but Eunie won’t let me.

Oh, one more thing. Talking about the market got me hungry. I want to show you what I call The Blue Cheese Sea Squirt (Eudistoma gilboviride):Doesn’t that look tasty?

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Guest Shooter – Jo Noble – Handy With a Camera

Posted in Guest Shots on March 12th, 2010 by MadDog
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Being a born narcissist and a photographer, I should have a few more images of myself, eh? I just never got into it. It seems creepy to me. Beside that, when I do try it, I usually hate the result. Maybe I should practice a little. The swing-around screen on my new Canon G11 should come in handy.

Having Jo Noble along on my last trip out to the Balek Wildlife Reserve was a treat in more ways than one. Some motorcycle passengers can drive a rider crazy – always moving around, fighting the balance, leaning the wrong way. Jo is as steady as a rock, even when she’s waving her camera around taking very cute shots like this one:There are several shots in this post that remind me of  The Lowman Loop – Boise, Idaho – A Motorcycle Ride to Heaven.

Jo also goes out with us on Saturdays on Faded Glory.  She got this shot of me which I like very much:I call it The Thousand-Year-Old Man.  You could use this as an illustration in a book about Neanderthals.

Jo swings her camera around with her eyes. I like that in a photographer. It’s all about recording your vision of the world. Here’s a beautiful snap of Four-Mile Market:Nice composition.

She also has the capacity to aggravate me. I chased this dragonfly around until I was panting. She walked up to it and clicked:Okay, we’ve established that she can do macros and she’s not nearly as scary as I am.

When she turned her sword on me, I wasn’t convinced that the shot would be much good because of the backlighting. I almost chastised her for a technical boo-boo:

I’m glad that I didn’t. I would have embarrassed myself. It turned out to be a shot with a lot of visual appeal. Technical rules do not necessarily a good photo make. (That’s Yoda-speak. Speaking like Yoda, practicing, I am.)

Jo also digs “the moment”. This is what is missing in a lot of snapshots. Here the picture tells the story:When we saw that mud, we both decided that mud-wrestling was not on for today. She got the perfect moment in the turn-around, including my left foot off the ground as I wrestled the hog in a tight arc, nearly falling over.

Being a convenient moment, I sneaked off to the grass to . . . uh . . . you know. Jo caught me coming back looking all goofy and,  if I might say, macho and  she caught herself in the mirror and  the mud hole that had changed our plans:Bit of genius there, I’d say. I would never have thought of setting up such a complicated shot. She had it all lined up and was standing there waiting for me to step onto my mark.

What would a motorcycle ride be without a shot of yourself in the reflection off of your friend’s helmet:It would demonstrate a lack of imagination, I’d say. Jo didn’t fail the test.

Next time you take a friend for a ride on your Harley, choose one with a camera and smart eyes.

Thanks, Jo Noble, for a super Guest Shoot.

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Suspicious Ancient Photos and Other Esoterica

Posted in Mixed Nuts, Photography Tricks on January 11th, 2010 by MadDog
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It’s another one of those days when my Superpower of Story-Telling is failing me. Yes, I am a Superhero. I try to keep it a secret, because my Superpower is so useless to humanity that I’m ashamed to reveal it, let alone my true identity. I guess I’ve “outed” myself now. Oh well, It’s no big deal anyway. My Superpower only works on one or two people at a time. It’s not very spectacular. The general effect is to put people to sleep within a minute or so. Therefore it is of no use in emergencies. People generally awaken as soon as I relent and complain of mild headaches. They usually remember, at that point, that they are late for an important meeting and depart post-haste. It’s a peculiar Superpower, I admit. Now the world knows. I am Astonishingly Boring Storyman.

So, today I’ll keep it short, since I’m sure that many of you don’t have time for a brief nap followed by a puzzling period of disorientation.

I walked over to the market this morning to see if I could find some nice red bananas. I love ’em. It looked as if the place was abandoned. I found some red bananas, but I’d neglected to bring any money. So, I took this panorama shot instead:

It did nothing to subdue my craving for red bananas.

Something in my brain went “pop” and I smelled an odd smell and suddenly I was entranced with the concept of turning perfectly good images into “old photos”. I started with this shot of Miss Rankin  when Tony and Lorraine had just purchased her:

They were toying with the idea of renaming the ship Moonlighting,  but decided against that, as it is widely thought to be bad luck to rename a ship. It would be pretty tempting if you had purchased a ship named The Crapper.  Anyway, I’d call my “old photo” job a failure. All I did was turn it into monochrome, apply a sepia tone filter and add some random noise.

I did discover that it’s much better if you start with a bad photo. This was an image of Kar Kar Island  taken from the little bridge across from Memorial Lutheran Church. That’s Sir Peter Barter’s boat Kalibobo Spirit  on the right:

It was a very grey day, so the image wasn’t interesting even after I toiled over it for ten minutes. My efforts to give it the “old photo” look were somewhat more successful. You can get filters for Photoshop that make it more effective. They add coffee stains, scratches and fold marks and even splotches where tape has been removed.

As I walked to the hotel a few days ago I noted this exceptionally hairy tree. Many trees here have aerial roots. This one is taking the practice to ridiculous lengths (here I go with the puns again – hey, it’s part of my Superpower – I have no control over it):

Two things intrigued me about this hairy tree. (I’m easily intrigued.) First, there is the colour of the aerial roots. I can’t remember seeing red ones before. The other thing is that someone, probably with a lot of time on his hands, has lifted a mass of them up and tied them into a knot, something that would not enter even my  mind. Whoever did this, my hat’s off to you. It’s wonderfully whimsical.

A few years ago we had a young lady named Twila Schofield working at our office for a little while. She is a very talented artist and specialises in most amusing caricatures. She did this one of me and my darlin’ Eunie:

I’ve had it hanging on the wall of my office for years.

To finish up this witless conglomeration of time-wasting tomfoolery I present to you The Rocket Cloud:

No, in case you’re misled, it has absolutely nothing to do with a rocket. I have observed many, many fine clouds. Nevertheless, I have never seen a towering cumulus cloud rise so quickly. There was no need for imagination to see it blasting up into the sky like the might fist of the God of Clouds punching its way up into heaven. Even from the moving boat, we could see it rising. It was magnificent.

In a modest sort of way.

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Monday Is Nearly Tuesday

Posted in Mixed Nuts on September 14th, 2009 by MadDog
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Well, it’s not difficult to see that I’m having trouble thinking this morning. I won’t get into the business about it not being Monday here – it’s Tuesday. I’m still catching up. However, on the way to work this morning (actually tomorrow morning, but . . .) I caught the sun sneaking up over the machinegun at Machinegun Point:

Machinegun Point at SunriseHere’s another interpretation of the same scene:

Machinegun Point at Sunrise - It's not really a machinegun

You know, I don’t really think that it’s a machinegun. I’ve had a fair amount of experience with military toys, so I’m not fooled by the colloquialism. It looks to me more like a small bore artillery piece such as are used for light shore defence. Anyway, it doesn’t make a bit of difference. It is a well-known landmark in Madang. You can see other images of Machinegun Point here, here and here.

NEWS FLASH! I just felt the whole building trembling and, having been here a long time, thought to myself, “Hmmm . . . earthquake.” That’s about as excited as we get when the ground turns to jelly. However, I was mistaken. Hearing the sounds of heavy machinery undoubtedly being operated by burly men chewing buai  (betelnut), I decided to go outside to make sure that nobody crashes into our building.

To my amazement, I saw that they are working on Lake Madang:

Road work proceeding on Lake MadangYou can review the history of Lake Madang here, here and here. Of course, this work is not going to matter a bit if they don’t seal the surface and fix the drain to the sea. Whatever the outcome, I’m sure that it will be amusing.

While I’m in the random mode, I’ll throw in a shot of the morning market at Ukarumpa. We bought bags and bags of veggies and got about five kilos of highlands strawberries for K32. The strawberries from the highlands are incredibly sweet and flavourful. I’ve never tasted better anywhere in the world. If you are used to eating strawberries from a supermarket, it is shocking to bite into one of these little red devils:

The morning market at Ukarumpa

The only things from the highlands that are less than perfect are the pineapples and the bananas. They both seem weak and tasteless compared to our coastal varieties. I had the camera tilted in the image above. That’s why it looks the way it does. Hey, it was early and cold.

I got a hundred or so images of flowers and bugs while walking around in the cold, so I’ll start to feed them to you a few at a time. (I can sense the anticipation.)

Here is a little white flower about the size of a small button. It’s easy to overlook the small things, but I walk slowly in the high altitude, so my eyes have plenty of time to find the tiny treasures:

Small white flower

It’s not quite as pretty when it turns to seed:

Small white flower seedsIt just struck me that people are the same. When they go to seed, they may not be as pretty, but they are usually more interesting.

I only say that because I’m getting old. (Still searching for a heart of gold . . .)

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Healers or Killers – You Decide

Posted in Opinions on July 10th, 2009 by MadDog
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Every time I go to the market in Madang I’m incensed by the peddlers of quack “medicines” that lurk in wait for ignorant people to buy their poison. Yeah, sure, I know most of what they sell isn’t really poison, but if it kills people, what’s the difference?

Click on the image to see the list of miracle cures this man’s product will deliver:

Killer or healer?The ones that inflame me most are TB, Malaria, and “sexual transmited disease” [sic], which, presumably includes HIV/AIDS. Now, if you think that this guy can cure these things with his potions, then move along, there’s nothing to see here.

However, if you, like me believe that he has probably killed people (for profit; unwittingly or not) by keeping them from proper medical care (as if such a thing exists in Madang), then shouldn’t we be calling the cops? I’ve harassed these quacks many times, until I’m a little worried about retribution. Today, however, I caught a guy selling what were obviously prescription drugs from unmarked plastic bags. He did not know what they were. “Good medicine” was all I could get out of him. He would not say where he got them, but I’d bet he has a buddy at the Madang General Hospital. I told him that he had better move on, because I was coming back to take his picture and give it to the cops.

I wish I had someone to stand with me against these people, because some of them just might be dangerous. Nevertheless, I’m fairly dangerous myself, so if I don’t get any help, you’re still going to be seeing more pictures of them.

Okay, enough of that. How about some aubergine?  The lowly eggplant is indigestible for me. That’s not entirely true. I’m not sure that any has actually hit my stomach yet, since I can’t choke it down. Nevertheless, these non-tasty purple billy clubs caught my eye this morning:

Aubergine at the market

Or maybe a bit more colour is in order. I like this shot of the bright yarn with the seller’s shadow falling across it:

Market yarn

By the way, I bought some  corn.

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