Australian regulations

Dutch news correspondent Robert Portier (@RobertPortier) tweeted this news article this morning: http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/health-fitness/strict-new-hygiene-rules-for-childcare-will-wrap-kids-in-a-bubble-says-ama/story-fneuz9ev-1226571089528.

This story reminded me of a situation that confronted us with the absurdity of the Australian fear of being sued for causing harm to somebody else.

It was in the Collingwood children’s farm in Melbourne. Matthijs had hurt his knee, and needed a band aid. Luckily in the washroom where we cleaned his knee, also was a staff member, who was just tucking away a few things into the First Aid kit.

We asked if she had a band aid. She had. But, as she pointed out to us, she was not allowed to put it on Matt’s knee – that was only permitted to the caretaker of the child. So Then she pointed out that it might be a good idea to put some disinfectant on his knee. We replied that we didn’t have any on us, and asked if we could use some from the First Aid kit.

To our utter surprise, she answered that it’s not allowed to have disinfectant in First Aid kits that serve a public place for children. ‘Because one in so many million Australians is allergic to desinfectant, we had to take it out of the standard equipment of all First Aid kits. It’s a liability question.’, sge explained to our raised eyebrows.

What followed was a rant against these kinds of regulations that, according to her, are perpetually expanded in Australia – and getting more absurd by every addition.

After reading the article on the kids not being allowed to infect all their friends with the worst possible diseases every time they blow our a birthday cake candle (cause of course that HAS to happen) I actually understand what she is talking about…

Location:Home, Rijswijk, The Netherlands

Indispensibles

Many people have asked us before, during and after our trip how we travelled with enough stuff to provide for four people for three months.

Thumbing through the the 4000+ photos we made during our trip, we discovered that unfortunately there’s no picture of what the pile of luggage we hauled from airplanes onto trains, buses, boats, into dozens of hotels, taxis and even tuktuks looked like.

To tell you the truth, that depended on the matter of transport. Altogether, we had one very large suitcase/trolley, one 100 liter backpack, one backcarrier with a 40 liter pack attached to it, one stroller, a small trolley for Matthijs’ toys and books and a very small pack for Kims toys, a shoulderbag or daypack for the stroller and a shoulderbag for each of the two adults.

On airplanes with a limit on the number of pieces and the weight of check-in luggage we narrowed the check-in luggage down to three large pieces: the suitcase, and two flightbags: one containing the backpack, the other with the backcarrier, and as much other stuff that we could stuff into it without exceeding the maximum weight AND the maximum pressure the seams of the flightbag could take (truth allowed: we had to mend it again and again for the last 3 flights…). The stroller we could take to the gate and was never counted as check-in luggage. Surprisingly we managed to keep down the hand luggage to one piece per person – if you don’t count Kim’s small backpack seperately.

Travelling on any non-airborne transport, where not the maximum weight or the number of packs counted, but rather the question how two adults could transport all the luggage minus Matt’s small trolley in one go.

In practise, that manner of transport came down as follows. Patrick carries the large backpack on his back, his shoulderbag underneath, and pulls the large suitcase/trolley. Matt pulls his own small trolley, and Noëlle carries the fully packed backcarrier with Kim with her shoulderbag underneath, the daypack for the stroller and drags the folded stroller.

It may sound surprising – even to us now -, but we travelled basically all of Vietnam in the non-airborne manner, most of the times carrying drinks and food with us as well, but we never experienced it as undoable or even slightly too much. We even had quite an efficient way of unpacking and repacking all the items necessary for night train trips in sleeper carriages in just over 15 minutes – with two excited kids bouncing around us in the 3,5 square meter compartment we were confined to with the four of us.

We were absolutely fine travelling like that during our 4+ weeks in Vietnam, but if someone asks us now: would you have travelled longer if you could have, we can quite honestly answer: not in the Vietnam way. We would have loved to be able to stay in Nick and Katrina’s wonderful place for a couple of more weeks (months..?!) if we could have, but in the respect of travelling from hotel to hotel and country to country without private transport, we definitely reached the summit of what we would categorise as ‘having a wonderful time’.

And, in retrospect, did we need and use everything we brought? Of course not. For instance, we could supply a small army with the stash of dehydration salts sachets we never needed or touched by the time we got home. The warm clothing we packed was also quite useless in the 20+ ˚C-places we went to. Some of that stuff, such as the 3 sheet bags (synthetic ultra thin sleeping bags), we threw out as soon as we realised how useless it was carrying them along with us.

However, a few items we brought we definitely couldn’t have done without. We would even entitle them as ‘indispensible for travelling families’:

tentje1. Deryan Travel Cot. A little pack of 2 kilos, that automatically folds into baby bed that looks like a miniature trekking tent if you release the ties. A lightweight, compact, portable mosquito-free baby bed. We have used it every night for Kim, except in Australia when we could use Oliver’s baby bed. We even used the Deryan in the overnight trains in Vietnam and Thailand. We couldn’t have done without.

2. Two lengths of nylon rope. Ideal to tie the Deryan Travel Cot to the upper berth in the overnight trains we took, used a number of times as a very long laundry drying line, useful to tie loose pieces of luggage to the backpack or back carrier, etc…

3. Duct tape. As a gross omission, we forgot to bring some. Since Vietnam is a wonderful country, but horrible to find certain utility items, such as permanent markers and, as it turned out, duct tape, we had to rely on the sacred roll of duct tape that the Pankys (the British family we met and hung out with a couple of days in Vietnam) were smart enough to bring along. By the way, don’t forget to watch the instruction video of how to cross a Hanoi street that they made and put on their Tumblr-site.

4. A sewing kit with very strong thread (called ijzergaren in Dutch). Only for the grace of our ijzergaren-kit did our two flightbags survive our trip until the very end. We take the kit along on every trip, and we have used it every time.

5. Leukoplast. Don’t know what the English name is, but it’s the band aid like tape you use to tape a bandage – the kind that leaves nasty, dirty and irremovable sticky marks and is better de-hairer than any bikiniwax if you stick it on bare skin. Can be used for repairing kid’s sunglasses, headphones, a protective skin around sharp edges, etc. Even Paul, the  police officer we met on the boat in Halong had to admit it was the stupidest thing he left at home…

6. A bit of faith in your children’s ability to adjust to foreign food as long as it’s fresh and prepared (i.e. thouroughly heated) on the premises, and natural instinct to survive ‘difficult countries’ as Dutch writer and publicist Jelle Brandt Corstius calls them. If you have no idea what we are talking about: we’re sorry but you don’t have it and you won’t get it.

7. Not for everybody, but Patrick wouldn’t have been able to remain un-miffed if he hadn’t retrieved his Tilly Hat after he left it in the ‘lobby’ of our wonderful Bangkok hotel the Lamphu Tree House. That hat has been with us since our first abroad trip together in 2004, and has travelled with us to every faraway and not so faraway country we have visited since then. We’re both very happy that it’s still with us.

Location:Rijswijk, The Netherlands

Gratis spons

Onze tweede week op Bali heeft nog een leuk lijstje opgeleverd met woorden die in het Bahasa hetzelfde zijn als in het Nederlands. Of in elk geval hetzelfde klinken als een Nederlands woord met dezelfde betekenis.

Helaas hebben we veel onderweg gezien op momenten dat we geen gelegenheid hadden om notities te maken, en onze (bijna) 40 jaar oude breinen (ahum) laten ons bij dat soort dingen ook te vaak in de steek, helaas. Maar wat we nog vonden:

– knalpot
– helm
– ongkos (stond boven de taximeter – deed ons bijna Afrikaans aan)
– notaris
– stroom
– sertifikat
– praktek (van een ‘dokter’)
– handuk

En dit, waar je eerst twee keer naar moet kijken voor je je realiseert dat het hier om een Indonesisch product gaat:

gratisspons

Jammer dat we niet meer tijd hadden om onze onderzoeken voort te zetten. Maar het is niet anders.

Our journey may come to an end now, but don’t dismiss our blog just yet. We have much more to tell you about our trip and experiences, so our blog continues, even when we’re back in snowy The Hague.

Location:Singapore

Leerschool op reis

Toen we op Matthijs’ school aankondigden dat we hem 3 maanden mee op reis wilden nemen, reageerde zijn juf niets anders dan heel enthousiast en verleende alle medewerking om Matthijs niet te veel van de educatieve elementen te laten missen. Maar zowel juf als wij waren het direct erover eens dat een reis naar verre landen met totaal andere culturen niet bepaald slecht is voor zijn ontwikkeling.

Nu we aan de vooravond van het einde van onze reis staan – morgenavond vliegen we naar Singapore, en woensdagavond van Singapore naar Amsterdam – moeten we constateren dat Matthijs’ juf en wijzelf gelijk hebben gekregen. Alleen in zijn sociale ontwikkeling zal het nog wel een grote inhaalslag moeten maken, maar onze ervaring is dat Matthijs op school een stuk ontvankelijker is voor discipline dan thuis – op school moet immers iedereen zich aan dezelfde regels houden.

Maar als we nagaan hoe ánders het in Vietnam, Thailand en op Bali is geweest voor Matthijs dan in Nederland, heeft hij op zijn minst geleerd dat de wereld een stuk groter is dan wat hij kent en gewend is, en dat ‘anders’ niet gek is, maar gewoon een andere vorm van ‘normaal’.

Wat dat betreft is het erg dankbaar om Matthijs te vertellen over de nieuwe, andere dingen die hij heeft gezien, want hij vindt onze verhalen allemaal even spannend en zuigt het op als een spons.

Het is dan ook onze taak, vinden we, om deze nieuwe, andere gebruiken zo neutraal mogelijk voor hem uit te leggen. Vooral als iets te maken heeft met religie, oorlog of koloniaal verleden is dat nog best een uitdaging. Gelukkig is geen enkel land waar we zijn geweest erg opdringerig in zijn religieuze houding: Bali is voor het grootste deel hindoestaans, en hindoes hebben niet bepaald veel zendingsdrang, Vietnam heeft nog te veel communistisch erfgoed om religie de samenleving te laten bepalen, en op het Thaise Ko Lanta draagt weliswaar 80% van de volwassen vrouwen een hoofddoekje, maar de moslims zijn er behoorlijk mellow – waarschijnlijk omdat Ko Lanta het helemaal moet hebben van (schaarsgeklede) toeristen.

Er was dus gelegenheid genoeg om Matthijs de mooie kanten van dit onderdeel van de verre landen die we bezochten te laten zien.

mtempelZoals de vele hindoestaanse en buddhistische tempels die we bezochten. Niet dat het onze verhalen waren waar Matthijs daar op lette – die hindoestanen en buddhisten hebben beter begrepen hoe ze kleine kinderen moeten fascineren dan de christenen in Europa: de kleurige beelden van allerhande goden en duivels, de stapels met offers, het houtsnijdwerk, de draken, de ramakiens en andere wachters om de tempels, de bedwelmende geuren van wierookstokjes trekken toch een stuk meer dan wat glas-in-lood, kaarsen en houten banken die de Europese kerken te bieden hebben.

Voor de balans wilden we Matthijs uiteraard ook kennis laten maken met hoe het in een moskee werkt, en welke plek is daar beter voor dan de Nationale Moskee van Maleisië in Kuala Lumpur. Helaas strandde deze poging bij de toegangsdeuren, omdat de toegangstijden op hun website voor geen meter bleken te kloppen. Maar goed, niet getreurd. Matthijs heeft ook zonder dit, eh, nogal elementaire onderdeel van een algemene les over religie begrepen dat er ontzettend veel mensen op de wereld zijn die ervan overtuigd zijn dat er meer is tussen hemel en aarde, en dat daar op heel veel verschillende manieren invulling aan kan worden gegeven.

Het onderdeel oorlog is ook een interessante om uit te leggen aan een vierjarige. Vooral de manier waarop ze in Vietnam, eigenlijk het enige land dat we bezochten waar ‘oorlog’ – begrijpelijkerwijze – een onvermijdelijk onderwerp is van de cultuur, de historie hervertellen is op zijn zachtst gezegd aardig – of beter gezegd: niet zoals wij hem geleerd hebben. Tja, en dan mag je gaan vertellen waarom aan flarden geschoten Amerikaanse vliegtuigen en onontplofte bommen worden tentoongesteld, en wat daarmee gebeurde.

De Nederlandse kolonisatie van Indonesië was de meest recente uitdaging. Met wat vergelijkingen met de piraten die Matthijs zo bewondert, kwamen we een heel eind. Matthijs smulde van de spannende verhalen over Nederlandse meneren die op grote houten boten naar Indonesië kwamen en daar de lokale bevolking specerijen, koffie, cacao en andere waardevolle producten lieten verbouwen en vervolgens van hen weghaalden en in Nederland verkochten en daar héél veel centjes mee verdienden, en die Indonesiërs niet. Afijn, we all know the story.

Om een lang verhaal kort te maken: het moet toch wel erg raar lopen als Matthijs totaal niets onthoudt van wat hij allemaal gezien en gedaan heeft. Al is het alleen al dat hij nu weet hoe bananen groeien, dat apen en kangoeroes niet altijd in een dierentuin wonen, dat het heel snel donker wordt in landen rond de evenaar en hoe je ‘dankjewel’ zegt in het Thais, Indonesisch en Engels. En da’s al heel wat voor ’n menneke van nog geen 5.

Location:Kuta, Bali

From g’day to g’bye mates

In 24-hours-and-a-bit we won’t just be saying goodbye to 2012, but to Australia as well. And the way we spent the past week makes that last goodbye particularly hard. We encountered so many examples of incredible hospitability, friendliness and warmness from so many people to whom we were total strangers, that we can’t conclude otherwise than it’s just sheer nature of Australians to make strangers feel welcome.

It started when a neighbour from a few doors up the street showed up on our doorstep to invite us to their annual X-mas gettogether with several other neighbours. When we got there – oh yeah, and if an Ozzie invites you over for drinks and tells you not to bring anything: bring something. We learned this lesson the embarassing way – we found out that this annual thing was being held for the past 30-plus years, and that all the people there knew each other for decades.

Not only was everybody at this 39-degrees-in-the-shade X-mas party treating us as if we had been part of that group for as long as they could remember, but it turned out that the instigators of the party even had a bag of X-mas presents for Kim and Matthijs! How on earth can you ever show enough appreciation for things like this?

But apparently this kind of reception comes totally natural to Ozzies, we realised when on Christmas Day we went for lunch to Katrina’s parents very close to the Dandenongs. There were all kinds of family there, and they all made us feel as if we were part of it.

The kids showed our mutual gratitude for all this kindness by having the best time of their lives with the multitude of toys and playing equipment that the house and garden offered: Kim was taking care driving herself and almost-two-year-old Charlie around in the life size toy car, and Matthijs cleaned out the play house from top to bottom after refurbishing it (our kids are not of the tradional role playing kind). And yet again laden with presents.IMG_0161

Packed with Christmas leftovers we lunched on for the two days after that, plus the birthday cake Katrina’s Mum made for Noëlle (they figured out the secret behind the name), plus the gingerbread train Nick’s Mum made for the kids and are still snacking from, we went home the happiest people on the planet for that day.

And still that wasn’t all: today we were invited at Nick’s parents to come over for a barbecue. We made the mistake of bringing food (as well as wine, which was a hit) – as if there was any lacking!

Much later than we planned we drove home… with a heavy heart. Laden with the thought that we are leaving all these wonderful people in this incredibly pleasant country behind the day after tomorrow.

But it made us think of home as well. And realise that there are loads of pretty incredible people there who make our lives at home quite wonderful and worthwhile as well. We’re just sorry we can’t celebrate the beginning of a New Year with all of you… If we could only take some of the summer-in-December and endless space from Australia back with us, it would just be perfect back home as well.

Location:Yallambie, Greensborough, Melbourne, Australia

We zijn er nog.

Voor diegenen die het zich wellicht afvroegen: de zon gaat hier net onder, maar alles lijkt er op dat hij morgenochtend gewoon weer op zal gaan. Geen apocalyps hier in Australië dus.

Wel wakkerde de wind net nog wat aan, maar erger dan dat is het niet geworden. (famous last wor….. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHNOCARRIERSIGNALLOST

Dankjulliewel!

Iedereen die me persoonlijk heeft gefeliciteerd met mijn verjaardag, m.n. (o)pa, Remco, Harald, Yvon, Angelique & Ramon, Kalinka & Lukas, Loes, Désirée en Sandra: heel hartelijk dank! We hadden een heerlijke dag en genieten nog steeds – ook al zijn onze verjaardagen voor deze vakantie nu afgelopen. 🙂

Location:Melbourne, Australia

The force of nature

One of the the areas that was most dramatically and severely hit by the Ferbruary 2009 bush fires in Victoria, was the area around Kinglake in the Yarra Valley.

When we learned that, especially by Australian standards, Kinglake is practically on our doorstep here, we decided to take on the advise in the leaflets we picked up in the Healesville Tourist Information to go there and spend some money to contribute the tiniest bit to the hundreds of millions of dollars that are needed to rebuild the infrastructure and National Parks going up in flames.

Although we learned from the leaflets that the community have been working its ass off to have the worst marks removed, we did prepare ourselves for hills filled by blackened stumps with just the occasional puff of green bushes and meter-high treelets in between.

Instead, we found the best – in our opinion, anyway – example of how incredibly flexible nature really is. We’ve seen David Attenborough in The Private Life Of Plants walking around a freshly-turned-to-ashes savanne or something, trying to convince the viewers that there is hardly something more cleansing for nature than a good bush fire – presumed that the fire was caused by nature itself, and not by some stupid kids playing with matches, but we could hardly believe him there.

KinglakeSeeing the lushious gum-and-fern forests around Kinglake we realised that the old chap, of course, was right. In fact, we haven’t seen such a vast greenness around us since we were riding through the cloudforesty landscape around Sapa, Vietnam. And you certainly won’t find it anywhere in The Netherlands!

Of course, there were impressive charcoaled stumps in Dali-like shapes, and there still was a faint smell of burnt wood in the air, and nearly all the buildings were brand new, but from just nature you surely couldn’t have told that just 4 years ago practically the whole area burnt down in the fires that took more than a week to extinguish.

And the best thing that the Kinglake gum-forests did for us, was expose us to a real, wild wallaby, so stunned by our sheer gall of tramping into its habitat with two alarm-systems that we call our offspring, in our company, that it took him at least 4 seconds to realise that we were groping for our cameras, and with a loud indignant sniff hopped off into the thick undergrowth, never to be seen again by us. It was the only wild marsupial exposure for us so far, so we cherish it as if we’d had discovered real gold!

Location:Kinglake, Victoria, Australia