05 December, 2010

POC Off-Road Movers


So! We're all done with the Pacific Orientation Course now. We left the course when the students left to go into the "village living" portion of their training. Village living lasts for 5 weeks and we had originally planned to return for the last week of POC, when all the students come back out of the villages, but Clare ended up having to stay behind in Ukarumpa to help out at the elementary school when one of the other staff members had to leave unexpectedly for medical reasons. In the end, I went back to POC by myself.

The day after I got there, I was asked to be one of the drivers who went out to the villages to collect the students. The POC Toyota Dyna, (a 3 ton truck that we use for carrying lots of people or supplies at one time) was still down with a bad transmission so we had to make multiple trips in POC's 2 Toyota Hilux double-cab pick-up trucks. That's one of the Hiluxes in the photo today, and that's one of the many river crossings we had to do. This is one of the "middle" depth rivers--there were several that were shallower and a couple that were significantly deeper--to the point where the wheels were completely under water and water was leaking through the firewall and onto my feet. (At least the door seals were still good and we didn't end up sitting in water!) The biggest river I ended up having to drive through 4 times that day. It was a good 100 yards/meters wide and well over 3 feet (1 meter) deep in the morning, though it went down a little bit during the day.

So the last week of POC went well enough, I started off with all the fun off-road driving, drove through one attempted hold-up, fixed up a bunch of Primus and Primus-copy pressurized kerosene stoves for the next group of POC students, got the POC director's beat-up '84 Honda XR200R running again, and since Clare and Levi weren't there, I got to spend a bit of time in the evenings with the other staff members and the students. All in all, a decent wrap up to the course.

This isn't to say that the course wasn't without its frustrations; Madang is a terrible place to try to get vehicle or machine parts, the POC workshop is in serious need of more tools, (and Madang also happens to be a terrible place to get tools--I spent $1,000 on tools that I could have gotten in the US for about $200, and that was only about 1/3 of what the workshop there needs).

But it was great to see the 30+ new people coming to help out with the work here, and I'm excited to see that another 30+ are expected at the next course in January.

29 October, 2010

So Long, Sunshine Coast!


Well! Being on staff at POC was a lot of hard work. The campus where we hold the course is under constant attack from termites (I think they're white ants, actually), the elements (the sun, the heavy rains, the high heat and high humidity, and the salt air from the nearby ocean), and as a result needs constant maintenance. Overall, we enjoyed being there and having the opportunity to get to know the new people a bit.

So! The day that the POC course ended, (well, it's not ended quite yet, there's still a wekk to go, but right now all the students are spending a few weeks in villages near Madang, learning more about the trade language and cultures of PNG), so as soon as the students headed out to the village, we headed off to Brisbane to spend a couple of weeks there with Clare's folks. It has been great to spend time with them, and they are especially happy to have had a couple weeks with Levi, who is their first grandchild. Anyway, we haven't really been in Brisbane, we've been a ways north of Brisbane in the Sunshine Coast, in a beautiful place called Caloundra. After a couple of weeks here, I'm pretty sure that I can say that we would happily come here again! It's a child friendly place, with more playgrounds than you can shake a stick at, much to Levi's delight. Also not far away is the Australia Zoo, (of Steve Irwin, aka The Crocodile Hunter fame), as well as Underwater World, (where today's photo was taken), and the Buderim Ginger Factory, (more interesting than it sounds), and a place rather intriguingly called "The Big Pineapple", which, unfortunately was closed when we went there.

So, after 2 and a half weeks, our time here is finally drawing to a close. We leave here the day after tomorrow. I think that Clare and I needed this short break more than either of us realised, but I think that now we are both ready to go back to Ukarumpa, ready to get back to our respective jobs there.

I promise that I will talk more about POC another time.

08 August, 2010

A Change of Pace, Maybe. Of Place, Certainly


No, it's not a refugee camp, though I admit that it does look a bit like one. This is one of the photos I took during my time at the SIL Pacific Orientation Course in Madang, back in 2002. It's in black and white because I like shooting black and white and because at the time I was trying hard to come up with ways to make the batteries in my camera last longer. (By the way, on that Toshiba camera that I had back then, I did find that by switching to black and white I could squeeze a few more photos onto my camera's memory card and that there was a little less waiting time between shots.) This photo was shot from the door of the room where I lived for 16 weeks, (with 5 weeks taken out near the end where I went and lived with a family in a village about 100 km north of Madang). POC is where we all go to start learning to speak Melanesian Pidgin and to start learning a bit about Melanesian cultures, all to prepare us for living and working in Papua New Guinea.

For most of us, POC is roughing it. If we wanted hot showers, we had to build fires and heat the water ourselves; the power was often off, so we used lanterns and candles to see at night. A few weeks into the course, the kitchen closes on the weekends and you are left to fend for yourselves if you want food, so you learn to cook over an open fire. If you want to go into town, you have to walk a few miles down to the main road and hope to catch a ride on a PMV that isn't already full of people going to town. The whole experience is meant to prepare people for living in remote villages in PNG. Even people like me, who don't live in remote villages, are often required to go through POC so that they can have a better understanding of what life is like for their co-workers and national friends who do live that way.

POC also involves a fair amount of physical training, including required daily hikes through the surrounding jungle and required swimming down at the ocean. Here's a photo of myself and two couples from my POC group heading out on a three day hike with 3 Papua New Guineans who were on staff for our course. The man next to me with the cowboy hat on was a good friend of mine at the time. He helped to teach me Tok Pisin (Melanesian Pidgin) and I spent a lot of time with him and his family:


Anyway, a few weeks ago I was approached by the director of the Pacific Orientation Course and asked to be on staff for the next POC, which, with 32 adults enrolled, will be one of the biggest courses in several years. (In contrast, mine had only 13 adults enrolled.) As mine was the first POC to happen after the current directors took over, it seemed fitting to me to be on staff for this one, which will be their last course before moving on to take up another position in Vanuatu.

SO! Starting later this month, we will be in Madang for 8 weeks on staff at POC! What was I thinking?! Hopefully we can be an encouragement to our fellow staffers and a blessing to the students.

02 August, 2010

Farewell, Faithful Lumix, You Will Be Missed.

Ah, sad day. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ15 digital camera that I have been using for several years now has finally bitten the dust. It was a great camera, I took it with me all over PNG, all over tropical North Queensland, Sydney, Melbourne, the US, and twice to the UK and took an awful lot of pictures with it. It was the first good digital camera that I ever had. My first digital still camera was a really cheap RCA that predated USB connections and took forever to upload it's entire load of 16, low resolution images through a serial port cable to my computer. (Or maybe it was the computer I had at the time that predated USB, I can't remember now--I just remember that it took lousy photos, not very many of them, and they were a pain to get off of the camera). My second digital camera was a Toshiba--a big, clunky one. It too, was severely limited, but at least it took reasonably good quality photos, but I could only take 1 photo on a cheap set of AA batteries before they were dead or 10 photos on Duracells. Only 10! And that was with the flash, the LCD display, and all the sounds turned off! The Toshiba was the camera I brought with me to PNG when I arrived in 2002. It lasted me a couple years, then one day I was in a little museum in Goroka and I was taking photos of WWII junk in this museum when a Papua New Guinean man walked up behind me and quietly said "no pictures". I protested that I wasn't even using the flash and again he said quietly, "no pictures". Oddly enough, that camera never took another photo, and even the photos that I had just taken were not retrievable. I've always wondered if maybe that man cursed my camera somehow, it just seemed like too much of a weird coincidence to me.

Anyway, the death of the Toshiba made it into my newsletter, which had no photos that month. One of my financial partners contacted me shortly after that and told me that he wanted to buy me a new camera, and to let him know what I wanted. Well, I sent him a list of my top 4 or 5 cameras, (naturally a really nice Nikon dSLR was at the top of the list, yeah, pricey, but he did say to let him know what I wanted, so I did), and the Panasonic Lumix was, as I recall, right in the middle of my list. That's the one he ended up buying for me and I was very happy with it. So happy, in fact, that I've decided to buy another Panasonic, but this time I'm buying a used one off of eBay, one that is a few years old, but is in very good condition and has seen little use as it was somebody's back-up camera.

I can't say for sure what happened to my FZ15--one day it just wouldn't come on any more. But it had lived a full, rich life and its carcass has the scars to prove it. I think that I can honestly say that I used it up. My new camera will be able to use the same SD media cards that I have for the FZ15, and I think I might be able to make the FZ15 rechargable Li-ion batteries work, too.

As a back-up camera I've been using a little Canon Powershot A430, (I think it's an A430), but recently it has suddenly decided to make every photo look washed out. With a good deal of jiggerypokery, I can manage to get a photo that is at least viewable, but certainly not what I'd call a "good" photo. So, no photos for now until the new-to-me Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ30 gets here. I'm hoping it will get here within a couple of weeks, but will more likely be a couple of months.

25 July, 2010

Troublesniping

One of the most practical skills learned by any mechanic is the ability to troubleshoot. In this case, troubleshooting is evaluating a machine that isn't working properly, usually by talking to people who used it last, trying to get it going, etc. Eventually the mechanic builds up a knowledge of what should be happening, observes what isn't happening, and investigates what it will take to make it work.

Sometimes, I'm called upon to troubleshoot a machine that is far away from my workshop. Sometimes I'll be asked to troubleshoot something over the 2 way radio, or through a series of e-mails or even letters. I call this long-range troubleshooting "troublesniping".

Recently I was asked to troublesnipe a generator out in the Sandaun province, which is hundreds of miles from here, and the only way to get there is to fly as far as you can, then catch a ride on a series of local trucks the rest of the way. It takes days to get out to the village, and it's not practical to haul a 300+ lb. diesel generator out of there unless you REALLY have to.

After talking extensively with the translators who work out there, looking at photos of a broken part, and spending a few hours researching on the internet, I finally decided that the problem must be a bad capacitor. Unfortunately I didn't have any capacitors of the type we needed in stock and the people who built the generator were very unhelpful when I tried to find out if they had the parts we needed, so I did a bit more internet research and finally took an educated guess at what we needed. I tied to find a part that was much heavier duty than the one that had failed, in the interest of longevity.

Now the fun part! I had originally planned to get out to the village and install the part myself, but for various reasons this ended up not being possible, so I talked to the translator and expalined to him that he would have to install it. Unfortunately, he wasn't going to be going out to the village as he had originally planned, so he asked me to write up a set of instructions so that his village language helpers could install it.

Well, if it had been a simple case of removing the old part and replacing it with a new one, it would have been easy. But the heavy duty part I had chosen to replace the original one was a good deal bigger than the original, so, with the help of another similar generator I built up a nice little rubber mounted holder for the new capacitor and a set of extended wires to connect it to where the original capacitor used to be plugged on. Then I took a bunch of photos of the part in various stages of installation, wrote a set of directions and hoped for the best. The final curveball came when the translator asked me if I could "pre-charge" the capacitor before sending it out to the village. (In order for the generator to work properly, the capacitor needs to be charged up, sort of like a battery, but imagine a capacitor as a battery that releases all of its stored energy at once.)

I admit it, I really didn't think that pre charging the capacitor was going to work, or at worst I feared somebody might shock themselves while trying to install it, but I went ahead and gave it a go anyway, remembering to carefully wrap the wire ends with electrical tape before shipping it out to the village. Somehow I didn't have a photo here at the house--how boring! I'll have ot add one later.

Anyway, here's what happened, in the words of the translator who works out there:

"Andrew,

I talked to Emil today. Some of the translators have arrived for the
translation workshop. Kenny, Petrus, Dominic, Jack & Joe, Peter & Emil are
there so far.

Emil said, "We looked at Andrew's instructions, and then we went out the
power house together. We had Pastor Peter read the instructions to us one
step at a time. We talked about it together as we followed his instructions.
Then we started up the generator and it gave us 230 volts and 49 Hertz.
Please tell him the translators say thank you for building the capacitor and
for giving us such great instructions!" "

So! Success! Apparently the guys in the village who are working on the translation usually like to work until 10 p.m., and they wouldn't be able to when the sun goes down at around 6 p.m. Whew! I'm so glad that worked.

18 July, 2010

Off-Road 6x6 Trucking! Thrill-a-minute stuff.

Okay, so I've mentioned my all time favorite PNG truck here a few times before. It's the 1979 AM General, 6 wheel drive, 5 ton cargo truck, the M813A1. Ours is an ex-USMC example, with the locking differentials in the rear, which means that it is an extremely capable machine. We also have the PTO driven 10 ton winch on the front of ours.

I admit it, I was starting to feel a little bad about the fact that we weren't using the truck much. I am pretty sure that I have discussed our reasons for buying it elsewhere in this blog. At any rate, we bought it, shipped it here, sorted out various little problems that it had, and then did exactly what the US Marines apparently did with it for much of its 30 years--we parked it and only used it once in a while.

And then one day we got asked to haul some cargo for a Papua New Guinean man who had worked for Wycliffe for many years and was moving all of his goods and chattel back to his home village, which was about 10 or 12 hours drive away, and very much of that on rough, single lane dirt roads. We struck a deal on the price for this kind of hauling, and suddenly people started coming out of the woodwork asking for us to haul cargo to remote places.

My friend Tony did the first trip, and I went with him on the second trip. On the second trip we were hired to haul a 4 ton piece of mining equipment out to a place about 3 or 4 hours from here. It was a dreary, drizzly day and the road was mostly mud and had several places like this in it:

Don't be fooled by the ruts in the road--those are the width of "normal" cars, which, if you are reading this from the US, are narrower than what you are used to, and quite a bit narrower than our 6x6 truck. There were only inches to spare on either side of the wheels, and these washouts could really only be safely crossed with the help of somebody standing on the far side helping the driver make precise adjustments to the wheels. That was my job this time. We also had to cross several old Bailey bridges, some better than others. This was probably the best one:


When we got close to our destination, we were stopped by a group of obviously angry young men who demanded that we shut off the engine and wanted to know who we were and what our business was. Instead of shutting down, we reversed out of there and back into more friendly territory until we could figure out what was going on. What followed was a heated 45 minute discussion among the members of one clan arguing about why the other clan had stopped us, what should be done about it, etc., etc. Eventually we were told by the men who hired us to just unload the truck and they would figure out later how to get the load to where it was supposed to go. We were halfway through unloading it when suddenly we got word that it was okay for us to drive through to the original destination, so which much effort, we got the load back on to the truck and tied it back down, then drove on through the troubled area, (turns out that there was fighting going on between two clans in that area, but the very same guys who had angrily stopped us before were all smiles and cheers when we drove through the second time), and eventually made it to where we had been hired to go. By the way, this is what our load looked like--I took this photo at about 6:15 a.m. as we were doing a final check of the load before hitting the bush road:


So when we got to the final destination, the equipment that was originally supposed to be there to unload the truck wasn't there yet and the guys who hired us told us to simply chain the load to a tree and drive the truck out from under it!! I got some good video of that, here's Tony carefully driving the truck out from under the load, EXACTLY according to the directions of the man who built the machine that we were unloading. He's standing on the other side of the truck, giving Tony directions through the driver's window. It's my voice you hear in the foreground as I was getting impatient and wondering why it was taking so long to unload :


video

So we've got a couple more of these trips planned in the not too distant future, the next one is down into the Ramu valley to move 7 tons of lumber for a local guy and I'll be driving for that one. Then it's back to where we dropped off the mining equipment to drop off a mostly empty 20 foot container that they will be using as a secure storage area. Hopefully the road will be a little bit better this time, as an excavator is being driven up there on that road and he will have to make repairs to it in order to make it through.

So why do we do this? Well, the fact is that we are in need of funds! We don't make very much money doing this, but we do make a little and it helps to keep the workshop open and to pay our employees. Anything extra gets funneled back into Wycliffe to support the work of Bible translation. We've been trying to do more commercial work lately and this is one of those services that we can offer which is in demand and which no one else is offering.

01 July, 2010

Almost done! And Professional Development

Okay, so I've only got a few hours left before the deadline to finish this bike I've been working on in my "spare" time. It won't actually be "finished", but it might be close enough to please the judges in this on-line build off that I entered a few months ago. Anyway, I'm pretty happy with it so far. It's actually a bit closer to done now than it was when I took this photo yesterday:


Good stuff. Practical? No way. Fast? Probably not. Why build stuff like this? Ummm, well, people climb Mt. Everest "because it's there", maybe I do this kind of thing for the opposite reason; because it isn't there. It's just an outlet for my creativity, I guess. I certainly learn a lot whenever I do something like this--I'd never built any kind of I-beam frame before, nor had I ever built a girder front end before, (wow, that was a learning experience! Next time I build one it will be much better than this one). So there, call it "professional development".

29 June, 2010

ROAD TRIPS!

I love road trips. Especially on motorcycles, but in a car with friends is also really good. Here in PNG we don't normally do any very long road trips--Goroka is about 100 km away, (2 hours in a car, 1 hour on a bike--it's the curves and hills that kill a car's speed so much on that trip), Lae is 230 km away, Madang is 260 km away and those are the 3 most likely places that we are likely to go to by road. Mt. Hagen is also reachable by road, but it's 300 km away and the road is often blocked by landslides/landslips, plus there aren't a lot of reason to go to Mt Hagen, so I've only been there once by road. Mt. Wilhelm isn't a town, but it is another place that people in Ukarumpa might drive to, just because some people like the idea of getting up at 3:30 in the morning to climb to the top of PNG highest mountain (13,000 ft. I think?), just to see the sun rise and then rush back down before the fog cuts visibility down and makes the descent much harder. It's really not my cup of tea, so I've never been there. I understand that there is a plane wreck up there, though, so someday maybe I'll go along so that I can play around on the wreck while everybody else goes up to see the sun rise.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes. Road trips. Lots of good reasons to do a road trip here. For one thing, it's a way to get away from Ukarumpa. Sometimes you get to feeling like you'd just like to be somewhere else for a little while, and a road trip to Lae does it for me, though most people seem to prefer Madang. Another good reason to go is because there are no restaurants in Ukarumpa! Hard to believe, but it's true. If you want to go out to eat, you've gotta drive at least 100 km to get to a restaurant. Okay, so there are one or two restaurants in Kainantu, which is only a few km from Ukarumpa, but (it must be said) they leave a bit to be desired. Another good reason is shopping. Lae has some of the best stores in PNG. Lae actually has not one, but TWO pretty decent supermarkets, as well as a couple of slightly less decent ones. Lae also has the best places to buy appliances when your stove or fridge finally bites the dust. Oh, and an added perk--our guest house in Lae has a pool. Sure, it's only 3.5 or 4 feet deep and isn't exactly Olympic sized, but man, after a long, hot, dusty day in town it sure feels nice.

Road trips are on my mind today because I nearly had to go on a road trip to Mt. Hagen tomorrow in the Mighty M813A1 Cargo Truck:


In spite of the fact that I generally enjoy road trips, I wasn't looking forward to this one, as I am getting behind in my work here in Ukarumpa and besides I just did a road trip to Lae last week. (Lae and back in one day--I hate doing it that way; I much prefer to spend the night, but this time it couldn't be avoided.) Anyway, my friend Tony is doing the Mt. Hagen trip now, so that's all good.

Road trips here can present special challenges. I've already mentioned landslides, but it's also worth noting that at least 40 km of the road to Madang through the Finisterre Mountains is not paved at all, and the road to Mt. Hagen also has big stretches of un-paved road. In this case, the destination is actually somewhere beyond Mt. Hagen, and may involve a fair amount of driving on a pretty rough dirt road. Before driving to Lae it's always wise to ask around and see what the road is like, as its condition changes pretty often, from "full of nasty square-edged potholes" to "new pavement, a regular, 2 lane, superhighway". Before going to Goroka, it's worth finding out if there has been any tribal fighting in the area and if all the bridges are up, especially during rainy season, when bridges are more apt to be washed away.

As long as you remember to keep an eye out for the three perils of the PNG Highway, you're generally okay. The P's are Pigs, People, and PMV's (PMV's being Public Motor Vehicles, sort of privately owned buses).

30 May, 2010

My Wife the Brewess



Okay, so I arrived in PNG with certain presuppositions. Among them was the idea that I might find a local soft drink to adopt as my new favorite. Sure, it's silly, but as a kid in Bolivia my favorite drink was an apple flavoured drink called Brahma, and in Peru of course my favorite drink was el Sabor Nacional, Inca Kola. So I just assumed that in PNG I would find something similar. But alas, it was not to be. I tried the local Fanta varieties, lemon and pineapple, but neither one really impressed me. Eventually I resigned myself to the fact that all there was to be had here were the usual hum-drum things that can be found anywhere on the planet, namely Coke, Sprite, and Fanta. There are a few other things, like Scweppe's Orange-mango, which is pretty nice, but there is nothing that is uniquely Papua New Guinean.

So not long after I got to Ukarumpa, I started seeing some of the high schoolers advertising home-made ginger beer or rhubarb beer for sale. Naturally, I was interested; perhaps if I couldn't find something uniquely PNG, I could find something uniquely Ukarumpian.

What I found was a wide variety of flavour and quality. Some people made their ginger beer really spicy, others made it so that you could hardly tell there was any ginger in it at all. The rhubarb brew was the same way.

So thus began my own experiments with rhubarb beer. I eventually got to where I could make a pretty good batch of the stuff, it was popular at friendly get togethers, etc. (I feel I should clarify at this point that although we refer to this stuff as "beer" in truth the alcohol content is immeasurably small), but it was a lot of work, and the recipe I was using took 3 or 4 weeks to make.

Okay, so a little over a year ago, Clare decided that she wanted a hobby, so she decided to get into brewing ginger beer on a regular basis. She got a recipe from another family and changed it slightly, using me as her guinea pig. Eventually she settled on a recipe that used a lot more ginger than the recipe she started with, giving her ginger beer a reputation for spiciness.

And so I finally got my uniquely Ukarumpian soft drink. Ginger grows very well here and is always available, so Clare is able to make a batch of the stuff every week. She bottles it in washed out plastic Coke bottles and old glass root beer bottles that we got from a family that left some time ago. The glass bottles we got came with a home-made bottle capper and about 1,000 new bottle caps. The photo shows the batch that she just bottled today. We don't really drink 12 liters of ginger beer a week, Clare has started selling several liters a week to people in the community, mainly so that she will have a little bit of spending money when we go to Australia later this year on holiday with her parents.

Koens Ginger Beer, (KGB). Especially popular with one of our Finnish co-workers.

29 May, 2010

Levi Loves Dogs And Tractors

So today, (Saturday) I was down at the shop working on my own stuff when Clare and Levi showed up to see the puppies. They are all huge now, it's amazing how fast puppies grow. Their eyes are finally open now and they are all gradually learning how to walk. This photo was actually taken last week, before their eyes were open:


Here you see Levi giggling at a puppy while mama dog looks on in bemused interest. Levi likes coming down to the shop, there are lots of interesting things to see there. For some reason he is especially fond of the shop tractor:


On Friday we had a big good-bye party for Dan Hudson, who is leaving PNG after serving here for several years as the Auto Shop manager. It was a huge barbeque, I think the most impressive one I have ever seen Auto Shop put on, with huge amounts of pork, lamb, beef, chicken, goat (?), 3 kinds of sausages, and umm, oh yeah, some kind of vegatables, I seem to remember potatoes and rice and sliced tomatoes, too. One thing is for sure about an Auto Shop barbeque--no matter how much food you cook, there are NEVER any leftovers. I tell you, NOBODY can put food away like a Papua New Guinean can. I once tried to out-eat a PNGian, and I had to quit after 3 huge plates of food while he just kept going. I honestly don't understand where they put it all. On Friday I took a pretty good big plate of food, but Jane, the smallest, lightest person in our shop sat down a couple seats away from me with a plate that had twice as much food on it as mine did, all of which she ate. I must weigh three times as much as she does, and yet...

Friday night was also Banquet. Banquet corresponds roughly with the Prom at a US high school. It's for the high school kids and takes place in the Teen Centre, (which I have mentioned here before). It's a more or less formal meal that everybody dresses up for and each year the Teen Centre is redecorated according to the theme of that year's Banquet. Each year there is also a play put on by adult members of the community, most of whom are parents or other people who have had something to do with the kids.

This year I decided not to be involved in Banquet. Last year was the first year since arriving in PNG that I was not in the Banquet play, but that's only because Clare was asked to be in it instead that year and I stayed home with Levi during all of her rehearsals and performances.

But as I say, this year I decided not to be involved. I haven't had as much to do with the kids this past year, (been busy with my own now!), and I just felt like I had enough other stuff going on that I couldn't spare the time for it.

Ah, but I guess we were involved after all--Clare did make 24 litres of ginger beer, (not really alcoholic) for Banquet this year, and I did help her with that. Mmmmm, ginger beer. I'll talk more about that in a future posting.

23 May, 2010

Of Tuk Tuks and Zongers

So when Clare and I got back from furlough last time, I discovered that the manager of the Auto Shop had bought 15 chinese motorcycles at an auction. He had gotten them cheap because they were new old stock items that had been imported by a company in Lae and they had been sitting outdoors for some time. Many of them were missing bits and pieces, but the whole lot came with several boxes of spare parts.

To be more specific, only 2 of the 15 were really motorcycles; the rest were these half motorcycle/half pick-up truck things: About half of the ones we got were water-cooled and have simple roofs over the driver's area. These went to various departments here in Ukarumpa. 3 went to the Industrial department, 2 to the Construction department, others I can't remember right now. The others we offered for sale to the community and they are slowly being sold.

The ones we have were all made by a Chinese company called "Zongshen". The engines are based on a Honda engine that I don't think was ever sold in the US, although I have seen them in South America. It is a well-proven design and should hold up fairly well unless they are made out of poor materials. They are simple, 200cc, 2 valve engines with pushrod valve actuation(!). Not terribly high performance, but unless they are abused, they should hold up alright. The ones currently in use by Industrial and Construction seem to be giving good service overall.

Although these vehicles are often mistaken for Tuk Tuks, they are really something different. It's true that they have three wheels like a Tuk Tuk, but that's about where the similarity ends. We have a couple of real Thai Tuk Tuks running around here as well, and they are much heavier duty machines. Where the Zongshens use a 200cc, single cylinder motorcycle engine and super lightweight drive shaft and rear axle, the Tuk Tuks actually use a small 2 cylinder (550cc) Diahatsu car engine, transmission and rear axle. They are also made out of much heavier materials everywhere else. There are many other areas where Tuk Tuks, although a much older design, are better machines.

So now you are one of the cognoscenti; next time you hear somebody refer to a Zonger as a Tuk Tuk, you can smile knowingly to yourself because you know the truth--it's not a Tuk Tuk, it's a Zonger.

I've still got three like the one pictured above for sale, but I really don't know if I'll be able to make them go; there have been just too many parts stripped off of them over the years that I don't have more of, like starter motors, for example. I suppose I could make one or two of them up as "kick-start only" propositions, but the kick starter on these things is more of an emergency back-up, and not really meant for full time use.

18 May, 2010

Puppies!


Who doesn't love puppies? Okay, so I suppose there's a handful of dyed-in-the-wool dog haters out there who don't, but then, I have no use for cats and yet I still find kittens cute.

Down at the workshop we have a borrowed watch dog. Her name is Destiny and she belongs to a family that is in the US right now but will be returning in June. After the last time that the shop got broken into, we decided to get a dog to replace the one we had which had died some time before. Anyway, Destiny was pregnant when she moved in to Auto Shop, but we didn't know that until she suddenly started "getting all huge and stuff". And so, about a week ago, she spent ALL DAY giving birth to 9 cute little puppies. I think that they were only a day old or so when I took this photo.

So like most dogs here in Ukarumpa, Destiny and her brood are no particular breed. We're thinking that we would like to keep a couple of the puppies for the shop as future watch dogs. Destiny's owners have been gone for nearly a year and have told us that we can do what we like with the puppies. The ones we don't keep we will likely offer for sale, first to our employees at the shop, then to the community. I'm looking forward to the idea of having 2 watch dogs at the shop. Been thinking about names; Smith & Wesson come to mind, Zeus and Apollo, (like Higgns's dogs from Magnum P.I.), I'll keep working on it.

Dogs are a big part of life in Ukarumpa. Many people here keeps dogs for security reasons. I know that in our house we sleep better at night knowing that our dog, Guinny, (who is an inside dog), will bark like mad if anybody attempts to come into the house. He's got a good, loud bark that sounds like it belongs to a dog bigger than he is. I only wish that I had paid more attention to him one night a few months ago. It was late in the evening and I was watching a DVD in the living room when I saw Guinny prowling around restlessly with his hackles raised and growling quietly. I looked out the windows and checked the yard but couldn't see what was making him uneasy. The next day I found out that our next door neighbour's house had been broken into right at the time when Guinny was pacing and growling. If it happens again, I'll know what's going on.

As I say, dogs are a big part of life here. Many people keep them, some do it better than others. We keep our dog inside a fence or on a leash/lead when he is outside, some others don't, which from time to time leads to conflict among the people living here. I remember once answering the emergency phone in the wee hours of the morning to hear a poor, distraught man complaining about his neighbor's unrestrained dog who was wandering around the neighborhood and causing his own dog to bark incessantly. Apparently this poor man hadn't slept in several days because of it. (That story does have a happy ending--the people taking care of the wandering dog eventually figured out how to effectively restrain her and nocturnal peace returned to that neighborhood.)

There are no veterinarians in the area, so we have to take care of our dogs ourselves. When puppies get their shots, we have to get the vaccines from elsewhere and it is often one of the nurses from the clinic here who administers them. For bigger veterinary needs, like neutering or other surgery, we have to take the dog on a road trip to the city of Lae, which is 2.5-3 hours drive from here. There is a vet there who can handle that sort of thing. From time to time a traveling vet will come into our area for a day or two and will take care of whatever animal care needs we may have at that time.

Of course, in a community like this one, where every few years a family will go back home for several months to a year, there are special challenges concerning what to do with the family dog. It's not unusual for home owners to make special deals for renters willing to look after a dog, or for somebody's dog to go on loan to another family while the owners are away. At Auto Shop we borrowed Destiny from a single lady who had agreed to look after her for the family who owned her, but who was finding the job too demanding. When Destiny goes back to her owners in June, we have a plan in place to borrow another dog from another family who is leaving for a few months. Of course, I made this plan back before we knew that Destiny was pregnant, but it's okay, by the time Budge's owners get back, the puppies will be just old enough to start being watch dogs. It's like an intricate ballet of planning, a chess game of strategic watchdog movement, or maybe just Musical Dogs.

Ukarumpa Auto Shop: Your one stop shop for all of your Auto, Motorcycle, Small Engine Maintenance and Repair, Fabrication and Long Term Dog Storage/Kennel needs.

Oh yeah, I built a pretty nice kennel for whatever dog happens to be in residence at Auto Shop. Forgot to mention that. We used to just keep the dog tied up all day, but having a kennel is really a much better solution.

09 May, 2010

The Downside and Coping With It

So believe it or not, there is a downside to this lifestyle. Like any other place where people live, or any other job that people have, it has got its drawbacks. Sure, there are lots of things about living here that could be pointed to as drawbacks; a general lack of movie theaters (cinemas), good restaurants, big junkyards full of relatively cheap parts, good auto and motorcycle parts sources, excellent availability of just about anything you could ever need to fix just about anything you ever wanted to, properly trained and funded police forces, excellent roads and infrastructure, these are all things that I miss from life in the US or the UK. But all of them pale in comparison to what I consider to be the biggest drawback of all in living here.

Living in a close community like we do here, you tend to develop close friendships. I dunno if they are any closer than relationships anywhere else, I mean how do you quantify the closeness of a relationship? Anyway, one of the great things about living here is the friendships that you make with your co-workers, and one of the worst things is that fact that every few years either your friends go away or you do for 6 months to a year, and sometimes they don't come back.

This year is a tough one for me. My 2 closest friends are leaving in June. One of them is planning to be back in 6 months, and the other is leaving here for good after 10 years of service here. Generally I don't have more than 2 or 3 close friendships at a time, so when these guys leave, I'm going to be sort of drifting for a while until I develop a couple of my other friendships into closer ones. So you see, it's sort of a triple, or even quadruple edged sword--the community here is fairly close, you tend to make close friendships here, but then people leave. People leaving cause you to develop other friendships into close ones, because most of us need a close friend or two.

Of course, my being an MK may be throwing a curve ball into the equation, too. Especially as it was so hard to keep in touch with people who had left when I was a kid, (yes, I predate e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc. Why, sonny, I remember when we used to write letters on this super thin paper called "onion skin" just to save on postage between the US and Peru!).

Anywhooo, my best friends are leaving. One of them will be back, the other plans to keep in touch and also to be a shipping/storage address for me in the US, which will be very helpful to me when planning for furloughs. So even this sad drawback of life here has its good side.

There are various ways to cope with the pain of friends leaving, (boy, that sounds grim! It's really not as bleak as I am making it sound, honest!). With communications as good as they are most of the time these days, it's not nearly as bad as it used to be when people go, so that's good. One of the ways I cope is to take the time that I would have spent with them and throw myself into one of my projects for a while. It's almost a relief to have the time to devote to some of the things I really want to do outside of my normal job here. In that vein, I got some more work done on my sanity maintenance project yesterday. The frame is tacked together now and the lower motor mounts are tacked into place. The next big project will be the front suspension and steering:


In other news, Happy Mother's Day, Mom and Clare!

25 April, 2010

The Last Great Accumulators and The Pause That Refreshes

Early on in the history of this blog I decided not to post on Sundays. I hereby change my mind. These days it seems that Sunday afternoons, while The Boy is taking his nap and nothing else is demanding my time is the ideal time to jump on the interweb and post something to my blog. So there.

Yesterday Clare went to the Everything Sale. Every year the teens go around collecting whatever garage sale/flea market type junk they can from the community, put it all together in one big room, organise it, and then hold a huge garage sale. They do it to raise money for the Ukarumpa Teen Centre, which is a cool place dedicated solely to the teens of Ukarumpa. It had an indoor basketball court, a stage, a big room for Sunday morning Soul Purpose meetings, (like church, but infinitely cooler if you are between 14 and 19). Also for most Friday nights of the school term they put on a Hamburger Night for the local community, so it's also like the only restaurant in town.

So anyway, yesterday was the Everything Sale. I suppose it would be logical to ask how in the world it is possible that a group of missionaries would have anything to sell at a garage sale, but consider these facts: 1.) Ukarumpa has been here as a translation support centre since the late 1950's. In that time, thousands of people have passed through here, each of them bringing things with them that they left behind when they went back home. 2.) missionaries are terrific accumlators. We live a lot like people in the US did who survived the Depression; that is to say, most of us never throw away anything that might possibly one day be of slight use to somebody, and generally it doesn't cost us anything to keep junk. 3.) MK's are super at finding interesting stuff and dragging it home.

At the everything sale Clare picked up some toys, books, and videos for Levi, some old Dr. Who videos for me, and three old Coke bottles. She spent a grand total of 3 Kina, I think it was, which is just over 1 US dollar. Today I was looking over these Coke bottles. I had seen them on Friday when I happened to be at the Teen Centre for another reason and had noticed that they were in a box with a handful of WWII junk, (some aircraft part data plates and US army canteen dated 1943 with a big hole in it), but didn't realise until thinking about it later that they had probably all been recovered from the same place. Most likely they were all pulled out of a WWII US military base garbage dump by some MK. WWII garbage dumps are great--I could spend all day pulling interesting bits of junk out of one, and actually have done so, in fact. My favorite things to collect are bits and pieces of fighter planes.

So anyway, I started researching these Coke bottles and found that they are all dated 1944 and were originally shipped to US servicemen serving overseas in places like here. How cool is that?

Some may wonder about my interest in WWII objects. What can I say? Finding some little bit of junk that was actually used during that conflict somehow makes history become more alive for me. Finding WWII junk to look at is one of the perks of living here.

10 April, 2010

OOPS! But good timing!

So today was Saturday. I did a bunch of work around the house in the morning because we had friends coming over for dinner and lots of dishes to wash. After that, I picked up my friend Chad and we ran out to visit some of our neighbors here in the valley who have a coffee plantation. They are building a new house after a fire they had a couple of months ago and we wanted to see how the work was coming along and also if they needed any help with getting their satellite communications set up, as Chad has some experience along those lines, plus he is blessed with an uncanny ability to accurately guess his way around a lot of that kind of stuff.

Anyway, the coffee plantation is a few miles away and we drove the Ancient Land Rover out there. We spent a few hours with our friends there and headed back home. After I dropped off Chad at his place, I drove up to our house. Just a hundred yards from home I shifted gears and suddenly lost forward pulling power! I've been through a few broken axles before, so I groaned inwardly, put the truck in 4 wheel drive and just kept going on the front wheel drive alone. As I turned the last corner near our house, I started hearing a squeak-squeak squeak sound and lost all my brakes. I also passed a couple of women who looked at me as if I were doing something really strange. I shifted the transfer case into low range, (which is geared so low that you can almost live without brakes), and limped to the front of our house. I elected not to turn into the driveway, (which slopes towards the front of the house and is not the ideal place to park a car without brakes) and instead parked by the hedge on the level road in front of the house. When I got out to take a look, I discovered this:

Yes, Virginia, that IS the left rear wheel sitting out about 2 feet from where it is supposed to be! And that is the inner wheel bearing hanging there in the breeze on the axle shaft. The squeaking I was hearing was the axle slowly sliding out of the axle housing whith each rotation of the wheel. I'm really surprised that the axle didn't break! If I had turned into our driveway, the axle would almost certainly have come all the way out.

So it turns out that the big nut(s?) that hold the wheel hub on to the stub axle must have come loose--I jacked up the car and pushed the wheel back in as far as I could--I didn't have time today to get into the wheel hub--tomorrow afternoon I should have the time to open it up and find out why it came loose. I was not the last one to tighten this nut, so it's possible that it was just assembled wrong. Thankfully there doesn't seem to be any damage, and even if I find that there is, I have a good collection of parts for these trucks, so it probably won't cost me anything to fix it.

So this happened just minutes after a several mile drive on a very rough dirt road! Thank the Lord it didn't happen halfway between here and the coffee plantation. If nothing else it would have been a hassle to fix on the side of the road.

05 April, 2010

Happy Easter! And Sanity Maintenance

Happy Easter to one and all! We had a 4 day weekend here, which was nice. Funny thing though, today I went down to the shop to work on one of my own projects and found all of the volunteer guys I work with all down there working on various projects of their own, except John, who is a welder and who is here for only a few weeks. He was bored and so came into the shop to work on stuff he would normally work on during normal work hours.

Anyway. I've been working on an electric fence to keep the dog from escaping. We picked up a really old Guardian electric fencer a while back that I had intended to hook up to our window bars as an added deterrent to anyone who might try to pry the bars apart to get into the house, but now we've decided that we really need to contain the dog more than we need to electrify the security bars. Right now I'm thinking that there's really no reason why one fencer unit couldn't do both the dog fence and the window bars, but for now I'll jut concentrate on the dog fence.

But that's NOT what I worked on this weekend. Well, okay, I did a little bit of work on it, making up some brackets to weld to our steel fenceposts to mount the insulators on, but that was all I did on it. I spent a little time on Friday and a little on Saturday and a little today, (Monday) working on building a motorcycle frame for my latest sanity-maintenance project.

"Sanity maintenance?" you ask. Yes, even I sometimes feel the stress of working on the same kinds of things all the time. I love my job, and there really is LOTS of variety in it, but sometimes I just get the urge to do something really different. Something that is probably really impractical for use here, but nevertheless is fun to build and causes me to have to use my mind to solve unusual problems. This time I am building a motorcycle frame from scratch around a 1978 Kawasaki KZ750 twin engine. For those who understand the lingo, it's a hardtailed bobber frame made out of i-beams that I am building up myself. This is a great chance for me to continue to improve my welding and fabrication skills, which is sort of what this kind of project is all about. Just sharpening skills that I don't have to use that often.

So yeah, it's completely impractical for use here in PNG, but that doesn't mean that I won't use it, oh no, I plan to ride the wheels off of it, learning how my design holds up, what should have been done differently, what works well, etc. It's all part of my professional development, further developing my skills and adding to my abilities and experience.

Here's what it looks like so far, and I warn you that it doesn't look like much yet:

Don't be fooled by those short exhaust pipes--I only put those on there so that I could see if the engine would run (it does).

Most of this bike is going to be made up of used parts that I have accumulated over the years, parts that are currently laying around the shop looking for homes. Parts that are no longer useful for most of the stuff I normally work on. Take the wheels for instance--I'm going with 23" rims front and back just because I have a couple of 23" front rims off of early '80's Hondas that I converted to 21" rims because the 21's are so much easier to get tires for. I also just happen to have a couple of old stock 23" tires that I got for free from somebody who was cleaning out his shed. They should be just fine on this bike, although they would be virtually useless on a bike that got used on trails or in mud, (like most of the stuff I work on).

So! Sanity Maintenance. I do it by stretching my mind.

27 March, 2010

my foray in furniture fabrication

I'm not normally a "wood" guy. I usually work with metals like steel, alumin(i)um, stainless steel, copper, steel, brass, steel and often steel. More than once I have welded up some contraption out of steel that any other person might have hammered together out of wood and nails.

Anyway, a couple months ago one of the high school shop teachers decided to do a woodworking course for anyone in the community who might be interested, so several members of the local community took him up on the offer.

Our projects were many and varied. One guy built a nice shoe rack to put near his front door, (when you go to someone's house here you usually remove your shoes at the door--this is because it is hard to get to anybody's house without getting your shoes muddy, especially now, during rainy season), another guy built a recipe box for his wife, another a hat and coat rack, that kind of thing.

Well, I had been giving this some thought for some time as the arrangement of our living room has always bothered me a little bit. The problem with our living room was that we had lots of space, but because of the furniture we had, it wasn't being used very well, and in spite of it's size, it was hard to put more than 4 or 5 people in it comfortably. So in my mind I designed a piece of furniture that was 1 part entertainment center and 2 parts book and storage shelves. Not having any idea how much time it would take to build something like this, I presented my idea to the shop teacher. He was kind enough to refrain from telling me that I needed to come up with a smaller project.

Well, this being one of the few places where rosewood is cheaper than plywood, and because there was a ready supply of nicely dried rosewood available, I built the whole thing out of mostly rosewood! Here's how it turned out:


Our more astute viewers will notice three things: 1.) there are no bookshelves, 2.) there is a huge empty space on the left, and 3.) MST3K is on the TV, (the beginning of Jack Frost, specifically). The reason why there are no book shelves is because I'm not quite finished with it yet--this is only the bottom half of my plan, although I admit that the bottom half is by far the bigger half. The upper shelves will be much easier to build and I can build them in pieces over the next few months. The reason for the big empty space is that I am planning to build a secure storage area there--basically, I'll be building a heavy steel box, (a safe of sorts) that will go in that area and will be a place where we can store things that we'd rather not have stolen in case our house ever gets broken into. Although our own house has not yet been broken into, over the past couple of years many other houses in the community have, so I feel that building a safe is a fairly sensible precaution, especially as I have a source of free scrap steel to build it out of. Rebuild, reuse, recycle, yeah whatever, I just can't afford to spend $200-$500 for the steel I need if I were to build it out of new steel.

And as for MST3K, I mean c'mon. That's high entertainment, there. Thanks to my brother and his wife for sending it to me!

18 March, 2010

HAPPY NEW YEAR! (belated by time zones!)


Okay, so maybe my Happy New Year's wishes haven't really been delayed by time zones--I mean, if the Earth were a million miles in diameter or if it were turning REALLY slowly, then maybe people might be able to live 3 months' worth of time zones apart. Instead of just 15 hours ahead of US Eastern Standard Time, which is the last time zone I lived in before coming here.

So every New Year's Eve at around midnight, all the kids who have bikes, (and a lot of the adults) go for a 45 minute ride around Ukarumpa. we try to hit all the roads that aren't dead ends, and we try to spread a little holiday cheer in the process. We do have a few rules--we have a tech inspection before the ride to make sure that everybody has some sort of headlight and tail light and also to make sure that nobody has removed their mufflers. We're not hooligans, we don't tear around at top speed. We get approval from the administration beforehand and we make sure that people are aware of what is going to happen so that nobody is surprised by it. It's usually a lot of fun. This past New Year's Eve it rained for the whole time, which means that we all ended up really muddy, but a good time was had by all nonetheless. The photo here was actually taken a few years ago when I was more active in the Ukarumpa Motorcycle Club, (in fact I was Vice President, as my temporarily tatooed knuckles proudly show). I'm not sure what that light running across my helmet is--maybe photographic proof of tiny UFO's?

Way too busy at work these days. I'm really glad that help appears to be on the way in the form of my friend Evan. Evan was here before as a short term guy with WA helping out at our training and orientation course in Madang. He was the mechanic and general handyman. He's also an ace welder. Anyway, we just got word that he has been accepted in the organisation, so tjhat's really good news. Looks like he'll be working at AutoShop, (YAY!), doing whatever we need doing, like motorcycle/small engine stuff, (double, nay, quadruple YAY!), and some welding. I imagine we'll find some training for him to do as well.

Finally! Relief appears to be on the horizon! For 8 years I've been the only motorcycle/small engine guy we have and over that time the work load has increased steadily as more and more people are riding bikes. Evan's not scheduled to get here before 2012, (BOO!), but there's always a chance that his support could come in sooner than expected and he could get here before that.