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


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!