Friday, 28 December 2012

How to make friends with a pair of army boots (Australia)



The notification about the 1972 R.I. (Raffles Institution) class reunion, thirty years after we left as 18-year-olds, had come rather late, so I didn’t have time to pack properly for Australia, my next stop after the reunion in Singapore.  I was lucky to be able to scramble a ticket at all to Kuala Lumpur, the nearest destination to Singapore, given that it was the weekend of the World Cup Final (in Japan and Korea).  So it was that when I booked myself to go on two hiking trips—Tasmania and Ayrs Rock—I had to resort to my host in Sydney, Wilson, an ex-R.I. schoolmate, for some sturdier footwear than gym shoes.  With two pairs of thick socks, I managed to convert his ex-National Service boots into walking shoes.

The transportation for the Ayrs Rock tour, named Ayrs Rock Unleashed (it was the “unleashed” bit that caught my eye), was a 14-seater mini-bus.  Two members of the group were from Israel, who totally blanked me on the first day.  When we were cooking dinner at the camping site, one of them suddenly asked me, a trifle nervously, “Why are you wearing Israeli army boots?”  I said, “Oh, these are on loan from a Singapore friend—they were his army boots.  The Singapore army was trained by the Israeli army.”  

His facial expression softened considerably, and he went on to inform me that there were labels on the inside, in two different colours, one blue and one brown, signifying something I don’t remember now.  He then looked inside my boots, and found they did, indeed, have a label in one of the two colours, which proved to him that they were kosher.  

If I’d been quick-witted enough, I could’ve told him, “Because I was trained by the Israeli army!” which might’ve scared the sh*t out of him, as payback for treating me as persona non grata.

(Australia, 2002)

Watching a British film in Switzerland



Whenever it was the Gentle Giant’s turn to come over to London, I’d take him to places and/or events that they didn’t have in Zürich, one of which was the NFT (National Film Theatre) to see non-mainstream films from all over the world.  When it was next my turn to go over to Zürich, he told me he’d just discovered they did have a sort of equivalent to our NFT, which was about to be shut down, so we went off to experience it before the opportunity was lost for good.  

The film was a 1988 British one, called Distant Voices, Still Lives, about a working class family in 1940s Liverpool.  There were French and German subtitles for the Swiss audience.  I had difficulty understanding the Liverpudlian accent, so we ended up with the bizarre situation of me, an English-speaker, watching a film in English but needing a Swiss to read the German subtitles and translate them back to English for me!

(1988/9, Zürich, Switzerland)