Posts Tagged Punctuality

Island Time

While on holiday I am perfectly happy to take it easy, relax and leave the watch at home. Actually, that is a total lie. I am just as obsessed with punctuality when I am on holidays as when I am at work and countries that do not know how clocks function drive me crazy. To ignore a concept pioneered by the Egyptians over two thousand years ago seems just plain disrespectful. They did it to make life more predictable and less stressful for people, and it works, so why not adopt it?

We returned recently from a week of scuba diving in the Solomon Islands. The resort where we stayed was quite remote from the capital, Honiara. Getting there required a one hour light plane flight followed by a thirty minute boat ride. It was a beautiful, isolated spot with great fish diversity and a few manta rays thrown in for good measure.

Our return flight was due to leave at 11.10 am, plenty of time to make our 3.00 pm connection back to Australia. The day before, we were informed that the flight was now scheduled to depart at 10.00 am. Considering we would now have quite a bit of time to sit around Honiara airport (not one of the more desirable of the world’s airports) we organised for a driver to meet us and show us the sights of the capital.

Next morning, we were informed that the flight was now leaving at 9.30 am. We quickly finished our breakfast, said our farewells and headed for the boat, congratulating ourselves once again on having the foresight to organise that Honiara tour.

There were seven of us leaving the resort and we arrived at the little grass airstrip just after 9.00 am. Check in involved weighing both ourselves and our luggage on what looked like kitchen scales. We then hunted around for a bit of shade, preferably with a breeze, to get out of the heat and humidity and settled down to wait for our flight. Our boredom turned to concern when a rather large school group appeared and also checked in.

The 9.30 am scheduled flight turned up at 10.15 am, a 19 seater twin engine otter. Our concern turned to relief when a chap wearing a yellow T-shirt, inside out, started loading our bags onto the plane, the baggage handler presumably. Our relief turned back to concern when he then refused to let us board, saying the school group would be getting on this plane. We informed him that he had already loaded our bags, so he should really let us get on the plane. Unfortunately he held firm and seemed a bit put out when we insisted that, in that case, he really must take the bags back off the plane. If we were not going to Honiara, neither was our luggage.

About half the school group boarded the plane and we gazed wistfully as it took off and disappeared into the distance. In an attempt to presumably cheer us up our friend with the inside out shirt informed us that another plane would be along around 11.40 am, thirty minutes after our originally scheduled flight.

At 12.15 pm a very small plane landed. The pilot informed us that he could only take five passengers. Fortunately two of our group volunteered to stay behind, avoiding the messy situation of having to club them to death. We loaded our luggage, climbed aboard and noticed with dismay that, no matter how many times the pilot tried, that pesky right engine simply would not start. I thought about offering to spin the propeller for him. Instead, we got out again and offloaded our luggage. The pilot informed us with a cheery smile that we should wait 20 minutes, he would try again and then the engine was bound to start.

Fortunately for us a second otter had just arrived and we raced for it, hoping its engines would be slightly more functional. This plane was able to fit both us and the remainder of the school group and we finally left the little grass airstrip at 1.30 pm, a mere four and a half hours after our arrival.

Although clocks don’t appear to exist in the Solomon Islands electronic communications do, and the pilot was able to radio ahead so that our connection was still sitting on the tarmac when we arrived. After landing we were checked through the domestic terminal, instead of having to cart all our bags to international, which would have been bizarre at the best of times considering our plane touched down right next to the Australia-bound jet.

Safely aboard we departed Honiara thirty minutes behind schedule. This created more anxiety because we had yet another connection to make at the other end. Fortunately it all ended well and we were even upgraded to Business Class for the flight to Australia. We thought this was an attempt by the airlines to make it up to us, but the pilot informed us that the plane had not been loaded properly, with insufficient weight up front, so they wanted us up there to act as ballast.

Thinking back, I wonder if our driver is still waiting at Honiara airport for us.

Dr. F. Bunny


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Turning Japanese II

I am not necessarily a fan of everything Japanese, although I did enjoy their concept of punctuality as a mark of respect. I was told that the Japanese consider the other person’s time as valuable as their own, so it is only natural that they would not want to waste it by turning up late. Considering the dearth of rubbish bins it was also impressive how much cleaner their cities were compared with Melbourne.

In some areas, however, they do tend to lag behind. The concept of eating is one such example. Why persist in using two thin pieces of wood to handle your food when much of the rest of the world has moved on to metal cutlery? Admittedly chopsticks are quite useful for picking up sashimi or sushi but try eating meat or the okonomiyaki omelettes with them. As I have a tendency to inhale my food they did have the beneficial effect of slowing my food consumption down to the speed of the other diners, which probably helped my digestion. Being wood, chopsticks are not reused resulting in 24 billion pairs being discarded by the Japanese each year. A lot of trees could be saved by using washable metal implements. Depending on your source, Japan is either the most heavily forested country in the world or it falls second behind Finland, with over 60% of its land still covered in trees. They are good at preserving these forests too, importing most of their chopsticks from China. I do suspect, however, that chopsticks may cause some Japanese as much frustration as us, as I saw a shop selling magic chopsticks. To my untrained eye these looked amazingly like forks.

Much has been written about Japanese toilets, and deservedly so. They are true masterpieces of engineering. Beside the actual toilet are a bewildering array of buttons that, when pressed, will deliver a jet or spray of water with uncanny accuracy at your bottom. It took a while to find the off button, as there are also dials to adjust the intensity and temperature of the water as well as one to heat the seat. Even more impressive, however, were some of the urinals, which had video screens above them and contained a small target to aim at. If your aim was successful the video screen came to life and an animated gentleman raced across the screen carrying a can. The more you peed the more the can filled up. I managed to fill two and a half cans. Not bad for a first attempt. While this may sound absurd the floor was not awash with the litres of stale urine I usually stand in at public urinals. Anything that improves men’s aims must be applauded.

The Japanese are, on the whole, extremely well dressed, sporting a wide assortment of new, clean, designer clothes. Unfortunately they don’t appear to get it quite right. Parisians are the other group of people I’ve seen who take great pride in their appearance. However, while the Parisians are also co-ordinated in what they wear, the Japanese appear to have thrown a completely random assortment of clothes together, some of which are downright weird. I saw quite a few girls wearing stockings with some sort of writing on them, either in French or English, running up and down their legs. And those legendary shirts sporting complete nonsense in English are not hard to spot either. It makes me wonder if the people who have Japanese or Chinese characters tattooed on their bodies really know what they mean. In an episode of the Big Bang Theory Sheldon asks Penny why she has the Chinese symbol for soup tattooed on her buttock. Outraged, she tells him it is the symbol for courage. Presumably the shirt people believe they are sporting similarly edgy, insightful or humorous (certainly humorous) messages.

It would also seem prudent to employ a native English speaker to check their sign translations. That way the sign at our sake tasting would not tell us to “Please take grass home.” I did also wonder why a blue platypus was chosen my Japan Rail to tell people not to smoke.

Dr. F. Bunny

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