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Friday, March 24, 2017



While waiting for Padma to finish her shopping, I sat on a bench on Ulladulla's teeming thoroughfare and started dipping into my latest acquisition, "Ustinov at Large", a friendly little book of short essays by my favourite Renaissance man, Peter Ustinov.

Looking up in between chapters, I saw this old codger sitting on the footpath across from me. He was staring right back at me and I was about to wave when I noticed something familiar about him: it was my own reflection in a shopfront.

Not the mental image I carry around in my head which is slim and agile with a full head of hair and a full set of teeth, but a later version which has put on weight and finds it difficult to bend down to tie the show-laces. As for the full head of hair and full set of teeth, let's just say I now get a discount at the barber's and dentists start checking out the latest catalogue of BMWs when they see me coming ☺



Thursday, March 23, 2017

Gone up in smoke


After over 31 years, the trusty old NATIONAL NA860-AN washing machine has gone up in smoke. It was my first domestic purchase in late 1985 after I had returned from overseas and settled in deepest suburbia in Canberra.

Needing a replacement, we went to the Homemakers Centre in the Bay and stated our case, "A 5kg-top-loader is all we want, but it must have a footprint of no more than 550x550mm to fit into the existing space."

"What you want is a hire", the salesman said.

"No, we don't want to hire; we want to buy", I replied.

As it turned out, Haier is a Chinese brand and an abbreviation of the German brand Liebherr who in the 1980s sold their technology and manufacturing know-how to a small refrigeration factory in Qingdao who subsequently became the biggest appliance company in China.

As every China traveller knows, Qingdao - or Tsingtau, to give it its German name - was a German concession from 1898 to 1914 and is the only place in China where the Chinese still wear Lederhosen.

Just kidding! However, when I visited it in 1998, I was surprised by the large number of German-style buildings in Qingdao city centre and, of course, I visited the Tsingtao Brewery, founded by the Germans in 1903 and still producing Tsingtao beer, the best-known Chinese export beer.

With such impressive antecedents, I had no hesitation to buy our new Haier HWT60AW1. May it last another 31 years!



Tuesday, March 21, 2017

All in jest

King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV's royal decree


Ruling a medieval kingdom used to be serious business, what with all the warfare and beheadings and dying of the plague. Yet a staple of royal courts was the jester, an entertainer whose skills could include jokes, music, storytelling, juggling, acrobatics, or magic.

While jesters haven’t entertained the crowned heads of Europe for centuries, they aren’t entirely extinct. Tāufaʻāhau Tupou IV, king of the Pacific island nation of Tonga from 1965 until his death in 2006, appointed a court jester on the 1st of April 1999.

His choice - who celebrated his 44th birthday on the very same day - was Jesse Bogdonoff, a Bank Of America employee who at one time also sold magnets to cure back pain. He had been Tonga's financial advisor for five years before making the transition to jesting. As jester, he wisely recommended moving the national stock portfolio out of the stock market before the dot-com bubble burst, possibly while juggling.


The king and I: Jesse Bogdonoff with Tonga's late king, Taufa'ahau Tupou IV.


However, by 2001 the US$26 million he had moved from the Tonga Trust Fund into a series of speculative investments was all gone, and he fled the country in 2004.

The Tongan Trust Fund was set up with money received from Tonga's controversial passport sales started in 1982 which, according to this academic research paper, resulted in the sale of 8,450 passport at an average of US$11,000 for each passport, or a total US$92.95million. US$92.95 minus US$26 million - what happened to the other US$66 million?

Those 8,450 passports - equal to about 8% of Tonga's population - went to such notables as General Motors Vice President, Michael Nyland, and family to allow them to avoid massive inheritance taxes (Australian 1/1/99); Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos, his wife Imelda (on 8 June 1986) and their daughter Aimée on 8 June 1987 (Tonga Government Gazette Extraordinary 15/2/91); the subsequently imprisoned former head of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, billionaire Ronald Li Fook-Shiu; Hong Kong textiles billionaire Chen Din-hwa; former chairman of the Diamond Importers' Association of Hong Kong, Maximilian Ma Yung-Kit; George Tan Soon-Gin, who handed over his Tongan passport to Hong Kong police after his Carrian group of shell companies (most in tax havens) was discovered to have fabricated hundreds of millions of dollars of profits -- precipitating the colony's financial crisis of 1982 and 1983 (Asian Wall Street Journal, 30/9/96; Naylor 1994: 209-24); Zhu Hua Yu, a Chinese millionaire who acquired a Tongan passport and moved to Nuku’alofa and lost over NZ$46m ($30.7m) at Auckland’s Sky City Casino and in November 1998 was convicted of cheating in its ‘high rollers’ area to finance his gambling addiction (New Zealand Herald 31/3/99).



There has been a decades-long inquiry into those passport sales but nothing seems to come of it - click here and here and here. Not for nothing was Tonga named the sixth most corrupt country in the world by Forbes magazine in 2008. That's some record for a tiny nation.

As for Jesse the jester, he now calls himself Jesse Dean, BA, MBA, PhD(c), ABH Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist, Certified NLP Master Practitioner and Trainer, TimeLine Therapist Practitioner and Trainer, and founded the Open Window Institute of Emotional Freedom and Prosperity which provides unique personal development and communication-enhancing seminars to corporate clients seeking to increase executive and team performance. As one does after having been a royal jester! ☺

Compared to this, what's happening in Tongan real estate is almost a sideshow of a sideshow.



Wonderful virtual reality


With his Tongan "Cocomo Village" promotion running out of steam, lovable raconteur and realtor extraordinaire Robert Bryce has come up with Go Native Fiji which looks wonderful in virtual reality, doesn't it?

He wants to get it up and running as soon as possible, so "in our effort to get the first beach house village formed the offer for March is; order a home now with just $1000 down and you will get free delivery and installation, which is worth up to $3,800."

Trouble is, as with his Cocomo Lodge, it's just a figment of his vivid imagination or, in today's computerised world, a bit of virtual reality.

Okay, Robert, you got me interested. Please accept this image of a US$1000-bill as downpayment and send me your virtual receipt.



Monday, March 20, 2017

The most-loved dog in the world!


Exactly fourteen years to the day, we were celebrating Padma's birthday in the beergarden of the "Adelaide Hotel" overlooking the Moruya River, when a man on a pushbike pulled up for a rest.

He had a tiny Maltese puppy in his backpack which made us talk to him. He turned out to be an Austrian by the name of Robert Krenn who was pedalling from Melbourne to Sydney (a distance close to 1000 km), had ridden his bike all over the world, and had many stories to tell.

We invited Rob to stay with us at Riverbend and he turned up late that same afternoon to overnight in our guest cottage. We talked and talked and became very good friends. And his little Maltese puppy and our dog Malty became very good friends as well! So much so that when it was time for him to leave next, we suggested that if he ever needed a good home for his little puppy, we would be very happy to have him!

Late that same evening, Rob called us from Burrill Lake, some fifty kilometres north of Batemans Bay, to ask if we had been serious about wanting to take care of his little puppy as he felt we would give him a much better home than he ever could. Of course, we had been serious! So we got into our car and met Rob at his campsite where we drank hot tea, walked along the beach, gazed at the stars, and talked some more. We returned home well after midnight with the new member of our family whom we have called "Rover" as he has already travelled so much!

Rover became a great addition to the family and, fourteen years later, is a 'senior citizen' who enjoys his daytime naps and at night still sleeps on our bed between the two pillows, usually on his back with his four legs spread out in all directions, snoring softly.

He's probably the most-loved dog in the world!