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of books and spare parts

Saturday, January 9th, 2010

Auckland, New Zealand

The wealth of Europe was a stark contrast to the poverty we experienced in Asia. But it did not challenge us – we were removed from it, living relatively simply with just our seven backpacks.
The wealth of New Zealand, however, confronts us. It is personal. It is ours.
Most specifically – for today anyway – I’ve been unpacking our books. It’s no secret, we have a lot of books.


We believe a good education can be gleaned through books and we have made every effort to ensure our children (and wider community) have access to good books. I do not regret this in the slightest, but as I opened box after box after box after box after box all full of books, I could not help but think of the children we met in Laos – the one who were receiving their first ever books, the ones who would have a library of fifty books to choose from and then there would be no more for them to read. Fifty. Fifty books for your whole childhood. Fifty more than when Big Brother Mouse began publishing, but it’s still a pitiful number, is it not?
When we visited BBM, we were impressed. Very impressed. And I don’t just say that – we also visited an orphanage in Cambodia where we were NOT impressed. That one was a money-swindling operation with very little credibility. Big Brother Mouse was different. Do you remember us going to the book party we sponsored and then writing about it on the blog? That’s THE ONE post that people keep talking to us about even now.
And we keep thinking about it too.
We want to sponsor another book.
Having no personal income makes this difficult for the children, so we are thinking creatively. As we have unpacked the book boxes, we have not automatically returned them to their homes on wooden shelves, but have set aside a fair number to sell. We’ve just got to work out the best way to do this. TradeMe? A book fair?
We could do another sponsored walk too: the Coast to Coast walk we did last time would not be such a challenge now, so we may need to set our sights on something more demanding. Any ideas?
Another silent auction perhaps. The only problem is we no longer have a houseful of gear we do not need. We’ve given it away! Maybe we could approach businesses to donate decent prizes instead of on-selling just our junk.
We could ask all our readers to donate a dollar each, and according to our stat counter, we’d be well on the way to sponsoring a book. Any takers?

Then there are the other things needed at BBM. Of course their biggest need is for money so that they can get on with their work of making books and getting them into the hands of the Lao population. But they can also use educational games, used laptops and digital cameras, and old computer parts, as well as the odd book that they don’t publish themselves (they do not, however, want all the throwaway books that no-one else in the west wants either!)
One thing we noticed during our month in Laos is that there were precious few toys. Kids kicked around rattan balls, and the little girl in whose house we stayed had a Barbie doll, but that was all we saw. Knowing what enjoyment our own children have had with a wooden train set, I wondered if such a toy would be appropriate in Laos. I thought maybe not, because quite simply there are no trains in Laos. But look! Here on the Big Brother Mouse website is a picture of kids playing with a new toy – a wooden train set!
As for games, I suspect there are plenty of kiwi households with an old magnetic Chinese Checkers board or wooden quoits set or construction equipment sitting in the back cupboard. There might even be microscopes or inflatable globes no longer in use. I’m sure there are Monopoly games with Park Lane missing, or 1000 piece puzzles of which only 998 pieces remain. Lao learners don’t need these offerings! Neither could they use games requiring a good command of English. But surely there are *universal* games sitting in dusty corners that could enhance the life experiences of children, who ordinarily have access to next-to-nothing. Is there anything at your house? If you live in New Zealand, we’re happy to collect goods, and somehow get them to Sasha in Laos. We’re willing to personally deliver them if need be <wink>

the resources table at the school we visited



Thursday, July 16th, 2009

by a ranting member of the lunatic fringe
Lindisfarne, England

According to newly-released statistics, New Zealand is almost leading the world in obesity statistics (apparently currently coming in third). I wonder if we would have noticed England’s obesity if we had flown here directly from home. But we didn’t and the problem here struck us strongly.
I’m not going to get scientific about it….just a little anecdotal… terms of the places *we* have been, we’d say Laos is the most non-obese nation. We did not see one overweight person in our month there. Not one. We expected Cambodia to be the same, but we saw an occasional chubby young person there – we were staying just up the road from a private school and quite a few of the children (obviously from wealthy families or they would not have been attending the school) were starting to show the signs of adopting a Western diet. Now I do not know for certain that they eat lots of Western food, but we did see them with bottles of Coke and chocolate bars. None of the people living on the rubbish dump, on the other hand, were overweight. None of the people we met in Thailand or Vietnam, who lived their traditional subsistence lives were fat. None of the rural Chinese were tubby. No-one in Mongolia was carrying extra kilos (and all they eat is mutton and full-cream dairy with loads of fat piled on – so maybe the NZ food nazis should sit up and take notice of the fact that low-fat diets are not the answer – our bodies need fat and while the beauracracy tries to prevent us from consuming it, they are not going to solve the obesity epidemic.)
It’s not even a Western issue (I don’t think)… Holland and Germany there were precious few tubbies – yes, there were a lot of men carrying beer pots on their skinny legs, but not general obesity. In those countries you have everyone riding bicycles everywhere – even old dottery grannies (no offence intended – I’m describing the ladies we saw on bikes – so dottery that when they got off their bikes, they sometimes nearly toppled over – but they were still out there cycling well into their nineties!) And there was next to no low-fat food. Just plenty of full cream milk and quark and yoghurt and butter.
Then you get to England and everything is low fat. And a good portion of the population is overweight. My theory stands up to the scrutiny of circumstantial evidence! If our health board is going to ban anything, let them ban sugar. Did you know that in the fourteenth century we used a teaspoon a year of this “luxury spice”. Now Britain’s annual consumption is 35kg per person. Hello! Could we make a link between that and obesity, diabetes and poor teeth, do you think? And how different is New Zealand? (Answer:not very)

Now, if you’ll give me just a moment, I’ll hop down off my soapbox (and to think I thought they had all been packed away in the attic for a year!)….

There, back on solid ground.

Are you still with me? How about something less controversial – a nice wee morning game of hide-n-seek in Warkworth Castle (before the rain came….again). Or if you prefer, the game where you have to run under the drawbridge (which doesn’t draw any more) and try to avoid the missiles being sent from above….that one was fun!

The day ended in pouring rain, we’re perched at the edge of the sea (in fact, according to the GPS we are IN the sea!) in a little carpark just off the causeway that goes across to Holy Island. The island is only accessible at certain times of the day, dependent on tides, as the causeway totally floods at high tide (a most impressive sight to see – and exciting to watch people to-ing and fro-ing trying to make up their minds whether to take the risk once the water has come up a bit! The pictures of almost submerged cars on the tide timetable signposts did nothing to deter some!) We zipped across this afternoon to visit Lindisfarne Castle and Priory, but as the rain took our arrival as its debut time, and we saw the number of motorhomes in the carpark, we came straight back and nabbed spots in aforementioned carpark for the night (no overnighting allowed on the island), not that we needed to hurry as none of the flash motorhomes came into our freebie spot!

Time on the road: need to check Jboy13’s record!
Distance covered: 68km

out the front window of the back van

Monday, July 13th, 2009
written by the mother - travelling photographs by the eldest son (fort photos by mother) On the outskirts of Hexham again, back in the same spot as two nights ago Today’s blog post is brought to you courtesy of Jboy13, who sat ... [Continue reading this entry]

quick eats

Tuesday, July 7th, 2009
by the cook Byland Abbey, 1/2 a mile from Wass, 1 1/2 from Oldstead, 6 1/2 from Helmsley, England My kitchen view keeps changing. This morning when I was chucking together the curry it was out across a huge grass reserve ... [Continue reading this entry]


Wednesday, July 1st, 2009
by a linguistics graduate Bath, England That Bath is a university town was particularly apparent today – hundreds of black-gowned graduates were out on display, marching the streets, proudly clutching their certificates. It seemed an appropriate place to check out second-hand ... [Continue reading this entry]

* STellendam * STop * STuck * ooSTende *

Saturday, June 20th, 2009
by a weary driver Oostende, Belgium At 246km, it was slated to be our longest driving day so far. And if we remember correctly that it took us eleven hours to travel only 200km in Laos, then today rivals that record ... [Continue reading this entry]


Thursday, April 23rd, 2009
the day we travelled from Moscow to St Petersburg on a day train instead of sleeper so we could see the countryside – guess what – pine trees and silver birches!   “Won’t you be lonely travelling for a year?” someone ... [Continue reading this entry]

South East Asia Summary

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009
TRANSPORT DETAILS Hours spent on long-haul trips: 212 Longest bus trip: 11 hours (with two twenty second stops and one 15 minute one) Longest boat trip: 2 days down the Mekong Longest train trip: 43 hours (Saigon to Hanoi) Favourite transport: elephant Types of transport:


Monday, February 2nd, 2009
by Rachael Hanoi, Vietnam


We had been expecting to hear a bit more English in Vietnam. Not sure what gave us that idea, but we had it all the same. And it was wrong. In our ... [Continue reading this entry]

she might only be two…

Monday, January 19th, 2009
by Mama Phnom Penh, Cambodia ...but the opportunity to travel is not being "wasted" on her. One thing that has surprised us about our youngest is her recognition of details. After even only one time visiting a place, she will tell us ... [Continue reading this entry]