Across Continents

Ken's Blog

Mending fences

November 4th, 2011

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Be bold I’d thought. Always found I’d had a knack for eggs. Soft peaks and all that. Chocolate souffle for dessert. Quietly confident. But then things had gone a little awry. No hand whisk and efforts with a fork weren’t going well. I’d have got more air in the mixture if I’d gargled it. But that’d have been a bit off-putting for old school friend Giles, his wife Sara and their young daughter Sophie.

I’d had more success earlier mixing concrete. Literally. Helping mend a fence. Always trying to make myself useful, not to be a burden on those kind enough to let me stop. Over the last few years I’ve cooked, walked dogs, bit of baby-sitting, installed tumble driers. Pretty much happy to give anything a go. But maybe avoid souffles for a while…

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In the pottery shed

October 23rd, 2011

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Actually it was an art studio, admittedly with a small potters wheel and a couple of large clay blocks amongst the various brushes and paints. A former garden shed that also doubled has a rather charming stop for the night, a small sofa bed tucked away at the far end.

I’d been met earlier, around sunset, by host Michelle on her robust BMW touring bike. Guided to a small, neatly kept trailer park in the suburbs of Victoria. Ordinarily these were the sort of places I’d positively avoid, rather than simply let allude me. But her lot, shared with partner Patti, was different. Quite different. It had character. A distinct cottage feel. I loved the little touches. The woodstove. Home made, lightly perfumed soaps. Driftwood decorations.

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Adults only

October 16th, 2011

Adults Only from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Ken chances on a sign for an Adults Only park. Cyclists welcome. Unable to resist, he goes off to investigate… and spend the night there..

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Breaking and entering

October 11th, 2011

Breaking and entering from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Ken stays with a family near Terrace, in Canadian British Columbia. Never a dull moment…

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Warmth in a cold climate

September 19th, 2011

The ride north out of Anchorage had given me chance to reflect on my time in the US, or Alaska at least. Two things had really struck me. Firstly, the relative ease with which I’d been able to get myself and all the kit over from Australia. Admittedly there’d been quite a bit of planning. Days in fact, if I’m honest. But, for all that, you still have to satisfy Customs and Border Protection on entry that you’re a bone fida traveller. But that too had been remarkable for being unremarkable.

Secondly, the hospitality I’d been shown. I don’t mean the Have a nice day sort, the obligatory niceness. An expression, incidentally, I’ve yet to hear. Rather, the genuine welcome, the generosity, the warmth I’ve experienced in little over a week. Whether this holds true for other parts of the US – the Lower 48 – I’m not yet sure. I’ll find out in a little while.

I’ve been particularly intrigued by the friendliness of everyone, even amongst officials I’ve met, because I do think there’s a perception abroad that the US can be a bit officious, with a politeness often lacking in conviction. Am sure there’ll be the odd blip over the next few months, but what matters to me is the broader picture. And, so far, I must admit I’ve been hugely impressed.

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Cooking on gas…

September 9th, 2011

Cooking on gas from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

Not content with simply subjecting his hosts to his wit and repartie, Ken prepares dinner. Fine English staple of cottage pie and medley of vegetables. Filmed in Aromavision.

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Homely affair

September 4th, 2011

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Like others on the staff, John had original been a guest in the hostel. Returning to Alaska after a decent spell in the US Air Force. A retired Lieutenant Colonel. I don’t think he’d ever imagined he’d end up running two hostels, a few miles apart in Anchorage. But that didn’t seem to matter, for it was quickly evident he knew how to look after his people, both staff and guests. Actually, I thought it was more than that. He cared about them, as you would family.

It had started with a simple, unremarkable e-mail. To Anchorage’s Bent Prop Inn Hostel. I must have included a link to my website, for John replied, inviting me to stay as his guest. Could he help with some PR? I’d taken him up on this. Keen to show I always did what I promised, I’d got a press release off to him pretty promptly. Assured him plans were in place, flights booked, I’d soon be on my way. Wouldn’t let him down.

I’d tracked him down on my second day in Anchorage, eager to introduce myself. Until then not quite appreciating just how busy he was. Quickly apparent that, despite this, he always had time for others, be they staff or guests. Lunch together, joined by owner Ben, a former pilot who’s antics had inspired the Bent Prop Inn Hostel’s name. His passion was break dancing, something, I was to discover a bit later, he’d used to tremendous effect in the slums of New York, helping to steer young men away from crime.

Many of the hostel guests were student workers. Chinese, Moldovians, Russians, Polish, mostly young people far from their families for the very first time, in a society quite different from their own. Working in local fast food outlets or in the fish factories. Early starts and long hours. The hostel their home, John and his team de facto loco parentis. Like Dave, also a former guest, with years of experience running a homeless shelter. There were rules of course. Sensible ones. Strict no alcohol policy for example. The sort of things that make communal living work. A very homely affair.

[With especial thanks to John, Ben and the team – Cindy and Lisa at the midtown site, Dave, Adam and Reggie at downtown. If you’re in Anchorage, I’d heartily recommend a stay at the Bent Prop Inn Hostel – click here for further details]

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Walking the dog

May 3rd, 2011

It’d been Kent, back in Townsville, who’d asked me how I came to choose which cycling hosts I might want to stay with. Through a very reputable website. Was it location? Convenience? If there were a few potential hosts, did I draw up a list and work my way down it until someone agreed to put me up?

Geography, I’d explained, necessarily played at part. But what I really looked for were interesting people. Those I felt I’d have something in common with. Could share experiences. Or simply intrigued me. If no one fitted the bill, I’d not ask. No lists.

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And when I did drop in, payment in kind. Giving something back. Very important. Cooking. Household chores. Tracking down bottled beer in Azerbaijan. Fixing bikes. Even walking the dog.

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Tea stop

December 30th, 2010

Tea stop from Ken Roberts on Vimeo.

A late morning stop for photos results in an impromptu cup of tea – yet another example of Chinese hospitality.

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One in a billion

November 12th, 2010

Foreigner“. The tone disconcerting rather than threatening. Bravado of the sorts I thought he’d be far too cowardly to show when sober. As is usually the case. If I was torn over what to do, it was whether to pity him or despise him. I eventually chose the latter. Excessive drinking an aggravating factor, not a mitigation or a defence.

But, distain aside, I’d found myself feeling quite disappointed. Not simply the only instance of aggression I’d encountered in China. No, it was more than that. The only less than hospitable encounter. True, I’d been ignored by a few strangers I’d sought to engage with, but that was something I’d always thought understandable. Imagining how I’d react if someone like me pitched up on a bicycle, usually asking for directions with only the most rudimentary grasp of my own language.

The present situation was one easily dealt with. I left. Already quite late. And the next day? By the following evening I’d a bag of apples, a box of moon cakes and a couple of litres of water. All gifts thrust upon me at various stops I’d made. Not that my faith in the kindness of strangers really needed any restoration.

[Author’s note: Wrestled for a while as whether or not to recount this encounter, not wishing to give, however inadvertently, a distorted picture of China. In the end, decided to publish details because it happened, a factual account rather than just opinion. Besides, it’s not really a story about aggression towards foreigners, rather one of their (almost) unequivocal welcoming by ordinary Chinese people. A case of an exception proving the rule. So far, one in roughly a billion]

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