Time to look back in on Clete and see what he's up to. A little more cultural mismatch here as he figures out the place he's in. And, it's not a cheese-filled adventure story without a curse, no? But if you're like Clete, there's no such thing.
Personal Journal Entry
Sunday, July 1, 2012
Project Date: Week 2, Day 1, Sunday
I’ve been here a week. Thought I’d record a couple of thoughts about time here and its passage. Three month’s vacation is normal for teachers, but for everyone else it’s unheard of and seems terribly long. When you work for yourself, it’s even more preposterous. You just keep thinking you’re sinking one more day into oblivion while your clients slip away one by one to your competitors.
But I have the “work” here to take my mind off such things. Ninety days is nowhere near the time needed to record the features of a tiny island. Maybe the best thing is to just run the video camera all hours of the short tropical day like Johnson suggested, skip the analysis. What the hell was I thinking? And why do I find myself caring that I won’t get it done?
Even so, I have decided to keep Sundays as a day off and refrain from work. The Dog Islanders are not Christian and I’m not even sure they have the concept of a “week” fully felt except that they know the Western calendar is organized into seven-day segments that they understand only intellectually. Lee and Ling think more in terms of time in being relation to the moon’s phases—I suppose they’re on the agricultural calendar, which is essentially lunar. For instance, today, July 2, is the 13th day of the fifth month, the full moon occurring in two days. They do state times in the 24-hour clock here, but they also think in terms of dividing the day into 12 two-hour segments as being say, the “Hour” of the Rat, which encompasses 11 p.m. through 1 a.m.
Anyway, they don’t get my pattern of taking a day off as a Sabbath, especially since I choose to spend my day off fishing. They think of fishing as work, so for me to call it a day of leisure is perplexing. Lee and Ling are not without their religious practices. They go to a shrine (which I have not seen) to pray and burn their incense and offerings at least once since I’ve been here, but they don’t take the whole day off. I have not been invited there yet, but when the time is right I will ask if I can go and make an offering as a courtesy. I’m not particularly religious myself nor do I go to church regularly, but I find that when I am in a foreign country, it’s comforting to renew my grasp on my Christianity, so since I’ve been here I’ve been reading my Bible and saying my prayers. I spent my time in devotion today before I went out to do spend my leisure time doing some fishing.
I had packed three fishing poles just for this kind of activity. I originally set them up on the harbor side beach. One of the younger inhabitants, a teenage girl who did not identify herself [note input at later date that she was “Yi”], pointed out a rocky outcropping that worked like a natural pier from which to drop a line in deeper water. It was a great tip; I snagged a 30-incher and a 36-incher. I’m not a good identifier of species, I leave that to the biologists, so I don’t know what I caught. Something pelagic that swims long distances in open ocean. I presented them to Lee for that evening’s meal. Lee told me the name it is known by on the Island, which was in Chinese roughly translated as “white-belly fish.” Not really distinctive, but she gutted them and sent Ling off with portions for the other nearby households. Evidently they don’t fish very much themselves.
I wrote earlier that I was ordered to take evening meals with her and to make report. It turned out that I was now required to take breakfast as well, at which I would report what I was to do, where I was going to go. So much for being unsupervised and not having a boss. However tiresome this process is, it has focused me. My other custom is to record all the day’s findings and upload them digitally to the cloud, including my personal journal entries. Sally receives it all back at the office, reviews and files them for me. That way if anything happens, my work product is off the island.
The topic of fishing and the disconnect between leisure and labor came up quite naturally over dinner:
“So are you going to fish regularly?” asked Lee.
“Probably do it on Sundays. What you call Day Seven.”
“I know what a Sunday is.”
“Duly noted. It helps me relax.”
“Relax? Fishing is a task that requires full attention and vigilance.”
“If you get something, great. If not, you open up the can of beans that night.”
“What if you don’t have the can of beans?”
“Thank God that’s never been my problem. Not since college.”
“How do you ever hope to be successful at fishing, or anything, if you keep an attitude like that?”
“Truthfully? I find that my best ideas come when I’m not so intent. When the mind floats off to something else than what I should be thinking about.”
“That is, how do YOU say it? A load of shit.”
And let me note now that after our initial conflicts, Lee and I came to something of a truce, or at least an understanding. We had no expectations of niceties from each other so we just set aside all pretext of courtesy and ceremony. All totally unspoken of course. We had been so terribly rude to each other already (which I later learned from Ling) so there was nowhere else to go. Everybody needs a pseudo-boss or pseudo-client that they can say exactly what they mean to. It’s very therapeutic.
“Even with your disgraceful work ethic, you would do better in a boat than fishing off the point.”
“If I had a boat.”
“You know how to operate one with outboard motor?”
“I have a pilot’s license. I have to take divers to prospective drill sites now and then. I found that hiring a pilot can get to be expensi . . .”
“Shut up. Whatever you say. If you have skills, I will let you use the small boat I have.”
“That would be nice.”
“But, you have to obey the safety rules. And stay in the bay.”
“Yeah, yeah, sure, sure.”
“I am serious. And you must bring back enough catch to feed 19 people with some to dry and store. Like you did today.”
“What? I’ll have a damn quota? You’re going to fuckin’ turn it into work?”
“It will give you the right attitude. A proper mind. None of this relaxing nonsense.”
“What happens if I don’t hit quota?”
“I will charge you the rental fee.”
“$88 U.S. an hour.”
“My hour of 60 minutes, or your Dog Island hour of 120 minutes?”
“Rental hour of 50 minutes.”
“What! That’s outrageous.”
“Don’t worry. If you are any good at it, you will never pay. We have lot of fish in the harbor. That is why professional boats come here. You just do not get in their way. They pay big money.”
“Why aren’t they here more often then? I haven’t seen a single fishing vessel since I came.”
“Too far, too many pirates. It’s difficult to navigate the seamounts out there too. Easy to shipwreck if you are not a good sailor. We are the last resort.”
“That’s good and bad.”
“Everyone who is granted a license gains a profit, but the island always takes a price to limit the profit.”
“The ‘island’ takes a price?”
“Crew sickness, disability, sometimes death. Rogue waves. Whale attack. Storm damage. Equipment failure or loss. Pirate boarding. Government boarding. Anything like that.”
“Whale attack? What a bunch of Goddamned superstitious hogwash.”
“How you know? You just got here.”
“Lee, bad things happen all the time on any project. I’ve never had anything go 100% smoothly.”
“Then maybe you are cursed.”
“If that’s the terminology you want to use for setbacks. Yeah. We all are. Ling? Do you believe in curses?”
“I would not know what to say about such things Dr. Wong,” said Ling.
“Thank you for being polite,” I said. I continued. “You mentioned pirates? Do you ever have a problem with them?”
“No problem. Nothing to take here. If they come here, it’s only for one thing.”
“What’s that? Female companionship?”
“You have a dirty mind,” said Lee. “But, NO. Nobody even touches any of the girls here! Except those awful Malays YOU hired!”
“OK. OK. Sorry. How many times you want me to apologize for them?”
“Until I stop complaining. So, did anything bad happen to them afterward?”
“Not that I know of.” Lee just raised her eyebrows as if she knew something. “So, why do pirates come here?”
“You should understand this. They come to relax. That’s all.”
“You do have food to take.”
“No need to take food. We just give it. We always have extra chickens.”
Ling added, “It is our custom to give water and provisions to any mariner who comes here. We have plenty. Dog Island’s history has always been that it is an island of refuge. Nobody stays here unless they have to though.”
“Supposedly it’s too hot here,” said Ling.
I was glad she said that. It reminded me to wipe my brow and drink some water. I was not acclimating. But I was getting used to walking around in a perpetual glaze of sweat. “So your largess extends to pirates?”
“We don’t ask anybody how they got their cargo,” said Lee. “Everyone who comes here is polite. Except you.”
* * *
RE: Project ADX 2012-325 – Dog Island
Sent: July 2, 2012
Short answer. Sorry to hear about the crew conduct. Give you a good adjustment on the next project. Won’t hire them again but not for the reason you think. Paid them too much—way above regular scale. Thought I was hiring best—we make mistakes eh?
Bunch knuckleheads got into bar fight in the next port flush with shore leave cash and died there. Bleed out in a back alley mostly. Took the wage settlement to their widows personally—never saw ladies happier to see the cash than their guys come back in the door. I coulda dropped any of them on the spot if you know what I mean—fuckin’ Santa Claus in July. HA. If you want to bribe the local medical examiner and police for the right kind of reports, we could get them insurance survivors’ settlements too. LOL!
Have to find another skipper if you want anything else on that hellhole. My pilot said he had to keep a man on the sonar exclusively as well as a visual spotter to avoid scraping bottom. He never wants to do that again, and never in anything other than calm seas in bright light. He say a second engine caught fire underway, but had way too many operating hours on it and needed a rebuild anyway. Wear and tear. Why you ask?