HAPPY NEW YEAR!

HAPPY NEW YEAR to all my readers and followers.

As the sun set on 2016 and another magical Whitsunday evening brought the year to a suitable close, I sat ruminating on the current project, Book 4 in my Williams series which is occupying much time.

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So it was a great thrill, and a confidence-boosting start to 2017 that on flicking through a weekend  paper I read a pleasing review by prominent Townsville journalist and reviewer, Mary Vernon, of Book 3 MELTED WAX.

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Thank you Mary for taking the time to read and review this work with a positive and pleasing review (and of course stimulating sales!)

The three books I’ve  published to date – PAYBACK, PURI PURI and MELTED WAX – are available in printed copy directly from me via my website www.johnbellbooks.com or by download to your digital reader from Amazon www.amazon.com/author/johnbellbooks.

Print-on-demand copies are also available from Amazon.

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M2MvM – the last of Burma … Rangoon (now Yangon)

Whoever said all good things must come to an end is probably correct, but I wish right now he wasn’t. I don’t want to leave Burma, and hope to return to this wonderful country.

From Heho and the fabulous Inle Lake, we fly to Yangon, founded in 1755, renamed Rangoon when the British annexed the country in 1885. Tree lined avenues, lakes and parks and a bustling city centre. A wealth of Victorian architecture, including the famous Strand Hotel, sister hotel to Singapore’s Raffles.

And traffic.20160316_103728_HDR

We visit the must-see Shwedagon Pagoda 2,500 years old, on Singuttara Hill, the most sacred Buddhist site in Burma and one of the wonders of the religious world. Complex geometry and many structures, up to 110m high, the lower stupa claims 8,688 solid gold bars, with another 13,153 in the upper part. The tip of the stupa claims 5,448 diamonds, 2,317 rubies, many sapphires and other gems, 1,065 golden bells and at the very top a single 76 carat diamond. It’s like Burma kept the best pagoda for the last.  For us, at any rate.

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Looks like a job for Ocean’s 11!

 

 

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We have lunch on Inya Lake, within 200 metres of Aug San Suu Kyi’s house where she spent 15 years under house arrest.

All too soon, it’s goodbye to fabulous Burma/Myanmar as we fly to Singapore and then home to our own Mandalay.

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John Bell Books

AMAZON – John Bell Books

 

 

M2MvM – Burma even more beautiful! Inle Lake

20160314_075737_HDRA short flight from Bagan puts us into Heho and we transfer to the fabulous Aureum Palace Hotel. This is a stand-out accommodation resort on the shore of Lake Inle. In the restaurant one young waiter learned that my name is John, and he became so excited, calling me “Johnny” because he was Johnny, too. He epitomized the friendliness of the people of Burma. The Aureum Palace would be my favourite Burma resort; if you go to Myanmar, you must stay there.

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We spend a couple of days on the huge lake (116 km2) in high speed long-tails, visiting villages around the shore, marvelling at the floating gardens. These gardens are staked to the lake bottom, replenished continually by boat loads of vegetable matter hauled on those small boats then stacked on top of the garden beds when the previous crop is harvested. Inle provides the bulk of Burma’s tomatoes and many vegetable crops. Reminiscent of the floating island dwellers on Lake Titicaca.

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Some 70,000 people live in these water villages. One small group still follow the ancient practice of rings (actually a long spiral) around the neck and legs of the women. We’re told that it’s not a beauty thing. It’s actually intended to make the women seem ugly to invading marauders. The practice h20160314_103943_HDRas nearly died out. Fascinating.

The fishermen on their long-tail canoes use “leg paddling” to manoeuvre their canoes. The long paddle is held against the body, one leg wrapped around it propels the boat, leaving both arms free to handle their conical fish traps and other gear. Against the setting sun, they look like so many ballet dancers performing an elegant and ancient ritual. I hope this fishing system never dies out.

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The lake is surprisingly shallow. Much of it is about 2m deep in the dry season, and crystal clear. Dense growth on the lake floor, in places reaching to the surface, provides a home for a large fish population, predominantly a species of carp. Boats zip around on it all day dragging rooster tails, people travelling, harvesting lake weed, fishing – a multitude of pursuits all based on this massive water resource.

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Villages around the lake provide homes for craftsmen of all types. We watch silk weaving on handlooms, visit the ringed neck women, have lunch in a restaurant on stilts, see beaten silver ornaments. Surprise, surprise, we acquire a couple of paintings. They’re now on our kitchen wall, a constant reminder of a wonderful month in our lives.

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At the end of another wonderful day we return to our rooms – yes, plural; our unit is probably as large as our own house – hoping that somehow we could stay here for a much longer. But as the man said, tempus fugit, and so must we, tomorrow, to Yangon our departure city.

Book, you say? What book? It’ll have to wait.

John Bell Books

AMAZON – John Bell Books

M2MvM – Beautiful Burma! Bagan

WOW! 

How many times am I going to say that?           WOW!

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Bagan, on the banks of the majestic Irrawaddy, dates back to 849 A.D. The former capital of the first Burma empire, embracing some 42 km2. There are literally thousands – someone said 4,000 – of ancient pagodas, stupas, shrines, ordination halls and monuments.

sunset dancers Irrawaddy River

sunset dancers Irrawaddy River

More gold leaf than I could imagine. Is it real? We’re assured that it is. I wonder how it survived the years of Japanese invasion, then political instability and struggles.

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I manage to lose another pair of thongs at the Ananda Temple, a whitewashed masterpiece of Mon architecture, with four standing Buddhas. Fabulous. It deserves another “wow” but I can’t keep saying that.

With my brand new longyi  (Burma laplap) – I think mine was designed to fit a Sumo wrestler – wrapped over a pair of shorts, and bare feet, the locals have reason to stare in bemusement. No pics of me so rigged will be permitted in this blog!

I can’t help but ponder how it is that Australians dress to local custom when travelling, yet some immigrants to Australia refuse to do so in our country. Maybe our politicians need to embrace Swiss immigration legislation, where one of the precursors to citizenship is proof of assimilation into Swiss culture. In all its forms. No assimilation, no citizenship. Simple. Sounds reasonable to me.

By late afternoon we’re pretty much pagoda’d out. At one collection of temple buildings about 2000 years old, and now crumbling, in disrepair, being overtaking by trees and vines, we meet a bunch of young girls selling beautifully colored material, and Carol can’t resist.

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Up early next morning for one of the trip highlights, a dawn flight with Oriental Ballooning Myanmar. Stunning. Several companies operating multiple balloons create a visual feast drifting silently above several thousand pagodas. Breathtaking.

I’ll let the pictures do the talking here.

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I’ve about given up on progressing my next book while in Burma. Too much to see and do, feel and experience. Hopefully all of this wonder will recharge my author batteries for when we get back to ‘our’ Mandalay.

John Bell Books

AMAZON – John Bell Books

M2MvM – Burma! Afloat on the Irrawaddy

20160310_090521_HDROur riverboat, the Irrawaddy Princess 2, is waiting for us at the Saigaing Jetty.
20160310_091230_HDR.jpgIncredibly, in that crowded over-used waterway, right where we boarded, these fishermen caught several fish around 500mm long! You can see one in that net.

20160310_093033_HDRLady Lucky must’ve been looking out for us as we are very fortunate to score one of the two forward cabins, which is surprisingly comfortable. Our view includes the ship’s bell, right outside our forward window!
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The river is already a hive of activity, boats going in all directions. We head off downstream, pass under a triple-coathanger bridge. Mini Sydney Harbour stuff.20160310_092051_HDR

The wide river, shallow at this dry period, carries an enormous amount of boat traffic. All shapes and sizes, all going somewhere. Occasionally we see boats aground, so easy to veer away from the twisting channels of deeper water. How the skipper finds his way is beyond me. These channels must be continually changing.

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We trundle along downstream at a steady 5 knots, slowing frequently to navigate a channel. A full day heading towards Bagan.

20160311_071430_HDR.jpg20160311_091329_HDR.jpgAs the sun sinks, we pull into a back eddy along the bank and anchor for the night. While we sleep, life on the river goes on. Many boats have stopped for the night, but some keep moving. Must be very shallow draught vessels.

Daylight and the engines rumble into life.

During the morning, we pull over to the riverbank and tie up.
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A steep sandy climb brings us to age-old serenity and a brush with history in Yandabo, a village of potters, where in1826 Britain and Burma signed The Yandabo Treaty to end the first Anglo-Burmese war. The treaty ceded significant territories to the

The treaty ceded significant territories to the British, and required the King to pay war reparations to the British of one million pounds.  Sound a bit one-way, that treaty?20160310_163315_HDR.jpg

Over 60 families engage in pottery, their products exported widely. We watch the process, from river mud dug out of the steep banks, to finished pot ready for firing.

Carol sits in the working seat and pedals to keep the wheel spinning. Takes a while, but she finally gets the right rhythm. Rewarded with a big grin from the girl whose place she’d taken.

Back aboard our slow boat to Bagan. Eventually we pull in and disembark via a rickety jetty at our destination, a town established in 849 A.D.

John Bell Books

AMAZON – John Bell Books

AUTHORS NOTE – Thank you PNG

John BellA special ‘thank you’ to those hundreds of people from PNG who have ‘liked’ my book blogs, and those who’ve clicked on www.johnbellbooks.com to check the books out.

Your interest provides fuel to the fire that keeps me writing. I’m now on Book 4 of my Williams Series, again a big PNG connection – no name yet – and all of you provide more incentive for me to push through the barriers that all authors encounter in their craft.

And let me talk for a moment about PURI PURI, Book 2 in the Williams Series

Being Kavieng born I know, as you do, that I’ve stretched author’s licence by linking ‘puri puri’ to an inherited gene. I’ve done so because it’s that deliberate bit of fiction on my part that lies at the very heart of the story.

It’s all about suspension of disbelief, and rolling with the concept.

On another point, I’m in the process of establishing a distributor in PNG for print copies of the books, to reduce the very expensive Australia Post cost of sending books to PNG.

All of my books are also able to be bought through Amazon, both as print editions, and as e-books, as well as print copies direct from me.  Click on the links below to find out more.

Thank you all once again, and for me now it’s back to the desk with renewed inspiration.

John Bell

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John Bell Books

AMAZON – John Bell Books

UNBELIEVABLE? … Probably. TRUE? … Definootly! MELTED like WAX? … Absolutely!

1968, a bumper Gulf of Carpentaria prawn season prompted “gold rush fever” for 1969. More trawlers, new players, a Russian super trawler. A small syndicate from a little Queensland town  saw an opportunity and went for it, sparking an unlikely adventure in international shipping.

A great Aussie yarn? Fanciful plot line?  NO! Amazingly – TRUE! 

MELTED WAX is a fictionalized version of that story.

Others invested in trawlers or processing plants. Z - men on deck looking into hold - uuinions shut downOur heroes decided on a vessel to shuttle between catching grounds and processing plants. Frozen prawns one way, fuel and supplies the other.

Great idea, good plan.

Found a ship in Europe, borrowed from a Dutch bank, incorporated a company in Holland. Brought the ship around Africa to newspaper headlines “Million dollar prawn ship in Townsville!”

Huge learning curve. Massive cost differential, slipping out to the reef for a spot of fishing and running a real ship half way around the world.

Big problem – 1969 was a season disaster. Only two prawns in the Gulf. One caught by the CSIRO for research, the other died of loneliness.

What could they do, no prawns and a 500 ton ship? Dutch flag meant it couldn’t operate on the Australian coast. Our heroes were desperate.

Money flowed out like a 4 metre Whitsunday tide.

Months of twisting, turning, ducking, hoping. Not opening window face envelopes.

Almost accidentally, they secured a charter to shuttle between Bougainville and Sydney, transporting food for the Conzinc Rio Tinto copper mine.

The charter was lucrative, but the syndicate was not skill-equipped to manage a foreign flagged ocean going ship. Or the sudden inflow of big money.

Z to slip for paintingWhen the opportunity for another ship, another charter, they succumbed to the 1970’s… More money from the Dutch bank? No worries.

Another Dutch company? Easy peasy. Repaint the new ship to match?   Yeah, why not.

So now they owned a fleet. Well, two. One 500 tons, one 1100 tons.

Pretty impressive stuff for a few blokes from a tiny rural town. And there’s more…

To find out how they made it to that point, and what happened after, read the third book in my Williams Series, MELTED WAX.

About the only facts are those above. Please read and enjoy as fiction.

MELTED WAX, and all my Williams Series, available from:

Kemphaan kids

Kemphaan rusty