Monday, October 24, 2011

Good Clean Family Fun in Orlando

Basil Waine Kong

It is our oldest son’s 41st birthday, so Stephanie and I are in Orlando to help him celebrate. Freddie and his wife Tracy are proud parents of two cute and endearing children, Kai (3 years old) and Hailie (18 months). While Kai is active and strong willed, Hailie is as cute as a bug in a rug and in fact we call her Hailie bug. The best moments of our visits are the hugs, welcome to our home, good to see you moments when we first arrive.

While Tracy had to work, Freddie and I played golf at Eagle Creek on Friday afternoon while Stephanie Babysit---which she loves to do for her grand children. I had my usual three bad holes but played well otherwise. Freddie rolled in a 40 footer and chipped one in accompanied with the usual exclamations. We got back home, took our showers, dressed and made our way to his celebratory dinner at Bone Fish Grill, a seafood eatery in Orlando. Although the children were a little antsy, the food was wonderful, service superb and priced well for the quality! Our waiter, Mike, was the best. He should go into business training other waiters. My wife, a very exacting diner, was completely pleased with the attentive and professional service. That made the food taste even better.

The appetizers, bang bang shrimp, entamane (steamed soy beans) and calamari, were a little unusual but very tasty. For our entrées, my wife had the sea bass, pan Asian style with Jasmine rice, Tuna with a beacon jalapeño sauce for Freddie, Tracy had sea bass with mango sauce, and I had crab cakes. The little ones dined on Mac n Chez with steamed Broccoli and lead us in the singing of “Happy Birthday Dad”. We all shared the complimentary warm brownies and ice cream and were in complete agreement that that was a memorable meal.

In addition to the usual hugs and kisses, chasing the grand children, lovely family meals and conversations, swimming, shopping, spa treatments, walks in the park, playground swings and climbs on monkey bars, we spent Saturday at: “Scott’s Maze Adventures” and a wonderful time was had by all--- good clean fun!

Scott’s is a large family owned farm in Zellwood, Florida (about an hour’s drive from Orlando) that is famous for its triple sweet corn. Yes, the corn is sweet and can be eaten raw. Each Fall (Autumn), they convert seven acres of their cornfield into a maze. While the corn maze is the main attraction, children have various “play” options including a spongy wind pillow the size of a tennis court that our grandchildren delighted in jumping, falling and romping around. Kai loved by far, the zip line! The kids sit in a harness and zip down an outstretched line. They can go on and on and our grandson Kai was delighted with each pass. It was wonderful to see the glee in his eyes!

For lunch we dined on fried clam strips and French fries, corn dogs, hamburgers and the usual refreshments. On a day like this, we ignore the usual dietary restrictions like when we go to a ballgame. What’s a baseball game without hot dogs?

After lunch, we go off to the mazes. As corn is called maize in many parts of the world, so, this is actually a maize maze. There are three mazes, the “mini”, the mist and mega maze with three maze quests to play: Kernel B. Cobb’s, Cornelious Quest Picture Find and Poppi’s Secret word Jumble. We didn’t run into any skeletons because they give you a flag on a long stick that you can wave and be rescued it you are hopelessly lost or have an emergency.

Labyrinths and mazes have been around since Ancient Egypt and Greece and is cornfigured as a puzzle with complex branching passages that walkers try to find a route to the exit through the designed twists and turns. In this case, walkers were asked to walk around corncentric circles and find designated stations where answers to paper and pencil puzzles about the environment and alternative energy could be obtained. They did their best to create “cornfusion” with the maze to get people lost but we were able to find the five stations and make our exit in about an hour.

We finally got to the hay ride with the accompanying lecture by our corncierges telling us about the farm’s efforts to make farming environmentally safe and productive. I did not know that each string that makes up the silk at the top of an ear of corn (the cornfer) is connected to each grain of corn.

On our way home, as the children were Cornfined to their seats, the corny jokes were non-stop.
Cornation: countries that grow corn as their principal crop
Corncentrate: thinking deeply about corn
Corncealment: sealing up leaks with glue made from corn
Corncede: what you plant to get an ear of corn
Cornceit: a chair made from corn
Corncerts: breath mints made from corn syrup
Cornscent: things that smell like corn
Cornception: becoming pregnant from eating too much corn for women who need to produce an heir of corn.
corncession: giving an ear of corn to settle a disagreement. And my favorite, if you don’t like them, you can corndemn to hell.

Anyway, the point of this blog is to suggest that this would be an easy thing to implement in Jamaica. How hard would it be to convert a sugarcane plantation into a maze with the accompanying rides, foods and kid friendly activities? Mazes are popular throughout the world. With all the undesirable or non-existent recreational options in Jamaica, how wonderful would it be to have a “Cane Maze?” It would be a terrific tourist attraction as well as a place every Jamaica family would want to visit. It would be lots of fun to “get lost” while raising cane.!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

So Much To Do and So Little Time

How much can you fit into a week-day in Jamaica?

Basil Waine Kong

It is Wednesday morning, I am missing my wife who is in Atlanta and I am wide awake at 6:00 am without an alarm clock as I am each day. I immediately call her to share well wishes and our plans. After a breakfast of callaloo and salt fish with fried dumplings, June plum juice and coffee, I go through my early morning routine to read both the Gleaner and the Observer on line, check my e-mails and I am off to the golf course for my 8:00 am Tee time. Today, I played with Peter Lindo, Steve Hill and Lindy Delapano. Steve and I beat them three up on the front and they came back to beat us on the back---good competition and camaraderie. It is an enjoyable round of golf with my Caddie “Garth” in tow and at least Peter buys us drinks with our money. I have ox tail with rice and peas and a salad for lunch, refresh myself in the beautiful pool at Caymanas Golf Club, shower, dress and I am off to the country.

As I drive towards Mandeville, I find myself replaying my round of golf. The great shots I hit, the birdie I made as well as the mental errors and some God awful shots.
You see, each round of golf at Caymanas is something to tell about and recall next hour, day, week , month and repeatedly throughout one’s lifetime. Having the game and courage to go for the green in two and eagling the par five number two is something to strive for, enjoy and relish for a lifetime. The finishing hole is long and a true test of golf with water on both sides of the fairway and big bunkers guarding the green. Peter was once up by three coming into the 18th hole and I worked my Obeah on him and predicted that he would make a seven. No one was more surprised than I when he in fact made seven which tied the match. Maybe I have supernatural powers after all---science man.

While driving through Santa Cruz, I spot three men playing dominoes and decide that they needed a fourth so I invited myself, bought a round of Red Stripe Beer and proceeded to give our opponents a six-love. Interestingly, the proprietor (Days) recognizes me as a school mate from Springfield All Age School. In fact, I learned that his sister, (Eileen Robinson) another school mate was admitted to Mandeville Hospital and getting preparing to have one of her legs amputated due to diabetic neuropathy. I promise to visit her the following day prior to her operation.

I continue on my journey with a stop at Lynn Salmon’s shop in Springfield to have drinks with old friends (including Joyce Henry) who just happened to be present and got answers to: What ever happened to …? and making a donation to one of her causes. I also decide to visit an old friend, Mr. Asley Black. As a boy, Asley was the older gentleman with whom I spent numerous hours discussing the great questions like the meaning of life, human nature and the value of organized religion. I worked as the shopkeeper at 12 years old and as he sipped on gin and salt, we would sit across the counter and had many pleasant conversations between having to sell sugar and whatever else customers wanted. Then there was a 50 year absence until I returned and found the same old Ashley, spry as ever. We have visited several times since then.

I park my car at the road and walk a quarter of a mile straight up the hill. I am out of breath but he enthusiastically hugged and welcomed me inquiring as to why I was winded. At 85 years old, he makes the walk to the road and back several times per day. But I now understand why he lives on this hill. He saw me looking across the wooded slopes and said: "I can get drunk with happiness just sitting on my veranda and gazing at this majestic beauty, especially this time of the day." I arrived just in time to see the multi-coloured glory of the setting sun reflecting on the Moravian Church with it's red roof and high steeple. I was at a loss as to where to turn my head to admire this endless hill and gully panorama clothed in woodland loveliness of banana, mango and neeseberry trees and sprouting cabbage, Irish potatoes, dashine and cassava. The landscape was beautiful but as I focused on the little houses with dinner fires sending smoke over the treetops, I could imagine how brutish their daily existence must be---kind of hell and heaven on the same canvas.

Ashley jovially invited me in for a drink and something to eat. He prepares a country dinner of dumplings, bananas, yam, with mackerel mixed with salt fish and it all tasted delicious. We talk about the old days and how men these days cannot afford to hang out at the rum shop anymore as liquor is too expensive and people don't have money.

After a pleasant visit, he walked me to the bottom of the hill to me car and said my good bye. As I drove away from his house, I passed women carrying heavy loads on their heads and men carrying crocus bags and hoes on their shoulders walking home from their fields wearing water boots.

I then make my way to Woodlands and stopped to have a drink with about ten people who welcome me and update me on who died, who had babies and who migrated. I finally made my way to the country home of Mr. and Mrs. Garnett Myrie. His brother Joshie (the caretaker of the property) welcome me and show me to my sleeping quarters. I am in bed by 9:00 pm and read my Kindle until I fall asleep to the barking of dogs, chirping of insects, toads and frogs. Otherwise, all was quiet on the western front.

I am awake at five in the morning and administer some eye drops to clear my eyes so I can continue to read my Kindle. I drink my usual early morning glass of water as tonic.

About six months ago, I bought "The Complete Mark Twain Collection". I am determined to complete it before my death but I have my doubts as it is 100,000 Kindle pages. I probably did not read this many pages in my entire college career. I am about half way through and it is well worth the investment. He is such an entertaining writer who has a very unique way to express himself. I cannot wait to consume the next page.

My wife does not agree that he a great writer and her assessment is that he is one of the worst racists that ever lived. I try to reason with her that we cannot judge a man that lived 100 years ago by modern standards. The racism is, however, glaring I admit, but his writing is still amazing. He was traveling in the Middle East and checking into a hotel. He wanted to make sure that he had enough light to read late into the night. They assured him that it was “no problem”. When he was shown to his room they lit a candle. He was visibly upset and asked if that was all the light they had, the gentleman’s said “Of course not. You can have two candles if you like.”

I have just finished “Joan of Arc” and believe it is his best piece. You have to remind yourself that the facts are true. No one is capable of believing that the Catholic Church and the English could be so evil and conniving. I am also reminded that as I lawyer, I am trained to take any set of facts and make anyone a saint or a sinner.

As the dawn breaks, I listen attentively for the familiar sounds of mornings in Woodlands, the braying of donkeys, the cows announcing where they are so all the little cow calves can find them, the roosters crowing, the birds chirping and the goats bleeping. By six AM, these sounds are all overwhelmed by the gospel music on the radio next door. I shower and dress including water boots and I am off to walk my property through the high grass and don’t want to harbor tics. I go by the grave yard to bring greetings and prayers to the dearly departed and to pour a little libation. In a few years, I plan to build a house on this property and I spend some time imagining grand children running around.

It is perfectly calm and the sun is brilliant. It is now 8:00 am and I make my way to Ms. Erma Cameron’s home for breakfast. She is also an early riser, so the coffee is ready. I so enjoy a good cup of coffee in the morning. Ackee and salt fish, friend dumplings and friend plantains are also on the menu. She also picked some grapefruit from her own tree and I enjoy that as well. We are joined by neighbours and we have a gay time eating, visiting, singing the old songs and remembering the old days.

On my way back to Kingston, I decided to visit the YS Falls. I keep passing this jewel of St. Elizabeth and never visited, so today is the day. I pay my entry fee and board the tractor train that takes the group past the famous “Brownie” cows and horses to the reception center and I immediately walk towards the falls by following the thunder and smoke created by these falling waters. I am actually surprised. I was not expecting something so stupendous. I believe it is grander than it’s more glamorous sister, the Duns River Falls. As it is the rainy season, tourists are advised not to set foot into the falls; The flow is so rapid, it reminds me of Niagara Falls. The view is breath taking but I couldn’t resist sneaking a dip, sit under the shower to get a good massage and survived it. I declined the repelling but saw more brave souls sliding along the tree tops.

I sit on a bench on the side and read Mark Twain on my Kindle. It is a special moment.

In about an hour, I make my way to the first pool, slosh around a bit and was told that there was an even larger pool not far away so I make my way and it is a treat to swim is the cool waters. Again, I sit by the pool and read some more taking sips of the Red Stripe Beer I bought from the commissary close by. The sun shine is brilliant.

I then make my way to the Mandeville Hospital where Eileen is a patient. I am actually impressed with how modern the hospital is and their courteous and helpful staff. I am usually very critical of the health care system in Jamaica but I now need to correct this perception. It is now 2:30 pm and visiting hours do not start until 3:30. I decided not to have lunch at the Hospital canteens but opt instead to go across the street and enjoyed a wonderful curry goat lunch along with a cold Red Strip at the "Island" restaurant in the Plaza. It was delicious.

I am back to the Hospital in time to be allowed in. I am directed to the Women’s Ward and find Eileen’s Room. As we have not seen each other in fifty four years, she is a little puzzled at first but then the light came on and she shouted: “Basil, Basil Kong, is that you?” “Same one”, I answered. “I bet you are surprised to see me.” My most vivid memory of Eileen is that we were both in the same house (Punctuality) for our annual sports day. Another boy (Sylvester Mair) and I were tied for first and I needed the break the tie but only the jump rope contest was left. Who ever heard of a boy participating in jump rope? I asked Eileen if she would be my partner and low and behold, we won and I was crowned “Boys Champion”. We reminisced a great deal about the glory days and I am heartened that she is not distressed about the impending operation that was scheduled for that evening. I promised to help with her prosthesis. There is so much improvement replacing limbs these days. I am reminded, however, that good doctors cure disease and surgically solve medical problems but really great doctors prevent them. The best hope for managing the cost of health care in Jamaica is through prevention!

She was very happy with the quality of medical care she was receiving and thought it was wonderful that it was all free.

I stopped to buy fruits in Porus, get Tastee patties in Clarendon and fill up my gas tank at the Oasis Station, got on beautiful Highway 2000 and I was back in Kingston by 7:00 pm in time to shower dress, join the Myrie’s (family friends) for dinner and then five of us went to “Waterfalls” for dancing at 11:00 pm. I am back home by 1:00 pm, ready for bed and fall asleep quickly.

You can certainly find things to do in Jamaica.