Archive for September, 2010

My experience in the UK

Warning, the following is a very long read of a four month experience. Going into the WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farming) program, I initially did not plan to write anything in regards to my experience, but with each farm being unique in its own way, I could not help but to reflect back on to those experiences. Each farm involved organic produce and the hosts provided accommodation and food. Apart from that, each farm presented their own individual background.

The first farm was in Cirencester, England. Far and away from the busy cities, this farm sits in the area of Cotswold, known for its beautiful country side.

The host family, Hillary and Will, own a large section of land that was inherited by Will’s relatives. Part of the land is dedicated to their organic farming and store, where they sell their produce, and also served food in their café. This was the most organized farm that we’ve visited. Hillary and Will do not do the farming themselves, but hire the head farmer named Keith. Keith’s teenager son Sam recently started helping his father with the farm, but the majority of the work force is under a group of young apprentices learning under the guidance of Keith. Everyone was pleasant and Keith himself, though very particular in details, is a very gentle and nice gentleman. Since the farming works in accordance with the store, our hours of work coincided with the apprentices, which was Monday to Friday, between 10am to 4pm. Work ranged from raking, weeding, laying out compost/manure, planting, and harvesting. Lunch was provided to us by way of their soup and bread served in their café. The rest of our meals was provided with an allowance of 25 pounds for each person, each week.

The hosts arranged for us to stay in a caravan. The caravan did not have a working bathroom, and the insulation was almost nonexistent, so it got extremely cold during nights. However, the caravan was spacious (separate bedroom, kitchen, and living room), and had electricity and gas. Plus, one of the apprentices, Kate, lent us her electric blanket, which made sleeping so much more comfortable. We had to walk a few meters to the shed that had two showers and one toilet. Initially, we had to go to the café to use their wifi for internet. Later, another one of the apprentices, Mike, lent his dongle to us. This allowed us to have internet in our caravan, although the connection was dodgy half of the time.

The second farm was in Frome, Somerset. Unlike the first host, we lived with the family of Chris and Cordelia, and their four kids, ranging from 3 to 15 years old. I already missed living in a caravan, due to their house only having one toilet, their showers having unreliable hot water due to their solar battery, and our bedroom being extremely cold during nights. However, we received cooked meals for dinner, and we had instant internet connection in the house. Chris was another considerate gentleman, although he can be quite scatterbrain, which can be seen at his farm. He bought his plot of land about 20 minutes of walking away from his house. His farm was nowhere as orderly as the first farm, so I think our experiences from our first farm really helped us sort Chris out. The primary purpose of his farm was to sell produce in veggie boxes and deliver them to customers. Our duties were mostly raking, planting, and weeding. Chris and Cordelia are wonderful people, so it was a little sad to see Chris feeling depressed about the future of his farm, due to being only him working on his farm.

The third farm was in Llanegrin, Wales. Even before we arrived, we were quite excited that this farm was located within Snowdonia, a National Park in North Wales. The hosts, Phil, Katie, and their two young sons have their farm directly behind their house. The caravan that we stayed in was also right next to the farm, so no traveling was required when we went to work. This caravan was much smaller than our previous one, so we had to be at their house to use the internet, bathroom, and to have lunch and dinner.

Phil used to sell produce from his farm, but it was too much work for him, so he decided to only grow produce for his family so that he can enjoy his time with his family. This way of thinking was also encouraged to us, meaning, if for example the weather was nice, we were more than welcome to go out to enjoy it. This was one of the reasons why this was my favorite host.

Besides being in the middle of beautiful scenery, Phil and Katie were more than generous to us, to the point that we felt like family, and it was a great feeling. The only inconvenience was the lack of proper public transportation and my allergies were going haywire.

The fourth farm was in Glenties, Ireland. This trip was probably the most bizarre by far. First of all, our hosts are not Irish at all. Thomas, Lucia, Benny, and Meika are all Germans, so there are times where I feel like I’m living in Germany. As with Phil and Katie, Thomas and Lucia expects us to work like them. However, probably due to them being Germans, they work an insane number of hours, so we were doing the same. We stayed in a small shack built between their house and the farm. There was no hot water, so everyday, I had to start a fire in the Irish firestove to heat up the water. Because everyone was so busy and on their own time schedule, we often had to fend for food ourselves. The biggest issue I had were the tiny midges that bite you. Both of my arms were full of bites, including my neck and head. I can’t believe I’ve encountered something that I might consider worse than mosquitoes.

The oddity continued during our trip to see Slieve League. Arriving there wasn’t a problem, and the weather was perfect, but there were no public transportation back by the time we were finished, so we decided to try our luck in hitching. We tried to no avail for one hour, until a police officer offered to give us a ride to Killybegs, half way back to our place. Along the way, he took us on a coastal tour to see some of the sights, mentioned other places of interest in Donegal, and even wrote a sign, “Glenties”, for us to hold when hitching for the next ride. He dropped us off on the main road back to Glenties, and we hitched for maybe 15 minutes, until an older gentleman offered us a ride up until Ardara, which is the village before Glenties. Not many cars were coming by, so we decided to try to start walking back to Glenties. Fortunately, another gentleman gave us a lift. He lived about halfway between Ardara and Glenties, but was gracious enough to take us all the way to Glenties. He asked where we were staying, and we mentioned we were staying with a host family to help them with their organic farming. Unbelievably, he actually knew that family, and even knew how to get to their place.

It was the policeman who rectified me that I could drive in Ireland with my American driver license, so we decided to rent a car to visit Horn Head and Malin Head. I was quite nervous driving, since I had to shift with my left hand, drive on the left side of the road, and I hadn’t driven manual in over 10 years. Fortunately, since I’ve already been in the UK for over two months, I was already somewhat familiar with how traffic works in the UK. It was obviously more expensive that taking public transportation, but the ability to catch the sunsets and sunrises was well worth it.

Our two weeks was over in Glenties, and we were more than happy to leave and start our way through Northern Ireland. We had an odd, but pleasant start.

First, Thomas dropped us off at Letterkenny, where we planned to take the bus to Derry to rent a car. Arriving at Letterkenny, we had to wait two hours for the first bus to arrive. While waiting, we saw a bus already arriving that indicated it was heading to Derry. We asked the driver if he was heading to Derry. He mentioned he had to drive to Derry to start his work, so he offered a free ride for us. On the way, we had a pleasant conversation about him moving to Ireland with his wife from England (the driver was also a police officer, and mentioned how he stayed in touch with foreigners by giving his “business” card after getting his picture taken near Buckingham Palace). After arriving at Derry, we realized that the bus to the airport, where we had to rent a car, wasn’t running until 6 hours later, so we decided to take taxi, which we thought was worth it, considering we already had two free rides earlier. After acquiring our car, we started our journey along the north coastal route of Northern Ireland.

I felt the first two days were the best of this particular trip because of the weather and sights. However, the weather eventually turned to rain and remained unpleasant until we arrived in Belfast. Belfast failed to hold our interest, so we quickly hopped on the ferry to make our way to Scotland.

After arriving at our port, we took the train to Glasgow. Glasgow was interesting city. My first impression was that it felt “heavy”. It may be due to the massive, grey buildings and the unsophisticated look of the locals. This description was especially reflected in the owner of the hostel that we stayed in. The room was quite cheap, which is why we took it, but the condition of our environment was questionable, which only grew as time passed. First of all, there were no other guests. We saw other people milling about the hostel, but I later found that they were foreigners helping out the owner. When we first were introduced to the owner, I thought he said his name was Colin. We asked if there was WiFi available, and he said yes and gave us the password. When looking for the server, I thought it was the one called “Colin is a pedophile”, which I thought was a joke. The password didn’t work, so we asked him again. I asked if the server was correct, and he first said that his name was Michael, and couldn’t tell us what the name of the server was. Interestingly, the next morning, that server was no longer available. The next morning was the highlight to this whole oddity. We stepped out in the morning to find a car to rent. After finally finding one, we returned to the hostel to check out, only to be seeing a group of men in uniform standing in the front entrance. They happened to be firemen, and were investigating about the fire hazard that the hostel posed. One of the officers asked if the owner explained to me about any fire precautions. I said no, and I realized the severity of this situation because this hostel is almost like a maze, and can be almost impossible to get out. The officers than warned me that they were about to set off the fire alarm to test it, but even the fire alarm failed to go off. The officers finally succeeded to setting it off, and that was when we made a final dash to our car and made our way to Loch Lomond.

Due to our constant traveling and poor weather, we probably didn’t enjoy Loch Lomond as much as we would have liked, but having a car with us made a big difference, especially one that was better made. Our previous cars were a Corsa and Leon. Though I don’t really have high regards for Ford, our Ford was model was much better designed than the other ones. We decided to cut our trip one day short and headed to our next farm.

Phantassie would be our last farm, located east of Edinburgh.

My immediate thought was that this farm was very much like our first farm, making me feel that I’ve come to a full circle. The farm was quite huge, requiring a staff of people to help out, including their store in Edinburgh. Ralph and Patricia runs the operation, although Ralph focuses on his wood works while Patricia tends to the farm. Perhaps due to Ralphs’ untamed facial hair and gentle demeanor, he reminded me of Keith from the first farm. We also stayed in a caravan, but it had no running water, so we had to go outside to use the toilet and shower. It was more inconvenient than our first farm, so I had less desire to take showers. There are, of course, differences between the first and last farm, one being the nature of the people working here. Among the people who worked in the staff were Lizz, Fiona, Mike, Tracy, Rory, Cameron, Douglas, and Tony. They were such a strange ensemble of characters. Strange, but enjoyable people, except maybe for a couple of characters.

One being Tony, who is supposed to look after the Wwoofers. When I first saw him, the first thing I noticed was the wild white hair that was competing with his hat for attention. He appeared to be nice person, but as time went on, we felt he was bothersome because he tried to mandate rules on us that we felt were unnecessary, and felt insulting to me. We found out he’s more freakish than we thought. One being that he seems to have no control about buying things that are dirt cheap. We would find inorganic foods in the kitchen just because it was too cheap for Tony to pass up. His oddity was further reflected when Fiona mentioned that she saw a picture of Tony completely naked on the public computer. This, plus Mike’s story about how Tony bought a pair of bikinis and asked Fiona what she thought of it only made him more of a perv. His absurdity eventually led to frustration with him. It seemed that he seemed to not take a proactive role in helping the Wwoofers out, which we realized when Rose finally came back from her holidays. Unlike Tony, Rose always asked if we needed help from her, and the fact that she worked with us made us feel she wasn’t self absorbed like Tony was.

But his oddity is only surpassed by Douglas. At first, Douglas appeared to be a mentally off balance man. Already 69 years old, he mentions how he’s immortal and how he can’t wait for time machines to be available. We initially found him funny to laugh at, but he later became a nuisance. The highlight was one rainy night. Hanging out in the kitchen, I was about to go to bed when Douglas came by and pleaded to help him out. One of the new Wwoofers happened to walk by and was haplessly thrown into our group. Not fully explaining the situation, Douglas brought me and Fabian out to the chicken field and had to move about 300 chickens back to their home. It was after midnight, raining, and dark as we loaded the chickens into a wheelbarrow. Because there were so many chickens, we had to make several trips. On our second load, Fabian and I already knew that there were too many chickens in the wheelbarrow, but Douglas was insistent in loading all of the chickens in one take. When we finally started to carry them out back to their home, we found several chickens dead at the bottom. We mentioned this to Douglas, who said they might be okay the next morning, but we knew for sure that there were several that were dead. In fact, the next morning we found out that nine of them had died. Normally, I wouldn’t mind helping someone in that situation, but Douglas did not fully explain the situation, did not appear to be sympathetic for me and Fabian helping him, and was responsible for the chickens to be outside in the first place. The staff had harsh words with him the next day and on that night, Douglas wanted to come to our caravan to talk to me. Yufen kept telling him that I was already in bed, but Douglas was screaming that he had to talk to me. I finally confronted him and he proceeded to mention that he caught two chickens and that he didn’t like Mike scolding him earlier. He shook hands with me to indicate that he wanted no trouble with me and walked off in the rain. We were getting a clearer picture of the kind of person Douglas was. He almost always appear in a dark blue jumper and works day and night. The fact that we see him often at night like this makes him like Jason from Friday the 13th. Also, when he’s talking to him, he seems to see past you. He also seems to have low regards for women, since he doesn’t listen to women and only asked men for help.

I thought only the Wwoofers were the most normal people, until Fabian came along. This well spirited 23 year old Frenchman left us in amazement about how he goes dumpster diving for food. He mentioned that one of his principals is that he doesn’t like to see food being wasted, which I can also agree. But what made him so hilarious was he really reflected this thinking. Like how he would scrap off the white residue on cheese because someone wasn’t sure of it, and ate the scraps. Even when he was finding eggs in the field while we were collecting chickens in the middle of a rainy night, we mentioned that his dumpster diving skills helped him in finding those eggs. His eccentricity could only be exaggerated by his English level. Probably the most hilarious time was when he was talking about the movie, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”. Since he didn’t know the English name for it, he called it, “Seven Little Men and a White Woman”, which sounds like a completely different movie.

During these times, I couldn’t help but think that this farm would make for a great tv show, and the name Phantassie just seemed so appropriate. Even the various people who comes by the farm to help out seem like background characters to the main characters, helping to flesh out Phantassie’s own unique world. Indeed, I found it so hard to leave in just two weeks, so I decided to stay one week more. I really think we were lucky to have such great comraderie between everyone, especially the Wwoofers. We found it funny that Tony tried to impose rules on us so that we could have a civilized living condition at Phantassie, but we always accommodated for each other without question. Whether it was using the internet, cooking, cleaning, or anything else, we really had a great time with each other. Even the staff members mentioned this has been one of the best group of Wwoofers they ever had.

I concluded my stay in the UK by driving Yufen and I all throughout the Northern Highlands of Scotland within six days. Our first day started horribly. First, I went to the wrong car rental agency in Edinburgh. Eventually arriving at the correct one, we waited for over an hour to get our car. This delay would have not been an issue if it wasn’t for the fact that I already reserved a ferry to take us from Scrabster to the Orkney Islands at 7pm. Our timing was very critical because I already promised Fabien that I would give him a lift to Inverness, which was along the way. Fortunately, everything worked out and we arrived at the harbor at 6:30pm. After the Orkney Islands, we continued along the northern coast of Scotland down the west coast until arriving at The Isle of Skye. We even gave a lift to a French couple that was hitchhiking. After our previous experience of trying to hitchhike in Ireland, we vowed that we would offer a ride if we saw someone also hitchhiking. By the end of our trip, I had driven around 1400 miles.

I must have really adjusted to driving within the UK, because when I returned to the States, I was initially confused about driving again. Not only driving on the other side, but also driving automatic.

Finally leaving UK, I’m amazed by all of the experiences there, and also how I’ve changed and grown. They range from the small things, like no longer taking sugar in coffee to bigger things like not being so meat dependent. It’s also reinforced my notion of making do with what you have available. But it’s more than that, which I have difficulty describing, although my mother has also noticed that I’ve changed. Perhaps it’s having patience with people. I’ve noticed that I usually more polite towards people outside of family and I tend to lash out when I’m frustrated with my loved ones. Spending four my months with my girlfriend when things sometimes went afoul really helped me to learn to temper my mood.

I’m also grateful for my cooking experience at Phantassie. I’ve always enjoyed cooking, but I never cooked for a large number of people. Towards the end of my stay, I was relegated to cook lunch for twelve people in one and half hours. I would have never succeeded had I not had the experience of watching how Sam, another Phantassie character, prepared his dishes. I’ve always had the habit of preparing all of my ingredients first before cooking, but Sam would do his preparation while already cooking. Plus, he was not so strict about having proper ingredients and was always willing to do something different. This and his compliments on my cooking were really encouraging to me. Enough so that I now feel comfortable to cook for my family, which I’ve always been nervous about because my mother is already an amazing cook.

Of course one cannot go through all of the experiences on organic farms without reflecting back on previous notions on gardening and farming. One of the biggest things for me was my attitude towards weeding. The first farm was very meticulous about weeding their crops. The second and third farm wasn’t too concerned about completely removing weeds by the roots. But the fourth farm had weeds that were absolutely out of control, and yet their crops looked amazing. We mentioned this observation to Thomas, and he replied that in German, there is no word for “weed”. What they have is “un khrud”, which means “unwanted plants”, however, organic farmers call them “bei khrud”, which means “alongside plants”. Reflecting back on my experiences with my battles with the weeds in my yard, I suppose one can’t reasonably be fanatical about removing them, but maybe we can work with them.

End of an era

Don’t know if all of you have seen the news, but it’s plastered all over the comics news sites.

DC Co-Publishers Announce End of Wildstorm Imprint, Zuda.

I haven’t read confirmation on this, but it’s pretty implicit in the articles I’ve read so far…it sounds like the La Jolla studio will be shut down, and some portion of the staffers will move to Burbank. I don’t know what that means for, say, the staff colorists, or anyone who isn’t Editorial. But it’s a sad thing to think that the offices where I cut my teeth will be gone, even if on a logical level, it makes sense to get rid of such an expensive piece of property for such a small division.

What do y’all think? I feel the sudden urge to go out to Cali and see the studio one more time before it disappears. (Not that I’ve taken the time to visit in the last eight or nine years, but that’s because it would always be there…right?)

– Laura

Just adding an image for old time’s sake

So like, wow.

I can’t seem to get to the actual video link, but here’s the facebook page that has Yamato….meets BSG?

**James, I am editing your post to embed the trailer instead of going to FB. Hope you don’t mind.** -ben


If a storm’s blowing…

there’s no quick way down.

Yeah there is… Let Go!

(Thanks to Kiko’s Twitter feed for pointing this out)