White men can’t jump

I’ve never high-fived as many kids as I did that evening in Manila. They surrounded me at the edge of the basketball court, climbing atop parked motorcycle taxis to stand eye-to-eye with this six-foot foreigner.

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Seeding cedars

It was barely a road; more a collection of rocks scattered across a hillside, alongside other larger rocks on one side and a vertiginous drop on the other, punctuated by more jagged rocks, hungry for the metal of unwary 4x4s and their delicious, fleshy occupants. Our driver chatted animatedly, gesticulating with his hands and occasionally glancing over his shoulder at his passengers, while my cohort’s expression grew ever more fearful. The Cederberg is not for wimps.

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(Blood)sucker for punishment

It’s a beautiful spring morning in the gardens at Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall. After a weekend of relentless rain, the sun has made a triumphant return to its revolving perch in the skies above the little hamlet of Taipei. Even the city’s omnipresent pall of smog has been largely swept away by a gentle breeze, revealing a coy blue sky starved for attention. Fat brown squirrels scurry along the limbs of conifers, birds twitter from the canopy, and great blooms of pink, mauve and white blossoms adorn the branches of the plum and cherry trees that sand along the north, east and southern flanks of the imposing white hall itself.

And where there are spring blossoms, there are crowds. Young, old, men and women, brandishing cellphones, iPads, point-and-shoots and SLRs with great big zoom lenses perched on tripods. Everywhere are avid cherry snappers zooming, clicking, adjusting their hats, pouting, stretching, composing and recomposing in order to capture the perfect shot for their Flickr page or Line profile. Along the outer peripheryies of the gardens, retirees stroll arm in arm or conduct their morning exercise routines, slapping their arms or behinds or legs, stretching high and low, swinging limbs. The passageway that runs along the eastern wall is acting as an amplifier for the already amplified sounds of a karaoke-singing duo stretching their vocal chords, belting out typically mournful ballads with greater acumen than the average park singer.

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Pictured: blossoms and blossom admirers. Not pictured: blood-sucking parasites.

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Somewhere beyond the sea

I still have the dreams. I suppose they’re my equivalent of school anxiety dreams. I’m wandering a vast, fantastical cruise ship, pacing its open decks in the bright afternoon sunlight, getting lost in the under-deck warren of narrow corridors, or gazing up at neon-lit vaulted glass ceilings by night. I’m wearing my uniform in some, in others yet to don it; in some I’ve found my cabin and in others I have no clue where it is. One thing remains the same throughout: I don’t know when my shifts are, or whether or not I’ve missed some. I’m seized by panic at this, and I find myself wondering why I’ve signed up for another six months of diplomacy on the high seas.

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Drop zone

The Cessna 206 is a robust, workmanlike aeroplane, described by the manufacturer as ‘the sport-utility vehicle of the air’. With a length of 8.61m and a wingspan of 10.97m, space for the pilot and five passengers (six if you take the seats out), it’s popular with air charter companies and small cargo carriers, as well as for private and military use. It’s damn reliable.

The one I’m sitting in is perfectly functional too, which really makes me question why I’m planning on jumping out of it, 3 500ft (1 066m, but everything is measured in feet when skydiving) above the farmlands of Robertson, in about 10 minutes. It’s difficult to be rational when weighing up the pros and cons of challenging gravity to a duel a little over a kilometre above terra firma.

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The cherry on top

My back was drenched with sweat, and cold. The long yellow and green grass on either side of the path rustled as the wind swept waves of mist across the hillside. One moment the top was visible; the next, it vanished in the fog. I climbed another few dozen stone stairs and looked up. There, like some ghostly apparition in the middle of the Anbu Trail, which cut upward through the grassy expanse like a shave line on a shaggy buzz cut, was a lone dog. Fur raven black, ears on point, it stood utterly still at attention, staring down at me.

I saw no owner, nor would one appear. Stray dogs abound in Taiwan; apparently, neutering is not in fashion here, and a pair of hairy balls dangles from the nether regions of every male dog, from the tiniest manicured schnauzer being pushed about in a pram to the scruffy brak living on the banks of the Tamsui River. I’ve yet to be threatened by one, but it was a momentarily unnerving moment – me and this lone Hound of the Taiwanese Baskervilles, alone on the slopes of Mt Datun in the fog and icy breeze at dusk. What was I doing up here?

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Don’t worry; ski happy

It took me until my thirties to touch snow for the very first time. We’d driven out to Ceres on an appropriately chilly day Sunday morning in early July – your best bet for seeing a dusting of winter around the Western Cape. After tailing back and forth along roads between snow-capped mountains, we parked on a dirt road and hiked up into hills unknown. After scooping up handfuls of the white stuff from rocks and flattened scrub, I noticed a few ephemeral specks of white dancing on the wind and heard a light ‘tic’ on my shoulder as snowflakes began to drift down from the heavens, culminating in the lightest of blizzards, dusting the landscape and us liberally. I wasn’t traversing the Alps, but as a first snow experience, it was pretty magical.

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