Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Loquat Tree, Part Four


Let me just set you straight on a very important matter concerning my experience as an Expat right now. There was no internet, let me repeat that, there was no internet.

There was no Google, no Amazon, no New York Times-dot-com, no Huffington Post, no YouTube, no Facebook...nothing, nada....zilch. I couldn’t shop on the internet. I couldn’t talk to friends back home on the internet. And I couldn’t keep up with the outside world on the internet. There was an antiquated form of email that reached me the last month I was living in Bermuda, June of 1998, but it wasn’t something that every single person on earth had yet, so it was basically useless to me.

Expats on Bermuda these days have the world at their fingertips with the internet. The world can come to them in an instant. Their isolation is soothed and alleviated by the vast cyber world available to them. I see that they even have several bulletin boards where they may can meet up with each other...complain about their common Expat problems, network for friendships and days out snorkeling, “Hey, all us Expats are meeting at Horse Shoe Bay for a picnic this Saturday afternoon! Come along!” That sort of thing.

So what did I do without the internet all those years ago on my island in the sea? Hmmmm...I wrote handwritten letters home, carefully crafted ink on paper which traveled home at the speed of a cargo ship across the ocean with its lovely Bermuda stamp as its fare. Two weeks later, a friend or a family member got word from me and how I was surviving out there, out in the middle of the ocean.

We listened to the BBC on the radio, a short wave radio. The short wave radio brought broadcasts of the strangest kind to us sometimes -- here are some notes from Py's radio notebook:

9690 - Beijing, English, propaganda at Midnight

9445 - Turkey, music from approx. 21 - 3 UTC (6 pm BAT) then news and more music, reception improves later.

9640 - 02:30 UTC Brit station (English service of Deutsche Welle ) Jazz - Germany aimed at S. Asia

9460 - Greece - music - poor reception

9715 - 11:30 Radio Netherlands, cheesy pop music

9860 - 11:30 Radio Australia, Melbourne

15084 - 16:20 18th of May - very faint - Middle Eastern music - Iran on this frequency 24 hours...

...Radio Budapest...

15420 - Sat. 16:30 - National Alliance American Dissident Voices...

11720 - June 21 -- Bulgaria - 04:30 UTC - Bulgaria seems like a drag...

9625 - Monday 0030 - piano concerto? good signal - yes! Mozart concerto for 2 pianos! signal deteriorated by 0130...

You get the picture, you could spend hours listening to the world on the short wave and reception on the island was amazing, because there was little to get in the way of traveling radio waves.

The BBC was my lifeline and we eventually had cablevision, so we got the BBC on the telly to help remind us that there was an entire world of things going on out there. We taped John Peel's weekly music show, yes taped, with cassette tapes, that we then played in our car...Peel kept us up to date with the latest music and he took us back in time with golden oldies too!

There were two or three movie theaters on the island. BUT they rotated movies at a snail's pace. A horrendously bad movie called Booty Call dominated two of the theaters one summer for some hellish amount of time....it seemed like several months, but maybe it was only several weeks. Py would look in the Royal Gazette at the movie listings and tease, "Oh great! Look! Booty Call is playing!" Titanic played on the island for at least two or three months. You were more likely to see a new movie if you went to the video store, and that was a place we frequented almost daily.

I lived for letters from home. A letter from home in my post box in the Flatts post office was capable of raising my spirits to such a degree that I would do a little dance in front of the Postal ladies. These ladies were a grim lot. I learned early on to not request too many care packages from home because of the Postal Ladies and Customs. You see, every package that a person receives in Bermuda must be inspected by Her Majesty The Queen’s Customs...the Postal Ladies. So when you got that little notice in your post box that you had a box, you had to go to the desk and the Postal Lady would take your notice and disappear for an hour or two in the back of the Postal building and then she would return with your box, which had been opened and rifled through. Then she would pull out each item in the box and ask you to declare what it was and how much it was worth, even though, my mother had clearly stated this on her customs sheet that she filled out when she mailed me the package back in the States...“that is a pair of used sneakers, I think they are worth 20 U.S. dollars.”

“And dees”

“That is several pairs of socks, used socks, ten U.S. dollars.”

and so it would go and they would even hold up the fresh new pairs of panties my mother had sent me and I would cringe as I had all these Bermudians in the queue behind me.

I had to tell my mother to take the price tags off of everything she sent and to make everything look as though she had taken the stuff out of storage for me so I didn’t have to pay Customs some huge amount of tax just to get a few new things for myself. Still, though, paying Customs for these care packages was far less expensive than shopping in Hamilton, where there was nothing basic to be had, and what basics you could find came at a price near that of a first born child.

Books were purchased upstairs at the Phoenix Store in Hamilton. The Phoenix Store was like an island version of Walmart, without the groceries. And they were the only bookseller on the island to speak of -- you could find Penguin classics and New York Times Bestsellers, these were books for tourists, to read on the beach or on the cruise ship, but they got us through.

Telephone calls home were wonderful and exciting and EXPENSIVE at twenty cents a minute...being a talkative girl with a talkative family brought us to our financial knees when the phone bill arrived every month. But calling home had to be done, it was necessary for mental survival.

We got our news from other sources too, local news came from The Royal Gazette and The Bermuda Sun. I became a daily reader of the International Herald and I treated myself to a Sunday New York Times occasionally, it came to the island by plane on Mondays and it cost somewhere around ten U.S. dollars, but I could make that Sunday Times last for weeks.

There was another form that news got to us and that was the Harbor Radio. We didn’t listen to it directly, we got daily reports from the happenings on Harbor Radio from the Bermuda evening news, ZBS. Harbor Radio brought you the news of the sea -- shipping news...what ships were coming into Bermuda, cruse ships and naval ships and submarines. We got a tour of a Russian nuclear submarine that was docked off of Dock Yards one summer because we heard about it through Harbor Radio. The Russians let us walk all over the top of the sub and we got to look down inside her, but only look, we weren’t allowed to go down below. The Russian sailors were young with ruddy cheeks and pale eyes, they looked to be from another century in their black crackerjacks with the red insignia.

The thing about Harbor Radio was that it also told of disasters on the high seas. We heard of tankers caught in storms and small sail boats that had become lost in the barren waters. Bermuda had no Coast Guard and they often called on the U.S. Coast Guard to send helicopters to rescue distressed vessels.

People on the continent have no idea how much is going on out there on the ocean. The drama of sailors and vessels would drift to us everyday by way of Harbor Radio. When a gale was blowing across the island or when a hurricane was skirting our shores I was always acutely aware of the dangers that sailors were facing, and at night I imagined them out there, fighting the currents and the sea monsters.

1 comment:

Robert said...

Such an evocative story of a world before the internet. Handwritten letters, news from ships...an island was still an island, till shortwave radio started to warp space and time. Chinese propaganda in the middle of the ocean!