Stress

I think I mentioned our friends who are travelling the world this year… [checks]…

Yes. Yes, I did.

I’ve been following their progress though South America, a bit of North America, Australasia and then on to Malaysia, Thailand and towards Vietnam. Their images and videos have been amazing, and their blogs have – entirely reasonably – been… hmm… can we say “infrequent”? 😉 but always interesting.

I particularly enjoyed St.John’s latest observations as he reflected on stress and the difference that traveling for 6 months has made to his view of it. (Spoiler: (or maybe not) it might not be quite what you expect):

I have come to the conclusion that what I have come to call “positive-stress” that drives the get-up and go urge, is innate. The brain will look for things to worry about and create must-do’s regardless of how inane or trivial. It needs to prioritise and feel important. It will try and fit a certain amount of stress into your life regardless of what one is doing.

Not many people have the opportunity of being able to conduct this sort of experimentation, so I was intrigued by his hypothesis. Now, I’m driven to  try to find a “beautiful remote resort, only accessible by boat, two tropical reefs 100m offshore, turtles nesting, friendly staff and cold beers” in order and reproduce his experimental conditions.

Facetiousness briefly aside though, it’s an intriguing idea that in a stress-free environment, we are compelled to create our own… discomfort(?) in order to actually get things done. Surely this is an entirely personal thing? There must be people out there with the ability to exist wholly stress-free in a stress-free environment?

But what of the rest of us? What of St.John? If his innate “positive stress” fails to kick in – what then? Can that even happen? And if it does, does the lack of “positive stress” and its benefits lead to a build up of “real”, negative stress?

The short-term stress of travel is real. I know that. But once you are there, once you are six months into a year-long round trip, surely that diminishes?

So many questions. And I don’t have the answers yet, I’m afraid. Too few beaches, too few turtles, (but a reasonable number of cold beers if I’m honest).

Hit the blogroll – sidebar right – for more on their year-long sabbatical.

Declaring personal goods before leaving SA

South African resident?
Going abroad soon?

Lucky you.

You’ll be wondering if you need to declare your valuable personal effects to SARS before leaving South Africa, in order that you are not charged duty upon your return to the country, right?

After this alleged incident, there’s been some confusion over this, so here’s the definitive answer.

No.

But also, Yes.

But No.

However: Yes, you do.

Unhelpful. So I looked for advice from some experts.

Flight Centre said: mmm, maybe.
traveller24dotcom said: there’s a statement from SARS.

But before we go there, here’s an interview with SARS executive Beyers Theron in which he says:

If you have your laptop or cellphones with you, you’re not required to declare that when you leave the country.

So that’s clearly a no.
And here’s that statement from SARS, in which they say:

A more user-friendly and secure process has been created where the traveller completes a TC-01 (Traveller Card) notifying his or her intent to register goods for re-importation. This is presented to the Customs Officer who will then capture this online on a Traveller declaration system (TRD1). The traveller authenticates the declaration by signing on a digital signature pad. A copy is printed for the traveller to retain as proof of registration.

Which does appear to be a yes.

And that’s straight from the horse’s mouth website. So it looks like it’s a yes.

I’m flying out of the country soon, so I had a quick look at how many flights leave SA for other countries. Then I decided that that was a bit stupid because the numbers were just too beeg for my puny microbiologist brain to handle.
So I concentrated on Cape Town.

International flights from Cape Town today:

Amsterdam, Windhoek (x3), Victoria Falls (x2), Oranjemund, Maun, Walvis Bay (x2),  Addis Ababa, Paris, London (x2), Dubai (x3), Doha, Harare and Luanda.

20 flights, including at least 2 on 747, 5 on 777s and 2 on 787s.
In off-season.

That’s a lot of flights. All of which got me wondering about just how many people were likely to be on those flights. So I looked up the most recent available statistics and found that on average, each day 2,760 people depart CPT on international flights.

Bye!

Of those, how many travellers are local residents? There aren’t any recent figures, but a third seems like a reasonable assumption, based on what information is available. (Note that the figures are much, MUCH higher for JNB: ±80%.)
But back to Cape Town, because that’s where we can like to be looking at.

Approximate international travellers per day = 2,760.
So approximate locals travelling abroad = 920.

Now we have some numbers, I’can, and have been doing, some rudimentary calculations.

According to the missive above, each of those 920 people will have to go to SARS in town simply to register their personal goods (with proof of ownership for each) in order that they might not face having to pay duty on them upon their return.
Their cellphones, their watches, their laptops, their cameras.

920 locals per day = 6,440 locals each week, but since SARS is only open five days a week, that equates to 1,290 local people at that TC-01 counter each day. SARS is open 8am-4pm, so they’ll have to process 162 people per hour, or 2.7 people per minute every minute.
That’s 1 person every 22.2 seconds to ensure that everyone is accommodated and can:

avoid the inconvenience of having to explain ownership upon returning from travel abroad.

which clearly seems to be a perfectly reasonable and manageable target.

And that’s just Cape Town. And that’s just air travel.

Of course, this legislation has been in place for years and years and years, and no-one has ever fallen foul of it until some petty jobsworth SARS official at OR Tambo decided to have a pop at the ridiculously named Mr Toler Wolfe-Coote as documented above.

The can of worms has been opened. But I’m sure the our erstwhile tax agency is completely and adequately prepared to deal with the situation.

French railway workers strike: an update

‘Update’, ‘alternative opinion’, ‘unfeeling porcine capitalist viewpoint’… whatever.

You choose.

I wrote the other day about the public sector strikes that are sweeping France at the moment and how it might affect our upcoming trip there. In doing so, I wasn’t (intentionally) belittling or trivialising the issues at hand. I recognise that the striking individuals feel that they have grievances and they’re exercising their legal right to strike. That’s why I touched on the reasons why they are striking instead of just being irritated that they might mess up (a bit of) our holiday.

It’s good to be informed.

At the same time, I’m pretty much powerless to assist them in their crusade, so I am actually irritated that they might mess up (a bit of) our holiday. Fair play to me too then.

And then, I received an email with a link to this article on the strike:

Now, for the record, je ne sais pas what the general political standpoint or reputation of news site thelocal.fr is, although their coverage of Asian Giant Hammerhead Worms invading French gardens is quite superb.

That’s for another time though, ok?

Anyway, the first thing I noticed when I logged on was this headline:

Oh. Great.

Anyway, thelocal.fr seems to feel that the French railway workers – les cheminots – actually have a pretty good working life:

President Emmanuel Macron’s government unveiled plans to push through reforms of France’s mammoth rail system.
But the plans have not gone down well with rail unions who are threatening all-out war against the government, or in other words major strikes.

What has really angered them is the announcement that new recruits will no longer benefit from a special employment status of rail workers, which is fabled for the perks it offers.

What follows is a list of those perks, which include (but are not limited to) early retirement, guaranteed employment (no retrenchments), automatic career advancement, free rail tickets for family members, excellent pension benefits, above average wages, plenty of annual leave and subsidised housing.

Yes, it does seem very good. It seems very nice.
It does seem like they enjoy some sort of special status.

There are a number of thoughts that stem from this, none of which I’ve suitably ruminated over and I’m about to disappear back into the lab, so I’m just listing them here.

Firstly: why should the cheminots enjoy such special employment status? There are a lot of other jobs out there that are arguably more important (TB scientist, for example), more worthy (er… TB scientist again) and demand better qualifications to enter (cough… TB scientist) (not that sort of cough, I hasten to add) than working on the railways, but which have far less favourable working conditions.

Secondly: but then, shouldn’t we (humankind in general) be working towards having these sort of special conditions as standard for workers, rather than constantly dragging standards down to the lowest possible levels? I recognise that this is a pipe dream, but still, it’s surely not a bad way to start any process like this.

Thirdly: of course, on the flip side of this is that if there are going to have to be cuts across the public sector, then surely you cut from the ones that have the most, first. That does seem to be the cheminots.

And fourthly: the unions represent the interests of their members. If they simply stood back and allowed these cuts to pass with no objection, then they wouldn’t be doing their jobs. You can argue the validity of their claims and efficacy of their methods, but as unions, protesting against this kind of thing is basically what they’re there for.

And finally: I would just be much happier if this was all sorted before we go over there. (Spoiler: it’s not going to be)

Grève situation

I was just running through a few of the train times for our upcoming Europe trip. Google was full of warnings.

Information: En raison d’une grève nationale SNCF, la circulation des trains sera perturbée. La liste des trains sera disponible chaque jour à 17h sur le site SNCF pour vos trajets du lendemain.

Une grève is a strike.
Une grève nationale is a national strike.
Une grève nationale SNCF is a national railway strike. 

You can see that circulating trains will be perturbed. Understandably.

Basically, if we were trying to make this journey today, we probably wouldn’t be able to. So why are the unions so furieux?

Well:

Nine public-sector unions representing 5.7 million public service agents have called for strike action and demonstrations to protest reforms and voice salary and staffing concerns in the face of a government that has pledged to cut 120,000 public-sector positions by the time President Emmanuel Macron’s term ends in 2022.

More than 130 demonstrations are scheduled nationwide on Tuesday, with the Paris march due to set off from the Place de la République at 2pm and head southeast for the Place de la Nation.

..and this is, apparently, day 1 of the eleventh! 2 day strike by rail workers.

Given the exorbitant price of tickets (even when you book them in advance), I’d much prefer the Japanese bus strike version of things.

But I guess we can only hope that there’s some breakthrough in the talks this week – or at least before we get there. I’ve been researching some alternative methods of getting to where we need to get to and firstly, there aren’t any, and secondly, that means inventing our own way of getting to the middle of nowhere and it’s going to be ridiculously pricey.

Sacré bleu!

No photos

“Why?” the call went up.
“Why are there no photos from your Sun City trip?”

Well, to put it bluntly, because the vast majority of them were really rather rubbish.

I’ve had a long look through the shots I took, and I’m of the mind that the blame for their disappointing standard can be laid fairly equally between the camera, the photographer and the lack of any decent, meaningful relationship between the camera and the photographer.

Simplifying for x, it’s basically down to me and the camera.

I’m not motivating for new bit of kit here, because I’ve looked at the potential options for new bits of kit and they’re just foolishly expensive.

Would I have got better photos if I had a better camera?
Almost certainly.
Would the camera have got better photos if it had a better photographer?
Yes. Yes, it would.

I did get a nice wildebees though.

Although, looking again now, did I?

[/self doubt]

It does look better on black here. And yes, the idea was to get it to hide away in the bush, because even though it was right there, just 15 metres from us, the camouflage was impressive.

I’m going to have another look through the photos from that weekend, not because I think they’re going to magically get any better, but more to try to work out what went wrong, and how I can prevent the same thing happening again.

One lives, one learns.
Onward, upward.
Citius, Altius, Fortius and all that jazz.