Tuesday, January 08, 2008
I love meeting new people, and on Friday I was lucky enough to get to know Heinz and Sigrun Graffman from Duesseldorf, Germany, with whom I first came into contact through a comment that Heinz wrote to my Dec. 11 blog.
They were staying in Long Beach for two days, before boarding a ship for a cruise to Mexico and Puerto Rico, and were to have arrived here on Thursday.
We agreed, via e-mail, to meet at 10 a.m. Friday at the information desk located just inside the entrance to the Aquarium of the Pacific. I suspected that they might have had flight delays that might make them a bit late, so I planned to wait at least 45 minutes or so, just in case I was right, and I was.
The poor travelers were on the road for 24 hours straight, delayed for some time at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York before finally being able to board a flight to Los Angeles.
Despite little sleep, they seemed wide awake and raring to enjoy a tour of the Aquarium, and I was thrilled to oblige.
We started out in the Aquarium’s rotating gallery, where this year the wonders of waves are revealed. I was surprised at the level of knowledge that Heinz has regarding waves including tsunamis.
He knew, for example, that they travel at the speed of a jet, and that water in the ocean doesn’t really move, but rather it is the energy that moves; the only place that water actually does move is when it comes up to shore.
Thanks to two years of studying Japanese—to keep his brain busy, he said—he knew that the word tsunami means harbor wave, because you don’t see the wave until it gets closer to shore.
Heinz told me that after two years of pursuing Japanese, he realized that it was a “mission impossible” to try to learn a language when one had no opportunities to actually use it.
He does know enough, though, to surprise people, he said, as he did with a group of Japanese folks he encountered while on a trip to Spain.
Heinz, who also speaks Spanish, was in Spain, he told me, when a Japanese tour guide asked him, in the local language, where a certain landmark was located. Just to get her reaction, he replied, in Japanese, that he doesn’t speak Spanish.
He said he really enjoyed the surprised look on her face, along with the same look on the surprised faces of her gaggle of Japanese clients.
In the wave gallery, we made a stop to see the round stingrays (Urobatis halleri), and Heinz and Sigrun happily petted the soft little fish (yes, they are fish, even though they’re rays with cartilage instead of bones) and then we left to visit Blue Cavern and the Southern California/Baja gallery.
When we arrived in the seal and sea lion tunnel, I realized that the show must be going on, because not a pinniped was in sight. Oh well, I told Sigrun and Heinz, we’ll check them out from the top.
We went outside next, and went to visit the lorikeets, which Heinz and Sigrun enjoyed immensely. Heinz put his arm out repeatedly and invited the birds to land on it, and he really smiled when they obliged. One of the little guys even landed unannounced on Heinz’ back, which elicited a hearty guffaw from my German friend.
Shark lagoon was fun, too, as we looked at all the large creatures from the underwater viewing window and enjoyed some touching in the shallow pools.
Our next stop was seals and sea lions, as seen from the top, and guess what? Not a creature was visible for the longest time, after which just one seal came up to say hello to us. I tell ya! Timing. Some have it, and some don’t.
All in all, big hits with my new friends were all the areas where they were allowed to touch the animals. They also were fascinated by most of the animals throughout the place.
In the northern Pacific gallery, we spent some time at the diving bird exhibit, where we enjoyed the under-water frolicking of one of the birds, as the others, all of them out of the water, flapped their wings and looked around seemingly interested in their guests on the other side of the viewing window.
Farther along through the gallery, the sea otters (Enhydra lutris) were playing in a large pile of ice cubes that we put up on the deck of their habitat, They were fun to watch, but not as fun as when they’re cavorting in the water. Timing. It’s always in the timing.
Next we went to the Tropical Pacific Gallery, to see the underwater wonders of the ocean around th island of Palau, the westernmost section of the Micronesian islands.
So many wondrous things awaited us here, where the colors are so bright, varied, and pleasing to the eyes. More than once, Heinz and Sigrun commented that they couldn’t even imagine what it takes to care for such a diversity of creatures, each of them with specific needs as to food and water temperature and quality.
Keeping exhibits clean and free from algae alone is big chore, we saw, as we came across a volunteer diver doing some cleaning of a tropical reef. He was using some sort of power brush to scour the artificial coral along one side of the exhibit.
As we wound up our tour, Heinz insisted that we all take a coffee break, so we sat down at one of the tables set up in the Great Hall. We chatted about such things as that Heinz and Sigrun are avid ballroom dancers, dancing, they stressed, in an athletic way so as to get a good workout. They do three times a week, I think they said, which accounts for their healthful glows.
Heinz is retired from the marketing department of a laundry detergent manufacturer, and Sigrun is an artist who puts on shows with a group of about 100 other painters.
We also discussed European and U.S. politics. I really enjoy talking about European affairs, which I try to follow on the news, and I love to get foreigners’ perspectives on what is going on in this country.
As we began to say goodbye, Heinz took out his wallet and handed me a $20 bill, to donate as I saw fit. That was so sweet, and now the education department has an extra $20 to spend on something worthwhile.
We agreed to stay in touch and hugged each other goodbye. That was lots of fun. I sure do enjoy this volunteer work at the Aquarium! It was so great to meet such delightful people. I hope it is the start of a lengthy friendship!
So until we meet again, my friends, auf wiedersehen!
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