Tuesday, December 31, 2013

oNe PhOtO a DaY fOr DeCeMbEr


1. RED: three of the kramas we bought in Cambodia now in Bangkok. They are even more lovely when there are not hundreds of others available.

2. WHERE I STOOD: Soi 21 Sukhumvit Bangkok

3. SILVER: Right now in Bangkok, with the king’s birthday just 2 days away huge portraits of him with one gold and one silver vase/urn displayed before the portrait to show respect are cropping up in front of every business, hotel, shop, government office and private residence.

4. TINY: I have worn this tiny ying yang earring in my left ear for at least 30 years. I only ever wear 3 different earrings and I have lost count of the number of times someone has asked me “Do you know you've lost an earring?” because this one is so small.

5. IN THE CUPBOARD: absolutely nothing as we are leaving this hotel today and training to Malaysia

6. SHADOW: this is actually a sculpture designed to look like graffiti but it could also appear as a shadow on the wall due to its tubular 2 dimensional construction. Thanks to monsoon season cloud cover there is no sun at all in the streets of Penang today so no shadows either

7. 6 O’CLOCK: and the bell has tolled for this old Chinese shop house in Penang – neither restoration nor renovation is now possible

8. I SHOP HERE: well I would if I lived in Georgetown Penang but currently, I am not a regular shopper anywhere since I have been on the move for over 6 months now!

9. THE WEATHER TODAY: here in Georgetown Penang is hot, humid and very sunny

11. GREEN: these lurid green sweets made from rice flour, tapioca flour, coconut, palm sugar, and pandan flavoring are available all over Malaysia. Lucky I am not a sweet tooth and have not been tempted.

12. JOY IS: finding a vegetarian restaurant with beautiful, simple, stylish d├ęcor, excellent service and delicious food made from fresh local ingredients without additives and all a very reasonable cost. 10 out of 10 Veggie Planet in Melaka! We will definitely be going back for more

13. COMPOSITION: highlighting the architectural features of the houses in the heritage district of Melaka.

14. DRINK: the ‘Purple Dream’ I ordered with dinner – beetroot, carrot and pineapple juice. Anything that colour just has to be good for you. Spillage entirely due to overexcitement!

15. LIGHTS: the night-lights along the Melaka River

16. MAKES YOU FEEL MERRY: the tinkling sound of the bells I collect from the places we have visited. This one is bigger than most and was bought from a yak herder at Pele La (Pass) in Bhutan and I often hear it ringing in my luggage

17. TREE: amid the glass and steel of Kuala Lumpur still many trees thrive and this one impressed me with its reflection doubling the greening effect

18. BIG: in KL when you think big you have to think the Petronas Towers KL’s signature landmark and from 1998~ 2004 the tallest in the world

19. ‘TIS THE SEASON TO: be pampered. New cut, new colour, new look and swimming on the 4th floor with the KL skyline as a backdrop. (Thanks to Ian for the photo)

20. I’M LISTENING TO: the torrential monsoon rain, the roar of thunder and the call to prayer while sheltering near a mosque in central Kuala Lumpur

21. ON THE DOOR: the Central Market in Kuala Lumpur clearly labeled on the door

22. SPARKLY: Australia’s best beer in its sparkly version – just perfect for the silly season

23. TRADITION: doing the shopping at Adelaide’s Central Market. We never feel that we are really home until we have visited this place and that was where we were about 24 hours after arriving back in Australia

24. WRAPPED: ever since living in Japan I have loved the idea of “furushiki” or wrapping cloths to carry food. My platter for the Xmas celebration tomorrow will arrive wrapped like this

25. BEST BIT OF YOUR DAY: after waking up to the warmth and love of one family, a wonderful day with our other family and perfectly delicious food, saving the best ‘til last, nature supplied the perfect finale 

26. WHERE YOU SLEPT: we have had nights and even weeks of staying in this house with two very dear friends for the last 25 years and it never really feels like we are back in Australia until we have slept here

27. WHAT YOU’RE DOING: trying to reorganize the storage space so that some things I desperately want to take to Bhutan come out and some that we have recently purchased go back in

28. SOMETHING AWESOME: a kookaburra popped into the backyard for a lizard breakfast just as we sat down to eat our own breakfast this morning.

29. REFLECT THE BEST BIT OF 2013: although we have been fortunate enough to have spent time in 10 countries this year, without a doubt the best bit was surprising my sister and coming home on December 22nd unannounced to celebrate Xmas with family and friends 

30. YOU: in my element at the beach in my hometown 

31. CELEBRATE: all set to celebrate the auspicious start of 2014

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Greetings and belated Xmas wishes from Down Under

The end of year has approached with alarming speed and just a little surprise for us this year but here it is and if this doesn’t get written and typed soon we will already be facing another year and the annual message will be superfluous.

This has been an unexpected and delightful year of travel for us. It began with an extremely well planned and much anticipated trip to America. In New York City we celebrated New Year’s Eve with one of our dearest friends for the second time in the same bar in Harlem. It was so good the first time we knew a repeat would be perfect and from what little we all remembered of the occasion the following morning, we once again seem to have partied it up with the locals. The rest of January was spent in the US and we loved training all the way from NYC through Washington and Chicago with stops in both places before the long haul on the California Zephyr. As avid train travellers this was a dream come true. From our little roomette we took in the landscape and incredible views of 6 states in total relaxation mode.  After disembarking in Sacramento for a leisurely day strolling the old town, less than 12 hours later we reached Oregon and kindred spirits and former BCF colleagues Julia and Charly hosted us in their beautiful home in Florence. Whilst in the neighbourhood we simply had to look up old mates from China days in San Francisco and much to our delight also spend time in Los Angeles with Hiroshima cycling buddy, dear friend and former boss Barry.

In February we returned home for valuable and much needed time with family and friends. Before long however we had to set to the task of packing away our former existence in Bhutan and preparing ourselves for the new adventure of a 2-year stint in Tanzania. As things panned out that particular plan stumbled in the starting blocks. Disappointed, disillusioned and somewhat dazed we found ourselves back in Bangkok with time on our hands and no real plan of action only 3 months later. It was our decision to return to familiar territory and we had learned some serious life lessons but found ourselves wondering “What now?”

Thus was born the 7 countries and 7 months concept. We are fortunate to have been able to afford this extravagance and it has certainly fuelled our already passionate love of travel. Initially we took some time out to simply relax and decide what we wanted to do. Having never been to an island in Thailand, we decided that it was the prefect time to do just that and formulate a plan in relative luxury. While considering our employment options we were contacted by Madam Nancy, executive director of BCF and invited to reapply to teach in Bhutan. We both did a double take at that and wondered why it had not already occurred to us. For the previous 6 months I had heard myself saying, “But in Bhutan…..” as a sentence opener so many times. When we had decided to leave we were sure we needed a break but it was only after we had left that we realized just how much we missed the students, the landscape, the philosophy and the other worldliness of it….. so apply we did.

We also agreed to look seriously at the employment options and opportunities for volunteering in several other countries while we had both the time and the motivation. High on our list was Myanmar, which became our first stop on the Asian trail. Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam were also contenders, which we wanted to investigate and that justified the extended period of time spent travelling and the need to keep on the move, at least in our own minds. Bhutan was also somewhere we had never really explored having worked long 6-day weeks in both the years we lived there, so we made enquires about getting that expensive tourist visa waived and taking a long look around just to reconfirm that we really were prepared to give it a second shot supposing we were accepted again by BCF.

Well all that is history now and we have indeed been reaccepted to teach in Bhutan in the new and as yet unseen location of Samtengang, starting in February 2014. We found ourselves in Malaysia at the end of what can only be described as the most unexpectedly adventurous and wonderful year.

We have had the most incredible Xmas at home in Adelaide, Australia and surprising my gorgeous sister by arriving unannounced on her doorstep just days before the big day was just wonderful. As was celebrating with Ian's sister and her family in their new home overlooking Adelaide with views all the way to the coast 

All that remains is to wish you all a safe, healthy and joyous silly season and every happiness in the year to come.

Peace and love always,

Vicky and Ian xxxxxx

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Melaka / Malacca Magic

We had done the research and knew where and how to get to Melaka. It would involve a bus and the Monorail with a change to the LRT to get the bus stop from our hotel in KL. We had already had one bus experience and it was great. Clean, comfortable, efficient and well the roads are good so why not speed EH! As we departed the hotel with what is rapidly becoming excess luggage we thought about the stairs in those transport networks and the large numbers of commuters and knew our bags and us weren’t necessarily a good mix. Doubts began to arise. So much for “Travel light and travel far” the motto with which we had left Bangkok in early June!

A quick rethink and we decided a teksi (I just love the Malay words that look like phonetic versions of English – but that is another story) to the bus station and then proceed as planned. Now I blame the Kiwi couple that posted on the Net that you could teksi to Melaka for a very reasonable price, for what happened next. We inquired at the teksi stand about the price to the bus station, which was way over the odds and then “Well how much to Melaka?”

Next minute, we were sitting in a luxury vehicle zooming along the highway with a very eloquent driver pointing out sights and beaming at us in the rearview mirror. Nice…

To be honest finding balanced vegetarian meals here in Malaysia has been more of a struggle than we anticipated. At first we wanted to try Malay or Chinese only but even the reliable veg offerings of Indian cuisine had proved elusive in Penang, so on arrival we were keen to locate what seemed to be a very elegant pure vegetarian restaurant boasting its Baba Nyonya tradition that Ian had discovered in his constant research into eating options.

From our selected hotel we bee lined to the “Veggie Planet” trying not to be disconcerted by the streetscape. Yet again we were soon in a construction and redevelopment zone that provided no pedestrian access and forced us to walk into or alongside the bicycles, motorcycles, cars, trucks and buses, clinging to the blue corrugated iron fencing demarking the construction site and consuming what might have once been a footpath, hoping not to be run over.

Our joy at finding the restaurant a cool, quiet haven with tasteful decor and THE most delicious food was indescribable. For the next 4 days we returned to eat there via different routes all fraught with pedestrian hells and loved every meal. We even considered staying one more day just to taste something else on that menu. Instead we forfeited the complimentary but bland breakfast at the hotel on our final morning and were delighted to savour one more delicious moment.

However there is more to Melaka than just one restaurant and that first walk had us wondering if we had missed the whole heritage experience by 10 years or so! But no the UNESCO World Heritage Zone was certainly alive and thriving. It just happened to be in the opposite direction to our newly found favourite restaurant.

We had no trouble at all amusing ourselves in the crowded street markets, the various themed museums, the cemeteries with stories and head stones dating back to the 15th century, and the many other tourist hangouts in Melaka. The Baba Nyonya heritage house was my personal favourite, despite the disappointment at not being able to photograph the most spectacularly restored and presented, converted Dutch house I have ever laid eyes on. 

The rickshaws or cyclos or whatever one would like to call them are in a category all their own in this town. Garishly decorated with all manner of kitch and cute in the stuffed toy department, blaring loud music and sporting flashing, neon lights they ply the streets day and night looking more like alien creatures than any acceptable form of transport. Needless to say we were not tempted to climb aboard.

In Melaka it seems the Dutch history, the Portuguese traders, the British colonial experience, the Indonesian influences added to the already colourful Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures ever present in Malaysia. In the current population there is evidence of both cultural fusion and complete separation of these vastly different influences. The current population of expats also seem to be doing their level best to add to the multicultural melee and have their own colourfully quirky pets!

We truly enjoyed the atmosphere of the old town and marveled at the sheer numbers of tourists who had come to see a part of their own culture, while we outsiders stood by more than a little overwhelmed by the diversity, harmony and lively exchanges.

By the way the newly acquired Birkenstocks got a thorough workout and with the humidity I have a few nice welts to show as evidence. No doubt a time will come when they are not only broken in but totally dilapidated just like the last pair!!!