Sunday, December 31, 2017

oNe PhOtO a DaY DeCeMbEr 2017


FRIDAY 1st I LOVE DOING THIS: There is nothing I love more at the moment than teaching basic literary skills to the little monks twice a week. This was taken at yesterday’s class and is my favourite of the smallest class member making himself right at home while practising his letters

SATURDAY 2nd FREE CHOICE: I choose today’s sunset over the iconic symbol of Kep

SUNDAY 3rd FAMILY: I feel fortunate to have close connections to both family and a supportive group of friends, who are the family we choose. Unfortunately I couldn’t get more that 9 photos in the collage so not all of those scattered across several continents are included but they all hold a place in my heart

MONDAY 4th PARTIAL: This mandala of vegetables is the partially complete salad I have now packed into our lunchboxes. I am very partial to a mixed raw and roasted vegetable salad..... bring on lunchtime I say

TUESDAY 5th IN MY BAG: are all the teaching materials for the class with the monks today. After a few rides in the rain we bought this recycled packaging bag to protect our resources on the journey to the monastery. I love that it is locally made of what would otherwise be waste. We leave it packed and ready to go for the next session

WEDNESDAY 6th ART: The playground art at Kep Gardens Association where we volunteer twice a week. Not sure if this fun blackboard assists or distracts the kids when they’re shooting

THURSDAY 7th MONEY: In Cambodia ATMs dispense both American dollars and Cambodian Riel and you can chose, which you want. When there is no choice American dollars are the default. Small change is always in riel as there are no coins. I always prefer to get American dollars because the Math is easier when one dollar equals 4,000 riel. Inevitably you have a combination of both in your change whenever you purchase anything. We foreigners stand at the counter counting and converting but I marvel at the locals who think in units of 4,000 and do the sums quick as a flash and in their heads most often. The number system also works in units of 5 not 10. No wonder they are all so much better at Math than me

FRIDAY 8th OPPOSITES: The Chinese philosophy of balance and harmony created by matching opposites. I have worn this tiny earring since I first visited Nepal in the 1980’s. It is a rare occasion on which it is removed but I did today just to take this photo

SATURDAY 9th SILLY: These hats are about the silliest thing Cambodia produces but since they are such good sun protection we see hundreds of people wearing them. Ian was not only silly enough to buy one but he also managed to buy one that was too small for him to wear. Having seen this photo he has now decided to leave it in a place where a local will find it and make good use of it. Silly possum

SUNDAY 10th THE SKY: in Kep Bay at dusk as we returned from swimming

MONDAY 11th SPLASH: just a little splash in the water to cool off.

TUESDAY 12th BIG: The big Buddha at the monastery where we teach the little monks

WEDNESDAY 13th TINY: From this small sector of the world map hanging in the classroom it’s obvious that Cambodia is a tiny nation even in South East Asia let alone in the world

THURSDAY 14th PEACE: My go to place for peace and tranquillity is the ocean. Nothing beats listening to the gentle lapping of the waves

FRIDAY 15th ON THE FLOOR: These little monks sit or squat on the floor to pray, to eat and to study and they are often asleep on the floor when we arrive to teach them. Taken in yesterday’s class when we were trying to master numbers 11 to 20 or as one of them would have it “oneteen” to “tenteen”

SATURDAY 16th OUTDOORS: Although it looks like a perfect summer’s day outdoors, it is in fact mid-winter. Like most of South East Asia, Cambodia doesn’t experience much variation in weather or climate across the seasons except for the wet season

SUNDAY 17th JOY IS...: giving and sharing. As the year ends we have been baking and preparing small gifts for those we truly appreciate. This was the first hamper to be delivered to Janine and Andrew at Kep Gardens Association on our final day before the break

MONDAY 18th LIGHTS: Fairy Lights

TUESDAY 19th TREE: This is the huge Banyan tree right on the shore in Kep Bay. Beautiful trees with sacred significance. This one has a spirit house at the base

WEDNESDAY 20th ‘TIS THE SEASON TO: play hosts with our first guests visiting from the US. Five people have arrived in the last two days and we are getting out and doing all the local tourist things in Kep and Kampot at long last

THURSDAY 21st ORNAMENT: The one and only Xmas card of ornaments in front of the origami Xmas trees which were hand delivered to us in Kep a couple of days ago. Thanks to McKenny for the thoughtful gesture and Barry for being the courier

FRIDAY 22nd WRAPPED: This is a beautiful “furushiki”
-or Japanese wrapping cloth. I received it as a gift from McKenny a few days ago and it is now wrapped around the gifts we bought to give our guests. The cloth is already a favourite and will be used constantly. Anyone who has spent time in Japan knows and loves the tradition of wrapping cloths

SATURDAY 23rd SPARKLY: The sunlight makes the water in Kep Bay sparkly in the early morning

SUNDAY 24th ON THE DOOR: This lovely Japanese New Year ornament was given to me by Barry, when he visited. He purchased it on a recent trip to Kanazawa. A perfect gift as my feeble attempt at a Xmas wreath failed miserably

MONDAY 25th MY DAY: culminated with this meal. After visiting our little monks to deliver bananas, cake and milk this morning, we took a tour to a local pepper plantation and came home to prepare our Xmas feast for friends. A simple day with simple pleasures and the perfect celebration

TUESDAY 26th WHERE I SLEPT: in my bed at home in Kep as usual

WEDNESDAY 27th GOOD TIMES: To me good times involve playing hosts to old friends from Bhutan days, who departed this morning, cooking up a storm with fresh ingredients from the local market, monkeying around with our little monks after class and care packages from home arriving. All in a day’s excitement in Kep

THURSDAY 28th SNACK: No lunch today so the afternoon snack was homemade Xmas cake and chocolate chip shortbreads

FRIDAY 29th MAKES ME HAPPY: After playing host to guests for the last 10 days we went back to the pool today and resumed our regular swimming routine

SATURDAY 30th BEST PHOTO OF 2017:  Having spent time in eight different countries this year, this has been a really difficult choice. However I can’t say I haven't enjoyed the last couple of hours looking at every one of the thousands of photos I have taken. Finally out of a selected five, three of which were taken in Peru, I chose the shores of Lake Titicaca from Puno. So many memories were made this year and recollected today

The other four choices just for the record

SUNDAY 31st CHEERS: We made a Japanese inspired meal to accompany the champagne, to finish 2017 with a bang. Many thanks to Barry, Allan and Andy for such a lovely treat.  The final memorable moments of a truly awesome year of travel and new adventures

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Seasons Greetings

As the year draws to a close it is once again time to look back and reflect. For once I can honesty say I am not thinking, “Where has this year gone?” Instead I am marveling, “Did all this really happen in just one year?”

To begin with I wish each and every one of you a spectacular finale to 2017 and all the best for your dreams and aspirations in 2018. Living with appreciation and taking time to value the small stuff is truly one of life’s greatest blessings. I hope this is the way you begin the coming year and it continues to shape your adventures as the year progresses.

2017 always promised to be one of those years from which we would count forward or backward in the future – a turning point from which things would be measured as before or after 2017. It was singled out to be a year to remember from the moment we decided to leave Bhutan and it has proved to be exactly that.

It began with leaving the magical kingdom we had grown to love. By New Year’s Eve we were in a hotel in downtown Thimphu with all our possessions finally sold and moved or packed. We knew the decision to leave was right for us but it still pulled on our heartstrings to walk away from so many people and experiences that had shaped our lives and changed us forever. Spending the beginning of January, and our last days in Bhutan with a dear friend who was visiting for the first time, softened the blow of departing. It provided us with the opportunity to share what we love about the country and focus on the many positives as well as visiting old haunts and savouring everyday events and sights.  Nightly circumambulation of the Memorial Chorten, one last climb to the monastery at Tango, final prayer flag flying at Chela La and dzong visits gave us closure and time for reflection.  Dear Maki San, we thank you for that and the perspective it gave.

For the first time in more than four decades of travel we paid excess luggage when we exited and we arrived in Bangkok with bags packed for a short stint in Sri Lanka, the long haul to Australia and beyond, as well as a box of household items and things of sentimental value to be deposited there and collected in 6 months time. Whittling all that we had into those 90 kilos and moving it, was indeed a mammoth task and we took great pleasure in heading off to visit Katja in Colombo with less that 10 kilos each.

Going to Sri Lanka was one of those last minute decisions born of the fact that an old friend lives there and we have never been and would possibly never be so close again. It also provided some time for just the two of us and the distance we needed to make sense of the plans we had laid before returning to Oz, where the question predictably enough would be, “What now then?” It was exactly the right thing to do but going from the Himalayan winters to the scorching sun and humidity also allowed us to slow down and take a much needed break after the frantic final months of school, farewells and travel in Bhutan. This trip became a holiday and the downtime was much needed and fully appreciated. After a night in the capital and a brief visit to the stunning tea plantations and Nuwara Eliya, we headed to Mirissa and lazed about on the beach and walked the coast enjoying the quiet and food, while focusing on truly unwinding by swimming and reading.

Another flying visit through Bangkok and we were home in Adelaide in time to celebrate Australia Day and Chinese New Year with family and friends. The usual rounds of medical appointments and making a concerted effort to reduce our stored possessions and relocate some into a smaller unit consumed the first couple of weeks at home but after that it was all fun and frivolity. Due to the generosity of Jane we were able to step back and enjoy most of February in Glenelg, punctuating our days with regular visits to the Central Market, social catch ups, beach walks, country drives and planning and booking the upcoming adventure.

Our Oz time ended with the Overland train to Melbourne and a few days with Lisa. This has become something of a tradition and by the time we flew to Washington DC via Beijing our only concern was whether or not we would be granted visas on arrival, as newly elected President Trump was creating immigration nightmares. Spending five hours waiting for take off on the tarmac, in the plane in Beijing only heightened our anxiety and added another airline to the list of never agains! But “all’s well that ends well.” As it turned out we breezed through immigration and were warmly welcomed by friendly and courteous staff.

Spending a prolonged time in the US was only possible because Anthony welcomed us into both his Washington and New York apartments. We arrived to near blizzard conditions and winter storms raged and we wondered in those first few days if we had enough clothing to survive the brutal weather outside. However we quickly took to walking as much as possible and this both warmed us up and gave us better insight into the local lifestyle. Catching up with a recently returned old friend from Bhutan, Mark, who now resides in DC and old cycling buddy from Japan days Barry, who flew in from LA were highlights of our Washington stay. The weather was conducive to visiting many of the Smithsonian museums and other excellent exhibitions and events and we lapped up the culture and wonderful parks with abundant birdlife and hiking opportunities.

New York has long been a favourite and sharing time there with Anthony and a prolonged period alone was amazing. We made a point of doing something new everyday, instead of returning to old haunts and favourites. Living in Harlem amid constant noise, sirens, traffic, incredible nightlights and an unending stream people on the streets couldn’t have been more different from our living situation in Bhutan, where even in the capital only the howling of dogs punctuates the nights. Catching up with live entertainment and exploring the city on foot as well as making daily use of the subway kept us warm and engaged. I love the vibrancy and the friendly; strike up a conversation with anyone, feel of the Big Apple. We explored parks, wandered Chinatown and Little Italy, saw shows, ate amazing vegetarian food, visited museums and art exhibitions and did self-guided walks. This month long celebration of my sixtieth birthday was exactly what I imagined when we dreamed up this plan and it was dissected by a five-day sojourn into Toronto.

We arrived by bus in Toronto in the early morning and had no expectations about what it would be like. The multicultural population, the huge numbers of homeless, the distinct racially determined districts, abundance of parks and birdlife as well as the ‘walkability’ of the city are our lasting impressions. Once again two friends from early days in Bhutan, who now reside there, made time in their busy teaching schedules to meet up and catch up with us. Thanks to Nick and Kira, and as a result of their influence we took to cider drinking in TO. There is something about those with whom we have shared time in Bhutan that connects us for life regardless of the time, distance or age differences. 

 Peru and Machu Picchu in particular have long been on my bucket list and Lima was our next destination. This was always going to be the biggest adventure. It is not only a country we had never visited, but also a new continent and a whole region of mostly non-English speaking people. This was to be a challenge with no return tickets and a sense of adventure to travel the old-fashioned way; no booked in advance hotels, no clear concept of the route to take and open hearts and open minds to guide us. We loved it from day one, despite being told that Lima was not worth much time by others, we ended up extending our time there and returning for a few extra days at the end of our trip and did not regret it at all. Initially it enabled us to get a feel for the culture and was temperate and offered lots squares and backstreets to explore in the old centre and in the end it was a comfort to realise how well we had fitted into the South American way of life.

We instantly loved the down to earth, get the job done attitude of the people with lively if somewhat noisy interactions extending long into the night and always accompanied by as much loud music as possible. There is heaps of tradition, peppered with enough modern technology to be convenient. Without language skills it took time to get a handle on acquiring healthy vegetarian food but we enjoyed discovering the architecture, culture, history and traditions and exploring the markets in every location. The quirky street entertainment and militaristic displays of security took us by surprise but were ever present in every region we saw. We did only a small circuit travelling by air, bus, train and on foot. It included Cusco, Agua Caliente enroute to Machu Picchu, Puno for Lake Titicaca and Arequipa to see the condors riding the updrafts and returning to Lima. Each place offered so much more than the sight we initially went to see. Although it is only a small taste of Peru, the diversity of the places, the unique wildlife and variety of landscapes, we did see and the legacy of the Incas left a lasting impressions and a hunger for more.

From Puno we took a brief detour into Bolivia. We knew we were close enough to visit the famed resort of Copacabana (yes Brazil stole the name) on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. Having already viewed the Peruvian shores we were impressed with how different the lake and its shore was in each country.  From there we were inspired to venture on to La Paz as well.  Both destinations were well worth the bus journeys and showcased the culture in varied ways. Walking across international borders is also something that delights us, and this detour provided us with that experience twice. There is something so otherworldly about walking into another country in this day and age. We got but a small glimpse of the similarities and differences in culture between Peru and Bolivia but once again it was the street life, the markets and the lively exchanges between people that we thoroughly enjoyed. Those famous bowler hats, the brilliantly painted street art of the capital, the sunsets over Lake Titicaca, the sky scape of the Andes in La Paz and the barren tundra landscape between the two are lasting memories.

We eventually planned an exit from South America, which involved a cheap flight through LA, which afforded us the opportunity to meet up for a few days with my one-time boss and dear friend from Japan days, Barry again. Some much-needed sunshine hiking and a stroll on the beach at Santa Monica, reminded us of the heat and humidity we were about to embrace back in Asia. McKenny provided us with accommodation in his absence and we just managed to meet for a few hours before we winged our way back to Bangkok

From there the real challenge of whether we could set up our lives in a long term capacity in Cambodia faced us. We had a list of possible places we might want to live and planned to travel to each and make a decision but after arriving at the first, we instantly knew this was it. Kep was chosen and the process of acquiring long-term visas and finding rental accommodation took priority.

After an initial period of three months, in a spectacular bamboo house in dream location among the rice paddies, all thoughts of this being a trial and the possibility of moving elsewhere were shelved. At this point in time we have established ourselves in a little house near the centre of town and taken to volunteering at a school and a monastery a bike ride away in both cases but in opposite directions. We feel settled and content: leading a simple life, swimming regularly, cooking up a storm and making local friends. As we approach the Xmas season we are looking forward to a couple of weeks break from volunteering at the school so that we can play host to our first visitors, though we will of course continue to teach the little monks for whom Xmas is an unknown thing.


We feel that we have a great deal to be thankful for and that the plans we made almost a year ago now have panned out very much as we hoped they would. It was not only the travel but also the chance to reunite with so many old friends, many of whom were in their home countries that made this particular year of new beginnings so memorable.

All that remains is to wish you and your families the blessings of happiness, prosperity and gratitude. May you all stay in contact and feel blessed. If you want more detail, though I suspect this epic is more than enough detail for most, you can read the blow by blows and the reflections and impressions in previous entries here on our blog. 

With love and best wishes,
Peace always,

Vicky and Ian