Saturday, 30 December 2006

Bangkok, Thailand

I'm exceptionally passionate about this country, and about this city. I've been here about four days now, and since being here I've realised how much I have missed Thailand in the two and a half years since I was last in Bangkok. I'm crazy about the people, the kids, the food, even the smell and the heat and the people harrassing you when you walk the streets. I'm so comfortable here and would move in an instant, if I thought I could make a livelihood. I'm not missing much from home, except all of you guys (of course!), my dog Kaos and, tragically, the West Wing!!

We're staying in a luxury hotel (mum is with me for the first 5 days) and this part of the trip, for me, is about recovering from the last manic few weeks so that I am prepared for the next 9 weeks or so of slogging around SE Asia. So I'm using this time to get used to the heat and being unglamourous and haggling again. There's lots of time poolside and reading and eating! But we have also been doing lots of great stuff like a Thai cooking class which was fantastic, visiting Ayutthaya (the ancient capital), and visiting lots of temples. Last night we had dinner at a place called Cabbages and Condoms, where all the proceeds go to to the Population Development Authority for use in sex education, scholarships for rural kids, lunch for schools in tsunami affected areas, etc.

This morning we gave dana to the monks (at about 6am, the monks walk the streets and the people make offerings of food, which the monks then share as their one meal of the day). As the last time I offered Dana, it was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life, just incredible. Also a great way of meeting the local market stall holders, as they gave me more and more food to offer to the monks, bless them! I'm really loving talking to average thai people again, and I'm always happy when they are suprised at my few words of Thai and being able to haggle or ask for directions in Thai, etc - a few words makes all the difference to how you're perceived.

We've bought bright yellow shirts to wear as almost all the locals are, as 2006 has been the year of King Bhumipol's 60th anniversary of being King, and yellow is his lucky colour (having been born on a monday). Seriously, thailand is gripped in it's own version of yellow fevor at the moment!

Enjoying lots of Thai food too, the green chicken curries we get back in Aust are nothing like those that are offered here, they are simply incredible! In the cooking class we were taught how to make thai fish cakes, red chicken curry, pomelo spicy salad, and stirfried seafood with garlic and pepper. So good.

Had better go now, but will post again soon with pictures and more stories. Hope you're all well, much love, Sophie.

Tuesday, 19 December 2006

Preface to Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. Also, uncannily enough, the preface to my travel journal.

Tuesday, 12 December 2006

A few of my favourite things

Flicking through a few of the HRB's old posts (and also as some sort of homage to my friend Claire, who is an avid list-maker), I've been inspired to make a list of some of the places in Hobart I am currently enjoying. There's no hierarchy, and they're not necesarily my faves of all time, just quick thoughts on why they're great and perhaps how they could improve. So... a list of the current top ten:

Brew in Sandy Bay. Love it because: The staff are lovely, the coffee is good, it's close to uni, it's cheap and there's always something yummy for lunch. You can sit and watch the world go by, or rush in for a quick coffee, depending on what you need. Hurrah.

Machine. Love it because: Can't get enough of their haloumi for breakfast. I went there again this morning and they had us fed and coffeed in less than 20 minutes as I had to get to a business meeting. It could be better: Coffee could perhaps be better? I agree with Nellie, it's a little bitter for my taste.

Landsdowne Cafe. Love it because: The person that thought of putting Chorizo with poached eggs was a genius. Also can't get enough of the tomato relish they serve with the eggs. And I love waving to the little old man who walks his dog past the window every morning. Oh and the coffee is good. It could be better: Could be bigger - sometimes it's hard to fit in and squeeze past people.

T42. Love it because: The location, being able to chill out there, the yummy wines and the fact that they always ask which gin you would like with your tonic. Also love their fab risotto of prawns, pumpkin and chorizo. I go there regularly for breakfast on the weekends - it can be up and down but let's face it: the best location in Hobart, with lovely, chilled-out staff. Also good for a dinner where you also want people to come later on for drinks. It could be better: By getting some Malibu on their shelves for my friend Belle.

Sugo. Love it because: Of everything. Love the cherry tomato, proscuitto, fetta and rocket pizza. The cakes are wonderful, and so pretty to look at. A couple of times, I've spent upwards of four hours here and never been hurried along. The food is simple but good. I love that the menu changes seasonally, and the specials can be divine.

Proller (the new bar in Collins Street). Love it because: The couches, the cocktails, the prices, the atmosphere, the music. Am reserving final and complete judgement until I've been there a bit more, but so far... good.

Knoppies. Just something about standing on that sidewalk with a beer in my hands takes me back to my youth... like, three years ago... Nothing like it on a warm summer's eve.

Amulet's sweet treats. I can wander down there at 9pm and have some of their tasty, tasty desserts. Anyone for one of their chocolate puddings? Or how about their lemon tart? Lovely, lovely. Hurrah also for the wonderful front-of-house; I have never had anything less than impeccable, incredibly friendly, and prompt service there.

Tandoor and Curry House. Love the Makhani Chicken. And those yummy Cottage cheese balls. And the entrees. And when I get a couple of drinks into me, I will start demanding to go there, and the staff are always so patient and good. It's old school, it's not entirely glamorous, but dear lord, sometimes it's just what one needs.

Hill Street Grocer: Ok, maybe not a "restaurant", "cafe", or "bar", but something about being there makes me happy. Hello fresh produce. Mix it with a lazy weekend and some imagination and I'll be happy pottering in my kitchen.

Honourable Mentions: Fish Frenzy, Mai Ake, Aroma, Maldini, Retro's Coffee.

Something to think about, please add your own faves! Sophie xx

Friday, 8 December 2006

Pierogi in Hobart

Oh my goodness, I am so excited!

I have just found out that pierogi are available from the Polish Club! Now what, you may well ask, are pierogi? They are little bundles of goodness direct from Poland. Essentially, think unleavened dough stuffed with filling (meat, cheese, sauerkraut, fruit, etc) and then boiled until cooked, and fried in lovely lovely oil and butter. Can't get enough of that cheesy, potato-ey, buttery goodness. See Wikipedia's article on them for more. My favourite are Ruski, which are filled with cheese. There is nothing, NOTHING better in this world than sitting down with some pierogi ruski and a decent Polish beer.

But you see, the thing is that I have never learnt to make them. And moreover, they are difficult to make - so hard that they are generally reserved for Christmas Eve (the Polish Christmas). This Christmas has the potential to be a difficult one for me, as it is the first without my Grandfather, and all my Polish traditions which were vested with him. I feared there would be no pierogi for me this Christmas.

BUT apparently all is not lost! Thank Heavens for the Polish Club and their bags of pierogi. I haven't yet tried them, but believe me, I will be heading up New Town Road asap to get me some of that artery-clogging tastiness. I will let you know how it goes.

P.S. I LOVE the "jesus-image pierogi" photo. That's a keeper.

Wednesday, 6 December 2006

The Best Birthday Present

It seems that momentum is growing to bring Hicks home. Four or five Liberal backbenchers are raising this as an issue, and his lawyers are bringing an urgent Federal Court action to bring David home by Christmas. See today's Sydney Morning Herald for more. Here's hoping...

Birthday food

Happy birthday to me! Hurrah for birthdays, cupcakes, wonderful friends and pretty things. Today is shaping up incredibly well: I have a close friend here from melbourne for the birthday, and with some other friends we spent last night drinking beer, walking on the beach, and enjoying the sunshine. Today, I've been spoilt by my mother with lots of lovely presents and breakfast out... which brings me to the point of this post...

I love Sugo in Salamanca square. Love it. Love the food, the staff, the atmosphere. It's where I drag locals and visitors alike for a weekend lunch. I was excited to have breakfast there this morning, but... not to be. Because it doesn't open until 8.30am. I arrive at 8am, but no cafe love for me. It makes me sad because let's face it, a cafe that opens at 8.30 is of absolutely no consequence to those of us that have to work... Automatically a large market (those of us that have to be at the grindstone at 9am) is cut off from the establishment. So it was off to the Machine for us...

And I was pleasantly suprised! Coffee good. Staff good. And food - wonderful. I had poached eggs with chipolatas, roast tomatoes, haloumi cheese (mmmm) and avocado. Every thing was beautifully done. I was not hungry after that!

This afternoon and evening promises more eating and drinking so I will keep you posted! Sophie xx

Saturday, 2 December 2006

Why I'm Going

The last post is a photo of Angkor Wat, in Cambodia. The photo is very similar to one I've had on my wall for a couple of years now, serving as a reminder of a goal: to get back to Asia, to go exploring. I first went to Thailand a couple of years ago, when I was just 19. I spent a month travelling around the north of the country, trekking on the Thai-Burma Border, running around the streets of Bangkok, exploring temples, learning a few words of Thai, learning a few Thai cooking techniques. I fell in love with the country and the people. I vowed to return to the region, but next time, to explore Laos.

This year, my beloved grandfather died. I had uni holidays, and I could be flexible with the other things in my life (work, commitments to non-government organisations). I had experienced a huge couple of years of growing up. I had some money in the bank. It felt like it was time to "throw off the bowlines and sail away from the safe harbour... Explore. Dream. Discover" (Mark Twain). The initial idea to go to Laos was expanded to encompass Cambodia (having just spent a year studying the new International Criminal Tribunal in Cambodia for my Honours thesis, I felt it high time to pay my respects and to see the country), and Vietnam (having always wanted to see Ha Long Bay, and because it was so close).

There have been many perplexed looks from people I know. I'm sure one of my lecturers would remind me again of "how we've discussed your need to get a life... why aren't you going to a tropical island?" (that is a paraphrase from what he said when I went to Poland 2 years ago. Somehow I think tramping off to SE Asia is worse...). Many of my friends are referring to this trip as "Sophie's pilgrimage to the atrocities zones". I try to explain why I am going, but words sort of fail me. I will try here.

My experience of travelling in Asia is that you are respected for who you are, not what you do, or what you have. People could not care less whether I am a law student or anything else. They don't define me by my grades, my clothes, my job, what I am drinking or who I am seen with. People are open and friendly. I will go over there without my trademark jewellery and shoes, no perfume, and clothes which are designed only for comfort and cultural sensitivity, not because they're "pretty". I feel my most pure version of self. If you take away everything that defines you when you are at home, who are you? That is the question you can answer in Asia, because suddenly, you are alone with your backpack and so far away from everything that is quintessentially "you". I am not pressured to be the perfect student or the perfect anything, other than the perfect Sophie. It is a challenge and I am looking forward to discovering more about myself, as well as about these incredible countries and people.

So I head off in about 3 weeks, until then I may well start posting about restaurants (it being my birthday next week, I am about to eat out a lot, hurrah!) or about politics (ALP leadership hey?!), or studies or whatever else takes my fancy really. But this is mainly for use while I am away, so I look forward to uploading thoughts and photos and keeping you all posted - Sophie xx

Friday, 1 December 2006