Saturday, 30 June 2007

What's been happening/ Blogging hiatus

Well, I think it's time to wrap up the blog for awhile. I can't quite bring myself to hit the delete button a la Kitty, but I think it's time to hang up the keyboard for awhile. The reasons are many: I need to focus my writing on my creative stuff including some poetry; the cancer news is very very bad (can't get much worse, but some surgery next week may give us a few more months); and I need to spend my time in the kitchen rather than blogging about it!

But let me think, there is other news.
  • We spent last week in Byron Bay, which was sublime: sunshine, whales in the bay, amazing hospitality service, long walks on the beach, reading (cloud atlas: ambitious, amazing; the time-traveller's wife: heartbreaking, beautiful; yoga magazines and the broadsheets every day), and just being.
  • I have finally succumbed to an ipod and am now attempting to convert all my music into itunes-friendly files, it's a nightmare! But I'm sure it will all be worth it.
  • The first-class honours has been confirmed, just waiting to see if it will be upper-first or not, hurrah.
  • Myer had a sale on pleasure state underwear. There goes my savings.
  • I'm postponing my law degree for awhile, to attend to all the things that go with terminal cancer, and to tidy our cupboards and bake. I'm looking forward to some time out.
  • Going out tomorrow for a glam night of drinking, hurrah.
  • Continung to be humbled by the generosity and love shown to us recently. I have eternal gratitude.

Thanks for listening, and I'll be online sometimes, so will continue to post on others sites. All love, S xx

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Where is Kitty?

Where is Kitty? She was here one minute and the next, her blog is gone and replaced with something completely foreign. I'm sad :(

And I tried to post this yesterday, but I don't think it worked? Confusion in cyber-land!

In other news, I am also tired - a mixture of swot vac hell and a very difficult week with the cancer in the house, and not being terribly well with it all. Oh well - TOMORROW I will have my first degree finished, and I will be on a month of holidays, hurrah. For now though, I just need to get through the exam and these assignments (nearly done! At least they've been interesting - one on the 'China threat', and the other on how demographic factors will affect the way the US wages war). I've been enjoying friends being home from overseas and interstate, the Verve remixed box set of CDs, Hobart Bookshop getting me out-of-print books, watching FAR too much Sex and the City, lots of yoga, movies, and teaching. When I'm on holidays, I'll have lots more time to cook so will keep you posted on good recipes to try, etc. In the meantime, take care, and... Kitty come home?? S x

Sunday, 27 May 2007

In defence of good food

I am reading a book that is changing my life. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by renowned author and botanist Barbara Kingsolver, her husband Steven Hopp, and daughter Camille Kingsolver, is due for release in Australia in June. Hobart Bookshop were good enough to order me in a beautiful hardback, American edition, so I got my copy several weeks early (and I spied, when I was in the bookshop today, a spare copy, so grab it now if you can't wait for the Aust edition!). Anyway, the book tells of the year the Kingsolver/Hopp family spent living sustainably on their farm, ensuring they only ate food whose origin they could guarantee was completely local (with only minor exceptions). The food revolution was inspired by a desire to eat well and to protect the environment, but had so many extra benefits too.

Think about our own food habits. We all know that Tasmanian strawberries in season taste so much better than Californian strawberries shipped across the seas in the middle of winter just to satisfy our whims. In buying the Californian strawberries, we are not only buying an inferior product, we are adding to our fuel dependency, hurting the environment, and only doing it because we cannot wait until strawberries are back in season! So suddenly, Kingsolver and her family are eating out of their own garden and cooking an awful lot of whatever is in season... and by the time the season changes, they are readily awaiting a new bunch of food. But half the joy is in the waiting and expectations. The other half is in the eating, because they are producing food that tastes real, not like cardboard.

Another benefit is in reducing energy consumption. In this age, we are highly dependant upon oil: a scarce resource, and one that has huge geo-political implications. We all know about the Middle-East and oil, but increasingly oil politics is including other states such as Russia and China in its orbit. And much of our oil consumption (read: dependency) is due to our food consumption. Oil is involved in the transportation and refrigeration of the food, as well as the tractors and other farming equipment, and moreover - the synthetic insecticides, herbicides, pesticides and fertilisers put onto your food in the production. As Steven Hopp says in the book, if every American ate one meal a week that they could guarantee came from local sources, US oil consumption would drop by 1.1 million barrels every week. Not gallons, barrels. Every week.

I'm not a raging hippy. I like shoes too much. I enjoy my French cheeses as much as the next person, and that's not going to change. But I am becoming much more aware of where my food has come from, and what has gone into it's production. I don't want to put too much in my body that has been covered in synthetic fertilizers. I want to live a simple life, full of great tasting food that hasn't hurt the earth too much just to satisfy my instant gratification cravings. If I can't survive a winter without raspberries, I will buy them in season and freeze them - easy. My life won't be perfect, but it will be a start. Read the book - it's a gem.

For more info, see the Animal, Vegetable, Miracle website.

On another, separate note: I went to Maldini for dinner on Thursday night (and, let's face it, probably didn't eat too sustainably then, but everyone is allowed a night off!). Anyway, it was spectacular. The new winter menu is just so good. I could happily eat almost everything on it. It was a difficult decision, but I ended up having the Osso Bucco done in a tomato, red wine & herb sauce, and served with a potato and Parmesan souffle. It was incredible. I also indulged in a glass of Bream Creek Pinot, and for dessert, a white chocolate, strawberry and vanilla bean baked cheesecake (with raspberry coulis and double cream). I think next time I'll try the rhubarb and raspberry bread & butter pudding, with caramel sauce. And there will be a next time - the menu is just too good not to return. Service was attentive and informative when we asked questions. Only complaint was the noise factor, but it added to a "party atmosphere" and we weren't doing too much talking anyway - there was just too much good food to be eaten!

Friday, 4 May 2007


I'm back from the seething metropolis, battle-weary and bruised, yet relaxed and happy. My back hurts from carrying too much shopping. My sleeping patterns are disrupted, and there are huge dark circles under my eyes, from too little sleep. My feet hurt from squeezing them into stilettos. My abdomen hurts from too much laughing. My bank balance is definitely in pain: I will be in debt to myself for several months to come, I fear. But with all of this, I had absolutely the best of times...

Arrived on Thursday 26, and A1 picked me up from the airport, bless his cotton socks. The weekend was off to a flying start with beer on M's balcony and a whole lot of talking rubbish and laughing at (and with) each other. A hot chocolate at KoKo Black on Lygon Street, and a few more words of The Great Australian Novel were written. Then dinner with the people I travelled through Laos with, at Minh Minh restaurant on Victoria street: not the best Asian I've had, but then I suppose I'm a bit biased. Lots of wine and noodles were consumed, anyway.

Friday was busy, multi-faceted, and fantastic. Coffee with one of my old Corporate-law bosses, and long thoughts and conversations about my future. Then M and I made the trek out to the Prahan Markets in search of cupcakes... The Crabapple Bakery makes spectacular ones (and have recently released a magnificent cookbook too). We sat and had tea and cupcakes (M had Passionfruit, I had a Rose one and a Lavender one, but couldn't finish either. Instead I just took pleasure from their gorgeousness).

After cupcakes, we met S and R at the Shanghai Dumpling House in China Town, an old haunt of ours, and had steamed and friend dumplings, and noodles... S was in her element. We spent several hours in Zomp Shoez in Little Collins Street (I eventually bought some delish stilettos, black and sexy and half a size too small, oh well). More cake and tea was consumed to keep our shopping spirits high. Then I met T, an old work colleague, for tea and wine and chats about futures, pasts, and all the rest: fantastic to see him, as he makes me laugh and makes all my troubles fade into oblivion.

By this stage it was 7pm and I made it home to meet up with M, S, R, A2, and K who arrived from Wagga with practically a broken back from falling off a horse, as well as C who never fails to make us peel with laughter. It was fantastic to have so many of us in one place at one time (S and R came up from Burnie, K from Wagga and me from Hobart... C, A2 and M are all Melbourne-based these days). A1 also joined us, and after pizzas for dinner on Errol street, and a few drinks and catch-ups at a house-party at another school-friend's house, we went out on Brunswick street. There are far too many memories on this stretch of bitumen. After drinks and dancing at Bimbos and First Floor we eventually made it home about 4am.

Saturday morning was fairly lazy, with sleep and breakfast at a divine french patisserie near M's house. Met another of my best friends for lunch by the Yarra, and whiled away several hours catching up, which was utterly fantastic, miss her heaps now that she lives in Melbourne. More shopping, a few episodes of Sex and the City (yes... I invested in the entire collection. It has so many words of wisdom), then again it was time to get pretty, get drunk, and go dancing... After dinner at Baba House, and far too many vinos, we eventually made it out. It was a hilarious night, which eventually ended at about 5.30am in Stalactites Greek restaurant, with A1 ordering yiros and saganaki for those of us who had lasted the distance. Nothing says "huge night" like a 24-hour Greek Taverna.

Sunday... hang-over central. "Breakfast" at 1pm, followed by a Sunday session of drinking, back on Brunswick Street. A whole heap of people came for a beer and a catch-up. I was feeling decidedly the worse for wear by 7pm, but nothing a bit of the Melbourne Comedy Festival couldn't fix. Feeling a lot brighter, A1, M, S, R and I grabbed some dinner and headed for the bright lights of Crown Casino... It was the first time I had been to the gambling floor of a Casino, so I was somewhat shocked & awed by Crown. Didn't bet, but S & R doubled their $20 (A1 lost his $20, so I guess as a posse, we were even). And then it was time for bed.

Monday... hectic-ville. I spent the morning munching on poached rhubarb and apple with cous cous and yogurt, and then shopping. I spent an inordinate amount of money on stationary at Zetta Florence, got grumpy at the atrocious service and synthetic fabrics at Alannah Hill (but still purchased three gorgeous items over the course of the weekend... lovely), and bought literally a library of books. In the afternoon I had: coffee with another of my old bosses from corporate-law-land; lunch with an old NGO colleague/close friend; tea with my ex; and dinner (risotto with king prawns, fetta, and chorizo - yummy) with another NGO colleague/close friend. All of these catch-ups were fantastic: so good to see these people.

And then, it was Tuesday. A much lazier day, but no less lovely. M and I sat on her balcony, reading (her- uni notes. me- Saturday by Ian McEwan). I took a quick kip in the sun. We cooked chicken and leek pie. And then A1 collected me, fed me (pide with haloumi, lemon, avocado and chorizo) and drove me to the airport again.

So, the highlights? The lovely people I shared it all with. Quality time with M. Feminist rants with C. Taking "artistic" photos of wine glasses. Sunshine. Endless cups of tea. Coming away with a new wardrobe of pretty garments, Sex and the City DVDs, more stationary that I know what to do with, sexy stilettos, and books to last me a year. Tea, cake, wine and some of the best conversations ever in the cafes in laneways off streets. Good food. Gelati on Southbank. A1 being eternally gorgeous and generous. Being in the same place at the same time as K, M, and S, for the first time in 18 months. Not being hit by a tram (a somewhat irrational, persistent fear of mine). Time being me, without the study or the work. Coming home relaxed, refreshed, and ready to ace the next couple of assignments. And finally - getting A1's mother's recipe for Kourambiedies... so excited!

Thursday, 19 April 2007


Thank goodness for the following:
  • This essay is nearly finished (Japan as a Great Power. Grrrrrrrrrooooooooooooaaaaaan).
  • It's pay-day tomorrow.
  • I'm going to Blue King Brown Tonight and going to dance like there's no tomorrow (except, of course, there is, because it's PAY DAY).
  • I'm nearly finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and therefore can spend lots of money on books on the weekend.
  • It's nearly the weekend.
  • My students came to my consultation hour today and they showed me pratice exams that were really, really good. Bless. Will be thinking of them tomorrow in their exam.
  • I'm going to make a Quilt. Really. Starting this weekend.
  • I'm going to Melbourne in ONE WEEK, for five days, to: see the girls I went to school with, catch up with my old boss from when I clerked at a big law firm, eat eat eat, drink like a fish, buy beaucoup des clothes (Oh! Review, Kookai, Charlie Brown, Alannah Hill, so many more, yeyeyeyey), catch up with the man that broke my heart (but we're over that and are almost friends now), go to the comedy festival, see some of my bestest friends who live in Melbourne, have a sunday afternoon drinking, not do ANY work or study, sit in all the cafes in Melbourne writing the Great Australian Novel, visit stationary shops, buy shoes, eat on Lygon and Brunswick streets, go out on the town, eat cake, go to the Art Galleries, and just enjoy life. I cannot, cannot wait.

Just thought I'd share all of that with you. Hope your futures all look as bright as mine, S xx

Thursday, 5 April 2007

When in doubt, Candy a Rose Petal

Aren't these glorious? This is what my energy has gone into the last couple of days. I have also bought lots of pretty garments from Luminous; ordered a CD from Aroma and been playing assorted music loudly as I ice cupcakes and candy rose petals; thought about which books to read over Easter; and planned a trip to Melbourne. Oh yes, and uni and work feature there too.
There's very little bad in the world that a cupcake can't mitigate.
And rose petals just add to the gorgeousness.
Happy Easter everyone xx S

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

The Way It Is

Righto, I've been a bad blogger, haven't I? Life is a bit of a haze at the moment, full of attempting to live life to the maximum yet also fit in an overload at uni (Honours in Politics plus Professional Conduct for Law, why oh why) and teaching, working and being. Moreover, I haven't been entirely sure how to approach the blogging issue - do people want to hear merely about food in Hobart, or more broadly life in Hobart, or about what it is like living in the same household as cancer, or...? I'd love guidance on this, but as it is, I think this is turning more into an on-line journal as I muddle my way through life: restaurants, cancer, theatre shows, work, uni, cafes, bad love experiences, millions of west wing episodes, shopping, and goodness knows what else, all a part of it. So here we are, get prepared for a whole lot of possibly narcissistic ramblings that I hope we can all gain from.

Ten Days on the Island
This week we went to see Dream Masons, as part of 10 Days on the Island. It was fantastic: it certainly made me both laugh and cry. It was just so visual: bright colours, son-et-Lumiere, a lone woman singing "Bridge over Troubled Water" (that was when I started to cry), lots of activity. It was just spectacular in the true sense of the word. I'm looking forward to the rest of the week - Dave Walters, Maria Lurighi, perhaps a few more other things, if I can afford the time and money. But aren't we lucky to have so many talented individuals in Hobart?

I am also loving the write/here project. If you live in Hobart, you couldn't have missed the red and white billboards around town with striking sentences on them. It turns out that they are segments of Hobartian's stories - refugees, migrants, prisoners, nursing home residents, young people, and anonymous public responses. Once put in this context, the billboards are so touching. I really hope the artists are planning to release a book with the texts.

Went to Don Camillo the other night with the girls. It was fantastic - the veal in white wine was just beautiful. Claire had the Puttanesca which I think was a bit too chilli for her, but I enjoyed a mouthful. Belle had Marinara which she liked. Service was good, keen to go back.

Ventured to Express at New Town Nursery the other day. The breakfast was good but I thought not spectacular. I heard later it wasn't a good day there, and so I'm keen to return for cake or lunch sometime soon. However, it was a stunning day in the sun, and I was happy anyway. I've given up coffee and was glad to see they had Irish Breakfast tea. Yet if I were still on the caffeine kick, I'd take heart to see Steve (ex-criterion) as the Barista.

At home, we are adjusting to loads of organic food, fish, wholegrains, and the occasional chocolate croissant (which probably isn't on the Ian Gawler list of preferred foods, but oh well). I have not yet succumbed to Uni food, or to coffee, since giving both up.

Just a general question - what is it about "roasted tomatoes" on breakfast menus which apparently always come out watery, unripe and unappetising? Get me in the kitchen and I will show you a real roasted tomato - there should be some garlic, herbs or breadcrumbs present, but in truth, a ripe tomato would be a good start. I have experienced this at several cafes lately and have been severely unimpressed at paying $2-3 for something almost inedible - especially at this time of year.

Went to Raw Comedy the other night at the Uni Bar, and it was fantastic. Congrats to all the talented and brave individuals who strutted their stuff. I was very impressed with the quality of the comedians, again fantastic to see so much talent in Hobart. Hurrah guys.

Listening to Ayo, the Waifs, Madeline Peyroux, Ray Charles, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, can't find my fave Bob Dylan CD and that's driving me to distraction.

Well, this isn't getting those 3,000 words written or that article read, or even that work done, so I will leave you all for now but will post again soon, promise promise! S xx

Hobart Cupcakes (for Ness)

Cupcake from Sugo that we ate on the day of mama's graduation

My 22nd Birthday cake (you can so grow older without growing up!)

My darling best friend and inspiration, Ness, is living in the UK at the moment and sent me photos overnight of cupcakes from London. Ness and I have fairly similar weaknesses: shoes, pretty floaty garments, jewelry, and cupcakes. It is all making me so desirous of moving to London to be somewhere where there are all those things in abundance (somehow, London has now become a symbol of pretty things to me - perhaps I'm wrong about that?).

Anyway, in a haze of technological illiteracy, I couldn't figure out how to compress these photos so as to send them to Ness without causing her inbox to crash. So, to share them with her, I'm putting them up here - all for you Nessie xx

Tuesday, 6 March 2007

The Highs and Lows

Thanks once more to all of you who are thinking of us. We are well, in a sort of life-upside down, facing mortality kind of way. It's so odd how life keeps going when everything is different, and it feels like everything should stop, because how can life be normal now? How can things possibly continue? And yet, they do. We are keeping positive in the way that says, "let's have a fantastic time for the time that we have left". We are cherishing the moments: the Hobart rain and the Hobart blue skies; home-cooked meals curled up on the couch with the dog and the first three seasons of 'The West Wing'; flowers, books, and most of all, people we love. We are playing music loudly and living in the way that people should always live, but never take the time to. My future has morphed into something I never wanted or thought possible, but I will continue to love life, and to live surrounded by love.

Anyway, I'm sure you want less of the self-reflectivity and more of the food news? A quick round-up of recent adventures through Hobart...

Highlights of the past few weeks:
  1. Breakfast at Criterion Street Cafe. I haven't been to Criterion in a LONG time, but we went back and were tempted by the pear bread, and the special of stewed rhubarb and apple with oats and yogurt. Both were sublime, actually. The toasted pear bread was buttery and served with extra poached pears as well as pouring cream and maple syrup. The service was fantastic, the (decaf) coffee was good, and I was happy. Take note Nellie - just around the corner from Kara... perhaps a sojourn to Criterion is in order?
  2. Dinner with the girls at Fransiscos in Battery Point. We shared tapas - bread with aioli; chorizo and red wine; meatballs; jamon; fried calamari; tortilla. It was genuine Spanish fare, something that just does not happen enough in Hobart. The menu tempted us with many other options to return. Fransiscos is an a favourite for the girls and I, and I've tried the paella and the chicken before, and still I can see reasons on the menu to go back. Mmmmm.
  3. Shopping at Myer. I have a random passion for Myer - it seems to exude decency and calm. And I love it even more when they have sales, or send me gift cards. Hurrah for Myer and hurrah for the false economy of being convinced that you are SAVING money, when in fact you are SPENDING money... Less guilt, more purchases.
  4. The Greek festival. I dragged all my friends and we all had a fantastic time. Stupidly, we all indulged in the Spit Roast (when in reality, divide and conquer was in order - we should have got lots of things and shared. Oh well, there's always next year). However, the Spit Roast was truly fantastic: fresh, succulent meat, lots of salad, and I was stuffed, to put it bluntly. Kourambides were taken home, Greek dancing was watched, and I loved, loved having grown up in North Hobart and always having been part of such a fantastic community.
  5. Discovering coriander pesto. Toss through pasta, add some cherry tomatoes, serve with a glass of wine and a salad...

Low lights of the past few weeks (other than the obvious):
  1. Breakfast at Phoenix. It held so much promise; it failed to deliver. Average service, hard poached eggs, unappetising toast. I was sad.
  2. The lack of night-life in Hobart. Really, nothing for those of us too old to go to Curlys, too young to go home when Tele/ T42 closes, and too practical to line up for hours.
  3. Finding out that the man I had been seeing before I went to Asia had always had a girlfriend in West Australia. Hmph.
  4. University food. I have made a pact not to eat on campus EVER AGAIN after the last over-priced cheese sandwich, and thus am bringing food from home, or from the Wursthaus on the way to uni.
  5. Giving up coffee. True. I have been suffering exhaustion ever since, might have to take the caffeine back up...
Hope this post finds you all well, and remember to live in the moment as much as possible and to hug your children and your loved ones, call your parents regularly, and eat fantastic food (full of nutrients and not carcinogens or other nasties)... S xx

Friday, 23 February 2007

Calm in the Storm

It has been an interesting, hectic couple of weeks. Asia feels so far away. We are all ok, coping exceptionally well in the midst of a crisis that is as unexpected as it is dramatic and worst-nightmarish in character. I won't go into any details, but it is someone close and something serious, yet ultimately nothing we can't deal with. We are keeping strong, putting our faith in God and in doctors, and staying very positive. I am focusing on going to Byron Bay in the middle of the year for some yoga and good food, and in the meantime busying myself with work, friends, preparing for Uni next week - and the endless tumult of doctors, lawyers, test results, washing, cooking, paying bills, writing emails, making phone calls...

I think people are finding it odd that I am actually more a ball of gratitude than of worry at the moment. I am overwhelmed by people who have left groceries, chocolate slice, vegetables on the doorstep; who have run errands, bought or brought dinners, sent cards, sent flowers, made offerings, not allowed me to pay in cafes or for appointments. Most of all I am indebted - forever, forever - to those who have prayed or kept us in their thoughts. I wrote out a list the other night of people who were doing that for us, and there were hundreds of names on it - from Hobart to Cambodia, Santa Fe to London, New Orleans to North Queensland. We have been so strengthened by these prayers and positive thoughts.

This experience has taught me a great deal, and coming on the end of the Asia trip, I feel like a very different person. I have learnt what are truly life's priorities. I am focusing on less, and doing it better. I am looking forward to spending the next year as a well-rounded, happy person rather than as a list of achievements. What matters is family, friends, education and health: the rest is superfluous. My faith in God has been strengthened. And I have finally learnt to forgive several trespasses I once thought could never be forgiven. And I hope that the trespasses I have inevitably made, may also be forgiven one day. I have also learnt never to travel overseas without a mobile phone and enough money to pay for an airflight home - thank goodness I had both of these things in Phnom Pehn.

Hobart is a fantastic place, filled with wonderful people. It is exceptional to have so much given to you in such a short space of time, and I will always be grateful.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

But who PUTS ON weight in Asia??

Apparently, I do. Wonder if these cakes, and others similar, could be the culprits? Oh well, it was nice while it lasted...

The Last Couple of Weeks

hawking books, phnom pehn

Well, it has been hectic, to say the least. I have arrived home early due to a family emergency. I got the news on Sunday night; by Monday night I was on a plane home; and was back in Hobart by Tuesday at 2pm. Phnom Penh to Hobart in the blink of an eyelid. It proves that the world is not a big place when people are helping you.

I am so lucky and I will always be grateful to the guardian angels who have helped me this week: Scott the Intrepid tour leader; the fantastic Mr Sorphea who operated a 24hour travel agency in Phnom Penh and even drove me to the airport; the people who listened to me along the way; the Cambodians who protected me and helped me at every turn; friends at home who pulled all strings to get me home; and all the help and support I have been offered by everyone. I can't begin to describe how grateful I am.

But before I left Cambodia, I had several wonderful days in Phnom Penh. I am looking forward to returning soon. Highlights included...

  1. The people. Along with the Lao, the most generous, kind-hearted, beautiful individuals. I was welcomed from the first minute, and I appreciated their honesty in discussing their recent history. Their smiles were broad and constant.

  2. Oddly enough, Tuol Sleng (the genocide museum) and the killing fields. It was important to me to pay my respects there.

  3. The food, of course - I particularly liked fish amoc (fish cooked in coconut milk and spices in a banana leaf) and khmer chicken curry.

  4. Friends the Restaurant. It is a non-profit restaurant operated by former street youths and comes under the umbrella of Mith Samlanh Friends, an NGO which assists approximately 2,000 young people through 12 interlinked projects, of which the restaurant is one. Fantastic food and a great cause. I even bought the cookbook and looking forward to getting stuck into a touch of Phnom Pehn in Hobart.

  5. The Foreign Correspondents Club for a sundowner at Happy Hour.

  6. The shopping... silk, silver, anyone??

  7. Everything, everything, everything.

And now I'm home, thankful for everything that I have: my health, family and friends who are more like family, and incredible experiences. This has been a cursory post but I hope you forgive me that, as my energies are elsewhere at the moment. I'll post more some other time, but until then I'll leave you thinking about Cambodia, an exceptional country with stunning people.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Well Past the Halfway Mark

So there is less than a month left. I'm definitely starting to feel the affects of all this travel, and I'm looking forward to a home cooked meal, a soft bed, hot water without fail, decent coffee, cheese, red wine, salamanca place, uni (call me mad but I miss the academic rigour of study something chronic), and talking to people who both know me, and are intelligent. I love you guys! This trip has been incredible. It hasn't been the time of my life all the time, but it has been the time of my life overall. Honestly, I have nearly come home innumerable times, for a range of reasons. It has not been easy, and I will never travel alone in asia again. But I have had such a great time. I have learnt to say "thank you" in several languages; been tubing in Vang Vieng and Kayaking in Ha Long Bay; practised my french with schoolkids, talked to monks, and shared my lunch with a Lao girl about my age; seen the affects of war with startling clarity; eaten crickets and dog (that was an accident and one I never thought I'd make, but oh well); learnt to cook thai, lao, and Vietnamese; walked up waterfalls and swam in streams; met the most amazingly kind people; seen the Lao dancing information at nightclubs; compared the merits of "Mr Whippy" across asia (hilarious portable icecream vans); I could go on forever... but you get the idea. I have also come to numerous conclusions about myself and my life. Let's face it - this trip was as much to get away, and get some space after the worst year of my life, as it was to see southeast asia. I have had the space I needed and I have discovered that I love my life and I am proud of myself and my achievements, but I am constantly wanting to better myself. So I have made a few promises to myself. I'm not going to share them, except one which I want you guys to help me keep - I want to swear less!! So you all have to help me on that front ok!

So from here, on to Cambodia, where I will keep you all posted on my further adventures! All love, Sophie.

How Did That Happen?

I'm currently in Hoi An, aka capital of tailor made clothes. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and has incredible architecture, food, and lots to do - but most people come for the clothes. You would think that after six weeks travelling through Buddhist countries with only a backpack, one might be inclined to renounce all material possessions. After all, how many dresses does a girl need? As it turns out, the correct answer is at least four - one ball gown, one summer dress, one formal little black dress, and one plain little black dress. Match that with a couple of skirts and some trousers, a woolen jacket (pink!) and an opera jacket (because I go to the opera sooooooo regularly - I got that one already made in Ha Noi) and a girl should be about set. It turns out that a girl also needs at least four bags (evening, day, play and work), and several silk scarves. And jewelry. Some of this booty I have already sent back to Aust. Some of it is sitting in my pack. I'm still wearing fishermans pants and sneakers and a fake wedding band and looking like a slob.

Update: I have just posted most of these things home and am now $30 US lighter. Oops.

Viet Nam Generally

Viet Nam is an amazing country. But I have to say, it has also been the most difficult country I have ever travelled in as a young single female. I have never felt in danger per se, but I am painfully aware that most people see me as "easy game" to be ripped off, scammed, or harrassed. In every other country I have travelled in, there have been the inevitable bunch of people who want to abuse your vulnerabilities. However, what I have always found is that the majority of people are struck by the "I have a bambino at home just like you" phenomenon, whereby they go out of their way to help you, generally because they hope that someone would do the same for their child if they were in a similar situation. From sharing their food with you (Poland, Laos); to handing out free bottles of water (Laos); or undercharging you on Taxis (Thailand) - people are so, so generous and it is one of the main joys of travel. And whilst I am not asking for this help, it always mitigates the feeling that peopleare out to ripp you off. This semblance has not been my experience ofViet Nam. Every traveller has their own tales and their own experience of countries. Unfortunately mine, as a single female traveller, has been very much to be harrassed and cheated, and I have not had anyone do anything to help me. Just one example is that I have watched motodrivers ignore women with boyfriends, or two women together, and then spend the next 5-10 minutes following me ("Hello! Where you from?Melbourne or Sydney? You come with me? Many people from Australia have good time on my moto! I love you!"). It's fine, but after 10 days orso, it gets tiring. I nearly hit a moto driver the other day, and that's saying something for me! I try to remember what these people have been through (I continue to thank God every day for the fact that I have not experienced similar). I try to remember their poverty. But none of this mitigates the fact that this is a very, very difficult country to travel through if you are a young woman travelling alone. So whilst this is anamazing country, I will not be coming back to Viet Nam anytime soon.

Ha Long Bay

I've wanted to see Ha Long Bay for the better part of a decade now - a desire with no real basis; maybe someone mentioned it once, or maybe I saw a photo, I don't know but it manifested into pictures on my wall and ultimately a trip to Viet Nam. And I haven't been disappointed. I spent three days cruising Ha Long Bay, which are probably up there with some of the best three days of my life. We were on board a massive junk (ship) and just puttered around the bay, taking in the view, which was exquisite, and the seafood which was also very good. The caves were impressive but I was just in awe of the massive karsts rising out of the aquamarine sea, so proud and righteous looking. It was absolutely spectacular. In the afternoon, we went kayaking. Now, we all know I'm no elite athlete, and kayaking in particular is not my sport. Some of you may have heard the story of my mother and I kayaking in Byron Bay last year (picture us in a kayak, in the middle of humpbackwhales, dolphins and huge waves. Amazing, but kind of... scary too). In this case, however, the water was still and there were no whales, and we kayaked for about an hour, to a massive inclosed lagoon (getting there through a tiny cave opening). It was so serene and quiet and you couldjust take in the most exquisite scenery. Definite highlight of the trip. And, I have to say, the highlight of Viet Nam, by a long long long shot.

The Battle of the Blog

Well, I am back online (sort of) after an extended absence, due to not being able to access my blog anywhere in Viet Nam, other than Ha Noi and now Sai Gon. I emailed back home, which I'll now post so that those of you who are reading but who are not on my email list, can keep up! I am guessing that the lack of access to blogs has a lot to do with ideological opposition from the Commies that run this part of the world, but I have no idea why you can access blogs in the big cities but not in any other part of the country. Oh well. So back online, for the moment, anyway; and tomorrow I am heading to Cambodia where hopefully there will not be any issues with blogs!

Thursday, 25 January 2007

Good Morning Viet Nam!

Well, Ha Noi. What a town. Population approximately 4 million, compared to the entirety of Laos which is 5 million. Luang Prabang, my last stop, was only 30,000. The culture shock of being somewhere so different, so noisy, so exhilarating and exhausting, has been amazing and huge. This place is quite unimaginable unless you've been here: rabbit warrens of streets chock-a-block full of silk, red lanterns, food stuffs, beads, images of Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese flag, bootleg CDs and DVDs, conical hats (I had thought they were a thing of myth, but no). Interminable traffic which makes it nigh on impossible to cross the road. Communist propaganda spewing forth from loudspeakers on the road every morning. Constant horns honking and people calling out: Motorbike madam? People following you, hassling you, touching you. Pagodas everywhere. Buildings that are narrow and long and brightly coloured. Men in berets and leather coats. Pho (noodle soup) and baguettes everywhere. A cacophony of noise, colour, people, smells, things everywhere.

Getting here was interesting too - I'm counting my lucky stars in fact, as I'm fairly sure we had a malfunctioning engine on Vietnam Airways flight VN864 or whatever it was - I had been planning to fly from Ha Noi to Hue, but I think it will be the long bus ride for me! It's never comforting to feel "this isn't right" for a whole flight, and then see ground crew run to meet the plane and immediately dismember the engine and look concerned. At least I got here in one piece!

I'm staying in a fantastic backpackers in the old quarter, run by Aussies and providing free internet, tea and breakfast as well as cheap beer and aussie bbqs! The food in Ha Noi is great and I've dined at a couple of places that train disadvantaged youth in hospitality roles - notably KOTO which is run by a Vietnamese Aussie and has interested me since seeing a documentary on it a couple of years ago. Great food, cheap, funky, and friendly staff.

This morning I went to visit "Uncle" Ho Chi Minh, who is embalmed and resting in his mausoleum despite dying in 1969. He is still idolised here. There are reminders of the war everywhere; and you realise that every single person here has been directly or indirectly affected by that conflict. It makes one incredibly grateful that we have never experienced war on Australian shores, and makes one question the legacy that the Iraq war will leave on that country.

An incredible country. Far more hard work than Laos, but fascinating and enjoyable nonetheless. I think a day or two respite in Ha Long Bay will be required - probably starting the 27th. In the meantime, love you and miss you - Sophie.

Sunday, 21 January 2007

Highlights of Laos

Sunday in Luang Prabang and "Lao Time" has become even more distinct: things will happen, but slowly; they will take a couple of hours more than you may expect; you should just head to a cafe with your book (White Teeth by Zadie Smith - I still think it is one of the best of all time) and relax. So that is what I have been doing today, and now I thought it time I catch up with you all.

I've been back in LP for several days now and leave on the 24th for Hanoi (via Vientiane - it's a 40 minute flight from LP to Vientiane and then on to Hanoi). I'm not looking forward to leaving this place, but I am excited about going to Hanoi and the rest of Viet Nam. LP is a serious competitor for my favourite place on earth. The entire city (town?) is a UNESCO heritage site, with 34 temples. It's local population is 30,000 - that's about half the population of Glenorchy for the Tasmanians reading. Monks and novices walk the streets amongst the cafes, the raw meat and fresh vegetables in the markets, and the tuk-tuk drivers. The people are amazingly friendly. It is beautiful, relaxing, funky and unpretentious.

I've spent my time here at a Lao cooking class, learning even more recipes for you guys back home (but there may be a price attached - I may have to charge $5 for my culinary skills to go to the orphanage here, which has a budget of 20 cents a day, per child, for food - the poor little things are living on nothing but rice). I've been sharing food with the locals; shopping at the night markets; indulging in fantastic lemon tart and tea; practicing my french with the local school kids; drinking Lao coffee; taking loads of photos; and walking up and down and up and down the streets.

This country is incredible, but it is changing rapidly. Suddenly people are coming as "a thing to do" and I have seen the most amazingly arrogant travellers - and this place is changing so quickly to accommodate the whims of these people. I could step onto the soap-box but I'll restrain myself for the moment. What I will say, though, is that if you are keen to see Laos, come here sooner rather than later, and do your best to come here respectfully - please learn a little about the history and the culture, because this place deserves that. Edit - all that being said, I have also met the most amazing, beautiful, generous and considerate people, which is one of the best parts of travel.

The Highlights of Laos have been:
  1. The People
  2. Slow Boat on the Mekong
  3. Hill Tribes
  4. The spring roll place in Vientiane
  5. The landscape, the plants, the geckos, the buildings, everything
  6. The LP nightmarket - ridiculous amounts of money spent
  7. Just hanging out, watching the world go by
  8. Tubing in Vang Vieng - but that was the only thing to recommend that town
  9. Sublime sunsets
  10. The food generally - Lao coffee, croissants, baguettes, chicken Laap (stir fried chicken with herbs and spices), fried eggplant and pork, fresh everything, mmmmm.

I'm looking forward to posting from Viet Nam. Love you and miss you, Sophie xx

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Quick update

I don't want you guys to think that I've had a bad few days, but I did want to share all of those previous stories with you (in hidsight, they're pretty funny). But can't leave it on that note, so will give you a quick round-up of some of the highlights thus far:

Luang Prabang in Laos. Loved it so much I'm about to head back for 5 days or so.

Clubbing in Luang Prabang. It was hilarious, one of the funniest nights ever.

The food. Always the food.

The Group I've been travelling with. Great people.

The Facial I had yesterday in Bangkok. Fantastic. Possibly best 250 Baht I've ever spent.

Ok apparently I'm on my last 5 minutes of internet time, so had better go, but will be online again from Laos tomorrow.

Much love, Sophie.

View over the Mekong, from Houay Xai in Laos

Imagine me here, with a Beer Lao in my hands. This was my first night in Laos. Pretty spectacular hey. Fantastic country.

Things I have Lost on this trip (already)

1: My Bathers. Left them in my haste to flee Bangkok for Chiang Mai. Picked up a very cute replacement pair in CM.

2: My Travel Documents. Left them in a safe in CM. Realised half-way in Chaing Rai (several hours away). Paid a man 1000 Thai Baht (about $40 AUD) to bring it all the way to Laos for me. Got them back less than 24 hours later, all present and correct and had not even been opened. Love Thai and Lao people.

3: A sarong. Lost whilst tubing down the river in Vang Vieng.

4: The fake wedding band I'm wearing over here to stop men harrassing me (incidentally, this has already been used countless times to great affect). Lost whilst tubing in VV. Replaced in Vientiane at the Patouxai (replicar Arc de Triomphe, random) for less than $1.

5.: My bag. See the below post. Lost by negligent hotel staff, found 3 hours later (after a trip to the police, lots of money spent on phone calls, and lots of tears). At least all safe and well now!

I think that I have just about reached my quota of lost goods for the trip, and so should be safe to continue the trip. Will let you know, though!!

Things One Should Really Avoid When In Thailand (or: ...WHAT????)

1: Getting One's Bag Lost or Stolen. This will result in a World of Pain. See below for more.

2: Needing the Thai Police's help when one's bag has been Lost or Stolen. This will only be beneficial if you are a VIP. If, on the other hand, you are a poor falang (foreigner) girl, freaking out because her bag has gone missing, you will sit in the police station for half an hour, then decide it is all too much and you can sort it out yourself, thanks very much anyway.

3: Relying on CCTV footage to find out where said bag may be. Yes, the hotel has CCTV cameras everywhere. But are they operational? Can you see anything whatsoever other than a large black blob? No? Funny that!

4: Staying at the First Hotel in Petchburi Road, Bangkok. One of the following is almost inevitable (and each has happened to at least one person on our trip): a) bedbugs; b) inadequate cleaning; c) water gushing in through the roof; d) a toilet that doesn't flush; or finally e) they will put your bag in a room that isn't yours, put a do not disturb sign on the door and refuse to go in it because of that sign, be completely rude and useless when you can't find your bag for 3 hours, refuse to let you use the phone to make a toll free call to your insurance agency, scowl at you the whole time, and when it is discovered that they were at fault for the lost bag, not apologise, not help and not make recompense at all. Hmmmmmmm. If you are on a Geckos trip that leaves from there, spend the least amount of time possible at First Hotel. Take your - wait for it - $60 a night - elsewhere (in Bangers, that will get you something gold, rather than what has just been described).

So that was my day yesterday! Definite low-light of the trip thus far, but all ok now, and I am flying to Vientiane again tonight to spend another week in Laos, chilling out...

Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Luang Prabang, Laos

Hill Tribe kids (the one in the green was a classic!)

Laos is an incredible country. It's beautiful, the landscape is spectacular, the people are so friendly and the food is great. It is also a country which is still struggling with significant adversities. The average life expectancy here is 53 years. Forty per cent of the population is under 15. In some areas, one in four children die before aged 6. It is the most bombed country, per capita, ever in the history of warfare - and about a third of those bombs did not explode, meaning there is unexploded ordinance everywhere, just waiting for a bamino to come and play with it. So difficulties are everywhere, but this does not stop the Lao from smiling and being friendly and accomodatiing. With the stats above, you can probably tell that there are a lot of babies around - and they're the cutest things. Have had to stop myself adopting them all, several times!! It's awesome to see them Nop you (the prayer like geture similar to the Thai Wai) and say sabadii (hello).

Fot this part of the trip I am with a tour, all of whom are lovely. It's a small world as two of them went to college with one of my closest school friends, Soph. I've also just run into a girl I went to school with which is pretty funny - of all the bakeries in all the world... Our tour leader, Tui, is a Lao man and is hilarious.

We crossed into Laos at the border town of Houay Xai and from there, caught a slow boat over two days down the Mighty Mekong river, stopping in Pakbeng for a night before arriving in Luang Prabeng yesterday. Meandering down the mekong was so relaxing - lots of reading and playing cards and sunbaking. We stopped in on a couple of Hill Tribes who only see Westerners every three or four months. The kids took great delight in watching us take photos of them and then show them on our digital cameras. We also stopped in at Pak Ou caves and the Whiskey village.
Getting to Luang Prabang was nice as it meant a flushing toilet and a hot shower - who'd have thought those things would be so nice. We had Indian for dinner last night and indulged in some night market shopping. Although everything is uber cheap (7,000 Kip to the Aussie Dollar) I am spending a lot!!! Everything here is beautiful and high quality.

The food is incredible - Lao coffee has got to be the best in the world, made with condensed milk so it is sweet and smooth. The french colonial influence has brought fresh bread and croissants which are among the best I've ever had - in fact better than Jackman & McRoss'!! I'm drinking so much beer Lao it's not funny - $1.20 for a long neck of some of the best beer in the world.

This is a place where you realise how lucky you are, every minute that you are here. On one level, I am a lucky girl because I have electricity and hot water and more than 3 years of education (the average here). On another level, I have got to be one of the luckiest people alive to have seen the sunsets I've seen, the rollicking hills surrounding the Mekong, meeting the Hill tribes, and being able to have the fantastic meals I've had. I'm also incredibly lucky to have you guys back home and I miss and love you all very much. I am also missing Australian domestic politics (tragic), haloumi cheese, cooking at home, and my jewellery (pathetic)!!!

Take care all and looking forward to hearing more from home, much love, Sophie.

Thursday, 4 January 2007

Getting Out of Bangkok!!

Ok, although I knew it would be safe (ish) in Bangkok, it wasn't exactly pleasant in the day or two after the bombings. As those of you who heard from me in those couple of days know, I was actually pretty scared. DFAT was issuing a travel warning to suspend all unnecessary travel to Bangkok. Moreover, I had already had a week there and so had run out of things to do - and my new hotel was SHABBY (I'm talking bed bugs. Which is ok, except in Bangkok where there are plenty of cleaner options for the same price) and in an awful part of town. I didn't feel safe on the streets, I didn't want to stay in the hotel, and there were no bars or cafes nearby for me to socialise in. I was actually pretty damn miserable, not like me at all! So I got in contact with a friend, Mel, who has travelled pretty extensively, and she gave me some advice which is up there with the best I've ever had - trust your traveller's instinct. I got on the phone to Thai Air and was in Chiang Mai by that afternoon! Mum was travelling here already so it was easy, I already had a place to stay, and I'm now meeting the tour group here tomorrow morning before crossing into Laos the day after. Hurrah!

I feel much, much safer here and sometimes that's all that matters. It was certainly the right decision, even more so when I read in the Bangkok Post this morning that there were 2 bomb threats yesterday on the road I was staying on.

Chiang Mai is further north, full of night markets and the gateway to trekking in the far north or all sorts of other things. I really love it here, it's lively but not the rambunctious city that Bangkok is. Yesterday mum and I had a priceless day at an elephant conservation park about 2 hours drive north of here. They rescue abused elephants (which, it turns out, are almost all elephants in Thailand - any that aren't wild, any that are engaged in tourism activities like rides etc) and let them essentially roam free, with mahouts to command them and volunteers around to manage them. We got to feed them and bathe them in the river, there are about 30 elephants plus 3 baby elephants which were the cutest things! It was an awesome day, just being there with these majestic animals and some great people, and also probably the best Thai food I've ever had (a big call, believe me!) and the clear mountain air. Really great.

Today was spent shopping (oops, have spent more than I planned to, oh well!). And just walking around Chiang Mai. It's going to be really hard to leave Thailand, I love this country so much, but I am looking forward to seeing Laos. I hope you're all well and I miss you all very much, love always, Sophie.

Monday, 1 January 2007

Safe New Year

Just letting everyone know that we're safe and weren't affected by the bombings in Bangkok last night (several bombs went off in various parts of Bangkok last night. Two people were killed and according to the Australian newspaper, 36 injured. Reasons remain unknown - possibly an expansion of the violence in the far south that has raged for years; possibly related to the coup of 19 September). We watched it all on the news from the safety of our hotel room. It's all pretty distressing to tell the truth, I feel so terrible for the poor Thai people that were affected, and hope that this does not adveresly affect people's livelihoods. I also hope it doesn't affect tourism too much, as this place is built upon it, and without it people will really suffer. I'm in Bangkok until the 5th before heading North, then into Laos. Mum has left for Chiang Mai in the North today. I promise I'll take good care of myself in the next couple of days. Love you all terribly much, Sophie.