Gratitude for all my travel

“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

I feel the same way about my photographs.  I’m never bored as going through them  I get to travel the world yet again and for that, I’m really grateful.

I feel sorry for those, in these times of the Covid -19 pandemic, who have saved and planned for years and who have had their one big dream travel trip cancelled – mostly with their money down the drain.  I too have had trips cancelled, but at least I’ve had years of travelling the world, mostly solo, and have accumulated numerous memories.  My photos are merely prompts – I even have a box of photos for friends and family, or dementia ward staff, to use to prompt me.  Just a little forward planning for something I don’t think will happen is luckily for me, there has been little cognitive degeneration and my family.  Here’s hoping that continues.

I look at my walls and my living area and see photos of, the salt plains of India, a Buddha in a tree trunk rubbish bin, sunrise over a river in central India, a promiscuous monkey at a national park in Malaysian Borneo, and finally, post 2010/11 quakes in Christchurch, a huge bronze bull on top of a bronze grand piano.  The stories behind each of these photos, like Oscar’s diary, give me sensational memories.

Here are some more photos, each which have a story behind them, and right now, in fact, especially now – in lockdown, I can write a story in my mind as I wandered down my memory lane of travels.  I’m grateful for the life I’ve had, the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, the things I’ve seen, and all my memories.

Canterbury Plains New Zealand
one of my favourite animals
fun in the media’s mosh-pit #rwmf #Kutching
Taj Mahal – misty morning view from the river
Ahmedabad, Gujarat
a musician plays while we plant mangroves. Sarawak, ‘greening the festival’
main mosque, Oman

 

 

at one of Mumbai’s railway stations
it’s satisfying to plant mangroves
musician, annual Rainforest World Music Festival, Malaysian Borneo
I’m riding the rapids
young shags at Zealandia, Wellington New Zealand

the Taj and the buffalo
I’m part of the ceremony to turn men into monks on the day of the King of Thailand’s 70th birthday
minor traffic jam New Zealand
China

Canterbury, New Zealand

Chungking Mansions – great accommodation or den of inequity in Hong Kong?

When travelling, it’s always great when plans come to fruition.  At our arranged meeting point I meet my friend whose LAX flight arrived 20 minutes before my New Zealand one.  After a coffee, we find the bus into town, and get off at the correct spot – our 5 weeks of SE Asian travels are beginning well.  And, we’re off to stay in a mansion!

Chungking Mansions to be precise – and despite the name, these mansions were the cheapest accommodation we could find in the centre of Hong Kong.  Fantastic we thought.

As we approach the doorway, dragging our wheeled suitcases, half a dozen men offered us their cards – touts for suits, dresses and jackets that we could have made. Silk, linen, cotton, a sari perhaps?  All we wanted was to check-in and start exploring.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This huge block is actually a collection of 5 buildings each named A, B, C, D or E -and each block has 2 lifts – one stopping at all the even numbers, the other at all the odds.  Despite the rabbit warren confusion, we found the appropriate check-in place. What we hadn’t realised there are hundreds of tiny guesthouses, and once checked-in we were taken to our accommodation – in a different block.

My room is across the hallway from my friends one: it’s tiny, spotlessly clean,  has air-con, a bottle of water and is windowless. It’s also shoebox-size, with an even tinier bathroom.  I have no problem with that, I only want this room to sleep in as I know I’ll be out exploring – this is my first time in Hong Kong!

We stayed here for 3 or 4 days, and then after our travels, I stayed another couple of days before returning to New Zealand.

This is not only full of guesthouses but also restaurants, shops and moneychangers.  As someone said you could have a holiday in Hong Kong and never leave the mansions.  No matter what you want it will be here: fruit, biscuits, bread, curries, pizza, computers, or kebabs; new luggage, new phone, Sim card, umbrellas or batteries, they’re all here -and of course suits, dresses, jackets, or a  sari.  In fact, anything you want.  We had our delicious, early morning, Indian breakfast, on the ground floor, every day.

This United Nations of people seem to come from, largely, Southeast Asia and Africa, and in conversation with a young Hong Kong woman on the ferry, she was astonished at our bravery. ‘I’ve never been allowed there’ she said. ‘My parents would never let me go anywhere near there.  Is it safe?  It’s full of drug dealers I think.’

There is no doubt about it, for years it’s had a notorious reputation, and at any one time, among the 4 or 5000 people who live, and or work, there.  I’m sure there are drug dealers, illegal immigrants, and sex workers.

Over the years it’s cleaned up its act, and despite still being a fire hazard, I never saw anything that concerned me.  However, over the past few years, there have been assaults and even murder (s?)

Originally built as middle class, one-family flats or apartments, many families, seeing an opportunity to make money, bought other flats and converted them into guesthouses to serve American soldiers on R&R from Vietnam -it was then that the sex workers started hanging around the entrance.

Would I stay there again?  Of course!  Would most my friends stay here?  Of course not!

our first day in Hong Kong we experience and march
shops and restaurants are beginning to open .. about 630 am. some are open all night
messages of support to the marchers – in the underground

 

 

 

Food and travel – heaven for some, hell for others!

Food is an important element to travel – it’s heaven for some – hell for others.

I love the new, the different, the local delicacies, while others want to mostly, or even only, eat at multinational outlets. what do you prefer?

This phenomenon is not confined to only westerners but also many others. I’ve known, Italians, and Asians who only want to eat their usual food while travelling …  I know in New Zealand many Chinese tours always insist on meals at Chinese establishments.

Here are just some photos of a tiny amount of meals and food I’ve eaten all over the world.

 

How to pack for business and leisure – my Asian adventures

 

Packing for both business and pleasure is often seen as difficult – I solve the problem by using different packing cells for the 2 different parts. One for business, one for leisure.

One or 2 items may belong both bags, in this instance, it’s a white T-shirt that, once the 5-day business meeting is over, it will be moved into my leisure cell for the month-long exploration in SE Asia at cheap and cheerful destinations and accommodations.

My travel is in Southeast Asia, so will have the extreme heat of July and August, and I suspect, the over-cold meeting rooms in the hotel. This just seems to be what they do in Asia – overcompensating for the heat.

I’m taking 2 pieces of luggage, my trusty red suitcase in the hold, and a daypack no. The suitcase will be left behind in Hong Kong with all my business stuff in it, while the backpack will be my luggage for Taiwan, Cambodia, and Vietnam. My red suitcase will be about 10kg max. (22 lb) while my backpack will be under the regulation 7kg. (15lb). What

carry-on luggage

It’s always a treat to just have carry-on luggage when travelling – no waiting at the luggage carousel for my red case to appear. I will also use my backpack as my carry-on luggage when I leave New Zealand for Hong Kong. It will contain vital business papers, my camera and tablet, as well as medication, Kobo e-reader and phone.

So what are in those cells? Two trouser suits – a white one with 2 tops to wear with it, and a yellow one with the white T-shirt. So over the 5 days of work, I have 3 different outfits, so one will be repeated, and if I decide to, I could wear my black travel trousers with one of the tops. One pair of black shoes will accompany them all :-).

business clothes cell

All these will remain in HK storage when I leave for Vietnam, Cambodia then onto Taiwan, before returning to Hong Kong for a couple of days and pick up my red suitcase, and go home to New Zealand’s late winter weather – and where my daughter will meet me at the airport with a warm coat 🙂

My red leisure cell contains a long sundress, a loose pair of trousers, 3 tops and my trusty Teva’s while the blue one has underwear, swimming costume, and nightwear. So that’s how I pack for a combined trip that is both official and laid-back – very different needs clothes-wise

I hope this helps you keep your clothes to the minimum -after all, we don’t have to dress to impress when we’re on holiday, you will, mostly, see a person only once, so even if you are in the same clothes daily, most of them would not even notice. We, humans, are pretty self-centred and concentrate on ourselves.

 

I’m given a very small umbrella for sun protection
ready for the airport

Thaipusam .. piercing – on Penang Island, Malaysia

. . .  “Two weeks later I’m on Penang Island, named after the betel nut so loved by many older men and women: all recognisable by their stained teeth and frequent spitting. It’s early in the morning: very early. Standing in the dawn light, at the colourful temple I’m unsure if I should go in. A few other tourists are also standing around, talking in low whispers, cameras around their necks.

It’s Thaipusam; a day of consecration to the Hindu deity Lord Murugen who is confusingly also called Lord Subramanian. Hindus who have made a vow to him carry frames decorated with coloured paper and flowers, fresh fruit and milk. When these tributes are placed at the feet of the deity, their penance or gratitude is accepted. Some 2000 people will carry the kavadi or silver milk containers, the 12 kilometres to the Natlukotai Temple in Waterfall Road, Penang Island on this annual pilgrimage.

Continue reading “Thaipusam .. piercing – on Penang Island, Malaysia”

Ugly animals, endangered monkeys, and a national park in Sarawak, Malaysia

“That is the ugliest animal I have ever seen’ says Nikki,my traveling mate for a few days.

With its streamlined body, long head and nose, skinny deer-like legs (3 toes front, 2 at rear) and a bristly beard along both sides of their snout, I think the Bornean bearded pig is amazing! Very laid back, ignoring the photographers and travellers in the Bako National Park it seems most efficient at digging for roots and worms in the bush and lawns, however they also hangout on the beach, browsing for food at low tide.

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The pigs, and the naughty macaque, are the first animals we see as we arrive at the Sarawak Forest Dept. HQ to book into our basic accommodation.

We’ve just travelled 20-k from Kuching to Bako Village and then, under a sign warning of crocodiles, took a boat for the final 30 minutes.IMG_3666

During the boat ride we’re told ‘low tide wet landing, high tide dry landing’ and as we arrive at high tide use the jetty, not the beach, to land at this ‘smallest, oldest, and  most visited’ of the states national parks. It spreads 27 sq k between the Sarawak and Bako rivers on the Muara Tebas peninsula with a coastline lined by steep cliffs, small bays and beaches.

Apparently Sarawak has the most number of national parks, totally protected, wildlife sanctuaries and nature reserves of all Malaysian States  and makes up about 8% of the land. (see more on the Forestry Sarawak website)

Recommended to me by Ian Ord on either my Twitter or Facebook pages it seems the rich variety of wildlife are best seen close to the HQ which is why so many travellers come just for the day. I recommend you stay for at least one night – although my next trip will be for at least two nights: it was wonderfully  peaceful when the ‘day-trippers’ left and we did a night hike with a forestry guide.

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On the evening walk we saw a Culago (flying squirrel) which was great, and despite not having closed shoes, and watching the ground, I was not attacked by the terrible fire ants. We also saw swifts and their prized nests – with young in the nests they hardly fitted in.

All around park are the long-tailed macaques, compulsive thieves so be careful for both you and them – it may seem funny that they steal cans of drinks but its not good for them. It also means they become aggressive and will grab your bag if they think you could have goodies in it. Monkeys, despite looking cute, can be very violent so please don’t feed them.

The naughty macaque!
The naughty macaque!

Another park favourite for me were the silver leaf monkeys (silvery lutung) is sometimes called the David Beckham monkey because of  its hairstyle. The silvery lutung is a medium sized monkey with a long tail, the grey-tips on its dark brown or black fur, giving it a uniform silvery appearance: the young are cute red-heads!  A crest of fur runs along the top of the head, and the hair on the cheeks is long while their hands and feet are hairless, with dark coloured skin, and have opposable thumbs and toes – this means  they can hold things using thumbs and fingers.

the cute babies are red for a few months
the cute lutung babies are red for a few months
cute hairstyle on the silver-leaf monkey
the ‘Beckham’ hairstyle on the silver-leaf monkey say many locals
great swimming spot
great swimming spot

We  walked a few of the many trails and at 34 degrees with 93% humidity it was wonderful to arrive at a beautiful, nearly deserted, beach where Nikki and I plunged into the cooler water. Magic.

Proboscis monkeys of course are the stars here. With their long, straight, pale tail flowing behind them they leap almost clumsily from tree to tree. They eat young shoots of indigestible foliage which is then broken down in their two stomachs. Male vanity and the need to dominate means their nose can grow to such a pendulous length they have to hold it up, or push aside to eat! It also seems the head of the harem is always on duty with his penis erect for much of the time leading to many postcards of him ‘showing his red chilli.’

Other males, lower in rank, hang out in male groups until their noses grow bigger and they have the chance to challenge the leader and so become head of the harem.

Proboscis monkey
Proboscis monkey – this one is waiting for his nose to grow!

They have few predators in their natural environment – they are preyed on by crocodiles but people are its biggest threat. With the loss of lost vast areas of natural habitats to due to deforestation they appear to have been pushed into smaller, and more isolated, pockets of bush. It is listed by the IUCN as endangered in its natural environment and could face extinction: evidently very few are in captivity as they do not respond well to those conditions.

 

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In the palm of Buddha – two of my fav’ photos that I’ve taken

Building a Buddha image 

 

 

Man shrinks as Buddha grows
Man shrinks as Buddha grows

The seated Phra Buddha Maha Nawamin statue located at Wat Muang in Ang Thong Province, some two hours north of Bangkok & an hour north of Ayutthaya may well be the biggest buddha in Thailand.

Foodie heaven – it seems all Malaysians are foodies

All Malaysians are foodies. Ask a local where to get the best rojak or Sarawak Laksa and they will tell you. Ask  what is the best dish in this resaturant or food stall? Once again they will immediately answer you, or have an animated conversation with others at the table as they try to reach a consensus about ‘the best’.

Sarawak makes if very clear as to the grade each café or restaurant has with large A. B. or C letters on green, orange or red!  A bus driver taking a group of media people ( here for the annual Rainforest World Music Festival )around the city suggested we visitors would be better to eat at places with  A and B’s – however, I ate at all and had no tummy problems in my 8 weeks in the region.

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Food markets are always interesting
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Kek lapis .. the amazing, and famous, Sarawak layer cake – a blog about these will follow in a week or so!
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Sunday market, Kuching
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Biscuit making .. demo at the Cultural Village (Damai Beach)
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part of the Kuching Sunday Market

red, orange or green?
red, orange or green?
laksa
We are introduced to the fabulous Sarawak Laksa .. the great Borneo breakfast! (I forget what the yummy sour green drink was called)

Returning to Kuching, the capital of Sarawak,  after staying at an Iban longhouse  (on the beautiful Batang Ai lake)  on the my driver tells me  ‘Go to stall number 25 at Topspot. That’s the one I always go to and I always have the wonderful  omelette with oysters.”

A local radio station reporter introduces me to ‘the best laksa in China Street.’  We walk under  Harmony Arch on Jalan Carpenter where, directly opposite the Sang Ti Miao temple, is an unpretentious but very busy  Chinese hawker food hall. She is right! The laksa served there was wonderful and for the rest of my 8 weeks in East Malaysia it became the standard I used to compare various dishes of Sarawak Laksa.

For recipes about the great dish see these web pages – both here and again here.  I will be interested to see what the Facebook group,  Kuching food critics,  and  Malaysian friends,  have to say about the recipes.

I have heard Sarawak Laksa being referred to as the “great Borneo breakfast” as that’s when this noddle dish with it’s spicy and sour shrimp paste and coconut gravy, is served – unlike in Singapore or peninsula Malaysia ( or New Zealand!) where it’s usually  a lunch or evening meal!

On my last days in Kuching its time for the annual, 3-week, Kuching Festival Fair, where many concerts and exhibitions are held, it seems the food fair  -with some 220 food and or drink stalls – is the main attraction. There for the first night,  it was good to watch the fireworks as they exploded nosily, and colourfully above us.

With a city of foodies, the Sunday market, Medan Niaga Satok,  is a must-visit for locals and travelers alike.  Many of the stalls are open every day, so just hop into a taxi and say “Sunday market’  on any day of the week and your driver will take you straight there!

Wonderful music festival in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo

Rafly ... everyone's favourite at the Rainforest World Music Festival
Rafly … everyone’s favourite at the Rainforest World Music Festival, Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia

See more about the annual Rainforest Music festival here  ( Next one 20-22 June 2014)

Food … a vital part of travel

Food is not only vital when travelling, it’s also essential.

Over the past few days I have taken photos of restaurant names, Mummy’s; Wondering; Prosperity Food Centre and, Oh La Oh La Eating House … some entice you in, others leave me wondering. But it’s made me realise I had stopped taking many photos of signs – so more will follow now I’ve reminded myself .

Food is tied up with travel – for many it’s ‘where can I find vegetarian food’, halal food; while for others it’s merely looking for familiar food ..  a western burger, beans on toast for breakfast, a salad, or for Chinese in New Zealand, where can I buy authentic Chinese food. It seems  many cultures or races are not adventurous with food and like the tried and tested and familiar. For others, like me, trying new foods that are local to where  I’m travelling is an essential part of the journey.

One of the disadvantages with solo travel is that sometimes i just want to invite myself to join a table of  happy Asians who have a whole round table full of different dishes … traveling alone means I get to choose one or two dishes only for my solitary meal!

Today I’ve been pigging out or fruit: bought mango, banana, papaya, an avocado and some of those red hairy fruit rambuton  and with them I had a great picnic lunch on the waterfront  of Kota Kinabalu.

I nearly always go for the ‘local food’ and have no problem with Laksa Kuching  or roti cani for breakfast – but, each to their own.

Arriving in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah last night I went looking for dinner in the area around my cheap hotel: to my amazement the first place I came across was a Mexican place, the next, Mrranian. For some reason this surprised me which is absurd – I expect to be able to have world wide food in my city  and the locals in this very cosmopolitan city deserve the same. However, I will be dinning in the Malay, Chinese, and other  ‘ ethnic ‘ food outlets  – making the most of local expertise whenever I can.

Scratch a Malay and under the surface is a food expert, critic and guide. As a young woman I shared a table with at the Kuching Fair Sarawak last week said, ‘no,  I dont know how to cook … but I do know how to eat.’

Also in the capital of Sarawak (Kuching) one night I had to choose between taste or the benefits of the food.  For example betweeen these:

EIght Treasures Homemade Chicken Soup (Efficiancy; Fine Tune Blood System; Loss of Appetite)

Ten Treasures Herbal Chicken Soup (Make skin; Nourish Vitality; Strenghen the Body; Relieve Heat; Neuturalise Poison )

Apart from the poison or lack of appititie I could have used all those benefits I’m sure.

I ended up with Ginger Chicken which always tastes good … and this one had lots of ginger … unfortunatly it didn’t say what it would be good for.

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