A year in the life of a travel writer equals gratitude

While searching for a document I found this email summary of 1999  which I’d sent as a Christmas letter.  What a privileged life I’ve led, one I value and treasure it’s a sort of GRATITUDE LIST from just one year!

“I have swum in the Nile and Mekong rivers, in the South China and Aegean seas; and in swimming pools in Egypt and Thailand; Scuba dived and snorkelled off the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia;

I’ve studied Islam, Buddhism, Hindu and Chinese religions; was silent for ten days in a Buddhist temple and did a cooking course in Thailand.

food features large in my travels

Learnt to say ‘no problem’ in four languages, read junk novels, inspiring stories and travel tales as well as keeping copious notes for my own writing.

Been offered jobs in Thailand, Malaysia and Laos, and worked for 5 weeks in Athens, Greece. Had a proposal of marriage, a few propositions and some foxy flirtations.

Celebrated four new year’s: on the calendars for Christian, Islam, Buddhism religions and the Chinese one.

Stayed in little villages, large cities and islands.

Climbed: up into Buddhist temples, and down into tombs, up to sacred caves and over narrow planks to boats.

Travelled on planes, camel, horse, bus, songthaew, cars, trishaw, bicycle, dingy, fishing boat, felucca, truck, river taxi, train, and cargo boat.

Slept in beds, bunks, hammocks, fleapits and 4-star hotels, on a concrete slab; on a mattress on the felucca, and on the roof of a hostel in the old city of Jerusalem with 29 others!

I’ve danced. . . on beaches in Malaysia and Israel, in a Cairo hotel, on the banks of the Nile, as well as in Hindu and Buddhist parades.

Experienced monsoon rain and dessert dry; from 48 degrees centigrade in the Valley of the Kings, down to 12 degrees in the hills of Malaysia and needed a blanket for the first time for ages

Been blessed by monks and had water thrown over me by school children, ladyboys and farangs. I’ve played volleyball, frisbee, backgammon, scrabble, cards and petanque.

Eaten pigeon, fresh fish, fruit shakes on the beach, coconut straight from the tree, and copious amounts of rice and noodles. Drank water from the tap everywhere including on the streets of Cairo and am still waiting for tummy problems! Had my hair cut in men’s and women’s hairdressing shops, by people who spoke no English, as well as under a palm tree in Malaysia and in a garden bar in Athens by an Aussie

Made music with bongo drums, spoons sang Pali chants and both Thai and Egyptian love songs as well as playing drums in a traditional Malay cultural band.

Moonlight. Perhentian Islands

Taught English and swimming; became a grandmother in Malaysia and a mother-in-law in Thailand. And I’ve been called mum, sister and auntie, renamed Hedda, Hezza, Fox, H, as well as Pouhi (which I think is chubby in Thai!)

Ate in night markets, street stalls and fancy restaurants, in people’s homes – including the Minister of Health’s’ home in Malaysia!

Prayed in mosques, temples and churches of many religions. Chatted with monks, children, tourist police, street people and shopkeepers.

Witnessed funerals in Malaysia, Thailand and Egypt.

Swam with turtles and tropical fish and the most poison-ness snake in the world! In clean water, clear water, and polluted water; warm and cold water, calm and rough, blue and green; fresh, salty and chlorinated water.

Been to the toilet: on a boat -watched by kids on the riverbank; on swaying trains, in smelly dirty rooms; off the back of boats and developed good thigh muscles on the Asian squat toilets (which I missed when I arrived in Egypt.) Learnt to forgo toilet paper for months and used my right hand for eating and greeting!

Heather (L) joins in the fun of Thai Buddhist new year festivities

Sold beer and bananas on the beach in Malaysia, served pancakes, nasi-goring and BBQ on the same island and cooked countless meals in an Athens hotel cafe.

Been offered hash, opium, and marijuana and changed money and brought cigarettes on the black market.

Met people from all over the world was proud to be a Kiwi, ashamed of many westerners’ attitudes and behaviour. Joined the inverted élite snobbery of being a traveller, not a tourist.

Given blood in Malaysia, broken a toe, had an allergic reaction [written in 1999 and I now can’t recall what it was!]  and apart from insect bites have been disgustingly healthy.

And have kept developing my courage and resilience despite fears!

National park India

 

 

Fancy a cruise on the Yantzee river – I did. Maybe post-covid-19?

Reposting this. What advice would you give me? Should I (would you) travel to China in 2021? I look forward to hearing your opinions.

The Yangtze is the lifeblood of China; a vital artery from the glaciers of the Tibetan Plateau to the spectacular East China Sea. It weaves among fertile agricultural lands, through towering limestone gorges, past hidden villages and into the heart of great cities.

Today, 5th May 2020, I’d booked to fly out of Auckland, New Zealand, to cruise the Yangtze on this riverboat. I was going to ’. . . . step back in time in the historic Kuanzhai Alley of Chengdu, known for its traditional teahouses and vibrant outdoor dining scene; witness the landscape fly by on a high-speed rail experience, and then embark on a four-night cruise aboard the Century Sky or Century Glory river ship. Cruise along the Yangtze in comfort, admiring the ever-changing scenery from bustling cities to remote villages and hilltop pagodas. Visit Yichang, gateway to the Three Gorges; and stop in colourful Chongqing, known as the ‘Mountain City’. Relax on board, or take advantage of optional tours such as the Three Gorges Dam, Shibaozhai Pagoda, and an in-depth tour of Chongqing.

I do have a replacement voucher to do this trip in 2021 — I wonder if it will happen post-Covid-19?

I wonder if I will get to weave some Yangtze River notes I made– from China’s Water Crisis by Ma Jun 2004 pub: EastBridge. [Originally published 1999 by China Environmental Sciences Publishing House] for an article or two. here are a few

  • quote: it was alongside a river where Confucius said: thus do things flow away, never ceasing day and night
  • China’s landmass is drained by the river, 6300 km long, more than 700 tributaries
  • ‘one does not have to be a hydrologist or an environmentalist to see in an instant that the Yangtze these waters are just about as muddy and turgid as the yellow River is and there is garbage and other waste everywhere. P.45/46
  • 1949 after it took over, the Chinese Communist Party right away started pumping money into taming the Yangtze p. 46
  • the expression ‘great river flowing eastward’ represents the role the Yangtze has played in Chinese geography, certainly for centuries if not millennia p.47
  • numerous rhinoceros, deer, fish, turtles, and alligators thrive in cloud Lake and dreamlike to huge wetlands between the Yangtze and it’s tributary the Hun. P.48

Oh well, it was fun planning and researching – hopefully, this time next year I will be on this boat enjoying my cruise!

Covid 19 lockdown failure

What can I say, there is no doubt I am a lockdown failure.  I’d originally planned to do heaps of things during this time of being alone in my apartment.  Here are just a few:

  • improve my level of te Reo Maori (the Maori language)
  • visit art galleries and museums around the world
  • write numerous blogs
  • complete a bio of my life – only halfway through it
  • eat well – succeeded but just ate too much
  • catch up on my reading pile – sort of completed (but bought more for my e-reader)

However, what I did do was travel.  Armchair travel via a few of my thousands and thousands of photos and I’ve set aside a few to show you.

So this is the first of my gratitude blogs.  I still cannot believe that someone who had only left New Zealand a couple of times before I was 50 years old (a couple of weeks in Australia, and a month in the USA -mostly the Pacific Northwest.

Looking at my photos I’m amazed at the amazing life I’ve led.  So in no particular order, and chosen for no particular reason, here are a few of my memories – memory lanes I’ve slipped down while I should have been exploring or studying all sorts of things.

 

 

 

Despite the Covid-19 lockdown, I refuse to stop travelling!

Despite coronavirus in cities and countries being locked down, I refuse to be locked in – just as all my ancestors did in the mid-1800s – fleeing Scottish clearances, Cornish tin mine closures and the Irish potato famine.

And despite my trip to China – a river cruise on the Yangtze River  -being cancelled, and the fabulous Rainforest World Music Festival  -in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo, being postponed until further notice, I refuse to be locked in despite the virus and, despite being compromised by age, nothing will stop me, travelling.  I remember a song from my parent’s era “don’t fence me in.”

Coffee in XIam, China

Travel writers have an affliction which, means they, I, we, are doomed to travel and as I said despite COVID-19 and the lockdowns all around the world  I am going to keep on travelling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yesterday I was in Oman, today I’m in Dubai with my parasol and a few days ago I was back in my home city Christchurch,

Solitude, Wellington, NZ
Peacock Fountain, Christchurch Botanic Gardens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve also been down on the Wellington waterfront I’ve seen some birds that I saw in India yet again and I’ve even been upright on a paddleboard in Fiji.

So, take that coronavirus you’re not going to stop me – my memories are too well embedded for me to be isolated in my lockdown bubble, I can, and will travel the world with my wonderful memories.

What a privilege, it’s been to have travelled so extensively and I’m grateful for the example my parents set of not wasting money, saving, and living frugally as required.  they also left me a small inheritance which, after a lot of earlier travel, enabled me to do even more.

I recall being on a plane -in 1995 – petrified that at age 50 I still wasn’t old enough to travel the world by myself (with no bookings).

If I run out of memories, I could be jogged by just some of my clippings or books.

So where are you travelling to while in lockdown? I’ve been to Alaska in bwZimbabwe I’ve been to London, Wales, and Borneo. I’ve been to the USA, Mongolia, Zimbabwe and had a river cruise in Europe – to name but a few.

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Warning: reading this may make you want to travel

Stuck inside under Covid-19 isolation I’m just remembering this wonderful trip’

Kiwi Travel Writer talks food, travel, and tips

read this and start packing

” ‘Why do you want to go to Zimbabwe?’

Even I thought it seemed a little silly, when I replied ,’Because I like the name.’ Zimbabwe sounded exotic and I just wanted to go.

Now I’ve arrived in Africa and I’m ready for my big adventure: a canoe safari down the Zambesi River.

Standing on the banks of the calm looking river, I am beginning to get scared. Watching us is the biggest, meanest looking crocodile I have ever seen. Lying in the sun, he seems to be inspecting us. I watch him and he watches me as I listen to our guide’s safety instructions.

“Keep looking for hippos, usually you will just see their little ears sticking out of the water, and every few minutes I want to you give a little knock on the canoe so they can hear us coming. If…

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Covid-19 and the travel writer!

What to do, what to do!

How can I be a travel writer and stay at home? What will you do? (NZ goes into shutdown in 2 days)

Well, the first few days in, and all is well.  In fact, I have just made a coffee date for in a few days – my neighbour and I will make our own coffee, sit on our respective balconies, and talk over the fence.  I’m sure we can make that a regular occurrence.

‘Have a coffee with me’ an old man indicates – I do. Muscat fish market, Oman,

However, a trip to China – a river cruise on the Yangtze River has been cancelled, and the Rainforest World Music Festival which I love to attend (in Kuching Borneo) has been postponed until further notice.

adventure in Sarawak after the RWMF

So, what is a travel writer to do, well, actually what I can do is go over all my old notebooks and photos and tell you about some of my past travels -actually, some of which I haven’t even written.  Others I would have written about parts of it, but there is still way more – so, lots of virtual travel still coming your way from me :-).

So a few more stories from my last travels and Taiwan, Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Cambodia.

Siam Reap cultural show

Are there any topics about travel, in general, you would like me to cover?  I’ve been travelling solo for a long time and specifically since 1995 so have a lot to share.

In the meantime, I have to adjust to being mainly confined to my apartment.  Luckily, I have a big view and a balcony where I grow flowers and veg. I have lots of gratitude :):):)

I’m also sprouting beans, creating nice dishes for my dinner, keeping in contact with friends via the Internet and phone and not living all day and my PJ’s – I’ve already been caught once on a video call!

I’ve also decided to use my travel medication boxes on a weekly basis, as without my normal routine I think I could very easily forget them.

Of course, I will also be reading copiously, and maybe even lying down and be ‘read’ audiobooks 😊

If you need some e-books perhaps you’d like to check these free books (below) out while most of us are confined at home.

For now the physical world is reduced to my map in the kitchen

Phare Circus: Siem Reap, Cambodia – a must visit

A circus in Siem Reap?  Absolutely! And, it’s become one of the city’s biggest attractions – and has a positive social impact.

Siem Reap, Cambodia, of course, has the incredible Angkor Wat temple complex and the awful, infamous Pub Street but it also has many charity and community projects like Phare Circus which aid this still-troubled country. (see also my blog about the HeroRATS) Both initiatives benefiting great causes as do many of the places we visited, ate at or bought from during our week there.

Phare, the Cambodian Circus, is an offshoot project of Phare Ponleu Selpak – a Cambodian non-profit, non-governmental association founded in 1994 by eight young Cambodian ex-refugee artists in the area of Anchanh Village, Ochar Commune, Battambang Province – a few years ago I spent a week in Battambang, (on the other side of Tonle Sap) right opposite the market and loved it.

The Phare Ponleu ‘helps vulnerable children, young adults and their families, build careers of Cambodian Artists, to revive Cambodian art scenes, to make worldwide arts connections with Cambodia and to contribute to the artistic, educational and social programs of PPS Association.’

When I, and a friend, attended the circus, it meant we were doing more than paying to be entertained: our money benefited the growing arts scene in Cambodia, that is, helping talented young people get the opportunity, income, or training access in which to develop, and showcase, their skills.

The Phare Circus is an incredible hour of traditional and modern theatre, music, dance, acrobatics, athleticism, juggling and contortion all beautifully choreographed and performed in stories about Cambodian lives and society. We loved it and talking to the young people after the show reinforced the value of attending.

Shows, each of a different theme or ‘tale ’change about every eight days. It seems tales, and sayings, are a big part of the local culture and the circus is an extension and visual representation of this with the moral of the shows often being about facing your fears in order to overcome them. The performance we saw was about being different, and bullying – combining laughter, happiness, music, and entertainment in a superbly presented show.

I recommend getting advance reservations during high season. (November through April) as performances sell-out most nights during this period.

It’s more than ‘just’ a circus, and the performers use – with energy, emotion, enthusiasm, and talent – theatre, music, dance and modern circus arts to tell uniquely Cambodian stories – historical, folk and modern. What’s even better – no animals!

All the Phare artists are students and graduates from Phare Ponleu Selpak’s – an association which was formed in 1994 by young men coming home from a refugee camp after the Khmer Rouge regime.

“They were greatly helped during that time by an art teacher using drawing classes as therapy and wanted to share this new skill among the poor, socially deprived and troubled youngsters in Battambang. They founded an art school and public school followed to offer free education. A music school and theatre school were next and finally, for the kids who wanted more, the circus school. Today more than 1,200 pupils attend the public school daily and 500 attend the alternative schools. Phare Ponleu Selpak also has extensive outreach programs, trying to help with the problems highlighted in their own tales.”

Phare The Cambodian Circus offers these students and graduates somewhere to hone their skills and a place to earn a decent wage, money that takes them out of poverty and provides self-respect and freedom. Many of the performers have gone on to be employed by the likes of Cirque du Soleil and Phare Circus also travels the world so you may see them in your backyard!

Phare, The Cambodian Circus is one of Cambodia’s most innovative social enterprise models. Profits generated through ticket, refreshment, merchandise and private performance sales support the free education, professional arts training and social support programs of Phare Ponleu Selpak in Battambang. It is one of the business units of Phare Performing Social Enterprise, along with Phare Creative Studio. Other business units will come soon. The circus survives through sales of tickets, merchandise, refreshments and private events. Ideally, the business will do better than just pay bills, but also make a profit from these activities. The majority shareholder is Phare Ponleu Selpak NGO School. Therefore, the majority of the profits go to support the school’s free education and social support programs to 1200 students daily.

Circus Phare The Cambodian Circus a responsible, social business in many other ways too. While always keeping an eye on making a profit to send to the school, other efforts are made to benefit society when possible. We both bought some items in the Phare Boutique shop as it supports local artisans and craftspeople. (higher quality souvenirs or gifts than you will find in the big markets – where many items are imported ☹) Royalties for each show performed -that was created at the school –  are paid to the school before profit is calculated. The business invests a great deal in the personal and professional development and the welfare of the artists and staff and participates in many community activities, sharing art with Cambodian people who otherwise might not be able to experience it.

The school survives mainly on donations and earns some revenue through sales of show tickets, merchandise and refreshments, but it depends mainly on donations. Maybe you can help – each little bit helps – and, if I get back to Cambodia, I plan on visiting the school.