Why I temporarily lost my shit in Vietnam and how I killed my darlings……..

Our trip, which began in Hong Kong and ended in Little India, has been covered in these last few blog posts.  This was a huge adventure and as wonderful as it all was, I find I just cannot write of the one thousand and one things I experienced during that time.

It has been said that writing becomes your darling.  You write a sentence or a paragraph or a chapter and although you love that piece of work, it will, at some stage, need to be cut.  In my case, I may feel I want to write about every moment of this journey but I can’t, otherwise I will be here for the next ten years!

So although I haven’t suddenly developed murderous intent, I will be putting my darlings to the sword by culling some moments and condensing others and therein, I will begin to kill my darlings.

More Vietnam…….

Again the days saw us immersed in street food and the Vietnamese culture.  I was still head over heels for this country and I don’t think that will ever change.

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Bussing it to the foothills of the Trai Thuy Mountain, we discovered the lovely Taoist architecture of the Long Son Pagoda.

Behind the Pagoda, and after a climb of the steep stone 152 step stair case, there is a large and very perfect white lotus blossom.

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And seated in the centre of that very perfect blossom, is a huge and very perfect white Buddha.

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I am never one to ask of travel to give me a life changing moment but seeing that majestic and very beautiful Buddha made my heart leap.

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There is peace to be found among the temple gardens and small grave sites located on the lower level and the beautiful mosaics constructed of glass and ceramics which adorn the roofs, entrances and halls are just lovely.

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This really is an enchanting place to spend a little down time but just watch for the traffic (and the power-lines) as you cross the road………

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The bus we caught in south-central Vietnam weaved along to pull up in the coastal city of Nha Trang.  Sometimes when on a bus, I would press my face to the glass not wanting to miss a moment or I would just sit and write small notations while watching the landscape of the country run by.

Off the bus this day, I walked across to the ocean which seemed to pound with furious monotony onto the sand.  It wasn’t the postcard I had expected and nor had the beach before it been, nor the one before that.  Rubbish and plastic bottles had been left among the sand and more were about to wash up from the cresting waves.  Dispirited, I didn’t even bother to photograph it.  There are I know, some incredibly beautiful pockets of ocean in Vietnam but I just hadn’t found them on this trip.

I caught up with my husband and walked from the ocean across the ever busy highway clogged with traffic.  Hundreds of step-throughs, push bikes, tour buses and the odd car choked the four lanes in both directions.  I watched as a medical emergency worker, in the centre of one lane, tended an elderly man who had been knocked from his bicycle.  As the mans blood seeped out onto the hot bitumen, the traffic swerved around them and continued to surge on.  Later in the day I saw the lifeless body of a motor-bike rider.  The small twisted figure lay by the road side and only days later again I saw another body.

Finally across the road we rounded a corner passing a small fishing village and its River Cai harbour which smelt so heavily of shit and of the sea.  The sky was once again heavy as we followed the curve of the road.  I was worried about the injuries to the man who lay on the hot tar, I was missing our little cat and I missed my beautiful New South Wales beaches.  I was snippy and I was tired.  Drained by the heat and lack of sleep and exhausted by the disappointment in the true realisation of how little respect we humans have for our fellow man, our planet and especially our oceans which we seem hell bent on destroying.

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In a very brief and somewhat demoralising moment, I thought that if I never saw this part of Vietnam again I would be sad but somehow relieved.  Perhaps my gloom had been fed by the heat, by the tiny insects I was only now allowing to bother me and by that very distinct and very unmistakable smell of shit.

The tourists, irritatingly slow and in plagued proportions, bothered me the most!   Their exasperating boorishness, condescending stupidity and gracelessness seemed no better than a horses arse at times.  The careless and misplaced arrogance they cast over the respectfully gentle Vietnamese grated.  These are the same people who probably fart while in the confines of an aircraft!  It really matters little how ‘educated’ , elite or superior you believe yourself to be.  How you ultimately treat others will always show your integrity and it will always speak the truth of who you really are!

Yet just around the corner, perhaps only thirty more steps away, would lay my reprieve as the Po Nagar Cham Temples awaited…….

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Beautifully charming and deeply complex in structure, these temples are the largest collection of Cham ruins.  They are thought to have been constructed between the 8th and 11th centuries and they are located on a small hill 50 metres above sea level.

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These incredible temples, erected to honour the Hindu Goddess Po Nagar, have survived war, vandalism, lootings and neglect to hold fast their history.  Built on two levels, the first being a large meditation hall of which only the pillars remain, and the second part accessibly only by steep stairs hold the east-facing temples, of which only four survive today.

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Suddenly, I was enjoying it all again.  My brief moment of pessimism banished as I again began to treasure these moments and of where I was in our wonderful world.  The assertive and every present hawkers peddling their wares, the noise, the crowds, the disagreeable attitudes of some, the heat, the smell of shit and even the swarms of tourists no longer bothered me.

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The day began to fold in on itself and the sky, that big Vietnamese sky remained the same which to me, seemed pretty perfect again.  In those few of days I saw the beautiful and the not so beautiful.  I saw life and the harsh reality of death.  I realised that patience truly is a virtue and that all things, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable, will come to pass.

I understood too when travelling there will be times where I will miss much which is so dear to my heart and that shit, no matter where you are in the world, will always smell like shit but that’s okay.  It really is all very okay.

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And in the midst of it all,  I even managed to kill off a few of my darlings……x

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Foot Note:  Nothing of literary note was harmed during the writing of this blog post.

Audrey Hepburn, fresh linen and frogs, and the markets of Vietnam …….

As I write these posts of Vietnam, I often sit on our balcony at home in Newcastle.  This is the smallest of the two balconies but it is one of my and our dear little noble cats’ favorite spaces.  The area, no bigger than a tiny bathroom, is a place I have somehow managed to fill with pots of herbs, fruit, fruit trees (believe it or not, ) and flowers.  My lovely frangipani, that quintessential scent of summer, is in full bloom and the yellow skinned fig with its sweet amber flesh is fruiting yet it is the mint and coriander, the basil and the limes which keep my thoughts to Vietnam.

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Part II – The markets of Vietnam…….

We hit quite a few different markets whilst trekking through three different provinces of Vietnam.  Often times we jumped a bus to take us to a location such as the Cu Chi tunnels or to a beautiful city such as Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City.  We drove past rubber plantations and vibrant green rice fields, through forests, small villages and muddy townships and through and past the lives of the locals.  The bus chugged and heaved and weaved its way along.  Sometimes up steep ranges, sometimes on deeply pot-holed dirt roads and often through the ever present throngs of speedy little step-throughs.

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To market, to market……..

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Other times, the markets were just on the doorstep of where we wandered.

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Most days, that big heavy sky would hint of rain and when it did open up, the warm scented rain often smelled so very much like freshly washed linen.

Vietnam is notoriously humid and when caught in the crush of hundreds of market goers it can make for a very muggy and rowdy experience.   At times, to avoid the crowds, we would take to the small narrow alleyways which skirt the markets.  Here, the chaotic noise becomes a quiet din, the less oppressive humidity is welcomed and it is here you will often find something quite wonderfully unexpected tucked away.

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The markets of Asia really are a social hub and the heart of any community.  These charming, over-crowded and lively places, where some of the most robust haggling will always take place, are where the locals and tourists gather together to ferret out a bargain.  Colourful and in-your-face, these places sell pretty much anything and everything from the freshest of meats and seafood, live stock to fruit, spices and herbs to clothing and silk.

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Be as you always should when travelling, considerate and respectful of culture as with most markets in Asia, you will be confronted by things which will assault your every sense and as I have said before, you may not always like what you see.

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Market food is always abundant and at times, it is raw.  In this case…..very raw!  I adore ducks, especially Indian Runners and the sweet little Pekings, so this for me was difficult

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The seller assured me these were not ‘meat’ ducks nor ‘meat’ chickens but egg layers for the buyer.  At that point, she could have told me the sky was purple and that all clouds rained orange confetti not rainwater and I would have wanted to believe her.

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Or perhaps not…….

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P.S. I love frogs too!

For the most part, women work the market stalls and be assured though often small and delicate looking in stature, do not be fooled.  These women are very capable, very tough and savvy and they mean business.

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I watched on as one tiny almost bird like elderly woman, wearing her grace and beautifully crisp linen shirt with Audrey Hepburn elegance, stunned a very large and very slippery fish with a blow to the head before deftly gutting and scaling the still live and wriggling fish in seconds.  Somehow, the act completely belied her delicate femininity and I can state with all confidence and honesty, that I could never look as graceful nor as composed whilst ever attending to making dinner!

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And once again, that big wondrous Vietnam sky opened up and again the rain was warm and again, it smelled so very like much freshly washed linen……..xx

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Part I – Eat Drink Vietnam…….

Where on earth did the last year go.  365 days gone in a wink.  The past year was one filled with infinite good and of some wonderful moments but it was also one of small and bitter tragedies.  Perhaps sadness reasoning and confusion, especially with loss when so  unexpected and random, will always see us questioning the why’s and the how’s.  I do know from experience though, we always somehow find our way back from sorrow and despair to see once again that life is full of hope and love and kindness for these are the qualities which define us as human and they, with any measure of goodness, propel us on to better things.  Happy new year x

Vietnam….

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Once again I took hundreds of photos but at one point, I just stopped.  My dear little camera had begun to fail me in Hong Kong and it barely made it through Taiwan but here in Vietnam, I momentarily stopped.  It was in that moment though, that I became present as I realised I could not capture the raw human beauty and the incredible landscape I was seeing.  I knew too that I could not capture the air so heavy with humidity and diesel, how the clouds so big and grey-white constantly suggested hints of warm rain showers and I knew I could not, for the life of me, begin to capture the lingering poetic beauty of this incredible land.

Any heartbreakingly beautiful country, though difficult to photograph, is easy to love.  This is a country of history and just as with its intense humidity and heat, its history too will drain you.  This is a country which has seen catastrophic brutality through war, oppression and genocide and that in itself is deserving of its own blog space.

Eat Vietnam

Food is half of the adventure when travelling and to me, food is essentially of love and of life and you will get no better than in Vietnam.   Every district, neighbourhood, water-way, roadside rough and tumble stall or small narrow alley-way has someone offering up food and it is here you will experience the absolute charm of street food.  Ten steps in any direction will always have you finding food and what I love most about street food, is the unpretentiousness of it all.

That chaotic noise, the jostling, those small colourful plastic squat chairs, the shout of orders, the clang of pots and utensils, the smoky haze which hangs like the most deliciously scented fog, those bright buzzing naked florescent bulbs and that most glorious of all which is the very heart of the Vietnamese culture……the celebration of food.  Even a sneeze will come with the blessing com muoi which translated means rice with salt.

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Banh Mi is Vietnamese for bread and I think we may have eaten our combined weight of these incredible and very moreish delicacies.  Exquisite French baguettes, oven fresh and crisp yet as soft and as light as a cloud slathered with butter and mayonnaise then filled to bursting with fresh corriander, pate, pork or chicken, pickled daikon, freshly pounded chilli and crisp fresh veg.  Forget your Maccas or your KFC because this is real fast food so pull up that little plastic chair or just stand by the vendor and eat and enjoy.

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Of course Banh Mi isn’t the only food.  There are gentle broths infused with lemongrass, deep rich soup stocks with broken noodles, Pho, Cha ca, Banh xeo with its bulging pork and shrimp and bean sprouts, stir fried river weed, translucent parcels of fresh spring rolls, succulent grilled meats, seafood, rice and golden deep fried parcels filled with finely minced pork.

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Beautifully simplistic, scandalously cheap and incredibly delicious, Vietnam really is a paradise for the lover of food from its street vendors to restaurants and from the markets to the hawker stalls.

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Perfectly located geographically, Vietnams’  tropical climate sees the country overflowing with coconut, mango, jackfruit, lychee, mangosteen, rambutan, dragon fruit, paw-paw, pineapple, sapodilla and durian.

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All beautifully exotic, colourful, fresh and cheap this is the perfect place to boost your vitamin C intake.

Drink Vietnam

Green tea is still the most popular drink in Vietnam and in this hot and humid country you really need to keep your fluids up.  If bottle water just isn’t doing it for you try the beer.  It is good and cold and usually served over ice.  Do always try the local brews such as Saigon Red or 333 but if in doubt, you can always find Sapporo, Tiger or Heineken.  Vietnam also has a burgeoning craft beer industry with an increasing number of microbreweries popping up.  How fab is that.

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Coconut water is another go to.  With the outer husk removed then shaped by any number of persons wielding a large machete into a form which won’t topple over, these neat little take-aways are a must.  A little grassy in taste but sweet and flavorsome if the coconut is young.  And you can even snack on the container if peckish.

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Sugar cane juice, which is not nearly as sickly as it sounds, is refreshing on the hottest of days.  Once the saccharine juice is extracted from the cane it is mixed with the sharp citrus juice from a small lime like fruit (which oddly smells like a mandarin) then served over ice.  Just bliss.

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Now drinking ‘the hard stuff’ in Vietnam is considered the men’s domain however one has to try snake wine.  Fair warning however as this stuff is lethal, kicks like a mule and it burns all the way down.  Somehow, I also had a terrible sneaking suspicion it would burn all the out in around 24 hours time too!  I also had the feeling my toilet, after the said 24 hours period, would remarkably resemble the toilet from the opening scenes of Trainspotting.  For some reason, the Vietnamese consider this to be a liquid form of Viagra!

I certainly did not look as composed while taking my nip of snake wine!

I often think too much of a good thing can be, well, quite wonderful and I can never go past iced coffee when it is made with sweetened condensed milk.  Strong, lush and rich I have no defense as this stuff for me is like catnip to cats and yes, a detox (aka intervention) was required during my time in Vietnam.

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Part II, the markets of Vietnam, coming soon……xx

Taiwan…….

Cijin Island…….

I didn’t fear being out on that great expanse of ocean when headed from Hong Kong to that little green island called Taiwan even when the boat, in the roughest of seas, rolled and pitched.  For the most part, the ocean was welcoming as it flickered between the radiant colour of sapphires.  Other times, when rough and storm-tossed, the sea took on a shade so very much like snot green and the sharp smell of salt was everywhere.

Docked in Kaohsiung, a curious and surprising city with its melting pot of Han Taiwanese, Buddhists, Tao’s, expats and mainland Chinese we found our land legs before hopping a bus to take us to the small and pretty harbour of Gushan where we caught a local ferry over to Cijin Island.

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Once off the ferry, you step straight on to Miaoqian Street which translated means, Seafood Street.  Cijin Island is a seafood lovers paradise and although small, this islands’ huge draw card is its availability of the freshest of seafood, unrivaled in quality and variety.

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It was a blisteringly hot day and the air was heavy with humidity, the smell of fish, gasoline and cooking oil but you could not help but want to wander the streets of this quaint, pedestrian friendly town.

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Every stand of this seafood lovers paradise had food, cooked or raw, piled high with the friendly vendors absently shooing the slow flies away with a plastic bag in one hand and beckoning customers with the other.  What I found most lovely however, was when in this distant land, that inexplicable familiarity of language barriers giving way to an understanding when talk turned to that of seafood, Australia and ice cold beer.

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Joy in the realisation of cold beer and deep fried squid……

Given the amount of temples throughout Asia, very few ever make it to the ‘National Protected Relics’ list .  The temple on Cijin Island and one of the oldest in Taiwan, a beautiful antiquity originally constructed in 1673 and restored during the 1920’s is however, an exception to that rule.  This elegant site, with its lovely swallow-tailed eaves and protective Foo dogs is devoted to Matsu, the Taoist Goddess of Fishing and it became a protected site in 1985.

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Back on the ferry and a cool sea breeze lifted the weight of the day……. and my damp cotton shirt which clung to me like a limpet.  The heat in Taiwan seemed stifling with an intensity I had not expected but I could not complain as there was little which could dampen the pleasure of time on Cijin Island.

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Enter the dragon…….

Some believe luck is something which is born unto you.  Others use charms and talismans such as four leaf clovers or a rabbits foot to draw luck to them………lucky for them perhaps but not so for the rabbit!  I am not a believer in luck per say for I cannot know for certain what makes one thing happen and not another.  I do however believe in the beauty of Karma, in kindness, in compassion and in gratitude and I also firmly believe in not being a complete arse-hole is possibly the best luck of all.

So even if you are not one to believe in superstition or luck you really should, if you ever happen by the Zuoying District of Taiwan, try this lovely ritual which the Taiwanese believe will banish all bad luck and return you with good fortune.

Head to the Lotus Pond, a beautiful man-made lake blanketed in lotus to find ‘The Spring and Autumn Dragon Tiger Pagodas’.  Run into the dragons mouth and follow the path to run out from the tigers mouth……bad luck or bad whatever you believe in be gone 🙂

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Confucius Say…….

This deeply peaceful and very beautiful site is dedicated to the memory of Confucius the Chinese philosopher, teacher and politician.  His moral code was based on respect, kindness, family bonds, education and knowledge and his teachings became the basis for religion throughout China.

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As you enter the temple, the largest of all Confucius temples in Taiwan with its majestic and elegant exterior, you are most welcome to write your prayer or a thought then secure it to the board.  It is here, you will also learn of the life and philosophies of Confucius.

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This was a deeply serene place and I could easily have spent many hours here and as Confucius says –  Do not do unto others, what you would not want others to do to you……

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This little sweet potato shaped island of Taiwan is a lovely place to visit and although I felt as though I had been there but a moment, you realise some moments are all you  need really…….xx

Mullets, the mutual love of a cat and blade running in Hong Kong…….

It has been a wonderful few weeks and the eternal optimist in me is filled with love and hope.  Its hard to know where to begin but most importantly, the Australian Parliament has finally signed off on the same-sex marriage bill.  This was an historic moment of not only love and compassion but one of equality, dignity and the acknowledgment of the most basic of human rights.  I often wonder how beautiful our world would be if we stopped negative and hateful judgment of others and instead respected and encouraged their journeys.

Although not compulsory, just over 12.6 million people cast their postal vote with 61.6% of people voting YES and 38.4% voting NO.  I have so much pride in our wonderful county.

A little random rainbow chalk bombing never goes astray…….

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Rainbow over the Newcastle Marina…….

The city I love and very happily live in, burst with pride and a thousand mullets when the SuperCars came to town.  Now this has certainly been a contentious event which saw mass disruption, chaos and the divide of residents who were either enthralled or enraged by it all.   Whether you love or loath the SuperCars being in Newcastle, there was always going to be an upside.  And that is, you get to channel your inner bogan for a few fabulous days and that my friends, is never a bad thing.

190,000 people descended on Newcastle with car enthusiasts, petrol heads and everyone else mingling blissfully together under the most perfect of summer skies.  Cold Chisel headlined and I very happily discovered you can recognise when a bogan has come of age as they turn up to a Chisel concert in a well ironed Bintang tee.  Happy days indeed.

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‘I love ya Mossyyyyyyyyyyyy’……. 🙂

As the rains hammered down, we gathered at Roche Estate in the heart of the Hunter Valley.  Drenched to the bone, we hunkered down in our plastic rain ponchos and waited.  Then a slightly built man with grey hair and beard walked on stage.  It was Yusuf/Cat Stevens.

I do believe some kind of wonderful fell over the vineyard that night as the moment he began to sing, the rains stopped and they did not begin to fall again until after he left the stage.

That soulful voice, unchanged by the years, delivered messages of peace and tolerance, love and reassurance.  And those beautiful lyrics of yearning, question and hope uplifted the soaking wet 14,000 strong crowd.

He was haunting and humble and I fell in love with him all over again just as I had done in the 70’s.   I announced to my husband when I arrived home that I was converting to Islam.  He hid his shock at this revelation well I thought 🙂

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This beautiful image is courtesy of the Sydney Morning Herald…….

I wrote a blog post recently, published 1st October, with part of the title being There are some moments in life which bring a rare loveliness…….. In that post I wrote of how women can very often face the obstacle of other women who are driven by an unfathomable meanness to destroy and I have also written, again based on my own experience, of how unspeakably cruel some women can be.  When such brutal persecution is targeted toward you, it will leave an aching chasm which makes one so very wary.  Ever vigilant, you develop a caution toward others which makes it near impossible to foster any new relationships.  In that post, I also wrote of my great fortune in meeting some remarkable and inspiring women and it was one of those women who sat right alongside me during the concert.  There are few things which have as much impact nor define and sustain our souls than acceptance, friendship and happiness…….and the mutual love of a Cat.

So back to our last days in Hong Kong and what more can be said of the home of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Chow Yun Fat and the amazing bamboo spidermen.  Yes indeed.  The scaffold workers of Hong Kong are dubbed ‘bamboo spidermen’.   The spidermen move about with such agility on what looks to be the most flimsiest of frame-work, all of which, is constructed entirely from bamboo.  It must take incredible skill and courage to erect these neat, intricate and very complex platforms and walls which hold hundreds of construction workers daily.  This very traditional building method, the use of long slender bamboo poles tethered together with Panduit ties, form the most amazing exoskeletons which are even used in the construction of the tall, ultra modern skyscrapers.  Again,  this is Hong Kong so effortlessly slipping between century old tradition and a very modern world……….

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The unassuming ‘bamboo spidermen’…….

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This bold city, which also has one of the lowest crime rates in the world, comes alive after dark.  When the sun sets, the neon lights rise to assault your every sense with a glowing radiance of colour and energy.  Hanging overhead from the decaying facades of old apartment blocks and shops, there is such charm in this cityscape and I love the way the light from these incandescent masterpieces’ hits a wet pavement to become so very like a watery work of art.

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Very sadly though, and this is due in-part to the sterility of the digital age, these wonderfully iconic pieces of signage, the inspiration for many futuristic sci-fi films including Blade Runner, are beginning to disappear.

A final snapshot…….

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Every jewel store in Hong Kong sells these sweet gold pigs which represent sincerity and honor………..and a whole mess of affluent cuteness

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Our time over in Hong Kong we boarded a boat headed to Taiwan, a little over 388 nautical miles away.  And I would just like to point out that to drink rum at 8 o’clock in the morning does not make you an alcoholic!  It makes you a pirate 😉

And suddenly, there was nothing between Hong Kong, Taiwan and me but that incredible expanse of the China Sea…….xx

This little piggy went to market……….

Somehow, I have found myself in a rather questionable relationship and this madly discouraging affair is with time.  Time so often reveals the worth of our moments and it seems I always, quite selfishly, want more of it when I am travelling.  The simple yet tenuous thing with time, is that it will keep moving on whether you are ready to or not and five days in Hong Kong just wasn’t quite long enough for me.

I took hundreds of photos.  Far more than I could ever share, and I walked.  A lot!  Sometimes these walks simply ended at a newly favoured cocktail bar or at the door of the egg custard tart shop which I swear was purely coincidence 🙂  Yet at other times, there was a destination in mind such as the Islamic Mosque in Kowloon or the markets of Hong Kong…….

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Some markets in Asian countries will often challenge in some way but they are a timeless window into a world few of us venture.  It is a world which refuses to conform to modern living and as such, they can be an intense sensory overload.

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There are no aisles and no junk food.  No refrigeration to speak of, no talkative ‘check-out chicks’ and no piped music.  It is noisy and chaotic, and it makes you feel very far away from home……which is the point of travel anyway.  I always feel a city like Hong Kong is revealed through its markets.  Everything is less familiar and the fetid air is heavy with the combinations of sweet char sui, metallic blood, ripening fruit and exhaust fumes of which none, are easy to capture in a photograph.

Some of the markets in Hong Kong are very old school.  Rabbit warrens of alleyways or shanties of entire blocks to tiny hole in the wall places.  It all seems to cluster beautifully together and they sell everything from souvenirs, fresh meat, fruit, goldfish, jade and antiques to vegetables.

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There are glorious blooms, fresh seafood, low cost electronics, gold, clothing, noodles, birds and plants sold to the buyer with a promise of much good luck to come.

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It is an incredibly communal way to shop as these busy, rustic and very colourful markets are a huge part of everyday life for the locals.  Do be respectful in how you react to what you see as often you will see things which may not sit comfortably with you.  Watery blood and iced is swilled down the streets and live animals or the bodies of animals being dispatched with efficient, yet brutal precision may also be difficult to witness.

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And this little piggy (really should have) stayed home…….

It can also get a little rough and tumble due to the crowds, but I don’t go for the shopping, I go for the experience.  Years ago, I would buy the odd souvenir or something I had thought at the time I had dearly wanted.  Perhaps in some way I thought a keepsake would tie my memory of that place to me forever but now, I just prefer to collect memories.

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And sometimes your memories, your gratitude and possibly even your love of a place or of something quite wonderful are souvenir enough…….xx

 

 

The leading causes of death among Sea Monkeys and getting the phat on mooncakes…….

There has been the odd occasion, where I have built something up in my mind so much so the reality of it just could not possibly have lived up to what I had imagined.  Although my enthusiasm had been high, I have often been left dispirited and Sea Monkeys are a perfect example.   As a child of eight I was smitten with Sea Monkeys.  Those endearing little crown wearing nipple pink sea nymphs and their underwater world swam through my imagination and so besotted was I, I invested my entire savings (a years worth of very hard earned pocket money) on a colony of what was to be a family of my very own.

My euphoric bliss upon their arrival very quickly turned to despair as my beautiful glass fish bowl turned to nothing more than a murky pea-like-soup, with not one single little water monkey to be found.

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The leading causes of death among Sea Monkeys:    1.  A fall from the castle tower.   2.  The microwave!

With travel however, I am the complete opposite.  I have absolutely no expectation and because of this, my disappointment is rare.  For me, travel is a beautiful parasol under which all my passions and hopes exist.  Also during my childhood, I had often wondered if the ocean smelt differently in other parts of the world and with all certainty I can say it does.  Everything smells different and looks different and is different and I want to keep seeing that world of difference over and over again.  And you really don’t see a city like Hong Kong until you have used its public transport system……..

Getting around Hong Kong:

Taxi! – “Get something tailor made for yourself in Hong Kong, but do not take a taxi!”  was the sage advice offered to me in the departure lounge before boarding the flight to Hong Kong.  I am however, one who firmly believes fortune favors the bold so I hailed a Hong Kong cab down like I was a seasoned New Yorker.

The cabs in Hong Kong are very clean and surprisingly inexpensive.  Those on the island and in Kowloon are red with silver tops and they are in plentiful supply.  The cabs are also metered and for the most part, the drivers are not only scrupulously honest but wonderfully friendly.  Fair warning though as your taxi ride could be as frenetic and as fast paced as the city itself as the drivers use only one speed which is ………..flat out!

My best tip for a Hong Kong cab ride is to write your destination down then ask a local to translate this to Chinese on the same piece of paper.  Hand that to the driver then buckle up for the ride of your life.  I hailed a cab on a rainy night and our trip was an absolute hoot as we slid around the bends and curves of the slippery, oil slicked and congested roads of Hong Kong before coming to a screeching halt in front of our hotel.  And I would have happily paid double for that experience 🙂

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Walking –  Hong Kong, as with most great cities of the world, is made for walking.  To walk the streets and neighborhoods of any destination is always my unspoken ritual as I truly believe some things can only really be appreciated on foot.   Surprisingly, in this overcrowded city there really is an ease in which you can go about your business.  Even in the smog, soaring humidity and hum of a thousand air-conditioning units, to walk the streets of Hong Kong is pure bliss.

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Octopus Card – And if not on foot, getting around is still a breeze.  Purchase an Octopus Card, available from any of the 7-11 stores.  And btw, these convenience stores are mega convenient and more popular than Starbucks!  You can use your Octopus Card on all public transport including the ferries, trains and trams, all of which are clean, reliable and very efficient.  Just try to avoid taking public transport during rush hour.

Ferry – Hong Kong is a harbour city and water transport including Sampans, Jet Foils, Junks, Cats and Ferries are everywhere.  We used the Star Ferry system which transports over 20 million people across Victoria Harbour each year.  We left the island and were over on the mainland in Kawloon in under 10 minutes all while enjoying an uninterrupted view of that impressive Hong Kong skyline.

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The Ding Ding –  Hong Kong’s tram system as it is affectingly known by locals, is possibly the best way to acquaint yourself with this wonderful city.  The tram line runs for almost 30 kilometers from Kennedy Town to Shau Kei Wan.  One nimble swipe of your Octopus Card will have you seeing the very best of Hong Kong and its surrounds.

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Peak Tram – And do take a ride on the Peak Tram, the worlds steepest funicular railway which opened in 1926.  A return trip is HK$ 90 which is around $15 Australian.  Once at the top, you again have the most incredible views of that breathtaking Hong Kong skyline.

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The Mid Autumn Festival…….

Hong Kong holds the most enchanting homage to the moon with its Mid Autumn Festival.  This beautifully charming fusion of an uber modern city and its ancient traditions is celebrated with lanterns, a lantern festival, mooncakes and fire dragons.

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It is thought this festival evolved from the moon worshipping ceremony held by the Emperor during Autumn in ancient China and a very full and luminous moon was out on the evening we attended.

The thunder of drums and gongs signaled the arrival of the fire dragon, an amazing 67 meter long straw dragon smoking from the tens of thousands of incense sticks inserted into its body.  Amid the chaos and noise the beautifully ablaze dragon was danced through the streets by a team of around 300 people.  Tai Hang, the suburb where this ceremony we attended was held, was awash with tens of thousands of people and I can say with hand on heart, that to be in the crush of radiantly happy and exuberant Chinese folk is all you can hope for really.

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Mooncake is traditionally eaten during the Mid Autumn Festival and just as vegemite divides this great nation of ours, the same can be said of mooncake.  It is something you are either going to love or love……not so much!  Typically round to signify completeness and unity, these densely rich little delights are meant to be shared with tea.  They should however, come with a cardiology appointment as one tiny luxurious cake (approx. 10 cm in diameter), consisting of pastry encasing a filling of lotus seed paste and the salted yolk of a duck egg, can have up to 900 calories!

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There were lights, lovely lanterns of all shapes and sizes, wishing lanterns and a wishing tree.  I do love the idea of a wish.  I still wish on a shooting star when fortunate enough to see one but I am very careful what I wish for as not all things lost to me, need be found.

To make a wish you simply write your wish on the card provided then attach this to the wishing tree.  A young boy ahead of me, writing his wish in perfect script, asked as he handed me the pen “do you know what I wished for'”.

“But if you tell me your wish, it won’t come true”  I replied As I helped him tie his wish to a branch he said that for a wish to come true, it only had to stay where it was tied.

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These beautiful works of art are lanterns……….

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And his wish he told me, was for more mooncake and so lovely and innocent a wish, I hoped it came true………..

And this is what it means to travel.  To capture those small moments which settle over us to become as warm and as sunny as a promise.  To see difference, to restore our hope when humanity has caused such doubt and to allow bold and wondrous freedoms.

So travel.  Travel until your heart and your mind is full.  Travel until the better part of you emerges then once you are done, you should travel some more……… xx

Footnote:  A strong breeze blew over and through the festival toward the end of the evening and hundreds of wishes fell from the trees to scatter throughout the parkland.  The wish I made and the wish the little boy made held fast to their branch…..

Part III Hong Kong – the ‘wet’ markets where everything is so fresh it is still alive and kicking – coming soon.