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.

An affair to remember……..

Hong Kong Part I

It seems I always form attachments to big cities and Hong Kong is no different.  This beautifully chaotic city really gets under my skin and my relationship with it can be as intense and as passionate as any love affair.

Hong Kong is a sophisticated city with its perfect mix of modern and traditional and it is also one of the most densely packed cities in the world with a population of over 7.3 million people.  There is massive wealth right alongside those who are poverty stricken and believe it or not, this city is still growing with construction and sympathetic renovation.

Hong Kong does not sleep.  It sets a cracking pace 24 hours a day but do embrace this wonderful chaos as it is all part of the adventure.  If you do need a break, there are many places and much green space where you can seek moments of respite from the mayhem and heat……….and there is always ice-cream.126

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Hong Kong has the highest concentration of skyscrapers anywhere in the world.  It has an absolutely stunning skyline but I could not help but wonder if Hong Kong suffered the worst feng shui because of it.   My fears were allayed  as the planning and design of these magnificently enormous structures are not only decided by the architects and engineers, but also by feng shui masters.   These towering structures are always positioned and shaped with respect to nature which in turn brings good fortune.   How this sky-scape must continually grow and change.

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Perfectly positioned geographically, Hong Kong has mountain ranges to the back and water to the front.  There is a lovely belief that dragons, those mythical bearers of good luck and positive energy, live in the mountains and their energy blows over and through Hong Kong.  The dragons also need to make their way from the mountains to the water to drink and bath and this is why some buildings, especially those directly along the water front, have ‘holes’ in them.  These gaps allow the dragons an unobstructed path to water.  How wonderful is that.

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Eat Hong Kong……. 

Hong Kong is an absolute food lovers paradise.  This really is one of the great food cities of the world from its humble street food to its top-end restaurants.  It is also where you will find the best dim sum.

Translated, dim sum means ‘to touch the heart’.   The sticky glutinous joy of chickens and duck feet, bossy trolley dollies, billowing steam from stacked bamboo baskets, dusty pink shrimp, pungent tea, cramped quarters full of locals perched upon stools and the most perfectly fluffy steamed buns EVER (big call I know).  It all makes for the ultimate dim sum experience which really will touch your heart…….. although I did skip the thousand year old eggs!

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The perfect steamed pork bun on the streets of Hong Kong…….

In Hong Kong, your food experience is as fast paced as the city itself.  Blink and your meal is ready.  There is also never a bad time to eat so if you have a craving for dim sum or roast goose or beef brisket in broth or char siu or congee at 3am you’ll get it.  And do try ‘pantyhose milk tea’.  This is black tea and milk strained through pantyhose which gives the tea its silken texture.   Don’t expect it to be served in fine bone china though as this tea is best appreciated while sitting in a busy local filled establishment.  And if its not made from an old fashion stocking, then its not the real deal.

I can never pass up one (or five) of these……….

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Velvety egg tartsSmooth, cheerfully yellow egg custard nestled in the most perfect butter pasty shell.  And I can state with confidence that you really haven’t had pastry until you have had it in Hong Kong!  For almost eight years we lived in the heart of Fitzroy, a suburb of Melbourne, and this is where my true romance with these delicate little morsels really began.  The brilliant Brunswick Street and Johnston and Smith along with all the narrow back streets and alleys of this suburb and its surrounds became our backyard.  We knew every inch of Fitzroy.  The places to eat and drink, the wait and bar staff and some of the most interesting and eclectic inhabitants of that beautifully bohemian suburb.   Walking home from work, I would occasionally take a short cut through Chinatown (located along Little Bourke Street in the central business district of Melbourne).  Now truth be told, it really wasn’t much of a short cut at all but it did take me directly to the epicenter of egg tarts.  Our time in Melbourne was unforgettable and standing on a busy street in Hong Kong with one of these little tarts in my hand, I could but for a moment have been back in wonderful Fitzroy.

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You will find beautiful tea houses with art deco décor, alleys lined with hanging roast goose and pork (and these aren’t window dressings!), small areas with a folding table and plastic stools and noisy jam-packed markets to sample some of the best cuisine on offer.  Be open-minded and curious and go where the locals go.  This is how we love to eat, mixing and mingling with the locals so if you see a small and unassuming place filled with locals, go in.  These unpretentious little spaces are the soul of eating in Hong Kong.  You can even finish off with an egg tart………what the heck, you can even start your meal with one too. 1218

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Drink Hong Kong…….

This breathtaking city also has a very impressive craft beer industry with some top notch brews on offer from light summer ales to big bold darks.  We found a couple of great little spots, Roundhouse in particular, where we sampled many a beer because life really is far too short to drink bad beer.

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You can go high end or low brow for a cocktail in Hong Kong, which for very good reason, are ranked as some of the best in the world.  Negroni’s are king with their fruity bitterness and the gin and vermouths are gently infused with lavender, elderflower, marigold and thyme.  Just beautiful so Yum La

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I can never go past the perfect G & T…….

And what better way to bar hop in Hong Kong than on the worlds most intricate network of covered escalators, skyways, tunnels and walkways most of which, are air-conditioned.  Once up here, you don’t have to set foot on the ground all day.  Not only does it offer a birds eye view of life on the streets below, but it is also the perfect place to people-watch…….especially those on awkward Tinder hook-ups.

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Honestly, if you can’t find something to love about Hong Kong then there really is no hope for you.   Part II coming soon…….x

Footnote:  Yum La translated means drink up….

 

 

There are some moments in life which bring a rare loveliness. Many of these you remember, some you think of long after the event and some you even write about…….

Winter seems long passed. It wasn’t a particularly cold winter here in Newcastle and  although we are now in the midst of spring, it feels more like summer due to the unseasonably high temperatures and hot winds which have been blowing in from the west.  I somehow feel as though we have missed spring.  Missed the lightness it brings and missed those moments when all seems at its loveliest.

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My soft wool jumpers have been relegated to the back of my wardrobe for now, the days are longer and there is little need for my wetsuit as the water temps have risen to a very welcomed 20 degrees.  Happy days indeed…….

Earlier in the year I headed out on a road trip of sorts which took me inland of Newcastle.   There is something quite charming about heading out to the country as this trip took me over bridges and through our flawlessly beautiful Australian bush of towering Blue Gum, Wattle, Ironbark and Turpentines’.  Beauty existed quite comfortably right alongside a rough dirt track or a harsh bitumen road and perspective loomed around every bend.

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The drive is lovely on weekdays as there is little traffic so I let my eyes wander from the winter blue sky to the green pastures to the Kookaburras which sat on overhead wires.  This was a trip of local radio stations and of a road which ended in a valley lined by steep granite peaks, part of the Great Dividing Range which runs from the tip of northeast Queensland to the Grampians in Victoria.

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My destination lay at the end of this winding dirt track.  This was wine country, splendidly beautiful and unashamedly romantic, yet something had dogged my road trip and as I approached, I began to regret my decision to do this.  Out here, my heart suddenly held a fresher hurt and I knew the reason why……… I would be ‘living’ and working alongside five other women!

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Perhaps I had clung to the notion this trip would somehow heal my heart.  That amongst the vines and beautiful countryside lay some sort of restorative healing which would magically put distance between sorrow and myself.   Deep down though, I knew that there are some things which just cannot be fixed and this is especially true when your heartache is like that of a massive fist punch to the chest.

Though guarded, I met each of the other women as we began to gather.  Watching them, I could not help but wonder at how they all seemed nice but perhaps that’s the thing with nice.  Someone can be nice until they feel the need to no longer be nice and from experience, it can become not so very nice at all!

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The work in the vineyards captivated me. Perhaps it was in the gathering of the dusty purple grapes or the snip, snip, snip of the petite secateurs so deceptively sharp they can cut through wire or it was the deep satisfaction of time well spent.  Life seemed to tremble among the branches of those robust old vines and there is something quite soothing in the weathered patina, that worn surface of the big wooden posts which held up the trellised vines.  Save the snip of the cutters and the occasional call of a Bell Bird it was deeply serene.  It is a lovely way to work and it almost felt as though this is how the world of work should always be.

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Late afternoons in the vineyards is lovely. The sun lowers and the landscape and sky change.  The shadows become long and the kangaroos, those most beautiful and singularly exceptional of all creatures, come out and you realise these are the moments you wish you could pause and holdfast to just a little longer.

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In the evening we retired to the house for a well earned shower and where a warmth and experience began to unfold that would sustain me long after this ended.  There was also little connection to the outside world as mobiles, internet, TV and social media were all willingly surrendered yet they were replaced with serenity, good company, laughter and stories.  What I found most wonderful was that the beautiful lost art of conversation was rediscovered and there is a lovely moment to appreciate when you go from being strangers to feeling connected and relaxed.

Meals were shared around a large farmhouse table.  A simple table graced with comfort food, the sort of food which can nourish and is ready for sharing and where a simple glass of very good wine can change everything.  Moments such as these make you want to hunker down, build a raging fire in the open hearth and never leave…..

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When first meeting these women my head told me to be wary but after picking and a good evening spent in each others company my heart was in surrender mode.  Later in the evening when the other women had retired to the warmth of their beds, I sat quietly and jotted down some notes.  Small transcripts, honest and heartfelt of this experience.

The next day I woke early to a morning of light fog.  No one else was up so I took a walk through the vineyards and adjacent bush land.  Early morning it seems, will willingly reveal much.  The vines and the native bush are at their loveliest and the air is so clean.  As the sun rose the Bell Birds and Currawongs called and the kangaroos began their quiet movement into the day.

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As I walked, a moment of sadness washed over me.  One very acute wave which I then dismissed with a vow not to think of it again while in the company of these uniquely diverse and glorious women.  The things which had so brutally punctured my heart in America and after, although most acute when I arrived had begun to lose its sharpness.  Perhaps I will always carry that time of sadness with me but I knew there to be good, kind and amazingly wonderful women still out there.

Women and girls very often face unimaginable obstacles but one of those barriers should never be another female. I have always believed a measure of a woman is in the worth of how she treats another woman yet some so easily devalue their worth through jealousy, malice and spite.  The basis of any human decency is not demean or attack another. No one ever deserves that sort of brutal antagonism yet for some it is far too easy to disrespect their intellect with a frail ego, self-loathing or they wallow in a sinkhole of negative arrogance.  When women support and encourage other women there becomes such potential for change and achievement and it is in these moments that truly wonderful things are made possible.

The Bell Birds lifted their song, the sun rose a little higher and I stumbled in a wombat hole but somehow, all seemed very right in my little part of the world.  Perhaps we all search for  acceptance from others and we can also look for an intimacy of sorts which can, when the time is right, strike the numbness from our hearts.

Not so long ago I was back in beautiful wine country with oenophiles and those just happy to taste a very good seasons’ harvest.  It was a lovely day being surrounded by people whose company I enjoy as they are passionate, inspiring, beautifully natured and open-minded.  When you are open and grateful, good things really do come…….xx

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“Don’t look back. You’ll turn into a pillar of shit!”…….

Don’t look back.  You can only look forward and look toward a place you do not know until you reach it.  Sometimes, as difficult as it seems, you must learn to leave what you have grown to love be it somewhere you have lived and where perhaps your yesterdays are all buried deep.  It is an odd feeling leaving.  You not only miss the existence of the life you have built for yourself but most of all, you miss the person you have been at that time in that place and you know you will never feel that same way again.

Perhaps there are times where the bottom is supposed to fall out of our lives.  We lose what we love, we lose our trust and faith and we lose the truth of what we thought we believed so very deeply in.  When this happens, you can find yourself in a very dark place and it is from here you have the choice whether to move on or not.

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So very Southern.  The glorious magnolia flower………

Our trip home, documented in the last 15 posts, was disconcerting at best.  Amazing yet heartbreakingly difficult all at the same time.  Our lives thrown into careless turmoil and all the while dearly missing our family Gus and Zoe.  How were we to know when we packed up our home and our lives in the beautiful state of South Australia (a wonderful posting, as every one of our postings have been) in November of 2013 to begin that remarkable journey, that it would end as it did.  That life would change in an instant!   A single very ordinary instant and that we would be made to forfeit all which we never believed we could forfeit.

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November 2013.  Our entire home and lives packed up in readiness for this wonderful adventure.  How could we have known it would end as it did………

Packed and ready to go………

Last moments in Sydney Australia.  Cheers to a wonderful adventure……….

There is the realisation that one grows from something like this, as well one should, and  you will learn much.  During the most harrowing of times, although I thought I had lost absolutely everything, I gained so very much more.  I only had to look for it.

I have learnt that I need not tie myself to the weight of other peoples’ worth for when they are not made of heart they hold no purpose in my life.  I have discovered the world has people in it who will want to destroy you at any cost however the dehumanising process they use will only make you stronger and your determined courage will see you take your rightful stand.

In times such as these you also come to know your worth and you learn not to allow it to be measured by anyone else.   That although overwhelmed by sorrow you won’t give up. You learn grief has no mercy but you endeavor to fight a good fair fight even against an opponent who will play the lowest and grubbiest of hands.  That something like this also shows you that different people will spurn you in different ways and this is especially true the sly and cowardly piss weak when they have backing and the promise of immunity.

I have learnt I needed to allow my hurt to leave as though casting a stone and that in the baptism of fire of how truly cruel and hateful some women can be, you just need to hold fast your grace.  Don’t ever allow those very disagreeable trolls who favor spite, unkindness, calumny and profound negativity to ruin your benevolence.  Believe me, they are not worthy of it………xx.

I have come to understand I will still struggle with moments of bleak resentment toward those who so brutally drove all that happened.  When my forgiveness wavers, I fret at my lack of compassion for them and this is only because it sees me momentarily lose sight to empathy and humility which I hold dear.

I am also able to recognise that although some have felt justified through misguided, outdated and restless social barriers they had the right to dislocate and make inconsolable, they in turn unwittingly unleashed the singular power of my self respect and this has driven me on.  Regardless of the heinous bitter and very nasty shit they have thrown my way, I am stronger and more resilient than ever.

Most importantly though, I now know when assaulted from all sides and unsupported by those whom I should have been able to turn to yet were exiled from, I learnt to rely only upon myself.  Big tip – Trust only yourself and believe in yourself always.

We met some wonderful people and their friendships will be with us life long.  We had the most amazing time in America, as we have done in all of our postings, and we are so deeply grateful of our time there.  We made the absolute most of every single opportunity to explore, to travel, to experience and to see and do……and believe me, we did 🙂   We took road trips of thousands of miles.  Driving through the golden forge of Americas’ heartland.  Through sleepy forgotten towns where a richness often lies in such brokenness yet these places become an awfully human place to exist.  To vibrant cities of architectural beauty.  Those magnificent steel and glass cities that sound of car and taxi horns and the thrum of a million people.  We rode trolley cars and trains.  Walked hundreds of miles on streets we could only have dreamt of walking.  We flew in American skies over patchwork pastures and smog settled cities.  In moments I remember the small things such as Dorothy’s ruby slippers, the dusting of snow Georgia received in our first weeks there, a terrace house in a neighborhood of Washington, glorious magnolia blossom, my first Georgia peach, blackened catfish and the very spot where Elvis fried up his peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

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Touch down in America saw us touring the incredibly beautiful city of San Francisco for a few days………..

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A wealthy neighborhood where the hand of a Buddha statue held a leather catcher’s mitt.  Where Martin Luther King died for his cause and where Presidents have been inaugurated.  Blue Ridge Mountains,  dear little chipmunks and ‘bandits’, diners and corner cafes, juke joints, those long long four lane concrete freeways, the slow drawl of the beautiful southern accent, water towers and the desolate painful trail of tears in Chattanooga.  Sugar dusted beignets at Café du Monde, Spanish moss and mocking birds.  Fresh home-made waffles and pancakes, fried chicken, pecan pie and corn bread.   Sometimes it was the America I had always imagined and often it wasn’t, but perhaps this is what it means to travel.

Our teeny tiny snowman made from a dusting of Georgian snow……….

I missed the hot clotted air and heat of the south which wrapped around me, tanned my skin and frizzed my hair.  The south has a heat which is indescribable yet it lets you discover your porch, friendships, lazy afternoons and a pitcher of anything icy cold.

Once back home in Australia, unsettled and with a sorrow I could not comprehend, I unpacked my bag and shook out a raging aching heart.  It may have been over but really, it was only the beginning…………

And here in Newcastle, as unforeseeable as it was at that time, my life is all I imagined it to be.  From the moment I arrived I knew I was home.  Nowhere I had ever lived before gave the warmth of knowing I was home and you know instantly where you belong and that is the true beauty of life .  At home and at one with that beautiful ocean and where optimism, one of humanities great traits, beguiles and where soul expanding moments continually happen.

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Don’t look back.  What matters is now.  Go only forward and go with courage and dignity and summon that great value of the human spirit which is to never ever give up……..xx

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Footnote:  “Don’t look back. You’ll turn into a pillar of shit”  is a line by Ellen Burstyn in the 1974 movie Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.