Friday, February 22, 2013

Gudai Myte

I loved Australia.
It was great fun. An easy country, oops CONTINENT, to do on my own. They speak English, sort of, and signs are in English, food is recognizable, currency $, and much is familiar.

Emmet and Mary picked me up at the Gold Coast airport. After an 8 hour flight to Sydney  and a 1 1/2 hour flight to Gold Coast. It seems close, because it is on the same page of the atlas, but it was a long travel day.

We had a great time.
They are in a condo, right on the ocean. There is a path along the seaside, and the beach, fine white powder sand, is not 100 meters from their building. On the beach are the iconic life guard towers, with a wonderful looking team of volunteer life guards. Yes, in their yellow and red beanies.

One morning we went down to swim, actually just be bumped around in the glorious waves, and a team of about 20 boarders came running full tilt on to the beach, carrying their boards under their arm. They dashed in to the ocean, paddled out at full tilt, came surfing in, and repeated that about 4 times, fast. Then they did a workout together on the beach. These wonderful Aussie bodies, in bathing suits, in ripping good shape, and giving it all they could. It was very impressive.

We went on a day drive, out in the country, rolling hills that reminded me of England, to this wonderful Art Gallery, sort of in the middle of nowhere. They had a wonderful exhibit of Ken Done. I knew that name because in the seventies, when you bought "wearable art" there were t-shirts of his. Very colourful, happy colours. They also had a showing of a very popular Aussie artist, Olley, who was homebound in her last decade, and she painted still lives, and the interior of her home. They were lovely, and it gave me an idea of her life.

We went in to Brisbane for a day, and visited a friend of Emmet and Mary's. We had lunch at a "balls club", that would be lawn bowling, and did a river tour. Brisbane is a charming city.

On to Sydney. A big, old city. I felt I was in Manhattan. Old brick cobblestones, street people, buskers, beggars, and a wonderful energy. It was an easy city to get around.

I did a tour of the Opera House. I was not disappointed. It is really beautiful. The architect, Utson, a Dane, thought it could be built in 3 years for $16 million. It took 16 years and took $50 million. But, you know, Sydney has this amazing iconic draw to the city. There are 5 theatres that seat 5,000 people, and they had 100,000 visitors last month! Utson designed stairs up to the theatre, you are rising in to cultural heaven. But it makes for challenges for audience, loading and unloading, and would not be done today (wheelchair accessibility a major design issue).

Sydney has some old buildings. Workmen's cottages that date to 1700's. With beautiful ornate filigree  iron work railings. But the Opera House trumps anything.

On to Perth. I decided to go to where my good friend Val lived. She talked it up as so beautiful. But it was bloody expensive, Myte. Had I known. But I am glad I went. It is a fresh new city. Booming, much construction, and crisp blue sky, and sparkling waterfront.

I went to Fremantle, a small town out on the coast, Perth being up the river a bit. Went to a Marine Museum, and a researcher invited me in to his lab, to show me what he did. He was an anthropologist as well as an archeologist,  so he was looking at these specimens from the perspective of life style back then. It really was fascinating. Showed me two cannonballs. One had been protected from the ocean elements and weighed a bloody ton. Another which had had the effects of the salt water for 300 years, was as light as a feather. Only carbon left.

The museum had an old shipwreck put together in the museum. The size of the lumber used for the ship. HUGE. They fixed leaks with animal hair and wax. They used English bricks as ballast, and  then sold them when they got to Australia.

I went on a bus trip that took me to see kangaroos, wombats, and koala bears. Of course.

To a lobster factory, to see how they grade and pack and ship those "live" lobsters far afield. (They stun them in cold water and then they are good for 36 hours to get to destination) Japanese love 1 lb lobsters, Middle East they love 5 lb lobsters.

We went to the pinnacles, an amazing formation of limestone pillars in the sand dunes.

THEN we went sand boarding. The bus we had was like a tractor trailer. The driver was in a cab, and we were seated in the "trailer". I wondered why, but the bus went in the sand dunes. Up and down these quite steep dunes, doing wheelies where the trailer skidded around on the turn. It was really fun. Some people went sand boarding. Like a toboggan ride in the sand. I couldn't do it, because my stupid knees don't bend the way they should. But it sure looked like fun.

Kids wear school uniforms, and the girls wear a midi dress, and a straw bonnet. Very nautical.

Construction workers take the brim from a sun hat and put it on their hard hat.

Small airplane , and float planes. Not seen in Asia.

Sorry this is way too long. Bear with me.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Well it is about a year since my last trip alone

Hey, ski buddies. I am going to visit Mary and Emmett on the Gold Coast!

I will fly tonight, actually 2 a.m.!!!! Singapore Sydney, then 6 hours in the airport, urgh, and a connecting flight (pretty loose connection, I think -6 hours) to Gold Coast. Mary and Emmett will pick me up and I will stay with them for 4 days. They are in a condo on the beach (that was battered and bruised in the typhoon a few weeks ago).

I will then fly back to Sydney for 4 days, on my own. OMG is Oz ever expensive. Singapore is pretty pricey, but most of the places I have been travelling to are much less expensive than here. But not Australia. Ouch, hotels are expensive. I hope to see an opera performance while I am there.

The next stop is Perth. Had I know how expensive Perth is, I probably would not have gone. But I am committed now. My good friend Val, lived in Perth for years and loved it. So I am flying across the continent to see where she lived 20 years ago. hmmm it seemed to make sense at the time. Well, she has put me in touch with two friends there and I have enough info to last a month easy. So 3 days in Perth,(At one of the cheaper hotels- $400. OUCH) then an all-nighter home, leaves at 9:15p.m. and gets in at 3 a.m. to Singapore. These are the flights Tim flies.

I am starting to look at my next trip home. We have a wedding September 28 in Collingwood. At least I think we do. We don't have an invite yet, but we sure would come, if invited. AHEM, AHEM.

So I will look at coming home mid August, stay for the wedding and after in to October. Tim would take 10 days and just do the wedding. I want to get two weekends with the kids, and do Stratford one weekend, and Niagara on the Lake another weekend. Have to start working on that trip.

Hey, folks. I guess that you are keeping up with us, and what we are up to. But this is a one way conversation. I would love to hear from you and what you are up to. Just a short email every now and then would be great. It would help me feel connected.

Friday, February 8, 2013


I have been in Singapore over a year now. That amazes me. A year.

I must admit the first few months were pretty much a blur of survival, but I realized I really knew very little about the city/state. So I have done a little reading, and am going to share it with you.

First, the location. If you look at a map, it really is this tiny island at the tip of the Malay Peninsula. It is teeny, tiny. 250 square miles. But ideally located in the past as a trade route (spices, silk, opium, tea, ebony, ivory). Now it serves as the economic hub of Asia.

It appears western, and is on the surface, but the Confusion philosophy runs deep. Freedom, respect of elders. Hence the strict laws; fines for littering, caning for vandalism. But the result is a very organized, efficient, safe, clean city.

The population is made up of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Eurasian, and Caucasian. The national language is Malay, in deference to the founding father, but the lingua franca is English, which is referred to as Singlish (very heavily accented English).

Singapore was a British colony and was heavily populated with Chinese indentured labourers. The  isolation of the Chinese here gave rise to secret societies, which played a role in the make-up of the society.

As ideal as it was as a trading centre, Singapore was very vulnerable to attack. (My history is embarrassing lacking, and mostly of Europe since the 19th Century.) Early 20th Century, Japan had conquered much of Asia, and pre WWII  invaded Singapore- having invaded Korea, China, Malaysia. The occupation of Singapore by the Japanese is very talked about here. It was a reign of terror. But upon the surrender of the Japanese after Pearl Harbour,  Singapore regained autonomy, and with the British Rule of Law, but a People's Action Party, (somewhat communist), modern Singapore was founded.

They had no natural resources. What they had was political stability and cheap labour,  and to encourage economic growth, very little restrictions on currency movement.  What they have done in 50 years is amazing. They have a compulsory savings program and that makes home ownership (apartments in HDB- Housing Development Buildings, government controlled housing) possible, and home ownership is 90%!

To cope with their vulnerable location, they have compulsory military service (2 years for males 18 years old, and two weeks every year after). They have a standby runway. When you drive in to the city from the airport, there is a stretch of the expressway that is very straight, and the centre boulevard is not planted, but it is all planters. They can be removed in an emergency, and the expressway is a runway!

Having read about Singapore, it has helped me to understand the nature of this place. Such a wonderful contrast of the respect for the forefathers, and the cutting edge economic stand they have today. It does make for a clean, safe, efficient, savvy, energetic city, with draconian laws, and enough rules to boggle the mind. But it works.

a quickie

[There is only one person out there that will understand this. Don't worry if this makes no sense to the rest of you. You are not the "one".] I want to send a quickie, then I will sit down and do a "proper" [ahem, ahem] post about Singapore.

I am still connected to my book club back home. I try to do a Skype my Friday morning of their Thursday night meeting. I have been successful more times than not.

Our selection of books is, as with book clubs, chosen by members, and is a wonderfully eclectic mix. But eclectic as it is, it has been difficult for me to find some of the books here. That is until today.

Most book stores here are a combination of Chinese and English books, and the choice in English is limited. But there is a book store here that I found, and spent some time in today (and spent some $$ as well). It is the most amazing book store I have been in. It is as big as many community libraries in TO. But it is not a lending library. It is a store! That's like going to an City Art Gallery and having the art for sale! I found all the books for next months, except for one. (The Giller prize winner "419".)

It probably sounds silly to you, but that wonderful store has made me feel less disconnected to all back home. To have a good healthy pile of "books to be read" at my bed table gives me warm fuzzies. (Maybe I should not be admitting this! It does sound weird when I write this.) But I am well stocked with books to read that will connect me to my book club friends.

One is the Salmon Rushdie, "Joseph Anton, A memoir". It is as big as the ruddy Bible. Or a dictionary. And my club dared to razz me about my suggesting "Anna Karenina"- TOO LONG. I go away and they pick this Rushdie tome. But I have it, and it will keep me off the streets for a while.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

the calm after the storm

The house is very empty. It is very quiet. I knew this would be, but, oh my, it sure is. Compounding this is that I am in bed. Not sure if it is a major allergy hit or a flu bug. But day three of cough, such sleepiness, and nose blowing. I have pulled a muscle coughing. Yuck.

As soon as the kids left, I signed myself up for a lecture, a tour, and yoga classes to keep busy. The only thing I made was a tour. Out into "rural Singapore" with lit highways, and building everywhere. Much land is being expropriated for development, so I am particularly glad I get to see these places. But "rural"?
A dragon pottery kiln. Dragon, because it is built in little adjoining kilns up a hill, looking a little like a dragon. They fire once a week, to show the ancient custom. Singapore wants it's traditions and customs honoured.  And provides an opportunity for the young Singaporeans to see. So many school trips to these places.

Next stop was "Bollywood Veggies". A garden, where there were many school trips touring. They are so cute, in their big sun hats, water bottle around their neck. We saw many fruits and veggies growing. Mango, papaya, curry leaves, kaffir lime,. Then a delicious veggie lunch there. 

But then I succumbed to whatever this is, and have been lying low for 4 days. It does make the house emptier, when I hang around all day feeling lousy.

Here are some photos of Siem Reap. Angkor Wat. Camdodia.  (wat means temple) We took a tour in Siem Reap which included a river tour.

Life on the river

 Oops, someone's home?
Seven of us at Angkor Wat
 Alex and Elizabeth
after much travelling
Angkor Wat walls
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Little person saying "payonedollar" (for photo op)
 Alex and Heidi at Angkor Wat