Tuesday, February 5, 2002

Filling In Time

We're still in the USA waiting for the pets to develop enough rabies antibodies to allow us to apply to Australian Quarantine to bring them home. It will be five weeks before we know whether this round of booster injections have been effective and, as yet, we haven't made much of a dent in the list of short trips I've compiled. We are conquering the local transport system and becoming quite adept at determining which mode of transport and what routes to take. Pity we won't be around to use it much in the future.

I have also enrolled in a couple of courses at Virtual University. Tony is planning to work through the HTML course with me. In about six weeks (hopefully) there will be a new web site - I am currently tossing up about whether to make the site a recipe site or a site focussing on places to visit in Sydney, Melbourne and San Francisco. Or, with my new skills in Javascript, who knows what I can do to our existing site.

The New Web Log

Tony has set up this new web log tool for our "News" page. As long as we have access to the Web we can update the "News" any time or anywhere without having to upload files from our PCs. I guess we have no excuse for not keeping everyone up-to-date, even if the rest of the site is lagging behind.

It irks me that details for Singapore and Nepal are appearing in the middle of Tony's posts on our day trips around San Francisco. However Tony assures me that you web log content, that is blog it, when the content becomes available and that might not necessarily be in chronological order. I believe I am also exceeding the average length of posts with my love of detail and all my ramblings.

So here is my first blog.

Singapore

I arrived in Singapore at the ungodly hour of 1:40am after 20 hours of travel, including an hour spent in-transit in Seoul. The flight route seemed fairly indirect - we flew up the coast of North America to Alaska, across the Bering Strait, and then down the Asian coast. Flying back to San Francisco only took 16 hours because, from Seoul, we flew directly across the Pacific Ocean. Still long but a bit more bearable.

I spent the first night at a boutique hotel on Keong Saik Road, Chinatown. Keong Saik Road was formerly a red-light district - I imagine a dark, one-lane road flanked with a series of tall, narrow shop fronts. The remaining shop facades are now painted in bright colours and serve as the facade for the new, softly lit boutique hotels. My room was small, although not as small as the Nepali lodges. It had rich, burgundy-red walls was packed with heavy, wooden furniture. Slat-shuttered windows overlooked a tin roof and a small garden. It made me think of hot, humid nights, mosquito nets and slow-twirling fans. I loved it!

After the first night, I stayed with Hong, my Uni friend. She and her daughter live in Serangoon Gardens, a busy community north of Orchard Road. The central residential area comprises a lot of detached and semi-detached dwellings, so different from all the high-rise complexes that comprise the majority of Singapore homes.

Staying with Hong and Yi-Ling let me see the contrasts of Singapore life:

  • The six-lane expressway packed with rush hour traffic
  • Young people power-walking and jogging around a track surrounded by high-rise complexes
  • People jostling each other as they shopped around Orchard Road

alongside

  • The quiet, narrow, gently-sloping streets flanked by low-storey dwellings
  • The small patch of green where seniors socialise, stroll and do tai chi
  • The friendly banter between stall-keepers and buyers at the local fresh-food market

Singapore is a foodie's delight and, with my friends' help, I sampled many new tastes. Hong loves the local fruits, so I sampled durian (the King of Fruits, rich and creamy but not something I'd go out of my way for), jackfruit and duku (sweet like rambutans), guava, papaya (more like melons than the papaya in Australia) and limes (small, juicy, cumquat-size and much sweeter - I could drink lime juice without sugar!). One of Hong's specialities is laksa - a spicy, coconut-based noodle soup. I have never given much thought to the source of coconut milk - I've always used coconut milk from a can. I never imagined that it came from shredded coconut flesh soaked in water and then squeezed. And the coconut was picked from the market that morning and shredded on request by the stall owner!

I also caught up with Bridget, a friend from work. She took me to the beachside areas of East Coast Parkway, and Pasir Ris where we had dinner at the hawker centre (outdoor food courts). The hawker centre is set up on a boardwalk by the beach, the stalls are "straw huts" and the area is festooned with fairy lights. We watched the changing sky as the sun set and dined on satays, ketupat (rice cooked in coconut leaves), stingray (tastes like fish) and carrot cake (a mixture of egg, white Chinese carrot and prawns).

It might sound like all I did was eat but I did do a few touristy things and I have the photos to prove it. This was my fourth visit in 12 years, so I've already done many of the touristy things. All I planned to do was catch up with friends and seek out new experiences. There's still a couple of things to do - I haven't conquered Bukit Timah, the highest mountain, yet!

Nepal

I could ramble on about Nepal for hours. Nepal was the most relaxing and exhilarating experience I have had. I can't remember a time when I have felt so alive or so carefree. It was amazing! I've already added six pages of photos and notes to the web site so I'll try(!) to be brief. (It's now one long page of photos. - Deb 2015)

A magical blend of the old and the new, dirty, polluted, crowded.
The main tourist area, Thamel, is a maze of narrow streets and shops that mostly sell souvenirs and trekking gear. Moving south towards Durbar Square you see glimpses of the older city - a shrine, Hindu temple or Buddhist stupa - amidst all the buildings. Kathmandu has restaurants catering for every taste - Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Indian, although there is no McDonalds. Because of the strict hygiene standards it was too costly to set up a franchise. However, I did spot an Indian restaurant call McDonals.


Fresh mountain air; freezing nights; rose-tinged, snow-covered peaks at sunrise; rainforests with leaves underfoot and trees dripping with moss and lichen; school children scrambling up and down stone paths (leaving us in their wake); mule trains; doggy companions that walked alongside us; waterfalls framed by overhanging vines and tall bamboo. See? There is just too much to put in one post.
Do I look relaxed in this photo? This is the highest point on our trek and I've managed to climb those mountain trails even though I lagged behind all the way. Imagine what would have happened if I hadn't been walking for the previous six weeks. The group would have had to leave me on the bus!
It was great to catch up with Brother and Sis-in-law again after 2½ years (I originally thought it was 1½). I had no troubles recognising G, but my brother? With his wispy goatee, moustache and black beanie he looked like the stereotypical seedy character lurking in the shadows in the slums of a major city.
The trekking team cooked all the meals for our group. We were introduced to such culinary delights as scrambled eggs on chapati bread, popcorn in your soup (you have to try it - it's great) and hot Tang (surprisingly refreshing after a hard day's trekking).


Heaven! Need I say more?
The last two days of our trek were all downhill on a stone staircase. The way we all stumbled back to the bus you would think we'd just started our trek, not just finished it. After six days in the village lodges with only a basin of lukewarm water for washing in, it was fantastic to have a hot shower. You should have seen the dirt at the bottom of the bathtub after I washed myself and my clothes!


The three of us spent a few more days in Pokhara. Our hotel was just off the main tourist strip with its souvenir stores, western cuisine restaurants, touring companies, and internet and phone access. The best "restaurants" were also off the main strip - we found little stalls where meals were cooked over a single-burner stove and a meal for three costs the same as a meal for one on the main strip.
Our favourite restaurant was a small stall near the Binde Basini temple. The chef and owner had a 70s haircut (think John Farnham) and cooked a range of goodies in a wok at the front of the stall. We had a curry of potatoes, peas and onion rolled in roti (round, flat, deep-fried bread). The challenge was to eat the Nepali way - no cutlery and only with your right hand because the left hand is considered unclean.


Food
After seeing the meat stalls in Kathmandu, we became travelling vegetarians. Imagine dirt-floor stalls with benches facing out to the street. On the benches are lumps of raw meat, accessible to all the flies and to the pollution. On the floor is a dog gnawing on a carcass.
The vegetarian food was simple and delicious. Since I've been home Tony has had to put up with tukpa (a spicy, tomato-based noodle soup), momos (steamed Tibetan dumplings that can have meat or vegetable fillings) and potato curry. To paraphrase Tony, "travel might not broaden the mind but it definitely broadens the recipe book".
I cooked garlic damper for our Christmas meal and because the dough recipe was so similar to that of the momos I wondered if I could market garlic damper in Nepal as "baked garlic butter and cheese momos".


In a travel article I read, the writer said that he does not experience culture shock when he visits a country like Nepal, he experiences it when he returns. I agree with him. Life in Nepal seemed much simpler - I was not ready to return to the fast-paced, materialistic world. Even now I find myself stopping and thinking - do I really need to buy that? Do I really need to replace this?

In a book Tony gave me for Christmas, it states:

"The Kingdom of Nepal holds an ongoing fascination for the rest of the world. Those who visit its mountains and valleys, its ancient cities and villages, tend to carry with them forever a longing to return."

Ed Hillary
Foreword for People Within A Landscape

That's me. Now if only I can convince Tony to get his jabs ...

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