Tag Archives: travelling

Charming weekend in Hawkes Bay

Rhythm is born in all of us.
~ Ginger Rogers

Last Thursday, J and I flew down to Napier for the annual Art Deco Festival. J’s first time; my third. As individuals we are both happy travellers – as a couple we are learning to allow our separate interests to mingle and create experiences which delight us.

While J can never say yes quick enough to salty sand and water, my tummy is the one I think of satisfying, more so than any Vitamin D deficiencies. He loves films; I love farmers’ markets. He poses, unabashed, for the camera. I am still learning not to apologise before asking if someone can take a photo for us … and not to hurry J when he is taking a photo of me, because I get shy holding a pose in public. He is a relaxed person and puts people around him at ease. I work hard to relax … and when I don’t I too often make the mistake of working harder still >.<

But we’ve always, since our first short trip away together, travelled well together. Through him I go on more walks, swims and adventures – through me he eats and travels more and has an increasing capacity for spicy food.

Over the weekend, we had just about the perfect combination of activities for both of us. We stayed at an Airbnb retreat in Te Awanga, about 25 driving minutes away from Napier – at a cosy pad where we could hear the rolling waves from the beach just behind us. It wasn’t an ideal swimmers’ beach but was lovely to spend the first part of a morning there.

We watched sparkling vintage cars roll by …

ate some scrumptious food

danced to live music with a beautiful crowd …

savoured some visual feasts …

visited the one and only Hawkes Bay Farmers’ Market

took in the sights at Te Mata Peak

and certainly a highlight was meeting with the lovely Fiona whose writing inspires me; and her family, in her dream home! It was a wonderful evening for J and me both.

We also went Deco shopping, watched a special screening of the delightful and humorous 1937 film “Shall We Dance”, and had a bit of down time just chillin’, which we both needed.

:-) Till we meet again, charming Hawkes Bay, stay sunny, strong and wonderful.

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Dunedin – a glance

When I write, I feel like an armless legless man with a crayon in his mouth.
~ Kurt Vonnegut

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Like always, photos capture so much and nothing at all at the same time!

Dunedin

Full circle

Perhaps I am stronger than I think.
~ Thomas Merton

Have we all gone Hobbit-mad around here? Perhaps…

I rather like our airport looking this way (see above), really. Heh heh heh! :-)

I confess that my attention on Hobbit premiere day was less focused on the red carpet and the stars than on the blistering sun, general crowds and the people sitting atop Hope Gibbons (note tiny human silhouettes below)… anyway, it was really nice to see everybody in such high spirits even if I don’t tend to get manic about things like that myself.

Hobbit-ness aside, one thing I truly love about New Zealand is the way, well, anything goes. Perhaps I say this because I spent four years in Dunedin, a period filled with fond, challenging and bizarre memories… previously I would never have considered wearing socks over my shoes, sliding down frosty paths on a garbage can lid or wearing a cow suit down a main street.

Perhaps I would never have had a neighbour who climbed on to the roof and mooned me (he graced my previously spotless skylight with his unprotected bottom) or met anyone with a car with doors that had to be shut in a synchronised manner (the driver’s door would fly open when you slammed the passenger’s door shut, and vice versa). I could have done without Nude Day… but I guess you’ve gotta take the good with the bad.

So here I am in Dunners now, my first time back in about four years. Reflecting on life, working remotely and having a great reunion with my good friend Michelle, who I haven’t seen in far too long. Taking some time to lower my current stress thermometer reading… hopefully…

Have a great weekend, all :-)

P.S. Mmmm, Capers pancakes! Big and fluffy and stuffed with fruit and yoghurt / cream. Just as :-) as ever.

Capers Cafe – 412 George Street, Dunedin – Phone: 03 477 7769

Beauty-full weekend

Love of beauty is taste. The creation of beauty is art.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

One cannot tire of the beauty in New Zealand. Especially down in the South Island, which I miss very much.

I spent last weekend down in Invercargill (one of the southernmost cities in the world, for non-NZ readers) for my friend Brooke’s wedding.

It worked out to travel to Invercargill via Queenstown (see photos above). Which, incidentally, was wrapped in a glaze of delicious sunshine when I got there. A beautiful day to go tandem hang-gliding! This is my very cool pilot and me:

I swallowed buckets of nervousness on the way up to the point at which we leaped into the air, and my shoes, similarly, dived to their death in nervousness and landed somewhere down below. Once I was barefoot on this large human kite and staring at the marvelous spread of beauty before me, though, there wasn’t anything to fear. Also met a paraglider who sang an ode of love to flying afterwards, and now I begin to understand why these mad people love being up in the air out of an airplane :-)

Shoes. It is hard to pretend to be a lady without them. I was pleased to find inexpensive replacements in a women’s shop shortly before they closed for the day:

Down on the ground – the obvious place to hang out in town is Lake Wakatipu… not only because the water there is mesmerising, but also because there is Patagonia Chocolates, where you can get a MARVELLOUS hot chocolate with fresh grated ginger (or lavender, or chilli) in it. I didn’t even look properly at the luscious cabinet in case I collapsed in a chocolatey stupor and missed my hang glide.

Another plus point: Patagonia has these great tables outside with tame birds, beautiful views and lovely buskers nearby…

Went to Vudu the first weekday morning after daylight savings, and I can tell you… no one here had Monday blues. A comfortable place to be, well-lit and thoughtfully decked out – though it’s all done in such a casual way that it’s attractive without being at all pretentious. The overall feeling I got was that of being in a friendly place (think woody, birds, lights, espresso, good food, energy, freedom) which bids you a very, very good day without needing to say it with words.

The food looked so yummy, too. I had no tummy space for it that day, sadly, but I will have to come back one day.

If you’ve ever read any touristy material about Queenstown you’ll probably have seen something about The Remarkable Sweet Shop. And you wouldn’t be disappointed by a visit to them, even if you don’t actually like sweets (I don’t as much). This place draws out the child in all of us. I kid you not, I saw a grown woman literally skipping around inside – and it wasn’t even me this time.

My teeth considered falling out as I stared at the spread before me, but I managed to walk out with my teeth intact and a few fudgey gifts. Wonderful staff here, who were full of smiles and friendly service.

I’ve heard a lot about Fergburger, but since I didn’t get time to pop in, I did the next best thing and went to Fergbaker for a mini garlic and parmesan focaccia bread. Next time I’ll try the burgers.

The wedding was beautiful in every way. The skies behaved exceedingly well (no trivial matter in Southland), the bride and groom were most radiantly happy, and the guests were fun to hang out with. The food was also very delicious!

Favourite of the night: the scrumptious dessert akin to tarte tatin!

A lot of beauty in one weekend

Flying home

Patagonia Chocolates – Lakefront of 50 Beach street, Queenstown – Phone: 03 442 9066

The Remarkable Sweet Shop – 39 Beach Street, Queenstown – Phone: 03 409 8656

Vudu Cafe – 23 Beach Street, Queenstown – Phone: 03 442 5357

Back to the sunny island

One must maintain a little bittle of summer, even in the middle of winter.
~ Henry David Thoreau

Life has been pretty busy lately and I’ve scarcely been in the kitchen. Whenever I have, I have either been relying heavily on the oven (looks a sight, but this roast beef was quite delicious, if I do say so myself)…

… or whipping up quick things like this poached salmon omelette and these mushrooms with cream and truffle oil (it took less than half an hour in all to prep and cook for us three). Mopped up the mushroom juices with crusty sourdough… mmm.

And now it is nearly 1.00am and I am in a singlet and shorts, relishing summer and marvelling at the way a plane ride transports you across time and distance to a totally different world in mere hours. How good pilots and planes are! Yes, here I am in Singapore again, low on sleep but not too low mood-wise. For dinner tonight I met Brandon, friend-of-a-friend passing through Singapore, and we feasted on thosai, prata, chicken biryani, peppered chicken (all for SGD$12.50) and ice-cold beer somewhere in Little India, Singapore. We walked down several alleys and streets before we settled on an eating place, so I am afraid I have no idea where exactly this was.

And this is all I’ll write for now, my laptop is gasping through the last bars of its battery life and I’m too lazy to unearth the plug from the depths of my suitcase. Good night (or morning!)

Home

I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself.
~ Maya Angelou

I’m home. Or am I?

I’ve experienced the feeling of being ‘at home’ in a few places over the last month, far from my bed, bathroom, kitchen, etc… and now that I am back in my flat, I feel like a stranger. Like I’m in someone else’s home, living someone else’s life.

Know what I mean? It is great, but painful, to be home. Where everything is ‘different different but same’ (a slight twist on this).

This trip is one of the craziest and best trips I’ve ever gone on, and not just because my sweet friend Steven convinced me that it was a good idea to go with him to Universal Studios in Singapore and go on ALL the roller coasters (save the Cylon because I refuse to be flipped upside down five times in rapid succession), or because I got to spend a few days and share a donkey burger and other wonderful fare with Jane in Beijing. Enjoying perfect summery weather the whole time.

I also got to experience family on a whole new level. My aunt managed to locate Granddad’s relatives and ancestral home in a province in China last year and my uncles, aunts and grandparents arranged to visit them this year. I joined the party at the last minute, and am I glad I got the opportunity to go along! I knew it would be a special trip for Granddad since he hadn’t been back in about 80 years – and it was, but I was surprised to be so personally affected by it too.

We arrived at the airport in Jieyang to a welcome party worthy of celebrities. An entourage of people holding a giant red banner surged towards us, simultaneously talking excitedly to my granddad who was caught by surprise and slightly teary (I just gaped stupidly – it’s all I could do). His tears then began to cause my own eyes to glisten… anyway, thus began six days of getting acquainted with family I had never known about…

There were many moments when I looked around me, at all these good-looking faces I was seeing for the first time in my life, speaking a dialect I term as my third language, in a place I had never thought I would visit… feeling strangely comfortable. Thinking, “wow. This is what family is.” Everyone together, no one texting/surfing the internet/glued to some technological device… just being human, laughing, talking, sharing, being. Distinct personalities emerged, my newfound distant cousins and I found ourselves doing an informal language exchange and being silly at a window-shattering karaoke session, and I was overwhelmed (there is no other word) by it all. We drank a lot of tea (they make fabulous tea of different varieties – I got quite addicted to it); ate too much; went sightseeing; practised speaking dialect and mandarin (I’m still trying to get back into this speaking English thing). In between, I got to catch up with my uncles and aunts, and listen to Granddad tell me stories of his youth which he had never told before.

There were so many conversations, unfamiliar sights, cultural differences, etc to take in that each night I fell into bed full of wonder and unprocessed thoughts…

And now, here I am. Wondering how life will ever be the same again… and yet thoroughly thankful that life is not dull, that life continues to teach and surprise, and show me love and grace.

P.S. On the note of home… banana cake is a good remedy for homesickness. Something to do with the smell, I think. I used this recipe as a base, substituting sour cream with yoghurt, cake flour with normal, and omitting the chocolate ganache to suit what I had on hand. Oh, and I threw in a handful of chocolate buttons into the mix and baked the cake in a bundt pan, just ‘cos.

What to do in Beijing

To my mind, the greatest reward and luxury of travel is to be able to experience everyday things as if for the first time, to be in a position in which almost nothing is so familiar it is taken for granted.
~ Bill Bryson

I left Beijing late on Monday night, sad to leave Jane and happy to be heading towards a city with cleaner air. Grateful for the marvellous trip – Beijing is really home to many wonders besides the Great Wall!

There is so much to write about – wandering down curious mazes of narrow streets/hutongs. Bus adventures involving rapid-fire Mandarin and being forced to elbow people to stay alive (the buses there, they do strange things to humans). The spitting (which I now understand, because I was tempted to cough up and dispose of the balls of dust which kept taking up residence in my throat). The beautiful, soft foliage. The ‘exercise machines’ on streets for public use – hilarious, and rather cool! The marvellous mangoes. The way the city looks tranquil and mysterious in the evening. The thoughts I thought in the public toilets, which I shall spare you from. The curious ways of guan xi.

And thoughts on travel! – how wonderful, worthwhile, informative and exhausting it is… and how much it makes me appreciate my life (both the big and little things that make it awesome). How much I love, too, the moments of mini coincidences, kindness from strangers, inspiration and total shock. :-)

My favourite method of getting around Beijing was, without doubt, via tin can car! It’s like a loud mini motorised carriage or a Chinese version of the tuk tuk… way too cute! I wish we could’ve travelled everywhere in them, but for the following reasons: distance (the drivers mostly do short rides), variety and cost, we also travelled via taxi, subway and on foot. If you can cycle, Beijing’s pretty bicycle-friendly too.

We attended a dim sum cooking class at The Hutong Kitchen, at Beixinqiao (map here). With the Little Gold Book, we got a two-for-one deal. :-)

Our instructor showed us how to make nuo mi ji (steamed parcels of chicken/glutinous rice wrapped in lotus leaves), shao mai and xia jiao (shrimp dumplings) (all pictured below).

It was certainly a class designed for foreigners and dim sum beginners (and the dim sum was not quite identical to what is served in most restaurants), and I doubt I’d reproduce any of these in my own kitchen (too cumbersome!) – but I gleaned valuable cooking tips and enjoyed it very much.

Right after the cooking class, we adjourned to Sanyuanli Market (Shunyuan Jie, opposite Jingkelong Supermarket, west of Sanyuan Dongqiao, Chaoyang District). A long corridor with stalls selling just about everything you need to cook anything at all. I’d say it caters well for both locals and foreigners. Good cuts of meat, wide selection of seafood and fresh herbs/vegetables – and all sorts of dried/packet goods too! All at good prices.

See, we had two excellent meals made from products purchased at Sanyuanli Market (Jane cooked! Yum!) – baked salmon, and lamb and prune tagine.

Jane also took me to Niu Jie (Ox Street), the Muslim quarters in Beijing. I loved this area! And not just because the Niujie Mosque (Niu Jie 88, Beijing, China) so beautifully incorporates both Chinese and Islamic culture and elements…

Niu Jie is also home to an amazing array of food like yang rou chuan’r (lamb kebabs), various types of cakes and nian gao and other snacks… (we bought a few green bean snacks before we lunched at a place with delicious Xinjiang cuisine).

One place I’d definitely visit often if I lived in Beijing is Ri Tan Gong Yuan (Temple of the sun)… so calming!

After a leisurely walk and cup of coffee/tea in Ri Tan Gong Yuan on Sunday afternoon, we were well ready for dinner! We walked for 20 minutes to get to Na Jia Xiao Guan (south of the LG Twin Towers, west of 119 Middle School in Chaoyang District) – a fantastic place both in terms of food and ambience.

We queued for nearly half an hour to get in, and were served red date tea whilst we waited – dinner was totally worth the wait. The place was buzzing with positive energy and happy diners. The menu – featuring mostly Manchu cuisine – was colourful and exciting. And the food, including a plate of most perfect crispy goose, was so delicious!

I ate my first donkey burger on Monday. Surprised by how good it tasted! Tender and flavourful… so good, especially with the addition of chopped chives! It tasted nothing like chicken, for the record… :-)

Also ate my first jian bing on Monday – again, loved it. Imagine a warm, savoury cross between an omelette and crepe with sweet crunchy lettuce in the middle…

Lastly. Jingshan Park – it was so foggy when we visited, but the view from the top was still spectacular… I can just imagine how stunning it’d be on a clear day!

(While it is very unfortunate that Emperor Chongzhen hung himself, I think it even more unfortunate that they chose to bear such text on a sign in the park – right at the top, no less!…)

Thanks Beijing (and Jane!) for having me! (And thanks Jane for taking the better photos that feature in this post).