Saturday, December 19, 2009

Look who flew into Phnom Penh this morning

Look who flew into Phnom Penh this morning at about 9am.

It is B's first trip to Cambodia and he gets 3 days before we are all back at the airport ready for another 10+ hours squashed into an economy class bench. So we hit the town. We surrounded ourselves with a bit of history...

...had a decidedly one sided conversation with a monkey who was too busy concentrating on his rambutan to even notice we were there.

Climbed the steps of Wat Phnom...

...and watched some sure footed boys do an impossible task at the end of an almost rungless ladder.

And later after the sun had disappeared over the hazy horizon we danced with the evening traffic and the disco fountain at Botum Park...

...before dinner at Fish and an early night.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


(From here)

Its my 40th birthday today so it's fitting, I think, that by tuesday I will be the closest to the place that I was born than I have been yet. As I think I've mentioned in a previous post I was born to a couple of young Kiwis finishing a PhD at Birmingham University in England on the 17th of December 1969. Six weeks later, at the end of January, my brave parents left the fog and drizzle of a brummy winter and moved to the thick 30C humidity of Makassar, Indonesia. Indignant and probably a bit confused I immediately embarked on a nursing strike and loudly refused to sleep. Eventually a Dutch doctor was called in. He sedated both mum and me and we all began again.

The first almost decade of my life was spent in South East Asia, outside of both the country of my birth and the country which passport I carry (although techniquely I could carry both a Kiwi and a British passport) making me an Adult Third Culture Kid (ATCK), a relatively new term used to describe someone who has spent significant amount time outside of their own culture during their developing years. Like many ATCK's, when we ended up 'back' in New Zealand the sense of belonging I had expected didn't happen. I looked the same, talked with a similar accent, spoke the same language but all the unwritten rules, the expectations, the unspoken cultural lingo that becomes a part of our psyche, absorbed by osmosis from the day we are born was, at best, patchy. I often felt exposed, different, slow and confused. I rebelled, self medicated and stopped eating, anything to try and regain control of a situation I didn't really understand. Then I turned 20 and we suddenly had B and I was responsible for more than me. I didn't fit became we didn't fit.

Eventually, after a few years of working on J (an Adult Lived Here All My Life Kid) he took a position in Apia, Samoa and I expatriated, again, 20 years on. It dawned on me sometime during that first year that I was much happier being different, where I wasn't expected to be the same, that I am comfortable boarderless and wear adventure and chaos like a favourite sloppy Tee. Two and a half years later I came back to live in Singapore and discovered despite her metamorphasis, her glamourous new clothes, like an old friend, she and I still fit and we had plenty to talk about! Cambodia too has a familiar feel, probably because she resembles Makassar in the 70's.

It has taken 40 years to begin work out who I am. It'll probably take another 40 to work out how to articulate it and by then I hope to have seen a lot more of the world and lived in a few more countries starting with the little boot shaped bit above the African coastline.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

It's gonna be cold!

(from here )

I have been googling Wunderground every other day (which I found thanks to Leone) watching the temperatures in the parts of Italy we are a week or so away from visiting with a mixture of fear and amusement. They are dropping like the preverbial stone and while theoretically none of this is unexpected practically the idea of sub ten celcius sends much, much more than a shiver down my tropically half cooked bones.

Today wunderground says this week Venice manages a high of 5C dipping on friday to an inconceivable -6, which I have absolutely no point of reference for at all anymore, minus 10 by saturday!

Sure it was cold in New Zealand in July.

Freezing in fact.

But there was no snow!

Wunderland declared Venice is expecting a coating of the white stuff today and Rome on Saturday.

Thankfully it's Italy and being a huge Christmas fan I may very well be distracted by choirs in churches, rich and beautiful presepi- nativity scenes- some with real people, twinkling duomo's, toy and ornament markets, pannettone and possibly a sprinkling of tiny super cooled droplets of crystaline water.

Our first ever white Christmas!

Bring on the icebreaker, the warm puffy jackets, the hats, the gloves and scarves as big as knee blankets we are ready!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A confession


I hate pasta.

There i said it.

I think I must be one of the only people in the world but I really truly don't like pasta...any pasta; wheat, egg, rice flour, barley, corn flour, noodles, spagetti, gnocchi, lasagna, farfalle, canneloni, fettucini, macaroni, linguini, soba, udon, bean thread, vermicelli, tubed, pillowed, flat, frilled, stuffed, smothered, oiled, green, red, black or white (actually usually really more of an off white) organic, store bought, homemade or made especially for me (in which case I'd probably just eat it and pretend to like it because thats how I was bought up). I just don't understand the fuss.

I'm only saying this because we are about a week away from a 2 and a half week trip to Italy, pasta capital of the world, and while I am aware there is plenty else to eat in Italy it is the worlds largest producer and consumer.


So what is the big deal with pasta anyway?

Like tofu, which I confess to liking in most forms (except perhaps the famed 'stinky tofu' which I have yet to try), pasta is used mainly as a carrier of added flavours, rather than it's own flour and water with an optional hint of egg taste, which combined with its huge range of incarnations makes it one of the most versatile staples available and gives it global appeal.

Pasta's recorded history predates the Romans. It has been found depicted in tomb drawings of the mysterious Etruscan peoples of ancient Italy and was probably being made and eaten in a similar form in China at about the same time.

Pasta is considered a nutritious food; low in fat and sodium(depending on what you add to it) and high in complex carbohydrates, the kind which because it digests slowly gives you an energy release over time as opposed to simple carbs which are converted quickly causing a rapid rise in blood sugar levels leaving you with a 'sugar rush' and then the inevitable crash. Generally speaking whole wheat products with minimal processing are considered better, the more interference a food has had, the smaller the chains of starch become and the easier it is to digest. Pasta, while still being a 'processed' food has molecules packed so tightly that only about half is rapidly digested when the pasta is cooked 'al dente' leaving the other half to be absorbed at a slower rate.

(By Stefania Ferri from

None of this is changing my mind.
I'd still rather eat rice....risotto anyone?

Although eventually it might not matter because according to a report by the British Met Office, last month, scientists predicted that Italy’s durum wheat yields (the best wheat varietal to make pasta semolina from) are at risk of being effected by projected climate change, raised temperatures and decreased rainfall.

I wonder if anyone would notice if I just licked off the sauce?

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Lets get lost

‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.
‘I don’t much care where—’ said Alice.
`Then it doesn’t matter which way to go,’ said the Cat.
‘—so long as I get somewhere,‘ Alice added as an explanation.
‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’
~ Lewis Carroll, in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

One of my favourite things to do on holiday is walk.

It also happens to be, in my opinion, one of the best ways to see a new city or town. Of course some places are just not meant for walking and Phnom Penh is one of them. It’s hot -even the few steps from the relative comfort of an air conditioned car or a moving tuk tuk are enough to induce a sweat moustache- you have to negotiate the lack of a footpath or a footpath cluttered with cars, motos and tuk tuks, tuk tuk drivers and motodops ask if you need a ride every couple of minutes even though they saw you get out of your car not three steps away or heard you say 'mien laan' (have car) to the guy in the previous tuk tuk and finally the stuff you really want to see is spread out over half the city so you'd be walking for ages just to get from riverside to central market.

So when we do go anywhere else I am even more motivated than ever to, as the ad on the Nat Geo Adventure channel says,'get lost'.

We got lost in Shanghai...

for a while anyway...

J seems to have a highly developed inbuilt GPS system.

I am dying to try it out in Venice, a city people say is as easy to get lost in as it is to be found. It will be a much tougher ask when sometimes you can't see more than a sliver of sky let alone a landmark highrise party hat.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The other side of the river

The day we decided to go to the Pudong side of the river the temperature dropped over night from a relatively comfortable 27 degrees (and a lot less humidity than we are used to at home) to a bone chilling but thankfully sunny 12 degrees. We had come partially perpared with a thermal top each and sweatshirts but not jackets as we were expecting a rather less crippling, but still cold when you are used to year around 30+, 20 degrees so we layered up and took off at a stiff arms-folded-against-the-building-breeze pace towards the metro station at People's Park. A couple of stops later we popped out of the underground station tunnel onto a massive multi lane, multi road intersection directly opposite one of the most recognisable buildings in Shanghai, the pink 468 meter high Oriental Pearl Tower.

Crossing the road towards the tower to peppy rounded Boyband pop which was kind of appropriate considering the design of the building is based on a verse of a poem by Bai Juyi, penned during the Tang Dynasty. 'Pipa Xing' -Pipa Play- describes a chance encounter with a female pipa player on the Yangtze River.

The bold strings rattled like splatters of sudden rain,
The fine strings hummed like lovers' whispers.
Chattering and pattering, pattering and chattering,
As pearls, large and small, on a jade plate fall.

Following the road towards the river we ended up on a wide boardwalk butted up against the grey wind churned water of the Huangpu with the most incredible view of the endless contemporary science fiction shapes of Shanghai's skyline...

...which like the Imperial planet Coruscant becomes a 'blaze of light and sparkling colours' after night fall complete with violent red sunsets and daytime smokey haze.

(Actually for Star Wars fans I imagine many of Coruscant's descriptions could be used to describe Shanghai- 'a world with enough diversions for just about anyone'...'the long-overdue fall of the corrupt Old Republic, and the sweeping introduction of the Emperor's resplendent New Order'...and 'The recorded history of Coruscant stretches back so far that it becomes indistinguishable from legend…' )

After a necessary hour or so stocking up on jeans etc at the nearby Super Brand Mall we headed back past the tower to the Aquarium... ride the longest sightseeing underwater tunnel in the world...

...and of course see some really big fish, some really rare aquatic animals and some ugly cute sea creatures...

...oh and the sharks, crocs and turtles too.

When we were done it was dark and much colder than when we went in. Time to head back and find some dinner and a warm blanket to snuggle under.

(We finally got some stable electricity so I uploaded photos like a fiend!)

Monday, November 9, 2009

A museum well worth seeing

The Shanghai museum, on the South side of People's Square, is hard to miss. Designed by a Chinese architect it is supposed to resemble an ancient 'ding', a bronze cooking pot either round or square on three or four short chubby legs, used throughout Chinese ancient history often for sacrificial offerings and buried with its owner as a spiritual utensil.

The number of 'ding' in a tomb can be considered an indication of the rank or importance of the inhabitant. The specific 'ding' the museum was designed after is inside one of the museums ten galleries.

Outside the building appears square at the bottom with a circular open top. Inside this translates to a huge three storey high central atrium topped by a large round skylight with the galleries, arranged by theme rather than dynasty, on mezzanine floors facing inward.

We wandered the darkened sculpture room first inspecting the old, the very old and the almost unimaginably old (or about 475 B.C.E to 1644 C.E for those needing a bit more accuracy)...wood

...bronze and stone...the quirky, the serious and the downright sour...then the ancient Bronze galleries collection of 400 odd vessels (18th to the 3rd centuries B.C.E) including THE three legged 'ding'. Most things were labelled in both Chinese and English with general information on larger wall plaques,, also in both scripts, and on the left of each gallery entrance there is even more information in takeaway leaflet form should you need it. We picked one up at each gallery we explored but ended up recycling most back to their piles after walking around.

We raced through the ceramics gallery stopping to linger longer at the few bits that stood out from the rest of the largely bowls and plates then after a brief team discussion headed to thGallery of Calligraphy. Often described as the 'art' of writing, Chinese calligraphy is, truely, an art. Not only does it perform the practical task of communicating in recognisable symbols, in a similar way as our romanised characters do, but it's form also conveys the character, emotion, culture and even moral integrity of the artist to the reader and has the power to provoke feeling in the viewer the same way a painting might. Created about 4500 years ago Chinese written communication, in pictorial form, evolved from a much more simple set of rather more recognisable figures to the sophisticated medium it is today.

Here's an example of running characters

The final room we saw was the Seal Gallery. I had no idea there were so many shapes, sizes and roles of seals. Seals have been and are still used as official and private identification monikers but did you know that they are magic too? According to one tale, a yellow dragon gave the first seal to the Yellow Emperor during the Han Dynasty. Another story claims it was a phoenix who gave it to Emperor Yao. It is said that he who possess the seal has the Mandate of Heaven and as such the right to rule the empire. In Taoism seals can be used to stamp a protective circle or line that wild animals can not cross (did anyone see the Spiderwick Chronicles?).

Private seals are unregulated in size, material and shape so can be pretty different. The seals above look more like game pieces from a monopoly set than signature stamps. Some of these, called 'leisure seals', can include a short quote or inscription that the owner finds meaningful a bit like the modern day use of imbedded quotes at the bottom of a persons email.

I love the press printing effect and have spent many hours carving and turning the wheel on an old printing press at the art centre in Apia working in positives and negatives, knowing just how much to slick the roller and reworking the tension to get the perfect image. The balance and line of the resulting images of the various seals are delicate and beautiful. What a great way to leave your mark.

This last one is a whole story complete with picture like a tribal tattoo that has been passed down from generation to generation added to as the family history grows in years and experience forever etched in stone.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

An ancient garden and a bit of calm

Tranquil YuYuan Garden- which since 'yuan' means garden literally translates to Yu Garden Garden- is right smack bang in the middle of one of the busiest tourist areas in Shanghai. NanShi or 'Old City', a renovated-in-traditional-style shopping street, was once inside the walled part of Old Shanghai and is still surrounded by non renovated alleyways and lanes where we found some fabulous street food.

The 5 acres of garden have a traditional Chinese feel with rockery, pavillions, doorways and gates and koi ponds. It was created more than 400 years ago, during the Ming Dynasty, as a filial present from a son to his high ranking father. It apparently took Pan Yunduan twenty years and all his life savings to build. The guide books don't say whether his father was pleased after he died it became neglected and fell into disrepair until the mid 18th century when it was bought by merchants. During the Opium Wars in the mid 19th century the British army occupied the area and it was used again during the mid 20th century by Japanese Imperial troops none of whom were particularly respectful of the beauty they were residing in. Twenty years later the Shanghai government restored it to its former glory and reopened it to the public and in 1982 declared it a national monument.

We wandered through the delightfully named gardens and pavillions; Ten Thousand Flower Tower, Hall of Observing in Quietness, Tower of Happiness and watched a pink silk clad all girl orchestra on the balcony of one of the pavillions playing traditional blue and white china, string and percussion instruments.

We ducked through asymetrical doorways (an important Feng Shui principle) of various shapes guarded by Ming stone lions, followed paths over arched bridges and past pagodas their roofs inhabited by tiny protective mythical stone creatures and old Chinese men with long moustaches and thin beards and hung with red tasseled lanterns. The vistas have been carefully created to invoke a feeling of peace and stillness which the garden retains even as a major (read: heavily populated by clumps of flag led tour groups) tourist attraction.

Looking for the famed Nine Cornered Zig Zag bridge we ended up back at the beginning and realised that the bridge was actually outside the walls of the garden in the middle of the melaee of Old Street mall.

Not far away is Chengxian Ge Temple a Buddhist nunnery built in 1600 and another oasis in the middle of Shanghai's tourist district.

Like YuYuan Garden, Chengxian was built by Pan Yunduan, this time to honour his mother and it too was all but destroyed during the cultural revolution even housing a factory for a time. In 1989 restoration began and it is now not only one of Shnaghai's many temple tourist attractions but an important functioning nunnery.

Next was a Daiost Temple, The White Cloud Temple or Xuanmiaoguan, near the former western gate of Shnghai's old city wall. The two story complex is built in a square around a wide square courtyard, rooms facing inwards edged with carved balconies.

This golden god was at the front door complete with a gesture I'm guessing doesn't mean the same in China as it does to a Kiwi (look at his left hand).

Daoism is more a philosophy than a religion. The concept of 'dao', generally defined as the right or morally correct way to behave, is common in many Eastern religions. In Daoism the concept is more broad, complex and inclusive and the dao becomes a force on it's own. Life and death are viewed as stages of 'Absolute Dao', in a cycle similar to that of Buddhism and Hinduism, in a way of life that seeks to bring followers closer to conformity with nature and natural order. It's 'laws' and community order come from Confucianism. When blended with Buddhism Daoism becomes Zen which wasn't surprising because the whole temple complex was simple, open, uncluttered and calm.

We spent a while wandering the balconies and sitting in the sun in the courtyard as the blue clad monks went quietly about their business around us.

And then it was time to brave the crowds again in search of some sustenance to get us through the afternoon.