She

She

She speaks
the language of the universe
In a whisper:
Quietly defiant.
Proud of her inheritance
She beams
Up towards the rich blue silk
And reflected in her eyes
Is a yearning
For that infinite night sky.

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Tea, Cups, and Global Awareness.

“Be mindful, even if your mind is full.” De La Vega

I’ve been incredibly busy recently. So busy, in fact, that I’ve forgotten to do almost everything I usually make a point of doing regularly. And then I read this quote:

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” Life’s Little Instruction Book

I’ve made a few decisions, cut a few things out of my schedule, and am trying to focus on what I’m doing more, rather than letting my mind wander off. It really does create more time. Having done this, I realised that I’d lost sight of my global awareness. So I hatched a plan… And it has to do with cups.

For each cup (or bottle, mug etc.) of drink I have when I’m not at home, I will donate twenty cents to charity. For a year, I will collect change, seeing what the results are. I’m not going to try to drink out less, but I’m going to check what I’m drinking more (too sugary? not organic/fairtrade?). Not only will I feel a little better about helping everyone out, it doesn’t take any time so I will have more time for helping more people out with other things (saving the world? I’m on it!).

Hoi An

Hoi An – Five Reasons You Have to See It:

  1. The hundreds of tailor shops – they make high quality clothes quickly, and are usually family run businesses, ensuring that no unfair trade is involved.
  2. The food – it really is the food capital of Vietnam, and street food is easy to find and cheap to buy. Try the ‘white rose’ shrimp dumplings, and Cao Lao.
  3. The beautiful scenery – rice paddies, vegetable patches, ancient Vietnamese style buildings… There really are so many amazing things to see here.
  4. The sense of serenity. The roads aren’t too busy, and bright lights and skyscrapers are practically non-existent here. This makes it the perfect place for cycling round, or trying out your first Xe om (motorbike taxi).
  5. The friendly locals. Everyone is so helpful, and it is rare to be pestered to buy things.

Hanoi Adventure

Day One – 24/12/2011

Villages and cities clamour for space within boundaries of dusty roads. There are patchy areas of green for miles around, punctuated by the occasional lake or river. The amount of fields and crops seems phenomenal. The sky today is grey, and as the plane taxis slowly into Hanoi airport, I can see the smoggy outlines of the apartment blocks in the city centre. As we turn around the mountains come into view, faintly visible behind today’s unpleasant air. They’re strangely beautiful.

As soon as we step out of the airport we are immediately shepherded into a taxi. The roads are dangerous; barely marked, and the driver doesn’t really seem to know where he’s taking us. The buildings outside are small and dusty, and even here fields are hidden away amongst decrepit shelters and streets full of motorbikes, and trucks which seem to be on the verge of tipping over. We eventually reach our hotel, where we discover we have a second floor room with a balcony, looking over the bustling street below.

There’s only one way to describe the Old Quarter in which our hotel is situated – manic. Mopeds, cyclists and hawkers make it impossible to move. The air is thick with smoke and strange smells. Every street specialises in something different – from silver jewellery to haberdashery to hardware. Markets and shops spill out onto the pavement. The sounds of engines fills the city. It’s such an exciting place to be!

Day Two – Christmas Day

It’s Christmas! The streets are slightly emptier than I’d anticipated today, but still not exactly peaceful. Fruit and veg stalls fill the path, and large groups of people sit on low red and blue plastic chairs eating breakfast. We walk for about five minutes, and come to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum, where we queue for a while. Our bag is then taken, and emptied by a small woman behind a desk. She pulls a banana out of the side pocket. “Can’t take in. Eat.” She hands it back, and we follow her instructions. Then we carry the empty rucksack, camera, and guidebook to the metal detector and bag scanner. The camera is placed in a bright red container, which we must take to yet another desk and hand in.

Finally, we enter Ho Chi Minh’s tomb, which is guarded by numerous soldiers in a mix of white and green uniforms, who tell us to take our hands out of our pockets and stay silent. We are then herded past Ho’s pale body. His skin, which is a ghostly shade of white, has been preserved for hundreds of years. Then, we are taken out onto a granite path. Our camera is returned, minus the red bag. We pass a garage containing three old cars, which belonged to Ho. Then, we follow everyone else to Ho’s home and study, where you can see the immaculately set dining and study tables through the windows. There is a building on stilts, where Ho Chi Minh also lived at some point in his life. We pass through an amazing garden, where the trees are held up with thick wires. It’s still very pretty.

As we go through a set of gates, we are led to another part of the mausoleum. Tourist shops now surround us, selling postcards, photos, t-shirts and conical hats (which, I have noticed, quite a lot of the locals wear). We meander down to West Lake, where we order some spring rolls from a local cafe. The lake is spacious, containing only a couple of paddle boats, shaped like swans. There are millions of them waiting to be hired over on the opposite shore. The water is dark, but if you look off into the distance you can see the relatively fair sky reflected in it. The smell of fire is incredible as we make our way into the Tran Quoc Pagoda. Sweet smelling incense wafts over anyone who enters, and people selling fake money and other offerings for the gods crowd around us. Inside it’s quieter, surrounded by statues. We sit and look up at pagoda, which watches over us from above. The night market is great fun, sprawling across numerous lanes as people squeeze past us. The stalls contain everything, from unusual food and drink to tiny quilled paper ornaments. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Day Three – 26/12/2011

There’s the usual bustle this morning. We’ll be catching a night train to Sapa this evening. Then we’ll return to Hanoi to catch a bus to Halong Bay. That’s as far as out plans go – we’re playing it by ear.

It surprises me how many people here speak at least some English. Quite a lot of the slightly larger resturants have the names of the dishes, but otherwise you can always just point at the photos of the dishes which are usually displayed in the menu (if there is one) or on the walls.

As we arrive at the Hanoi History Museum, we are directed to the ticket office by a few jovial ladies who are devouring an early lunch. The museum turns out to be interesting, with just the right amount of interesting information to read and plenty of artifacts from a number of different eras. The diorama like scenes are interesting, and I notice that it isn’t just tourists who are visiting – a number of local families inspect the displays too.

The food in Vietnam is healthy and filling, and there’s a lot of variety too. There are often lots of local specialties, so if you think something sounds good, don’t wait to try it, otherwise you’ll most likely miss out. Even for people who’d prefer to stay on the safe side, there are plenty of places serving delicious but not too adventurous traditional dishes. If you’ve been traveling for a while and want a taste of home, quite a lot of the resturants serve a mix of Western and Vietnamese food. Also, you’ll find a lot of the drinks you know here too – Coke, Fanta, Pepsi and Seven Up are all pretty standard. Fresh juice is found in many places, and it is usually made while you wait, with local fruit. One favourite of mine would have to be passion fruit juice, which is orange coloured, tangy and really refreshing. Despite that, nothing beats a whole coconut, hacked open before your eyes.

Lenin park, where we are now, is relaxing after pacing the streets of Hanoi. It is relatively empty, the remains of an early morning market packing up in the warm sun. The people here, wandering slowly, as if tired and worried, give the park a strange aura, as if it’s the morning after some terrible disaster. Still, it’s nice to sit by the lake and look around. Although the street is only metres away, the park is a sanctuary, surrounded by high fences.

I’m starting to get a little more used to the hustle of busy Hanoi, but that definitely doesn’t mean it isn’t still constantly exciting (and a little nerve-wracking). The smells, sights and sounds here are amazing, and there’s always something to see, something happening. I like the way that although foreigners are treated differently it is easy to avoid the tourist traps and mix with the locals. It’s a continual adventure.

Mail

Mail is an exciting thing for me. Every day, I get home and eagerly open the mailbox. I write to a few penpals. I get quite a lot of cards via Postcrossing. I have a couple of magazine subscriptions. It all adds up, and so usually I get something pleasant in the mail each day. Besides, I don’t have to pay any bills or pay tax or anything like that. Yet. Anyway, I believe opening the postbox should be something to look forward to, not dread. Nice mail should far outweigh boring mail, and at least 90% of what you receive should make you happy. It may seem obvious, but sending lots of mail is the only way to get a chock-a-block mail box. Go write something!

Here are some of the cards I’ve sent:

Thanks to those who received these cards through Postcrossing for taking the photos.

Pets!

This photo is of two of our awesome chickens, who seem to love posing. I sometimes wonder if they dreamed of being actors when they were just tiny chicks.

Harry

And of course, my darling bunny Harry. He used to read the sport section of the newspaper every day. Now he prefers dashing round the garden at a breakneck pace, and getting stroked. Oh well. At least he doesn’t shed so much any more.

My teddy bear!

Here is my graduation teddy bear, who I proudly hand stitched. The pattern we used has been sketched out and modified over the years by the teachers at my school, so it has almost been perfected. Almost. My bear may look strange, but compared to others it is surprisingly neat. The instructions were awful and I almost had to unpick most of my stitching to fit the nose in, but it was all alright in the end.

The material I used was from a Japanese shop in Melbourne, and I had some left over from making an awesome bag which I now carry everywhere. My bear, compared to others, is relatively full of signatures.

I think that making bears is a really good idea, because at other schools nearby the graduation bears are bought, so they don’t have any personality. Some schools have signature books, or places in the yearbook for other students to sign. But personally I think that although my bear turned out a little odd, it was all worth it.

City Treasure Hunt

City treasure hunts are great fun. They can be done anywhere, at any time, with any amount of participants. They are an especially great way to explore places you’ve never been before for the first time.

Here are the instructions:
1. Figure out which suburb to do the hunt in. Decide on the boundaries so that nobody gets too lost.
2. Make a list of things to search for (not just objects but information, places, and anything else that can be found). Assign point values for each item so that you can decide on a winner. See my list below for examples.
3. Decide whether to go in teams or by yourselves (teams are best if there are a lot of you).
4. Know where, and at what time to meet afterwards (you can take away points if people are late to encourage punctuality).
5. Go!
6. Get back to the meeting point once you have all the items, can’t find any more, or have run out of time. Wait for everyone else.
7. Count up everyone’s points and crown the winner. At this point it should be about time to go for a drink break!

This is my example list of things to find (this is about the right amount of items for an hour long hunt):
Bus timetable – 5
Foreign newspaper – 5
Unidentifiable fruit or veggie – 10
Ad for music tutor – 10
Photo of you with a stranger – 15
Cheapest accommodation – 15
Funniest sign – 10
Something interesting but free – 5
Used transport ticket – 5
Yummiest nonprocessed snack-15
Most unappetizing menu item-10
Silliest number plate/sign on car-15
Worst shop name – 5

By the way, you should set a small budget, and also each team/person should carry a camera so you don’t have to buy everything. It is important to have phones or change for a phone box too! If you are doing this in a suburb you know well, have more items on your list or you will run out of things to do.

Have fun!

What I Love About Japan

What I love about Japan:

Food (especially sushi, onigiri and takoyaki). I love seafood, so Japanese cuisine is a fave of mine.
Drinks (calpis and tea mainly). I really love the way everything is so different.
Manga, since the style is so different to Western comics, and the way it is such an ancient art fascinates me.
Anime. This is for basically the same reasons as I like manga.
Cherry blossoms. I love these because they are so beautiful, and add colour to any scene.
Mount Fuji, because it is so majestic.
Bonsais. So cute and pretty. The amount of effort that goes into looking after them makes them even more special.
Snow. I don’t get snow here in Sydney, so anywhere where there is snow is awesome! Plus, the snow in Japan is completely different from any other snow.
Martial arts. I really enjoy taking part in martial arts. Self defense is important, and martial arts really does make you more confident!
Bento. These are amazing! Even the simple ones taken by workers as box lunches are so neat and tidy, and look delicious.

I also really like the blend of old and new in Japan. The way just an hour or so travelling can take you from blinding lights to onsens and beautiful views. Surely the best way to experience this is by bullet train – new age technology to transport you to places which have existed for hundreds, if not thousands of years. It truly is amazing.

Primary Graduation

The last day of primary school was the best, and also the worst. We started off the day by being given our yearbooks, and then we were given plenty of time to wander around the school, getting our hand sewn graduation bears signed by everyone (more on the bears in a later post). We went outside for morning tea. After that, we had the talent quest, which is always enjoyable. The two finalists were a freaky yo-yoer (is that a word?) and also an amazing singer. Both were boys. The overall winner though, was the latter, who sang a song called ‘Count On Me’. He deserved to win. Anyway, then we had lunch. After that the teachers showed the year six film, which has tons of photos of us, and a picture of each of us in kindy. Then we sang our year six song – which is a modification of ‘So Long Farewell’ from The Sound of Music. It has been changed to have more relavent lyrics. That was when the crying started. You could barely hear us singing because so many people were sobbing. The saddest part of the final day is always saved for last, and so we sat for five minutes waiting for everyone else to get ready. Soon, we were led outside in single file. A tunnel of people, holding their hands high, was waiting for us. Slowly, we made our way through the clutches of seven hundred students, having to bend over to avoid bowling over the younger students. When we finally reached the end, and started to mill around on the oval after the bell, the tears were flowing full pelt. We hugged people we knew, and people we didn’t. But then the crowd of graduating students dwindled, until there were only twenty out of the original hundred left. Me and my two close friends weren’t sobbing anymore – just standing around feeling horribly empty. So we decided to go for hot chocolate. A few of the boys joined us as we dashed down to Gloria Jeans, so we pulled up some extra seats and had a chat. We got some photos. We nearly cried again. We looked at our yearbooks. Then we went outside, soaking ourselves with water and running around. A lady in a muumuu told us to be quiet. Our last day of school had just finished – how could we be quiet? We ran and jumped and splashed, and, despite the tears, had a great last day.