Category Archives: Writing

A train, a monkey and a fiesta

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It’s still Friday somewhere in the world. Happy Friday!

This was one of those weeks. Catching the cold that is sweeping through city offices. Photos disappearing from the SD card (huh?). Scheduling this post to publish on Friday 15th rather than Friday 8th (huh??).

A Fiesta

Belatedly, may I present some photos from Myanmar (Burma), as I dash over to take up my duties as co-hostess of this week’s Fiesta Friday. My co-host Margot @ Gather and Graze has been there for hours, pouring out her signature Dame Edna cocktail, and generally being wonderful. Think of Margot as your on-time, organised, gracious chatelaine. And me as the sitcom-style comic relief (“icing sugar!” “monkeys!” “photo disappearing trick!”).

Please come and join us, last week there was a flood of zucchinis and chocolate and a cat dressed up as a human as a cat. I can’t wait to see what this week’s party will bring.

A train

Not many train lines in the world become attractions in their own right. One of them is the train over the Gorteik viaduct in Northern Myanmar (Burma). When it was built, was the largest railway trestle in the world, and has been described as one of the most beautiful train rides. It also featured in Paul Theroux’s book The Great Railway Bazaar.

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The journey starts at 4am in Mandalay. It is 12-15 hours to get to the mountain village of Hsipaw, and several more hours to the end of the line in Lashio. (The same journey to Hsipaw is 5 hours by bus.)

We ambled, lurched, stopped, reversed, shuddered, lurched and even went forward! It was so bumpy in “ordinary class”, we may have been airborn. Something to do with narrow gauge tracks, and the train not fitting perfectly – gulp.

And, it was one of the highlights of my trip. Where else would you sit with a group of sleeping soldiers, with durians and clay pots under your feet….

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… feel extremely brave as you lean out the door of the train, holding the handrail, to get the obligatory “we are going over the Viaduct!” photo? We comforted ourselves with the thought that, if we fell off, at least there would not be a slow lingering death …

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… and catch the first glimpse of Hsipaw as you roll in, slightly battered, 15 hours later?

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And a monkey

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Wanderlust: Yangon, first impressions, pomelo salad

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My taxi wound its way through an endless arterial road. We were heading towards Yangon downtown. Whenever the car stopped, which was often, I fanned myself – in vain – with the city walking map I found at the airport.

It felt like 90% humidity and close to 40C (100F). This is not Sydney winter anymore.

I was travelling alone, going into a country that I knew almost nothing about. When we were flying into the airport, I looked out the window and saw rice paddies, with golden stupas (pagodas) that stood out for miles around. If I were a child, I would have held my breath from sheer excitement. I whispered to myself, I am looking at a Burmese stupa. I am in Myanmar. I am a traveller in Myanmar. Exotic, humid, colourful, unknown Myanmar.

The taxi wound its way past concrete walls inscribed with the curly, circular Burmese script. Past men and women wearing longyis. Past a school where girls and boys wore white shirts and green longyis. Past more people, fruit stalls, durians, traffic, and there was my hotel.

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That afternoon was a jumble of noise and wires and food stalls and people and more moments of holding my breath – as I walk between street stalls, past more durians, into the traffic to cross the road. Streets of British colonial-era buildings, decaying before my eyes, fern and moss reclaiming them for the swamp that Yangon was built on. Footpaths covered by street stalls, pedestrians walking, fearless, slow and longyi-clad, on the road.

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Wanderlust: Myanmar and the people

You guys, you are awesome people. I’ve been away for what seems ages with the occasional peep, and you have still come to visit. I’m just starting to catch up on all that’s been happening in the bloggy space – as well as start a newish job. Watch out for me, soon.

And what a trip that was! The colours, sounds, smells, sights, the sensory overload. The derring-do of solo travel. And the sheer fun.

I’ve just packed away the suitcase, realised I’ve really lost my phone (sob – it had so many food photos on it), still trying to revive Patrick the Sourdough Starter, and sorted through those 2500 photos. Now, how do I start to talk about the trip?

Perhaps, we’ll start with the people. Locals and travellers, only a few caught on camera but many more remembered.

Like this guy, energetically looking after me and a German backpacker on an epic 14 hour train ride, who drives a truck between towns in Northern Myanmar and has a girlfriend in Yangon. This photo caught him in a rare non-chatty moment.

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These women, one of whom offered us some jackfruit and laughed with me as I tried (and failed) to find legroom in between the luggage that filled all the space between the aisles and the seats.

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Wanderlust 3, from the snowy mountains to the sea

*A post! For Fiesta Friday no less! brought to you by a messenger mangosteen, and that awesome breakfast paratha, freshly made, fluffy, wonderously layered, drizzled with condensed milk AND sugar…*

Here’s Part 3 of the Wanderlust series.

I’m taking you away from steamy hot Yangon, back to late autumn/early winter in the Snowy Mountains, Australia. The Snowy probably evokes all kinds of folklore-ish associations for Australian school kids, from that Banjo Patterson poem about the man from Snowy River, the history of the Aboriginal people, and later, gold mining in Kiandra and the Snowy Hydro scheme. A place of legend and history and old fashioned pioneering.

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We drove from Albury, through the Upper Murray Valley, and into the mountains for a couple of days. Part of the Valley is a floodplain, punctuated by the occasional abandoned town and many skeletal trees.

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After the floodplains, the mountains became closer and closer. They became a backdrop to fertile farms and really neat, pretty localities. Sometimes, it’s just the general store, pub and the petrol station. Occasionally, it was just the pub (at least the priorities are right, right??). Once, there was even a hipster cafe that would cut a dash in Sydney.

But the main event was always the mountains themselves. Especially the climb to the top of Mount Kosciuszko, the highest peak.

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The climb was made, really, embarrassingly easy by the ski chairlift (as this is part of the ski field in winter). Only a 13km return journey, all of it on a steel mesh/rocky gravel boardwalk – I think they also serve to protect the environment from the flocks of tourists. This short walk was full of “oh look over there” views of the surrounding mountain ranges, as there are no trees at that altitude and we had an uninterrupted view around us.

In particular, the mountains faded in colour as they were further away, creating a gorgeous, hyper coloured layers of blue. Blue that matched the sky. I wanted to stay there until sundown…

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Wanderlust 2 – vintage railways and a windmill

*Also sending this to Fiesta Friday 22 at Angie’s, this time with a messenger monkey! I think he likes anything and everything food and drink, and sometimes cameras*

A few years ago, I discovered a book called “100 great books in haiku” by David Bader. Witty, sometimes plain funny, it was a great way to while away an afternoon.

For Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, party of the haiku was:

“roadde trippe!” (the rest, appropriately for Chaucer, was a tad demi-scatological…)

Ever since then, before every road trip, I always said to myself, “roadde trippe!” (childish, isn’t it?)

I said the same thing before heading off to Myanmar. And before our regional NSW road trip during the Easter/Anzac Day break. So in the spirit of road tripping and wanderlusting, here are some more photos from that trip (the first lot of photos are here).

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This trip unexpectedly became a journey around historic railway monuments in our regional centres. Some were sad relics. Like these wooden truss bridges in Gundagai. What a project! The bridges spanned the Murrumbidgee River flood plains (by the way, isn’t Murrumbidgee a great-sounding word that just wants to roll around your tongue?). The first was the Prince Alfred at 922 meters, which formed part of the Old Hume Highway. The second was part of the Gundagai to Tumut railway at 819 meters.

But the engineering ambition was greater than the size of the public purse, or something. These bridges fell into disrepair later in the century.

Despite some equally ambitious, perhaps utopian, restoration plans, they remain crumbling and fenced off with no public access. The sign described the pair of bridges as a ‘managed ruin’. Poetic, more than a little sad, especially in the twilight hours.

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Wanderlust – Singapore!

*Still travelling – and sending this to Angie’s Fiesta Friday #22, hoping the messenger rooster (which lives next to my hotel in Yangon) will get to Angie – he looks pretty determined!*

This, hopefully, will be the first of 2-3 posts catching up on photos from previous trips in Singapore and regional NSW. Travel themed posts while I’m travelling. 🙂

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Singapore is said to have two national pastimes, eating and shopping. I’m not someone who goes ga-ga over luxury brands, anyway most of them have shops in Sydney too, so that leaves eating. So. Much. Eating.

I go crazy for the hawker food. Oh the hawker food – popiah, rojak, oyster omelette, laksa, congee, flaky roti, Hainan chicken, endless variations on rice and noodles, all those coconut or sago-laced sweets, durian cake, kaya toast, coffee or tea with condensed milk, masala chai, mountains of durian, and much, much, much more…

Can you believe I was so caught up in eating that I didn’t take photos? I really should practise taking photos of food I have in other countries.

Onto the photos I did remember to take. Here are the non-food bits of the trip.

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This time, I went back to Chinatown and visited the Buddha’s Tooth Relic Temple. I was lucky to be there during a ceremony led by a visiting monk from India. The smell of incense, otherworldly sing-song chanting (so unlike the western chromatic scale), punctuated by alien instruments and ceremonies. Despite the sound and color and motion, this was an hour of meditative stillness.

(As i’m learning in Myanmar, there are many variations of Buddhist temples. This one, like many in Malaysia, are in the Chinese style with lots of red, lanterns, incense, and bits of paper fortunes in mysterious shadowy corners. The ones in Myanmar are very different, dazzling in white and gold. As someone said to me yesterday, it’s like different types of sugar, but they all taste sweet – cute metaphor, non?)

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A complete contrast was Marina Bay Sands. The famous (and famously expensive) hotel that looks like a submarine.

I went there not sure what to expect. After all, it didn’t sound like my kind of place. Yet I was pleasantly surprised. Sure it was all about consumerism, but the building has some beautiful architectural moments. Inside, it was full of geometric patterns, tall, mysterious angles, silhouettes of figures, and details that remind you that – although this building is cool and shaded – you are in tropical Singapore…

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A writing process blog frolic, and a favourites list

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Every once in a while, a writing challenge comes along and makes my ears prick up. WP’s “Writing 101” series is one of them – I’ve been doodling along in private, occasionally scrunching up my nose at what comes out of the keyboard (would a quill and parchment make me write more thoughtfully? Or a typewriter?).

Another is the writing process blog tour that’s sprung up around the blogosphere. The lovely Petra @ Food Eat Love nominated me to be part of the blog tour. Have you visited her blog? Go on, I’ll be waiting here when you come back. It’s filled with delicious recipes and gorgeous photos. Most of all, a love of food and cooking really shines through, and isn’t that kind of energy and passion what blogging is about?

So here I am, doing the Tour with a little twist at the end (you didn’t expect a “straight” blog tour, did you?)… The rules are basically to acknowledge the person who nominated you, answer four questions about my blog writing style and process, and then nominate others to continue the Tour de Blogs – read on for my take on these rules – which has a list! Possibly the first list on this blog!

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Also, here be unrelated photos of mushrooms – I found the bailin mushroom! Their firm, meaty texture have led people to use it as a vegetarian alternative to abalone. I think these are sold canned in some S-E Asian countries, but fresh ones are harder to find. A quick turn in rich chicken broth, a bed of garlic chives (barely wilted with a teensy bit of oil), bonito flakes and white sesame. And we had an impromptu star atop our daily rice.

Onto the Tour de Blog Writing Process:

 

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What am I working on?

Right at this moment, the Tour de Blog post! And this week, posts that can be scheduled to publish while I’m on holidays. Expect catch up travel photos, and a couple of easy peasy recipes.

Over time, the things I “work on” change according to the seasons and cookbooks and the bloggy universe. Sometimes, it is all about taming the Yeast Beast; or, it is about baking powder, baking soda, brown sugar vs granulated vs raw sugar. Summer is about that magical salad. During winter, it’s braises, anything with chilli, and that elusive perfect char siu.

What is constant is the idea that food is fun, unexpected, pretty, lumpen-ugly, frustrating, intriguing, but most of all fun. Cooking, baking, jam-making requires method, albeit leavened with a dose of madness. Madness? Call it madness or creativity or inspiration, or “je ne sais quoi”, it makes me want to pick up the camera and say “hey guys, look, I made stuff – !”

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