Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Back in Blighty

Home, England.

After 29 days, a ridiculously large number of miles, and - most recently - 12 hours on an aeroplane, I arrived back in England a little after six o'clock this morning.

I'd like to say that my eyes were bright and my step was jaunty as I sashayed through customs and onto British soil. But the truth of the matter is that I was tired and jaded - I slept through take-off! - and full of twinges.

I was, however, very happy to have had a wonderful time away. And very happy to be home.

Vegetarians don't eat spinach for breakfast

Somewhere over Europe.

I watched wistfully as the person in the seat next to me was given their non-vegetarian breakfast. Perched on top of the expanded-polystyrene egg was a pallid slither of bacon that looked very tempting to my weary eyes. And there, the tomato, the mushroom, the glossy pile of spinach.

But my vegetarian meal was about to arrive; what need did I have for lustful thoughts for bacon? A forkful or two of limp spinach would soon restore my equilibrium. I suspect I was licking my lips as I peeled away the foil lid of the breakfast tray.

Wonder of wonders! There was - naturally - no bacon. There was my egg, thicker than plaster of paris and as spongy as foam. And there my tomato, and mushroom.

But no spinach. Oh no, not for the vegetarians, no sir. Vegetarians do not, after all, eat spinach for breakfast, do they? No no no. Keep that for the meat eaters.

Vegetarians eat broccoli for breakfast.

Well, obviously.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

The Royal Palace, Bangkok

The Royal Palace in Bangkok is jammed with beautiful paintings, amazing statues, awe-inspiring architecture, and buckets of history.

So I'm sharing this photograph, which shows none of the aforementioned wonders.

It is a pretty flower, though.

Sunday, 28 October 2007

48 Hours in Bangkok

Well, alright then, call it 50. But we only expected to be there for 48 hours. Or 49.

Having landed just about 23h00 hours on the 28th, our departing flight is at 00h20 on the 31st. Little did we know that it would be delayed a little bit, so we had an extra hour or so in Thailand. Bonus!

Of course, we spent that additional free-to-you-sir time in an aeroplane, so we might as well have been anywhere. And I slept through it. In fact, I slept through take-off. But I'm getting ahead of myself. When we left our brave friends, they'd just landed in Bangkok, tired from the longish flight, and the smallest bit grumpy that they'd left Australia, which had been so much fun.

But they were full of hope, too, because here was yet another wonderful new destination, begging to be explored and examined and enjoyed. So that's what we did in the little time available to us.

In short: Arrive. Hotel. Chinatown. Hotel. Thai dancing. Sleep. Royal Palace. Hotel. Depart.

In long:
I really liked Bangkok, the crazy heady rush and whirl of it; I would suddenly find myself smiling delightedly at the madness of it. But as a friend of mine said:

"The reasons you'll love Bangkok are the reasons you'll hate it."

I think I know what he means.

Friday, 26 October 2007

More sisters

Back to the Blue Mountains today, and what a change! Today there was thunder and lightning and - yes - rain over the National Park.

We arrived just in time to watch a massive downpour from the dubious comfort of the car before venturing forth once it had abated.

The view from Point Echo was rather different from the last time I visited, with the clouds rising from the forest as the rain stopped. And my camera at a strange angle, judging by the horizon in the image above!

In the distance, lightning flashed and forked over the mountains, and I irritated onlookers attempting to capture it by using the continuous shooting feature of my camera. My memory card filled before the lightning came again!

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

I slept through 36 kangaroos

That's sightings, not splatterings.

The drive from Yulara resort to Kings Canyon is long, and departs early in the morning. So early that it's really the late-middle of the night. As a consequence, I found myself dozing off more often than I might have liked.

(In honesty, I found myself waking up rather than dozing off. I admit I don't recall the falling asleep part of the cycle whatsoever.)

Anyhoo, I would have preferred to be awake, because the coach driver had warned us that there might be wildlife straying onto the road and I was eager to catch my first bleary-eyed glimpses of Australian wildlife in the Wild. Kangaroo-caught-in-the-headlights, if you will.

So it was with a quiet regret that I awoke on one occasion to hear the bus driver announcing:

"There's another three kangaroos, ladies and gentlemen, which I think makes it 39 that we've seen so far. Plus a dingo, a brumby, and seventeen willow-tongued blimbutts."

I did, happily, see a couple of kangaroos and camels.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

The question of a hyphen

Is that rainbow-bee eaters, or rainbow bee-eaters?

The moon on a stick?

Taken in on the Kata Tjuta walk. The sky was like this pretty much all the time. Beautiful.

Uluru again

Yes, it really does meet expectations. Just go there.

No steps at Uluru

Be under no illusions: there are no steps cut into Uluru.

When people talk about "the climb", I suspect they really mean "the haul".

The thin silver line you can see snaking up the Rock in the pic above is a low hand rail, which you'd need both to drag yourself upwards, and to arrest your too-speedy descent. You'll note it doesn't start at the bottom of the Rock, either, so the preamble would be a scramble and the postscript a slither.

People regularly die on this climb - by falling off - and if it's too windy or too hot, the Park Rangers close the climb. Which is what they did today (because of the winds on the top) - you can see the little red gate and no entry sign, which seems strangely genteel, given the setting.

I hadn't been planning to climb anyway, but having seen this, I was more than happy with my decision.


An early start today, whilst the sky is still dark, and the stars still clear in the sky. And this in aid of Seeing the Rock at Sunrise, a recurrent pass-time in this part of the world.

There's a lot written, and spoken, and rumoured, about Uluru at sunrise; the way the rock glows and changes colour. I think it depends on the type of dawn; the clouds can change the colour of the sky, and presumably the rock too. For me, it was a tremendously pleasant experience, and I'm glad I just stood there and took it in, rather than trying to capture it photographically. A short time afterwards, though, I did indulge myself and take this:

This is one of my favourite pictures of Uluru. I took it just after dawn, having stood in pretty much that spot and watched the rock change colour as the sun dragged itself above the dusty, sandy horizon behind me.

I could trim it down, but I rather like the fact that you can see the photographer (that's me, folks) - you can see how early it is by the length of my shadow. And I haven't done any other work on the picture, either; it's exactly as my camera recorded it. I love the paleness in the sky, as the sun is still rising. I love the colours and shadows on the rock. You can make out the dark stain of a water channel in the middle of that deep shadow on the left, and the distinctive face of the Mala man, killed by Kirpan whilst protecting his people.

I love the ground too, which becomes stoney rather than sandy just to the left of the viewpoint, and had gathered some water in little puddles from the rain the evening before. I tried to take an arty shot of the reflection of the rock in the water, but couldn't quite get it right. I don't mind.

Sunrise at Uluru is special - Uluru is special. I suspect the definition of that will differ wildly between most visitors.

But, damn, it's worth the trip.

A good start to the day

Some days start earlier than others, and today started particularly early. Equally, some days start better than others, and today was especially good.

As I stood, shivering, beneath a sky still black and rich with stars, gazing up at the familiar and unfamiliar consellations above me, I saw a shooting star flashing through the sky over the Southern Cross.

And still to come: sunrise at Uluru.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Eat your heart out, David Copperfield

Forget that thing with the Statue of Liberty. Mother Nature just worked the most amazing vanishing act, disappearing - and reappearing - the massive monolith that is Uluru from the horizon as I watched, alarmed.

I arrived at Yulara, the Ayers Rock Resort, hungry for Uluru. I had spent the entire flight with my face pressed to the window, drinking in the view as we passed over ground that was coloured the most fantastic colours - from purples, to mustard-yellows, here pale and near-white and there dark, brown-red. I was enthralled the entire time.

But this was all but a prelude to the main act. We all knew why we were there. And, as we began our descent, the fidgeting and fussing on board grew to new levels, everyone craning their necks for the first sight. Not for me. Sitting on the right hand side of the 'plane, I did not glimpse Uluru as we landed, nor on the short ride (courtesy bus, not camel) to the hotel.

So it was that by the time I was finally There, by the time I had actually Arrived, I was desperate to see the Rock. Desperate not to be disappointed, too. But eager for it nonetheless.

I scurried out to the nearest lookout, scuffing my feet through the red sandy earth gleefully, watching my sandalled toes getting grubbier and grubbier, and smiling all the while. But also rushing to see the monolith. And rushing because I was racing both sunset and the clouds that were gathering all about.

As I crested the low rise - the highest thing around, little more than a molehill, yet still an ideal vantage to see the famous rock, I stared eagerly ahead to see -

(dramatic pause)

Absolutely nothing!

Like those visits to the high mountains - the Andes, perhaps - where the clouds cheat the viewer of the postcard view, there was no Rock. There was simply a wall of clouds, grey and disappointing.

At that moment, I was fairly close to being gutted, I don't mind telling you.

But then the thunder came, and the lightning. And I realised that I was in for a spectacle not enjoyed by every other visitor, on every other day of the year. I was in for a somewhat rarer treat.

It was raining in the desert.

Again the thunder came. Thunder and more lightning. And then a rainbow somewhere over the vanished monolith.

And finally - glory of glories! - the clouds parted the smallest amount, to reveal - faintly - water, running off the face of the Rock.

Which, on the whole, was pretty special. Not the sunset I had dreamed about, but something rarer yet. Apparently, there had not been rain like that for six months, not here.

Red sand beneath my toes and rain on my face. I think I'm going to like it here.

Sometimes, I pretend I'm a vegetarian

On Qantas flight QF728 from Sydney to Ayers Rock (Uluru), we were given a turkey and cranberry sandwich.

The front of the packet identifies the ingredients as "Panini, Turkey (28%), Cranberry Sauce (10%), Cucumber, Lettuce".

The back of the packet, however, is a whole other story. The panini - that's a kind of bread, by the way, which can be simply and deliciously made with just flour, water, salt and yeast - contains 14 ingredients that I couldn't be bothered to write down. They had names like "flour treatment agents", whatever that means, and some of them were just numbers.

The "turkey", by contrast, contains 20 ingredients.

Twenty! And some of those are truly eye-watering. Here's the full list:

Turkey Breast, Water, Acidity Regulators 326, 262, Salt, Rice Flour, Tapioca Starch, Potato Starch, Sugar, Sucrose, Mineral Salts 451, 450, Vegetable Gum 407, Dextrose, Maple Syrup, Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein, Preservative 223, Vegetable Oil, Flavours, Colours (1500)

Now I don't know about you (that's the way this whole author/reader thing works! Unless of course I do know you, in which case: Hi!) but I really can't understand why acidity regulators have a place in a turkey slice. I've never found turkey to be that acidic, have you? And what's going on with the maple syrup? On a pancake, sure! In the suitcase of a first-time visitor to Canada, why not? But in a turkey sandwich?! And that's only one of four types of sugar that are in there.

And whilst we're on some kind of rant about it (which apparently at least one of us is), what's with the rice flour, tapioca starch and potato starch?! Surely I'm getting enough starch from the bread, wouldn't you agree? But no. Obviously I need more, and for convenience sake I need it injected into my turkey, so I don't have to worry about getting hold of it myself. And while you're at it, could you squeeze some water in there, too? I'm not feeling very hydrated today.

But the one that takes the Jaffle McSnaffle Golden Biscuit is that one ingredient listed second to last: "flavours". Presumably by the time you've squeezed all that other crap into the turkey, it doesn't really taste very turkeylike. It needs a bit of a boost - an artificial boost! - to make sure it tastes like turkey. Which it probably did before someone starting messing around, injecting sugar and starch and tapioca into it.

The cranberry sauce, by the by, "only" contains 3 ingredients: water, cranberries, and sucrose, making it - strangely - the simplest major ingredient. And arguably, therefore, the most wholesome.

And that, ladies and gentlemen of the blogjury, is why I sometimes ask for a vegetarian meal on a flight. Or, more specifically - and to use the airline lingo - an ovo-lacto vegetarian meal.

On this particular flight, I wish that I had.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Wardrobe Fatigue and The Tim Tam Slam

Sydney, New South Wales.

I have packed rather sparingly for this adventure. The advantages of which are many, including a lighter bag, and a smug satisfaction. The consequences, however, include the need for more frequent laundry than might be optimal. And today, I discovered a new malaise: wardrobe fatigue.

As I have such a limited range of - dare I say it? - "outfits", I find myself simply bored of my clothing options. I have worn them all repeatedly, and now yearn for some difference, some variety, some change.

So this morning I found myself at Bondi Junction, pacing the soulless mall in search of something particular. Happily, I found the very thing: a long-sleeved linen shirt, perfect for a daywalk in the desert, only days ahead of me.

In order to celebrate, I acquired a packet of Tim Tams, which I took home and prepared a mug of coffee in order to enact the ritual of the Tim Tam Slam.

This, as anyone will tell you, involves nibbling the diagonally-opposed corners off the chocolatey-sandwich biscuits, and using them as a kind of straw to drink the attendant warm (but not hot) beverage - black coffee in my case. The biscuit quickly becomes saturated with the coffee and deliciously gooey and soft. It's a kind of faffy way of dunking, without the crumbs, and with a bit more ceremony.


Thursday, 18 October 2007

Night Noodles and Thai Pie

Here's one for the fusion food fanatics: Thai Pie.

Imagine, if you will, a yellow chicken curry - Massaman Kaeng Gai, perhaps - lovingly encased in deliciously flaky pastry and served hot. Biting through the satisfyingly home-grown pastry reveals a mouthful of spicy exotic flavours. What a combination!

This evening, I went along to the Night Noodle Market, part of the Sydney Morning Herald's Good Food Month. All week, in Hyde Park, a bunch of stalls from the many local restaurants were dispensing excellent Asianesque food to the lucky picnickers.

This was where I had the very good fortune to sample the genius of pie-fusion. Although, in truth, the concept was better than the realisation: the filling was disappointingly dry and stodgy, rather than light and piquant. But think of the possibilities! Where will it end?

And I fulfilled a lifelong ambition to eat noodles out of a box, using chopsticks. Sometimes it really is the simple things that matter.

Sydney's Opera House and Harbour Bridge

Yep, it really is as good as it looks.

I took this picture from the very edge of the Botanic Gardens, having yomped all the way 'round until the House and Bridge lined up.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

A Nearly... kind of day

An early start to skydive is met with an empty DZ; the upper winds are reported to be gusting to 48 knots (the maximum limit is 25 knots here). Consequently, all and sundry have been sent away for the day.

Despite that, it's another hot one today, a real dry heat with a heavy, hot wind. Perhaps there will be thunder later.

Blowing birthday kisses

Today is birthday day for my youngest niece Ana, as well as for my lover.

I blew kisses to both, trusting that tradewinds and time differences would bring them to the right people in good time.

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Blue Mountains Fashion Advice

It's interesting to note what passes for mountainwear amongst visitors to the Three Sisters, in the Blue Mountains National Park.

I was in stout activity sandals, shorts and a sensible yet stylish tee - although it was infrequently momentarily a touch too cold, perhaps. Others - I'm thinking of one lady in particular -wore leather knee boots, tights, a short summery dress, denim jacket and black leather gloves.

Which I found refreshing, if surprising. One could almost call that feeling surpreshing. Or refrising.

Equally surpreshing was the sight of the elderly couple, picnicing at a nearby table with enough Tupperware containers to repel a battatlion of invaders, assuming one was into Tupperware warfare. But it was the rather fetching tablecloth spread on the tabletop that particularly caught my attention. How's that for home-from-home comforts?

The Blue Mountains, by the by, are simply stunning: rainforest stretching to the horizon. And hilly mountainous rocky things. Glorious.

Three Sisters

The Three Sisters, seen from Echo Point, at Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains National Park. The vast eucalyptus forests of the BMNP visible in the background.

This is such a postcard shot, it's everywhere in Australia.

Water falling down under

Near Wentworth Falls, Blue Mountains National Park, New South Wales, Australia. Not a postal address, but why not, eh?

Simply put: beautiful.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Thunder under clear skies

Sydney, New South Wales.

Just after 1pm - at 13h03 by my timepiece - there was a large and resounding clap of thunder in the not-very-cloudy skies above the Botanic Gardens in Sydney.

Within a very few moments, the sky was clouded over with more ominous clouds.

After just ten minutes - by which time I was happily seated at the Sidewalk cafe under the Sydney Opera House, sipping coffee and eating a salad with prawns - the rain came down heavily and dramatically.

But this is a sunny land, and 'though the rain put on a brave face, and stuck it out for nearly an hour in fits and starts, well before 15h30, there was more than enough blue sky to make a sailor's uniform.

On the subject of facial hair trimming (or clipping)

Sydney, New South Wales.

I don't know if you've ever trimmed your beard with scissors, but if you have perhaps you've found it - like me - to be a little tedious but fundamentally All Right. Particularly if you have - like me - used those small, fine scissors usually reserved for nails. The sort that can often be found in a woman's vanity kit or washbag.

Today though, as I believe I have already mentioned, I am away from the McSnaffle house without access to such familiar tools. Instead, I have access to a pair of Wiltshire Kitchen Scissors.

Now, I don't know if you've ever trimmed your beard with a pair of Wiltshire Kitchen Scissors, but if you have perhaps you've found it - like me - to be simply terrifying.

Let me say at once that I suspect the terror is not limited to the Wiltshire brand - I imagine that it is similar to the task with any brand of kitchen scissors. They are, as a rule, fairly large and hefty - ideal for opening packets of bacon, or removing the skin from chicken. They're also ideal at present-wrapping time, for tackling particularly large pieces of paper. Or even, preparing olives and sundried tomatoes for a tuna-gnocchi-cream bake (a la SzB). In short, they are robust and practical tools for the kitchen and not something you would choose to be waving around near your face. Especially not near your lips, or those sensitive bits of nose around your nostrils.

So it is that I have just trimmed (or clipped) my facial tangle in the most careful, most attentive manner - the slowest, clumsiest manner ever. My beard is tattered, my skin covered with nicks and near misses, and my heart is racing.

Most of all, my appreciation for the easy genius of clippers (or trimmers) is greatly magnified.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

A Surfboard on a Bicycle

Manly Beach, Sydney.

Being carried, not ridden.

I had previously seen an odd contraption on the side of a parked bicycle, all mysterious frame and straps, and the McSnaffle Mind had boggled trying to determine its purpose.

It was only later, strolling cheerfully along Manly Beach - the sounds of the NAB Beachley Classic receeding behind me - that I saw a young woman cycling along with her surfboard attached to the side of the bicycle with what were basically enormous stretchy bungees, that the pieces fell into place.

The mind is an ingenious device, if a little hard to look at.

Life begins early in Sydney

Sydney, New South Wales.

The sun is rising around 5 or 5:30 (in the morning!) these days, and the trains and cars thunder and rumble and rush their way past the apartment from about that time.

By 6:30, work is underway on the building site next to the house, hammering and clanging of concrete reinforcements.

So by 7:00, when I am up from my repose, and dressed in a manner befitting the day, sipping coffee, the world is in swing: a constant buzz-bumm of noise in the sunshine, under blue skies.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

The Sydney Fish Market

Sydney, New South Wales.

Despite the joys of the Sydney Fish Market, which I visited this morning, I find myself chomping tiredly through a dreary salad of mozarella and tomato; none of the fishy, shellfishy delights for my lunch plate.

A Short Review of Unusual Chocolates

Unusual, that is, unless you happen to live in Australia. Or indeed any other locality where they are readily available.

So I guess that "unusual" in this context means "unusual to me". Meaning that I don't see them when I go past a confectionery establishment.

Anyway, enough of the chatter. Quiet in the back. Here we go.

Cadbury's Flake Dark

"The crumbliest Cadbury OLD GOLD dark chocolate."
Soft, sticks to the teeth. Tastes like cheap dark chocolate.

Cadbury's Flake Mint

"Crumbly Mint Flavoured Confectionery covered in Cadbury DAIRY MILK Milk Chocolate."
Chemically aggressive and not very minty. Extremely unpleasant synthetic mint flavour.

Violet Crumble

"Delicious shattering choc coated honeycomb."
Does not crumble, so much as snap. Like a fine-grained Crunchie. Tastes like cinder coffee covered in chocolate.

Kit Kat Strawberry Chocolate Flavour
"Crunchy wafer finger covered in strawberry flavour chocolate."

Intense, syrupy strawberry flavour reminiscent of ripple-type ice creams. Wafer flavour strong, too. Chocolate somewhat overpowered.

Kit Kat Cooke Dough

"Cookie dough and carmel layer over crunchy wafer finger covered in smooth milk chocolate."
Chewy caramel, some cookie dough undertones.

It's a contest between the mint flake and the Kit Kat Cookie Dough for the most wordy description. The KKCD has more words (13 words, 5 adjectives) but the MF has a shorter name and more adjectives (11 words, of which 6 are adjectives).

Flake by Cadbury, others by Nestle. All made in Australia.

Living the dream

Someone actually said "No worries" to me today.

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Monday, 8 October 2007

A Day at the Zoo

Sydney, Australia.

Ah, the zoo.

Taronga Zoo is wonderful on many counts. There is the setting - which, like most of Sydney, is bright and pleasant. Then there is the ferry ride to get there, followed by the happy joy of a cable car ride over the animal enclosures, to begin one's happy ramble down the hill and through the zoo.

And then there are the animals themselves, of course.

Animals indigenous to Australia have the most remarkable names. I spent many happy hours wandering amongst exhibits describing the brumby, the honey-dipped sugar glider, the soft-centred billarabbee. Remembering a friend's fascination with Bota's Pocket Gopher, I found myself inventing new names for the fauna, and wondering if I might ever glimpse the mysteriously beautiful, frequently-elusive Grisham's Bilge Weasel. Or the Sherbert Dib Dab.

I would scarcely have been happier if I had been able to see all of the animals so glowingly described on the informative notes. As it was, many of them were in the nocturnal section of the zoo. But I happily wandered from one dark window to the next, watching the faces of children as they imagined they spotted some big-eyed furry cute thing peeking back at them from the darkness.

Condors, by the by, are the most impressive bird I have ever seen. Their wingspan really has to be witnessed to be believed.

Spinal Tap now installing kitchens?


The heat dial on the hob here goes up to 11.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

A Pie Down Under

Sydney, New South Wales.

Harry's Cafe de Wheels deserves more mention than "pie cart". But in many ways, that is precisely what it is. And what pies they are.

I ate there - or, more specifically, thereabouts, a-fastening the nosebag in the vicinity of a railway sleeper on the nearby wharf - on my first full day in Sydney. Perusing the short, simple menu, I choose the "Tiger". Despite the Australian reputation for a straightforward approach to the Naming of Things, no massive feline was delivered to me.

Instead, and rather more sensibly in my estimation, the dish involves a meat pie - fully pastry-enclosed, please note! This is fully a True Pie! - and a full complement of accompanients.

Before one's eager eyes, the pie is lovingly placed on a serving plate, then the top is breached, and covered with a layer of mashed potato, itself subsequently covered with mushy peas. Finally, a well is made in that uppermost green layer, and gravy poured in, over and around.

The whole is then presented to the enthusiastic diner with a plastic fork and - sometimes - a smile. Eaten perched on a wooden sleeper, looking out over Finger Wharf, it is an excellent pie, spicy and rich. Mine lasted no time at all, as you might imagine.

What a splendid place this is.

Welcome to Australia, mate

Sydney, New South Wales.

In summary:
  • We're here!
  • The vegetarian food on Qantas is miserable. I spent the journey bloated and uncomfortable, unable to find necessary relief in the form of a series of farts
  • A "Tiger" pie from Harry's Cafe de Wheels does not, happily, contain any tiger. In fact, the Tiger refers to the mashed potato, mushy peas, and gravy piled on top of the meat and potato pie itself. Regular readers will be glad to know that the pie was a two-crust, True Pie. Yay!
  • By the end of the day, I have lived the Antipodean dream, barbecuing kangaroo and beefsteak on the terrace.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Boats, Birds and Bamboo

Last night's harbour cruise was faintly disappointing. Once the amusement at would-be photographers attempting to capture glowing buildings at night from the rolling deck of a moving boat - using the flashes of their cameras! - had worn off, and been replaced with that sort of smug irritation that comes from knowing better, I settled into a comfortable rhythm of unimpressedness.

Oh, I'm sure that Hong Kong is a lovely harbour, I just feel that my expectations may have been set a notch or two higher than could be met. I rather think it's more pleasant by daylight.

On the plus side, the park in the city contains gorgeous flamingoes, including a deliciously-grey stubby-winged juvenile.

Flamingoes in Hong Kong park

Baby flamingo in Hong Kong park

From the park, I could see bamboo scaffolding climbing twenty floors up a multi-storey hotel in a gleaming towerblock, contrasting modern and traditional - a contrast Hong Kong has in spades.

Beware of Electric Carts

Well, yes.

Taken in Hong Kong International Airport, on a Sony Ericsson mobile phone.

Friday, 5 October 2007

Fines, Flowers and a Funeral (but no skate-biking)

A stroll around the small part of Hong Kong in the immediate vicinity of the hotel offered the following sights:

  • Flowers being braided into huge arching hoops at streetside florists, huddled under the overhang of the mighty banking and hotel empires
  • A small funeral party pacing quietly along the street, many of their number dressed in the white of mourning.

On the MTR, Hong Kong's take on London's Tube there are a surprising number of public-spirited signs, and a great many prohibitive ones. And many of the prohibitions are helpfully indicated by signs whose diagrammatic delight was a joy to behold.

No skate-biking sign

Between the signs for the suicide prevention hotline, or those encouraging readers to report corruption or cover their germy coughs with face masks. Or even "Show you have a loving heart; give up your seat to anyone who needs it." Between all of these are the fine notices and admonishments:

  • No spitting
  • No smoking (fine $1500)
  • No skate-biking (glorious!)
  • No eating or drinking in paid areas.

Even the bins are signed - a $1500 fine for putting anything other than cigarettes in the ashtray. Or for placing ones non-recyclable rubbish in a recycling container - or vice versa.

The MTR, by the way, doesn't really bear comparison with the Tube; it's far more designed than the gloriously organic sprawl of the Tube. It's also a great deal cleaner, more air-conditioned, more helpfully bi-lingual in signs and announcements and advice. And just a tiny bit soulless as a result.

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Pork, Peak, Parasol

Hong Kong.

After a troubled (meaning restless-lack-of-sleep, rather than dark-night-of-the-soul) night and a heavy breakfast, courtesy of the multi-continent buffet breakfast at the hotel (of which, more later), I found myself strolling without aim along the King's Road.

(This profusion of familiar names is of great amusement to me. Here I am - here we all are, indeed - 6000 miles from home, in a different country, where they speak a different language and everything, and the roads have got the same names. Brilliant!)

Along the way, I passed a great many shops and market stalls selling all variety of every day items, many of which I regarded with a tourist's fascination and easy disdain. One particularly interesting one - a butcher - had a range of pork cuts displayed on hooks about the stall, while the men worked at reducing the larger pieces of once-pig to their more culinarily-practical component parts.

Hanging on one of the hooks, the complete pluck including the identifiable liver, kidneys, lights and even intestine.

Meanwhile, shoppers were poking and prodding away as they made their choice, and although I did not myself investigate in similarly haptic fashion, my impression was of that sort of jellied consistency that comes of particularly fresh meat.


Thence, by circuitous routes, to Victoria Peak, by foot and tram, and many long minutes of hot queuing in the humidity of the late morning.

The view from the Peak would have been breath-taking had it not been for the haze of smog drifting into the basin of the city. Luckily, the short climb was sufficiently steep to rob some of the party of their breath in any event.

And so to parasols; the simple and expedient solution to the problem of shielding oneself from the powerful and intimidating glare of the sun. There are a huge number here, carried by members of most of the generations, from the teen-a-like to the aged.

This culture presents many contrasts to the one with which I am most familiar. But for some reason, it's the parasols that really bring home the fact that I'm in a foreign country.

Signs in Hong Kong

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

Some of our floors are missing

Hong Kong.

The highest floor of the Harbour Plaza North Point hotel is number 32, and there are 419 steps to it from the 2nd floor. There are only 275 steps to my floor, which is given the numeral identifier "25".

But here's the thing. Although my floor might be called 25, it is not the 25th floor; there are not 24 floors below mine. There is no 4th, 13th, 14th or 24th floor. Well I suppose there are, if you count them properly. But there are no floors assigned those numbers. The numbering scheme - and indeed the lift system - simply strolls on, whistling innocently, pretending not to have noticed.

But we uncommon minds need to know what's happened to them! Were they skillfully omitted by cunning builders cutting corners? Were they spirited away by implacable aliens in the deep of the night? Or is it merely a collision of superstitions from disparate belief systems? We may never know.

There is a floor called B1, though, and one called M, which is situated between floors 3 and 5, as well as - and this is the really clever bit - between floors 5 and 3. It doesn't have a button in any of the lifts, though, and I tried looking on the floor in case it had fallen off, but couldn't see one anywhere. The only way I could find to reach it was using the staircases. Staircase 4 was my preference, but I also used staircases 3 and 5 (I didn't find staircases 1 and 2, and don't even get me started on that).

M for mystery, eh?

Oh, and the floor called 22, which is a smoking floor, really does reek of cigarette smoke.

Vegetarians eat spinach for breakfast

Hong Kong.

A strange kind of day, culinarily speaking.

The vegetarian breakfast served on board the British Airways flight this morning comprised a scrambled egg lump with a texture not dissimilar to expanded polystyrene - and marginally less flavour. It was accompanied by two things that may once have been hash browns, one tomato, and - insert your own drum roll - a green pile of spinach. As unsurprised as I was by the former, I was significantly more surprised by the latter. I've never had the pleasure of spinach for breakfast before. Quite strange.

But rather pleasant. If this is what vegetarians habitually have for breakfast, I'll definitely be considering signing up.

By stark contrast, this evening - in the spirit of culinary adventure - I ordered marinated duck's tongues, thinking they might provide an amusing and tasty morsel or two, as well as the opportunity to upset or terrify my dinner companions. Having never had them before, I fancied I might receive perhaps three or four tongues, richly brown and cheerfully flavoured with soy sauce or some other dark, possibly sticky, sauce.

What arrived at the table some moments later was a huge mound of greyish slugs that I at first mistook for someone else's dinner. Indeed, I was already chuckling at their poor choice, when the waiter's words, and a glimmer of recognition told me that this was in fact my own dish.

I stared at the huge mound of tongues, each as long and thick as my little finger, and resembling nothing more than a sickly slug. My witty observation died on my lips. There must have been fully two score of the things, maybe more. I couldn't actually focus well enough to count them all.
But my dinner companions were watching - staring, actually. And if I was to terrify them as I had planned, I had better get on with the deed. I seized my chopsticks, selected one of the choicest-looking morsels from the top of the pile, and popped it into my mouth.

From the first taste I knew that I would not finish the dish. The marinade was, alas, not to my taste, with an unidentifiable flavour - perhaps the very flavour of duck tongue - that set my teeth on edge and my gorge rising. Gamely I chewed thoughtfully, trying to make a meal out of something I very much wanted to spit straight onto the floor.

The texture was equally - or quite possibly, even more - vile. There was a gristly kind of chewy sponginess to it, and I seem to recall something popping under my teeth with a quiet noise that made me think - without basis - of tendons or ligaments or something unplesantly fleshy.

With an effort, I swallowed, wiped a tear from the corner of my eye, and forced a weak smile.

"Delicious." I declared with what I hoped was a confident, insouciant air. I pushed the dish towards someone - anyone, the main attempt being to remove it from my eating zone. "Try some!"

For the record, only one of my companions took me up on the offer. And found the experience to be remarkably similar to my own.

Honestly, if that's what ducks are tasting all the time, it's no wonder they're quacking all the bloody time.

Happily, the dumplings with pork and hairy crab were delicious - unctuous and flavoursome.

And the snake with asparagus was very pleasant - light and pleasingly textured with a flavour that was not overpowering. It was, I can report with some confidence, reminiscent of chicken.

When there is a fire

Hong Kong.

There's a charming kind of fatalism exhibited at the Harbour Plaza North Point, where the signs on the lifts declare

"When there is a fire, do not use the lift."

Surely that should be "if".

Monday, 1 October 2007

A new home for an old friend

Fiona Robyn's Creative Living blog has a new name and a new home.

It's now called Love the Questions, and lives at It's still written by Fiona, and is still full of the same good stuff.

I've updated the link in my blog list (on the right).