Sunday, June 24, 2007

Perth Part 3: These are some of my favourite things....

We couldn't leave Albany without seeing any of the tourist attractions. The night before we took a quick tour up to Mount Clarence for a nice look out into the harbour.

Albany has the reputation of being a thriving whaling port and it features some of Australia's most rugged and spectacular scenery.

The next morning we met up with Anne and David again and went south to see The Gap and the Natural Bridge, rugged natural rock formations surrounded by pounding seas.

Unfortunately time was not on our side and we promised we'd be back another time to do Albany and area justice. There was just so much to see and do, from camping to hiking to whale watching to beach activities, no wonder Albany was named the best city to live in in Australia!

We had time for one last stop before heading back to Perth. And that was seeing some kangaroos!

After passing 7 dead ones on the side of the road throughout the week, it was a treat to see about a dozen of them alive and hopping.

There were ducks and an emu too, although he looked like he had had enough of being cooped in and was pacing the length of the fence looking for an escape.

Driving back to Perth on Highway 95, we stopped in Kojonup for a hot lunch and a look around the Kodja Gallery, a well-maintained hands-on museum about their local culture and history.

Arriving back home in Perth, we had just enough time to wash our faces and grab some slippers before we were out the door again to attend the birthday gathering of Michal, one of my old colleagues at English First in Urumqi! As usual, he and his sweet wife, Kamila, greeted us with warm hugs and yummy treats.

They met in Perth years ago and after a stint in northwest China, a marriage back in their native Czech Republic, they are back in Perth with Michal studying for his Masters in Accounting and Kamila working. There are some people who are just genuinely sweet and sincere in this world, so kind and generous to everyone they meet. Michal and Kamila are shining examples of these people.

It was a great night with old and new friends, and Aunty B even remarked at one point "Isn't it unbelievable that so many people from so many places around the world - Czech Republic, Ireland, England, Jersey, Canada - were all gathered in Perth!" To cap it all off, we were treated to a live guitar performance of Czech folk songs!

And so with heavy hearts, the next morning we made our way back to Perth International Airport. A short visit perhaps, but one with memories for a lifetime. As i sit here several weeks later thinking about our time in Western Australia, it becomes clear to me that the places we saw will always be there: the Kerri trees, the beautiful coastline and even the kangaroos. But what is irreplaceable are the people we've (re)connected with and the dozens of stories we heard along our journey, mostly of Aunty B and her sister's (Matt's Granny) life. These are the stories and tales passed on that makes 'family' live on, if only in words, and that is worth more than all the golden syrup dumplings in the world.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Perth Part 2: The trees, oh the beautiful trees!

What's a road trip without a well-planned itinerary? Well, our fantastic guide had everything mapped out for us, including estimated times of arrival and coffee breaks!

With a picnic lunch and hot drinks packed, we set out Thursday morning for our road trip heading south towards Pemberton, passing through Armadale, Pinjarra and Bunbury. The roads seem to stretch on as far as one can see and the rolling hills, farmlands and forests reminded me a lot of Canada.

We stopped in Bridgetown and found a perfect picnic place. See pic of Aunty B and Matt texting Anne, ah the high tech pair!

After a good frisbee throw-around in the park, we took a look into the fantastic jigsaw museum and then carried on, stopping at a local fruit market for fresh rhubarb and apples.

We arrived in Pemberton just before sunset and after settling into our cozy Treenbrook Cottages (see pic of the vineyards taken from the step of our cottage) we went back into town in search for the local speciality for dinner: trout.

We settled on Cafe Mezz, the restaurant attached to the Pemberton Motel, and we were not disappointed. We each polished off a full-size trout, potatoes and side salad - and I was the lucky one who got 3 fish heads for the price of 1!

Not only was the food delicious, the restaurant was tastefully decorated and had quite a homey feeling to it. My favourite bit was the big tree pillar in the middle of the room, painted and sculpted to look like a woman holding up the roof. Gorgeous!

That night we played a few rounds of CHEAT around the woodfire while enjoying some red Auzzie wine and Timtams (addictive chocolate biscuits). After a soothing bubble bath, it was off to bed.

The next morning after a cooked brekkie, we set off to conquer the

Gloucester Tree, named after the Duke of Gloucester who visited in 1946 and wanted to build a lookout cabin. At 61 metres high, you basically have to climb these spikes (153 to be exact!) which have been drilled into the tree that wind its way above the tree top. See pic of Matt on his way up.

Just as i was wondering how much further i had to climb before my fingers froze from the cold and wind, I made it - and was awarded with a magnificent view of the entire valley. See pic.

We carried on towards the Karri Forest Explorer Drive. The Karri tree has a long, straight trunk with smooth bark that is shed each year.

It was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. Imagine: immensely tall and straight trees which can grow to 90m high, making them some of the tallest in the world, and just driving alongside them for miles, no one else in sight. Very peaceful. What makes this drive even more special is that at designated stops along the way, you can tune into 100FM and listen to the commentary about that particular area of the forest. What a terrific idea!

But we had to press on. Our next stop was at the famous

Tree Top Walk in Walpole. A 600-m long ramp rises from the floor of the valley, allowing you to get above the tree canopy. The highest point is at 40m and the views across the horizon and down below are just stunning, if not a bit frightening.

Not a moment too soon, it started to down pour just as we were leaving. We drove into Albany and into the warm home of Anne (Aunty B's daughter) and David's.

We had a wonderful roast dinner with them and their boys, Jake and Darcy (see pic). They showed us their pet rat and their 'war toys', they told us stories about school plays and their 'most annoying friends', they gave us the gory details of what it's like working in an abattoir and how it's the cold early mornings which is the worst bit of all. What terrific energy teenagers have!

After rhubarb crumble, vanilla ice cream and golden syrup dumplings (absolutely divine!!!!), Dave proudly showed us pictures of his tractors and his magazines while Anne showed us her photos of her classroom and kids. In short, a great night of getting to know more of our extended family in Western Australia!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Touchdown in Perth!

After a little scare of purchasing instant Australian visas at the airport where mine got rejected (long story, so won't elaborate any further), we managed to get onboard our overnight flight to Perth.

9 hours later, we staggered into the bright Auzzie morning sunshine. Waiting at the gate was Aunty B, wearing the biggest smile imagineable! We returned to her cozy home and had breakfast while catching up over the past few months. SO much to say!

A little blurb on Aunty B's home sweet home. While "everything has its place", one can't stop but admire every piece of furniture, ornament and painting. Each item has a story behind it, which makes it that much more interesting and meaningful when you are sitting in a certain chair, gazing into an oil painting or drinking coffee out of a certain mug. Oh, and let's not forget the beautiful well-kept garden with pond+goldfish in the back! I've always been a true believer in surrounding oneself with your memories, experiences and loved ones. And Aunty B's home is just that, striking a balance between the past, present - and future. She's got a top of the line laptop and wireless speaker phone. Plus, I believe her next purchase is a camera cell phone!

After a bit of a rest, where Matt literally fell asleep sitting upright, we spent the day wandering around

Kings Park (see mother & child monument in fountain), enjoying a packed lunch by the side of the Swan River, and walked through some of the most well-kept public gardens I've ever been to (see pic of Kangaroo Paw flower)!

The next day we went to Freo (Fremantle), where after parking the car, we hopped on one of the city's free buses which took us further into the town centre. If only all municipal towns offered this service to its citizens!

After spending a while browsing in an outdoor shop for an extra layer to ward off the chilly Auzzie 'winter', we had a delicious fish 'n chips lunch at the harbour, yummy! Witness Matt trying to steal my food again, but this time caught on camera!

Intending to visit the Maritime Museum next, we got sidetracked by these cute little motorized car/buggy that were for hire and without much debate, decided that was the better of the two options.

It was rather cramped in there but definitely a great way to get around and feel the wind blowing in the hair!

That night, we met up with Kerrie, Ben, Mitch and Stevie for a home-cooked dinner. They welcomed us with open arms into their home, and it was nice to hear about all their diverse interests, be it rugby, football, soccer, and even violin!

Back home, with full bellies and an electric blanket (!), we drifted off to sleep.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Hoinoi's in town!

When Hoining and I met up, we did what most Hong Kong people do on a day out: eat and shop.

Here are some pics of her munching her way through the day.

Homemade scones and fruit at home, curry shrimp balls at 7-11, hot noodle soup in Stanley Market, peach pie at Deli France, pasta and risotto at Life Cafe... and a traditional dimsum brunch with all the fixings a few days later.

It was so good to see a familiar face from back home. We caught up, reminisced and gossipped about everyone we knew. Thanks for a good time Hoinoi, love ya.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Just keep going south

After an intense Sunday of going to open houses, having our heads stuffed with property investment terminology, and obtaining a crash course on Cape Town's real estate, we decided to drive down to Muizenburg, a seaside town about 30 km south of Cape town.

We had heard good things about that area and we thought perhaps we might find our dream home there.

How wrong we were! After a disappointing look around Muizenburg (a bit too run-down), we continued on south to Simon's Town, famous for their marine academy and home to the South African penguins!

I have never been so close to these creatures, and here they were, waddling around as if we didn't exist!

See pic of two baby penguins curled up to each other.

The grey fur they are born with is shed as they age to reveal their hallmark stunning black coat.

We kept going south and finally came to The Cape of Good Hope.

No words can describe how awesome the power of the wind and waves are here.

One has just got to experience it for themselves.

On another night, we went for dinner at Moyo at Spier Vineyard, about a 45 minute drive out of Cape Town.

Geared towards the tourist, there was an incredible selection of food: kudu, springbok, ostrich, pap, and of course the usual 'familiar foods'. Oh, and the dessert table - to die for!

In between getting up and filling our plates again, there were dancers and drummers performing in the centre of the tent. See pic of performer.

A fantastic evening out!

Looking back at our week in Cape Town, I was surprised, although i don't know why, at how super friendly everyone was. Genuinely so.

We went not knowing a soul, only friends of friends.. of friends. But every day we had at least 2 or 3 appointments to meet someone, and our network grew exponentially just from spending a bit of time there.

Meals are events not to be rushed, as we've learned.

Meeting for dinner means a few cocktails first, lasting about 2 hours, and then you slowly move on to the meal itself which can be another couple of hours.

By the end of the night, it's as if you've known each other for ages! I guess i'm so used to the rushed Hong Kong lifestyle, where eating on the go is so normal, that it took me by great surprise at how 'slow' it all seemed.

But no, it's so much nicer when eating and drinking is enjoyed and where people don't rush conversation. How very "civilized" indeed!

Friday, June 08, 2007

exploring and discovering - by car

People drive everywhere here.

The one thing i missed all week was the freedom to step outside and walk anywhere.

Here, one must take into account the safety issue, the impracticality of walking several kilometres just to get to the nearest ATM.

It is very nice, if not a bit strange, to be so completely dependent on a car again.

Despite having just bought a top of the line GPS car system in Hong Kong with the hopes of making navigation easier in South Africa, we found out upon arrival that the component is only compatible with the China maps!

How typically Chinese, to only allow customers to use it in China, where every other unit is universal.

And so, many hours were wasted phoning the Garmin offices in Johanessburg, London, the States, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

In the end, it never worked and we'll have to return it.

That said, we got to know Cape Town's streets fairly well, and going back will be that much easier since we had to depend on the old-fashioned method of navigating with maps and atlas.

While Matt was at his Energy Summit conference, I took a day trip up to the West Coast National Park.

While I was enjoying the peacefulness of the Park and the barren landscape, the next thing i know I almost run right into an ostrich standing in the middle of the road!!

I've never seen an ostrich this close up before, much less practically run one down!

For the rest of the day, I found them a common sight and found great amusement in their behaviour and character.

Today, Matt and I joined a township tour of Langa.

It was a great experience to see how many Capetonians live.

At first we were apprehensive about going on a tour of a poor neighbourhood, afraid that it would be zoo-like.

However, I was pleasantly surprised.

Our tour guide was actually from Langa himself and offered enormous insight into the political and economic situation of "the problem".

We visited several community initiatives whereby locals could get trained in a skill (ie. gardening, pottery, computers) and have a better chance at finding a job.

See pic of a yet-to-be-glazed 2010 World Cup beer mug!

Sunday, June 03, 2007

A glimpse into the crystal ball... and it looks fantastic!

Landing in our home-to-be for the first time was exhilerating. Coming in, the pilot did a grand sweep of the city, showing off famous Table Mountain and the stunning City Bowl. Also, one could not help but notice the many impoverished areas which seem to infest the gated communities of mansions and estate homes - or is it the other way round? Called townships or settlements, these small wooden and tin shacks seem to stretch on for miles into the distance. The incomprehensible inequality is even more acute on the ground, as i was about to find out.

The first day was a beautiful sunny one, and we were told to take advantage of any good day and do the outdoors stuff cause you never know when the weather might turn again, so we rushed up to Signal Hill and were rewarded with sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean and Table Mountain (see pic).

But yes, the weather is unpredictable; we were treated to a little bit of fog, wind, cloud, rain and sun every day. A typical winter day in Cape Town perhaps? Not so, says everyone we met. Apparently this week was the worst it has ever been. I was just glad to be somewhere with fresh air. If this was bad, i can't wait till summer!

We stayed at the Liberty Lodge B&B, a cute place with a friendly British woman running the show. Since winter is low tourist season, we were the only guests there besides a few businessmen. Having met Ruth, the owner, and Lisa and Nita (the housekeepers who also made a scrumptious cooked breakfast), our introduction to Cape Town was already off to a good start.