Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Preparing To Live Below The Line

1.4 billion people around the world live below the poverty line, every day.

I have signed up to Live Below The Line next week, meaning a budget of just $2 per day on food, for 5 days, to experience the experience of those around the world stuck in such a poverty trap. A glimpse into the difficulties of getting through the day and week with meticulous planning to ensure you don’t run out of food, and also manage to feed yourself enough to get through everyday tasks!

I have been inspired by Kelly-Louise to join her on this challenge. She always has a project on the go, many of which are part of the Eat So They Can campaign, and her work in Africa. I have joined her team, and so our funds raised go to the GVN International. This fund will help support education, mentoring and scholarships for youth to work on their leadership skills.

Lots of people have commented when I have told them that I am doing the challenge that I am just returning to the experience of uni days. But being broke whilst at university is not the same as experiencing actual extreme poverty. Going to uni implies that you have hope of a better day, when you have finished. You also have people around you that you can turn to for a loan, or for assistance, be it fellow students or the university student support services. Actual pervasive poverty is a cycle that people rarely find a way out of, nor the hope and strength to do so. Without a helping hand from those more fortunate, there are not many paths out of such a dire situation, with ensuing health and housing concurrent issues compounding an already stressful mode of living.

I certainly ran out of money at the end of most months when I was living and working in London, but that was a lifestyle choice. I was paid monthly, and promptly planned at least one, maybe two, weekends away to explore a new European city. The end of the month was very, very lean, and I employed all sorts of strategies to get me through to the next payday. But again, this experience was rewarded with those amazing trips – not something someone living below the poverty line has to look forward to.

I appreciate how lucky I am, with my ability to earn, to fall into casual employment, to have collected my education, and to have managed to travel so extensively. I don’t know if I fully appreciate how hard living on around $2 per day is. That insight is something that this challenge can give me – even if it is just for 5 days.

I am just going to follow one of the menu plans from the Australian Live Below The Line website, which actually looks ok. I did ponder whether it is actually better than my average meal-for-one week if I don’t have any social plans…hmmm. I think the hardest thing for me, really, will be that coffee won’t fit within my $10 budget for the week. Even though coffee and tea is provided at my current workplace, within the rules of the challenge any such consumption still needs to be accounted for within the budget – and so that just won’t fit. I cannot imagine working without coffee in my system, and I already feel sorry for the work colleagues who sit with me in my pod! I am also working at a workplace that has impromptu morning teas for all sorts of fun reasons, so this will also be a challenge to resist during next week! Oh, and no buying treats on the way home from work, like I did tonight!

So I have set myself this challenge – I hope I don’t lapse and cheat! Please donate to my page, so that I am not tempted by that coffee at work, and I feel a sense of obligation to maintain the strict menu plan for the week!

I plan to drop some progress notes over on my LBTL page, as well as Instagramming some of my meals along the way, to show you what this challenge means on a day to day, meal to meal basis. I will also give you an update here about how I am going with it! Wish me luck!

(Image credits - Stoffers Group and Halogen)

Monday, April 29, 2013

Cricket In Chennai

After travelling around for the rest of Burma, then Kathmandu, on my own, and getting the first culture shock that is India in Kolkata, I was so happy to get to Chennai and the safe comforts of the Waving The Flag group - I was able to relax and enjoy a place, and the cricket, for a week, after all that independent travel!

Catching up with Luke, and a couple of other familiar faces, it was also awesome to be meeting new faces to the group, and then figuring out Chennai together. The pre-tour Night Zero dinner on the rooftop of our hotel was the start of travelling with some awesome people for the week, and some for the rest of the 5 week trip around India.

A tuk tuk ride to the ground was the order of the morning, after the buffet breakfast. A short ride along the beach road, to get to the MA Chidambaram Stadium. Our first encounter of the tenacious Indian cricket security, I actually took a near empty bag into the ground, to avoid having anything confiscated.

After being patted down in the Ladies curtained off tent, I was permitted to enter on my 5 day ticket. The stand was pretty good, and the food sold at the stand on our level was amazing - samosas were sensational!

Day 1 saw the Aussies bat and get off to a good start, then a few top order stumbles, before Michael Clarke got to the crease. Then we witnessed our captain bat like we know, and trust, that he can.

All class, he reached his century before the end of the day, and raised his bat to the dressing room, and then to us, the very visable, colourful group of Australian supporters in the ground.

That night was one of delight, after such a great day, I got back and had a swim in the pool at the end of the day, to wash away the heat, and grit, before some beers at the bar, and a group of us finding a spot down the road for dinner.

The next day was equally a great day of cricket, with the battle on field going our way. The mind games was a highlight, with the crowd's attention being on Sachin Tendulkar for much of the day - and then Clarkie swinging their cheers towards himself by waving to them, and then dancing for them! He and Warner ended up dancing to requests from the texted in messages on the scoreboard, and totally won the day, and the hearts of the home crowd!

Looking back, these were the best days of the tour for the Aussies!

Watching cricket in India has been one of those things in travel and as a cricket fan I have always wanted to do, to take in the crowd madness we usually watch on tv from back home. But being there to hear and see it was something else!

The noise as Sachin got near the ball, turned to face the crowd, was ear piercing. But then the electricity generated by the fans when he came out to bat was goose-bump tingling! Like nothing I have ever experienced! Wow!

Here in Chennai, we also first encountered India's Number 1 Fan, or the lad covered in house paint. He was pretty impressive, with his conch shell, massive Indian flag, and his timing in getting the crowd revved up. All part of the Indian cricket experience!

Day 3 saw the Indian batsmen pile on the runs, without mercy, and swing the game back into their hands. A long, hot day for us, and all too often we got a whiff of the sewage creek laying directly behind the stand, and wondered if the smell was that or the Aussie's inability to contain the runs! (Ohh, pun unintended! Ha!)

The Aussies capitulated on Day 4, with a whimper, ending the day at 9 for 232. The Indians won the match with authority, before Lunch on Day 5.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Project 52: Sunday Afternoon

A fortnight ago Sunday afternoon saw me heading to the MCG for the Hawthorn verses Collingwood match. Not a home game for the Hawks, we had to get reserved seats, and so we were not located in our usual seats or stand. A big game really even though it was just Round 3, I was a little nervous about the outcome walking in.

But no need, the boys in Brown and Yellow had a great game, with a ridiculous hurdle and goal from Buddy from the centre square, that had us all jumping to our feet with glee! Ha!

A win always makes a great afternoon!

This post is part of Project 52 with Jess from FuShMuSh.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Mother Teresa's Motherhouse

After walking all over central Kolkata, one of the places I did not want to miss was the Motherhouse, not far from there. Open at specific times to the public, because it is an active convent and a place of prayer and the home of the Sisters of the Missionaries of Charity, (it is not open on Thursdays, nor from noon til 3pm, and some holy days) I timed my trip to the address accordingly.

Jumping out of the taxi, I was greeted with a fairly nondescript building, with the entrance down an alleyway. There was a hopeful beggar eager to show me the clearly marked door, and ask for a tip....ahhh, India!

The Motherhouse actually warns you about the opportunists out the front, and have a sign advising that usually they ask that you take your shoes off to visit the House, but there have been thefts so they now urge you to keep them on.

The Motherhouse is a place of silence, so walking through the entrance and the courtyard in the middle is a reverent experience. Here, you can take in the several floors above where nuns are working, teaching, praying. You can also climb the stairs to peek into Mother Teresa's room, where she worked, slept, and died in 1997. Simple

There are two main features of the visit from the courtyard, one being the Museum, which chronicles Mother Teresa's life in pictures. The photos start with her childhood in Skopje with her parents, and then when she went off to join the Loreto Sisters when she was 18. As a Loreto girl myself, it was awe inspiring to see her in her familiar blue uniform, looking so young and bright-eyed...and remembering what an impact that girl made on the world in her life.

The Museum continues the story from Ireland to India, and her work setting up her missionary to help the poor of Kolkata. Forming a new religious order to help the "poorest of the poor", and the amazing journey that that was.

The other feature is the room that now houses Mother Teresa's tomb. A place of remembrance, reflection, meditation and prayer for many.

This was a really amazing visit, so inspirational about what one woman can do for the world.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Footy And Social Change

It's been twenty years last week since this image of Nicky Winmar lifting his guernsey and showing the colour of his skin in response to supporters over the fence vilifying him due to his race happened on a footy field in Victoria. This show of pride in who he is, and where he comes from is an iconic vision of our game today, and was immortalized in this piece of street art in an alley off Franklin Street in Melbourne’s CDB, spotted in Grand Final week last year.

Aussie Rules Footy and footy fans have come a long way since that day. There are more and more initiatives recognising and respecting our Indigenous players, and there are more Indigenous players given the opportunity to follow their dream of playing on the big stage. Events like the Indigenous Round, and the Dreamtime game would have been unthinkable back when Winmar was the target of such revolting abuse.

Footy, like mainstream culture, is by no means at a point of perfect acceptance for people of different cultures, nor towards our Indigenous brothers and sisters. But the leveling experience of sport has helped the ongoing struggle to get us closer.

On the weekend just gone, the first player from a refugee background played his first game in the AFL. Majak Daw is also the first Sudanese player in the AFL, and his addition to the North Melbourne team on Sunday created such a buzz in the media and at Etihad Stadium. The optimist in me hopes that this match, all 15 minutes that Daw managed before he was knocked out (after an amazing mark and a goal with his first kick, all in the opening minute), will be the start of a significant journey for Australia and it's acceptance of people from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds.

From little things, big things grow...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Miss Chu

When my sister directed me to meet her and the other sibs at Miss Chu's last week, I was pretty excited to discover a new foodie spot to me in Melbourne. I spent way too much of the afternoon before our dinner drooling over the menu on the website, and also reading up on the amazing story behind the girl behind the Tuckshop.

The feature wall, running down the side of the inside restaurant space, displays Miss Chu’s arrival papers to Australia from Laos, with pictures of her parents, and her sibling and herself as a child. A reminder of where these recipes have come from, and the difficulties it has taken to get here, to a tiny food spot in Russell Street in Melbourne (and also in Sydney).

Half of our party arrived early, and given that it is a first in seating policy, we perched on a smaller table in the front outside alcove and waited for the rest of our group. This meant we could take in the cute d├ęcor, such as the shuttlecock string lights hanging from the roof, and a range of tea pots hanging above the bar and along the window. We could also peek at the dishes being served at the tables around us, and then smells made our tummies rumble!

Once we were seated with our full group of four, which took no time at all even though the room was bustling, we each perused the tick-the-box menu for ordering, and made our selections of share dishes.

Peking Duck Pancakes, and Satay Chicken and Cucumber Fresh Rice Paper Rolls were amazing, and the Prawn and Crab Net Spring Rolls were light and the perfect morsel of taste. The Lemongrass Beef Vermicelli Salad was melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness, but the Shanghai Pork Dumplings were the dish that was the winner of our selections.

All served with our choice of Green Tea, we all wanted to taste more of the options but were more than satisfied with our spread. This is definitely a find that I will be returning to! In fact. the arrival of the food t the table was so distracting, I didn't take any photos - foodie blogger wanna be fail! - so I will have to go back pretty soon!

I have been thinking about those dumplings ever since! Yum!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Kolkata By Foot

Whilst there is so very much to see in Kolkata, I managed to cover most of the central sights on foot on my very first full day in India. My favourite way to explore a city is to wander, semi-lost but with a guidebook or map to get me out of trouble if needed.

This walk also let me get a feel for the city and this new country, hear the traffic, breath in the dust and grit, and the smells - good and bad. The street food, and the public urination. It was all there!

I started at the majestic Victoria Memorial.  A monument to Queen Victoria during British India times, although it took 20 years to complete the vision. The inside was actually a bit blah, with walls and walls of photos with little timeline explanation. But the building itself is stunning, the inside chamber, and the gardens were impressive.

From the gardens I followed the sight of the steeple of St Paul's Cathedral, which could have been found in any countryside of the UK. I followed the main road here, along The Maiden. I walked some kids playing cricket in the park under the towering Sahid Minar, before walking past Eden Gardens, where International cricket is played in this city.

From here I spotted, and was drawn to, the gorgeous Metropolitan Building, with it's gold domes and white pillars, windows and arches. A building that used to be Asia's biggest department store.

Losing my way a little trying to find the location of the BBD Bagh, I took in the streets around central Kolkata as workers were out on the street getting something to eat at the end of their work day, or rushing from one place to another. I actually wasn't sure what I was looking for, even though I was consulting the map, until someone assured me it was just up on the next block.

Finding the Lal Dighi, or the Red Pool, I realised that what I was looking for was the collection of grand buildings lining this water.

The Post Office, to the left, reflected into the pool in such a magical way. The water is not red, and there are a few theories about why it has that name, one of them supposing that the old fort on one side of the pool reflected it's red colour into the water.

To each side of this building was another equally impressive one, the central businesses and the seat of power for the Indian state of Bengal.

The Writer's Building spans the North of the pool, and is now the secretariat of the state government of West Bengal - but it used to be for the writers of the British East India Company.

Statues along this great building celebrate areas of Justice, Science, Commerce and Agriculture, with the Greek god or goddess of these studies flanked with the statues of an Indian and a European notable person in each field.

A walking tour of the central grand buildings of the city that used to be referred to Calcutta. It's almost hard to imagine the living experience of the poverty, population mass, and intensity of India looking back at this collection of photos!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Project 52: Sunday Lunchtime

Two Sundays ago I was in Perth for the footy. At lunchtime I was actually sitting at the pub with Jess and Laura, but I totally forgot to take a photo. I didn't have lunch but rather a few ciders, to nurse the hangover from the night before, so I grabbed a photo instead once we got to the ground to watch Hawthorn beat the West Coast Eagles at Patterson Stadium. We baked in the sun, with it screaming into our eyes, as the Hawk lads ran the show on the ground. What a great win, and a great weekend!

This post is part of Project 52 with Jess from FuShMuSh.

Friday, April 19, 2013

City Of Bhaktapur

On the way back to Kathmandu from Nagarkot, my driver suggested I stop and explore the city of Bhaktapur - a former ruler of Nepal. A well preserved ancient city, where village life is alive and well, and busy!

Weaving my way into the cobbled streets, and laneways, I reached the Dattatraya Square first, which is actually the oldest part of the city. Famous for the Peacock Window and the wood carvings on the buildings, the Temple imposingly stands to one end.

I had lunch in this square, before continuing on my way through the little streets.

Eventually I found Durbar Square. Here, the temples are the stand outs dotted around it, with the Royal Palace accessed through the Golden Gate, which is actually made of brass!

Some people watching in this vast space was in order, as groups of tourists were shown about, amid locals crossing the square to go about their day, or head to temple for prayer.

Following the signs, I found the next square on the trial through the city, to the Pottery Square. Earthen pots are laid out to soak in the heat of the sun, and also for sale, in this space by the local potters.

Makes for a unique sight, with rows and rows of different shapes and sizes of pots covering the ground, made from different coloured clay. This area was a hive of activity.

Taumadhi Square was the next open space I found among the paths between buildings, and stood in awe of the multi-roof temples. The Nyatapola Temple features five pairs of temple guardians sitting along the stairs to the entrance, being the Malla warriors, elephants, lions, griffins and then the two goddesses of Baghini and Singhini - all protecting the path to Siddhi Lakshmi inside. Each pair is said to be 10 times stronger than the one below on the ascent, and the temple itself stands as the tallest pagoda in Nepal.

Trying to find my way out of the city, to the right path to lead me back to my driver, proved to be the hardest part of the day, with so many turns and laneways looking the same. I started to bemoan my rejection of a persistent guide at the start of my visit to the city as I began to wonder if I would ever find my way out! Determination and the help of a few locals and some broken English and gesturing finally got me to the right spot, before any serious panic set in! I think my driver was more worried than I was!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Views Of The Himalayas

Sitting in a bar in Siem Reap, I was recommended a spot in Nepal, "just 40 minutes drive from Kathmandu", where I could get an amazing view of the Himalayas by a young Aussie girl who could not stop raving about the country. She has spent some time there, and scribbled the name of the place on a scrap of paper for me. She said if I didn't have time for a trek, then this would be the next best thing. She was bang on!

So the drive to Nagarkot took an hour to reach the top of the smaller mountain among the bigger, whitecapped mountains, but that was the only bit my fellow traveller was wrong about.

The view was breathtaking!

I'll admit that whilst my driver was working on the climb up the 2000 meters above sea level, I was skeptical that I would get to see the mountains from here. There was smog at first, and then clouds.

Then I caught a glimpse of the magical view of the snow peaks.

My driver took me to the lookout near The Tea House, where I gazed. Then I walked down to The Tea House and had a pot of tea to soak in the view. And the clear, fresh air.

Imagine if this view was your backyard - wow! For the village on the mountain in front of where the decking was at The Tea House, it's theirs!

As my time up there was reaching midday, the cloud blanket that was covering the valley below started to rise and hide away the best bits of the Himalayas, and so it was time to head back to Kathmandu for me.

On a clear day, or in the early morning, you can reportedly see from Annapurna to the left all the way to Everest on the right. Wow! I recommended staying up here overnight to my travelling buddies, and they confirmed the Everest sighting at sunrise. What a treat!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Have The Chat

Did you know that here in Australia the tick box on your driver's licence that you wish to be an organ donor should the question be asked, no longer matters? It is ultimately your family who decide when it comes down to it, and if they are unaware of your wishes, then there is a high chance that your valuable organs could go to waste.

This situation resulted in just 354 donors in 2012 in Australia. Although this in turn changed the lives of 1052 people who received the gift of life from these donors. But 354 is a tiny, tiny figure when you think of the population of Australia and the potential donors who could have helped people on the wait list!

Donate Life and the Film Life Project are working on raising awareness of this life saving issue, and the need for every Australian to Have The Chat with their family about their wishes in case the need ever arose. I went along to the short film screening on Saturday night with Carly and Camille, who is a very recent donor recipient herself. The Melbourne gathering was the satellite gathering, with the awards actually going on in Sydney, but the group at the Footscray Community Arts Centre were passionate and excited. Dr Feelgood, of talkback radio sex talk fame was there (and we met her!) as a judge, as well as a couple of the filmmakers of the night, and the tutors who supported them to produce these gems.

Essentially, the Melbourne films entered into the competition were the result of a workshop of people interested in getting into filmmaking. They were given 3 weeks to produce a short film on the topic of under 3 minutes - and they produced some serious gems! We got to view the 12 finalists in the competition, with the Melbourne group of entrants doing very well in the prize stakes!

Manni's Story was actually my favourite...check it out here:

Totally loved this one - BBQ, Beer and One Bloody Brilliant Idea - a pretty wacky way to present the message, and get people, and especially young people, talking about being an organ donor.

But this was the winner on the night - Somebody That I'll Never Know - a parody of the smash song and clip by Gotye last year. Hard not to love this one, with THAT song, and the added tidbit that the filmmaker is a organ recipient herself! Impressive!

Pretty awesome use of the body paint idea from Gotye's clip, really highlighting the very items that are so important in the organ donor gift.

You can view the rest of the films shown on the night here. You can also vote for the Nepean Intensive Care People's Choice here too, to give these budding local filmmakers a boost for their new found skill! Voting is open until next Friday, the 10th.

Have the chat with your family about your wishes, asap! And register your intent on the Australian Organ Donor Register. Save lives in the event that you lose yours.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Garden Of Dreams

A place of tranquility and beauty was just the answer to my harrowing morning in Kathmandu visiting the temples - and I found it in the neo-classic Garden Of Dreams. Somehow in the middle of the city of pollution, traffic jams, cows meandering in the streets, and the chaos of people and noise, this little piece is spared all of that.

The Garden Of Dreams is an Edwardian inspired private garden, which features pavilions, a cafe and restaurant, and a natural amphitheatre, among gorgeously manicured plant life and water features.

Besides my first Western style meal for a couple of weeks, seated on the upstairs balcony of the cafe, the sight of this space and the cups of potted tea on offer, I could have been anywhere!

The most fascinating aspect of the visit to the Garden for me was the gallery of photos showing the rehabilitation of the garden. Pictures of a very rundown and overgrown site, and the comparison with the images of the current masterpiece was very impressive!

The Garden was mainly filled with tourists taking a break as I was, and canoodling local couples taking advantage of the many private areas afforded by the garden's design.

Recharged with lunch and the space to clear my head, I was ready to return to my exploration of Nepal's capital city.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Temples Of Kathmandu

A couple of the main things to see in Kathmandu are the three significant temples, being two Buddhist and one Hindu, in this city of diverse practices and harmony. I actually only managed to visit two of them, but not for a lack of trying!

The Boudhanath temple is about 5km from the centre of town, and when the taxi stopped to let me out, I was pretty confused about where I was. The entrance is a pretty nondescript gap along a strip of stores and businesses, but it opens up to a large courtyard with the grand stupa in the middle.

One of the world's largest stupas, and a World Heritage Site, it is one of the most important Tibetan Buddhist monuments outside of Tibet.

Circled by market stalls, cafes, restaurants and guesthouses, the courtyard is filled with tourists, people completing their prayers for the day, and pigeons.

Walking around at ground level, and then walking up to the stupa level itself and completing a lap, details such as the prayer flags, the drum rolls all the way around, and the rituals of the monks and worshippers make this a reverent visit, and a view into Tibetan exiles and their religious tasks.

The Hindu Pashpatinath temple was the one with the most impact for me. The most fascinating, and the visit which stayed with me the longest after taking it all in.

This temple is on the outskirts of Kathmandu, near the airport, and is the site of cremations on the gnats along the embankment of the river.

When I arrived I noticed that there was an abundance of men in police uniforms in the temple complex, and upon getting to the other side of the river, deducted that this presence was actually because the person being cremated was an officer. An important one, I would think, because as the pyre was lit and burning, many of these uniformed onlookers come down to the edge and saluted a goodbye.

As this cremation was in full process, another gathering was in the same area of the embankment performing a cleansing ritual on a body, in preparation for a cremation. Of the area of this body that I could see from my vantage point, the man was not older than me. As I watched, a guide showing some other Foreigners around stopped and told me not to be sad about what I was seeing, that it was all part of the cycle of life.

Sure, but it was still someone's brother! Uncle. Son.

Watching these rituals was mixed with awe at the process, some morbid curiosity, and also much respect at such open Hindu rituals. I overheard another guide tell his patrons that the gathering around each cremation process was not necessarily just family, but because it was such an important religious ritual, many people came along to the temple just to be part of it.

I sat longer and watched another gathering prepare their loved one's body for the pyre, and then place the body, garlands of flowers, and what I presume was clothing of the deceased on the gnat, and then start the lighting process. A man who I assumed to be the Western equivalent of a 'next of kin' circled the pyre several times, before lighting the mound, and letting out a pained wail. Cycle of life, yes, but still grief.

Another pyre was almost finished, with just a small pile of charred remains left, and an attendant came along and swept everything from the pyre into the river below. Soon, another attendant come along and piled on a stack of wood logs, ready for the next one.

Swayyambhu was the temple that I missed. Nicknamed the 'monkey temple', it is perched on the closest hill to the city, and I could see it from the rooftop of my guesthouse.

I had every intention of going to see it on my last morning, on my way back to the airport and onward. But when I got down to street level and walked among the laneways from Durbar Square, and strange silence struck me - there were no cars! Everyone was walking, and I soon discovered that a strike was on, and there was no transport.

I ended up getting a cycle rickshaw all the way from the city to the airport, which took over an hour, and was a real struggle up hills. I didn't have the heart to try and add a trip to the hill temple in addition to getting me to the airport to my poor driver.

I don't like monkeys anyway!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Project 52: Sunday Morning

On Easter Sunday I was home in Ballarat! After flying home from India and arriving in Melbourne on the night of Good Friday, I got to enjoy some time at home with Mum and Katie, and - the best bit about Easter - have hot cross buns for breakfast everyday! Yum!

Ohhhh, just love those Evie-girl curls!

This post is part of Project 52 with Jess from FuShMuSh.

Saturday, April 13, 2013


My last stop in Burma was Yangon, which is the most developed and happening of the places in the country I managed to visit. A big, bustling city, with hints of Westernisation, ghosts of colonial days, and a vibrant feel of energy.

After an overnight bus from Kalaw, and finally finding a suitable place to sleep for the next 2 nights (and after a much needed nap!), I set off on foot to explore the city sights.

Staying near Sule Paya, I walked towards the gold stupa shining in the sunlight, to reach the intersection with the beautiful colonical City Hall on one side and the Mahabandoola Garden on the other side. In this garden stands the Independence Monument, an obelisk which is now the marker of the pro-democracy monk uprising - Burma's Tiananmen Square, perhaps.

I walked up the busy and nearing-modern Sule Paya Road, passing young couples walking along together in matching shirts and a more business clad crowd, before I passed the Railway Station, and walked past the soccer stadium, Aung San Stadium.

After visiting The General's Home, I walked around the streets and markets around Shwedagon Pagoda - the large gold, and very important temple of Burma.

As the sun was fading, I reached Kandawgyi Lake. This Royal Lake and surrounding parkland in the middle of the city, seemed to attract locals out for a walk, joggers and tourists alike, as a tranquil break from the chaos outside in peak traffic. The sun set, allowing the colour of Shwedagon to reflect into the lake - a shimmer of gold.

That night I treated myself to dinner at The Strand - a famous hotel of the British Empire days, and one of the most beautiful buildings facing the river.

The next day I reserved to take in Shwedagon Pagoda. I entered the temple complex via one of the long stairway lined with stores selling buddhist prayer wares, and having removed my shoes as instructed, felt the heat of the tiles all around the gold stupa!

The Shwedagon complex, whilst set around the solid and important stupa, is more a collection of smaller temples all around the base, in contrast to most of the temples we visited in Bagan.

Huge and impressive, the temple featured many of the aspects of the temples we had seen around Burma, culminating in this one very important prayer place for so many Burmese.

I finished my visit to Yangon, and indeed Burma, with a visit to the Bogyoke Aung San Market for some gifts and goodies, before needing to leave for my flight.

A most incredible place, Burma has definitely become a place that has gotten under my skin, and one I would love to return to!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The General's House

One of the first places I was keen to visit when I got to Yangon at the end of my 10 days in Burma was the Bogyoke Aung San Museum, or the General and his family’s home. It was Aung San’s last home before his assassination, and is now a free exhibit about his background and steps to becoming such a figurehead in Burmese history. It also shows his simple family life, and gives a glimpse into the man himself.

According to Wikipedia, is has just been reopened in March 2012, which explains why the Lonely Planet had said it is closed. The Martyr’s Mausoleum on the other hand, the place of the General's assassination just near Shwedagon Pagoda, is closed all but the anniversary day of Aung San’s death, being July 19. I couldn’t really see anything from the gates, so unless you are there for that day, I wouldn’t worry about trying to find it.

I checked in my bag at the free lockers provided at the bottom of the front steps, and then walked up to the front door. Taking in the verandah and the view, I then walked inside and took in the living space of this iconic family to Burma.

The fresh and young face of The General is on display, along with his journey from growing up in rural Burma, to becoming The General. It steps you through his life from the Rangoon University's Student Union, to the Burma Independence Army, and then his role in the nation's politics to have him deemed the Founding Father of Burma.

You are not permitted to take any photos inside, but walking through the two story home, you get a sense of this young family, and their simple life here. Bedrooms of Aung San and his wife, and the children’s next door, are decked out upstairs, as well as the library with an array of books on all sorts of topics, and the room with a view where meetings were held.

The General's car is still out in the shed in the back, coated in dust, and a bronze statue of him doing the gardening is in the yard.

A reverent visit, walking through the home of such a man, and the place of Aung San Suu Kyi's early childhood - the tragic truth that The General was killed at just 32 years of age is only trumped by the gravity of walking down into the garden and past the pool where you learn is the site of The General's second son drowning.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Valentine's Day In Yangon

I happened to be in Yangon on Valentine's Day - which I had no idea about until the penny dropped about all the young, cute couples walking along one of the main central streets of the biggest city of Burma, each wearing matching t-shirt sets. I mean complementary, like when part of a message is on one, and the rest of the message is on the other. Where half a heart is on hers, and the rest is on his.

This couple really captured that day for me, sitting watching the sun set over Shwedagon Pagoda reflecting into Kandawgyi Lake - such a vibe of young love, and young hope and enthusiasm floating around the city that day. So vibrant and alive!

Friday, April 05, 2013

Project 52: Saturday Night

Two Saturday nights ago I was in Delhi, drinking half price margaritas after the cricket. Dressed in our Chick Pink for Day 2, with a special Indian dress theme, we had endured another not so good day for the Aussies. We still called it Siddle Saturday, after his 50 runs.

Fi and I had actually spotted this tex-mex place in Connaught Place on our lunch walk from New Delhi station, on our day of travel to get to Agra, and decided it would work as a Night 2 after-cricket destination. And it totally hit the spot!

This post is part of Project 52 with Jess from FuShMuSh.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

A Year Of Travel - It's Possible!

Today marks one year since my last day at my last real job. When I walked away from it, sold off my furniture and my car, and wheeled my backpack through the silver doors of Customs in Melbourne.

In this past year I have managed to visit Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, and Dominica, then many areas of the USA . I have lived in Canada for 3.5 months, and traveled to bits of that vast country. I finished my Masters degree, completed 2 months of casual locum work whilst housesitting, before heading off again and traveling to Malaysia, Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, Nepal and India.

A bit of travel around my own country. I also attended nine test matches around the world, a handful of Aussie Rules matches, including the Grand Final, and the US Open. Learnt a lot, met some really great people.


If I can do all this, anyone can! Just got to make it a priority - and then take the leap!

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Current Travel Tips For Burma

With the borders reluctantly officially more open to tourism than ever, I was in Burma for 10 days in February, and after doing loads of reading and research online for the latest information, I thought I would post and collate my knowledge and experience to help anyone else about to visit.

Burma is a place that I fell in love with - the people are the gem of the country, with their kind-hearted nature and friendliness. There is so much to see, and I really only touched the surface, but felt like I got a great look at Mandalay and surrounds, Bagan, Inle Lake and the hillside villages of Kalaw, before finishing off with a couple of nights in Yangon.

To start off, you can get your visa on the same day, whilst in Bangkok. Follow the directions I have linked to over in this post from when I went to get mine, and you can't miss. Finding the Embassy is a little tricky, but those links are spot on - I wouldn't have found it without them! If you have a flight booked, or are insistent about why you need it on the same day - I was heading to Chiang Mai the next day, and so had no time before my flight to return to pick up my all important little blue book with it's new sticker - but many people needed a print out of a flight booking for this.

I got a flight into Mandalay from Bangkok, avoiding the need to complete the loop between Yangon and the central destinations. But it's also not possible to cross the border overland from Thailand, so this was the best option I found.

Be prepared for the overnight buses. It seems to be the easiest way to get from place to place. I did look at the train from Kalaw to Yangon, but given that it takes all day and a night, I ran out of time after my trek. The buses are comfortable enough, and stop a couple of times for a rest break, although the karaoke or music video obsession of bus companies and SE Asia is alive and well here too. Be warned!

There were no ATMs for foreign cards that we saw anywhere in Burma, although there were a couple reportedly in Yangon in construction or advertised as coming soon. This means you need to carry the amount of money you need for your stay in with you, in crisp US dollars. Even airline offices do not have credit card facilities, so you need to think about what you might be doing, and how you could be getting around, and how much you may want or need to spend on accommodation.  Change the US dollars into kyat (pronounced “chat”) when you can, because the locals have trouble exchange them. Hotels may take US dollars, but smaller notes would be better for them. Any note in bad condition, even an edge folded, makes things difficult for a local to move it on, so keep them in good condition or you may be stuck with currency you will not be able to use.

I budgeted on $100US per day, and actually did not spend that much in the 10 days I was there. In the bigger towns like Yangon accommodation was more expensive, unless your standards are very, very low. Mine are at times, but the cheap options in Yangon that I saw were just not ok for a girl on her own, nor did they smell very good!

We paid $30 per night for the nicest place we stayed in, which was on the water at Inle Lake, and away from the crowds and tour groups. It was perfect to have this place as a resting point at this stage of our travels, and felt so authentic as the family running the guesthouse lived in the adjoining house, and cooked and served us in their restaurant on their decking.

I paid $60 for my room in Yangon, the most I paid, which was a pretty new hotel near Sule Pagoda.

Food is cheap, and transport around town is too – the quoted price from a taxi/horse cart/rickshaw driver is usually spot on, so try not to be too aggressive with any bartering. It's not actually needed.
The fermented tea salad, as a snack, is so yum!

One of the best things I noticed when travelling around was the Burmese's ability to be two steps ahead of you in terms of what you need. When we grabbed a cart down to the river in Bagan, our driver guessed what we were up to, and talked to a moto driver along the way, who took off down to the river and set up a boat with chairs and a guide for us. The keenness to help and ensure you have a great trip, and also the anticipation of your needs, is all part of the Burmese charm. I hope they don't lose that with the avalanche of tourism on it's way!

We had read that there was no internet, but there is some, more in Yangon, but many of the guesthouses offer it, if you really need it. It was kinda nice, thou
gh, to travel like we all used to, with research and interacting with people for recommendations and advice.

It's safe! I mean, if anything happens to you as a tourist there are rumoured to be heavy penalties to the locals from the government - the throw back of the military rule and their quest not to make the international news for any more bad reasons, I am sure. But even without that, I never had any bad feelings wandering around when I was travelling on my own, taking the usual precautions of course. And it's an easy place to travel. We spotted families with young children getting around Bagan, all riding bikes to explore the temples - it's perfect for that! What an amazing experience as a youngster! Archaeologists in the making, surely!

Lastly, now, there are so few tourists there right now. In many places, we were only a handful of foreigners around. So go now and enjoy this new but old destination, before all this changes!

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Trekking To Kalaw

I received so many recommendations to go trekking through the hillside villages of Kalaw in Burma - and I must say, it's one of the most amazing travel experience I have had. An up close and authentic glimpse into rural, village life in Burma, and a chance to interact with locals like no

I left our guesthouse on Inle Lake, waving to my travel companions of the last few weeks, on a longboat with just a driver and a guide - I remember looking back ominously, wondering what I had just gotten myself into. As our boat stopped for directions on the Lake, and then I was dropped off at a nondescript spot, I was even more wary.

But here I met my bubbly Burmese guide, his younger brother who carried all of our food supplies for the next few days, and my Korean co-walker, and before I knew it, we were off on foot into the rural fields behind the Lake.

We started by following a track through a dry rice paddy, out to an old dirt road we shared with oxen and cart, and men working on the land on either side.

Before long, though, we started a climb that my guide assured me would be the worst climb. He clearly had his doubts about whether I would make it, as did I, whilst he told me of a story of an English traveller who only made it as far as the main road - and then grabbed a pick-up truck for the rest of the way. Determined not to be like that Pom, I powered on.

The next moment of doubt happened whilst on this first climb, when I discovered that the 2 days trek I thought I had signed up for was actually 3 days - 2 nights. Struggling with my lack of fitness, and wondering what on earth I thought I was doing signing up for such a crazy idea, this revelation almost had me curling up in a ball and calling it quits. 3 days of this!!?? Surely I won't make it!

Somehow, I did not have a heart attack on that hill, and made it to the top and the nearby village planned for lunch. Our boys set about cooking a noodle soup, while my Korean companion and I were led to a family's house and centre room for a rest. He proceeded to tell me in very limited English that he was very surprised that I made it up that hill - not as surprised as I was, I wanted to tell him!

The rest of the afternoon was filled with walking - flatter terrain this time - chatting and joking along with my Burmese guide, and taking in the countryside - we walked through paddocks, through forgotten paths, over roads dodging other traffic like motorbikes and more carts being pulled by oxen, work groups returning from their day in the fields, and people on foot commuting to other villages.

Each time we passed anyone, the locals were curious about these two Foreigners walking through their land, and a conversation about where we were from ensued. Smiles and laughs between us all were the norm, as the warm-hearted nature of the Burmese was ever-present in these areas.

We reached our stop for the first night before the sun sunk in the sky, and we arrived at our first homestay. The whole village seemed to stop their evening chores to check out their visitors, as we settled into the main room of an elderly man who hosted us. Our guides again set about cooking dinner, as my Korean companion and I soon wandered around the small village to see the work at the end of the day being done. The monastery lent us blankets for the night, and given that there was no electricity in the village, our night was an early one to bed, all 4 trekkers laid out in the main room, sharing with our host.

Setting off after a cooked breakfast, and a blessing from our homestay host, we dropped into the monastery to thank the head monk for the blankets and make a donation. The morning saw more walking, through fields, rice paddys, and seldom used roads, up and down the hills of the Kyauth Taone villages.

More smiles and moments between passing Pa-O people working the land, and coming up to inquire about us as we passed through. Our guide Mygu was so impressive with his knowledge of the local languages, as we passed through different areas and tribal regions, and therefore dialects. He managed to be our bridge with the locals we passed, and added to the fleeting connections made.

Being poles apart on fitness level, I certainly held back my superfit Korean trekking partner, however I helped him with the language gap and his English skills with our guides, and the need for a break led to some amazing experience with the locals.

At one point in this middle day I caught up to where he and Mgyu's brother were, to discover them sitting in front of a stilted home in a village. When Mgyu and I caught up, Mgyu relayed that the family watching us from their veranda were keen to invite us inside for green tea, and to join them in their celebration of the graduation from high school of their youngest daughter.

This tea stop was such a special time, as sweets and the delicious Burmese fermented tea salad and tea, were laid out, inside. We all took a spot on the mats of the family's main room, and translated conversations bounced around. Our graduate and her family were so proud - she is the first to have completed schooling this far, which is the equivalent of Year 9 back home. Smiles and laughs all round, as we congratulated her and talked of her future plans.

Back on the trail after our afternoon tea, we continued on the up and down slopes to reach our second night stop - a homestay with a family. When we arrived many of the village were still returning from their work, and I watched from the veranda as the animals were brought into the yard, feed and watered, and prepared to settle in for the night.

At this stop I was desperate for a shower, and despite our guide suggesting that surely I had one before I left for the trek, he managed to borrow a longyi from one of the women of the house, and I set out to the water well on the property to figure out how to shower in the open. With most of the family watching from the balcony, I managed to have a cursory wash without flashing too much flesh, and felt heaps better and ready for the final day.

Our night featured a bottle of local lemon vodka being shared by the man of the house, and much laughter and jokes between us all, with the help of our guides as interpreters. The house next to our family's had the only generator in the village, so we could see light and hear power being made next door, but again with no electricity, chats were held around candlelight before another early night.

Our last couple of hours of the trek from the village to reach the first glimpses of Kalaw was a morning filled with discussions about the final hill, and whether I wanted to take the pick-up truck option. Hell no, I had made it this far - I was determined to finish! I was assured that the hill was not as strenuous as the first one, and this held true.

One of the great moments of this final morning was coming across a group of villagers heading our way, on the way to the market in Kalaw - I shared some oranges I had in my pack with them, and so they sat and joined us for a rest stop. Such special interactions, these, in the middle of our walk and theirs.

I must say, spotting Kalaw below us when it showed itself through the trees, I was excited to reach the end of the 3 days walk - and yet this trek was so incredible. Such a rich cultural experience, mixing with the locals in their villages, their homes, and walking among their work fields. Seeing this side of Burma only enhanced my love of this country, and it's people; one of the best travel experiences I have had!
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