Thursday, August 30, 2007

USA: Los Angeles: 28-29 August 2007, Written 29 August 2007

I woke up pretty late on Tuesday morning, and just got myself organized when Brett came to pick me up. What a shocker. It may sound stupid, but his long hair was what I totally associated him with - he cut it all off several weeks ago, and it was just so weird to see him without his locks. It was great to see him, though, and we went down to Venice. He had brought some bikes with him, so it was a great coming together of sorts. It was here, on Venice Beach, that he had taught me how to ride a bike over 2 years ago.

We rode down to Cow's End and got some brekkie then went up to Wilshire - it felt great to be on a bike again. We talked about photo and writing and different pursuits and politics and it just fit like an old glove. Afterwards, we went boogie boarding for a bit, then went to La Playita for some yummy burritos. Hung out at Novel Cafe until I went to yoga.

The strange thing was that it was so familiar it didn't even feel out of place; yet, it was completely different than how it used to be. He used to live 50m from the boardwalk; now, it was a 45 minute drive. Whereas we used to get bikes from his house, drop them off, and go boogie boarding and change in his house, we were going back and forth to the car and using the public change rooms. And of course, I don't live here anymore and hanging out on Venice Beach isn't a daily activity for me anymore. I don't think I'm putting it into words very well, but it was very...surreal.

My foot has been bothering me for a few days now, and it started to really be sore in yoga, so I ended up leaving a few minutes early. I went over to Sarah's and found out that John would be coming over soon too. I was really excited, since I hadn't talked to or seen John since 2005. He came over, and we had a great cooking fest - it was awesome. Sarah prepared an artichoke with a delicious dipping sauce, and John and I made the stuffed portabello mushrooms - garlic, onion, tomato, and mushrooms with bread crumbs and parmesan cheese overflowed. Mmmm. We also had a tasty spinach salad with heirloom tomatoes from the Venice Farmers Market. Ahh how I miss these meals. Amy was able to stop by which was nice, and it was one of those warm and fuzzy feeling nights. Ahh. Sarah took me back up to Santa Monica where I'm staying and we talked for a long time. Thanks Sarah.

Wednesday morning I forced myself to go to yoga - I REALLY wasn't feeling like it but I thought it might be good for me if I went. Indeed it was; it just clicked again, and I really got into it. After class I went to the spa and waited for Tiffany to arrive. When she got here, we went to Real Food Daily for some vegan yummies. Went to REI to look around at the Labor Day Sale and then down to Washington Pier, to the Whaler. This used to be one of my favorite happy hours so it was nice to be there again. Their quesadilla is fabulous.

We headed to Venice to get some coffee, and right as we parked and got out, I saw Brett coming down the street. How weird. It seems like something that used to happen, to randomly run into each other in Venice, but like I've said, now that we both live nowhere near the area, it was kind of spooky.

Novel Cafe was great as usual, I really love that place - it's great for people watching, as all different types of people come there; yuppies, yoga people, homeless people, writers, intellectuals, revolutionaries. I love it.

On the way back to Tiffany's car, a van drove by with someone who was strangely familiar sticking his head out at me. It was...Jason Crutchfield - I worked with him at MLS teaching English in Tokyo in Spring 2006. How crazy! Both run-ins happened at the corner of Main and Rose - something was up today.

We went to House of Blues to watch Tiffany's friend's band play. Loud but pretty good, and then we stopped by La Playita so I could remember, again, why I love food in California. And that was today ;)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

USA: Los Angeles: 25-27 August 2007 (Written 28 August 2007)

On Saturday, the 25th, I took a bus down to meet Jenny Winston at LAX. She was flying in for just a day from Denver (thank you!). We went down to Hermosa Beach, where I had lived briefly, and had yummy food at Good Stuff. Played by the water for a bit, then back up to Santa Monica. We took a nap then I went to yoga. After class, we went to the Japanese supermarket over at Olympic and Sawtelle - I found it surprisingly refreshing to be around Japanese speakers, and I got really excited to ask for stuff in Japanese - it was kind of weird.

We then went to Trader Joe's where I got a bunch of food and then we went home to have a really random concoction of stuff for dinner. We went for a walk in the area and called it a night. I've known Jenny since high school - over the years, I've visited her in France twice and several times in Colorado, and she's come to L.A. 3 times now. I do, on some level, believe that shes a friend for life. It's so interesting to me though how much of myself I see in people I've known for a long time, and along with that, how much I've changed and no longer am who I used to be. So it's always an intense experience and this was no exception.

On Sunday we went to the Venice Farmers Market and had a great time. After that we lounged around in the house and I finally began to tap into what's really bothering me; my grandmother's death. It's been pushed inside after the initial days of her death, because it just wasn't the appropriate time and place for it. In May and June in Japan, I was with clients all the time so showing the grief would not have worked. In Australia, I was so busy DOING stuff that it never really surfaced - other than with Chris for a brief time. So now that I'm in L.A. and not really DOING much (although in fact I feel so busy everyday) - I feel that it's time that I can release and start to chip away at the huge boulder inside of me. It started with Jenny.

As she left, I gathered myself and waited for Nia to arrive. My foot had started to bother me (one of the reasons I skipped yoga on Sunday) so I told her I didn't think I could do the Malibu hike. We went up to Malibu anyway, and on the way I really just let it go. It's amazing to me that no matter how much we do (this is the case for me), we are always left wanting more. We wonder what we could have done differently, how things may have been different, and we question our decisions. I know that what I did over the past 2 years with my grandparents is something of enormous willpower and love, but I am still left with other thoughts. Could I have gone earlier? Could I have visited them more often? In my rational mind, I know that these are silly questions, and that I have no reason to feel these things, yet in my heart I still do. I imagine that grief is something you carry with you for the rest of your life. You may grow to accept it but it will always be a part of you. So I'm just learning how to let that happen naturally without consuming me, and I'm working on trying to release a lot of the emotion that's still there.

On Sunday evening, Nia dropped me off at Jenny Lapat's, and we went for dinner then sat around chatting for a few hours. She is, again, this constant figure in my life which I'm grateful for.

On Monday morning, I went to Saul's class and finally talked to him. I grabbed a drink with Tricia until Jenny came to get me. We went and had Real Food Daily Nachos then up to Malibu for sea kayaking! It was really really great. The water was so much clearer and lighter than normal, a beautiful light green turquoise aquamarine blend, and we had timed it perfectly for low tide. I love being out on the ocean.

Omar came and met me in Santa Monica and then we went down to delizia and met Molly at Mor for a salsa class. The idea is to prepare for Cuba. I got really self-conscious (guess that part of me still comes alive in L.A.) and couldnt' really get into it. Maybe it was the classroom situation. It was ok though. Afterwards, Molly, Omar, and I went to Novel Cafe and chatted for a couple hours. Molly went home and Omar and I went up to Temple Bar and went for Mexican food. We also randomly drove by German and his parents which was so random - I love that I can leave this city for 2 years and still somehow manage to have chance crossings like that. It's so weird!

After this, I was exhausted and though I tried to stay up for the full lunar eclipse, my body said no.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

USA: Los Angeles: 21-24 August 2007 (Written 25 August 2007)

Wow. It seems that the days go by so slowly and quickly. Where to begin? On Tuesday, Nia dropped me off in Century City at 7am where I caught the bus back to Santa Monica. I hadn't actually taken a day to rest yet since arriving from Australia so I went back to sleep...til noon. I went to Venice to meet Daniele, my old professor at both SMC and UCLA - we had an interesting chat about the Middle East, my experiences there, extremism, and all sorts of things that don't necessarily come up in everyday conversation.

I went to exhale spa in Santa Monica, where I was delighted - with my $50 yoga for 30 days, I have unlimited access to the "Healing Waters Sanctuary." After having lived in Japan, I must admit that it doesn't quite compare to a proper onsen, but it's still wonderful. Two hot pools, a cold plunge, a eucalyptus steam room, and an ujjayi dry room. AND oranges and nuts and dried fruit and cucumber water. And spa quality shampoo, conditioner, body wash, along with razors, shaving cream, and all that extra stuff. Perfect for the traveller! I was thrilled.

I got back to Ryan's, and he had just arrived home as well. Since I had had a relaxing, restful day, I was energized, and suggested we go to the beach. So off we went to northern Santa Monica because PCH up to Malibu was too crowded, and we went playing in the waves. It was soooo great. The ocean is just so enormous and powerful and just makes you forget and remember and just be. I love it.

Afterwards, we went home to shower, then went to Real Food Daily, an organic vegan restaurant in Santa Monica where Ryan works. I have tried being vegetarian in the past, but never really attempted vegan. I found that when I was vegetarian, I compensated for the lack of meat by eating extra amounts of dairy products and eggs. I have also consistently been told by acupuncturists, reflexologists, and reiki healers, along with massage therapists that I should greatly reduce the amount of dairy products I eat. In fact, I was told this on Monday at acupuncture. (Right after, I went and had a hamburger with cheese on it at Houston's...) But I started thinking about it on Monday and thought, hmm maybe I should try this out. Just to see how it feels, and see if it actually DOES make a difference in how I feel. And, what better place to try it out than California? The vegetarian/vegan/organic movement did originate in a big way in California, and it is probably one of the easiest places in the world to be vegan. There is a great selection of vegan restaurants that cater specifically for vegans and I decided to give it a shot. SO, getting back to the story, Ryan and I went to RFD on Tuesday. We sat in his friend's section and had a *free* meal of nachos, tacos, and salad. The nachos had sour cream made from tofu, the spicy cheddar cheese is made from cashews, and the tacos had tempeh as the meat substitute. It was all unbelievably delicious and I thought, if you could eat like this every day, I would never have any problem being vegan. Alas, in most other countries these products aren't available...

I went to meet Rayya afterwards at Zanzibar. Rayya is a Lebanese girl I met in Beirut through a funny connection; I was couchsurfing with a Swiss guy in Beirut (my first time couchsurfing!), who had a flatmate who had a Lebanese friend named Firas. I met Firas at the flat, we clicked, and then I started hanging out with him and his friends - Rayya was one of them. Rayya and I went to rival high schools in Maryland (BCC vs. WJ) and here we were, in the mountains of Lebanon; the world can be so small sometimes. Anyway, we spent about a week hanging out in Beirut, exploring the city and discovering it, as it was her first time living there again after the war. This was in September 2005. I hadn't seen her since then, and she had, of course, lived through a war, amongst many other things. She brought along her Afghan friend Omar and we had a great time. Stayed out til about 2 and it was so nice to get some Middle Eastern exposure in L.A. It was great to see that some things don't change.

On Wednesday, I had a really busy morning. I went to a yoga class with David Romanelli, an instructor I've never had before - his class was so hard it was funny. Literally - I was laughing through much of the class at how insanely difficult it was. It was great though. Afterwards, I went to meet the two couchsurfers I'd luckily found in the area. I found Christian's profile and although it was much emptier than a lot of people's in the area, I thought I'd really like to meet him. Good choice - he's an Italian who came over to work in visual effects, became a masseur, and now owns the Tao Healing Arts Centre on Main Street. I met him at his school/clinic, and he really just has that wonderful calming energy. We went to Urth Caffe where I dug into their delectable granola - on the menu it says fresh-roasted, and those almonds and granola really taste it...and dried cranberries and raisins and fresh strawberries and bananas and soy wonder I was in bliss... Anyway, we sat and chatted about all sorts of random things and set up a bit of the logistics for my staying at his place. Which is, of course, 5 blocks from the beach, and 8 blocks from yoga. Ahh...

I then walked to Duff's house, a single gay guy living 7 blocks from the beach, in one of the nicest houses I've seen in California. Absolutely phenomenal two bedroom house with a rooftop deck with an ocean view and out to the Hollywood sign in the east. My own bedroom and bathroom with a huge new bed, and a beautiful kitchen space. I couldn't believe it. We got to chat a little bit and that was that.

Since I was in the area, I stopped by Sarah's house - I thought it was going to be a 15 minute hello but it turned into a 2 hour animated discussion, about a lot of things I'm still needing to process and think about and feel and react to. It was absolutely wonderful to see her. I tried to convince her to join exhale (my yoga studio) and she dropped me off at acupuncture.

AND....the acupuncturist immediately noted that my tongue was better than Monday - and asked if I had changed my diet. TWO DAYS! That is crazy! So perhaps the lack of dairy really is doing something. This time, when she did some cupping, I got red marks instead of the deep purple of two days prior. How refreshing to get some good news at the doctor! Senika, the acupuncturist, is half Indonesian and so we chatted about it (the form asks for birthplace so I put Jakarta) and I just thought, wow, how great is Emperors College to provide this great service for such a low cost.

After acupuncture I walked down to Real Food Daily because Ryan was finishing work around that time, and we feasted on salad, kale, seaweed, tempeh, and, oh yes, chocolate fudge pie. A lot of vegan desserts use maple syrup instead of refined sugar, so they taste super rich but they are (supposedly) healthier. Yum.

I then walked back to Ryan's where Nia was meeting me, and due to traffic we decided to postpone our Paseo Miramar hike and instead went back to Hollywood. I was in need of a low key evening so I chilled out while she went on her walk. We then started talking about a lot of the issues I'm currently struggling with. A large one is how people just don't make time for one another here - yes, this is what I used to complain about years ago whilst living here, and yes, it hasn't changed and I should've expected it - but it's always a struggle. I understand that living in a society where you have 10 days vacation per year means it's pretty damn difficult to take a few days off when a friend comes to visit, but it doesn't make it any easier.

We chatted until Tiffany who I met at Houston's came to pick me up. It was great to see Tiffany. We just went to a coffee shop in Burbank but chatted about everything and she is just one of those people that I know will always accept me. It's great.

On Thursday morning we had planned to get up at 7.30 to go on a hike in Runyon Canyon but decided to sleep in and make yummy food instead. She dropped me off at Hollywood/Highland where she was working and I took a bus down to the chiropractor. Dr. Irani was introduced to me by one of my favorite yoga instructors, Brad Keimach. He charges only $25 for therapy and adjustment because he's semi-retired and just wants to help people that need it. I'd been to him in 2005, and had also brought my mother there. He was, as usual, spot on in identifying the problem and adjusted accordingly. I felt much much better.

Ramon picked me up from the chiropractor - my first time seeing him since he was in Japan in Jan/Feb 2006 - and we got some Thai food. I couldn't help but notice that things were different with him, but I can't place my finger on it. It's probably more in my mind than anything but it's ok - it's part of life. He then took me to Duff's where I was staying for the night - here I had a nap before going to Saul David Raye's yoga class.

That yoga class just totally opened me up and got the energy flowing and it was the beginning of a big release. I met Sarah at delizia after class and was happy to hear that she had had a great experience at yoga class as well. delizia is a great place that just opened on the boardwalk at the corner of Rose, and has a great selection of food, both with meat and vegan-friendly. The create your own salad is a great hit, allowing you to pick whatever you want and it's very decently priced. So we sat and munched and chatted about the Middle East and everything under the stars and it was great. After class we went back to her house, and probably due to the opening up from the yoga class, and the relaxedness of the great food and atmosphere, we just both totally let go. About relationships, about losses, mourning, grief, hurt, pain, forgiveness, compassion. It felt so good to just let myself cry. I stayed there til late and went straight to bed after. I slept very well.

On Friday morning I went to Saul's class then met up with Tricia, who I had met in 2005 at a yoga class. She started speaking to me because she wanted someone to speak Japanese with and thought I would be able to. We quickly started going to yoga followed by tea or food several days a week. She now has her own business - - and we talked about that as we had lunch at Real Food Daily (I think the best vegan food I've had in L.A.) We then went to the exhale spa onsen and it was excellent. Nia picked me up from there and we went to have a long walk on the beach. We walked down to the Washington Blvd. Pier and then had dinner at delizia, then we were both so pumped we walked all the way up past the Santa Monica Pier to Wilshire Blvd. Lots of walking! It was great.

After Nia left, I went for some chai with Ramon at the Novel Cafe, where I used to go several times a week in Venice. Ahh...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

United States: Los Angeles: 17-20 August, 2007 (Written 20 August 2007)

What a strange feeling it is. The past few days have been a veritable whirlwind. I arrived on Friday afternoon to LAX, and went smoothly through Immigration and Customs (phew). Ryan was at the airport, and we got Jenny from her terminal, then made a pit stop at In-N-Out, which I'd missed for 2 years...

Ryan dropped us off at Jenny's grandmother's place. It was great to see Jenny, basically my first friend I made in California in 2002. Since then, we've both lived in Japan (at different times but I got to see her in Tokyo while she was living there) and travelled quite a bit. So lots to talk about, but the dynamic's still the same. I took a nap and then we went to Whole Foods (which I've also missed for 2 years) to get some food and then went to Hotel Cafe in Hollywood where Nia was playing a show with her band.

Her band, Letting Up Despite Great Faults, was really good. She plays the cello and sings occasionally, and I was really glad to see her onstage. It's great to see her pursuing something she really enjoys, and of course, that she's great at. Ryan came to meet us there and it was great, being there, enjoying live music...ahh L.A.

On Saturday morning I went to a yoga class at Exhale (yes, this too, I've missed for 2 years) and then back to Santa Monica. Ryan and I got some food a the Co-op, swung by Lincoln and Rose for my favorite Mexican food, then chilled for a bit.

We went in the afternoon to Sunset Junction Street Fair, where lots of live bands were. It was exceedingly warm, and I enjoyed it less than I thought I might, just a lot of people, heat, etc. But no worries - Ben Harper was headlining so that was good. Lauren, from USC, who I last saw maybe 3 years ago, came to meet me and it was really good to see her. We chatted away for much of the afternoon and evening...all good. After the concert, we went out in Silverlake for a bit then I crashed at her place.

On Sunday morning, she dropped me off at Jenny's, where Jenny, Nikki (her Australian roommate in Tokyo), and I went down to the Venice Farmers Market and after that, went to yoga. Ommm. Walked on the beach, then I went to see German. He was at his girlfriend's house, which was GORGEOUS, and since his parents whom I first met in Argentina were visiting, we all went up to Santa Monica. It was wonderfully nostalgic. I went back to yoga in the evening, then back to Jessica's, where we had a beautiful meal and lounged about before I went back to Santa Monica.

Monday morning, I went to acupuncture at Emperors College, got cupping (pain!), then to Whole Foods before yoga. Went to Houston's to have lunch with Greg - really nice to see him. Nia came and met me after work, and we went back to Hollywood. A good chat, a good walk, and now I'm exhausted.

I think there's a lot going on at the moment, a lot of processing - not having been here for a few years, seeing what's changed, seeing what's stayed the same, realizing what's still there, what's not...all a bit intense, and we'll just see how it goes. It's beautiful weather and it's great to be by the beach...

Exhausted. Must sleep. Just wanted to write something before I forget what I've been up to.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Leaving Oz Update

It has been ages since I wrote about Myanmar; I basically stopped for a combination of two factors. One was that I had reached the point in my trip in Burma when it became a struggle, when the beauty, kindness, aromas, sights, and tastes gave way to the oppression, struggle, and I was breaking down. This also coincided with the time in Japan when my grandmother was hospitalized, and I had been struggling considerably with this. So, I stopped writing.

I am leaving Australia today; right now I am waiting at the boarding gate in Sydney to go to Los Angeles via Fiji. I’m ready to leave Australia, not so ready to go to the U.S. I actually feel some ennui at the moment, I’m lacking inspiration, and need a kickstart for something. I think Cuba will probably do it.

Anyway, continuing on about Burma…I've managed to write about a week or so of my time in Burma, there are just a few more days left to cover...thanks for reading, and enjoy!

Myanmar: Sittwe/Mrauk U: 6/7 February 2007 (Written 17 August 2007)

The previous night, after having a light dinner with my new friend, he dropped me back off at the hotel I was staying at. I was wandering around with my headlamp and literally ran into Anneke and Kees, a couple in their early 60’s from the Netherlands. I went out again with them for dinner at a Chinese restaurant, and when walking back to the hotel we passed by Cordelia, the Swiss girl from MSF. We went to search for some amoxicillin for me, as I had this horrible chest infection from Inle Lake and it had been nearly two weeks and it wasn't going away at all. She was with an Italian co-worker, and we marveled at how crazy it was that I could buy a full dose of amoxicillin at a tiny vendor on the side of the road, but the Italian guy couldn't find any toothpaste or shampoo.

After dinner, Anneke and Kees stayed to chat on the balcony, and they shared some stories of when they traveled through Burma 20 years ago. We talked about if things had gotten better or worse, and I was really surprised and a bit ashamed when I learned that they had come from Yangon all the way overland, on the bus to Pyay which took 15 hours in a crammed bus where they were sitting on top of dried fish, and then taken the boat from Taunggok.

On the 7th, the hotel staff was kind enough to prepare me breakfast at 5.30am, still in the dark, and then I took a trishaw to the jetty, with the young boy from the hotel cycling next to us. It was really, really cold. He had managed to talk to the owner of the boat and get the price down a bit, for which I was really grateful. I got on the boat and sat. And waited. And waited. It was 2 hours before the boat made any movement at all – meanwhile, the sun had come up and it was warmer. I slept the majority of the way to Mrauk U. There was a mother with 3 small children on the boat, as well as a few men. When I was able to wake up during the boat ride, it was beautiful.

There was farmland on either side of us, with large haystacks, there were water buffalo wandering about, and the outline of the Chin hills behind us, in the distance. They looked foreboding and inviting at once. When we arrived at the jetty, there were a whole crowd of people working at various guesthouses. I actually saw a recommendation for the Golden Star Guesthouse on Thorntree forum, and since it hasn’t made it into any guidebooks yet, I decided to give it a try. The manager Than Htun is a great character; he’s really short with slightly large ears and his grin takes up half his face. I checked in and went for lunch.

I went to For You restaurant where I met the local schoolteacher who was a bit…off…and then the dentist who worked across the road came to say hi. He had been Mr. Rakhaing in 1976, and although he was getting older, he still had a very muscular build. He showed me his antiquated dentistry equipment, including a cleaning machine that had a foot pump – he showed me that it had been made in Japan in the 1930’s. The collection of fillings and surgical instruments was much more interesting than I had expected.

I headed off to the temples which I had come to see. Mrauk U was the ancient capital of Rakhaing State, and it’s often compared to a min-Bagan. In fact, it is completely different. The temples are smaller, and often more simple. The spherical, at times conical shape of the structures gives them the impression of being from outer space, or at least from a completely different era. I went by foot to Shittaung, Andaw Paya, Ratanabon, and continued down the path. There were beautiful small villages scatteres amongst the ruins. I saw another tourist in the distance; other than him, the only human beings to be seen were women carrying wood or water on their heads or hips, and children running around with their school bags. It was so…quiet.

At Pitaka Taik, a small, old (supposed) library, I needed a break from the hot sun, and found a group of kids and women with the same idea. The ever useful origami skills were used, and we walked back towards the village together.

I went to Haridaung for sunset, considered “the” sunset spot in Mrauk U, and sure enough, there was a group of Germans there handing out bonbons to children who were laughing and dancing and wanting to get in photographs. The children ran over to me and the instant they realized I wasn't going to give them sugar or writing utensils, skipped back towards the Europeans. It was a frightening foreshadowing of what may come to be in Myanmar, much like what Southeast Asia and Africa already is.

That evening, I went into town to see what was available. It was surprisingly lively, and rather than going to the 3 restaurants with English menus, I sat down at a street stall where a man was making fried rice, fried noodles, and soup in the same wok. It was really tasty and really greasy, and I was exhausted. The complete darkness of the town, the sky that was so heavy with stars it almost seemed to crash down, and the silence from the utter lack of vehicles meant I fell asleep instantly.

Myanmar: Sittwe: 6 February 2007 (Written 17 August 2007)

At the airport in Thandwe, there were a few older sun-poisoned Europeans, and then there was one girl who stood out. She looked European, was tall, tanned, and athletic. We started chatting, and this was how I met Cordelia, a Swiss girl from MSF (Medecins Sans Frontieres, Doctors Without Borders). She was working in some really remote areas in Rakhaing State near the border with Bangladesh. Turned out she was exactly the kind of person I wanted to be speaking with.

Burma has had the grand majority of NGOs pull out of the country due to human rights abuses, and the ironic claim by the government that everything is ok and that they don’t need help. Perhaps this contributes to the difficulties in Burma; everything is presentation, and very little thought is given to what the actual situation is. People are told to smile, to put their best face forward, to make sure that nobody can tell that you are hungry, sick, and tired. There are entire propaganda speeches and publications on this topic of showing the West how developed and happy they are. So, NGOs come in, look around, and see that everything looks fine, and leave. According to Cordelia, the medical system is a disaster. There are numerous different strains of malaria, and people get infected all the time. They may build up resistance to it, often choosing to not get treatment due to financial issues, and instead stay mildly sick for weeks on end. When using antibiotics, even if a doctor tells people to use the full course, which would cost 1USD, people choose to stop taking the drug as soon as the symptoms subside, causing the sickness to recur and the body to build resistance to the drug.

We arrived in Sittwe, and as expected, Zaw Lin Oo was waiting at the airport. Lonely Planet mentions how there is one licensed guide in Sittwe who is taking commissions off every service provider (hotel, trishaw, taxi, boat) in BOTH Sittwe and Mrauk U. In Ngapali, I met a German couple who had been to Mrauk U the previous year and they mentioned that in Sittwe, I would find a wonderful guide waiting at the airport and I should definitely go with him. He takes you everywhere, he knows so much, and it’s free! I thought it sounded strange, but it didn't register with me. It was only when I was re-reading the section on Sittwe that I realized he must be the guide that LP talks about. And man, was he pushy. It surprised me that he was able to come all the way into the airport, past security and baggge claim. In fact, he was the only person that was able to do so – all other drivers, friends, family, hotel workers, and would-be guides were patiently waiting behind closed doors. It just so happened that I was the only tourist on board the plane. He went after Cordelia too but she said her MSF driver was there and so I was on my own. This increased the pressure because if he didn't get me for business that day, he’d go home empty-handed. I insisted that I had everything set up already, that I knew where I was going to stay, and kept walking past. He was relentless, demanding to know who had supposedly stepped in his territory. He suggested that we share a taxi together so that it would be cheaper, but it was obvious that he was doing that so he could find out where I was going to stay. Finally, he sped off in a taxi.

I had made quite a scene at the airport (or he made the scene and I was part of it) and by this time, everyone was just watching me, mildly interested. I wasn't sure whose side people were going to be on so I went over to the trishaws to try and get a ride into town. An English-speaking guide came over to me and I was really defensive. He showed me a piece of paper from the tourism board talking about Zaw Lin Oo and how they were trying to stop his monopoly. It’s really a horribly sad situation. There are so few independent tourists getting all the way out to Sittwe and Mrauk U (as my detour in Thandwe and Ngapali suggest, it’s not the easiest of trips to make), and for one person to be taking all the money from it, as well as being pushy about it, is just despicable. I explained to the man that I was quite comfortable without a guide and I was sorry for doubting him, and I think it was ok.

I found a trishaw driver who took me to the Prince Hotel. My first mission was to find out about boats to Mrauk U, as I had just missed the government ferry going upriver. I got a trishaw down to the jetty where a small crowd of men laughed gently at me, saying I had already missed the boat, so they said, tomorrow-tomorrow-tomorrow. Hmm, I would have to wait 3 days. I had read/heard that there were private boats usually going up everyday and I could probably get a ride on one. I asked around and did find someone who planned to go the next day, but he wanted about 8 times the price of the government boat. I tentatively told him I would be there at 6am, and left. I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around aimlessly, getting lost. Sittwe is very lived-in. It’s not a tourist city, and due to its stature as the capital of Rakhaing State, it has attracted a large variety of people, including a very large population from Bangladesh.

I went to find an internet place, and the man there told me that there was a man across the road who had lived in Tokyo for 7 years. I was curious, and really had nothing else to do, so I went over to chat with him. I was instantly invited to sit and chat. He has asked me not to reveal his name or profession, so unfortunately I cannot explain what he was doing while we spoke.

And speak he did. it was as if he had a whole fountain inside of him that was waiting to spurt out, and he had finally found a good outlet. He claimed confidently that although the government spies could understand terms in English, they didn't have a clue in Japanese. So it was that I spoke the most Japanese since I had left Japan a month earlier. I was interested in politics, and he was too, so he gave me a brief history of the political climate specifically in Rakhaing State. He was surprised at how much I knew of the political history of the past fifty years throughout the country as a whole. The Arakan League for Democracy used to exist, but it was made illegal in the 80’s, when the NLD was gaining too much popularity. There was an NLD office in Sittwe previously, with just two men working there, day in, day out. One of them was sent to jail for political dissent, and the other died (of old age or government intervention, no one was quite sure). Spies were everywhere; at one point in the 90’s it had gotten to a point where government would publicly announce their positions, threatening to tell report people to the government as dissidents unless they paid hefty fees.

Through all this, I was wondering, how did he get to Japan, and why was he back in Burma? Without asking, he told me that his mother was getting old and after 7 years in Japan, she was ready to see him again. He came back, essentially for her, and she passed away shortly thereafter. He is now married with a 3 year old daughter. When I asked whether or not he would rather still be in Japan, he said with a sad smile, “There is no point in thinking about things like that because it is not possible.”

Myanmar: Ngapali Beach: 5-6 February 2007: (Written 17 August 2007)

Well, I didn’t end up in Sittwe or Mrauk U like I had expected. The airport landed in Thandwe, a tiny airstrip in sweltering heat, and I exited, quite a bit disoriented actually. In the Lonely Planet, it says that to get from Thandwe to Sittwe, the jumping off point Mrauk U, you either go on a horrible overnight boat ride, or fly. But, I had enquired at several places in Bagan that insisted that I would be able to take a boat on the same day from Thandwe to Sittwe and it would only take a few hours. Optimist and willingly gullible, I decided to try my luck. So I landed, and within seconds, it seemed, the other tourists disappeared into fancy resort vehicles. A man wearing a Univeristy of Sittwe shirt came to the airport area, and I asked him if he was from Sittwe, hoping that he would say yes, and that he would be able to tell me how I could get to Sittwe that day. He laughed and said he was from Thandwe. He actually worked for a travel agency so I asked him for information about getting to Sittwe, and he tossed his head back laughing, saying there is no boat, it goes from Taunggok on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. So I would have to spend two nights, either in Taunggok or Thandwe, and the boat would be USD50. I checked about flights to Sittwe, and the one for the day had left 20 minutes prior, so the earliest I could go would be the next day. After much pitiful laughter and whining, I decided to stay in Ngapali for the night and fly to Sittwe the next day.

I’ve never been into beach holidays, and I’m always itching to get under the water if I am at the ocean. I also feel horrible if I’m laying in the sun doing nothing, so although many would have loved to have had this detour, I was not thrilled. But, you deal with the situation and make the best of it. I was fortunate to be able to stay in one of the cheaper places, which even then was about 5 times the price of what I had been paying for the past 2 weeks, but considering my situation, it wasn’t that bad. I decided to stop being grumpy and enjoy the day of rest and relaxation. It was my first taste of Rakhaing State, and the Arakan people.

Ngapali Beach was named as such (supposedly) by an Italian who claimed it resembled his hometown of Napoli (Naples) – Ngapali is the closest Burmese alliteration of it. Just as in many other countries, the feel of the place is so different when you’re right on the water. People are able to subsist partly on the sea, and the fishing villages have a lot less to worry about than some of the inland farmers. There is a slower, laid-back feel, and the gigantic palm trees rising out of the sand shooting into the deep blue sky were absolutely gorgeous. For years, the Burmese government has been trying to promote Ngapali Beach as an alternative to the high-end beach resorts in Thailand, luring in big-spending Europeans, mainly from Germany, Italy, and France, to spend a week soaking up rays, eating delicious fresh seafood, and generally not doing much else. They’re pretty successful, and I must have been the youngest person there by at least a decade, and there were plenty of pretty sarongs, bikinis (or not! The tops, at least) and scaly orange bronze skin that looked like orange peels that had been left out in the sun.

The Arakan people from Rakhaing State are one of the many dozens of ethnic groups in Myanmar. It is debated where they originate from, but it is believed that they are mixed with people from across the border in Bangladesh; the government has never really been able to control the Arakanese, and they are indeed different in their behavior – they are said to be more outspoken, more free-minded, and friendlier (is that even possible in Burma?!) It’s been written about that if you’re going to hear anybody defaming the government, it will be in Rakhaing State. They are still angry about losing power illegitimately centuries ago, and strongly believe that they should be granted independence from Burma. The Arakanese language is slightly different from Burmese, although they are written the same, the pronunciations are different.

So after lazing about, I started to speak with one of the girls working at the hotel where I was staying. Her English was very good, and in fact she had studied Japanese in both high school and university so she was quite eager to practice. I hadn’t spoken to anyone all day and was happy to have someone to speak to as well. She was, like all the staff at the hotel, beautifully dressed and made up. Her tamein was woven in a floral pink, yellow, and orange pattern, and her tanakha was carefully applied. Something about her set her aside from the others though; there was a raw fire, an energy that emanated in her. She seemed obedient and submissive but when she laughed, there was a sliver of mischievousness in her eyes that made you think you didn’t really know what was going on inside her head.

We chatted a bit then I went on the main road to get some dinner. The seafood in Ngapali is raved about by most tourists that have been there, especially considering the dire gastronomic situation elsewhere in the country. Government rice quotas, in which farmers must give up their livestock to the government if they don’t match the ridiculously high quotas, have drastically hurt the quotidian food of the general population. It is quite a conspicuous absence, walking into a market and not seeing any freshly butchered animals on sale. So, being on the water in Ngapali, the variety and availability were wonderfully refreshing. I had fire-grilled king prawns, and it was simply divine. I had forgotten my headlamp so walked back in the dark along the road with potholes everywhere.

When I arrived back at the resort, it was very quiet. The girl I had been speaking to earlier was still there and we started talking again. The news was on TV, and it seemed the perfect way to segue into what we both had on our minds. On the television screen, a military officer in a starched white collared shirt with a army green trousers and military boots entered a school classroom. The children looked to be about 7 or 8 years old, and they all wore starched white shirts, and dark green longyis and tameins. They had brand new shiny schoolbooks, sharpened pencils, and were all clean – in fact, everything about the scene was impeccable. The girl translated for me, that they were saying how this year they were reaching record highs in enrollment, and the reading and maths levels of children were significantly higher than previous years. I laughed at the absurdity, considering the schoolkids I had seen in the south and east of the country, and she giggled too, and said “only good news.” And in fact that’s how it is. There were images of a brand new shiny metal bridge that had been completed, suspiciously only saying that it was in the ‘north’ of the country – hmm, where? Marketplaces full of meat and fresh vegetables, new cars on the roads (due to the U.S. ban on trade with Burma, and other factors, it is rare to see a car in Burma that has been made within the last decade – except, of course, near military compounds).

I was cautious about what to say and how, because I really didn’t want this girl to get in trouble. In Burma, over the past 2 decades, since the 1988 popular uprising, hundreds of people have mysteriously disappeared at night, others have been incarcerated, and there is a general climate of fear. Who is watching, listening, telling?

It turned out, however, that my companion just wanted to let it all out. We talked about the education system – when she was in university, classes were held one month every year, and it cost somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 kyat (currently the exchange rate is about 1200 kyat to 1USD). She was in university only 5 years ago, but now the price is 200,000 kyat. For children to go to school, it is technically free but only if you can provide the school supplies and pay for the uniforms. She told me that it is about 2500 kyat a month for supplies. Her father used to be the village leader, and in 2004 he was taken to Sittwe with other village leaders around Rakhaing State and forced to sign a document swearing that he wouldn't meet with Aung San Suu Kyi when she came to give talks. He went anyway. In the past few years, her father has had to have surgery twice, on his eyes and stomach. He had to pay for everything, right down to the cotton swabs, disinfectant, and bandages. At her hotel, it is required that a portion of her salary goes to the government, but she said that her boss pays it instead of taking it out of her salary. In Ngapali, at present there are no government owned enterprises. However, this new taxation of 10% or more on privately owned hotels and resorts means that the government can benefit from the tourist presence without directly investing. The girl’s starting salary was 10,000 kyat a month. Every year, she receives a raise of about 5,000 kyat a month – just over 4USD. She makes 60,000 kyat a month now, because her boss understands that the cost of living is rising due to inflation and so has added extra raises to help the staff. Just 5 years ago, the exchange rate was 500 kyat to 1USD. She remembers 1988 although she was just a child. Her father went in hiding for the whole period of time after August 8 when the large protests in Mandalay and Rangoon, now known as Yangon, took place. We talked about forced labor, where people get paid about 500 kyat a day for hard labor in treacherous conditions. She works 7am to 9pm everyday except in the rainy season, and she doesn’t get paid during this period lasting 6 months. This means that her annual income is 60,000 kyat for 6 months, which is about 300USD.

We talked until 9pm when her father came to pick her up. It was with reluctance that we separated, but it was excellent to have had that conversation with her. I had finally gotten a glimpse into the parallel reality that exists in Burma.

In the morning on the 6th, I was absolutely sick of being at the beach so instead I taught the girl from the previous night how to do some origami. Within minutes I had most of the staff gathered around me, anxiously looking around to see where their boss was. I told them they shouldn't worry, that they were taking care of me, a guest, so it was fine. Everyone laughed and agreed, and indeed the boss came down a few minutes afterwards and joined in for a few minutes. It amazes me how much the people of Myanmar love origami. It captivates them, and they sit there, unmoving, watching me, trying to memorize every fold. I suppose for a country where many have never seen anything on TV or have any sort of access to light-hearted entertainment, the act of making a crane or box out of a sheet of paper is something akin to magic.

I stayed until I had to leave for the airport, and realized that a day earlier, I was disappointed that I had had to go to Ngapali, and in less than 24 hours, I wished I could stay longer. That’s the thing about Myanmar – every place just sucks you in and makes you wish you could stay forever, or leave and take all the people with you.

Myanmar: Bagan: 4 February 2007 (Written 29 March 2007)

It was 5:30am. I walked into the dark, unlit street, wondering if Kyaw Kyaw was going to show up like he had promised. Would his horse actually comply and walk after a long day with the German tourist?

“Hello!” the voice I had so quickly grown to recognize and feel reassured by called out, and I turned to see the horse cart, whose bright magenta cushions were black in the night. I saw a figure in the cart next to KK, and peered into the same huge smiling eyes of KK. It was his daughter, Bo Bo Wei. I had met an American living in Cambodia, Eric, at the guesthouse and we decided to go to the airport together. The horse struggled with the weight of 4 people and lots of luggage, but soon we were moving along the road as the horizon began to have a bright orange glow. The chill of night which made us wear fleeces and jackets transformed into a scorching heat.

We passed the Military Elementary School, with square glass windows that fitted neatly into the concrete exterior. There was a metal gate with a fresh paint job, and a neatly mowed field. Less than 100m past it was the normal Elementary School. The wooden shack had no windows, and the sea green paint was peeling.

As we continued down the road, minibuses full of European tourists zoomed by us, the sunburned passengers with documents and money around their neck, concealing the “Myanmar” or “Bagan” printed on their cheap, bright, silk-screen shirts, peered out at us.

Arriving at the airport, I had a few minutes with Kyaw Kyaw, and he asked me to write to him whenever I knew someone who was going to Myanmar. He insisted that on my next visit I come to eat at his house. I willed myself to remember everything about my warm experience in Bagan, and walked into the crowded airport.

It was the worst scene I had seen in Myanmar. Why do people wear high heels, mini-skirts, and carry Vuitton bags to see ancient temples? Why must tourists be loud, treat local people as furniture, and clown themselves with makeup and costumes? There is a reference in ASSK’s Letters from Burma about Myanmar being a “Fascist Disneyland.” As I looked around at the Burmese at the airport – all guides, or hotel or airport staff – I saw brand-new longyis, perfect black sandals, tidy tanakha on the women, purses and clipboards that were immaculate. Scurrying around much as you would expect children at Disneyland were Europeans, chattering to fellow tour group members about where they had been, where else they were going, how lovely the sunset at Shwe San Daw was, how Inle Lake is so beautiful. I listened to people speak of how friendly the people of Myanmar are, of how beautiful and undamaged the ruins of Bagan are, how high the quality of tourist infrastructure is, compared to what they had imagined. What they don’t know, what they don’t see, both because of themselves and the government, is what lies underneath – the medical and education system in tatters, the hungry and naked children.

Myanmar: Bagan: 3 February 2007 (Written 22 March 2007)

The next thing I knew, it was 8am on the 3rd. I was feeling more and more ill, so I decided that I would rest in the morning and hire a bike to go back to the ruins in the afternoon. I got some medicine, and as I returned back to the hotel, the woman was calling me over with the most animation I’d seen from her yet. She had a note for me, from my friends. I had no idea that I had friends in Myanmar that would know where I was staying and would write me a note, so I was rather suspicious when I took the sheet of paper. I opened it, and it was from Pascal! It said he had found out I was staying here, and he and Ricard were leaving that day to head southwest, and it would be nice if we could meet again. I was excited to hear from the boys who had shared my time from Yangon to Mandalay with me, and tried to find out where they were staying or how I could find them. The lady had no idea, so I basically walked around the street and asked every person who spoke English if they had seen a pair of European boys who were probably not dressed very well. It worked! I was told where they were staying.

I told the man at reception who I was looking for and he sent me to the roof, where my two favorite boys in Myanmar were chopping vegetables and tasting their salad. Ahh what joy! We chatted about the past several days that we were apart and ate guacamole and tomato salad and sat in the sun. We were indeed headed separate ways so I gave big hugs before we split.

In the afternoon, I took a bicycle from the hotel and headed to the ruins. The bike was in good condition, with a bell and basket and brakes. I am still precarious on two wheels, and I was hesitant but decided to give it a try. It went very well, except for the fact that to get to most of the actual temples you have to go on dirt roads which are often sand and the bike would skid and I would hover shakily before tipping over to one side, as I would laugh at how ridiculous I looked, and if anyone was witness, they would join in the laughter. My destination was San Thi Dar Restaurant. I had seen a posting in a guesthouse saying how friendly the family that ran it was, so I wanted to go see for myself; I had nothing else that I really wanted to see or do in Bagan, but I wanted to stay a bit longer to experience the feel of the place.

I found the food stall, and as soon as I parked my bike and approached the cool shaded tables, the man who owned the shop came and greeted me with the warmth that I had grown used to in Myanmar. I ordered lime juice, and before I even received my juice, I was given roasted peanuts, sliced banana, and tamarind flakes. I ordered a bottle of water and chatted to the man, and was given a lovely bamboo basket filled with toddy candy, a sweet made from the toddy tree.

The son, who was 10 years old, was playing checkers with a man at a table nearby, and he had a beautiful smile (seems to me most people in Myanmar who are smiling had remarkable smiles; more so than in most other countries I’ve been to). After the man left, the boy came to sit on a stool next to me. He said hello, and burst out laughing without me having said a single word. I asked why he was laughing, and he told me it was because I looked like a Burmese singer that was very famous. I decided to take this as a compliment and asked him if he wanted to play checkers with me. He beat me easily, then we chatted about Japan and did origami and his father showed me a Japanese/Burmese phrasebook that a Japanese tourist had given him. He asked me if I would be able to deliver a letter to this Japanese man and I agreed, so he asked me to go back the next day. I said ok, and asked for a recommendation of a good place to see the sunset. He told me of a temple just down the road, which would have a great view and not many people. I asked Pyi Sone, his son, to show me where it was and we sped off on our bikes.

When I arrived at the temple, Pyi Sone yelled out to a boy at the temple that I was coming, and I saw a figure race down the steps and run out of the temple, waiting for my arrival. The first thing he asked me was if I wanted postcards, but I tried out my phrases that my ‘kids’ the day before had taught me and he laughed and said, “Ok, but I’ll show you my temple anyway.” His name was Souzo, a 10 year old who came to this temple everyday for sunset. The view was magnificent. There were 4 tourists at the top, and the same number of Burmese children. Hot air balloons floated through the air, and the temples slowly faded into the mélange of purples, blues, and pinks that formed the sky and the land. As I left, I gave Souzo a crane and he told me, “Good luck Yuri. Always.” As I rode my bicycle back to Nyaung U, the sky turned a deep purple before transforming into a black velvet speckled with shimmering stars.

The next day, I arranged to take a trip to Mt Popa. A Japanese couple from my guesthouse and I shared a taxi and left at 7.30am on the bumpiest dirt road I think I had been on in Burma. I noticed the Orwellian aspect of the buildings we passed by, such as the Township Peace and Development Council. There were laborers on the roads, who did their best to protect themselves from the relentless sun but who looked to be struggling. They ranged in age from 6 to 80. We stopped to observe a village where a cow was directed to walk around in circles in order to have a piece of wood exert pressure on peanuts, where there was a strain and funnel to gather peanut oil. Our bums hurt significantly and we drank down palm wine to ease the pain, or just to get drunk at 8am.

The view of Mt Popa before you arrive at it is spectacular. This holy mountain is said to be home to the 37 nat spirits of the original Burmese religion. This mountain rises out of a flat plain, and is covered in green and has temples and pagodas at the top. Our driver let us off and told us he would wait at the bottom. There were stairs. Lots and lots of concrete stairways leading up the side of the mountain. And monkeys. Lots and lots of monkeys. They were active, jumping noisily on the tin roofs and looking to cause trouble. It was a steep uphill climb, passing plenty of people with brooms who claimed, “Sweeping clean donation.” At the top, the view was breathtaking. The flat green plan below spread out like a big carpet of emerald, palm trees and rice fields covering the rich brown earth. We were asked to be in a photograph with a family of pilgrims, and we descended quickly before the monkeys made us their next victims and harassed or robbed us.

Back at the bottom, our driver was slightly annoyed that we had returned so quickly because he was still eating his breakfast. We waited a few minutes and off we sped on the same road we had come on. We arrived back in Nyaung U and I decided to have a siesta to escape the midday heat before heading back to visit my friends in the afternoon.

I woke up, and asked the reception for a bicycle. “No more bicycle,” she said with a grave expression. I panicked – how was that possible? There were bikes EVERYWHERE in Myanmar…how was I going to get there to pick up the letter I had promised to take back with me to Japan? I went around to several guesthouses to inquire about bikes and finally found one that told me they could probably get me a bike but it wouldn’t be a good one. I decided to try my luck and followed the 12 year old girl down a small alleyway that led to a bike repair shop. I was given a very old bike with barely-working brakes, a small very hard seat, and no bell. I’m pathetic on good mountain bikes, and hopeless on bikes like these. I paid and got on. I realized 10 seconds after I started pedaling that I was exhausted from the strenuous physical activity of the past several days and the long travel I had done. I tried out the brakes and at the slightest touch, my bike would skid. The seat was so uncomfortable I considered putting my fleece on it to create some padding. I debated actually stopping to take a horse cart, but then decided against it. I continued on the road, finally getting into the rhythm, and passed a horse cart on its left. As I passed, the driver called out, “Hello!” Without looking (my bike-riding skills are such that I can’t turn my head too far), I cried out, “Hello!” The man replied, “Remember me from the other day? Kyaw Kyaw.” I was probably 30m ahead already when it registered and I braked, basically falling off the bike. Everyone laughed, and I turned around to see my lovely driver from two days before. We stopped at Upali Thein because his guest wanted to see the fantastic frescoes, and I chatted with Kyaw Kyaw. His guest, a German man named Klaus, agreed that we could put my bike on the rack behind the horse cart and I could get a lift to the Museum. KK’s horse was acting up, it was very tired from the day before, and we were all laughing. KK told us how a few months ago, he got drunk and fell asleep in the cart. He woke up as he was arriving home in the horse cart, because his horse was hungry and went home on his own accord!

Klaus and I ate together, and Pyi Sone and I spent the whole afternoon together. I ordered prawn curry, and I was served a meal that covered the wooden table for 4 with white ceramic plates filled to the brim with a variety of savory delights: pumpkin curry, bean curry, chicken curry, peanuts, tamarind flakes, papaya, pineapple, banana, rice, and fresh fruit juice. I was shocked, and they simply replied by saying that I was doing them a big favor by taking their letter for them, and that Pyi Sone was calling me big sister; I was therefore like family and would be treated and fed as such. I lingered at the small rickety shop until sunlight was fading, and there was a soft purple glow about the plain; Pyi Sone hugged me shyly and kissed each cheek, and his parents urged, “Daughter, come back and see us again.” I began to cycle on the flat road to Nyaung U, my legs aching, but feeling like they had accomplished something that made the sore muscles worth it.

Australia: Sydney: 13-17 August 2007 (Written 17 August 2007)

The last days in Sydney were my recuperation time. On Monday, I literally did nothing all day, then Lorenzo came over in the evening to Mark’s. We went to the supermarket so I could make a quick meal of burrito type things, with my guacamole (yum) and then he made a really, really, really tasty blackberry slice. It was like a giant huge blackberry crostatine. The crust was like shortbread, mmm. I love Italian people who can cook. Actually, I love all people who can cook. We watched The Motorcycle Diaries in the wee hours of the morning, and I am really glad that we chose to do so. I think the last time I saw it had been in the States about 2 years ago, and it was a very appropriate choice for what’s happening at the moment. That being, I’m just in a bit of a slump, not really sure what the future holds, not sure why I’m traveling, where I’m going, how long I’ll be there for, etc…so seeing Che via Gael (sigh…) and his monumental physical, mental, and spiritual journey across South America was somehow fitting. A reminder of where I’ve been, as well as new things I haven’t seen yet, and perhaps the same inspiration and realization of a passion and dream. We shall just have to see.

Tuesday I was lazy all day, and then in the evening I went to the CBD to meet Lindsey. I last saw Lindsey when she and Andy stayed with me in Tokyo in Spring 2006 when they were finishing up their round the world trip of a year. I have to admit I was a bit nervous, not sure of how much she and I both had changed, but I was excited to see her anyway. It didn't take long to realize that we still have the same dynamic, and we quickly poured out our observations on where we’d come from and where we’re going, or not knowing, or something really confusing like that. She and Andy bought a wooden house in Mission Beach, in the jungle 2 hours from Cairns, which unfortunately I didn't get to go see on this trip. However, speaking with her about it made me really want to go and spend some time there in the future. We talked about family, distances of physical, emotional, and intellectual levels, and what we have thought of for the future. It was a short meeting time-wise, but it was so nourishing. Thanks Linz!

I had started some sort of moviewatching spree, since I haven’t seen basically any movies for the whole time I’ve lived in Japan. Mark had a good collection, and I watched Hidden (Cache) a French movie, then late night I watched Lantana, an Australian flick. Both were good.

On Wednesday I had been determined to get up early and do the coastal walk from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach, but in the morning it was rainy and not very inviting. Ahh well, back to bed. I ran errands before going to meet Matt at Town Hall. We went to Redoak Pub, where they brew their own beers, including their signature Framboise (yum), and we had a great lunch there. Porcini pappardelle, I was in heaven. I went back home to take a nap, and in the afternoon I went to meet Evin in Lewisham. We had a relaxed lazy night involving movies (Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, then Dogville). Is it just me or are movies these days getting more disturbing, paranoid, and psychological? Or is it just the ones I happen to pick?

On Thursday morning, it was grey and uninviting again, but I worked up my willpower and decided that I had to go do the Bondi to Coogee walk. When I arrived at Bondi, it wasn't raining but it wasn't great weather either. Despite this, I thought it was beautiful. It’s remarkable that you can be this close to a large metropolis and have clean beaches with beautiful water. There were a few crazy surfers in the water, and a fair amount of tourists and exercise fanatics.

The walk takes about 2 hours, passing by coastal cliffs, several beaches, including Tamarama and Bronte Beaches, the spectacular Waverley Cemetery which looks out onto crashing waves, and several small parks that are nature reserves. It rained for most of the time I was walking, but it was a pleasant soft-falling rain for most of it, and I enjoyed it. From Coogee, I went back to Mark’s and chilled out for the afternoon.

Thursday night, Mark took me to dinner in Newtown. We went to Linda’s, a fancy Australian place. We shared everything we got – a blue cheese cauliflower custard, artichokes with marinated feta, lamb loin with asparagus fritters and grilled eggplant and tomato, and a huge steak with spinach and mashed potatoes in béarnaise sauce. Yum. Top it off with a bottle of New Zealand Pinot Noir and I could barely move.

At home, we performed our ritual of watching UK The Weakest Link and that was it. Friday morning was early, and I arrived at the airport with plenty of time.

So I’m headed to the US, and it will be interesting, part of me thinks that it must have changed a lot in the past 2 years since I’ve been there, and part of me thinks that it won’t have changed at all. The question, though, is how much I’ve changed. We shall see.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Australia: Katoomba/Sydney/Wollongong: 7-12 August 2007 (Written 12 August 2007)

Wow, so much to write as a lot has happened in the past week...

On Monday evening Bronwen, Matt, and I drove up to Katoomba. Katoomba is the main town in the Blue Mountains, located about 2 hours west of Sydney. We spent the night at the YHA there, and on Tuesday morning, started walking before 7am. We did a walk starting from Echo Point down to the Three Sisters, over to Leura Cascades, down Federal Pass, and over to the Scenic Railway. It took several hours, and was a fantastic walk.

The Three Sisters are an interesting rock formation, 3 peaks just next to each other jutting out of the cliff. There is an Aboriginal legend that a wizard turned three beautiful sisters into stone to protect them from the attention of ill-meaning men, and before he could turn them back into beautiful girls, the wizard died. Going over to Leura Cascades, we passed through beautiful eucalypt forest, frequently passing through lookouts looking into the valley. The Blue Mountains are called as such because the leaves from the eucalypt trees actually create a bluish mist, and from far away, the mountains actually appear blue.

From Leura Cascades, you descend steeply for about a kilometer on the Federal Pass track; the vegetation changes drastically, into rainforest with giant tree ferns. We then ascended for awhile to again walk beneath the Three Sisters, and I saw 4 lyrebirds that day! How exciting ; ) These fascinating birds, that are on Australian coins, are known for being able to mimic any sound that they hear - this includes not only other birds' calls, but also car alarms and chainsaws.

When we arrived at the Scenic Railway, the quietness of the track was quickly transformed into dozens of Japanese tourists. The Scenic Railway is the steepest railway in the world, and goes nearly straight up or downhill. We were going up, and it was terrifying.

We then went over to Blackheath, where the Grose Valley is. We had lunch, then went on an easy one hour walk on the Fairfield Circuit Track, passing through a few different lookouts. We then drove over to a few other lookouts, at Pulpit Rock, Anvil Rock, and a few others in the area. We headed back to Sydney in the late afternoon, and we spent a quiet evening back in Lane Cove.

On Wednesday morning, I woke up feeling really really horrible. Even more horrible than I thought I would have considering how much I had walked the day before. My head was pounding, and my whole body ached. I wasn't sure what was up, but Chris had just sent me directions to get to the Chinese Massage place in the city that Jade, who is a nurse in Sydney, goes to, so I decided I would go check it out. I made some phone calls and finally headed into town.

I ended up walking a lot around the city before going over to find the Pain Relief Centre. They were able to take me right away, and at $50 for an hour Whole Body Massage, it was a great deal. I was in severe pain and struggled to keep from crying out for parts of the massage. Afterwards, I got a fresh squeezed juice and vegetated in Hyde Park. By this time, I definitely had a full-blown fever.

I got back to Lane Cove and passed out after taking some medicine. In the evening I moved to Mark's place and immediately began to feel better. We had an early night which was good.

On Thursday, I still wasn't feeling perfect, so after breakfast I went back to sleep. Mark and I went on a walk around the area in the afternoon - University of Sydney, Newtown, and back. I really like the University of Sydney, with large open green spaces and old buildings. King Street, the main street in Newtown, is packed with great little eateries and pubs and shops. It reminds me a lot of Brunswick Street or Acland Street in Melbourne, and has a great young vibe.

I met Lorenzo in the late afternoon on campus and we walked and walked. We ended up going to a yummy noodle place in Chinatown, which I really enjoyed, and then went to meet his friends at The Clare Hotel. Stayed for a bit then back up to Harbord. It's nice, commuting on the ferry to Manly. On Friday, I slept in, then went down to Curl Curl Beach. It's a beautiful, quite large, nearly empty beach, and I found myself a rock to perch on while I read my book. I then continued to walk along the coast to Freshwater Beach, then down to Manly Beach. I jumped on a bus in Manly to get to Cremorne where I was meeting Brad.

The last time I saw Brad was January 2006 in Vail, Colorado where he had been working winters as a shuttle bus driver. We'd both travelled heaps since then and it was really great to catch up with him. He had recently spent time in Mexico and Guatemala before coming back to Australia for the first time in 2.5 years, so I felt like we had a similar sort of situation, in terms of returning to the old stomping grounds, not knowing what on earth to do for an occupation, missing being on the road, and a love for Latin American culture. It was great to see that after 20 months of not having seen him, we could still get on as we had in the past. Lots of random conversation and brainstorming; all good stuff.

I met Lorenzo in Manly in the evening, and we shopped for that night's dinner. Back at his place, he treated me to a FAN-tastic Italian meal, and in true fastidious Italian fashion, we had a primo piatti and secondo piatti - mushroom and rosemary creamy penne, and eggplant parmigiana, with real Italian Grana Padano...YUM. We decided not to go back into the city and instead went for a walk along the beach and it was beautiful, lots of stars, listening to the waves. Ahh I had forgotten how much I missed leaving near the beach in California.

Saturday morning I slept in longer than I thought I would which meant that I rushed to have breakfast and then I had to go. Caught the ferry from Manly and then I transferred down to Central Station. I got on the train to Otford, where Karen and her boyfriend Lukito were meeting me. Otford is at the southernmost end of Royal National Park, and I instantly felt a refreshing breeze when I got off the train. There was green everywhere, and the sky was a deep bright blue. We went to Garie Beach, which is in Royal National Park, and then we parked the car and went on the Coast Walk - we only did a few kilometers each way but there were some great views, and nice walking tracks.

We hung out at the Scarborough Pub, situated on cliffs overlooking the sea - a wonderful way to spent a Saturday afternoon. After a nap at Karen's place, we went to Sonny's Pizza for her friend's birthday dinner. Yummy gourmet pizza followed by a chocolate fountain at her house...mmm.

And today, after a nice sleep-in, Karen and I drove down the coast to Kiama where she grew up. We went on a walk along the coast, down to the river, and afterwards went to her parents' house. Her 15-month old nephew Lucas was there, and man was he cute. We had an enormous lunch and it was great to meet her family - they were really welcoming and we had a great time. Jumped on the train in Wollongong and I went back up to Sydney to Mark's. I arrived just in time for a huge barbecue that he was having with a few friends. So, the weekend turned out great and I feel much better than I did mid-week, so that's good.

It feels really strange that I'm leaving Australia so soon, yet at the same time I feel really ready to go. It feels like I've been here a really long time, at the same time I realize I've only seen a microscopic portion of the country. We'll see how the rest of the week goes; I'm happy to just relax and catch up on reading and writing before I get to L.A., which I'm really excited for :)

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Australia: Sydney: 4-6 August, 2007 (Written 7 August, 2007)

Arriving in Sydney, it was instantly much warmer. Matt and Bron were there to get me, thankfully, and off we went. I have to admit that the first glimpse of the Sydney Opera House from the Harbor Bridge were impressive, even though I was surprised at how small the Opera House was (sorry, I know that sounds so superficial - it's just that in all the photos and things you always see, you imagine that it will be enormous). We arrived home at Lane Cove, and after a short break, headed back into town to meet Mark and his friend for dinner.

We went to a Korean restaurant where we were the only table with any non-Asians, and afterwards we went down to Darling Harbour to have a few drinks. I was exhausted from my walk and flight that day, so we turned in early - especially since I had a big day planned for Sunday.

Sunday morning Matt and I quickly ate breakfast and hopped on the 7.30am bus towards the Harbor Bridge. The bridge is one of the icons of Sydney, an enormous piece of metal - it actually took 9 years to build, and was 2 separate halves that were brought together and joined on top of the water. It's not necessarily a beautiful bridge, but the views to be had from it certainly are. Crossing the 1.2km bridge, you definitely get an idea of Sydney's reputation as a city by the sea, the urban sprawl, and the love of the outdoors; joggers, walkers, cyclists, kayakers, all going about their sport at 8am on a Sunday.

Once we finished crossing the bridge, we went down to Circular Quay to take a ferry over to Manly. Manly Beach is one of the most popular beaches in the Sydney area, and it is easy to understand why. Beautiful clean, golden sands and perfectly shaped waves roll in, with heaps of ocean view cafes and tacky crafts shops. It's a quintessential urban beach town. We walked along the beach to Shelly Beach, and up around on good tracks along the headland, and finally went back. I picked up an apple, watermelon, pineapple, and ginger juice - quintessential beach town again.

After we got back on the ferry, we walked around the Rocks area. I actually find Sydney to be beautiful. The CBD is really different from Melbourne's; tall, sleek, shiny buildings line the harbor's edge, with the Botanical Gardens adding a splash of green and vegetation to the urban cityscape. Matt had luckily been able to pick up a variety of free tickets so we traversed the botanical gardens to get to Sydney Tower, where you can go 250m up in the viewing tower and have fantastic 360 degree views of the area. It was a beautiful clear day and the view stretched for miles. We then walked to the Sydney Aquarium and Wildlife World, and I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of Wildlife World; I thought it would be much tackier than it was, and I was glad to see the size of some of the enclosures, given its urban location on Darling Harbour.

By this point in the day, we were totally exhausted so headed home and had an early night. On Monday, Mark and Wei-lin came to pick me up in the morning and we went to the Northern Beaches. We stopped at Mona Vale to pick up picnic supplies and we had a delicious picnic by Palm Beach. We strolled along Palm Beach, then went for a drive, looking at the multi-million dollar homes reminiscent of Malibu, passing along Bilgola and Whale Beach. I thought, hmm I could live here.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Australia: Tasmania: 2-4 August, 2007 (Written 5 August 2007)

On Thhursday, after a yummy breakfast of poached eggs and stewed tomato, all 3 of us jumped in the car. Chris had a physio appointment in St. Mary's so while she was there, Jeff and I went into town to a coffee shop/art gallery/cafe. There were some beautiful photos of Tasmania on display.

It was starting to rain, and gradually getting heavier. From the physio, we went on an unsealed road towards Upper Scamander - much of this area had been burned by the bushfires last summer and the damage was depressingly obvious. As we went further, we emerged onto rolling green grazing land. The luminous green, even in the rain, reminded me a lot of Scotland. There were cows and sheep in the paddocks, and mountains in the distance. Originally, we had planned to go to The Blue Tiers, but at the info centre in town we were advised not to because of the road and track conditions. We decided that we could still probably go see St. Columba Falls. Seeing as how it was raining heavily, we opted to have a bite to eat and then head towards the waterfall. We went to Holy Cow!, an outlet of Pyngana Cheeses, where they make a variety of cheddar cheeses, and have a great little restaurant. In fact, most of the flavored cheeses, like the sun-dried tomato, pickled onion, and chilli, didn't taste much like they had anything in them. Certainly not King Island of Margaret River cheese. However, the beef and beer pie and the tasting plate was yummy and filling.

By this time, when we thought it couldn't get any wetter, it was actually pouring down even more. We decided that we might as well go to St. Columba falls since we'd come all this way, and so onwards we went. We reached the Falls area, which turned into lush green forest, with huge tree ferns, and moss covered trees in a steep valley. We could see some of St. Columba Falls from the car, and due to the rain, we decided that was as close as we would go that day. Beautiful spot, though, and I'd like to go back someday.

We basically went straight home after that, making a short pit stop at the Seafood center in St. Helens, where we had seen plenty of boats at the jetty that had come in recently. We got some scallops and home we went. Funny enough, it wasn't really raining at the house, although the rain meter showed 7.5mm. I was exhausted and went straight for my nap.

Dinner that night was a potato bake, delicious Asian-inspired cabbage salad, and the scallops cooked in butter, mirin, and soy sauce. Yum.

Friday morning we got off to a good start since there was lots to see. We went Southwards, passing through the Chain of Lagoons and numerous beaches, to arrive in Freycinet National Park. One of the most popular destinations in Tasmania is Wineglass Bay, a perfectly shaped bay with white sand and crystal clear water. We marched through the pink granite mountains to get to the lookout for Wineglass Bay. It was a beautiful walk, through the pink mountains that seemed to change color everytime the light changed at all.

We then spent a couple of hours going around to different beaches and bays in the area, photographing. The contrast between scenery was astounding. Whereas Wineglass Bay is powder-soft white sand, other parts of the coastline are a rugged red sandy cliff, whilst others are small black boulders, and still others are brown rock formations jutting out into the sea, We had a picnic lunch at Honeymoon Bay and walked around Cape Tourville, where views were really spectacular, layers of cliffs melting into the sea, with the azure waters continuing until they became one with the sky. On the way back to the main road from Cape Tourville, we stopped in Sleepy Bay, where the color of the water was phenomenal. Clear white spray, light green, turquoise, aquamarine, and everything in between melded together as the waves came crashing in.

We then headed northwards towards home, and stopped at the Friendly Beaches. Here, we saw heaps of wallabies, including one that came right up to us, no fear of humans. They seemed less elegant than kangaroos, but oh-so-cute. The beach here was spectacular. The sand was so white - I think Tasmania and Fraser Island have the softest, whitest sant I've ever seen - and the clear sunny sky meant the water had that serene, perfect color palette. There were different rocks here, that looked as though they had for some reason been kept a lighter color - muted light greys. Also, rocks covered in deep green moss littered the sand. The bright green grass and bush growing on the sand just near the water's edge provided a beautiful contrast between the blinding white and the blues of the sea.

After this, we really did go home, and enjoyed a nice sunset - not quite as nice as the day I arrived, but nonetheless the colors of the clouds above were awe-inspiring. Dinner was a fajitas-type thing, with my guacamole, and afterwards Chris and I fiddled around on the computer, me attempting to teach a bit about the flickr site and other things, even though I don't really know anything about technology. Oh well, seemed to work out ok. Chris and I stayed up late that night, talking first about my apprehension about viisting the States, and how leaving Japan was, and by the end of it, we had switched over to literature and movies. It was great hearing about her experiences in Margaret River and Tasmania, both places in which she and Jeff have experienced a community tragedy. The reactions and outlook in these events are some of the more important things for me to consider, I imagine.

Saturday morning came and I really didn't want to go. We made a Mexican breakfast because I wanted them to try it, and afterwards lounged about the house getting ready. When I said bye to the dogs and Jeff, it was a strange feeling, not really of going away, but a see-you-later - cliche, I know, but it's true. The drive to Launceston was beautiful, and as Chris had told me the day I arrived, every time you go through the valley it's different, depending on the season, the clouds, the sky. Chris had a podiatrist appointment so I went up to Cataract Gorge, which is really just outside the city but feels miles away. There is a steep proper hiking track called the Zig-Zag Track which I went up, crossed the suspension bridge, and went back the ing them. other way on a tarmac road. The gorge has huge cliffs of grey stone with light green and white lichens and mosses covering them. Due to the recent heavy rainfall, the water was gushing down, with sprays of white going everywhere. What a great walking spot so close to a city.

I still had some time before Chris would arrive so I went for a stroll around the river, and crossed paths with many walkers and cyclists. It was really nice. I then met Chris and we went downtown to get lunch at a bakery, then off to the airport. Launceston airport is really small, so I think I kind of didn't get the sense that I was leaving. As I said by to Chris, I really didn't want to go, I was tempted to just go back with her. Such is life, though, and I really really hope that I can come back while they are still living in Tasmania, and spend a month or so during the summer to go on extended walks around the island. Their hospitality and everything about their lifestyle is great - producing the bulk of your own food, taking the time everyday to enjoy your surroundings - all things I hope I can do one day.

So off I flew to Sydney, and slept the whole way on the plane.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Australia: Tasmania: 31 July - 1 August, 2007 (Written 1 August 2007)

The flight from Melbourne to Launceston is very quick. It feels like just after you’ve taken off and managed to drift off to sleep, they are announcing that you’re getting ready to land. Chris was there, waiting, and it felt a bit like a homecoming in a way. It’s always nice when you have that vibe with someone – and I am realizing more and more how lucky I am to have the handful of people in Australia that I feel that way with.

We ran some errands in Launceston, a sleepy town it felt like – compared to the hustle and bustle of Melbourne, its small rows of shops were notably quieter, more quaint. We had lunch at a great little French bakery with some great chai, and continued on. Tasmania is the last populated of Australia’s states, with only 480,000 people living on the island just off the coast of Victoria. It is, in fact, closer to Antarctica. People had been warning me the whole time about how I was going to freeze in Tassie, as the island is commonly known, but it was actually quite mild when I arrived.

The drive home was quite spectacular, at first passing through bright green farmland with cows and sheep grazing – Tasmania also suffered as a result of the ongoing drought in Australia, but the past few months have seen quite a lot of rainfall. We headed south from Launceston and at Conara took the road eastward, going towards the coast. The scenery began to be more dramatic with mountains on either side, and there were dramatic clouds spreading across the sky. This is perhaps the most striking feature of Tasmania that I’ve seen thus far; the sky is constantly changing and the colors and shapes to be seen are transforming continuously – that afternoon, the sky was a pale lavender, which was absolutely gorgeous.

We drove by Elephant Mountain, which I’m not so sure looks like an elephant, but compared to place names like Mount Disappointment in Victoria, I didn’t mind the stretch-of-imagination nomenclature of this odd mountain which had a long gradually sloping side and then a plateau on top. We then passed through St. Mary’s Pass, which had earlier this year been devastated by bushfires dubbed “a moving furnace” rather than a normal healthy fire. As a result of this fire, the trees had sprouted leaves directly along their trunks, giving them what Chris called pajamas. Indeed, the whole forest had an appearance of Ents from Lord of the Rings or something out of a Dr. Seuss book. I’d never seen anything like it before; the silvery blue leaves of the gum trees and the light green fresh leaves in the late afternoon light are imprinted in my memory.

I caught a glimpse of the ocean coming up and as we got closer you could see the perfectly shaped waves crashing in onto the smooth, weathered rocks with thick kelp in some areas. You really got the sense that you were at the end of the world here. We arrived at the property, 25 acres right next to the ocean. We went along the dirt driveway, passing under 2 blooming wattles, their bright yellow balls of fluff dancing in the wind. Jeff was walking the dogs and the dogs started racing us to the door. Monte is a King Charles terrier, sweet as could be with really soft fur. He’s already 10 and deaf, but seems to do ok. Yuki is a crazy miniature Schnauzer, 1.5 years old, still acting about 3 months old.

The house is beautiful, with large glass panels overlooking the cove; you can watch the ocean whilst cooking, eating, lounging. My room is upstairs and on two sides I have windows with ocean views. The sunrise is seen from my window, and in the evening the sunset colors can be seen.

We had come back just in time for sunset; earlier, I had told Chris that I thought it wasn’t worth it to photograph the sky and the clouds because my photos wouldn't do it justice. The sky turned into a brilliant canvas of pinks, reds, purples, oranges, and blues, with tiny cotton balls of white scattered in. I decided I may as well try and capture it on film. And so I did. The amazing thing was that the color of the sky caught on the white of the waves, and the spray; there were pink and purple reflections in the ocean. Breathtaking. It was starting to get much cooler so we ran inside.

We munched on Angie’s smoky tomato sauce (yum! Thanks!) and the King Island Double Cream Brie. Jeff was kind enough to share his Hay Shed Hill Shiraz from Margaret River with me. Australian wines have impressed me overall already, but this bottle really hit the spot. We had a yummy pasta for dinner followed by way too many pastries that had been bought at the Launceston French bakery, and enjoyed a couple different shows on TV. Felt just like the home that I don’t have.

Today, it was a leisurely morning, I was awake just in time for sunrise over the ocean and we had breakfast on the veranda. Jeff had to do some work so Chris and I decided to go to Binalong Bay. The whole area around Binalong Bay and further north is called the Bay of Fires because the rocks are covered in lichens, ranging from the soft yellows of kindling to ochre, and the deep red of a raging flame.

It was just over an hour to get to this impossibly beautiful bay with soft powdery white sand and clear turquoise, green, and aquamarine water. It seemed as though every moment as the light changed, and the movement of the water changed, the whole bay was changing – my camera shutter was going basically nonstop. We went a bit further to the Skeleton Bay carpark and did the easy walk to Skeleton Point. Skeleton Point was beautiful. The black rocks had orange and red lichens on them, and the contrast between the black, yellow, orange, and red with the green, blue, and white found in the ocean was like something out of a fantasy novel. We sat and contemplated and ate snacks. Ahh.

We then drove a bit further north to a few beaches, saw some saltwater moss which I’ve never seen, and turned back. On the way home, near Scamandar, we stopped at the Winifred Curtis Conservation Area. This area had been heavily damaged by bushfires this year. This was evident from the charred trees that remain in the area, along with the fresh new growth that is just emerging from the ground. We went on the lagoon track, walking just next to the lagoon with a view of the Sisters and other distinctive mountains in the area. The grass growing along the lake was the same silvery blue green that is found in eucalypts. We went down a bit further and turned inland towards the Old Coach Road.

The vegetation changed completely. Now, there were plenty of tall black charred trees. Interspersed amongst them were the other ‘pajama’ trees, with fresh new foliage adorning trunks and branches, and as we continued on we came across a plant that Chris referred to as “Black Boys.” Supposedly it is now politically incorrect or inappropriate to call them this name. However, it is entirely fitting – the trunk is a charcoal black color, and in the center of the plant is a very phallic stem that stands erect. The proper term now, apparently, is Native Australian Grass Tree. We walked a bit further and found that they were all around us, and many of them had multiple stems; perhaps nature’s way of promoting regeneration after the devastating fire. I had never seen anything like this before, and the combination of all the different types of vegetation with the mountains looming behind presented a scene that was somehow nostalgically prehistoric: dinosaurs could have roamed here.

After we had satisfied our desire to photograph all the plants in the area, we continued home. Once we arrived, we went in the John Deere to see the property on the south of the house. We went down to the rocks with the waves crashing in, we visited the veggie garden with the sections with some broccoli and peas left- the remainder is all prepared for strawberries, cauliflower, tomato, apples, pears, lemons, nectarines, mulberries, and a whole variety of other produce.

I had a quick siesta and woke up just in time for sunset – except there was nothing resembling yesterday evening. The house faces east so in order for the sunset colors to be there the sunlight needs to light up the clouds above the ocean; for some reason today that didn't happen. Perhaps tomorrow.

We munched on some stuffed red peppers and Margaret River Smoked Cheddar cheese, and had some Stella Bella Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc medley wine (Lisa, Chris and Jeff’s daughter who also came to Japan, works for Stella Bella in Margaret River).

Dinner was absolutely gorgeous. We had Yudofu, boiled soft tofu in a soy based sauce with ginger, spring onion, sesame, and seaweed, and a plate of veggies; cauliflower, homegrown butternut pumpkin, snowpeas, and broccoli, with a miso based paste. It was the first time I’ve had Japanese food in Australia and I found that I missed it more than I had even realized.

I’ve found Tasmania to be the most beautiful state I’ve seen in Australia. Yes, I’m aware that it is an enormous country and I’m seeing a very very small percentage of it, but of what I’ve seen it is the most striking. It is largely untouched by humans, it is not densely populated by any means, and it is really accessible, at least where I’ve been. Through the whole day along the coast at Binalong Bay and then at the Reserve, we did not see one other person. How refreshing. The quality of food seems to be really high (but that might just be the Sedevic household standard) and of course, the ocean view doesn't hurt. I could stay here a lot longer than the 5 days I’m here for.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Australia: Melbourne/Mornington Peninsula: 27-31 July 2007, Written 31 July 2007

I was starting to get itchy feet, sooner than I expected; I needed to get out of the city.

Friday I took a train from Glenhuntly and was off to the Mornington Peninsula to visit the Rockstroms. The Rockstroms came to Japan, parents and 2 of the 5 kids, in April this year. I was going through a really tough time with the illness of my grandmother and all 4 of them were really supporitve and helpful. I was really excited to see them again.

Roberta came to pick me up and we went home. John was there (in a suit! ugh, haha) but had to rush back to work. Roberta and I had lunch and went down to the beach for a walk and around the coast a bit. They live in Mt. Eliza, named after Matthew Flinders's wife or one of his friends' wives or something like that (Australian history is...interesting). The rest of the afternoon was relaxed and I ended up having a nap before we went to dinner. Dinner was quite an experience; the small community where everyone knows everyone and you get recognized by people at half the tables in a small restaurant was so different from anywhere in Japan, particularly Tokyo. I focused on the delicious mouthwatering steak and the meringue- mmmm.

Marcus and I watched "A Fish Called Wanda" after dinner and John came home during it, after he had finished his aikido training in Melbourne. We stayed up til the wee hours of the morning, complete with a midnight snack...mmm.

Saturday morning we planned a rough itinerary for the day and set off. Some walks, wineries, food, and nature stuff were on the agenda. We tried to go to Stillwater Vineyard at 10.30am and found that it didn't open until 11am. I thought Australians started drinking earlier than that ;)

At Arthur's Seat, we walked around Seawinds, a massive garden that had been built by a guy who spent all his money on the garden and then ran out of money so he couldn't build a house there. Hmm. It was beautiful, with great views of the Port Philip Bay. We saw several kangaroos very close, all males, and they were just munching away on the grass. We headed to T'Gallant Winery and had several tastes before we settled in for a Tutti Gusti taste plate and some Pinot Gris. Yum. Yes, there was a theme to my visit. Eat, drink, repeat. The taste plate had a delectable selection of olives, salami, prosciutto, different breads and grissini, pickles, pickled vegetables, roast pumpkin, and a few other dishes.

We then went for a walk at Bushrangers Bay, whereupon both Roberta and I winged a bit; after I eat and drink, especially anything alcoholic, I want to sit and lounge in the sun and have a nap - not walk. However, the scenery was gorgeous, a nice soft dirt track winding through, first with views of farmland, then continuing out to hug the cliffside and provided a stunning lookout above a beach. By the time we got back to the car, we were ready for more gastronomic treats.

At Montalto, they not only offer wine tasting but there are a variety of olive oils that are produced. Lemon and basil infused options are a tasty variation, and of course the wine is a big draw; the Riesling there was my favorite wine of the day. We had a tasting plate again (the chorizo and roquefort were divine) and a pizza, followed by a brownie and hot chocolate. Yes, in 3 days in the Mornington Peninsula I probably packed on a few kilos.

The day was nearing its end as we arrived at Coolart, known for its colony of koalas. Koalas are incredibly difficult to spot, mainly because they look just like the trees they're in and they don't move at all. They roll themselves up into tiny balls, stick their claws in the bark, and close their eyes. We walked around looking in the gum trees and we went towards the trees that had tin around their trunks, as this kept koalas off - meaning that there would be koalas in the area, or so we thought. As we were climbing over a fence, John said he'd show me a koala if I gave him a dollar. I refused, and he pointed up into a tree with a ball of grey fur in it - there it was! It turned its head towards us, scratched itself, and looked the other way; apparently, for normal koala standards, I was getting some great action. I stood in various different positions around the koala to take photos which were relatively mediocre due to branches getting in the way but I was excited nonetheless. We searched for more but as I mentioned, they're incredibly difficult to spot and we gave up.

Once home, I had my nap and awoke just in time for Greek Lamb and roasted and steamed veggies. Yummm. And a beautiful red wine from South Australia. Another movie and off to bed.

Sunday morning we went down to Mornington for breakfast by the water, stopped off at home, then John and I went into Melbourne to meet Kate at Southbank. I thought I was getting a light lunch option when I ordered the lamb salad at Blue Train Cafe but instead I got 3 lamb chops and almond tabbouleh, with about 5 pieces of lettuce. Was delicious, though. After that, Kate took me to Capitol Theater and dropped me off. It was so nice to spend time with the family, they are really nice, interesting, well-rounded people. I hope I can see them again, in the not too distant future.

I met Greg and Saori for Jellyfish, an Israeli film in the Melbourne International Film Festival, and I was surprised by how much I liked it. 4 intertwining stories, with themes of lost innocence, what we take for granted, how shortsighted we can be, and of course, coincidence and how we affect one another often without realizing it.

Afterwards, we went for some Indonesian food, mmm beef rendang, then walked to Fitzroy. I met Bec that evening at Bimbo’s, packed as usual, stopped off at the Standard, then back to Greg’s. Some quality delayed American TV (Grey’s Anatomy, which I’d never heard of, shows the extent of just how cut off I now am from mainstream American culture), but afterwards Saori, Greg and I watched Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles. It’s a Japanese film, a father estranged from his son for 10 years goes to China as his son is dying – it was beautiful cinematography and it was a moving story. Made me a bit nostalgic for Japan, whilst at the same time making me really glad that I wasn’t in Japan. Strange feeling.

Fronsky the Greyhound and I hung out in the guest room that night. Was good ; )

Monday morning I headed back to St. Kilda after breakfast. Spent the day trying to write a proposal about Burma for an Australian travel publication, so we’ll see how that goes. Angie, Mark, Aiden, and I went to The Espy for dinner, yum. We had Malaysian, Italian, and Russian dishes, so quite an eclectic menu, and great atmosphere. My favorite spot in St. Kilda I think.

I was introduced to Big Brother, an utter and complete waste of time and brain cells if you ask me, but Angie was excited. It was a good last day in Melbourne. I feel extremely fortunate to have been able to catch up with Angie, Mark, and Aiden. Angie is the type of person I hope I have around forever; I think we could go years without speaking and then just come back together again. I can't wait to see what Aiden's like as a child, and hope the other baby/babies that pop out will be just as cute and cuddly :)

I’m waiting for my flight and I’m excited to be going, though sad in a way. It was really really great to spend time with people in and around Melbourne, some good quality time and I’ll miss the people, looks like I’ll have to come back. At the same time, I’m ready for a few days of not seeing concrete buildings everywhere, albeit pretty ones in Melbourne for the most part.