Posts tagged ‘Travel’

Heading out to Hanoi

1534. So here I am at Terminal 3 of Changi Airport, being, for the first and possibly the only time in my life, the first person through the boarding gate. I must admit to feeling just a tad lonely because I am taking this flight sans companions, and that is why my trusty little Asus Eee is seeing some use now. It’s either this or watch a local soap rerun of some fifteen years’ vintage.

Have I ever mentioned here that I hate flying? Love travelling, but hate the process of getting there. It’s partly because I have the most heinous tendency toward motion-sickness, and partly because I dislike having to sit in limbo, being transported with a herd of other human beings. Also, as far as today is concerned, it’s partly because it’s that time of the month. Arrgh.

2331, Hanoi time. As with the Bali trip, the start of this one was unpromising. It consisted of sitting in the plane for a whole hour, waiting for air traffic to clear so that we could actually leave. It was a full flight and I remember thinking that it was a good thing that most of it was made up of Vietnamese people, who tend to be small, light and wiry in build. They also have fine, clean-cut features. Wedoryn would blend in quite well here.

Once I had cleared customs (a process infinitely less painful than in Bali– I must have had my worried expression on because the officers were really quite nice), it was plain sailing. There was a lady who was holding up a sign just for me, and after I got my suitcase, I was led to a swanky black Mercedes (whee!), complete with moon roof, refreshments and Wi-Fi (whee!), as well as shades on the back windows to impart the cool-mysterious-passenger look, which ferried me in high style to the Intercontinental Hanoi Westlake.

Checking in was equally painless, and, after doing that, I was surprised for a minute when I was led outside the main building, to a golf buggy. Then I realized that the place was actually bloody immense, hence the subsequent whiz around on said buggy. There are separate blocks of rooms, each one standing on stilts in a huge lake, far apart from one another, so as I write this, I feel like I am practically inVenice. It helps that the weather is absolutely perfect, something like 16 – 18 degrees Celsius.

I met my friends, who had arrived on the preceding flight, in the lobby so that we could go and have our first bowl of pho and our first glass of Hanoi beer. You can see some of both in this picture:

The pho was very, very good.

And now, full and happy, I am waiting for my pillow selection to be delivered to my room before I go and have a nice bath and hit the bed. I am a lucky bug, I know.    

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December 2, 2011 at 15:34 Leave a comment

Going to Hanoi tomorrow!

Excited again! I’ve never been to Hanoi.

But I never learn my lesson, do I?

Ah, CRAP.

December 1, 2011 at 18:03 Leave a comment

Just one more post on Bali…

… and then I’ll be done with the topic. This one is short, I promise.

Technically speaking, it is also about food, provided you are, like me, one of those beings who do consider things like this food:

Momogi corn stick snacks! Thanks to Nefatari Villas for making sure that there were always six packs of the stuff in our room every day. Gratis.

I have nursed an absolute weakness for savoury empty-calorie snacks for about as long as I have had teeth, particularly if said snacks are made out of things like sliced potatoes, monosodium glutamate, mushed corn, salt, monosodium glutamate, cheese powder, oil and monosodium glutamate. 

Each pack contains two square-ended, hollow, fake-cheese-flavoured, oily, crunchy-then-melt-in-your-mouth sticks of goodness (this last word being purely subjective). Yum yum.

It was just like being a kid again.

November 27, 2011 at 09:58 Leave a comment

Balinese food: Lobong cooking class

When Mr. Manx and I visited Paris last year, we had an unexpected whale of a time at O Chateau’s wine appreciation class, so I signed us up for for another class in Bali – a cooking class, which, if I may say so, was very brave of me because my cooking skills are beyond words. The ones that come closest are “terrible”, “dreadful” and “abysmal”, sometimes in partnership with “gut-wrenchingly”.

Choosing the class was really easy – I simply went on Tripadvisor and picked the top attraction (correct at time of writing). Booking was really easy too because Lobong Cooking Class has its own website – you can make a reservation there and then you’ll receive a confirmatory email. Payment is only made in person, in cash, after the whole event. They even pick you up in a nice van at your hotel! We chose the morning class and were on our way to the market (the name of which escapes me, sorry) by 8a.m., and there we met Sang De, our guide for the day. We were the only Asians in the class; the rest were couples from Australia, the US and Canada.

This is the market that Sang De brought us to. He is the guy in the bottom left picture, giving us a tutorial on chillies. Don't be fooled by his traditional attire - he speaks near-perfect English and manages the online bookings via Blackberry. The picture on top shows a typical fruit and veg stall and the right bottom picture shows a lady spreading cacao beans out to dry.

The next picture, showing an industrious lad obviously unused to Chinese women pointing cameras at him, is perhaps my favourite of the ones I took that day, so it gets its own space.

We didn’t buy anything at the market as everything was already prepared at the venue of the cooking class, which turned out to be the ancestral home of Sang De and his family. It turns out that the class is a family business, from guide to chef to chauffeurs, on board for only the past ten months but already thriving.

Here Sang De is giving us a crash course on Balinese culture as we have coffee and pisang goreng (fried bananas) in a corner of the sprawling grounds of his home. He's telling us about the significance of the various structures, down to the human placentas ceremonially buried under stones placed outside the door of the family elder. He's also telling us interesting facts, like the way many Balinese share the same name because naming is done according to birth order - Wayan for the firstborn, Made for the second, then Nyoman, then Ketut (and then if Number Five comes along, s/he is Wayan all over again).

After the lecture, we trooped to the kitchen area to put on aprons and towels, and then we met:

The man on the left is Dewa, the chef and our tutor for the day. For a moment the class looks like the Balinese version of Hell's Kitchen, but this is just a front, as Dewa is actually affable and funny, and a really good teacher. The second picture shows three chef-wannabes. They are very cheerful identical triplets.

Then we were put to work.

These peanuts, for example, were deep-fried in homemade coconut oil with spices. Then we all took turns grinding them to pulp and later cooked the mush with palm sugar syrup and lots of coconut milk to make the world's best peanut sauce. It's advisable to not think about the calories. And look! The cheerful triplets turn out to be septuplets!

Thus we bumbled our way through, if you will believe it, to produce a beautiful nine-course Balinese meal. The truth was, of course, that the brains and skills of the cooking came from Dewa, and all us participants really did was stuff like chopping, mixing and stirring, but that suited us well and it was fun.

After the cooking was done, the food was plated and laid out, but before anything else could be done to it, offerings had to be made because that's what the Balinese do to give thanks for each meal. We didn't have to make the offerings ourselves; Sang De got his mum to do it for us. Thanks, Sang De's mum!

And yes, we got to eat all that good food for lunch. I particularly liked the peanut sauce and the ayam bakar bumbu bali, which is baby chicken in spicy yellow coconut sauce. At the end of the meal, we were each given a recipe booklet and a small bottle (thoughtfully sized at 100ml so that it can cross Customs) of homemade coconut oil as souvenirs, and then we were ferried back to our respective hotels.

It was a fantastic way to spend a morning in Bali.

November 26, 2011 at 01:27 2 comments

Our Bali base: Nefatari Villas

Mr. Manx and I are back from Ubud in Bali, fat as a couple of pigs from all the good eating, and peppered with more mozzie bites than we’ve had all the rest of the year combined.

Arriving at Denpasar airport was a nightmare because several planes touched down at about the same time and the signage at Customs was frankly lousy. We witnessed much queue-cutting and selective blindness to fellow humans (nice to know that this is not restricted to Singaporeans), and the airport officials were either pathologically slow or outright rude.

The nice thing about an unprepossessing start is that things generally get better from there. Faith shaken, we were slightly nervous about whether our ride from the airport would show up, but our chauffeur was practically the first thing we laid our eyes on upon leaving the building, and events improved markedly from then on. This pickup was a much-appreciated service from Nefatari Villas, which was recommended by Orange (the first thing he raved about was the ability to swim nuddies as each villa comes with its own private pool). My rave would be how you can ask for transport to and from anywhere in central Ubud, up till ten at night (wow!), and at no additional charge (wow wow!). It’s not as if the transport vehicle is some half-assed motorbike either; the villa runs six vans at the level of the Toyota Innova for this purpose. 

Here’s a quickfire gallery of Villa Jepun, one of Nefatari’s nine villas, which we stayed at for two nights:

With reference to the middle picture, the shower, tub and toilet bowl (which is not shown for aesthetic reasons) were all outdoors - a truly novel experience for us. Unfortunately for him, Mr. Manx was once attacked by a wasp while utilizing said toilet bowl. Much screaming ensued.

 The food provided at Nefatari was good too:

The first picture shows a funky little pot containing black-as-sin Balinese coffee. The middle picture shows Nefatari's famous banana pancakes, topped with palm sugar syrup, which you can order delivered to your villa for breakfast and are totally yummy. The right-most picture shows a platter of bebek betutu, an evil-looking mutilated duck carcass that has been slow-smoked in spices and is utterly delicious, and very good with the local Bintang beer.

Speaking of food, do you remember learning about food webs in school? The mash-up of arrows showing who gets to eat who if everyone finds themselves in the same room? This is what I consider the predominant food web in Bali:

We saw a huge gecko in our villa trying to bite the head off another gecko one-tenth its size, so, yeah, I reckon that geckos eat geckos. Also, they are bullies.

They even got into our sugar bowl:

Kidding! You gotta give it to whoever designed this sugar bowl. Perhaps they reasoned that a ferocious-looking, pre-occupying statuette would keep the real McCoys away. After all, bullies are insecure at heart, right?

Coming up on the next Bali installment: the REAL reason we went. Stay tuned.

November 23, 2011 at 20:43 Leave a comment

Going to Bali tomorrow!

Excited!
 
There is, however, a reality check:
 

Ah, crap.

November 19, 2011 at 08:59 2 comments

I love to go a-wandering

This has been a travel-happy year so far. I went to England with Mr. Manx in May, to make up for the awful aborted trip last year.

This is a horse having a bad day at the Horse Guards Parade. If I'd been the horse I'd have been cranky too, being photographed by all these crazy tourists. Damn you, crazy tourists!

Then I went to Melbourne in July and had a great time with my pseudonymed friends Mr. and Mrs. Monty (and their two tiny Montettes – let’s call them Hontette and Sontette), Camellia and Tinman. 

A glorious ramble through the National Gallery of Victoria and the Queen Victoria Park led to this lamp-post overlooking the Yarra River (which I’m just mentioning for reference; you can’t actually see it in this picture, sorry). I can’t swear to it, but this was probably along St Kilda Road. I think.

I thought that was going to be it for the year, but as it turns out, in the span of the next few weeks I will be taking short trips to Bali and Hanoi. I’m really excited because I love travelling and taking strange new photographs. On the other hand, I really hate flying and am terribly unprepared (planned itinerary – nope; changed money – oops; packed luggage – eh)… but that’s kinda part of the fun sometimes, isn’t it?

November 17, 2011 at 12:41 4 comments

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Welcome to my blog!


My blog-name is Katie but I will not respond if you call me that in real life because it's not my real name. Yes, I do practise virtual-world paranoia. No, I do not enjoy stalkers. But I do enjoy writing and having folks reading said writing, so welcome to my world. It's nice to meet you.

Playing in my head over and over again argh

I'll Have To Say I Love You In A Song (Jim Croce)

Book(s) of the moment

Hogfather (Terry Pratchett)

Books read in 2010 and 2011

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows (JK Rowling) - 'cos the movie's coming out!
Frankenstein: Lost Souls (Dean Koontz) - ah, bugger, it's part of a series! Now I hafta find all the books...
Dismantled (Jennifer McMahon) - oh, good one
Tigerlily's Orchids (Ruth Rendell)
Shutter Island (Dennis LeHane) - reminds me too much of work
Holy Fools (Joanne Harris) - it's official: I prefer her scary books
A Series of Unfortunate Events; The Unauthorized Autobiography; The Beatrice Letters (Lemony Snicket)
The Little Friend (Donna Tartt)
The main books - 11 so far - of the Southern Vampire series; the Aurora Teagarden series except for A Fool & His Honey - that makes it 7; Sweet & Deadly (Charlaine Harris)
The Woman in Black (Susan Hill)
Full Dark, No Stars (Stephen King)
Room: A Novel (Emma Donaghue)
Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children (Ransom Riggs)
The Bachman Books (Stephen King)
Men At Arms (Terry Pratchett)
Carpe Jugulum (Terry Pratchett)
The Fifth Elephant (Terry Pratchett)
Beauty (Robin McKinley)
The Sandman, Vol 1 (Neil Gaiman)
The Burden (Agatha Christie) - her crime novels are waaay better
Snuff (Terry Pratchett)

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I started my first photoblog on 3 May, 2009. Each post features one picture, with a little story of how it came about. Do take a look by clicking on: Manx Pictures
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Disclaimers: 1) I cannot help but bitch about work sometimes, but everything here comes under the realm of personal remarks, and nothing here is said in my professional capacity. Nor does anything here reflect the opinion of the institutions that employ me. This is just me shooting off. 2) Most identities have been anonymized, particularly those of folks I know on a personal basis. Same goes for my workplaces. However, commercial and public places and figures remain named. Otherwise some things just wouldn't make sense. 3) Links and sources have been provided where appropriate and possible. They are not meant to challenge anyone's ownership. If this causes any discomfort or offence, please let me know.

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