The Best of Brisbane.

Aaron, who’s a friend of a friend, is coming to Brisbane. He’s asked me where to stay and what to see. Since I’ve lived in Australia for more than a decade and Brisbane for close to three years, I feel adequately experienced to talk about the following:

Accommodation

I live three blocks away from Southbank, on the boundary between South Brisbane and West End. It is a nice place to live, even and especially in the short term. We’re a short stroll to the CBD, just up the road from the Cultural Precinct, handy to a multitude of ethnic and local eateries, chic cafes, and within a stone’s throw of Brisbane’s famed fake beach.

However, rentals are in short supply in the 4101 area and cost much more than similar units in Kangaroo Point or Fortitude Valley, two other suburbs close to the city. How much more?  Well, my good friend Tania paid $160 per night for a two bedroom two bathroom  apartment in Kangaroo Point upon her return from the UK, as the building I live in was charging anywhere from $220 to $350.

The advantage with renting a service apartment over a hotel is that you can wash your own laundry and cook your own meals if you so desire. If travelling in a group, it also works out cheaper than staying in a hotel, motel or hostel (apart from those that sleep dormitory-style) as many of these establishments charge a fee for having more than two guests in a room.

Food

With the abundance of “cheap eats” available, finding a meal within your budget will never be a problem. My favourite would be the “lunch specials” most Asian diners seem to have. As the name suggests, these are offers only available during lunchtime. For under $10, you can typically get a main meal the size of two regular serves back in Asia or an entree, meal and drink combo. Having said that, the serving sizes in Australia are usually humongous so irrespective of price, meals are bound to feed more people than what you intend.

If you are a lover of seafood, you must drive or train it to Darra in Brisbane’s south. Most restaurants there are affordable and of a decent standard, but the one I frequent with His Royal Highness and Amanda is Que Hong Restaurant at 139 Darra Station Road. Even though the decor is a little too gaudy for my liking, they do make a mean Hong Kong style crab. That’s crab deep-fried until its shell is crispy then tossed with fragrant black beans, garlic, ginger and chilli. It’s a pretty indulgent dish but who’s counting calories anyway when you’re on holiday? Most times we’ve dined there, we’ve paid around $100 for 2kg of crabs, 1 massive serve of kangkong belacan, that’s water spinach in a spicy sauce, rice for four adults and drinks.

What to see and do 

Apart from planting your feet in the sand at Southbank’s fake beach whilst sipping on a cool lemonade, you must pay a visit to The Queensland Art Gallery, Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA), The Queensland Museum and the State Library across the road. If possible, grab a show at QPAC or just sit on its lawns while jazz musicians play live at night. Until early November, The Queensland Art Gallery will be hosting a collection of masterpieces from Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid so if you’re in town, be sure to catch that too.

About 6km west of Brisbane’s CBD you have Mt Cootha, the highest peak around, from which you can admire the city. It’s nice to grab an ice cream while you’re up there, but I wouldn’t recommend a meal for like most tourist spots, food tends to be over-priced.

A picture of Brisbane city from Mt Cootha.

Like all the other pictures on By Estella Dot Com, this was taken by me. I was standing on Mt Cootha, facing Brisbane city.

Another way to see the city would be to take a CityCat from any of its stops along the Brisbane river. There’s much to see out on the deck during the day but it’s just as thrilling to have a ride at night, when the city is all lit up. Be sure to hop off at Eagle St pier and if you’re budget allows, try one of the fancy restaurants there. I’ve been to Matt Moran’s Aria, which I liked, and also Alchemy, which I won’t be returning to. Less upmarket is The Pig and Whistle, worth checking out if you’re in the area for they do make good British fare.

If you have the time, do stop by Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary to pat a Koala and see the other native Australian animals there. I’ve been once with Amanda and her classmates on a school outing but it was certainly a fun day out. Just be sure to wash your hands after you’ve touch any of the animals as they do carry diseases. After our visit to Lone Pine, Amanda wound up with worms so I had to deworm everyone in our family. You can’t say you haven’t been warned!

Shopping

Anyone who’s even been briefly to Australia will know that almost everything sold here is Made in China. Australian made, while of impeccable quality, tends to be priced beyond the means of the average buyer. An example of this price differentiation can be seen in clothes. A typical Made in China dress costs around $40; less than $10 if from the mark-down racks at the front of most small boutiques. An Australian made dress costs upwards of $150. For $170, I once bought a dress with a print I much admired from Nelson Molloy.

Apart from Nelson Molloy, which you’ve probably never heard of, Brisbane is also home to brands Black Milk, that makes funky $80 tights, and Vein, which sells Designer Footwear. Thanks to the Young Designers market held in Southbank on the first Sunday of every month, up coming designers here have the opportunity to showcase their wares. Although none of the items are cheap, most are one-offs or produced in limited quantity.

Be that as it may, if you must buy Australian made for family and friends but are short on cash, I’d suggest you try food instead of clothing or knick knacks. You can always  fill your suitcase with Darrel Lea chocolates or pick up a couple of packets of Natural Confectionary Jellies to remind you of your wonderful holiday here. But if like me, skincare products with cutting-edge ingredients are more your thing, then try any of the Duty Free shops in Chinatown. It’s in these shops that you locate jewels like sheep’s placenta infused with green tea, mixed with hyaluronic acid and other cosmetics wonders created to cater to Chinese tourists’ penchant for nouveau ingredients in foreign-made lotions and potions.

 

His Royal Highness’ 40th birthday celebration.

His Royal Highness turned 40 yesterday and to herald his transition into middle-age, we hosted a noon-time poolside gathering for his former study partners and their families. So as to ingratiate my way into a nomination to the Hall of Good Spouses, I did all the cooking while His Royal Highness, being the birthday boy, put his legs up.

Using my mother’s frozen sambal, I prepared Nasi Lemak, the de facto national dish of Malaysia for our meat-eating  guests and Vegetarian Noodles for the herbivores amongst us. To ensure that none went home hungry, I also fried some soy crackers and baked a whole Atlantic Salmon, weighing a whopping 4.2kg, which I slathered in Nyonya sauce.

A picture of the Atlantic Salmon I baked for HRH's 40th birthday.

This bad boy has to be seen to be believed. Weighing in at 4.2kg, we had difficulty carting him home, then stuffing him into our fridge. Whilst trying to put him into the oven, I even burnt my left hand as I accidentally brushed against a hot rack.

A picture of guests at HRH's birthday gathering.

Alicia with her baby, Tania and Bella.

A picture of me and Tania and the spread we had for HRH's 40th birthday.

A picture of me and Tania and the spread we had for HRH’s 40th birthday.

A picture of me and HRH on his 40th birthday.

Me and the birthday boy.

A picture of the food I prepared for HRH's 40th birthday.

A picture of the food I prepared for HRH’s 40th birthday.

Janaki, Mehan’s wife, kindly made His Royal Highness’ birthday cake – his favourite carrot cake with cream cheese frosting – while Tania, who you hear me refer to all the time, brought us two bottles of sparkling Moscato that tasted like champagne. I enjoyed both their offerings so much that I had two slices of cake with 4 glasses of wine. The old boy took no notice of my over-indulgence as he caught up with his mates in the sun. As you can see from the photos, everyone had a pretty good time. Later, after everyone had left, I went to have a well-deserved lie down.

A picture of Janaki, HRH and Maya with the birthday cake Janaki made.

A picture of Janaki, HRH and Maya with the birthday cake Janaki made. Looking on were Geoff’s kids.

A picture of HRH and his study partners.

A picture of HRH and his study partners Geoff, Ken and Mehan.

A picture of all the kids present at HRH's 40th birthday.

Naturally, there were kids. A picture of all the kids present at HRH’s 40th birthday.

 

 

The death of a dinosaur.

For the longest time, I’ve resisted getting one of ‘em newfangled mobile phones. I know, I know. Every man and his dog has one, but I’m happy with my dinosaur of a mobile phone, thank you very much. Or I was until my trusty old mobile went the way of all prehistoric animals upon my return from New Zealand. In other words, its now as dead as a dodo.

Befitting all faithful house pets and reliable home appliances, I bemoaned its loss and swore never to replace it with anything less than an Iphone 5, but the demands of modern life began to make itself felt even as I lay my old phone to rest. Friends complained that I was beyond reach, His Royal Highness whined that I was depriving him of birthday greetings since everyone typically rings me instead of him, and to my annoyance, was unable to authorise payments to accounts via direct debit as I could not receive the bank’s unique transaction code by SMS. Then just as I was revelling in life sans phone, last Friday I won a dress through eBay by bidding in the dying seconds of an auction.

“Why did you do that?” you ask.

I suspect that I’m into self-sabotage as I now needed a phone to authorise payment to the seller of the dress. Since only my existing number can receive the unique transaction code for my bank account, I had to get a replacement phone and fast. Sleep-deprived as I was from waking up to stare at the ceiling at 5 this morning, I remembered to swing by Coles on my way home from sending Amanda to school. There, before a bemused counter boy who put up with my complains of new technology even as I paid for a gizmo that gets updated every two seconds, I chose one of ‘em “smart phones.”

I have no idea why they are called “smart” since it took me over 2 hours to figure out a way around the prompts to sync it with my email. If I may ask, what happened to phones that function as phones? All this talk about blooming new technology brings to mind the DVD player His Royal Highness and I bought before Amanda was born. You could do just about everything with it, but all we wanted was a player that played DVDs. Fortunately for us, the thing broke down before its warranty expired. True to our technology-resistant selves, we went out and promptly replaced it with a basic, no-frills model for half the price, pocketing the difference in refund.

In buying this new mobile phone, I could have defected to another network carrier but that would mean losing the $40 credit I have or being locked into a contract. Being  a freedom-lover, that appealed to me as much as Amanda getting the tattoo she often asks for, so I opted instead to stick with my present network carrier: Optus. Optus must subsidise the phones for I only had 3 models to choose from, 2 of them exactly like my old dinosaur.

As tempted as I was to stick with what I know by replacing like with like, I bought the smart phone; then only because I had visions of His Royal Highness using it once he makes good on his promise to bring me into the twenty-first century with an Iphone. The word on the street is that the Iphone 5 will be out by the end of this year. I’m keeping my fingers crossed my new phone will last until them. If it doesn’t, its another dinosaur for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thoughts and tips on travelling New Zealand.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my series of posts on exploring New Zealand’s South Island. Here are some of my thoughts and tips on how you can plan an enjoyable trip there.

Accommodation

His Royal Highness, Amanda and I stayed in a range of hotels, 1 motel and 1 youth hostel. Obviously, the hotels were the most comfortable, although both the motel and hostel was of an acceptable standard. If booking on special, you’ll find a difference of at the most NZD50  between stellar and very ordinary accommodation, hotels and motels. We went during peak ski-season so we were fortunate to get accommodation for the prices we did.

If you are travelling in a group or staying for longer than a week, it makes sense to rent a house, where you can cook your own meals and do your laundry. I washed only our undies daily in the bathroom sink as we didn’t have enough pairs to last us our stay. As a result, the holiday felt less of a holiday as my cuticles were peeling from the exposure to soap and hot water. His Royal Highness, instead of thanking me, remarked that I’d have died if I was born during our parents generation as washing by hand was the norm then.

If you are more adventurous, you can always rent a caravan like my good friends Paul and Tania. This offers a number of benefits: a) you can pull over to the side of the road for a nap whenever you are tired of driving b) you save on renting a separate place to stay c) you can still cook your own meals or see places regardless of whether the rest of the family are up to it. Often, young children are unable to keep up with the schedule of adults. Toddlers are often in toilet-training and babies need twice daily naps. Having a mobile home gives the youngsters a sense of continuity while allowing the adults to travel.

Food

The average pub meal is NZD25 per person. If your budget doesn’t allow for all meals outside, you can always have a sandwich for lunch, using the refrigerator in the hotel to keep cheese and cold cuts of meat, and a hot meal for dinner at the pub of your choice. Alternatively, you can buy a roast chicken from the deli section of the supermarket and pair that with ready-made salads. It’s still cheaper than having all meals at a restaurant.

With the abundance of beautiful fresh seafood, it’d be a shame to forgo a seafood meal just because you don’t have cooking facilities. Oysters are fine to eat raw, often tasting better with a squeeze of lemon or tabasco sauce, while prawns, fish and mussels taste great barbecued. There are barbecue facilities in most parks, although it’s advisable you bring tin foil to line the cooking tray beforehand to help with the clean up afterwards.

Driving 

Driving is a must if you want to see more than just the town centre of wherever you’re going. Our car rental fees for a whole week came to just over NZD350, including insurance to cover excess in the event we had an accident. Most roads are single-lane and there are many bridges where you must take turns with on-coming cars to cross. What you should keep in mind is there are few to no streetlights on country roads, so driving is best done during the day when your eyesight is at its keenest.

Petrol can be dear in tourist towns like Queenstown, but you will be required by almost all car rental companies to return the vehicle fully-fueled. Should you run out of time, you can always pay a service fee of around NZD40 for them to refuel for you. It is also expected that the vehicle be returned reasonably clean. I suggest you have a plastic bag in the car for rubbish and at least shake the mats free of crumbs before handing back the vehicle.

Shopping

You wouldn’t think it, but New Zealand is a fantastic place to shop, especially if like me, you go for quality over brand names. Apart from the leaf-green Merinomink sweater I bought for my birthday, I also picked up a possum fur collar from Glenorchy Furs for only NZD80. A similar fur collar from a shop at Lake Tekapo would set me back NZD180.

Ever the bargain-hunter, I was pleased to score a Mesop dress that typically retails for NZD170 for NZD50 from a Queenstown boutique. Mesop, a Melbourne brand made in Melbourne, is often compared to Metallicus that specialises in one-size-fits-all garments, best suited to layering. In addition, I purchased a dress and 2 tops for Amanda from Pumpkin Patch for a mere NZD45. The same items here would easily cost me $100.

While we were in Queenstown, Macpac was also having a 60% off sale on thermal base layers. When buying our thermals for the trip here, I only managed to get 25% off the total. This shows you how much cheaper like-goods are over there. Even though many of the food products in the supermarket are from Australia, they cost much, much less in NZ.

A picture of me wearing my new Mesop dress while on holiday in Queenstown.

A picture of me wearing my new Mesop dress while on holiday in Queenstown.

 

 

Why I don’t want a son.

Most people assume that just because I’m Chinese I’d want a son. Sure, this is true for the majority of Chinese, especially those from my parents generation, for whom boys are a particular treasure, but as far as I’m concerned, gender is irrelevant so long as a child is wanted. If a child is unwanted, no amount of desirable physical attributes will change that.

Don’t misunderstand me. I have no beef with boys or people who want boys. I’m just not the type to glorify a particular gender. Like other facets of my personality, this probably has something to do with the way I was brought up.

As most of you know, I have three other siblings: two older sisters and a younger brother. My sisters live on the other side of the world so I haven’t seen them in close to 13 years, but we do talk once in a way via Skype. My brother I see whenever I go down to Melbourne, at least twice if not thrice a year. We are close, although I’d be the first to admit that for much of our childhood, I resented him. I tried balding him when we were kids.

Why? For a start, he had a few inches more where it really mattered, in the nether region. He was the son my mother’s first husband had wanted, the son my own father had wanted. Heck, if my mother were honest, she’d tell you too that he was the son she wanted. She often said that she had us to please our fathers. If you left it to her, none of us would have been born. Yet the way she looked at my brother, told a different story.

When it came time for us to pursue tertiary study, she allowed him to do whatever he wanted, while I was threatened with discontinuation for a course she wanted me to do. Meanwhile, too many well-meaning relatives told my parents to spend more on my brother’s education than mine, citing his need to support a family in future.

As an adult, I heard from an uncle that all the women in my family favour sons because their mother had favoured their brothers. They begrudged their brothers the preferential treatment but grew into mothers who discriminated between their sons and daughters.  Chinese logic is that boys care for you in your old age, whereas girls get married off.

The age-old belief used to be that we girls were the property of our fathers when young, our husbands when married, our sons when old. No where is it said that girls care for their parents, except that in reality, many do, since after marriage, boys are more obedient to wives than they are to parents. The tyrannical Chinese mother-in-law of yore has since been replaced by the consultative mother-in-law of present, a smart woman who acknowledges the influence her daughter-in-law has over her beloved son and consequently, running around for the olds has now fallen to the shoulders of daughters.

This silent yet seismic shift in Chinese society is reflected in the price girls command over boys in today’s baby market. Due to the limited number of babies available for adoption and the Malaysian government’s disallowing of foreign adoptions, many childless  couples there are forced to pay parents, brokers and doctors good money to get a child. Twenty odd years ago, my father’s cousins – two brothers – bought a child each. I say bought because they paid for those children. One paid RM10k for a boy while another paid RM8k for a girl. Then, boys were still more valuable than girls.

Ten years ago, my mother’s friend bought a girl. Her husband was much younger and she’d left the baby-making business too late. She paid RM28k. If she’d wanted a boy, she’d only have to pay RM25k. The price discrepancy between the two isn’t much, but it is enough to show you a change in Chinese society’s perception on the value of women. With the number of boys outstripping girls, many Chinese men of my daughter’s generation will have to look beyond their own race for a spouse. Today, it’s a choice, in the future, a necessity. You can tell that I’m almost gleeful.

In connection with my stance on not having a son, I’ve been accused of being a feminist. If feminism means wanting respect and dignity for women, then I am unapologetically one. Why should I be considered a lesser person just because I am a woman? A mother who has a string of girls in the hope of having a boy says just that: girls are inferior. That’s not to say I’d abort a baby if it were male. I’d simply skip the song and dance about his spout.

“But doesn’t your husband want a son?” people ask.

My husband did not become a surgeon by being trapped mentally in the middle ages. He’d like one of each gender, since parenting boys is unlike parenting girls. But he’s happy with our daughter, in so far as he has no issue with her being unable to perpetuate his surname. According to wikipedia, his is the most common Chinese last name as of 2007, so one less person carrying it is not going to make hell of a difference.

To my mother’s credit, she’s amended her views in the last 10 years. You have to when your son can, in her words, “call everyone but you.” Her sisters have to make appointments to see their boys too. I guess life’s a bitch. Just nobody told any of them.

A picture of my daughter at Eros Cafe in West End.

My Amanda. I wouldn’t trade her for a thousand boys.

Mikael Hafstrom’s SHANGHAI: the heart is never neutral.

Right around Australia, video stores celebrate Tuesday, a day named after Twi, the God of single combat, victory and heroic glory in Norse mythology, by offering film buffs like myself, the chance to borrow any video for $1. From among the mind-bloggling array of movies available, I chose Mikael Hafstrom’s Shanghai, which stars John Cusack as Paul Soames, an American agent from the Naval Intelligence Office who arrives in Shanghai in the two months leading up to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbour, to find his good friend, Connor, a fellow agent, dead. Released in 2010, it has gone straight to video over here in Australia because it was never shown in America.

At first glance, it seems stupefying that a movie with a USD50 million budget would be kept from American movie-goers – especially one so well-written and produced, starring several big name Asian movie stars. Then, as the movie goes on, you understand why this must be so. Although much of Mikael Hafstrom’s Shanghai is make believe, the movie is set on the premise that American intelligence knew about the naval threat from Japan long before the bombing of Pearl Harbour. If the reverence for Pearl Harbour I witnessed as a twelve year old visiting the states for the first time is anything to go by, I’d say the storyline opened quite a number of old wounds.

Mikael Hafstrom’s Shanghai is a place where the Chinese and Japanese are killing each other even as the city, touted “the Paris of the East”, houses 20 000 Jews, escaped from German-occupied Europe. There, Soames meets Anna, the wife of Anthony Lan Ting, a powerful crime lord who despises the Japanese even as he carries out Captain Tanaka’s orders, and decides to help her pass on messages to her fellow Chinese Resistance fighters. Anna is played by none other than Gong Li, Anthony Lan Ting, Chow Yun Fat and Captain Tanaka, Ken Watanabe.

It is on account of Ken Watanabe that His Royal Highness agreed to me borrowing Mikael Hafstrom’s Shanghai, since he admires the Japanese actor’s work. If His Royal Highness’ grandmother had been alive, she’d most certainly have disapproved for she’d lived through the Japanese occupation of Malaya. When he was young, he told her of his intention to someday visit the land of the rising sun and she dissuaded him, citing their astounding cruelty during the war. Now how times have changed! Chow Yun Fat and Gong Li though, still look as good as they did when I was growing up.

This story is billed as an “international thriller” but I reckon it is about the enigmatic nature of love because Captain Tanaka pines for Sumiko, even after she’s betrayed him with Connor, who seduced her to spy on Captain Tanaka. In the aftermath of Connor’s slaying, Sumiko is kidnaped by Anna’s Chinese Resistance fighters, intent on trading her for hundreds of Chinese held captive by the Japanese. With no respect for life, Captain Tanaka turns Shanghai upside down as he tries to locate his drug-enfeebled lover. Perhaps justifying his actions, he later tells Soames, “The heart is never neutral.”

Soames too searches for Sumiko, for she was the last to see Connor alive. A few more encounters with Anna and she takes him to see the dying Sumiko. Soon after, Captain Tanaka shows up, and with Sumiko’s dead eyes staring up at him, confesses to Connor’s murder. But it is not on account of the latter’s intelligence gathering through Sumiko. Captain Tanaka simply took the life of the other man because he was jealous.

Meanwhile, Anthony Lan Ting, a man who openly sports mistresses, brokers a deal with Captain Tanaka to save Anna’s life. You’d think that with the other bodies warming his bed, he’d be happy to be rid of the old ball and chain but no, he refuses to hand Anna over when Captain Tanaka insists on taking her away for questioning after the death of Sumiko. A shoot-out ensues between the two men and Anthony Lan Ting is wounded.

With almost his last breath, Anthony Lan Ting asks Soames to take Anna out of Shanghai, where she will be safe. For a woman who was about to have a sexual tryst with Soames when Captain Tanaka’s men interrupted them, Anna is awfully reluctant to leave her fast-fading husband. She clings to him even as the Japanese take over the city, burning, pillaging and bayoneting everything around them. Their relationship brings to mind what Richard Burton said about him and Elizabeth Taylor. He likened them to bookends; other people sometimes found their way between them but they were always connected. Perhaps that is what love is: emotional connection even when there are other options.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What His Royal Highness thinks of By Estella Dot Com.

If you’ve been following me thus far, you’d have cottoned on to a couple of things: a) you knew ahead of His Royal Highness that I was blogging on By Estella Dot Com b) I’ve supported all of His Royal Highness’ career endeavours, even going so far as to impersonate him via a written petition to New Zealand’s former Immigration Minister – I’ve forgotten the man’s name as it was some 8 years ago and c) Now that His Royal Highness has completed his FRACS, it is about high time he return the favour by being supportive of me.

His Royal Highness heard from his former study partner, Mehan, that I was blogging and Mehan, in turn, heard from his wife Janaki, who I am friends with. You might like to ask, “Why didn’t you just tell your husband that you were blogging?”

The reason is two-fold: first, he’s never been very supportive of me. He says he supports me, and in the three-meals and roof-over-my-head sense that is true, but he has never supported what I want to do with my life. To be fair, neither has anyone in my immediate family. My father was willing to pay for me to study mass-communications at university but my mother vetoed his decision, saying, “What’s Estella going to do when she comes out? Does her father own TV3?” TV3 was Malaysia’s then-premier TV station.

To keep a long story short, I graduated with a Commerce degree and wheedled my way into television. In a field where even graduates have difficulty finding work that isn’t sales or public-relations-related, I had not one but two job offers. Yet, my family still held me to be a dreamer. Silly boy that His Royal Highness is, he thinks he’s being supportive of my aspirations by reiterating my parent’s suggestions I return to accounting, even though it’s obvious  I’ve never liked bloody bean counting and if I’d wanted to spend my days counting other people’s money, I’d have done so a lifetime ago.

The second reason why I didn’t tell His Royal Highness about By Estella Dot Com is that he would have stopped me. He would have stood in my way because that is what he always does before trying to engage me in a conversation, quite ironically, about my retirement. He likes to say, “And how will you finance your lifestyle in your old age?”

Me, “Won’t I still be with you?”

“Sure.”

“Then it’s financed already.”

Come on. This is a man I have moved states and crossed seas for. If I don’t deserve a 401k plan for being mother and father to our child and picking up the slack while he is out making money, then who does? Does your employer harass you to help him edit emails while you are half-way to see Confucius in your sleep? Does he expect you to drop everything – and I mean everything – so as to type this and bring that, because it is oh-so-important to him?

So what does His Royal Highness really think about my blog? Aside from it leaving me less time to run errands for him, he loves being able to tunnel his way into my mind. He enjoys viewing the pictures we take together and reading about the day’s events from my angle. I’d get him to tell you this himself except that he is the sort of person who even needs me to communicate with his closest friends for he finds all forms of connecting, stressful. He does call his friends of twenty-over-years and his family once in a way, but that would only be after much prompting from yours truly and there would have to be a good reason.

Nothing I write about is news to him. He knows how much I dislike his father; the man soured two of the sweetest occasions in a woman’s life – my marriage and the birth of my only child – by dragging my husband to the casino to show me who is in charge. Many female friends have commented that if they were me, they’d have long been divorced by their husbands for openly criticising their in-laws. My husband is aware that he’d be a fool for siding with them over me when a) he has to face me daily and b) they have absolutely no clue what he’s been doing all this time in Australia.

They look at friends and children of friends who have done specialist training in Malaysia and keep asking him, “So when will you be done?” He told them that he was being penalised for having imperfect English and they gave him advice from their own lives, where everyone speaks some mangled version of the language. One family member even dared him to climb above my head, to find a language tutor instead of relying on me, without realising that prior to her suggestion, I had already found him two.

I shot this family member back a couple of lines about the strain of being persecuted for your linguistic deficiencies by those only able to articulate their thoughts in the one language, but I doubt I got so far as the first few words with her. Like too many people who’ve never read Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Black Swan, and opine that the title must refer to Natalie Portman’s movie, they don’t know what they don’t know. Really, it’s often ego masquerading as concern that compels us to offer someone something they have no use for. Advice that discounts circumstances falls into this category.

But isn’t he afraid his family might read this? Hardly. Do you think His Royal Highness and I could have been married for ten going on eleven years without his family having the slightest inkling about where they stand in relation to us? Like my family, they are always welcome to call and visit. However, you can’t keep asking someone to relocate back to Malaysia without their spouse being pissed off by the intrusion. Similarly, you can’t keep probing into our finances, because they damn well don’t involve you!

I hope this answers everyone’s questions about what His Royal Highness thinks about By Estella Dot Com. Trust me, if he had a problem with it, he’d have said something. He’s LIKED my page. If you read By Estella Dot Com, you should too.

 

My New Zealand Family Holiday: Day 8 CHRISTCHURCH

By our eighth day in New Zealand, the three of us had done everything we’d set out to do on our family holiday: we’d gone skiing, sat in a hot-tub out in the cold, seen a glacier and sort of celebrated my birthday. There was only one item left on our list and that was to see Christchurch, if possible, since we had left straight for Queenstown without exploring, the morning after we arrived.

We drove off from Mt Cook after our two-hour-long trek to Kea Point and back, eating Salada crackers we had in the car and whatever fruit we had left from our grocery shop at the beginning of the trip. I wanted a nice hot meal, perhaps bangers and mash or some such homely offering to fill my rumbling tummy with, but we were short on time, as well as cash, so the edible bits and bobs would just have to do.

The scenery was, as it had been throughout our trip, magnificent. I was happily clicking away when my camera battery died. Since I didn’t have a spare to swap, we just had to record whatever we saw with our eyes. Here’s what I took with the battery-light blinking crazily at me.

A picture of the road coming down from Mt Cook in New Zealand.

Christchurch bound. A picture of the road coming down from Mt Cook in New Zealand.

A picture of the fields, coming from from Mt Cook in New Zealand.

I see this and I think of LASSIE, the dog, and “Home on the Range.”

A picture of the scenery coming from from Mt Cook in New Zealand.

I just can’t get over how beautiful the New Zealand countryside is. Every stone, every rock, every blade of grass, seems to have been put there on purpose by someone.

A picture of the scenery coming from from Mt Cook in New Zealand.

Goodbye Mt Cook. Goodbye Southern Alps.

A picture of Lake Pukaki, coming from from Mt Cook in New Zealand.

The last shot I took before my camera’s battery gave up the ghost.

Some 2 hours later, we stopped at Lake Tekapo for lunch. It was past 3 in the afternoon but most of the restaurants were still open. However, at NZD6 a serve of white rice, we decided to have yet another white-man’s meal of soup, burger and chips rather than the  Chinese food we were so badly craving.

With lunch over, we took to the road once more and after by-passing a host of small towns along route 1, reached Christchurch in darkness. There wasn’t much to see at that hour except for pedestrians crawling the streets in Riccarton, a suburb close to town with many Asian eateries.

In locating our accommodation, we rounded Christchurch town centre a coupe of times as the roads were mostly one-way and we were aided by a map the size of an Australian twenty-cent coin. In other words, we didn’t know where we were, or where we were going and there was nothing to refer to for directions. We used the hospital as a landmark and miraculously found ourselves in front of the YMCA or Y as people affectionately call it.

I told His Royal Highness that there was no need to book anywhere too expensive as with a 6.45am flight, we wouldn’t even have time for a good night’s sleep. All I was concerned about was having somewhere clean and safe to spend the night – the Y seemed to fit the bill, until we pulled up in front of it. After taking the trouble to ascertain the areas hit by last year’s devastating earthquakes, I was astounded to find we were not only near Christchurch’s red zone, but living across from it. The surly demeanour of the short-haired counter lady only made me dislike staying there even more, as I felt as welcome as a person crashing on a stranger’s lumpy sofa.

Notwithstanding the permeating blackness, His Royal Highness, Amanda and I piled in our car and fumbled our way to Riccarton for dinner. After that, we went to pump petrol in readiness of handing our car back to the rental company, before rounding Christchurch city, to see whatever we could.

The middle of Christchurch was cordoned off with metal fencing, the whole area resembling a war zone. Bealey Street reminded me of North Adelaide, in  a melancholic, cold, sort of way. We spotted a couple of motels along Bealey Street, but they didn’t give you the impression of being overly full. Having seen less than we’d have liked to, we headed back to the Y.

We set our alarms for 4am the next morning, then climbed into bed. I was half-way back to my Brazilian boyfriend in Batam when His Royal Highness called out to me, “Do you feel that?”

I opened one eye and then the other. I saw the bed move, then the whole bloody room shake more furiously than that South American dancer with the over-sized bum.

“Shall we get out?” His Royal Highness asked.

“And go where?” I was so freaking tired and an earthquake had to happen. Why, God, why? I fell back asleep without hearing His Royal Highness’ answer.

At the ungodly hour of 4am, I sprung out of bed like one of those Chinese zombies of old and stuffed everything into our suitcase. I roused His Royal Highness, followed by Amanda, then the three of us skedaddled out of there as though a bomb was set to go off.

A picture of us loading up the boot in front of the YMCA in Christchur

Working by street light. A picture of us loading up the boot in front of the YMCA in Christchurch.

 

 

 

 

My New Zealand Family Holiday: Day 7 KEA POINT on Mt COOK

As usual, we got our nightly rate’s stay worth of sleeping before checking out at 10am. With the exception of St Moritz in Queenstown, every hotel we’ve stayed in New Zealand had a 10am check-out. Unlike in Australia where you can ask for a late check-out, the hotel brochure advising an extra hourly charge of NZD20 for each hour over the check-out time, seems to indicate that almost none asks for this privilege.

A picture of the view from my hotel balcony at The Hermitage on Mt Cook, New Zealand.

How does anyone walk away from this view without taking a final picture? A A picture of the view from my hotel balcony on the morning of my check-out from The Hermitage on Mt Cook, New Zealand.

Once we had loaded our bags in the car and adjusted the laces on our shoes, we three musketeers set off  for Kea Point, a two-hour return trip on foot, to see the snout of the Mueller Glacier. With the path almost entirely flat, it was a fairly easy trek, but for the slabs of ice among the snow that made His Royal Highness slip and fall a couple of times.

A picture of me with The Hermitage on Mt Cook in New Zealand in the background.

Off we go! This is before stepping onto the Kea Point trek.

A picture of Mt Cook from the Kea Point track in New Zealand

This is just the start folks.

A picture of Mt Cook from the Kea Point track in New Zealand

In the shadow of nature’s awesomeness on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

A picture of HRH and Amanda on Mt Cook, trekking towards Kea Point.

A picture of HRH and Amanda on Mt Cook, trekking towards Kea Point.

A picture of HRH and Amanda on Mt Cook, trekking towards Kea Point.

Long, long, long way to go. I was beginning to wish we’d packed some crackers.

A picture of Amanda on Mt Cook from the Kea Point track in New Zealand

Still a long, long way to go. We’re only twenty minutes into the trek.

A picture of Mt Cook on our way towards Kea Point.

You might be able to see The Hermitage in the distance, now the size of an ant.

A picture of HRH nearing Kea Point on Mt Cook, New Zealand.

Wait, we’re almost there. I promise you it is so worth it.

A seat to admire the Mueller Glacier at Kea Point on Mt Cook.

About now, I was wishing for a mamak stall that sells Indian roti, curry and Milo. Or maybe just a toilet. All this snow around me made me want to pee.

A picture of the snout of Mueller Glacier from Kea Point on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

Oh GAWD! We are here! I’d have done a victory dance except that by now I was deliriously hungry and tired. A picture of the snout of Mueller Glacier from Kea Point on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

A picture of me at the snout of Mueller Glacier from Kea Point on Mt Cook in New Zealand

A picture of me at the snout of Mueller Glacier from Kea Point on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

A picture of the three of us at the snout of Mueller Glacier from Kea Point on Mt Cook in New Zealand

Yay! We got there! Don’t ask me why I suddenly look so fat.

By the time we reached Kea Point, we were so exhilarated that we forgot our tiredness and lack of breakfast that morning. We met Jeff and his family, cattle farmers from North Canterbury, visiting Mt Cook for a couple of days. They told us about 5am milking of cows, killing sick livestock and having neighbours who live kilometres away. As a city girl, I found it all very fascinating. It was a window into a world I have no association with and experience of. Certainly, it surprised me to hear of Jeff crying after the slaughter of a cow.

A picture of two cattle farmers we had a chat with at Kea Point on Mt Cook, New Zealand.

Jeff and his boy. Two friendly cattle farmers we had a chat with at Kea Point on Mt Cook, New Zealand.

Once our batteries were recharged, we attempted the hike back to our car outside The Hermitage. Like most journeys, going back seemed a lot faster than getting there.

A picture of HRH heading to The Hermitage, after our hour-long walk to Kea Point on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

HRH at the beginning of the trek back to The Hermitage.

A picture of HRH and Amanda heading back to The Hermitage, after our hour-long walk to Kea Point on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

A picture of HRH and Amanda heading back to The Hermitage, after our hour-long walk to Kea Point on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

A picture of our path heading back to The Hermitage, after our hour-long walk to Kea Point on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

A picture of our path heading back to The Hermitage, after our hour-long walk to Kea Point on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

A picture of Amanda with the sign board on the way back to our car at The Hermitage after our trek to Kea Point on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

A picture of Amanda with the sign board on the way back to our car at The Hermitage after our trek to Kea Point on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

A picture of HRH and Amanda on the way back to our car at The Hermitage after our trek to Kea Point on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

It was such a humbling experience to be so small in nature, surrounded by all that snow.

A picture of Amanda on the way back to our car at The Hermitage after our trek to Kea Point on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

I was so proud of Amanda to walk all that way without complaining. She was such a trooper!

A picture of Mt Cook on New Zealand.

How lucky am I? Beauty, every which way you look.

A picture of HRH and Amanda on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

At the half-way point. I recognised where we were by the pile of rocks there. There is another, not pictured.

A picture of HRH and Amanda on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

A picture of me on Mt Cook, New Zealand

A rare snap of the photographer. Grimace on face says, “I’m so bloody hungry and tired.”

A picture of Amanda resting on her way back to The Hermitage on Mt Cook, New Zealand.

A picture of Amanda resting on her way back to The Hermitage on Mt Cook, New Zealand.

 

 

 

My New Zealand Family Holiday: Day 7 WANAKA TO Mt COOK

By Estella

After spending 3 hours at Puzzling World, His Royal Highness, Amanda and I hit the road once again. This time we were headed for the tallest mountain in New Zealand, Mt Cook, where His Royal Highness had us booked into the swankiest hotel there, The Hermitage. On special at NZD169  through www.wotif.com , it was only NZD4 more than The Brookvale Motel in Wanaka but was a million times more comfortable to live in.

We went down route 8a, after which past Tarras, a small blink and you’ll miss it town, we turned into route 8. We passed the famous Lindis Pass, a road in the shadow of high mountain ranges before arriving at Omarama, then going on to Twizel.

A picture of traveling on route 8a in New Zealand.

Travelling along route 8a in New Zealand.

A picture of traveling on route 8a in New Zealand.

A beautiful winter’s day on the road.

A picture of traveling on route 8a in New Zealand.

Southern Alps at the horizon. It looks near but it was actually several hours away by car.

Pictures just don’t do justice to the jaw-dropping beauty of New Zealand in winter. The way the land is shrouded in mist, with light seeping through around the edges, is something you have to see at least once in your life. It’s pure poetry for the eyes and fodder for the imagination.

A picture of winter in New Zealand's South Island.

Notice the poor visibility? This picture was taken about two in the afternoon. We were between Omarama and Twizel.

A picture of winter in New Zealand's South Island.

Still on the road towards Twizel. See how beautiful the midday sun looks, high above the windswept moors, through the fog?

A picture of winter in New Zealand's South Island.

We were now past Twizel, nearing Lake Pukaki. The trees reminded me of a storybook Christmas.

A picture of winter in New Zealand's South Island.

I don’t care what the bona fide photographers say about the lighting. I love it. It’s so ethereal, so otherworldly.

A picture of Lake Pukaki on the road towards Mt Cook in New Zealand.

We’re almost there. A picture of Lake Pukaki on the road towards Mt Cook in New Zealand.

A picture of Lake Pukaki on the road towards Mt Cook in New Zealand.

Those are clouds floating above Lake Pukaki, half an hour away from Mt Cook.

A picture of the Southern Alps in New Zealand.

Our car was climbing towards Mt Cook. The white things at the back are the Southern Alps.

A picture of the Southern Alps in New Zealand.

Have you seen anything more amazing? That’s the Southern Alps in the distance.

A picture of the area around Lake Pukaki, in New Zealand, in winter.

That’s a dry creek bed but beautiful all the same.

A picture of the Southern Alps in New Zealand.

We’re almost there.  A picture of the Southern Alps in New Zealand.

A picture of the Southern Alps in New Zealand.

We’re on the home stretch. The Hermitage is less than half a kilometre away.

Accommodation on Mt Cook ranges from backpackers’ hostel to cabins to motel and hotel rooms. We had a reservation at The Hermitage for a room with a view of the Southern Alps.

A picture of some of the cabins in the village on Mt Cook, New Zealand.

A picture of some of the cabins in the village on Mt Cook, New Zealand.

A picture of HRH outside The Hermitage Hotel on Mt Cook, New Zealand.

We’re here! A picture of HRH outside The Hermitage Hotel on Mt Cook, New Zealand.

A picture of me on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

It was FREEZING. A picture of me outside The Hermitage on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

A picture of HRH and Amanda on our hotel balcony at The Hermitage on Mt Cook in New Zealand

A picture of HRH and Amanda on our hotel balcony at The Hermitage on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

A picture of Amanda looking out on the Southern Alps from our hotel balcony on Mt Cook, New Zealand.

A picture of Amanda looking out on the Southern Alps from our hotel balcony on Mt Cook, New Zealand.

A picture of our room at The Hermitage on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

A picture of our room at The Hermitage on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

A picture of me on the balcony of our hotel room at The Hermitage on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

A souvenir shot of my time on Mt Cook. It’s not every day that you wake up with the Southern Alps at your window.

A picture of Amanda watching telly in our hotel room on Mt Cook, New Zeala

As usual, Amanda found the remote control to the TV. She’s on the floor having a pre-dinner snack of cookies.

Since The Hermitage is reputed to have one of the most awarded restaurants in New Zealand, with fresh produce coming from the surrounding areas, we opted to dine in-house that night. Our other alternative was to find an eatery in the Mt Cook village.

A picture of us in the restaurant at The Hermitage on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

A picture of the three of us in the restaurant at The Hermitage on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

A picture of the restaurant at The Hermitage on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

A picture of the restaurant at The Hermitage on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

For a much-lauded eatery in a tourist destination, the prices were reasonable, although I should mention, far from cheap. It only cost a couple of dollars more to order a main there than it would have at somewhere like Lake Tekapo. Our dinner that night came to NZD94, but for that, we had two serves of pan fried, locally-farmed salmon on citrus-infused risotto and Amanda had pasta with loads of finely grated well-aged Parmesan. I’m not usually a fan of rice in any form, but the risotto was very delicious.

A picture of our dinner at The Hermitage on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

Locally-farmed pan fried salmon on a bed of citrus-infused risotto.

A picture of Amanda and her pasta at the restaurant in The Hermitage on Mt Cook in New Zealand.

Amanda was very pleased with her pasta. The waitress brought her MORE CHEESE upon request. She was chuffed.