Our 9-day road-trip from Brisbane to Perth (Part 4)

Day 8

The day I’ve been dreading has finally arrived. Today we have to put in 8 solid hours of driving before we can stop for the night. Including lunch and toilet breaks, our trip from Eucla to Norseman will take us 10 hours. Yes, 10 hours. If I take over the wheel at any point, which is likely, to give HRH a break, it’ll take us longer.

" I sail lonely as a cloud..."A picture of the landscape leading away from Eucla towards Norseman, Western Australia.

” I sail lonely as a cloud…” A picture of the landscape leading away from Eucla towards Norseman, Western Australia.

As we move further into Western Australia, you can see how arid the land is. You know how people love to joke about eating grass? As in, “I’ll live off grass and sunshine?” Well, you’d better ditch your plans to dine on the green stuff because there is close to none of it around. The only plants that thrive in this part of the world are those that are heat and drought-resistant.

See how short the shrubs are?

See how short the shrubs are? “That’s what happens when plants have no water,” I say to Amanda. 

HRH overtakes road-trains and campervans the way he overtakes cars playing that classic car-racing arcade game. Playing against him, I’ve only ever won once, by a very slight margin. He calls out to Amanda who’s awake for once, “You see that juicy deer in front? Our tiger is going to eat that deer.”

No food for at least another 100 km. A picture of the road from Eucla to Norseman, Western Australia

No food for at least another 100 km. A picture of the road from Eucla to Norseman, Western Australia

“Go tiger, go!” cheers Amanda from the back, well aware that our car is the tiger and every other car in front of us is a deer.

“They should have a Chinese village here,” says HRH to me. “Then we can stop for some Chinese food.”

Can you eat any of this? Sure, if you're a donkey!

Can you eat any of this? Sure, if you’re a donkey!

“Sure,” I reply, somewhat amused. Yesterday, his road-driving-inspired idea was for all suicidal people to be shipped to Mars because if they are intent on ending their lives, they might as well contribute to humanity before doing so. Perhaps, suddenly having a purpose to live might make them change their minds.

“And who do you see as moving to this middle-of-nowhere Chinese village of yours?”

“People from China of course,” he says with a wry smile.

Don't the trees look interesting? As you can see, the top most foliage  of every tree in the area has dried up and fallen off.

Don’t the trees look interesting? As you can see, the top most foliage of every tree over a certain height in the area has dried up and fallen off.

“And why would they want to live in the middle of nowhere, in a country where they can’t speak the local lingo, when they can always just move to China’s vast countryside? You’re forgetting that the average Chinese is a gregarious creature.”

We might moan about the traffic jams and the smog, and the noise and the price of housing and the cost of living, but given a choice between a big city and the countryside, most Chinese will choose the former. In fact, no one in my family can understand why we are undertaking this road-trip when there is absolutely no one to see for hundreds of kilometres on end!

HRH stops at a small roadside town called Baladonia to refuel the car. The price of petrol is $1.97 a litre. He pumps only enough to get us to Norseman – very many litres.

 A picture of a summary of the route we are taking from Eucla to Norseman on the side of a building at Baladonia.

A picture of a summary of the route we are taking from Eucla to Norseman on the side of a building at Baladonia.

Why I’ll be damned! After so many hours of travelling, we still have another 191 km to go!  Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, we swop seats and I drive for about an hour. It’s only my second time behind the wheel since this arduous road-trip, disguised as a “family holiday”, began but already my driving has improved. For a start, I don’t need any reminding to lift up the hand brake before taking off. HRH’s barking at me when I attempted to do that the last time has seen to that.

Oh Norseman, oh Norseman, where art thou? The endless straight road in front of me makes me think of Char Koay Teow and a nice big bowl of Chendol. Will I ever see either again or will this drive be the death of me?

Soon enough I see the outline of a vehicle, roughly 10 km ahead of mine. I am doing a steady 110 km/ph but I slow to 100 km/ph.

“What do you think you are doing?” asks HRH.

“Avoiding whatever it is in front.”

“If you can’t overtake here, where can you overtake?”

“Probably nowhere. Well, you did want me to drive. I’m not going to overtake,” I say, losing speed further. Now I’m doing 90 km/ph.

HRH shakes his head. We pass through a small town where there is a police vehicle hiding in the bushes.

“Good thing your mama is driving, Amanda,” says HRH. “If it was me, we’d have a speeding ticket.”

Afraid of overtaking, law-abiding citizen that I am, our tiger is only doing 60 km/ph at this point. I heave a sigh of relief when the vehicle ahead of me turns off into a caravan park. However it isn’t long before I come across other motorists. Wanting us to reach Norseman before nightfall, HRH gladly resumes driving once my hour is up.

Hallelujah! It' Norseman!  A picture of a summary of the route we are taking from Eucla to Norseman on the side of a building at Baladonia.

Hallelujah! It’ Norseman! A picture of Norseman’s famous metal Camel sculptures.

Day 9

“Oh no. Not another 9 to 10 hours on the road,” I wail as soon as we pile into the car.

By now, even HRH is over seeing Australia’s big backyard. Since we set off at 9 am, we hope to get into Perth before sun down.

Just like the last couple of days, the road stretches on into the horizon. On either side of us is scrubland, alternating in heights and density every hundred kilometres or so. There is a huge metal pipe running parallel to the road, carrying what we were told by the innkeeper at Norseman Railway Motel, is Norseman’s supply of water, coming directly from Perth. From Norseman, the water is transported by road to towns like Baladonia.

Can you see the end? I can't either.  A picture of the road after Norseman towards Perth.

Can you see the end? I can’t either. A picture of the road after Norseman towards Perth.

“You can tell that no vegetables will grow here,” I say, noting the hard, reddish soil.

“So now you are an expert on soil, are you?” asks HRH, teasing me.

“It’s only common sense. What farms have we seen since entering WA? You need rain to grow grass and grass to raise cattle; so no rain means, no cattle. No cattle means, no manure to fertilise crops. Even if there was manure, the ground looks just too hard to grow anything in it. Rich soil is always black in colour.”

A picture of the shrubs growing along the road to Perth, just past Norseman.

A picture of the shrubs growing along the road to Perth, just past Norseman.

“Yes, but I’m sure you can put a Chinese village on it.”

What’s with HRH and this Chinese village? “I’m not moving there,” I say. “You can move there if you like.”

As we near Perth, the road widens to two-lanes on either side and snakes downhill. Unbeknown to us, we are travelling through the Perth Hills.

“Oh look,” HRH says excitedly to me. “Petrol is only $1.32 a litre.” And five seconds later, “Oh look. This place is even cheaper. It’s only $1.26 a litre at our good friend Gull.”

After dragging our sorry arses through the Nullabor, any servo selling petrol for less than $1.50 is our good friend.

“Oh, this one is even cheaper,” says HRH. “I’ll come here to pump. Where are we on the map?”

We are somewhere on the Eastern Freeway rolling towards the Central Business District.

“And see what big shopping centres they have!” exclaims HRH, like one of those people from his proposed Chinese village. I imagine this is what mainland Chinese say when they see Hong Kong for the first time.

“It feels like Adelaide crossed with something else,” I say.

“You and your Adelaide,” he says then accuses me of having an unjustified fixation with the capital of a state that has foul tasting water.

Thanks to Tom Tom, we find our home for the next seven days, Perth’s Fraser Suites, without any difficulty. After our many days on the road, all I plan to do is veg out.

Home sweet home. A picture of our apartment at the Fraser Suites in Perth.

Home sweet home. A picture of our apartment at the Fraser Suites in Perth.

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Our 9-day road-trip from Brisbane to Perth (Part 3)

Day 5

Thankfully yesterday’s mother-of-all-heatwaves has subsided and Port Augusta is a cool 19 degrees C this morning. After reloading the car (it was HRH’s bright idea to “reorganise”), we set off down the road for the famed “Nullabor Plains.”

Now, why is a 1400km stretch of arid, definitely inhospitable, land famous? I suppose if you can survive the boredom of seeing absolutely no one and nothing for hours on end, then you can lay claim to having very good mental concentration and perhaps sign up to be a pilot or a long-distance truck driver. For everyone else there’s the rugged beauty that is outback Australia.

“It’s my birthday today,” says Amanda from the back, for the umpteenth time.

“Yes, I know,” says HRH. “I’m taking you to see the desert, like I promised you.”

“Lily (Amanda’s best friend) had a disco-party. How is this better than a disco-party?”

Trust a newly turned 8 years old to ask all the right questions. There’s no hoodwinking them with promises we adults lap up every time a general election comes around.

“I’m taking you from one end of Australia to another, Amanda,” says HRH, in a tone that implies the magnitude of such an undertaking.

“How is that better?”

HRH shakes his head in disbelief. From Amanda’s viewpoint, it can hardly be better since she was made to give away many of her prized possessions – clothes, ribbons, knick knacks that little girls like collecting – leave her school and say goodbye to all her friends.

“She’s too young to appreciate this never-ending road-trip,” I say to HRH. To Amanda I say, “We’ve gone from Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, to Moree, a small country town in Queensland, to Dubbo, a small country town in the state of New South Wales, to Broken Hill, another small country town in New South Wales, to Port Augusta, where we stopped the day before yesterday, a small country town in the state of South Australia. Today, we’re off to Ceduna, a border town, still in South Australia. How many classmates of yours can say they’ve seen so many places?”

“And how many states does Australia have?”

“6 states and 2 territories. 1 Queensland can make 5 of Peninsula Malaysia. That’s how humongous a country Australia is.”

“People have died trying to find their way out of the desert,” says HRH.

A picture of the countryside outside Port Augusta, South Australia, heading towards Ceduna.

A picture of the countryside outside Port Augusta, South Australia, heading towards Ceduna.

A picture of the road leading away from Port Augusta, South Australia.

See how low the clouds hang? A picture of the road leading away from Port Augusta, South Australia.

A picture of the landscape leading away from Port Augusta, South Australia.

Did you say “melancholic”? I did too!

While we were in Port Augusta, we heard on the news of a South Australian man who’d gotten lost in the bush. Rescue police were still out looking for him when we left.

A picture of the landscape leading away from Port Augusta, South Australia.

“I once saw this programme about surviving in the wilderness and it says that a) you must build a shelter to keep yourself warm during the night b) search for a source of drinking water…You can get water from leaves by tying a plastic bag around a bunch of them in such a way as to collect the condensation, presuming you had the good sense of bringing along a clean plastic bag and a piece of string before getting lost…c) search for a way of signalling to rescuers. Apparently my lipstick is very handy. If our car should get lost out in the middle of nowhere, we stand a better chance of being spotted by rescue choppers if we use the lipstick to mark a huge X on the roof of the car.”

“I once went for this Aboriginal wilderness survival tour,” says HRH. “You can get water from these plants you see around us.”

“How?”

“I’ve forgotten. It was some 10 years ago.”

“That’s very helpful,” I say, changing the discs yet again. We can’t possibly be listening to Jay Chou another 20 times.

Soon enough we come across one of those towns that seem to exist only to extort petrol-thirsty travellers like ourselves. The price at the pump is a $1.90 a litre. Across the Nullabor, petrol prices go as high as $1.97 a litre. You can either fill up your tank or be prepared to walk until your legs fall off.

A picture of a poster in a window between Port Augusta, South Australia, and Ceduna

A picture of a  giant bird between Port Augusta, South Australia, and Ceduna.

I know the name of this bird but have forgotten. Excuse me. I’ll let you know at a later time. A picture of a giant bird between Port Augusta, South Australia, and Ceduna.

A picture of a shop between Port Augusta, South Australia, and Ceduna

The sign says everything: we’re half way across Australia! A picture of a shop between Port Augusta, South Australia, and Ceduna.

A picture of a locally mined gems in a shop between Port Augusta, South Australia, and Ceduna.

Amanda was in heaven seeing this. A picture of a locally mined gems in a shop between Port Augusta, South Australia, and Ceduna.

After another hour and a half on the road, we reach our accommodation for the night, the Ceduna Foreshore Hotel and Motel. Known as the “Oyster Capital of Australia”, Ceduna boasts some good fishing and correspondingly, seriously tasty seafood; HRH and Amanda have a couple of battered banana prawns and fresh scallops and I, on my new cholesterol-lowering diet have marinated octopus for tea. Allowing our stomachs an hour of rest before the onslaught of more food, we return to our hotel room to watch Spongebob Squarepants on Nicklodeon.

At dinnertime, I get a bone lodged in my throat from eating locally caught pink snapper and thus spend the next forty minutes trying to dislodge said bone by chowing down on 2 crusty bread rolls. That doesn’t work so at HRH’s advice, I have only my second coke for the last 2 years, while watching a gorgeous Ceduna sunset. Oh, and I’m still producing nose wontons.

A picture of Amanda giving me attitude in Ceduna, South Australia.

A picture of Amanda giving me attitude in Ceduna, South Australia.

 A picture of a Ceduna, South Australia, sunset.

Now tell me that ain’t a beauty!  A picture of a Ceduna, South Australia, sunset.

Day 6

It’s official: my nose has eloped with my make-up bag. We set off for yet another of HRH’s beloved “short drives”, this time to Eucla in Western Australia. It’s a teeny tiny dot on HRH’s travelling map, so I’m not expecting much other than a clean bed to sleep on at night.

 A picture of the road leading away from Ceduna, South Australia.

It’s another day on the road. A picture of the road leading away from Ceduna, South Australia.

 A picture of the landscape leading away from Ceduna, South Aus

Where have all the animals gone? A picture of the landscape leading away from Ceduna, South Australia.

 A picture of Amanda fast asleep at the back of the car.

I have to smell Amanda’s feet as she decides to put them up the entire way.

Almost every road-train we meet on the road West is considerate of other motorists, especially smaller vehicles like ours transporting an entire family. But along comes this guy, who you can’t see because I belatedly decided to take his picture from my side-view mirror, who tries to PUSH US OFF THE ROAD when we attempt to overtake him. Before that he’d been careering from left to right. Lucky him, I hadn’t taken down his vehicle registration number if not I’d be placing a call to the relevant road transport authority.

 A picture of the road train that tried to push us off the road just outside Yatala in South Australia.

Most road-train drivers are considerate of other motorists but this one was a menace. A picture of the road train that tried to push us off the road just outside Yatala in South Australia.

Since we are still celebrating Amanda’s birthday (like the Queen, her birthday goes on for a whole week), HRH detours for us to see the Great Australian Bight. Just what is a Bight? Beats me, but you are supposed to be able to spot seals, whales, sharks and other marine life when they are in season. Whale-watching season folks, is in October and November. We are many months too early and instead, only have rugged coast to admire for the bargain price of $5 per adult. Children visit for free with one paying adult.

 A picture of HRH lifting Amanda up to view marine life at the Great Australian Bight, Yatala, South Australia.

A picture of HRH lifting Amanda up to view marine life at the Great Australian Bight, Yatala, South Australia.

A picture of The Great Australian Bight.

Sorry, no animals folks. They go elsewhere to spend the summer.  A picture of The Great Australian Bight.

 A picture of a poster about the Great Australian Bight.

This poster tells you about the marine life visible from the Great Australian Bight.

A picture of me and Amanda on a deck overlooking the Great Australia

Yes, there is no point dressing up when only absent marine life are going to see you and your runaway nose. A picture of me and Amanda on a deck overlooking the Great Australia

Yet more driving follows. We pass through the border of South Australia and Western Australia where we are stopped for a routine fruit-check. Just so you know: you are NOT allowed to bring fruit into South Australia or Western Australia, if travelling from other parts of Australia. This is to prevent fruit fly from damaging the citrus-growing industries of either state.

Once again, we arrive at our destination in time for tea. But instead of stuffing our faces with hot chips from the one and only café in Eucla, we check out the pool for houseguests and picturesque gardens, which the hotel’s restaurant looks out onto.

From our hotel room you can catch a glimpse of the sea.

A picture of our room in Eucla, Western Australia.

It’s not the Ritz-Carlton or the Shangrila, but it is clean and comfortable. A picture of our room in Eucla, Western Australia.

A picture of  the view from our room in Eucla, Western Australia.

You can catch a glimpse of the sea. A picture of the view from our room in Eucla, Western Australia.

 A picture of father and daughter moseying down the rocky path in Eucla, Western Austra

Trying to walk to the beach; never got there as it was a lot further than what it seemed from our room window. A picture of father and daughter moseying down the rocky path in Eucla, Western Australia.

A picture of a giant whale in the kids playground at Eucla, Western Australia.

A picture of a giant whale in the kids playground at Eucla, Western Australia.

A picture of HRH and Amanda at the "Traveller's Cross" in Eucla, Western Australia.

So far from civilisation. A picture of HRH and Amanda at the “Traveller’s Cross” in Eucla, Western Australia.

 A picture of the swimming pool at our hotel in Eucla, Western Australia.

Can you see the sliver of sea in this photo? It’s a different blue to the sky.

A picture of the gardens at our hotel in Eucla, Western Australia.

The restaurant looks out onto this gorgeous garden. You’d appreciate the effort it takes to establish and maintain such a garden if you saw the hard, clay-like soil. A picture of the gardens at our hotel in Eucla, Western Australia.

 A picture of Amanda having another plate of spaghetti bolognese in Eucla, Western Australia.

Amanda wanted spaghetti even for her birthday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our 9 day road-trip from Brisbane to Perth (Part 1)

Now what would possess someone to drive 4800 km from one side of a continent as vast as Australia to another? Well, for starters there is madness and for another, it’s to show young un’s the sheer size (and it is bigger than anyone’s backyard, believe me) of Australia.

We’d been warned to take fuel and water with us but our car was crammed to the hilt with all our treasured personal belongings so there was place for neither. It was either that or one of us would have ended up sitting on the roof. No prizes for guessing who, since HRH was planning to drive and it is still illegal for children to be in the front seat of the car, let alone strapped outside to a vehicle travelling at 110 km per hour. Perhaps, as HRH pointed out, we’d be travelling along a major highway for all of the time, so worse comes to worse, we’d hail down a passing road train for help.

Day 1

We plan to set off at 10 am but due to the nature of packing up an entire household full of stuff, end up leaving at 5 pm instead. Tania, who I’ve had dinner or lunch weekly for the last 5 years, helps us to reposition some of our bags in the car so that I won’t have to ride for 4800 km with my knees tucked under my chin.

She, who knows everything there is to know about road-trips, says, “You are very brave to be doing this.”

Blowing my hundredth nose-wonton (I have the flu, for crying out loud), I say, “There is a very fine line between bravery and madness. If you were to do this 9-day, 4800 km journey, I’d call it brave. With us, it’s more likely madness.”

With that I hug Tania and bid her farewell. We set off in the fading light of Brisbane for Moree 5 hours away. Due to the lack of light and my continuous production of nose wontons, I have no pictures to show you. Suffice to say, I am suffering, wondering aloud where among all our bags I put the Codral Cold, Flu and Cough tablets. Then I remember the bag that mum packed for me, with Aerius D, a similar cocktail of time-released nasal relief. Mum also packed me panadol, something for phlegm, sanitary pads and 2 boxes of tissues, just in case I should need any of these things. Thanks Mum.

Day 2

At the insistence of HRH, I take a few snap shots of our motel. It is a brick oasis in the middle of the desert; the place even has a swimming pool, which would be great in this infernal heat, but we have no time for that as we must travel another 5.5 hours to our next destination, Dubbo. HRH, slightly sleep-deprived from me coughing up a lung for most of the night, between blowing nose-wontons, tries to cheer me up by saying the trip is “only 5.5 hours long.” Oh yippee skipee.

Our Motel in Moree, New South Wales.

Our Motel in Moree, New South Wales. It cost the same as the Intercontinental Hotel in Kuala Lumpur. No, I’m serious.

Outback New South Wales, past Moree.

Outback New South Wales, past Moree.

We drive and drive and drive some more, past hay fields, along a mostly straight road. Occasionally we come across a dead joey, being picked at by crows and the odd eagle. After what seems like hours on the road, the hay fields give way to bushes.

The road from Moree to Dubbo, New South Wales.

The road from Moree to Dubbo, New South Wales.

HRH decides to stop in a town called Mendooran to refuel the car. The town is so small, it only has the one street featuring the requisite supermarket, gas station and post office. Locals around these parts are cattle farmers. The gas station attendant informs us that our next destination, after Dubbo, is “pure nothing through the desert.”

I blow my thousandth nose-wonton despite the Aerius D.

The Mendooran post office in country New South Wales.

The Mendooran post office in country New South Wales.

We arrive in Dubbo mid-afternoon but I feel like I’ve been travelling the whole day. HRH has us booked into Cattleman’s Country Motor Inn, the best accommodation there is in Dubbo. We are given a new two-bedroom apartment with tasteful modern decor.

HRH crossing the road in front of our motel in Dubbo, New South Wales.

HRH crossing the road in front of our motel in Dubbo, New South Wales.

After checking in, we go in search of food. We wind up at one of the town’s two Vietnamese eateries. The food is authentic, if substantially more expensive than what it is in Brisbane. For dinner, we opt to dine at the Cattleman’s restaurant. You can see Amanda pigging out on the first of 4 bowls of spaghetti bolognese she has throughout the trip.

Amanda at the Cattleman's restaurant in Dubbo, New South Wales.

Amanda at the Cattleman’s restaurant in Dubbo, New South Wales.

Day 2

We exit Dubbo straight after our 10am checkout. We have to, even though Dubbo Zoo is purportedly worth a visit, because we have another 9 hours on the road until our next stop for the day: Broken Hill.

The landscape after Dubbo, towards Broken Hill in New South Wales.

The black thing is the railroad. The landscape after Dubbo, towards Broken Hill.

2 hours into our journey, HRH says, “I was told that some people count the road kill to keep themselves entertained.”

So there goes 1 dead joey, 2 dead joeys…the alternative is dead rabbits. They road signs keep saying to watch out for suicidal kangaroos, emus and wombats, but I can see none of them around.

The road after Dubbo, towards Broken Hill.

The road after Dubbo, towards Broken Hill.

In case you didn’t know (and I didn’t either until HRH told me) mining giant BHP gets it’s name from the area, the oldest active mine in Australia. It stands for Broken Hill Proprietary. The town is the only one we’ve ever seen with an active mine forming part of it; most mining towns conduct their activities beyond the main streets.

Our room at the Red Earth Motel in Broken Hill, New South Wales.

Our room at the Red Earth Motel in Broken Hill, New South Wales.

A civic guide to Broken Hill, New South Wales.

Advertised eateries are KFC, Macdonalds and Hungry Jacks. We locate a cafe nearby to enjoy a simple western meal.

Broken Hill, New South Wales, at dusk.

Broken Hill, New South Wales, at dusk.

Amanda having a bowl of spaghetti bolognese in Broken Hill, New South Wales.

Sprinkling on the cheese. Amanda having a bowl of spaghetti bolognese in Broken Hill, New South Wales.

Food and accommodation is priced well above what you’d pay in any of the major capital cities in Australia. The town’s only Chinese restaurant does a rousing business. Locals are friendly; surprisingly many can afford to eat out on a weeknight. I don’t suppose there is much else to do. We see many families at the cafe we’re at.

 

My Malaysia: meeting the locals.

HRH’s sister takes us to her regular coffee shop, a place like countless other coffee shops throughout Malaysia. There are blue Terrazzo tiles on the floor, large framed mirrors facing each other on walls for good feng shui, old marble tables with 4 or so fragile-looking wooden chairs each.

The sign that greets me before I enter says, “Beware of snatch thieves.” I ask HRH to take a commemorative shot, my face oozing enough oil to fry Indian roti.

We take a seat at one of the square tables.

“What is this place?” asks Amanda, her eyes as wide as they can be for small peepers.

“A coffee shop,” answers HRH. “Your mum and I grew up visiting places like this.”

Our coffee shops in Oz sell Continental cakes and babycinos. This place, according to a board on the opposing wall, advertising specials, sells wanton mee with soup or tossed in black sauce, all sorts of roti, nasi lemak to be sure, and to my amazement Roti Babi.

Roti Babi is a Nyonya dish. My mother says it’s made by stuffing a thick slice of bread with a mixture of cooked onions, pork meat (hence the name, “Babi”), crab meat and spices, dunking that bread into egg wash and then frying it.

Since I’m on holiday I ignore her admonishments to stay away from it because it’s unhealthy, and order myself a serve from the Cantonese-speaking Malay waiter. I discover that even the other Malay waiter understands Cantonese; phrases pertaining to food anyway. HRH, now eating less post-surgery, has a wanton mee to share with Amanda, HRH’s sister 2 half boil eggs with coconut jam on toast. We order an assortment of local beverages.

Returning to HRH sister’s car, I notice a rojak stall directly behind the restaurant. Closer inspection reveals a whole back lane full of hawkers. How delightful! I must have some rojak! So even though already full, I order a portion to go along with HRH’s order of sliced jackfruit and watermelon. HRH has suddenly become very health conscious, constantly insisting on fruit.

The stall holder, a granny with surprisingly good teeth (or could they be dentures?) asks us to take a seat at one of the tables while her husband, an old man with gnarly hands to match hers, whips up my sweet, sour, hot and spicy Malaysian fruit salad.

Perched at the table, we have an uninterrupted view of the kitchen to the restaurant we frequented previously, plus their wet, squatting loo. A swarm of fat house flies hover around us as the granny brings us our fruit and Rojak.

“Eeewwww…this place is disgusting,” announces Amanda, sitting on HRH’s lap.

I tuck into my Rojak, unperturbed by the flies or Amanda comments, as long-forgotten conditioning takes over. I want to point out to Amanda the mee seller in the corner, frying up plates of noodles without lighting or running water, but am caught up in the realization of being home, even if I am in a back alley teeming with vermin and a view of a wet, squatting loo.

Upon hearing that we’re back from Oz, the granny, who will never visit such parts in her life, banters with us as though we are her most loyal of customers. She waves to us later, as we drive off to head back to the Intercontinental Hotel.

On our walk to the car, Amanda stops her father with another wrinkled-nose look of disgust and says, “Why is there so much rubbish there?”

She points to a row of derelict single storey houses strewn with rubbish-filled plastic bags and empty drink bottles. In my Malaysian mode, I had not noticed any of this, alighting from the car. Now I can see it as clearly as she can.

“People are not as civic-minded in Malaysia,” HRH explains to her. “Almost everyone has to earn a living, many have hard lives. When people have hard lives, they don’t have the chance to think about things like public cleanliness or the impact their lifestyles have on the environment. Here, the rich are very, very rich and the poor are very, very poor.”

He left out the pretend rich and the pretend poor. I’ve been accused by HRH numerous times of trying to pass off for the latter.

“What about in the middle?” asks Amanda.

I’m glad that they teach her to question in school. We were encouraged to be quiet when I was growing up in Malaysia. From what I hear, little has changed.

There is very little middle here, Amanda,” I say. “You can either be very, very rich or very, very poor. Those are your 2 options living here.”

“That’s why you must study hard,” says HRH.

“Mummy and daddy studied hard, that’s why you have the life you have. Nothing comes without sacrifice, Amanda,” I say. “Nothing.”

Reaching the hotel, we choose to sample the couches nearest to the hotel gardens. Thanks to a huge glass wall, we can see man-made waterfall, sculptured gardens and all, in air-conditioned, mosquito-free comfort. A hotel staff comes up to ask us if we’d like any drinks. Juice is priced at RM17 per glass. At the coffee shop we were at, it was only RM2.50. As before, I’m referred to as ma’am.

“See, this is how the rich live,” I tell Amanda, waving the hotel staff away. “When you are rich in this country (actually any country in Asia), people treat you like a king.”

Unless your surname is Packer or Rinehart, your riches won’t buy you the sort of life you can have in Asia down under. Sure, your life will be comfortable, but only in select 5 star hotels will you ever be called “ma’am” or “sir.” The average Aussie establishment is too egalitarian to accord you any special titles or treatment. We’re all mates, loves and darlings, in Oz.

At the prompting of HRH, I go to check on our room. Front desk staff, different from that which greeted me at 6 am, claim to not have our booking. While polite, the man delivering the news has a decidedly frosty demeanour. I go to fetch HRH who irons out the matter. When I next see the man to get out key-cards, he is all warm and welcoming.

“Oh I’m sorry. It was our mistake,” he coos. “You will find the new rooms utterly lovely. The bed sleeps 4, the bathroom has a view of the bedroom.”

Suddenly we are best friends, eh? HRH, his sister, Amanda and I take the lifts up to find a uniformed hotel staff outside our door.

“I brought you your bag,” he says in Malay.

I open my wallet to fish out a RM5 note. Passing it to him, I instruct him to bring my bag inside.
He brings it in and places it on the platform for luggage so that I have easy access to it. He thanks me and takes his leave.

Amanda marvels at the room, perhaps not expecting to see anything like it outside of Oz. The tub is huge, the toilet has a bum-washing function, all surfaces gleam so brightly I think I might go blind from the light reflecting off surfaces. Minutes later, house keeping comes by to check if I have adequate bottles of water. Unlike Oz, we can’t drink from the taps.

Housekeeping passes me 3 bottles to add to the 3 we already have, thanks me and leaves. While HRH and his sister catch up, I give Amanda and myself a shower.

“We’ll try out the bath tonight,” I promise her.

When I come out, the door bell rings. It’s a different man from housekeeping. Without me inviting him in, he comes to fold up the excess bedding and places that in the wardrobe. Then he proceeds to pick up my discarded towels. Without any explanation, he zips out of my room with them and returns with 3 new fluffy towels.

Holding the door open for him to leave, I can see him giving me a once-over (actually many times over) with his eyes, as his hands go about hanging up the new towels. After what feels like forever, he comes out and standing before me asks, “You Malay?”

“No.”

“Thai?”

“No,” I say, wishing he’d just leave me alone. I have been on a very long flight, am dog tired. What I am is tired.

“What are you?”

“Cheena.”

“Oooh…you lawa,” he says. Lawa is Malay for beautiful. Then he looks me up and down again.

I feel ill.

“Thank you. I’d like to rest now,” I say, excusing him.

“Do you have enough water?”

“Yes, thank you.”

He steps out of the room and I close the door. Minutes later, my door bell rings yet again. The same house keeper returns bearing 3 bottles of water and several small packets.

“For you,” he says with a sheepish smile, handing me small packets containing cotton pads and nail files. “This,” he says pointing to the nail file, “will make you more lawa.” Then he disappears into my bathroom.

Oh? What now? I am left holding the door open, waiting for this person who clearly doesn’t know a guest is a guest is a guest, to leave.

When he returns from an extended tour of my bathroom he holds out his hand. Unable to comprehend what this is about, since his Malay is broken at best, and I can’t speak whatever he speaks, I hold out his small packets to him.

“Shake hands,” he says, looking at his extended hand.

I reluctantly shake his hand. He looks like he is about to die of rapture.

“I have to rest now,” I insist.

He steps out of my room and I close the door. I settle between HRH and Amanda on our super-sized King bed and recount to HRH what just happened. HRH’s sister has long left. HRH is mildly amused. I am on my way to beddy bye land with thoughts of all the delicious food yet to come when our door bell rings again.

I look up at HRH. No words are necessarily. He gets up to answer the door. He returns bearing another 2 bottles of water, grumbling about “my new admirer.”

I am once more off to beddy bye land when the door bell rings yet again. HRH looks annoyed, gets up to check it and returns with yet 2 more bottles of water.

“Same guy?” I say to him with sleep-heavy eyes.

“Yes,” fumes HRH. “He better not bother you or I will speak to management downstairs.”

I fall into a deep sleep to the sounds of our wall-mounted 40 inch flat screen TV.

TBC

My Malaysia: arrival in the country.

Our Air Asia plane arrives on schedule. Because of HRH’s gall bladder surgery 4 days earlier (he was the patient instead of the surgeon), I forbid him to touch any of our hand luggage. Since we are at the front in business class, we are the first to alight from the aircraft. We follow our exemplary head air stewardess, who attended to our needs well throughout the trip, down the metal stairs, across the tarmac, into the building. There she bids us a fond farewell.

While HRH relieves himself in the loo, I keep a look out for our big black bag holding all our clothes and gifts for various family members. I, who have never lifted weights, manage to drag the thing off the conveyor belt. God bless my back. Now, to use the loo.

HRH waits with the big black bag, as I, laden with all our smaller pieces, lead Amanda into the nearest women’s room. It is surprisingly clean. And there’s toilet paper too!

Washing my hands, I take a look at my un-made-up reflection; I look like what the cat dragged in! Well, there is nothing I can do about this as all my make up is with HRH in the big black bag outside. We exit the toilet, ignore duty free (some, but not all things are cheaper than Oz) and proceed to the passport check-point. There are few others ahead of us so we seen immediately.

“Good morning. How are ya?” I say to the counter lady, employing some of my Aussie charm.

She returns my smile and chops our passports with deft hands.

We proceed on to the customs, but seeing no one there, we sail right through.

“God bless Malaysia,” I say with a cheeky smile.

“Aiyah. Like that people can brings drugs into the country,” exclaims HRH.

With me pulling our big black bag and carrying 3 pieces of hand luggage, we amble into the arrival lounge. HRH cranes his neck for his sister.

“Do you have her phone number?” I ask him.

“No,” he says, craning his head further. He starts to pace outside while I take a seat with Amanda.

“Does she know we are here?” I ask HRH.

“She should know. You wrote to her, didn’t you?”

At 4.30 am you can barely recall the day of the week, much less what you wrote to whom. HRH reluctantly takes a seat next to me and we observe the ebb and flow of passengers and those there to greet them for the next 10 minutes.

HRH’s sister saunters up to us. After exchanging greetings, she leads us to her car. Between she and I, we manage to get the big black bag into the car. HRH piles into the front passenger seat. We climb in at the back. So far so good.

At that hour, the only lights visible are from street-lamps and other motorists. As we approach KL city, close to an hour later, a thin sliver of light appears on the horizon, bathing the surrounding steel and concrete jungle in a greyish glow.

We are now blocks from the Intercontinental Hotel, Kuala Lumpur, where we will spend all of today and some of tomorrow to spare my parents from having to accomodate us so early in the morning. HRH’s sister pulls into the Intercontinental’s driveway and while they wait in the car, I go in to enquire about our room.

I tell hotel staff attending to me about HRH’s surgery, hoping to find a compassionate soul willing to allow us into our RM488 room early.

“The earliest we can let you check in is at 10 am, ma’am,” says one of the men at the front desk.

“How much to check in now?” It’s almost 6 am.

He taps into his keyboard. “Half a day’s rate,” he says.

I report this back to HRH, still seated in the car with his sister.

“We’ll wait,” he says. “It’s not worth paying 50% extra for 4 hours.”

I return to the front desk to deliver HRH’s decision.

“Come back at 9.30 am,” says the same man. “We’ll have your room ready for you by then.”

I erupt into a burst of terima kasihs (thank yous). Perhaps unaccustomed to such a display of gratitude from house guests, the man blushes and says, “Just come here at 9.30 am. I’ll make sure it’s ready. We’ll put a rush job on it.”

I go back to the car to relay this news to HRH. Then I return to enjoy one of the plush couches in anticipation of our check in. As soon as my behind comes in contact with the sofa, I am offered a bottle of mineral water by an attentive staff. HRH, his sister and Amanda emerge minutes later with our big black bag. I take our big black bag to the counter to be kept until check-in.

“We can deliver it straight to your room,” the bell-hop informs me in Malay.

I return to HRH, Amanda and his sister, seated on various arms of a circular, custom-made-of-course, couch. HRH’s sister, a professional, is soon telling us about her latest foray into the world of Multi Level Marketing (MLM).

“We are part of a very good group,” she says. “We have a very effective leader.”

“Don’t tell me about it,” says HRH. “Your sister-in-law was in this last time.”

“10 years ago,” I say, “The person who recruited me said the same thing; he left within a month to pursue other business opportunities.”

“Oh, our branch is different,” HRH’s sister says. “We aim to build a passive income, to be financially independent.”

“That’s what the people who recruited me said too. 10 years on, they still have day jobs, are still trying to build a passive income and be financially independent.”

“Maybe it’s because they didn’t have a system,” she says.

“They had a system all right. They had 2-hour presentation, tapes to give out to strangers, conferences, motivational speeches…I even became an executive, if only for a month. At the end, I put all the material outside the door and told my recruiter’s recruiter to get them or else they’d be binned.”

“All this MLM is like snake oil,” asserts HRH. “So much goes into giving the 6 layers of commission so what do consumers really get for their money? When you join these organisations, only those at the top benefit. Look at your second cousin, she’s been with various MLMs for years. Has she gotten anywhere? Is she financially independent?”

You can do this in Malaysia but not Australia,” I say. “Aussies stress the importance of work-life balance, spending time with their families, enjoying their leisure time. Only the very rich have maids.”

When I was growing up, almost every Tom, Dick and Harry had an Indonesian or Filipino maid. Today, only those with an income above RM5k (AUD1.8k at the current exchange rate of 3.2) is allowed to employ one. Indonesian maids are available from RM 800 per month (AUD250), as of 2013, whilst Filipino maids, RM1800 (AUD562.50).

“Everyone thinks that Aussies are rich but the average Aussie only earns AUD50k. A significant chunk goes to the tax department,” I add. On top of which, foreign domestics are barred from entering Oz, to protect the local labour market. After all, if one can hire a full-time maid for AUD562.50 a month, who would pay AUD20 an hour for a cleaner or AUD25 for a nanny? Even the kid who babysits Amanda while I go swimming every Friday gets AUD10 (RM32) an hour. She gets more working at Macdonalds.

Malaysians are more willing to strive for a better future,” HRH sister says. “I will make establish my business before coming over.” She plans to move to Oz.

Malaysians have no choice,” I say, aware that this is too hard a topic to broach on an empty stomach, especially at 7 am. “They have no one to care for them if they are out of a job, become disabled, or lose everything through the death of a breadwinner, or divorce.”

A week on, the Malaysian government will announce the disbursement of BRIM, a one-off payment of RM500 for households earning less than RM3000.

In Oz, the government gives around AUD1340 (RM4288) every 4 weeks to each non-working, single parents with one child under the age of 5. It reduces thereafter until the child turns 8. After that it gets cancelled altogether. Some manage to get government housing. At any rate, extra payments are available for households earning less than AUD90k per annum (it tapers off around AUD80k) to help with the cost of raising children. Low-income households also receive subsidies towards their rent, bus and rail travel, gas and electricity bills and pharmaceutical purchases.

In Malaysia, people will say, “It’s just too bad. Who asked you not to be born in the right family?” Malaysians, I am to be reminded later, equate financial hardship with laziness, poor choices, immorality…mostly with laziness. Therefore hardship, where most are concerned, is justified. “You can’t fail to get ahead if you try hard enough” is the motto around here.

“Good luck with your endeavour,” I say to HRH’s sister. “Aussies live long enough as it is. The average woman lives until 86, the average man 81. With a combined income of AUD1800 from the government in the form of a pension, none of the oldies can afford the pills you are peddling, no matter how good you say it is for them. They can barely afford to eat as it is.”

Glancing at her watch, HRH’s sister offers to take us to breakfast.

TBC

 

 

 

 

 

A very unusual Christmas present.

Me and some of the mums from school were discussing Christmas presents.

“I’m going to Garden City to buy Lego,” one announced. “I’m getting my sons Batman Lego.”

I’ll be getting Amanda intensive Kumon lessons for after the new year,” I said.

They all turned to look at me.

“Amanda has got between 5 and 10 years to thank me,” I joked. “I’m very patient.”

“It’ll be one  of your family stories,” said another mum with a laugh. “Remember the time when mum got me intensive maths lessons for Christmas?”

“Have you told Amanda yet?” asked the first mum who was going to buy Batman Lego.

No, I just told her I have a very special surprise for her waiting in Malaysia,” I said, unable to suppress my glee at being able to deceive my seven-going-on-eight year old for that long. I plan to get her a few other gifts to sweeten this one; a couple of new outfits should do the trick.

“You know what I reckon would be the best present?” said the mum who wasn’t buying Lego. “Going abroad to see the world. Just being in Malaysia will teach Amanda so much. Children here are so privileged, so sheltered.”

“You’re right. She’ll get to see hardcore poverty first-hand; the kind that is inherited, not the result of drug or alcohol abuse.” Although Malaysia has poverty resulting from and reinforced by alcoholism in the rubber estates. “She’ll see children younger than her serving her massive bowls of hot soup, working – my mother used to point them out to me all the time and say, ‘How lucky are you when you could easily have been born that kid?’ She’ll see the limbless begging at the sides of the roads, some trying to sell packets of tissue as we eat. She’ll be shocked out of her system all right. Already I’ve been talking to her about thieves and robbers, kidnappers, molesters, drug and human traffickers; of children abducted from schools, shopping centres, at the night market, never to be seen again. I’ve prepared her to meet the dredges of society we don’t see in our sanitised world.”

It’s a land where parents still spank, if they don’t belt, whip or box, many among the uneducated brazen enough to do so publicly. It’s also a land where we don’t help the old, the young or the invalid, basically anybody, at airports in case they are drug traffickers. We ask to see what’s in the bag before agreeing to carry it even for family or friends.

“Many of our kids get the shock of their lives when they go overseas,” she said.

“I bet they do.” I hear Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz saying to Toto, her dog, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore.”

Here in Australia, it is so safe. Barring very few areas, you can walk down the road during the day, decked out in bling like a Christmas tree without fear of being robbed  or molested at knife point. These are things that never even cross your mind, living here.

I highly recommend families in first world countries take their children to see what lies beyond their 5 star resorts when on holiday in Asia. It will open their eyes to the hardship and human suffering beyond our privileged shores and make the next generation of what might be potentially spoilt-brats, thankful for living here. Privileged Asians in Asia, cloistered in their rarefied affluence, should try living without the maid and air-conditioning for at least a week of every year to get a perspective of how the other half live. Perspective is the gift that keeps on giving long after the season’s decorations have been taken down. You can’t find it in any store and it’s bound to be one the kids remember for years to come.

5 things I love about Malaysia.

It’s only fitting I list what I love about Malaysia since I am about to return home for a holiday.   Malaysians and frequent visitors to Malaysia, see if your list matches mine. Yet to experience enchanting Malaysia? Why, here are some things you should not miss out on if you go there:

1) Food

Yes, yes, you knew it’d be number 1, because what Malaysian doesn’t like food? Being multiracial and multicultural, we have so many different kinds of food, I could spend all day waxing lyrically about it. In nutshell we have street food, hawker food (not the same as street food), restaurant food, hotel food, Chinese, Malay, North and South Indian food, Indian Muslim food (aka Mamak food), Peranakan food. Due to new migrants from around the world, we also have Thai food, Indo food, Korean food, Japanese food, the usual steak and fries, pasta, pizza…Every ethnic group has food only found and eaten during certain celebrations, at particular times of the year. For instance, during Ramadan, we have the most mouth-watering array of curries, sambals, pickles, cookies, cakes you can imagine lining entire streets of night markets.  Every region is famous for something: Klang is famous for Bah Kut Teh, or porky herbal soup, cheap seafood dinners, Ipoh for salt-baked chicken, chicken shreds with rice noodle soup, Taiping for popiah, His Royal Highness claims Tofu pudding with syrup too, much of the East Coast of West Malaysia with Keropok, especially the thick chewy variety called Lekor, which I love so much, Kajang for Satay, Ampang for stuffed vegetables known as Yong Tau Fu. Penang is famous for Lobak, meat filled into tofu sheets, Assam Laksa, a very, very distant relative of Curry Laksa, popular in Australia… Describing just doesn’t do justice to the food of Malaysia, so  here’s a video to show you some of the culinary delights found in Penang alone:

 

2) Markets

We have morning markets, night markets, weekend markets, farmer’s markets, where you will find everything from food to apparel to traditional remedies for zits, aches and pains, household goods, to school bags, sometimes uniforms and accessories… You could do your entire week’s shopping without going to the supermarket and the best part is you can haggle until your heart’s content. Which brings me to…

3) Bargaining

When I first arrived in Australia, the rule was no bargaining. Now it is ask for the best price. In Malaysia, it is expected that you bargain. Traders in Malaysia’s famed home of fake goods, Petaling Street, LOVE it if you bargain. They expect you to bargain. You must bargain if you are to secure even a half decent deal. It’s like dancing the tango with them.

Competing stall holders will shout for your attention, saying, “Boo – tee – ful (they mean “beautiful”, you come here. I give you good deal. Good deal.”

As soon as you walk away, feigning disinterest, they will shout even louder. “Hey you boo -tee – ful, leng lui (meaning beautiful girl in Cantonese), come, come don’t be like that. Come, I’ll give you best price.” He’ll dig out his calculator and pretend to slice chunks off his profits, especially for you, boo – ti – ful.  To be sure, he wants your business.

 

4) Friendly people

Malaysians are so friendly, you can make new acquaintances just about anywhere. Many are willing to go out on a limb to show visitors around, often inviting them home for dinner or at the very least, point you in the right direction should you get lost. Just beware of people who tell you some sob story in order to get your money. My mother once lost RM100 to a man claiming to have lost his wallet outside the airport. He thanked her profusely and gave her a number no one has ever answered.

5) Cheap goods

With the exchange rate, most things are a third of what they are in Australia. I regularly stock up on Loreal sunscreen, Sensodyne toothpaste, toothbrushes, instant cooking paste sachets, clothes  and shoes whenever I go back to Malaysia. Electronics are roughly 30% less than what they are in Australia too, as is jewellery and branded goods. What I’d like to buy this trip back is several kebaya tops to wear with my jeans, or to shade my arms from the harsh Australian sun, sunscreen and a couple of items from Bobbi Brown, saving me a small fortune.

Kampung girl: a weekend in the big smoke.

A picture of Kampung Boy Yesterday by Lat.

A picture of Kampung Boy Yesterday by Lat.

At the risk of sounding like one of Lat’s characters from “Kampung Boy”, I’m going to tell you all about my 2 nights, 1 day trip to Sydney. You’ve probably already read about my inaugural visit to my old school mates’ cafe, Not Just Coffee in Paddington, but I’ve yet to share with you the sheer wonder that met me as soon as I alighted from the plane.
There were people everywhere I looked. Not just a couple of dozen like at the Brisbane airport or in our beloved Queens Street Mall, but hundreds, possibly thousands of people, all dressed in their work-clothes. Men were suited and women had on carefully coordinated outfits and  ’em shiny patent leather heels. And there were cars, an endless stream of taxis pulling up at the taxi rank to match the deluge of passengers.
Since His Royal Highness’ had flown Qantas, courtesy of a drug company, and Amanda and I, Tiger, I had no idea that the carousel for all airlines were separate from one another. There we were, Amanda and I, standing next to the Virgin carousel the entire time, waiting for His Royal Highness to emerge when he had asked us to wait next to the Qantas one!
“But where are you?” he asked, calling me for the second time in a row.
For some reason, airports have terrible phone reception.
“At the carousel like you asked.”
“But I can’t see you. I said Qantas? Are you at Qantas?”
“Yes, yes…, ” said I, oblivious to the big Virgin sign. “Where are you?”
“At the Qantas carousel. Where are you?”
And on and on it went until I said, “Shuddup. If you say Qantas one more time, I’ll kill you when I see you.”
It was then I had the good sense to ask someone where the Qantas arrival lounge is. From where I was, I had to brave a throng of people, cross 1 road, walk through a covered car park, cross 2 more roads and voila, I was there. His Royal Highness was ringing me again as I walked up to him.
“Where were you?” he asked, irritation barely disguised. “Have you seen the guy with my name?”
The drug company was supposed to send a limo for him. Amanda and I were just hitching a ride.
“No, no, I didn’t see anyone.”
We waited and waited, craning our necks for a suited man carrying a placard with His Royal Highness’ name.
“I told you the Qantas carousel,” he said, grumpily.
“Shuddup. Don’t say that name again.” I had just ridden a Tiger into town and was worried they had stuffed a Tiger into the fuel tank the entire way. Seriously, it mystifies me how budget airlines make enough to maintain their fleet.
I wanted to fly Qantas too, but it was $400 + each way, for each of us. Tiger was only $430 for me and Amanda, return. 
Finally, I said, “Let’s just take a taxi to the hotel. I’m hot, tired and hungry. I can’t wait for this limo guy anymore.”
His Royal Highness knows how cantankerous I can be when ravenous so he agreed. We joined the million or so people at the taxi rank. I felt slightly underdressed next to all these immaculately turned-out folks, wishing I had chosen to wear the bejewelled Nine West flats I had in my suitcase, instead of the nude Birkies on my feet in typical Queensland style. But I’m going to The Westin, a 5 star palace in the heart of the city, I reminded myself. Who really gives a shit about what I’m wearing?
I changed my mind yet again when I scrambled out of our taxi. It was as if I had unwittingly arrived at footy’s night of nights, The Brownlow. There were women in resplendent gowns, men in their dinner jackets, more than a handful of Paris Hilton wannabes. I just wanted to shrink into the polished marble wall on the way in and disappear!
Our room was a typical 5 star hotel room; there were the nice touches like your name (His Royal Highness’, not mine) on the ginormous flat TV screen, an abundance of plump pillows on the bed, complimentary bottles of mineral water, in case you should get dehydrated during the night…What I was most taken with was the bathroom: I could watch the telly whilst lying in the over-sized tub, assured of hearing dialogue throughout thanks to surround-sound, plus was cloistered in enough marble to refurbish the Taj Mahal.
A picture of my bathroom at The Westin in Sydney.

A picture of my bathroom at The Westin in Sydney.

Oh, now this is the life!
We went down briefly to the restaurant, but upon finding it closed for the night, returned to our room to order room service. His Royal Highness was treating us since he had suggested I accompany him to Sydney so that he may see his daughter over the weekend. He managed to see us awake for an hour each day, between meetings.
The Westin has a special “Superfoods Menu” based on food research into lifespans, which I ordered from, but judging by the amount we ate, I don’t think we garnered any of the benefits. Since I was on holiday, I wasn’t fussed about lengthening my life anyway.
A picture of my Insalata Caprese at the Westin in Sydney.

A picture of my Insalata Caprese at the Westin in Sydney.

A picture of my smoked salmon at The Westin in Sydney.

A picture of my smoked salmon at The Westin in Sydney.

A picture of me at dinner.

You can see how tired I was.  Here I am about to tuck into entrees. The hot food was in a sealed section, under the cart.

A picture of our hot meals under the room service cart.

The food was warm until we ate it.

After dinner, I had a nice soak in the tub, followed by a rain shower to wash my hair in the separate shower stall. Then I tucked in for the night. I slept so well, I missed breakfast the next morning.
Amanda and I were supposed to check out Circular Quay, the Sydney Opera house and Darling Harbour in the morning, but due to our lie in, I decided to visit my friend’s cafe first. After all, who can think without food?
Amanda and I took a taxi to Oxford Street, which until arriving, I had not realised is the equivalent of Chapel Street in Melbourne. Brisbane’s version is James Street in New Farm.
“What sort of people live here?” I asked the taxi driver.
“Gays, alternative living types.”
“Gays?” said Amanda. “You mean like girls who like girls? Or boys who like boys?”
“Shush,” I said.  “And what other sort of people are there, driver?”
“It’s like a different planet here. They’re all rich and crazy.”
Sounds like my kind of place. I love rich and crazy. I’m okay with gays too. Poor and crazy is just sad. Look at the many parts of Darwin if you need a reference for that.
All the big names in fashion were there, as was my dream audio-equipment retailer, Bang and Olufsen, with their highly lauded, art-gallery-worthy, sound systems. Oh, just you wait until I have money B & O. I’ll be back! I’ll be back!
After spending roughly an hour at my friend’s cafe, Amanda and I caught a bus to Circular Quay. From there, we soaked up the glorious Sydney sunshine as we made our way to the Sydney Opera House.
A picture of Amanda and I in front of the Sydney Opera House.

A picture of Amanda and I in front of the Sydney Opera House.

“It’s worth missing your art show for, isn’t it?” I said to Amanda at the sight of the Sydney Opera House. She had been most upset to skip her school’s art show to come with us.
“Yes, it’s beautiful,” she gushed.
A close up picture of the Sydney Opera House.

Can you see the wings of a swan and the waves of the sea? That’s supposed to be the inspiration for the Sydney Opera House’s design.

We walked around this famous monument to the arts, taking photos from every angle. Then we wandered into the Botanic Gardens, where we caught the Choo-choo train to spare our poor legs from walking the entire area. After that, we strolled back to Circular Quay, and caught a ferry to Darling Harbour from there. The winds were certainly blustery aboard the ferry. Amanda, who usually insists she is strong enough to stand the cold, made nary a whimper of protest when I suggest we move from sitting outside to inside.
We had a brief look-see in Darling Harbour, before heading back to The Westin by taxi.
A picture of Amanda aboard the Choo Choo Train at the Botanic Gardens in Sydney.

A picture of Amanda aboard the Choo Choo Train at the Botanic Gardens in Sydney.

God save the whales: our trip to Hervey Bay, Queensland.

As you may have gleaned from By Estella Dot Com’s facebook page, I’ve been away for awhile. Two Fridays before, I was visited by a friend from my first secondary school – ’tis such a difficulty keeping track of where I’ve been – so I took the day off. The day after that, my family of 3 made the 4 hour trip north to Hervey Bay, home to whales and other protected sea creatures, to spend the long-weekend with my good friend Tania and her family. The following Monday was the Queen’s second birthday of the year. Although on the verge of becoming a Republic more than a decade ago, Australia is still a constitutional monarchy, hence the holiday.

We had no complains as we all love holidays. The only bit that His Royal Highness found puzzling was the reason for our trip.

“To see whales,” I told him.

“But the only animals that Chinese view are those they eat,” he said.

Think of the fishies and what-nots in the tanks of most Chinese restaurants. We, Chinese, can’t go near an animal without thinking what it might taste like steamed, poached, braised or twice-fried. Instead of contenting themselves with lentils and cheese, our vegetarians have their gluten shaped into animal parts, so I’d argue that the urge to eat animals is very much hardwired into us. For special occasions, we eat an assortment of animals.

A picture of His Royal Highness' steak at Matilda in Kybong, Queensland.

Who knew you could get such a great piece of steak at a servo? Perfectly cooked and delightfully marbled beef rump steak for roughly $16 at Matilda in Kybong, Queensland.

As we neared the end of our journey, I said to His Royal Highness, “If you don’t want to see the whales, we can always hang out at the beach.”

By that time, we were fixated on another animal. We had driven past 2 signs saying “Golden Chicken.”

“Why do you think there are so many people there?” His Royal Highness asked me.

“I don’t know but Tania is expecting us for dinner.”

From our many dinners together, I knew that Tania served dinner at about 6pm. It was already 5.30pm. Golden Chicken would have to wait until the next day.

As though foreseeing our fixation with the last 2 signs we saw on our way up, Tania had chosen to roast a chicken for our dinner. She served us a quarter each with roast root vegetables on the side. In true Aussie style, we washed it all down with wine. Then we went to bed.

The next morning, with Tania and her eldest girl on their bikes and His Royal Highness, Amanda and Tania’s two other girls in our car, we made for the Urangan Pier where they have a weekly Sunday market. Coming from the big smoke down south, there wasn’t much for us to buy, apart from freshly caught and cooked prawns, crusted in coconut, and a couple of shell-made souvenirs for the kids.

A picture of the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay, Queensland.

A return walk is 1.8km on the Urangan Pier. That amounted to our exercise for the day.

A picture of the Sunday Market at the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay, Queensland.

A picture of the Sunday Market at the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay, Queensland.

A picture of the kids climbing an old banyan tree at the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay, Queensland

Who says only boys climb trees? A picture of the kids climbing an old banyan tree at the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay, Queensland.

A picture of a stall-holder performing magic tricks at the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay, Queensland.

A picture of a stall-holder performing magic tricks at the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay, Queensland.

A picture of HRH and I on the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay, Queensland.

Could barely open my eyes there. A picture of HRH and I on the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay, Queensland.

A picture of an ibis standing atop a lamp post on the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay.

Hhmmm…that will go well with sweet and sour sauce. A picture of an ibis standing atop a lamp post on the Urangan Pier in Hervey Bay.

A picture of the Urangan Pier at Hervey Bay, Queensland.

A picture of the Urangan Pier at Hervey Bay, Queensland.

A picture of HRH and the kids at the end of the Urangan Pier in Hervery Bay.

Looking for jellyfish, a Chinese delicacy.

After a stroll to the end of the pier and back, we adults sat on the grass while the kids had 3 rides each at the small fair set up at the end of the market. Emboldened by company, my normally sedentary child went down the gigantic blow-up slide 15 times! After that, we all adjourned to the “Golden Chicken” for lunch; where else?

The “Golden Chicken” turned out to be Hervey Bay’s version of Red Rooster, a place selling the traditional roast chicken dinner with mash, peas and corn on the side and fish and chip packs to the hungry. For $37, we got ourselves 10 pieces of crumbed whiting, 1 large box of chips, 8 BBQ chicken wings, and 2 bottles of soft drink. What a steal! No wonder the place is so popular.

We hopped back into our car and circumnavigated Hervey Bay before going back to Tania’s place. She had already rode home after lunch with her eldest. When we arrived, she was out shopping for dinner. Since lunch was sitting heavily in our stomachs, His Royal Highness and I adjourned to our room for a long siesta.

When we awoke, the house was filled with the smell of Tania’s beef stew, bubbling away on the stove. I enjoyed the stew so much I had leftovers for breakfast, after which Paul led us to some beach near their place.

With the kids in Paul’s dinghy, Tania went through the day’s newspapers while His Royal Highness and I stared out to sea. Soon we were joined by the smell cooking bacon from the people using the public BBQ facilities behind the thicket at the back of us. Briefly it reminded me of those whales we had come to see. Fortunately for the whales, we had to leave that very afternoon as I was due to fly off to Cairns at 6.10 the next morning.

A picture of us at the beach in Hervey Bay, Queensland.

Another lovely day in Queensland, made better with the smell of cooking bacon.

A picture of the kids in Paul's dinghy in Hervey Bay.

They each had a life-jacket on. A picture of the kids in Paul’s dinghy in Hervey Bay.

 

 

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.