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Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

The last few months I have, as mentioned earlier, been researching travel options, itineraries, hotels, flights, first for destinations on one side of the Pacific, and then, with a change of heart, for destinations on the other side of the Pacific. I like to plan my travel myself, rather than blindly follow a travel package or route others design. (Hence my business, Travel Unpackaged!)

I’m not keen on tours either, though recognise that maybe, one day when we’re older, and in certain locations, we might have to succumb. Knowing our travel style, I know that we always require longer time in almost every destination than on standard routes. And we will often skip things others do because it is the “done thing” and put our efforts elsewhere. We don’t have kids, so can skip theme parks, thank goodness. But I do like to “see the sights” as there is a reason they are the “sights to see.” At the very least, they often sum up the history or the culture of the country you are visiting. But more than that, they are, generally, magnificent. I mean, would you go to London without visiting the Tower, Cambodia without seeing Angkor Wat, Norway without seeing a fjord, or Jordan without seeing Petra?

And food. We love experiencing the local food. If we can try street food, it is usually a real treat. Besides, food always tastes better al fresco, right? So we don’t want to be tied to the food of a hotel, a tour, or one resort.

So over these weeks, we’re visiting palaces and farmhouses, pagodas, temples and tombs, sites of wonderful grandeur, and of terrible tragedies. We’ll admire nature, on land and sea. We’ll be briefly isolated, and surrounded by throngs in one of the busiest places on earth. We’ll see remnants of ancient cultures, and experience ultra-modernity.

We’re visiting three countries, and of those two are new to me, but only one is new to my husband. It will be the first time we will visit somewhere he has been, but I have not. (There are only three countries in the world in that category.)

I’m not planning to blog* this trip. It’s not long enough to justify the time when I’m away, or the self-imposed pressure of blogging. I will be posting photos. Look for me on Instagram at travellingmali (note the two Ls in travelling). And when I get back, I promise to do a post or two on “What I did on my holiday.”

 

* I will, however, be blogging and checking in here. I’ve pre-scheduled a few posts, and will write others if I get the time.

 

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We went for a walk yesterday morning. After a few weeks when we had to endure, off and on, a lot of mist and rain, it was a delight to get out in the lovely autumn sunlight, enjoy the perennial contrast of the green trees against the brilliant blue of the sky, and take pleasure in the oranges and reds of the occasional deciduous trees before they lose their leaves completely.

We weren’t the only ones out getting some Vitamin D either. We walked past teams of girls playing soccer down at the all-weather sports ground, their watching parents and coaches no doubt also grateful for the fine day. We passed a man who, as I remarked to my husband, always looks like a hitman walking his wife’s lapdog. He didn’t move aside for me to pass, but looked straight at me with hostile eyes, forcing me onto the road. There were others out on the road too;  an elderly lady and her daughter, a former colleague of my husband’s who stopped his bike ride to walk the last hundred metres or so alongside his wife who was walking her little dog too, and two young girls on their scooters who stopped for an awkward conversation with two loud, confident, but much smaller boys.  And we weren’t the only couple out walking together, though we were moving at a rather faster pace than most, determined to boost our fitness for all those tourist days spent out on our feet in a few weeks.

What a lovely way to spend a Sunday morning.

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A friend (Amy) is currently on holiday in Thailand. We were AFS students together when we were 17 or so, and she has returned this time with her husband and her parents for the first time. I have been loving seeing her photographs on social media, and I share in her joy in sharing this place that is so special with the people she loves.

It made me remember hosting my parents in Thailand just ten years after I was a student there. We were living there as diplomats, and it was the first time my parents left New Zealand. Thailand would not have been their first choice as an overseas destination, but we were living there, they were temporarily homeless (having retired from the farm, they were waiting for their little retirement house to be built), and they actually had a little cash in their pockets to make the trip. They travelled later – to Europe, and a couple of times to tour different parts of Australia (they saw more of it than I have, despite our numerous trips) – but regularly said that their trip to Thailand was the one that stood out. Frankly, it blew their minds. Europe, Australia and America all feel familiar – people look like us, the food isn’t that different, and we are accustomed to seeing these countries on our screens and in our books. But Thailand – its sights, sounds, food, temple, people, language, and size – has no reference point in rural New Zealand where they spent their lives.

They came because I had spent a year there instead of finishing my last year of secondary school. They came too because a few years later, they hosted a young Thai exchange student, their fourth “daughter.” (My friend Amy did this several years ago too.) I remember walking with them out of the airport in Bangkok. My mother sniffed the foggy air, and looked at me in horror. “Do we have to breathe that?” she asked incredulously. My father looked around in fascination, and uttered a very 1960s comment. “The teeming millions of Asia,” he said, as he had probably never seen so many people in one place. These things are so familiar to me today, it’s good to remember their reactions.

They stayed for a month, and we took them around Bangkok (or rather my husband did, while I worked), and on excursions out of Bangkok, day-trips in our car, or a few weekends at the beach, and on a longer trip on a sleeper train, which they loved. (There’s a funny photo of them on the train here.) They were still young, newly retired, and adventurous. They explored the local streets and foods on the non-excursion days, got to know our maid, relaxed by and in the pool, met my Thai host family, went on adventures with their Thai AFS daughter, and did many things they never would have imagined. My father, who had always been very active (as a farmer he really had no choice), sat under a palm tree at the beach, feeling the soft, warm wind, and just relaxed. “This is just wonderful,” he said, looking around. It was certainly a far cry from the cold prevailing wind on the stony beach near the farm where he spent almost all of his life.

I remember coming home from work one day, and hearing of my mother’s trip to a market. She had visited it with my husband and father a few days earlier, but they had just walked through it, and didn’t give her time or space to explore, or shop. She was determined to go back, and insisted that day that she was going alone. My husband had nervously summoned a tuk-tuk, and gave the driver instructions of where to take her. Noisily it drove off, and he wondered if a) he’d ever see her again, and b) how he would explain that to me when I got home! There were no cellphones. She didn’t speak a word of Thai. She’d never taken a taxi in her life. But she had money, she had the address of our apartment with her, and she wasn’t scared. Of course, she made it home safely, much to the relief of my husband, who swears he lost a couple of months of his life from the stress.

I loved rediscovering Thailand through their eyes and ears and nose and tastebuds. I am equally sure Amy is enjoying doing this with her parents and her husband. And I know we both feel so lucky we’ve been able to do this with those we love.

 

 

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I was hoping this week to write about something more uplifting, but understandably, the horrific mosque shootings are top of mind in New Zealand over the last ten days or so. Last week I wrote about my initial response, and now I want to mention the responses of others.

There have been positive responses, not least from our Prime Minister, ranging from national actions to simple small acts of kindness. I’ll list just a few:

  • Love is the message, not violence or retaliation. In a strange way, because the emphasis has been on love, I felt free to vent my own anger (here, last week). I could see too that Jacinda (our Prime Minister) was angry, but was focusing that anger through love and compassion to the victims and their families. Whereas when leaders come out promising retribution and violence, I always feel compelled to modify that and plead for calm.
  • On Friday, marking one week from the first shooting, the Muslim call to prayer was broadcast nationally, followed by a two-minute silence to remember the 50 people who were killed in the shootings.
  • As the mosque where most of the shootings occurred was not open, their regular Friday prayers became part of a public ceremony in Hagley Park, attended by approximately 20,000 people, members of all political parties, and the Prime Minister.
  • The Imam said, “New Zealand has shown the world how to love and be caring.” He thanked the PM “for honouring us with a simple scarf.”
  • Women throughout New Zealand on Friday wore headscarves, the hijab, in an effort to show solidarity, and to help Muslim women feel safer in public. Policewomen who were guarding the mosque wore the scarf and a rose whilst carrying a semi-automatic rifle. I was far more uncomfortable about the rifle (our police are not normally armed) than I was about the headscarf.  A young Muslim woman wrote that she did not support non-Muslims wearing the hijab, and saw it as tokenism, a gesture designed to make non-Muslim New Zealand women feel better. That is undoubtedly a legitimate point of view. But other Muslim women commented that they felt safe and embraced by all New Zealanders when they could see so many other women wearing the hijab.
  • Non-Muslims formed human chains of protection around mosques in other centres for their own Friday prayers.
  • Military-style semiautomatic weapons were banned, with the support of the major political parties.
  • Catholic churches tolled bells throughout the nation – 50 times, one for each of the victims.
  • Flowers and offerings of support expressed to mosques all over the country.
  • Haka after haka was performed* to express manaakitanga (respect, kindness, caring for others)
  • Schools (including Charlie’s) forming heart shapes and/or the words Kia Kaha (stay strong, in Maori) and sending the photographs out to send love to those affected
  • Sales of T-shirts (printed by Good Bitches Baking but sadly sold out by the time I went to buy one) exhorting us to Be Kind have raised tens of thousands of dollars for the victims’ families.
  • Internationally, the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa lit up with a photograph of Jacinda Ardern’s face as she hugged a Muslim woman, under the word Peace in Arabic and English.

These are just a few.

However, there is a danger that we become too self-congratulatory at the compassion shown towards our Muslim brothers and sisters who have endured such an attack, as pointed out by the young Muslim woman I mentioned above. We are in danger of being too proud of our Prime Minister. The focus instead should be on the victims, the families, the wider community, and what we can do to help. The focus should be on racism. New Zealand is not perfect. Not now, and not in the past. Name a country that is.

And there are critics. Despite the fact that the terrorist did not grow up here, I guess we are all thinking, “but he could have.” And so academics have been speaking out on racism. Eager for validation, they point out the obvious (to me, at least) – that there is, and always has been, racism in our country. Muslims and other races have reminded us that they experience day-to-day racism, small slights, or intimidating harassment from time to time. Some Muslims here have never encountered it, but others apparently have.  And so an important national conversation is being revisited, but this time with the recognition of the violence these views can bring. It’s a good time for the conversation. Now is, after all, the time that we are most likely to listen to this message, to agree that racism and discrimination is unacceptable, and to resolve to do something about it. Now is when we have to decide to stop being “polite” and to call out the racists, call out the casual and even unconscious racism or bigotry that exists here, as anywhere.

There are other critics of the gestures made by the government and by New Zealanders. Gun owners (but far from all of them) complain about tighter controls, and fundamentalist Christians have spoken out about the country reaching out to Muslims, though their views have been largely derided. Personally, I have been surprised by two or three representatives of these groups who appear on my social media feed. People I generally want to keep in touch with, but who are essentially a piece of my past. I don’t want to offend anyone, and I certainly don’t want to be drawn into a social media battle. But my silence makes me complicit. So this week, I’m going to stand up for what I believe in, and call a couple of people out. Because if we want to be “seen as the good guys”** then we need to act like good guys.

“It’s not who we are” has been a catchphrase from Jacinda’s earliest speech after the horror. But it was, perhaps, who we were once. We are not proud of our colonial history, after all. It might still be who some, perhaps many, people are. Though as a nation, we have made huge strides. And it is certainly not who New Zealand wants to be today. And so, whilst we know we’re not always the good guys, maybe, just maybe, for a week or ten days, we have been the good guys. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll all put more effort into being the good guys in the future.

 

A beautiful pink rose with tears of dew

Have a rose for peace, with tears of dew

* not danced. NEVER danced.

** Ta-Nehisi Coates gave me this phrase in a similar context as I listened to his audiobook on my walk a few days ago.

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A few nights ago, just as I was about to go to bed, I looked out the window and noticed a stunning moon. The moon was big and bright and surrounded by interesting looking clouds. So I rushed and got my camera. Though by the time I had set it up on the tripod, the clouds had gone.

“Never mind,” I thought. “This is an opportunity to practice moon shots, and to see if my new lens is any good for it.”

So I stood outside on the deck, and snapped away. I got distracted when I saw some mist hanging in the valley, and snapped away at that too. Then I decided to try my hand at some star shots, and played some more. I discovered that a 30 second exposure is sufficient to prove that the earth is turning (ie, far too long to photograph stars!) and got a decent photo of what we call The Pot (which is also Orion’s belt but the northern hemisphere’s version is upside down and so not the cooking pot/saucepan that we see here).

It was a beautiful evening, and I was still in the strappy sundress I’d been wearing all day. By this time, I knew it had been a mistake to dash outside so quickly. I was starting to itch. But the clouds had returned around the moon, and I had to try that too.

Finally satisfied I headed inside, with an urgent need for medication for insect bites. It took ages to get it on and even longer to begin to feel some relief – perhaps another hour. I felt distinctly unwell.

So I’m not 100% convinced that I want to photograph the supermoon tonight. Lesson learned though. If I do venture out, I will be wearing insect repellant!

Footnote: There were no photos good enough to show you.

 

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What do you think? I took this photo on my December travels down the South Island of New Zealand. It was taken at Lake Kaniere, southeast of Greymouth on the West Coast, on a gorgeous day. It was still a week or so before Christmas, so there were only a few lucky souls enjoying the view, walking in some of the native bush trails around the lake, and visiting the occasional waterfall. I had fun with my camera, practising getting my hyperfocal range right, and on this photo, it seemed to come together about right.

Here is the original:

p1100358 lake kaniere copyright web

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Maori have a wonderful, ritual way of introducing themselves, called pepeha. Aside from always noting their iwi (or tribe), they will say where they were born, and what was their mountain, and their river and/or coastline. If they know it, they will also mention their waka (waka means canoe, and it is said that nine major waka made the journey to New Zealand from Polynesia).

I was born in Waimate, South Canterbury, of Irish, Scottish and Welsh (to pick a few) descent. My mountain is Aoraki Mt Cook, the tallest mountain in NZ and visible from the other side of the island where I lived. My river is the tiny Hook River that ran past our farm, or perhaps the cold, fast, and much larger Waitaki, where my father and his brothers (and I think my mother’s brother too) went fishing all their lives. I don’t know my waka, but somewhere there are records detailing the ships that brought my ancestors.

How would you introduce yourself in this manner?

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