Recently I turned my life on its head and left the comfort zone of home town, family and friends in Wellington (NZ), to start a new chapter in Western Australia. As I adjust to my new surroundings, I find myself thinking in the shape of stories and letters home. Feel free to take a seat and read on..

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Last month the first signs of Spring were peeping coyly through the remnants of Winter in a mildly flirtatious fashion..  I should have known this understated phase wouldn't last long; there's not much about this place that's half way.  

Summer's heat is intense and prolonged; when it finally does cool down the Winter nights are sharply cold; the long, drawn out absence of rain that brought me to tears more than once in the heat of Summer becomes abrupt and torrential downpours in Winter; creating instant backyard floods as the parched ground blocks rather than absorbs.  Seemingly overnight, dry, brown, desert-like verges become rampantly green in contrast to the now starkly naked frangipani and other trees that flowered so long and fragrantly last Summer.  Another reminder of the difference in the environment I now inhabit from the one I left: I didn't smell freshly cut grass in the air until late Winter. 
As I've walked around my neighbourhood lately I have once again been struck by the mystery and wonder of Mother Nature and her casual disregard for man's attempts to tame her.  A mild flirtation has turned to wanton, abandoned seduction; the air is full of the scent of freesias growing wild along the roadsides; some of last year's olives are still staining the footpaths as they continue to drop, while other trees are covered with the new season's crop of tiny green morsels.  Dave's orange tree which only finished fruiting a few weeks ago is now heavy with blossom which hits me with it's heady scent each time I step out the door. 
The human population has been busy too - the road sides are cluttered with junk that no longer serves them. If someone else doesn't claim it as their new treasure,  the hard rubbish fairies eventually disappear it. No doubt there is some kind of actual system involving schedules and trucks, but I have come to the conclusion that I prefer my version of things: things magically appear, and equally magically disappear. I do know, however, where one particular discarded light fitting went:  it now graces Hobbiton as variously candle holders, vases or dipping bowls.  Or all three. 
I can tell I've been here nearly a year as the trees are full of the antics of the myriad birds who are currently all jostling for mating rights - including the needy sounding Wattle bird who has returned to sit in the tree outside our bedroom window at 4.30am to make it's plaintive calls. If there was a way to tell it that it's chances of hooking up would be greatly increased if it wasn't hauling its potential mate out of bed way too early to be even remotely sexy, believe me; I'd be doing it! 

My beloved is rapidly approaching a new season of his own. Next month he will enter a new decade of his life, which seems timely as he is still riding the upward curve of his exciting new job; he looks forward to discovering what each new work day holds (like Spring, it is usually full of surprises); new growth occurs daily; and he is flourishing. 

I am still puzzling over my own future in terms of which direction to take work-wise, but lately have made some wonderful contacts who have been helping me take some positive steps towards realising my own potential in the world of paid activity. 

And that is why I love this time of year..  Winter is on the wane, Summer still around the corner, and we are in the full embrace of the sense of optimism and wealth of possibility that the new life and growth of Spring brings. Yay!

More soon x

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Getting the hump

Ever had one of these conversations?:

"Oh look, There's a camel!"

"Where?"

"Over there. No wait, it's a rock that looks like a camel.  No, it's a camel"

"It's a tree trunk".

"No, I think it really was a camel.  Or a rock that looked a lot like one.  I'm pretty sure it was a camel".

"I'm sure it was a tree trunk"

"Can we go back, because if it was a camel I want to take a photo, and if it was a rock that looked like a camel that would be cool too?"

"OK, but I'm pretty sure it was a tree trunk".

"There it is -  it IS a camel!"

"Oh yeah, I thought you meant that tree trunk over there"

"No, that's a tree trunk.  I'll just hop out and take a photo"

"OK, I've got it, thanks for turning back"

"Yes, dear. Can we go home now?"


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Good to know

Himself gets home from work this afternoon and we decide to set off for a walk. Not far along the way he says my back is driving me nuts, I want you to click it. OK I say, thinking he means when we get home.  Next thing I know he is lying on the footpath face down. Beside a roundabout. It's not a main road or anything, but it is home time, although there doesn't seem to be anyone about. Before I have even finished getting down on my hands and knees and assumed the hands-on-other-person's-back position (while hoping my knees can take the concrete), I am surrounded.

Thank you bearded man on a bike, and thank you man in SUV, for materialising from nowhere and offering your help. I just hope you weren't dialling 000 while you were about it.


It's good to know people around here care. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bittersweet

Leaving home to start a new life involves a mixture of many emotions; excitement, fear and hope are probably at the top of the list.  Many goodbyes are said in order to create a series of new experiences and forge a new life path. One hopes that most of those goodbyes will simply be farewell until next time, but inevitably there will be some goodbyes that are final.

I have only known Glenda for four years, which surprises me, as I feel as though I've known her forever. She came to work for me one night on a catering job, and we quickly became friends. In those few short years, I was privileged to be a small part of a life that had been fully and richly lived; undoubtedly with it's share of hardships, but always with a positive and infectious energy. I never came away from an encounter with Glenda without feeling better about everything; and always with an armload of gifts from her bountiful garden.  "Take some lemons!" was the catch cry, and the final part of any visit was always the last minute gossiping while we filled bags with the best lemons I have ever eaten. 
Then a giant hug from that tiny body that carried a huge heart.

'bye Glenda. And thank you.  xxx

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Rooftop ravings

Click on photo to get a better view 

It turns out that I have been mistakenly calling these birds crows when in fact, according to the Simpson & Day Field Guide to the Birds of Australia they are Australian Ravens. In previous posts I have variously described them as making a noise like a strangled cat in its death throes, and there's often a sort of 'old-man-wittering' thing they do, along with a drawn out process of debate in which the participants um and ah for extended periods. I think whoever can keep it up the longest wins.

Simpson & Day's description of their voice is disturbingly accurate and I kind of wish I hadn't read it: "high, far-carrying, child-like wailing; a series of slow notes 'aaaa…' with strangled, drawn-out finish; also quiet croaking".

When I first arrived here I found these fellows somewhat intimidating..  they have an intensity about them that made me want to slide quietly past without attracting any attention, and I definitely tried not to think about Alfred Hitchcock. (I know he used seagulls, but if he had really wanted to frighten us he would have used ravens). 

However, it turns out they are really more like genial clowns than sinister foes, and are currently running at about second equal with Kookaburras in my birdly affections. (Willie Wagtail is still number one). And at last, now that I have realised they are Australian Ravens I have figured out what they are really saying:

Mate.  Really?  No way. Faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarrrk! 

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Postcard from Karratha

A couple of weeks ago we had reason to go to Karratha; a mining town in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. It's over 1,500km from Perth (2 hours by 'plane) and a long way from anywhere else! 
We flew up early on the Saturday morning (you gotta love those 4am starts), and were met at the airport by the lucky fellow hosting us for the weekend.  The Talking Engineer "had things to do with Wayne", so I was presented with a hire car and some basic directions and left to my own devices for the day.  Cool.  
First slightly disconcerting thing:  "You'd better lock yourself in while you're in the house on your own - the neighbours sometimes tend to get arrested a little bit".  OK.  That was the neighbours across the road.  No mention of the ones at the back who must have come off a night shift and as far as I can tell, partied all day.  They were well into it at 9am, and were still going strong when we went out again at 7.00 o'clock that night. 
$8,000 per month in Karratha
By the way, accommodation in Karratha is at a premium; the house we were staying in cost $8,000.00 per month to rent (that's $1,846.15 a week for a pretty straight forward house).
Anyway, I'm thinking sticking around in a virtually empty house (it had a bed, a camp table & two fold out chairs) watching out for neighbours with a bent for getting arrested is not what I came for, so I made my way to town tout-de-suite to get essentials for a day's exploring.  I think I'm right in saying Karratha boasts the largest shopping centre in the Pilbara..  whatever - once you're inside it, you could be pretty well anywhere in the world.  So; bottled water from Coles, a  $10.00 John Williamson CD from the local music store - perfect driving music - and I'm good to go. Once my skinny flat white is ready. All I have to say about that is that having waited 15 minutes, my expectations were so low that the coffee seemed all right.  
First stop, the Karratha Visitor Centre where a very helpful woman gave me the 'what-to-do-if-you're-not-here-long' guide to the place. 
I decided to set off for Dampier first, and then work my way back. Dampier is about 20 kms west of Karratha, and I'm glad I went there first. It's very pretty, and lifted my spirits and impression of the area immediately. 
Dampier
Dampier Salt
I stopped and took lots of photos, and then decided it was time for lunch. The Road Runner CafĂ© seemed the only game in town so I parked and settled myself in. Sprung! I thought I'd get away with fish and chips, but like I said, it was the only game in town so who should stop by for their lunch but himself and Wayne.  
Oh well, it was worth getting caught - they were the best fish and chips I've eaten in a long time.
After lunch the men went back to doing work stuff, and I set off again.  Next stop Hearson's Cove.
Second slightly disconcerting thing: beautiful day, lovely beach, sparkly water.. sign saying watch out for crocodiles. 
You forget stuff like that when you come from New Zealand. Otherwise, scenery great, enjoying the music, loving having a little adventure all of my own. 
On to Withnell Bay. Sometimes, a certain person accuses me of not being adventurous enough, but after I had boldly gone where a lot of people have gone before, albeit in 4x4's, I decided that parking the car and exploring the rest of the way on foot might be wise. 
Off roading - before it got really off road..
Third slightly disconcerting thing: having climbed over the rocks and through the mangroves to get to the water's edge where no-one can see me, or knows I'm there; I REMEMBER THE SIGN AT THE OTHER PLACE! If they have crocs there, they can have them here.  I beat a hasty retreat; there's adventurous, and there's foolhardy. "Doin' the crocodile roll.."
Time to head back to the house to meet the others, feeling quite satisfied with my few hours exploring.  That evening we were taken to a barbecue with some of the other peeps that work with Wayne. That was interesting as they held it in their camp so I got to see a bit of a mining camp first hand. I guess they're all pretty much the same although this one seemed quite new. The "dongas" are usually about 10' x 10' with a single bed; some have their own shower and loo, others have a shared one, the goods ones have air con units that are quiet.
Too much food and wine and back 'home' to bed.  
Speaking of too much wine, Wayne told us that the liquor stores have a blanket policy regarding the indigenous people: if they come in and help themselves to booze and walk out without paying; let them.  Hmmm.
Sunday I was the lucky one who could sleep in.  Himself was up and off for a 7.00am meeting.  By the time he and Wayne got back for breakfast I had managed to haul myself out of bed and get washed, dressed and foofied up.  After breakfast they went back to work and I set off on stage 2 of my speeding bullet exploration of a piece of the Pilbara. I had until 12.30, so high tailed it off in the opposite direction from the day before and made my way out to Roebourne, where I checked out the Visitor Centre and Old Gaol Museum. 
From Roebourne Gaol (click on it for a larger
version you can read)
There didn't seem to be another soul around at ten on a Sunday morning. Next I headed down to Honeymoon Cove and Point Samson.  
Campers, Honeymoon Cove
Another sparkly day, another whole lot of driving between sights, another lovely view, and suddenly I realised I needed to get back.. interesting comfort stop and off I set again, by now singing along with John Williamson as I've played the CD several times over already.  
I meet up with the others back at the Road Runner and without question, I have to try the steak sandwich which I had spotted the day before but was already committed elsewhere. 
Road Runner Steak Sandwich - Oh Yeah!
Lunch done and dusted, we just had enough time to show himself a little piece of scenery.  I hadn't made it to Cossack Heritage Town so we picked it for our afternoon's viewing. Sometimes our sight seeing is a bit like watching a tennis match: old pub on the right, old court house left, cemetery over there, right let's go!
Then a focussed effort to get back to Karratha and the airport to pick up our flight home. Well, I missed a lot but I saw a lot too. She's a big country, but. 
I probably should have mentioned earlier that the reason I was there was to see if I could/would live there for a bit. Well, of course I could, although I wouldn't particularly want to at this stage in the game. It turns out I don't have to decide now, as the Talking Engineer has got himself gainfully employed in an exciting new job based in Perth instead. Yay! More about that another time xx.
Here's a few more pics, in no particular order:
Sturt's Mountain Pea
No, please - after you!
Road Runner's youngest customer - too cute
The only butcher in Karratha & Port Hedland (other than the supermarket)
Fossil thingy - Honeymoon Cove
Dampier railway line
Top security women's loo
Point Samson - always with the picturesque comes the signs of industry
Everywhere you look, red rocks
Dampier
These trains are seemingly endless

Friday, July 1, 2011

Random

Yes, it's that time of year again and we must do what we must do..
Forgive the pun, but seriously..  isn't this logo 
a little on the side of overkill?!
Local police are now targeting speed jumping. 
I didn't know kangaroos could read..
Winter in Karratha - 4 days after the shortest day 
and it's 27 degrees

Thursday, June 30, 2011

This and that..

Sometimes new lives and ongoing relationships go a bit pear shaped..  I think it’s a sign it’s time to start doing some more growing.  I tried to get my personal growth removed years ago but it didn’t work; so once again I am grappling with some things old, some things new, some things borrowed..  the blue part comes and goes.
Landlord Dave left a couple of weeks ago for Scotland to see his dear old mum and we moved into his place.   Great timing Dave, it’s been cold and wet since you left and we really appreciate the warm, cosy house, and especially the indoor nocturnal loo trips & showers for 6 weeks. Yay!!  
How quickly a change of location can disrupt routines and habits.  That’s not necessarily all bad, but I’ve noticed how much I’m missing without all the to-ing and fro-ing from Hobbiton to the loo, shower and clothes line (the latter due to a major change in the weather at last). Not to mention having the use of a car which means I have to make myself go walking just for the sake of it. Radical!
Here’s a little of life 'round here lately:

Just around the corner from our place I have discovered a gold mine - with bananas up to $19.00 a kilo earlier this week, I figure as long as no-one else gets to these first, I'm all set.  These babies will keep me in coffees for weeks! Yes, I know there's a small issue of someone else actually owning them, but I can dream..
(Bananas have been anything from $13.00 to $19.00 per kilo for months after the terrible flooding in Queensland & Canarvon earlier this year.  It's a bit of a dilemma - support the growers or be outraged at the price - never before have I eaten a banana that cost more than an avocado - but we tend to go with the support the growers model). 




Last week we took a little drive over to Kalamunda and drove past these.  I helped myself to five lemons, waved uncertainly in the direction of the house and mouthed 'thank you', and off we drove.  Later in the afternoon on our way home, the tray was still full.  Wish I'd taken more.. those lemons were good.


Thank you free lemon people. 


Recently I joined the 'Petroleum Women of Perth'.  How I came to be doing this is a long story, but I did.  It's a club for the wives of men working in the oil and gas industry here, and while the Talking Engineer doesn't work in oil OR gas, and I am not actually his wife, I qualify as an associate member.  Whatever. My current policy is say yes to everything (as long as it doesn't get me into too much trouble). 


There was a small takeover bid outside the other day - having consulted my Simpson & Day Field Guide to the Birds of Australia, I'm pretty sure the one with the worm is a Grey Butcherbird.  The smaller one looking to steal it is a Magpie Lark.  The Butcherbird won. (Magpie Larks always come across to me as a bit stupid)







Did you know that if you click on the photo you get a larger view?  
Just thought I'd mention it.

More soon xx

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Afternoon Tea in the Sycamore

Busy time


I just went to investigate the strange rhythmic clicking noise, and steady stream of 'helicopters' falling to the ground, despite the complete lack of a breeze.  

Apparently it was afternoon tea time for five galahs, and the venue our sycamore tree.  

Think I'll put the kettle on...






Who, me?
Shh, I'm concentrating
Hmm..  the equivalent of cake crumbs
Dead helicopters

Saturday, May 28, 2011

They said it would take about 6 months..

The first time I gave up catering I was 35, single and burnt out.  Actually, more like a charred little heap of ashes.  It took a while between "right, that's enough" and "here are the keys, the recipes, the clients, and good luck"; and I hadn't given a lot of thought to "what now?" 
I had no idea what I wanted..  the best I could come up with was, whatever is next has to be something that's good for me.  As it turned out, that meant living and working in a retreat centre in the Coromandel for a year while I 'found myself'..  quite unexpected behaviour for a girl from Karori.
That fascinating and life changing period is now a distant memory, and I could write a whole lot more about it, but that's not the point.  
The point is; 17 years later, here I am again doing something unexpected.  Not for other people maybe; but for me, yes.  
After two more stints in catering; giving it up again (never say never); doing strange and wonderful things to food for strange and wonderful movies;   a character building diversion down the 'gourmet food & coffee to go' route; a brief encounter with nearly 3,500 pies; and numerous other food related career-type activities; once again I have embarked on a 'something-that's-good-for-me-whatever-that-means' type adventure.  
Having sold, given away, thrown away, let go of one way or another, almost all my worldly goods; I packed my little spotty hanky, and followed the talking engineer to Western Australia to start a whole new chapter in our nearly 9 year life together.  
Yikes!  
Wise people told me; "it will take at least six months or more before you regain your equilibrium".  Wise people.
So here's how it's been lately:
Sunday morning I hang out the washing, smiling as I listen to the all denominations family service being conducted in the tree tops all around me.  First; the crows who um and aw in their old man voices; debating far and wide who knows what but somehow they decide who is right and move on.  Pause for a quick breath before the black cockatoos come shrieking in all aflutter and agog.  Natter, natter, natter and off they go..  not before the galahs have taken up the hymn sheets and away we go again.  It feels so normal.. and somehow mine.  Like being at a family get together where we all clamour to outdo each other with dreadful puns and one-up stories.  
Monday morning I stumble out of bed at the usual time of 5am, having drawn out the savouring of my cup of tea in bed as long as I can before himself says "come on, I have to get up".. and into the kitchen to get him some breakfast and a packed lunch.  I like "getting him off to work".  Once he's gone, now that it's still so dark in the mornings I may sneak back into bed for a while, but I couldn't possibly say..  
Later, I walk down the road to the local cafe to be greeted by a smiling face and: "Hi Harriet, your usual today?".. music to my ears.
Walking around 'Freo', someone asks me for directions, and I can help.
I'm no longer apologetic about my mangled vowels, and merely smile and repeat myself each time I get the puzzled, "sorry?" (have these people listened to themselves lately?)
I don't jump at every scurrying, darting, clattering shadow; millipedes on the toilet door handle are simply to be brushed off, not squawked over.  I do wear something on my feet when I go outside at night though.
Today marks 7 months since I arrived here; and it's OK.  Or should I say, "noa wurries moight, eet's awl goood".
More soon xx

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Singapore Fling




Last week I embarked on a little adventure I have been wanting to have for a while now. Three years, in fact.
Frangipani
So, I took myself off to Singapore to attend a food styling master class run by Denise Vivaldo  of Food Fanatics.   Not only was the course something I really wanted to do; but I also realised that at the ripe old age of 52 I had never been anywhere "foreign" on my own before.  
Anyway, the talking engineer is an expert in the subject of "I really need to do this and don't want to always wonder what if" (hello, we do live in WA now); so after some gentle prodding from him I signed up.  
Then came the preparation phase: the endless tooling around on the internet looking for the best air fare, the best hotel deal, things to see and do, and so forth.  Have I ever mentioned my finely honed expertise in procrastination?  Having paid for the course, it was going to look really lame if I missed actually getting there because I couldn’t commit to where to lay my head at the end of the day!  Finally I settled on the most interesting looking cheap hotel - hey, if you’re going to go economy at least pick one that will make a good story.  
Hotel reception at 6.30am
The hotel - The Porcelain  - is a recently refurbished old building with a blue & white china theme.  The walls & ceiling are all black and dark blue, and the lighting designed for ambience rather than good visibility.  How two people would manage in the room I have no idea- I had requested a queen bed so I could fit myself in diagonally if need be.  A second person in the bed would mean whoever ended up against the wall would either have to stay there all night or climb over the other one; unless you devised some sort of rotating roly poly system... basically this is a hotel room for solo tavellers.  
As it happens my bathroom walls were frosted - black - but some of the bathrooms have clear glass walls so you really do want to be very comfortable in your own skin if you’re sharing.  The wardrobe was just two hooks on the wall, but I had a little kettle & fridge, the air con was effective & quiet, and the shower had a huge overhead rose - bliss for regular cooling off and re-grouping sessions.  And given that Singapore is very, very humid and I’m a typical curly-but-always-trying-to -straighten-it haired sort of a girl, the crap lighting in the room proved a plus as I couldn’t really see how “bad” I looked.  
Be warned, there are some terrible reviews and some good reviews for this hotel - I had a good experience and would go there again.  I picked it for its location and it ticked the boxes for being clean and in good order, but I did make sure I had a room with a window and big enough bed.


Fort Canning Gate
Having been told how safe Singapore is, once I had arrived and settled in to my accommodation, at 7.00pm I set off for a walk.  If there’s an upside to arriving to live in Perth in time for the hottest summer on record, it’s that I didn’t have to waste any time getting used to being soggy and frizzy, and after three full hours of walking (and only going in circles twice) I was comprehensively soggy and frizzy.  Not to mention starving.  I found my way back to Chinatown, slumped down on a chair in the closest food stall, chugged down two beers, scoffed a plate of spicy noodle-y something, sent my beloved a text letting him know I was all right, and tottered back to the hotel.   
Sculpture Garden
The next morning I set out walking again - daylight gave everything a new perspective but I was able to recognise a lot of where I had been the night before.  Near to where I started from was a tiny bakery - I counted 6 people all working flat out in a kitchen the size of a shoe box - so I bought a coconut milk bun for next to nothing and was delighted to find it was still warm, light as air and delicious.  
After another couple of hours of exploring around the city, I climbed up four or five steep stairways into Fort Canning Park, and suddenly the noise and hustle of the city faded right away.  In this huge oasis of calm I wandered among beautiful frangipani trees, a sculpture garden, a heavenly scented spice garden,  an archaeological dig dating back to the 14th century, and caught glimpses of different angles of the city .  Eventually hunger drove me back out onto the streets and a plate of fried pork dumplings and bowl of hot & sour soup later, order was restored.  
Kirsty
Another shower and change of clothes - this was already wrecking my wardrobe scheduling - and I set out again, this time to meet Kirsty.  She was one of the course participants with whom I had made contact before leaving home, and we had arranged to meet up in Orchard Road.  This time I braved the MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) and, as usual, discovered it’s easier to do some things than it is to think about them.  Kirsty was suffering, as I was by then, with puffy feet and ankles so first stop was for a foot reflexology & massage session.  There’s nothing like lying back on a warm bed with a strong man rubbing your feet to get the girly chat going - half an hour later we were all perked up and well along the way in the bonding process.  Now we were ready to eat.  So, back onto the train to Chinatown to meet Jazreel - a lovely, warm and generous local girl who was assisting Denise on the course.  She took us through a maze of streets and up several flights of stairs, sat us down at a central table, and said “wait there”.  So we sat there like Lady Mucks (or is that Ladies Muck?), while Jaz went around the hawker stalls and brought us a selection of traditional local dishes and drinks she thought we should try:
  • Agar agar drink - chin chow & chin chow with soy milk (like drinking worms!)
  • Hokkien Mee - prawn noodle with prawns and squid 
  • Rojak- a malay fruit & vegetable salad with pineapple & nuts and black sweet sauce
  • Popiah - spring roll with braised radish
  • Satay bee hoon - noodles in peanut sauce with cuttlefish
  • Steamed rice cakes
  • Chicken rice
Once we were done with the savoury - a lot of which I found surprisingly sweet - we moved on to a traditional dessert place.  Again, Jaz guided us to some typical dishes and we launched into the task at hand with gusto:
  • Gingko nuts with beancurd skin in barley soup 
  • Egg pudding with ginger juice
  • Ginger soup with glutinous rice ball 
  • Chendol : shaved ice coconut milk with red bean, atap seed, green jelly + chin chow 
  • Mango pudding with sago 
It was brilliant to have someone with local knowledge as a; I never would have found some of these places, and b; would not have ordered half the dishes she did.  
Then it was time to take Kirsty & Jaz to inspect my hotel room - Jaz had expressed concern about it, and was taking some convincing that it was all right and that I felt quite safe there.  We trailed up to my room and put her mind at rest; but given that there was nowhere to sit and we had had a rich and full (or should I say filling) evening the two of them soon floated off to wave down taxis and get themselves off to bed - not before photographing the ceiling light.  After all, it was a school night.
Day one of my course dawned and I was up and about early so decided to find the cooking school and then worry about breakfast.  First pop I flagged down a taxi and was at my destination in no time - 45 minutes early.  The only open cafe was an Irish sandwich bar - I have no idea what made it Irish but there you have it - so I had smoked salmon & cream cheese sandwiches for breakfast along with what loosely passed for a latte. Not the most memorable meal but it filled a gap.  What I didn’t know was that there was a beautiful breakfast with actual coffee being provided at the school.  Oh well, the good thing about me is I can always make room for more..
Playing in the lift

At the end of a very busy first day of class, Kirsty took me and Maria - a stylish and lovely woman from Milan - to Holland Village to look at the kitchen and gourmet food shops.  Put three cooks in a situation such as this and you can guarantee we will be late for the next date.  However, we found another taxi soon enough and made our way to the Pan Pacific where Maria was staying, and was due to have a drink with Denise who was also staying there. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t invited, but tagged along anyway up to the 22nd floor where the business centre bar was located.  For the next hour and a half Kirsty, Maria, Denise, and I had a lovely time drinking wine and swapping stories before Denise graciously bowed out in search of a good night’s sleep.  Kirsty and I hopped into the glass lift which is on the outside of the building; and around about then it became obvious why we weren’t staying there.  It’s for grown ups. But that 20 minutes we spent riding up and down taking photos of the view and getting incoming lift riders to take pictures of us was fun!
Seafood Hor Fun

Eventually we tottered off down the road in search of food - better late than never.  Having inspected several of the offerings on Clarke Quay we decided to bypass the tourist-y restaurants in favour of a ‘progressive dinner’ up the road where I had seen locals eating on previous nights.  First stop: pig’s intestines and sliced fish soup.  Next, seafood hor fun (ordered for the name), aloe vera and lemon drinks, and clay pot chicken rice.  Too much talking and finally home to bed.  


Back lit cankles
The next morning I said to Kirsty “when I got back to my hotel I started taking pictures of my ankles to show you, they’re so swollen”.  She’d done the same thing.  
It’s great to know we both really know how to have a good time.






Day two of the course and another busy and fun day.  Afterwards, several of us (Mary Kei from Dubai, Tanya from Russia, Kirsty & me) made our way to Jumbo Seafood restaurant on the beach front and the lovely Jaz sent us a text of what to order:
  • Chilli crab
  • Fried bun
  • Cereal prawns 
  • Deep fried baby squid
  • Garlic fried baby kai-lan (chinese broccoli)
  • Fish paste yu-tiao (seafood doughnut)
We may just have squeezed in pork & chicken satays and creamy lemon prawns to be completely gluttonous, I couldn’t possibly say..
After another great evening with a lot of delicious food and good conversation, we walked along the water front for a while - I guess in that kind of heat it’s not all that surprising that people were out barbecuing, playing hockey and jogging at 11.30 at night when it’s ever so slightly cooler; but all I could think was ‘my ankles are going to burst soon, I need to lie down’.  
Saturday morning and my last full day in Singapore, I decided my first priority was to buy a clean top.  The weather had played havoc with my wardrobe planning and my attempts at recycling sweaty tops had failed as I couldn’t get them properly dry in my increasingly condensation-damp room. With Chinatown right at my doorstep I didn’t need to go far before I found a top that I thought would do the trick - given that the criteria were basically clean, dry and big enough, it wasn’t so hard.  I completely forgot to bargain but I think the sales woman took pity on me and knocked a bit off the price anyway.  
Next; into the basement to the wet market which Jaz had told us was one of the “relatively clean” ones.  It did seem relatively clean although I was intrigued with the fish salesman who never let the cigarette out of his fingers the whole time he was handling the fish - the cigarette must have tasted a bit weird.  I was finding it all very interesting strolling about amongst the crowds of people doing their Saturday morning marketing, and it wasn’t until I got to the tanks of live turtles and cages of frogs did I come over all Caucasian and start to want to give them all names and take them home as pets.  I had quite an interesting internal debate with myself as I know full well that if you put a plate of one of those things in front of me already cooked I would eat it.  It was just that the frogs had lined themselves up in rows all facing the same way and looked so gormless...  I made myself move on.
Back at street level I found a juice bar and ordered a celery juice to see if it would help with the fluid retention - my cankles were getting out of control.  The memory of the sales woman miming ‘passing water’ will be an enduring one, and I will be eternally grateful that I knew absolutely no-one nearby.
My opportunity to do a bit of haggling came not long after when I found a dressing gown I wanted to buy for the talking engineer.  For me as the ‘first customer of the day’ the price would be reduced from $75.00 to $68.00.  Whoopideeskip.  I countered with $60.00 and then thought I should have come back lower.  $65.00 said the delightful-and-tiny lady.  No, $60.00 I said.  Then I realised it was all academic as I didn’t have $60.00 anyway.  So the delightful-and-tiny lady very helpfully closely assisted me to count out how much money I did have and we were both very happy with $58.00.  As I walked away I couldn’t help but wonder what I really should have paid.  However, I soon wandered into an Indian version of the same type of shop and was offered the exact same dressing gown for $120-but-for-you-$95.  
Snack time.  Another tiny bakery and a roasted chicken bun, coconut tart and egg custard tart later I was one very happy bunny.  The pastry was to die for - light, flaky, crispy, and warm.  
By now I had to get back to my room to shower - again - and change into my new, clean top and get myself to the Esplanade Mall to meet some of the course participants for a farewell lunch at No Signboard Seafood.  About a dozen of us assembled for a long and glorious lunch of:
White pepper crab
Chilli crab
Crispy chicken
Seafood claypot
Spinach
Smoked duck breast
Cereal prawns
Hokkien style steamed fish
Think that’s all..    
A bloated stroll through some of the upmarket shopping malls and then Maria, Denise, Kirsty and I boarded the Hippo tour bus for an open, top deck ride all over town, stopping briefly to change buses for the heritage trail.  What a great way to get an overview of all the places I had walked, taxi-ed and trudged past over the previous few days and fit all the pieces of the puzzle together.
And then, of course; Raffles.  To be frank I wasn’t prepared to pay $25.00 for a drink I suspected would taste like alcoholic lolly water, so I ordered a classic gin martini which I felt was much more fitting for a woman of my obvious sophistication. You know - the wind-swept and interesting little tufts of humidified frizz on top of my head, the red plastic bag carrying the trainers for when I couldn’t walk in the nice sandals any more, and the ever increasing cankles peeping coyly out from the bottom of my jeans.  The skinny jeans that were getting tighter and tighter around my swelling calves.  It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it. And for our final dinner together with my new friends Jaz, Maria & Kirsty, we taxi-ed to Dempsey Road to The Disgruntled Chef for a completely different kind of a meal:
  • Grilled Ocean Squid with Tomato & Cucumber Salad
  • Baked Scallops with Vegetables & Truffle Butter
  • Baby Spinach Salad with Mirin Dressing & Marinated Egg
  • Beetroot & Orange Salad with Feta & Pine Nuts
  • Crispy Lamb Short Ribs with Chilli & Cumin
  • Baked Escargots with Garlic Butter & Croutons
  • Smoked Char-grilled Cote de Boeuf with Mashed Potatoes & Truffle Sauce
  • Slow Cooked Spiced Veal Cheek with Mini Yorkshire Pudding
  • Truffle Floating Island with Frangelico Ice Cream & Hazelnuts
  • Sticky Toffee Pudding with Vanilla Ice Cream
  • Chocolate Fondant with Peanut Butter & Banana Brulee
They don’t call me the Captain of the Big Girls Club for nothing. 
Jaz had booked us in to the 2am Dessert Bar for 9.30, but we lingered over our meal, which again we had left to the locals to organise and hadn’t thought to say “don’t give us dessert”.  So by the time we left I was well and truly ready to call it a night. 2am Dessert Bar will have to wait for another time.  
Jazreel
I said my goodbyes to Jaz, and Kirsty, Maria and I hopped into a taxi.  The driver seemed to be having a hard time making sense of our request to stop at first one hotel, and then another and then a third but after a lot of head holding and squinting at us he set off.  By the time we got to the first hotel I was sitting very quietly in the front, willing the car to get there; at one stage we were hurtling through a long tunnel and all I could think of was Princess Diana.  We dropped Kirsty off and set out again but at the stage when the driver announced that he needed to stop at the Caltex station to go to the toilet Maria called a halt.  This taxi ride is over! I don’t know what he was on but I was pleased to be back on the street.  Maria - have I mentioned she’s from Milan? - strode off down the road in her high, high heels and little black dress and commandeered another cab in short order, and from then on sanity prevailed once more.   
Kaya Toast
At the airport the next morning I checked in without any delay and went off in search of the Kaya Toast kiosk.  Jazreel had told me to go there for breakfast, so I did.   Kaya is a sweet coconut and egg jam spread between two layers of grilled white bread (more like half baked melba toast than toast as we know it) and served with two semi boiled eggs in a cup which you dip your kaya toast into. This all came with a cup of coffee sweetened with condensed milk.  As I munched my way through this intriguing concoction I marvelled - yet again - on how much of the food I had eaten over a four day period that seemed much sweeter than I would have imagined for a race who by and large are still very slim.  I guess it comes back to how, and how much we eat, as usual. 

Denise & Jaz - no, really
it's all going to plan





And as for Denise and the course? 
 Fantastic. Wonderful. Marvellous. Definitely can tick that off the list of things I would be doing if I wasn’t afraid. But I might be saving that for another story - I’ve sat here so long I’m eating baked beans cold from the can. And that's just not right. More soon xx