Closing the Circle

It is hard to believe that we just finished packing for the last time on our big adventure; although certainly not our last time. Too many new places on our must visit list. As with all learning, learning about the world through travel has only made us aware of how much more there is to learn.

I can’t yet find words, at least not concise ones, to capture the welter of feelings right now: Excitement to be back home and to see friends and family again. Apprehension about all there is to do. We sold two cars the day we left on the trip; we’ll need to buy one when we get back. There is another feeling like a distant cousin of grief, an apprehension of future loss, that comes from knowing that our family time will be shared out and fractured; that we won’t be waking each day to tackle another foreign travel challenge or see and learn about things that until now we only knew through documentaries or books, or didn’t know at all. The adrenaline rush of a South East Asian street crossing, to be replaced by the normalcy of stop signs and traffic rules that we understand. Even on days when we were not our best, when our amygdalytic guard dogs got right out to the ends of their chains, we were still rolling in ‘hopefully not just once in a lifetime’ experiences. And while there has been homesickness and friends and family have been greatly missed, it will be strange not to be traveling.

The one-liner of the evening came from Oliver, when we were sorting out our snack bag, with its collection of wet wipes, plastic spoons, zip-locks, and mystery crumbs, when a ‘fruitolino’ surfaced. “Oh, boy, I think we’ve had this since Panama, can we have it?” The labelling was from the Helvetic Confederation, meaning that we had not had it since last September, but relatively recently, from early January. So it was fresh. Of course we could have some. It tasted of dates, and was just a little nutty.

Sydney and Beyond

We arrived in Australia after an easy flight from KL — only 6hrs., departing 11:30pm, arriving next morning. Before a friend could pick us up, we encountered our first major sticker shock: $35 for two coffees, three muffins, and a scone. Sure, it was airport coffee kiosk pricing, but after getting lunch for the whole family for less than that in Kuala Lumpur, it was a little unsettling. We are grateful to our friends Denton and Evie, and their two kids, who have shared their house and dinner table with us, and shown us around town. We are really fortunate to have had them as guides and interpreters. Sydney is beautiful and highly liveable, one of those rare spots that combines hills, forest, sea, and all the attractions of a major world city. Oh, and the coldest winter in decades? Still only a light jacket and sunscreen; careful you don’t run into a palm while you’re texting.

We’ve been to Taronga Zoo, Luna Park, The Rocks, Queen Victoria Building, Botanic Gardens, New South Wales Art Museum, and walked around various neighborhoods and several gorgeous beaches. We’ve been to suburban soccer games and a couple of movies, and enjoyed a wide range of food, including a Kangaroo Steak for yours truly.

A different sort of treat was meeting up with David and Stacee, whom we met in Peru. Yes, four hours up the Amazon. We piranha fished together, zip lined through the canopy, and swapped tales of a survival overnight in the jungle. In Sydney, David kindly took a day off to drive us down to Royal National  Park, along the coastal highway, and down to Stanwell Park, where we paid homage to Lawrence Hargreaves an earlier pioneer in human flight. Then we had an awesome Pakistani/Indian meal in New Town and finished off a fine day with some otherworldly gelato at Cow and Moon. Later that weekend, we also got to see a little bit of one of David’s rugby matches at the Leichhardt Oval. After tea (what else?) Corey stayed late at Dick’s pub with David, Stacee and another friend for a televised rugby union match between South Africa and Australia. In some exciting last minute action, the Wallabies won it. I got to learn a lot about the game, with lots of half-time discussion of cricket and — Stacee’s sport — netball, thus soaking up some quintessentially Aussie culture. Okay, I may have also swilled a few pints of Tooheys Old, but I wasn’t driving.

We left Sydney for a five night stay on Lady Elliott Island, which is really an atoll sitting 40mi off the coast, on the southern edges of the Great Barrier Reef. We took our friends’ kids with us, and all had a blast. So on this tiny ‘island’ that you can walk around in 45 minutes, we snorkeled, Jenni and Audrey dove, and we enjoyed informative talks, reef walks and more. It is both whale and manta migration season, so we had lots of amazing experiences. Snorkeling with giant manta rays, 12-15′ across, the most graceful ton of creature you’ll ever see, with whale songs in the background. Some of us almost got into the water quickly enough to swim with a humpback that came within a few yards of our boat, but then disappeared silently into the blue. Beneath the water we saw several kinds of sharks, rays, eels, and more types of fish and coral than we could count. While having breakfast or lunch, or enjoying a sunset, we watched humpbacks rolling and ocassionally breaching, or tail slapping and spouting for about as long as we cared to sit and watch. On our snorkel outings, we saw several whales pass just a few yards away from our boat. Overall, an incredible experience.

We’ve been back in Sydney hammering away at the last few chunks of homeschooling, helping our friends pack up for a big move, and doing some more sight seeing. Today we went to a Koala Park, then drove out to West Head in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park where we spotted several wallabies in the wild! The first one we saw jumped out of the bush just ahead of the car and ran away from us down the road in a high speed blast before slipping under the brush and brambles.

Tomorrow we will see a production of Romeo and Juliet geared for school kids, by the Bell Shakespeare Company in the iconic Sydney Opera House. Then we’ll walk through the city one last time, and head home (to our friend’s house) to pack. This time, as our great voyage comes to a close, the packing is different. But more on that in another post.

Sydney, good on ya!

It’s Not You, Malaysia, It’s Us

We just don’t know how to say it, M. We had planned to spend a month with you. Really, yes. What? Of course! We wouldn’t lie to you, not about that. Those first three days in May were wonderful. Unplanned, spontaneous. Look, Mumbai doesn’t even know any better. We were never there. We had such a good time, didn’t we? Glitzy buildings, ‘Avengers’, six dollar dinners for four. And look, we’re really just trying to enjoy the rest of our time together, here and now.

Thailand? Well that was rather an … excursion … and, no, no, we’re not trying to avoid the subject of Burma. No, we just don’t think it will get us anywhere to make comparisons. What can we say? We won’t treat you like you’re stupid and say Thailand was touristy. What’s the point? You want to hear that Thailand was 43 Celsius and overrun with pale-skinned shabbies draped in yards of too-loose cotton?You want us to say we were kidnapped in Burma for a five dollar ransom? But, but what? We’re not supposed to say anything about the Lanna Thai teak buildings, the golden Buddhas, and the 25 cent plates of Pad Thai? The amazing hospitality and simple friendliness of the Burmese, the stunning stilted villages of Inle? Why don’t we just leave the past in the past, M? We are here after all, and we didn’t go to Australia early, right? We’re even going Down Under a couple of days later than planned, and that’s for your sake, M. Wait – what – Singa – you’re going to bring that up? Oh, come now, M! Staying in Singapore a couple of days longer than planned! That’s really unfair. The SEA Games were on, it was Oliver’s birthday, and we had hot water for the first time in a month! And haven’t we said a hundred times how much we prefer your vibrant KL to Singapore’s planned perfections? Yes, really. We even told our mothers. Oh, absolutely. So can we just try to make the best of the time we have?

The Batu Caves were wonderful yesterday; and we are so thankful for the fireflies and nature reserve you shared with us today. We’re excited to see Merdeka Square, and your National Museum tomorrow. And there is so much more to see in your jungles, coasts, islands, and Borneo wilds. It would be really sweet to spend a lot more time with you, M. I know, it isn’t easy to hear us say that after we tore off to the north. But we came back to you, M. We didn’t dash off to Indonesia or Brunei; we didn’t let China turn our eye. So, M, maybe if we have a trip to Melaka, or a bit of snorkeling, we can take this thing to the next level. Oh, yeah, we mean it. Now there, is that a little smile?

Good Trip, Good Life (by Oliver)

If you have ever gone on a long trip you would know what I mean when I say, “Some parts of trips are good and some are bad.” So if I said, “Good trip, good life,” you would know that that is not completely true. When there is a good part you really enjoy it, but when there is a bad part, it isn’t fun. But if you are about to go on a trip, and it’s going to be long, then really try to enjoy it. If there is a bad part, try to blow it off. If you can’t do that I don’t know what to tell you. And if you have heard something about long trips that is not a very positive comment then whoever said that was not telling the truth. Like I told you before, there are really enjoyable parts and some trips are all enjoyable. Those are the best. But some of the things you need to be prepared for are limited WIFI, not much electricity, make sure you have vaccinations, and you take the pills you need — although your child might not like that so much. (I HATE IT and it takes me 30 minutes to take them sometimes). Make sure you are safe, but over all make sure you have fun and try really hard to have the best time of you life.

SEA Games in Singapore (by Oliver)

When we arrived at the Aquatic Centre we started out by looking for the entrance to the men’s diving competition. After we found the entrance we had to go through some metal detectors. It was very hard to find seats together because everybody was saving seats for friends and family. I had to sit with my mom in a different row than Audrey and Dad. When we watched the practice it was amazing! From the ten meter platform the competitors were doing, like, twenty flips before diving. Audrey and I were rooting for a Malaysian diver. My mom and I nicknamed him Rockstar. We called him that because of his confidence and the fact that everyone cheered when he was acting macho. Dad and Audrey nicknamed him Big-legs because he had huge thighs. My mom was rooting for Myanmar. One guy landed on his back and had to be taken away on a stretcher. We all felt really bad for him. The Malaysian, Rockstar (a.k.a. Ooi Tze Liang), won! He was amazingly awesome!

The Neoteric Skyline That Is Singapore (by Audrey)

Futuristic. Modernized. Clean. There are so many words to describe Singapore. One word that could not be used is Normal.

The airport has a rooftop pool, video game arcade, cinema, and spa. There are laws to keep everything orderly. You are not allowed to chew gum in Singapore so that no gum ends up on the street.

Traffic flows seamlessly. Taxis are metered. All prices are fixed. No bargaining. It is incredibly expensive especially compared to the places we have been. Over the course of this trip we have all come to accept that a meal should cost under $5 for one person. We have become accustomed to bargaining down from $5 to $2.50. Now in Singapore it costs $12 to have one shirt washed. Gigantic malls can be found on every street. Designer shops line Orchard Road. California Pizza Kitchen and Cold Stone exist here even though we could never have found them any where else (including Europe). Glass and steel buildings rise from the ground. The architecture is incredible, buildings so twisty they should be impossible to build. It is ever changing, always evolving. New neighborhoods are built everyday.

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It is an incredible city in so many ways, but it doesn’t always feel real. It was amazing to visit Singapore and learn about the city. It is beautiful in a very odd way. I feel very fortunate to have had the chance to experience a glimpse of the future. This is Singapore.

I Get Attacked (by Oliver)

It all started when I was walking in Lakeside, Pokhara, and apparently my shoe laces look just amazing because a dog started biting them. (And let me remind you, I did nothing to the dog.) I don’t know how many eyes were on top of me.  Audrey was blushing. I was laughing (and trying not to show that I was kicking the dog that I named “bite-y”.) My dad was trying to grab his collar and drag him away and my mom was yelling “LET’S DO PIGGYBACK! GET ON MY BACK!”

Once we got him away…. we continued walking along the lake … and then, all the people in front of us opened a line (if that makes any sense).  A toddler came running full on towards me; he latched on to me, hugging like mad. He was cute, but also snotty,  slobbery and dirty,  a very bad combination. I was smiling (but I really wanted him off of me).  Then his mom (or grandma) came, but still he would not let go. And this part that I am about to tell you, I don’t like: his mom (or grandma) whacked him again and again😦

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The Nepali City (by Oliver)

Nepal has been a great experience for a lot of reasons. But, just saying, hands down, I don’t want to live in a city, a big city that is. Because the streets are a little small and the cars and the motorcycles kind of make me scream when one of them passes (says Audrey, when we were reviewing this blog: “so true”). Some of the good things about it are that you can find restaurants just about anywhere and they are really delicious restaurants. And, not just restaurants — spas and souvenir shops, etc. And the people are kind. We are staying with a really nice family that makes all of our meals and it is delicious food.

Our daily schedule is at about 9:00 we go to a place called The Learning House. It is a place where Nepali people take English classes; we also take Nepali classes. They also have a cafe that serves Mo-Mos; and, I am not sure if you are familiar with them, they are dough with meat and/or vegetables, they also have…. Well you get the point; they have really, really good things. Back at the house (where we are staying with the family) we made Mo-Mos which, hands down (once again) I LOVED. Oh, and by the way, the mom is named Maladi, the daughter is Luni, the son is Aujit, and the dad is Durga … a really, really nice family.