Thursday, June 25, 2015

Trip to Bali / The Daughter's Wedding / Part 3

A miscellaneous collage of pictures from the trip that didn't make the other posts.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Trip to Bali / Singapore Stopovers

I first visited Singapore in the mid 1960s. It had just gained independence having been ousted from the Federation of Malaya after only three tenuous years in that relationship.
This was my first introduction to Asia.
It was a bit of a culture shock for an Australian coming from the somewhat cloistered pseudo British environment of the suburbs of Melbourne then Brisbane.
But I found it fascinating and loved the organized chaos. The place was always buzzing. Crowded streets and lane ways, vibrant markets and the street hawkers, a bustling harbour as well as the colonial architecture and diverse racial mix. And then there was the food like chicken rice, hokkien mee and chilli crab
In many subsequent visits over the last 50 years I have seen the city grow and change.
Development comes at a cost of course and many of my favourite places have gone.
The old has made way for the new.
But it is still an exciting city to visit.
The Singapore I remember from the 1960s

Singapore Today

This trip we spent one night on the way to Bali and two on the way back to Sydney.
On the outward leg we made a quick trip to Emerald Hill Road to see a little of  the preserved Singapore and have a cold beer at No.5 then dumplings at Din Tai Fung.

Next morning we tried to beat the heat with an early morning start to visit Arab Street and potentially buy some quilt fabric.
But most of the shops were closed until 10am and it was particularly steamy in the narrow streets.
We waved the white flag after visiting the mosque (sadly covered in scaffolding) and headed for an air conditioned coffee shop.

On our return after Bali, we ventured down to Marina Bay for some hawker food and to watch the Super Tree Grove light show. In the early days food hawkers used to roam the streets with their carts selling all manner of food. Due to health reasons they were taken off the streets and relocated in licensed hawker centers. Now known as food centers, these exist all over Singapore, some with a long history. Every local you talk to has a favorite or one where one specialized dish can be sourced. The center at the huge Marina Bay Sands shopping complex must be one of the least traditional but the food there was good.
On our last visit to Singapore we stopped by Gardens by the Bay and the Super Tree Grove but missed the light and sound show.
This time we didn't.

WOW! Impressive.
The pictures below only give a hint of how spectacular the show is. Check out YouTube for any number of videos of the entire show.

Next morning we headed for the Singapore Art Museum and its annex the Q8.
The exhibitions which focus on contemporary art in Singapore, Southeast Asia and Asia in this lovely old building, a restored 19th century mission school, were extremely impressive. Paintings, sculpture, photography, video and mixed media were represented.
These included Thai artist Kamin Lertchaiprasert's 366 small Buddhist-inspired wood sculptures - one for each day of a leap year. This was a favorite.
Image: Ralf Tooten Photography

And it is quite a surprise in a darkened room to suddenly come face to face with a "sick" Fidel Castro in a hospital bed. He and four other now dead communist leaders (Lenin, Mao, Hồ Chí Minh, Kim Jong-il) have been sculptured in silica gel by Chinese artist Shen Shaomin and are eerily life-like.
Strait Times Photo: Neo Xiaobin

Q8 was a children's activity center with all sorts of hands on things to do. The kids there, mainly kindergarten and day care groups, were having fun. So did we!
Then it was a short walk to the National Museum of Singapore.
There they had an exhibition on the 700 years of Singapore history plus an in memoriam exhibition to the late Lee Kuan Yew the first Prime Minister and founding father of modern Singapore.

Time for lunch at one of our favourite restaurants (under our hotel), Osaka Ohsho. This is a Japanese fast food chain that specializes in gyoza but has other yummy stuff as well. You order via a computer at the table. And at the front counter there are plastic replicas of all the available food. Love this place!

After a pleasant afternoon siesta we met up with the newlyweds for dinner.
A small restaurant in Mong Kok, Hong Kong, with its diminutive dumplings was started by former Four Seasons Hong Kong dim sum chef Mak Kwai Pui.
Named Tim Ho Wan, it was a sensational success earning a Michelin star.

Now branches have opened up all over, including Sydney. There is one in Singapore and we all wanted to try it. They don't accept bookings so everyone lines up outside and are given a clip board with a menu to tick off what you want to eat. We got a table very quickly and the food started arriving.
This is without doubt the best dim sum restaurant I have ever been to. The baked BBQ pork buns were to die for.
The other dishes were not far behind. The co driver even tried the chicken feet.

Where else can you eat at a Michelin star restaurant for $20/head including drinks?
Next morning we were up early for our uneventful flight to Sydney.
It was pouring rain and cold on our arrival. We had again booked at the International Airport hotel with the intention of visiting the Sydney quilt show the next day. But the weather was so bad when we awoke, we bagged on that and decided to drive home.
Sunshine and blue skies eventually welcomed us a few kilometers from our final destination.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Trip to Bali / The Daughter's Wedding / Part 2

Bali is an island and province of Indonesia.
Indonesia is an archipelago comprising thousands of islands with an estimated total population of over 252 million people. It is the world's fourth most populous country.
The population of Bali is approximately 4.3 million and the island is home to most of Indonesia's Hindu minority with 85% adhering to Balinese Hinduism.

Our accommodation was at Mahatma House on Seseh Beach. The villa had all we could ask for and turned out to be a wonderful wedding venue. Great luxury accommodation for up to five families, a beautiful garden, huge swimming pool and very attentive staff. The area is rural so not any places within walking distance to eat. But the villa has a resident chef who can cook up a storm. The menu had a selection of national cuisines but we stuck with Indonesians food for all meals apart from breakfast.
On our first morning we were up early because of the time difference. We did a small beach walk then, after breakfast, the villa driver took us to Ubud which is in the uplands of Bali. It is known as a center for traditional crafts and art. The surrounding area of rain forest and terraced rice paddies, dotted with Hindu temples and shrines, is among Bali’s most iconic landscapes.

Our main aim here was for the co driver to participate in some yoga classes at the Yogabarn.
I spent a lot of the time wandering the streets and taking in some of the sights.
I have to say I was a little disappointed. The town is very touristy, very noisy and a little chaotic. "Eat, Pray, Love" and Elizabeth Gilbert maybe have a lot to answer for.
A redeeming aspect of the visit was a great late lunch at the Alaya Resort. We ate traditional Balinese food for very reasonable prices in their really nice restaurant.

 A later visit to the surrounding area showed us that the town was indeed the least attractive part and getting out into the countryside is essential for seeing the best scenery.
Another lesson for the day was that getting anywhere on the island takes time due to the narrow roads and high traffic volume which consists of a huge number of motor bikes. So what looks like a 20 minute trip on a map can take one and a half hours.

On our second day we decided just to hang around the pool and catch up with the other guests.
That night we went to the Chedi Club which is set among the rice paddies outside of Ubud.
We had a great meal in the most amazing restaurant in the most beautiful setting.

The third day was the wedding day.
The ladies headed out to a nearby resort for a massage and spa in the morning while the men had a relaxed lunch of nasi goreng washed down with cold Bintang at the spectacular Nirwana golf club.

Later that afternoon an Australian celebrant performed the simple ceremony.
The bride looked beautiful and the groom handsome. It was a very informal occasion (note the bare feet in the pic). The guests wore tropical casual.
After celebratory champagne, we all enjoyed a specially prepared dinner.....and, of course, more champagne.
It turned out to be the perfect wedding that the couple had hoped and meticulously planned for.

Day four started with a walk along the black sand beach past small fishing villages and Hindu shrines. The surf was quite big and a number of off shore reefs were pumping. No wonder Bali is a bit of a surfing mecca, particularly for Australians looking for uncrowded waves.

The rest of the day was spent relaxing by the pool followed by drinks and nibbles at dusk and our final dinner together.
Day five was an early morning trip to the airport. We had given ourselves 2 hours to get there but made it in 50 minutes.
Denpasar has a new modern terminal so it was a quick check in with minimal exit formalities and a pleasant flight back to Singapore.
The couple continued their round the world honeymoon trip via Singapore, Dubai, Paris and New York.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Trip to Bali / The Daughter's Wedding / Part 1

We left home the day before departure to get a few chores done in our area's main town, Nowra, before staying overnight at the hotel at Sydney International Airport.
It was an 8am flight so check in had to be early. Luckily the Singapore Airlines counter in T1 was only a short walk from the hotel. June mornings can be cold and we were already dressed for the tropics.
Take off was on time for the 8 hour plus flight.
No Boeing A380 for us this time. SQ  have reduced their capacity on the Sydney-Singapore route due to competition. Still the same number of flights, four a day, but three of them with the smaller Boeing 777s.
As usual the plane was almost full and we wiled the time away snoozing and reading. While the airline has excellent IFE, I really wasn't in the mood for watching movies or listening to music.
Six hours in, we flew past our final destination, Bali. Due to the always unfathomable airline fare system it was cheaper to fly to Singapore, spend the night and fly back to the island the next day instead of doing the trip in one go.
We like Singapore so that fitted well into our plans.

We arrived on time, were quickly through immigration and customs and caught a taxi downtown to our hotel.
We had stayed there previously so were familiar with that area of the city.
More on both our Singapore stopovers in a later post.
Our flight to Denpasar, Bali,  left Singapore late afternoon the next day and the 'back track' flight was a relatively short 2.5 hours.
Arrival was a little chaotic as expected with visas to be purchased and immigration and customs negotiated.
The swarm of touts who descend once you leave the secure area was thwarted with the recently learned 'Tidak, terima kasih'. Everyone is trying to make a living here. Tourism is their lifeblood. But the continual harassment to buy something or use a service can be a bit annoying. A firm but polite 'no thanks' in their language works.....most of the time.
The driver from our villa was at the airport to meet us and whisk us away in air conditioned comfort to Seseh Beach. 'Whisk' is probably a bad word to use here. The traffic is so bad and the roads so narrow it is always a slow crawl getting most places.
The rest of the wedding party had arrived at various times during the day and we were last.

The chef had a prepared a lovely meal for us.
Lumpia – fried spring rolls with shrimp or chicken and vegetables served with a light chili sauce on the side
Beef Rendang – a Sumatran dish of beef stewed with baby potatoes and vegetables slowly cooked in spices
Sate - tender beef and chicken skewers served with peanut sauce, rice, crackers and pickles
Jukut Urap (Mixed Balinese vegetables) – boiled fresh long beans, spinach, bean sprouts mixed with Balinese dressing served with shallots.
Fresh fruit platter – a selection of seasonal fruits found in Bali
We LOVE Indonesian food so this was an excellent start to our five day eatathon.
This with a cold Bintang (a beer made locally under a Heineken licence) and we were in heaven.
It was to be a wine free stay apart from the one duty free bottle allowance of Champagne each of us brought in for the wedding breakfast.
The tax on wine in Indonesia makes it prohibitively expensive.
We fell into bed pretty much exhausted.
So began our mini Indonesian adventure.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Book Reviews / June 2015

Fighting for Justice, set in Mississippi, brings together a father whose wife ran off and left him with a very precocious 5 year old daughter and a charity worker who has been abused by her now dead by suicide fiance.
Add to this mix, the villain of the piece, an outrageous caricature of a southern belle whose daddy gives her everything as well as some bit players and you have a group of the some very shallow characters and one of the trashiest story lines I have read in years (ever?).
It was such a train wreck I couldn't put it down. Admittedly I speed read the last 8 chapters to its inevitable and predictable end.

Would appeal perhaps to those who like day time television soaps or Hallmark Channel movies.
If not, don't waste you time on this one!
Out of the Storm was free on Kindle and came with good reviews.
Set on a desolate part of the Great Lakes coast line in a lighthouse in the mid 1800s it turned out to be a run of the mill romantic novella with transparent plot and little character development.
A quarter of the way through, I gave up and looked for something with a little more substance.
Read it at your peril!
The Italians at Cleat's Corner Store by new Australian resident author Jo Riccioni is two stories linked by an Italian family. The first is their life in a small Italian country village just before and during World War II. In the second the father and the two sons have emigrated to UK immediately following the war to work on a farm near a small English village. The father had worked the same farm as a prisoner of war and returned to make a better post war life for the brothers.   

An interesting set of characters and an enthralling story line. The comparison between life in the two villages is central to the story, so different but so much the same with both villages exhibiting permutations of hierarchy, community and solidarity.
It is also a love story with the flat leather lace-ups wearing, pale legged and a frizzy copper haired Connie aching to escape the conservative English village life. She is intrigued by the two Italian brothers.
Which one will she choose? The outgoing, ambitious and flirtatious Vittorio or the serious, sometimes sullen and artistic Lucio.
For me a 'couldn't put down' which was read in a few days.
In her 60s Marilyn Berman quits her post retirement job, fits out a small camper van, buys a sat nav and heads out of Atlanta to travel around North America.
No timetable, no plans.
In Traveling the Two-Lane she describes her journey on roads less traveled, hiking through natural wonders, visiting small towns off the beaten track and the many cultural attractions of these and the bigger better known cities. As well she introduces us to the interesting characters she meets on the way.
It is a mouth watering experience for any reader with the travel bug.

But she also takes time to reminisce about her family life and her struggle with her homosexuality from a very early age. This was a time when being gay was not only illegal, but also considered a mental illness.
She had a loving mother and father who, despite a business failure leading to bankruptcy, made sure she completed her tertiary education.
But she can never tell them about the double life she leads. Both eventually succumb to dementia.
The author received her PhD in Communication Disorders from the University of Michigan. She was a faculty member at Indiana University before accepting a position as Supervisor of Speech Language Pathology at the VA Medical Center in Atlanta and, later, as Chief of Audiology and Speech Language Pathology at the same hospital.
Marilyn's Travel Map
This is a story of a personal journey through life told with humor, honesty and humility.
It is also a reminder of the many difficult personal journeys that it has taken to bring gay rights and gay marriage to their current level of acceptance. It is still a mystery to me why the latter is such a political hot potato in Australia with a public approval rating of around 70%. But in recent weeks it looks as though sanity might prevail with legislation to change the Marriage Act gaining momentum.
This book is highly recommended.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Men's Breast Cancer

Less than one percent of men will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
The mortality rate however is quite high as awareness among men is less and they are less likely to assume a lump is breast cancer. This obviously delays treatment.
Male breast cancer exhibits the same symptoms as breast cancer in women, including a lump. 
When I developed breast cancer 13 years ago doctors with any experience dealing with men with this disease were few and far between. Luckily for me my local GP was on the ball as far as getting tests done when the lump was detected.
There was absolutely no literature for men available. "It's the same as woman's BC, read that" was the general advice. In fact some people treated the diagnoses as a bit of a joke or thought I was pulling their leg about having 'a woman's disease'.
I found a surgeon who specialized in BC and had treated men. After reviewing my case he performed a mastectomy.
I still see him every year to read my annual mammogram and ultrasound. 
But again, in the hospital, the support staff including counselors and therapists didn't quite know how to handle me and my case. Granted I don't think breast removal for men is as emotional as it is for women but cancer is cancer. It was sort of a 'lonely' time.
My experience encouraged me (and I believe a few other men) to lobby the various breast cancer organizations in Australia to remedy the lack of information. They were very receptive.
Eventually most included a men's BC chapter in their literature.
Now there is a book out covering all aspects of men's BC. Published in March this year, it is well worth reading.

And the associated web site is here.
My surgeon also recommended seeing a genetics counselor for a consultation. If a man tests positive for a defective gene (most commonly either BRCA1 or BRCA2) it can lead to a future diagnosis of breast cancer and his children having a 50% chance of carrying the gene.
A female child of a man with breast cancer who inherits the defective gene has a risk between 40% and 80% of eventually developing breast cancer.
This was of course a concern for my daughter.
So I had the tests done and thankfully the results were negative.
Men with a genetic predisposition to breast cancer are also at higher risk of getting prostate cancer at a younger age than usually diagnosed.
Unfortunately this proved true in my case. But again my local GP was on the ball with PSA testing and we caught it early. Nearly four years on and my PSA tests always come back as 'undetectable'.
The point of this post is that men should not ignore breast lumps and occasionally do self testing. The shower is a good place.
And PSA tests from around 40 years of age goes without saying.
It may save your life.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Queen's Birthday Long Weekend / Local Activities

The Shoalhaven Coast Winter Wine Festival is always held on the June long weekend and becomes more popular every year.
It attracts thousands of visitors to the region with participating wineries hosting everything from degustation dinners to a la carte, freshly shucked oysters, home-made pies, sausage rolls and soups, cheese platters, wood-fired pizzas and barbecues.
All the wineries recognize the importance of the event and go out of their way to prepare something special for visitors over the three days. Visitors buy a festival glass at the first winery they visit which then entitles them to free tastings at all other participating wineries.
At the region’s most awarded winery, Coolangatta Estate, visitors washed down fresh oysters with a glass of the region's most highly rated Semillon.
Nearby, at the smaller Roselea Vineyard at Gerringong, a local a singer/songwriter performed for guests while they enjoyed an oyster bar, a range of chocolates and award winning sparkling wine.
At Yarrawa Estate in Kangaroo Valley a barbecue pack was available for lunch. The winery also hosted a festival dinner at Moss Vale’s Bistro 146.

Oysters were again on the menu at Silos Estate along with cheese from a local maker. Visitors also learnt the art of winemaking in the Silo's Barrel Room or took in a helicopter ride over the region.
The Hot Potato jazz band was back by popular demand at Two Figs Winery, where the pizza oven was fired up along with home-made sausage rolls and cheese platters.
Cambewarra Estate showcased its popular new frizzante style wines. It also featured beers from Hop Dog Brewery and Wagyu beef sliders.
Cupitt’s Winery near us in Ulladulla had a four-course winemaker’s lunch.
Bawley Vale Estate just down the road organised 'Rock’n’Roll in the Vines' and hosted a five-course wine appreciation dinner at Millard's Cottage Restaurant.
For the first time our friends at Fern Gully Winery did not participate. They have now semi retired and are winding down their wine growing activities.

The annual Milton Scarecrow Festival took place on the Saturday.
As the event draws near, vintage scarecrows pop up all over the village and Saturday sees the town filled with straw-filled characters of all shapes and sizes. There is a load of family fun, with games, rides, competitions and entertainment happening during the day.
The scarecrow judging took place at midday with the public deciding the winners from the residential, community, business and school categories.
This year there were  prizes on offer for the best dressed live scarecrow with a fashion parade of contestants held in the morning.
So it was, as always, a busy time in our area.
Visitors experienced the full spectrum of South Coast weather over the three days.
Saturday: Warm and sunny, not a cloud in the sky (winter doesn't get much better than this).
Sunday: Cold and overcast
Monday: Howling westerly gale.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Wanting to be a Painter / Progress

Back in a  February '15 post  I mentioned that the co-driver and I were taking art classes.
I continued with the drawing phase for a couple of months and really enjoyed the process.
I drew some copies of Schiele villages and other artists' landscapes and then a few made up of elements from photos I had taken at home and around the area.
We had compulsory drawing days once a month learning about things like shading and perspective. 

Then my teacher, Jules, decided that it was time for me to paint.
So we bought some tubes of acrylic paint to supplement those we already had as well as a few small canvasses plus other bits and pieces. Having discussed the various available media with Jules I thought acrylic would be the easiest way to start. They are easy to apply, quick to dry and clean up in water.
I selected a photo of a simple landscape from the internet which had all the elements I thought would be the basis of some of my future pictures.
It had blue sky and fluffy white clouds, a looming thunderstorm in the background and a grassy knoll with a tumble down shed sitting on the top.
For weeks I worked on just the sky portion. Nothing would go to plan. It always looked wrong. Jules was very supportive and tried to help but it was, in a word, disastrous.
To make matters worse the co driver was merrily working away next to me slapping on paint in her carefree manner and producing lovely impressionist landscapes.
I joked (sort of) that my canvas had been painted over so many times that it weighed ten times its original weight.
The solution?
Change medium.
I started to work with oils (water mixable).
What a difference!!!
Water mixable oil colour allows you to experience all of the benefits of using standard oils like long drying time. This gives you the opportunity to blend and re-work areas of the painting.
And the colour you apply is the colour you end up with, not a darker one.
This is the direct opposite to acrylics.The only similarity is water clean up.
Within an hour I was achieving more than I had in the previous month. Not perfect by any means but well on the way to satisfying my criteria which is the main aim.
So I soldier on.
Maybe I will post a picture of the day.