Typhoons, floods and ferries …..

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This week the news from our little part of the world (Manila) is all about the floods. Just like this time last year Manila is under water. Fortunately for us personally it isn’t a big deal. The pool is overflowing but the house is at no risk at all. We’ve stocked up on cash, water etc and making sure all of our batteries are charged before the power goes off. Sadly for most locals though it is a much more dire situation. I understand overcrowding and waterways clogged with rubbish contribute to any significant rain resulting in floods as the water simply can’t get away. And the rain in this instance is significant. It’s an awful example of how the disadvantaged just get more disadvantaged. We see so many examples of it. The terrible ferry disaster last week is another. The typhoon up north.

It all makes our regular complaints about rubbish phone, internet, power and supply of (non essential) food items seem totally petty. Amazing how something essential to life can also be so devastating.

If there is a flood  appeal set up for the Philippines please consider contributing. We will be. These guys really do need any help they can get.

By the beach ….

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As Aussies living in Manila there are some things we miss. Easy access to fabulous beach is one of them. There really is nothing like a weekend of sand between your toes and a bit of splashing around. It may have taken a 3 hour drive but we got our fix! Our little cottage sat a mere 25 metres from the water under the shade of a beautiful tree. The kids dug. We read. Everyone swam, chased crabs etc. Bliss …..

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Images of yukata ….

Yukata are essentially a kimono worn during summer or for casually hanging about when the weather is warm. They’re generally made of cotton and vary enormously in design as you’ll see below. In Japan they’re also experiencing something of a resurgence in popularity.  I saw many, many, more people wearing them than previously. Mainly young people. Both men and women. It was great to see!

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I use vintage examples to add something unique to otherwise ordinary items like sheets and pillow cases.  Anything grab you?

Shopping rules ….

When I go shopping I generally abide by some self-imposed rules. Mine go a bit like this: Well designed. Very useful or very WOW. Preferably old. With a good story. Nothing/ nobody suffered in its creation. Somehow makes me and the world better, bla bla bla ….You get the idea. A touch tricky at times I must say. In fact sometimes the result is shopping being abandoned as simply too hard to bother with.  Ever had that experience?

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 Anyway, one of the things I’ve been waiting YEARS to purchase has been a Buddha. And guess what ??? I’ve found him! He is beautifully serene – but there was just one problem. His story is quite dull. No kooky market find in Thailand. No ancient, Japanese lineage. Quite simply another expat here in Manila was leaving and selling a whole tonne of stuff. That’s it. No excitement, intrigue, appeal to higher moral aspirations. Was just nice, well priced and second-hand. Didn’t quite fit my exotic-purchase-whilst-holidaying-on-a-tropical-island fantasy. So in the spirit of non-attachment I made the decision to let that one go. Very happy I did.

Do you have rules that tie you up in knots? Anything you could let go?

Post holiday blues ….

When you’ve had an absolutely BRILLIANT holiday it is almost inevitable that the post holiday blues will follow …. and so it has been for me.

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So here is my favourite strategy – fantasize about the next one! Not exactly living in the moment I know but it has helped me through.

I have some great ideas on the drawing board and my mojo is back! Pictures to follow soon ….

Mountains and cities …..

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I find Japan to be a land of fascinating contrasts and its mountainous landscape gives rise to many of them. Near vertical mountains are densely populated with trees, birds and occasionally idyllic rural farm houses etc. In contrast the narrow coastal strips (which are often so close you could throw a stone at them) are home to high density, utterly efficient, modern living. And yet they are worlds apart. The very close proximity of one to the other was both reassuring and at times odd. Rice was being hand planted in fields as the Shinkansen (fast train) whizzed by at several hundred kilometres an hour. Kyoto continues to nurture the ancient artisan traditions but is a major centre of electronics manufacturing. McDonald’s and 700 year old restaurants co-exist.

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We were even lucky enough to stay in a renovated home in Kyoto which was a stunning example of old and new co-existing harmoniously. Old timbers and features strikingly highlighted by the boldly new. Geoffry Moussas was the architect and I’m keen to follow up his work.

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I loved that we never had to go far to get our dose of trees. In fact we stumbled across them a number of times in completely unexpected places. In Hiroshima across from the port was a tiny island. It turned out to be largely beautiful, dense forest. Strangely it wasn’t mentioned in any tourist literature at all but was a highlight of stay. You could have been miles from the city but the reality was a distance our nearly 3 year old was happy to walk. Who would have thought this was possible?

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Whilst the suburb-scape of the cities could rarely be described as pretty I was constantly pulling out my camera to photograph yet another beautiful little vignette. A bonsai on a step. A red door frame contrasting a plan facade. A discreet sign or door plate. Within the crowded city people still found abundant opportunities to create beauty and put their stamp on the environment. The lively creative spirit in even the dullest places was really inspiring. It was a great reminder that even tiny tweaks can utterly transform something mundane into a thing of beauty.

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It seems the Japanese have made an art of both mass production and bespoke detail. Very impressive. Of course kimonos are a brilliant example of this. Each one follows a standard design and is made with panels of fabric in a standard width. There are millions of them and have been for decades. Yet each is folded and stitched to fit the individual. Many are hand painted. Most are hand stitched.

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So to home – Manila. The world’s mostly densely populated city. Also a place of many contrasts and contradictions ….

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Slow travel …..

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At the risk of sounding evangelical ….. You just MUST try  cycling as transport on your next holiday. It is AWESOME!! The slow food equivalent of travel. You don’t just whizz by the landscape – you’re in it. Part of it. We smelt the pine trees. Heard the birds. Felt the hills! And unlike walking covered a pretty decent distance.

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We’ve been to Japan before but 3 days on a bike on the Shiranui Coast left us feeling far more connected with our host country. The “authentic” travel experience every intrepid/romantic/idealistic traveller craves. Our accommodation on night one was also a highlight. A little family run ryokan. They spoke a little English. We spoke a little less Japanese but goodwill aided communication and we all brilliant time. Give it a go! 

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I must confess some of the hills pushed me a little but I only walked 3 stretches and flying down the other side, cruising through idyllic coastal towns in coves pirates dream of, gazing out to multiple islands and the glow of virtuous achievement each day made it all worthwhile. We also had quite a lot of light rain but to be honest I’d prefer that to roasting in the sun. Ours was a self guided tour through Japan Biking. Email me if you want further info.IMG_1315 (2)

Currently planning a follow-up bicycle assisted foray in Vietnam. Stay tuned ….

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PS The kids loved it too!

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Well designed and green please

If you’re reading about Hong Kong it means I’m having far too much fun in Japan and have taken the cheats way out! This is one I prepared earlier. You’ll need to wait a little longer to hear about Japan ….

IMG_6059And so to our brief sojourn in Hong Kong a little while ago …. Highlights would have to be the classic view of Hong Kong from Victoria Peak, the walk down through rainforest, riding the largest outdoor escalator (20 mins worth up hill), cable car ride down from the giant Buddha on Lantau Island, great coffee/ croissants etc at a cool cafe with a revolving “spider” chandelier made out of old desks lamps, lighting incense at Man Mo temple (dedicated to the Gods of War and Literature …. seemed appropriate for our book obsessed, destructo boys), and amazing aquariums at the fish markets that were “landscaped” like Japanese gardens complete with mountains and bonsai trees (the fish were really secondary), and the nightly display of changing coloured lights and lasers on buildings we could watch from our bedroom window. I could go on ….. it truly was a world city. I think we ate French (several times), Thai, Turkish, Indian, Italian and Chinese. Very exciting and we’re all keen to go back. So much we just didn’t get to.

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Things I took away were:
1. Like Singapore, Tokyo etc a big city doesn’t have to be a concrete jungle. Parks, reserves, roof top gardens, stands of veggies and flowers, street plantings and pot plants jammed into every tiny nook and cranny abounded. Clearly they were valued.
2. Good design beats building bigger every single time.

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Til next time ….