Musical highlights of my trip

USA:

My brother and sister in law treated me to a concert with Michael Tilson Thomas and the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. John Adams, the composer of the fabulous little piece I still dance, which he’d written for MTT and his husband, was in the audience. Daniil Trifonov gave a great performance of Rachmaninov’s 4th Piano Concerto, which I’d never heard live before.

Finding two pieces of printed music I’ve wanted to get hold of for years for a ridiculously small price in a strange looking music shop in Mountainview, Silicon Valley, California

New Zealand:

The Maori concert

Playing Fritz Kreisler Praeludium und Allegro with the owner of Te Anau Lodge where we stayed for just one night

Australia:

The relaxing just-at-the-right-volume jazz at the St Kilda pier café, perfect accompaniment to journalling and watching the little moored boats bobbing about in the sun with the cityscape in the distance.

Vietnam:

The music from a funeral procession as it passed through a village I was cycling through

Malaysia:

Penang House of Music – a kind of interactive museum telling the history of Penang entirely in musical terms. It was brilliant! I hadn’t appreciated how important jazz was in colonial and post colonial Penang until I experienced this. During the Japanese occupation, musicians were imprisoned, tortured and some were killed. They weren’t allowed to play any western music. So some of the musicians continued to play the jazz they’d learnt and loved, but just sang the words in Malay and claimed it was traditional Malay music. They got away with it. Just.

The pre recorded Buddhist chanting at Kek Lok Si Temple, Penang

Listening to Mozart mass in C on the coach… especially the “Et incarnatus est”, which I love

Singapore:

Jazz concert celebrating the relationship between Singapore and the UK.

Playing Shiv and Jamie’s amazing Kawai piano. Ooooh I did enjoy that. A lot!

Switzerland:

Finding a music shop in Zürich approximately one hour after landing in the country, and finding a jazz CD I wanted to buy there.

Singing with the Riehen convent choir and meeting Jessica Horsley, who is surely bound for fame. http://www.jessicahorsley.com/

It’s time for these female conductors to be heard and seen. In the still very male dominated music industry, they shine like stars. Jessica coordinates a festival of music by female composers in Switzerland every couple years.

In the past year, I’ve sung some beautiful works by women that I had never heard of before (extraordinary as I’ve been singing in choirs since I was about 7 years old, and I did a music degree as well!).

Fingernails

Here’s a weird fact; your fingernails and hair grow much faster in Singapore. My friends who live in Singapore confirmed this was the case. Mine continue to grow fast even though I left Singapore at the end of November! I actually think I had to cut them 3 times one week. (I don’t like having long fingernails.) It’s slowed down a bit now, but I still seem to be needing to cut them every week, which seems a lot to me.

A Maori Feast (“Hangi”)

Early on in our tiki tour of New Zealand, we went to a Maori cultural evening, which included a hangi feast. Most of the food they cooked was very influenced by a westernised diet (especially all the meat), but the cooking method was a very traditional thing. The meat and sweet potatoes (sweet potatoes being a very traditional Maori food) were cooked in a pit underground for several hours. It was laid in baskets/containers on top of really hot stones and covered with damp cloths and a load of earth to trap the heat from the stones around the food. I must confess this meat was deliciously cooked, very tender. And the desserts were pretty good too! I’m not sure but I’d guess there were about maybe 150-200 people at this experience! No mean feat to cater for that number. But this Maori family seemed to have got it down to a fine art.

The Maori evening wasn’t just about food. There was a lot of explanation of other important things about Maori culture, and there was a kind of welcoming ceremony and concert of traditional Maori dance and music for us, as well as a walk to the river to see Maori warriors rowing and to visit a traditional Maori village.

I’ll do a separate post about remarkable musical experiences throughout my trip where I’ll post some of the Maori music.

Kiwi food

Right. Where to start??? I spent a month in New Zealand, which meant plenty of time for eating delicious food! Unfortunately (what a terrible shame), my kiwi aunt and uncle and my cousin and his partner all appreciate really nice food, and my aunt is lamentably good at preparing it. And we all really enjoy going out for a bit of foodie delight as well. And as it was only the second time in our lives that we’ve had the chance to all be together, we decided to make it count. It’s a tough gig, but someone’s gotta do it! 😂 I am going to struggle to limit the pictures. Prepare to dribble…

🥇 No.1 food in New Zealand: ice cream. Hokey Pokey flavour (sort of honeycomb) is a particular speciality, but actually they have more flavours than you can shake a stick at. The day of my arrival I ended up with one the size of my face! I’m putting Les’ picture up as well to prove it was peer pressure!

Breakfast, Ken and Les style. Ooooh but this was good. Drizzled with a drop of maple syrup:

This was a fairly typical banquet that Les served up of an evening. All delicious, all healthy……except for the dessert. It so nearly could’ve been healthy with that delicious fruit salad! But they told me (a) ice cream is a New Zealand thing and (b) this particular type of meringue is a New Zealand thing too (very different from meringue you buy in England). So what was I supposed to do?? I had to try them all, right?:Our first meal out at an Asian fusion place with my cousin Stu and his partner Tash 😋😋😋:Another spectacular offering from Les:I did probably eat more meat in New Zealand. But I very rarely have this sort of breakfast. It was a real treat we enjoyed on my first weekend:

Ok. So those were food highlights of the first weekend. Of a month. Oh la la!

Packing and the forgetting of things

So I’m off to visit my folks for Christmas now. And in the rush of finishing last tasks and getting ready, it’s been amazing how much easier packing has become for me. Admittedly, it’s a lot easier going from my own home to mum and dad’s than packing to go from one unfamiliar place/country to another, of course. But also, I recognise just how skilled I’ve become at packing, through practice. I know the dimensions and capacity of each section of my suitcase inside out and back to front now! And I know how many clothes I need for 2 weeks. (It’s pretty much the same amount as for any length of time.) And I know that it’s really worth limiting the amount of footwear you take to save space in the suitcase. (I also am able to be more realistic about what footwear I will find useful.)

I’m hoping I’ve not forgotten anything, having said all that!… Ah. Tights. I forgot those. But if I really want to wear them, I can buy some new ones. (Always useful.) This is another perspective I’ve come to through travelling. It’s really not the end of the world if you forget something or leave something behind. Saying that, I don’t think I actually lost anything on my travels. (Or if I did, I’ve forgotten about it already, so it can’t have been that serious.)

The worst forgetting of things I did was accidentally leaving a pile of currency behind at my Aunt and Uncle’s place in New Zealand, when we went travelling for three and a half weeks! That was a boo boo. I wasted a lot of time and energy mentally berating myself about it, before realising that I could just spend the money using my bank card and then do a transaction with my relatives when we got back where I gave them cash as they transferred the same amount into my account. It was a faff, and I really should’ve listened to my Uncle and got him to take the cash out and give it to me as then I’d have avoided the bank charge and the hassle for all of us of doing an international bank transfer. But then the lady in their bank was so nice, it was a delight to give them some business, actually. (Can’t believe I just said that! Normally I hate banks on principle. [Sorry if you work for a bank!])

That story gives you an indication of just how systemically culturally lovely people are in New Zealand. Even bank employees at work! Nothing too much trouble, and a lot of chat about our holidays and hers while we waited for the hamster to run around its wheel on her computer. What a breath of fresh air!

Things I learnt while travelling #256 (there must have been at least that many): there’s not a lot of point wasting time and energy mentally berating yourself when you make a mistake. Better to think, ‘Oh well, I could’ve done that better, but I didn’t manage to’, let it go and move onto more useful questions like: What is the situation now? And how can I move forwards in it?

The thing is, while ever you’re mentally berating yourself, you are not able to be fully present. You are living in a very negative version of the past, rather than noticing the gift of the present moment. I set out on my travels knowing that I wanted to be fully present in all the wonderful places I would go to, and with all the people I would spend time with. I hope I can carry that sense of presence with me now, even when I’m not travelling…

Time for more food!

Time for another food post I think… So, I’m working my way backwards, so have reached Australia. I didn’t spend very long here, so it’ll be a short one.

Here was the best meal in Melbourne, given my less than a week experience! 😂 This meal was so fabulous partly because of the view and the weather as well as the food. And the jazzy music quietly playing in the background. And the fact that there weren’t too many other people there so it was quiet and I stayed quite a while, journalling away. Brunch at St Kilda beach pier café. What a delight:

This little meal and the coffees, Italian cake, wanderings, wonderings, moseying around a local craft market and praying that followed it were also a winner for me. What a delight a good friend and fellow theological nerd is in a very unfamiliar place, halfway round the world from home! Thanks for our extended prayerful brunch-craft market-beach walk-coffee and cake, Sally 💕:And this splendid offering was my hostess Carol’s banana bread, which I can testify is indeed a wonder and delight, especially when dry fried and slathered in butter, as recommended! 😋:

Things I took

Another break from all the food posts!

My friend Laura taught me how to make the print on this bag, and gave me the materials, space and time to make it. Then, inspired by the poem Beyond by Sh’maya, and by the book The Thread by Victoria Hislop, leant to me by my friend Katharine, I sewed the words onto it probably a couple of years ago, long before I had any plans to travel around the world. What a gift it turned out to be.

I took the bag with me (of course). It’s very useful when you’re on a train or coach with a big backpack and maybe also a suitcase but you want your water bottle, ticket, purse, passport and snacks etc close to hand.

It was also very good at reminding me of the enticement and adventure of the unknown, which otherwise can feel pretty scary. And that every ocean does ultimately bring a beach. When feeling far from home it was good to remember that all of these places are somebody’s home. Even a remote desert island would be home to some creatures and plants who are all part of the same big creation as us.

Beyond was commissioned by someone setting out on a new venture, facing all the risk that entails. To hear Sh’maya recite his wonderful poem, go here: https://youtu.be/nqqnJ9kqSgI

Vietnamese delights

One of the highlights of my time in Vietnam was the food. Another great place to sample interesting dishes that don’t cost much. Here were some favourites:

Hanoi

The Devil’s dumplings, or so I named them! Doughnut-type things that I accidentally bought. The lady gave me one to try before I had realised that this is the ploy to pressgang you into buying some:

Vietnamese coffee. Very nice:This meal (below) was from a very good restaurant in Hanoi, except the only veggie option I could find on the menu turned out to be off. I gave in and had these Hanoi special prawn things and a chicken noodle soup dish:Tam Coc (near Ninh Binh)

Vietnamese egg coffee… ooooooh this was goooood! Sweet, with egg white fluffed into it:Smoothie:Delicious tofu and papaya salad dish, with a characteristic sweet chilli type sauce. Really really tasty!:The waitress gave me a couple of little bananas, I think as an apology for having muddled up my drink earlier. These little bananas (green and yellow) were growing everywhere in Ninh Binh.

Ninh Binh

An enormous plate of shredded cabbage and carrot, with noodles and soy sauce and some other kind of flavours made a great lunch one day in a backpackers pub place opposite a beautiful lake:

Breakfast at Mai Spa Homestay – the best banh my Vietnamese sandwich I had. With pork here and omelette. Nice coffee too:Our meal prepared with lots of teamwork at the Homestay was a real highlight of my whole trip:And the 🥇 veggie pho I mentioned in an earlier post for breakfast on my last morning at Mai’s place was just beautiful 👌🏼😋

Having walked for an hour and a half with a big backpack from the Homestay towards the station in the centre of Ninh Binh, I found a place to stop for a cold coffee, and a custard apple smoothie and the obligatory warm green tea:This was the hot meal they were serving on the night train if you paid extra for it. They somehow managed to wheel a trolly containing all this down the incredibly narrow corridors and dish it up right outside your carriage:

Hoi An

Claypot restaurant… Maps Me had a note on it saying “Eat here. It’s delicious” or something. It was correct! Another smoothie, with complimentary nuts:Aubergine and tofu dish cooked in the claypot slowly. This was another contender for the 🥇 best meal I had in Vietnam. It was heavenly!Iced coffee I think (though it looks a bit big?):Tra Qué Vegetable Village. This whole tour was remarkable… I think qualifying as the 🥇 best tour of my trip. It ended at the restaurant, which uses the vegetables grown in what is essentially an enormous community allotment on really rich fertile soil in the area. Here are all the dishes we tried as part of the tour. They were all delicious. As you can see, we got to see one of them being prepared as well:Best Street food experience definitely in 🥇 Hoi An – these are in a previous post too, but just to have them all in order here:

All in all, actually I reckon Vietnam comes joint first for 🥇 best place to eat out cheaply and adventurously, along with Singapore. I’m dribbling now, just remembering it all!! 😋😋😋

More food…

Penang Island, Malaysia

In post colonial Georgetown I was ridiculously delighted to find toast, butter and marmalade available at breakfast in my hotel. And cereal. Alongside many more exotic foods that I had absolutely no interest in (apart from the fruit). It was so lovely to have something familiar for breakfast at this point:

The now famous (on my Facebook page!) two flavoured ice cream at the top of Penang Hill. Sweetcorn and butterscotch flavour, allegedly. It was very tasty (and half the price of the guy standing in a more obvious place further down the hill):

I don’t seem to have eaten very much while in Penang (or at least I didn’t think it worth photographing). But this vegan salad was exactly what I was after. I remember it was unusually late finding somewhere to eat after a long day of sightseeing around the island. I was grateful they stayed open for me! The drink is a fruit smoothie, and I had salted edamame beans with the salad, and vegan fruit jelly for afters 😋:

A pint of smoothie, a hot chocolate and a bottle of water. A good opportunity to escape the rain and read my book after a museum visit:South Indian dosa pancake with potato curry inside and various dipping sauces next to it: