Until we meet again

This is it, my last day in Indonesia. I have a lot of goodbyes to make, and I’ll get to them all soon. But I have a whole team full of goodbyes that are especially hard to make, and I want to do them first.

I don’t really talk about work on this blog, not because I don’t have wonderful things going on there, but rather because I try to maintain a line between work life and home life for my own sanity and privacy. And this blog is about my friends, my family, my thoughts, and lately it seems – mostly my travel photos.

However, I’ve been incredibly lucky to have such a great work experience while living here, and it is owing to this amazing, creative and caring group of people on my team. Over the past three years, each one of them has crossed over the line from my work life to my personal life, and now I am happy to include them in this blog as forever a part of my family.

They made this sweet and funny video for me:

So this is my little thanks to them.

Anto, Erisa, Dodi
Anto, Erisa, Dodi
Dodi, Vidya, Yahya, Wigid, Eko, Edli
Dodi, Vidya, Yahya, Wigid, Eko, Edli
Gideon (looking serious), Yahya, Dodi
Gideon (looking serious), Yahya, Dodi
Everyone after a night of bowling
Everyone after a night of bowling
Everyone - Serious
Everyone – Serious
Everyone - Silly
Everyone – Silly
Sarong makes it official
Sarong makes it official
Group hug
Group hug

 

I’ll miss you all! Sampai jumpa lagi.

Paris part 3: the tour

We saved a walking tour until our last day, hoping that the sun would come out and burn off the mist hanging over the city. Unfortunately, no. If anything it got worse, and our tour was cold and rainy. But we would not be deterred: I put on my mittens and we headed out to the Eiffel Tower.

For some reason I was convinced the Eiffel Tower was black. Maybe cartoons and pop art have led me astray, but I was sure it would be shiny, black metal spiraling up into the sky. But as we walked toward it and watched it creep into view through the fog, I realized it was brown! A light brown-beige color of untreated metal. My world was shattered.

It was still neat to see. But we just walked on past. Because it was cold. And there are only so many touristy pictures you need of your sister pretending to hold up the Eiffel Tower.

We powered on to the Arc de Triomphe. It was in the middle of a busy traffic circle so we just snapped some shots from afar and decided to catch the train. And there are only so many touristy pictures you need of your sister pretending to hold up the Arc de Triomphe.

We were headed to Montmartre. We were both pretty excited about this one – both of us studied art history and couldn’t wait to see this place that had inspired so many amazing artists.

…It was not very exciting. I mean, it was incredible to be there, but it was dirty and filled with too many tourists. It looked like a hobo town, with run-down shops and cracked pavement. Stores were bursting kitsch through their windows and garbage from their alleys. Hawkers were selling tiny Eiffel Towers (painted black!) all over the place. A random busker had carried a full-size harp up to the top of the cathedral stairs and was playing a mediocre version of Coldplay or something.

We wandered around the hill top, aghast at the cheap trinkets and street art for sale, with at least six caricature painters following us around, until we finally settled in a cafe for an expensive snack. The whole thing was a bit disappointing, but at least we did it. And it meant that we could reward ourselves with some shopping and a lavish dinner later on.

We decided to go looking for an oyster bar. The first one we tried turned out to only have oysters on Sunday (why?? no idea). So we wandered around to Saint Germain, grabbed some beers and watched the people for a while. Then we found a great seafood place nearby and settled in for our last big night in Paris. The oysters were great – served on steaming dry ice – the drinks were great, the company was great – a perfect ending to a wonderful trip.

The next day we headed off to the airport – my suitcase (and me) both at least 10 pounds heavier than when we arrived. But I had about 10,000 steps back through the metro to burn it off. I waved goodbye to Cheryl and spent the next eight cold, boring hours waiting for my plane. They really need to heat the airport.

Au revoir, Paris!

Airport goodbye!
Airport goodbye!

Paris part 2: the art

The top of my Paris bucket list was the Louvre. We spent an entire morning there, and we easily could have spent days. Of course, the Mona Lisa was a show stopper, but I enjoyed a lot of the other pieces as much if not more. I was distraught that the Vermeer wing was closed, but I satisfied myself with the Venus de Milo, the Medici cycle, some Monets and the ever-titillating Gabrielle d’Estrées and her Sister, among others.

That afternoon, we wandered over to a gourmet food store so I could buy some truffles to bring home. We stocked up on goodies and cooked ourselves a delicious fresh pasta for dinner and sat up drinking wine into the night. Another perfect Parisian day!

Up next: Eiffel Tower & Oysters

Paris part 1: the palace

The train from London to Paris was pleasant but unremarkable. Once again, we didn’t see anything but darkness in the tunnel, and we watched as the English countryside turned into the scattered suburbs of Paris. We arrived at the Gare and hopped on the metro to Bastille – where we had rented an apartment for the next four nights.

If you’ve never been to Paris, then I don’t blame you for this – but for all you folks who have visited or lived there, you neglected to warn me that Paris is the least suitcase-friendly city in the universe. We went up and down about 10,000 stairs between getting off the train and entering our apartment. No escalators. No elevators. Just many, many stairs and plenty of uneven sidewalks interrupted by construction. I think, actually, by the time you go down into to the bowels of the Paris metro and walk the several kilometers of winding underground paths to your stop, you might as well have just walked along the street. Also, normally I subscribe to the ‘pack 2 pairs of underwear in a bag for the week’ kind of travel mantra, but for this trip, I made the mistake of bringing an actual suitcase (to bring back large amounts of delicious Parisian treats). So I had to lug that suitcase through what I assume was equivalent to the distance of the entire metro line. Only backpacks for me from now on.

But we did make it safely, and we couldn’t wait to head out for amazing French food for dinner. But where to go? We did some quick online searching and found a highly rated restaurant nearby that was unique in being run by a single chef who also acted as waiter and host – serving only a handful of people each night, as though you were sharing a meal with him at his house. Perfect! I called him up and managed to get reservations for that night.

And it was AMAZING. Easily in my top 3 meals of all time.

The next day, we decided to venture out to Versailles. Travel tip: Don’t book with an overpriced tour. It was an easy train ride and we had no problem buying tickets at the palace itself for much cheaper than any tour.

We were expecting a lavish, opulent palace filled with rococo curiosities. It turned out to be more like a dusty museum that had been pillaged of its contents over the course of a few centuries. Actually, I guess that’s exactly what it was – an empty building with most of the stuff having been sold off for the good of the republic at various points in history. There were still a few items in the main bedrooms, but they weren’t *stunning*, and they were caked with dust. It was most interesting to see the layout of the building itself – I’ve watched enough period piece movies to know that the king and queen had zero privacy, and this proved it. All the rooms were essentially hallways, and it was pretty clear that they were high-traffic zones. Probably they didn’t sleep much in there, and it was mostly for show, but still, they really did give themselves to the motherland, in all the being-naked-and-going-to-the-bathroom senses of the word. The Hall of Mirrors was cool, but again, kind of dusty and run down.

We wandered outside into the gardens, which are enormous and famous. But because we were there in early spring, they were mostly ugly and misty. Plus there were some refurbishments going on in many of the fountains. The entire garden is hundreds of acres, which was so overwhelming we didn’t even bother leaving the palace area to explore deeper into the yard. Time to take our tired feet home for some wine.

Along the way, we stopped at the Notre Dame cathedral to watch pigeons poop on all the tourists, found a little cafe and ate some crepes for lunch, and I bought some local art. It was a perfect Parisian afternoon!

Next up: Art!

London part 2: the tourists

It was Sunday in London, and my sister and I were looking forward to exploring around and watching the St. Patrick’s Day parade taking place at Trafalgar Square. It was cold enough for mittens that day (which, luckily, I had brought with me!). So we set out on foot in the hopes of having tea with the queen and to see some rowdy Irish folk drinking in public.

Well, we didn’t get to visit the queen. But we did see Buckingham palace. There was a large crowd standing around, and we sort of stood around awkwardly with them for a while wondering what to expect. The royal family arriving from church? The queen gracing the crowd with a wave from her balcony? No, nothing happened. So we left. But as we walked through the park, a troop of fresh palace guards came by on their horses – of course, everyone was waiting for the changing of the guards! Luckily we come from Ottawa, which is basically mini Britain, so we’ve seen the changing of the guards before and didn’t feel we missed anything. But I did get a video of them trotting down the lane:

 

After the palace, we found the tourist motherlode at the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye, and about 100,000 Asian tourists. We snapped a few photos, and decided to look for some tea, because London. We didn’t find any tea, but we did stop at an adorable place behind Westminster abbey called the Jewel Tower, where I bought a blanket made out of recycled wool (which I then had to carry around all day – I am not smart).

We wandered our way toward Trafalgar square and stopped for some overpriced lunch and drinks at a pub along the parade route. The parade filled up quickly, and soon we were back outside, fighting our way along the road to the square. I was surprised at how many South & Latin American groups were represented in the parade. I realized that St. Patrick’s Day is treated as the “Irish” national holiday in North America, but actually, it’s the “Catholic” holiday, so of course there were plenty of Mexicans, Peruvians and others taking part. But it was great to see so much spontaneous salsa dancing in the street! Also, plenty of pipers.


The activities in the square were not very exciting, but as we left, we came upon one of the most bizarre things I’ve ever seen: a huge animatronic St. Patrick float blasting “Whoop, There It Is” with a troupe of pro-choice (or anti-abortion? actually it was hard to tell) dancers in front of it… video or it didn’t happen:


That afternoon we decided to go for a real English High Tea, and booked ourselves into a table at a swanky restaurant. We decided to order ALL the scones and crumpets and cucumber sandwiches, and forgo the strange cakes that everyone else had. Because London. After stuffing ourselves, we wandered around for the night sampling pints in all the bars around Chinatown and along Charing Cross road. It was a good night; if only I could remember it better.

The next morning we met up with a business contact for brunch at the Wallace Collection, which is a beautiful family-donated art house. Londoners really like their runny eggs, dry toast and smoked salmon for breakfast – that was basically every morning menu we saw. After breakfast, we went off to explore the Tower of London and whatever else we could find around there.

First, I had a mission to find the Globe Theatre. We didn’t find it. But I did take a picture of something that had the words “The Globe” on it, close enough? But we did find some pulled pork sandwiches for lunch, which made up for that loss as far as I was concerned. Then we wandered along the river, both of us in shock that the “London Bridge” is just a boring normal bridge and not the iconic “Tower Bridge” that you see on everything London. My childhood nursery rhyme knowledge was built on lies. We also wandered over to the Tower of London, fully intending to go inside (I mostly wanted to see ghosts), but it turned out to cost about 4 billion dollars to get in, so we just looked at it from afar and consoled ourselves with the fact that we were unlikely to have seen any ghosts anyway. Later on, we stopped at Coventry Gardens (not at all anything to do with gardens) to check out the flea market… it was not very exciting.

That night we wanted to celebrate our last night in town, so we planned to check out this neat restaurant called Flat Iron that apparently has fancy hipster steaks, but it was packed. We settled on a funky ramen noodle restaurant instead, and it turned out be amazing! I ordered the “Dracula” ramen, which was FULL of garlic and black sesame broth. The crazy waiter tried to talk me out of it, and when I insisted that I love garlic and would accept nothing else, he started crushing on me because it was “his favorite dish too.” We had a moment. I also ordered a BEER SHAKE – beer that came with a frozen whipped topping, which was also made out of beer. Look, if you didn’t know me before, then you do now. Garlic ramen and frozen whipped beer is the key to my heart. After a bit of shopping at the totally surreal M&M shop and a disappointing dessert bar, we headed home to sleep off our food hangover.

Before the train left in the morning, we spent an hour or two wandering around Regent’s Park, which I’m certain is beautiful when it’s warm and sunny. But it was cold and drizzly, and the zoo was closed. We did spy over the fence to see some kind of penguin documentary being filmed, but one of the production crew gave us the stink eye so we didn’t linger. On the way home, we peeked at 221b Baker street. There was a guy dressed up like an old-timey bobby hanging around, so we took some discreet photos like real Brits and went out of London with a bang!

Next stop: Paris.

London part 1: the arrival

Back in March, my sister and I went on a Thelma-and-Louise style trip to Paris and London (minus the manslaughter and double suicide, of course…). But it was a super fun last-minute vacation, and extra special because it was probably the first time we had ever traveled together, just the two of us. Why Paris and London? Well, it seemed to be a fair halfway point between Canada and Indonesia. Plus, who wouldn’t want to go there??

It’s taken me a while to post this because we crammed so much into our week abroad that I was exhausted just trying to sort through all the photos. But now I’m ready! So let’s do London.

We met in the Paris airport on a chilly Saturday morning. As it turns out, public spaces in Paris are not heated. Coming fresh off the plane from Jakarta, I had to put on two pairs of pants just to keep warm while I waited. Soon my sister arrived and there was much rejoicing. Our plan was to head straight to the Gare du Nord and catch our train to London. We hopped on the metro, passing what I think must be the ugliest part of Paris: crumbly buildings, industrial yards, graffitied train stations and gypsy tents made out of discarded fridges and old clothes. As it turns out, most of Paris looks like that, but more on that later.

When we arrived at the Gare, we had a few hours to kill before our train to London, so we took a little wander around the area. Although there wasn’t a lot to see – other than about 1000 cafes, all with the exact same red awnings and wicker chairs out front – we stumbled on a lovely little indoor market (also not heated) selling fresh produce, flowers, seafood, cheese, meats – so we picked up a little treat of salami and delicious stinky cheese for the train ride. Our train companions were thrilled about that.

The trip was only a few hours, and the track went under the English Channel. I was hoping it would be epic – how often do you get to travel for miles underneath the water? But we didn’t see any coastline or actual water, because the tunnel starts so far away from the edge, and then inside the tunnel is quite dark – of course, because it’s a tunnel. This makes total sense in hindsight. I’m not sure what I was expecting; maybe one of those glass aquarium tunnels where fish swim right over top of you? I guess that was a bit unrealistic. So the ride wasn’t very exciting, but it was neat to see the Paris suburbs turn into quaint English pastures as we chugged along.

We rented a little apartment in London just south of Regent’s Park, perfectly situated to walk to most of the tourist areas, and right on the underground line for areas that were a bit too far on foot. That night we were up for an adventure, so we headed straight out to explore the town!

The first place we ended up was an adorable and totally packed English pub that was about the size of a small living room. We shoved our way to the bar, ordered some pints and started chatting to a couple nearby. Turns out they were visiting from the U.S. and were equally up for an adventure. So the four of us had a few more drinks and wandered off to find “real English” dinner – that didn’t turn out to be too hard, and we soon found ourselves in the (probably haunted) top floor of a pub eating a variety of liver pies and heartily overcooked vegetables. And it was all as bland and tasteless as we expected. Mission accomplished!

We stumbled out of the pub and wandered around Piccadilly Circus – which, disappointingly, is not at all the animal kind of circus. Wikipedia informed me that our British friends use “circus” to mean a junction of streets in a circle. Silly. We checked out some shops, I bought a coat because it turns out London is cold, and eventually parted ways with our American friends to get a bit of sleep back at the apartment.

Next up: Irish partying & garlic love

Winter holiday highlights: Ottawa

Our Christmas holidays were lovely. It had been over a year since we last visited home, and even longer since we had seen winter! The plan was to spend almost a month relaxing in Ottawa with family and friends, making the most of wintry days playing in the yard and wintry nights sitting by the fire.

We headed out of Jakarta on an early Saturday morning, laden with suitcases full of gifts and only the bare necessities – since none of our current wardrobes were at all suitable for the weather in Canada. Luckily we had managed to buy some long pants and a few sweaters in Bogor, so we could at least make it from the airport to the house when we arrived. But wearing socks for the first time in two years was a bit weird.

The flights were relatively smooth, other than a few panicked hours in Hong Kong when we thought our flight would be late and we would miss our next connection in Vancouver. But it turned out fine, and the 35 hours passed like a breeze. A very long, very boring, incredibly painful breeze filled with hours of cramped seats, terrible movies, inedible food and whining children. But we made it.

Our first week home was also filled with boring things like visiting the dentist. Twice, for the family members who had a cavity. Three times, for those with two cavities. And we battled jet lag for quite a while, waking up to watch movies at 2 in the morning. Ah, who am I kidding – it was the holidays – we probably would have done that anyway!

It snowed just when we arrived, and the kids were so excited. We took them tobogganing. J cried the whole time, complained that LittleB was “throwing sand at her” and went to play at the snowy swing set instead. LittleB face-planted at the bottom of the hill and sprawled there for the rest of the time. BigB smacked his knee on some ice riding down the hill on a kiddie saucer and limped for the rest of our trip. But I had a good time, though!

Obviously the big ticket item was Christmas. My sister and her family came to stay as well, and we had a busy schedule of visiting friends and family throughout the week. Christmas is always a busy time for us, since we have so much family in the same city – and we have to carefully plan our days to get in a dinner and presents with all of them. The upside is that we get dinner and presents with all of them. We also visited an old-fashioned Christmas village, where we got to meet Québécois Santa, see thousands of Christmas lights on old-timey buildings and eat toasted marshmallows at the firepit. We also managed to see a number of good friends.

Before we left the city, we decided to do some tourist activities so we didn’t feel like we had wasted our entire vacation sitting around drinking Bailey’s (that doesn’t sound too bad, actually). Of course, on the week we decided to take the kids to the museums, they were all closed for annual maintenance. We did manage to visit the art gallery for an M.C. Escher show, which was very neat. But it was on the coldest day of the year so far (-37 C with the windchill). We made the poor kids walk about 10 minutes to the gallery – that was a mistake. J started crying uncontrollably and LittleB had a panic attack when he saw BigB’s mustache getting ice on it. But we stopped for beaver tails and hot chocolate, which every Ottawan knows is the only cure for a cold day in Canada. Everything worked out fine.

The night before we were meant to leave, the whole family came down with a stomach bug. We managed to change our flights at the 11th hour and got a whole extra weekend of time. So we headed over to the Nature Museum to see the dinosaurs and stuffed birds and stuff. We also managed to squeeze out a few more restaurant trips and extra goodbyes.

Too soon it was time to head home for real, to the home that has all our stuff. The highlights I carried home with me, other than a bunch of new underwear and kids’ medicine: easy shopping, nice restaurants, driving on the wrong side of the road, new babies, craft beer, personal space, silent snowy nights, ham, and bacon.

I think my only regret is that I didn’t get any one-on-one time with my sister. Our kids kept us both busy, and we had too many family gatherings eating up our days and nights. Luckily, we just planned a last-minute Thelma-and-Louise trip to Paris in a few weeks, so I guess that worked out for the best!!

We miss you, Ottawa. See you next time!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that we really miss here. There’s no way to replace it – it’s so linked to home: the season, the colors, the smells. A perfect autumn morning, waking up early to bake some pies, sharing the afternoon with family, maybe taking a hike through the bright fall forest, playing a game of pick-up hockey or football in the crisp evening air. Spending the evening eating and laughing, ending the night a little rosy and so full of turkey that it’s hard to breathe.

The past few years, we’ve done a little thanksgiving with our Canadian friends in the area. This year, we had a few Aussie additions, but they were made welcome nonetheless. We found a turkey (imported from Utah!), dug up my mom’s stuffing recipe, bought $18 cans of pumpkin for pie, sourced a can of cranberry sauce. Instead of a hike, we swam; instead of football, we had a mini ukulele jam. But we still spent the night eating and laughing, getting rosy and ending the night too full to breathe.

It was lovely, but it wasn’t quite the same as being home. We’ll miss you all this weekend – Happy Thanksgiving from Indonesia!

-The Cayas

Countdown to summer!

The last days of school passed in a blur, in the lead up to summer vacation and holidays at work. Suddenly here we are, and I haven’t added an update in a while! So what has happened lately?

Well, most notably, we have decided to move into Jakarta proper, to send the kids to a bigger school and have a few more lifestyle options. So the past few weeks have been packed with exhausting trips into town, looking at places to rent and feeling anxious about the timing and costs. The first place we were most committed to was way outside our budget, even though we knew it would be the nicest choice, being in the same area as our good friends and many other friends – we were just about to sign on when deep down it suddenly felt like the wrong decision. Reluctantly, we decided to keep looking. Luckily, we found another place only days later that was much better suited! A bigger house, with a pool, and within walking distance to a large mall and lots of shops and restaurants. We’re also going to be next-door neighbors with one of my work colleagues, giving me more commuting options. We’ve now finalized that contract and we move in August, right before school starts. Phew!

A few pictures:

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Because of our upcoming move, the kids’ last days at school were quite bittersweet. It’s hard to outgrow something and move on. Even though both kids are very excited to start fresh somewhere new – and certainly we are as well – they have lots of friends and, really, family, here who it will be hard to see less often. At least we will still be close enough for weekend visits.

The final big events at school included an “International Arts” night, where the kids put on music and dance shows to celebrate diversity. It turns out that everyone must be Korean, because most of them danced to a k-pop song. Yay diversity! Here are some videos to enjoy:


Apparently J inherited the same missing dance gene as her parents.


The best part is around 2:43 when B gets stabbed by a safety pin and finishes the dance in tears.

We also enjoyed some performances by the teachers and other classes, as well as a pot-luck dinner featuring food from around the world. We brought blueberry pie. Canadian enough? It was the best we could do! The kids also had a final assembly on the last day.

The older kids playing gamelan fusion
The older kids playing gamelan fusion
The teachers putting on a show
The teachers putting on a show
The preschool kids dancing to k-pop
The preschool kids dancing to k-pop
The whole school (almost) doing a happy dance
The whole school (almost) doing a happy dance
Pot luck international dinner
Pot luck international dinner
B's class playing gamelan
B’s class playing gamelan
B with a gamelan xylophone
B with a gamelan xylophone
J rocking the star tambourine
J rocking the star tambourine
Final assembly group dance
Final assembly group dance

Also because of our looming move, we decided not to make any holiday plans, knowing we could have an unpredictable summer. This was a good decision, because we might need to move or do contract sorting at any moment. But now that the house is sorted, I’m feeling some urgency to book a last-minute trip somewhere! We originally wanted to do an epic trip around Southeast Asia this summer: Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos… but now we might settle on a week on a beach in Thailand. If I can get it organized, that is. It’s a difficult consolation prize, but someone has to suffer through these things!

Bangka retreat

March was a busy one – hard to find time to write!

I cracked open the month with a quick work retreat to Pangkal Pinang, the capital of Bangka, which is a small island just east of Sumatra. Although we were only there for two nights, we packed in the activities. Our days were filled with retreat sessions but we managed to enjoy a welcome dinner by the pool (with karaoke) and an evening dinner on the beach (…with karaoke). I even managed to get away for lunch with a few colleagues – we were looking for some seafood or perhaps some pork dishes (apparently both items that Bangka is known for), but somehow we ended up with a meal made entirely of different preparations of pork belly. I mean, I like pork belly, in moderation, but not when it is the only dish available… At least the beach views we enjoyed later on made up for it!

Meanwhile, the kids were busy at school with trips and assemblies and plays. And we capped off the month with Grandma’s arrival and a trip to Bali! Coming up next…

New Zealand Part 3 – Maori & Geysers

While we were in Rotorua, we decided to take a tour of the local geyser, which is housed within the property of a Maori cultural center. They had a special ticket price where we could have a tour of the village grounds, the carving and weaving schools, a kiwi habitat and the geyser, as well as an evening Maori music/dance show and dinner. Sweet!

The afternoon started with the tour. The grounds were lovely, and they had a lot of nice artifacts, carvings, and buildings. We watched them weave baskets, carve some decorative wall panels and tour the meeting houses (where we would later see the show). After that, we walked down toward the geyser. Whoo mama, it was awesome! Apparently this one is rather sporadic, unlike Old faithful, for example. This one just randomly decides to “geys” (*is that the verb??) whenever enough steam and gases build up. We were lucky enough to arrive during a particularly large geysing. It was hitting about 25 feet into the air!

We wandered up and around the geyser site, checking out other steam vents and fizzling pools. We also saw a bunch of bubbling mud holes, which they use to make cosmetic products. (Some of the photos are actually from a second set of bubbling mud pools we visited another day, but I figured they all went together well enough!)

After the geyser, we visited a kiwi viewing habitat inside a building. Now, apparently kiwis are nocturnal – who knew! So we were ushered into a pitch black room and told that the kiwis were somewhere inside this bushy area, vaguely near the back of the habitat. Yeah, I think I might have seen its beak. Anyway, so that was not as cool as you would have hoped. At least we saw a building in which kiwis were possibly living, so there’s that.

Next, onto the show! It started with us gathering at the great lawn and waiting for the warriors to invite us in. This involved a lot of chubby guys yelling and gesturing with sticks. Then there was a bit of singing, and we were brought into the meeting house. Then, we enjoyed a few singing and dancing numbers, with the troupe of warriors and lady.. warriors? Anyway, they were pretty good. It seemed a bit like a high school play. In fact, I’m thinking it might have been the school break job for some of them, like you would go and work a summer camp for a few months – well, maybe you join the Maori troupe and entertain tourists. Anyway, they did the hakka dance – it’s cool, look it up. It’s the big-eyed, tongue-sticking-out dance – here’s the ending:

After the show, we chowed down on “real” Maori dishes, some of which were cooked in an underground pit. Honestly, most of the food seemed pretty normal to me, but it was still yummy. Later, we took another twilight tour of the geyser, but it had quieted down by then. Still, the area was misty and surreal, with the moon hanging low in the sky, muting all the yellow sulfur and blue rocks. It was getting chilly, so we lounged for a few minutes on some thermally heated rocks and shared a few cups of hot chocolate before heading home.

Perhaps it was just the magic of the evening, but I came away from Rotorua wondering if maybe we have a drop of Maori in our family tree. It certainly felt a bit like home!

 

New Zealand Part 1 – Around Auckland

After our week and a half in Sydney, you would think that was the end of our vacation. But wait, there’s more! We still had another ten days in friendly New Zealand!

We hopped on a flight into Auckland, and landed midday. What can I say about northern New Zealand? It really reminded me of Canada. The land is something like a mix of Nova Scotia and the Okanagan valley – rolling hills, pastures, coast. It really is a beautiful place.

Our time in Auckland proper was short. We checked into an apartment hotel for the night, mostly just looking forward to doing laundry for the night. We had one day in the city to enjoy the sights before heading out on the road for a driving tour of the north island. In the morning, we got up to wander around a bit. We walked downtown, but we were threatened by rain and whiny children, so we didn’t stick around too long. There were some nice harbour views, but, really, not much else to do.

After some afternoon napping – and more laundry – we grabbed some burgers for dinner (I had venison!) and went for a drive. We ended up down the coast, where we found an awesome playground for the kids right along the beach. J spent a while looking for mermaid seashells – you know, the ones you wear over your mermaid boobies. She could only find one, and she was very disappointed when I told her she couldn’t wear it… meanwhile, LittleB headed into the playground. He doesn’t really like playing with other kids, so normally he avoids playgrounds until they clear out. He circled the place, looking for an opening, until he spied a group of huge maori kids playing on this spinning tire toy. I guess those were his people! He jumped on there and spent the next half hour trying to win at some sort of “spin the tire as fast as possible and see who falls off first” game. It looked like he was having a riot.

Jumping out of chronological order, we also spent our final day in NZ visiting our friends in Auckland. It was great to see how the locals live it up, and they were kind enough to show us around the parks and playgrounds in the area. We had a lovely view of the city from the top of Mount Wellington. It was a great way to end a great trip!

But don’t worry, there’s still more. After yet some more laundry, the next day we hit the road for our visit to Rotorua, the thermal wonderland of NZ. Coming up next!

Aussie Adventure Part 5 – Harbour tour

New Year’s day was our last day in Sydney. It was also my Dad’s birthday. We decided to go our separate ways for the day (since we got a lot more sleep than my parents did the night before), so we headed out early in the morning to catch a ferry ride around the harbour. We were planning to meet up with some friends near Luna Park – but unfortunately, the ferry changed its schedule without warning, so we missed our scheduled meeting! We wandered around the north shore for a while, trying to find internet access so we could contact them, but no luck.

The ferry tour was nice, though. We saw all the cool harbour views, closeups of the opera house and bridge, plus the tour guide pointed out some famous people’s houses and cool sights. I really needed to know where Oprah’s Sydney mansion was. The rest of the people on the boat with us were Japanese tourists, and spent their entire trip taking photographs of the sun – see, there was a bit of moisture in the air that day, and it made kind of a cool rainbow ring around the sun. It was okay, I guess. But they were super into it, taking weird-angled pictures of themselves with “V” signs or thumbs up, pointing at the sun. I’m talking an hour-long photo shoot of this. I’m not sure most of those are going to turn out, guys, cause, you know, you’re photographing directly into the sun

That night, we all wanted to have something special for dinner because of the whole final night/birthday/new year thing. So we headed down to a food area near the hotel. We walked and walked, not really finding anything good, so we stopped at the last place on the street, mostly because it looked ok and we did not want to walk any more. But OH MAN we hit the jackpot. It was this fantastic little French place with the best food I have eaten in my life. We all had steaks or lamb, and the kids had some yummy pasta. The owner even gave the kids some complimentary homemade gelato for eating all their veggies. If you are going to Sydney, tell me and I will give you directions to this place. A few nights previously, we ate at a Thai restaurant on the same strip. It was also some of the best food I’d ever eaten. Sydney knows how to do food right!

All in all, it was a really great visit. I would go back to Sydney in a second. I could even see myself living there – it was like a laid-back NYC, except, you know, with skin cancer. But I guess for now I’ll settle on watching their NYE fireworks on TV again this year.

 

Aussie Adventure Part 2 – Around Sydney

Our Sydney holiday started with checking into our rental house for the week. It was in the Kings Cross area, just outside downtown, and I was looking forward to being within walking distance to lots of food and shops. It turns out we were very close indeed to some shops! Unforuntately, they were almost all *ahem* adult shops. LittleB was super excited to walk past a row of “toy” stores and really wanted to go in – we figured he should wait another 11 years or so before checking out those particular establishments.

But actually, the place we rented was along a very sweet little neighbourhood road nearby. The landlady was from France, so B and I woo’ed her with our language skills, and she was very excited to have her Canadian ‘cousins’ staying downstairs. We had the run of the bottom half of the family’s house, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms, only a few hundred metres away from a subway stop and a grocery store, bottle shop, and plenty of restaurants.

We had six days to explore Sydney, and we barely scratched the surface. The first day, we decided to make the kids happy and visit the Aquarium. We showed up early to avoid the crowds – but it was still packed. We shuffled along, checking out all the fish, sharks and platypuses. The kids got these little quiz cards and got to move from station to station, answering questions and stamping their cards. They were so excited, and just wanted to run straight from station to station. So yeah, we basically paid $25 each for them to get a free piece of paper, oblivious to the wonders of the ocean all around them. But we did see some cool stuff. There are viewing tunnels through the tanks, where sharks, manta rays, and a lonely dugong swim right beside and above you so you can more easily check out the weird holes and crevices on their undersides. We also made it to the top of the tank during feeding time and got to watch all the sharks fight over chum. The aquarium also had all the other usual stuff – penguins, coral tanks, seahorses, jellyfish. It was a good time.

Afterwards, we wandered around Darling Harbour, checking out the boats and other tourists. Then we found Paddy’s Market – a huge asian flea market, where we bought some touristy junk (probably made in Indonesia) and paused at a playground nearby to let LittleB climb around on some kind of rope death trap structure. J tried to climb it but only managed to get stuck and then complain loudly and anatomically accurately about the rope hurting her lady parts. Yeah, I think Australia is going to miss us.

On our way back to our subway stop, we took a break in a park to rest our whiny children. Afer a few minutes, we started noticing that there were a lot of rather scruffy characters around. It appeared we had stopped in what might have been the local homeless park. My dad suggested the bench we were on was probably someone’s bed, so we moved along. But I’m not convinced the park was entirely full of homeless people, and I think most of them may have just been scruffy regular folks. In fact, most of Australia seems to be full of scruffy regular folks. So much so, that B and I started playing a game called “Hobo or Hipster?” – every young person in the city was put to the test. It came out pretty even, I think.

Overall, one thing we were particularly looking forward to on our trip was Australian wine. My parents make a point of buying Australian shiraz even back in Ontario – we definitely needed to visit the source of this nectar. So I booked us on a day tour into the Hunter Valley. I checked around online until I found a tour that first, would take all six of us, and also, would include stops not only at wineries but at a chocolate factory, a brewery, a cheese shop, AND an animal park where we would get to hug some Aussie animals. I should tell you that for the six weeks leading up to our trip, J would say every day that she just wanted to hug a joey. That was it, hugging a joey was all she wanted from the entire country of Australia. Luckily, this was the place!

On the day of the tour, we stopped at the animal sanctuary first. Our guide took us to meet the koalas right away. First of all, they were much bigger than I was expecting. And much more active – I guess I always thought they were more slothy. But no, they are actually more like curious kittens, except with huge razor claws that they want to use for climbing up your soft human flesh. Ok, they’re actually pretty horrible creatures. I mean, they were cute to look at and their fur was spongy and oh so soft, but they are not cuddly at all, despite what childhood books on the other side of the world may teach you. I’ve also heard that they all have gonorrhea, so there’s that.

Next, we entered the roo pen. The friendliest one was this old crotchety guy, much smaller than the others, and who, as it turns out, was actually a “walleroo”. I made some kind of (possibly rude) inference about awkward cross-breeding between a kangaroo and a wallaby, thinking that why else would you name an animal after a mix if it’s not actually a mix, right? Like a Liger. Nope, the somewhat offended guide told me that they are a completely separate species. Sure they are, Australia.

Anyway, finally we found the friendly actual kangaroo (she had a collar to set her apart) and J got to hug her! Wish fulfilled!

Inside the sanctuary building were some other crazy pets. Like a dog that was totally blind and deaf, so she just ran up to every person to sniff out who it was, while the owner called her to no avail. Then there were these two sneaky parrots that used all us humans in the room like a bridge, hopping from one to another until they reached the cookie shelf to steal treats. They were bitey.

Next we moved on the the chocolate factory. Ok, we grew up in the town near the Hershey factory, so I wouldn’t call this place a factory in comparison. There was one tiny chocolate stirring machine and then some chocolate for sale… so I guess it was a chocolate producing place at least. It was expensive but tasty.

Luckily the wine was great. The first place we visited was a family vineyard, where we bought a bottle of delicious and expensive merlot to bring home with us. We also visited another vineyard in the afternoon, where we took home some yummy dessert wine. That place had a strange quirk of scattering the ashes of dead family members on rows of grapes and then naming the wine after them. I still can’t decide if that is sweet or a bit creepy. Either way, we drank some “Rosie” and she was pretty tasty.

Lunch was a stop at a big vineyard called Tempus Two, where we had some awesome umami burgers and did our cheese tasting. That was a bust, since all the cheese was just spreadable goat cheese with different flavorings. Um, where is all the actual cheese? Anyway, at least we got to drink some more wine with it.

Last stop was a local microbrewery, where we tried some strange options like “Christmas pudding” and some other ones I can’t remember. Also there was a bouncy castle to keep the kids busy while we drank. They knew how to do drinking right. Oh yeah, and I forgot to tell you that we were on this tour with another family – a family of Irish folks, half of whom were not drinking and the other half who barely drank anything/could not hold their liquor. Talk about going against stereotype. At least B and I drank enough for all of them combined, you know, just to make up for it. It was the least we could do.

 

Overdue holidays

I’m trapped at work this weekend to cap off a very busy few weeks (which is why I haven’t updated in a while). Also, we had a bunch of awesome photos from our last couple of weeks on the camera, but we accidentally got it wet and now it is sitting in a bag of rice to (hopefully) be resurrected. So I don’t have anything to share except a few late photos from Halloween!

The Dread Pirate J
The Dread Pirate J
Tin Tin and Snowy
Tin Tin and Snowy
Trick or Treating at our house!
Trick or Treating at our house!
Time for some goodies!
Time for some goodies!
Wrong season at the Halloween potluck dinner...
Wrong season at the Halloween potluck dinner…

Anyway, I’m seriously due for a holiday. Luckily, my parents are coming to visit this December and we’ll be heading to Australia and New Zealand for a few weeks!

We rented a lovely little cottage in the Blue Mountains for Christmas, then we spend the week over New Years in Sydney to enjoy food, wine, fireworks. Then we fly to New Zealand and tour around the North Island for ten days, visiting beaches, hot springs, gannets, wineries and even Hobbiton!

Here’s a map to make you jealous.

Canadian Thanksgiving – the real one!

Last weekend, we headed into Jakarta for the real Canadian Thanksgiving in Indonesia. Organized by the local Jakarta Canadians group, it was a traditional turkey dinner held at a downtown hotel.

The menu was very tasty: roast turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes, carrots & peas, brussels sprouts with bacon, roasted pumpkin, cranberry sauce, and a selection of desserts that included tiny pumpkin tarts very close to the real thing! The only thing missing was my mom’s stuffing recipe.

It was a great night. Two of our other Canadian friends came along, as well as a handful of wanna-be Canadian friends. Oh, I should mention that there was free alcohol for most of the night, so the party was well lubricated.

We figured that since we have whiny kids who fall asleep at 7 pm, we should book a room in the hotel and just stay overnight. It was brilliant. Sure enough, J fell asleep before dinner even started, and LittleB spent most of the evening playing gameboy under the table. We were able to put them to bed halfway through the evening and then come back down to continue the party!

Planning for this overnight, I decided to take the leap and drive into Jakarta on my own. It actually wasn’t too bad. As I’m discovering, it’s not the traffic that makes driving difficult, it’s that unless you have the routes memorized, it’s impossible to find your way around. And you can’t trust GPS. Google maps was sure that the hotel was located somewhere on some crazy backroad that you couldn’t access, so after many stops for directions at coffee shops and every foreign-looking person on the street, we finally found the place by chance. I also successfully made it home the next day, despite waking up with a hangover at 5 am. Thanks, kids.

 

Party on Wayne, Party on Garth

Last week was our annual meeting at work. This means a long week of meetings, visiting colleagues, working group sessions and other exhausting activities. But the fun happens at the end of the week during the celebration night festivities. You might remember that last year it was a masquerade theme. This year was “back to the 90s.”  We definitely suit the 90s theme better!

The night opened with a bunch of 90s clips and a trivia game. Then we were entertained by a group of breakdancers and a Macarena contest. B went up with the HR team. It was awesome.

Back to the 90s!
Back to the 90s!
Local breakdancing troupe. I'm pretty sure one of them was about 10 years old.
Local breakdancing troupe. I’m pretty sure one of them was about 10 years old.
Hammer time
Hammer time
Can you see him?
Can you see him?
Macarena, yeah!
Macarena, yeah!

The night also had a costume contest. We decided to dress up as Wayne and Garth. For some reason, it’s very difficult to find fake wigs here – in fact, most of the Indonesians we asked about it thought we were crazy or giggled at us until we gave up. Luckily, my hair is close enough to pass for Wayne, but B’s “hair” does not work for Garth. So he spent the whole afternoon before the party painstakingly shaping pipe cleaners to his head and tying on clumps of yellow wool. And it turned out really well! One girl said ‘That looks like something from Wayne’s World!” So I guess it was convincing. Too bad we lost to a group of sexy TMNT girls, which, frankly, is more of an 80s thing (1984, to be exact, or 1987 if you go by the show). There were also some guys dressed up as the Mario bros. C’mon people, get your decades right!

Party on, Garth
Party on, Garth
90s friends
90s friends

Later on that night, I decided to hop on stage and sing Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You.’ It was fun to perform again – I’ve been missing it. Also, I hadn’t told anyone at work that I could sing, so that was a fun little reveal. B promised that he would sing the Dirty Dancing duet with me next year. I’m writing it here so he can never forget! Another couple sang “Endless Love” and someone did “Enter Sandman” – it was good times.

Otherwise, this week was also a national holiday here: Idul Adha, the festival of sacrifice. Basically, everyone buys a goat and kills it in their driveway. We decided to have Canadian Thanksgiving instead! There are a total of three other canucks here, so we all got together to talk Canadian for the night. We had chicken, mashed potatoes, maple squash, beets and carrots, beans, cranberry sauce, and I managed to make a very tasty pumpkin pie in our toaster oven (even though it wouldn’t close all the way shut. I had to turn that sucker a bunch). We all had a great time, and I definitely heard the word “aboot” at least once. It was also the most food I’ve seen the kids eat at dinner in a long time.

Chicken, potatoes, beets, homemade buns, salad, wine... yum!
Chicken, potatoes, beets, homemade buns, salad, wine… yum!
Thanksgiving kid
Thanksgiving kid
Her favorite thing: chicken on a bone
Her favorite thing: chicken on a bone
Passed out from eating so much food. Cute!
Passed out from eating so much food. Cute!

Operation: Get Visa In Singapore II

Because our visas ran out while we were in Canada, we had to turn around and make another trip to Singapore as soon as we got home. Now, I cannot believe that I have reached a point in my life where taking a trip to Singapore seems humdrum and exhausting rather than exotic and thrilling… but I have. It was not a touristy trip, and in fact, we scheduled a bunch of work/personal appointments for the few days we were there, meaning we spent the bulk of our time at the bank, embassy or doctor, or waiting to go to the bank, embassy or doctor, or on our way back from the bank, embassy or doctor.

Still, we enjoyed it as best we could: room service, TV channels, swimming pool, great restaurants and shopping nearby. We stayed at the same hotel as last time, and made a point of paying for access to the executive lounge – this is the traveling secret we’ve learned. For only a few extra dollars, the executive level at hotels means you get free food and drinks, free internet, and little perks like movie rentals and extra yummy snacks. It’s totally worth it.

One night we ate dinner at our now-favourite Mexican food restaurant. It is quite literally the only restaurant in the world where the kids eat everything on their plates. It’s a miracle! They also have yummy sangria with apples in it. For lunch another time, we ate at a marché-style place and had the best fig/goat cheese salad on a piece of bread ever. That description really does not do it justice, I swear. Otherwise, we spent our little bit of free time shopping, picking up some life essentials like a milk steamer, a new coffee grinder, Star Trek novellas, a Hello Kitty cross stitching kit, and ukulele song books. Can you guess who got what?

The only touristy things we managed to do were to visit the Raffles Hotel and take a ride on the Singapore Flyer. The hotel was beautiful, and I had been hoping to buy some souvenirs at the shopping galleries within, but J had a knock-em-down-drag-em-out cry fest in the middle of the place so we had to ditch. It was expensive anyway, so no huge loss. The flyer was pretty cool. The kids loved it, although I’m not so sure the folks sharing the capsule with us enjoyed their enthusiasm as much.

So anyway, now we’re back to real life… again!

O Canada: bonus round – NYC redux

Our bonus round was an extra visit to NYC after our plane was delayed and couldn’t be rebooked for several days. We holed up in the airport hotel and took a few trips into the city again. The first day, we visited the NYC aquarium and Coney Island – both newly reopened after hurricane Sandy. On the second day, we headed into Manhattan for a bit more sightseeing, including the Flatiron building, Madison Square Park and a trip to Eataly, Macy’s, and the NY Public Library. Even though we were more than ready to head home, it was nice to have another chance to redeem our less-than-stellar first visit to the city!