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China

May 29, 2012

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According to Lonely Planet China, the Han Chinese especially love their children. Me, I’m not so hot on them. At least not while one of them is kicking the back of my chair while his mother looks on adoringly and his grandmother pats his head.

At this very moment I am on a train from Hangzhou (pop: 6.16 million) to Xiamen (pop: 671,000) on China’s east coast. The boy’s family is passing plastic bags full of thick noodles or thin tripe right by my head to his grandparents in the seat behind. A man in front plays and replays a video on his phone, with the volume up full and an old man is battling to dislodge a something from his throat which, by the sounds of it, must have the dimensions of a billiard ball. Nearly two hours in and I’m not sure who will win but I’d say the smart money is on the billiard ball.

 

Continue reading “Red Ink Run: Chinese training impressions”

Cambodia

May 23, 2012

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The top five Asian dishes for tourists to try

Bite. Chew. Swallow. It is easier said than done. Particularly when faced with a deep fried tarantula the size of your hand or an embryonic egg, sevens weeks in the making. Travelling through Asia can challenge many of your attributes but none more acutely than your tastebuds and, perhaps, gag reflex. If you’re game, start chewing through this list and see where you end up.

Nicole Frisina writes: Bite. Chew. Swallow. It is easier said than done. Particularly when faced with a deep fried tarantula the size of your hand or an embryonic egg, sevens weeks in the making. Travelling through Asia can challenge many of your attributes but none more acutely than your tastebuds and, perhaps, gag reflex. If you’re game, start chewing through this list and see where you end up.

Continue reading “The top five Asian dishes for tourists to try”

China

May 16, 2012

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Red Ink Run: scammed in Shanghai

They say the best scams are when you're not sure you've been scammed. But you do have to decide and the options aren't great: you're either a sucker or a cynic. Marty and I, after extensive deliberation, decided that anything is better than being a sucker.

They say the best scams are when you’re not sure you’ve been scammed. But you do have to decide and the options aren’t great: you’re either a sucker or a cynic. Marty and I, after extensive deliberation, decided that anything is better than being a sucker.

We had been in Shanghai less than 24 hours when we rose up the escalators out of the Yuyuan Garden metro station and into the midday haze. At the top we were immediately intercepted by three sprightly early twenty-something girls. They wanted me to take a shot of them standing on the edge of a busy intersection with a needle like tower barely discernible through the apricot smog in the background. I clicked, shot and was immediately suspicious. The “can you please take picture” is the perfect (not to mention well documented) in for scam artists. Turns out they were students from Tsing Tao (“like the beer?” “Ha, yeah! Like the beer! You know it?”) studying English.

I was partially disarmed. I had the assumption laden thought that no one who had the dedication to make the crossover from Mandrin to English so successfully would have to resort to grifting to make a living. One told us that the Yuyuan gardens were full this time of day but it was OK because they were going to a traditional Chinese tea ceremony. What luck! I could tell Marty was having second thoughts. “What do you reckon?” he asked me.

Continue reading “Red Ink Run: scammed in Shanghai”

Japan

May 10, 2012

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Emma Koehn writes: A young monk pads barefoot across the icy foyer, wearing a Foo Fighters tour t-shirt and faded designer jeans, searching for his shoes.

He pauses as I stumble, trying to tie my Converse with frozen fingers. I am a white beacon of clumsiness within this temple compound. Having gained his attention, I blush, mumble an incoherent “Ohiogazaimasu” (Good morning), and stare blankly at his shirt. He slips on a pair of outdoor shoes, lithely exits into the snow and points the way to the temple at which morning prayer will be held.

I am left on the decking with frost melting through my sock as I wonder if monks can listen to rock music too.

This image of monkhood is a little difficult to reconcile, having been promised an absence of pop cultural fare in Koya-san in Wakayama prefecture. It is here that young men and women of Japanleave their Nikes at the temple door and begin an existence among hundreds of temples; studying with the goal of becoming monks and nuns.

Continue reading “Morning prayer with rock star monks”

On the road again

May 8, 2012

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Travel plans are like children, conceive them when you’re tipsy then leave the details until later. Dutch courage is necessary to hit the points on the map boldly, with enough conviction that the ink stains the paper and there’s no turning back.

So it was with my mate Marten and I (the travel plans, not the children). I can’t remember the inner-west Sydney pub but I can remember things really began when the conversation turned towards the breakaway state of Transnistria. I had researched it years before and tried ever since to find someone to accompany me there. Problem was it’s a pretty tough destination to sell.

“The last autonomous Soviet state. It has its own currency, stamps and passports, it runs along the Eastern border of Moldova but is independent.”

Continue reading “Red Ink Run: ‘Can we cross Azerbaijan and back in 72 hours?’”

Laos

May 3, 2012

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Nicole Frisina writes: Laos hit the headlines recently after three Australians died in the space of a month in the tourist towns of Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. But there is plenty more to say about this little landlocked country than these tragic reports suggested.

My first trip to Laos was in 2007. The twin propeller airplane wobbled and stuttered its way over the Mekong River when the woman next to me asked, “Do you know what the ‘PDR’in Lao PDR stands for?” “People’s Democratic Republic,” I replied hastily, more concerned with the cabin’s full throttle rattling and the obscure angle at which we were approaching the runway. She shook her head and with the dry note of a seasoned development worker, said, “Lao PDR. Please. Don’t. Rush.” The plane skidded to a halt on the tarmac.

Continue reading “Laos behind the headlines (sorry, it’s not a Full Moon party on steroids)”