Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Kuching Kristmas

Had a terrific couple of weeks with JB in Ubud. A nice balance of work and play. Through Cat Wheeler we met Gede, who drove us anywhere we needed to go. He is the instigator of the Bali Project Fund, which supports families and children in Gede's home village in East Bali. JB and I each bought a piglet from the mother of our masseuse, Nyoman. In about a month, they'll be old enough to be separated from their mother. They'll go to women in the village who can raise litters for sale from them when they are old enough. Nyoman is a real sweetie. We went to her village and met her parents (rice farmers), brother Ketut (a wood carver), sister-in-law and toddler niece. She came to see us off on our last morning and gave us each a gift of a handwoven shawl.

The food and fruit/nut milk drinks on offer in Ubud are a reason on their own to spend time there.

We spent a day with Gede driving north to Kintamani to see Lake Batur, Mt Batur and Besakih, the Mother Temple, but were defeated by the rain. On returning to Ubud we chanced upon a huge double cremation ceremony just near Cat and Gede's street. I saw a cremation back in 1978. It was serendipitous that we saw the procession just as we arrived back in town.

Another day we went down to Kuta to see the Bali bombings memorial and to check out Jimbaran and Seminyak. We found ourselves back there on another day after aborting a visit to Nusa Dua at the invitation of the Peninsula Resort. If you're visiting Bali and are asked to fill in a survey, and are then offered a free holiday as a thank you for doing so, yes, it's a scam!

JB had a few early salsa dance lessons at Cafe Havana with the delightful and cheeky Karma ("Shurre") and dance sensation Made. We got to ride a couple of times in the '63 red Chevvy that ferries patrons to and from the club.

The Jazz Cafe was welcoming, with a waiter called "Good Looking".

On the second-last day we met an English guy, Justin, who has spent a few weeks recently in Sulawesi. I've been getting pointers from the universe about Sulawesi, so I bought a map and spent an hour with Justin at Bali Buddha taking notes. He is an architect, and his father is a painter based in Thailand.

Had dinner at Siam Sally, Laughing Buddha and Cafe des Artistes with Cat, whose book is being reissued under a new name and with new cover art.

I've booked a week back at Tegal Sari for next June, on my way back to Oz.

On Wednesday I flew up to Kuching. Called in to see Emily on Thursday morning, and had dinner with her, Rita, Rita's daughters Kah-Yee and Kah-Ling (Bebe), Emily's brother Darroll (back from Florida for Christmas) and a couple of others at a steamboat place. Emily earlier gave me a drawing she had done for me, showing my aura as a runner. I was really impressed by her drawings when I saw them back in June. She tried for some months to do the one for me but couldn't get it right, she said ... until she got back from Sri Baba's ashram in India. She then drew it in one day.

On Thursday I also called into Artrageously Ong to see Ramsay and Narong. Narong is always painting; Ramsay is always talking, as he has so many visitors. I met Lesley and Aiden there, a retired couple from England who now live in Kuching. Last night I was invited to dinner at Michael Lim's house, where I visited in June. Moses picked me up and dropped me off. He's a real sweetie, and is Michael and Ramsay's #1 man. Talked with David, a teacher, who I met in June, and with Stephanie, who has known Michael and Ramsay since they were children. A good long talk with Ram. Others there were Vivian and Jessie, and Michael's sister.

I'm staying at Batik Boutique Hotel, where I had my farewell dinner in June. It's in a great location and I love the decor. Jackie (into hiking and climbing) is the director. Hafiz, who picked me up from the airport, is studying marketing and uses the textbook I'm currently working on! Fiza (Hafiza) is into cake decorating. Other staff are Kenny, Jake, Raj, Lily and Mas (Mastura).

Today is Christmas Day. I'll be spending it working on the marketing textbook. My Christmas present is the fact that I can travel the world and meet wonderful people while doing my work. Thank you :-))))

Friday, December 10, 2010

Uber-groovy Ubud

I had a bit of a last-minute panic in Hong Kong a week ago when my laptop died without warning. I was lucky to find an Apple Store nearby and within three hours all my files had been transferred over to a new 17" MacBook Pro. The hiccup meant I didn't get to catch up with my friend Nicola. A day or so earlier I'd had a drink with Cathy H-F, who had finished the daunting MacLehose Trailwalker event the previous weekend.

Really enjoying Ubud with my pal from Oz, JB. I'm in full-time work mode, but we go out for our meals and are treating ourselves to spa treatments. I've had a manicure, pedicure, foot reflexology, facial, and three massages, two with flower baths and a papaya body wrap. All very indulgent.

We caught up with writer Cat Wheeler for dinner on Wednesday at Siam Sally. (I met Cat in May.) Went to her house yesterday for JB to have a Reiki session with Cat, who is also a Reiki Master. Her dog Hamish followed us to Juice Ja (shown here) where we had lunch, then he tootled off home afterwards. Last night Cat spoke and read from her book about Ubud at the Bar Luna Lit Club night. JB and I had dinner afterwards at Cafe Havana.

Our stay has coincided with Galungan Day. Activities extend for about 10 days. Lots of processions and noise, and the temples are all freshly decorated.

The villa where I'm staying at Tegal Sari is gorgeous. JB comes to use the pool and to have massages in the pavilion in my garden from Nyoman from Sang Spa. I also had one with her this morning.

Heading out to a reggae place tonight.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Hunkered down in Hongkers

Since I arrived back in Hong Kong last Wednesday night I've had my head down and my tail up. I'm seriously in work mode. I spent five days out at Pokfulam, staying at the home of my buddy of nearly 40 years(!), Cathy, who is away in the States. I've never stayed out of town before… It's VERY different. I enjoyed having the company of Juni the cat and Blackie the very big dachshund. I'm now staying back in the thick of things, in a hotel in Causeway Bay. This return visit marks my first full circuit of the world on my open-ended journey.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Silicon Valley Sojourn

On my way back to the future (crossing the International Date Line), I stopped off in Santa Clara, California to spend a few days with runner friends Kathy and Karl and their daughter Kayleigh. Santa Clara is in Silicon Valley, the home of Google, Intel, and many other high-tech firms. Did a good hike on Sunday morning with Kathy and her friend Miriam (whom I met in NYC in April for the More Women's Half Marathon), and Kathy and I ran around their neighbourhood on Monday morning. We visited the Santa Clara Library, where Kathy is a trustee, ate out at a couple of fun places, and had coffee with a friend of Karl's after our hike. I got a good amount of work done, which is now a priority and will remain one over the next few months.

In Hong Kong I'm staying until Monday at my long-time pal Cathy's apartment while she is in New York State. I'm enjoying having the company of Juni the jovial cat and Blackie the dog. (I'm not sure what breed he is.)

I'm finding some amazing coincidences between my travels and places that are being mentioned in my work.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Post-marathon madness

A very quick update: I had a brilliant New York Marathon! A wonderful experience on a beautiful day. I had a personal best time of 4:27:22 (or was it 19 seconds?) and my last few kilometres were faster than my very evenly paced first 40K. I don't know how I got so lucky as to have fun (my goal) AND get a PB! There were 45,350 runners, about 580 of whom were women in my age group. I beat around 420 of them. I felt strong the whole way. The legendary New York crowds were fantastic. I just focused on them the whole way. Had a quick celebration that evening at a pub on Columbus Avenue with my Hudson Dusters teammates.

I've had a very busy work week since then. Tomorrow I'm flying to San Francisco to visit with friends for a few days before heading back to Asia.

Au revoir, New York. You've been brilliant.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pre-marathon madness

The New York City marathon is next Sunday, and I leave New York the following Saturday. I've been back for eight weeks already!

I've had a few quality training runs, but I'm nowhere near fit enough to do anything more than take it easy and have fun on the day. Two days after I ran an early-morning circuit of Central Park with my 2009 Vermont relay friend Tavia, she was in a car accident in Pennsylvania. Miraculously, she escaped without a scratch, though her car had been airborne and rolled, and she'd had to crawl out of a window. Amazing!

On Saturday I ran the last 9.8 miles of the actual marathon course with Dusters Rich, Lauren, Steve and Leslie, and Hasher Eric. I enjoyed it a lot. A lot of other people had the same idea. Went back to Rich's on W 70th Street for coffee and bagels.

I've seen two fabulous films, "Punching the Clown" and "A Small Act", as well as the mainstream shoot-em-up "Red".

Last Sunday I walked from Wall Street up to and all over the Lower East Side. I've also spent quite a bit of time down around 14th Street and Greenwich Village lately, though not last night when two million people turned out for the Halloween Parade. The real nightmare would have been getting home again on the subway.

Tonight I'm running in Central Park with Dusters friend Katie (who works with primates in a neuroscience lab) and her friend Sari.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Maine Thing

This time last week I was just starting a 20-mile (32K) run with Dusters Heather and Jessica. We ran over the Triboro and Queensboro bridges, and around Randall's Island and Roosevelt Island, and then in Central Park. The fantastic views from the Triboro Bridge were a surprise.

Sunday I flew up to Portland, Maine, where Dead Runner Josh met my plane. I spent a couple of days in a cottage he and Mary Ann had rented for a fortnight at Indian Point, on Georgetown Island. It's not far above the high tide line, and the views were stunning. We ate local seafood and talked, and I did a little work and took a couple of short walks. Had a bit of a look at Portland on Tuesday before Josh dropped me back at the airport.

Busy with work all week, though I took some time off on Thursday, my birthday. Holly and I went to see the play "Time Stands Still". Laura Linney and Christina Ricci were both excellent.

I managed to meet Tavia for a 10K run around the park yesterday, but my cold had taken firm hold. I had hoped to do a Shorewalkers walk today, but I'll be lying low instead.

Friday, October 15, 2010

I've been a bit of a hermit...

My priority over the last 10 days or so has been staying on top of my workload. I'm not on a working holiday; this is my lifestyle now. I may be working in different places around the world, but I'm still working full-time. And work makes it all possible, so I have to take deadlines seriously.

I'll be taking time out on Saturday, though, to do a badly needed long run with my Dusters pal Heather. Then on Sunday I'm flying up to Maine for a couple of days.

Last Saturday I had lunch with Cy Adler, author of "Walking Manhattan's Rim: The Great Saunter". He has self-published a few other books as well. Holly and I spent a couple of hours in Central Park. It was a beautiful day for John Lennon's 70th birthday, and the park was filled with beautiful people and beautiful dogs, some of whom we met. Lots of boats on the lake and brides at the Bethesda Fountain.

On Sunday I caught up with friends from Oz (Geelong) for a fun and yummy dinner near Greenwich Village. On Monday, Tamar and I saw the excellent documentary "Waiting for Superman", and I saw the Facebook movie ("The Social Network") yesterday. I thought Jesse Eisenberg was brilliant as Mark Zuckerberg.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I need a pedicure!

I've just finished editing a book about manicures and pedicures (or 'pedicares', apparently), and my poor old feet could do with one of the latter.

Last week I ran and walked the whole way around the island of Manhattan – or at least those parts of it that are accessible to pedestrians. Tamar and I ran the first 10 or so miles up the Hudson River from the Staten Island Ferry Terminal early one morning. Then the next day Holly and I walked from where I'd finished the run, at West 125th Street, right up to the top of the island and around to East Harlem via the Harlem River. I finished that leg at East 96th Street. The next afternoon I started from there and went all the way back down the East River to my starting point. It was good fun, but my right knee was sore at the end of the second day and my feet were sore by the end of the third. I've just written my next column about it.

It was also a social week, with a fun catchup over lunch in Midtown with Tavia and Robert from the team I ran the Green Mountain Relay with last year, and a really nice dinner with Heather, Joe and Marie from the Dusters.

On Friday I took the train to Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where I stayed with Dead Runner Peg and her husband Larry. On Saturday, they and their daughter Laura showed me around central Lancaster (the market, etc) and the neighbouring areas where Amish families have farms and businesses and there are some covered bridges. We went to a nice place for dinner.

Yesterday, Peg took me over to Hershey, near Harrisburg, for the inaugural Hershey Half Marathon. It was good to spend time with her. I was really pleased with the way I ran my race. I was very focused and able to keep my momentum going very strongly without overdoing it. I placed second woman in my age group.

Monday, September 27, 2010

"Third mummy on your right"

I'm just LOVING spending time again in New York.

Some people who were new acquaintances last year have become good friends. Tamar and I caught up three times this week, twice for 6-mile morning runs in Central Park, and today for some wine and chocolates on the lawn in the park with her new friend Arn, from Vancouver, before catching some of the Black Sea Roma Festival (a celebration of gypsy music) at the Sound Stage. I walked home through the park and saw parts of it I hadn't seen before. It was really heaving; so much was going on.

On Thursday, Holly and I went to see "Catfish", one of the two films about Facebook that have just come out. I found it compelling. We're planning to see "The Social Network" when I'm back from Pennsylvania. Holly and I are planning a big walk this week if the weather is kind.

Yesterday morning, I ran about 8 miles in the park with Rich and Katie, who I met last year through the Hash/Hudson Dusters, Eddie (a blind runner) and Kim (a journalist with "Shape" magazine and formerly with "Glamour"). Kim led Eddie for the first six miles, then Rich took over. Eddie's a bit of a comedian.

I've been back in the city for three weeks and have already run in three events :-)) The T-shirts quickly start to mount up! Last Sunday, Heather (from the Dusters/Hash) and I ran the 18-mile Marathon Tune-Up together. She made it so much more bearable; it was even quite fun. And today I ran the 5th Avenue Mile and did a better time than I'd expected: 6:59. I placed 5/31 in the 55–59 category and 19/102 in the 50–59 group.

So, the last week has mainly been devoted to taking my training up a notch and working at my desk. I did manage to check out a few of the ancient Egyptian exhibits at the Metropolitan Museum of Art this morning when I called in to pick up my membership card and to use the loo before the 5th Avenue Mile race. "Just past the third mummy on your right," the attendant said, when I asked for directions.

I caught up before the race with Josh, a friend from the Dead Runners Society who I met last year in St Louis at the DRS World Conference. He ran the race in the wave after mine. We then went for breakfast with Akshay, a former colleague of Josh's at IBM.

A busy week of just living here...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Seeing double in Central Park

This morning while waiting on a Central Park bench for my running pal Val to arrive, I couldn't help noticing a pair of twins. I really thought I was seeing double.

Near the main steps up to the Jackie Kennedy Onassis Reservoir, two very attractive young men were running in place, side by side, near the bridle path that encircles the reservoir. In perfect unison, their feet pushed alternately off the concrete curb and road surface, creating a rhythmic, hypnotic sound – a soundscape.

They were dressed identically: shirtless, to show off their lean brown torsos; khaki shorts to just above the knee; running shoes. In their right hands they each held a dark blue shirt. Dark, curly hair – picture early Michael Jackson – framed their heads like halos.

As passersby noticed them, they smiled.

"I thought I was seeing double," one woman said to me.

"That must be fun to watch," said another.

When Val arrived, I pointed them out and we watched them together for awhile.

As we walked over to the bridle path to start our run, I looked across at them and raised my right thumb in a salute. They raised two right thumbs in return.

Was it running ... or performance art? Are these twins the Gilbert and George of running?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sutton Square sunset

On Tuesday, I arranged an evening picnic with gal pal Holly and Maltese artist friend Norbert at Sutton Square, where this scene was shot for Woody Allen's film "Manhattan". It's a wonderful spot. Norbert has been staying with me while he completes an art project with a community garden group up on 104th Street.

On Monday morning Tamar and I ran 10K in CP, and I ran on my own yesterday morning twice around the bridle path and once around the reservoir (named after Jackie Kennedy Onassis, who used to run there). I've entered a couple of events: an 18-mile marathon tune-up this Sunday and the 5th Avenue Mile the following Sunday.

I saw a preview yesterday of "Eat Pray Love" over on 3rd Avenue. I've been looking forward to it. It was OK, but I don't think I'd see it again. I was running late after that, so instead of doing a hash run that was starting just a block from my apartment, I looked in some thrift stores where I found a brilliant leather coat.

I'm back on top of work :-))

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Harlem globetrotter

I spent a good part of today, Sunday, in Harlem. The bad part of the day I spent back at my desk, working.

Last year I found a great Baptist Church on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, just a few blocks up from 125th Street and the famous Apollo Theatre. I went back this morning … and man, that place rocks! They have a great gospel choir and band. The Reverend Dr Calvin G. Sampson, the resident pastor/preacher, was on fire. And the ladies in the congregation were totally rocking! I spent a lot of time watching one woman with waist-length braids and a jaunty hat with a feather in the side. She was giving it everything! I went across and said hello to a woman I saw three times last year. She's very dignified looking, and always wears a great hat. I left feeling very uplifted, as if I'd been to a great band gig.

Back on 125th Street, I went to the Studio Museum in Harlem. This is where I discovered the video works of Kalup Linzy last year. I'm a huge fan of his now and hope there'll be an opportunity to see him perform while I'm in New York.

Today I liked the exhibition of portraits of migrant workers in their homes by the South African artist Zwelethu Mthethwa, and former artist-in-residence at the Studio, Lauren Kelley's stop-motion animated videos using action figures and Barbies. My sister would really enjoy Kelley's work.

From Lauren Kelley’s “stories are visually and stylistically reminiscent of children’s programs that were launched in the 1970 and ´80s. Using dolls and claymation, Kelley’s visual technique contrasts with the disenchanted, sexualized narratives of a cast of discontent and struggling ingénues. Through commonplace, if not clichéd, circumstances, Kelley explores the female disposition in a demanding and oversexed world…. Lauren Kelley uses stop-motion animation to explore stereotypes of femininity and race. By using her voice to speak for a cast of black dolls, Kelley breathes life into plastic characters while poignantly and humorously addressing issues such as gender, womanhood, and the human condition. Whether telling stories of unplanned pregnancy or exploring the world of flight attendants, Kelley’s work introduces its viewers to a world in which dolls and puppets are caught in endless streams of consciousness and are trapped in a bizarre theater of the absurd.”

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Tonight, being the ninth anniversary of 9/11, I went down to the World Trade Center to see these lights. They are moving to see, but the area itself is still an ugly construction site.

I'm reading a novel based on the history of four families whose stories go back to the earliest days of New York (New Amsterdam) and up to 2001, so I skipped ahead to the 9/11 chapter while I ate dinner in an Italian restaurant on Greenwich Street before walking a little way to the site.

This morning I ran my first race since I suffered heat stroke in Kuching in a race in June.

The day was gorgeous – a perfect blue sky, and not too hot. I ran the Fitness Mind Body Spirit 4-miler in Central Park in 33:34 minutes, which wasn't bad considering I'm not running-fit at the moment. I was going to run it at a very easy pace, but a race is a race and ... what can I say? I gave it my best shot. I placed 6th woman out of 59 in my age group. Last year I was 6th in my first ever race in New York, which really surprised me. Today, I'd actually hoped for a higher placing, but the field was too strong. Even in the next age group, 60–64, five of the top women had faster times than mine.

I run races in New York as a member of the Hudson Dusters team. As a team member, you don’t just get to contribute points; you get a support network. I ran the first part of the race with Heather, a fellow Duster I met last year. Her husband, Joe, called out my name to encourage me at around the halfway mark; and Andy, another Duster, cheered me on closer to the finish. It really helps!

For my non-running friends, 4 miles (6.4K) isn’t a long way when compared to a marathon (42.2K) or even a half marathon. But whatever distance a race is held over, you give it your all. A 5K race can hurt far more than a 15K run.

After the race (I know I raced it, because I nearly threw up twice after I crossed the finish line), I introduced myself to a 77-year-old French New Yorker who I learned has been running since the 1970s. She came in just a couple of minutes after me and was first in her age group. I gave her my card, and I'm hoping to have a chance to hear her story next week.

After listening to a band in the post-race area perform a fantastic version of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect”, I walked over to the Emerald Inn, on Columbus Avenue, to meet some fellow Dusters. It was good to talk with Tim (who ran part of my farewell Three Bridges Run last year) and Bill (who was really helpful to me in the last leg of the Green Mountain Relay in Vermont). The TVs in the bar were showing the 9/11 memorial service and reading of the names of the victims. Tim knew one of them.

Yesterday I ran with Tamar, who I haven't seen since my last day in New York last year. She was one of my teammates in the Vermont relay. (Our team was called “New York Running Chicks and a Few Dudes”.) She and I ran a couple of loops around the bridle path in Central Park, and then she did a third loop. We picked up coffees from a Cuban restaurant near my place (Tamar has been to Cuba, where I want to visit next year) and scrambled egg and cheese rolls from a deli nearby, and then sat on a stoop to eat our breakfast. It's good to pick up where we left off. We're running again on Monday.

After working all afternoon I went over to New York Road Runners to register for today's race, and to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to renew my membership. I was mainly interested in seeing two photography exhibitions, one of which was shots by Leon Levinstein of New Yorkers on the streets, from the 1950s to about 1980, called "Hipsters, Hustlers and Handball Players".

Speaking of photographers, my friend Norbert Attard will be staying with me next week. I met Norbert in Albury when he was an artist-in-residence prior to the opening of the new Albury Library/Museum in 2007. I then spent a week as editor-in-residence at his studio in Malta, on the island of Gozo, later that year. He has been doing a residency in Washington, DC, and will be working on a project here next week, just a few blocks from my apartment.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Uptown girl

I love living in my 'hood on New York's Upper West Side.

Since I arrived from Edinburgh on Monday afternoon I've been up and down Manhattan a couple of times. Tuesday afternoon I went by subway down to Houston Street to see "Winter's Bones" at the Angelika Film Centre; and last night the NYC Hash run was from Central Park South (59th Street) down to 14th Street via Times Square, Bryant Park, and a couple of office lobbies. I've also had two approx. 10K runs in Central Park: on my own yesterday morning, and today with Dead Runner Val. We'd arranged to meet at the Guggenheim, on the corner of 5th Avenue and 89th Street where New York Road Runners is located.

I was over on the East Side earlier to catch up with my dear friend CY, who has had a very trying half-year. Great to see her looking really well and with some exciting plans.

At the Hash last night I talked with Heather and Lauren from the team the Hudson Dusters, which I joined last year. I also met a couple of new people: James (English) spent 13 years in Miri, in northern Sarawak, where I met Jennie Soh and other people in June; and Julian, who is from south Florida, loves the Keys, where I'm hoping to spend a month next year.

An action movie is being filmed in my neighbourhood. There are trailers set up in the streets, a strong police presence, hordes of film people milling around, and hordes of spectators milling around the hordes of film people. I also saw Matthew Broderick (husband of "Sex and the City"'s Sarah Jessica Parker) crossing 95th Street. It must have been Ferris Bueller's day off...

Tomorrow is the start of New York Fashion Week.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

What a blast!

I spent my last couple of days in the UK in Edinburgh, after Michele and Dave dropped me at a rail station on their way back to the east coast. I was at the Old Waverley Hotel, where my room looked directly across at Edinburgh Castle. Last night I watched the fireworks concert that closed the Edinburgh Festival from the comfort of an armchair in my bay window on the fifth floor.

Earlier in the day I visited the Edinburgh Art Centre, where I really enjoyed a very big exhibition of William Wegman's photos and videos using his Weimaraner dogs as models.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

From sea to shining sea

Our merry band of trekkers arrived in Robin Hood's Bay, on the North Sea, on schedule yesterday, 13 days after we set out from St Bees, on the Irish Sea. It was the hardest long-distance walk I've done. We couldn't have had a better group or better weather.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Dales and moors

We spent a couple of days walking in the Yorkshire Dales, but saw little of the valleys. Instead, we clambered on goat tracks around the surrounding hills. The last few days we've been on the moors, where it's still grouse shooting season.

Yesterday, half of us hiked up and down these hills, part of the Cleveland Hills. The views were fantastic! The afternoon was just a very long slog. Today we could see the sea, and tomorrow we'll arrive at Robin Hood's Bay.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Touching the bog lightly

We crossed from Cumbria to Yorkshire today, where the main challenge was traversing boggy ground for a few hours. We were in luck: there was some rain, but it wasn't heavy. we could see where we were going, and it was only a 13-mile day. The easiest way to cross bog is to try and flit across the surface, like an insect, getting purchase from reeds and grass clumps. We had a lot of fun.

We're staying in tiny Keld tonight. Another good dinner (salmon in asparagus sauce, and creme brulee). We're now halfway across England.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Eastward Ho!

Today we'll reach the halfway point (c. 96 miles), and the start of the Yorkshire Dales. We left the Lake District the day before yesterday and have since been walking through rolling countryside and farmland. The most distinctive thing about Cumbria is the dry stone walls that we've seen everywhere, even up the steepest slopes. Something to do with the Enclosures Act. For us, the Lake District was all about ascending and descending the rugged peaks; it wasn't about lakes, as we saw only a couple of the main ones.

We've occasionally had some very long views back to where we've come from and towards where we're headed. It really is extraordinary how far two little feet can take you in a day if you keep putting one in front of the other.

We all have dinner together every night and are enjoying our good fortune in having such a great group. We lost Hannah yesterday... Her blistered feet were just too bad to continue and we had to shoot her. I'm kidding. She took the train back down south. The rest of the group is our guide Steve (formerly in IT), Amanda (doctor/now medical researcher), Michele (librarian), Carol (garden designer), Jo (palliative care nurse), Mat (personal trainer and our Weather Man), Liz (human resources manager), Tony (retired music industry accountant), Marlene (retired school principal) and Rick (architect/designer).

Monday, August 23, 2010

A journey of approximately 195 miles begins with a single step

For the next two weeks, Michele and I are walking this route across England. Our group of 12 people is a lot of fun. Everyone has bonded well, and there are no outsiders. We are now in the Lake District, where Romantic poets once abounded.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Open arms

Barbara and I walked around just a small part of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh yesterday before I caught the train south.

Here in Pennington, near Ulverston, in Cumbria, I literally hit the ground running. Michele and Dave met my train, then Michele and border collie mix Maggie took me for a run around the countryside near their 300-year-old house. It was drizzling and we couldn't see much of the views, but today it's a gorgeous day. We had a fab dinner last night at the Braddylls Arms pub in Bardsea. I've fallen in love with little Cooper, Michele and Dave's ginger Norfolk terrier. Desi is their third dog. They are all here in the UK on US passports.

Today we're heading for St Bees, to check in for our briefing and the start tomorrow of our walk across England (220 miles, or c. 350 kilometres). We should reach Robin Hood's Bay on 4 September.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Festive Edinburgh

I'm staying with Barbara and Anita, who live within walking distance of everything you'd want to see in Edinburgh. I've only ever visited the city while on my way to somewhere else, but I really want to come back and base myself here for at least a month sometime. It has all the things I really like in a place: old friends, easy walking, great cultural life, fabulous architecture, and a hill that provides a view over the city. We won't have time to climb it today, unfortunately. Next time...

The festival is on. We saw Bolivian Baroque in Greyfriars Kirk. This is the church where, in the 19th century, the faithful Bobby kept watch over his owner's grave for 14 years. We had a drink in Bobby's Bar. Just beforehand we checked out an outdoors shop to get me a couple of things for my Coast to Coast Walk.

I last saw Barbara in 1995, in Brisbane, and Anita in about 1992, in Hong Kong. Polly and I worked with Barbara on texts for the new Open Learning Institute in Hong Kong in the early 1990s.

After the performance we checked out what was happening along the Royal Mile. People out everywhere. A great atmosphere. We then had dinner at the Mussel Inn. After getting through a half-kilo pot of mussels, Barbara said she had mussel fatigue :-))

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Perusing the Percys' porcelain

This afternoon I visited Alnwick Castle, which is home (between November and March) to the 12th Duke and Duchess of Northumberland. The castle, which was Hogwarts School in "Harry Potter", has been home to the Percy family for 700 years. I wandered through the state rooms: the library is fantastic. The China Gallery houses a very important collection of Meissen porcelain. I really wanted to take a photo of my finger pointing at the Percys' porcelain, but no cameras were allowed.

This portrait caught my eye. It's of Lady Elizabeth Montagu Douglas Scott, and was done on the occasion of her marriage to the 10th Duke in 1946. I think she is very beautiful.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

To the treehouse

I'm now in Alnwick (pronounced "Annick"), on the coast north of Newcastle, staying at the Tate House B&B. Somewhere south of here, during the train trip up yesterday, I would have crossed the route of the Coast to Coast Walk, which I'm doing, starting next week, with my Dead Runner friend Michele.

When I got to know my friend Suzie in Hong Kong in the mid-1980s, she was known as "Trees". It's funny that, all these years later, we should have dinner together in a treehouse!

The Tree House restaurant is on the grounds of Alnwick Castle and Gardens and is like something out of a dream ... or a nightmare.

Suzie and I travelled rough in Rajasthan, India, in 1987 for three weeks when she was returning home to the UK from Hong Kong. We then caught up again for a night out in Hong Kong in 1990 when she was visiting with her husband David from their home in Singapore. Since then, she has raised two great kids.

Suzie, Charlotte and I had a drink at The White Swan before joining David and Will for dinner. While we walked back to Bondgate afterwards the kids bandied around names for a pair of cats. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were two of their suggestions. You've gotta love well-educated kids!

Monday, August 16, 2010

On the road again...

Yesterday, Wendy and I met up with a former trekking mate, Dermot, for a walk in the New Forest. (He and I were in the same group that trekked to Everest Base Camp in 2008. I had to pull out two days before reaching EBC when I broke my wrist, but I saw Dermot back at the Kathmandu Guest House before he headed out again on the Annapurna Circuit trek, which I had also signed on to do. It was during those couple of days that he also met Wendy.) We walked for a couple of hours, then had a bite to eat in a very kitsch tearooms.

I spent the afternoon working, then we popped down to a quaint little pub not too far away after dinner for a quick drink. Back at home, we watched the third film in Wendy's mini film festival about mountains. This one was about a base jumper who wears a special outfit that allows him to "fly" very close to mountains, including the Matterhorn.

I've really enjoyed getting to know Wendy better over the past four days. Our paths crossed two years ago, and we've stayed in touch. I'd love to do a trek with her and Chris.

This morning I'm heading north by train to Alnwick via London and Newcastle.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Holed up in Hampshire

Apart from daily walks, I've been lying low and trying to get some work done. On Friday, Chris and I took a walk through the woods for an hour, and yesterday Wendy, he and I walked for about 90 minutes along Winchester's Itchen River, a gorgeous water course that runs through town alongside one of the old town walls, and then out into meadows. We walked up St Catherine's Hill, which used to be a fort, and had a coffee at Saint Cross Church. Lunch was in town at a cafe. We got caught in a downpour just as we were ready to leave, and it rained on and off for the rest of the day.

Wendy and I had a girls' night in last night, with pizza, wine and a fabulous documentary: "Blindsight", about a group of six blind Tibetan children climbing in the Himalaya. "They lost their sight, not their vision." Wendy has a connection to one of the boys.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Stoned ...

It was sad to say a final (for now) "ciao" to Giorgio, who has become a great friend.

My friend Wendy met my plane from Milan yesterday. (We've been getting to know each other for the last couple of years since meeting in Kathmandu, Nepal, in 2008.) From Heathrow, we headed down to Hampshire. It's so great to hang out in the lovely house she shares with her husband Chris (who I also met in Nepal) and one of their sons, Jamie. (Jamie is heading to Malta tomorrow.) For the past 10 weeks I've been staying in hotels and guesthouses... I've been working in their gorgeous conservatory, where doves periodically land on the pitched roof and a steam train regularly passes close by. Last night after dinner we watched a documentary about Everest.

I'm caught in a bit of a work bind while I'm here, but I'm taking time out when I can. Wendy and I took a walk around the neighbourhood late yesterday afternoon, and today we made a quick visit to Stonehenge. I hadn't been there before and I was surprised by its modest scale. It was a bit like when I saw the Guggenheim Museum in New York for the first time: in my mind, I'd imagined something a bit bigger. It's hard to comprehend that Stonehenge is 5,000 years old.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Big Butte

Yesterday, Giorgio and I walked to the top of Mont Thabor, in France. We estimated it was about 30–35 kilometres and took us 8+ hours. It was fantastic! There is a wonderful mountain outcrop that looms above the valley where we started from (I named it the Big Butte), and we ended up seeing it from all sides. From the top of Thabor we were looking down on it, far off in the distance. Then we walked down the valley so that it was on our left. There is a kind of long, grey escarpment that was almost like something out of this world.

We started the morning with coffees and pastries at a bar, and another coffee in the rifugio at the start of the walk. Lunch was in a field beside the stream of ice melt after we'd done the hardest part of the descent. (Hard for me, because of the loose stones. Giorgio and Amy run down these sorts of slopes.) Giorgio brought a bottle of chardonnay, and we shared some filled rolls we'd bought earlier. Back at the rifugio, we had a glass of red wine and toasted our successful climb.

Dinner later with the family at the apartment in Sansicario. Amy had done a 30K run in the hills nearby, and Olivia had done "nothing," she said!

Another fantastic day. I really enjoy Giorgio's wit. We spend a lot of the time laughing.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Life of Briancon

Briancon, a French ski resort town a half-hour's drive north of Cesana through the mountains, was pretty lively for a Monday evening. Giorgio, Amy, Olivia and I went shopping for new trekking boots for me and bits and pieces for Olivia and Amy. We then went to the old, walled town for a yummy dinner of crepes, creme brulee and cider. I'd spent the day working at a cafe. Today we're doing another big walk.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Getting high in Italy

Early on Saturday morning, Giorgio met me at my hotel and we did a 15K or so scenic run through the centre of Turin, across a bridge over the Po River built by Napoleon and up to a castle (or was it a monastery?) that overlooks the city. My month-long break from regular running doesn’t seem to have done me much harm.

Giorgio picked me up again an hour later and we drove up to Cesana via La Venaria Reale, the restored 17th-century Royal Palace museum and gardens on the outskirts of Turin that was built “to celebrate beauty, hunting and leisure”. It’s a fabulous complex of buildings and the museum aspect is really well done. We had a bite to eat there in a café in what had been the old kitchen area.

I’m staying at the Hotel Ginestra in Cesana, which lies at the foot of Mt Chaberton in the Italian/French Alps. Cesana is a resort town for skiers in winter and walkers/mountain bikers in summer. It looks gorgeous at the moment, with vividly bright flower boxes everywhere, cobbled streets, a fast-flowing icy stream running through the centre of the village, and quaint houses and shops with balconies and shutters. The block near me, right beside the stream, is closed to traffic, and people promenade and walk their dogs there. Yesterday a folk band was playing on the other bank of the river. The instruments were Alpine equivalents of what you might find in a zydeco band, and holidaymakers were doing folk dances. It was fun watching them while I ate my coconut, baci and stracciatelli gelato.

Giorgio and Amy have a holiday apartment in Sansicario, about 6K further up, that looks back across to Chaberton. Amy, who works as a freelance translator (Italian to English), keeps her horse nearby and does a lot of riding. She’s also a really talented runner, with a recent marathon PB of 3:15.

My first day here, Giorgio drove down to Cesana to pick me up for dinner with Amy and two of their three daughters, Jenny and Olivia. Valentina is away in Sardinia at the moment. The girls are gorgeous, and speak English as well as Italian. It was a delicious dinner (bruschetta, gnocchi with tomato and beans, chicken with prosciutto and salad, and berries). Giorgio and Amy are really into wines. I’ve noticed that a lot of Italian dishes are based around the colours of the Italian flag: white (pasta/bread/gnocchi/mozzarella and other cheeses), green (basil and other leaves/beans/peppers) and red (tomatoes/peppers)!

Olivia is really sweet and did my washing for me :-)

Giorgio is very funny. He’s also very knowledgeable and a total history nut, with an endless supply of stories that he shares in a really entertaining way. He cracks himself up all the time. He hosted the Dead Runners World Conference in Turin a few years ago. I gather everyone had a ball, and I can see why!

Yesterday, he and Amy came for a quick breakfast here at the Ginestra after dropping G’s car in a spot where we would end our walk to the summit of Mt Chaberton. Amy then drove us over to the start of the trail in France. G and I then walked for seven hours. The ascent is challenging, with fantastic views of the Alps from the top where there are ruins of a fortress that was destroyed in the Second World War ( I found the descent a bit precarious; it’s steep with loose stones and gravel. Giorgio and Amy know the woman who won the marathon here last weekend. G said she just spreads her arms out and flies down, barely touching the ground. Giorgio has run it himself, and I think yesterday was his 55th ascent.

My new trekking shoes are too small, which caused me some grief on the descent. I switched to my running shoes when we stopped for lunch at a very rickety picnic table down in the foothills. Giorgio had brought baguettes with prosciutto, chocolate with hazelnuts, and a bottle of a light red wine, which he opened with his Swiss Army knife. It was good fun.

Back in Cesana we had an espresso with grappa at a little restaurant/bar to toast our successful climb. Giorgio and Amy came back down from Sansicario for dinner at the hotel. I had onion soup, trout, some of Amy’s salad, and crème caramel: delicious. Amy had spent the day riding her horse.

I’m totally blown away by Giorgio and Amy’s kindness to me at a time when they have great sadness in their own lives. (Amy’s sister died recently after a horse-riding accident in the States.)

Today, Monday, I’m going to knuckle down to work at the bibliotèque, which is just up the road. But first, breakfast at a café…

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Mambo Italiano...

OMG, I wish I'd been born an Italian!

But to backtrack a little...

My last day in Hong Kong was spent seeing the mind-boggling film "Inception" with Cath, and having dinner at the FCC with Polly Waffle, Mary and Ian (who I'd run into at Cheung Sha Beach on Sunday). I had a great time during my five weeks there.

On Wednesday I flew to Kuala Lumpur, where I stayed at a very unusual guesthouse called Sekeping Tenggiri, in the Bangsar area. My room, the Glass Room, was perched at tree level. The bathroom was partly open to the sky, and I could step out of the room on to the wire mesh roof overlooking the small pool. The bed, on a wire mesh base, was on a raised platform. I thought it was a bit hazardous. You wouldn't want to stay there if you had a tendency to go walkies in the night...

I managed to have two runs, which I hope will get me back on track with my training. The first was with Jess ("Jess Do It"), who I met, with her husband Stephen, in Sarawak on the Headhunters Trail. We ran circuits of a park in Petaling Jaya, across the state border from KL (for Albury friends, Wodonga would be the equivalent), then had dinner at a noodle place. They gave me a ride back to the guesthouse and came in for a look. They both work in the interior design/drafting field. It was great to see them.

On Thursday morning I took a long taxi ride to the Petronas Twin Towers so that I could run in the park at their base. I ran here in 2007 in the lead-up to the Hong Kong half marathon. I just love these towers. I ran part of the way with an Australian woman who is based in KL with Oz Immigration. I took the Metro to Bangsar and had some laksa for breakfast, then made my way back to the guesthouse by a circuitous route. (In other words, I got lost.) I spent the rest of the day working by the pool while a thunderstorm raged.

Unfortunately, my Islamic Financial Services Board friends got caught up with an Islamic Finance forum and weren't able to make dinner this time.

A great flight to Rome. I was wedged between two blokes in the centre aisle (I hate that), but I took half a Xanax and slept for about six hours on and off (I love that). Transited in Rome to Torino (Turin). A fabulous flight: clear blue skies, very smooth flying, and views of the island of Elba (where Napoleon was imprisoned) and then of the towns from Genova inland to Milan. I was sitting next to a very dapper chap who turned out to be the ambassador to Italy from Belize (where my friend Sue F is hoping to move from Portugal) and was formerly ambassador to Cuba (where I'm hoping to spend December 2011). He gave me his card and said if there was anything he could do... (No, I wasn't in first class; there was only the one!)

My friend from the Dead Runners Society, Giorgio, met me and drove us back to Torino (home of the Shroud of Turin), where I'm staying at the Art Hotel Boston, a very funky little establishment. I only said "Shit!" once as G sped down the highway in his souped-up mobile office. I'm dubbing him "the Alfa male".

We had a fabulous pizza for lunch at a place in Turin, then I worked on a new book back at the hotel for a few hours. G picked me up at 6.30 to go and see his parents at the house where he lived as a child. His mum just broke her leg and is back home recovering. We then took a walk around the old city, which was quite heavily bombed during the war. It's just beautiful. There are towers and walls dating back to Roman times, and some fabulous grand buildings. Torino was home to the first king of a united Italy. There are lots of public squares, and colonnaded boulevards, and narrow cobblestone lanes overlooked by uniform stone apartment buildings with little balconies and wooden shutters. Giorgio told me that the buildings would have been occupied in the past by all members of society, with the rich folk on the lower levels, the petit bourgeoisie on the middle levels, and the artists and the poor in the garrets at the top. We saw where Nietzsche ("What doesn't kill us makes us stronger") and Puccinni (La Boheme, Tosca, Madame Butterfly...) lived.

Dinner was fabulous: a degustation menu of about six courses with a delicious local wine. Ah, Italy!

This morning we're doing a long scenic run. Then we're driving up to Sansicario, in the mountains bordering France, where I'll meet Giorgio's family and we'll walk up a mountain or two.

It was Giorgio who put me in touch with Italian Dead Runner Cristiano, my Merchant of Venice, when I contacted DRS Italia in 2007 to ask if anyone would like to do a scenic run with me there.

Ciao for now!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Oh, islands in the sun

Yesterday I had lunch at a beachside South African restaurant on Lantau Island and dinner at a seafood place at Sok Kwu Wan on Lamma Island. I walked with the hiking group I’ve joined, swam in the sea, got a bit sunburned, collected some shells for Michele, ate lobster, crab, scallops, prawns and calamari, drank white wine, met some old friends and made some new ones, rode on some ferries, and was introduced to a dog named Fugly. A perfect weekend in alternative Hong Kong.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Laidback Lamma

How easy is it to pick up where you left off with an old pal after 17 years with no contact? Very easy, when that pal is Nicola N.

We’re friends from the early days of the Women in Publishing Society in Hong Kong. Nicola is an editor/journalist. She’s now living back on Lamma Island after a three-year stint in London. She and Enid, a financial journalist, live with their two cats in a fabulous pad in the tiny village of Pak Kok Tsuen, a half-hour's walk from Yung Shue Wan, where I arrived on the ferry.

There are no cars on Lamma, which is criss-crossed by narrow paths. It’s a great getaway from Hong Kong. Today was hot and sunny, so there were lots of daytrippers about.

Coming back, I took a smaller ferry from Pak Kok Tsuen to Aberdeen. Where I was sitting in the back, there were eight or so people and five dogs, who looked like they’d enjoyed their excursion to laidback Lamma.

On Thursday I had my appointment at the bank to set up a business account for my newly registered Hong Kong business. I got back to the Helena May right on time for the book group lunch I’d been invited to by Cath’s friend Melinda. This is the first time I’ve finished reading the assigned book before a book group meeting. I really enjoyed it: Elizabeth Strout’s novel, “Olive Kitteridge”. Others there were Lydia, Bren and Liz, who was back visiting Hong Kong from London and is running the New York Marathon this year. We’re going to try and catch up afterwards.

Yesterday, Polly and I had lunch at the FCC with Maggie and Karen from a company here whose monthly newsletter we produce. It was fun. From there I went to Causeway Bay to see an exhibition at Times Square that Polly had seen and thought I would like. I just loved the work by the Korean sculptor Hwan Kwon Yi.

Back to the FCC last night for drinks and dinner with Cath, Polly and her friend Betty. Charlie arrived from Macau with my camera charger that I’d left behind. Cath and I then went on to the Skylark Lounge to see Brendan’s band, Bank Job, play. Cath’s Rebecca joined us there. I thought the second band, Balu and The Jungle, were fantastic.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Confucius's descendant says, 'Don't throw family pet out with baby's bathwater.'

Polly and I had lunch with our accountant, Millie, on Monday. We did a bit of reminiscing about the old days, and looked at my options for the future.

When I spent three months in the US last year, my house was looked after by Gary and Sue C, whose daughter Megan designed my name card. I've now met another member of that family. Megan's brother Brendan works in legal publishing in Hong Kong, and we caught up for drinks and a great chat at the FCC on Monday.

Yesterday I met up again with a new pal from Saturday's hike. Lucy, a financial planner, is Australian, but born in Beijing. She's been here four months and is loving it. We had a couple of drinks at the Dog House bar in Wanchai. I went from there to dinner at a nearby Peking restaurant with Polly, Jenny E and Rehana S from Women in Publishing (WIPS), and Angela S from Saturday's hike. A really fun dinner. I met Rehana at a WIPS function here some years ago. She's writing a Pakistani cookbook. I’ve rearranged my weekend so that I can do Angela’s Sunday hike on Lantau.

Cathy H-F, who has been a WIPS president, took me to lunch today at the Quartermaster Deck, where I had dinner last week with Cathy, Brenda and Melinda after the book fair. Cathy is the sort of person you want on your team: she’s a changemaker. She’s also a marathon runner and marathon trail walker, dog rescuer, chairman of the SPCA in Hong Kong, and a volunteer extraordinaire. She’s also good fun.

Cathy invited me to go with her to the SPCA offices this afternoon for the opening of their ‘Caring Family, Happy Pet’ program. The ‘faces’ of the campaign are a cat whose name I didn’t catch, La Fleur (a Shih-tzu x Maltese with a fabulous overbite who I spent some time with), and the ‘famous celebrity’ Susan Tse Suet-Sum and her daughter Ka-Wing. A former Chinese opera singer and actress, Susan is also, according to Wikipedia, the 76th-generation descendant of Confucius.

Cathy also introduced me to Sandy and Wendy, executive director and customer services, respectively.

A lot of pets are surrendered or abandoned in Hong Kong when families are expecting a baby. The traditional thinking is that it’s bad for the baby to be around dogs and cats. The aim of this campaign is to try and change this thinking.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Hot town, summer in the city...

... Back of my neck gettin' dirty and gritty.

Did I mention it's mid-summer in Hong Kong? It's hot and humid, which makes it perfect movie-going weather. I've been lucky to find the perfect f*** buddy in my old friend Cath. That's "film buddy"! Yesterday we saw the mainland Chinese blockbuster "Aftershock" (directed by Feng Xiaogang), about the impact on one family of the 1976 Tangshan earthquake. The acting was a bit cheesy in some scenes, but it was gripping viewing for over two hours. We both were big sooks. Very cathartic.

Last Friday I went to two sessions at the Hong Kong Book Fair. The first was a talk by Andrew Xia Fukuda (, a Japanese-Chinese, Hong Kong-raised, New York-based criminal prosecutor. His book "The Crossing" is his debut novel and took him 10 years to write.

Between that session and the evening one I met up with one of my authors, Eva Wong, whose book "The Power of Ren" I worked on about four years ago for John Wiley in Singapore. Eva is pretty amazing. Last autumn, she emerged from a detention centre in Beijing where she had spent two years on charges relating to mismanagement of tax payments by her China coaching company. Her husband is still in another detention centre in China, with two more years to go. Eva spent the time doing life coaching with the other inmates. She is a perfect example of someone who had made the best of a negative experience. She believes that no one can deprive you of your liberty, even if they can imprison your body. We popped up to see Mary J, Eva's friend and former colleague who took me to lunch a couple of years ago. We have a friend in common at Pearson Education in Sydney, where Mary once worked.

Back to the Hong Kong Convention & Exhibition Centre to meet Cath for a two-hour forum with writers Stephen Fry, Frederick Forsyth (whose first novel was “The Day of the Jackal”) and Andrew Roberts, and moderated by Sir David Tang, who is an eccentric art collector, businessman/entrepreneur and loose cannon. It was good fun. (See

I met two of Cath's book group pals, Brenda and Melinda, over dinner at a restaurant on Fenwick Pier after the forum. Both have lived in Hong Kong for 25 years or so. Brenda is a wine importer and Melinda's a speech therapist; I liked them a lot. I didn't manage to get to Cath's reconvened book group (though I read the book, Hilary Spurling's biography of Pearl Puck in China), but I'm reading the book for Melinda's group that will meet this Thursday in the Helena May's Blue Room, where I've been working some days. ("Olive Kitteridge", by Elizabeth Strout ... I'm loving it.)

On Saturday afternoon it was great to catch up for coffee with Sue S. I've done work for her company and an associated company since the early 1990s. We had a fun chat.

After that I joined up with members of a hiking group I've walked with before in Hong Kong. Last time we walked way up in the New Territories; this time, because it's mid-summer, we did an evening walk up to The Peak from Central. Because it's Hong Kong, and we could, we started the walk by taking the Mid-Levels escalator up through SOHO and the area above it, around the mosque, to where we could access the old route that becomes Old Peak Road (shown above). It's very steep and a terrific workout. I'm going back there again this week to help prepare for my walking holiday in Italy, which is coming up at the end of next week. In the early days of Hong Kong, people living on The Peak (i.e. the British colonial administrators, business taipans and other moneyed folk) were ferried up and down in sedan chairs carried by "coolies".

When the path back down got very slippery, Jenny E (who I know through Women in Publishing) and I peeled off and took a cab to Hong Kong Park, where the others arrived soon after for a Thai dinner. I had met Angela S on my previous walk with this group. She's a life coach and knows Eva. Lots of interesting people among the group.

I'm now finishing up breakfast at the Foreign Correspondents' Club. Polly and I are having lunch today with our old friend Millie S, at the Hong Kong Jockey Club at Happy Valley Racecourse. Millie has been the accountant for Women in Publishing since we became a society in the early 1990s. We're looking into the tax implications of my no longer being a resident of Australia. Plus it's always good to see Millie!

Earlier this morning I ran up on Bowen Road. For a while I tucked in just behind the left shoulder of a Filipino woman who was probably a bit younger than I am and running at a good pace for me. The only sound was our well-matched footsteps. When we reached the Stubbs Road end of the path, I thanked her for letting me hang off her back and we spoke for a little while.

She said that running, for her, is "free medicine" and "God's grace".

What could I say, but "Amen!"

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Look what they've done to Macau, Ma!

I love an audacious building, but some of the new hotel/casinos in Macau just look silly.

When I first started visiting this former Portuguese colony in the 1980s, the very modest Lisboa Hotel and casino on the Macau waterfront was the city's only high-rise building. Today, Macau (on the Chinese mainland) and the island of Taipa have been changed almost beyond recognition. This building, the Grand Lisboa, now towers over its aged relative. Reclamation along the waterfront and on Taipa has created space for dozens of spectacular, and some spectacularly kitsch, casinos. It's best seen at night, when the lights help distract from the tackiness of the place.

I'm not saying the buildings aren't "grand" and spectacularly fitted out, but they are casinos and they are there to attract mainland Chinese gamblers. Sleepy, laid-back, Portuguese Macau has been sold down the Pearl River for the sake of a lot of patacas.

I spent two days there this week with my long-time friend Polly and her partner, Charlie. I had a dicky tummy and didn't have much of an appetite, but I enjoyed doing my bit for the economy of Macau by playing the pokies at The Venetian and City of Dreams casinos (cashing in each time before I inevitably lost the lot), checking out the Macau Museum of History, wandering through the old shopping lanes near the ruins of San Paulo, and eating dinner at Fernando's on Coloane Island. The three of us also went for an early-morning walk up to the top of the hill near Charlie's apartment on Taipa, which provided great views of the casinos and across what's left of the river to Macau.

Oh, and I also saw a lot of loos during my visit.

Film note: I saw "Fish Tank" last Sunday with Cath and her daughter, Rebecca. Highly recommended for a grisly look at family dynamics in a run-down housing estate in England.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Guangzhou: Why?

I’ve just spent a couple of days in Guangzhou (formerly Canton), China, where capitalism with Chinese characteristics is thriving. I stayed in the garment district, a good hour’s walk north of the Pearl River. I know this, because I walked there the afternoon I arrived and it was a very long return trip by taxi.

I went via Liuhua Park, which is at the southern end of the street where my hotel is located; I then headed in the general direction of the waterfront.

The covered market lanes in the old part of town along the river’s edge are quite incredible. There seem to be many dozens of them, all disappearing into the distance, all with similar goods for sale. The nature of the goods gradually changes as you walk along the street that leads into the lanes, but each lane caters to a distinct wholesale buyer.

I’ve just finished reading a biography of Pearl Buck, author of “The Good Earth”. She visited this part of Guangzhou in the 1930s. Today it’s been ruined (aka “improved”) by a modern road system with flyovers. I hate them. By the time I had navigated my way to the old White Swan Hotel, I was tired, very damp, and a tad bad-tempered.

While I decided on a refreshing drink from the menu in the riverside coffee lounge (a Peppermint Punch), I watched a man swimming upriver in the polluted waters with some sort of basketball attached to his body.

“Why?” I asked.

I waited ten minutes for someone to take my order, but was then told: “Wait.”

“Why?” I asked.

When I gave up on the Peppermint Punch and asked at the hotel entry for a taxi, I was directed to the second floor, well above ground level.

“Why?” I asked.

Eventually, I found my second taxi driver from hell for the day to take me back to my hotel just off Zhanqian Lu. (The first had delivered me there, shaking and quaking, from Guangzhou East Railway Station earlier in the day.)

The area where I was staying is a hive of activity. There are huge numbers of wholesale clothing outlets, firms that design and produce gorgeous shopping bags, freight companies, and suppliers of mannequins, racks, hangers and other display accessories. I’m assuming that most of the people who were staying in my hotel were there for some serious shopping.

It’s a good thing I wasn’t tempted to flash the plastic, or I might have come away with 3,000 pairs of knickers, minimum.

I decided to spend my only full day in Guangzhou catching up on work and checking out my immediate neighbourhood. I just couldn’t bear the thought of having to take a taxi to or from any of the main museums that I had been hoping to visit. I also gave up on trying to track down the elusive Ping Pong and Vitamin contemporary art spaces that I had read about. It was just too difficult, given the limited time I had available.

Besides, in China, time is money … and I had clients waiting.

Guangzhou is a city where you need to speak Chinese. I would return only if I was with a Chinese-speaking companion who knew people in the art scene, or if I had begun speaking in tongues.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

My working week

I spent last weekend mostly working, apart from having yum cha with Cath and David N on Sunday. I caught up with Cath when I was in Hong Kong early last year, and we’ve stayed in touch since then. We were all young twenty-somethings together in college at the University of New South Wales at the start of the 1970s, and now we are at the other end of our careers.

Monday morning I got “back on the horse” after my disastrous run two weeks ago, when I got heat stroke in Kuching in a 7K race. I walked up the hill to Bowen Road (shown here), where I used to run the 8K course frequently in the 1980s. I ran only a couple of kilometres, but it was enough to put some distance between me and my fears.

Had dinner at David N’s on Monday. Others there were a British dentist who has written three books on the history of the Macau Grand Prix, and his partner, a diamond valuer. David has offered me use of his villa in Croatia. Two problems: I’ll need a car, and I no longer drive; and it doesn’t have internet, so I wouldn’t be able to base myself there for anything more than a quick visit. I want to find a way around these problems, as it looks gorgeous and it’s a very generous offer.

On today’s early morning repeat visit to Bowen Road I got talking with the editor of an Asian finance magazine. Lara and I, and her young pup Gypsy, ran together for about 2.5K.

I’ve been working quite a bit from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club’s Main Bar, where there is reliable internet access. As I was leaving today to meet Carol for lunch, I saw Marty M, who I now know through my Melbourne pal Jenny. He had also been for a run this past week.

Carol and I had originally planned to go to China Tee Club, where in about 1988 get-togethers of what became the HK Women in Publishing Society used to be held. (Carol has been hugely important in getting “Imprint”, a publication showcasing the writing of WIPS members, into print each year.) China Tee was closed for a private function, so we went instead to Post 1997 in Lan Kwai Fong. In 1985, when this was still “1997”, I went there for dinner on my own during a business trip to Hong Kong. I decided that night I would try and return to Hong Kong to live. That decision changed my life.

I missed out on going to Cath’s book group tonight. The assigned book was Hilary Spurling’s “Burying the Bones: Pearl Buck in China”. I’m about halfway through it and I’ll take it with me to read on the train to Guangzhou (formerly Canton) tomorrow morning. I had to finish a job tonight, and technology was uncooperative so I was running late. I really wanted to go!

Instead, after I finished work, I had dinner in the main lounge here at The Helena May. (I’m staying in the annex, but I also use the main building for better internet access.) The place is so different from when I lived here. To its credit, it has totally reinvented itself as a very different restaurant venue in Central.

I haven’t had time for sightseeing this past week, but I managed to get to the Chilean artist Margarita Dittman’s exhibition on Hollywood Road. Fabulous. She’s only about 30 years old, but makes very complex, satisfying photographs.