Saturday, January 29, 2011

Malacca (Melaka) Musings...

I've been very lucky again with my accommodation. Courtyard @ Heeren is a heritage building that has been very nicely revamped as a boutique hotel, and it's in a perfect location: parallel to the famous Jonker Walk in Malacca's Chinatown area and just a few minutes' walk from the really gorgeous Malacca River. The staff are very friendly and have really gone overboard to make me feel at home. Most guests come for a few days over the weekend from KL or Singapore, whereas I'm staying for 11 days. I've been here a week already; I leave on Monday for Chiang Mai.

Malacca has a very rich history going back to about the 1200s or 1300s. The period of the Sultanates was followed by Portuguese rule from the 1500s, then the Dutch, followed by the English. The Japanese occupied it during the war, then the English took over again before Malaya became independent Malaysia. It's a very multicultural place, like all of Malaysia, so there is breadth as well as depth to it.

Chinatown is a great area to stay, and especially just now in the lead-up to Chinese New Year.

I particularly love the river that winds through town. It's more like a canal, and is lined with cafes and homes and heritage buildings. I ran along it one morning this week and late one afternoon.

I've been working very hard while I've been here (a couple of 4 am starts), but I've also tried to see something of interest each day. There's a whole bunch of museums close by. I've visited the art gallery and a couple of historical museums. I also saw a fascinating exhibition called "Enduring Beauty" (about deforming the body in the name of "beauty" by scarification, tattooing, neck rings, lip plates, foot binding, etc). There's a nice walk up the hill to the ruins of an old church with a very unsympathetically positioned (by the British) ruined lighthouse in front.

Yesterday I went to Kuala Lumpur to meet up with two work colleagues (and Facebook friends) at the Islamic Financial Services Board. Really enjoyed catching up with them again after meeting them for the first time in 2007.

At lunch today I met a woman from South Carolina who is travelling in a very intrepid fashion around Asia for three months with her eight-year old granddaughter. They'll be in Chiang Mai while I'm there, so we may catch up again.

This past week has also been about thinking ahead. I've entered a half marathon in Turkey in April, firmed up plans to walk in England (the Cotswold Way) in May with Tony and Jo (pals from last year's Coast to Coast walk across England), made plans to visit Luxembourg (for work) and maybe Germany for pleasure after the walk. And more...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Salaam, Bombay

It's been a case of Mumbai madness over the past week. My artist/illustrator friend Uma, whom I met in Malta in 2007, met my plane in Chennai very late on Wednesday night. My suitcase didn't make it, though it caught up with us two days later in Mumbai. I stayed with Uma and her sister Subashree for the night before Uma and I flew to Mumbai on Thursday morning. Terrific flight across the country. Quite barren and wild in parts, especially the Western Ghats.

We checked into the Taj Palace and Towers Hotel, just across the road from the Gateway of India. The Taj was one of the sites of the November 2008 terrorist attacks, and the security in the vicinity of the hotel is very tight. We went to some fabulous clothes markets opposite Crawford Market, where I bought some tops and leggings. Also checked out the fabulous Victoria Terminus rail station (VT), also a site of the 2008 terrorist attacks. We went to see a new-release Bollywood film on Thursday night at a cinema just near the hotel.

Friday until mid-afternoon was devoted mainly to seeing art. We met my running friend Sanjay at 3 pm in the rather funky little Samovar Cafe attached to the Jehangir Art Gallery, close by the National Museum of Modern Art. He and I then walked to where the running expo was being held for the Mumbai marathon and half marathon, to pick up our race packets. We met up again in the evening at the Cricket Club of India for drinks and then had dinner of crab at a nearby seafood place.

Saturday morning Uma and I took a ferry over to see the Elephanta Caves. She was a brilliant tour guide, as she could explain the significance of the various groupings of Shiva and co. We had a late lunch at the Leopold Cafe, another site of the 2008 attacks, where a very friendly Australian couple bent my ear for about an hour.

Sunday was the half marathon. I picked up Sanjay at 5 am, and we went together to the start at Bandra. A crowded start in the dark at 6:15, but after a couple of kilometres I found my stride and then maintained a pretty steady pace. We ran over the Sealink and along Marine Parade, beside the bay. It reminded me of the Melbourne half marathon a few years back! My final time was 2:10 (my slowest half time ever, I think) and I placed fifth in my age category (67th out of c. 1360 women overall). I saw the two Ethiopian women winners of the marathon sprint to the finish, with only a second separating them. Walked back to the Taj for a big breakfast.

Sanjay pulled a calf muscle about 15K into the run and had to be doped up to walk to the finish :-((

In the afternoon, Uma and I took a taxi out to see an exhibition of works by Anish Kapoor, a London-based Indian artist. I was really taken with the huge installation called "Shooting into the Corner", which involved pots of red wax being fired at a high white corner space using a cannon. Fantastic!

Back at the hotel I settled down to do some serious work.

In the late afternoon, Uma headed off to stay with her cousin for a couple of days before flying back to Chennai tonight. It was great to spend time with her, and I hope I can get back to Chennai sometime as there was no chance to see anything of it this trip.

Caught up with Sanjay and his wife Reetu at the Cricket Club of India again last night for drinks, and for dinner at a great little place near the Taj called Indigo. I'm going to head off there again now.

It's been fabulous meeting Sanjay after getting to know him over the last couple of years through the Dead Runners Society.

I've been struck by the number of dogs that lie sleeping by the roadsides in Mumbai (let sleeping dogs lie?), and by the amazingly gaudy horse-drawn carriages that ply their trade here in Colaba. I just saw one pony whose back legs were slipping all over the place on the cobblestones.

Tomorrow night I fly back to Malaysia – Malacca – until the end of the month.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Kuching postscript, 11/1/11

A 'mishap' last night at Kuching Airport (the terminal was designed by Edric Ong, Ramsay's cousin), where an Air Asia flight skidded off the runway on landing in heavy rain, closed the place down for most of today. My flight was shuffled to tomorrow.

This event gave me time to focus on the job I'm doing for Sarawak Energy, though the tradeoff is I don't get to see anything of Chennai this time, apart from the drive to and from the airport.

The Sarawak Energy project came through Ruth S, who is Jay's neighbour. We met briefly the other night as I was walking to meet Mas and Jun to go to their karaoke bar. Ruth checked out my website and then mentioned me to Nick, and Nick made contact and came here on Sunday to explain what would be required.

Ruth and I had breakfast and a fabulous talk this morning at the Grand Margherita. We both felt like we'd already known each other for ages. She is also a dog person, with Bella, a Lab, back in Oz. Her sister, who lives in Wodonga (the twin town to my home in Oz), had even mentioned my Dogs' Breakfast Group to Ruth some time ago. And here we are, meeting in Borneo!

Au revoir, Kuching

I've been very busy while in Kuching, working on a marketing textbook as well as some smaller jobs. I've met a lot of new people this visit. Through Jackie (investment banker who started the Batik Boutique Hotel where I'm staying), I met Jay (formerly with the World Bank), who organises a lot of hikes. Two weekends ago I joined a hike to Jangkar Falls, c. 100 km from Kuching, with visitors from Melbourne Stephen (HR with World Vision) and Anthony (a "retired venture capitalist" who looks about 25!). Their friend Byron (a mortgage broker whose family lives in Kuching) was out of action for the day. I ended up slipping on wet rocks and banging my chin hard on a boulder. This led to a visit to Normah Hospital a day or so later for X-rays. Not broken, but badly bruised. I caught up with the boys for a brief lunch the day after the walk.

On 2 January I picked up where I'd left off with my training, and really enjoyed running along the river in the morning. I ran into Johnny (who I know from my last visit) a couple of days ago and we had a run yesterday. It's too wet to run this morning, and I have a breakfast meeting, but I'll catch up with him and Sim, Madeline and Alan in May when I'm back for a month. I loved seeing the same faces in the morning; people are just so nice. I talked with a lot of them. After running each day, I went to a cafe at the far end of the Main Bazaar for roti, which is where I met June. She's into kayaking. One morning Feeza, from Batik, came with me.

Mas, who also works here at Batik, and her husband Jun took me out for breakfast one day and to a karaoke cafe one night. Lovely people. I had to promise to learn a song for next time I'm visiting!

Had dinner a few times with Emily, Rita and Ka-Yee, Darroll and James; met Emily's mum and dad and uncle. We went to see "Tron" at Spring Mall last week. Emily and Rita are very special.

On Saturday Jackie and Jay organised another hike, on a trail that was supposed to lead to a lost antimony mine. Instead we ended up in a leech-infested swamp for three hours. The nice people – Jackie, Jay, John (banker), Kho (office equipment), Tan (?), Joanna (landscape designer) and Sharon (ICT) – made up for the leeches.

Through Jay I met Ruth S, who is working here with Sarawak Energy Berhad on an 18-month assignment. Ruth mentioned me to Nick W, who is involved with a huge rebranding exercise at SEB. Nick got in touch and we had a meeting here on Sunday morning. Today I'm having breakfast with Ruth to go over the brief for my first job for them.

I had my first appointment with Josephine, beauty therapist extraordinaire, yesterday: a three-hour facial.

The crew here at Batik have been amazing: Lily, Kenny, Peter the Great, Hafizz, Raj, Jake, Jo-Lyn, Hafeeza, Mas, Umpai...

On Sunday morning I met a group of runners just after they had finished their regular long run. They have invited me to join them in May when I'm back: Min is an architect, Lim an English and PE teacher, Belinda a teacher and vice principal, Samantha an interior designer and Sara, a student (daughter of Min and Sam).

I think Kuching is unique in the friendliness and openness of people you meet casually on the street. I'm really looking forward to coming back in May.

Today I'm flying to Chennai, India, to spend time with my friend Uma. We met at Norbert Attard's studio in Malta in 2007. On Thursday we're flying to Mumbai for six nights. I'm looking forward to meeting Sanjay, a friend since 2009 through the Dead Runners Society.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


What a lot of possibilities are implied by all those 1's...

I had the most amazing year in 2010. I packed up my life in Australia and became a non-resident "editor without borders", travelling the world permanently, and editing books and other publications for my clients from wherever I found myself.

I spent time in Australia, the United States, New Zealand, Bali, Sarawak, Hong Kong, China and Macau, Italy, England and Scotland. I ran a half marathon and two full ones, achieving personal best times in both of the marathons. And I walked across England. But the most amazing experience has been meeting fantastic people all around the world. Thank god for Facebook! I've been blown away by the warmth and friendship offered me by people of all races and beliefs and cultures. It really is an extraordinary planet, but it's the people I've been blessed with meeting on my travels who are making the whole world feel like "home" to me.

Thank you to friends old and new. Have a WONDERFUL 2011.