Friday, January 25, 2008

Making friends in Singapore

11:30am and I was receiving my second ever marriage proposal in the back of a taxi on the way to Singapore's Zoo (my first being from a passenger claiming to be a Kenyan prince in need of a fourth wife). Crammed into the taxi with three of my other colleagues our driver popped the emotionally charged question via his reflection in the rear-view mirror after I had declared my love for his fair city. The gentleman suggested that if I enjoyed visiting so much I should simply marry him and move there. It was certainly a lovely, albeit insincere, way to start the day. "See you at the wedding!!" I promised as we spilled out of the cab at the entrance to Singapore Zoo and began sizing up posters of the furry friends we were about to make.

The most valuable member of our entourage that day was undoubtedly my friend Tim from Queensland. A former employee of the Australia Zoo and farm boy, he was worth his weight in gold with informative stories and factual tidbits on the inhabitants. Of course along with this position of power was also his enjoyment in secretly scaring us all by violently shaking bushes as we walked past, or gently scratching a stick across the backs of our necks instilling the fear of god into some of our more timid colleagues.

Tim showing us how Steve Erwin did it, and A close encounter with a real one

The first non-Tim related adrenalin rush of the day was about to present itself to us by way of a very large and hungry fish who was not circling under the zoo handler for a pinch of fish flakes! This gilled fella was about to be fed small silver fish speared onto a long skinny stick. We watched tentatively as the man swished the skewered offerings lightly against the water's surface making lots of gentle ripples, enticing the hungry fish just like an aroma of a yummy meal. Then out of the dark reflective waters - BAM!! - the pieces of silver were pulled off into his mouth faster than our eyes could keep up. Most of the people looking on gasped with surprise at the speed and precision of this big thing. My heart was certainly racing at this point and when I was encouraged to have a go at swishing the dinner around myself, I was not only petrified of the fish's force, but the possibility of dropping the valuable feeding implement into the water! It was truly impressive at just how the bolt of power travelled right up the stick into my hand as the big fish ripped his dinner away. Quite an adrenalin rush which doesn't quite translate into video or pictures but this will give you some idea how idea of how fast it all was:

Fish food!

Nearing the end of the day after hours of oo-ing, ahh-ing and finger pointing we were heading for the exit (and a long awaited fix of Ben and Jerry's ice cream) when we walked right up to the orangutan enclosure at the precise moment they were beginning feeding time and allowing the raven haired beauties to come down from the trees for fruit and photo opportunities with their excited fans (me!). For a few years now I have fantasized about a face-to-face meeting with one of them. I've watched many episodes of them playing around on animal channels and I have read about people travelling to the depths of Indonesian rainforests to sit with baby orangutans and cry over their innocence and beauty - and here I was sitting shoulder to shoulder with these absolutely amazing animals which cast their own unexplained spell over me.

Staring into their large black eyes it took all my power not to touch them and feel their mass of hair, I can't begin to make sense of why I was so moved by them but it just further fulled my desire to one day plan a trek into the wilderness for an even closer encounter, sans the Ben and Jerry comforts! It was a special way to end our fun day out, and over dinner that night in the outdoor food court Tim took great delight in making jokes to our other colleagues about my hair colour camouflaged against my orangutan friends! The cheek of it all I tell you!!

Although he is very beautiful, I was quite glad to have a sheet of glass between us

Monday, December 31, 2007

Jeddah setter

My first flight as a newly graduated flight attendant just over two years ago was an evening turnaround to Jeddah during the Hajj, and almost to the day I found myself on this same flight but this time with much more observant eyes. My previous experience with Jeddah had my head full of nervous thoughts concentrating on following procedures we had been taught in training college, and not spilling drinks all over people! Take two and this time around I was certainly much more at ease with the situation - an aircraft overflowing with excess baggage, seating issues and ailing passengers, most of whom didn't speak English.

After boarding had finished and we began securing the cabin, I could not help but break into a smile of amusement when I looked down at an exit row to find four elderly ladies seated in front of their towering cascade of baggage, flashing me a line of beaming toothless smiles above their bags and blissfully unaware, reminding me that the majority of these passengers had most likely never set foot on a plane before this pilgrimage to Mecca.

Landing into Jeddah there was no mistaking the feeling of anticipation coming from the cabin. Everyone was champing at the bit to get to the next stage of their journey and not a moment too soon. Buses crowded the tarmac, flooding the evening with their flashing amber lights waiting for our passengers in their seamless white robes to make their way down the stairs, which proved to be no mean feat. Families and friends who had been seated separately were forming dozens of 'meet points' around the base of the stairs, and instructions from the crew (in English) to keep moving ahead went unnoticed until we sought help from a group of businessmen who had also been passengers, to act as our invaluable translators.

Assisting the older ladies down the stairs I started to think about how able bodied these people actually were, beyond their physical years. Unlike on our European flights where the list of wheelchair requests are usually as long as your arm, there was not a wheelchair in sight on this evening, contrary to the considerable age and ailments of our passengers. Aside from holding their hands and their (many) bags I began to wonder if in fact they needed any assistance at all judging from the speed at which they descended towards the buses. One lady in particular really struck me. Holding on to her slender arms, squiggled with veins and creases in her skin she could not wipe the smile from her face. Her eyes were sparkling like a person half her age and I could tell this was an expedition she had been waiting a very long time for. My colleague who was next to me, also helping an older lady down the stairs, looked over and commented at how happy everyone was while the lady I was with kept repeating something to me in her native tongue before bounding up the bus step into her seat like an excitable young girl. As I placed the bags down at her feet she cupped her hands on the sides of my face, grinning away and leaving me with some parting words which were unfortunately foreign to my Australian ears. Where were those translators when you needed them???!!

Eventually the flurry of activity drove away leaving us to prepare for round two, our return back to Dubai, which was as equally taxing, with the added challenge of storing their containers of holy water. Certainly never a dull day in this office!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Dearest Blog....

Dearest Blog,

I am sorry for neglecting you over the past three months, it's not you it's me. You see I had a little incident in London where a nasty person snatched my bag while I was enjoying a glass of wine with my sister and in it was my camera (among many other valuable items). When santa brings me a new camera for Christmas I promise to visit you more frequently and pay you more attention than ever before I promise! I hope you can understand and we can move beyond this silence in the new year.

Much love,
Your owner, A. x

Saturday, September 29, 2007

A slice of home in Osaka

It would be hard to refute the idea of fate when you are rostered an unrequested and much sought after flight to Osaka at the exact same time your friends from home are visiting Japan. It was the nicest coincidence I have experienced in my job so far and the month leading up to our rendezvous I was eagerly counting down the days until I could enjoy my little slice of home - in the form of Ryan and Fiona.

After meeting them both in my hotel foyer we caught the bus to the centre of town where we followed our nose (and Ryan's astute sense of direction) through some narrow streets and up several unknown flights of alleyway stairs to a place neither of us had been to before but all agreed it was too cute and cosy to walk away from. We were welcomed with a very melodic greeting from the kitchen staff as we brushed through the hanging cotton drapes from the doorway, before walking through the intimate restaurant filled with ankle height tables and patrons drinking sake sitting delicately on their soft bright cushions. The three of us decided on seats up next to the kitchen bar so we could watch the action and dangle our bare feet in the dugout beneath us. Thankfully my comrades were able to order a round of drinks using sign language and a few Japanese phrases, as an English menu was going to be as available to us as a pork chop during Ramadan in a Muslim country.

We clinked our large glass mugs of red berry sour cocktails and soon began catching up on news from home and stories from their holiday to date, and how at home they felt in their beautiful little holiday apartment in the heart of Tokyo. Always one for keeping his finger well positioned on the proverbial pulse, Ryan bought me up to speed on cheap optical deals rife in Japan, the delights of gobble-on-the-go tuna sushi sandwiches and then some more informative stories on food and local delicacies. Our bowls of steaming Udon noodles and wooden chopsticks were gracefully place down before us and we made quick work of the tasty broth of goodness before handing the remains over to our male chaperone for polishing off, boys do come in very handy sometimes!!

Berry good cocktails with dinner......and then some Cassis with style

After dinner we eventually found a little candle lit bar with a cosy old Hollywood ambiance. The walls were covered in framed black and white photographs, waiters wore crisp white shirts and thin black ties while wooden tables, chairs and hat stands filled the room. A few rounds of Cassis (Ryan and Fiona's holiday drink of choice) and I was converted. It tasted like tangy orange juice but contained some potent muscle relaxing alcohol - I will be forever indebted for this tasty introduction! Feeling very content and ready for some sleep the three of us headed back to the hotel for some hotel-issued kimono style bathrobe dress up photos and a good night's sleep.

The best hotel bathrobes i've seen to date

Holding down the master control button beside our beds I reveled in the ability to electronically draw back the curtains, letting the morning sunlight blaze into our pitch black room. The clock was ticking on our mini holiday and we had decided to visit the Osaka Aquarium that day, so we appointed Ryan as Chief Navigator and followed him blindly through the city chomping down on our tuna triangle sushi sandwiches for breakfast. YUM!!

As Fiona pointed out, sometimes when you watch Japanese animation its easy to get lost in the fictional characters and their abstract forms, but after seeing the underwater inhabitants at the aquarium we're now not so convinced most of those characters are pretend. Many of them resemble the crazy crustaceans we saw. It was such an impressive display of marine life ranging from teeny tiny florescent fish, naughty little otters (doing things not suitable for children's eyes), playful dolphins, big scary whale sharks and (the most mesmorising for me) the many different little tanks of translucent jelly fish.

Getting the last hole punched into our fun-pass ticket we boarded Osaka's towering ferris wheel for 20 minutes of glass cage viewing. It was a beautiful end to the day after such a wonderful 24 hours with such good friends, good sushi and sweet Cassis.

Saying goodbye from the train

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

28 and still learning to ride a bike

I may have woken up as a 28 year old last week, but there's nothing like having your mum rustle you from sleep with a big happy birthday kiss to make you feel like a worry free cake lovin' child again, just as she probably did 20 years ago. Feeling like the luckiest kid on the block to have my mum visiting, and depleting my wine rack, I began the day opening gifts from those near and afar surrounded by bunches of shiny colourful balloons strung up around the apartment that Miss Lauren had very quietly constructed before I woke up that morning.

Celebrations this year centered around a very civilised bubbly brunch with a few close girlfriends inside a beautiful hotel that is built around a Venetian style man made canal - which is why this hotel is sometimes referred to as "little Italy"! As the afternoon began drawing to a close we were approached by two American men with the foulest teeth you have EVER seen! With their deep Southern accent they declared to our table that we "sure were purrdy'" before dazzling us with their gappy blackened toothy pegs. Unsure of exactly where to look and what to say, we heard laughter coming over from their table which was when we realised the hillbilly teeth were thankfully made of rubber and their American accents slightly exaggerated.

Lauren and I en route to Brunch.......a table of celebrations

Our new dentally challenged friends and the rest of their table quickly came over and joined ours then began asking the waiters (sans rubber teeth) to bring more bottles of champagne, so next thing we knew our afternoon was gearing up again. Of the Americana motley crew most of them worked within a US government capacity however we discovered one of them works for the actual, real life, NCIS and yes we did grab hold of his business card for evidence and Lauren was the only one of us girls who actually knew what it stood for (Naval Criminal Investigative Service for those playing at home).

Three days later I was on my way to the airport with mum to drop her off in front of departures then keep on driving along to arrivals where I was picking up my new Brisbane visitor Georgie. Dubai was the first stop in her European holiday during which she will also be catching up with our mutual friends Mij and Troy over in Finland. I must confess that in the lead up to Georgie's visit her number one Dubai activity request was making me a little nervous and I initially wondered how I could weasel my way out of personally taking part. So to combat this feeling of insecurity I coerced Lauren and her visitor from home Jono along to the afternoon dune bashing activity of quad biking. It was much much more fun than I had imagined and towards the end I was getting up quite a speed. Nothing matched to Jono or Georgie's donut dirt spins but enough to feel the satisfaction of wind and sand blowing into my face - sadly the later of which is becoming a more and more familiar feeling to me here in Dubai.

Georgie, Lauren and I ready to eat dirt

Thursday, August 16, 2007

A table for two, in Dubai

It is not unusual on days off to find that only one or two of my friends are here in Dubai, and it's even less of a surprise to find that none of my comrades are in town so we've all learnt to pounce on the moments when your friends are in the same country as you!

Buffets and Bollinger brunches are something which my friends and I have completely licked (yes, both metaphorically and physically), however a la carte dining has, to date, been somewhat neglected on our list of culinary ventures. After realising this pattern of consumption, my good friend Natalie and I agreed it was time to broaden our horizons and try something new - something which was not meant to be hard given the endless options Dubai has to offer. Of course each of the 256 pages we turned in the Time Out eating guide produced another delicious review and thus another option for us to consider over the next hour.

Finally, the reservation was made, our heels were on and the perfume had been spritzed - we were ready for our table for two at the stylish water-side restaurant, The Aquarium. We knew that this place was not only famed for its food but also its aquarium but we expected something more proportionate to an extra large domestic tank, not a floor to ceiling centerpiece!

Starting with a soft-as-silk foie gras on toast and chunks of sweet orange chutney I was sure to save room for the main course (which we both ordered) honey basted-crispy skinned fish on creamy potato mash and beans. While the succulent pieces of fish fell away from my knife like butter, I think Natalie and I were both quite glad to be out of view from the aquarium's beautifully colourful inhabitants.

Alright, alright, here's a sweet ending for you all as requested:

So back to the menu we went, and voted quite unanimously on sharing the warm saucy chocolate cake which was quite delicious and I am certain there wasn't a single crumb left for us to fight over - just the bill ;)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

New York - Strawberry & Field's forever

New York - home to yellow taxis, Central Park, The Statue of Liberty, and Patricia Field. Well maybe, for some of you, that last one may not rate a mention in your list of iconic images of the big apple but it certainly does in mine. If for only my parent's benefit I will quickly explain that Patricia Field was responsible for the cult following and adventurous creations (as Costume Designer) on Sex and the City, and was more recently the stylist for the film The Devil Wears Prada. Visiting the Patricia Field store in Greenwich Village was officially my first Sex and the City experience and was it fabulous? *insert SATC reference* Abso-*@#$-lutely ;)

My first early morning glimpse of NY always fills me right up to the brim

Finding the tiny boutique on such a sultry day was in itself an adventure. After some subway navigation issues I eventually honed-in on my destination and walked completely past the shop and thankfully so, because I came across the best food store ever! Whole Foods Market for those playing at home. Aisles and aisles of every imaginable gourmet offering, utensils and fresh food. Now for some numbers....

1 = the number of hours spent in the said supermarket
16 = the total number of fresh bread roll varieties I counted on offer in their bakery section
$US50 = how much lighter my wallet was after the visit.

Phew! It was time to walk back to Patricia Field after such an expensive, but wonderful, detour.

Walking into the boutique I was greeted by girls dressed in oh so chic punk attire - short shorts over black fishnets, obligatory rock-group t-shirt, heavy eyeliner offset by some incredibly cute accessories. I had a couple of friends who were not far from my thoughts during the visit, most especially my *insert American slang* BFF Louise who is perhaps a bigger fan of Sex and the City than me, and I just know she would have been salivating over the Carrie-esque bling and clothes like I was. Fast forward the purchase of a pair of gold sparkly hooped earrings and a pretty blue dress, I was again zipping across Manhattan towards the upper West Side to visit a good family friend and his cute as a button daughter Emma who had recently turned four.

The three of us walked around the corner from their apartment to a lovely retro diner which looked just like a movie set, with seats at the counter and pots of coffee on the warmers. Lunch (of American sized proportions) was followed by scoops of homemade strawberry ice cream (with chunks of real strawberries), a big frothy milkshake and two rides on the Donald Duck musical sidewalk ride. All in all, a pretty good afternoon for two girls that day in Manhattan!

Emma, wearing the Moomin hair clips and matching hat which I brought back with me from Finland

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Jyväskylä, Finland

A few days ago I returned from 8 days of annual leave visiting my very good friends in Finland, Mij and Troy, for the mid-summer celebrations. The mid-summer festivities are almost a bigger deal to the Finns than Christmas, and for the two day public holiday most families will retreat from the city out to their summer houses which are typically positioned right against a lake with not a house or person in sight. So this is exactly what I did.

On my first night in Jyväskylä, Troy's Finnish Cousin Janne and his wife Maria invited us to their place for a truly heavenly BBQ grill dinner. Admittedly Janne is a published chef, but I don't think I have ever tasted vegetables so full of flavour, and this was the case with every meal during my visit - packed with such intense flavour I just wanted to cram my suitcase with fresh fruit and vegetables - and a few dozen sausages. With the sun still up I was a little embarrassed to be suppressing yawns after dinner over glasses of red wine, until I realised it was close to 11pm! I had been warned that it was 24hr sunlight at this time of year, but I thought it would be more like dim twilight!

The next day it was off to a place I had heard so much about, Troy's family's summer house. I can remember on a few occasions over morning tea at work, Mij showing us holiday photos of this little forest retreat and speaking so fondly of his memories there, so I was most eager to see it for myself. Just as I had suspected, there could be no photograph which could do this place an inch of justice. From the lusciously dense flowerbeds and patches of deep green grass to the cute winding path down to the sauna and clear lake water I could feel the immediate onset of holiday relaxation.

The outlook from the summer house with the children's cottage in the background

The fireplace inside was crackling and glowing with heat waiting to cook the sausages which we had skewered onto big iron forks. With a generous amount of mustard and some fresh Finnish bread to wrap our crispy sausages in we scoffed down our lunch quicker than you could say sauna - which is exactly what we did after a post-lunch walk. I wasn't completely confident that I was going to enjoy the Finnish sauna experience given my dislike of swimming in water anything colder than a tepid bath, but I was more than happy to give it a go. After the first round of the process (5 minutes of sitting in the intense sauna heat, swatting yourself with branches of birch leaves, then running outside along the jetty and jumping straight into the lake) I was completely converted. I also took my most memorable shower ever - out on the jetty looking out over the lake with just simply a big bucket of hot water, a scoop and soap. I had never felt so invigorated and full of energy, the only thing which stopped me from enjoying another round of sauna was when i burnt my leg on the searing heat of the stove inside. Thankfully we had some medicinal ingredients for cocktails on hand which came along with us for a midnight row boat excursion out on the big glassy lake.

Midnight delight - cocktails and shouting directions at our rower Troy, it was all class

It was such a wonderful holiday and I was so pleased to be Mij and Troy's first visitor since their big move to Finland. I miss them so much already and would love to visit again in winter for some more laughs, cocktails, drinks at the Helsinki frozen ice bar and more Moomin paraphernalia