serendipity: “The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.”
My little adventure was off to a slow start. A late night/early morning drinking and chatting meant my northern departure was delayed. After driving the most boring road in the country (the Bruce Highway) for five-and-a-half hours I’d had enough. I checked into a dodgy motel in Australia’s beef capital, Rockhampton.
200km behind schedule and a little knackered I walked into the Great Western Hotel, a brilliant pub with the heads of stuffed bulls ‘decorating’ the walls as well as dozens of photos of bull riders in action. Out the back is a huge bull riding arena. I think you’d struggle to find a vegetarian meal in this pub.
I instantly recognised a guy at the bar. I worked with him 16 years ago. “Lisa!,” he excitedly said as he opened his arms. A hug from him was quite a treat. He is a favourite of many. A kind, gentle nature, sparkling eyes, and a genuine smile has always made the girls swoon. Now in his mid-40s, with a peppering of grey, he still makes the girls swoon. SWOON.
A 15-minute chat followed as we stood at the bar, him with a lemon lime and bitters, me with a scotch. He’d just finished walking across the Simpson desert, fundraising for YoungCare. He and his adult son rode motorbikes around Cambodia – his son decided to stay. Mr Swoon plans on retiring soon, moving down to the coast with his new partner, and going off the grid. His prognosis is two-eight years, thanks to a brain tumour.
He told me of his adventure plans. Among them are Cradle Mountain and Everest.
Clutter: a large amount of things that are not arranged in a neat or orderly way : a crowded or disordered collection of things.
Getting rid of most of your possessions is a taxing task that leaves you wondering if you own them or do those possessions own you.
Packing ‘your life’ into boxes that must fit into a single 4WD is like fitting my size 14 arse into size 10 knickers. No matter how much I try it’s still not practical or comfortable, nor is it necessary. I’ve reached an age where I’ve realised no one really cares how big my arse is and, if they do, they’re not my kind of people anyway.
If you had to pack your life into a vehicle, what would you take and what would you sell on Gumtree or give to the Salvos? And if you had 32 pairs of knickers would you pack them all?
While I’m still coming to terms to the ridiculousness of that number, I’ve likened my assorted range of knickers to my eclectic group of friends.
There are the trusty, faded, comfy ones that don’t let you down; the frivolous, frilly, pretty ones that only see the light of day on special occasions; the uncomfortable g-strings that you don’t really like but you’ve got to grin and bear them because they’re practical. There are the knickers that used to fit but you (and your ever expanding middle aged arse) have grown out of; and then there are the undies that you just can’t throw out because they’re part of your history (Come on. Don’t deny there’s at least one pair in your drawer that holds a memory).
Ridding yourself of possessions and underwear is an exploration of self and what’s important to you.
For the record, for me, trusty and comfy wins every time.
Let’s have a count. How many knickers do you have? Which pair is your favourite? Why?
Gumtree is an online selling system that is an eye-opening indictment of your local community. There are people among us who blatantly disregard the common elements of a polite and decent society while trying to score a bargain and therefore reign superior.
I sold every piece of furniture in the above photo via Gumtree, much of it just three months old. This is what I learned while doing so…
If you want to become ‘at one’ with Gumtree you have to abide by these basic rules:
At no stage be polite. When contacting a seller always get straight to the point. And, while you’re at at, forget any form of punctuation.
Haggle, even if the price placed on an item is exorbitantly cheap. Three month old furniture in perfect condition offered for half price is not a bargain. Make sure you attempt to screw the seller for ever dollar you possibly can. They owe you, after all.
If the seller refuses to negotiate on her as-new, half priced furniture you have every right to behave like a child, stomp your feet and walk out of the apartment in a huff.
If the advertised article is offered at no cost you should expect free delivery as well.
In conclusion, if you use Gumtree to buy anything, all elements of human decency are null and void.
Getting rid of most of your belongings ahead of any big move is a challenging mission. Many possessions are practical while others offer a reminder of times gone by.
It’s taken a while but I’ve given away or sold most of my possessions or, as I call it, ‘stuff’.
Stuff has two values: sentimental or practical. My old teddy, Yogi, is nearly 50 years old. There are lots of once loved, cuddled, slept-with and cried-on teddies for sale on Internet selling sites like eBay, but a new home will never, ever be as loving as their last.
After much soul searching and exhausting all avenues to find Yogi a new home I’ve been able to secure a roof over his head in my old bedroom at my dad’s place.
I was deeply touched by the friends who offered Yogi a home in their children’s bedrooms – proof that people are inherently aware of the significance of a dear childhood friend, even if they do smell of moth balls and sawdust. I like to think our childhood teddies, and our treatment of them, shaped a part of our future.
Today is pay day. More importantly today is one of my last pay days. Every second Wednesday a couple of grand lands in my bank account for me to spend as I choose. No kids or mortgage means I get spend it as I choose, even save some. I’m hardly a slave to fashion so very little of it goes on clothes. I buy lunches most days, eat dinner out every other day and am partial to the odd bottle of scotch or a few drinks after work. My major expenditure is rent and paying off an investment loan. I’m not really sure where the money goes but I do know that as pay day draws nearer I’m certainly looking forward to it.
Throwing in a perfectly good job isn’t a good move if you’re a materialistic sort of person, nor is it for anyone easily daunted by the prospect of not knowing how you’re going to pay your next phone bill.
I’ve spent most of my savings on a second-hand 4WD – one that will become my new home, carrying everything I own.
Work will set my travelling route. I’m hoping to get a month’s worth here and there with some travel, hiking, learning and exploring in between. I can pull a mean beer and love being outdoors. If fruit picking and directing traffic is good enough for backpackers then it’s good enough for me.
Yes, I wonder if quitting my job is career suicide, particularly at my age. I’ve spent 4.5 years with the ABC as a rural reporter and executive producer. In that time I’ve earned a very good reputation for being innovative, hard working, reliable, a team player, and a good manager. I’m hoping my reputation will secure me short-term ABC contracts from time to time.
The biggest hurdle I face is re-evaluating the role of money in my life. In theory, it’s relatively easy to spruik “money isn’t everything”, but I’m not silly enough to think that life without a regular wage will be easy.
That’s me. The one with the embarrassing year 1 photo. Not much has changed, yet these days I embrace my quirks.
I’ve recently quit my dream job, sold everything I own, bought a bigger vehicle, and decided to head north. You see, life’s too short for a long bucket list.
A forty-something tertiary educated, single, mortgage-less, childless female, I yearn for new challenges and experiences. And, with no ties, there is nothing to stop me from seeking out those experiences except complacency and fear.
Currently living in Tamworth, New South Wales, whatever I’m looking for isn’t here. It’s a beautiful region and my work as a rural reporter is interesting and satisfying, yet there’s something or somebody missing. So join me here as I venture into my future with little other than enthusiasm, a lost passion for writing, all of my possessions packed tightly in my new second-hand four-wheel-drive, and a healthy respect for the practicalities of living life on the road as a solo, female traveler.
Plastic bottles, plastic bags and the stench of rubbish greeted us as we left a suburban train station in Kuala Lumpur to spend a few hours at one of Malaysia’s most revered Hindu temples and natural attractions, Batu Caves. It was a sign of things to come as we made our way past filthy souvenir stalls, more rubbish and tacky attractions to the temple. The Malaysian Hindu women were dressed to the nines in their elegant, colourful and immacuate saris, but their overwhelming beauty was tarnished by the litter they passed as they made the trek up 272 steps of the temple which has been built into the side of a huge and impressive limestone range and cave system.
The Hindus removed their shoes for their pilgrimage while the tourists kept theirs on. As we climbed past a huge gold statue of Lord Murugan, the pavement and steps were wet and dirty rubbish, thieving monkeys persecuted those carrying food and roosters strutted wherever those chose. The magnificence of the huge cave, now with a cement floor and railings, the partly vegetated cave walls, and the beautiful statues embeded in the cave’s natural ledges were interuppted by the souvenir shop selling clocks with flashing lights that played Hindu chants, minature versions of the statue which stood so valiantly at the entrance to this great contradiction and hundreds of trinkets to remind the traveller of their visit to Kuala Lumpur. My memory won’t be of the Hindu god of war. It will be of filth.
It was obvious religion was cashing-in on both tourists and pilgrims. As a non-Hindu, I felt like I was western, white privileged voyeur. I was invading a special place I had little understanding of. But like most tourists, “it was cool to see”. It was something encouraged by the locals, keen to make a buck.
My cynicism and sentiment was echoed by a woman I met in Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands.
“There is corruption here and religion has sold out too,” she scorned as she explained the unregulated and poorly planned development that dominated this once peaceful and beautiful part of the world. Monstrous blocks of ugly flats encroach on mountainous rainforest that I had a glorious time hiking through in Tanah Rata. Highrise apartments spoil the views of guesthouses that have been operating for decades, nestled unobstrusively into a hill. A local businessman alleges a mammoth sum of US$100,000 would have been made to the person or people responsible for the approval of a large apartment block nearby. He shrugs forlornly as he tells me he’s lived in the small town all his life.
Effective waste management is non-existant in south east Asia. And the use of plastic bottles is rampant, with no effort to even acknowledge the problems they cause let alone to manage them. They and plastic bags litter roadsides, streams, culvets, gutters, yards, roads, bloody everywhere.
Bottled drinking water is provided in all hotel rooms with only some of those hotels providing opportunities to refill them with filtered water. You see, few people drink the tap water. And with the ever-increasing number of tourists flocking to these cheap holiday destinations the plastic problem is a looming disaster for both the environment and tourism.
It’s not only visitors contributing to south east Asia’s plastic pollution. Gifts from the locals to their Gods also contribute. A shrine on every corner is littered with food and drink gifts in plastic – chips, cokes, sweets.
I’m not sure which God would appreciate the destruction of the natural environment and I’m at a loss to understand why people so dedicated to their God and religion would let any place of worship get so ugly. South east Asia is an incredibly beautiful part of the world. You’ve just got to look past the plastic.
In Cambodia my local guide explains “it’s a cultural thing” as I question him about the litter strewn at a pretty lotus farm not far from Siem Reap.
“As a child we were allowed to throw it by the roadside. Everybody did it. It’s only now, as an adult, that I realise how bad it is. But not many people care. The plastic will last 400 years, you know.”
I queried the role of government in offering waste management options as I explained the large emphasis that Australian local governments place on managing waste. He looked at me gob-smacked as he said there was no rubbish collection, no waste management, and no litter education, let alone recycling options.
Another guide told me it is each household’s responsibility to manage their rubbish. As a result most of it is burned in piles that sit close to each house, contributing to toxic dioxin emmissions and the stink of those villages that tourists pay big tourist dollars to see. Even as I sat on a small boat to tour the remote floating villages on the floodpains of Tonle Sap lake at the floating community Kompong Khleang, my tour was interupted twice as the boat’s skipper struggled to remove the pastic bags that has enveloped the boat’s propeller.
But all is not lost. There is a very small movement starting to bubble in the dirty and polluted streets of Cambodia. Driven by international interest there is evidence that at least some people recognise the looming disaster. There is at least one campaign encouraging businesses to join the “war on waste”.
Refill Not Landfill is working to minimise the one-use plastic bottles that the initiative says amounts to “355,000 bottles discarded by tourists every day”. It aims to offer refilling opportunities but, during my travels throughout Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia, I saw few establishments that offered a filtered water refill opportunity.
Cambodia is an evolving tourist mecca, with predictions tourism numbers will more than double to 10 million per year in just a few years. Any waste initiative will only work if more business come on board, and quickly.
By far one of the most encouraging example of waste management education in Cambodia is by non-government organisation HUSK. Funded by a popular local tourism venture that offers guided tours, HUSK has built two schools made of plastic water bottles. Yes, the school walls are made of bottles filled with plastic bags covered by a concrete render. The local community in Kompheim was paid for their plastic rubbish and, with the help of generous western donors, a school was born. The locals call it the plastic bottle school. I call it a good place to start.
South east Asia has a monstrous plastic problem. As tourism continues to boom it’s a problem getting worse by the day. It’s not going to go away until governments offer waste solutions for their people. The plastic problem is threatening the health of villagers, their agricultural production and their tourism lifeblood.
It’s a beautiful part of the world, filled with lovely people, great adventures and memorable experiences. But, for me, what I will remember about the month I spent in south east Asia is poor countries drowning in plastic thanks to ignorant and allegedly corrupt governments who would rather count their short-term tourist dollars instead of encouraging the long-term economic, agricultural and ecological prosperity of their people.
It’s been a big day. A good day. Ten-and-a-half hours of travel has seen me travel from Siem Reap to the Cambodian capital. It’s only a few hundred kilometres but it took an overloaded bus, two “speed” boats (read two old wooden boats without a life jacket between them) and a tuk tuk to get me to a US$30 hotel in the heart of Phnom Pehn. It’s cheap, cheerful, clean and safe. And breakfast is included. Winning!
We clambered onto the “speed boat” an hour past its designated departure time and off we went south on Tonle Sap, a huge freshwater lake that is the lifeblood of Cambodia’s fishing industry.
Fast forward the EIGHT HOUR boat ride, give or take a boat change in the middle of the lake during which their was NO communication from the skipper as to why and how, and I find myself wandering the streets after dark in the centre of the bustling Phnom Penh. It being DARK is an important piece of information in this story.
Making up for a long day.
Sun-kissed and tired, I really am a sight to behold. So bad I actually put makeup on to go wandering in the DARK. And a dress. A $10 dress I bought in Siem Reap, made in Thailand. My thighs have rarely had the opportunity to rub together during the past month’s travelling so wearing a dress makes a nice change from the long shorts and hiking boots that are my staple adventure wardrobe. It’s only the second time I’ve worn makeup on this trip so one could say I’ve gone all-out to look human-like today.
Cue the jovial call from a young tuk tuk driver which I belly laughed at as I walked past on the opposite side of road.
YOU LOOK LIKE A MOVIE STAR!
My blonde hair often attracts looks here in Asia (even had a lady take a photo of me from behind in Malaysia), even if I am middle aged. It’s freshly washed and has grown substantially of late so it’s bouncing on my shoulders tonight. (As much as fine hair with split ends that hasn’t seen product or a hair dryer for a month can bounce). I even washed it using my Aussie shampoo. No cheap hotel shampoo for me tonight! #classy #fluffy
I continued to exchange polite banter with said tuk tuk driver as I walked away. “How long you been here? How long you stay? You from Australiaaaaaa?
They can be annoying but they’re only trying to make a living. Once you engage with them other than a ‘no, thank you’, they smell blood and an opportunity to play tour guide. It may be a tuk tuk eat tuk tuk world here in Cambodia but the drivers remain polite and jovial if knocked back with a smile.
Nek minnit the young, chatty and cheeky driver is behind me. He’d turned the ignition on in his tuk tuk and sped the 30 metres now between us faster than you can “Asian gastro”.
He was vying to be my tour guide and played a hard, knowledgeable game. He suggested he would take me to the killing fields and the genocide museum. Short but good looking and charming I told him he was being cheeky and was playing me. With a glint in his eye he knew he had me.
So Tom is meeting me at my hotel at 11:30 tomorrow where, for US$20, I’m not only sure to learn about the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime, but also have a lot of laughs getting to know a young lad working hard to make a living on the tough, competitive streets of Cambodia.
Oh, and he invited me for a beer tonight. I declined but did wonder if he’s moonlighting as a gigolo. He’s certainly got what it takes. Too bad I’ll be wearing my long shorts, hiking boots and no makeup tomorrow.
These are just some of the comments made by Australian friends when I mentioned my upcoming holiday to Singapore. They couldn’t have been more wrong.
Sure, chewing gum is a no-no, but there’s a reason for that. My second observation of this amazing city was its order and cleanliness. Everything has its place. There’s no rubbish in the gutters, the grass on roadside verges is mown and edged, even the cars and trucks are clean. All of them.
It costs ten of thousands of dollars to put a car on the road here in Singapore. Cars must be less than 10 years old and there’s no shortage of high-end vehicles. But cars aren’t a necessity here. Public transport is nothing short of brilliant. If Singapore is a 10/10, Australia’s transport system is a 4. There is no graffiti, there’s no rubbish on train platforms, everything is well signed, the ticketing system is easy and efficient, buses and trains are frequent, on-time and very cheap.
I made my first observation as I caught the train from Changi airport to my friend’s place near Outram Park station. (The journey only cost me $3.50. In Australia, the train from my dad’s place to Brisbane airport costs about $23.) I was the only one wearing sunglasses. For some reason few Singaporeans wear sunnies. They also rarely seem to wear hats or caps. (It’s funny the things you notice …)
I feel safe here despite police being rarely seen. I’m told that if there’s any sign of trouble they come from nowhere. There are CCTV cameras everywhere and there’s little doubt there are many eyes watching the day-to-day activities of residents and visitors alike. As a result, crime is very low. It’s a very safe city to wander, any time of day. As a keen walker I’m happy to report there are footpaths along every road: Clean, easy to traverse footpaths, possibly another legacy of the enormous cost of owning a car in Singapore. Taxis are plentiful and Uber is well-utilised here too. I can also report that Singaporean drivers are heaps better at reverse parking than Australians. Hands down.
So let’s address the most common misconception about Singapore, the one about it being a terribly expensive holiday destination.
Look, if you want to shop and get pissed repeatedly on your Asian holiday, don’t come to Singapore. While the range of shops and size of shopping strips blow Australia’s out of the water, there’s little that’s a lot cheaper here. The range is larger but you’re still paying similar costs for shoes and clothing in shopping malls. And if you want to have a few wines with lunch after a morning’s shopping, you’re in for a shock. Booze is bloody expensive here so grab your bottle of Moet or Johnny Walker duty-free in Singapore airport. In fact, in my many wanderings around this city, I haven’t even spied a bottle shop. Corner stores sell some alcohol, as do some bars, but the range is limited and the cost rather large. A Johnny Walker black label on the rocks will cost at least $13, a beer around $15. I guess it’s the Government’s way of making sure alcohol isn’t the bogan problem it is in Australia or other Aussie favourite holiday destinations like Bali or Phuket.
BUT if you want an interesting holiday and an adventure that doesn’t involve shops and bars, Singapore is a great option. There is so much history here, some of it confronting, but fascinating none the less. It is far from “soulless” as was described to me before I ventured here.
Fort Canning Park is worth several hours of your time, even if you’re not a history buff. Close to public transport, this now-beautiful parklands with sprawling lawns and stunning heritage-listed trees is an iconic hilltop landmark which has witnessed many of Singapore’s historical milestones. “The hill once sited the palaces of 14th century Malay Kings and served as the Headquarters of the Far East Command Centre and British Army Barracks. The decision to surrender Singapore to the Japanese on 15 February 1942 was also made on the hill, in the Underground Far East Command Centre, commonly known as Battle Box.” There is even a fantastic display of artefacts that were unearthed on the site in the 1980s.
And the great history walks don’t finish there. Fort Siloso is the only restored coastal gun battery of 12 such batteries which made up “Fortress Singapore” at the start of World War II. It’s an awesome walk through beautiful grounds with beautiful views of the harbour and all the ships awaiting loading at Singapore’s huge port. Fort Silosa is a fantastic, free military museum full of surprises.
Singapore is a melting pot of cultures and food. Yes, dining at a nice restaurant can come at a price, but there is an enormous range of inexpensive options if you’re happy to eat like the locals. My first meal here cost $5 at the Tiong Bahru markets – a divine Hainanese chicken cooked on the spot.
I decided against the $4.50 mixed pig’s organ porridge and the $5 fried intestine porridge. Maybe next time.
Groceries can be expensive so it’s often cheaper to grab your lunch from one of the many local eateries. All fruit and vegetables are imported and I was surprised by their freshness and quality. Depending on what you’re buying and where, the price of produce is comparable to that of Australia.
Yoga classes are abundant here but they are expensive. A couple of drop-in classes near where I’m staying cost around $30. So I decided against a downward dog and instead found a great meditation centre called Kadampa where I did an $8 beginner meditation class.
A very fun day out is at Sensosa, an island resort very popular with tourists. As well as Fort Silosa, it houses a golf course, more than a dozen top of the range resort-type hotels, Universal Studios, aquarium, beaches, bars and restaurants, nature walks and a stack of adventure activities. You could easily spend a couple of days there and prices are fair.
The best free activity remains standing in awe of the high density housing, tall highrises and mind-boggling construction techniques, with washing hanging on washing lines that stretch from highrise windows thirty stories up. There’s no room for broken pegs in Singapore. And there’s no room for pre-conceived ideas either. Come here with an open mind and you’ll be pleasantly surprised.