Khaled and Nalan get married.

Last night my wife and I went to the wedding reception of Khaled and Nalan. The reception was held in a large (there were about 260 guests) beautifully decorated room with a live R&B band. Later in the evening, since Nalan is of Turkish descent (Khaled’s parents are from Egypt) there was the tradition of pinning money to the bride and groom.

Khaled and Nalan

It’s a lot easier than shopping around for a wedding present!

Just before midnight the real fun and joy began as the live band packed up and Turkish music was played over the P.A. There had been a fair bit of dancing when the band played but the place (as we say here in Australia) “went off” as the dance floor was jam packed as groups of Turkish  men got up and did their dances. The dances were like a mix of Greek and Cossak dancing.

The boys bust a few moves

The men danced in circles with arms over each other’s shoulders like the Greeks but every now and again one of them would break loose to bust a few moves by bobbing up and down like a Cossak. Every one had a blast and it was a great wedding reception.

Train travel in Vietnam

When all things are considered Vietnam has a pretty good train system. 

Hue train staion

Sure, it’s nothing like Japan’s bullet train, but it’s much better than some steam-train trips I took in Thailand back in the early 1970s.

Travelling by train is my favourite mode of transportation for long distances, and it’s a pity that train travel has become so expensive here in Australia. The beauty of travelling by train is that one can get up and walk around.  Another thing that sets train travel apart is a sleeper carriages.  It really is a luxury on a long trip to be able to just stretch out and lie down to get some sleep.

In Vietnam there are basically four different classes of train travel. Hard seat and soft seat air-conditioned seating and for the sleepers there are, hard 6 berth air-conditioned and soft 4 berth air-conditioned.  For what is effectively very little difference in money, one would have to be mad or totally broke to go on a long journey in a hard seat without air-conditioning in Vietnam, when the four berth air-conditioned sleepers such a good deal.

Engogirl in a soft 4 berth sleeper

My wife and I travelled in the hard six berth air-conditioned and soft four berth air-conditioned sleepers and to tell you the truth there isn’t that much difference in the softness of the berths.  The big difference between the two different kinds of sleepers is the four berth sleepers give one lot more room, and you can actually sit up in your bunk. 

Cramped hard 6 berth sleeper

The hard six berth air-conditioned sleepers are really cramped, and the Vietnamese, as lovely as they are, don’t seem to have the same sense of personal space as westerners.  A Vietnamese person (or two) will think nothing of sitting on your bunk with you, without asking, which can be a real drag if there are six people in a very small space. Another issue with having so many people in one room is that during the night you have that many more people climbing up and down bunks during the evening to use the toilet so it can be quite a bit noisier. A word to the wise, book top bunks for a better nights sleep.

Because of the close proximity that one is to their fellow travellers, trains can be a very social experience. 

One of the very nice locals that we met

Both my wife and I enjoyed meeting the local Vietnamese people, who we found to be generally, very friendly.  On a few occasions, we met young educated people who were incredibly well informed about Australia.  It came as quite a shock to meet somebody from overseas, who actually understood Australian politics.  I wouldn’t have thought that it would have rated as interesting for a Vietnamese person.

Vietnamese trains also provide basic meals and bottled drinking water as part of the price. 

Dinner time

The food is fairly ordinary,

Fairly bland but not bad

but it wasn’t bad (especially when one considers how cheap the tickets were), and if you get tired of what is on offer for free there is other food for sale from vendors who travel up and down the train.

The night of the chocolate stars. Naked climbing at Katoomba, NSW, Australia.

During my sister’s recent visit from Canada, I took her and her friend up to the Blue Mountains (110km or about 70miles west of Sydney) to see the various sights. The most photographed attraction in the Blue Mountains is a rock formation known as the Three Sisters. Although the guide books like to say that the Three Sisters are 920m (almost 3000ft) tall (as in above sea level), they only rise about 200m (about 600ft) from the surrounding bush.

The Three Sisters from Echo Point Katoomba

Up until about 10 years ago it was possible to climb the Three Sisters (usualy up the middle sister) but that activity has been banned because too many people were doing it and causing rock to be dislodged which was a danger to walkers on the tracks below.

I climbed the Three Sisters many times back in the early 1990s when I belonged to an outdoors club called SPAN. Other outdoors clubs that I’d come across in the past were fairly staid affairs that I only ever visited but never joined. SPAN on the other hand was populated with very vibrant members full of life doing a wide range of outdoor activities. Every weekend there was at least 3 or 4 different things to do, such as, caving, climbing, bushwalking and white water kayaking. Most of the trips were quite challenging and the majority of SPAN’s members were very fit and capable. Best of all, the SPAN members loved to party and have a great time were ever they went. My years in SPAN were probably the most social of my life.

When I was showing my sister the Three Sisters I told her how I’d climbed them many times and I even did it naked once. I could see by the look on my sister’s friend’s face that she didn’t know whether to believe me or not  (my sister knows me and knows I’d do something stupid like that). 

Later that day we bumped into an old friend of mine, Colin who I used to go climbing with, in a pub. When I told him that I’d been showing my sister and her friend the Three Sisters he asked me if I’d told them about our naked climb up them together. It was priceless to see my sister’s friend’s face when my story was corroborated without any prompting by me.

Back in 1993, Colin, myself and two other friends, Mark and Peter climbed the Three Sisters naked together. We put the climb in the club programme and invited any other member to come with us. Strangely enough there were no other takers so just the four of us did the climb.

After the climb I wrote the poem below to put in the December 1993 SPAN club magazine, “Bushed”.

Of a shameless night I would like to sing,
A night where we four did a silly thing.
The members had done it all and were jaded,
So after some discussion in various bars,
I came up with the “Night of the Chocolate Stars”.
Those of you with minds less than keen,
Will be wondering what the heck do I mean?
Well, I’m talking of the Three Sisters West Wall,
A climb done so often it’s starting to pall,
How could we make the climb perverse and bent?
Something so wild and stupidly different?
The sort of thing to which people would probably say:
“You can’t possibly be serious – no way!”
How about we give the members reason to chuckle with delight,
And put in the programme a climb to be done at night,
Adding a twist to make it much more interesting,
I’ll suggest it is climbed without wearing a thing.
Some of you will think I am stark mad raving,
But I say it’ll be like stark naked caving!
So into the programme the climb was submitted,
Against more sensible things it was pitted.
At the meeting before the infamous weekend,
A concerned member my ear did bend,
For the sake of the others she took me to task,
“Isn’t it irresponsible to go at night?” she did ask.
I tried to get her climbing with us to come,
But she didn’t care for us to see her cute bare bum.
So, what more can I say?
Eventually it came, that infamous day.
At 9pm we undressed and started to climb,
And the honour of leading, it was all mine.
My trusty companion and second was Mark,
Luckily for him my pimply butt was kept in the dark.
Following us was Colin leading with nothing covering his behind,
Following was Peter, but naked? – he was not inclined.
It was a balmy night with a full moon rising,
The climbing was so comfortable it was surprising,
With only a head lamp for bright light,
One couldn’t see down far enough to get a fright.
Usually belaying your second is boring,
But with lamps off, the view was rewarding.
Sitting while belaying, naked and warm in the dark,
I enjoyed the starry beauty as I waited for Mark.
We all found the climbing to be so easy,
On such a night with the air warm and breezy.
So on we climbed without clothes to rip and tear,
Over the stone we went, bottoms in the air,
Until we came to the chimney that causes concern,
Back into his clothes Colin did return.
But it’s to nakedness Mark and I were betrothed,
Up the chimney we went, fully unclothed.
Together we vowed to the last pitch,
To keep climbing without a stitch.
As I reached the summit a gust of wind blew past my ear,
Of protective magpies I was in the dark and in fear.
“Oh gremlins of the air, spirits of sky,
Please don’t let a magpie peck out my eye!”
Sitting at the apex, a victim of my own imagination,
I guessed my fears were just a wind blown hallucination.
Eventually the others joined me at the top,
A camera was produced and the flash did pop.
We had done what we had aimed.
Just to get down was all that remained.
So down two pitches, 50 metres we abseiled.
Over loose rock and bushes, we were nearly impaled.
Then on to the Grade 7 tourist traverse.
We had completed our climb twisted and perverse.

A visit from my sister.

I haven’t posted for the last little while, because my sister (Penny) and her friend (Jennie) came to visit me all the way from Canada.  Jennie is in the catering industry and won an all expenses paid trip to Thailand for her and a friend, through her job.  Because Jennie is associated with a large hotel chain their stay in Thailand was very luxurious.  From what I was told, their time in Thailand was a blur of company organised cultural events and feasts.

Since Penny was in the general area, she came to visit me here in Sydney.  We don’t get to see each other, very often, because we live so far apart, and the last time I saw her was about two years ago, when I was working in Vancouver, Canada.

Penny and Jennie arrived on Sunday morning a week ago, and I organised a large welcome lunch with some of my friends. 

Friends welcome Penny and Jennie

 I cooked a Sicilian lemon chicken dish for the main course and for the desert I made a panpepato (sort of like a rich brownie made with figs and raisins that have been soaked in marsala and mixed with cinnamon, roasted walnuts and cocoa), with a tangy lime, mint and pineapple sorbet over it and topped off with a jelly of blood orange juice and Campari with a garnish of dark chocolate and mint.  

Jenny with my desert

Our welcome lunch went well on into the evening, and much wine was drunk.

Peter, Razzbuffnik, Penny and Elanora

During their stay in Thailand penny and Jennie took some Thai cooking lessons so last Thursday they cooked my wife, her parents and I a delicious meal. 

Engogirl and her parents on the left with Razzbuffnik and Jenny on the right

 Since we were having Thai food, I thought it would be a good opportunity to introduce my sister to the excellent sauvignon blanc’s that come from the Marlborough region in New Zealand.  So in the name of wine education we went through five different bottles of delicious Kiwi wine.

Penny and Jennie enjoying Kiwi wine

Most of the artworks that I own are way too expensive for me to actually buy and the only way that I can afford to own them is to do work for artists and receive their work as payment. Since my sister has been very generous to me in the past I wanted to return the favour by giving her a painting by Mai Long. Mai owed me two paintings as payment for some work I’d done for her a couple years ago, so on Saturday (the day before my sister was to go back home), we went around to Mai’s place and my sister and I picked out two paintings. Penny selected a work from 2000 called “Mateship” for herself and I picked out a painting called “Water sports”, from 2003 for my wife and I.

Water Sports by Mai Long

I thought it would be a good thing for my sister as a tourist to Australia to meet Mai, who was featured in the “Lonely Planet”, DVD (Lonely Planet Six Degrees Series 1: Sydney)of Sydney. Mai has been very busy producing work for her next exhibition of “Aquamutt and Dag Girl”, and her apartment was absolutely stuffed with unfinished colourful papier-mâché dogs and mutant girls.  In the photo below you can see the painting “Mateship” on the floor to the left and up on the wall behind Mai’s head is a painting by Reg Mombassa of Mambo fame.

Mai amongst her work

Since Saturday night was the girls last evening in Sydney I cooked up some roast lamb on the barbecue, and we got stuck into some very nice Shiraz. As the night wore on, and more wine was drunk, the music got louder and my wife and I’s collection of silly costumes came out.  It wasn’t very long before nearly everybody was nearly wetting themselves with laughter. 

Jennie and Penny in my idiot costume, about to wet themselves

Penny and Jennie’s trip ended on a really nice high note, and the only real drag was that we had to get up at 4 a.m. on a Sunday morning so they could catch their flight back home.