Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Anzac Day: Lest we forget

Today Australian and New Zealand communities all
over the world join together for ANZAC Day.

In 2015 we joined the ANZAC DAY dawn service at Kranji War Cemetery.
Two years later to the day we find ourselves back in Singapore.
Today is a work day and not a holiday here
so I am reposting as I join in saying
'Lest we forget'

Our service was held at the Kranji War Memorial Cemetery, Singapore,
 hosted by the Australian and New Zealand High Commissioners.

We weren't alone, we left our hotel at 5.30am,
 and arrive in a steady convoy of taxis, 
it's way too early for the trains!

We walk in silence.

The 4,500 gravestones at Kranji, 
emerge from the shadows
in silent observation of events.

Once there, it is a well organised, dignified affair.
Public to the left and right,
official guests and dignitaries, straight up the middle.

The Anzac Day dawn service is the same the world over;
a military order, school children and scouts,
national anthems, wreath layers from all walks of life
and usually a slightly dodgy bugler or bagpipe players,
and despite the former, a haunting last post.
Followed by an uplifting Gunfire Breakfast.

We love the familiarity.
Even though we are new Australian citizens,
the ANZAC dawn service is now something we do!

Last year Hong Kong, this year Singapore,
I whisper to my husband
'Let's make sure 2016 is somewhere good too!'

We know our service here in Singapore 
will mirror services already held in Melbourne, Sydney and Auckland. 
The same words will be spoken for the 10,000 people 
who have made the journey over to Gallipoli, Turkey
in this the centenary year.

By 5.45 am it is standing room only.
No-one complains.
 A warm, muggy Singapore day breaks,
Whilst the School choir launch into 'Always Remember', 
the birds chirp their own loud dawn chorus from in the trees.
Swifts stretch their wings,
swooping and diving as if excited to see us.

So what is this day that we are celebrating 
and why do we celebrate 
what the BBC describes as a military disaster?!

Anzac Day is one of those days that our friends from far off lands 
often know very little about. 
But for Aussies and Kiwis it is an important 
national day of remembrance, 
a day in which the ANZAC spirit was forged.

ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day 
is the anniversary of the landing of troops from Australia and New Zealand 
on the Gallipoli Peninsula, Turkey, in World War I on April 25, 1915. 
The bravery of all military personnel who participated in this campaign 
and the lives of those who died in all military actions are remembered.

ANZAC day is celebrated Australia-wide,
we even get a day's holiday in Victoria,
provided April 25th does not fall on a weekend.

We stand side by side with war veterans, 
with current servicemen and women,
with families remembering their lost ones
Parents take their children to learn, to experience,
to join an important commemoration from the Homeland.
Not to be missed.

We all reflect on the tragedy, 
the sacrifice and waste of war.
This seems particularly poignant in 2015,
the centenary of Anzac Day.

Away from all the action as the chairs are being tidied away
a small gecko suns himself on the top of a tombstone.
He carries his own war wound, his tail damaged.

I sit with him and wonder if the world is learning.
In recent days, 
we see news headlines of an alleged terrorist plot to attack 
Anzac Day proceedings in my home city, Melbourne.

Our Premier Daniel Andrews urged Victorians
to join in the ANZAC Dawn Services.
To commemorate ANZAC Day and sacrifices made,
 so that we can live a free life.

We listened, we turned out in record numbers this year across the globe.
We pay tribute to all those who have served.
Lest we forget

If you enjoyed this post you might enjoy Anzac Day 2014 in Hong Kong

What do we remember on Anzac Day?
This is a potential question on the Australian citizenship test
  • A) The landing of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove
  • B) The arrival of the first free settlers from Great Britain
  • C) The landing of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps at Gallipoli, Turkey
Answer: C) 

Monday, 24 April 2017

Taipei Adventures, naked - moi?!

I have to tell you all about my little adventure in Taipei recently, naked at the Hot Springs! I can't believe that I have never been to Taiwan, I certainly urge you all to go if you ever get the chance. For me, I loved the combination of influences of two countries I enjoy. 

Street views from Downtown Taipei
The Chinese left some interesting historical influences and stunning architecture, which combined with a Japanese legacy and efficiency in transportation, makes Taipei an easy place to visit, with so much to see. Nowadays, Taiwan has emerged as a thoroughly modern city, I loved my time there. It felt exotic and safe until I had to get my kit off.

It was a spur of the moment decisions to join my husband on his Taiwanese business trip, prompted by the delay in the arrival of our furniture into Bangkok, and ‘no room at the inn’ where we had been staying. Given that I’m commitment and fancy-free in Thailand; there’s no job, no kids, no dog and absolutely nothing in my diary, little old Wren needs no other excuse to make an “I’m coming too” wandering decision. 

Less than 24 hours later, I’m standing in front of Annie, our helpful concierge wearing her ‘my passion’s travel’ badge at the Westin, Taipei planning my couple of days sightseeing.

Having sorted out a pleasant afternoon of Taipei sightseeing on the Hop on, Hop off double decker bus, we move onto my more adventurous request of how does the Spa Queen of Asia get to visit the Hot Springs? I had picked up a brochure at the Tourist Information with a tour to a National Park followed by an afternoon bathing at the Hot Springs. Doesn’t that sound lovely?

Display on arrival at Xinbeitou Station!
Annie was explaining that bathing at the hot springs was 'au naturel' and asking whether I was comfortable with this? And I was having one of those internal conversations with myself that went like this…

‘Naked? What no clothes? Oh no…’

‘C’mon, when in Rome and all that…’

‘Oh Gawd, what after you’ve spent the morning on a bus tour, 
admired the flora and fauna of the National Park and got to know everyone, then you get your kit off together? 
Really? Oh no…’

‘C’mon, travel is about getting out of your comfort zone, 
this could be your be brave bungee jump moment! Face your fears…’

I s’pose if this is part of local Taiwanese culture, then I should try? 
I said hesitantly.

‘What would you do?’ I asked Annie.

Annie explained she preferred to book a private Hot Springs experience and added 

“You don’t need to get naked to experience Taipei Culture!”

Feeling like a right floozie, for even contemplating the naked in Taipei bit, we quickly arrange for me to catch the local public transport the MRT train to Beitou and attend a private spa hotel. It is not possible to book, but Annie rings to confirm arrangements and kindly marks it all on a map and adds all the points of interest, the library, the museum for me to look out for. I am excited for the wonderful day ahead.

The next morning I am feeling very pleased with myself having taken the Tamsui-Xinyi (red) MRT Line to Beitou Station, then transferred to the Xinbeitou Branch Line to Xinbeitou station and having walked with the map and arrive at the rather unprepossessing SweetMe Hotspring Resort Spa reception Yay! I was faced with the same dilemma. The private hot springs spa is apparently only for two people. Cannot book for one. They have public hot springs, men and women separate. Naked.

‘You want?’ The receptionists asks...

Naked? What no clothes? Oh no…’

‘C’mon, when in Rome and all that…’

‘Oh Gawd, S’pose it’s not like I’ll know anyone there… Really? Oh no…’

‘C’mon, travel is about getting out of your comfort zone, 
this could be your be brave bungee jump moment! Face your fears…’

‘Yes please!’

So I am shown into a changing room and given two lockers, one for my shoes just inside the door and one for my clothes further inside, with a shower cap and a large and small towel. 

A Japanese lady just leaving, tells me very firmly to put my shower cap on and to make sure I shower before entering the hot spring pools. The showers, about eight of them, no cubicle of course, are Japanese style with a very small stool in the middle of the hot springs. There is no escaping, everyone needs to shower!

I’m like an awkward giraffe with a shower cap on trying to sit my oversized behind on a tinsy-winsy stool. Forget April the giraffe and her birthing viewing, I’m feeling like the entire hot springs are watching me at this point. But I’ve left my glasses in the locker and so there is no way of knowing if this is what others are doing. Having given myself a ‘that’ll do’ rinse off, I haul myself up from my stool using the shower rail like some glorified uncoordinated pole dancer, looking in haste for the nearest pool. 

There are five difference pools of varying temperatures, some with jacuzzi jets. There are various sun loungers and a steam room and sauna. I launch myself at the nearest pool I’m in and out, like a cat on a hot tin roof. Guess I found the hot plunge pool! I’ve now got a bright red mark up to my middle, like a sun burn. Without glasses on I try to imagine it’s like I’m wearing a red mini-skirt which is strangely liberating. 

With no glasses and not looking at anyone else, I venture forth again, more cautiously. After an hour of being in the pools, I decide to hide in the sauna. There is a lady already in there, but I don't look at her and her not at me. I can’t stay in too long and emerge to a right ticking-off from an angry naked lady. I'm not quite sure what language it was, I’m thinking Japanese but I'm in a state of sauna-surprise, but she appeared to be remonstrating about my shower hat in the sauna! I have clearly breached some etiquette.

All becomes clear as I am about to leave having dressed and found my reading glasses and a large sign with all the hot springs rules which indicates for safety reasons, no shower hats are to be worn in the sauna, something about the risk of overheating and damaging the corneas. At this point, my eyes are now popping and I’ve convinced myself I’ll never see again.

Blinded by a shower cap in a sauna - well that’s a tale to tell the grandkids!

Outside the fresh air feels beautiful on my prune-like post hot springs skin. I take a wander around the town and visit the Beitou Hot Spring Museum. I read that the Beitou River is the source of the hot spring culture here, having five ‘otaki’, waterfalls in Japanese, which are perfect for bathing. 

I did smile to learn that in 1901 the local Police banned the general public from bathing in the river on the grounds of inappropriateness. Hey, I’m with them all this naked bathing with only a shower cap on, it’s wildly inappropriate….

I walk down the hill to find the entrance to the public hot springs bathing, by now my eyesight is returning to normal. There is a large sign which says strictly no entrance without appropriate attire, a swimsuit must be worn at all times. 

What? Nooooooooooooooooooo! Where’s the fun in that?!

Joining with thanks to all the hosts at Our World Tuesday

Thursday, 20 April 2017

10th Tea Cup and Mug Exchange reveal!

Hello, hello have you got time for a cuppa, as I want to share something rather gorgeous with you today? I have been participating in the 10th Tea Cup and Mug Exchange organised by Stephanie at The Enchanting Rose

I'm a newbie and just love the way that Stephanie is so thoughtful and kind in organising this and clever in her connections for participants to make new friends around the globe.

You can either choose to exchange a tea cup or a mug or as many do, both. This year there were over 200 participants. You send one package to one person (and you don't need to be a Blogger) and receive from another, and in that way, you make two lovely connections. 

At this time in my life having recently left family and friends for our new Thai life, this seemed a wonderful idea and I couldn't wait to be involved. I was a little uncertain whether anyone would want to send a parcel to Thailand but they did, thank you, Andrea, in Canada! 

You can imagine the smile on my face when I received details of who I was sending my parcel to and it was Lily from Home of a Lil'needlecrafter just down the road, so to speak in Malaysia. For a Wandering Wren, I had visions of mugs flying all over the world and just loved it!

Not only that but the previous week I had actually visited Lily's very town on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur when I had been attending the Malaysian Open Tennis tournament. How about that for Stephanie's amazing connection? I so could have dropped it off, had I known!

However, there was only one small problem. I was so new into life in Bangkok, I had no idea where my local Post Office was, or how to post a parcel here!! Such challenges are all part of the fun of learning to live in a new country but I'm afraid I took the easy way out. I packed everything up and took it to the UK, where I was visiting family and friends.  

Easy problem solved. Mr Wren thought I was absolutely bonkers, but I told him it was a VIP parcel and in the UK I knew where the Post Office is, and I knew it would get to Malaysia! 

Here are the things I choose for Lily, all represented the countries I was associated with, starting with an Aboriginal artwork mug from Australia with a koala. There was a tea-towel from New Zealand which said "unable to make a decision, Cecily made a cup of tea instead" A tea canister with the words 'Lily's favourites', I was mighty happy with that find! British Twinings Tea and Tea from London, with a touch of Thailand, a tuk-tuk fridge magnet. I decided against sending Thai Tea, given that Lily is from Malaysia, I figured it might not be that different. In the background are the orchids I took over from Bangkok for my Mum's birthday!

On the other side of the world, Andrea from My Everything Corner was kind enough to be packing up a parcel for me in Thailand! She must have got the most difficult destination, I love that she was up for the challenge! Her Canadian Post office told her it could take up to three months for the delivery to Bangkok and that customs were very strict! 

To add to the challenge of the distance, the destination is the fact that we have just celebrated Songkran the Thai New Year where everything shuts down for almost a week. Just as soon as the package arrives I will share it will you all. A massive thanks to Andrea in advance!

So what a lot of fun I've had participating in my first Tea Cup and Mug Exchange. I am slowly making friends here in Bangkok, everyone has been very welcoming and in the last few weeks, I've added two new friends from Malaysia and Canada, thanks to Stephanie's exchange. 

Thank you so much to Stephanie, Andrea and Lily!
You can read all about the other 10th Teacup/Mug Exchange reveals 
here at Stephanie's The Enchanted Rose Blog

Has the kettle boiled yet?

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Wet, wet, wet! Our Songkran Happy Easter from Thailand.

We had no idea what to expect heading into our first Songkran celebration living in Thailand, but we knew it was all about water and that we needed to be like all good scouts, be prepared. 

A trip to the local supermarket, yes the Brits amongst you will laugh, the not very Thai sounding supermarket, Tesco Lotus Bangkok finds us suitable weaponry. These mother of all water guns come with their own protective glasses and waterproof bags for phones. Some indication of the ferocity of what is ahead, when Thais "play water"

Songkran is the celebration for the Thai New Year, often called the water festival. It has its roots in the religious celebration of cleansing Buddha and is a three-day holiday. At its heart, is a time for families, for cleaning the home, and new beginnings.  We're very happy to have a special family time ourselves as all three of our adult children will join us from the UK and Australia. We are keen to see how the three days of Songkran, the world's largest water fight, will play out on the streets of Bangkok.

Day One we escape relatively unscathed. After months of seeing Thais dressed in the dark colours of mourning for their late King's passing, the first thing we notice is the bright shirts everywhere and music. It makes us realise how subdued life has been, but arriving in Thailand after King Bhumibol Adulyadej's deaths we knew no different.  The authorities have requested that certain Songkran events be more muted, out of respect at this time. If this was the case, I wondered what it was like on previous occasions. 

Planning our route carefully, walking as far as we can inside the "no play" shopping malls. We reach the water and take a canal boat ride and find that it is free as part of the Songkran celebrations - that's a nice touch. It's lovely cruising through the small canals looking at life on the water. Those already back from Songkran festivities are drying their clothes on the canal banks!

Our canal ride finishes close to the Khao San Road, a popular backpacker and party area and from a safe'ish distance, things looked in full drunken swing. Hmmm, not really my sort of cup of tea. I soon find I have double standards. If any of those drunken western lads-on-tour types so much as fire a few droplets at me, I'm not so impressed and glare with disdain. However, when jettisoned by a local Thai, I'm equally unimpressed, but to be honest, happier to cop a fair gotcha!

Walking on quickly by, we stroll (ok puff our way) up the 300 plus steps in the heat of the midday sun, to the top of Golden Mount. Inhaling a deep breath of frangipani trees and mix with the vibrations of the gongs of the massive drums which people ring as they pass, we are back in the more spiritual world of Songkran. I like it more. As some zen calm returns, we find ourselves amongst the orange clothed monks, all with umbrellas. Is that for the sun or the water? Whatever, good idea. I make a mental note to be more monk-like in the 2017 New Year, more zen calm, or at least carry an umbrella!

By the end of the day, I'm waiting at the end of the road to direct my son's taxi into our apartment block, I was well caught out, from behind. My son arrives after months of not seeing me, to find me looking like a drowned rat! 

'Hi, Mum, whatever happened to you?!'
Thailand 1 - Foreigner 0.

Day Two we are invited to join some Thai friends to their Songkran celebration, They take us to Silom road. Sorry no pictures, it was not safe to get a camera out!

As we descend from the SkyTrain into the roaring crowd we are an easy target, taller and drier than most. This is much less touristy, more local than yesterday. All ages mixed together. We discuss tactics, anyone who goes for us, we ALL go for them! It's a lost cause.

Within seconds we are drenched in icy cold water. It feels like the whole of Bangkok has come out to play water. It's not quite an even playing field as some people are literally throwing buckets of icy water at us. 

Thailand 10, Foreigners still 0!

We shuffle amongst the crowd, water everywhere. I am happy that cliff jumping, perforated ear-drum son has come prepared with his ear plug and wonder whether I will ever hear from my own waterlogged ears. It's impossible not to swallow any water as weeks of religiously brushing my teeth in bottled water are superseded by one massive drink from a Bangkok water festival - Oh for goodness sake ignore Wren, and find your inner Zen Wren! We slosh through the water-logged streets and hooray we've reached Lumphini Park and we can walk home!

Day Three we are determined to stay dry, and whilst we're clearly over it, the rest of Thailand is happy to party on. We escape down to the river and in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, we find Easter Eggs! Easter is not a big celebration here in Thailand, in fact, it is fair to say it has been totally eclipsed by the Songkran festival... It is a jolt to remember the rest of our family are sitting down to their Cadbury's and a Sunday roast!

We take to the water the way we like it, out on a James Bond long-tail boat whizzing around the Chao Phraya River and into some of the smaller canals at sunset. Yep, I've decided for my Songkran I much prefer to be on the water rather than under it!

I'm glad I've experienced my first Songkran but give me chocolate rather than a water fight any day! I hope you all enjoyed your weekend festivities however you were celebrating.

Linking with thanks to all the hosts at

Monday, 10 April 2017

Orchid Queen at the races!

They're off today at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club. 
It's horse racing Bangkok style.

We decided to walk there from our new apartment, an easy twenty-minute walk, well it would be if it wasn't so hot. 

Mad dogs and Englishmen and all that... 
We've regretted this decision by the time we walked down the first Soi. 

Luckily, it's Sunday and the roads in our neighbourhood, primarily a central business and embassy district, are very much quieter than normal. 

Just us and a few hundred thousand wires and no traffic jam - Yay! 

The racetrack runs around the edge of the Royal Bangkok Sports Club. It's the only racecourse I've been to that has golfers playing in the middle. Mr Wren
mutters something about how he wouldn't have the confidence to hit a ball with both a full grandstand and the line-up of valuable thoroughbreds galloping round the outside!

Once inside the Club, we're not conforming to the dress code which is long trousers for men and blue, black or grey colours as a mark of respect for the late King, as Thailand is still in a period of mourning. We are looking quite a sight by this stage dripping in sweat, despite lots of dabbing of our foreheads.

Even given our 'spot the newbies who haven't acclimatised yet' appearance, the locals are terribly polite and no-one seems to stop us. We find ourselves track side, amongst the journalists and caddies waiting to cross the course. The stands are full, and there appear to be good beer sales, the crowd roars with enthusiasm, as the horses thunder past. The perfect grass course is declared fast unlike their loading of the horses into the starting stalls.

The horses are held for an inordinate amount of time in the starting stalls and Mr Wren wanders off to check out the delay on the television screens. The race is already twenty-five minutes behind schedule, we smile. This would never happen at the Victorian Racing Club, in Melbourne.

Looking at the line-up, one of the horses, waiting to race in the starting stalls is Orchid Queen. One of the Journo's tells us she's good. 

"Quick, get a 100 Baht on that one", I suggest. 

Orchid Queen!
Remember our visit last weekend to the Orchid Farm? Well, bless her, number 10 Orchid Queen thunders home a short head in front. But wait, a stewards enquiry involving three horses. Our new Journo mate tells us we'll be right and we were. I'm off to pick up my winnings! She was 9-1, shame I only bet 100 Baht!

Still, I'm doing well this week, earlier in the week I'd won two British Airways flight tickets to the UK, how good is that? Maybe I should go for third time lucky and buy a lottery ticket!

Linking thanks to Darren at Photolife for My Sunday Photo 
and to all the hosts at Our World Tuesday

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

The hidden charms of Hua Hin!

There was only one answer to the message that our Bangkok moving-in date was delayed, due to trouble in Singapore and of course, it's too rude to print here.

Don't you just love it when everyone blames everyone else? Even better, when another country is at fault! I did have a wry smile though as when I was asked by Mr Wren whether I had a preference to live in either Bangkok and Singapore, I said Singapore, but 

"the Company said No!" 

They said, it was too expensive to move us there. So when our furniture ended up in Singapore, I felt like saying a big fat "see!" But I decided to take the more grown-up approach, and say 'let's go to the beach instead".

So here we are, we've driven just over two hours out of Bangkok to Hua Hin. We left at 7 am to beat the endless traffic jams, but it was still a slow at times, bumper to bumper drive. At the moment we're in the hot and dry season and so it feels like every Bangkokian and their dog, had the same idea to escape the heat. 

Hua Hin has been popular with the Royal family since Rama Vii built his Summer Palace here in the 1920's.  The 8 km sandy beach became popular, not only with the royals, but within Siam's nobility, and is clearly still a much loved holiday spot for all Thais escaping sultry, humid Bangkok. 

If you drive the other way out Bangkok you find further sort of torrid, arriving at another once sleepy fishing village, Pattaya the town that sex built. 

So I have chosen royalty over the later - just call me boring.

We booked our hotel room at the last minute. We'd already got an idea about how popular a destination it was, finding it tricky to find a room, but also we couldn't get over how flippin' expensive it was. Don't forget this is the third room we are paying for this Saturday night, after our temporary apartment, our new apartment, which we can't move into without the furniture, and now a hotel room! We were working to a tight budget.

We were very happy to find Ruen Kanok, a local Thai guest house at the south end of Hua Hin Beach that would do us just nicely. After a lovely frozen lemongrass welcome drink, quick swim in the pool and a Thai massage, we head for a stroll along the beach to see the Cicada night market, setting up. The band were warming up and the Hawker food market looked amazing! However we had a date with a sunset and cocktails as it was definitely sundowner time! 

The Hua Hin beach is busy and whilst we had a great girls weekend there a few years ago, after the vast expanses of Australian beaches, it feels crowded and nothing special. The next morning, however, we saw the magic of the place. We were up with the lark, ready to walk to the Big Buddha statue.

We enjoyed our walk past the standing Big Buddha, without the crowds and hike to the top of Wat Khoo Takiab. Just us, some playful monkeys and a couple of monks. It was ten times better without the tourists! As we climb higher up monkey mountain, being careful to hide anything that the cheeky monkeys might want to pinch, we start to see the Gulf of Thailand in all it's glory. 

On the way back we spot a man having driven a cart onto the beach, throwing barrels of liquid into the sea.

'Oi, Oi, Oi what do we have here?'

He sees our suspicion and calls us over to show us the baby crabs he is releasing back into the sea. We're feeling pretty bad that our western natural assumption, was one of scepticism. Instead of local pollutants, we have stumbled upon the local environmental protection brigade and hello 'save the crabs' at work... Ok, so they will eventually be eaten by the tourists, but clearly, all is not what it may have at first seemed. 

We later read that the local 'Cha-am Municipality regularly gives baby blue crabs to local fishermen to release them into the sea to promote the conservation of traditional crab catching methods' For more click here

We returned back to our guest house for breakfast
and more time by the pool. 
Royal Hua Hin, has charmed the locals for a long time,
and we're beginning to see why.
We will be back!