Ports of call – Burgas, Bulgaria

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Oct 02 - on board Constellation18After leaving Istanbul, our first port of call was Burgas, Bulgaria, the most westerly port on the Black Sea.  It was an overnight sail arriving inOct 03 - Bourgas01 port the following morning.  Being October it is the off season and the beaches are pretty much deserted.  The town of Burgas seemed relatively small and didn’t offer a whole lot for the tourist or sightseeer.  We hopped on a city Oct 03 - Bourgas07bus and travelled up the coast to the ancient seaside town of Nessebar.  The guide mentioned thatNessebar Bulgaria has only three highways and it certainly looks that way on the map.  The country has a population of 7.3 million people but it holds the unenvieable record for the world’s most rapidly shrinking population which has decreased annually for the past 23 Oct 03 - Nessebar86years.  The ancient part of Nessebar is on a peninsula (previously an island) and connected to the mainland by a narrow man-made isthmus.  It has an abundance of historic buildings, Eastern Orthodox church ruins and Unesco sites. Archeological excavations are still going on today.  We spent a couple of hours walking around the ancient town of Nessebar and found it very clean with cobblestone walkways and interesting alleys and shops.  We had lunch at a seaside restaurant and then boarded the bus for the 45-minute ride back to our ship in the port of Burgas.

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Our Eastern Europe Cruise

Map - path & direction of ConstellationAs a sort of farewell to three years of living in Malaysia, we decided to give ourselves a treat by booking a cruise of the Black and Aegean Seas out of Istanbul, Turkey.  It was our first ever cruise and it began on Arlene’s birthday in case we were looking for another excuse for booking.

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We arrived in Istanbul, Turkey, three days before the cruise began so we could have some time to explore this exciting city which straddles two continents.  Our time here was spent mainly in the Old City on the European side of the Bosphorus Strait.

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As we sailed out of port and headed north towards the Black Sea, we passed under two magnificent bridges over the Bosphorus Strait linking Europe and Asia.  The Bosphorus Bridge built in 1973 is just over one kilometre long and is one of the longest single-span suspension bridges in the world.  A pilot came on board to advise the crew on navigation through the strait.  A fee is paid for this service yet the pilot assumes no responsibility should an incident happen.

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Our ship was the Celebrity Constellation and for twelve days and nights it became a floating community of over 2,000 passengers and crew.  Our room was an inside stateroom on the third deck, meaning it didn’t have a port hole view of the sea.  Though efficiently small, it was clean and comfortable without being claustrophobic.  We have had smaller hotel rooms in Japan and Singapore.  The cleaning staff were very polite and friendly.  Often when they unnamedsaw us coming down the corridor, they would unlock and hold the door open for us.  Sometimes we would find some Turkish Delights on our bed.  Each day we received a copy of Celebrity Today, the cruise newsletter, telling us about the upcoming port of call and what entertainment was on that day.  There was also a 2-page news summary called ‘The Canadian’ to bring you up to date on important events back home, which could be picked up in the main foyer.

A towel 'sea turtle' made up on our bed

A towel ‘sea turtle’ made up on our bed

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The next morning we arrived at our first port of call at Burgas, Bulgaria.  The ship arrived in the early morning, so by the time passengers woke up, the gang way was ready and they could simply swipe their ‘sea pass’ card to go ashore for the day or for a few hours to grab a coffee and sample the Bulgarian food.  The next port of call was Varna, up the coast in Bulgaria but despite being the largest port on the Black Sea we were not able to dock the Constellation.  Usually passengers would be tendered in to the port but because the waters were so rough Captain Nickolaus made a decision to abort this landing and have a day at sea as we headed for Constanta, Romania.

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From Constanta, it’s a long cruise right across the Black Sea from west to east, to the Oct 12 - on board Constellation33Eastern Turkish seaport town of Trabzon.  Some of the world’s seas are quite small and more along the size of our Canadian Great Lakes but not the Black Sea.  It is Oct 10 - on board Constellation33approximately ten times larger than Lake Superior so it is a sail of two nights and a day.  For that day at sea, all that you see in any direction is water, but there is no way that you could be bored in these huge cruise ships as there are so many amenities and things to do.  For entertainment there was the Celebrity Theatre which looked like a smaller version of Ottawa’s National Arts Centre, where bands, musicals, musicians, comedians, aerialists, a hypnotist  and presenters performed daily.  For the gambler there was a casino on board.  Oct 09 - cruising the Bosphorus Straits15There’s a fitness centre, massage studios, basketball court, Oct 10 - on board Constellation31walking/jogging track, outdoor and indoor pools, spas and a photographic studio.  Shoppers are not left out, as you could buy Apple products, watches, men’s and women’s clothing, alcohol, Christmas ornaments and there was even an art auction.  Purchases were only available when the ship was at sea and not in port, and were tax free.  For music lovers there was a 4 piece rock band, a violin & cello trio from Russia, a solo singer/guitarist,  DJ and LadyOct 04 - on board Constellation06 Sax duo and the Ocean Band which backed the featured guest musicians.  If this was not enough there were other musicians and comedians who came aboard for 2 or 3 Oct 10 - on board Constellation23shows.  I really enjoyed a band from Philadelphia called Emily and the Nightcaps.  A favourite comedian was a Canadian from Vancouver by the name of Sean O’Shay.  Presenters in the Celebrity Theatre gave talks about the history, culture and geography of many of the countries we were visiting.  Apple techs gave lectures on the latest Mac products and technologies.  The 91,000 ton Constellation debuted in 20002.  It’s entrance atrium on the 3rd deck has a marble staircase.  There are a pair of curved sea-view elevators to whisk you from the gangway on Deck 1 all the way to the top of the ship on Deck 11.

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From Trabzon we sailed west to the town of Sinop and then back through the Bosphorus Strait, once more past Istanbul.  Everyone was out on the decks to view the bridges, mosques, palaces, towers and other sights of the Old City as we cruised into the Sea of Marmara.

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From the Sea of Marmara we entered the Dardanelles Strait which connects to the Aegean Sea.  Water flows in both directions along the strait via a surface current in a westerly direction and via an undercurrent in the opposite direction.  This is the reason the Black Sea is a mixture of sea water and fresh water which comes from the rivers flowing into the sea. Oct 12 - on board Constellation57 Food is always plentiful on cruise ships and the Constellation was no exception.  Several Oct 12 - on board Constellation62eateries around the ship included the Ocean View dining room, the San Marco (main dining room), Martini Bar, Cellar Masters, Bistro on Five and the Tuscan Grill.  Room service operated 24-7 to satisfy your hunger at any time of the day or night.  There were two formal dining nights for those who wished to dress in a tux or suit.  Oct 12 - on board Constellation64Otherwise the Ocean View was available for more casual cafeteria-style dining.  After a day ashore, we made our way to the San Marco where we had our same table for six every evening for dinner and were served by the same waiters, hostesses & sommelier.  Afterwards we would Oct 13 - on board Constellation32take in one of the exciting performance at the Celebrity Theatre.  One of my favourite entertainers on board was Sean O’Shea, a Canadian from Vancouver who was described as Rich Little meets Jim Carrey.   A nice thing about these acts were that they  lasted 45 minutes to an hour, so that you could then retreat to one of the lounges and listen to some music until it was time to retire for the evening.

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Entering Greek water our first stop in the Agean Sea was the island of Mykonos.  After spending a few hours walking around the town we returned to the Constellation and an overnight sail took us to Peraeus, which is the Oct 11 - on board Constellation08port of Athens.  Arlene & I took a 4-hour bus tour of the city which took us to the Acropolis, the Olympic Stadium, the temple of Olympian Zeus and other archeological sites in this capital city which is one of the oldest cities in the world. From Athens we sailed overnight through the Greek islands to the town Oct 12 - Kusadasi08of Kusadasi in Turkey.  Kusadasi is the gateway to the ancient city of Ephesus and the ruins dating back to 1400 BC and even beyond that.  As I had done quite a bit of Oct 12 - Ephesus68lowreswalking over cobblestones and hills in Mykonos and Athens, I decided to stay on board Constellation and have a rest day.  While in port in Kusadasi, a Celebrity sister ship, the Reflection, an even bigger boat than ours,  docked alonside the pier.  Passengers on both boats waved to each other like we were family.

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From Kusadasi we sailed overnight through the Dardanelles Strait back into the Sea of Marmara.  We slipped past the former battle site of Galipoli, into the Bosphorus Strait and after 12 days we were back in our home port at Istanbul.  We had sailed 2,250 nautical miles in the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea, the Sea of Marmara, the Bosphorus Strait and the Dardanelles Strait.Oct 11 - on board Constellation23Oct 11 - on board Constellation42Oct 10 - on board Constellation30Oct 11 - on board Constellation47

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Re-adjusting to life in Canada

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We have been in Canada for almost a month now. Normally on our visits home from OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMalaysia we would now be thinking about getting on a plane for that long, long flight back, but this time we’re in Canada to stay. The jet lag is long gone. We are pretty good at driving on the right side of the road although Arlene still occasionally walks around to the passenger side but soon realizes there is no steering wheel there. I sometimes will put the wipers on when I’m trying to signal and vica versa.

car park at Publka Mall, Kuala Lumpur

Car park at Publka Mall, Kuala Lumpur

Car park at Bayshore Shopping Centre, Ottawa

Car park at Bayshore Shopping Centre, Ottawa

 

 

 

 

 

It has been a cool July on many days but when the sun decides to shine it gets pretty hot. Unlike Kuala Lumpur where the temperature is consistantly 34 degrees give or take a degree, Pembroke mornings have been in the low 20s and some days as hot as 38 degrees.   The air is fresh and we don’t have to worry about any haze or smoke from fires drifting over from Sumatra.

 

Smiling Security guards at Taylor's College

Smiling Security guards at Taylor’s College

It’s nice to be able to walk up the street to my friend’s house and knock on his door and not have to ring a buzzer for someone to open a gate. In the Klang Valley in Malaysia, security guards are everywhere. Not so here – I saw the

Security guard at Bayshore Shopping Centre

Security guard at Bayshore Shopping Centre

first one today at the Bayshore Shopping Centre. Leaving Bayshore Shopping Centre, signs routed me around a city block in a Malaysian fashion, when I could’ve just turned right and joined the road to the Queensway.

 

In Kuala Lumpur and the outlying cities, construction was 2014 Aug 03 - James St consteverywhere. They are drilling a new MRT tunnel under the city. The LRT is being extended almost everywhere you turn. On a much smaller scale we have construction going on all over Pembroke. Trying to find a route to cross the city without detours is impossible and ‘delays are expected’ as the sign says. In Ottawa there is also construction of an LRT.Boring in the city - 12014 July 08 - LRT Tunnel from Ottawa Citizen

In Malaysia, during the day I would spend my time in the air-conditioned comfort of our OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAcondo working on our blog or managing my images on the computer. Here in Canada, there are plenty of things going on outside our house that needs our attention. We have painted the house and changed the colour from gray with burgundy shutters to a cream with light grey shutters. Still looking very much like the New England style home that it is. In the past I have always painted the 2-storey house by brush myself, but this time I have passed the job on to our youngest son, Liam and he has done a fantastic job. Also the roof shingles needed to be replaced so a contractor was hired to do that. There is lots of yard work such as trimming the gardens and hedges 2014 July 31 - shingling09which have grown out of control over the years we’ve been away. Mowing the lawn is a weekly chore unlike Malaysia where it gets trimmed by a weed wacker a few times a year. Never quite understood why grass grows so slowly in a rain forest country, yet in Canada lawns need to be mowed at least once a week during the season. There are a few more projects to do such as tearing down our garden shed and finding a carpenter to build a new one, but we’re starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, as well as at the end of the bank!

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Today we made a trip to IKEA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAin Ottawa to get some furniture for my home office. After I find someone with a strong back to carry it up the stairs, I can begin my favourite job (NOT!) of assembling it.

 

2013 June 21 - Fergie's Chip WagonGone is the nasi lamak, roti canai, cendol, chicken fish and 2014 July 17 - Fort William50croppedthe hawker stalls. In it’s place we have BBQ hot dogs & hamburgers, pork sauasage, marinated chicken, Atlantic salmon, poutine, and French fry wagons.

2014 Aug 05 - gas prices at Canadian TireOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAlso gone are the days of 2 ringits, 10 sens per litre of petrol.  We are now paying almost double that for a litre of gas at $1.30 per litre. Travel is another thing we’ll have to curb now because what they consider a bargain here would never fly (no pun intended) in Malaysia. Porter Airlines advertises a trip from Ottawa to New York City, a flight of one hour or less for $267 one way. No one in Malaysia would pay the equivalent of 750 ringgits for a one hour flight from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi. Oh boy, we definitely miss Air Asia and Firefly and the convenience of the nearby Subong Airport.

2014 Aug 05 - Arlene, Josie & McKay1cropped2014 Aug 03 - Arlene & Arcadia1croppedBesides the house work we have kept ourselves occupied with our grandchildren.  Our2014 Aug 03 - Thea12 fourth grandchild arrived shortly after we landed and along with our four adult children and their partners, this is probably the most important reason why we had to return to Canada after three years.  Most things around the home should be in place soon for the visit of family members and friends later this week.

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Leaving Subang Jaya Truly Asia

2014 July 07 - KL to HK14

It is never easy leaving a place where you have lived for a considerable 2011 June 29 - Amaya Saujana signtime.  In our case it was three years in Shah Alam, Malaysia.  Shah Alam is a city of over one million people just south of Kuala Lumpur.  Our condo was on a quiet street with the Saujana Golf Club as a neighbour.  I would often walk the street in the morning and see monkeys at one end and monitor lizards at the other.  The yoga studio that Arlene went to was nearby and Ninnie the instructor became a good friend and mentor to Arlene.2012 July 20 - Arlene & Ninny  Condo neighbours Fong and Sue & Gareth became life-long friends and also for me in particular, the best travel partners one could have.   A new mall called Citta (cheet-ah) opened up just before we arrived in the country and was across the Airport Road.  The Subang Airport which is mainly a domestic airport but does have some flights to Singapore, Sumatra and Thailand, was almost walking distance from 2014 June 22 - Subang Jaya SS15 - 2our home.  Our ‘neck of the woods’ was Subang Jaya where Arlene worked at Taylor’s College, and many of the restaurants and shops we frequented were there – Asia Cafe, Coffee Bean, Sheakspeare, Good Friends, the2014 July 03 - SJ picture framer framing shop, the hair salon (or saloon as they say in Malaysia), the dentist, Giant grocery store and many others.  We also frequented Ara Damansara and the Oasis Square restaurants & Jac’s on 8th; Sunway Pyramid Mall2014 June 13 - Sunway Pyramid Mall1 and area, Popular City Restoran and Frank’s condo during his time in Malaysia; Subang Ria area where the Sime Darby Medical Centre is, and both Arlene and I spent time there as patients, my walking area around the lake, Boulevard Condos where Jim & Karen lived (and still live), as well as other Canadian teachers;  Sri 2011 Dec. 18 - Sime Darby Healthcare FacilityHartamas where Taylor’s College IB campus is located and the attached Plaza Damas mall and attached condos of our good friends Lauren, Josh & Pat.  Sri Hartamas is within the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur and we would come here so Arlene could participate in the zumba classes and I would often have dinner with Josh 2014 June 07 - palace14and use the pool and hot tub.  Imagine, hot tubs in Malaysia.  Views of the Sultan’s Palace and the skyline of Kuala Lumpur were incredible from Lauren’s 17th floor condo.

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As much as we had our favourite haunts to go to, it is the people that we 2014 July 05 - Delicia & Arlene1will truly miss.  Arlene had many close friends among her staff at Taylor’s College, in particular Ms Hew, Delicia, Sharon, Sow Fong, Peng Lan and Lay Tin.  Meeting Delicia led us to her in-laws, Mary & Gary and their family.  They always included us along with their extended family and friends in Chinese New Year celebrations.  When our children visited us they also were invited and made toOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA feel comfortable with the Ng family.  Relationships in Malaysia always involve food and we had many meals and stimulating conversations with Peng Lan and her husband Lim.  Once I discovered 2014 June 30 - steamboat restaurant06lowresthe Subang Ria walking paths by the lake, I became a daily user.  It didn’t take long to meet many of the friendly walkers there.  Sam was the first person I met and to me he was the Mayor of Subang Ria because he knew most of the walkers there.  Nathan was a 2014 June 30 - Subang Ria06croppeddedicated and fast walker who came every day.  Although he was fleet footed, he had no problem slowing to my pace for the sake of conversation and friendship.  I’ll always remember the friends I made during my walks.  While at an Elton John concert in Genting, I sat beside Rathika & Kana who, as fate would have it, became close friends 2013 Mar 22 - Dennis & Rathikaof ours along with their daughters Gaya and Abhi.  Rathika had always dreamed about publishing a vegetarian recipe book with many of the great dishes she remembered her mother making.  I was honoured to be a small part of her book* by helping out with the photography.  There are many other people who became very good friends of ours in our short time in2011 Oct. 26 - Murali's Family1 Malaysia, and I can’t possibly mention them all here for fear of leaving someone out.  Malaysia is made up mainly of people know as Malays, who make up the muslim population.  A smaller percentage are of Chinese ethnicity, and another part are of Indian heritage.  We are proud to have made friends among all these groups of people.  Malaysians have embraced the many cultures 2014 June 26 - lunch at Ranju's1and religions within this relatively small country and live in peace and harmony.  Perhaps the common denominator is their friendliness and love of food.  Despite our very limited palates – Arlene being vegetarian and me just a picky eater – these people befriended us and took us in.  We have become better individuals because we have known these generous  people and our time in Malaysia has truly been a rich experience and an amazing adventure for us.

2014 July 02 - Arlene & Fong22014 July 01 - Arlene & Ai Lee1lowres 2014 June 29 - Rathika, Kana & Gaia22014 July 02 - Jim & Karen at Pantry Restaurant22014 June 26 - friends at Oasis Square2014 July 05 - dinner with Ng Family012014 July 06 - Arlene, Hani & Yazid22014 July 06 - visit from Chan142014 June 30 - Subang Ria10lowres2014 June 30 - Subang Ria04cropped2014 July 04 - Sow Fong & Arlene2Restoran22014 June 26 - lunch at Ranju's9lowres2014 June 23 - Siti Fadzilah Bt Ahmad Zakri2014 July 05 - Sophie, Shane & James with Arlene & Dennis12014 June 13 - Oasis Square7lowres2014 June 07 - Arlene, Lim, Peng Lan, Lexi42014 July 06 - Zenders Restaurant08

The trip home is never easy, no matter which route you take.  KL to Hong Kong is almost four hours.  From there we boarded an Air Canada Boeing 777 for the 15-hr polar route to Toronto, Ontario.  After a short lay-over in Toronto we take a short 50-minute flight to Ottawa, the capital of Canada.  When you’re flying east as in this case, we arrived 30 hours later on the same day that we departed.  However that doesn’t mean you get a discount on the jet lag.  We were groggy for a week before we could say we were over the jet lag.  At the Ottawa Airport we rented a car and drove the remaining 150 kilometres to Pembroke.  Here are some pictures of our trip beginning at 6:30am when we got in the taxi to go to the airport.

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Leaving the east coast of Malaysia behind as we head out over the South China Sea.

Leaving the east coast of Malaysia behind as we head out over the South China Sea.

Arrival in Toronto at sunset and waiting for the final flight to Ottawa.

Arrival in Toronto at sunset and waiting for the final flight to Ottawa.

 

*Rathika’s book is called The Healthy Vegetarian and although it’s almost sold out she has plans to offer it as an electronic book.  Anyone wishing more information can do so by contacting me.

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So this is goodbye

farewell collage

Sadly, but also with mixed feelings, we must say goodbye to all of our friends in Malaysia.  It has been an amazing adventure.  The three years have gone by so quickly, but never so fast as these last couple of weeks.  Actually, I am under the gun right now to finish this farewell post as I must pack my ‘link to the inside and outside worlds’ (my computer) and deliver it to the shipper.  Next stop Canada.  I can’t say how much we will miss this country but mainly the people.  The only thing that stops me from being overly sad is knowing  that we will be seeing our four children, their partners, three, soon-to-be four, grandchildren (all granddaughters, I might add), our siblings and Canadian friends and neighbours.  Hopefully some of you will visit us in Canada.  The invitation is there.

Terima kasih and jumpa lagi.

Dennis & Arlene

04 July 2014, Shah Alam, Malaysia

Real Life Adventures of Dennis & Arlene in Malaysia2

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Coffee with Mother Nature

Living in Malaysia for the past three years has made me acutely aware of many environmental issues but perhaps the most serious of these is the haze that has been rearing it’s ugly head far too often in recent months. Last week the Air Pollution Index (API) again hit unhealthy levels and prompted many of us to don medical masks to filter the very air we breathe. Everyone talks about the slash and burn farming techniques, and peat fires in Sumatra which are to blame for the haze. Last weeks haze was particularly disturbing for me because I just returned from an amazing weekend at The Green School in Bali where I listened to hopeful, powerful messages from Dr Jane Goodall and several other environmental activists. The haze was a hot topic there too!

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2014 June 15 - Green School108I could go on and on about Jane Goodall…someone I had heard about in high school and admired ever since. She is a quiet, unassuming lady who describes herself as “Tarzan’s real Jane”, but I felt like I was meeting Mother Nature!

 

Times like this I wish I could write more creatively and express my feelings about what I learned from this weekend in Bali in ways that would inspire everyone reading this post. I am now more aware of the devastating environmental impact of the deforestation in 2014 June 15 - Green School109Indonesia. I learned what the Malaysian haze is really all about. Forests are often burned by farmers and palm plantation owners causing the haze and greenhouse gas emissions polluting the air over Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. There are other issues at play too. Logging is claiming the forest in Sumatra at incredibly high rates and threatening the lives of many animals, including the Sumatran orangutans. So there are many reasons we should be concerned about deforestation. I attended several presentations under a bamboo canopy OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAtent while enjoying the beautiful scenery surrounding the campus, and eating delicious wholesome food. This was the perfect setting to reflect on the very things that threaten our environment. When I saw slides of satelite images taken by Nasa that clearly indicate the alarming increase in deforestation in Sumatra over the last 25 years, I became very concerned. Treasured tropical rainforests will disappear within a few years! The haze and air pollution will only get worse, and habitats will be OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAdestroyed.
Thankfully several environmental advocacy groups are managing to influence the OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIndonesian government in Sumatra to regulate practices that would stop deforestation. Enforcement issues still remain, but hopefully continued pressure from international environmental advocacy groups will help.
It was also a little reassuring to learn that each of us can help the situation without much effort. It really is the consumer who is driving the need for palm oil. While there are uses for palm oil, we can seek alternatives that aren’t as costly to the environment. (Greenpeace provides a list of houseold products that contain palm oil that we can seriously consider replacing.) You won’t catch me buying a Kit Kat bar again!

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I can’t leave this post without also describing the amazing awesome Green School! The OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAschool itself is a remarkable example of how we can walk gently on this earth. Classrooms and multipurpose areas are architectural masterpieces constructed entirely of bamboo. The furniture too is made of bamboo or other native wood in its natural finish. Water stations and even toilets are Eco friendly, clean, efficient, and comfortable.
It is quite obvious that this school was carefully and lovingly designed. The school cafeteria is a funky cafe serving up mostly vegan fare on bananaOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA leaves and wicker plates. A mouth watering menu even includes Nanaimo bars–revealing the fact that there must be a few Canadians around. The Nanaimo bar was overshadowed by the homemade ice cream (I still can’t believe it was vegan) and the lattes. Gotta love life in the jungle!
2014 June 15 - Green School106It isn’t easy being green! Thank you Dr2014 June 15 - Green School107 Goodall for inspiring me to accept the challenge to be as green as can be! And kudos to The Green School for setting such a great example to all of us! You make being green delicious and exciting!
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Arlene & Lauren with Dr Jane Goodall

Arlene & Lauren with Dr Jane Goodall

An eco-ATM booth!

An eco-ATM booth!

 

 

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Strolling through a Japanese Garden

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June 10 - Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden104The Shinjuku Gyoen Garden is the complete opposite of the ‘scramble crossing’ as seen in the previous blog post.  Where the ‘scramble crossing’ was concrete, asphalt, high rises, cars, noise and lots of people, the Garden is quiet, green, natural and peaceful with ponds and streams but yet not very many people.  An oasis of tranquility within the world’s largest metropolis.  The Shinjuku Gyoen Garden in Tokyo was constructed on the site of a private mansion.   Completed in 1906 as an imperial garden, it was re-inner-mapdesignated as a national garden after World War II and opened to the public.  It occupies 144 acres (58 ha) and has a circumference of 3.5 km.  The garden comprises three distinct styles – French Formal Garden, English Landscape Garden and Japanese Traditional Garden.  There are more than 20,000 trees there, including 1,500 cherry trees which bloom in late March and early April.

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People-watching at the Shibuya ‘scramble crossing’ in Tokyo

Shibya scramble crossing144From our hotel in the Shinjuku area we made our way on foot to the Shinjuku Station, one June 11 - Tokyo Stn01of Tokyo’s biggest.  It holds the Guinness World Record for the world’s busiest transport hub, averaging 3.64 million passengers daily.  Then we rode the subway to Tokyo June 11 - Tokyo Stn4Station, a grand station housing a retail arcade, food and shopping malls. Out on the street we tried to make sense of the map which was in Japanese.  We knew we were close to the Shibuya ‘scramble crossing’, one of the busiest pedestrian crossings June 10 - Tokyo Stn area33on earth.  With the help of some slightly inebriated, but friendly locals, who saw us studying the map, we were on our way to this famous crosswalk.  We picked up some delicious food from a food fair in the underground of the Tokyo Station, but the problem here as in many other areas of urban Tokyo is finding a place to sit and enjoy that food.  We eventually did find a place right next to the crossing where we could relax and have our lunch.  Afterwards the girls decided to do some power shopping in the vicinity and I was happy to just sit here and watch the people coming and going from many directions as the traffic lights changed.  I was in a perfect position to people-watch and with my 70-200mm lens on I was in Japanese heaven.

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Pictorial Saigon

Ho Chi Minh City, or Saigon as it is more commonly known is a bustling city in the south of Vietnam close to the Mekong River Delta.  It is a diverse city known for its old world charm2014 May 23 - Frankcam20 and friendliness as much as its modern conveniences and architecture.  Recently I spent four days, mostly in District One, the centre of the city visiting the many shops with their negotiable wares, enjoying the food and photographing the people, traffic and architecture.  Never at a loss for things to do I also did a tour by car, boat and horse cart of the Mekong Delta and a visit to the somber War Remnanats Museum.

The friendly faces of Saigon

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The motorbikes of Saigon

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2014 May 23 - Frankcam22Everyone who’s not eating, walking or driving a car is on a motorbike.  There are an amazing number of motorbikes in 2014 May 23 - Frankcam24this city, and the bike is used as personal transport or to carry goods or people around the city.  Even when not moving the humble motorbike makes a great seat or a bed.

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How to cross the street in Ho Chi Minh City

Most tourists have been made aware of the street crossing protocol by their tour guides or from reading Lonley Planet.  As you can see by the previous section on motorbikes there is a tremendous volume of vehicles with no traffic lights in sight or not even a decent break in the flow of two, three and four wheeled contraptions.  It can be an iintimidating sight to look up and see a wall of bikes coming at you.  The bikes are not the problem.  What works for me is to keep a wary eye on the traffic but to step confidently off the curb and head out into the motorized zone.  The bike riders will anticipate your next logical step and flow either in front or behind you.  Cars, trucks and buses, because they’re bigger and less manouverable are more of a problem so beware of them especially.

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Architecture in District One

Ho Chi Minh City has an amazing array of French Colonial and American Modern architecture.  Despite the bombing that went on during the Vietnam war, most historical buildings survived.

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The War Remnants Museum

No trip to Saigon is complete without a visit to the War Remnants Museum.  Originally called the Exhibition House for US and Puppet Crimes, it was changed to Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression and then changed once more to the present name.  Despite the anti-American propaganda it graphically portrays the horrors of war.  It is a very sombre and numbing display of what went on during the Vietnam war and definitely worth visiting.

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The Mekong Delta

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After the War Remnants Museum its nice to see the Mekong Delta where much of the fighting went on during the war.  The delta now is alive with boat loads of tourists who cruise the many channels of the delta and visit with the locals who thrive on the tourism industry.

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A fairytale of Sri Hartamas

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2014 June 07 - party10Once upon a time in a land far away, there lived a good king and his queen. He was dearly loved by his subjects, so much so in fact, that he actually served two terms as their loyal king. He lived in a new and enormous palace on the top of a hill overlooking his country and the famous towers built there. This king had such a long name that his subjects just called him ‘King’.

 

2014 June 07 - party57Meanwhile across the road in a tiny little flat there lived a little princess who had very few possessions but was very happy and her wealth was not measured in ringgits but by the number of friends she had.  Her friends called her Adora.

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The King in the stately palace celebrated his birthday and the day was declared a holiday. His rich friends wished him Happy Birthday by placing full page ads in the local newspaper.

 

As it happened the little princess across the road was also celebrating her birthday on this day. She wanted her many friends to celebrate with her and along with her husband, Prince Ian Emmerson, went about planning and preparing a succulent feast at their humble home. Her friends came from all over the world, bearing gifts and wishes of good 2014 June 07 - party522014 June 07 - party42health and a long life. Besides Malaysia, her friends came from Canada, Spain, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal and Vietnam. Everyone feasted and drank and there was much laughter as they reminisced and exchanged stories.  Soon, a birthday cake was presented and the little Princess Adora made a wish and blew out the candles. She then climbed up on a chair and with tears running down her face thanked everyone for coming to her birthday party and talked about how lucky she was to have such a great husband and so many devoted and close friends.

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2014 June 07 - palace04Meanwhile, across the road the good King sat beside his wife on the throne and thought about his long years of service to his country and to the people. He felt lonely in his huge palace as no friends had come to wish him happy birthday. When he looked out the window he could see the flicker of candles and a little girl standing on a chair crying. He thought he was so blessed to have the life that he had and not like the one of the poor little girl across the way.

And they both enjoyed their day and lived happily everafter.

The end.

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