Thursday, June 30, 2011

knee-high grass

Okay so I realised that maybe I've been sounding overly negative here. But I'm really actually more okay than that. I'm mostly good, in fact. I guess it's just cause I write first thing in the morning and generally my negative thinking plagues me at night. And the sun probably hasn't had enough time to turn my thinking back to rational by the time I write my blog posts. I bet if I were writing them at midday, they would sound completely different. The light of day and the distraction of work and interaction with others always helps. I gave myself a good pep talk yesterday afternoon and I'm feeling much calmer today :)

But, that said there is plenty on my mind. And it's not necessarily bad or good, it's more like my brain is overflowing with too much fluctuation in my life in the last while. We had the office merger earlier in the year and I still haven't settled at work yet, although I will say I'm feeling less negative and more neutral about work these days, which I consider an improvement. But still, the giant change in a large part of my every day has, without doubt, added to my underlying stress levels.

Then there is the boy-factor. Yes, it's awesome and I really do rather like this boy, but it has definitely highlighted issues I didn't even know I had, that I can only imagine fall directly into the category of baggage. I long for the carefree beginning of relationships I had before I was 25. Where everything was new and exciting and you didn't wonder about if any of it was true. You just believed because that was what you wanted and everything seemed fine. But age and experience tells me now that life is just not that simple. It's not that easy to believe in good things.

And contributing to that is the fact that today, The Trucker is moving into his ex-girlf's complex. And I'm trying not to over react. I'm trying to look at things logically. But really, I'm someone who never ever speaks to her exes again when things end. They are no longer part of my life. I am unfamiliar with an amicable break-up. Let alone one where I'd be okay with my ex-boyf moving into the same complex. I'm a big fan of not even having them in the same province or country as me ;) I don't want to bump into them or see them in passing, let alone call them over to help out with something. This is weighing on my mind, I guess only time will tell. But I will tell you that it is not helping the point above, you know, the one where they turn out to be bastards after all, at all. Not one bit.

(All that said, he is still being completely lovely and has done nothing to imply I have anything to worry about ... this is all just what my head makes up. And literally, if left too long on it's own, it really does just make stuff up!)

And then there is my living situation. I feel I must address this issue, but really, since I've tried and can't come up with any comfortable solution, I'm choosing to just ostrich the entire thing and pretend it doesn't exist. But in the small quiet corners of my mind, I know that it does ... and it is causing the vast quantity of swirling and spinning because I can not find the solution I want. At this point I reckon teleportation is the most likely winner :P

I guess it's a lot like I read in Jenty's blog, I just don't feel in control of what is going on in my life lately and it's left me feeling unsettled and not really sure even what the next 6 months will hold. I know that we don't usually know, but we do kinda have a vague path we're following. Right now, all I see in front of me is knee-high grass ...

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Au revoir, France

I am still a mess of swirling thoughts. Why does my brain never think of the best outcome of a situation? Instead I get wrapped up in things that it makes up will happen (because, surely?) that send me into a spiral of negative thinking. I know that in theory it's a worst-case scenario preparation, right? I mean I guess it comes from always asking "Well, what's the worst that could happen?" (shrug). But that's more supposed to show that the worst is surely not that bad and I'll survive. Instead I make up these worst case scenarios and track them out to their eventual outcome and then figure well I'll just do that now upfront and save myself the trouble ... when the worst hasn't even happened yet!!

Okay, that was probably a bit difficult to follow. But what it really says is that I need to call a few of the numbers I got from my twitter friends and book an appointment with a rational person to set me straight. That, or hide away and make myself miserable until it's passed.

Monday was nice, SCM as usual. Last night was France's last night in South Africa. So she, CollegeInstructor and I headed off to try and go up in the Monte Casino hot air balloon again ... well that was (again) a total waste of time. After we got there they told us that conditions weren't go and they weren't running. I swear there was not even a breathe of wind in the air. But they hadn't been running since 3pm that afternoon. Sound to me a little too much like lazy service providers, really. And seriously, they should have a better way of telling people ... (okay, I guess we could've phoned, but I didn't think it was nearly as erratic as it's turned out to be). There is no mention at any parking entrance to Monte Casino that it's not running. And this is a pay-on-entry system they've got. So that was annoying and we headed back home for an hour before heading straight back there for dinner.

Gotta be Gourmet Garage for her last supper! The Trucker came thru and joined us too. Yum, delish as usual :) But shoo, I was so full by the end of dinner.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Weekend Type Stuff

It was a weird weekend. I'm still feeling weird. If I had found a psychologist I liked in Joburg, I'd be booking an appointment ... just one of those get all the stuff swirling in my head said out loud and see where to from there kinda appointments. (If anyone wants to recommend a female psychologist in the Joburg North, Sandton/Rivonia/Bryanston area in the comments, I'd appreciate it. Or drop me an email). Yes, I have a lot swirling about in my head. A lot.

So, anyway, aside from that, I popped over to The Trucker's for dinner on Friday night. We ended up getting Chinese take-out. It's the first time I've had Chinese food since I was in China. To say it was a let down would be an understatement. I can't believe how all the same Chinese restaurant menu's here are (we went to another Chinese restaurant for sushi on Sunday night). My Cashew nut Chicken with noodles was still tasty. But I expected something more, or different, or I don't really know what.

We watched Due Date. I think we both just needed a quiet night on the couch. I wasn't super impressed with the movie (probably why I hadn't watched it on big screen). I do adore Robert Downey Jnr tho. But this just felt like one of those ridiculously annoying towards the end where everything that can go wrong still is going wrong. There is only so much of that I can really put up with in a movie (which is why I generally struggle with things like Meet the Parents and The Hangover).

On Saturday I had a very lazy morning, went for a walk and then headed off to lunch with some of our old Bookclub friends at TSG. It was great fun catching up with them all because I don't think I've seen some of them at all this whole year! And an afternoon of pasta & wine was ideal for the icy day.

Later The Trucker & I headed to Red Room with some of his friends, which was fun. Although I apparently drank a little too much (see, this is why I should drive to RR, cause then I drink nothing but water. Apparently my tolerance for alcohol has dropped significantly!). Which meant Sunday was less than stellar.

I meant to do stuff while he was off playing cricket. Like catch up on Holiday blog posts and watch Xmen (he doesn't want to see it). But those things didn't really happen. In the afternoon we hung out on his couch again and watched The Thomas Crown Affair and had a long afternoon nap. And then went to have sushi for dinner.

All in all a pretty blah weekend.

Friday, June 24, 2011


Yay, I'm glad it's Friday :) Although this looks like it'll be a quiet weekend (probably a good thing). The week hasn't been too busy. The Trucker came over for dinner on Wednesday evening. I made chicken stir-fry. I know this is going to sound weird, but I'm not sure I've ever made that before. I dunno why, where for some people it's a staple part of their eating habits, stir-fry never ever occurs to me. But it was delish, so I think I'll definitely try to remember to make it again.

Last night I had no plans and ended up enjoying a lazy evening of series at home, alone. So, nothing too exciting.

The bunnies are back to normal since that weird 2am incident (thankfully) and actually friendlier than ever lately :)

Oh, and I know I took a bit of a break in my Holiday Posts (shock horror), but to be honest, I really have not had the time. It takes ages to first get them all copied from my moleskin book onto the computer and then find all the links and then go thru all the photos looking for ones to use and then resizing them and then actually putting that all together into a blog post. Much more effort than these morning life-in-review posts I do. So anyway, yes, I've been busy, but I'm hoping to get back into it this weekend so they should start up again on Monday :)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Scared Bundles

*Yawn* Oh my word. I am tired this morning. Which is fair enough since I was up at 2am when I heard a noise outside from the bunny hutch. After peeking thru my window and seeing Coal & Lily both out of the hutch and in their grass enclosure, I headed outside to put them back inside. But that wasn't happening.

Something was very wrong. I still have no idea what happened. But there was absolutely nothing that was going to get them to go back into their hutch. Their ears were pitched forward, nerves all on end, thumping. Rex raced out too once I opened it fully. I headed inside for a torch. There was nothing inside their hutch to scare them, but something had them spooked in a way I've never seen before. So I wasn't going to force them in there ... instead I waited around while Coal & Rex slowly and cautiously inspected the entrance again and again. Running away in a panic when they got too nervous.

Thankfully eventually Rex went inside all on his own. And I managed to easily pick up Lily and Coal (which for Lily is a *huge* indication of how she must've been feeling because that is a rare occurrence, for sure) and placed them in the hutch on the top level. They explored a bit after that and everything seemed fine. All is fine this morning too. Sigh, poor things.

Poor me. I did not get back to sleep properly after that again. Yawn.

And other than that, the week has been pretty normal. Went to SCM on Monday night and played Action Cricket for the first time in about 3 years (since I left The Big Corporate) last night. Which was good fun, and I got to see The Trucker for a little bit because he had a later game than ours. Poor boy has not been well this week.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Codex by Lev Grossman

About to depart on his first vacation in years, Edward Wozny, a hot-shot young banker, is sent to help one of his firm's most important and mysterious clients. When asked to un-crate and organise a personal library of rare books, Edward's indignation turns to intrigue as he realises that among the volumes there may be hidden a unique medieval codex, a treasure kept sealed away for many years and for many reasons. Edward's intrigue becomes an obsession that only deepens as friends draw him into a peculiar and addictive computer game, as mystifying parallels between the game's virtual reality and the legend of the codex emerge...

Urgh, to say I struggled thru this book would not be a lie. I found it tedious and not in the least interesting. Seriously, even in the end I have little idea of what the point of it was. It was yawn-boring and none of it seemed particularly significant, the story of the Viage, the computer game ... none of it. I seriously would not recommend you bother yourself with this one.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Pretty Much Perfect

Monday, again ... already. Sigh. I shouldn't complain I had a pretty perfect weekend :)

On Friday (can you believe I've been back from holiday for a month!) evening I raced thru to The Trucker's for a walk before sunset, he'll be moving at the end of the month so best to make the most use of the awesome-for-walking area he's in at the moment. And then he made us Beef Trinchado for dinner while I had a bath. Seriously, how could a Friday night be more ideal? Haha. And the food was absolutely delish :)

On Saturday we woke up late and had an almost-lunch breakfast at Mugg & Bean (we're running out of breakfast spots here! I'm always so uninspired for breakfast). And then hung out at my house reading in the sun. I cleaned the bunny hutch and he went out to do some work and when he got back we went for another walk, this was the first time I took him on my usual route.

In the evening  we went to watch Source Code. Sigh, it was not amazing. I mean, I could totally get behind their plot rules and it all made some sense. The point where I get annoyed is where they bend their own made up rules to give us ye olde typical Hollywood ending. Pfft. Seriously.

Afterwards we had a quick dinner at Ciao Baby Cucina. Meh, not amazing either. I had their Melanzane, which was substantial.

And on Sunday we'd decided to meet up with some of his friends at Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens for a picnic. So after another late morning, I made us some breakfast and then made rolls for lunch and we headed out. With a quick stop past his new stand.

Sigh, it is not what I was expecting. I think I probably need to reassess my own build-my-own-home dreams here after the reality of available land and it's cost has set in. The fantasy is so much better. I dunno, I've always wanted more land than house and these days it seems people are cramming giant houses onto smaller and smaller pieces of property. And I do not want to feel surrounded by neighbours. that said, I'm sure the Trucker's house will be *amazing* when it's finished and still just being able to build your own house is pretty cool. Lucky guy :)

And then we had a lazy afternoon reading the paper and chatting and enjoying the Joburg winter sun in the beautiful Walter Sisulu gardens. Perfect :)

After that I went home and watched series. Seriously, it's close to impossible to motivate myself to do almost anything after 4 or 5pm in Winter! On the plus side, after tomorrow, our days start getting longer again :)

Friday, June 17, 2011

An Ode To Public Holidays

Shoo. Yep, I was spot on about that busy week! On Wednesday evening I headed off to The Trucker's. We got take-out Steers and went and sat on the first fairway of a golf course to watch the Lunar Eclipse. I won't lie, it was *freezing* outside. But it was awesome to cuddle up on a blanket and watch the sky. The moon was unbelievable. Honestly I didn't really know what to expect, and it was well worth it. We came inside at about 22h30 after the moon was entirely red and kept peeking at it from the balconey to watch how dark it eventually got.

For some reason I was wide awake at 7am on the public holiday (YAY for midweek public holidays ... although I definitely wish I was off today as well!). The Trucker and I went for breakfast at Rendevous in Northgate. His local and not a bad breakfast :)

While we were there, and that was partly why we were there, I popped across to the vodashop next door and sorted out my contract upgrade. You would think I'd be more excited about a new blackberry, but I was very nonplussed. Until that evening after I *eventually* opened the box and set the thing up. I adore it now. It's shiny and new and so much faster. I am loving it so far :) Haha. I got the 9300. Nothing so fancy as the Torch because I still can't justify how expensive these phones actually are, although I've now come to admit that I definitely need one. (The only thing I'm not thrilled to bits about so far on this phone upgrade is the camera. Everything else is definitely miles improved on my old 8900).

And then I rushed off home to clean my kitchen and make a Spinach and Feta Free Form Pie for lunch. I had Louisa, Ruby, Arkwife, Jackson's Mom and Doodles over for a catch-up lunch. In our new tradition, everyone brought a plate of food and a bottle of champagne :) (Photo shamelessly stolen from @Rubyletters :) ) What a lovely way to spend an afternoon and the food was delish (definitely ate too much!). And I'll be honest, there's nothing better than a group of good friends to set you straight when you're being completely irrational about life :) Haha.

And eventually after everyone had left and my table had been cleared but my kitchen once again looked like a bomb had hit, I headed off to Wolves Cafe for my lovely friend @Nadgia's birthday drinks. I remain unconvinced about the venue, but it was lovely to celebrate a little with her :)

The Trucker popped over for a visit (and to finish some of the left over food from lunch) later and helped get the new bb all set up. Clearly this would be where my recent brain-wobble lies. I realised this week how much baggage I clearly have after all these failed relationships. Seriously, I did not see this coming or how I'd be affected, I've honestly never noticed it before. For the first time in my life I have this weird panic reaction where I actually find myself rationlising running away from this and ending it and being single again because it's scary not being entirely in control (and I think it's getting harder as I get older!) and it feels like it would be so much easier. But I don't want that either. And I guess that is *actually* the scary part. Sigh.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

07 May: Zhongwei to Tengger Desert

This morning we had a very weird (included) breakfast at the hotel and then checked out, left our bags at reception and headed off to the Tengger Desert.

We drove for a while before we met up with our camels, I named mine Alice :) They were 2 hump camels (Bactrian) and looked pretty mangey, but that was apparently because they are shedding at the moment (weird).

This was *way* better than the brief camel experience I've had in Egypt or Morocco and was way more like what I'd been expecting in Morocco for our night in the Sahara.

We rode for just over an hour, I think (but it did feel like longer), before we stopped in a random spot for lunch. It is definitely tricky trekking far enough away to find a spot to go to the loo! They set up an umbrella for us so we had some shade to sit under. We must've been stopped for a couple of hours before we set off again.

And then another ride thru endless dunes (well, not really, sadly. We could see a nearby town from the top of a nearby dune when we stopped for the night). It's really a very relaxed ride.

When we found our spot for the night, we sat around for ages nibbling on the snacks we'd brought, not really sure what was going on. Our one camel-guide went and sat on top of a high nearby dune and seemed to be keeping and eye out for whoever was bringing out tents, sleeping bags and dinner.

We eventually got bored of sitting and did some dune climbing ourselves. The sunset was less than impressive with the sun disappearing in the sky (behind thick clouds) long before it even reached the horizon.

Our tents and dinner (and beer) finally arrived and we set everything up, ate and sat around chatting. Sadly we didn't have a bonfire or anything, which we were expecting because we were hoping to make smores (like I did in the Sahara overnight). But, the chocolate was individually wrapped and completely melted so we managed some make-shift smores anyway - hahaha! We also tried some Baijiu (rice wine, I think), which was *awful*. Seriously, avoid the stuff!

The stars were also not very impressive either because some cloud moved in at around dusk.

Two nights with Mom

Shoo so even tho this is only a 4 day work-week, it's social completely jam-packed! Mom arrived in Joburg yesterday evening for 2 nights with me en route to Chobe & Vic Falls (how cool!).

So last night we went out for dinner to Saigon. I haven't been there since I was dating Bean! The food was okay, I dunno, it didn't really blow me away. But what was nice was we ate it communally at our table, all sharing the dishes for starters and mains, eating out of little bowls with chopsticks, like I did in China, which was fab :)

Afterwards I gave her, her gift from China along with The Peeb's and Daddio's to take back to Cape Town with her after her trip :) And I showed her the updates to my photo wall.

Yesterday seemed like a very long work day before I could go home and hang out with her again. And while I was at work she made dinner and dessert :) Macaroni Cheese and Cheesecake. So, The Trucker came over for dinner as well.

Was an awesome evening, really. And then an early morning to get us both ready to leave at 06h30. At least tomorrow is a (super-busy, no-time-for-resting) public holiday and tonight is the Lunar Eclipse. Yep, life continues at pace.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

06 May: Zhongwei

Our train got into Zhongwei this morning at about 09h45 and we walked to our hotel, Hua Ming. Luckily we could get into our rooms and have a shower before heading out for a walk around the area and some lunch.

We ended our walk outside the Gao Temple, which we all wanted to visit because we'd read that they've built a house of horrors in an old bomb shelter under the temple! The Temple itself was gorgeous and worth the visit regardless. You get to climb up into the higher roof levels and they have such great painted stories all around.

I far preferred it the Lama Temple in Beijing. And then we got to the house of horrors bit which was *most* peculiar. Quite dark with lights and sounds that went off on a sensor. And it was quite cold underground. Mostly it was all just these weird kinds of torture scenes in luminescent colours!

And then, just when we got back to the hotel for a little relax, we bumped into our Tour Leader who was about to head off on a walk to the Yellow River. So we went along. It was *far*. Out of the area of town we'd previously walked thru, to an area that looked much newer. As with all of China we've seen so far, loads of new billion storey apartments blocks are all going up at once. The construction here is on a scale like I've never seen before!

The Yellow River really was not that impressive at all. We decided to get something to eat at the local market on our way home, but they weren't yet ready for the dinner crowd. We did have some nice dumplings with pork filling tho. And then we headed back to the hotel for a bit of a rest. Actually, on the way back we stopped and bought some more street-food: like a weird sweet batter thing they were cooking. Not too bad. And to ensure we got our dose of surreal for the day, we also saw a guy with 3 monkeys on a leash walking down the road past us!

Then we had about an hour's relax before heading off to dinner and a birthday drink for our Tour Leader (it was his 30th today!). He taught us a dice game, called Liar's Dice, too. Good fun.

Monday, June 13, 2011

05 May: Beijing to Zhongwei

Had a relaxing morning at the hostel today (Luckily I repacked all my bags last night - what a mission!). Had breakfast at the hostel too (figured it should be done once). Delish Mango juice - have had such a craving for fruit juice recently! And the most amazing amount of French Toast I've ever been served! And each slice was like a triple-decker French Toast too. I was quite ill by the time I gave up - haha.

Quick stop at a local shop for some Instant Noodles (take note, after the novelty in Mongolia, these will become a theme of train-travel in China!) and we were ready to go. We took the Metro back to Beijing Central Station, where I'd arrived only a few days before and boarded a train for our 22hr ride to Zhongwei.

The train was a lot more cramped than the Trans-Mongolian one I was on. This had 6 beds per cabin and no doors. Thankfully we managed to all switch into the same cabin, which definitely made the journey easier for us. And off we set, on the same train track I'd come into Beijing on (it's the same route till DaTong Station where we split off). Was certainly not as nice a day for photos out the train and none of the windows opened at all.

Had Instant Noodles for dinner. Very exciting :P And then slept for most of the journey. It was a lot noisier tho and the guttural throat clearing as if people are about to throw up is just not something I'm getting used to!

Another Weekend Blog Post

Urgh. Am having another insecure morning of self-doubt about everything. I hate these moods. But I guess they stem from letting yourself be vulnerable and knowing you don't trust that anything will be different. Ah cynicism, my old friend :P Seriously. It's annoying me now tho.

So the weekend was pretty good. The Trucker & I went for sushi with CollegeInstructor and France on Friday night. It was France's final Friday night in Joburg! She's off on 2 weeks holiday now seeing her last few bits of the country before she heads home. And then we all went to Doors. It was not a spectacular evening, although The Trucker & I did have fun dancing. I did not factor in the fact that France is only 20 and wouldn't know any of the music :P

On Saturday morning The Trucker & I went to Salvation Cafe for a late breakfast and then had a lazy day, followed by pizza and a movie on the couch. We watched Just Go With It, which was such rubbish. We must've considered switching it off at least 3 times during the movie! But since neither of us is a walk-out-of-movies sort, we stuck thru it (although he did start doing some work on the laptop towards the end - yes, that bad!)

On Sunday we headed out looking for somewhere nice to have breakfast. It was one of those gorgeous sunny winter mornings where you want to sit outside at some kind of country setting and enjoy the day. Sadly it is trickier than you think to find a place like that and after a fair amount of driving around, we ended up reading the paper and having omlettes at The Home of the Chicken Pie. Which was happily, I think, just the Sunday morning we were looking for.

After that, The Trucker went to buy a new camera - I am devastated. For the less than I paid for my 1000D, he got the Canon 500D with a twin lens kit!! Seriously. Annoying. Pahaha, but what a fabulous deal.

And then I went home, did some grocery shopping for this week (yay, Mom is coming to visit) and went for a walk, let the bunnies have an extra long run around, prepared holiday blog posts, ate leftover pizza and watched series.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Don't Sleep, There Are Snakes by Daniel L. Everett

Although Daniel Everett was a missionary, far from converting the Pirahas, they converted him. He shows the slow, meticulous steps by which he gradually mastered their language and his gradual realisation that its unusual nature closely reflected its speakers' startlingly original perceptions of the world. He describes how he began to realise that his discoveries about the Piraha language opened up a new way of understanding how language works in our minds and in our lives, and that this way was utterly at odds with Noam Chomsky's universally accepted linguistic theories. The perils of passionate academic opposition were then swiftly conjoined to those of the Amazon in a debate whose outcome has yet to be won. Adventure, personal enlightenment and the makings of a scientific revolution proceed together in this vivid, funny and moving book.

Wow, this book was such an interesting read! I'll admit it lost me occasionally when it went into the very technical linguistic arguments and different theories (I skipped over a few of the pages). But the underlying story-line is completely amazing.

Most especially because as I read I could often hear our Chinese carriage attendants chatting away. Chinese and Piraha are both (apparently) tonal languages. Either way, Chinese is not a language I am often exposed to and I'll admit initially I found it quite hard to listen to. I'm getting used to it now, but really it does sound so completely foreign to me.

Anyway, if you're happy to skip over some of the pages (if necessary), I'd definitely recommend it, I loved it.

Back to Busy

It's been busy as usual this week. On Wednesday I was having one of those minor freak outs about life and work and the universe and everything. But I had a hair appointment that afternoon and after a minor bout with the most awful post-storm traffic, I got there and left and hour later in a *much* better mood :)

It was well past time for a trim since I can't actually even remember the last time I went for a haircut. Definitely not since Varen & I broke up, sheesh. So quite a lot got trimmed off and she did an awesome blow-wave with a curl (instead of the usual straightening I have done). Very fancy schmancy, was so sorry to see it go back to normal after I washed my hair yesterday afternoon :(

And so, with a new haircut, I decided I wouldn't spend the cold winter evening home keeping warm, instead I headed out for a quick drink and a bite to eat with some of the SCM crowd at The Catemba Kitchen off Malibongwe. Haha, people kept arriving and we must've changed our table configuration at least 4 times, I'm sure the waiter thought we were nuts. But we were the only people in the place, so it didn't much matter. It's not a place I'll bother going back to on purpose, the food was very average and having to fight with KFC patrons for parking makes it terribly inconvenient.

Last night I went to Cedar Square with The Trucker to watch The Hangover 2 (I let him pick the movie ... I owed him one after Water for Elephants). We had dinner at Bangkok Wok, which was not as fabulous as I remember it being :( (After reading my previous blog post I realised I ordered the wrong Duck dish! Sigh).

The movie did have funny moments, well, in the typical cringe-worthy way of the original. But I didn't think it was as awesome as people are making it out to be. And I didn't think it was as entertaining as the first one, I guess cause we knew the premise upfront this time around. I dunno. It still leaves me terrified for any potential bachelor parties a boyfriend of mine would attend.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

04 May: Beijing

Was up early this morning for our drive to The Great Wall. Not sure how long it was really since I slept most of the way there. Did not sleep well again last night. Am struggling to fall asleep and then am randomly waking up during the early hours of the morning. Bought the same sandwich as yesterday from the bakery for breakfast on the drive :)

And then we arrived. They have a cable car option, or you can take the stairs up the side of the mountain. We took the stairs (Apparently there are about 800 or so). Although, the stairs don't end there! The section of the wall we visited (Mutianyu) was pretty much all stairs!

Still, it is vast and incredible to see. And my mind still boggles at the mere concept of it. I guess it is a bit like the pyramids & Machu Picchu like that, this amazing grand-scale thing built however long ago. I guess tho there is an element of us still doing that with super tall buildings (like in Dubai).

We spent a while walking down one stretch of the wall till it got to a bit that hasn't been restored and then back to the entrance we came in. It does all get pretty much the same after a while and exhausting because of it's sheer size. Still, it was awesome to just find a spot to contemplate the unique view for a while and try and picture how it must've been while being built or to come across accidentally.

(Chose the photo on the right because that's the section we actually climbed)

We were not so lucky (or maybe we were?) with the weather. It was overcast and misty which was great cause of all the over-exertion, but not ideal for long-distance photographs. I was also very pleased we went as early as we did because it was quiet for us, but we passed plenty of people as we were heading back.

We all decided to take the toboggan slide (speed-chute) down to the carpark/market area. Which was great fun :)

And then it started to rain a bit while we sat drinking hot chocolates in one of the restaurants. We had another really nice lunch there as well. Another aubergine dish (this time if was like they'd caramelised the aubergine, it was amazing!), Kung Pow Chicken, a pork and egg dish and another one with lots of carrot. I'll admit I was nervous before this trip cause I don't really eat much Chinese food back home, but the authentic food I've had here has been fantastic! Yum, such a pleasant surprise :)

After lunch we drove back to the city for our foot massages (this was all part of our day-tour). It was more like reflexology really and some bits really hurt! But it was fabulous. I'm pleased to report that my feet and ankles haven't given me any issues today (even with all those stairs on the Wall!).

We were lucky to get back to our hotel quite early (before 4pm). So we all headed out again to take whatever last bits of Beijing we could. This time I went off on my own mission and ended up at The Silk Market (much the same as yesterday's Pearl Market really, which is where the others had gone, haha). And this time I did end up shopping tho! I bought myself some cute green puma shoes and then an additional bag - I'm still lamenting my dreadful packing :(

And then it was back to the hostel. The weather was quite chilly and it was raining on and off all afternoon. I've found using their metro really easy (2yuan per trip - that's pretty much R2!) Although they've been standing room only every single trip I've done! I do find myself contemplating their 1-child policy and noticed I didn't see a single pregnant woman in Beijing. Plus I do find I kinda wanna go up to every parent walking around with a girl-child and high-5 them! Haha. I've learnt that the 1-child policy came into being in 1979, so just before I was born! We chatted about it quite a bit with our tour leader and apparently it doesn't apply to any of the minority groups in China. Also in some rural areas you are allowed to have a 2nd child if your first is a girl.

Also, I heard that they were considering changing it to allow you to have 2 children if both parents were single children. Very interesting. And to say China feels crowded is an understatement. I wonder what it would've been like without the policy. Plus I wonder what effect a generation of sibling-less children has had. They say that the reason that the Chinese all push to the front of queues and whatnot is because there are so many people and you have to look out for yourself and your family first. It's definitely an interesting social study.

Anyway, back at the hostel we lucked out by getting a free dinner because a couple had done one of the cooking courses and had way more food that they could finish. It was very yummy. Might do one of these later in the trip. Although I have never used anything from the one I did in Thailand :P

We decided that as a last thing in Beijing we'd go and see The Bird's Nest, their Olympic Stadium. It was pretty boring, honestly. We got out the station, took a bit of a wander closer, took some photos and turned around and came back. It was also super foggy and misty. Oh, and it was the *one* time there was plenty of space on the train (it's on a line of only 4 stations that I gather were mostly centered around Olympic stops). Haha.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

03 May: Beijing

Well, what I can tell you is that 2 days in Beijing is no where near enough. Especially when you spend one full day at The Great Wall (on our schedule for tomorrow!).

Tried to fit in as much as possible today tho, but it seems to have been at the detriment of my ankle. It is absolutely killing me right now (am back at the hostel, resting it before attempting the night market a little later). I think it's the muscle in front of my ankle :( Have taken 2 anti-inflammatories that I have in my toiletry bag from my Peru trip (got them as an in-case for The Lares Trek). Fingers crossed :(

Anyway, so back to the fun stuff. Went for breakfast at a little bakery across the road and got a Mango Smoothie and a triple-decker breakfast-type sandwich. Not sure what all was on it besides egg, but it was delish!

And then we all went for a quick orientation walk, which ended at Yonghegong Lama Temple. So we went to have a look around in there. It was way bigger than I was expecting. The architecture is quite lovely, but all quite the same (since I wasn't really there to be lighting incense and praying or whatever).

After that we walked from our hostel to The Forbidden City. Which is more of pretty much the same style architecture again, but on a much larger scale!! The Forbidden City is massive and I can't even imagine living there back in the day. It must've been beautiful (since it still is, but you'd have time and way less people).

It was quite interesting to see a few of the rooms as they were then and learn a little more about the lives of the Concubines.

Eventually after we'd walked The Forbidden City North to South, we came out at Tiananmen Square, right under the giant portrait of Mao! We didn't get to go into his mausoleum tho (it's only open 8-12).

We wandered around for ages trying to find somewhere to have lunch but, we weren't quite brave enough to try a local restaurant on our own.

After a quick snack stop at a supermarket, we headed to the Hongqiao Market (The Pearl Market). Which I didn't really enjoy. A lot like China City back home and I'm not really looking for bags, clothes, shoes or watches. Nor am I that interested in jewelry with pearls. But, I did really enjoy the souvenier bit ... although I didn't buy anything yet.

And then we hung out at the hostel for a while, I rested my ankle and then we ventured out to the Night Market on Wangfujing Street. That was completely one of the best things I've done here, such fun! And my ankle was pretty much fine too (awesome news!). The Night Market was a hive of activity and stalls. Plenty of weird foods that I wasn't brave enough to try. All number of creatures on sticks: scorpions, starfish, seahorses, spiders, lizards and baby birds.

I did have some shrimp that was delish and a veggie spring roll. There were also loads of souvenier type stalls and I got something there for mom (which I ended up keeping for myself! Haha).

And that was it for the day. Have to be up and ready to leave the hostel at 06h30 tomorrow morning to head off to The Great Wall :)

I blame the weather

Well there is not much to say this Wednesday morning. It's been a pretty quiet week. SCM Dinner on Monday night as per usual and an evening at home watching series and preparing Holiday Blog Posts last night. I always forget how much effort they are. And something weird is happening. Usually I adore re-living my trip on my return thru these blog posts. But this time they're just feeling like something tedious I have to get done :(

I did *finally* get my tyres balanced and aligned. I don't really want to write tyre there, I want to write wheel, but it doesn't sound right, although technically I think it is right because they do take the entire wheel off for the alignment (as far as I know just the black out tread bit is the tyre). Anyway, I got that done. I've been meaning to do it since before I went away. I don't know why they can't just do it as part of your car servicing, but anyway :P

In other good news I seem to be mostly back to normal health-wise. Apparently I didn't actually have strep-throat, just a bad tonsillitis infection. My doc made it sound way worse (maybe it looked way worse?) than it actually felt. My blood tests (all 8 billion of them) showed that my thyroid is normal, my cholesterol is high (as always) and apparently my cortisol is high (I gather that's a stress indicator and now I have to go back to the doc in a month to have it looked at).

And then there was a truly insane storm in Jozi last night. Literally I was woken at 2am and repeatedly thereafter as it poured and hailed down till 6am (just in time for me to get out of bed). Felt awful for The Bundles tho, because although they had the tarp over them, and usually that does a good enough job, the wind was so wild during this storm, I'm sure the entire hutch was drenched. I also went out this morn to find Lily & Rex had got out the hutch (storm had caused the thing keeping the door closed to move). They're all fine tho and mostly loving this cold weather.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

02 May: Trans-Mongolian Train (Jining to Beijing) to Beijing

Had set my alarm quite early this morning (06h45) in the hopes of catching the first sight of The Great Wall. But I was quite exhausted due to lack of sleep the night before (and I did not sleep well at all in those 4 hours) and the blinding morning sunlight meant I didn't actually see it, although I did wait up with high hopes. Eventually I went off to use my breakfast voucher, which provided me with 2 slices of white bread, 2 boiled eggs (in their shells) and some butter and strawberry jam with revolting tea (as you probably already know, I am not a great fan of tea in general).

The view really isn't what I expected. So far China seems very industrious. They are building and planting and farming en masse, in what appears to be a very organised fashion.

I did manage to get a little more sleep and now we've just been re-packing our bags and all the covers and sheets from our cabin have been collected. It's almost 11h30, time for our free lunch :)

The free lunch wasn't too bad. 2 meatball type things with a cabbage/lettuce type salad and rice. And only chopsticks to eat with :) I didn't bother eating the rice. (I've never understood rice generally, but most certainly not plain white rice with no sauce ?!?)

After that it was pretty much just waiting around watching some of the most gorgeous mountain scenery till we got to the outskirts of Beijing. Seriously now tho, I am sick of going thru tunnels on a train - haha! There really is an absolutely unbelievable number of them thru the mountains.

And then we got to Beijing station and it was goodbye to Rat and @nctift as we all went our separate ways. I headed off in search of an atm and then was very lucky to find a girl I recognised from the train (another carriage) who was luckily an experienced traveller to China and knew how their Metro system worked - very lucky for me because although it really is easy enough, it would've been very tricky to figure out alone with no Metro map. Thankfully just about everything is duplicated in English since the 2008 Olympics.

So, with a quick Metro trip (involving 1 line change), on one of the busiest trains I've ever been on in my life (it's like every single train is rush hour!) I made my way quite easily to 9 Dragon House, my Intrepid tour joining point.

Oh, and was I ever thrilled to pieces to get into my room and have my first shower since the morning of my birthday!! And yay, the hostel has free wifi to keep me entertained while I wait for the Introductory meeting.

We have a local tour leader and the whole group is just 4 girls. 2 who are friends from the UK, an Australian from Melbourne and me.

After our meeting we went just around the corner to a local restaurant for dinner. Apparently Peking Duck is the speciality in Beijing, so naturally we all wanted that! We let our tour leader order for us. In traditional Chinese style, we ordered a number of dishes for the table and all got to taste them (that lazy susan is there for a reason! Who knew?). We had Peking Duck, Chili & Aubergines, a peppery Beef dish, garlic Asparagus and then Lotus Root with a Blueberry sauce.

It was all delish and we didn't come close to even finishing it. We learnt to eat the Peking Duck skin dipped in sugar too (to not make it taste so fatty). Was a lovely way to start the trip :)

Monday, June 06, 2011

01 May: Trans-Mongolian Train (Ulan Bator to Erlyen)

So, we're in Mongolia. I thought that would make this a more exciting day but, so far Mongolia hasn't made a very good impression.

I'll admit I was unprepared for the complete desolation of the place. Seriously, there has been nothing but sand since I woke up.

Admittedly I have slept thru most of Mongolia so far. I took a brief walk up to our new Restaurant Carriage to find elaborate woodwork and exorbitant pricing and nothing I could afford on the Togrogs I had exchanged. After a stop at Choyr station tho, we have worked out just how screwed we got when exchanging our Rubles last night! We got 1:4 instead of 1:40. Now I figured we wouldn't get a great exchange rate, and I'm still happy I have some Togrogs for my collection,but I never thought we'd be screwed *that* badly on the rate. Knowing that, the Restaurant Carriage might actually be quite cheap :P

On the plus side, I did spend all my remaining (not part of the collection) Togrogs on some Instant Noodles. Somehow it is easier to barter when it really is all the money you have to offer. But at least I've eaten since my borscht at lunch yesterday. Although the urging has come more from my brain than my stomach. Sitting around on the train exacerbates my desire for snacking!

I have continued to sleep my way thru most of Mongolia, occasionally popping my head up to see if the view has changed at all. It never did. Desert on both sides. Even the towns weren't particularly interesting.

We briefly got off for a walk at Saynshand station and then headed to the Restaurant Carriage. Although they have a much bigger menu than out Russian Restaurant Carriage, they seem to have little available. So it was beef with cheese, which came with some rice, potato, cucumber, tomato and carrot salad. Not bad, quite oily like the Russian food but, I'm also pretty sure it wasn't beef. My money is on Horse or Camel? Anyway, that and a coke cost me 10USD (I had specifically taken USD for spending on the train after Russia since I figured I wouldn't have any local currency).

And so, our Mongolian experience was about done. Can't say that anything I've seen, just passing thru, would make me inclined to recommend the place to anyone tho.

We weren't even let off the train at our Mongolian border stop at Zamyn Uud. But, on the plus side I could get Chinese signal on my phone. Clearly Vodacom does not have a roaming agreement with Mongolia because although it connected, I only had SOS signal all day.

And then we crossed over into China at Erlyen. They were very efficient with out passports. And all the forms were, thankfully, in English for us. Everyone seems skeptical when comparing me to my passport photo. How odd. Guess it's lucky I'll have to get a new one soon.

We got given free breakfast and lunch vouchers for the Chinese Restaurant Carriage, that was a surprise. I wonder if it is because we haven't had a chance to change any money yet?

We got to watch the Bogie-Changing, which was pretty cool. They drive the train into a massive shed and then separate all the carriages and lift them all up and slide the old wheels out from under them and then slide the new narrower gauge ones in. And then they re-lower and reconnect all the carriages.

We were done pretty quickly with the process but still had to wait around till our 1am departure time (gotta keep the train on time, I guess). We met a nice American guy who'd got on the train in Ulan Bator, @nctift, and ended up all swapping travel stories, drinking a bottle of Vodka with coke until after 2am!

Was actually a great night :)

Cough. Cough.

Omg. I am still suffering terribly in this cold. Seriously, I feel like the opposite of a Vampire, I'm only well when the sun is out :P Urgh. And my house is a freezer, last night I was in bed under my duvet with socks, tracksuit pants, a scarf, a jersey & a beanie ... all with the heater on and it was only just bearable :P *sob* I hope things icy-cold-wise improve soon. That said tho, my phone weather app tells me we've got rain coming Tues & Wed this week - wtf is that about?! It's Joburg in Winter, we can't have rain!

Anyway, so the weekend. On Friday we shuffled around our office space again, now that our additional space has finished being built (yay, no more construction sounds!). And I'm pretty happy with my new spot so lets hope that helps.

On Friday evening I went to The Trucker's and we just had a quiet evening watching series. On Saturday morning we had breakfast and a lazy morning.

In the afternoon I headed off to Gia's on Montrose to meet up with some other Twitterers for tea. I haven't been there in years and it's kinda cool for an afternoon tea. I wasn't terribly impressed with the food, chicken schnitzel, tho and they weren't impressed when we all started scoffing some of Angel's delish cupcakes! Was lovely to catch up with @AngelsMind, @Rubyletters and @beagle_momma tho :)

And then it was off home to figure out what to wear to a friend of The Trucker's birthday party. What a fun evening, we all had to get dressed up in formal wear (it literally ranged from smart to matric-dance dress stuff!) and had arranged a limo to pick us up from her house (at that stage we still had no idea what the evening entailed!). I've never been in a limo before, was quite a laugh as we drove along the N1. We ended up at Brightwater's Let's Go Bowling! Hahaha, was such a laugh, us in our fancy outfits with bowling socks on (they, thankfully, no longer offer those weird bowling shoes for hire). And then it was off to McGinty's for a few drinks where we were supposed to have dinner, but we'd run a bit late and decided that the proper thing to do would definitely be to hit McDonalds on our way home in the limo instead! Bwahahaha. It was brilliant :)

On Sunday I wasn't feeling well, I think my tonsillitis has gone but now I have a cold. Urgh. I never get sick, what on earth is this all about?!?! Anyway, we out for breakfast and surprisingly ended up at Wimpy (since the restaurant we started out at seemed completely uninterested in actually serving us, so we got up and left), which turned out to be quite nice and in keeping with last night's theme - haha. Can't remember the last time I actually had a Wimpy breakfast!

I slept and cleaned the bunny hutch and watched series in bed for the rest of the day. Seriously, this icy cold makes my days seem so much shorter because I lack interest in actually doing anything after 4pm! I think I may have to buy a heater :P

Friday, June 03, 2011

The Mascot: Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father's Nazi Boyhood by Mark Kurzem

One mans struggle with memory and prejudice on the way to recovering his past Mark Kurzem was happily ensconced in his academic life at Oxford when his father, Alex, showed up on his doorstep with a terrible secret to tell. When a Nazi death squad raided his village at the outset of World War II, Jewish five-year-old Alex Kurzem escaped. After surviving the Russian winter by foraging for food and stealing clothes off dead soldiers, he was discovered by a Nazi-led Latvian police brigade that later became an SS unit. Not knowing he was Jewish, they made him their mascot, dressing the little corporal in uniform and toting him from massacre to massacre. Terrified, the resourceful Alex charmed the highest echelons of the Latvian Third Reich, eventually starring in a Nazi propaganda film. When the war ended he was sent to Australia with a family of Latvian refugees. Fearful of being discovered as either a Jew or a Nazi

Alex kept the secret of his childhood, even from his loving wife and children. But he grew increasingly tormented and became determined to uncover his Jewish roots and the story of his past. Shunned by a local Holocaust organization, he reached out to his son Mark for help in reclaiming his identity. A survival story, a grim fairy-tale, and a psychological drama, this remarkable memoir asks provocative questions about identity, complicity, and forgiveness.

Well, this book would be fascinating even if I didn't happen to be vaguely near the area it happened in. Although the forests we've been travelling thru have certainly fueled my imagination.

I have said before that I adore books (and movies) that leave you wanting to scour the internet, searching for more information and this along with the next book I read on the Trans-Mongolian train have both inspired exactly that reaction in me.

This book is fascinating although I didn't always like the way it was written. I would highly recommend it. I loved that it included photos and although the story-telling was always interesting and I did struggle to ration my reading on the train, I found I wanted there to be more factual investigation alongside.

Anyway, again, an unbelievable life story and I think you should read this!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

30 April: Trans-Mongolian Train (Goncharovo to Sukhbaatar)

Didn't sleep very well last night. More just dozed on and off. I suspect it's down to our life of doing nothing and dozing thruout the day. Either way, I was vaguely aware of the noises at our Irkutsk stop, but I didn't get up till about 05h30.

Ah, what a divine surprise awaited us! The world is covered in a thick white blanket of snow :) Suddenly the view was a huge novelty again. In fact, the view changed more today than in the last few days altogether.

And on top of the novelty of the snow, we went thru 2 tunnels (didn't get a photo tho because I ran out of battery and the 48V plug-points in our carriage are pretty useless!). It was a long wait for the restaurant carriage (still on Moscow time) to open up! But I did manage to get a few good shots of Lake Baikal as we went past.

And then it was back to bed for more dozing. It was kinda nice having a morning of winter train travel but, soon they'd cranked the heat up to an unbearable level and I was standing next to the open window for some fresh air. I never understand why people would make somewhere hotter than necessary. It's so much easier to get warmer, but not so easy to cool down!

We stopped at Ulan-Ude and after that I went to charge my camera battery in the Restaurant Carriage and have some Borscht. Have I mentioned how lovely Russian graveyards are to see as we pass by on the train. Sadly I haven't managed to get a decent photo. I think the most gorgeous one I saw was the one covered in snow this morning.

We rode past Goose Lake which was almost frozen over. It's nice to have seen more life around today, more people and animals out and about. Their dark wooden houses remind me of Gum's cottage.

Now we've stopped at Naushki, the Russian-Mongolian border town and we're waiting to get our passports back. Unfortunately there are no food shops at this station and not even people trying to exchange our money. Was hoping to get some Mongolian currency for my collection on this trip.

Oh, and we've been given 2 identical customs forms to complete, but they're entirely in Russian! It is surreal considering the Chinese (I think?) conductors seem to speak no English or Russian either. We're just lucky to have an American on our carriage who knows Russian. Well, wait ... wait ... wait.

Showee, the Russian border process is tedious! They must've traipsed at least 15 individuals and 3 dogs thru out carriage before we got out passports back.

And then we hung out longer at the station (just for fun?).

And eventually we got to the Mongolian side of the border crossing. They seemed slightly more efficient than their Russian counterparts but did re-check our entire cabin. I was kinda impressed cause the Mongolians were the only ones in my memory to actually try comparing me to my photo in my passport.

Plus, their immigration form has an English version. And we had a friendly Mongolian guy come on board to change out money. Yay, I got a variety of Mongolian notes for my collection :) *thrilled* Haha, he couldn't believe I was African because I wasn't black :P

We've just had about 20 official looking Mongolians walk thru our carriage. Sigh. And we get to do this all again tomorrow evening.

At the moment I'm just feeling kinda peckish (thought there'd be something to buy at our lengthy Russian border stop and the Mongolian Restaurant Carriage only joins us in Ulan Bator) and in desperate need of the loo! The lock the carriage toilets at all the station-stops and this time they've been locked since we got to the Russian border town, 6hrs ago!

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