A new national pasttime: abusing Asian tourists?

What I did on my winter vacation: abused Asian tourists. Do you think this is a trend that’ll take off?

So now I’m starting to sound like Tony Abbott (er, before the election campaign started), but let me explain…

Last week, a few of us toddled down to Phillip Island, just south of Melbourne, a little chunk of land that has been given over to growing penguins and kangaroos. Literally. We stopped in a wildlife park and spotted such delicious creatures as Tasmanian devils (notoriously bad tempered, anti-social creatures) and open grasslands where large kangaroos leapt up to you, frisking your pockets for food. There was also an area for koalas.

If you’re reading this and unaware, koalas sleep for about 18 hours a day, and the rest of the time is spent eating leaves and mating. In all, a fairly uncomplicated lifestyle. Australian kids are brought up knowing they’re not the most exciting animal. They don’t sing, dance or beg to be patted. Mostly, they just sleep. Ok, so I’m trying to justify shouting at the tourists who were throwing pellets at the sleeping koalas, so they could get a better photo. Cranky? You bet.

It felt so good, I had another crack at some girls down at the penguin parade where, every night, hundreds of tiny penguins return from a day’s fishing at sea to their burrows and mates. They are wild, so the wildlife service has built boardwalks so we can see them running home, undisturbed by a size 10 boot squishing them.

Visiting the penguins is so popular, the warnings not to take photos are repeated in a swag of languages, including Japanese and Chinese. If you’re caught photographing the penguins, your camera is immediately confiscated by the wildlife rangers because the flash sends the penguins blind and they die because they can’t catch fish. Simple, really. Except most of us can’t turn off a flash, hence the blanket ban against cameras.

So why do people persist in trying??? Annoyingly, both times I had my little tantrums, the women apologiesed in perfect English. No excuses. 

Hot to shop: Delhi

Spices, silks, scarves and saris? Let the games begin. 

Delhi is full of emporiums selling jewellery and scarves. Even I got bitten by Delhi’s voracious auto-rickshaw drivers, who receive a commission from shops that they’re keen to run you in to. Lucky they were dealing with someone who’d hardened their heart against the charms of cashmere, the glimmer of gold and the gazillion pretty dust collectors that Delhi merchants are dying to foist upon you.

However, I can recommend a place for a nice turban, in Amritsar… more

Forgotten island the ultimate beach escape

I don’t reckon the Bali tourism people are going to be overly happy with this piece raving about the Philippines, but seriously, I was almost EATEN by fake watch sellers when I stopped in Bali last time.

Its white sand beaches, warm blue waters and easy-on-the-wallet style make Boracay a contender for the ultimate beach escape.

THIS morning, I jumped off my outrigger, bought a pair of pearl earrings for $2 on a near-deserted beach, jumped back on the boat and sailed off. Boracay, you delicious creature, you’ve taught me an essential lesson: one must always carry change when island-hopping in South-East Asia.

To read more in the Sun Herald, click here

A different side of Egypt: from Alexandria to Marsa Matruh

So I stuffed photographer and a crate of beer in a red 1975 Landcruiser and we aimed for Libya. Here’s the result…

:Away from the famous sites and Red Sea resorts, stretches of Egypt’s coast are opening up to tourism.

The sky is bright blue, the sand bright white, the sea perfect, and there’s not a soul on the beach. The only other visitors are a couple of young goatherds in fluttering white gowns or djellabas, and football shirts, who pose for me as they lead their blank-eyed charges to freshwater wells. Could this really be the Mediterranean?

Um el donya, the mother of the world, as the Egyptians call their country, has an embarrassment of attractions and sites that the world visits en masse, yet beyond the pyramids and tombs, Cairo and Luxor, glitzy Sharm el-Sheikh and the other diving and cruise hotspots on the Red Sea, there still remain superb areas that tourists are only just beginning to discover.

Click here to read the whole story in today’s Guardian, UK (!!!)

Animal kingdom in city streets

“Do we have any respect for animals?” was the theme of one conversation at a lunch on Friday at the fabulous Circa restaurant here in Melbourne. The question came up as Circa makes a big issue out of sourcing organic produce, finding happily bred, free-ranging animals to eat, and right at our backs was a massive herb wall which the chefs pluck green goodies from.

Interestingly, in Jakarta, a Japanese chef told us that they do not use Japanese wagyu beef because the Japanese, to increase the fat content in the meat, not only massage the cows but also feed them beer, thus making the meat haram, and unable to be eaten by Muslims (Indonesia being a predominantly Muslim state). Instead, they source their hugely expensive wagyu from here in Australia. Hurrah for us!

It got me to thinking about the animal market in Jakarta, a strip in the suburban streets which is billed as a bird market. But when we got there, not only were there bright parrots, finches and all manner of songbirds, but loads of weird animals I’ve never seen before. One guy, obviously a specialist in the weird, pulled out a lemur, a furry little beast with the HUGHEST EYES.

I thought were found only in Madagascar, but apparently this lot is indigenous to Sumatra. Adezah, who was hanging out with us there, used to have one as a pet, and he held it gently, while it clung to his fingers desperately, almost lovingly, its little warm hands shaped like a frog’s. Apparently, lemurs are traded illegally, their Indonesian population under threat.

There were also spookily long-legged rabbits, perky iguanas, a rooster with a black comb and face, an upside-down fruit bat, loads of owls (which the Indonesians call ‘ghost birds’), a tank full of black scorpions and hundreds and hundreds of mice, bred as food for the many snakes on offer. A nice lady modeled an American ball python for me, its thick waist wrapped around her neck, and everyone was quite happy to let me pat or photograph their animals.

The saddest sight at the market, though, was a couple of tiny monkeys, just two months old, sitting in an empty cage by the busy roadside, staring uncomprehendingly at the traffic with wild green eyes.
I photographed them to show you.

I’ve seen monkeys in street pet shops before (in Cairo, remember?) but these were so young, so tiny, and so bewildered, they came to mind at my posh lunch yesterday. In this instance, no, we have no respect for animals.

Red light alert: Jakarta on sale

All the world loves a bargain and Jakarta is currently on sale. Armed with a handful of adept and hardened shoppers, I tottered behind them, from store to store, their cries ringing in my ears, “Zara! Kate Spade! Massimo!”

They were right, it was bargain central, as the world over enjoys mid-year sales.

In return, I dragged them to the markets. Oh, I love a good market. Of course, this being south-east Asia, the markets don’t mean overpriced organic tomatoes and artfully arranged eco-carrots, but Jakarta has a couple of streets that are lined with long, thatch-roof stalls, one street for antiques, another for animals.

The antique shops told a story of Jakarta’s history: old Dutch maps, German dictionaries, biographies of the former president Soeharto and stacks of dauntingly instructive, simply named hardcover tomes, including “The Persian Gulf” and “Childcraft”.

I found a stuffed kumbung (yes I’ve googled it and can’t find it anywhere, either, but it’s a type of animal, I’ll keep searching), a preserved turtle and a cupei (ditto kumbung, I think I must have written this down wrong, serious language barriers going on here), a weasel-like animal with wild glass green eyes.

This market’s also a great stop for puppets, including this fetching duo of Barak Obama and the Indonesian  mega-moutful of a president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyon, more sensibly known as SBY (which started to get me all mixed up – SJP. No, that’s Sarah Jessica Parker. JPY. John Paul Young. Wrong again).

My shopping companion on this trip trotted away with a set of East Javanese puppets and some old weights, and me? The ultimate kitsch gave my baggage that extra oomph, a pair of brass betel nut cutters from Sumatra. Going cheap. Obviously a must-have when visiting Indonesia.