China in transit

Killing time at Beijing airport with delays, I offer you a sample of today’s headlines in the English-language China Daily:

Street food blamed for cholera outbreak.

Hand-washing practices urged for professionals.

A birthday cake for six-year old pandas Yuan Yuan and Tuan Tuan

And a story entitled “Smaller penalties for breaking family planning rules”, which states that parents should register extra births past their one-child policy before the upcoming census, and as a result, will face minimal fines. In the past, the fines have been nine times the average annual income.

The newspaper states that last year, around 100,000 babies were born in Beijing, and these ‘illegal’ newborns do not get citizenship.

[PS I would have posted this earlier, but my connection in Beijing mysteriously times out when I try to access not only Facebook but also Go figure.]

Things I like about Changi airport

Why I love Changi airport. Simply because the loo fits my luggage trolley in it. Singaporeans love their shopping and are happy to accommodate the trait in its visitors.

There are lollies on the desk of the customs clerk. I ask him if he eats them all day. “No,” he says. “Then I would be too sweet and nice to the passengers.”

The 24-hour GST refund desk and the Singaporean glam shoe company, Charles & Keith, with GST-free, sale-marked-down shoes right next door.

And the other thing I absolutely adore about Singapore? The fact my handbag gets its own seat, without question. And, to top that, when I go into a chilli crab restaurant, it not only gets its own seat, but has a cover draped over it so it’s not spattered with sauce. God, it sounds so uncool, but viva Singapore!

Early morning over Kuala Lumpur

Flying over Kuala Lumpur before sunrise, the city of 1.8 million looks dark and empty. I’m having a flashback, oddly, to another time, arriving before dawn in a small Russian city, dumped off an overnight bus on an overpass on its outskirts.

Surprisingly, the Russian soldier who gets off the bus at the same lonely point speaks good English, and he becomes my guide. He is walking to war… The town’s train station is a major gathering point for fresh conscripts to be sent to Chechnya.

The closer we get to the station, the more the streets fill with young men with rough crew-cuts and ill-fitting uniforms, walking to war in plastic sandals, their cheap regulation boots slug over their shoulders. They eye my leather hiking boots with avarice.

My guide is older than most, at 28 he is educated and has a career. Yet he seems untouched by what is country is making him do. He’s neither excited nor angry nor afraid – just stoic. He says he knew he would have to go. His best friend went before him and is already dead.

As the taxi drives through palm gardens and terraces of ferns, the humid Malaysian air warming bones chilled by a Melbourne winter, it’s a strange memory to recall this morning. But who ever can control their memories?

A country drive: Kyneton exposed

It’s a town where the espresso consumption equates the population of 4300 people: surely 4300 espressos, macciatos, afogatos, cappucinos and lattes were dished up this weekend in Australia’s most happing country town, Kyneton.

How groovy can one town be? The answer is: impossibly so. Cafes and galleries open at a rate of knots, yet there’s still a tractor shop in the middle of the hip Piper Street strip. Gothic florists, truffle degustation dinners, lazy Sunday organic breakfast scenes and hideaway of celebrated chefs, designers, musicians and writers…amazing stuff.

There are two sides to the town: the High Street, where the burger shop is doing one with the lot and a can of coke for $8, Videoworld (for your viewing pleasure) and Best & Less is hidden out the back. At first sight, it appears there are more vets than doctors, but there’s a hospital there too.

The other side is chic Pipers St, home of all those pumping cafes, pinot dinners and food from the Middle East, continental Europe, India and beyond. I would like to have shown you a photo, but it was bucketing down rain all weekend.

Every town has its own dark secret, and residents were more than happy to pull up a chair at a wooden table, put the tea pot down … and spill. The broken hearts, street rivalry, the spooky-sounding Exclusive Brethren who appear to own the furniture shops stuffed with blue micro-fibre sofas and whose website spends much energy defending bad TV coverage.

Food, fury and fiefdoms…love it…