Seven hundred and two

Back from my month in Thailand, Cambodia and Australia!

I can hear the wet snow hit the window and my socks are still slightly damp from the tiny leak in my winter boots that caused the ankle-high slush outside to seep in.  It’s quite the difference from the sweltering heat I was in last week, but I’m still glad to be home, snow and all.  Not that I didn’t have an amazing time, but four weeks away from my man and my own bed was a long time.

There’s always something about coming home that is comforting.  As much as I love the excitement of traveling, learning about different cultures, and changing hotel rooms every few days (well, maybe not the latter as much), home and routine is just as wonderful.  When my boyfriend came to pick me up at the airport, after the airline lost my luggage on my connection in Tokyo and I’d flown eighteen hours having hardly slept, the comfort of having his arms around me made it all better.  I’ve been back since Sunday afternoon and I’ve been back to work, got all my laundry done, have caught up on a few emails and phone calls, and snuggled a lot with my bf, all with a little jet lag butt-kicking haze.  Nothing exciting, but just perfect, especially with this crazy storm going on.

Elephant_Statue

Of course I have so many stories and inspirations I’ve returned with.  Although very touristy, Thailand and Cambodia were beautiful, the food was fantastic, the people were lovely (once we got past the “please give us money or spend money here” dance).  We traveled from Bangkok to Phuket to Ko Phi Phi Don, back to Phuket, then on to Ko Samui, Ko Phangan and Ko Tao, up north to Chiang Mai, south to Siem Reap, and back to Bangkok.  I finished off my trip with a week visiting friends in Melbourne, Australia, where I used to live.

We fed and bathed elephants, had fish bite the dead skin off our feet (which I found incredibly ticklish), learned to cook Thai food, ate rice out of a pineapple and drank watermelon “fruit smoothies”, had the best massages ever, played a crazy shoe game with Cambodian kids, snorkeled with sharks and fish surrounding us, rode a longtail boat a few times, relaxed on the beach, went on 5 ferries, 15 flights and countless tuk tuks and cabs.  We saw breathtaking temple ruins in Angkor Wat, ornate Buddhist temples throughout Thailand, and the majestic Grand Palace in Bangkok.  We learned lots about the history and culture and met some fascinating people.  And at the end I got to spend time with old friends that brightened my day.  I am so fortunate that I had this opportunity and am grateful for every moment I had.  It was a trip I will never forget.

longtail_boat

I took quite a few photos, but haven’t had the chance to sort them all out.  On this post are a few from our first couple of days.  I will post more soon.  Photos don’t really do it justice, though.  It was beautiful!

pier

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Six hundred and sixty-seven

The Life of a Traveler
Life lesson #2:
explore and talk to strangers

Off the beaten path somewhere on the east coast of Canada.

Off the beaten path somewhere on the east coast of Canada.

You can go on a great trip doing exactly what guide books say, staying in tourist destinations, talking to other tourists, eating at the restaurant in the hotel.  It will be safe, lovely, no surprises, in your comfort zone, and an absolutely great trip.  Or you can go off the beaten path, explore and experience something you never even dreamed existed.  You can go on a walk in the Australian rainforest, end up swimming by a waterfall with turtles, meet a random horse, and not encounter another person all day.  (This did happen to my “sister” and I, and yes, mom, we were safe and left where we were going with the bed and breakfast owners)  You can talk to locals and find out where they eat, drink, relax.  You can experience a tiny slice of their life.  You can go on an adventure.  (Of course as long as you’re safe, tell someone where you are going, and do your research for any dangers)

Some of my best memories traveling have been the days when I’ve ended up at a tiny jazz club in the back alleys of a city, or went on a hike on the less-traveled path, been invited over for dinner at a person’s home, or just sat on a patio with the locals taking it all in.  Actually in my day-to-day life, these are my favourite memories too.  It’s so important to listen to other people’s stories.  And although talking to strangers in my own city has never been a strong point of mine, I am much better at it when exploring a different country or city, and these encounters inspire me to be more open here in Toronto.  It’s also important to take chances.  I’m a big believer in stepping outside of your comfort zone.  It inspires and challenges you, makes you feel alive, changes the way you look at the world.  You never know what you’ll find – about the place you are in and about yourself.

On a related note, my “sister” and I (the one I’m going to Thailand and Cambodia with) are applying for The Amazing Race Canada!  Oh yes, we are.  Wouldn’t it be amazing if we got in and you could follow us traveling (and of course winning) across Canada?  I have so many dreams…  I will write my favourite saying once again, which seems very appropriate at this moment: “leap and the net will appear”!

Next week I’ll talk about one more lesson I learned while traveling and then I’ll be off to Bangkok!

Six hundred and sixty-one

The Life of a Traveler
Life lesson #1:
learning to deal with the unexpected

(over the next couple of weeks I’m going to be posting a bit about what I’ve learned in my travels over the years, in preparation for my upcoming month-long trip to Southeast Asia!!!!)

One of my favourite photos of me running through some trees in Wilson's Promontory, in South Australia (with crazy long hair)

One of my favourite photos of me running through some trees in Wilson’s Promontory, in southern Australia (with crazy long hair)

Although my desire to be kind to our planet does make me feel guilty about all the airplane fuel being used, my curiosity about different cultures and other ways of life always seems to win out.  I fell in love with traveling after a whirlwind trip around Europe taken with my friend/sister (we’ve known each other since we were born – our parents are friends) after we graduated university.  Since then I’ve lived in England, Australia, traveled all over Europe, been to the north of Africa, Hong Kong, around the States and Canada.  I have loved it.  Every few months I feel the urge to explore.  And I do.  I’m coming up on a month-long trip to Thailand, Cambodia and visiting my friends in Melbourne, Oz.

One of the biggest life lessons I have learned through all my traveling is learning to take life in stride, realizing that no matter how many plans you make there will always be unforeseen circumstances that change your direction a little.  There is always a delayed flight, or lost luggage, or unexpected weather.  There are hostel or hotel rooms that don’t look at all like the photos on their website, or a gecko who lives in the bathroom and you have to shower beside (this actually did happen to the same “sister” and I during a trip up the east coast of Australia).  The best thing you can do is go with the flow, look at the positives, laugh a lot, and make the best of what you have.  Either way, it will be a great story to tell your friends and family when you get back.

This lesson has really helped me over the past few years, dealing with big things like changes in life or in my world views, and little things like when a recipe I’m cooking doesn’t work out and I’m having guests over for dinner or the internet goes down and I can’t post my blog (which happened yesterday, hence the Thursday post).  There’s always something you can’t plan for and the best thing to do is make the most of it and smile.  This philosophy has made all those little and big things much easier to deal with.

My “sister” (who is also going on this trip with me), is a planner and I am not, which is the best of both worlds.  I help her plan a little and she lets me take the reins when the unexpected happens.  We’ve both learned a little from each other and we rely on each other’s strengths to make our adventure the best it can be.  I’m looking forward to it, what surprises we’ll encounter this time, and what they will teach me!

Next week I’ll talk about another big life lesson I’ve learned while traveling.

One hundred and nineteen

Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi

When I lived in Melbourne, Australia a couple of years ago, I really enjoyed eating kangaroo – steaks, burgers – but I’ve never cooked with it myself.  I found out I could buy kangaroo topside from the St. Lawrence Market (for $25), so decided to have kangaroo represent Australia for Cooking 30 Countries month.  I had a hard time at first when I took the kangaroo out of the package and the blood and gamey smell hit my nose.  Cutting the pieces of its flesh did almost make me gag.  But the recipe was simple and the kangaroo tasted delicious.  I’d probably make the recipe again with another type of meat.  I think $25 for one steak of kangaroo is a little too pricey to be a regular purchase.

Before I get into the recipe, though here are some facts about kangaroo meat:

  • Kangaroo meat is very lean, with usually less than 2% fat and high in protein, iron and zinc, so therefore very healthy.
  • In a report commissioned by Greenpeace, Dr. Mark Diesendorf says that cutting back on beef production in Australia by 20% and substituting kangaroo meat could save 15 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions over the next twelve years (read about Vancouver kangaroo sales on canada.com)
  • Kangaroo is always free-range organic meat – never farmed
  • The Ecological Society of Australia, the Australasian Wildlife Management Society and the Australasian Mammal Society have all released statements saying they support kangaroo harvesting.
  • Kangatarianism – people who exclude all meat except kangaroo on environmental, ecological and humanitarian grounds (read this article from The Sydney Morning Herald for more information)
  • Sources: Southern Game MeatWikipediaKangaroo Industry Association of Australia, and the others mentioned above.

Sesame Kangaroo with Asian Greens

Seasame Kangaroo with Asian Greens, from the Kangaroo Industry Association of Australia:

Serves 4-6

Quantity Ingredients

2 Tsp Minced garlic
2 Tsp Minced ginger
3 Tbs Soy sauce
3 Tbs Oyster sauce
4 Tbs Plum sauce
500 G Lean kangaroo topside cut into thin strips
900 G Hokkien noodles
    Spray or olive oil
2 Each Sweet potato julienne
2 Each Bok choy
1 Each Green capsicum, sliced
1 Bch English spinach, trimmed
3 Tbs Toasted sesame seeds
60 G Snow pea sprouts

Method

1. Combine the garlic, ginger, soy sauce, oyster sauce and plum sauce in a glass or ceramic dish
2. Add the kangaroo and toss to coat. Cover and marinate for 15 minutes
3. Drain the meat and reserve the marinade
4. Put the hokkien noodles into a large heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water
5. Leave to stand for 2 minutes, pushing gently with a wooden spoon to separate the strands
6. Drain well and set aside
7. Spray a non stick wok or frying pan with oil and heat
8. Stir fry the meat in 2 or 3 batches over high heat for 2-3 minutes or until browned. Set aside
9. Reheat the wok, add the sweet potato and capsicum and stir fry for 3 minutes then add the reserved marinade and bring to the boil
10. Add the spinach leaves, bok choy and toss until just wilted
11. Stir in the noodles, kangaroo, sesame seeds and snow pea sprouts and toss to heat through

Of course for dessert I had to have Tim Tams (a chocolate wafer cookie, coated in more chocolate) dipped in either tea or coffee.  The trick is to bite opposite corners off, then suck the hot liquid up through the biscuit until it collapses in on it itself and starts to fall apart, and throw the whole thing in your mouth.  It was one of my favourite treats in Melbourne and I was so happy to find a place they sell them in Toronto.

Today 

Perogies

Day ninety-one

Another set-up blind date

The Footy Player

Look at those big manly hands.  The Footy Player is a first for me in many ways this month – the first Aussie, the first jock, and the first really big, muscular man.  It was a completely blind date, set-up by a friend of mine from work.  He had asked my friend whether I would be paying for the date, because he was ‘doing me a favour’ by going on a date with me for my blog.  I turned it into a joke, asking him what kind of flowers he would like when I picked him up (and I actually did bring him a flower).

The original plan was a trip to High Park (it would have been his first time there – he’s only been in Toronto for six months), but the dark clouds and high probability of rain changed into a walk around his area (I met him outside of his apartment, by his suggestion) and a couple of beers at the Bier Markt on King.  We sat on the patio (the rain held out for a couple of hours) and watched the crazies come by – one even trying to sell us Visine, saying it was a good way to drug your date by putting it in their drink, then smashing it with his foot, spraying all over The Footy Player’s leg.

The Footy Player’s from Melbourne, where I lived in 2008-09, and ‘barracks’ (cheers) for the same Aussie rules footy team that I cheered for when I was living there – the Western Bulldogs (go Doggies!).  He travels a lot too.  But after that we really didn’t have that much in common.

When the lightning started and it was about to rain, the server brought us our bill.  He asked whether I wanted us to split it.  I said I’d pay for.  We ran into a friend of his who said he’d just been on the worst date – they had a quick two drinks, then she said she was tired and left.   Funny because we just had two drinks and I was really tired.  As I waited for the streetcar, he ran off home, trying to avoid the impending rain.

Not the best date, but not the worst.  There wasn’t any romantic connection there, but he’d be a great person to party and travel with.  And I did love to hear about all his travels (especially some crazy stories from his trip in Africa).  It was a piece of Melbourne – a city that I miss terribly.

Go Doggies! Aussie rules football in Melbourne.

Matchmaking services

If you don’t have friends to set you up, there are a bunch of matchmaking services that will match you up with someone they think you are compatible with.  I could not afford to do this, hence me relying on my friends to be my matchmaker.

Soulmates – Jewish matchmaking services

It’s Just Lunch – matchmaking for busy professionals

Venus and Mars Matchmaking– exclusive introductory service: must be single, successful, attractive, marketable, secure, and interested in a long term relationship – $1,000 package (three introductions) and a $5,000 “elite” version (a personalized search for up to 10 people).

Eligible Inc. – professional relationship service

Perfect Partners – personal relationship executive search firm – packages range from $3,800 (which gets you 18 months unlimited introductions) to $15,000 (for two years of “highly personalized” searching)

Hearts Canada – professional introductory service for sincere singles

LifeMates – Relationship consultants arranging meetings with interesting, compatible people of the opposite sex to achieve your relationship goals

Click here for an article from the Toronto Star about matchmaking services in Toronto: ” She paid $8,000 plus a “success fee” of $4,500.”

Today

A home-cooked lunch with my pick-up from Friday night.