Saturday, November 3, 2012

Memoir from Down Under - Perth Chapter 1

The holiday season came a little late for us this year. We had to properly plan for a longer school holiday session to ensure that our son won’t be too tired once we return from our overseas getaway. This year, we made our way to the land down under - the west side i.e. Perth. It has always been my dream to visit Australia and this year we made it possible. It just so happen that I have friends residing in Perth and that made the whole journey more exciting.

It was June, and it’s early winter time in Perth. Winter in Perth can be very mild with temperature ranging from 10 to 20 degree Celsius. Although it could drop below 10 degrees at night, it’s still a pleasant time to visit Perth. In fact it was just perfect for us as we were experiencing a very hot and humid season in Malaysia. Flying from Changi International Airport Singapore this time via Tiger Airways, we reached Perth after 5 hours and 20 minutes in thin air. Arriving at 9.30pm local time, the weather was about 10 degree Celsius, chilly yet a clear night. My friend’s hubby then drove us to their residence at Bertram Heights, about 30 minutes away from Perth International Airport. We had earlier made an arrangement with Bentley Hotel but this lovely duo insisted that we should just stay with them throughout our visit. It was really a lovely idea, so there we were at Bertram, in a cosy residence of a dear friend, Jaslina & Ariff.

Day 1: City & Cruise

The first day we were on our own. So we took the TransPerth train from Kwinana Station, the nearest stop from Bertram, to Perth Underground (the city). It was about 6 stops away but the TransPerth was very reliable and very accurate on timing. It took us less than half an hour to reach the city. Guided with a map we took from the airport, we started our discovery on foot as we reached Perth City during the peak hour of Thursday morning.

As we came out from the Perth Underground Station, we strolled along a row of shops and boutiques at Murray Street Mall. It was a long stretch with lots and lots of shops displaying local and international brands. We then made a stop at the Visitor Center at William Street and booked our tickets for a cruise on the Swan River via the Captain Cook Cruise.

We were in time for the next cruise but we had to briskly walk to Barrack Jetty where the cruise was already waiting for us. We took a 2-way cruise from Perth City to Fremantle and back. It took us about 2 hours and 30 minutes, to and fro. The journey presented us with an arresting eye-opener of the naturally beautiful Perth’s riverside views which were replete with magnificent looking homes and famous yacht clubs. And with the weather like that, I wish I could have stayed on the cruise for all day long :)

It was really a delightful experience. We had coffee on board and made friends from abroad. One thing that left an indelible mark in my memory was when we saw a couple of beautiful dolphins trailing along our boat, and making a jump out of the water. It was indeed a sight you don’t get to see every single day. For my son, it was a something that really made his day (even for the whole trip down to Perth)! He has this unsinkable believe that if our boat is trailed by dolphins, it would be a lucky day for us! And indeed it was for us!

When we reached Perth City, it was almost 3pm. We made a quick visit to the Bell Tower, a large glass tower shaped like a thin pyramid that housed a set of bells with an observation deck that provided scenic views of the city. It was located at the Barrack Square right on the Swan River foreshore, near the Perth Old Port. We then took a free bus (the Blue C.A.T) and made our way back to the city for lunch. As my son requested for chicken rice, we had to make a stop at Indah Restaurant, an Indonesian halal food for lunch. I must admit that the food was a little pricey, but the provisions were sufficient enough to fill up our empty stomachs.

And yes, about the ‘free bus ride’, I must tell you that I was quite thrilled to know that within the city area, Perth provided 3 sets of bus services (i.e. Blue, Red and Yellow C.A.T – Central Area Transit) absolutely free for all. So if you need to get yourself around, just jump on the bus and make your way to the place without spending any penny. If you are not too sure where to go, there is a map on every bus stop showing you the route. The bus timing is so accurate, you won’t mind waiting. The longest waiting time we had to endure was 6 minutes. Compare this to anywhere in Malaysia.

At night, after dinner, my friend drove us to Rockingham Shopping Mall where we shopped for groceries at Coles. Bringing in food into Australia can be a bit tricky. There are a lot of rules and regulations about bringing in food items into the country. The customs will check thoroughly on what you bring along and what you have to declare. No dairy products, no fruits, no nuts, etc. There were more NOs than YES. So, to avoid all the hassle during arrival and face the customary Immigration and Customs procedures, we decided not to bring any food and just buy all that we need in Perth.

Anyway, I love shopping at Coles. There were products you can’t find in Malaysia. And their dairy products, they were all freshly and locally made in Australia. But we have to properly read the ingredients, many of the products contained gelatine and flavours derived from swine. So, what did we get for ourselves? Definitely cereals for my son, wheet-bix for Mr. Hubby, milk and juices, biscuits, chocolates, potato chips, vitamins, and a pie! Yup, I really had to try their frozen Apple and Mixed Berries Pie. It was seriously scrumptious! We then stopped at Target and K-Mart too, just browsing for more. Relatively, the prices were cheaper than the ones in Malaysia, if you are earning in Aussie Dollars. You can’t quite compare apple to apple. Once you start to convert these prices into Malaysian Ringgit (i.e. multiplying every single digit by 3) you will feel the pinch. Darn! So, never compare.

Day 2 : City & Museum

The next day, we revised our original itinerary a little bit. Instead of heading to Caversham Wildlife Park, we opted for the city again. As advised by my friend, we should go to Caversham together with them, as it was much more convenient and cheaper to drive there rather than taking the public transport. So, we headed back to the city for a free and leisurely stroll.

As we reached the city, we began to explore the lively Hay Street. There, we came across London Court, an alley captured in the settings of the English Tudor, a reminiscence of the bygone British era. It was classically decorated with rows of small shops and intimate cafes intricately reflecting the lifestyles of typical European Cities. For a moment, I felt as though we were not in Perth but Paris, haha! As though I had ever been to Paris..! It is definitely a unique shopping boulevard and I just loved it!

We headed to the Western Australian Museum after we had a quick bite we packed at Ispa Kebab. The free ride via CAT Bus brought us to the museum from Hay St on a windy chilly afternoon.

The museum fee was by virtue of donations. So, you can drop any amount of money in the donation box on your way out. It was a pretty large museum showcasing the colourful histories of the origins of Perth, its thriving mining industry, the Aborigines and the whites, frozen Australian animals and insects, musical instruments and many more exciting discoveries.

It was a quiet day in the museum, perhaps because it was on a Friday afternoon. Only a handful of visitors were around, so we had the whole museum to ourselves and slowly walk from one display to another. Just after the museum, we had a quick stop for coffee (and of course juice for my son), at a little café in front of the museum before continuing our sightseeing for the day. We also shopped for some souvenirs and knick-knacks at Wombat Hut, a souvenir shop located at the city.

At night, after a hearty dinner prepared by my lovely friend, Jas, we drove off to the Kings Park for a leisurely walk (and photo-taking). It was a little colder that night, and windy. Kings Park was located on Mount Eliza, the largest inner city park right in the heart of Perth City. Overlooking the spread of skyscrapers of Perth Central Business District (CBD) and a breathtakingly beautiful Swan River, it was definitely a perfect place to relax and unwind. The CBD was brightly enlightened from afar with all buildings beautifully lit-up. We took a lot of photos of this picturesque scenery. My son and her newly-made friends (Jas’s kids) were having a whale of a time running and jumping and rolling on the lush green grass.

We then walked upwards to where the State War Memorial is located. There was a monument at the top of the hill honouring all servicemen and women from Western Australia who died during the Boer War, World War I, World War II, Korean War as well as the Vietnam War.

Let me share some good tips with you. During winter, the night starts early here. The sun goes down at about 5.30 in the evening. And Perth City literally sleeps at 5. Most shops were closed by that hour except the bars, pubs and some eateries. Should you feel the need to do your retail therapy, do it before 5pm I reckon, or you may have to come back the next day. For us, that night, after Kings Park, there was nothing much to see. So, we headed home and prepared ourselves for the next day. :)

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Lost-in-Beijing (Part2)

-Day 4-

After 3 days in Beijing, we realized that somehow we were already quite familiar with a few things in Beijing i.e. the people, the traffic, the food and the weather. So, on Day 4, Panda World was the first place for us to visit. We didn’t plan for this but since we thought the children would have enjoyed it, we added it in. It was a quiet chilly morning at the Panda World. There were not many visitors. It was hard for us to catch the Pandas on sight too. I bet they were all hibernating, uh? Do Pandas hibernate, anyway?

As we entered the indoor cage, the first 2 cages were empty. No Panda! But as we strolled along, we managed to catch a glimpse of this exquisite and endangered species, hiding and enjoying themselves in a bunch of Bamboo leaves. There was also another type of Panda, called Red Panda or Lesser Panda. It looked more like a fox to me but only it was cuter and fluffier and reddish in color. My son was so excited in seeing this cuddly little bear so closely, he had to make a second round to see them again. He later stopped at a souvenir kiosk and asked me to get him an ear muff, with panda heads on it… super cute!

Next stop was the bird’s nest Stadium (Beijing Olympic Stadium). It is the most striking structure recognized all over the world, creating a new icon for China, and the city of Beijing. It is called the Bird’s Nest because it really looked like one.

After a few snaps of pictures at the Stadium, and a good morning walk or ‘run’ to my son (since it was quite a distance from the bus drop-off area), we headed to Dr Tea House, a well-known tea shop in Beijing. There we were introduced to the many types of Chinese Teas and we got to taste some of the teas too. We ended up buying 4 containers of teas. Pheww… and that alone has costs us Y600 (RM300)! We bought 2 containers of Pu Erh (Golden Tea), and a container of each Lichi and Oolong.

Our evening itinerary will again be shopping. My husband had personally asked the guide to make a quick stop at Hard Rock Café Beijing for us to buy some T-Shirts.

After that, we continued shopping at Wangfujing Street, a widely recognized hub or shopping district in Beijing. Here you could find shopping malls and shops all along the street, carrying myriads of products from international labels to local brands. The small shops along the street were selling all sorts of things from little trinkets to fine jeweleries, books, home deco and clothings. There was also a stretch of local street food stalls there, selling exotic food you won’t dare to try such as silk worm, scorpions and roaches! I didn’t actually go to that area, because I don’t think I could stand the sight of those things so closely. Yikes!!

-Day 5-

Summer Palace or ‘Gardens of Nurtured Harmony’ is an Imperial Garden in Beijing. I was told that this place was served as a summer resort to the Emperor’s family during Qing Dynasty, on a hot summer time in Beijing. It is located on the northwest of Beijing center, so it seemed to be slightly cooler than the city. A perfect escapade for the royal family away from the heat of the city during summer, I presumed.

It took us around 45 minutes by bus to reach the Summer Palace. As we reached the place in the chilly, clear crisp winter morning, I straight away fell in love with the place. I found the entire park so peaceful and serene, with three quarters of the premise filled with water, precisely the Kunming Lake. From afar, I could see the calm Longevity Hill with a striking Pagoda on top of it. A beautiful place to go to enjoy the serenity away from the hustle and bustle of the city life.

This place serves as a recreational park for the locals now, besides of course, being a popular tourist destination. Since it was morning, there were lots of activities going on that day. A group of young middle age people were having their so-called modern-taichi, facing the breathtaking view of the lake. On the pavilion, a group of man were playing musical instruments, serenading Chinese songs and few more were playing kites on the bridge that links one part of the garden to another, crossing the huge Kunming lake. It was truly a sight of happiness and relaxation.

We strolled along the park, just enjoying the nature at its best. We took lots of pictures. I remembered a friend of mine who came here during deep winter time (end of January) and the whole of Kunming Lake was frozen. And just by early March, it was back to normal; though it was still cold. My son was really having a good time, he walked, ran and even sat on the bridge whilst enjoying the sight of the kites flying freely in the sky. The natural landscape of the hills and open water combined with artificial features such as pavilions, halls, palaces, temples and bridges formed a harmonious ensemble of outstanding aesthetic value. So peacefully gorgeous.

Later in the afternoon, we were brought to the Pearl center not far from the Summer Palace. There, we were explained on different types of pearls and the many jeweleries made from this precious little stones. I didn’t get anything for myself here as I already have 2 sets of pearls back home which I am so proud to wear, our local Sabah Pearls :).

Next destination was to another so-called cut-throat shopping destination, the Jewellery Centre. To our surprise, the owner of this huge shop was a young, good looking Chinese chap from Malaysia. And as he learned that we were all Malaysians, he straight away threw a HUGE discount for us. It made me smile happily when a Sapphire ring sat dazzlingly on my ring finger when we came out from the shop :).

Where to in the evening? Shopping again! I had actually lost my count as to how many markets we had gone to thus far. But this market, Silk Street, was a 3-storey shopping arcade. It had mostly the same selection of clothing, shoes, handbags, jewellery, toys, souvenirs and t-shirts on display. I realised that my son had desperately gone so tired of shopping centers and he got really cranky at one point. So in order to make him happy, my hubby bought him a few figurines of the renowned characters of Star Wars. That made him grin from ear to ear, and that also enabled us to go shopping for more :).

After shopping, we sat down at one little cafe at the side of the shopping centre and indulged ourselves in some scones and muffins. I had a cup of freshly brewed Hazelnut Coffee and that really made my day. After 3 days of eating only Chinese food (3 times daily), and having pots of Chinese Tea, this little bite we had was really a life-saver. I barely ate my meal that day. It looks enticing for the first few meals though, but after 3 days, I just couldn’t swallow them anymore.

Our daily banquet, just thought of sharing :)

-Day 6-

The last day in Beijing. After we settled the checking out process at the hotel, we were rushed to the Bullet Train station. We didn’t even get to grab our breakfast but luckily the hotel had packed some for us. We’re going to take the bullet train back to Tianjin (before we flew back to Malaysia). Our train ticket was at 8.30am and as we reached the station, we had another half an hour to go before boarding. It was cold in the station. The temperature was at 9 degree Celsius that morning. Our guide told me that they had actually shut-off the centralised heater in all the buildings in Beijing by March. That explained why a big modern train station like this didn’t have a heater at that point in time.

Our bullet train arrived on time. This was my very first time taking a bullet train and I was all excited! It was a high speed train and it reached the speed of 330km per hour! Just imagine - the same journey that took us up to 1.5 hours to reach Beijing from Tianjin by bus, took only 30 minutes vice versa via this high speed locomotive. That was super fast, indeed!


By 9.00am we were already in Tianjin City. The weather was still cold, and a little bit misty that morning. On our bus from the train station, I could see Tianjin was a little quieter but somehow more interesting if compared to Beijing. It had its own attraction, and the buildings and the roads were more ‘colonial’ in every sense of the word.

We visited their local Food Street, a place that sells local food and tidbits i.e. dried fruits, pickles, dried fish & cuttlefish and sweets, mostly non-halal. They even showcased live catches such as silkworms, seashells and even crocodile which will be cooked to perfection for the locals’ palate. I found one stall that sells halal product, with many types of raisins, dried fruits (knowing it was a winter season, you could get dried fruits almost everywhere here), almonds and peanuts. Only one stall, amongst hundreds of shops in the Food Street.

The Culture Street was our next stop, it is THE place to shop for souvenirs. Yup, it’s good for our last minute shopping before we depart to Malaysia later in the afternoon. It is a big area with lots to offer. The shops were built in an old-charm settings making the place more interesting. With the weather like that, I wouldn’t mind strolling along the area for hours. There was always new things to see (and buy).

We flew back to Malaysia on a 3.00pm flight. From 2 bags of luggage (upon arrival), it became 4! Don’t ask what we have bought throughout our 6-day stay in Beijing. It would be an endless and ‘tedious’ list ranging from t-shirts to shoes, handbags to toys, fridge magnets to jeweleries, tidbits to sunglasses and bangles to Chinese teas! And they all come in plural too :). When we landed in KLIA, one thing in my mind was --- gosh! I was already missing the cold weather in Beijing…