Friday, October 28, 2016

Dreams came true... Iceland - the land of fire and ice

Thursday was my favorite day in a week, as during the breakfast time in the office, I could browse through the travel columns printed in the newspaper that my colleague usually brought. I still remember. It was 26th May 2016. As I turned over the page, I saw something intriguing me - "Land tours only - Iceland." I saw the price it offered, "Hmmm.... expensive," I said it to myself. And at the page next to it, there was an advertisement offering the full package of the Iceland tour - "10D7N Iceland Aurora Hunt Explorer." 

Photo courtesy: Kelly Koh - Quote by Haruki Murakami from 1Q84

"Hmm... Wow!!!" murmured me. "That was it!!! They had it!!!" claimed me inside my heart.

"I've had that kind of experience myself: I'm looking at a map and I see someplace that makes me think, 'I absolutely have to go to this place, no matter what.' And most of the time, for some reason, the place is far away and hard to get to. I feel this overwhelming desire to know what kind of scenery the place has, or what people are doing there. It's like measles - you can't show other people exactly where the passion comes from. It's curiosity in the purest sense. An inexplicable inspiration." 
- Haruki Murakami 1Q84 -

Iceland map across the globe

Yes, Iceland!!! It was my dream to be able to visit this place. Geographically, this island was located independently between the continental Europe and mainland North America. It was well-known as the land of the fire and ice because of its country extremist conditions with glaciers and volcanic springs located next to each other. It sounded mysterious for me as its location was separated from the rest of the Europe countries and if you heard about the erupted Eyjafjallajökull (Read: [ˈeɪjaˌfjatlaˌjœːkʏtl̥] - Yeah, try to pronounce it guys!!! :P), which caused enormous disruptions to air traffic across western and northern Europe and affected more than 10 million travelers over a week's period of time back in April 2010. 

Reyka Vodka - Iceland made vodka

Apart from that, I was so curious and would love to visit the hometown of the Reyka - a brand of vodka distilled and bottled in Iceland. It was handmade and used the water drawn from the lava field that went through the process of demineralisation before being blended with the vodka. As you know, I'd been using 'Reyka' word for my nickname, a name given by chatting brother back in year 1998, and still used it until now. And only now, I found out that 'Reyka' meant 'steam' in Icelandic word :)

So, I was asking my parents if they were interested to join this tour and within the same day, they agreed to it. The next day, I went to register the package for 3. And few weeks later, I was asking my friend - who joined the Silk tour together one year ago - if she and her father were interested to join the trip. And yes, they did! Therefore, five of us were finally joining the tour, together with the rest of 18 people who had the same interests to visit the country.

Stopover at Schiphol Airport - Amsterdam

On 14th October our KLM flight departed from Singapore Changi Airport and we had a stopover in Amsterdam for 5.5 hours. While waiting, we just browsed around the area and had breakfast from the Amsterdam Bread Co. With the open kitchen concept, the sandwich offered was looked so appetizing!!! I ordered the Smoked Salmon Sandwich (€6.95) with a cup of Latte Macchiato while my parents were sharing the Ham and Cheese Sandwich (€5.95) and a cup of Espresso. They tasted delicious!!!

Schiphol Airport - Amsterdam

We spent the rest of our times browsing the shops and planned on what to buy on our way back home to Singapore. Hahaha... The airport was wonderful. Read more on my experience on Iceland - Day 1 soon...

Sunday, October 09, 2016

Gyalo by Au Lingi Jamtsho

"Gyalo" - means victory!!

"Gyalo" - a victory cry in Bhutanese language, or if translated, would read as "Victorious!!!" This title was chosen by the author, as army was all about the victory, and it related very much with the victor, a person who defeats an enemy or opponent in a battle, game, or other competition, as translated by the dictionary.

To be frank, it was a very much awaiting book for me. Not because my name was mentioned in the "Acknowledgment" page as "Singaporean Bhutanese," but because it was actually Au Lingi's first attempt in writing, even before his published book - "The Night Hunter." 

Nice handwriting, Dawa! ;)

Thank you for Dawa Knight who sent me this book upon knowing his lady friend would make a trip to Singapore more than a month ago. Since he did not have time to get Au Lingi's signature, he signed it on his behalf on the cover page hahaha... and very proud with his beautiful handwriting :D

Only after returning from my long holiday trip I finally managed to have "me-time" to concentrate reading it and now finally writing a review about it :)

The content of the book was about Dorji, who initially intended to become an engineer when he was young, but fate led him to join the NDA (National Defence Academy).

As I turned the page, it reflected how Dorji began his journey - the NDA training at Pune, India, at a place called Khadakwasla. He was only in late teens that time. The book told us how tough the training as an army was. "If someone says 'life is hell,' he is a cadet, and if he says 'that was the best part of my life,' he probably is an ex-NDA," would perfectly describe the life at the NDA.

Drills were part of the training and he had to go through so many 'birthing' procedures before he finally attained a senior officer status in the army.

For the details of the story, you have to flip the book and read it by yourself. All I could say was that it was a very realistic story that one should face if he chose to join the army.

Au Lingi Jamtsho - looks dashing and smart in his uniform :)

When I asked Au Lingi if the story was written based on the true story, he replied me like this, "This was fiction. However, Gayle Foreman says that every fiction has its base in fact." And he admitted to me too that he was once wanted to become an engineer, but landed up becoming soldier. Hehe... 

I was asking him too if it was really his "Uncle" who led him to join the army, and he confessed that it was his cousin cum childhood friend who joined the NDA one year before him, and not his Uncle, as what the story was written. And his reason was a way too simple, "I saw him all dressed up and got attracted to it." Hahaha.... You were indeed cute lah Au! ^^

So, I'd let you conclude yourself how far it was resemblance to the author's own life experience :)

Here in Singapore, all 18-year-old male Singaporeans and second generation permanent residents are required  statutorily to undergo a certain period of compulsory service in the uniformed services, which we usually call National Service or NS. Depending on the physical and medical fitness, they usually have to serve two-year period as Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs). It can be at the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF), Singapore Police Forces (SPF), or the Singapore Civil Defense Forces (SCDF).

And after completion, they would be considered as operationally ready, and still have to go through reservist once every year so that they won't forget what they have learned and to use their ability in realistic situation until the obligation period over (with a cap up to 40 years old).

Ah Boys to Men 1 to 3

To describe the life of the NSFs, which was very much alike with what Au Lingi described in his book, there were movie made by local director called Ah Boys to Men series 1 to 3, which was made in mixture of realistic and humorous Singaporean way (in Chinese language with English translation).

Therefore, while reading upon the Gyalo, it reminded me of the army scenes as directed on the movies (including ways to fake the sickness, stealing sleep from many sleepless nights, teamwork and survival skills inside the jungles, cadet's spirit of unity and brotherhood when facing punishment, etc.)

However, I found that it was great that Au Lingi put much of his real life experience with army training places in India and Bhutan as the locations into this book so that fellow Bhutanese would feel the glimpse of army life which exist surrounding them. He too put it in more literally way with some story plot which connected one thing to another and beyond the drills capacity.

I saluted him for his rich vocabularies and his excellent ways in describing a person and situation, especially when English wasn't the major that he took during his school days (in fact, he was studying science!!!)

And I saluted him too for being gentleman, a man of his character (in which you could see from the way he treated others), calm, and polite from the outer side but deep inside he was very much observant, highly committed and responsible person.

Perfect with tea and biscuits in cool evening :)

Overall I enjoyed reading "Gyalo" very much. Before ending our conversation, he reminded me about the life of the army -
"Remember, there is no runners up in war. You are either good or dead," and as the two golden rules mentioned in the book, "Ours is not to question why. Ours is but to do our die." 

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Birthday treats 2016

I loved traveling in September as usually the weather in any other country would be very favorable (not too hot and not too cold - i.e. autumn, spring, or raining season). And whenever possible, I would love to spend the special day outside of the home country. This year, it happened that I traveled to Australia.

More activities in life quote

I never thought of anything for my Birthday except that I would like to be vegetarian for the day as my father always told us this was how we should appreciate our Mom who had given birth to us and suffered during the process on that particular day. So, that was what I had in mind. I never expected anything at all. But it turned out that my sister and friend were pampering me so much!!!

Surprised early Birthday lunch organized by my sis and her friends :)

On Thursday, 22 September 2016, my sis told me that she and her friends would organize picnic lunch. However, weather forecast said it was going to rain. Therefore, the lunch site would change to my sister's friend's house. Each of us would prepare dishes (we called it 'potluck'). Since morning, my sister had instructed hubby and I to prepare the famous Indonesian vegetable dishes called 'Gado Gado' - boiled various vegetables served with peanut sauce and keropok (shrimp crackers). My sister herself prepared the buffalo chicken wings. By noon, the food was ready and we reached the place in minutes as it was located only few blocks away.

Thank you everyone!!! :)

Food was arrayed neatly on the dining table. Fresh flowers were neatly displayed inside the long vase. "Happy Birthday" balloon was tied onto one of the dining table's chairs. Aha!!! So it was not the usual lunch!!! There were fried noodles (symbolizing long life), red boiled eggs (symbolizing happiness and good health), curry chicken, green sambal Hoki fried fish, Gado Gado, buffalo chicken wings, and bakwan jagung (vegetable corn fritters). We all had our lunch slowly while chit chatting. In a while we were all done and so full!!!

My first Birthday cake :)

It did not stop there though. It was dessert and tea time!!! Yuniar took out her newly bought tea pot, cups and saucers set from the packaging box. She was so happy with it as she got it with a good bargain the other day and she could finally use it with us on this special day. As I was busy photographing the tea pot, suddenly I heard the birthday song being sung and hubby came bringing the birthday cake with lighted candles on it. Ahhh.... alamak!!! No wonder the other day my sis was asking which cake did I prefer, durian cake or 'angmoh' cake and I told her I preferred the 'angmoh' or western style cake. And she chose blackforest cake for me. Thank you sis!!! :)

I made my wish and blew the candles. Kids were waiting for the cake surrounded the table. Although full, we finished our share with a cup of flower tea. Oh, forgot to mention the 'Birthday Girl' badge that she hooked into my jacket as the cake was delivered. It made me feeling like a ten-year old girl all of a sudden! :P

Birthday breakfast with love :)

On the Birthday that morning, I woke up with a bowl of longevity noodle with vegetarian stuff in it (cooked by hubby) plus two red hard boiled eggs at a side (made by my sis). Thank you both of you for your love and care!!! I felt blessed lah!!!

My sis passed me red packet the night before, saying there were vouchers to be spent on my Birthday. One was Melbourne river cruise for two, and another was chocolate set for two at Lindt Cafe. She asked me to use the voucher with my hubby on my Birthday. So after breakfast, we got ourselves ready. She sent us until the train station near her house and we took train to the city, walking to the Southbank Promenade where the cruise would start.

Melbourne River Cruise - 23 September 2016

The timing was just nice. We only waited in less than 10 minuted then the cruise came. We boarded to the boat together with many other passengers (mostly tourists). It went towards Dockland direction (about half and hour journey) then returned back to where we boarded (so total it took about an hour time). After the ride, we had Indian lunch from the Southgate food court. Hubby ate the butter chicken, while I had brinjal or eggplant curry with briyani rice and half slice of Naan bread, plus a cup of hot teh tarik.

Since we were full, we decided to have a walk along the promenade towards the Crown Casino direction. It was a great weather. Sunny day!!! Been a while to have a sunny day in Melbourne. We then walked inside the building and entered the Casino. At the entrance, the security officer told my hubby no need to show his ID while towards me, he said, "You are underage!!!" Hahaha..... kidding, of course! Then I told him that it was my Birthday. He was like, "Oh, really? Sorry I only saw the year, did not notice the date... Have a nice day then..." 

Birthday gift from Crown Casino :D

Like usual, we only walked around as we did not know how to play and not really interested in gambling. But that day, we passed by the 1 cent jackpot machine. Suddenly I had the urge to play. Well, with 1 cent for each game, I thought, why not? No harm huh? Just bet on 5 bucks, for fun!!! So I analyzed the area, finding the machine that far from the pillar (Chinese believed that pillars would stop you from earning money - hahaha... what a superstitious me!!! :P), and right in the middle of 3 machines, there was one Kungfu Panda machine, my favorite!!! :D With no knowledge, I just pressed here and there betting only 1 and 10 cent each game.

Hhmmmm... not sure if it was my good feeling that attracts some winnings or it was really my lucky day. You know, the law of attraction... :D Suddenly after some ups and downs, the machine generated special formation that keep the number rolling up. I did not know how much it was worth and I just waited until the number stopped and it stopped at $20.18. Hahaha... I immediately stopped my game. That's it!! Don't be greedy, I thought!!! :D I won $15 and that's enough to cover my lunch fee that afternoon. Oh man.. I was so happy!!! I seldom played and won too. So again, thanks to Universe and to the Crown Casino for my Birthday gift hahaha.... :P

Chocolate break at Lindt Cafe - Southgate, Melbourne

We walked back to Southgate Mall and finally sat down at Lindt Cafe. We changed the voucher into two set of hot beverage (a cup of hot milk chocolate for me and a cup of Cappuccino for hubby) with dessert set for two (one scoop of vanilla ice cream, two brownies, one chocolate cake with cream and chocolate sauce, two pieces of Macarons (one white and one milk chocolate), and 3 different flavors of Lindt truffles). It really sweeten the already sweet day of mine!! Thank you Sis for your birthday gift, kind thought and sincere wishes!!! You pampered me too much and I was very grateful with it. Thank you, thank you, and thank you!!!

Birthday surprise from my sis and families - Second Birthday cake :)

It did not stop there. When we reached home, they had already prepared vegetarian dinner for me. There was 'Happy Birthday' wordings pasted on their window blind and another set of cake with three candles on it. My sis made simple garland from crepes paper and her son put it over my neck. We had the dinner and only then sang and cut the cake. Thank you Sis for making my day beautiful!!! And the day after, again it was celebrated by my dear friend. Thank you everyone for everything you'd done for me, also your Birthday wishes and story made, sent from faraway. Thank you, thank you, and thank you for making my day!!! :)

Monday, September 26, 2016

Tesselaar Tulip Festival 2016 - Victoria, Australia

It was Spring season in Australia now. The weather in Melbourne was still feeling like winter though with temperature of 12 degree in afternoon and 8 degree at night, especially during rainy days, the first few days we reached to this city. My hands and feet were freezing cold each night before going to bed. However, after coming back from Gold Coast and Brisbane, the weather had turned warmer. At least there was sunshine during the day!!! And we were very lucky and blessed with beautiful weather on the day we visited the Tesselaar Tulip  Festival on 24 September 2016.

Flora, my sister and I made appointment to visit this festival about a month before my arrival's. Flora, her husband - Karma, her friend - Sonam, were arranging to take leave from work so that we all could go together to this event. And finally, the day came!!!

Total 13 of us with two cars reached the car park in the morning around 10.30 am. We unloaded our stuffs and headed inside finding great location for our picnic. It was a great space under the big tree, not too far from where the live jazz was held. Mats were lied down and we all settled down.

We-fie :)

Surprise Birthday celebration at Tesselaar Tulip Festival - 24 September 2016

Soon after, Flora took out a flowery box from her bag. It turned out to be the Oreo Cheese Birthday cake, ordered by her and made specially by her Bhutanese friend. Her daughter, Lekdhen, helped up decorating the cake by putting up my name on it. Not only that. She also took out the handmade Birthday card drawn cutely by Lekdhen - Doraemon as the cover, then inside the Koala with birthday wishes as Flora intended to convey for me, plus birthday gift for me - the beautiful necklace with "a tree of life" pendant (I often saw it here but had no idea about the meaning. It sure had so many meanings and symbolized different things religiously and culturally. But for me, I would take it as the life's journey and motivated me to keep living, become stronger and wiser, just like the old tree, no matter how life would challenge me again and again). Name same kadinche-la Flora for your very kind thought towards me.Thank you, thank you, and thank you.

Delicious Oreo Cheesecake from Flora :)

We all sang the Birthday song. I made a wish and blew up the candles. We took photo together to remember this moment. Cake was cut and I had quite a big share for myself. Zimbeh la... which means delicious :)

Suja Desi for celebrating the belated Blessed Raining Day :)

The day before was the auspicious Blessed Raining Day but we could only celebrate it on the day after. Sonam made Desi (yellow glutinous rice with raisin), while Flora concocted Suja (butter tea). We had both after the cake. Hhhmmm..... I felt blessed beyond measure. Although I was not in Bhutan, but I could feel as if I was there :)

Six beautiful ladies in Kira - under cherry blossom tree - Tesselaar Tulip Festival 2016

Tesselaar Tulip Festival 2016 - Victoria, Australia

We were all very full. Now it was time to walk around. Before that, ladies changed their clothes into Kira (Bhutan traditional cloth). It was Flora's idea so I brought my Kira all the way from Singapore so I too could wear it with them :) She even lent her friend's Kira so that my sister could wear them too. So, there we were posing beautifully with beautiful flowers there :)

Bhutanese Picnic Lunch at Tesselaar Tulip Festival - Australia

At 3 pm we all gathered back into our place. It was time for lunch. Both s Flora's and Sonam's families brought Bhutanese dishes into the picnic. They shared it with us too. There were ema datshi (chili with cheese), bean with cheese, potato with Paneer cheese, egg curry, Ricotta cheese with chili, and Karma even cooked beef dried (shakam pa) in Bhutanese style for us despite they were all vegetarian. Both red and white rice were there. It was so delicious. As a result we all ate more than one serving :D Thank you so much everyone for sharing your delicious food with us.

Had tea at Flora's place :)

We went home at 4 pm and stopped by at Flora's place as my nephew's request (he wanted to play with Flora's and Sonam's daughters for a while). Hahaha... So we stopped there and Flora made us a cup of tea/ coffee to warm our bodies in such cooling evening. In a while we all went home. It had been such a beautiful day and let me share the beautiful flowers' photos as per below. Enjoy!!! :)

Beautiful spring blossoms at Tesselaar Tulip Festival 2016 :)

Tesselaar Tulip Festival 2016

Tesselaar Tulip Festival 2016

Tesselaar Tulip Festival 2016

Tesselaar Tulip Festival 2016

Tesselaar Tulip Festival 2016

Tesselaar Tulip Festival 2016

Tesselaar Tulip Festival 2016

Tesselaar Tulip Festival 2016

Tesselaar Tulip Festival 2016

Tesselaar Tulip Festival 2016

Tesselaar Tulip Festival 2016

Tesselaar Tulip Festival 2016

Tesselaar Tulip Festival 2016

Tesselaar Tulip Festival 2016

Tesselaar Tulip Festival 2016

Cheers from us :)

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Sydney Itinerary Day 6 - Cumberland State Forest, Leura Village, Blue Mountains, River Cruise and Fireworks at Darling Harbor

At 8.20 am, hubby and I were waiting in front of YHA building, next to the Central train station. Days before that, I registered for a tour to Blue Mountains at a stall near the Circular Quay Station. After comparing few agents, I thought this was the most suitable one with what I required. We paid AUD$236 for two to the above places (exclude fireworks, which was free of charge).

We filled our stomach with a regular cup of Cappuccino from 7-eleven, our favorite coffee, since it offered the cheapest coffee in town (at AUD$1/cup), and made ourselves a quick sandwich made of sour dough rye bread with ham that we bought a night before.

Morning walk at Cumberland State Forest - Australia

The driver cum tour guide drove around the town picking up the rest of the participants before heading to the Koala park. Those who chose to enter the park (by paying additional fee), would enter and see the Australian wildlife animals. The rests who chose not to (including us), were brought to Cumberland State Forest for a short distance walk. The trails were not long. It just took us less than half an hour to walk through it. The place was filled with Eucalyptus trees, growing very high up to the sky. Many birds were detected too filled the place with their sounds. What a calm and beautiful morning to spend with!!! :)

Beautiful spring flowers :)

Nearby the area, there was a shop selling potted plants and its equipment. There were many beautiful spring flowers for sale too! If I were to stay there, my hubby would have bought many of them and plant them back home. Too bad! We could only take the photos with it and record in at the back of our memory :)

Short break next to Nepean River

When time's up, we fetched the rest back from the Koala park, and we were brought to the Nepean River. The driver provided us with juices and cookies.

Picnic lunch at Leura Village :)

In a while, the journey continued. We were brought for an early lunch at Leura Village. Many went into the restaurants available at the site. However, hubby and I chose to sit at one of the bench and had picnic :) We brought fresh salad with roasted sesame dressing and had it again with the bread, ham, and cheese. The air was cool and quite windy but it did not stop us from the picnic :D Just loved to have the simple meal (simplicity was the best!!!) ;)

The beautiful Three Sisters from Echo Point - Blue Mountains, Australia

Finally, we were brought to the Echo Point where we could see the beautiful Three Sisters. Those who chose to pay for the Aboriginal show, were brought to the site (Waradah Aboriginal Theatre).

3 Scenic rides plus scenic walkway at Blue Mountains - Australia :)

After it was over, we all went to take the 3 scenic rides, which was Scenic Skyway (Australia's highest cable car), Scenic Cableway (Australia's biggest cable car), and Scenic Railway (the steepest incline passenger carrying railway in the world), plus the Walkway - where our tour guide explained to us more about the area, the animals, the plantations, and so on.

Watching beautiful sunset from Fantasea River Cruise - Sydney, Australia

After that, our tour was ended. We were driven back to Sydney Olympic Park, and stopped at the harbor there to take our river cruise by Fantasea. I did not expect that it turned up to be the best part of the tour where we could finally see the sunset view from the back of our boat. Oh man... it was simply marvelous!!!

Beautiful houses along seaside - Sydney, Australia

We could see many mansion and beautiful houses along the seaside, where many would even have their own yacht waiting at their doorstep. Many riches stayed there obviously! Just could not stop admiring its beauty!!!

Beautiful night view in Sydney from river cruise :)

The evening sky turned into dark as the sun went down and we were able to see the night view of the Sydney Opera House, Harbor Bridge, and also Darling Harbor, where we stopped.

Our last night dinner in Sydney :)

We had dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe, just the two of us. The appetizer plate alone was enough for both of us plus a glass of local draft beer. It tasted like heaven :P


Just nice after that, the fireworks were going to start!!! It was displayed weekly every Saturday at 8.30 pm. Wow!!! It was displayed beautifully with many varieties!

Messina at the Star :)

When it's over, we decided to keep walking to the Star - the Casino in Sydney city, just few minutes walk from the Darling Harbor. Both of us went inside the Casino to see how it looked like. After that, we headed to Messina to have the delicious Gelato again :D This time I chose Macadamia and Italian Nougat. Hmmm... nyummy!!! 2 scoops at AUD$6.80 :)

My hosts in Sydney :) Thank you all of you! :)

We went back using the light rail then train. As the light rail went by, we slowly said goodbye to the beautiful city. That would be our last night there in Sydney. It had wrapped our night beautifully and perfectly. I had no idea when would I return again but for sure, this time, we were really blessed with perfect weather this Spring, perfect accompanies, meeting wonderful people that I had not met for long, delicious food from everywhere,, and not forgetting our hosts - Hadi and Virny - who had allowed us to stay at their home for the past one week there. Thank you, thank you, and thank you everyone for everything!!! We felt very grateful and thankful. Without your help and presence, our trip would mean nothing. Thank you to my sister who had come accompanying us for the first few days of our stay there. Thank you everyone!!! :)
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