24 Jun 2013

Hazy Malacca

Oh its that time of the year again and once more our skies are clogged up with smoke from nearby Sumatra! This time though it was really bad - schools had to close and people took to wearing surgical masks. I stopped going for my usual morning walk and the API went up to 300+ on one day. Singapore had it even worse with their index going up to 400+ and I was getting worried about my girls there. But Poh Ling said they were flying back to KL, which was good because we could see them. 

Today the skies are quite clear though weather is still fairly hazy. We went up to KL hoping that its better there but the haze seems to love us - it followed us there and KL too was covered with a thin layer of smog! Oh dear... when will all this end ?
one of the roads covered in smog

16 Jun 2013

Sophie and baby sister Rania, my two grand daughters

Two pretty girls 
Rania in her car seat 
Paid to be silent?

Growing pains

Yukie and Tommy are growing up and are now in need of surgery! I hate the job but Tommy is showing signs of wanting to "hump" poor Yukie, who hasn't got the itch yet. So on Thursday I took the two of them to the vet to have their "operation "done. Poor Yukie though. Tommy came back a bit dizzy but after an hour or so, is back again to his usual  naughty self, climbing out of his cage.

Playing together 
The little rascal, Tommy
Yukie, just aftter her operation 
Yukie however will take a longer time to get well - she is still dazed and blur the whole of Thursday and Friday. By Saturday though she shows signs of returning to normal - coming out of her cage and walking around the room. It took her almost a week though to get back to normal. 

13 Jun 2013

And the Mountains Echoed

This is the third novel by Khaled Hosseini published by Bloomsbury. Thinking of the other two novels by Hosseini at first I didn't want to read it. The first book, The Kite Runner  pulled at my heartstrings - it was beautifully written and haunting. Like the first, the second book - A Thousand Splendid Suns grabbed my imagination and made me cry. This one however, And The Mountains Echoed is slightly different. Like the other two, it also tells of love and betrayal but here Hosseini has a different approach. It is not about this or that character but about many different people, loosely connected in some way. 

It starts off very well - with a fable of a djinn who steals children from a village and takes them away. One child who was taken away from his father was so much loved by the father that he went in search of the djinn and at last after many days of near starvation and physical torture, he found the djinn's lair. But what
he saw there surprised him because the children there were all happy and healthy. When challenged, the djinn told him he could take away his child but would he take the child away from a place that was beautiful and clean with plentiful food back to his own pitiable existence? This seems to be the central theme of the story - Abdullah, the main character in the story too loses his little sister, Pari who was sold to a rich family in Kabul. As his father later told him, sometimes you have to make choices that are difficult,  just to save the others.

This loss affects not only Abdullah but  also the main instrument in the deal - Nabi, his uncle by marriage. For Abdullah, the loss is not just of his sister, but his friend, his only real family. The two had been inseparable since Pari's birth and their mother's death. It was Abdullah who cared for the child, who woke up at night when she cried and fed her and the one who changed her soiled linens. He was both mother, father and brother to the little girl, and her loss was to him as if a limb of his had been cut off. He never recovered from it and never forgot his sister.

But this novel is not only about Abdullah and his sister , it is about the whole of Afghanistan - its people,  its aid workers, its government servants,its culture. It is a story of a servant's devotion and love for his employer and who looked after the employer through illness and political upheaval. It is about the employer's unacknowledged love for his employee - a love that is secret and forbidden and it is also about the love between two cousins who grew up together and loved each other like brothers and yet drifted apart.

However it is not as gripping as the other two books by Hosseini.The passion is there but it is almost as if it was a forced passion, with none of the honesty and brutal frankness found in The Kite Runner or even A Thousand Splendid Suns. It does make good reading but for once I did not cry at the end of the book. We find out about Pari, the little girl who was stolen from her brother but by the time we reach her story, the earlier effect  and its traumatic action on our feelings have diminished. We are introduced to numerous other characters who all play a part in the new Afghanistan - Timur and Idris and the stories of their lives in America, how  they see Afghanistan later and meet with Amira the aid worker from Bosnia and her charge - all these change our attachment to the first main characters.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed reading it but after The Kite Runner, I feel just a little let down. a little disappointed. I'd give it a 3 star rating though, a good read but there were better.

5 Jun 2013


Queenstown on Lake Wakatipu
From Franz Josef we drove down to Queenstown, another beautiful town on the Lake Wakatipu. This is one of the most gorgeous towns in New Zealand even though it was a typical tourist attraction. The views from the lake and of the surrounding countryside were really spectacular. We left Franz Josef at 8.30 am and  stopped by to see another scenic wonder - Lake Matheson on the way to Haarst. From here we could see the top of Mount Cook - just the tips of its snow capped top but a glorious view nevertheless. Lake Mathieson itself was quite a walk inside - almost one and a half kilometers away but once we were there no words could describe the awe and wonder of it -with the surrounding mountains reflected in the still waters of the lake. It was a picture postcard.
A cruise on Lake Wakatipu

Lake Mathieson with Mount Cook in the distance

Queenstown as seen from the lake

4 Jun 2013

Across the Southern Alps by train

Getting ready to board the train
Repin with the Kea, the only alpine parrot in the world
From Christchurch we traversed the Southern Alps aboard the famous Trans -Alpine train to Arthur's Pass. We boarded the train very early in the morning (8.00am). It was quite full actually - mostly tourists from all over the world.  As the train moved over the Alps we saw the snow capped mountains of the Alps and spectacular gorges and the Waimakariri river winding its way through the valley. Here and there are mountain farms or highland farms as they call it here in New Zealand. They reminded me so much of Essie Summers' books about New Zealand high country life. We passed by a small town high up on the mountains called Springfield - according to the commentator it served as the collecting point for wool and other high country produce for the farmers in days gone by. Today much of the high country farms are no longer in operation and many of them have been taken over by the government.

We stopped at Arthur's Pass and boarded our coach here. From Arthur's pass we drove through more scenic country and stopped at Spooner's View point to get a look at the surrounding landscape and also got an intimate introduction to the Kea - the only alpine parrot found in the world. The Kea is said to be as clever as a 3 year old and just as mischievous!

Repin at Arthur's Pass station

That night  we stayed at another scenic resort - the Franz Josef Scenic Resort with a gorgeous view of the mountains and the temperate forests. The next day, 6th May we visited  the famous Franz Josef glacier, one of the few fairly accessible glaciers in the world.
Another gorgeous view from the train

Hamner Springs to Christchurch

After Picton we drove down south towards Christchurch but made a few stops. One of them was an Alpine village called Hamner Springs, situated at the foothills of the Southern Alps. This little village is actually very touristy, which means that everything is geared towards attracting tourists. The houses are very picturesque looking , some replicas of Queen Anne cottages, some looking like Swiss cottages. We made a lunch stop here and Repin and I walked around the little town admiring the beautiful views of the mountains in the background and the trees in their fall glory. 

For lunch we stopped at this delightful cafe and had the most sumptuous seafood chowder eaten with freshly baked bread. Topped with a mug of steaming hot coffee, we felt fresh and able to tackle whatever came next.
Hanmer Springs
The drive to Christchurch was long but full of wonderous sights. At one stage we passed deep dark forests which reminded me so much  of Lord Of The Rings! Looking at the tall trees and forest paths one can imagine Gandalf riding through with the forest people.
From Hanmer Springs we drive through Lewis Pass and down towards the Murchison river before we reach the upper reaches of the Canterbury Plains. Here again dotted all over the landscape are sheep, and sheep and more sheep! No wonder they say you see more sheep than people here.

We arrived in Christchurch rather late in the evening and didn't have any time for a city tour. Since the next day we would be traveling fairly early in the morning  we decided to give the city tour a pass and opted for an early night.  Dinner was at the hotel and was baked trout with potatoes in coriander gravy. I would say that it was all delicious! Hmm , after this trip I really have to go on a diet and trim away my waist!
The Canterbury plains