Saturday, December 25, 2004

Fell asleep blogging last night and sat at my desk while dreams of sugarplum faries danced round my head. Jerked awake at 0330 and crawled off to shower and into bed just after 0400. No wonder we woke up so late this morning.

If we were kids, we'd be up by 0600 unwrapping presents; but now that we're older the impatience to count the loot no longer factors into the excitement of Christmas. We're old enough to know that our pressies will still be there whenever we choose to open them, and that noone else is likely to snatch them from us if we're not looking. The rush to open our gifts gives way to the fatigue of carousing all night, so we can afford to wait.

June hid my gift under the comforter by my pillow. I've learned to be careful around times when presents are likely to be given as I nearly got a concussion the first time she tried something like this. I vaguely remember that she hid a hardcover tome INside my pillowcase... much to my surprise at bedtime. It wasn't quite the bonk I was looking forward to. This Christmas she got me a gift voucher from Borders and a box of really nice chocolates. Thanks, June!

I got her a pair of leather-bound sandals in the design that she likes, though she was under the impression that they don't make 'em in her size. I happened to find a pair that fit her, so that was Plan B, as it turned out. The box they came in was a bit bulky so I had to hide her pressie under the bed. I told her Q-tip had crapped under the bed to trick her into looking there to find her gift.

Mary must have heard that we did not receive any invitations to go anywhere for dinner or whatever during Christmas last year (for some reason, everyone we knew had something else to do instead of observing the Yuletide season). She invited us to her family dinner tonight. More good food, pleasant conversation particularly with her Mom who loved to talk about growing up in Penang and how her Singaporean pen-pal became Mary's gramps.

Dinner with the maternal side of my family tomorrow night. I am going to be one stuffed turkey when term reopens next week. But hey, it's only once a year so bring it on!
The traditional calling together of the clan over the Christmas season is one of the few opportunities for us to gather, when once long, long ago, we met each other practically on a weekly basis. It's always great fun when family on my paternal side organize ourselves together. Loud conversations and lots of excitement in the air, mostly from the older folk. Well, yes and no, because our succeeding generation usually adds its own brand of familial chaos to the dinner table. Tonight's dinner was quieter than usual as more than half the kids in the (extended) family were overseas on holiday, so this year the uncles and aunties dominated.

Too much good food to celebrate Christmas with. 3 roast chickens, a platter of Sakae Sushi, a pot of stewed lamb, kong bak with accompanying dumplings, fresh garden salad, a bowl of stir-fried veggies, roast pork, 2 steamed pomfret, a large pot of mushroom soup with 2 blocks of butter dissolved in it, fried noodles, konnyaku jelly and caramel custard for dessert; and lots of Coke, Heineken, cappucino and red wine. Unlike previous years, there was a significant quantity of leftovers. Most of us got full faster than usual and we generally decided that age is slowing all of us down.

Sang our first carols before midnight; this year it was the remaining kids providing the accompanying music for the first time ever. Nice to see they're starting to earn their keep, eh?

Friday, December 24, 2004

Mission failed. I had the perfect idea for the perfect Christmas gift (well, 'perfect' is a matter of opinion) but when I got to the store, there was no stock. New stock will arrive in 2 weeks, guaranteed. Right. Damn. What lousy timing. Time to execute Plan B then. Umm... what was Plan B again?

Had in-laws over for dinner. Mom-in-law brought her annual fruitcake gift for me to deliver to my mom when I see her tomorrow. Mom-in-law's fruitcake is a hot favourite 'cos densely packed as it is with fruit and nuts, it's still light enough to down in quantity. Mom's gift is particularly special because of the additional layer of frosting and the Christmassy figurines that turn a mundane-looking fruitcake into a diorama of a winter wonderland.

Going over to my Aunt's place for Christmas dinner tomorrow evening. I probably won't be back in time, so here's an early "Merry Christmas" to one and all!!! Have a great one, folks!

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Casting began for Drama Night 2005 this morning.

Dom dropped in to deliver Q-tip whose fur has grown enough so we won't mistake her for a chihuahua anymore. She's cute again!

Went to the in-laws to celebrate the Winter Solstice with homemade boiled and deep fried wo tie (Shanghainese dumplings).

There! Just finished uploading our holiday snapshots.

Click here to view them!
Went to the Fish Market for breakfast. Steamed lobster (half each), a dozen freshly shucked oysters, beer battered barrimundi, hot beverage. Something to remember for a long time to come.

Walked right up Pitt Street to the main shopping district to spend our last day taking in our last exposure to Sydney life before returning to the Vulcan to pick up our stuff and check out.

Cab to Central, subway to International Airport.

And here, Dorothy clicks the heels of her ruby slippers together and repeats to herself, "There's no place like home, there's no place like home..."

Hello Belle! Hello Momo! Hello Q-tip, when Dom returns you from boarding tomorrow evening! We missed you all! Oh, and Watson too!

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

On our last full day in Oz we mostly rode every public transport vehicle we could in order to make the most use of our Sydney Pass as possible before we left.

Finally got my bacon and eggs at the Vulcan then walked to Central for the subway to Kings Cross to photograph the Al Alamein fountain, a WWII memorial. It was early morning so Kings Cross, the celebrated red-light district of Sydney, wasn't quite awake yet and was therefore unremarkable.

Revisited St Mary's Church and bought a ticket to tour the crypts which we were too late to view the last time we were here. The crypts are beautiful and very peaceful. A large cross decorates the whole of the crucifix-shaped floor, and there is a tranquil, pastoral picture at each cardinal point and a picture of heaven and earth meeting at the intersection.

A few of the Bishops and Archbishops who once presided over the church rest there now and some of the church's old Catholic paraphenelia are on display alongside a static exhibition on the history of the Catholic church in Sydney.

We walked back to Circular Quay for the 1300 afternoon Harbourview cruise. It's a nice, long cruise (2 and a half hours long) and took us around the harbour showing off the splendid sights of Sydney's famous landmarks, its awesome surf, its dramatic cliffs and rocks on which the waves foam and break, and an assortment of luxurious residences all along the seafront. There is no ugly spot to be seen anywhere. Wherever our eyes wandered they were met with a prestine, picturesque landscape.

Back at Circular Quay, we caught the blue Bondi Explorer to see the sights of the Eastern side of Sydney -- the residential and beach side. It was an envious drive past all the gorgeous houses we could never afford. The beaches boast amazingly high waves and only the surfer dudes could be seen braving such surf.

We stopped at the Gap, the entrance into from the Pacific Ocean. Here, the cliffs meet the surf in an explosion of spray and white water -- what a sight!

Caught the last Bondi Explorer of the day back into Martin Square for a wander around before walking back to the Quay for the 2000 evening Harbourlights cruise. A shorter cruise this time (about 1 and a half hours long), but Sydney all lighted up at night is a different kind of magic from its face in daylight. I love the sight of a city lit up at night and this sight didn't disappoint at all. What can I say? Sydney is beautiful. Wow!

Our Sydney Passes are now retired (except for one last ride to the airport tomorrow) but at least they retired smokin'.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

The train ride from Central to Newcastle takes about 2 and a half hours. The journey takes us past the spectacular landscape of New South Wales. So much to see of forests, mountains, rivers and trees. Human development and habitation has only touched the land at the edges and it's really nice to see that the majority of the natural world is still left intact.

Slept on and off in the train, then closer to Newcastle this little kid started reading aloud from his joke book to his family group and try as we could we could ignore him no longer. The jokes were so terribly (as in bad, corny, lame, inane) that they kept us awake and groaning at each punchline. Please, if you value your sanity, do NOT ever buy The Incredibles Joke Book for any little kid you know this Christmas.

Newcastle is a small town with lots of historic colonial buildings. The town is very well maintained for its antiquity and takes great pride in its appearance. But we weren't there to tour the town. We took a short walk (assisted by the amiable locals) to the ferry terminal where we boarded the ferry for a 5 minute cruise into Stockton across the harbour.

What's in Stockton? Blazing heat, heat like we've not felt before. The sun shining brightly down, the air warm, reflecting off the sidewalk. If not for the breezy coastal winds, I'm pretty sure we wouldn't have made it far up the main road to find the water we had foolishly neglected to purchase when we were on the Newcastle side.

Shops in Stockton close early on Sunday -- the newsagent closed at 1000hrs! Fortunately, June spotted an IGA supermarket so we cooled off and bought a 1.5 litre bottle of spring water for later use.

We walked back to the Stockton terminal refreshed and before long, our guide pulled up in his sister's Tucson and we joined 2 of our fellow adventurers on the afternoon Sand Safari tour.

There were 12 of us and 3 guides. 1st, the helmet fitting, then the mandatory waiver signing, then the Land Cruiser ride taking us to our much anticipated dune eating 4x4 Honda quad bikes!

After a short handling and safety briefing, we hopped on our bikes and Indian-file rode out into the desert. Actually, the location is a 2km wide beach with huge sand dunes drifting at the mercy of the wind, so it is practically a desert until the water's edge. We had a couple of photo-ops, one in front of a 30-year old shipwreck that has been left to rot 'cos it isn't worth the trouble to salvage.

Our course was a relatively simple one for beginners and it took most of the afternoon to get around the dunes. The ride was thoroughly satisfying; sometimes revving our bikes to 50kph and lots of ups and downs and arounds to keep it challenging without it being too dangerous.

Not that our guides were blase about the dangers. In fact, they kept recounting horror stories about people who flipped their bikes and got squashed underneath, or that they went up the wrong rise and plummetted unexpectedly down a great height to disaster. The stories were enought to keep us meekly following the bike immediately in front of us to ensure that everyone kept to the same safe paths.

And so the afternoon went in a rush of sweat, adrenaline and diesel. At the end of our ride, our guides provided us with ice-cold tetra-paks of juice. Yeah!

When we got back to the Stockton terminal, the weather took a sudden turn. The wind howled and the rain poured in torrents on our heads. It got cold. Our ferry ride was bumpy, but no danger though.

Arrived in Central after another 2 and a half hour ride. It was dry here, but blustery and cold. We hurried back to our hotel after a quick dinner. No point hanging around in bad weather.

Notice I haven't mentioned much about meals today? Too much of a deja vous from yesterday. Boring.