Our motely crew, Richard and Marion , Chuck and Clare – and the Red Stripe of course!
Hmmm, this seems to be a public – very – lav
It must have been over 10 years since I went to Notting Hill Carnival; and this time we only went as our old friends the Turners who used to invite us every year, have now returned and invited us to lunch! Who can refuse such an offer? (having a decent loo is important and we didn’t want to be reduced to this, above…). We also saw, but were unable to reach, our chum “:judge’ Judy, who spent form 9.30 am till 7pm judging the floats…Hard work in the heat (it was very hot).
watching the parade…not very comfortable!
We had a delicious lunch perched on a roof terrace over looking a quieter street, and then went looking for the floats, armed wiht Red Stripes. Soon a rum Punch beckoned and we managed to do a deal with a measly bar tender who gave us doubles…
Eating amdist the rubbish…
Carnival has really changed though – didn’t hear a single steel band, or Calypso, just the pounding beat of all the sound systems, making all the windows reverberate, as well as my ear drums. There is a pervading smell of weed, and people openly smoking and selling, no-one paying a blind bit of notice. It even overpowers the delicious street food smells – crispy jerk chicken, goat curry, doubles, Jamaican patties, corn on the cob. But the rubbish is quite unbelievable.
Great float, the first we saw
Sad to say, although we met many friendly people, the Carnival is just too big and I am not keen on getting that close to a million people…it brings back the memory of, many years a go, a guy ‘walkin’ up’ me and eventually I elbowed him in the ribs, only to find myself sprawling on the ground, glasses broken. Ross leapt on him, four guys jumped on Ross….never have I been so glad to see the police! This time we avoided Ladbroke Grove!
So – thanks Marion and Richard for a lovely day, but another time if we want to see anything I think we need to do what we always do for Cropover in Barbados, find a spot, occupy it, and watch the world go by. You see much more and feel less stressed!
Mabuhay! Welcome to the Philippines…here we are for a five day dive break to see the magnificent thresher sharks on Malapasqua island, which is 4 hours drive and boat away from Cebu City, in turn 3.75 hours from Singapore.
Fishing boats on Malapasqua, storm clouds brewing
The hair-raising drive by local cab, dodging jeepneys (local shared taxis), motor rickshaws heaving with schoolkids, lorries and buses bearing down in all directions as we overtake incessantly and whizz down the wrong side of the road, brings back memories of being a teenager in Manila. In those days Manila was the murder capital of the world, and my Dad, being an unconventional sort of fellow, eschewed living in walled and armed complexes known as villages, instead choosing an old Spanish house in the red light district, Ermita. Closer to work, he said!
Cheeky boys crammed onto the back of a rickshaw
Spoilt 15 year old as I was, bored and neglected by my stepmother, and having no one to hang out with, I had a driver at my disposal to take me to get a tan at the nearby Army and Navy Club – a left-over from the American occupation during the 2nd World War – where I met my first serious boyfriend Alfred (yes, his real name!) Gonzalez. He was a heroic sort of guy, local DJ and man about town, always dressed to kill. I giggled to myself as I remembered the time we went on a family trip to Legaspi to climb the volcano and Alfred arrived in winkle-picker boots. My father was beside himself! My English accent was in much demand and soon I was making voiceovers for Alfred ‘s radio station: ‘DZeeRJ plays the MOHST music’. I bought my first bootleg album in Manila – Weird Scenes Inside the Goldmine and so began my third love affair – with Jim Morrison. But that’s another story.
Girls enjoying festival in Danao City
Jolted from my reverie as the car judders to a standstill and we are surrounded by scores of girls in carnival costumes, and big floats with speakers and dudes in leathers looking cool: we have hit the Ati Ati Ham festival in Danao City: Cebu is renowned for its number of religious festivals. The girls wave delightedly, and even the cool men break into a smile.
The countryside when we see it as we cross the spine of the mountainous Cebu island is lush and volcanic; there are paddies and huge industrial sized cane plantations as we drop down the other side. Churches everywhere, with sponsored posters and walls emblazoned with families’ names, denoting that the Philippines the Church is big business as well as religion.
We finally arrive at the boat jetty after our white knuckle ride along roads of strip development: people sitting on chairs outside makeshift shops, dogs everywhere, little markets in small towns heaving with mangoes, pineapples and crisps, fighting cocks for sale on poles lining the road – and pawnbrokers abound. This is a poor country, but every one is spick and span in clean clothes, even if walking through rubbish and mud. And Catholic, so babies and small children everywhere.
Our beach front deluxe room at the Exotic Island Dive resort, note dive equipment drying
And so to Malapasqua itself, after a bumpy ride in a local fishing boat, narrow-hulled with outriggers on either side. The dive boats share this construction, and prove to be difficult to get in and out of as well as rather unstable in bad weather as we shall discover on our return journey, the morning after the biggest typhoon in the world this year, which devastated parts of main island, Luzon.
View from my room
The dive boats – traditional fishing boats with outriggers
Ross doing his photos – slow but steady wi fi available
The Exotic Island Dive and Beach resort (good dive centre and confortable hotel with OK restaurant, good cocktails and San Mig – all you need really) is set at the end of a strip of white sand, lined with small hotels and restaurants. Seven years ago, there was nothing, and in seven years I reckon the whole place will have been destroyed by dynamiting and over-diving.
Me on the wall at Kalanggaman Islet
The thresher shark diving business is almost industrial in its execution: 4.45 am the first boats leave for the Monad Shoal and you disappear into the plankton-filled gloomy depths where you grab on to a line at 25 meters, like a little row of solders going into battle, and wait for the threshers to come to their cleaning station.
While horrified by the large numbers of people – at least a dozen boats with 20 divers on each – the sharks themselves who had obviously been paid to appear – are breathtakingly beautiful with their long whip like tails which they use to lash their prey into submission. They pass surprisingly close and fix me with a beady eye. I love sharks. Devil rays float by too, also availing themselves of the abluting services.
Pale clown fish with blue-tipped anemones, the prettiest things on the reef
Traditional seahorse, the pygmies, size of finger nail, too small for Ross’s camera, and that’s a first! Failure, I mean!
As for the rest, apart from some good seahorse and frog fish sightings and some lovely coral gardens, it was perfectly pleasant, but some of the dives were simply rubble and new soft corals and anemones struggled to get a grip. Fishes there were none larger than 10 cms – all blasted into extinction – so we became experts in spotting critters: tiny shrimps, crabs, worms and nudibranchs, some no bigger than half a finger nail. Lucky I had my new lenses put into my mask so I could actually see! Not forgetting the sea-snakes as Gato Island is a sanctuary (haha, no guards and plenty of people fishing with impunity in the sanctuary boundaries). Check Ross’s website for proper photos of the fishes http://
Me getting ashore for out picnic and a welcome loo stop!
So I surmise all the seafood on the menus is imported and frozen. Stick to chicken and pork. We at least saw those, including a whole pig being feasted on at a family picnic on Kalanggaman Islet, where we stopped for a rather poor BBQ lunch in-between dives.
A swim-through on the otherwise devastated-by-dynamite Gato island – yes it’s me again!
Our buddies were truly cosmopolitan though biased towards Singapore as it was the Singapore holidays. Lots of jolly, noisy Chinese; more taciturn Koreans and Japanese; Spaniards, French, American, Swedish, Ozzies, Brits, and even a lone Chilean!
Well, you come all this way to chill in a hammock of course!
Life on the Ocean Wave!
I thought it a long way to come for many; for us a quick flit from Singapore (is 11 hours quick I ask myself?) makes it a worth-while mini break, but after 4 days’ diving I was ready to come back; and in fact due to the typhoon the dives were cancelled the day we left, so we timed it well!
Oh and Mao’s Revenge morphed into Marcos’s Revenge: if sight-seeing with clenched buttocks is hard, then try diving and all those pressure changes. Wah!
Ross on the last morning – the sun is briefly out after the typhoon of the night before; but the waves were big on the way back
Arriving on day one – before Marcos’s Revenge struck!
Double cooked belly pork (centre), rice balls in date skins (behind), deep fried duck legs (eft); clay pot aubergine (right)
Crispy friend fish with spring onions, and delicious black mushrooms, withe garlic/rice vinegar cucumber
We came, we saw, we ate! Thanks to our gourmet guide Jess we managed ot sample many different cuisines; but strangely enough the first meal we had, which was also the cheapest, was the best. Jian’guo 328 is owned and managed by a Taiwanese lady but serves real Shanghai food. It’s tiny and basic, with Formica tables and closes by 9.30. We had beer but I was surprised to see a couple drinking Chablis on ice!
prawns and mixed veg
lotus root and cucumber
The following night, we decided to try Sichuan, so off to the Sichuan Citizen in the French concession, a rustic bistro, quite trendy serving cocktails and wine – we had a bottle of decent Santa Rita sauvignon for the record. As Jess is allergic to meat we stayed fishy – sampling red hot chilli prawns (in their shells so a bit crunchy), a whole tilapia in Sichuan sauce (a bit gloopy sadly); ma po bean curd in Sichuan peppercorns – to die for, mouth numbing hot as it’s meant to be; and some vegetables – plus soused cucumber with garlic & chilli (again – a great favourite this), pickled lotus roots and more greens.
The next night Ross was working late so Jess and I had a girls night – braving the dangerous-sounding Southern Barbarian, famed for its Yunnanese delicacies and wide varietes of Czech and Belgian beers! We stuck to Tsing Tao. Here we feasted on more lotus roots, this time stuffed with a little Chinese bacon as it turned out (sorry Jess!); stir-fried pomegranate flowers in a sour/sweet sauce, with spring onions, totally scrumptious; grandma’s potato galette – quite ordinary, just crispy potatoes; and the house speciality, grilled goats cheese, with a delicate little mint salad in rice wine vinegar, sugar and garlic. One to make at home….
succulent scallops – but was it one of these that poisoned me?
Then we gave Jess a night off and went to drink cocktails on the Bund with Ross’s colleagues, at the Glamour Bar, followed by El Willy’s, a taps bar (their choice). The air con wasn’t working properly so it was hard to enjoy the food with sweat trickling down one’s neck. Some was good – the seared tuna and scallops, plus the marinated fish, but there were a couple of horrors including glutinous patatas bravas and calamari coated in a greasy, thick batter. And to crown it all, it was after this meal that I fell very sick indeed…I will say no more other than sight-seeing with clenched buttocks is no joke! But – and I cant resist saying this – Chinese loos are very clean…
roast turbot at Table no 1
The big night out was to be at Jason Atherton’s (Maze fame)Table number 1, set in a renovated factory in the up-and-coming area by the Cool Docks. People who live in the east always need a change of palate, so we were delighted to go West for this treat. I was, however, put off by having to share a refectory type table with other diners (a very ugly couple who ate noisily and were on their mains before we even got our starters); and disappointed that the waiters had no ideas on provenance of the food I was interested in ordering (was still feeling distinctly queasy at this stage so purity of ingredients rather critical!). Answer came there none, which is always a bad sign. Thankfully, Jess and Andrea loved their main courses, roasted turbot, while Ross and I were slightly disappointed – he with his rack of lamb and me with my sole (still don’t know where it hailed from, but it was on the dry side and possibly FROZEN!). The starters were delicious – tuna carpaccio and scallop ceviche, and the deserts unctuous, with accompanying sauces in little teapots. But if you read this Mr Atherton, I do strongly advise you to pay attention to your brand if you intend to franchise it out. Reputation management and all that…
Smiling lady getting ready to serve food at lunch time (didn’t look too appetising!)
This is the lunch she was about to serve
No trip to China is complete without meandering round looking at street food. On my various wanders round the Old Town back streets, I came across some wonderful looking food, and some great characters….
ready meals waiting for buyers….
I also discovered that there is a market for ‘ready meals’ – better than Sainsbury’s any day. Eat your heart out M&S!
delicious -looking dumplings in the back streets…
Dumplings are all steaming away, ready for buyers…
Or you can buy a yummy stir fry…stock up on some dried fish, or go shopping in a smart store and get sea slugs, hundreds of varieties of mushrooms and all sorts of sickly-looking sweets (the Chinese have a very sweet tooth). And you can round it all off with a slice of cake! Not for me…
Stir fry anyone?
sea slugs anyone? hideously expensive, must be a great delicacy
The greasy dumplings – the worst I ever tasted – at Tongli
pumpkin bun – yuk!
Rack of lamb at Table No 1
This was sole masquerading as a vegetable garden at Table No 1
and more mushrooms, the Chinese are obsessed with them
Cold noodle salad at Umaya Japanese restaurant – girls’ lunch
Jess at Umaya with a set lunch
Pork bun stall on the main street, E Nanjing Rd
Aaah – iced coffee at Victors, the PEace HOtel. THats my best drink these days
A Water Town! Sounds like a way to cool off in 40C..so we thought!
Still suffering from the Shanghai tummy trouble, we wisely opted not to take the train and then a bus to Tongli, chosen for it being more inaccessible and hopefully less full of tourists. Ross’s ingenuity secured us a local taxi for one quarter of the cost of taking a tour, so we set off with Jess at a civilized 9.30 am.
It’s too damn hot – 40C, but we pose like Chinese for our photo with the ubiquitous peace sign
Like us, she had never been outside Shanghai, and we were pleased to see open countryside, with paddy fields and fish farms lining the roads, interspersed with high-rise apartment blocks and luxury developments. Not surprising really as the Water Town area was where ‘due to charming environment and abundance, in ancient times, many noblemen and distinguished families built their private gardens…low bridges, running water and small villages has won its fame as Venice of the east. All these make your trip full of poetic and artistic imagination from the moment you arrive here.’
Jess and Ross in the Tusi Gardens
So said the local guide. And it was true. After queuing for a little shuttle, ‘driver having lunch, she come when finish’, we arrived in the walled town, which at first glance looked rather tourist tacky, lots of shops selling tat and rickshaw wallahs touting for business. But once you left the main streets and wound round the back, life here is probably much as it was a century or two ago – small little one/two storied stone houses with little courtyards, or small gardens. People lolling around inside in the heat, cooking smells lingering in the fetid air. A small breeze just about ruffles your hair on the numerous bridges that cross the canals.
We enjoyed the formal coolness of the Tusi gardens, and made our first tourist purchase, an exquisite and intricate paper cutting of a pair of carp, in blue – bought from the artist.
Whoa – thats some phallus!
A visit to the Chinese Sex Culture Museum is a must, especially as Jess’s friend Andrea had interviewed the owner for a news piece…in fact it is more culture than sex, although there are some magnificent phalluses on display. A Chinese boy sidled up to me as I was
admiring one. ‘You like?’ he whispered in my ear.
Another fine old mansion was host to a museum of Qing dynasty beds – all exotically carved teak, the Moon bed especially designed for ‘conjugal bliss’. Hmm, I’ll have one of those, says Ross.
Ross is hot!
We made a bad error over lunch spot, but we were so hot. Literally drenched through from top to toe (yuk!) that, instead of continuing along the canal, where we later saw some waterside cafes complete with electric fans, we made our way to the main square where we found air con, a beer, and the most repellent greasy rancid dumplings I’ve ever seen, plus some lurid pumpkin buns…Jess stuck to the cucumber, Ross ate the dumplings, I drank the beer, no one ate the pumpkin!
East meets West – or Disney!
This girl had never met a foreigner before…
After lunch we met some gorgeous girls all dressed up in local Disney Princess outfits aka local traditional dress – hot synthetic gowns with long sleeves and frills, in garish colours, all having their photos taken. More than happy to be photographed by and with us – one girl told us she had never met any foreigners before; her friend spoke impressive English for a girl from the provinces. None of the pretty girls, posing for their friends, minded being photographed either. Ross is now building up quite a collection of Chinese beauties. I’ll have to watch him.
Jess and her new friend, who spoke passable English
This couple were enjoying all sorts of strange poses
Cool it was not, but a fascinating day out. We saw only one other group of laowai (foreigners) the whole day; and it really wasn’t that crowded so our planning paid off. I rather like that the Chinese (and the Malaysians and the Singaporeans and the Indians) are all such inveterate tourists in their own countries. I suppose their lands are so vast and varied that it makes sense. Why go abroad if it’s all on your doorstep?
A Selfie of us all, true Chinese style! Love you jess!