The other side of the Mandarin
Singapore - Perth - Fremantle
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Just before we check in for our three months travel to Australia and New Zealand I see a familiar face. My brother in law. ‘What a coincidence’ I think – but when I look a bit further away and see my sister pushing the stroller with one hand and pulling her son Boaz with the other, I realize there is going to be a farewell scene after all. Strange how three months suddenly seem to become an endless stretch of time – ‘I told you’ I hear Jacques murmuring – when at last our long awaited holiday starts. Yesterday I visited the shopping center in Eindhoven, looking for some suitable travel books. The shops were crowded with Santa Klaus shoppers, I felt totally unreal shopping for a summer holiday. In fact the last days everything feels unreal, we are still in Holland but my mind is already far away.
After checking in we go to a cafeteria upstairs. We take something to drink and talk about our travel plans. Boaz wants to know where we are going. We explain that we are going very far away, to countries on the other side of the world. He has trouble grasping the concept of ‘the other side of the world’ and I start explaining to him that our world is round etcetera. This doesn’t help much so I look around for something round to give a more practical demonstration. Rob, my brother in law, is playing with some mandarins and I confiscate one for the demonstration. ‘So, Boaz, now we are here’ I say pointing to a place close to the top of the mandarin. He fixes his eyes on my finger. ‘And in a couple of hours we start traveling to here’. My finger traces the mandarin down ways to the bottom. Boaz eyes follow my finger and his head follows his eyes to understand this upside down idea. I’m really pleased with the success of my demonstration until I hear a scream and am splashed with lemonade – Boaz hand with the extra large lemonade glass also followed the movement. That’s how we learned to be careful while drinking on the other side of the mandarin.
The whole world is still awaiting further terrorist attacks, so we are happy but also a bit disappointed when we land safely in Singapore. Singapore airport is big, modern, light and clean. I am surprised, expected something like the poor, dark, crowded airport of Delhi. Everybody is clothed in western costumes, no men in long white dresses to be seen. We get some Singapore dollars from a machine and are shuttled to our hotel, a tall building in the middle of ‘Little India’. It was dark but hot and humid and I see palm trees and other large, very green plants. It is the end of November and in Holland everything is gray, wet and cold. Jac and I, sitting on the bed on our hotel room, are totally disorientated. Just to get some feeling where we are – and to get something to eat – we leave the hotel and walk around in ‘Little India’. The streets are decorated with colored lights on strings for the Deepavali festival, the Hindu feast of the light. Everywhere we look we see people, especially Indian people, but it is different from India, much cleaner and nobody bothers us. First we walk very self consciously, but gradually we relax and find an empty table outside a tiny restaurant which seems to be popular. We amuse ourselves with watching interesting types in the café at the other side of the road (here we have at last the white dresses), eat a lot and pay little. Thirsty because of the warm, humid night and the hot food we drink a very large beer (no problems with spilling), which costs more than the food. Late in the evening we walk back to the hotel.
We have only one day in Singapore, just to relax in between the 13 hour flight to Singapore and the 5 hour flight to Perth. So we rise very early and try to cover the whole of Singapore on foot in this one day. It is clouded outside, and in the cold of the air conditioning I wonder if I better take my coat. Jac convinces me that won’t be necessary here. When we step out of the hotel at first the temperature seems nice, but later on we start to sweat and long for restaurants with air conditioning. We walk through Little India, which is not as busy as last night, to the modern city around Singapore river and further on to China Town. China Town is full of small houses, delicately painted and small shops, colorful decorated. We see even more Chinese here than Indian people in Little India. Singapore is a real metropole, a strange mixture of big, super modern buildings and old, ramshackle houses. Every back street of Singapore is covered with outlets of airco’s, certainly not very environment conscious but what else can you do (try living in Holland).
Perth is totally different. Perth is a relaxed city with a western atmosphere. The light is soft, the temperature is with 22°C just nice and the wind is refreshing after Singapore. Our taxi driver – wearing short green trousers, a white shirt and long red socks matching his red hair - explains how he stranded here some 50 years ago. He was heading for Sydney but liked Perth immediately, stayed here and never once regretted it. The center of Perth looks from a distance like a big city crowded with high buildings. But when we drive through the suburbs – one storied houses with green gardens – to the center, the idea of a big city disappears. Perth has some historic buildings left, which, together with the Swan river, give the city a special atmosphere. Although the center has many shops and is quite busy, there is a lot of space and the people are very friendly. Always be careful saying ‘Hello’ to Dutch people you don’t know, you will frighten them and they may even react aggressive – in bigger cities in Holland only looking at people you don’t know can be already quite offensive, you just mind your own business. So it took us some weeks until we relaxed a bit and stopped worrying if somebody wanted something of us (money especially) if they gave me a voluntary advise for making nice pictures or asked us if we were looking for something when we stood on a street corner discussing our Lonely Planet map. Later even we dared to look straight at people and said hello back.
When you think Perth is relaxed, try visiting Fremantle, the harbor of Perth. In Fremantle a lot of the original colonial buildings are preserved, old, beautiful buildings with spacious terraces and pillars. During lunchtime the working population of Fremantle mixes with the tourist groups and the backpackers on the many terraces to drink and eat, watch the scene and enjoy the sun. A business man in a dark suit throws his bunch of keys on a table (not a good idea in Holland) and enters the café to order something. In Australia you mostly have to order inside, which you will find out after waiting endlessly for an attendant on the terrace outside. Four people hover hopefully around his empty table and we wonder if they will ignore the keys and sit down, but no, they walk on. Again don’t try this in Holland.
Perth has a lot of nice restaurants and we eat interesting Australian combinations of meat and seafood. Our last night in Perth we try a Korean restaurant, a totally new experience for both of us. It is a barbecue restaurant with the slogan – ‘Who said barbecue is boring?’ – which should have warned us. We have to barbecue meat on a hot plate (don’t move your legs or you will barbecue your knees also), roll it together with rice in a salad leaf while using nothing else than very slippery Korean eating sticks and our hands (especially), press the result between the sticks, dip it in a hot sauce and try putting it in our mouth. No spoon, no saucers, the tablecloth on my side of the table is totally ruined. Jac thinks this a bit embarrassing, but I prefer a ruined tablecloth to ruined clothes. Back in our hotel Jac tries to clean his once white shirt. ‘I pay for a restaurant and first I have to do the cooking, thereupon I have to wash my clothes’, I hear Jac complain to nobody in particular. So up till now it seems that the eating more than the drinking is a problem on the other side of the mandarin!
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