ON the 10th anniversary of the unhappiest day of my life, I am flying to Bhutan – the Happiest Country on the Planet. It’s been 10 years to the day since my marriage suddenly shattered and I was left to carve out a new life, with a splintered compass. I have spent the past decade travelling the world, for my work and my wellbeing, part story-teller, part marathon runner from myself. And I am exhausted, fuelled only by the irony of this date and the promise of the destination ahead.
The Bhutanese baby is roaring like the engine of the plane on which I am travelling, and the acrid stench of stale cigarettes, cloying to the clothing of my fellow passengers, burns my nostrils. The soothing sounds of the sitar music being piped through the cabin do little to salve my mental malaise. I am enroute to Bhutan, the Kingdom of Happiness. My current happiness level: 5/10. Yet I remain optimistic, even when we stop at the remote Indian airport of Guwahati, more bare paddock than runway, which is shrouded in mist and mystery. Some passengers disembark. Those of us who are flying to Bhutan’s Paro International Airport are instructed to stay on, and identify our cabin baggage. I am the only white person on the plane.
Drukair, Royal Bhutan’s Airline, ducks and weaves around the mighty Himalayan ranges, before gliding to a halt in what has to be one of the most visually spectacular and technically difficult landings in the world. My tour guide, Chimmi, 51, happens to be Bhutan’s first female tour guide, appointed in 1997. Now, around 400 women are guides in a country which boasts around 3000 tour guides. My driver is called Karma. I take both as a good sign. The 1.5 hour drive to Thimphu, the Bhutanese capital is gnarly, all twists and turns, flanked by gushing river on one side, and looming mountains on the other. I scribble furious car-sick inducing notes, as Chimmi attempts to explains the concept of Bhutanese happiness.
“We don’t have any enemies, we have nothing to take. We live in a very poor country surrounded by mountains. We are the Hidden Kingdom,” she says.
“Until the 1960s there were no cars in the country and until the 1980s no planes. We were isolated and cut off from the rest of the world. We didn’t have TV and internet until 1999.
“Before 2004, the village I lived in had no electricity. It was such a beautiful life.”
Chimmi believes it is isolation which made it easy for Bhutan to be the first country to conceive of the idea of Gross National Happiness (GNH), which was introduced by the country’s beloved King in the 1970s.
“GNH is a very basic idea to provide basic necessities such as education, a transparent government, a pristine environment and to preserve culture and tradition,” she says.
“It is something very simple, very basic, and if people focus on that it can be achieved.”
I check into charming, colonial-style Hotel Druk in the centre of the capital. Even my WiFi password is “happy”.
On my second morning, I have a much-anticipated interview with GNH Director Sonam Tsoki Tenzin, in a bid to scratch the surface of Bhutan’s happiness. Tsoki sits behind a desk in front of a blank, white wall, and sniffles. She’s suffering from allergies on this unexpectedly hot day, yet she’s all smiles when I ask her about what makes Bhutan so happy.
“We are not talking about that feel-good when you go shopping or get a promotion. We are taking about authentic happiness. It is a collective happiness for the whole country and people and society,” she says.
“It is more about feeling satisfied and content. Happiness can be fleeting.
“Of course we have social problems but we are quite blessed to manage to survive without things such as terrorism. I know that Denmark, Sweden and Belgium score higher than us but that’s related to economic issues.
“Our quality of life and human relationships are better. It is not about money.”
Tsoki, who has a Masters in Management from the University of Canberra, says there are three agencies dedicated to happiness: The GNH Centre, which is hands on, running programs and workshops; the Government’s GNH Commission, committed to bigger projects; and the Centre for Bhutan Studies, which conducts a survey of Bhutan’s people every three years. Interestingly, the survey found that single women were happier than married women but men overall were happier than women. 91.2 per cent of Bhutanese reported they were overall “very happy”.
“I don’t feel sorry for people in the west because you are better educated and have a better lifestyle. But maybe you haven’t used it in the best of your interests,” she says.
“You’ve made it very easy to get things done, but have forgotten to get along with people.”
Tsoki, who works with Australian organisations such as Melbourne’s Small Giants which looks at “sustainable human prosperity”, says the GNH model can be applied anywhere.
“You don’t have a choice, you have to be one global community,” she says.
“Bhutan is not going to stay isolated. In the past 50 years it has had the highest speed of development anywhere in the world.
“We see a lot of things on Facebook and TV that we might want but do we really need it? We are still quite practical people. We have a good respect for our spiritual connection, and practice compassion.”
I end the interview by asking Tsoki, who is 41, whether she is, happy.
“Yes, I’m single, I’m very happy,” she laughs.
I visit the Memorial Chorten in Thimphu, a stupa built in memory of Bhutan’s third king and the Father of Modern Bhutan. I pause to chat to a trio of elderly women, all widowed, who, like their peers, come here daily for social connectivity. I am captivated by Phudra Dema, 80, who lives with her grandson and his wife.
“They take good care of me and give me everything I need. They try to keep me happy,” she says.
“The most important thing that keeps me happy is to meet with my friends and to chant mantra.
“We are the happiest country because the King is there to take care of the people. It is as if we are living in paradise.”
Phudra and her friends tell me they would like to adopt me, and that I look 30 years old. My happiness level is rising rapidly.
At Anim Dratshang nunnery at Drubthob Goemba, in Thimphu, I meet 15-year-old nun Yanchen, who will be required to spend as long as three years in silent meditation, at the end of her teachings.
“Happiness is not about being happy myself, but I want to make everyone happy by doing some good,” she says.
“It’s natural, I don’t find any negativity, I’m more focused on religion and our practice.
“I want to spend my whole life here and teach other young nuns.”
Back in Paro, Chimmi and I wander the local farmers markets like old friends, pausing to admire organic fruit and vegetables, while chattering about our lives, and happiness. We talk about how little money actually matters, it’s about connecting to the world in which we live which counts. A Bhutanese and Brisbane woman, from two different worlds, finding common ground in the seasons of our souls. We taste beer at the country’s newest craft brewery and have long, philosophical chats over lunch. There’s penis paintings on the walls of houses in Bhutan, said to ward off evil spirits and promote fertility. We giggle like school girls. We wander into Bhutan’s oldest temple, in Paro, which dates back to the 7th century. So revered is this timber building, it’s said that every Himalayan Buddhist must set foot inside it, at least once in their lifetime. The monk inside allows me to enter, a rarity for a foreigner, and I am permitted to pray for good karma to erase negative energy. I pray for the world to find love.
Later, on my last night and high in the hills at a forest lodge overlooking the Paro Valley, I stand outside on the terrace and inhale the cool cyprus air, searching the surrounding Himalayas for answers to that big life question of happiness. The mountains mock me, relentlessly shouting the same message back at me until they can no longer be ignored. Look at the privilege of travel and the gift of the pen we gave you, they gently implore. You already have happiness. And it’s more than enough.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Wendy Wu Tours – https://www.wendywutours.com.au and flew to Bhutan via Bangkok with Thai Airways – http://www.thaiairways.com and Royal Bhutan Airlines https://www.drukair.com.bt
I’VE just returned from my first trip to Japan and it won’t be my last. For first-timers, toss away any preconceptions you may have had. For this is a country which surprises and delights. Here’s 9 divine things that will shock you about the Land of the Rising Sun.
1.Nudity Is Normal
OK. So maybe not outside, but pop these people into a hot onsen and watch the good times roll! So normal is nudity inside these traditional Japanese bathing houses, it is frowned upon and considered unhygienic should you attempt to wear your swimming costume inside. I should know, I attempted this sneaky tactic several times, but was actively discouraged. Even trying to cover your “bits” with the tiny towel handed to you, is promptly poo-pooed. The towel goes on your head, your boobies are there for all to witness. Awesome.
2.The People are Super Friendly
Aussies like to think they are the friendliest folk on the planet. Sure, we’ll have a natter, but would you recommend a restaurant to a complete stranger AND pop down before they arrived and buy their first round of drinks? I think not. This happened to me in Osaka. And every time I even paused on the streets to catch my breath, a stranger would rush up to me, to ensure I wasn’t lost.
3.It’s Amazingly Affordable
Forget all of those horror stories you hear about $100 watermelons in Japan, you can eat like an emperor (and drink) for around $30. In fact, there’s plenty of authentic, funky food places which serve delicious dishes for around $3.80 a pop. Public transport is also cheap, easy and efficient to use. In fact, aside from hotels (and I’ve heard there’s some reasonable capsule rooms around), pretty much everything is cheaper than in Australia.
4.The Vending Machines are, um, interesting
We’ve all heard the colourful stories of Japanese vending machines containing illicit material such as women’s used underwear, but I am reliably informed only one such machine is still in existence, in Tokyo. (Which is a great shame, as I had a whole suitcase of dirty washing by the end of the trip). I did, however, manage to secure a pair of fresh, saucy white g.strings from one in Osaka, and a predication for my love life in another one in Kyoto. What you will find is a nation which relies heavily on vending machine food. Apparently, there are so many vending machines in Japan, there’s one for every 30 people. Rather than go to the corner store, Japanese people love their vending machines from which you can buy anything from hot corn soup to half-decent coffee.
5.Even the Monks Drink
You’ve got to love a culture where even men of the cloth like a tipple. You’ll find this in places like Mt Koya, south of Osaka, and home to Zen Buddhism. It seems they’ve found a loophole. Sake is not just sake but “wisdom water” and beer is “bubbled wisdom water”. While the “food for enlightenment” was surprisingly delicious, I won’t be eating 7 different kinds of tofu for dinner again, in this lifetime, or several of the next.
6.You can be a Ninja Warrior or a Geisha Girl for a Day
You can be pretty much whoever you want to be in Japan, and no one bats an eyelid (except a prudish Aussie girl in an onsen). During this trip, I partook in an eye-opening, one-hour class during which I was taught how to be a Ninja Warrior. Here, you dress the part, learn all the secret hiding spots and sneaky walking techniques, and even get to throw some fair-dinkum real Ninja stars. Another interesting activity allows visitors to undergo a full Geisha Girl makeover and even walk the streets, just to confuse fellow tourists.
7.The Food is Fabulous
Food, glorious food. The sashimi is sensational but there’s so much more to Japanese food. Did you know tempura was actually introduced by the Portuguese, as was meat? Eat some Kobe beef and you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven. Speaking of dying, I even tried the famed Fugu fish, which was slightly disappointing. If you are going to die over your dinner, at least let it be for something more delicious. But maybe the thrill lays in the threat of eating this poisonous fish dish?
8.The Beer is Better
I’d heard a rumour that much like Guinness in Ireland, Asahi in Japan tastes so much better in its home country. And in the name of research for this story, and because I am a true professional dedicated to my craft (beer), I decided to test this theory. Many times. Turns out it’s true. What’s even more interesting is the growth in craft breweries here. Check these out in Osaka at a great little bar called Beer Belly. Which is precisely what I had when I arrived back home (plus that suitcase full of dirty washing).
9.The Temples are Terrific
So many temples, so little time. While I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Hell Temple, discovering if I was to meet my angels or the devil himself, head to Kyoto’s Golden Temple for some truly Instagram-able moments. Up on Mt Koya, an unlikely and delightful way to spend the afternoon, is wandering through the cemetery which is home to thousands of temples, even more spectacular when dusted in snow. Yes, you’ll dig this gigantic grave yard. (See what I did there…)
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Inside Japan Tours https://www.insidejapantours.com whose specialist English-speaking guides will show you the real Japan, armed with insider knowledge and experience tailored to your interests. Qantas has several direct flights between Australia and Osaka including from Sydney and the newly-introduced Melbourne route. Fly Business Class, and you can also experience their new light-weight crockery range, which translate to more than 500,000kgs of fuel savings each year. http://www.qantas.com
MY toilet is called Toto and so, too, is the name of my potential paramour. From my heated throne, I ponder whether Toto, the man, would also be prepared to warm my bottom before blasting it with a jet of water. I suspect one final, perky puff of deodorising spray, just like my toilet serves up, is a step too far in any relationship. I am in Osaka, surfing both the porcelain bowl and Japanese Tinder, in a bid to better understand this mysterious culture and potentially meet a mate. It is my first foray into the Land of the Rising Sun and I am intrigued by everything, from the views, to the loo, to the deadly fugu.
I discover a delicious dichotomy of weird and whacky characters, best digested with fabulous fishy dishes and chased down by ice-cold Asahi beer. The rumours are true, Japan’s famous brew does taste better up here. And, it appears, so too do Australian women, if my popularity on Osaka Tinder is any indication. Look, I don’t want to brag, but I’m receiving more Super Likes than Super Woman. Toto aside, Nori, 48, whose name reminds me of a delicious Japanese roll, is only 13km away from my hotel, but can speak no English. My Japanese is limited to a hearty “Hai!”, a phrase you’ll hear often in this colourful country, but, like a circle, has no real beginning or end. There appears to be a bounty of blokes, but it comes with a catch. For while this is a quirky culture on one hand, it is also deeply conservative on the other.
My Inside Japan tour guide Richard, a boisterous Brit and Zen Buddhism devotee, tells me if I were to marry a Japanese man, I would be compelled to take his surname. If I were to have children, and return to the workplace, I would be demoted to secretarial work. And at work drinks, as a woman, I would be expected to pour everyone’s beer before someone acknowledged my “lowly status” and finally served me. A thirsty girl, I am horrified at the prospect. But there is also much to love about Japan.
I am sitting with Richard and two colleagues in Osaka’s Temma area, home to tiny standing bars and intimate yakitori restaurants, discussing Japanese life. (Richard’s also even poured my beer first). Want an example of Japanese hospitality? Not only is my party of four dining in Yakitori Mame, which has been recommended to Richard early in the day by a man known only as Uryu-San, when it comes to our first drinks, this mystery man has already paid for them. Richard says this is typical of the people of Osaka.
“This is the kind of thing that happens in Japan. I’ve heard stories of customers on tours, who, when they have had some free time, may have become lost. They are accosted by a local who tells them it’s too far to walk, and has not only hailed a cab for them, but jumped in and taken them to the destination, and paid for the taxi ride,” he says.
To really understand Osaka, head to the edgy district of Shinsekai which means “new world” in Japanese. Frequented by locals who say it’s modelled on Paris and New York’s Coney Island, the area was destroyed during World War Two, but has been rebuilt. It’s a stone’s throw from Japan’s tallest skyscraper and home to a number of fascinating standing bars. You’ll even find Osaka’s mascot Billiken here, who is hailed as “The God of things as they ought to be”. It is here that I delve into my first Japanese vending machine, and this one specialises in “erotica”. I insert my $5 and am rewarded with a pair of saucy white g-strings which I shove into my winter coat, and mistake for a tissue for the rest of the day. Things are off to a sensual start.
We amble a mesmerising maze of streets, pausing to pay homage to Jizo, a roadside deity which protects expectant mothers and travellers, before we arrive at Hell Temple. I stick my head in a hole where I’m told I can hear the sounds of hell. Disappointed, I detect nothing. I undertake an electronic survey to determine whether I am going to heaven or hell. I scrape into heaven. Just. There is hope for me yet. Later in the trip I return with my Aussie colleagues to Shinsekai and to Spa World which turns out to be my idea of hell. Picture wall-to-wall naked Japanese women, for whom a trip to the waxer has never occurred, and three prudish Aussie girls, clutching on to their towels, the size of a face washer. What I’ve seen, cannot be unseen. And I will be establishing a waxing clinic in Japan in the near future.
We push on to Kyoto, where I dive into my second Japanese vending machine experience. This one predicts “love fortunes”. I reach into the bowels of the beast and extract my fortune. My guide, Aya, translates my future. Apparently I am “unlucky in love” (I did not need to part with $2 to discover this); I need to “change my attitude” to love; and best of all, I need to find someone who is either 120 years older or 120 years younger than me. Not only that, I need to cook them a barbecue…inside my house. Love just got a whole lot more difficult and dangerous.
Aya, 42, confirms what I already know.
“It is hard to find a good western man. Japanese men look after their women and if they get sick, they look after them,” she says.
“But that is changing. Japanese men are getting worse and that’s the western influence. But Japanese men are not as good looking as western men, because they are short.”
Our jaunty Japanese journey continues, on to the traditional Japanese spa town of Kinosaki Onsen. Here, there’s seven different types of onsen, whose waters are believed to contain different healing properties. I head straight to Goshono-Yu, which is said to bring good luck in finding a marriage partner and preventing fires. If I am to believe my $2 vending machine reading back in Kyoto, I will need all the luck there is in finding a partner with a 120-year age difference, plus some fire prevention when I cook him that barbecue inside my house. I’m convinced these waters are working.
The last destination of my trip is up at Mt Koya, considered the most significant site in Japan for Shingon Buddhism. Even more fascinating, it’s home to 1000 monks, who no longer believe in celibacy and even like a drink. They call sake “wisdom water” and beer “bubbled wisdom water” up here and from the way I imbibe, I’m a wise woman indeed. Interestingly, women were not allowed on the mountain until the 20th century, which I believe makes me a hot commodity on this minus two degree day. Late at night, I lay on my basic mattress in my temple lodging and surf Temple Tinder. But the pickings are slim. Where are all the manly monks? The next morning, I join the monks in their 6am prayer service. There’s a deity in the temple devoted to love. I make a silent offering (desperate plea) and head back down the mountain. I’m heading home to stoke up the barbecue and wait for my 120-year-old mate.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Inside Japan Tours, https://www.insidejapantours.com whose specialist English-speaking guides will show you the real Japan, armed with insider knowledge and experience tailored to your interests.
Qantas has several direct flights between Australia and Osaka including from Sydney and the newly-introduced Melbourne route. Fly Business Class, and you can also experience their new light-weight crockery range, which translates to more than 500,000kgs of fuel savings each year. http://www.qantas.com
IT seems incongruous, but I am sitting down to pen my last blog for 2015. Equally unbelievable, I know, is that I’m still as single as when I sat down to write my first post this year. Yes, desperate and dateless as the New Year dawned, and staring down the barrel of yet another looming Valentine’s Day, in January I rejoined Bogandating.com (not its real name) and attracted the likes of blokes such as “Fairdinkumkiwi”, “Gazza”, and “DancingandRomance”. At this stage of the year/game I’d like to say (and kids, look away), based on my experience of dating sites in 2015, there is NO Santa Claus.
Purely by coincidence in January, I also interviewed a woman who launched The Self Pleasure Revolution. Yes, 35 women from Australia, England, Chile, America and the Netherlands signed up and paid $US89 to participate in conscious masturbation every day for three weeks. While I admired their tenacity, I indulged in my own self pleasure revolution of going to the bottle-o and consuming vast quantities of wine…a semi-conscious decision which has lasted much longer than three weeks and cost far more than $US89, but each to their own.
In February I explored my own backyard, covering stories in Brisbane where I stayed in the New Inchcolm Hotel & Suites dating back to the 1920s; sauntered down to Brisbane’s south side to explore its heart and soul; and west to Ipswich where I went to high school more than two decades ago. Apart from taking my first hot air balloon ride over the Lockyer Valley where I grew up, on Brisbane’s south side I discovered the Chung Tian Temple at Priestdale where the hum of Buddhist chants blended with the intoxicating sounds of silence. Here, I partook in an ancient tea ceremony where I learned that not only that tea is good for you, but apparently so is red wine. Just sayin.
Just as the weather started to cool down in Brisbane in March, my travel schedule started to heat up. In one week I visited Singapore, Indonesia and Vietnam. In Indonesia, in my four-poster bed, replete with white chiffon curtains, I imagined I was an Indonesian High Priestess. I arrived at the Banyan Tree Bintan Island in my usual disheveled state, the effects of some aeroplane turbulence as we crossed the Equator, a reasonable swell on the ferry as we sailed across the South China Sea, several prescription drugs and red wine to fuel my travels, all beginning to wear off. But I remained chipper, for I was to sleep under this thatched Indonesian roof, or “alang alang”, in my seaside villa, skinny dip under the stars, and have several Asian women touch me inappropriately during a number of massages that wonderful week.
I was home for a grand total of three days…enough time to wash and repack my undies… before I was on a plane to Rabaul in Papua New Guinea. Having exhausted every possibility or hope of ever finding the man of my dreams in Australia, I cast the net wider. While I was in PNG writing a series of travel stories, never let it be said that I waste any opportunity to find love. What I really adore about my travels is that no matter in which new country I find myself, I merely need to tell a local that I’m looking for love and they are immediately on the case. In this instance, the lovely Lucy, a 50-year-old PNG woman who works at the Kokopo Beach Bungalows Resort, instantly became my latest wing woman. Every day Lucy told me that I was beautiful and that I even looked like her daughter “she has a sharp nose like you”. She said when I returned to Rabaul I must come and stay with her in her village and she’ll find me a man. I am planning a return visit any day now.
In April, my sister and me escaped to Fiji for a short Easter break where we indulged in snorkelling, swimming and sunshine while gracefully fanning away hot weather and men who were hot for us (the last element of that sentence is simply not true). Weeks later I was up in Tropical North Queensland at Thala, out on a nature tour with Head Gardener Brett Kelly. The highlight of this three-hour tour occurred Brett husked a coconut for me to drink. It did not take much for me to disappear into fantasyland, picturing the man of my dreams clad only in loin cloth, presenting me with a husked coconut. Sensing my sexual fantasy, the happily-married Brett promptly disappeared in the rainforest, never to be seen by me again.
While there were a number of domestic trips in May (back to Port Douglas and the Sunshine Coast), the absolute highlight was travelling to Vienna to cover Eurovision. Despite being in the gayest city of Europe at that point in time, I viewed this trip as a chance to snag me some single European royalty (and a much-coveted EU passport). And I had my sights set on Liechtenstein’s Prince Wenzeslaus. Not only was he age appropriate at 41, his family is considered the richest monarchy in Europe. Vince the Prince, or Vincent, as he prefers to be called, has never married, but has been known to date the odd Victoria Secret supermodel. I felt that we were the perfect match but apparently he didn’t receive my emails alerting him to my European escape. I still hold out hope.
In June, I took a brief break from overseas travel and relished the chance to catch up on some big writing projects. I interviewed the fabulous Feather from Byron Bay who was the subject of Natalie Grono’s award-winning photo: Feather and the Goddess Pool. Natalie had just received the People’s Choice award for this year’s National Photographic Portrait Prize. Feather, in her 70s, invited me to join her for some topless sunbaking and told me:
“I’ve got TMB – Too Many Birthdays. Men who are 80 and 81 look at me and say I’m too old for them. They can’t do anything and they are ratshit and I’m not really interested in being a cougar.”
Fabulous females continued to enter my life in July when I met Brisbane Trike Tour owner Chrissy McDonnell and her black three-wheeler The Bling Queen. On a crisp winter day in which we took a spin down to Canungra in the Gold Coast Hinterland, Chrissy told me how she quit her job at an insurance giant last December to follow her dream of running her own business. We spoke just last week and things are going gang busters.
Up at Noosa in July, another new tourism business operator Kelly Carthy from Luxe Fitness Escapes paddled with me into the mangroves of the Noosa River where we partook in a beautiful floating yoga class to the sounds of the birds.
“I want women to feel strong and confident and I think there is lots of space to really empower women to feel strong in their bodies and focus on what they can do rather than how they look,” Kelly told me on this spectacular Sunshine Coast day.
In August, I held hands with a man for the first time all year out at ReefWorld on the outer Great Barrier Reef. I was participating in a learner’s dive and, as fate would have it, it was just me and a handsome Spaniard for 30 glorious minutes. I was mesmerised by his brown hair which floated in the water like sea weed and spent the entire time dreaming of us having to share the same oxygen hose. But perhaps the most interesting character I met all year was out at the Mount Isa Rodeo in Queensland’s Outback. Here, Beaver, or Brettyln Neal as she is sometimes known, was about to notch up her 150th fight as part of Fred Brophy’s travelling boxing troupe.
“I’ve got a little furry Beaver mascot and sometimes Fred will get up and say ‘show us your Beaver’ and I’ll have it in my pants,” Beaver told me one dusty Outback afternoon. For the record, Beaver you are still my BFF.
I took a journey to Australia’s spiritual heart of Uluru in September but anguished over how to capture its magic in words. Instead, I relinquished my role as a writer for one entire afternoon, and took a cycling tour of the red rock. It was my first visit to this ancient landmark and instead of clumsily grasping for the toolkit of adjectives and mixed metaphors upon which I usually rely, I emptied my head, opened my heart and clutched the handlebars. The words, well they came later. Shortly after, I found myself in Canada’s Nova Scotia covering a “sausage fest.” Yes, it took one classy sheila from Brisbane to point out to the Canadians that the term meant something entirely different back in the cosmopolitan Queensland capital.
October found me in Sri Lanka and most notably Kandy where I went in search of my Kandy Man. My best chance presented itself at the Kandy Cultural Show where one of the acts included “10 male damsel drummers in harmony”. There was even one fine fella in the show who smiled at me and dropped his tambourine, such was my sex appeal, but our interaction ended there. I also had a Sri Lankan yoga teacher instruct me to rub “special herbal cream” on my face and boobs. Turns out his special cream was actually Vicks Vapor Rub. My boobs still sting at this memorable travel moment.
I spent early November on the Gold Coast hunting and gathering a series of stories and allowed myself to indulge in childhood beach holiday memories. These messages in a bottle floated up every day…mum on Greenmount Beach tanning her back against a rock, dad driving our gold Kingswood around Kirra bend when he finished work on a Friday afternoon. Cream buns at Coolangatta. Shifting sands. And regular readers will recall it was only last month that I returned from the Solomon Islands, where, still no closer to snaring my solo man, I interviewed the locals about love. Panda, 37, told me Solomon Island men were good lovers because “they like the girls”.
“They love the white skin. There are lots of good boys around. If you come to me I can help you to find a good man. I think you will be the boss and he will do everything for you. He will think ‘I’ve got a white lady’ and he will treat you like a Queen,” Panda told me. Inexplicably, I returned home single.
It’s now December, and this week I fly out for three weeks in Indonesia, where a girlfriend and me intend to flop and drop on each of the Gili Islands. There will be snorkelling, swimming, yoga, beer and plenty of daydreaming. A huge thank you to all of the tourism bodies, PRs and editors who supported my travels this year, the terrific characters I met along the way and to you, my loyal followers and readers. I wish you all love and light this Christmas and may we all find peace on earth in 2016. See you then. x
LYNDAL is devastatingly thin like Audrey Hepburn…and sports the mouth of a sailor. Only half of this sentence is true. Lyndal may have urged me to describe her as the screen siren while peppering our conversation with profanities but Hepburn, eat your heart out, for Lyndal is rolled gold. I’m on a 12-day Real Food Adventure with Intrepid Travel through Sri Lanka and Lyndal is one of the 10 colourful companions with whom I am travelling.
My adventures in this mystical land in the middle of the Indian Ocean start well before I meet my travelling party. Mozart is inexplicably being piped through the arrival’s hall of Colombo’s Bandaranayike International when I disembark at 1am, and among the usual swag of Duty Free cosmetics, cigarettes and alcohol, there’s a store selling washing machines. Just what I always imagined I needed after a 16-hour trek from Australia, a Simpson 5kg front loader.
A tropical downpour greets me on the street unlike the driver who has been arranged to meet me. Just as I’m about to chalk up yet another bloke who has refused to keep a date, someone kindly points to an obscure man sitting in a dark corner who it turns out is my “fixer”. He leads me to a car and the driver takes off into the inky night. We weave in and out of empty back alleys and the exotic blend of heaving humidity, travel exhaustion, and mild anxiety prompts me to break into a cold sweat. Half way to my hotel, when I am almost convinced this is how I will finally meet my maker, he pauses to point to a name of his manifest which is meant to be mine. I’m sorry Linda Treware, but I hope you enjoyed your evening being me and eventually arrived safely at your destination.
As fate would have it, several hours later at breakfast I meet Linda, or Laura as it turns out. A lovely American Jewish girl, Laura says “I’m basically Beyonce. My alter ego is a black girl with a big arse who says ‘fuck you bitch’.” At this moment I know Laura and I will be life-long friends.
For a food tour, we seem to be doing a lot of temples including the towering Sigiriya Rock Fortess with its 1000-odd steps and a height of 1120 metres which I miraculously climb. Regular readers will remember that among my long list of neuroses The Global Goddess is petrified of heights and some may even recall the trip in which my sister and me climbed the Remarkables in New Zealand…only to have me abandon my sister in a white-out while I begged two sherpas to carry me down that slippery little slope, sobbing hysterically. On this journey down I vow not to cry and instead channel my inner Peter Allen and chant I Still Call Australia Home as I leave what I can only describe as the “death zone”. I later learn from one of my travelling companions that someone passing them on the way to the summit asked whether they knew the strange English woman who was singing. On the plus side (and there is always an opposite reaction according to the Buddhist teachings in Sri Lanka) I haven’t had to wear my “temple dress” – lest my sexy knees and shoulders provoke unwanted attention – in days.
It would be fair to say I knew nothing about Sri Lanka before I arrived here 9 days ago and due to a hectic travel schedule this year have had even less time to do any research. So appalling was my knowledge of this country that I am half convinced a Tamil Tiger is an exotic Asian cat. I do glance at my trip notes before I depart which suggest I have access to $USD500 “in case of civil unrest”. I wonder whether this means I will be allowed to trot down to the ATM if a war erupts or whether I should bury some greenbacks on my person. A girlfriend suggests I should stash cash in my underwear as “no one will ever look there”. What I do find is a country filled with heart and soul and the most peaceful of people.
The weekend just gone found me in Kandy where I held a vague hope that I may meet the elusive man of my dreams, or in this instance, a Kandy Man. We attend the Kandy Cultural Show where one of the acts is described as “10 male damsel drummers in harmony”. There is even one fine fella in the show who smiles at me and drops his tambourine, such is my sex appeal, but our interaction ends there. I half hope that the yoga teacher we visit that afternoon will yield more luck in the romance stakes, but my fantasy is dashed when he hands out what he calls a “special herbal cream” and instructs us to rub it on our boobs and face. I look at the container, and it’s a jar of Vicks Vapor Rub. But as Buddha would say, every action has an opposition reaction and on the plus side my boobs have never felt hotter.
The Global Goddess is in Sri Lanka as a guest of Intrepid Travel – www.intrepidtravel.com
IF you allow it, Bali will become firmly entrenched in your heart. It’s a place of characters and colour. Of life and love. Please enjoy this short photo essay I took on my recent Eat Pray Live adventure of Bali. And remember, you can join me there at Easter for my Writing Retreat: Eat Pray Live – What’s Your Story with The Global Goddess. Details below. Please enjoy.
You’ll MEET incredible characters…
EAT some amazing food…
PRAY with the locals…
LIVE among the rice paddies in a beautiful villa…
And WRITE your story…
COME join me this Easter!
THERE’S a fascinating article in the February edition of Cathay Pacific’s Inflight Magazine Discovery which examines Asia’s love of the exotic, specifically its cuisine and culture. The story focuses on fashion, and how many traditional styles of dress not only still exist, but are part of the vernacular. From Vietnam’s elaborate ao dai’s to Japan’s kimono’s, wearing historic dress is not considered unusual. In China, women wear the qipao; the Balinese don the hip-wrapping kambe; while in India, modern-day Maharanis are embracing the sari. But what happens when certain Asian cultures swing dramatically in the other direction? The result, as I discovered on my trip to Taiwan last week, is weird, wacky and wonderful.
Is it a nurse, a nun or a sign indicating the women’s toilet? I stumbled across little pinkie while in the acclaimed Taiwanese restaurant, Silks Palace, better known for its award-winning yin and yang beef noodle soup served in a cauldron. Yes, our host is at the table explaining all about this amazing dish, and I’m out the back taking a photo of the dunny.
I’m not quite sure what a Damper Baby is, but it seems to play a crucial role in Taipei’s exclusive 101 shopping centre, home to the esteemed Din Tai Fung dumpling palace.
This little pooch outside Taiwan’s first ever Bubble Tea shop in Hsinshu was not only wearing this attractive leopard-print coat, but had four baby shoes on each foot. I mean paw. I bet puppy was named Gucci or Muffin.
Everyone else was gazing at the amazing spectacle up in the sky at the Sky Lantern Festival in Pingxi. I was looking downward at this young lady who was not afraid to put her best foot forward.
Proving that if you stay anywhere long enough the culture rubs off on you, my fellow Australians Natasha Dragun (Double Dragon) and Bev Malzard (Honey Ooolong) unleashed their inner animals.
And immediately sparked a trend among the younger Taiwanese visiting the Shen Fen Waterfall as these two cute little copycats demonstrated.
It was not just the fashion which fascinated in Taiwan, but the food, as these decadently sweet tomatoes soaked in plum juice proved at the Silks Palace. Is it a tomato? Is it a plum? Who could tell?
Back at the world-renowned Ding Tai Fung, the mountains of dumpling dishes were enchanting.
While the coffee sign at Pingxi was a little confusing…
The pippies in chili, ulimately interesting…
And the Buddhists at Long Shan Temple, inspiring.
Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific’s Rosemary was as bubbly as the champagne the airline served on the flight to Taipei, via Hong Kong. The Global Goddess travelled in style courtesy of Cathay Pacific’s Premium Economy cabin. Launched in February 2012, the new Premium Economy experience features a more quiet, spacious cabin than the traditional Economy Class with between 26 and 34 seats per aircraft. The seat pitch is 38 inches – six inches more than Economy Class – and the seat itself is wider and has a bigger recline. Special features include a large meal table, a cocktail table, footrest, a 10.6 inch personal television, an in-seat power outlet, a multi-port connector for personal devices and extra personal stowage space. Premium Economy passengers are also allowed 25kg of luggage and have priority check-in at dedicated counters and priority boarding.
How to get to Taiwan from Australia: Cathay Pacific has multiple flights a week to Taipei via Hong Kong from six major Australian cities, including at least three flights daily from Sydney; three from Melbourne; daily from Brisbane; seven weekly flights from Cairns and Adelaide; and ten weekly flights from Perth.
I’M gambling with God. Dicing with Dharma. Betting on Buddha. This adventure unravels in the Taiwanese capital of Taipei, in Long Shan Temple. And I’m essentially playing Taiwanese two-up but it’s not money I’m chasing, it’s love. Of all the temples in Taiwan, it’s here that people flock to seek answers to their lives. Want love? Money? Health? Success? Come to the Department of Deities. I’m lured into the temple by the peaceful hum of devout Buddhists.
Around me, people are playing some sort of interesting game involving two blocks of wood. And just when I think it’s all lost in translation, out of no where, a Californian Chinese woman whose name I later learn is Su Lin, shows me how it’s done.
“First you take a stick which has a number on it. Then, in your head, you tell Buddha your name, where you are from and what you are asking for (in my case: love),” Su Lin says.
“Then you take the two blocks of wood. If they both land face up, Buddha is still thinking about your request. If they both land face down, your request will not happen. If one lands face down and one lands face up, your request will come true.”
I nervously drop the blocks of wood. One lands face up and the other face down. Su Lin and I jump up and down like we’ve just won lotto. She takes the original number I selected and goes to a little cabinet from which she takes a corresponding piece of paper, all of it written in Chinese characters. She still doesn’t know my wish.
“Oh, you are very lucky,” she beams. “You will marry a man of honour.” I am then required to thank the Goddess of Mercy. Thank her? I could marry her myself for such good fortune.
This is a story of love and lanterns. At Hsinshu city, south of Taipei, the 2013 Taiwan Lantern Festival is underway to celebrate the last day of Chinese New Year and the first day of the full moon. If you think you’ve seen lanterns, think again. Every conceivable object has been transformed into an object of art. Delta Energy has also constructed the world’s largest outdoor projection screen which is 100 percent recycled at a cost of US$2 million.
Yes, things are changing in Taiwan where it’s a spell-binding blend of old and new. Here, 2000 year old lantern festivals and traditional food from its diverse regions, combine with concepts like conservation. The yin and the yang. For more contemporary Taiwanese experiences, head to Kaohsiung MRT in the south-west, where its Dome of Light ceiling has earned it the title of the second most beautiful tube station in the world after Montreal. At the nearby Ten Drum Ciatou Creative Park, they’re calling it “A Revolution of Drum Art” where an enterprising group of Taiwanese drummers – who performed at the 2000 Sydney Olympics – are taking tourists on a new beat. If you’ve enjoyed the show, you can even take a drum class.
Back in the north, about an hour east of Taipei in the usually sleepy village of Pingxi, the Sky Lantern Festival also takes place at this time of year. The traditional festival is held here, the home of waterfalls and mountains, as to have the smallest impact on the environment. Around 200,000 people congregate to write their wishes on a lantern and send it into the night sky. In my case, again, it’s love I shoot off to the stars.
According to Su Lin, the woman I met at the Long Shan Temple, should I meet my love, I must return with him to Taiwan to thank Buddha for making my dreams come true. I’m writing out wedding invitations as we speak.
The Global Goddess travelled to Taiwan in pure style courtesy of Cathay Pacific’s Premium Economy cabin. Launched in February 2012, the new Premium Economy experience features a more quiet, spacious cabin than the traditional Economy Class with between 26 and 34 seats per aircraft. The seat pitch is 38 inches – six inches more than Economy Class – and the seat itself is wider and has a bigger recline. Special features include a large meal table, a cocktail table, footrest, a 10.6 inch personal television, an in-seat power outlet, a multi-port connector for personal devices and extra personal stowage space. Premium Economy passengers are also allowed 25kg of luggage and have priority check-in at dedicated counters and priority boarding.
How to get to Taiwan from Australia: Cathay Pacific has multiple flights a week to Taipei via Hong Kong from six major Australian cities, including at least three flights daily from Sydney; three from Melbourne; daily from Brisbane; seven weekly flights from Cairns and Adelaide; and ten weekly flights from Perth.