Brian Edwards Media

Posts Tagged 'Travel'

Fresh off the boat

You probably know by now that we’re in Raro. We reckon it’s our 15th visit, a sort of home from home. So we know the place and the people pretty well. Actually, we thought we knew everything. But we were wrong. This time we’ve made a find.

There are a stack of good restaurants in Rarotonga, but every now and then you come across something extra special – in this case an eatery where you can feast on the yummiest meal you’ve ever had, bring your own wine and walk away with a bill of just $24 – for two! Yep, that’s $12 a head for the most popular item on the menu, the “Fresh Off The Boat” sandwich.

The “Fresh Off The Boat” sandwich is exactly what it claims to be – a sandwich made with fish caught that day, filleted on the boat at the end of the jetty, crumbed, seared on a hotplate  and served in a soft Turkish bread  sandwich with lettuce and tomato coated in a delicious lime mayo dressing. Unless there’s a queue – and the word is getting out – you’ll wait no more than a few minutes for this food of the gods to appear as you sip your chardonnay under the umbrella at  your picnic table, bask in the tropic heat and look at the sea. And if the “Fresh Off The Boat Sandwich” isn’t to die for, I’ll eat KFC for a week.

Have I missed anything? Oh yes, the name of the eatery and where to find it. Well, look for the sign to the Avana Fishing Club, near Muri. It’s there. And don’t expect a flash restaurant. Your food – and there’s an extensive menu of treats – will be prepared and cooked in a converted shipping container by some very nice (and very attractive) ladies.

It’s the low season here in Rarotonga – sun, sea, sand and no waiting. So if I may borrow from our Aussie neighbours – where the bloody hell are you?

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The Sounds of Silence…

 

We’re in Rarotonga, which feels like our second home these days, having a busy time doing very little. Hence the ominous silence on the media/political/current affairs front. 

Relax – the Patron Saint of Unpopular Causes will be back with you shortly.

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Before you think about booking a cheap flight…

Here’s a little warning for all our gentle readers who are contemplating air travel during the holiday season.

(Warning – bad language may offend!)

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Guardians of the Frontier – An Unflattering Look at Immigration Officers

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In an earlier incarnation, more than a quarter of a century ago, I was contracted by the State Services Commission to media train public servants. With my Fair Go colleague Judith Fyfe – she of the huge, eccentric specs – we put people from pretty well every government department through crash courses on handling the press, radio and television. We enjoyed these sessions and so, mostly, did the participants. But, after a time, we began to notice that the personalities, and even the wardrobes of our students, very much reflected the departments they came from.

So the Foreign Affairs people were witty, urbane and looked as though they’d just stepped out of a Moss Bros commercial.

The Social Welfare people were rather worthy, appeared not to have had time to brush their hair, and their wardrobe must have come from their local op shop. We concluded that this might be deliberately intended to help them fit in with their clients.

The Treasury people, who all had first class honours degrees from Oxbridge, were dressed like university dons and invariably began by making it absolutely clear that they had nothing to learn from anybody, least of all subhuman media whores like us. We enjoyed reducing them to gibbering wrecks during the interviews. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Man of Letters

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Mr Ngô writes letters. He writes letters in a small, neat hand on almost transparently thin paper. He writes letters for other people, people who can’t write letters for themselves.

Mr Ngô is the Last Public Letter Writer.

Mr Ngô is 80 years old. He is tiny, less than 150cm tall, with bright eyes, a ready smile and dignified, old-fashioned courtesy. He has been working at the Main Post Office in Saigon for 63 years. He retired officially many years ago, but he still comes to work every day. He still sits in the same place and people still queue up patiently for him to write letters in their native Vietnamese, or translate for them into English or French.

His short sight isn’t so good these days. He has to use a magnifying glass to make out words in his worn little dictionaries, soft and fattened with constant handling. Mr Ngô is very precise. The words must be correct. These are letters of importance, of special events, of births, deaths, marriages. You don’t go to a Public Letter Writer on a whim.

This special job is carried out in a special place. The Main Post Office in Saigon is worthy of any European capital. It was built in grandiose French style in the 19th Century and is one of the most imposing buildings in the city. The Town Hall, you think. Parliament Buildings.  No, the post office. It’s a place you’d be proud to work, even for 63 years.

So if you ever go to the Main Post Office in Saigon, you should try to make the acquaintance of Mr Ngô. It is a privilege to meet the Last Public Letter Writer.

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Random thoughts en route – hotels from the sublime to the shabby.

 

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We used to have this weird habit of paying mega-bucks to travel business class, then skimping on our accommodation. It makes no sense. You spend hours in a plane, days in a hotel. We’ve come to realise that the quality of your hotel room dictates the overall pleasure of your trip. The best day is enhanced, the worst day is soothed by a spacious, pleasant room and charming staff.  We don’t want spas, multiple flash restaurants, bars or enormous foyers – we just want a lovely room and somewhere to get breakfast, but hey, we’ll happily wander down the road to the nearest diner if the accommodation’s good enough.

We’ve talked about this trip to Vietnam for years. Other priorities, too much work, bird ‘flu etc have delayed it until now, so we decided to do this properly and in comfort. This is one of the trips where you save and splurge. We wanted comfort to cope with bouts of culture shock. Read the rest of this entry »

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Random thoughts en route – Eating our way from North to South

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Our affair with Vietnamese food began a few months ago in Sydney. Miss Saigon in Balmain East serves food that is not only perfect for Brian’s diabetes, but so yummy that we ate there three times during our weeklong stay. 

Like any good Mills and Boon, this love affair didn’t start auspiciously. I wanted the fresh spring rolls with roasted duck, vermicelli and fresh salad. Two large objects arrived at the table and we looked at them with distaste. I’ve been trying to find a delicate way to describe them, but truly, they looked like turds in condoms. Fortunately we were starving, because nothing else could have persuaded us to taste them. They were delicious, as was the chicken with onion and ginger sauce, the delicate rice and everything else we tried from the menu. I was told by Auckland Vietnamese that the food in Sydney has become “Aussified”, and that the real thing was even better.

So treating Singapore restaurants as a training run, we hit Hanoi with the intention of eating like the locals. The locals, however, seem to squat on kindy-sized stools on the pavement, and we’re too old, stiff and wary to try that.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Rainy Season Blues

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You know there’s something amiss with your holiday when you wake up thinking how nice it would be if you were going home. That was first thing this morning.

We’d taken the hour long flight from Hanoi to Hue on Vietnam Airlines the previous day without incident, other than the fact (agreed by all the passengers) that the First Officer who was flying the plane was either drunk or had yet to pass Piloting 101. To be fair, he was OK on the flat bits; it was taking off and landing that had him stumped. People were crossing themselves and praying as we thundered endlessly down the runway on take-off with absolutely no sign of actually taking off.

‘We’re going to run out of runway,’ the plump American lady in the seat next to me said. She had barely finished the sentence than we were in the air. A steep climb was followed by a stomach-losing, roller coaster dive and a collective passenger cry of ‘Wow!’. Read the rest of this entry »

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Random thoughts en route – Hanoi.

 

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In Hanoi the sky is leaden, the city grey and misty. We are told it was fine until we arrived.  The first two days it poured.  We were dragged through the teaming rain by our determined guide to admire Ho Chi Minh’s grim mausoleum, and be earnestly instructed at the Temple of Literature, its grounds rapidly becoming a lake. Old ladies gleefully cashing in, offering paper-thin plastic rain capes for inflated prices at every monument. We buy them with gratitude. Soaked jeans, soaked trainers  and increasing misery.  We called a halt. Enough sight-seeing in the rain. Stopped at Shoe Street on the way back for a $20 pair of “Nikes”.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Random thoughts en route – Singapore

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I like Singapore. I like the city, I like the people, I even like the steamy heat.   When Lee Kuan Yew was asked to name the greatest invention of the 20th century he nominated air conditioning, and I’ll admit that it’s only the chill relief of stepping into a building or hotel that makes the heat enjoyable.

Our travel agent cut an amazing deal so we’re staying at the Ritz Carlton. Luxury, silence and a wonderful view from our room.  Who can ask for more? 

Singapore is always building. Illuminated cranes etch the night sky, the new casino is set to bleed the locals dry in a few months, but there’s another botanical garden being built with as much enthusiasm and as many investment dollars.

Singaporeans live to eat and shop.  They’re well-catered for. Brilliant food is everywhere and cheap as chips – even the famous Blue Ginger fails to dent the credit card. Orchard Road slides from Armani to Prada to Louis Vuitton. Chinatown is preparing for Chinese New Year, and there is slightly less subtlety – garish reds and golds, accompanied by a joyous sense of expectation. The Year of the Tiger is on the way; good times are coming.

Brian has a love/hate relationship with the city. Everyone’s too happy for his comfort. Gaggles of young people crowd the malls, the waterfront and the restaurants, laughing and chatting with an innocence that belongs in an earlier decade; the already spotless streets are swept nightly by nanny-state machines;  there’s a touch of the British Raj in the discipline and scrupulous politeness. It’s Happy Days, Brave New World, and it makes him uneasy.  Me, I lap up the ease and security of the place, I applaud the pride the people have in their island state – until it slips into jingoism, but that generally belongs in the public sphere, not on the streets where we prowl, eating and shopping with the locals. I try not to think about legal system and its style of justice.

Tomorrow we’re off to Hanoi. I think it’s going to be something of a culture shock!

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