Wednesday, 25 April 2012

At Night The Sand is Raked, The Lanterns Lit ...

Our holiday in December - January seems like aeons ago now (inevitably so). I find however, that I can still easily transport myself back to the sunny beach on Koh Sumet or the winter snows and crows in Japan. We have the photos. We have the memories.

To finish off the recollections of our holiday, I want to write a piece on the food we experienced both in Thailand and in Japan.

Firstly Thailand. Our first night there we walked to find a restaurant / cafe in order to experience the local fare. We had already sampled lunch at the hotel. Lots of fresh fruit and vegetables and the waiting staff were vigilant and courteous (as I've noted before, the 'Land of Smiles' is a truly apt title for Thailand and its people). The setting was hotel-like; clean and appealing. However that night we wanted to venture forth into the hot and humid (but not always salubrious) city environs around the hotel in order to experience what Thailand (or more precisely, Bangkok) had to offer.

I remember having to acclimatise to the whiff of sewers; part of the dust, dirt, heat and life of a city such as Bangkok. We walked down a long, long alley lined on both sides with stalls and their owners. Noise! Colour! Music! Smells! Humidity! Life! It's all there. Unfortunately I was tired (jet-lagged) and not really in the mood for all that razzamatazz.

We managed to find a cafe in a side street. It almost seemed like the small cafe was in someone's backyard, or garage, it had such an informal air. Our waitress was making mistakes and running to an fro giggling and smiling and chattering as she went. There was an atmosphere of fun and casual service. The food was average. I can't remember what we had; 'Thai' and 'fried' is about all I can remember. Robert remembers that that was where we had our first Chang beer. (Nice beer).

Steve, E. and the kids arrived the next day. We had dinner with them at a Thai restaurant near to a large mall. I couldn't write a better description of this meal than the one Steve has written on his blog - go here to read about it.

Every day during our stay at the beach resort on Koh Sumet, we were spoilt for choice as to where to go for lunch and dinner. At night the sand is raked, the lanterns lit, cushions and bean bags are laid out around low tables and the smells of sizzling, spicy meals flavour the air.

I couldn't hope to describe each meal. There was always an array and assortment of dishes to choose from and each meal our table was laden with choice. All delicious and very reasonably priced. Robert's favourite meal was a mussels with basil & chili sauce he had at one of the restaurants on the beach. (The Thai basil is delicious and very much part of Thai cooking ... it seems to be different to the basil I'm used to ...) I loved all the meals except one - a very bad pasta we had at a cafe with a couldn't-care-less attitude (unusual for Thailand).

What I loved about the meals on Koh Sumet was that we were having them with family. An abiding memory is the nightly fireworks and our grandson R. shouting "Hanabi! Hanabi!" (Hanabi is the Japanese word for fireworks - 'hana' meaning flower and 'bi' meaning fire).

Next post I will attempt to capture something of the meals and food we enjoyed in Japan.

Thursday, 12 April 2012


In English we'd call it a kind of racoon.
this souvenir from Japan, explained to us
in good-humor (our son translating)
by the woman in the gift shop
just down from the temple, crows
cawing from a dark nest of power lines,
schoolgirls in black knee-socks
and short pleated skirts, giggling
in bunches, arm-in-arm, stepping
lightly into the dying summer.

The shop owner that day itemised
what everything on the racoon meant,
right down to its over-sized, lucky balls.
Each thing about him, it seems, is symbolic.
Not on that first trip, but on our second,
we buy one to take back for our front door.
Straight away, he justifies our decision
and saves a forest-coloured waxeye
that trembled behind his fat belly,
a claw's length away

from where our cat had it cornered.
When I reached to free it, the bird felt warm
and light, a quivering feathered heart
beating as I lifted it, my open palm
offering it back to the sky, the trees
and to the day. Tanuki's lifted eyes
feigned ignorance. Just as nonchalant,
the cat flopped on the warm path
like an otter in a river. I watched
the bird fly back into summer.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Reference: Information can be found here on the Japanese Tanuki - a racoon dog, or badger.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Easter Break Photos

Autumn tints Arrowtown, Central Otago, New Zealand.

Garden seat in my in-law's garden.

Grandad's tomatoes.

Japanese peonies; in-law's garden, Queenstown

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Trick of the Light

For the final part of my recollections of our holiday in January of this year, I want to describe the food / meals we ate in Thailand and in Japan. However, right now it's hard for me to write cheerfully of our happy holiday. The sad news we received recently is still affecting me. Soon the memories of our holiday will merrily flow again I'm sure, but right now my inclination is to stop, take stock and consider  the present.

Today is Easter Saturday and we are at a golf course in Queenstown. Robert is playing while I sit in the car and read, snooze and write - every so often taking a stroll to the clubrooms for a coffee.

The weather is perfect. No wind and not a cloud in the sky. Here at the golf course, the silent lake can be seen through the trees. Despite its remote blue, its heft and unsettling depth feel very close.

A trick of the late-afternoon light as it strikes the peaks, flattens the Remarkables mountain range back against the sky where it lies, brown and grey, gasping for breath and snow.

The same light playing on the mountains on the other side of the lake (Cecil Peak and Walter Peak) gives them the hides of rhinos.

Robert has just trudged past with his golfing buddies-for-the-day (not being his local club as such, they are guys he doesn't know). His grin is rueful and he puts two fingers to his head as if to say, “Shoot me now”. I don't think he's having a good round.

I'm reading Fleur Adcock's collected poems. She's a master. I have also been thankful for the chance to at long last read my friend Joyce Ellen Davis' poetry collection, 'Pepek the Assassin'. Her work is masterful too; she surrenders poetry that is strong, fascinating, vital and trustworthy. Both poets give me confidence to relax as I read, thoroughly absorbing the journeys they take me on. After each poem, I feel glad, satisfied, often astonished.

It's getting on into the afternoon now, every so often, a jet roars off from the airport. Helicopters rattle overhead. 

A wood pigeon (kereru) crashes into the pines, its wings whipping the air as it flies over.

The day is entering a new phase; late-afternoon, early-evening. I am looking around me, listening to golf shoes getting bashed together to loosen the grass and dirt from between spikes, the sound echoing off the hills; to players talking about the rounds they have just played and coming to some agreement about scores as they fill in their cards; to the sound of stones popping and crunching under the tyres of cars as they slowly make their exit from the car park. I hear chortles and creaks from birds as they settle into the trees. 

The warmth of the autumn sun is fading, the shadows are filling in the light and a coolness is starting to fall over the grass and paths. It is time to go.

Clocking Out

 I have been neglecting this blog for some months. I think perhaps I should face facts and accept that it is indeed time to retire this blog...