Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hometown Glory

Slackedy slacks-ville on the blogging front, n'est-ce pas?

Oh sorry, didn't mean to slip into French there, it's just I'M IN FRANCE.

Yes, mes amis. I sit here in the kitchen I am somewhat lovingly chained to at the moment, sipping my red wine (even the box stuff tastes bloody good here in the vingoble de Cahors); a quiche in the oven, a beret on my head, the outside pitch-black at 5:30pm.

I returned a little while ago from the most delicious run I've had in a while (in fact the deliciousness extended to actually ingesting a fly- that'll teach me to whoop with glee when overcome with joie-de-vivre and runner's high). I crossed the river and found a track that led from Touzac to Duravel- a town about 5 kilometres away- and pounded not the pavement I've become accustomed to from my last few weeks of London runs, but a lovely rusty-golden smoosh, with the river on my right and white cliffs on my left, French cars conduiring above them, water dripping down them. I ran past donkeys and through vineyards; a group of men working on a cherry picker waved frantically at me and yelled “oh-la-la-la-la...” quite a lot: it pleased me; a rainbow touched the top of a church spire in the distance.

… Sorry, does this all sound disgustingly quaint and picturesque? It was. It is. I feel your pain: I was the one experiencing this extreme beauty, and I almost vomited myself from the gorgeousness.

And yet, paired with this appreciation of the fact that I may never again experience such a belle balance of orchards/wine/stylishly-worn caps/ridiculously-perfectly-placed rainbows, is a better understanding of that notion of aesthetic beauty not being enough. Something to do with the inner/outer beauty importance debate. Something along those lines...

Because I'm homesick. It's coming and going. And it's not necessarily a bad thing, because as I recounted to Paddy (who has a lot to answer for when looking to the root of my aforementioned maladie de la maison) the other day, running along a country lane and managing to cry simultaneously is not only quite an impressive skill... it's kind of special. That's love and family in action, you know? And in some sick, sadistic way, I sort of enjoy putting on my homesick mix and shedding a little salty fella and not just thinking about the people I love on the other side of the world, but viscerally feeling their absence in my life.

Oh this is all very dramatic-sounding isn't it? Don't think I'm all sad-sacky here. On Saturday night I went to the the opening of the café here in Touzac. I danced with the beautiful little girl I'm looking after, in the style of the various foods we were eating (ie. We did The Jelly Dance, The Chip Dance, The Peanut Butter Dance...). I drank lots of white wine with cassis in it, as is the French way. I sang with two amazing guitarists (my heart soared), and spoke more French that I have in the last five years. Two days ago I wrote a song on my guitar that doesn't make me completely cringe with lameness. Last night I made beef bourginon. Today I put together a (fingers-crossed) successful pastry crust. Tomorrow I'm going to a jam session, rural-France style.

La vie est belle.

Claire, Chef de la maison.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

This doesn't look good...

Am I getting... clucky??

I seem to be swooning over very lame-feeling things. Well they're not lame, per-se. I just feel a bit lame for swooning...

Yesterday I sat in park in Greenwich (why yes, of Mean Time Fame) and watched a ridiculously cute curly-haired girl run around her dad about six times in a row; I think I audibly said "oh!". There was another vomit-inducing smile moment from Claire in the same park as aforementioned-child fell over (one too many Dad circuits?) and did that thing where she looked to Dad for some sort of cue (ie. "Should I start crying now...?") and Dad warded her off with a cute little "Up!" commandment.

And again, in the park of Fawning Claire, I saw a kid riding a (fricking wicked) bike with his grandparents in tow. Both grandparents had really sweet-as old bikes, and Gran was wearing leather pants, and I thought: "One day, I too shall be Gran Of The Leather Pants and Excellent Bike".

(Tangent: two dudes, both dressed very London-cool like, probably about 30, straddling either end of a see-saw, each with a very cute little boy in front of them, both singing 'Row Row Row Your Boat...' quite loudly, much to small lads' delight. I smiled at this darling little scene, but also thought "I bet three years ago when you were standing in some uber-trendy bar in central London being uber-cool you did not think three years from now I will probably be singing 'Row Row Row Your Boat...' loudly on a see-saw... but just look how much you're enjoying it.")

(Tangent of tangent: I then thought it was quite funny how easily (and appropriately) in singing 'Row Row Row Your Boat...' in the middle of a playground, simple word-substitution could end you up singing "if you see a paedophile, don't forget to scream..."
/end inappropriate thought processes.)

And I'm in the midst of one of my cooking-obsessed phases. Like, I trawl through recipe sites for hours on end, and I feel really in-charge and yet chilled out whipping something up in the warm little kitchen that is temporarily allowing me to reign over it here in west London. Sometimes I have multiple courses on the go, and well, then I just feel completely in charge, baby!

Making stupid faces/noises at the site of small humans, feeling really 'at home' in the kitchen, enjoying warm nights in with a glass of wine as opposed to cold nights out on the town... oh dear...

... should be right as long as I don't start discussing favourite colour choices for house paint or getting too excited about storage solutions.

Chicken Claire

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Words by Abby Dobson, echoing thoughts by Claire

All my lights are out
This is not my kind of bliss
My painted lips are numb
In this stranger's empty kiss

I saw shadows at your feet
My empty shoes have left me here
I knew then that the rain would come
When we watched the rainbow disappear

I'm not missing you
I'm not staring into space
I'm not blue, I'm not blue

I'm not holding on
Even to the lack of you
I'm not running movies in my head
I'm not searching for your feet in bed
I'm not sleeping in your t-shirt
Baby I'm not making tea for two

I'm not missing you
I'm not staring into space
I'm not blue, I'm not blue

And dreams will fly
Just one more night
And I'll let you go
Just like a kite
I won't turn around
I'll wake up singing again

For the first time and forever
I say a million times goodnight
It seems easier to love everybody
Than to love just one man right

I'm not missing you
I'm not staring into space
I'm not blue, I'm not blue

Monday, October 18, 2010

Problem solvered!

Icicle hands on morning runs! Oh no!

Why hello, Poundland!

Now s'all good in the Wessssside!

Trial run tomorrow...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

88 today...

Happy Birthday Grandma McEvoy.
I hope one day I am as beautiful as you.

Friday, October 15, 2010

It started off a bit pooey...

I woke up and my tootsies were cold and my arm was dead because my neural system could do with some yoga. I felt London blues sneaking into bed with me. I sat up in bed (they sat next to me under the very snuggly doona). I put the laptop on my lap. I spent a good hour scrolling through endless ads for jobs; each one felt like it either didn't quite need a Claire, or Claire didn't quite need it. I put my running clothes on. Then I took them off because I realised I didn't feel like running. Then I realised I was being mopey and sitting in my bed with the London blues and not sitting in a beautiful spot in London somewhere, so I got up.

Shower, fun clothes, red lipstick and Dorothy shoes. A cup of tea, some suggested cool spots to check out from my lovely host, music in the ears and out the door. A train to the Tate Modern Gallery and a rendezvous with Brad and Luisa (the New Zealanders trying similarly to settle in London post Asia Amazingness). I remembered I wasn't the only one doing this: feeling a bit under the pump to keep up with London Life, so I shouldn't feel too sorry for myself, or like nothing will eventuate. And I was reminded of the fact that I often want things to happen too fast, or all at once, and I should just chill out and enjoy the Being A Bum-ness while its there. Some amazing photos (amongst the Bits Of Art I Didn't Really Get Or Enjoy) by August Sander were breathtaking.

I walked along the South Bank, with beautiful buildings and talented buskers, and found my way to the Borough Markets. And Oh What Joys met my eyes/nose/heart. I got a cup of mulled wine and wandered, tasting bits of cheese/garlic butter/seafood stew/pistachio turkish delight, sold by charismatic and cooly dishevelled young men, and I felt like I could pretend I was way hipper than I am just walking around amongst so much food passion. It was glorious and heart-warming.

... and I just felt immensely happy sitting down to this sexy little spread: home made pumpkin soup (bloody brilliant batch, I'm not going to lie), blue cheese, and baguette and mushroom pâté (*dies/goes to heaven*) and a glass of Australian red wine in a suitably-sized glass. And Stephen Fry is on the telly.

Claire, calmed.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Some initial London matters...

~£~ Absolute silence on the Tube from the airport… I almost felt the need to pull out a “would you rather..?” with my fellow Tubers just to break it... and it continued as I walked across the Thames on the Putney footbridge. It was a Sunday morning, yes, and it was cold, yes, but still: I felt like a Mum who'd just escaped into the bedroom after 4 months of non-stop noise from needy, overexcited children.

~£~ Cold, crisp air. No sweat. No sweat?! How will my body cope?! I'm wearing Burberry instead of Eau de Stinky Lass. It's a nice feeling. But this also signifies the sudden downturn in Vitamin D levels, the fading of my glorious (OK, mild) tan, and a step towards potential seasonal depression.

~£~ Space. Footpaths that are straight and clean and not a series of potential ankle-rolling opportunities. It's a runner's dream, especially when combined with aforementioned cold air (although gloves will need to be purchased).

~£~ Decreased smile factor, as predicted. Am trying hard to give a grin to all fellow runners in the morning. Why are we so afraid of projecting happy vibes towards fellow people on the street? Why is it OK to stare and smile sexily in bars but we freak out about doing that in public spaces without smoke/alcohol/sexy lighting/sexy dresses?

~£~ Being back in The West and freaking out, pretty much on arrival, about lack of plan. Wishing could keep aforementioned freak outs at bay, but feeling definite need to make a fucking life plan or something. Feeling stupidly relieved by acquisition of phone and laptop. Actually not even ashamed about laptop- feel like have small child that I need to look after and take everywhere with me and treat with love and devotion.

~£~ Perving on London boys and girls and their amazing fashion. Cool glasses (damn why aren't I blind), great hair, careless chic, tight tights. I'm feeling bright colours at the moment, combatting potential winter blues (read: greys, blacks, boring browns.)

~£~ Drinking wine out of big glasses. Not glasses like the sexy Londoners are wearing, that would be entirely impractical. No no: big, voluptuous, sparkling beauties. I could be drinking corgi urine out of them and still be having a thoroughly lovely time, I think.

~£~ Initial attempts to carry out romantic notions of sitting in coffee shops and using laptop to boast about carrying out romantic notions of sitting in coffee shops with laptop thwarted: internet not working here, internet not free there. Come on London, you're making Asia look much better than you!

~£~ There is a man sitting across from me who looks like Zac Braff. That's a bit cool.

~£~ Update on the Rushdie situation: Midnight's Children- finished. At about 5am on another shitey sleep night. Saw a picture of Salman in the paper in London the other day. Pretty much like seeing my best friend.

~£~ I think it's almost time for me to step away from dot points for awhile. I do love them so, but I'm beginning to feel a bit cheap and nasty. Would my life feel more substantial if I embraced The Paragraph?

Love Cold Claire, warmed only by the razzle dazzle of the lights of the West End and lots of wine.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Some grapes and gripes in the final days of Asia

I am...

+ In Yogyakarta, Indonesia. It is busy, filled with young people, come cool street art and good good food.

+ Lucky to have spoken (or typed) with some special people today, including Simon, my Grandma, Maura, Tim, Rodney and Jono.

+ Spending lots of chilled out time with Maryke, beautiful cousin and excellent friend. It's a good reminder of how special family is. And of her slightly evil laugh when something misfortunate happens. We are spending time pining happily for Adelaide beach, space and people.

+ Feeling ready to put my bags down for an extended period of time.

+ Revelling in doing not much and not feeling guilty or anything about it. I could go and see some more of Java before I head to Jakarta at the end of the week, but to be honest, can't be bothered, am happy to

+ Actually looking forward to feeling a bit chilly.

+ Ready for some high heels, red lipstick and a glass of wine.

+ Not too poor to keep going!

+ Feeling a bit excellent for having almost finished 'Midnight's Children' by Salman Rushdie. It's not an easy read, I'm not entirely sure if I like it all in all (although there are some excellent sight and smells painted by his crazy roaming narrative, and he does use the word 'farts'). BUT I feel like I'll be a better person if I can get through it, and I feel a bit good carrying around a large large book and being all "Oh this? Why yes, I AM currently reading Rushdie...(just don't ask me what the heck's going on)"

+ Still loving Asia and already having thoughts about coming back. China next perhaps? Return to Cambodia with the family in tow?

But also...

- A bit over feeling silly/naughty/crazy/underdressed for running around the place.

- Ready to wear some non-conservative clothing.

- A little bit scared about my lack of plans (but excited by the possibilities).

- Sending paperwork here and there and feeling like it's mostly bullshit. Can't one country just say to the other country "Yeah, she's an alright physio, give her a job I reckon" and that be the end of it?!

- Materialistic at the heart of it all, probably. Asia has given me a LOT, but I don't seem to have lost my desire to hoard large amounts of clothing and wear something different every day. This does not fit well with the 'clothes on my back' lifestyle.

- Desperately missing having a big old sing and dance.

In short, life's great: I have two legs and two arms and people who love me and I love and no responsibilities and lots of possibilities.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Malaysia #1

When last we met with our intrepid traveller, she was awake at an ungodly hour of the morning, slaving over an homage to Asian cuisine. On the cusp of striding boldly over the Thai-Malaysia border, she knew little of what lay in front of her, but felt excited at the prospect of wringing out after the soggy town of Krabi, and in need of a fresh environment after too much lazing about and crappy Western-friendly Asian food in south Thailand. She had realised that while a portion of island living was fun, she was no Tom Hanks, and would need more stimulation than a soccer ball and white sand to keep her sane…

The Dutchman-with-the-Mexican-meal-name and I left Krabi, Kev and Yass (and her broken foot) on a drizzly morning, and took a minivan all the way to Trang (and sunshine!). The town was darling, with a large dollop of Chinese influence, and a 1970s industrial town sort of feel to it. The little men who ran stores were charming, their wives were no-nonsense (I felt obligated to buy a pair of shoes that didn’t even fit me properly- the small woman had so much anger in her eyes! She made me do it!). The girls wore cute school pinafores and had matching bob haircuts. There was no doubt we were the only tourists in town at the time. I loved the bean cakes, pork buns, wandering at the night markets, and our dim sum feast just before leaving town the next morning.

A bus to Satun, a taxi to the pier, a slight hitch involving the realisation that both Taco and I had overstayed our welcome in Thailand and some subsequent fee-paying (to very apologetic Thai border officials), and on to the ferry to Pulau Langkawi. A new stamp in the passport: triple-check allowed length-of-stay this time, and we were in Malaysia.

From the outset, Langkawi was a bit non-eventful. We were there for the last couple of days of Ramadan, so a lot of locals had left to return to their hometowns (or were just staying inside conserving their energy since they weren’t eating very much). The beaches were nice, but not that nice. The food was OK. A motorbike trip around the island revealed some interesting road kill (giant lizard, monkey…), a giant statue of an eagle, and lots of trees. Oh! And I did learn how to play backgammon.

It was not with heavy hearts that we boarded the ferry to Penang. Not heavy hearts, no, just a lot of children who I think consumed more than enough sugar at end-of-Ramadan celebrations. We arrived in Georgetown at night, but I felt as though the yellow lights of the port we pulled into were saying to me: “Claire. Welcome. Come on into Georgetown. I have pretty buildings and clean, wide streets and the sense of coolness that you have been searching for…” We hauled heavy bags to Love Lane, and were beckoned into The Secret Garden guesthouse by a bunch of people sitting out the front eating satay. And how can you say no to people with satay, really? The foyer was more like a really classy living room, with French-feeling décor, high ceilings and classy tunes on a sweet stereo system. We were taken out that night by one of the locals to Little India, which was well and truly alive and kicking. It was sensory overload squeezing through the streets: bright yellow trishaws with pinwheels and tinsel, loud Indian pop blaring out from shops, big strong wafts of curry and incense, and men slapping rounds of roti dough on sizzling slabs of cast iron. There was a lot of ooh-ing and ah-ing on my part, I may have danced gleefully at some stage, I’m not going to lie. Masala dosei + Kingfisher beer= very happy tumtum and the best welcome to a town thus far.

Just next to Little India sits Chinatown. I really swooned over the grotty, whitewashed buildings with signs from the 70s painted on them, crammed with their chosen wares (stationary, random electrical goods, shrines and streamers…) Oh and the food!...
• Char kuay teow thrown together in a wok with perfect amounts of oil/garlic/chili/soy;
• Little satay skewers fanned lovingly by dudes with their caps on backwards;
• Wontons in soup made from rice papers so fresh they were almost dissolvable;
• Cendol: shaved ice in a little bowl with pandan-leaf glutinous little wormy things glowing bright green in coconut milk and palm sugar syrup;
• Freshly deep-fried banana balls…
A grazing approach was employed: eat consistently, try everything.

What else did Panang provide?
…A few glimpses of monkeys at the (world’s smallest) national park.
…Lots of cheap beer and Yahzee playing fields at a (?slightly not entirely legal) little booze shop around the corner
…A big, bright, beautiful Buddhist temple- Kek Lok Si
…Nice chats and dice-rolling with Teo the Scotsman
…A place I felt I could hang out in for a longer period of time
…One more day than intended due to missing a 5am bus: curse you Casio watch! You may look cool but where are your obtrusive and insistent alarm abilities when we need them?!

Stay tuned for installment 2: Escape from Penang.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Five am food musings

I am once again struck by the insomnia that has accompanied me throughout my travels so far. Friends from home will attest to my usual Sleep-Anywhere-and-Sleep-Deep mode- I can occasionally be the Death Of The Party, making myself comfortable on other peoples' couches when tiredness sets in- but it has been rare for me to sleep the whole night through since being away from home. Perhaps the Asian way of life is rubbing off on me (get up at 5am, cook 6987kg of rice for whole family, ready whole family for day, work for 12 hours- with lots of naps during the day of course, come home, cook another 6987kg of rice, eat, clean, sleep, repeat...)... perhaps not.

But instead of bemoaning the fact that I am awake to see the night turn to day (look at that! I glanced up at there was light outside the window!), I have decide to harness the power of the insomnia, and reflect on one of my favourite portions (no pun intended here) of my sojourning (and let's face it, life in general) thus far- The Eating. Whilst my memories of being away- the list of Impressive Things I Have Done In Other Countries, the intensity of the imagery in the myriad places visited- will no doubt fade, I am safe in the knowledge that the smells up my nostrils, the tastes in my mouth, and the emotional elements of some of the eating experiences I have had, will endure.

Home or away, I am generally quite excitable when it comes to mealtimes. I love a grumbly tummy satisfied by a tasty morsel, which serves not only to ensure survival (yay life), but also to make people close their eyes, lick their lips, hold their hand to their chest and go "oh my GOD that is good." Tim- cousin/housemate/friend/excellent cook- is one person capable of bringing about such responses. Some people are innately good at doing amazing things with food. The McEvoy Clan are one such group of people. And while my cooking abilities definitely do not rate nearly as highly, I am bloody good at enjoying food, and enjoying times with people who enjoy enjoying food. The stream of goodbye catch-ups prior to leaving Adelaide were essentially food-based, and friends- I don´t want you to feel like I was using you as an excuse to wrap my tastebuds around the best drinkies and eaties our fair city has to offer in my final days, but essentially... I was.

Asian cuisine has always been Numero Uno for me. I like the strong hit of quickly-frying garlic in a wok up my nose (... perhaps not the best layout of words there- I now have an image of me with a giant Asian metal cooking implement up my snoz), the sinus-clearing power of a baby chilli, the cleansing feel of eating giraffe-friendly portions of Asian greens. So I've been like a pig in poo being able to sample Asian delights every day! I have no qualms stating that I am quite happy to travel to a place simply to sample their food specialties: "Pfft! Mountains? Seas? Monkeys? Give me your curry and be gone, for I shall know all I need to know of this place!"

So, on the verge of leaving Thailand (but not before a stop-off in Trang to get on the Dim Sum and BBQ pork bandwagon of the little Chinese-infused town) what has this country given me (or more specifically, my tum-tum)...?
+ Curries. and excellent ones. Green, red, yellow, mussaman, panang. Cha-ching!
+ Noodles. I have had some excellent Pad Thais, but my best noodle dish so far was probably the kway-teow-like dish I got from a lovely lady who has a little street-vendor stall up the road here in Ao Nang: big, fat, fresh rice noodles, sizzled in a work with greens, cashews, lots of chilli and lime.
+ Fish. Last night we had a freshly-caught, whole red snapper grilled on the BBQ doused in a delicious Thai-sauce (perhaps tamarind-based?). I made the fish's mouth open and close to say "eat me." And then I did. (And joy-of-joys, we found sticky rice again to eat with it!)
+ Soups. Tom Yam, Tom Kai Gai: the many, delicious faces of Tom. Flavoured to the hilt with big slices of galangal, whole kaffir lime leaves, chopped chillies and chunks of lemongrass.

And, reflecting on the last few months, what are some of the other standout eating moments...?
+ Fresh French pastries in a classy paper bag at the Vientiane airport with Shak, just before saying goodbye.
+ The cooking class in Luang Prabang- probably the best meal I've had since being away, and I managed to have a hand (albeit it a small, and fairly directly-guided one) in making it! Fried rice salad, The Best Spring Rolls, Sticky Rice With Mango (another potential future life partner for me), sweet and sour fish, coconut chicken parcels steamed in banana leaves.
+ Delicious Italian feast before leaving Koh Tao the other night- I know I know, not particularly Asian, but I have no shame in eating the wrong type of cuisine if it's going to taste that good- I hadn't had pizza in a loooong time.
+ Fillet of fish on a stick from the Vientiane night markets.
+ The best fish amok in Mondulkiri, Cambodia.
+ Eating at Bananas! in Mondulkiri with Niamh- essentially just sitting at the dining table of a crazy Dutch lady eating Flemish stew, home-made pate, hand-cut chips and huge bowls of soup, while she told us stories generally involving her dislike for the French. We went back again.
+ Amazing club sandwich and fries at Riverside in Phnom Penh with Niamh on a night where some western fare was being craved heavily.
+ Mango with Sticky Rice, saved for me on a night when I wasn't home for dinner in Phnom Penh by the gorgeous cooks.
+ Huge pieces of barramundi and wine from big glasses out to dinner with Emily B, her Ma, and lots of the volunteer crew and the famed FCC in Phnom Penh.
+ Noodle soup throughout Laos. The best I think was in Vientiane, eaten by myself, with my novel and my diary, the steaming bowl accompanied by a plate of heaped greens, herbs, chillies, and a little pot of satay.
+ The Baked Goods with Lis and Jess on Don Det...

The list goes on, as do the lovely memories, and these will no doubt be added to as I jump into Malaysia in a couple of days time, supremely excited, especially about Penang and the delicacies it has to offer, and ESPECIALLY on the recommendation of one of the finest foodies I know, Michelle (

Happy eating!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Island hopping

This first day of Spring (Australianly-speaking- it's still just bloody hot here) finds me in an internet cafe (the term 'cafe' is used liberally here- there is never any caffeine involved, only crappy fans and disinterested store-owners) on Koh Tao, Thailand.

Since last update, I have:

- Had a wicked week-point-five with Shak in the North of Laos- the crazy, tourist-infested Vang Vieng; the lovely, colonial, upmarket Luang Prabang. Waterfalls, bikes, temples, kayaks. A beautiful bus ride filled with amazing mountain views. A horrible night bus ride filled with Laos karaoke blaring at ridiculous volumes and no leg room.
- Said goodbye to Laos and its noodle soupy goodness and Beer Lao; and hello to Thailand and its Pad Thais (some amazing, some not) and Chang.
- Become a little browner (although this is McEvoy skin we're talking about, so really a sort of patchy pinky-grey is probably a more apt description). I know it's not veru lady-like but DAMN it feels good to peel skin off a burning tummy.
- Taken a couple of night trains: quaint, cosy, quick; MUCH better than bus trips!
- Learnt a couple of new travelling games and some Dutch phrases in the company of my current companions, the Holland Homies: Yasmen, Taco and Kevin.
- Attended the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan. Once was good, but once was enough.
- SHNORKELLED! And seen some very pretty fish and very pretty coral.
- Been slack at writing in my diary.
- Missed home. Talked with some people to remedy this to some degree.
- Started to think about the whole Actually Going To London Rather Than Spending The Rest Of My Days Traipsing Around Asia thing. Still a little apprehensive on this front, but looking forward to seeing old and new friends, being cold (for the first 5 minutes at least), singing and dancing again in come capacity other than on a dance floor in Asia scaring the locals, and saying "lit-rally" a lot.
- Felt a little bit lost at times.
- Appreciated life.

A nice end-of-the-day ritual has been playing "Grapes and Gripes", introduced to me at Physio staff meetings in Whyalla on my final year placement. Your grape is the best thing that happened to you during the day, your gripe is the worst. It doesn't have to be the big obvious things. It's a nice way to reflect. Give it a go!

Love Claire xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxox (now all hugged and kissed out)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Laos by numbers

One is the number of...

* Dollars paid for a big 750mL bottle of Beer Lao. This beer is quite excellent, to be honest with you, readers: a thirst-quenching beverage to wash down a sunset over the Mekong, the perfect accompaniment to a spicy Laos lap, a surefire way to make the most of a pack of cards late at night.

* Bottles of aforementioned Beer Lao I am consuming each day minimum. In the heat it goes down all too easy. Tonight I am definitely not having one (my liver thanks me, my heart does not.)

* Minutes in between giant smiles from the Laos locals maximum. Especially in the countryside, the pearly whites of these gorgeous humans (actually not so pearly really, thanks to the thickness of Laos coffee and poor dental hygeine) are flashed frequently, and always up my Happy Factor.

Two is the number of...

* Hashes I have now done. My first was in Phnom Penh. Last night I took part in the weekly Monday Night Hash in Vientiane. Hashing is a worldwide phenomenon that I cannot believe was unknown to me for so long. It's sort of like orienteering, only slightly less organised and much more beer-ified. See this link for a bit more info on what exactly Hashing is:
Basically there's a lot of running/walking/skipping/meandering, a lot of yelling "ON ON!", a lot of naughty names and odd rituals, and a lot of beer drinking. I am definitely planning on finding more as I traverse Asia/The World, and would encourage anyone to give it a bash. It's a great way to get to know a place as well, as a traveller- I've seen parts of the cities I wouldn't have come across otherwise, and met some great ex-pats and locals, all of whom are wonderfully termed "drinkers with a running problem". I like it.

* Minor falls I have had from a motorbike (scooter really, but I sound a bit more hardcore if I say motorbike, don't I?). The Bolaven Plateau tour was one of the best experiences I have had since being away. This said, the rainy season meant that a couple of spots were a bit muddier than usual, and the motorbike decided twice to get on top of me slightly.

* Legs injured in the falls noted above. The first was quite an impressive engine burn on my right leg- it's funny how it takes a few seconds before the old brain goes "aaaaand now there must be a hole in my pants, because there's quite a lot of pain on my leg...". The second was not so bad, but probably looked just as stupid to my travelling companions and the onlooking locals, as I slowly slipped off to the left side of the bike, travelling through yet another muddy patch at approximately 0.5km/hr. Just a bit of a bleed on the left leg this time. I'm nothing if not symmetrical, ladies and gents.

Three is the number of...

* Days spent riding on the Bolaven Plateau. Some beautiful waterfalls, the occasional lashing of rain, fresh country-air and smoky fire smells, blue skies against greeset rice-paddy fields, and spectacular evenings as the sun was setting.

* Dudes I was lucky enough to call my travelling companions for the trip. Justin from Canada, Taco from The Netherlands, and Pete from Germany. Top-notch fellows. By our powers combined, we were named B3: Beer Lao, Bikes and Bullshit (card game that was played at every chance possible).

* Meals in Laos each day involving noodles and/or sticky rice. The rice is like some sort of amazing hybrid of rice and Play Dough, wonderful for those of us who like getting hands on with food, served up in woven baskets. Noodle soup is a firm-favourite for breakfast or lunch, and is served with lush green herbs, fresh long green beans, lime and chilli.

Four is the number of...

* Thousand islands down south in the Mekong. Well, this is the name given to Si Phan Don, anyway, and I spent around 4 luxurious days on the darling little island of Don Det. Here I rode bikes, met the absolutely gorgeous Lis from The Netherlands (ever-smiling, excitable, a strong woman destined for good things) and Jess from WA (a red-headed beauty who warmed my heart with her optimism, enthusiasm and wonderful outlook on life and travels, and made me pine for The Awesome Claire Stanley- these two could be related).

Five is the number of...

* Points my BGL goes up with my first sip of Laos coffee each day. It is very black, very strong, very sweet thanks to a lot of sugar PLUS condensed milk. By the way, Mum, Condensed Milk and I are officially engaged. I know you said not to meet anyone overseas who might delay my return home by too long, but what can I do? It's true love. We're destined to be together: me, a lone traveller; Condensed Milk: sweetness in a can, willing to follow me around the world (and conveniently-sized for my luggage). I'll ask how Condensed Milk feels about Australia... I can't go another day without it, that's for sure, though...

* Weeks I am thinking of extending my South East Asia stint by. This could change in a heartbeat, but although The Clash may tell me that London is calling, I would say to them "hang on, Clash; London can wait just a bit longer, I think, really." Perhaps I will see Malaysia? Indonesia? Time/funds/friends/my disorganised brain will tell...

Lots of love, Claire the Counter.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Food, Fashion and Fast Cars (well actually, relatively slow motorbikes)

Part 2: The Fashion

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the inaugural Phnom Penh Fashion Week. You thought it wasn't going to happen. But I'm here to tell you it is happening like the most Hip-Hop-and-Happening thing in Happeningville.

Let's have a look at what we have strutting along the catwalk today...

None of this fancy-pants, Peter Alexander-esque lace-and-silk-business in various shades of beige and coffee, ladies and gentlemen. I'm talking 100% cotton, I'm talking primary colours, I'm talking elephants and puppy dogs, I'm talking poorly-translated English phrases. And Cambodia, do we wear out nightwear at night? HECK NO we don't! The number one choice for all stylish Cambodian ladies this summer (ie. pretty much all year) is matching pyjama sets, paired with a lovely sandal. And why wouldn't this be all the rage, ladies and gentlemen? It manage to tick all the required boxes: it's conservative (no unsightly cleavage or midriff), it's cool, its coordinated.

Face masks
How can one be hip and healthy at the same time? That's the question I seem to get asked the most. I'm here to give you the answer. The Phnom Penh-ians have got it down pat. Why suffer the formidable fumes of a city overrun with motos and pollution-pumping factories when you can block it out with a fashionable face mask? In hospital grade blue or pink, or fashionable Burberry patterning, this accessory is bound to keep you looking mysterious on the outside, and clean-lung-ed on the inside.

The Traveller
Ah yes, ladies and gentlemen. It's our highlight at the end of this evening's show- the traveller; in varying shades of manky, cringe, and thriftiness. Featuring prominently in this collection is a look that has been a staple for many seasons now: supremely floppy pants and skirts that, whilst seeming not only practical but also stunningly beautiful when bought at local markets for $5 ("Wow, I can wear this with x, y and z when I get home! They'll be so great!"), upon return home are suddenly seen under the harsh light of Western fashion, causing the buyers to recoil in "What the HELL was I thinking?!" horror.

The 3-for-$5 t-shirts are also doing very well this year amongst travellers. Some of the favourite slogans doing the round at the moment include:
- Same Same But Different (the catch-cry of the stall-holders at the market.)
- Angkor Beer
- Tin Tin in Cambodge
- I♥ Cambodia (don't we all? And yes we DO need to express it all over our breast.)

In addition to exploring the fruits of the Cambodian made-for-foreigners fashion industry, well-seasoned Westerners are incredibly forward-thinking and innovative when it comes to their clothing combinations. "Why yes, this IS the thirty-second time I've worn this shirt, but just look at the way I pair it with these shorts, tuck it in, and put a scarf around my middle! It's as if it's an entirely different item of clothing, no?"

And let's not forget our fragrance lines, ladies and gentlemen. This evening's models, a collection of well-meaning Westerners from various corners of the globe, are wearing Eau de Toilet (not to be confused with Eau De Toilette, this one truly lives up to its name), Cam-BO-dia-deodorant and the new CK one-shirt-six-days.

Signing off, Claire McEvoy, runway-side.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Papa's death

Papa died last week. I knew when Mum started talking to me, and it hit like a big fat punch in the guts. It still amazes me how visceral grief is in the acute phase.
It's been a strange few days. The news came during a time when homesickness was tapping me fairly gently but fairly annoyingly on the shoulder.
At times I can completely switch off. There are some really special people who are helping me feel pretty good. And the fact that Phnom Penh is the almost-polar opposite of Adelaide in a lot of ways has probably assisted in being able to be here and only here at times.
But when the thoughts of what's happening back home wriggle their way into my Cambodia-fied brain, they remind me that home ties aren't easily broken. And it hurts quite a bit.
In some morbid way, not being there for the funeral tomorrow is sort of like missing out on the party that all the kids will be talking about at school the next day because you piked out and went home early. But coming back home just didn't feel right. And I can't quite explain that entirely.
I am overwhelmed by the astounding web of information- and thought-sharing that the O'Callaghan Family has exhibited over not just the past few days, but the past few weeks. I am reminded of the strangely beautiful feeling I had around Nanna's death. That sense of solidarity in shared sadness, a figurative constant hand-squeeze.
And it's what Papa deserves, because he was a pretty amazing man. Sometimes we argued (well, mainly I argued, he was often just pot-stirring), but he was so good. And so interested in everything and everyone.
It's difficult to find the write words to get these feeling out, and I don't think I've done it particularly well; but I asked Damo to put a cardboard cut-out of me in his pocket at the funeral, and I just want the family to know that I'll be holding you in my thoughts and heart all day tomorrow....

Love Claire

Friday, June 4, 2010

Food, Fashion and Fast Cars (well actually, relatively slow motorbikes)

Part 1: The Food

Many of us volunteers had been warned by The Bible (Lonely Planet Guide) that Cambodian food was nothing to write home about. WELL JUST LOOK AT ME WRITING HOME ABOUT IT, LONELY PLANET! Supposedly Cambodian food is not as exciting or distinct as its Thai and Vietnamese next-door neighbours, but I am rejecting that notion. As a well brought up McEvoy Gal, I am experiencing this new and exciting country with not only open eyes and an open mind, but also a very open mouth. At the apartments, we are lucky enough to have some beautiful ladies who cook our lunches and dinners each day. As with a lot of Asian countries, rice is on the menu for most meals. It is accompanied by things such as stir fried vegetables and sliced meats, fish stews and curries. It is milder in flavour than other Asian cuisines, flavoured with lots of onion, lime, garlic and some chilli.

Street vendors pop up around every 7 metres, on average. The little push along carts have little glass compartments housing noodles, veggies, (occasionally dubious looking) meats, and a noodle soup or fried something-or-other can be thrown together for you in a flash. There are often tables and chairs set up on street corners to allow complete the outdoor-dining experience. Other carts sell the sugar cane drink that the locals sip from little plastic bags, which is made by churning the sticks of wooden-looking cane through a little mill until a lemonade-looking drink is squirted out for the thirsty punters.

Most volunteers come back home for lunch each day, but I stay at work. This has been a highlight of each day for me. The cook packs me a little polystyrene container each day, and I pop the surprise package in my bag. At lunch, all the lights in the physio gym get turned off, the little white coats that everyone wears are removed to allow the sweat on them to dry, and all the physios gather around one of the desks and bring out their home-packed goodies. Sharing is a big part of the Cambodian culture, so everyone's fare is placed in the middle ready to be scooped, slurped and picked at (Claire goes "Yes! These are my type of people!"). I've been keeping up pretty well with the delightful head physio Sarun, who everyone teases about being the one who finishes off all the leftovers at lunch! Sometimes the cooks at home prepare Western food as well, and I was pretty popular at work the other day when my container revealed fried bits of steak and chips with tomato sauce!

The break is an hour and a half for the Physio and P&O (Prosthetics and Orthotics) staff at VI, and after eating, the general thing is the guys sit around and watch the epic, long-running Khmer-dubbed Korean soapy set quite a few centuries ago concerning royals and soldiers (but not too different from Home and Away, basically), and the girls go into the blissfully air-conditioned meeting room, and put mats on the table (yep, not something you'd see back home too much in the boardrooms!) or floor and have a bit of a kip (or just a gossip). I have wholeheartedly embraced this Cambodian form of siesta, and feel much better for it in the afternoons at work!

Some of the new and exciting things to fill my tummy include:
- Bitter gourd- some form of zucchini, stuffed with minced meat, in a liquid
- Khmer "cheese"- actually no dairy, it's just that it stinks; it's made from dried fish mixed with... other... stuff...? and is a brown pastey substance- very strong, very salty, but I liked it!
- Preserved eggs: boil your water with stacks of salt, let it cool, chuck your eggs in and let 'em sit for the desired number of weeks. Cambodians are good at not letting surplus food go to waste, so eggs and fish are often preserved like this. Good for the girl with low blood pressure to up the old salt content!
- The most amazing array of fresh fruits! The bananas are lady-finger sized but delicious; ruby-red rambutans; lychees (think I could live on these); perfect mango, pineapple and watermelon. The fruit is so fresh and flavoursome, bursts from tiny market stalls in big bunches and is cheap as, bro.
- Little snail things that come from the river bed- they're tiny, you pull them out of the shells and it looks more like you've just picked your nose, you dip them in chilli sauce. One was fine, but one was enough for now.
- The delicious iced coffee they do here (Ma, it'd meet your Farmer's Union standards, I reckon)- condensed milk, a whole lot of ice, coffee poured over the top: de-bloomin-licious. I went down to one of the vendors out the front of VI yesterday with Kim and Sinoun, gorgeous P&O's, and Kim ordered it for me, so I'll have to make sure I get the right name for it to grab another sometimes; it set me back about 30 cents.

We've been out for dinner a couple of times, too, there are lots of places down along riverside that offer a mix of Khmer and Western cuisines, and it was kind of exciting to get a burger with my beer the other night! You can get a good quality meal and a drink for around $3-4. The beer that's widely-drunk here is Angkor, but there is a wide selection available, and they're a pretty good deal at around $1-a-pop on average. Lats night we had went to The Casino and felt pretty extravagant in the ritzy bar, paying $4 for a beer. A couple of the Irish lads here tried some home-made rice wine, thrust upon them by their tuk-tuk driver the other day. They likened it to nail-polish remover, and I think I might be OK not giving it a go.

In short: Claire McEvoy- loving life, loving the grub, loving the ales, loving the fun times that come from a shared meal!

Sunday, May 30, 2010

FIVE things I have learned after FOUR days in Phnom Penh

1. People in different parts of the world have a different approach to traffic slash driving, and perhaps this can be used as somewhat of an analogy for different approaches to life
- Unlike Australia, Cambodians drive on the right hand side of the road... in theory. But really, sometimes it's just much more convenient to drive on the left hand side of the road.
- The death statistics when it comes to road accident are higher than I care to mention on this page, given the fact that my mother already has slightly elevated blood pressure.
- Despite this, Cambodian drivers are remarkably cheery in their disorganisation: no-one appears at all ruffled as a car drives towards them in the wrong direction, and multiple moto drivers quite often head for the same turn in the road at the same time, just loko at each other quite blankly, and then sort themselves out semi-awkwardly like year 8's at a social.
- A modified Simpson's quote can aptly sum up the general feeling:
Moto driver: I'm going to go like this...(drives motorbike on various sides of road)... and if you get hit, it's your own fault.
Car driver: Fine, I'm gonna start driving like this (starts turning across traffic because the desired street is more easily accessible that way)... and if any part of you should fill that air, it's your own fault.

2. I am not yet a master of Mindfulness
- I went to a meditation session with five of the other girls the other night at Wat Lanka
- We had be told that if we wandered in at 6pm looking like we didn't know what we were doing, a monk might be kind enough to show us the ropes, so to speak.
- We entered, definitely had the no-idea look going well, and voila- a very cool, chilled-out looking monk took us outside the beautiful temple, sat with us in the balmy evening, and talked us through Meditation 101: The Basics (a good start for all those "Hey! I've totally come to Cambodia to become all zen and stuff, so liiiiiike, can I get Zen To Go? K thanks!" travellers).
- One of the main points that stuck was this concept that nothing is permanent- not the good stuff, not the bad- so it's best to allow things to happen but look on them, rather than letting them affect the way we feel- there needs to be some sort of neutral state that doesn't get altered or phased too much.
- The physicalities of meditating were explained to us, then we ventured inside to give it a bash for the remainder of the hour. Should it be so hard to focus on my bloody diaphragm going up and down? Because I would not stop thinking about pretty much everything else apart from that, and that was all I really needed to do. "Hello, my name is Claire and I feel like my often-denied Type A peronality is holding me back from focusing on my inspiration and expiration."
- But I'll keep at it. If only because the chance to sit in a beautiful room with an evening breeze floating through and just chill out for a bit seems like a good thing.
- More diaphragm updates to come.

3. Nothing can stop a keen runner
- Not a distinct lack of green, run-friendly spots.
- Not a soupy, sticky, carbon-monoxide rich environment.
- Not motorbikes to manouevre around and tuk-tuks to
- Not being the only person (let along tall white girl) running in a busy city.
- Not various eager Phnom Penh-ians joining me for a few metres every few minutes and saying. things like "Very good! Hello! How are you?" (actually if anything that's a pretty fun addition to any run).
- Certainly not 100% humidity, causing run to be slowed to snail's pace despite heart working overtime.

4. Some people in this city live in really small houses, some people live in really big houses, not many people live in really middle-sized houses
- It's like you're either Papa Bear or Goldilocks, and Mama Bear doesn't even get a chair
- These two extremes can exist quite literally next to one another, with nothing but about 67,586 tons of concrete fence (complete with fancy gold ornate detail) separating the two.
- Corruption, especially involving the police force, is still rife, despite Cambodia generally being much more stable than previously.
- There are a lot of people with missing limbs, polio- healthcare doesn't often exist as a concept for them.
- I start work at Veterans International tomorrow and and not sure what to expect but looking forward to learning and hopefully lending a hand.

5. Fun people are found all over the world
- The volunteer crew here (currently around 17-20 across the four apartments) are really happy, enthusiastic, skilled, party-loving and excitable people from America, France, Canada, The Netherlands, Ireland, Japan, England and Denmark.
- There have been many shared beverages, shared stories and shared tuk-tuk rides already, and many more to come.
- But nothing beats a home crowd. I am missing Mile End times, family fun, McEvoy cook-ups, riding around the city; the amazing, the all-star, the always-in-my-heart Adelaidies-and-gentlemen.

Claire in Cambodia xox