We met Julissa and her boyfriend Graham back in March on a hike in Banos, Ecuador. They were vibrant, career young and so positive about life, it was catching, so we were delighted to have dinner with them.
Six months later we sat in a cafe in Central Kuala Lumpur with Julissa enjoying a great catch-up, all thanks to Facebook. Julissa spotted we were in KL, sent us a message and three hours later we were having a long breakfast which rolled into lunch.
Julissa is travelling the world with a new start-up called Remote Year. In return for a fee, she and her cohort of about 60 digital nomads get accommodation and business centres in 12 different cities around the globe for a year, so they can carry on their job, with the added benefit of a global perspective and personal networking. Julissa was totally loving it.
We talked about everything and anything to do with travel. Even to the extent that Julissa gave us both a lesson on how to take the perfect selfie.
Shame Graham wasn’t there too, he’s back in the States teaching at school. But we hear they’ll be living together next year, and planning future travels. Hopefully, they’ll look us up in England.
His name is Mr Khlakhudin, he’s one of the shortest men in Asia, and a little celebrity.
At Borobudur, we watched as tourist after tourist posed for photographs with him, shaking his hand, putting arms around shoulders. We both felt uncomfortable, not deeply offended in some twitter-storm way, but aware that in the past our ancestors posed for pictures alongside aboriginals, two-headed women and of course the Elephant Man. These people were different and were freaks to be pitied.
So did this “get your photo taken with a dwarf” cross the same moral boundary. Progressives would no doubt scream yes, and then more yes. After all, people only wanted to be photographed alongside Mr Khlakhudin because of his height deficiency.
But others, recognising that no money changed hands and he is a consenting adult, might simply compare this to a selfie with a tv celebrity. Also being short might not be seen so negatively here; Indonesians being the shortest nationality on earth.
Anyway, your bloggers decided not to pose with him, but Roger still wanted to take his photo and share it with you. This whole subject, is a window into how we feel about people different to us, how we view physical differences, and how we judge the actions of others.
Hilary’s father (Brian Baxter) was a Prisoner of War (POW) in Hong Kong during the Second World War. In the planning of this gap year we included Hong Kong so that Hilary could visit for the first time where he was held captive and where so many of his colleagues died. Here she writes about this experience…
As I knelt by the Memorial Plaque, I reflected on what might have been. If my father had succumbed in the POW camps to starvation or malaria, I wouldn’t be here today.
First some background.
On 8th December 1941, the Japanese launched their invasion of Hong Kong. My father, who had been working as a civilian in Hong Kong since 1937, volunteered to join the Hong Kong Dockyard Defence Corps along with some 180 other civilians. They had just one afternoon of training on how to use a gun.
The fighting was swift and savage with heavy casualties on both sides; the Allies losing 6,113 men and women. The Japanese made three offers of surrender terms, the third of which, to avoid further casualties, was accepted on Christmas Day 1941.
So my father was put in two POW camps for the next 3 years and 8 months of his life.
Dr Tony Banham is the acknowledged expert on the battle of Hong Kong and the experiences of the POWs, and author of three excellent books: “Not the Slightest Chance”, “We Shall Suffer There” and “The Sinking of the Lisbon Maru”. Luckily, we were able to meet up with him, and his work superimposing the old 1945 camp layouts on the landscape of today, (see http://www.hongkongwardiary.com) took us to where my father’s two camps, Sham Shui Po and Argyle Street, actually were.
Today nothing remains of the camps, but there is a poignant memorial plaque at Sham Shui Po Park in Kowloon. As I knelt beside it for a photo, it was moving knowing that my dad had been here, suffered and survived.
Dad was always quite positive about his POW experience, since he said that although they suffered starvation and neglect, and 20% of the prisoners died, they weren’t abused like those in the Japanese POW camps where the death rate was much higher.
Since my father was one of the youngest (and presumably fittest) civilians, my key question for Tony was “Why hadn’t my father been sent to a Japanese POW camp?”. Tony said that the Japanese had a consistent selection process, which was simply to choose those who were the fittest on the day. My father had ongoing bouts of malaria, so presumably he must have been suffering from this when the six selection times came, possibly saving his life.
Tony has since let me know that Dad, after liberation, sailed home to the UK on the USS Joseph Dickman, which left from Manila and came into San Francisco in October 1945. He then took a train across the Canadian Rockies, which Dad told me was the journey of a lifetime, before a ship back to Southampton.
Suffice to say my father, who died 14 years ago, never held anything against the Japanese. He saw the end of the Pacific War when over 10,500 of his comrades died from fighting or disease, and he went on to make a real success of his life in naval architecture.
We’re staying at a delightful Airbnb in Palmerston (30 minutes outside Darwin). Our hostess has a fascinating story of migration and how to change your life successfully in your mid thirties.
Ela grew up near Frankfurt but told us “She never felt German”. She was shy and remembered how the formal German language and customs inhibited her. She spent her twenties doing two degrees, but longed to travel. A friend suggested Australia.
So she came out here eight years ago. She back-packed around the country and fell in love with Australia and the people. “They are all so laid back, helpful and generous” she told us. She loves the English language because “It’s an informal language and therefore communication between people is easier”.
She now has her own 3 bedroom, detached house in Palmerston and runs her own successful business on advising potential immigrants how to emigrate to Australia. She loves the outdoor life, camping, endless sunshine, BBQs and the relaxed way of life. Australia has changed her life and her, “It’s made me a stronger person. I’m confident, I talk to people and I now lead the life I really want”.
Ela’s story made us reflect. To find themselves, how many people need to change their country?
Here in Sydney, we are fortunate to be staying with Liz and her family in lovely Manly.
Hilary first met Liz 29 years ago when they were both in Sydney on round-the-world trips. Because she fell in love with the swimming, sailing and outdoor lifestyle, Liz applied to emigrate as soon as she returned to the UK, and moved out in 1992.
Her boyfriend of the time, Robert followed her out here, and after 25 years of marriage they now have two girls who have followed in their parents’ sporting footsteps.
Manly is a sought-after Northern Beach suburb reached by the famous Manly Ferry, a scenic 25 minute trip from Circular Quay. Who needs to pay for a tourist harbour cruise when this trip takes you past the Opera House and then out to the Northern Beaches.
If it hadn’t been cold and raining in Pucón, Chile when we finished a trek, we wouldn’t have been sitting, five months later, with Nic and Norden in their sumptuous Sydney apartment.
Nic and Norden were such great company in January when we entered their lodge, high up in the forests, like drowned-rats. So we were delighted a couple of weeks back when they contacted us, via this blog, and invited us over for dinner.
After taking us for a tour of South Head, secret beaches, and million dollar properties, engaging Nic cooked, whilst Norden talked about his passion for teaching maths.
We all agreed, the best thing about travelling isn’t the landscapes or the famous buildings. It’s meeting people who enrich your lives. Thanks for a great evening guys, and the amazing FourPillars gin and tonics.
Across Maui we swam in three very contrasting beaches. One hippy and rocky (Olowalu). One commercial and picture-perfect (Kapalua, pictured above). And the third isolated and unspoilt (Hāmoa).
Now we understood why even Californians would take their vacations here; the water was a marvellous temperature, so much warmer than in the Golden State. However the heavy swell and surf make swimming difficult. So it was particularly great we were able to do some snorkelling.
We got a warm welcome and more at Mario’s little cafe and bakery in Ferndale.
Mario (pictured above with his son) moved here eight years ago. It was a big decision – friends told Mario he was mad to leave his San Francisco lifestyle for an isolated, rural area so different in social values.
On the one hand, he’s gained so many new friends who have rallied around in his hours of need. On the other, he hates the lack of diversity here and is more fearful for the future of America and the world than ever.
Keen to do his bit, he signed up to the A Place at the Table for Everyone initiative and has been pleasantly surprised that the sign (so far) hasn’t been defaced or removed.
“As it’s after 4pm, you’ll need to park the car and walk up, but it’s a long way…..” said the Ranger at the Lava Butte just south of Bend. However, it was glorious weather, so we decided to walk.
At the top, admiring the wonderful view, we got a big shock from Joey’s voice above, inviting us to join him in the look-out tower. We entered a world of large-scale maps stuck to the ceiling with low-tech string lines from all the various look-outs. There was constant walkie-talkie chatter, reporting every tiny smoke incident for miles around.
As Joey described his work, we discovered what had seemed a very calm and uneventful pine forest was full of events! Joey loves his job and spends up to ten hours a day up there in the fire-risk season. And he told us horror stories about Trump’s plans to allow digging in the National and State Parks.
“We’ve just spent a wonderful five days with my Cousin Kyle, his lovely wife Courtney and two gorgeous young children, Kathleen and Clara at their home in Portland, Oregon.
Three years younger than me, Kyle and I didn’t do a lot of playing together as kids. And since he moved to the States 25 years ago, he has literally been a distant relative. We’ve only kept in touch through brief chats at family weddings, funerals and birthdays.
So these days together have been very special. It’s been brilliant having in-depth conversations with Kyle (the sort you don’t get at family gatherings) and learning all those things I’d never thought to ask. He has a fascinating story to tell.
It’s been great to get to know Courtney, their children and the Portland lifestyle much better. But the best thing is that I’ve found a new friend in Kyle.”