Category: Travel


A home in the Middle East

They were immediately noticeable with their fair skin and squinty eyes. A jarring sight.

Instead of the gentle melodic intonations I expected, Arabic rolled off their tongues – the quick, sharp quality of the language tempered by a soft steady Korean pace.

“Why come here to stay?” I frown at him.

“A calling,” he answers. “We are happy. We’re not visitors. We are welcome here.”

The smile in her eyes lights up her face as well as the room, as she moves about talking to different children.

“What’s the most difficult?” I search his eyes.

“So many people ask me this,” he says. “I ask them instead, what is the safest, most joyful place in the world?

“It is where you’re walking with Jesus,” he looks at me. “The most difficult times have been when we have struggled to draw close to Him and struggled to hear His voice. It is confusing. But when we are in Jesus, that is where we are safe and most joyful.”

We talk some more, and then, he remembers.

“Here, it is very dusty and polluted. There are no trees. No parks. No malls. I miss walking in parks. I live  on a street that is noisy late into the night… but really, these are small challenges.”

Arabic fruits

The soft, succulent fresh figs (teen in Arabic) are plump and delicious. Like everything else here, so rich.

I cannot finish my Kanafeh at Habiba Sweets. The Levantine cheese pastry soaked in sweet sugar-based syrup overwhelms. I have been fed this and that and  this and that. My host wants to send his love to all his Australian friends through me. He is disappointed I haven’t eaten enough.

One day he wears a purple shirt. I tell him he looks like Barney the dinosaur. “Thank you,” a big grin spreads across his face. “I am beautiful, not huge.”

We laugh. Conversations are often loud and raucous.

I have been learning the language. They like to trick me. They taught me to say “I am a terrorist” if ever questioned by police. Perhaps only a joke a local can make.

I have a home here now that I know I can always come to. It is my home. The offer is sincere, and I have been welcome as part of the family.

People are perishing and the future seems bleak.

But love is alive and hard to snuff out.

Doenjang: the smell of Korea

I recently bought myself a tub of doenjang, to make hot soup. Sometimes I add dollops of it to my rice, and I always eat more, enjoy my food more, when I do that.

It must be true, what they say about smells evoking memories and odours having a power of persuasion stronger than words.

Because these fermented bean pastes – they are the smell of Korea to me, they bring me back. The smell of warm food after the trying -20°C cold.

Oedesan National Park, Korea

I lived in one of those green tents.

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Walked through knee-deep snow.

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The lady on my right in the photo was my instructor, but I don’t remember her name. A quiet lady who taught me how to sing Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes in Korean; who asked us to bow to fishmongers at the market; and who told me the story of how she climbed Mount Everest never thinking she could ever do it.

When I smell my soup, I’m brought back to the bitter cold of the wilderness and the warmth of friendship; the quiet grace of the Koreans and hearty meals of bulgogi and bibimbap.

P/s: Grace writes about the five virtues (?!) of doenjang here.

snowpig

 

 

I have always thought that Adelaide is a city full of life. ❤

Mount Kinabalu

IMG_1931IMG_1933This is Jamun, 49, a porter at Mt Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia.

That contraption on his back is 35kg. In the time I went up and down Mt Kinabalu he’d already made 2 trips to and from Laban Rata (3273m).

These porters, mostly from the Kadazan/Dusun tribes, they pass you all the time, many in slippers. Every thing you consume, use, enjoy at Laban Rata, they bring up by foot.

 

Some of their rubber soles, like Jamun’s, are worn out. You catch glimpses as they snake upward, bent over and with eyes on the ground, weaving between the string of relatively clumsy visitors.

IMG_1959This is Inuddin, 26, the guide we engaged.

He is Dusunese, has done the hike more than 200 times, and has a personal best of doing the mountain run in 3 hours 3 min (we took about 17 hours up and down; the fastest record for the Kinabalu race is 2 hrs 37 min).

Inuddin told us about his family, his 5-year old son who is beginning school soon, and his 2-year old daughter.

"Saya kahwin bini bila umur 20 tahun. Saya sudah kawan baik dengan dia sejak Tingkatan 3. Tau tak mengapa kahwin begitu muda? Sebab saya tak mau orang lain kahwin dia, cepat-cepat kahwin. Selalu saya bawa orang naik gunung, perempuan selalu complain lelaki sekarang tak guna…"

More shots of these great people:

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These men, women, boys and girls are heroes of the nation in my book. I don’t know if you can read the article, but it says "They represent the strength and courage of the human spirit to do what is necessary to bring pride, honour and respect for the mountain."

I am proud that Malaysia is keeping this really beautiful place well, and people around the world want to visit.

IMG_1960So I hope we will continue to do so – following the thoughtful advice on the signboard, and if possible, helping to preserve the purity of this place by picking up litter you see along the way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I cannot think of a better name for the mountain that its Chinese one: 神山.

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The Dayspring from on high has visited us; To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

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I found a doorway to Narnia, and entered in.

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