Before Brisbane

Good Friday morning, everyone!

I’m writing this from 40,000 feet because I am currently on a flight from my home in Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada) to Brisbane, Queensland (Australia). It is a 15-hour flight, and I just have an hour to go. I just ate a large square of chocolate peanut butter banana snack bread that I packed, alongside a tasty red bean moon cake that my Grandma bought for me.

It was a mostly peaceful flight – only a little turbulence and one little crying baby. I got as much sleep as I could in these tiny Economy seats (probably 7 hours?) before working on some projects on my laptop. I didn’t bring a book with me this time, though I wish packing either Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, or it’s sequel, Glass Sword.

Now, one of my favourite things to do on an airplane is to go on a virtual rant of all my thoughts and expectations of the place I’m headed. It makes for a fun list to look back on, once the experience is over.

  • I am most excited about aerials. I can’t wait to learn aerial straps. I know I’m probably not strong enough at this point to do any real tricks on the straps, but I figure the worst that can happen is I get stronger for the silks. My goal is to take 10 lessons, one per week, throughout my time in Brisbane.
  • I am taking 5 courses, which are science/health/psychology related. I hope I still have enough time for training in aerials and yoga, so if academics becomes too much, I will drop a course.
  • For my classes, some have tutorials and practicals. I am a little confused about it since every week seems to be different, according to the weekly schedule online. It doesn’t seem to follow Waterloo’s A-B-A-B weekly schedule. I hope this is clarified during orientation.
  • I hope my roommate, Jessica, and I will become good friends (like how Madhulika, Arsalan, and I still stay in touch from our 2 years together in Waterloo)
  • I live roughly 25 minutes from school, which is a bit of a long walk in the heat.
  • The only things I have for note-taking are my laptop and one notebook, plus some colourful pens. I’m looking forward to note-taking and studying, since it’s been 7 months since I was last in school.
  • In Australia, I am going to eat very healthy, light foods because it’s summer!
  • I live 3 minutes from Zama Yoga, so I’m excited to do lots of yoga. They have Pilates, Barre, Hot Vinyasa, Dance Cardio, and one that I think will be my favourite – Warm Slow Flow Yoga.
  • I am looking forward to making new friends and getting to know new people.

Other things from lately:

Family had brunch at Brown’s Social House. There, we enjoyed nachos before everyone’s main dishes came. My entree was the prosciutto eggs benedict, and this was one of the best English muffin benedicts that I’ve had (I normally like biscuit benedicts). The flavour of the hollandaise was very unique, and I adored the Cowboy Salad on the side, which was topped with plenty of walnuts, chopped dates, edamame, black beans, carrots, grape tomatoes, and feta cheese.

Seline and I did plenty together. We love reading in Chapters, and scanning the summaries of novels to see which ones might be great. Also, I got a manicure with her! Seline helped me choose the colour, which is pink with lots of shine. Manicures always make me feel so clean and polished (I didn’t even intend this pun).

Seline’s birthday was on Saturday, February 4! We celebrated with lots of helium balloons and a Dairy Queen ice cream cake that read “Have a claw-some purr-thday, Christopher Shaw!”. Inside joke.

Another day, I went to the gym and then to Ikea with my dad, where we purchased a lovely chef’s knife which is currently also on its way to Australia. I can’t wait to use it!

Finally, I had an excellent sushi dinner with my sister, Seline, at her favourite Coquitlam sushi place called Sushi Karis. I had the fatty tuna aburi sushi and snapper aburi sushi. Seline had the beef ramen, and then we ordered three rolls. All the rolls were delicious, but I’m such a sucker for seared scallops that I’d say the Master Roll was my favourite.

  1. MASTER ROLL – California roll topped with seared scallops and mustard sauce
  2. VICTORIA ROLL – Yam tempura sushi with avocado and unagi sauce
  3. SPIDER ROLL – Soft-shell crab on top of a California roll, made with black rice (this gave it a striking appearance, but the flavour was the same)

Now I have to fill out my landing card details, so until then!

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Tapas, Buffet, and a Seven-Course Meal

Good evening from Siem Reap on this warm Tuesday, January 9.

Recently:

  • Seline often sends me screenshots of conversations that she has with Mom. I thought this one was particularly sweet, and it made me reminisce the wonderful time we spent at Sunshine Coast during both 2015 and 2016
  • Spiders at ROMDENG, a restaurant in Phnom Penh – I chickened out 😥
  • Dad and Grandpa on a tuktuk this morning; it was in the high 30s temperature-wise

The Wat Langka temple was timelessly beautiful and impactful. We also had the opportunity to see the Independence Monument (second photo), and buy new sneakers for Grandpa from the local Adidas store, since his old ones broke on the train ride from Taipei to Taoyuan (the city in Taiwan where the airport is located).

For brunch after the temple exploration, we enjoyed another meal at Daughters of Cambodia. They are truly so lovely for their great cause (everything goes towards helping girls forced into the sex trafficking trade in Cambodia, to learn skills like cooking, massage, sewing, and more).

  • Dad had the baguette BLT, which had bacon, cucumber, spinach, and tomato with an onion chutney
  • Grandpa enjoyed corn chowder and a fish burger with fries
  • I loved my creamy parsley pumpkin soup and cheesy garlic baguette

We purchased a few things from Daughters of Cambodia; namely, some little coloured pouches with powerful words in the Khmer language such as ‘dream’, ‘pray’, and ‘believe’. Grandpa will give these to his family doctor, teacher, and dentist.

We spent the afternoon lounging around the hotel pool. Grandpa was happy with his fresh coconut water. It’s astonishing how much larger these coconuts are, compared to the ones he’s enjoyed in Macau, and even back home in Vancouver.

For dinner, we went to a restaurant called Friends, which is part of a greater company called TREE. TREE is a series of training restaurants that invest profits in students who train there. Money goes towards social programs that help them become skilled, productive, healthy and happy young workers with secure future careers. They not only provide high-quality service and food, but also help young people in developing countries (most are orphans, former street children, or other marginalized, at-risk groups) develop skills that they need to be employable in the hospitality industry. The training that runs here helps build confidence and skills, so students graduate with better futures. 10/10 for sustainability and impact, in my book.

For the tapas, Friends recommends ordering one or two per person. Since the three of us went, we decided to order five. These were some of my favourites (okay, I ended up listing them all):

  • Crispy zucchini and cheddar fritters with Thai Sriracha mayonnaise
  • Fish cakes with garlic, leeks, roasted red pepper puree (these were unbelievably good)
  • Burmese chicken curry with crispy noodles, smoked chili, pickled mustard greens (super spicy, but incredible flavour)

  • Crusty bread with EVOO and dukkah spice

  • Ricotta gnocchi with spinach and corn (I truly loved these, and my dad, who typically doesn’t like gnocchi, enjoyed them!)

For dessert:

  • white chocolate ice cream for Dad and Grandpa (I had a taste, and it had a superb white chocolate aftertaste, unlike some white chocolate ice creams which are simply excessively sweet)
  • black sticky rice pudding with coconut ice cream, caramelized pineapple, and roasted peanuts

The next day – this morning – was a little hectic because we had to clean out the hotel room and check out before a long bus ride to Siem Reap. I was a little sad to say goodbye to our lovely hotel room.

Breakfast buffet in our hotel.

I enjoyed:

  • a cheese omelet
  • two Cambodian sandwiches with ham, cucumber, and spicy mayo (I didn’t think I would like this, but I wholeheartedly enjoyed it. The bold flavours stood up to the fresh baguette, and everything seemed to work well)
  • baked beans
  • chive potatoes
  • fresh passionfruit and dragonfruit
  • banana bread
  • blueberry muffin (crumbled over the plain yogurt)
  • dragonfruit custard danish (surprisingly delicious for a not-crispy Viennoiserie! I wanted another.)
  • plain yogurt
  • mango yogurt with vanilla cream swirl
  • toasted wholemeal bread with butter and pineapple-papaya marmalade (it’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed toast, plain and simple, with butter and jam – this was absolutely delightful)
  • raisin custard danish
  • apple cinnamon muffin (crumbled over the mango yogurt)

Both my stomach and my heart were incredibly full as we boarded the Giant Ibis bus at around 9:45 AM for our 6.5 hour trip to Siem Reap.

The views were unlike anything I’d seen before. One thing that stood out to me was the houses that were built on stilts. Most houses between Phnom Penh (capital of Cambodia) and Siem Reap (North Cambodia) were on stilts, with hammocks and shelves and tables underneath for shade.

The bus stopped three times, with two of the three stops being rest stops for bathroom breaks, and one for a 30-minute lunch break.

Lunch at the Banyan Tree restaurant had a number of options, which was a pleasant surprise since I’d assumed very few options for a food place in the middle of sand and palm trees.

When we arrived at around 3:30, we boarded a tuktuk with all three of our suitcases and two backpacks to go to our hotel, the Riversoul Residence. Riversoul is about fifteen minutes from Angkor Wat, which is why we chose it. It is modern and beautiful in a unique, complementary-colours kind of way, but I do miss the traditional nature and French influence of our first hotel, Raffles in Phnom Penh.

I was amazed by the lack of people in the hotel; it was very empty when we checked in, and my dad attributed this to the fact that the Riversoul Residence is fairly new.

Check out that swimming pool and those lawn chairs which are styled to look like boats!

We took a 10-minute walk to the old market of Siem Reap, which was close to our dinner restaurant, EMBASSY.

EMBASSY has a set menu for each month of the year. They serve French food with a Cambodian twist, using fresh, seasonal, local ingredients from Siem Reap and the surrounding area. All of the stems, leaves, flowers, and garnishes were completely edible. We really did devour every drop.

The three of us ate this seven-course meal:

  1. AMUSE BOUCHE – steamed Chreau village tomato with minced shrimp stuffing
  2. APPETIZER – Kampot scallop with ground toasted rice, kaffir lime leaf, galangal, lemongrass, passionfruit sauce
  3. SOUP – traditional Kdat Soup with turmeric paste, green bass leaf, black chicken (by far my favourite dish of the day, since it was rich, hearty, with a beautiful blend of textures and unique, yet familiarly comforting ingredients)
  4. SORBET – soursop fruit sorbet with fermented black sticky rice and alcohol drizzle
  5. MAIN COURSE 1 – grilled Tonle Sap fish with soybean pickle, ginger, green onion
  6. MAIN COURSE 2 – pork shank from Takeo province, slow-cooked in sugar palm caramel, mushroom sauce, mashed potatoes with coconut milk (also delicious – the meat was very tender and mildly sweet, with great unami flavour from the mushroom gravy)
  7. DESSERT – cashew mousse with red dragonfruit ice cream (the cashew mousse part was spectacular. You can truly taste the cashew, and I appreciated the crispy, chewy, and sweet brown sugar crumble that complemented the nutty mousse)

It was delicious, and now I am dead from deliciousness and excitement for tomorrow, because we’re going to see Angkor Archeological Park!

I Thought I Saw a Spider, But…

This afternoon, we visited Wat Phnom, a Buddhist temple. It was built in 1372, and stands nearly 30m tall. It is the tallest religious structure in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia. In fact, Wat Phnom is the central point of Phnom Penh. We are lucky that Wat Phnom was so close to our hotel; it was a roughly 10-minute walk in.

I learned that the sanctuary itself was rebuilt several times in the 19th century and again in 1926. The interior has an altar complex with a large bronze seated Buddha surrounded by other statues, flowers, candles and items of devotion and worship.

There were plenty of great photo opportunities.

We didn’t walk into the temple since no photos were allowed, and it was very busy/crowded and smoky with the burning of incense.

I don’t typically wear sunglasses, but the sun is ridiculously bright here and I’d hate to have squinty eyes in all my photos. Dad’s becoming a really good photographer and I really appreciate having him here for all these candid shots. 😎

Grandpa and I lounged around the pool again in the afternoon. When we come back tomorrow, he would like to drink fresh coconut water from a coconut, which we can order from the bar.

In the evening, we took a tuktuk to Khmer Surin, an authentic Cambodian restaurant.

Here, we enjoyed:

  • fish amok (Goby fish in banana leaf)
  • pineapple fried rice in a pineapple – this was my favourite part
  • deep-fried seafood and vegetables with sweet chili sauce
  • spicy chicken green curry
  • sour lime coconut soup with mushrooms and shrimp
  • chewy tapioca balls in coconut cream
  • mango ice cream
  • coconut ice cream in hot chocolate sauce

When we got home, I washed my hands in the bathroom and noticed something on the ground that, upon first glance, I’d assumed was a spider. It wasn’t – it was actually a teeny, tiny baby gecko!

What a peculiar and cute way to end the day. I really think those little geckos are too cute.

Plans for Tomorrow

  • Russian Market
  • Wat Langka
  • Independence Monument
  • Statue of King Father Norodum Sihanouk
  • Cambodia-Vietnam Friendship Monument
  • Wat Ounalom
  • Poolside Grandpa gets coconut drink

Lunch and Dinner Restaurants for Tomorrow

  • Romdeng
  • Friends

Have a beautiful, lovely afternoon, everyone 🙂

I Needed Ice Cream

Hello! It’s now 8:03 AM on Sunday, January 7. It’s been an incredible first week of 2018 so far, and it’s just getting better and better.

Last night, Grandpa and I went for a walk – but not before the waistband of his PJs broke and we had to stitch it up with a makeshift needle made of a bent bobby pin and a bandaid. It was fun to improvise this creation.

Afterwards, Grandpa showed me his diary. Since he’s learning English, he writes entirely in English. It’s truly so impressive, and he’s so humble about it.

Dad and I went for a walk to the Tonle Sap, a river that eventually becomes the Mekong river. I learned that the low tide level of the river in Cambodia is lower than the high tide out at sea, and the flow of the Mekong inverts in Vietnam and up to Phnom Penh. The flat Mekong delta in Vietnam is prone to flooding near the Cambodian border.

We liked the Sisowath Quay a lot, and it was fascinating to see all the different boats and guess what they were used for.

Afterwards, Dad took a bit of a nap while Grandpa and I went for a little walk. We explored the pool, the fitness centre, the massage clinic, and both cafes. It was very enjoyable to watch the sun set.

For dinner, we dined at a restaurant called Khéma. Khéma is a French restaurant on Pasteur Street. I ordered the lobster bisque, which had a piece of crab ravioli underneath, as well as a cheese gratin. Grandpa loved his cheesy French onion soup. We were lucky to receive a complimentary plate with pate and sausage.

Dad liked his carbonara, which had thick-sliced bacon and a rosemary garnish. Grandpa’s spaghetti bolognese was, according to him, typical. My mozzarella and spinach cannelloni was quite tasty, too.

For dessert, I had the chocolate fondant, AKA molten chocolate lava cake. There was so little vanilla ice cream, and I needed more to go with the rest of the chocolate cake, so I ordered an extra scoop. I am, in case you haven’t noticed, in love with hot chocolate desserts and cold vanilla ice cream. This was a beautiful way to end the day.

This is the view outside our hotel. The blue skies and grassy knolls are beautiful.

Brunch at Feel Good Cafe consisted of:

  • potato, pepper, onion, and cheese omelet for me, with tomato relish and baguette bread
  • Dad had scrambled eggs with potato hash and bacon
  • Grandpa ate fish and rice porridge with some veggies and garnishes

After the meal, I savoured this hot cheesecake tart. It was divine and reminded me of a different, but equally delicious, version of the cheesecake tarts I devoured when living in Toronto last year.

The brunch came to just over $20 USD, including drinks.

Then we returned home so I could plan a few things, check out the maps, and consider doing a trades course with Dad and Grandpa and some local professionals via Backstreet Academy.

Keep updated for more! The next few days are sure to be exciting – then we’re off to Angkor Wat, which is in the city of Siem Reap.

A Café with a Beautiful Cause | Royal Palace

Good morning!

This morning, I felt great and refreshed after a long, cool shower – then we hopped onto a tuktuk to our first tourist attraction. We also thought it was cool that Jacqueline Kennedy stayed in our hotel, Raffles, during her stay in Cambodia. Jacqueline Lee Kennedy Onassis was the wife of the 35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, and First Lady of the United States from 1961 until his assassination in 1963.

The Royal Palace cost about $30 USD for the three of us to enter, and it was worth every dollar.

It was in the mid-thirties in terms of temperature, and while we were uncomfortably hot, the sights made up for it. What a beautiful place.

There was plenty to see. From Wikipedia:

“The Royal Palace (Khmerព្រះបរមរាជវាំងនៃព្រះរាជាណាចក្រកម្ពុជាPreah Barum Reachea Veang Nei Preah Reacheanachak Kampuchea), in Phnom PenhCambodia, is a complex of buildings which serves as the royal residence of the king of Cambodia. Its full name in the Khmer language is Preah Barum Reachea Veang Chaktomuk Serei Mongkol (Khmerព្រះបរមរាជវាំងចតុមុខសិរីមង្គល). The Kings of Cambodia have occupied it since it was built in 1860s, with a period of absence when the country came into turmoil during and after the reign of the Khmer Rouge.”

“The palace was constructed after King Norodom relocated the royal capital from Oudong to Phnom Penh in the mid-19th century. It was built atop an old citadel called Banteay Kev. It faces towards the East and is situated at the Western bank of the cross division of the Tonle Sap River and the Mekong River called Chaktomuk (an allusion to Brahma).”

“The complex is divided by walls into four main compounds. On the south side is the Silver Pagoda, to the north side is the Khemarin Palace and the central compound contains the Throne Hall and to the west is the private sector or the Inner Court. The buildings of the palace were built gradually over time, and some were dismantled and rebuilt as late as the 1960s. Some older buildings date back to the 19th century.”

For lunch, we dined at the beautiful Daughters of Cambodia restaurant. It is a very special place, because it changes the lives of girls forced into the sex trafficking trade by teaching them to cook and sew. According to their site, Daughters of Cambodia helps at least 100 girls each year walk away from sex work, and experience psychological and physical healing while improving their quality of life. Eventually, many girls are promoted to head chefs, business managers, counsellors, receptionists, and production line managers.

Onto the food! We enjoyed:

  • cheesy garlic baguette
  • pumpkin soup with parsley, cream, and baguette
  • spinach eggs Benedict on a homemade English muffin
  • chicken, bacon, and mushroom béchamel crepe
  • crispy chicken tenders with french fries and garlic aioli
  • hot chocolate brownie with caramel ice cream

From the Daughters of Cambodia website:

  • Daughters of Cambodia exists to empower those trapped in the sex industry in Cambodia to walk free and start a new life, with healing, dignity, and the means to prosper. 
  • We offer a wide range of rewarding jobs, with opportunities for promotion, in our attractive and innovative social enterprises.
  • We teach our clients how to sustain their new life-styles in non-institutional settings, and we provide recovery programs including social work, counseling, medical treatment and life-skills classes. 

After that, we purchased some lemongrass soap and visited “Cambodian Rexall’s” for insect spray and sunscreen.

Our final stop was the National Museum, which we browsed while chatting about the history of this magnificent country.

That was it for the morning of Saturday, January 6. What a lovely way to spend a typically cold, wintry morning. 🙂

I’m excited for our evening, but for now, will just rest in our nice and air-conditioned hotel room.

Two Glorious Meals in Cambodia

After a couple spectacular days in Taiwan, we were welcomed to our hotel in Cambodia, RAFFLES le ROYAL, with iced ginger tea and the friendliest smiles. Phnom Penh is the capital city of Cambodia, and we are staying here for four days.

Our hotel room, on the third floor, is clean, spacious, and quite luxurious. We quickly unpacked our suitcases, which didn’t take very long since the three of us packed three small carry-on luggages.

We headed downstairs, to the hotel restaurant, for lunch. I didn’t have much for breakfast, aside from a peanut butter and chocolate chip LARABAR that I’d packed for the plane ride, so I was very excited about diving into a feast here in Cambodia.

Dad enjoyed the garlicky baked snails and lemongrass beef skewers. They came with small kai-lan vegetables and rice. My grandfather loved his poached ocean salmon, which was served with fresh vegetables and a leek cream sauce. For myself, I didn’t hesitate to order the creamy cauliflower soup for an appetizer, and the mushroom risotto for my main.

My entrée of mushroom risotto was hearty, incredibly rich and cheesy with a decadent Parmesan flavour, and was served with a freshly-grilled slice of focaccia slathered with pesto. I absolutely loved it and would return to this hotel restaurant in a heartbeat.

Dessert was actually a buffet, and I managed to keep my sweet tooth reined in by grabbing just two desserts – a chocolate mousse cake and a slice of kabocha pumpkin with custard.

Afterwards, Dad and I did some exploration. We walked for about a block in the sweltering heat before coming back to the hotel. It was seriously H-O-T, especially after so long in ice-cold Canada. Toronto, in fact, broke a 58 year-old temperature record for it’s -40 degree temperature today.

The pool at our hotel is lovely. I felt so happy dipping my toes into the water, wishing I’d packed a bathing suit.

Dad and I wandered the corridors and balconies, enjoying all the new sights and smells and sounds. We chatted a lot, and before we knew it, wandered back to our hotel room to rest.

For dinner, the three of us hopped onto a tuktuk. According to Wikipedia:

The auto rickshaw is a common form of urban transport, both as a vehicle for hire and for private use, in many countries around the world, especially those with tropical or subtropical climates, including many developing countries. Most have three wheels and do not tilt. An exception is in Cambodia, where two different types of vehicles are called tuk-tuks, one of which (also known as a remorque) has four wheels and is composed of a motorcycle (which leans) and trailer (which does not).

I truly loved the night view in Phnom Penh, especially with all the Christmassy lights and decorations.

Dinner was enjoyed at Malis, a modern, fashionable, trendy, yet traditional restaurant in the heart of Phnom Penh. They serve delicious Cambodian cuisine and are renowned for its fresh seasonal produce, delicate flavours, and wonderful servers.

The three of us ate:

  • Kampot Rock Crab Red Curry: Hand-picked Kampot crab cooked in a natural fully-flavoured crab broth with red chilies, red curry spices and coconut milk, served with rice
  • Bamboo Shoots and Smoked Fish Soup: A smoky and refreshing vegetable soup made from an age-old Cambodian recipe in which finely sliced bamboo shoots are cooked with baby corn
  • Wok-fried Eggplants: Roasted aubergine wok-fried with fresh garlic and a shallot vinegar sauce
  • Fish Amok: This traditional dish is made with goby fish fillets marinated in a lemongrass curry paste and steamed in a banana leaf basket

We couldn’t miss dessert.

  • Durian Delight: Taro style dumplings cooked in coconut milk and ginger sauce with Num Ko corn and durian ice cream
  • Malis Mousse: Jasmine flower infused mousse with hints of Cambodian honey and ginger, circled with fresh seasonal fruits and served with a crunchy rice ‘Kamao Thort’ and coconut ice cream

We were more than full, happy, and satisfied with the meal and the generous servers. In the end, the meal came down to less than $60 USD for the three of us, and we were all stuffed. We hitched the same tuktuk to go back to the hotel.

It’s now 10:20 PM here, and I think I am going to start planning tomorrow’s schedule. Dad vetoed my protests to visit the Tuol Seng Prison and the Killing Fields, as well as the Genocide Museum (boo) but will most likely approve my other suggestions.

These are some of the places that I can’t wait to visit in Phnom Penh:

  • Central Market
  • Wat Phnom
  • Sisowath Quay
  • Royal Palace, Silver Pagoda
  • National Museum

Thank you for reading today, and I can’t wait to update with more.