Quiz answers

  • In which century was St Peter’s Church built? 12th Century
  • With which French town is Slough twinned? Montreuil
  • Which line, named after an eighteenth century ecologist, separates Sundaland (Asia) and Sahuland (Australasia)? Wallace
  • Which town translates as “Siam Vanquished”? Siem Reap
  • Sometimes known as the Asian contagion, in which year did the Asian Financial Crisis begin? 1997
  • In which nineteenth-century hotel was the Singapore Sling invented? Raffles
  • Which country uses the kyat as currency? Myanmar/Burma
  • Who played the protagonist “Jim” in the film “Empire of the Sun”? Christian Bale
  • In which culture might the name “Made” denote a second born child? Balinese
  • Which modern day Swiss/British philosopher wrote “The Art of Travel”? Alain de Botton
  • How many countries does the Mekong River flow through? For bonus points, can you name them? China, Myanmar (Burma), Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam – six countries.
  • Which word from Ancient Norse Mythology refers to a series of events ending the cosmos? Ragnarok
  • Buddhism originated in which country? India
  • Where did the author find love in the Elizabeth Gilbert bestselling book “Eat Pray Love”? Bali
  • Which ornithological term refers to the recruitment of people through trickery and kidnapping to work as labourers (as in the South Pacific)? Blackbirding
  • Which Costa (Whitbread) nominated novel by Chris Cleave was also published under the title “Little Bee”? The Other Hand
  • According to the 2007 census, ancestors of which Asian country make up almost 40% of the Fijian population? India
  • Which country celebrates tea leaf salad as one of its traditional dishes? Myanmar (Burma)
  • Modern day Corinthians are of which nationality? Greek

Savusavu and Taveuni

Who goes to Savusavu? Tiny place, maybe even smaller than Labuan Bajo. Apparently there are hugely expensive Tony Robbins weekends, medical students, and expats who settle there for the peace with no serious concerns about being without certain supplies for months on end. Like dairy products!

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See our little plane there? the shadow

Savusavu is quite beautiful. For us it was the launch point for the island of Taveuni but we’d heard good things from a family we met back in Thailand so decided to spend a few days there too.

We somehow found ourselves in a medical centre speaking to the local doctor. The centre had been built very recently due to the generosity of an American benefactor. Savusavu is built around natural hot springs. They are so discreet, just strolling down  the street you notice steam appearing next to the pavement. Locals sometimes cook meat where the springs flow through a field – next to a rugby pitch. The medical centre was built to take advantage of the springs and baths were built. We arranged to bathe and found ourselves talking about hepatitis B prevalence in Fijian population as the hot water ran.

We went snorkelling and Dean practised his free diving when he dropped his snorkel next to some amazing coral. We met a nice couple and their baby there and they invited us for a drink at their hotel. A PR guy and his journalist wife, we found that Fiji was probably our most sociable country as we easily found ourselves chatting to people as we went.

We made our way to the island of Taveuni via a bumpy bus journey and small ferry ride. You buy the tickets at a place that sells excellent curries. The roads were being made up and the four groups of workmen we saw all had a Chinese foreman overseeing things. Once on the West coast of Taveuni we were conveniently met by a truck from our hostel. Almost all of the tourists on the boat were heading to the same place. Except Bryn and his family – but it took us a while to work that out. Little did we realise that in a few days we’d know everyone on that boat who wasn’t local.

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Once at our hostel in Taveuni, Dean sensed a medic. I don’t know if he heard something or just felt it but when we sat down to dinner, there was a copy of our classic textbook cheese and onion lying on the table in front of us. We ascertained the book’s owner was Leon – a medical student based where the hot springs were. There were loads of people to talk to at the hostel and only a limited number of places to go and things to do.

We got another day of diving in. The place is known as the Rainbow reef with fast flowing currents aerating the coral. A stunning moment – after conquering the currents – is the white wall, like a snow-covered mountain. Diving again so soon after Indonesia really helped with my confidence.

Another gem in Taveuni is the Lavena coastal path running along the East coast. We enjoyed the walk and then the dive into, under and from the waterfalls at the end point. Shame we had to wait two hours for a ride back but there was a copy of Animal Farm lying around which passed the time.

One of the activities I’d hoped to do this trip was horse riding. I’d imagined several days trekking across Western China but that never happened. In fact, we found ourselves on overexcited horses who weren’t accustomed to being ridden – or exercised. Not good for new rider Dean.

We got the big ferry back with everyone else to Savusavu and upgraded to one of the upstairs hotel rooms for £10 more. It was a real treat after 6 hours of electricity a day and bunk beds.

Fiji was lush, green, friendly and very easy to travel around. Unless you’re really into trains. We learnt tons about Fijian culture, a few phrases, and made lots and lots of friends.

The Yasawa Islands

I need to tell you about Fiji! It might be four months later, and Dean might have said he wanted to cover this bit but I can’t hang on. Those beautiful beaches keep going through my mind.

We flew into Nadi where we were suddenly struck by how many Brits there were and how expensive everything was. There was some jet lag to overcome and serious head scratching as we worked our way round the Awesome Adventures tour packages. All of the islands were all inclusive –  how luxurious you say – but there was the coconut scale to grasp. Backpackers are firmly “1 coconut” resort guests. As grown ups who like their own bathroom, we felt we were more 1/2 and there were islands that offered both types of accommodation. We booked with trepidation not really sure which islands are best, what we’d get when we arrived and whether we’d be stranded with a bunch of kids and no dorm beds left.

This issue of being stuck on an island with enforced fun thrown in filled me with wariness. It contrasted so greatly with what we’d been trying to do with the rest of the trip. However, the display of different traditional Pacific dances, the audience participation conga and the silly games seemed so exciting and novel to Dean I realised I’d just have to go with it. He’d never been on a holiday like that before, meanwhile I was thinking “ooh, that would be a good game for Guides” or “this reminds of the caravan park we used to go to”.

We were incredibly lucky with timing. That’s all I can say. It’s a strange experience being shipped to an island, welcomed routinely, entertained, provided with activities, fed well and then given a hearty farewell as you are returned to the boat for them to start the cycle with new guests. We managed two islands and two boat journeys with some of the best people we met on the trip. Pippa, Mark and Miles taught us a lot however we are not at liberty to share exact details. Marvin made us smile.

The islands vary greatly in their food, accommodation, activities and atmosphere. We enjoyed volleyball, going to church, snorkelling, diving through a freshwater cave, hand line fishing, and proper hard work up a sweat fishing. We danced, we swung in hammocks watching the sunset, we played cards. It was fun but we were itching to see “real Fiji” afterwards.

LCCT – again?

no seats, partitions rather than walls, inadequate A/C, dirty floors...

no seats, partitions rather than walls, inadequate A/C, dirty floors… LCCT

So we found ourselves in Malaysia again. 4th time at LCCT. It wasn’t our love for that airport that brought us back. It was a little diplomatic manoeuvring and a love for Malaysia. It’s hot, cheap, English speaking and there’s plenty to do. The ideal place to base yourself when you’re wondering what will happen next.

In KL, we caught up with Dean’s friend Wes again who we’d also managed to catch in Singapore in December. We got to explore the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur a bit more. Some of those houses are B-I-G! We enjoyed giving into cravings for home comforts. Our friends in Hong Kong hadn’t been too interested in Western food having just left the UK but we really appreciated our full English in KL.

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Wes works for a beauty treatments company and we had a real treat in sampling some of the products! I had one job where my consultant would get her hair blow dried every Thursday. I thought it the height of luxury, continued to idolise her and toyed with following her into that speciality. Turns out in Malaysia, and a number of other Asian countries, it is quite routine to go to the salon for a wash and blow dry and in fact, the shampooing is often done in the salon chair. We got the chance to experience a little of this glamour and try out the new products.

We decided that as newly weds we deserved to have a few nights in a 5* hotel. Well, you can when it’s £70 a night and you’ve racked up 3 months of Agoda points to make it even cheaper! Hotel Maya is lovely with DVD rental, tea and cakes with views of the towers and all the extras our other accommodation had been lacking. Working from the most basic up: Bathroom -> electricity -> fan -> a/c -> wifi -> kettle -> TV -> fridge -> phone -> safe generally. And this place had all of that, and more!!

We spent some days plotting. We had a flight to Fiji but that was about it. Where shall we go next?

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There was time to take a short excursion to Malacca where sadly, we hadn’t managed to get to when Dad was here before Christmas. It was a shame you missed it, Dad, nice place.

Hong Kong with friends

Our trip continued in Hong Kong, but this time with some of our friends. It was different travelling with other people, taking other agendas into consideration of what to do each day. Also, after having got through such a big life event, I think we felt somewhat blunted, and were quite happy just to sit back and wind down.

But nevertheless, we pressed on. We rented an apartment in Wan Chai through Airbnb with our friend Eric. Wan Chai is where a lot of HK ladies of the night hang out, especially in the areas north of the MTR station. We were spared of this mostly, and instead stayed down one of the lanes that was an odorous market by day. We somehow missed the dodgy tourist bars, but found a very pleasant german one selling weissbier by the stein, and a house band who enjoyed performing covers of Shakira.

Our tourist activities included the cable car up to the Tien Tan Buddha (better than the Maokong equivalent in Taipei), Afternoon Tea at the Mandarin Oriental, Evening at the Races at Sha Tin racetrack, and Temple Market (and its somewhat strange offshoot area with adult sex toys). But best of all, it was just great catching up with old friends.

I had some problems with getting a visa for China which I won’t go into here. Suffice to say, this really put us in a tight spot in terms of what to do next, and slightly ruined the high after the wedding. We had planned to go to China for the next two months. Also the World Rugby Sevens were coming to town , and prices skyrocketed up to 200% of their usual rack rate. So it was time for us to get out of town, try to get a proper honeymoon (while saving a bit of money), and plan what to do next.

And where would that be? Why, KL of course, which has arguably the best choice for good value 5-star hotels in the world.

The Wedding

Welcome to our long-awaited coverage of the fixture between Dean and Helen. We’re bringing you exclusive news on the groundwork from both sides, commentary of the wedding and an in-depth post-match analysis with the couple themselves.

In the run up to this momentous match, the home team got to work early on with local preparations. The managing team of the home side (Margaret and Jeffrey Yang) had been heavily involved in the organisation and tactics. The wedding certificate was hand-picked, and they bought some new footwear and special lucky undergarments for the demanding star players. An important bit of kit (signature stamps) required some expert training:

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Transport and accommodation were arranged expertly (Tainan Hotel and the HSR tickets). Dean finally got some long awaited grooming to look like David Beckham.

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Careful attention had being paid to nutrition – rumours about controversial dishes being on the menu were officially quashed in a statement from the home side’s dietary consultant (Third Uncle’s wife) “The full ten course-meal will be shark-fin soup free”.

The away team travelled far for the fixture. They also bought a new away kit, with their star player sporting two strips, including a tailored qi pao with some amazing help from Aunties Catherine, Rosalyn and (foreign transfer) Dean’s sister Teresa. Quality make-up and personal bridal wear has been sourced with the assistance of kit managers Naomi and Katy. A special pre-match warm-up in the away camp included manicures and pedicures via the sponsors: Goli, Kavita and Margaret.

Meanwhile press got some further shooting training done.

Rosie practising her shooting

Rosie practising her shooting

We chatted to Katy in the dressing room earlier about whether there were any difficulties pre-match. She replied she had asked the manager: “I don’t know what to do about the grey hairs – pull them out, hide them, or leave them there loud and proud?”.

Katy and Naomi were obviously pretty busy here with the press in full force too. Paps Rosie and Goli were all over it!

Among the welcomers downstairs in the hotel, we had vital home team members Lucy and Francesca, who ensured everything ran smoothly.

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Auntie Catherine, ever the professional, was making finishing touches back upstairs:

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One final pre match pep talk from coach Barton

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The home team’s captain walks out on the pitch with his mascot:

Dean with our ring bearer

And both teams brought their  long-term supporters – their introducer Kavita, and play is expertly witnessed by Dr Howard and Dr Margaret.

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And after that, we were off, and the real stars of the show came out in full force:

At half-time, the players headed back to their dressing rooms, and they changed to their second-half kit. When they returned, the crowds wanted more and there was a surprise waiting for them:

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The match overall was a success, and the teams did a lap of honour, thanking all their supporters:

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Everyone had a great time, and we all had a nice photo at the end.

Now for the post match interview:

(end of silly narrative device)

We would like to thank everyone who helped to make our special day happen. Over the proceeding 3 months, it was difficult to imagine that a wedding could be organised in such a time-frame, and we also needed to learn about the traditions of a Taiwanese wedding. To everyone mentioned above, we thank you so much. Also, thanks to everyone who came and celebrated with us.

Taiwan as a tourist

On reflection, it is quite astonishing how many tourist sites we managed to see in our fortnight in Taiwan. Especially considering that we also managed buying shoes, getting hair cuts, a few dress fittings (well, just me – that one) and so on.

From the second week onwards we had people from the UK joining our group almost every day.

Our first site was the National Palace Museum. It’s huge, so big that most of us went back a second time. It’s surrounded by beautiful gardens and inside dark and peaceful. Unless a big tour group passes you by in a whirl. I was most impressed by the jade sculptures including that of a cabbage, however I did rather like the snuff boxes too. I need to get me some of that.

This is the Sun Yet Sen Memorial. The exhibition inside recorded the places he’d lived, and had photos with people he’d met. It felt as though we’d been trailing him all our trip.

We visited the Chiang Kai Shek Memorial on a surprisingly sunny day. Although the steps up to the statue were closed we stood out in the square taking photos of the theatre and concert hall.

We visited the Dalongdong Bao’an Temple near where Dean’s parents used to live. It is nearly 200 years old and a number of gods are worshipped there. My dad joined Dean’s dad in paying respects at each of the altars. It added an extra dimension visiting a temple with someone who was actively worshipping rather than our usual wander through taking photographs trying not to get into people’s way. We would not have known about the upstairs extension if Dean’s dad had not mysteriously led us through a courtyard to a staircase…

We went to Yangmingshan national park in good time for cherry blossom season and took loads of photos. It is a beautiful park that we saw a tiny section of. We visited the flower clock, waterfall and went for lunch at one of Chiang Kai Shek’s residences: Grass Mountain Chateau. It was restored after a fire a few years ago and like so many places we’ve visited in Taiwan, it feels stylish, fashionable. I really like the interior design and architecture in Taiwan. In bookshops, cafes, restaurants everything feels as though it should be ridiculously expensive – and then is very reasonable!

One day, Dean’s dad organised a people carrier to take us on a tour of the old mining towns of North Taiwan. We started in Jingtong old street and mining village and railway.

Then we moved in to Shifen (Pingxi area) to see the waterfall and watched lanterns being released.

Next, was Houtong. Howard, Goli and Rosie joined us there. The town has become over run with cats. Everywhere you look, all different colours, hidden in boxes and on rooftops.

We finished in Jiaofen. This is an old gold mining town and the little streets were the inspiration for the animation Spirited Away. We went to a traditional tea house and attempted to learn how to prepare and pour tea properly. I tried Taiwanese sausage there too.

One day, I went walking and found some steps. 180 or so, and I climbed up them. I’d passed a sign referring to Zhishan ecological park so I hoped that’s where I’d find myself. Right up on the ridge is a series of well maintained walkways and I had children race by me, elderly people marching through to exercise and glimpses of the temples through the trees. I took dad back a few days later.

On a rainy day we went to the coastal town of Danshui (or Tamsui using the other translation found on the MRT). It was, admittedly pretty miserable weather wise so no photos were taken – by me. Dean might have managed something.

When we went on the Maokong Gondola, little did Dean and I know, we would soon become cable car connoisseurs.

Here are a few bonus fun shots from that frenetic fortnight.

My return to Taiwan

I was born in Taipei, and moved to England when I was five. I have very few memories of my childhood – this may be because I was an extremely naughty child, and liked to piss people off (for references talk to my sister, Teresa), and probably got what was coming to me (e.g. concussion).

I have returned on only a few occasions, mainly to keep in touch with my family there. Growing up in a different country to the place your place of birth means l feel like a tourist in both the UK and Taiwan. There is no sense of “belonging” or patriotic sentiment linked with either. So when I go back to Taiwan, I enjoy seeing relatives, eating the food, seeing the sights, but do not feel any more at home than I do back in the UK.

This time however, we were there for an important reason – to get married. Over the proceeding months, my mum, dad and sister had been working tirelessly to organise the wedding, while Helen and I got in touch intermittently. When we got to Taiwan, it all became more real – we would go to the venue to check it out, organise the menu, give input on the look of the hall and arrange the order of the ceremony.

Then we spent time seeing my family, which I really enjoyed. I sometimes regret not being able to regularly chat or see my uncles and aunties, gain some of their wisdom, and play with my young nieces and nephews (before they turn into grumpy teenagers).  It will be nice to spend time with them again later in the trip on our return.

The food was as I remembered – amazing. The food courts and night markets smelled of stinky tofu, sausages and sugar cane juice. The diversity of the tastes available made me excited like a child again. I was really happy to share this with Helen and our friends who came all the way from England to try it out.

My cousin Edith’s husband, Charlie, took us to a private karaoke bar, and this time the singing felt very mature. It was a classy venue, and the other singers really took it seriously. I was made (forcibly) to sing two songs. Fun, but nerve-wracking especially since there were so many experts in the room. The pianist was very talented, he could change key and timing of the songs depending on the singer – top marks!

We loved Taiwan, and have promised to ourselves to regularly come back.

Home time – arriving in Taipei

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So far, our trip had been a bit Identikit. We’d visited South East Asian countries with backpacks. Night buses, waterfalls, treks. There wasn’t much that marked it out or made it ours.
Until we went to Taiwan.
Then it became personal!

We arrived to the smell and feel of spring. It made me excited that although I would be missing the UK spring (little did I know then that there wasn’t much Spring to miss at home!) We still got to experience that gorgeous season in Taiwan.
We landed in a smart, clean, temperate city and easily navigated our way to the apartment Dean’s parents were renting.
Going to Taipei was like going home. For both of us.
We had the comforts of staying somewhere with a washing machine, microwave and sofa! We get excited if a hotel room has a fridge or kettle so this was quite a step up. The apartment is really swish and three beautiful orchids and lots of fresh fruit really finished things off.
However, it felt like a homecoming most of all, because of family. It was the first time we’d seen Dean’s parents and sister since we got engaged. Dean’s mum and I had a little time together and I must admit I shed some tears. Mixed joy and gratitude because we were only beginning to see how much work everyone had put in to our special day. I felt really loved.

We headed out for lunch, groceries and later dinner with Teresa (Dean’s sister) and their cousin Francesca.
My love for the city was instant. Clean, well run, wide open roads, sparkling malls. It felt like Singapore but more lived in, more fun.
I felt slightly betrayed initially that Dean had never brought me there before!

Even on our first day there we made it to Shi Lin night market. I found trousers that fitted me and a great shopping buddy in Teresa. She’s super attentive and observant when it comes to shopping, real skills. Dean bought a pair of trousers too (31 degree heat down to 15, we needed more layers!). He tried them on at 11.20pm and picked them up tailored to his leg length from Giordano at midnight. Satisfied customers.

Our two weeks in Taiwan in March were so action packed that I can’t cover it in one post. There was wedding prep, meeting family, being a tourist, everyone arriving and the wedding day itself. What an exceptional fortnight!