Genghis Khan and other Fun Facts

Top travel tips for Mongolia…

Genghis Khan – pronounced and written Chinghis Khan but born ‘Temujin’; founder and Great Khan of the Mongel Empire;

Genghis Khan - never allowed pics so while all conquering, uniting good bloke..  probably wasn't big on the facebook of his time.
Genghis Khan – never allowed pics so while all conquering, uniting good bloke.. probably wasn’t big on the facebook of his time.

born about 1162 and died August 1227; was buried in a secret place and 600 horseman rode all over that place to erase the exact spot… then all 600 were killed. Now that’s public servant dedication!

Temperature – any temperature below minus ten (-10C) is irrelevant because nose drips have already formed icicles from the tip of the beacon illuminating from the centre of your face and Rudolph and Santa have conscripted you for work on Christmas eve.

Mongolian ger at sunset
Mongolian ger at sunset

 

Elves – I have never seen one but I hear they enter a ger throughout the night at 11pm, 2am and 5am to stoke the fire and add coal to create that ‘on the streets of Dubai temperature’ we all hanker for during March in Mongolia. It’s always a lovely contrast to the -35C outside. I would like to take an elf home.

Food – Vegetarians need not apply. Mutton is good. Mutton soup is good. Mutton dumplings are good. Muttonballs with anything are good. Mutton barbecues are great. Potato is the vegetable and potato cutlets are a highlight. Yes, mashed potato, crumbed and cooked like mutton.

Cashmere walking
Cashmere walking

Wine – a corkscrew is essential for fine dining and to accompany mutton masterchef moments.

Goats – cashmere walks before you wear it.

Fashion – The ‘Terrorist Look’ is in!

The 'terrorist' fashion statement.
The ‘terrorist’ fashion statement.

Clothing – getting dressed for that middle of the night toilet dash is a simple affair. Here are the layers I recommend:

  1. Wool knickers
  2. Thermal long johns – bright, colourful patterns optional
  3. Socks – 2 pair of woolen or possum at the least
  4. Jeans – optional
  5. Snow/walking boots
  6. Merino singlet
  7. Polypropylene long sleeved top
  8. Fleecy jumper
  9. Lip balm on
  10. Scarf – wrapped around head and across face at least twice
  11. Beanie – on top of scarf

    Princess Fiona and her Khan.
    Princess Fiona and her Khan.
  12. Long arm woolen mittens
  13. All weather duck down jacket/parker – collar turned up and zipped to your nose      
  14. Hood over beanie
  15. Sunglasses –  to keep cold off eyeballs. Yes they fog up but it is warmer!
  16. Antiseptic hand wash – in pocket to be used after because water in pipes are frozen.
  17. Now… run!!

What a wonderful experience to have visited this ancient land.  I feel like Princess Fiona has  definitely soared! 

My golden eagle ride.
My golden eagle ride.
View from the meditation centre in the clouds.
View from the meditation centre in the clouds

 

Lost In Translation

Nobody really knows what Bill Murray’s character whispers to Scarlet…

At the end of the movie it is left up to the viewer to determine whether it is a beginning or an end, and I have always felt that the story up to that point was only a prequel to the real story.

This is how Beijing feels to me today. It is only a beginning; an introduction to my Trans Siberian adventure; an invitation to return.

Calligraphy at dawn
Calligraphy at dawn

But what rich and rewarding stories unfolded in this super city.

Beijing parks bustle from dawn and the city awakens. Elderly folk silently practice tai chi, artists inscribe wet marks of calligraphy onto slate pavements while tiny children are indulged by doting grandparents.

Our tourist group gathered in Tiananmen Square where the symbolism of past events are truly overwhelming when put into context by the size of this famous landmark. Chairman Mao’s portrait is proudly displayed at the western end and I feel watched over with all the other passers by. This is the low season for westerners but it is still busier than most places I’ve known back home.

Inside the Forbidden City
Inside the Forbidden City

We are herded in lines into the Forbidden City where once again I’m saturated with a sense of history that I find difficult to fathom. The cobblestones courtyards are surrounded by red painted, veranda edged buildings topped with brightly, glazed roof tiles. Tourists huddle at cordoned off doorways of temples to grab a peek inside at a past life and I am reminded of the manipulations of court life and the excesses of the guilded cage that many of the concubines lived in far from their families and watched over by the ultimate public servant.. the eunuch.

Outside, we cross a moat and head back into the bustling modern life that is Beijing. We stop for dumplings in a back street before getting our caffeine fix at Starbucks. Later that night we visit the guide’s friend Alice for dinner in her tea house in a nearby hutong. Of course we can’t resist looking back to our own ancient 70’s heritage and name it ‘Alice’s Restaurant’. After dinner we are introduced to a diverse range and very distinctive flavours of tea.

We walked from Gate 18 to 6 on this section of the Great Wall
We walked from Gate 18 to 6 on this section of the Great Wall

The following day we visited The Great Wall at Mutianyu. What can I say? It is a brilliantly engineered, original idea of a 10000 kms long barrier to keep out the marauding Mongels. I understand the pain suffered building it and that can never be negated but I must admit that this architectural masterpiece is now my number one, número uno, favourite, most amazing, man made wonder of the world. I have never seen anything quite so spectacular in all my life! Pictures and words just can’t do it justice. You must go and see it.. and take the time to walk as many gates as possible.

What a wonderful country! What a delightful city!

Beijing has a population of 22 million and yet the streets are spotless and I found all the people I interacted with to be interested, intelligent, warm and inviting. Their English is far better than my Chinese will ever be and while there were some very funny, literal translations

Walking home after dinner in a nearby hutong.
Walking home after dinner in a nearby hutong.

on products, there was definitely nothing lost in translation of the smiles that greeted us.

I feel I’ve only just scratched the surface of this amazing place and I look forward to coming back one day in springtime or autumn to see the colours of nature as a backdrop to the swirling, kaleidoscope of bright colours that are the people of this fascinating country.

The next day we boarded the train early and our journey continued toward our next adventure… Mongolia!

Bucket Listings

When you wish upon a star..

Have you ever waited years for a wish to come true?
In this world of instant gratification it doesn’t seem to happen that often anymore. And yet when it does,  after such a long time, my appreciation seems to reach an unparalleled value… well, at least for a while!

My travel bucket list is pretty extensive but ever since hearing about the entombed terracotta warriorsTerracotta Warriors in Pit 1 discovery while I was studying art back in my tertiary ed days, I had wanted to see them ‘en masse’, up close and personal. Yes, just like Mr Attenborough studying his obsession, I had my own natural curiosity to explore these unique objects within their natural habitat.. and so my objective was always to one day travel to Xi’an in Shaanxi Province, China and visit the Terracotta Warrior Museum.

On my Travel Bucket List it was listed right between
24. Visiting Uluru at midday, dusk and dawn
and
26. Enjoying Oktoberfest from midday, past dusk until dawn.
I still have to tick off 24 but yesterday I was lucky enough to tick off 25. See the Terracotta Warriors at Xi’an accompanied by my very knowledgeable, young, local guide Maggie. She was wonderful!
Advertisement: if you ever need a great guide on your next visit then let me put you in contact with her.

What did I think? 

It still amazes me sometimes how all my acquired art appreciation skills can desert me and instead my instincts for the mundane shines magnificently through clear as dawn to dusk.

I’m not sure what I was expecting but it surely wasn’t the aircraft carrier size hanger like building that covers each pit full of warriors. Makes sense I guess but for some reason I mundanely thought it would all be outdoors.

This kneeling archer was found whole.
This kneeling archer was found whole. It’s only this photographer that cut off his head.

I’m guessing it was worked out pretty quickly that tourist numbers drop off on wet days. Today however was just cold inside and the dust from the diggings hung noticeably in the air.. but I did notice it was less dense than whatever was hanging in the air outside.

Maggie gave me all the stats on numbers, size, weights, years and then put it in context by explaining it was from the first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang from the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) who had commissioned.. or just encouraged.. artists and local ceramicists to produce with crafted detail these 8000 more than life size individual figures weighing between 100-300 kg each, to be buried alongside him… along with his concubines, wives that hadn’t given children yet and various other lucky courtiers chosen to help him out in his next lifetime. Oh the joys of calling an emperor ‘best mate’!

I wandered around the three huge covered pit areas trying to take it all in; the way the jigsaw pieces 2-Jigsawwere found when dug up; how they had been lovingly restored and proudly displayed; the painted colours; methods; rankings; horses; bronze castings and adornments.

My brain buzzed with an overload of creative and statistical info…                                                             ….and so I did what all good tourists do in front of one of the most significant archaeological excavations of the 20th century, UNESCO listed world cultural heritage site and one of my own personal obsessions…

I took a bad selfie! 

Selfie.. yes, I did!
Selfie.. yes, I did!

Needing a break, we wandered off to enjoy lunch followed by a tourist tea ceremony,

Tourist Tea for Two
Tourist Tea for Two

a visit to the Banpo Neolithic museum showing a matriarchal cleverly run local society more than 6000 years ago. Yep, we’ve been running things well forever ladies!

And finally, I finished my day on a high note of kulcha with a last minute whim booking for dinner at ‘a very special only in Xi’an’ dumpling banquet and spectacular show of costumed singing, twirling, whirling, dancers, musicians and assorted performers on an ever changing cherry blossomed stage.

Cherry Blossoms
Cherry Blossoms
Performers
Performers

It was a full day of memorable touristy experiences… tick, tick, tick and tick.

But my appreciation for the warriors is still what’s keeping me warm today.

I am currently writing this as I enjoy my bucket list #67 Ride a bullet train anytime of day. Yes, I’m heading to Beijing, a super city with a population approximately the same size as Australia!

Wherever I May Roam

‘And the road becomes my bride. I have stripped of all but pride. So in her I do confide. And she keeps me satisfied. Gives me all I need… ‘   Metallica

Have you ever noticed that when there are two of you travelling together, that nobody offers tips on how to play those age old fun tourist games of ‘Which Way Up Is The Map’ or ‘Let’s Try That Direction’ … but when travelling alone, the locals willingly and regularly gift advice and smiles?

I frequently find silver linings when I observe my solitary glass is half full.

Flying solo allows me to go wherever I like, whenever I like and for as long as I like.

1-Midday-in-the-parkYes!

It’s the ultimate self-indulgence, with no need to apologise to a long suffering companion for another excess, to spend an entire afternoon aimlessly wandering through a park or walking in circles around a gallery that I accidently found when I first wandered left instead of right down an unknown back street while looking for the promised exotic aromas of a local produce market.  

Travelling alone lets me eat when I choose; to dine out… or in; on previously untried local delicacies… or on welcoming home reminding comfort foods; on a plan… or on a whim. I don’t have to discuss it with anyone else… well, as long as my hotel has 24 hr room service.

‘And the earth becomes my throne. I adapt to the unknown. Under wandering stars I’ve grown. By myself but not alone…’

But travelling by myself can also bring out a few self-preserving, ‘little girl lost’ insecurities and fears:

  • Is this airline I’ve never flown with before going to be better than flapping my arms astride a large fat duck?
  • Am I standing at the right departure gate? I better check it for the fourth time in the last 10 minutes.
  • A 6 hour marathon of Big Bang Theory in Chinese isn’t so bad? Ok, keep looking for the English translation button.
  • Did I hear the heavily accented translation over the loudspeaker correctly and will I fall asleep in this Transfer Hall while I wait for my delayed connection?
  • Will my tour guide still be waiting for me even though my connecting flight won’t arrive now until 2am in a place I’ve never visited, where I don’t speak their language and the alphabet may as well be hieroglyphics?
  • Am I worried because there’s nobody on the front desk at the hotel I was booked into?
    Street at midday
    Street at midday

    No, just follow my very patient guide into the thick, grey smog and around the corner to the hotel’s more expensive Big Brother and get out the visa card.

  • Blue skies
    Blue skies

    I wonder what health risks remain after an Air Quality Index reading of orange (unhealthy151-200) instead of green (healthy 0-50)?

  • Should I have changed my hair from blonde? It just seems blonder, for some reason, today.

    Follow your own path
    Follow your own path

‘Less I have the more I gain. Off the beaten path I reign. Roamer, wanderer, nomad, vagabond…        

Call me what you will…’

And so my new adventure has started!

I have arrived in Xi’an after 18 hours of travelling. I am tired but not from flapping my arms. I have spent my first day wandering around getting my bearings and now I’m looking forward to remeeting my guide tomorrow morning and visiting the Terracotta Warriors.

Education or Indulgence

Is a love of travel or new experiences just a new form of consumerism? When the obsession is not brands, but culture, does that excuse the excess? 

How will my travel experiences benefit anyone?
Am I educating or just indulging myself?

I have watched with interest, and yes *sigh* even participated in that all time favourite game of my Baby Boomer generation ‘Live Life to the Max Today Because You Deserve It All Now And Damn the Consequences to Following Generations’. We did it bigger, louder and longer than others before and then took on commercialism with such a passion that the only rules were to out-buy, out-decorate and out-own everyone else until now it appears the competition is about how much of our past lives are stashed in storage.
I also need to ask..  why is everything so big and brash? Were we ever subtle? Is it our insecurity that makes our commentary on life so loud? Or our confidence?

I love my generation.. I proudly believe we’ve contributed some world changing occasions, thinkers and inventions during my lifetime. We broke down the wall, flew to the moon, connected everyone on the internet, built bionic body parts, used celebrity musicians to unite the masses globally, grew Mandela, Obama, Oprah and my personal whimsy.. Johnny Depp.

But now it appear the boomers have arrived at a new stage where many have had an awakening.. our life is no longer about possessions.
Yes, minimalism is the new black!
Life is not about having.. but doing!
And so it is with a brand new gusto that we have swathed ourselves in our new mantra… ……’life is about experiences’.

The travel/tourism industry must be thrilled with so many boomers holding 50% of all spending power and many of them about to have more time on their hands to spend their grand children’s inheritance. Tourism has marketed the idea well that we need to spend the rest of our lives enjoying every better and lesser known corners of our planet.

I love travel. I have always loved it! The new scenery, people, food, music, art, language, customs.. the whole cultural experience! I love having my eyes opened to how others think and why they don’t always agree with or understand my point of view. I love walking in their shoes. There is nothing better than explaining Oz idioms to other cultures and having them explain theirs to me over some late night local beverages. It makes me aware of our differences.. and our similarities.
But is that enough?
Does it really benefit anyone else but me?

And so friends, what are your thoughts?

Challenge On!

With 2014 just starting and new adventures about to begin, I thought I’d revisit a post from travels past. My intention is to crank up ye ol’ blog and start writing again. I hope you enjoy it!

I didn’t want to like Balzano!
Bolzano with the Dolomites behind
Bolzano gateway to the Dolomites

Bookings had already fallen through and I could tell the instant that I left the security of the train that I was going to have to think. Welcome to Italy!

Crossing the Alps
Crossing the Alps

I had just enjoyed fabulous snowy scenery on the trip from Munich and I didn’t want the dream to end and so it was with some trepidation that I walked back from the lampost and into the wardrobe.

There was nothing wrong with the square outside the station so I walked around it… twice.  Where was the promised 10A bus as described online by the only hotel with a room still available? Where was the tobacconist who could sell me a ticket? Where were any directions at all?

Autumn dripped everywhere
Autumn dripped everywhere

I found the bus stop for 2,3,5,6,7 &11 and there were taxis nearby but I wasn’t quite ready to accept defeat this early in the game… so I continued to search for the 10A stop. I walked around the square again dragging my bag in that typical tourist dance before finding myself back at the station. Ok, I’d give them a second chance!

Success!  Tobacconist found, I requested a ‘ticket autobus’ and the woman behind the counter asked ‘where’?

I had no idea really but responded by showing her my ‘10A bus’ online note. I think she then signalled the town centre. Well, her finger moved in a circle around an imaginary city centre… or stirred a fictitious pot. ‘Si! Gracie!’ said I and paid a couple of euro.

With such a success and feeling on a roll, I thought I should ask again where I could find the 10A bus. Actually, I showed her my note again that clearly stated 10A autobus.  She looked at me blankly… obviously she sold tickets and not directions and so I left with my insecurities clearly intact.

Streets and alleyways are lined with quality shops for every desire
Streets and alleyways are lined with quality shops for every desire

I walked outside to a now very familiar looking square and confidently walked in the opposite direction convinced that miracles can happen if you look at life from a different perspective. Zap! I came to the taxi rank. Defeated? Yes, I jumped in a cab and was at my hotel in five minutes… passing the illusive 10A bus at its stop on my way.

The hotel didn’t really speak English. Hmmm, and clearly I didn’t speak Italian until 3am and after several reds. They also did not have tour brochures. I then discovered that the whole town does not have tour brochures or in fact, tours at all.

Apparently… that’s its charm! You discover it for yourself. A whole new kind of tour where you make it up and have to think!

Challenge accepted!

Chestnuts roasting on a cold Autumn day
Chestnuts roasting on a cold Autumn day

The next day I woke at the crack of noon and wandered back into town to find the markets. I wandered slowly, shifting down a gear to soak up all the rich colours and intruding aromas. Strolling down the promenade of speciality shops, I smelled the leather and imagined myself draped in poise and charm… just like all those beautiful intimidating women I saw around me.

Medieval castle overlooking the valley
Medieval castle overlooking the valley

Eventually (don’t ever believe an Italian map) I found the modern art gallery and was so underwhelmed that I decided instead to give my art history side a go and visit a medieval castle with murals dating back to the 12 century. Smart move! This was wonderful!

Rustic charm
Rustic charm

The bus had dropped me at the bottom of the hill so I climbed the obligatory cobblestone pathway past hillside vineyards to the castle entrance where I drank my fill of medieval  dreams and lifetimes before dining on three different kinds of dumplings and local wine and deciding to amble back along the riverside with autumn dripping on either side and with snow-capped mountains painted into the background.

 
In Bolzano, I drank the best coffee of my life, dawdled over beautiful wines and historic art, enjoyed wonderful food in a mediocre hotel but I also had the chance to imbibe the locals for two bella days and niotti in Northern Italy. Sometimes, no matter how hard you fight it, you just get lucky!

 Yes, I had to think!  I might try that again one day!

We Are The People We’ve Been Waiting For

‘Science is now discovering what artists have long understood: that nurturing our feelings is vital to the quality of our lives and that intellect and feeling are intimately connected.’ – Sir Ken Robinson

At the start of a new year I, like many others, reflect on the environmental, social and economic changes our world appears to so rapidly have been going through over the recent years and while good government leaders recognise that education is a top priority, I need to question if our education systems have prepared our children adequately to deal with our constantly changing world.

 ‘The social and economic costs are incalculable. At one end of the spectrum there are the huge numbers of people who are chronically disengaged at work or in school because they find it all pointless and unfulfilling. At the other are the jaw-dropping numbers who are critically addicted to alcohol, tobacco or drugs as a way of stimulating or suppressing their feelings.’ – Sir Ken Robinson in his most recent blog for The Huffington Post, As Science Turns Its Attention To Feeling.

I believe we desperately need the next generations to get smarter and more adaptable to successfully deal with these changes. The education plans of the past that relied on students all achieving the same answers doesn’t seem to be helpful anymore. Students must learn to think laterally, find many answers or solutions, create original ideas and new approaches to solving problems…  and the only way I can see this being achieved is to change the focus and format of our current education systems.

We are the people we’ve been waiting for… we can find the solutions if we can change how we think.

We need to get creative… and think like artists!


Who Would Have Imagined?

Just in time for Christmas!

I have been pleasantly surprised to find this recording by a young friend who I am watching grow. Creativity has been highly valued in her family and is nurtured daily alongside her academic and social growth.

I first met Lilia as a budding visual artist when she was only 8 years old and recently she opened the Operation Art exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW and spoke about how this program and the arts had impacted upon her life. Here is Lilia’s speech. She is a confident young teenager now who continues to be excited by life’s challenges. I am watching her grow in so many ways and constantly learn from and enjoy her achievements.

My original post about Lilia is at: http://fionasteel.edublogs.org/2010/07/24/the-heart-of-operation-art-lilias-story/

Now, for your enjoyment…while you can’t see her here, you can enjoy Lilia singing ‘Who Would Imagine A King’.

Happy Christmas!

Education Evolution

Are education systems adapting to meet the needs of students?

In the words of arguably, the most famous Aussie political slogan of all time… It’s Time!!!

Recently I asked a group of preschoolers to pretend they were taking a photo of each other. Every one of them confidently held their pretend camera away from their body to look at the pretend preview screen before they clicked. Gone are the days of putting your eye to a viewfinder!

Children use technology as easily as I used a pen and paper or read a book when I was growing up. My parents still read a newspaper to keep up with current affairs but I access news sites online or ‘google it’ while my 20something daughter relies on social media sites.

We live in a world where children are stimulated continually from the day they are born by technology… television, dvds, ipods, phones, cameras, image files, internet and so much more. When they come to school we ask them to sit quietly and listen to a teacher who has important things to tell them. It might be important but in comparison to the student’s ‘techno’ world it is usually not very entertaining… and we wonder why students are so easily distracted! How can we expect them to learn if they are not excited to be involved?

Education is about learning how to think in a variety of ways. Some subjects teach a student to follow procedures or research while other subjects teach problem solving, questioning and creativity. If our children are to develop their creative thinking skills, we need to offer opportunities for them to have a go. Creative thinkers often work collaboratively and understand that there can be more than one answer. Often they can see many solutions!

The following short video created by G&T middle students in the Dallas/Fort Worth indicates that change is needed and that technology is their answer… what do you think?

Welcome to 2011

Change.  It has the power to uplift, to heal, to stimulate, surprise, open new doors, bring fresh experience and create excitement in life. Certainly it is worth the risk.” Leo Buscaglia

I have decided that it is time to steer my life in a completely different direction and follow a new passion… travel!

I love travel! I enjoy the event and the consequence. I love seeing new sites, meeting new people and trying to understand how a region’s history created cultural behaviours, apparel and wonderful culinary delights. I particularly enjoy observing how visual and performing artists interpret these events and so I want to taste each country up close.  I need to wallow in the aromas of life, fill all my senses with creative experiences and… I would like to share this!

And so, my ongoing plan is to set up a travel business that will offer opportunities for women to discover the joys of travel in small groups and share in the adventure of a lifetime!

Where would you like to visit first?

The Traveler IQ challenge ranks geographic knowledge of cities such as: Vienna, Branson or Budapest by comparing results against 6,509,717 other travelers. Brought to you by TravelPod, a TripAdvisor Media Network member

I have left my job as Coordinator of Operation Art. I have loved every aspect of this position over the last 7 years and in fact some might say that I may have been a little obsessed… but that’s what you do with things that you love and believe in so strongly. Working as a teacher for 30 years has been rewarding but being allowed to use those skills creatively on such a unique program for the last 15 years has been a privilege and I would like to thank everyone who has worked alongside me. I am so proud of how far we have come!

Recently, I was sent an amusing vocabulary list (below) derived from working with a large government organisation. You can beat yourself up, you can smile or you can leave… I choose to leave smiling!

  • SALMON DAY: The experience of spending an entire day swimming upstream only to get screwed and die.
  • SEAGULL MANAGER: A manager who flies in, makes a lot of noise, craps on everything and then flies out.
  • PERCUSSIVE MAINTENANCE: The fine art of whacking the crap out of an electronic device to get it to work again.
  • BLAMESTORMING: Sitting in a group, repeatedly discussing failing aspects of a project and who is responsible.
  • PEDESTRIAN SUBMISSION: Annually, quarterly or monthly fills in forms using the correct font and type space requesting ongoing approval for previous requests.
  • CUBE FARM: An office filled with cubicles.
    PRAIRIE DOGGING: When someone yells or drops something loudly in a cube farm and people’s heads pop up over the walls to see what’s going on. This also applies to applause for a promotion or birthday because there may be cake.
  • OH-NO SECOND:  That minuscule fraction of time in which you realize that you’ve just made a BIG mistake eg: you’ve hit ‘reply all”.
  • MYSTERY BUS *my favourite*: The bus that arrives at the pub on Friday night while you’re in the toilet after your 5th red and whisks away all the unattractive people so the pub is suddenly packed with stunners and great intellects when you come back in.

Enjoy what 2011 brings you!