Sydney’s Light Show & The Modern Day Commuter

Did you see the sunset last night? It was hands down the best sunset I have ever seen in Sydney! Unfortunately for me I didn’t get any photos of my own as I was on the bus on my way home from work. Yep, there I was, stuck in peak hour traffic when the sky put on what I am calling the show of the year.

sunset Sunset over Shelley Beach, Sydney (Photo courtesy of http://daily.sproutdaily.com/)

In between city blocks, I was treated to glimpses of true beauty. As I looked around the bus, my fellow commuters did not seem to even notice the light show. “Were they all blind?” I wondered to myself.

As I continued to look around, I realised that 4 out of 5 people were totally engrossed in their mobile device. I chuckled to myself at the thought of these people “Liking” photos of the sunset on their Instagram or Facebook feeds.

Last night’s sunset provided me with one of those moments where you sit back and feel lucky just to be alive.

Just a note: These photos are not my own and while I do not usually post the work of other people on here, Murray’s photos are exceptional and worthy of the repost!!

sunset 1(Photo courtesy of http://daily.sproutdaily.com/)

sunset 2 (Photo courtesy of http://daily.sproutdaily.com/)

sunset 3 (Photo courtesy of http://daily.sproutdaily.com/)

The Wonton Production Line

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I have a confession. My name is Louie and I am a dim-sum/ dumpling-a-holic. This is nothing new. I have been addicted to these tiny parcels of steamed goodness for as long as I can remember. Even now, I sit at my desk, enthusiastically hammering away at my keyboard, thinking about how the sight of a plate of dumplings makes me feel. It is pure joy!

Up until recently, my dim sum experiences have been limited to the various dumpling and yum cha restaurants around Sydney and throughout Asia. I have visited some of the biggest and the best, but I recently decided that the time had come to give it a go myself. making wontons appealed to me the most as they seemed to have the least room for error.

While the thought of making my own wontons excited me greatly, I must admit that I was a little hesitant due to the fact that most of my cooking revolves around less-intricate and fiddly dishes. But how am I to grow without challenging myself, right?

In order to generate the recipe, I incorporated my extensive experience in the eating of dim sum and also took on board some tips from one of my favourite food bloggers NotQuiteNigella.

If you can restrain yourself from eating the lot as soon as they are cooked, the wontons are a nice addition to a clear noodle soup. You can also freeze them away for later, however I don’t recommend storing them in the refrigerator as the wrappers will stick together.

 

My Louie Wonton recipe is as follows:

Ingredients:

500g Pork mince

6 shiitake mushroom (finely chopped)

1/2 cup of finely sliced shallots

1/4 cup of finely chopped chives

1/2 tin of finely chopped water chestnuts

1 Tbs raw sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 Tbs cornflour

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1/2 cup of Oyster sauce

1 egg

2Tbs Sesame oil

Wonton wrappers

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Method: Add all ingredients to a large mixing bowl and thoroughly combine by hand (let’s face it, it is a lot more fun when you get your hands dirty!) Note: It is important to ensure that all of your ingredients are finely chopped so as to avoid sharp or pointy edges from tearing through the wonton wrappers.

Using a teaspoon, place one heaped spoon of wonton filling in the centre of a wonton wrapper and then wet the edges of the wrapper with water using your finger.

Fold the wrapper in half into a triangle and press the edges together firmly, ensuring that you remove as much air as possible from the parcel (this will prevent the wonton from blowing up like a balloon when cooking).

Fold the corners of the triangle into the centre to form a parcel shape, ensuring that the edges remain sealed.

Fill half a large saucepan with water and heat on medium to the point where it almost boiling and then turn to low (you do not want the water to boil rapidly as this can cause the wontons to fall apart while cooking)

Allow wontons to cook for approx 7-8 mins and remove once they have floated to the surface.

Serve with desired dipping sauce (I prefer soy and sriracha) and enjoy!!

 

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Roll up the sleeves and combine all ingredients.

wonton fold

It can get a little tedious, but there is great joy to be had in folding your own wontons.

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By this point, the reward is almost in reach…

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Dive in and enjoy the fruits of your labour!!

Feed Your Soul

aristotle

I just read a life changing article. The author spoke passionately of her deepest desire to live a life that above all her made her happy. A life that not only provided for her financially but gave her the greatest reward of all, a happy and content soul.

As my eyes made their way down the page, the words that appeared in front of me were as if they were being pulled from my own mind. She spoke of feeling trapped in a life that was slowly killing her soul. Playing corporate mind games, spending half my life sitting behind a desk and not contributing to the greater good of the world has always been difficult for me to accept. She recounted how she would numb the realisation of this with earphones and excessive amounts of coffee. This is me. My morning consists of exactly this, mixed with a regimental march to the beat of the corporate drum, racing the other rats to an end goal that only seems to get further away.

Like most people, I have made endless excuses as to why I have not pursued what makes me truly happy. Feeling an obligation to look after those around me, a mortgage and the expectations of my loved ones and society itself have always prevented me from taking that leap into the great unknown. As the product of working class parents, I was raised to play it safe. Go to university, get a well-paying job and raise a family of my own. A sense of accepting periods of unhappiness in order to eventually become happy is a mantra I have unfortunately accepted as my reality. I have been so focused on these things that I have ignored what truly matters to me: happiness in the here and now.

To spend my days doing something I am passionate about, something that encourages me to grow as a human being, is a notion I have only just managed to comprehend. I have accepted the fact that this may not be as financially rewarding as ignoring my desires, but what is the cost of happiness?

The process of change is a slow, and at times, painful one. The author of the article told of her life changing moment coming at the age of 30… again, this is me. She put it perfectly when she said “You can’t steer a ship in the wrong direction for 30 years and then expect it to turn on a dime”. Advice I will remind myself of every morning.

My true happiness is not going to arrive when I get that next pay rise or when my four weeks of annual leave arrive each year. Sure these things are nice to look forward to but for me, there has to be more to life than this. The time to start doing more for me, more of what truly nurtures my body and soul is now. Realising that this process is a slow one, involving one tiny step at a time, is a good starting point. While it may not reap financial rewards, investing in myself is the greatest investment I will ever make. As you get older, you realise that the age-old saying of “life passes you by in an instant” actually has some basis of truth. There is no guarantee that tomorrow will arrive. Everyday I ask myself if I would be happy if today was my last. Often the answer is no, but I am working on changing that.

 

Just a Bit Actor on the Main Stage

Recently I was reminded of the fact that each and every one of us has a unique story. For a lot of people, these stories are positive. For others, their stories are unfortunate or even sad. I have spent most of my life tiptoeing around the fact that every person has their own history and story to tell. It have always felt awkward listening to another person’s deepest thoughts and, on the most part, I have refused to let myself get close enough to another human being for them to trust me so completely that they want to tell me their story.

Perhaps it is a reflection of the fact that I am changing and am becoming more compassionate and empathetic towards others, that I can now sit here and listen to another’s story without feeling that I am intruding. Much of my life up until this point has focused on one story, mine. Being able to admit this now makes me think that perhaps my selfish years are drawing to a close. I now realise that I am not just the protagonist in my own story but I am also a bit player in a number of stories. A periphery character who at times plays the villain, the joker, the lover or the friend.

My part in most of these stories is fleeting. Blink or take your eyes off the stage for a second and you will miss me. I depart just as seamlessly as I breeze in. In other stories, my presence, while not always lasting forever, remains with the person for the rest of their days.

While listening to another person’s story, their dreams and hopes for the future, it is difficult to not form your own judgements of their past. The beautiful thing about taking the time to listen to another’s story without judging them is the understanding that without their past, they would not be the person who stands in front of you today. The person who wholeheartedly trusts you with what makes them most vulnerable.

The thought that the people around us don’t exist simply to act out their part in our own story is one that many of us don’t entertain. Taking the time to listen to someone else’s story can actually teach you a lot about yourself. Slow yourself down and listen to the narratives of those around you. It is how we build relationships and it is the only way we can truly experience the beauty within others.

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Slowing Yourself Down

IMGP1991With the return to normality comes the return of day dreams. My desire to sit down and write out my thoughts and experiences over the last two months has been minimal to say the least. I have come to the conclusion that this is due to the fact that I was living my dream instead of living vicariously through my thoughts.

I got married just prior to Christmas and then hit the open roads of South-East Asia with my new wife. We did nothing except explore new places, eat great food and immerse ourselves in cultures that are completely different to our own and to everything to which we have grown accustomed.

Now that I am home, the grind of normality, and the fact that I am working harder than ever to pay my taxes, has got me feeling that our trip was just some kind of cruel dream. One that gave me only a sniff of the freedom that I have been craving for so long, only to be shaken awake just as it seemed to be my reality.

The smells, tastes and chaos of life in South-East Asia are addictive. Immediately upon landing, the excitement and anticipation shoot through my veins. I feel like a child again. No cares. Nothing holding me back.

Of course, Asia being Asia, things rarely go to plan and you inevitably end up with some kind of setback, but the key is to let it ride out as a part of the chaos. You take the good with the bad and without the bad; the good just isn’t quite the same.

One of the gifts of travelling through countries that are not as ‘economically well off’ as our own, is to see the genuine happiness of a lot of the inhabitants. I know that poverty in a lot of these countries is rife, but I had a hard time finding too many people who did not have a smile on their face. This perplexed me for some time, but I came to the conclusion that their pleasure in life comes from their interactions with those around them, their family and loved ones.

The idea of saving over the next six months in the hope that they might be able to afford an overseas holiday simply isn’t a reality for these people. I doubt they sit there in their simple house, thinking about the fact that they are mortgaged up to the eyeballs and wondering how on earth they are going to afford their Friday night $18 cocktails. A lot of the people I came across seemed to be at peace their reality and were happy knowing that they had their loved ones around them and the basic elements they needed to survive.

In contrast to this, the pressure that we put ourselves under due to our lifestyle choice is immense. This pressure is facilitated by every aspect of our society. It is the backbone of our financial system, one that requires us to spend more than we earn in order for it to succeed.

IMGP1981Photo: This little old lady in Hoi An must have been close to 100. She has no doubt seen a lot in her time, yet she was smiling from ear to ear.

Now I am home, the chaos of Asia has become extremely appealing. The trade-off for living with such chaos was being able to surf a few times a day, sleeping in if I felt like it and having the time to take in my natural surroundings – time to reflect on how lucky I am. Life just seemed to slow down.

Coming home is always great. Nothing beats that first night back in your own bed. Now that the novelty of sleeping in my own bed has worn off, I turn my attention to the future and find myself once again pondering the complexity of combining my 9-5 life in a big city with my deepest desire to slow my life down. Talk about first world problems right?

After much thought and reflection, my focus for the foreseeable future is concerned with slowing myself down, enjoying what I already have and deriving happiness from the people around me. Sounds simple, but in essence, this ideal is a difficult one to achieve when I live and breathe a reality that promotes and is indeed the total antithesis of what I hope to achieve.

IMGP1955Photo: Dinner, as fresh as it comes!

The Streets are Where It’s At!

IMG_20140104_150002Here I sit, in my ideal state. Red wine in hand, Eddie Vedder’s ukulele album playing in the background and my head filled with the thoughts, smells and taste of the street food that I have been enthusiastically consuming over the past couple of weeks.

For me, Vietnam has the best food in South-East Asia. Bold statement I know but one I will die for! The simple mix of fresh herbs, sugar, chilli and fish sauce is a taste of which I will never grow weary. Whether it be in the form of fresh spring rolls, a steaming bowl of pho or the grilled pork skewers made by the little old lady on the corner,the freshness of Vietnamese food is second to none.

Of course, being in Vietnam, pho has made up a significant part of my diet for the last fortnight. It is the national dish of choice and really warms you up in these colder months up in the mountains of the north-west. Now I am half way down the country in Hoi An. I think it is fair to say that Hoi An is the ‘Paris of Vietnam’, considering its artistic culture, cafe scene and romantic atmosphere.

Anyway, I digress… Back to the food.

Everyday in Vietnam is a new day of culinary discovery for me. Last time I was here, 10 years ago, I was only a young chap and decided to lean towards the safety net of avoiding street food. One of my biggest regrets in life, hence I am making up for it now!

While the pho and spring rolls have a place in my heart, my favourite morsel to date is definitely the grilled pork skewers. The thinly sliced pork is marinated in chilli and crushed lemongrass and makes for the perfect snack on the run. And at 30 cents a skewer, it is hard to settle for just a few.

The price of streetfood here is not the only bonus. The flavours are authentic and the produce is fresh, which is usually guaranteed by the high turnover. Lining up for food off a street vendor also gives you an excuse to stop and chat to the locals without appearing to be that ‘over the top tourist’ who tries too hard to become a part of the local scene. As the little old lady smiles at me with her only three teeth, thrusting the hot pork skewers into my hand, I only have happy thoughts.

IMG_20140101_133928Hanoi street spring rolls

IMG_20140101_131612The skewer ladies at work in Hoi An

IMG_20140101_133613Hanoi’s cafe scene at its best!

IMG_20140104_145829Drying the herbs

IMG_20140104_145614Grilled pork over charcoal cannot be beaten!

No Thanks Sir, I Don’t Fancy a Front Side Rub Down

I am in Vietnam on my honeymoon and I had my first massage ever today. I was expecting a relaxing hour of remedial bliss but what I got was 45 minutes of awkward discomfort.

Upon arrival, the waiting room was abuzz with masseuses milling about waiting for their customers to arrive. I was introduced to a young man who I was told would be my masseuse today. Ok, I thought, no problem, it is only a back rub.

After being led to the massage table I was given some privacy to undress. I was also given a rolled up pair of underwear that I was told were mandatory attire for all customers. Upon unrolling the small package, I was confronted with what appeared to be a pair of women’s panties. The lace trim and the lack of “junk-space” was the dead give away. The option of changing into these did not even cross my mind and within a second I was out the door insisting that I would be wearing my own boxer shorts, no questions. After contemplation, the little Vietnamese man agreed.

“Please laying down on your stomachs sir”, I was prompted. Doing as I was told, I was sure that the awkwardness was now over and I could enjoy my massage. “I will be starting on your legs sir”. Great, might as well start there I thought to myself. After lifting the towel, the masseuse proceeded to pull my boxer shorts a considerable distance up my butt crack, exposing the bottom half of my left cheek. Shooting bolt upright , I encouraged him to leave my shorts in place.

I will give the man credit at this point and tell you that he was pretty good at his job (apart from reading my discomfort) and the massage side of my experience was pretty good. 30 minutes in, and feeling very relaxed, I was told to “please rotate over sir”. “No mate, just the back is fine this time”, I politely replied. He continued to rub down my shoulders before he very intimately interlocked his fingers around mine for what I can only assume was to gain more traction to ply his trade. I again made some polite excuse for him to pause so I could roll my hand into a closed fist.

Having taken some kind of offence, the man pleaded with me to flip so he could “rub down my front side”. That was the point of no return. I sat up and thanked him for his work before quickly dressing and heading for the hills.

Obviously there was a lot lost in translation in this ordeal but I don’t think this is just a cultural thing that I was not aware of. As you can guess, I am not in any hurry to book in another massage anytime soon.

undiesWould you wear these?… I thought not!

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