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Ash & Sonja's Adventure Page

Welcome to Ash&Sonja Abroad's Travel Page. Here is where I will be keeping a record of my travels for all of you to read. Please feel free to leave a comment for me. If I have time in between discovering new places and meeting new people I will reply to them!

Diary Entries

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Location: Perth, Australia

The end of the Easter holidays. Back to uni on Monday. A week of intensive study, getting assignments done and at long last 3 days of 'free time' to enjoy ourselves.

We found Perth's bike paths and in the past 2 days have ridden approximately 40km! I know, me the unfit, lazy one zooming about on a bicycle...sounds incredible but it's true. Down on the banks of the river Swan I've seen cormorants hanging their wings out to dry after bout of fishing, little puffin-looking birds soaking up the sun, a pretty wetlands area with different types of ducks, and native birds, a family of black swans, a plethora of jellyfish sized from a thumbnail to a small seagull bobbing around in the fresh water, which I find most peculiar because I didn't know there was such a thing as fresh water jellies, and even more incredibly, two dolphins! I'm not kidding. I saw two playful dolphins having a splash, chasing fish in the shallows of the river just outside the city centre. I was stunned because I didn't know that dolphins hunted in fresh water. Then, I read that Perth is the only city in Australia that has dolphins that come so far up a river into fresh water.

There is no shortage of tourist attractions in Perth, and the riverside is a good place to start. There is a ferris wheel, as seems to be the trend ever since London did the 'Big Wheel'. At $15 /adult, it was too steep for us, being students and all, but I'm sure the views would be gorgeous. I'll save my pennies and play tourist another day and confirm that. There's a marina of sorts, a floating restaurant, a ferry service that will take you over to South Perth, and plenty of cafes to lounge about and enjoy the pretty view looking out over the river.

We rode south, past the old Swan Brewery which has been converted into the most stunning warehouse apartments. A killer view for sure, and they look massive. Worth a fortune no doubt, situated right on the river edge, backed by King's Park, no other neighbours and 5 minutes from the city centre. I'd live there in a heartbeat if I had that kind of cash.

Last night went to the German Film Festival and saw an offbeat comedy called Freidliche Zeiten (Peaceful Times). A great little movie, set in the late 60s, about a family that has moved from East Germany to the West. Mum is the worst driver in the world, and often depressed, and hubby while doing his best to cope, seeks solace in another woman's arms. The two children, girls, decide that their parents should get divorced and do anything they can to get their parents to agree. Lots of comedic moments interspersed with heart-wrenching moments as you feel both the children and the adults painful moments.

I was excited to understand a lot more German than anticipated, and it was almost a trip down memory lane as I heard phrases that were uttered throughout my own childhood and saw mannerisms and even memorabilia from when I was a kid. Brought back memories of travelling through GErmany, and I felt a ang of sadness at not being footloose and fancy free. No jumping on a plane and landing in munich for me, surrounded by steins of weissbeer, knackwurst and pretzels. Ahh, one day soon...

I was surprised to see 10 police officers within 100m at 8.30pm on a Saturday night, and a cruising patrol car with two more police officers. We were of course in the notorious Northbridge, where all the drunken violence happens every weekend. Police numbers have been increased dramatically, and I'd hate to be in the area after midnight when everyone is really tanked and looking for a fight. I've never seen such an intense police presence, so early at night, and just for a standard weekend night. What's the problem? Can't figure it out? Are the bars & clubs not abiding by responsible service of alcohol? Are the young people of today more prone to violence? Is this happening in other cities - say Sydney or Melbourne - or is this a Perth problem? Too many questions and no answers I'm afraid. All I know is that there is a lot of controversy in the papers about the violence and the public want clubs to close earlier, some are even calling for clubs to be shut down.

Sunday is a chill day sipping a latte at a local cafe, reading, and that's it for the Easter Week Holidays. Editing class first thing tomorrow morning (groan) and the study goes on.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Location: Perth, Australia

Okay, it's been a long time between entries! Ash and I are back in the land of vegemite sarnies and shark infested beaches. Hoorah!

We've settled in Perth and are both now pov university students studying our little butts of at ECU ( Edith Cowan University). Ash is going to major in photography, and me, I'm doing writing. Let's see if I can learn about colons, semi-colons and the em dash... yep, exciting stuff.

Perth is Ash's home town and initially he wasn't that excited to be back, but, reconnecting with his old friends has helped him to settle in. I've never been to Perth before, and so I'm exploring it with new eyes. A small city, relatively quiet (especially after living in China), I like the place. A lot of the locals bitch and moan saying it's boring but I think Perth has a lot going for it.

Just down the road in Northbridge the police are stopping brawls and getting beaten up every weekend. I think the latest figures say that 4 officers a week (I think that's right, or is it a day?) are hospitalised in Perth. Binge drinking is outta control and the local government has put forward a suggestion to raise the legal drinking age to 21. I'm all for it. The young kiddies of today have no sense of self-control and just want to fight everyone. If you can't hold your liquor then you shouldn't be allowed to drink it till your smart enough to know what your doin.

That's me on my soap-box done.

Drunken idiots aside, of which incidentally I've not encountered any, Perth has a good little Arts community. There are great photography and art exhibitions happening every other week, a few festivals going on, parks, beaches and good quality restaurants and cafes. We live in Mt Lawley, the more boho area from what I can tell. nice vibe, good coffee and creative. Just a short bicycle ride away from uni.

Car-less we've gone green and now ride our bikes everywhere, or catch the bus or train. Getting around is easy, and fun.

In the past few weeks we've been to Cirque du Soleil - twice! It was spectacular, as always and even better for having seen it twice. A slight wedding anniversary surprise saw us getting two lots of tickets. Oops. Loved it both times. The first show there was an accident in one of the acts and so the second time we got to see performances that we missed the last time.

The Perth Writer's festival was very interesting. Got to listen to some great authors speak about their works, and learned about a whole range of new books that are now on my reading list. I've not read them yet, but my list from the day is:

The wasted vigil - by Nadeem Aslam
How the soldier repairs his gramaphone - by Sasa Stanisic
The good mayor - by Andrew Nicholl
The literati - by James Phalen
The tale of a terrorist who wasn't - Mamdouh Habib

I've just finished reading, and highly recommend: The white tiger by Aravind Adiga

Discovered Perth's unoffical 'Chinatown', which has some good asian food and even some close to real China Chinese food. We got to practice speaking our Chinese at Hoi's Dim Sum place, where the squid legs are to die for and the dim sum divine. Plus, it's cheap as chips! Perfect for us AUSTUDY kiddies.

Oh, had beers in the park at Fremantle Arts Centre, which is the old lunatic asylum, listening to local musicians perform. Very nice! Must go back and check out the artwork and find out more about the history.

No swimming at the beaches so far - there have been a few shark sightings over the summer and so I've decided to let others become shark bait.

Cheers and I'll write again soon.

Saturday, 01 March 2008

Location: Ben'niu, China


At long last we are on holiday. Five weeks of nothing – no classes, no planning, no prep, no students, no Rob! Plenty of time to sleep in, mooch around in our PJ’s and stay locked indoors because it’s freezing outside. I spend the first three weeks writing like a mad woman trying to finish my book. It may never get published but at least I’ve done it – I’ve written a book. Ash has provided photos and it looks pretty good. Now, just gotta find an agent/ publisher.

As the month draws to a close we get a sprinkling of snow. Ben’nui is all white and fluffy. Ash and I duck across to the school to check out the fresh blanket of snow on the oval. The bell rings and it’s break time. The students come tumbling out of their classrooms onto the oval and start an en-masse snowball fight. They are delirious. For many of them it’s the first time they have seen snow.

A week later Ben’niu gets the biggest snow dump it’s seen for 15 years. Actually China gets the biggest snowfall in 51 years. Over 3 days at least 3 feet of snow falls causing havoc not just in our little industrial town, but nationwide. Ben’niu can’t cope with the snow. The roads are closed, people can’t get to work. Die-hard idiots still drive on the snow without chains, slipping and sliding over the roads. The people make snowmen of giant proportions – only they take on the resemblance of a mouse. The year of the Rat is approaching.

For the first time Ben’niu looks pretty. An ugly town, now covered in snow even it manages a romantic look. For a few days anyway until a snow plough is found and clears the roads. Then the snow turns first grey, then almost black with the deposits of coal dust and pollution.

We are invited out to dinner and taken on a drive in the snow to a pretty park by our new Chinese friends the Chen family. The deputy Mayor of the next town is invited as is his daughter. Harmony Chen (a boy) performs over dinner – he sings a song, and recites a speech made by Nixon on a visit to China. Why? We are the guests and it’s meant to make an impression on us.

Rare and exotic food is ordered in our honour: wild boar in a curry sauce, game chicken, reef fish and hedgehog all spin past on the lazy-susan. Yes, hedgehog. Considering we have a pet hedgehog I am at first reluctant to sample this dish. But in the name of research and not wanting to offend our hosts I take a piece. It’s fatty with minimal meat and maximum bones – not worth the effort of cooking in my opinion and far more fun to have as a prickly pet running round the house.

Transport has stopped over much of the nation due to the snow and Ash and I fear that our train to Beijing may be cancelled. We are lucky – the snow stops a few days before and the tracks are cleared just in time for us to catch a sleeper train to Beijing. At long last we are going to see Emma and Simeon! Bring it on.


The sleeper train is definitely our favourite way to travel in China. We went hard sleeper – 6 bunks with 3 tiered on each side of the compartment. Blankets supplied, and hot water for tea. The rail staff were friendly and helpful. After the first stop almost 90% of people got off so we had a very empty carriage for the journey. The next morning we were popular as people passed, stopping for a chat – to Ash in Chinese and me smiling like an idiot.

Finally we arrive in Beijing and there are our beloved friends waiting for us outside the train station. They bundle us into a taxi and off to their very lush apartment. Ooohhh, I want to live in Em’s place forever. Very nice and spacious after our little shoebox.

We spend the next two weeks indulging our bellies in a range of non-Chinese delights. Paddy O’sheas for pints of Guinness and cider, a Cuban restaurant for Emma’s birthday, a Thai place for our first wedding anniversary, a Belgian restaurant for pizzas and exotic beers, an Arab place with live belly dancing and more. Shopping is our addiction and we spend up big on winter coats – Beijing is f--kin freezing! I’m certain that I’ll get frostbite and lose some toes if I stay outdoor for too long. The bookshop is big on our list too. Some new English reading material is always appreciated.

All too soon it’s time to leave. We are reluctant and drag our heals about it. But finally we must go and with tears in my eyes I get swallowed up by the throbbing crowd at the train station and board the train.

This time we travel by soft sleeper – more expensive and terribly over-rated in my opinion. Sure there’s a light above my head and only four bunks instead of six but the bunks are shorter, there’s less luggage room and our compartment companions have sprawled out claiming almost all the luggage room. One man lounges in his long john underpants, legs splayed, toupee perched nearby. When lights are out and the door is locked the room becomes stuffy with most unpleasant smells.

We arrive in Shanghai bright and early, get a connecting train to Changzhou and are soon trudging up the driveway to our apartment. Snow is still piled in mounds on the side of the road. It’s completely black now and littered with rubbish. Ben’niu is back to it’s industrial age self.

School starts and we get a pleasant surprise. Senior 2 classes are cancelled until April – maybe for good. So we divvy up Senior 1 classes between the four of us. Yes, Rob did come back, but secretly I think he’s been abducted by aliens during the holidays. He’s being abnormally friendly, and behaving like a normal person. I almost want to ask ‘who are you and what have you done with Rob the Nob?’

But I digress. The girls (Susan and I) now have a total of 7 teaching hr/wk, and the boys have 10 hr/wk. Thank you God! This is wonderful. Finally low stress teaching and plenty of time to indulge in other pursuits.

I’ve introduced a new teaching method to my class – the use of a book – I know, very advanced of me, and it’s working a treat. All my classes are going fabulously. Even the class that I despise and have 10 letters of apology from the students are not just behaving but actively participating. For the first time in ages I am really enjoying teaching and realise that I am going to miss my students when we leave in June.

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Recent Messages

From Jazz
OMG! Hadn´t had the chance to check your site for a while and suddenly its all weddings, honeymoons and returns to china.... and I´ve missed it all!! Congratulations - the photos are stunning and it sounds like you had a ball.
Response: we did thank you Jazz. I must admit I haven't caught up with yours for a while. Must go and have a look at it.
From Lydia & James
Your wedding day looked like fun. Which is just how it should be. Well done. Kisses
Response: It was fantastic thanks guys. It really was a beautiful day.
From Embola
Response: sure why not??!!
From Jazz
Skipped Sihounakville after rather mixed accounts and am now bumming around Vietnam... awesome place! Laos in a few days time, all going according to plan.... Supposed to be in Thailand soon for some volunteering but not liking the politics too much
Response: Be carefull! sihnoukville was beautiful, they rumour it to be a bad town, not so. Enjoy Loas!
From Jazz
Hey you guys... I am in Cambodia too!! Amazing timing... maybe we will cross paths!!!
Response: Wow, where are you? We are now in Sihnoukville, at the beach, relaxing...eating....zzzzzz, Having a blast! and you Jazzy?
From Matt
I hope you have a wonderful day and that you guys are both happy and healthy. Lots of love, Matt x
Response: Thanks mate yeah had me a blast, cheers!
From Doris
Ha, ha, ha - love the updates and the pics.
Miss you guys so much already! Sat with a tear in my eye in an internet "caff" in Chengdu. It's Thursday afternoon and where is Sonjar and the Sof bar?
Hope our bags are being well behaved - see you soon, Doris and Boris xxx
Response: Hey Horris and Morris,
I hope your travels are an adventure. Can you tell me how to stop the suitcases from humping my
leg? Otherwise they are on their best behaviour.
From roger porter
Hi guys, love the site, although I think we're due for an update. Belated birthday blessings to you Sonja; hope you had a great day yesterday. We miss you guys and think of you often
Love Rog, Relle and Emilio
Response: We update when we do something........... I guess a month can slip into the darkness and disappear huh.
From Lydia & James
The photo's are really beautiful. They show some amazing sights. Keep enjoying.
Big kissess, from Us
Response: Hi there guys,
great to hear from you. Glad you like our little travel page. how's things in Melbourne? Hope your well and look forward to hearing from you soon.
From jopo
eagerly awaiting your next journal entry. what have you been too busy doing? (eg. wedding arrangements) -or is there nothing much new to say about china? have you got your sights set eagerly on the spain horizon? hungry for more stories... lots of love from Jo x
Response: yes we both have been extremely busy with plans mostly not about wedding plans though!
From Erin Lee
Hi Ash and Son, I am a friend of Pam and Al (hi guys!) I was watching your beautiful christmas DVD of photos and thinking how a lot of them would be worthy of publishing. I got this link from a friend and thought i would forward it on to you.


i hope that works.

Anyway, Best of luck in China. Stay safe and know that you are missed.

Response: Thanks erin I have subscribe to their newsletter and there are a few links on their site that I will try to enter as a competition. wish me luck Ash
From Patricia and Richard
Hi! Sonja and Ashley,
Surprise! Surprise!......We found you. 0:-) A fantastic site. We really enjoyed reading about your travels and the photos are great! What a wonderful experience for you. Any plans for Chinese New Year? I'm sure it will be a big celebration there. We think of you always. We'll be in touch soon. We both send you all our love.....XXOO
Response: we plan to go to Thailand for the new year. We coldn't afford to stay in China. But The festivities so far have been grand!
From Geoff Harper
After reading your latest travelogue including your Xmas celebrations Xmas ibn Australia seems a bit dull. In early we had a series of bad storms which resulted in good rain-fall. Since then every day has been fine, sunny and hot (32 - 34degrees with high humidity). Our AC has been going non-stop. The Hyatt has been very busy over the holiday period and the spa staff have been working 13/14hrs. per day and still can't keep up with the demand. Coolum central has experienced very big crowds with near perfect beach days. Coolum is becoming a hot spot. We really enjoy your descriptive travelogue. You have the knack of making the reader feel they are actually experiencing the country and its people - MOST IMPORTANTLY - THE FOOD.
And THE SHOPPING - we are envious - those prices are almost decadent. We are off to Aspen on Wednesday - already have a base of 10feet of snow - eat your heart out.
Agree with your sentiments re New Year generally however have a great 2006 and keep the travelogues coming.
Response: No jeff we are jelous of you ASPEN ahhh...... We will get there one day I swear! ash and sonja
From Carmen
hey guys,
happy new year!
Have been thinking about you alot recently. This is my first visit to the site, and I've enjoyed reading what you've been up to. Coolum is still Coolum...
Have been flat out over xmas, and working on a show to take to Melbourne in about 3 weeks. Aah Melbourne... I can hear my hairdresser calling my name and I think he's holding a lychee martini in his hand for me saying " come to the light".
So SPain in September hey, sounds good.
Lots of love to you both.
Carmen xx
scooters rock.
Response: yes scooters a very cool. You should have seen the one we had in Thailand! bright yellow and very fast . Miss you guys and your hospitality, your chats......ect
From aunty marilyn
Hi Ash & Sonja,Just been reading your fabulous dairy. What a great idea!! I got married 2 weeks ago so you now have a uncle george. My last name is O'Callaghan. We live in Darwin. Your life sound really exciting .Love you heaps and love to Sonja. xx Aunty Marilyn & Uncle George xxx
Response: well heya there aunty M good to see that you can see us!. The china adventure has been a reall.... something.
Ash and Sonja
From Terry&Holli
I like what I read. Looking forward to the slide show when you getback. Along with plenty of cooking tips.
Response: Wow you found us Hurray!!! of a long slow monotone slide show is just what the doctor ordered huh.
From Geoff Harper
Really enjoying your ongoing travelogue. Think I would haver great difficulty with many of the customs. Trekking in South Africa was my only experience with primitive or no toilets - however there were no on-lookers other than the animals. You will be vitally interested in the result of the Melbourne Cup - Winner for the 3rd time in a row - Makybe Diva. Unfortunately my money was on another runner. She has now been retired with winnings of $14m. We are looking forward to Xmas and our ski trip to Aspen in January. Your site is just great and we look forward to further up-dates. Regards to you both. Geoff
Response: Hello Geoffry
Great to hear from you. Sadly we missed the Melbourne Cup and all the frivolity involved. Shall have to make do with being in an exotic country... How are things at the Hyatt? I am very jeoalous of your upcoming ski trip. the grass is always greener elsewhere... enjoy that while Christmas and all that beautiful snow!
From Lauren
Hi guys!! Remember me?? (fellow teach international graduate)
Love the website. It is awesome being able to read about your travels and the interesting times you are having. I am still in Oz though planning on heading over to the UK again at the end of next year. I can't wait. I get really jealous hearing all your news. Have fun and stay safe!!
Response: Thanks lauren! It really is beautiful and teaching is so much fun. Being here is such a dream realised, keep in touch ash&son
From Lee Chhor
Hey Ash and Sonya! Great to see your photos and glad you guys are having fun! Take care!
Response: Haveing a blast, where are you at Lucious? I want to see your progress to man. ash
From brenzip
good 2 c photos of u 2 the hair cut is fantastic u sexy man did u do it cos of the reciding hair line???
Response: NO! I don't have a recieding hairline. Just getting a little streched thats all. And you get a free massage with every haircut! 3dollars
From Aloha Ki
Sonja & Ashley~ Your adventures sound so funny. Enjoy the time in a foreign land. When will you walk the Great Wall? Aloha, Ki
Response: We will be on the Great wall in about.. May if we can, first comes Vietnam.
From Penny Wilson
Wow - This is a fantastic site guys, well done. Tell me can anyone do it ? It is a great way to keep a travel journal. I totally agree about rating places by the tiolet !!!! Lucky for me (and maybe for you), We are the only teachers with a western style loo in our apartment. YEAH !!!. I am experiencing the same thing re: people eyes and mouths wide opened and gawking, I find it amusing and always try and get them to say hello. I have only come across 4 foreigners in a month, and Huizhou has 3.5 million people! Well I gotta go but would love to know about the workings of this site. I will have a little look but could you let me know if it easy to do myself ? I will keep reading your entries as they are a blast. Life is getting a little easier after my rollercaster of a week, last week - well maybe it was just a nightmare that I awoke from!!!!!!! Oh, I tried to look up the website for your school but I had no luck, could you please send me a link ? Hope you have a good rest on the National day break. Take care and you are in my thoughts, love Penny
Response: Anyone can set up one of these Pen, just start soon otherwise you will forget what you have done. The toilet ranking system called TRS is working well. We are lucky to have a western toilet at home YAY!! Holiday will be spent in Yangshuo, in Gangxi province.
From Geoff
Thank you for the up-date. Most impressed with your web-page and photos. Life will be an adventure for you both. We have had great excitement at Coolum with the recent Coolum Kite Fest. Perfect week-end, big crowds. A new lady has been appointed to take over from Mary. The Sydney Swans won the VFL and West Tigers and The north Q'ld Cowboys meet in the league grand final this week-end in Sydney. Look forward to continuing up-dates from you both. Best wishes - Geoff

Response: Up the mighty Tigers, and go the Cowboys. I think the Cowboy's are the only team to live up to their name. I miss the Beaches in Coolum.
From Jenny
Hi Sonja, very flash and great to have your own webpage..... Have enjoyed reading about your travels and its fun to know your progress, armchair travel for us back home! All good here getting on with life without Mum and doing all that needs to be done to sort out the Estate etc. Work is good and my daughter and I are off to Qld Palm cove for a holiday at the end of October, cant wait I have the travel bug bit time! Take care and speak soon. Much love and light Jenny xx Love to Ash of course!
Response: Oh Jenny Great to hear from you! Enjoy Palm Cove! I miss your giudence when things get hecktic, but am blubbering through well all the same, ash. Sonja will write soon.