Tag Archives: new years

Holiday Season ‘Down Under’

I hadn’t planned on visiting Australia initially because I’d learned from fellow travelers that it was a very expensive country to visit.  However, it was while I was in Malaysia volunteering at the animal shelter that I just happened to receive an email from a good friend of mine whom I’d known back in New Mexico.  We had lost touch over the years despite attempts on both our ends to keep in touch, but alas he found me:)  And as chance would have it, he was living in Sydney!  So of course I had to go see him!!

The timing of it all to this day still fascinates me.  It’s just further proof in my book that everything happens the way it should.  After a couple of email exchanges I made plans to see him and spend Christmas and New Years with him and his partner:)

I arrived in the ‘land down under’ mid-December and was greeted at the airport with the loving embrace and friendly faces of my friend and his partner.  After a quick nibble out, we headed back to their place where I met their two kids, Willow and Bear, two absolutely adorable pups!!  We stayed up quite late that first night (and for the next several nights) with bottles of vino and beer, catching up on all things past and present.  What a truly amazing and still surreal time!

They showed me around all the hotspots of Sydney; Bondi beach (pronounced Bond-eye, not Bondy), the Opera House (of course!), the harbor area, Mansly, the Botanical Gardens and the Watson Bay area where sailboats dotted a quiet bay eclipsed by beautiful homes gently sloping from the water.  It was all so picturesque and beautiful!  We even ventured a bit further out on the weekends for little road trips to the Blue Mountains where we viewed the Three Sisters.

The thing that surprised me about the Opera house was that the roof was made of tiles!  From all the pictures I had seen prior to seeing it first-hand,  the roof simply looked white and I hadn’t noticed anything particularly remarkable about it.  However up close, it was impressive to see that the roof was in fact made of white and beige tiles and that they formed very specific patterns giving each shell a unique and artistic flare.  In addition, again from pictures, I had always imagined that the Opera house was a singular building and each layered ‘armadillo shell’ was part of the design to enhance acoustics for that one stage.  I had no idea that in fact there are multiple stages allowing several productions to occur within the same season.  Just goes to show you that you never really know about something until you get up close and personal with it;)

The Botanical Gardens were absolutely darling!  They seemed to go on forever and though they were basically next door to the heart of downtown Sydney, they had a quiet and calm about them that made you feel miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city life.  2016 just so happens to also be the 200th birthday of the gardens, so that’s pretty cool:)

The Blue Mountains too were a surprise as I had no idea such lush green life and landscapes could be found in Oz.  Again, most of the pictures I had seen of Australia boasted the main highlights of the Barrier Reef, the Opera House or the Outback where the land is red and lacking plant life.  But in the Blue Mountains, I could have mistaken us for being in Virgina near the Blue Ridge!  Simply beautiful!

The only odd thing to me was knowing that it was only a week away from Christmas, yet not really seeing any sort of Christmas decorations anywhere!  There were a few scattered here and there, but nothing like I was accustomed to seeing in the States around Christmas time.  However, that didn’t stop us from doing some decorating ourselves:)  J’s mom had sent him a Christmas tree, so on or about the day before Christmas, we got our drinks on (which put us all in a jolly mood) and set up the Christmas tree and other decorations to get the place looking festive!  A few gifts were exchanged, delicious food was cooked, and we all reveled in the joys of being with good friends.

Christmas Day passed and New Years was quickly approaching, so the next big thing was to decide how to ring in the New Year.  We settled on trying for one of the free spots at a park on the harbor (Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair).  The only trouble was that once capacity for the park was reached, they closed it off therefore not allowing any new people in.  And because this venue was free to enter (and honestly was one of the best in my opinion as it had a fantastic view of the harbor, the bridge and the opera house) the lines would no doubt be long.  The chances of getting in at all were unpredictable!

‘A’ (J’s partner) had to work New Year’s Day, so that left ‘J ‘and I to try for a park place where ‘A’ would meet us later.  We made it there around 10am to find a line that wove back and forth and forth and back with what looked like thousands waiting to get in!  We got in at the back of the makeshift line and thus began the slow and arduous task of walking a few feet every couple of minutes, slowly inching our way to the entrance gates.  Luckily we came prepared however with water, snacks and sunscreen.

I should mention at this point that the Norwegian couple I had met back in Kuala Lumpur were also in Sydney for New Year’s.  We had reconnected via email and arranged to meet at the park.  After about an hour or so, they arrived with another friend in tow and they joined ‘J’ and I in line (which still had only moved a couple hundred feet or so, lol!!).  The mood around us was festive and it was funny to see how many people had already started hitting the beers hard!  Personally it was just too hot in the direct sun for that in my opinion, plus having to find a bathroom would have been its own kind of torture!!

The hours ticked away as we crept closer and closer toward the finish line… Finally, about 4 hours later we were in!  While there were already thousands of people in the park, it didn’t feel as crowded as I would have thought which I was very grateful for!  We scouted a place to sit under a nice shady tree, then sent one of the fellas to the nearby food and drink kiosks for some cold beers!  We sat around enjoying the cold beers and continued chit-chatting and all was absolutely perfect, save for one thing…

‘A’ was still at work… The plan we had hoped for was that he would be able to get off work a bit early, then head to the park where he could hopefully hop in line with us and make it in before the park reached capacity.  However, at this point it was already past 2pm.  The line that had formed behind us seemed longer than the line we had initially started in, and according to the online information, the park had already almost reached capacity and would soon be closed off.  Not happy news!!  As the time ticked on it seemed less and less likely that he would be able to make it to the park.

Seriously a huge conundrum!!  I didn’t want ‘A’ to have to spend New Year’s alone, especially without his partner!!  But I also didn’t want to leave our park spot.  We debated back and forth what to do and eventually settled on me staying in the park, and ‘J’ leaving the park to be with ‘A’.  In addition ‘J’ had started not to feel so hot, as even though he kept reapplying sunscreen the entire time we stood in line, he still managed to get a pretty bad sunburn!!  So as he wasn’t feeling the best he said he was fine with leaving to be with ‘A’.  Though I know I shouldn’t, I do still feel guilty for having stayed behind because I wanted the three of us to be together for New Years.  But as ‘A’ and ‘J’ said, they had “been there, done that” with Sydney’s firework show.  It wasn’t so important for them to see them again, but since it was a first for me, they said I should definitely see them.

So I hung back with my friends from Norway and rang in the New Year watching fireworks shower off the Sydney harbor bridge and light up the harbor waters.  It was such a beautiful sight!  I love everything about fireworks; the sounds, smells and sight of them.  Being so up close and personal to such a spectacular show was unbelievable.  I’m so thankful for the chance to have been able to be there!

After the show, I parted ways with my Norwegian friends and met up with ‘J’ and ‘A’ and we headed home to comfort the pups.  Though we were not able to spend New Year’s night together, we did have our own New Year celebration a bit later.  Popping a bottle of champagne we wrote down things we no longer wanted to be burdened with in our lives and set them on fire Zozobra style!

On to Summer Camp in January

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Sangkhlaburi New Year’s: Dog Version

I figured it was only fair that since I gave my own version of how things went on New Year’s for us humans, that I should also give an account of how New Year’s went for the dogs.

I can say right now that it wasn’t at all pleasant for them… And honestly in hindsight, we probably should have given them all a Valium New Year’s Eve.  We all know how sensitive dogs ears are and even though the festivities were going on in town, about a kilometer from where we are, it didn’t make any sort of difference to them as they still heard all the activity as if it was going on in their enclosures. And they made sure to let us know the following day how upset they had been… But I’m getting ahead.

The day started as normal, wake, drink water, eat some kibble, nap time, bark at some people walking by, nap time, get up and stretch, nap time, potty break, nap time, join in on a walk with the sanctuary dogs, nap time, play time, water, nap, dinner.

For the dogs in the sanctuary, that was the end of their day.  For the four porch dogs, they joined us for our walk over to Sai and Charlie’s place.  They had to stay outside however since they have their own dogs.  When we finished dinner, none of the dogs were waiting for us which was very unusual.  As we walked past our house on the way to town only two dogs, Noodles and Balua were on the porch.  Balua already looked freaked out by the distant booms going on around town so we put him in my room, which I share with a long-term volunteer.  We left the door open a bit to give Noodles the option to go in if he chose to later and headed to town.  Piglet and Nipper were nowhere to be found.

They are street dogs after all, so while there was concern for them, especially with it being New Year’s, we figured they would make their way back.  Once myself and the other volunteer came back to the house after the town festivities, we found Balua still in my room curled in a corner.  He had somehow managed to wedge himself under my backpack and even stranger had clothes piled on him too…  No idea how he did that!  Noodles had also let himself in and was standing in the center of the room waiting to be let out.  Piglet and Nipper were still MIA.  About an hour later Piglet showed back up.  Then the rest of the volunteers showed up to continue to party at the house.

The next day Nipper was still missing.  The dogs in the sanctuary had clearly not had a good and restful night sleep as fight after fight broke out with just about every dog involved in one and another.  Preparing and serving breakfast was the hardest task of the day since most of the time was spent breaking up one fight or another.  To try to settle the dogs, kibble was given in grand mass.  We probably overfed every dog, but it at least calmed them down and distracted them enough to stop their fights for a half hour or so.

As the day progressed, the tensions were still high.  You could literally just feel it in the air and practically cut it with a knife.  I can’t say I blame the dogs for their behaviors.  But I will say it was one of the toughest days working in the sanctuary!  It’s literally taken about 3 days to get the dogs back into a regular routine and feeling calm again.  Poor puppies!!!

Nipper didn’t even come back on New Year’s Day.  He returned the 2nd with a bit of a limp in his right front leg… Lord knows what he got into or where he was for almost 36 hours.  I’m just glad he made it back with only a minor limp!!

On to Sangkhlaburi

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Sangkhlaburi New Year’s: Human Version

New Year’s Eve day started as it normally does as a volunteer at the Thai Animal Sanctuary: feed dogs, clean enclosures, medicate/change bandages, walks, play time, shuffle dogs around, lunch, finish whatever daily project that was scheduled, night feeding, workout, shower, dinner time!

Instead of having to prepare our own meal for dinner however, we were invited to Sai and Charlie’s place to dine for New Year’s.  Sai and Charlie, a Thai-British couple, are one of the many gems in Sangkhlaburi.  Just about every morning they drop off a dish of rice and chicken, with bits of egg in a chicken broth so we can mix a bit into the morning bowls for each dog.  For Christmas they made a huge vat of a similar soup with the added bonus of veggies for all 60 dogs in the shelter.  They made so much that each dog had their own large bowl of Christmas breakfast, instead of just a bit mixed in with their normal kibble.

Dinner With Sai and Charlie
Dinner With Sai and Charlie

We were all looking forward to the dinner and even planned to eat less during the day to save room for what we knew would be a feast.  But as we all know, getting there is half the battle!  In our defense, there were 7 of us and only one bathroom in the volunteer house, so needless to say trying to organize that part alone became a bit of a task.  We arrived about a half hour late with all 4 porch dogs (Noodles, Nipper, Balua and Piglet) who weren’t actually invited but just thought they were. 😉  The dinner spread was a delicious and impressive display of Thai cuisine.  From the soup, fresh baked WHEAT bread (if you’ve been to Thailand you know how hard it is to find anything other than plain white bread, especially in small towns!!) fried egg with veggies, and a spicy pork on rice dish to dessert.  We dined like Kings and Queens over great conversation and lots and lots of laughter.  We even learned how to say Happy New Year in Thai (Suk San Wan Be Man Ka) after about a hundred failed attempts, but finally got it down:)

We stayed a couple hours then headed into town to the school soccer stadium for the muay thai kickboxing competition.  All I had anticipated was just that: a ring set up for Muay Thai.  What we walked into was so much more!  It was seriously like a full on carnival or circus (minus the animals)!  Neon lights lit up the stadium in every direction along with tent after tent selling food, clothing, fried insects, flip-flops, underwear… You name it, they just about had it!

As we had arrived a bit late for the start of the muay thai kickboxing we were only able to see a couple of fight rounds.  The competition was going on for 5 nights (New Year’s Eve being the second night) and each night featured a different age group.  New Year’s Eve night was for the youngsters (they looked only about 6 years old!!) to the teens.  I can’t tell you how impressive the fights were!  First were the teen boys who wailed and kicked and punched eachother until a brow was split open and after only 2 rounds the fight was called.  Next up were the little kids whose heads didn’t even make it up to the top portion of the ring!!

Before each fight the competitors walk around the ring with a little hop in their step, kinda like a little dance, to each corner and bow.  Next they go to their corner and have their headdress removed and are rubbed down with deep heat oil, which is sort of a liniment oil to slick their skin making it harder for their opponent to get a good grip.  Then the fight is on!  Those little kids wailed and kicked and fought their little hearts out!  When the bell rang to signify the end of the round, their coaches would come in and sweep them up into a bear hug and gently shake them up and down.  It seriously looked like they were getting a nice cuddle after each round, but really what the “hug” was all about was to help stretch their spines.  Then they got a very thourough rub down with cold water, had their arms and legs stretched out a bit, then off again to fight.  The boys lasted through 5 full rounds until a winner was called.  So impressive!

The kids fight was the last for the night, so we wandered the rest of the field checking out the various tents and their goods for sale, then headed to the other stage set up on the field.  We hung out watching traditional lanterns light up and float into the sky, decorating the night with extra stars, and the various traditional Thai dancers up on stage.  The hours passed with drinks in hand, the company of good friends and the entertainment all around.  Then about 10 minutes to midnight the Mayor of the town got on stage to give a speech.  Of course it was lost on all of us, but it sounded like it could have been interesting.

About 7 minutes to midnight a bottle rocket from the stage shot straight over our heads directly to another stage area where it struck and lit up a huge firework display!  I’m not going to lie, I was kinda freaked out by the bottle rocket launching above us because at first I thought it was rogue.  But once I realized it was actually a planned launch, all was well.  The first firework display went on and on showering the earth with white sparks.  In the center glittered what I assume to be “Happy New Year” in Thai.

Once the first display started to peter out, the next display was shot off.  Hundreds of brilliant fireworks shot into the sky with every color possible!  I was mesmorized by the show of lights and the glitter of the lanterns still dotting the night sky behind them.  We were so close to where the action was that the ash from the fireworks rained down on us, sometimes even getting in our eyes and gawking mouths, lol!!  I was just in absolute awe.  It was one of the most impressive New Years displays I’ve seen in a while.  Especially considering how small this town really is, it was just awesome!

Knowing we had 60 dogs to feed the next day, I opted to head home to sleep (after a brief impromptu game of football using a balled up jacket as a football much to the amusement of the Thais) while the rest of the gang (minus one volunteer) proceeded to get hammered once we got back to the volunteer house.  Needless to say myself and the  volunteer who didn’t drink were up bright and early while the other 5 volunteers weren’t even able to get out of bed until about 3pm New Year’s Day, and even then were useless because of their hangovers, lol!!  For once I was actually glad I wasn’t the one who was drinking, lol!!

On to Sangkhlaburi New Years: Dog Version

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