Category Archives: Journal

Through the Syurati-vision looking glass

6-Days Around the Top of New Zealand’s South Island

Whether it’s a short trip in its own right or as part of a longer journey around New Zealand’s south island, this 6-day trip includes a visit to the wine country, a drive along the east coast, a road trip through the mountains, then a quick ride back to the northern port of Picton.

By Stuart Hill

It would be nice to have the luxury of 3-4 weeks to drive around New Zealand’s south. If you could, you might consider circumnavigating the island, from Picton heading south to Christchurch, following the coast to the southern tip, before arching round to the west coast to Queenstown, then Greymouth and then back north. But if that’s not possible you can make it in two or more combinations of 6, 7 or 8-day trips, crisscrossing between coasts and through the central mountains.

This trip started in the north island city of Wellington with a brief stopover after arrival by plane, then a ferry trip to Picton on the south island. Of course you could fly into any of the cities from the north, or perhaps a direct flight from Australia.

For example, try my 9-day drive starting from Christchurch and heading south. You could combine the 9-day plus this 6-day to create an unforgettable south island adventure, adding in a few extra days to round out 3 whole weeks and a bit more time at each stop.

Map of New Zealand South Island

This trip began in Wellington, from there headed to Picton, Havelock, Blenheim, Kaikoura, Christchurch, Lake Pearson, Arthur’s Pass, Greymouth, Punakaiki, and Nelson, (then briefly back to Picton and Wellington).

Day 1: A Short Stay in Wellington

Fidels Cafe

Wellington is a gateway to access both north and south islands. With its wealth of museums, galleries, markets, heritage buildings, restaurants, and cafes, it’s a cool place to explore, and many places are easy to access on foot. From Wellington you can take to the road heading north or catch the ferry to New Zealand’s south island.


Day 2: The Ferry to Picton

Wellington Picton Ferry

On a calm sunny day the 3-hour trip from Wellington to Picton is a pleasant journey along the picturesque coastline. It’s a friendly introduction to the beauty of the south island. But try to avoid cold and rough weather, where venturing onto the deck will be difficult and crossing the strait can be a stomach-wrenching experience. Meals and drinks are available on the ship, as is free wi-fi internet.


Day 2: A Quick Drink in Marlborough Wine Country

cloudy bay

With the region of Marlborough being the powerhouse of New Zealand’s wine industry, it is hard not to spend at least a little time to sample the local and internationally sought after produce. One of the most famous vineyards is Cloudy Bay, with its relaxing courtyard and tree covered lawn.


Day 3: Whales and Seals in Kaikoura

Fur Seals, Kaikoura

The south island of New Zealand was a rich ocean of whales, seals, and fish, from which many towns drew their livelihood, until the animals were driven to near extinction. Today, the seas around Kaikoura offer some of the best opportunities in the world for spotting whales and dolphins, while fur seals happily breed (and sun bake) in protected coves along the shoreline.


Day 3: Pits stop in Christchurch

Christchurch is still recovering from the collapse of buildings in the devastating earthquake of 2007. Yet there is a resilience reflected in the extensive reconstruction effort, pop-up buildings and public art.

Christchurch is still recovering from the collapse of buildings in the devastating earthquake of 2010. Yet there is a resilience reflected in the extensive reconstruction effort that’s happening across town, the numerous pop-up buildings, and public art.


Day 4: The Road Through Arthur’s Pass

Lake Peatson

Honestly, what’s a New Zealand road trip without a gorgeous mountain view? There are so many lakes and rivers to pass just by driving between cities that it is impossible not to have the opportunity to experience greatness at least once on your journey, such as Lake Pearson, on the way to Arthur’s Pass.


Day 5: Pancake Rocks near Greymouth

Pancake Rocks

The Pancake Rocks of Punakaiki, just out from Greymouth, are the result of limestone deposits layered under clay millions of years ago. Eroded by the sea to form blow holes, the waves pound up and against the rocks to form spectacular sprays of water. You can snack on pancakes (of course!) and coffee at the nearby cafes.


Day 6: Glorious Nelson

Nelson Cathedral

Nelson immediately gives you that sense of old money meets new. It’s obvious that this place is an historically significant city, denoted to a large extent by the existence of the Christ Church Cathedral perched on its hill overlooking the city. But the surrounding lands include lots of things to see and do, both cultural, culinary, and environmental. Nelson offers a slower, yet sophisticated pace, and it is worth spending a day or two here to enjoy them.

Some Places To Stay:

  • Marksman Motor Inn, 40-44 Sussex Street, Wellington
  • Buccaneer Lodge, 314 Waikawa Road, Picton
  • Picton Top 10 Holiday Park, 78 Waikawa Road, Picton
  • Panorama Motel, 266 Esplanade, Kaikoura
  • Christchurch Top 10 Holiday Park, 39 Meadow Street, Christchurch
  • Greymouth Kiwi Holiday Park and Motels, 318 Main South Road, Greymouth

More Information:


9-Day Roadtrip in New Zealand’s South Island

For a first time visit to New Zealand, this 9-day self-drive holiday was an unforgettable exploration of the south island. Flying in to Christchurch, renting a car from the airport, and lining up accommodation beforehand, the only thing left to do was enjoy the breathtaking landscape. Great views were everywhere.

By Stuart Hill

new zealand south island

The south of New Zealand’s South Island

While there are may ways to enjoy New Zealand — by train, bike, helicopter, walking, and tour bus — the most flexible way to get around is still by renting your own car. Car hire is convenient and affordable; just organize beforehand to pick up at the airport (or wharf) you first land at. In fact many travelers rent recreation vehicles (RVs), allowing them to combine the freedom of travel with the freedom to stay wherever they fancy. With mobile reception pretty patchy in areas, a GPS for traffic directions is recommended.

A good choice for drivers is to stay at the Top 10 Holiday Parks chain. With a network throughout New Zealand, they provide shared cooking, washing and shower facilities for RV drivers or campers, or offer a range of small self-contained cabins.

Accommodation across the whole south island is typically caravan park style, B&B, or hotel chain. You can find cabins and rooms for 2, 3, 4 or more people — depending on your traveling group. Be sure to book ahead during peak holiday periods like Christmas and New Year, as prices and vacancies will vary.

As many places have their own small kitchen facilities you can save a bit on breakfasts by stocking up on a few supplies from a local supermarket like Countdown or Four Square.

The following 9-day trip was taken in December, which is summer in the southern hemisphere. Temperatures were generally mild most mornings, around 10-15 degrees Celsius, but mountain areas like Queenstown and Arrowtown easily reached into the mid 20s C. Bluff, Milford Sound, Te Anau and Oamaru were cool at night and had rain. If you are heading anywhere on foot, have a sturdy pair of walking shoes and some waterproof clothes.

Day 1: Christchurch

Christchurch gardens

Still recovering from the devastation of the 2010 earthquake, Christchurch has a relaxed low-key charm but an obvious sense of renewal. The botanical gardens are a relaxing place to visit. Meanwhile the city streets around the damaged church offer places to shop and eat and just browse — any time of the day and night.

Day 1: Moeraki Boulders

Moeraki Boulders

Roughly two-thirds the way between Christchurch and Dunedin, the Moeraki Boulders are a curious sight. With some cracked and crumbling, others sitting on their own, a small collection of these boulders resemble scattered marbles tossed across the beach. They are easily accessed from a short walk from a marked car park.

Day 2: Dunedin City

Dunedin train station

Although its heyday was around the 1860s, Dunedin is a beautiful and historic city with many places to see, and a central area that’s easy to explore on foot. A must visit is the Dunedin train station, featuring stain-glass windows and ornate tiling. Lots of places to eat are found around the “octagon” streets at the old city’s center.

Day 2:  Larnach Castle, Dunedin

Larnach Castle

With its picturesque views of the Pacific Ocean and a turret to view them from, Larnach Castle is described as New Zealand’s only castle. The building was constructed by landowner, banker, financier and government minister William Larnach. The building and grounds fell into disrepair until the Barker family purchased the property and begun its restoration. You can eat at the castle in their cafe, including high tea.

Day 3: Invercargill


Built in 1888, the Invercargill Water Tower is one of the historic buildings in the area that reflect the worth of the city over a century ago. The nearby Queens Park, which has a rose garden, is worth visiting. Invercargill is New Zealand’s southernmost city and a commercial hub in its own right.

Day 3: Stewart Island and Bluff

Stewart Island

Stewart Island — a one-hour trip by ferry from the town of Bluff — plays an important part in Maori legend as the anchor stone of Maui’s canoe. An art installment of a giant chain on both the Bluff and island sides of Foveaux Strait interprets this story. A visit to Stewart Island takes you to the very south of New Zealand. An easy day trip can include a short guided tour or a walk around Oban village. Around 85% of the island has been designated protected wilderness, thus Rakiura National Park allows days of trekking.

Day 4: Te Anau

Lake Te Anau

The town of Te Anau is a hive of activity in the holiday season, and sits on the edge of Lake Te Anau, New Zealand’s second largest lake. There is lots to do on and around the lake itself, and plenty of accommodation in town. Real Journeys operate a guided eco-tour to the Glowworm Caves — where you will see a galaxy of “stars” sparkle in the cave roof directly above you. It’s a unique educational experience.

Day 5: Fiordland National Park

Fiordland National Park

During summer there are many places between Te Anau and Milford Sound where both local and introduced flowers are exploding in bloom. These lupine fields are an introduced species within the Fiordland National Park, and have become a bit of a mixed blessing by attracting campers and day trippers.

Day 5: Milford Sound

Milford Sound

About 2 hour’s drive from Te Anau, Milford Sound is a UNESCO world heritage site of outstanding natural beauty. Though it rains over 200 days a year, and is the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand, when the sun comes out, the scene is spectacular. Real Journeys and other companies run boat cruises within the sound. Don’t miss it.

Day 5: Mirror Lakes

Mirror Lake

Best seen when the low-hanging clouds part to reveal the mountains in the background, the Mirror Lakes are a tranquil marshland along the main road to Milford Sound. A walkway stretching along the edge of the lake allows you to observe the ducks and the fish, and wait for a stillness on the water surface that gives the area its name.

Day 6: Queenstown


Party town Queenstown doesn’t ever seem to rest, whether its mid-winter on the snow fields, or mid-summer on Lake Wakatipu, the action never stops. Take the Skyline Gondola to the top of the Ben Lomond Scenic Reserve to take in the surrounding vista.

Day 7: Arrowtown

Arrowtown Mary Mackillip

Arrowtown is a small village that became a boom town with the discovery of gold. In its better days it attracted the attention of future saint Mary MacKillop. The local old street — with its historic buildings and restaurants — and the remnants of the Chinese Quarter, offer a scenic getaway from Queenstown, or an historical detour before you head further north to Lake Wanaka.

Day 8 Wanaka

Road to Wanaka

The road between Queenstown and Wanaka includes a winding and scenic road past Arrow Junction and through the hills along Crown Range Road. It’s not the main highway, but it a beautiful detour. Heading down to Wanaka you come across Glendhu Bay, with its views off to the distant snow capped peaks.

Day 9 Oamaru


Famous for its blue penguins, which appear in the early evenings to return home to their nests and feed their chicks, Oamaru is also a small town with a wealthy past. The historic streets around the old railway are a great place to explore on foot. Grab a local street map and check out the local coffee shops, restaurants, antique store and bookshops.

Places to Stay:

More Information:

Bluff, New Zealand

Located at the bottom of New Zealand’s south island, Bluff can said to be a long way from anywhere. The place has a long fishing heritage and is famous for its Bluff Oysters. The nearby waters are a nutrient rich zone between Stewart Island and the mainland.

Taipei Escape: 4-5 Days in Japan’s Kyushu

Literally 2 hours away by plane, the south island of Kyushu is a great escape from Taipei and can be enjoyed throughout the whole year.

by Stuart Hill

The smaller cities and rural countryside make for a relaxing trip to Kyushu, with most of the travel to key locations easily accessed by train. Kyushu is a holiday destination for many Japanese, so it is a good idea to avoid long public holidays in order to make bookings easier. While there are many hotels available around most Japanese railway stations, prices and availability can be impacted by local festivals and events. It pays to book ahead.

Kyushu train travel

Travel around Kyushu, whether from the Airport in Fukuoka, further south to Sasebo or Nagasaki, can be easily done via a combination of rail and local bus. A multi-day JR pass and local city day passes for buses, are an economical and hassle-free approach to travel, especially if you a settled in a city for a few days.

Kyushu is an important place in Japanese history for the role it has played in interacting with the outside world, for good or bad. The port city of Nagasaki was the first city designated by the Japanese government as an import and export trading hub, triggering a new era in exchanges — technological, commercial, and cultural — with Western nations and China.

Shimonoseki was the site of the signing of a Chinese-Japanese peace treaty in 1895, the peace conference being delayed by an assassination attempt on the Chinese delegation. The conference saw the surrender of Taiwan and Korea by the Qing Dynasty.

Taiwan and China’s connection with Nagasaki goes back even further, as it was the home town of Zheng Cheng-Gong’s (Koxinga) mother and the base of his father’s shipping business. Sun Yat Sen would visit Nagasaki several times to drum up financial support for his national revolution. He had enthusiastic and well-placed connections there.

With the opening of Nagasaki to Western trade, the Dutch created a trading route between Nagasaki, TaiNan in Taiwan, and their colony in Indonesia. Trading routes also stretched to Shanghai and other Chinese ports, Russia and Europe.

More recently, Nagasaki was also one of the sites the American’s and British chose as targets to drop the two atomic bombs designed to cripple and demoralize Japan’s forces to bring a decisive end to World War II.

While there are many things to do — and any travel guide will  provide no shortage of ideas — here are some suggestions for a short 4-5 day trip around the island state. You could easily add an extra day or two to really give justice to Nagasaki, and another 2-3 days for exploring other cities, volcanic springs, and the rural countryside.

Glover Garden, Nagasaki

Glover Garden Nagasaki

Sitting on top of a hill overlooking Nagasaki harbor, Glover Garden consists of the residences and school (photo above) of several key foreign families that exploited the opening of Japan to overseas trade. Today the houses and surrounding gardens allow a glance back to the lives of how these western merchants lived from the 1860s up until World War II.

The Waterways of Yanagawa

Kanagawa, Kyushu

The old castle city of Yanagawa is still a maze of canals. You can take an easy tour along the waterways. Much of the trip is in the open, and while the barge company rents straw hats for a small fee, it might be worth bringing your own long-sleeve shirt in the summer months. The end of the trip dispatches you at the Okihati punt dock. A famous steamed eel on rice restaurant is near the disembarkation point, and sits on the edge of the canal. The Ohana Villa of the local clan includes a small museum of family relics — including armor, swords and toys.

Kujukushima, Sasebo

Kujukushima, Kyushu

One claim to fame of Kyushu’s “99-islands” is that a shot of the islands appears in Tom Cruise’s The Last Samuri movie. The islets and rocky outcrops create a calm inland sea that can be enjoyed best on the water, whether a rented kayak, jet ski, or boat cruise such as on the Pearl Queen (above). A walk to the top of the hill behind the Sasebo Zoo provides the same vantage point near the Ishidake Observatory enjoyed by Tom Cruise’s film crew.

Shimonoseki Fish Market, Kyushu

Fish market

Fish markets everywhere are best observed in the early morning, but no matter when you go, Shimonoseki’s fish market buzzes with the enthusiasm of fish traders and eaters alike. The area is famous for its preparation of puffer fish or “fugu” sushi (if you are game).

Night Lights of Nagasaki

Nagasaki night view

Many of Japan’s cities offer spectacular night views, typically from the top of a tower or department store building. But the Mt Inasa Observation Platform provides a bird’s-eye 360 degree panorama of Nagasaki and its surrounding mountains. No doubt the daytime view is impressive, but the night view is mesmerizing, and was reportedly designated as one of the word’s top 3 locations. It is best to arrive after 8pm when the sun has well and truly set. The platform closes at 10pm.

The Hot Springs of Beppu, Oita

Beppu hot springs, Kyushu

The Beppu region of Oita Prefecture in Kyushu is famous for its volcanic geography, and is Japan’s leading area for various types of hot springs. Whether you are soaking in them or just viewing/photographing the color and steam, the hot springs are much better appreciated during Autumn to Spring.

Other Travel Ideas for Kyushu:

  • The Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum, Memorial, and Peace Park
  • Anywhere in Kyushu during cherry blossom season (April)
  • Eat authentic local ramen noodles or buy Portuguese Castella sponge cake in Nagasaki

Travel Tips:

  • Book accommodation online via sites like, such as at JR Hotel
  • Cathay flies between Taipei’s TaoYuan airport to the Fukuoka airport
  • Buy a multi-day JR Kyushu Rail Pass at the Fukuoka JR railway station. The ticket office is opposite the tourist information office. Ticket info and timetables are available in English
  • Catch a local subway train from Fukuoka (Tenjin) to Yanagawa. If you have time, change at Futsukaichi for the connection to Dazaifu to check out nearby shrines and temples
  • There is a free shuttle from outside the Aquarium within Kujukushima’s Pearl Sea Resort that can take you to the Sasebo Zoo

Coffee Harvest Number 2

Almost 2 years after producing its first significant harvest, My Coffee Plant has quadrupled its output for its second harvest season. While an obvious improvement has been the volume of coffee beans produced, changing the roasting technique has ensured a much better beverage, with surprisingly enjoyable flavors. 

By Stuart Hill

I have to admit, My Coffee Plant has a pride of place in my balcony garden. It is a real talking point, for although many people drink coffee, not many actually get up close to the plant that brought them their Americano or Latte.

Unfortunately, I can’t say I have treated My Coffee Plant especially well over the years, but since moving to the WenShan (文山) district of Taipei it is obvious how much it enjoys the new living conditions, by showing its appreciation for how much it feels at home here.

My Coffee Plant

After 4 years of poor living conditions and then moving to a new place with plentiful sun and water, My Coffee Plant started producing fruit. This year’s crop exceeded 200 berries.

In its first 3 years it transformed itself from a pathetic office desk plant into a stringy display plant. In its 4th year it shot up again, turning into a small but solid shrub, and gave the first signs of its true potential, sprouting a few bright red coffee fruits.

In its 5th year My Coffee Plant went crazy, producing 50 or so berries that provided enough beans to brew 3 espressos! (I made an account of this and the research I did for harvesting and roasting my crop in Home Grown, Home Roasted Coffee and Home Ground, Home Brewed Coffee.)

Ripe Coffee Berries

Not all coffee berries ripen at the same time, so it can take several weeks to harvest the berries from the tree. After picking, the skins need to be removed and the remaining beans left to dry. In all, the process took roughly 2 months this year.

In the following year, having braved a typhoon that shredded half its leaves and smashed its pot, leaving it lying on the balcony in a sorry state, My Coffee Plant made a triumphant come-back, producing over 200 berries from its brand new (and much more sturdy) container.

For Harvest No 2, based on my own research, experience from the last harvest, and a bit of intuition, I made some modifications to the roasting processes.

More coffee beans

Last harvest produced around 50 berries, roughly enough to create 3 espressos of coffee. This year’s crop produced 4 times that number of berries. Last year’s Chinese wok was exchanged for a flat frying pan, helping to ensure a slow roasting process.

Whether or not the combination of better fertilization, more abundant soil, and more consistent watering had anything to do with it, this year’s result has produced a much more sophisticated coffee drinking experience, with a brew offering a subtler aroma and significantly more complex combination of flavors.

This yea's roasting technique used a low heat and slower roasting process, with the beans taking just under 10 minutes to reach a deep medium roast brown color.

This year’s roasting technique used a low heat and slower roasting process, with the beans taking just under 10 minutes to reach a deep medium roast brown color.

Perhaps next year will see even more coffee berries produced. In fact, it might be about time for some professional training in how to roast beans.

Coffee Brewing

The coffee was brewed in a stove-top espresso kettle. This was to provide a comparison with last year’s outcome. Other coffee brewing techniques would be equally effective, considering the larger volume of coffee produced this year.

The proof is always in the tasting. Last year, the beans were roasted quickly and slightly over cooked, creating a heavy super-dark roast really only suitable for brewing espressos. The final flavor was a heavy smokey roast, with a bitter aftertaste.

This year, by using a lower heat and a slower cooking process, the beans reached a medium roast. In addition to retaining more of their “original bean flavor”, the coffee itself offered a more complex range of flavors, with a lighter taste on the tongue, followed by a creamy nutty aftertaste.

Coffee Drink

The final result is a nutty coffee flavor, with a broader range of flavors within each sip. So many factors impact the eventual outcome, like soil quality, water, the roasting process, freshness of the beans, etc. that with such a small volume of beans it’s hard to control the consistency of the outcome. Yet home roasting produces an undeniably unique coffee taste.


Nanna Mackney’s Famous Lemon Cheese Cake Recipe

Years after watching Nanna prepare her popular cheese cakes, I attempted to make my own version with a little help from her original recipe and instructions available online.

By Stuart Hill

Lemon Cheese Cake Ingredients

These are the basic ingredients for Nanna’s Lemon Cheese Cake recipe. Of course there are other variations you can follow.

Some foods and their associated traditions just seem to resonate with a stronger sentiment than others. It may not be just the food itself, but everything built around particular events that somehow augments the flavor of those memories.

When I was a kid I used to stay with my Nanna over the holidays. She and Poppa lived near the beach on the far north coast of New South Wales, which is in Australia’s east. She was a good cook, and had years of experience in the kitchen. As was her tradition, the kitchen was her domain and she ruled it outright.

The design of her house was such that the kitchen was fenced off by a preparation bench that connected to the kitchen cabinets on one end. On the kitchen side was storage space for containers and other things, while on the living room side were placed bar stools where we would sit and eat breakfast.

The bar stools gave my sister and I a safe vantage point to see what was going on in the kitchen. Nanna was a fairly versatile cook, but she seemed to excel at 3 types of dessert. My favorite was her rice pudding, made of milk, rice, nutmeg and butter. The other was Nanna’s Christmas pudding, full of dried fruit and alcohol. The third, was her home-made cheese cake.

Perhaps because of its “adult flavor” I never really like the cheese cake. But obviously many people did, as Nanna sold them to the local pub, which offered them on their dessert menu. So the event of making cheese cake was something that happened quite regularly over the holidays. It seemed such an elaborate process, but by the end there would be a “huge” cake prepared.

Over the years I have used her recipes to make rice puddings and christmas puddings. But until now, I’ve never attempted Nanna’s lemon cheese cake recipe. I thought I’d give it a go using her ingredients and instructions.

The first thing to make is the base of the cheese cake. Here are the ingredients for the biscuit base:

  • 1 pack of sweet biscuits, ground finely
  • 80 grams of melted butter
Cheese cake biscuit base

As important as the cheese filling, Nanna’s lemon cheese cake includes a crunchy biscuit base. And it is not hard to make.

This part is relatively easy and can be done by hand. After grinding the biscuits, mix with the melted butter and then spoon into a springform cake tin. Press the mixture to form a tightly packed base. In this case I didn’t have a springform tin, so I lined the base and sides with cooking paper. According to Nanna’s recipe the base should be baked in a moderate oven for about 10 minutes.

These are the basic ingredients for a lemon cheese cake:

  • 2 packs of 225 grams of cream cheese
  • 1 cup of cream (Nanna replaces this with evaporated milk)
  • 3/4 cup of caster sugar (Nanna uses 1 cup of caster sugar)
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons of lemon rind
  • 3 teaspoons of gelatin dissolved in 1/4 cup of water
  • Nanna adds vanilla essence (I used a vanilla bean)
Electric cake mixer

With your soft cream cheese, caster sugar, lemon juice, rind, and gelatin dissolved in water, the hardest part is beating it all together — best left to the cook’s assistant.

The making of the cheese cake filling takes a little more preparation, especially the lemon rind and the dissolved gelatin.

The cream cheese should be removed from the fridge and brought to room temperature to make it easier to beat. I used an electric mixer to handle all the heavy beating.

TIP: while you will need boiling water to dissolve your gelatin, don’t add boiling gelatin to your cream cheese and caster sugar mixture directly. Prepare this first and let it set aside to cool to room temperature.

For a quick tutorial covering the complete process for mixing the ingredients of the cheese cake together, check out this video by the makers of Philadelphia Cream Cheese, which is fairly self-explanatory:

You can also visit the Philly Cream Cheese website for recipes.

Cheese Cake in Tin

After all your ingredients are beaten, pour the cake mix into your cake tin with the already cooled biscuit base. Transfer to the fridge or freezer.

Nanna’s recipe doesn’t use lemon rind and replaces the gelatin with lemon jello (jelly). She also replaces the cream with evaporated milk. In this case I could not find lemon jello, so I went with the rind (as other recipes recommend) for a natural lemon tang. If you don’t have evaporated milk you can try condensed milk, which gives the cake a heavier sweeter flavor (so go light on the caster sugar).

Nanna uses an extra 1/4 cup of sugar, but I decided to leave this out, and while she adds vanilla essence I had a vanilla bean on hand so used that instead.

Nanna’s recipe recommends to freeze the cake, although other recipes suggest to cool it in a refrigerator. In this case, if condensed milk is used, it should probably be frozen like it is with ice cream, but in the end it depends on the texture and style of eating you prefer. After 3-4 hours Nanna’s cheese cake is fairly solid.

Cake after setting

After the cake has set in the fridge for about 3-4 hours, remove it from the tin and remove the cooking paper.

For the final touch Nanna’s version adds whipped cream dusted with nutmeg as a topping. The cream taste fantastic, but is actually optional. The cake tastes great just on its own, with its touch of vanilla and lemon peel spread throughout.

Slice of cheese cake

The final touch is to whip the cream and cover the cake with a thick layer. Dust with nutmeg, or as in this case, cocoa. Add a sprig of mint for show.

Embracing Australia’s Asian Century

The Asian Century has been hotly debated in Australia, especially since the release of the government’s white paper on the issue. Recent funding increases to asian languages and other promotional events have also generated discussion. While various levels of government, business, and academia are already dealing with the opportunities and challenges of embracing asia, for the rest of the populace, the issue of embracing Australia’s Asian century still seems to be a little abstract and removed. Here is a personal response to this discussion, which while written almost 5 years ago, still seems equally relevant today.

By Stuart Hill

European Centric World Map

With Europe at its center, a typical perspective of the “arse end of the world” as understood by most Australians. Instead, isn’t it time for Australians to change their perspective by aligning with their geographical reality and embracing Australia’s Asian century?

From my small cubicle at a software company in the steamy city of Taipei, I enjoyed listening to bits of this podcast (Preparing for the Asian Century, broadcast on ABC Radio National) throughout my long (Taiwanese-style) work day.

Listening to the program and hearing the panel discuss what should be done about teaching language and cultural skills made me reflect on the life I have experienced and am currently living.

Now 37, I was originally inspired by the Keating years of embracing Asia—not for the Far East as I sometimes still hear it called, but the “near north”—and began looking for opportunities to make my way there (here) while at university.

I visited Beijing 1 year after the Tiananmen Square incident, part of a team of guinea pig student teachers, invited by my university to test the waters and help maintain our “great relationship” with our Chinese education ministry hosts.

What a huge mistake that was. I came back with my suspicions confirmed: there is a big world out there and Australia seems very remote from it.

That summer back in Australia, I began a Mandarin Chinese course during my holiday break. I didn’t learn much, but it gave me the confidence for my next excursion; 4 weeks wandering around the streets of Beijing living at a pen pal’s house (until the local warden kicked me out), then slumming it at a friend’s friend’s unused apartment. I was the only foreigner in the building, so the police were extremely relieved to see my visa and return ticket to Sydney.

Them were the days when foreigners couldn’t be expected to live a simple life at a local hotel; only the Great Wall Sheraton would do! After weeks of negotiations over bananas, yoghurt, and kebabs—and anything else to keep me from McDonalds—I returned home with more great memories and an even bigger decision: study Chinese for real; through immersion.

Throw in several years of inaction, all the while building friendships with Taiwanese students at university. Jump past the distractions of work and life and all, and finally in 1998 I arrived in Taiwan to study 6 months of Mandarin: speaking, reading and writing. Traditional Chinese characters, not simplified ones, thank you.

Six months turned into a year, with a Taiwan government scholarship helping to pay some of the bills once my own money started running out. I made few English-speaking friends as my school and classes had very few westerners. With Chinese as our only common language, I spoke poorly to classmates and teachers for over 4 hours every day in and out of classes. Nights I spent memorizing characters and how to write them. I made local friends through language exchanges.

14 months was enough. I was going crazy. But was it time to return to my world? I made my next fateful decision: a job at a computer hardware company in Taipei in their marketing department. I spent the first 6 months with a headache, trying to keep up with meetings conducted in Chinese. Over the years the headaches gradually got better.

I have no doubts that the way things are expressed contain at least 70% of the meaning of what is expressed. And this is how I survived: by guessing! This form of cultural immersion taught another good lesson in communication—so much of what we say is irrelevant to carrying any useful meaning. It is a real art to reduce your intended meaning to the vocab of an 8-year-old, and still get your point across. It is also very humiliating. It is easier to cling onto the safety of your language and culture, and I think the best language students learn to let go. By stripping this protection away you question the value of the process, but it provides new perspectives. Such as the plight of so many Australian immigrants who must go through much worse to adapt to their adopted country; because they need to.

Well that was over 7 years ago. I switched jobs. I am now a manager in the software company I mentioned earlier. I’m a permanent resident of Taiwan too, and yes, Mandarin is my second tongue which I speak at work and home.

But back to your discussion topic.

I’m sure my journey is not unique. Though I admit I haven’t met too many in Taiwan, I doubt I am the only Australian of my generation to have been inspired by the Go North idea.

Having lived very real lessons in language and culture, I strongly recommend in-country study and interaction. Cultures aren’t static, and being part of the evolving dynamic is a less theoretical form of study. It is both fun and frustrating. It is also contemporary, practical and immediate. It is a stream, and you have to jump in at some time to get anywhere.

I hope many more Australians have the same opportunity to learn about and experience another culture first hand. But it requires many personal qualities—not the least a basic interest to learn—and inspiration from others, to really maintain the energy needed to develop deeper understandings.

If I can comment on the national level, Australia needs people who are able to lead us through some major cultural challenges ahead. We need to face our fear of Asians, reassess some of the assumptions we have about our place in the world, historically and geographically. This means understanding where we fit into other peoples’ histories too.

So far Australia has been lucky. For the past 60 years Asia has been dealing with its own local problems of inequality and development. But they now have a growing buying power and changing priorities. Australia will face even more pressure to engage. The question is whether we have some say in the terms of that engagement.

Your discussion made mention of the fact that Australia has always been important to others as an abundant source of resources. And will continue to be. But without the language and cultural expertise we need, we weaken our negotiation position to get the best deal. I think your panel said it right that it is an issue of national strategic importance.

The starting point is a change in perception. I agree with addressing the issue “Where are we?”. It is fundamental to prioritizing our education resources. I strongly suggest every Australian take a look at the map. I don’t mean any of the ones drafted during the Empire and brought over 200 years ago from Europe (or today’s variation). I mean a Chinese map, with China at its center. What’s interesting is that it shifts perception. Seeing it for the first time was a revelation. As you can imagine, the Chinese map clearly defines the area that represents the “Middle Kingdom”.

But today’s modern Chinese maps also tell a different story. What they can tell Australians is that there is another middle kingdom. This kingdom is far easier to define, surrounded by water, and much better located between the future empires of South and North America, Africa, and Asia.

If you’ve seen the map, you’ll know what I mean. It’s why the Asia-Pacific century is Australia’s century too. Let’s get one of those maps in front of every 5-year old. Then ask them, where do you want to go?

Asia Centric World Map

Embracing Australia’s Asian Century will always be difficult if Australian’s don’t understand their proximity to Asia. Based on Asian maps of the world, here is a perspective of the region as we probably should know it.

Betrayed by Language in the US of “Ay”

Despite the two countries having the same linguistic origins, some fundamental differences can threaten every-day survival for Aussies travelling in the USA.

By Stuart Hill

Golden Gate Bridge

The Golden Gate Bridge, California. A famous bridge in the United States of

The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs needs to start issuing cultural hazard warnings. It starts innocently enough, but quickly turns into the most ahrkwaad moments. It’s the linguistic equivalent of falling flat on your aass.

“Where’s the barthroom?” you ask.
“The whart?” comes the reply.
“The barthroom.”
“Sir, the baathroom is over there.”

You get a hand gesture and it helps immensely.

The dangers have been around for years, so why isn’t anything being done? When Australia was negotiating its trade agreements, wasn’t anyone thinking of the cultural threat?

Sydney Harbour Bridge

The Sydney Harbour Bridge.
A famous bridge in Australia.

In fact, travelling in the United States can be pretty exciting, but there are some cultural traps lurking around each corner. Australians and Americans generally look alike, we watch the same crappy TV, follow the same celebrity gossip, we even share 98% of the same written language, yet why is it so difficult to communicate?

The answer is that your “ays” will betray you. In the land of faast food everything, even finding something healthy to eat can be a challenge. Take this as an exaample:

“How much for that banarna?”
“That whaat?”
“The banarna.”
“Sir, that banaana is $2.00.”

While food is one thing, how about ordering something to drink?

“Can I have a glarse of worter?”
“Whaat sir?”
“Glarse of worter.”
“Mmm (long pause)…sir, sparkling or still waahter?”

So here’s a practical travel tip that should be listed on the Australian Embassy travel warning website: don’t get left without a huge bartle of waahter on your
next road drip to Vegas. You’ll dai before you convince someone to spare you even one precious drop.

It is almost a truism that the US — and perhaps California in particular — is one of the most car-centric places in the world. And with malls and outlets located remote from public transport, the huge size of the pahking facilities can be a little overwhelming for first time visitors.

So it may not be too unexpected you can get a bit lost in one of those facilities. Or if, say, you are hiking in a national paahk, you might soon find you need directions to get back to your vehicle. Some sage advice is this: avoid arsking for directions; find a map and persevere on your own instead.

Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon, Nevada.
One of America’s famous natural wonders.

I cite some personal experience as a whaaning to others:

“Excuse me! Can you tell me where the cahr pahrk is?”
“Uh, whaat? You said, where’s the cow pak?”
“Yes, can you tell me where it is?”
“Sir, this is a national protected reserve, there ain’t no cows in this park….But the parking lart is just over there.”

Again the gesturing helps. Very soon you begin to feel a growing pressure to assimilate. It’s either you do it, or forever get that double-take reaction, followed by the “I couldn’t catch your charming/cute/strong/funny/interesting/totally incomprehensible ACCENT.”

The Blue Mountains

The Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains, New South Wales. One of Australia’s natural

So you have to give some credit to the tenacity of our poor Hollywood-bound celebrities. Especially given the degree to which they must experience repressing their own cultural identity in order to succeed in this land of fantaastic parsibilities.

It carn’t be easy.

God save us Aahsies.