Frohe Weihnachten! Merry Christmas!

We are both exhausted from 2016 and have been quietly recuperating in Berlin. Overall, we've had a very positive year with Christoph's work going well and both of us remaining in good health. 2016 was filled with plenty of plane rides and bouts of jetlag but we've survived and are recharging for another similarly full year ahead.

From a too-warm-Berlin for a white Christmas, we hope you all have a magnificent festive weekend. Be happy, fulfill your heart's desires and laugh out loud whenever possible! Share the human bond with those around you and we look forward to touching base with you soon :-) Merry Christmas!

Above the fog; at a family get-together in Switzerland last week :-)  

Above the fog; at a family get-together in Switzerland last week :-)  

By Popular Demand

At the time of my house post, I didn't think photos would be of interest but I guess I was terribly mistaken! It seems that so far, our tenants have settled in well with their dog but here are a few photos from house. These are the professional shots taken for the sale and I have to say that when I saw the house in person, it actually looked better than the photos make it out to be.

Top left and clockwise: front of the house, hallway, kitchen, backyard, living room, one of the three bedrooms. 

Top left and clockwise: front of the house, hallway, kitchen, backyard, living room, one of the three bedrooms. 

From the front of the house, it looks very unassuming... which is probably why I quite liked it :-)

Sweet November

I have been away from my blogging for a while but I do have legitimate reasons for it. Other than the usual galavanting from continent to continent, November has been keeping me especially busy with a new activity; it's called 'buying a house'.

Christoph and I bought a house. In Perth. In Australia. The running gag is that we bought it online; some of you may be horrified by the very thought of that, well I am too when I think about it but the truth is that we did indeed buy it online. However, to our merit, the house is in Perth where I have family members who were more than happy to help us with our property enquiries. One of the perks of having a big Asian family is that everyone is there to help each other :o)

The story began with Christoph and I brainstorming about where we could buy property that would be somewhat safe and away from all that is happening in the world. We ruled out America for obvious reasons, Asia is difficult as you mostly need to be a local to buy, Singapore had priced itself out of our budget and South Africa was too unstable with Nelson Mandela gone. I love New Zealand but it's really just too far away. It became an interesting exercise to go through; listing countries you like alongside the reasons why you can't live there.

We ended up with Australia, land of the free. Due to Sydney being currently unaffordable and Melbourne, well the climate isn't ideal, we concluded with Perth, my hometown. I still have a good network of family and friends there, I know the city and as a citizen, I am allowed to buy an old house (non-citizens are only permitted to buy newly-built).

I informed my eldest brother, KL, of our plan and started looking at real estate websites, this was back in September. A couple of weeks later, on a Monday morning I spotted a small house that looked like it would work; good location, recently renovated and most importantly, within our budget. I called the property agent. Called my brother. They met that afternoon. KL looked at the house. He liked what he saw and lo-and-behold, we put in an offer.

What would be a normal procedure for most; offer accepted, pay deposit, put house through a pre-purchase inspection, get loan approval, sign papers, return papers etc, turned into one heck of a circus act for us. Most of the time, our nomadic lifestyle works well but this was the one occasion where it gave us logistical nightmares.

Our offer was accepted while Christoph and I were in Bangkok, the day before he was going back to Shanghai (and then to Germany and then two weeks through Asia) and me onto Chiang Mai (then more of Thailand and then to Myanmar). In order to verify our identities and sign papers, we both needed to show up at an Australian Embassy or Consulate with our original ID and papers (ones that no sane person carries around with them, especially when on holidays!).

We scrambled to transfer the deposit, as we both did not bring our banking security tokens with us on holidays either, but managed it with kind-hearted family help :o) The key thing was that we had to keep everything rolling and co-ordinated so that when we met again, all the paperwork would be ready for us to sign at the consulate in Shanghai. The day of the offer acceptance was the day before Christoph and I were going to be apart for almost a month. We had deadlines to meet or else the sale would not go through, hence we were working within a very tight time frame.

We had a fair few nail-biting moments and a frustrated second visit to the consulate before we received finance approval and settlement eventuated on Nov 11. Pretty much two months post-offer acceptance but they were the two months during which we both had the maddest travel itineraries of the year.

I landed in Perth on Nov 8 and on the next day, saw the house for the first time (I must say that it is a pretty house). Three days later our house settled and I had the keys in my hand. We had a home open within the week and now we have tenants moving in on Dec 2. Perth mission accomplished!

It's one of those things now. We sit back and ask ourselves, "Did we really just buy a house?" and soon after exclaim, "Crap! Not only did we buy a house, we're also going to be landlords!".

Shanxi Province

I have decided to call Linh and I ‘The Travelling Sisters’ as it seems that we have been, and will continue to do a fair bit of travelling together each year :o) Our most recent escapade was to Datong and Pingyao in Shanxi Province.

These two destinatons in Shanxi are not ususally on a typical travel itinerary but are visited very frequently by domestic tourists. Shanxi is mineral rich and one of the leading coal producers in China with known coal deposits that account for a third of the country’s total. Shanxi has more coal companies than any other province with annual production exceeding 300 million metric tonnes.

Image source: www.chinevoyage.com

Image source: www.chinevoyage.com

We didn’t go there to see the heavy industry. From Beijing, we drove to Datong city which is where we based ourselves to go see the Yungang Grottoes and Hanging Temple. The Yungang Grottoes are caves or carved out crevices that contain rock-cut architecture of Buddhist images that were created between the 5th and 6th century. The other sight near Datong is the famous Xuankongsi, or otherwise known as the Hanging Temple. The temple was built more than 1,500 years ago on the side of a cliff and looks amazing.

From Datong, we then took a slow train to Pingyao which is home to one of the best preserved ancient cities in China. Its history goes back 2,700 years and we stayed in a guesthouse that was 500 years old. What I loved most about the ancient city was that it still has roughly 50,000 inhabitants who live and work in the traditional courtyard houses. What I loved least, though, was the continual heavy reliance on coal. You could see it in the air and feel it at the back of your throat :o(

Here is what we saw and explored.

Mingalabar Myanmar

It was difficult to choose which photos to use to represent our trip. Places like Bagan and the experience of the Phaung Daw U Festival at Inle Lake was beyond an image. There was no way to capture the peace and beauty of Bagan nor the buzz and excitement of the festival. Overall, we had an amazing trip and know that we will re-visit the country sometime in the future, but for now share the good memories here.

Heart-warming Myanmar

It's our last day in Myanmar and we are both pretty exhausted. We just got off another over-night bus (11 hours) and have checked in to our hotel. We're tired but have had such a wonderful experience seeing what we did of this beautiful country.

Our trip was the very typical tourist loop, starting in Yangon and ending in Yangon. We went clockwise and travelled Yangon-Bagan-Mandalay-Inle Lake- Yangon.

We started slowly in Yangon and visited the Shwedagon Pagoda and the city's downtown area. Shwedagon Pagoda is considered the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in the country and it is where many Burmese make a pilgrimage. The downtown area captivated us and we loved strolling through the many streets with run down colonial buildings and imagining what it must have once been like... the good and the bad.

Our next destination involved taking an over-night bus to Bagan. The journey didn't take us too long (10 hours) and luckily the bus was very comfortable. Bagan is an archeological zone where over 2,200 religious monuments from the 11th to 13th-century remain standing. Originally over 10,000 temples, pagodas and monasteries were constructed at the height of the Pagan Kingdom and after spending 2 days exploring the ancient area, it's just awe-inspiring to try to imagine the original 10,000 monuments! We then spent our last day in a car and visited Mount Popa.

Another bus journey (what was supposed to take 4.5 hours turned into 7.5 hours due to flooded roads) took us to Mandalay which is the second largest city in Myanmar and the economic centre of Upper Burma. The past twenty years has seen an influx of Chinese immigrants, mainly from Yunnan, which has reshaped the city's ethnic make-up greatly. It is nevertheless a melting pot of Burmese, Indians, Muslims and Chinese cultures. Here we visited the famous U-Bein Bridge, the sights around Mandalay Hill and the ancient city of Inwa.

From Mandalay to Inle Lake, we splurged and flew! We were on a plane which Christoph deemed was an unsafe aircraft, but we survived and the actual flying time was only 35 minutes! Inle Lake was very special because we happened to be there during the annual 10 day Phaung Daw U Festival. This is a buddhist festival that carries 4 images of Buddha to the all the villages surrounding the lake. The procession takes 18 days to complete with the finale being the arrival of the images at Nyaung Shwe town. Thousands of people converge for this event; they came from the mountains, villages, all over and it was so colourful! Everyone were wearing their best outfits and so we got to see the many ethnic tribes people at the temple and markets. A really great experience.

We've had 2 weeks in Myanmar and from what we've seen, Linh and I are keen to revisit and venture to the areas that we didn't get to this time round. The people have consistently been overly helpful, friendly and hospitable. Staying at guesthouses, you are really taken care of and can feel the genuine desire to make sure you are enjoying your stay. Tourism is definitely bringing in much needed funds to the economy and we can only hope that the people benefit from all the development that is happening as well.

A photo album is coming soon..