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Fab Asia Travel

    Everything Else Fabulous  --  Fab Asia Travel

    Traveling with Low Expectations Brings Happier Rewards

    Location: Maldive Islands

    Maybe it’s different if you are on a two-week vacation.  You likely want every minute of your two weeks perfect.  I suspect this is why I see frustrated tourists on occasion.  Visitors with high expectations dashed.

    I’m more and more aware that a life of full-time travel will eventually bring you to a place where you approach each new destination with low expectations, and where you are usually rewarded with happier results.

    Life is easier if you don’t put the pressure of high expectations on every moment.  I used to live a life of high expectations.  No more. Now we know traveling with low expectations brings happier rewards.

    I was thinking about this today, during my morning yoga practice on the beach in the beautiful Maldives.  I was thinking about this because there is a couple here at the resort we are at, who clearly came here with high expectations.  Too high.  They are leaving and going somewhere else.

    Unfortunately I expect they won’t find what they are looking for at the next place either.

    The resort we are at is simple.  Nothing fancy.  But it is inexpensive, comfortable, relaxed and the service is great.  We did our research before coming here – and our expectations matched exactly the reality (such as, in this Muslim country, no alcohol and only one beach where western swimwear is allowed). Too bad the couple I referred to didn’t do their research – or perhaps they just live a high expectation, high maintenance life, waiting for others to make them happy.

    Traveling with low expectations is a blessing really.  We do a lot of research before we go somewhere, both on the destination and on the lodgings we choose.  We approach each new place with a giddy sense of wonder and fear…but never with high expectations.  This has given us the most joy in our travels, little disappointment and frequent euphoria.

    Accepting each country and each destination’s quirks and faults, bonuses and perks makes for great memories and experiences.  Not dragging any preconceived notions, American needs or desires or high expectations into the adventure is how we have fun.  Learning along the way that the grand adventure is what we make it – how we take it – low expectations and happy rewards.

    A fabulous life indeed.

    Fab Asia Travel

    Learning About Ancient Chinese Tea in Beijing

    Location: China

    What a fascinating experience we enjoyed learning about ancient Chinese tea in Beijing.

    Sorry Mr. Lipton, but I’m not sure I can ever use a tea bag again.

    Sorry Mr. Starbucks but your idea of Chai just won’t cut it for me anymore.

    <img alt = "ancient tea ceremony">

    Tea as a welcome and a greeting

    Oh and apologies also to the Queen – milk and sugar is out.

    I’ve been converted to the wonders of Chinese tea.

    Those of you who know me personally know I am a coffee-holic.  Boy do I love my morning java.  But, most of you probably don’t know I also enjoy tea, particularly in the evening as a relaxing way to unwind.

    The thing I found most enchanting about the ancient Chinese tea culture was the calming nature of the experience of it.

    <img alt = "tea as art form">

    Preparing and serving is an art form

    Unlike the coffee-culture we live in (fast-paced, drive-through and impersonal),  Chinese Tea Culture is about taking the time to hand brew each cup, serve it in beautiful containers and present it in a humble and ceremonial way.  Tea is not just about drinking something hot and delicious.  It’s a greeting, a gesture, a gathering, and an art – and ancient tradition.

    Both recent scientific and ancient medical cultures agree tea also has a wide range of health benefits for our bodies.  Our server at the Fujian Anxi Xihua Tea Company schooled us on the many ailments Chinese people turn to tea to cure including; low sex-drive, digestion problems, slow metabolism and lack of energy.  Tea is a zero calorie, immunity boosting, antioxidant  said to increase bone strength, improve energy level and help in weight loss.

    <img alt = "delicious chinese tea">

    Delicious

    Wow.  Sign me up.

    Learning about ancient Chinese tea in Beijing we visited a Chinese Tea Ceremony where we were given the opportunity to see, smell, taste

    <img alt = "chinese flowering tea">

    Flowering Tea

    and appreciate many different teas including; Oolong, Jasmine, Red Tea, Black Tea, Blooming Flower Tea, Ginseng and Fruit Tea.

    Beyond my fascination with the tea itself I was intrigued by the variety of implements used in the preparation and service of the tea: pots, cups, lids, spoons, scoops, sieves, strainers and even a tiny crockery naked boy, who pees when the water is hot enough. Yes I brought one home.

    Speaking of hot water, I also learned some teas are served with water that is not quit boiling…so much detail in this way of tea. So much to learn.

    I did not and could not possibly learn it all in the hour we enjoyed our visit at the Tea House.  But it was enough time to intrigue me to study up, and expand my tea drinking wisdom and enjoy the art of Chinese Tea, back at home. Slowly and with purpose.

     

     

    Fab Asia Travel

    Affordable Peace & Quiet on the Maldives

    Hoorah Huraa

    Location: Maldive Islands

    Affordable Peace & Quiet on the Maldives

    Yes the water really is that color

    We’ve been breaking our own rule of slow travel lately with some whirlwind activity through India and Bangladesh. So we were looking to recenter and refocus on our goals. And we found the perfect place. Affordable peace-and-quiet on the Maldives. Hoorah Huraa!

    Affordable Peace & Quiet on the Maldives

    Sunset from Huraa

    We didn’t specifically choose the island of Huraa. Rather we chose the affordable Airbnb (Beach Heaven)here. As nice as it would be to stay in one of those mega expensive over the water thatched roof bungalows you see in the Maldives marketing material – that is not in our budget.  Nor really is it in our keep it simple and affordable style.

    Affordable Peace & Quiet on the Maldives

    Looking across the channel to the very expensive Club Med from our sweet little spot

    We chose to spend three week’s at the “keep it simple” Beach Heaven Hotel where for $90 a day (total not per person) we are enjoying a small but comfortable room, three meals a day, coffee, tea and water all day and other non alcoholic drinks available for a tiny price.  We also have great WiFi (a surprise), a patio table to play scrabble as well as hammocks and lounge chairs to read in and a beach five minutes walk away.

    There is a tiny-little community here on Huraa but no cars.  That makes walking the crushed coral narrow streets each morning another bonus.

    Affordable Peace & Quiet on the Maldives

    Google map image of the island of Huraa

    We thought the island we stayed on in the Seychelles was small- well you could put about 200 Huraa’s on the Seychelles island of Praslin.

    There are a couple of tiny stores, a couple of other tiny resorts, and a school.  Many of the locals work at the three resorts on the neighboring islands where over the water huts run about $1500 a night, all visible from our $90 room at Beach Heaven.

    Affordable Peace and Quiet on the Maldives

    Colorful house on the crushed coral streets of Huraa

    The Maldives are a devout Muslim nation and Huraa has a small mosque. And of course no alcohol, tobacco, or pork.  We are using these three alcohol free weeks to really focus on our health. Although I’ve been suffering since Bangladesh with a cold, we are enjoying early morning beach yoga daily, cardio every other day and power walking most days. You must circle the island twice to walk three miles.  The highest point on the island is about five feet.  So power walking is easy.

    Affordable Peace & Quiet on the Maldives

    The atoll of Maldives showing all the islands with resorts

    The Maldives are an atoll.  I believe this is my first visit to an atoll. An atoll forms when an ancient
    volcano sinks into the sea from the weight of the coral building and growing on the fringe.  This leaves a ring of small coral islands with a lagoon center.  Coral is  everywhere  here – the sand on the beach is fine coral, the roads are crushed coral and coral is used as stone for building houses.

    Affordable Peace & Quiet on the Maldives

    No cars on Huraa but a few scooters and golf carts and whatever you would call this cute thing.

    We have eaten fish everyday so far and the tuna is especially fresh and delicious.

    We still have more than two weeks here, and we plan to take some snorkeling excursions as soon as my cold goes away.  But meanwhile we are just enjoying this unique place, a great find with affordable peace and quiet on the Maldives.

    Hoorah Huraa.

    Fab Asia Travel

    Seven Boats, Three Days, One Rare Bangladesh

    One for the record books – our visit to Bangladesh

    Location: Bangladesh

    We would not have normally come to Bangladesh, except the opportunity was here because our friend Natalie is a teacher in Dhaka.  I preach frequently the need to visit less tourism developed places – and yet am guilty of wanting to see places like the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Table Mountain.

    One rare Bangladesh

    Beautiful Bangladeshi dancer

    And so our decision to visit Bangladesh helped us make the leap to a place no one goes, except our friend Natalie.

    We connected with Deshghuri Tours – one of a handful of tour companies catering to the few Westerners who come here, mostly Canadians, Germans and

    One rare Bangladesh

    Fort Lalbagh

    Americans.  Because our time was short we booked a three-day tour with Deshghuri.  It’s difficult to see Bangladesh without a guide.  The cities are crowded and Dhaka is plagued with air pollution.  Driving here is, shall we say, daunting.  So a tour is a must.

    Our first day was to see the densely packed city of Dhaka – home to 20 million people.  Bangladesh is the 8th most populous country in the world and

    One rare bangladesh

    At the beautiful mosaic mosque

    Dhaka has a density of 23,234 people per square kilometer within a total area of 300 square kilometers.  We spent the day weaving in and out of traffic, but also enjoying getting in and out of the car to see some remarkable sites; mosques, temples, university, and the 600-year-old Lalbagh Fort that serves as a lovely oasis in the city.  It was here we really began to feel how unusual it is to have a westerner walking around Dhaka.  Bangladeshi

    One rare bangladesh

    From on board the Rocket Steamer looking at the busy port

    stopped and gaped at us, some asking for selfies, others discreetly taking our photo without asking.  Very strange.

    At the end of the day we arrived in Shadarghat, the steamer terminal and one of the busiest places in Dhaka (which is saying something).  Here we

    One rare Bangladesh

    Rocket Steamer

    boarded our first of seven boats: the 100-year-old “Rocket” paddle wheeler that plies the waters of the Buriganga River.  These boats were, in their time, the fastest thing to ever hit these waters (thus the name), but today faster and more upgraded ferries provide service.  The Rocket continues to work however, and tours often include a night aboard these vessels for the “experience”.  It was definitely an experience as we were on one of the oldest and most worn down vessels.

    On arrival in Barisal early the morning of day two of

    One rare banhladesh

    Nine dome mosque

    our tour we were met by our new guide Ontu.  After breakfast we went by car three hours to Bagherhat, a UNESCO world heritage city and one of the most historic cities in Bangladesh. On the way to Bagherhat we rode a very small and crowded car ferry which is boat number two.   On reaching Bagerhat we toured three remarkable mosques, built in the 15th century!  All still in use today. Two of these mosques were a

    One rare Bangladesh

    80 dome mosque

    remarkable architecture design of domes rather than minarets.  The first was a nine dome and the second was an 80 dome mosque.  Truly fascinating for the time period and in wonderful condition considering the climate and the years.

    We continued by car to Mongla, where we boarded

    One rare bangladesh

    Crossing the river

    boat number three:  a small wooden pirogue which we stood in to cross the very busy river.  On the other side we boarded boat number four, known as a country boat.  It was just the two of us with our guide and we sat back and enjoyed cruising the river on this small 20-foot boat.  We enjoyed a

    One rare Bangladesh

    The country boat

    traditional Bangla lunch onboard, then went ashore at the Sundarban’s breeding sanctuary where we saw deer and crocodiles and walked the mangrove forest.

    Back on the boat and back to Mongla where we

    One are bangladesh

    On the river

    met the car, returned to Barisal (including car ferry-boat number five) and to our hotel in Barisal.  It had been a very amazing day.

    Day three we were up early, and instead of car we were in a Tuk Tuk before the sun had risen, driving an hour from Barisal to the banks of the Shondha River. Here we would board boat number six, a long deep river dwelling vessel,  for what would turn out to be my favorite part of our

    One rare Bangladesh

    Floating vegetable market

    tour.  Cruising through the backwater region of the Shondha we enjoyed the floating vegetable market as well as seeing the river people going about their daily life – scratching out an existence on and in

    One rare Bangladesh

    Meeting the friendly locals

    the river.  The river is both highway and washing machine, bathtub and food source.  We got off the boat several times, including a visit to an ancient and scrabbled together Hindu village where the people were so kind and generous and interested in us.  When we tell them we are from

    One rare Bangladesh

    Meeting the locals

    the United States they say it is their honor to have us in their country.  This is the Bangladeshi way – welcoming, kind and generous; even if they have nothing to give, they will offer you a cup of tea.

    It was particularly interesting to me how astonished everyone – men, women and children – were with my white hair.  They found it fascinating and we felt like celebrities.  Very

    One rare Bangladesh

    Laundry

    humbling experience.

    We learned a lot about river life, about the kindness of strangers, about how important community is to this ancient way of life.  We learned about religion (Islam is the largest religion of Bangladesh; Muslims constitute over 90% of the population, while Hindus constitute 8.5% and Buddhists 0.6% are the most significant minorities of the country. Christians, Sikhs, animists and atheists form 1%), we learned about food, we learned about education.

    One rare Bangladesh

    River life

    But mostly we learned about how much we take for granted.

    Saying farewell to our boat driver we were back in the Tuk Tuk for the hour ride back to Barisal where

    One rare Bangladesh

    Iron workers at the market. They asked us to stay for tea.

    we had time to tour the market before our departure.  The market was remarkable to me mostly because not a single tourist item was there.  This was perhaps the most authentic market I have been to (except for Ethiopia and Burkina Faso).  In fact I have not even been able to find a postcard in this country – a sign of how small the tourism

    One rare Bangladesh

    Beautiful Bangladesh

    industry is here.

    We said goodbye to our wonderful guide and boarded a river ferry, faster and more modern than the Rocket, for the overnight return to Dhaka. Boat number seven.

    Seven boats, three days, one rare Bangladesh.  I’ll not forget my time here.  Unique, remarkable, rewarding and above all, humbling.

     

    Fab Asia Travel

    The Story of the Taj Mahal

    The Greatest Love Story

    Location: Taj Mahal

    Once upon a time there was the greatest love story.  It happened a long time ago in a far-off beautiful land of precious gemstones, tigers, elephants and a Mughal King named Shah Jahan.

    Now if you are Shah Jahan you are the ruler of a great land in what we now call India.  If you are Shah Jahan you are the fifth King in a line of great rulers of the Mughal dynasty, with a spectacular palace fort in what is now called Agra.

    As ruler of this empire, you have the world on a platter, food and comforts at your disposal, as well as courtesans and as many wives as you might want.  You believe you have everything you need, until one day, as you are walking through the Meena Bazaar you spy a beautiful girl selling silks and glass beads.

    You are only 14 years old but you are smitten and you want this girl for your wife.  She is called Arjumand Banu and is a Persian Muslim Princess.  And she will be your wife, five years later when you come of age.

    You will name her Mamtaz Majal, which means “Jewel of the Palace” and you are madly in love.  She is your favorite wife and you lavish her with anything she can possibly desire.  You love her not only for her exquisite beauty but her intelligence, management skill and humor.  You love her often, and she bears you 14 children.

    But your world will come crashing down when Mamtaz Majal dies after giving birth to your 14th child.  On her death-bed you promise her you will never remarry and you will build a monument in her memory.

    You will mourn your beloved for two years and then undertake the most ambitious and remarkable construction project of its kind to date and you will spend the next 22 years building the grand Taj Mahal “Crown of the Palace”. The white marble mausoleum, still so stunning nearly 400 years later continues to bear witness to your great love as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

    In the mausoleum your one true love Mamtaz Mahal will lie, and you will join her many years later.  But only after spending the last few years of your life imprisoned in your own palace by your own son.  After spending more than 32 million rupees (one billion dollars) to build the Taj Mahal your son imprisons you when you begin construction on a similar mausoleum for your own tomb, just across the river where you can spend eternity next to your beloved wife.

    But your dream of another mausoleum will never come to fruition.  You will die, broken-hearted and be laid to rest next to your one true love inside the Taj Mahal.

    The greatest love story.  The story of the Taj Mahal.

     

    Fab Asia Travel

    Remembering the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

    Remembering the 2004 Tsunami

    Location: Sri Lanka

    Remembering the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

    Remembering the 2004Indian Ocean Tsunami

    Top someone’s former home. Bottom high water mark at the bar

    Last year on the 13th anniversary of the devastating Indian Ocean Tsunami we were in Phuket Thailand. It was difficult to find any sign of the disaster
    remaining in Thailand, where about 5000 people perished.

    Remembering the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami

    Top afterthe Tsunami. Bottom today.

    But it’s still very much apparent here in Sri Lanka.  Here 50,000 people died on December 26, 2004 including 2000 who died here in the town where we are living when the train they were riding was swept away.

    Right here where our little Castaway Cottage now sits, a families home was destroyed. The concrete slab only remains, a memorial of sorts.  The family, our Airbnb hosts, survived and moved forward, in the resilient way the Sri Lanka people seem to.

    Remembering the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

    Top after the tsunami and bottom today

    Our tour guide we had on our five day tour was in Colombo on that day.  Luckily the waves did not affect Colombo on the West Coast of Sri Lanka.  Many more lives would have been lost in the largest city in the country.

    We visited a temple and the Monk told us how on that day the temple washed away.  Still today signs of rebuilding part of the school there.  Resilient.

    Remembering the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

    Left memorial to the train victims. Right a close up of artists rendition of disaster.

    There are subtle reminders often; a memorial to fifty lives lost in Yala National Park;  a high water mark at a beach bar in Hikkaduwa; empty buildings and hotels still not rebuilt; trees growing where families once thrived.

    Remembering the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami.

    For perspective, that’s me standing on the bridge.

    The most public memorials in this area are for the train victims.  Two memorials are built- one by the resilient Sri Lankan people with an artists version of the devastation on the train that day.  The other, a gift from the Japanese – a giant Buddha statue next to the train tracks where so many lost their lives.  This beautiful statue marks where the second wave hit.  The most devastating wave to strike – and to kill.

    Remembering the 2004 I Dian Ocean tsunami

    Countries affected by the tsunami.

    Day to day life goes on around these memorials, despite the fact everyone here was touched by this event in some way and will never be the same.  But these resilient people easily get my vote for the friendliest of any people we have met on our travels.  Kind, polite, happy, resilient.  Lucky.

    Fabulous Sri. Lanka

    Note – we leave Sri Lanka in a couple of days and will be heading next to India for a brief five day stop. More from India when we can.  Thanks for following.

     

    Fab Asia Travel

    When I Am 58 I Will Wear an Orange Kaftan

    Fashion Over Fifty with Fab Comfort

    Location: Sri Lanka

    So it’s my birthday.  Fifty-Eight.  Fabulous Fifty- Eight.  Spending this one in fabulous Sri Lanka, where Fab style has a different meaning.

    Fashion over fifty with fab comfort

    My new Kaftan

    And so I decided it was time.  I may look like a walking circus tent – or maybe not.  But I have found in my travels and in My Fab Fifties Life,

    Batik going on the fabric

    comfort trumps fashion every time.  Especially when it’s 200% humidity.

    I now own a Kaftan.  And not just any Kaftan – I had one made to my specification.  The fabric created, hand painted and then dyed. I wanted orange.  Bright colors look best with my Fabulous Grey Goddess hair.

    Coming out of the dye vat

    I wanted long to the ground and to cover my shoulders.  You see in so many countries we travel to, women must cover; legs, shoulders, midriff.  This will be an easy thing to throw on for visiting mosques and temples, historic sites or walking around town or to a restaurant. Or just going to the beach to watch the sunset. It fits this life – this Fab Fifties Life.

    Fashion over fifty with fab comfort

    Hello 58!

    I love that I met the women who were responsible for making the batik and dyeing the fabric.  I love that I met the man who sewed it.  He was so darn sweet I wanted to buy everything in his shop. In fact, I bought another dress too.  Not a kaftan, but also with sleeves and covering my knees.

    And best of all, guess what?  These made to my specifications, hand batiked and dyed dresses cost me $20 each.  Fabulous.

    Happy Birthday to me.  It’s gonna be another amazing year.