London neighbours that are world’s apart

Whether it’s hand-in-hand couples walking their spry dogs, families eating at street-side cafes or blokes drinking tea while compiling their latest blog post, Chiswick high street is a strip teeming with activity.

It feels like a city within a city, a self-sustaining, autonomous part of London. I used to have friends that never crossed over into neighbouring suburbs, almost as if it would be perceived as defecting to a foreign land. While that assertion is on the extreme side, I do see the allure of staying put and enjoying the friendly, spirited community vibe that Chiswick encapsulates.

Visited by throngs, Chiswick hosts the Devnoshire Road Street Party.

Visited by throngs, Chiswick hosts the Devnoshire Road Street Party.

It does, however, feel like a territory on its own, an exclusive club whose members are, for the most part, of a higher socioeconomic grouping. To put it quite simply, it’s posh, trendy safe, pleasant and exceedingly expensive.

Reflecting back, I now see why some of my mates never crossed the great divide and entered into nearby communities like the Acton’s. One neighbour, akin to North Korea and South Korea, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the US and Mexico, and maybe soon, Great Britain and Scotland, lives a charmed life while the other toils, barely able to keep its head above water.

Unlikely to ever change, the disparity is palpable and omnipresent. But anyone who says life is fair obviously hasn’t spent enough time with his or her downtrodden neighbour.

Invariably a part of human nature and, unfortunately, not being able to change it on my own, I’m going to enjoy this overpriced pastry and tea amidst the congenial atmosphere for which Chiswick high street is renowned.

I’m sure, begrudgingly so, this moral dilemma will be short-lived.

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Don’t let cabin fever defeat you on a drizzly London day

Overcast, dreary and drab in London this morning, I thought it best – to avoid the debilitating symptoms of cabin fever – to amble down the street to my local coffee shop for a stimulating brew.

And while it sounds like an ordinary run-of-the-mill activity, I cross into a bustling dimension where kids dance merrily in the doorway, music pulsates pleasantly overhead, friends congregate and discuss the week that was, individuals hone in on their laptops or get lost in their latest read while the baristas take pride in consistently producing liquid, arabica inspired, forms of art. 

A model Qantas jet sits imperiously on a stand at the entrance, reflecting the establishment’s Australian roots. Wishing I could shrink to the size of an ant and hop aboard to a destination far flung, I come back down to Earth and settle for a chart topping flat white. 

I’m not coffee connoisseur by any means, but it’s nice to have found Artisan – through a mate’s recommendation (cheers Tonks) – a coffee shop whose lively ambience is trumped only by its barista’s coffee-making skills. 

It’s a far cry better than festering indoors hoping the sun makes its long-awaited cameo, which is a trap I too often fall into. 

For who knows when the temperamental star (by classification and not performance) will extend its warm touch.

But when it does, thanks to the stimulating nature of a triple flat white, I’ll be outside in a flash, like a cheetah ramped up on speed, to welcome the sun’s far-reaching, albeit sporadic, embrace.

Artisan, a coffee shop in West London, teems with activity on an overcast and drizzly Saturday afternoon in London. ©

Artisan, a coffee shop in West London, teems with activity on an overcast and drizzly Saturday afternoon. ©

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Stradbroke Island, Australia: an escape from reality

Tree branches, like two extended arms reaching for each other’s outstretched fingertips, form an archway leading to a place unlike any other, a world where time has no bearing.

One wave after another caresses Stradbroke Island’s sedate shoreline, our feet sinking into the soft, silky sand. It’s the type of satisfaction reminiscent of resting your head on a goose down pillow after an exhausting day.

The beach, barring a flock of seagulls circling above like starving vultures, was completely ours. I felt like Tom Hanks from Castaway, but unlike him, hoped there was no way off this peaceful paradise.

Everyone experiences a day they hope lasts forever, a perpetual escape from reality. This was one of those days.

As I chased the seagulls like an exuberant youngster without a care in the world and sauntered across the untrodden, unblemished sand, I peered out onto the vast expanse of the deep blue, the magnitude of which would leave even the most experienced seafarer speechless.

Shining and glimmering bright, the sun did its utmost to fight off the cloud’s menacing advances. Time was of the essence as the sun, with all of its energy, power and might, would remain uninhibited for only so long.

Dashing toward the Pacific Ocean’s wide open, gaping mouth with pace and intent I dove under a wave, my head popping up like an otter coming up to draw breath. I quickly realised how startlingly cold and refreshing the water is on Australia’s eastern coast in late autumn.

Wide-eyed and alert, I exited the frigid water before the sun became completely blanketed by cloud cover. As temperamental as a baby’s emotions, the skies opened up, battering the ocean and shoreline indiscriminately, with conviction and fury.

There was something ironically calming about the volatility with which the sky pelted the otherwise tranquil shoreline.

I would have stood up to Mother Nature’s wrath had it not been for the expensive electronic items I was compelled to protect, or so I tell myself. Invigorated, refreshed and full of life, I headed for shelter.

Almost as quickly as it began the violent storm subsided, calm once again prevailing across the island. The sun poked its head out once more as I sipped my perfectly made flat white.

Calmness pervades Stradbroke Island, Australia as nightfall looms.©

Unlike Tom Hanks’ perilous plight on Castaway, Straddie unfortunately does offer a way off of the island. A bus – although running less frequently than Rosie O’Donnell – transported me to a ferry for the final connection to mainland Australia.

The day, like every moment I hope lasts forever, felt as though it had evaporated in a flash.

Every moment, however, from my Straddie retreat, like the cave inscriptions of Ashoka, is forever etched and indelibly inscribed. I even had the pleasure of running into a lonesome – and more surprisingly awake koala – and a wandering kangaroo, underlining the already quintessentially Australian day on the island.

If ever entrenched in inconsolable despair, or asked to think of a happy place, my mind will immediately refer back to this day on serene Straddie, my Neverland and euphoric escape from reality.

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Worth its weight in gold, Ho Chi Minh resident transports stack of Heineken

Like an ant carrying a load well in excess of his own body weight, this Ho Chi Minh resident transports nine crates of Heineken, a stack of sweet nectar worth its weight in gold.

Like an ant carrying a load well in excess of his own body weight, this Ho Chi Minh resident transports nine crates of Heineken, a stack of sweet nectar worth its weight in gold.

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Commuter scooter – a Vietnamese way of life

Savouring every morsel of her tantalising ice cream treat, this young Vietnamese makes the most of her afternoon scooter commute.

Savouring every morsel of her tantalising ice cream treat, this young Vietnamese girl, whose vibrant dress closely resembles the colours of a spaceship ice lolly, makes the most of her afternoon scooter commute.

©

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Quintessentially Vietnam

A father speaks to his gesticulating daughter before setting off with his son, whose mask protects him from Ho Chi Minh's severe pollution.

A father speaks to his gesticulating daughter before setting off with his son, whose mask protects him from Ho Chi Minh’s severe pollution.

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Five types of people watchers

Maidenhead, of all places, bustles with activity on this mild and temperate, albeit overcast (no surprise there), English spring Saturday.

Sipping on a flat white I find myself scanning passers-by, fascinated by people’s mannerisms, movements and the way in which they interact.

Locating someone with a smile amongst the clusters is as unlikely as catching a glimpse of a tiger in the Indian mangroves, more rare than an alcoholic passing on a free drink.

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Brisbane’s hardcourt bike polo, a revolution in the making

 

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Illuminated at night

Illuminated at night, this Ha Noi park bustles with activity, capturing HaNoi's locals carrying on with a part of their everyday routine.

Illuminated at night, this HaNoi park bustles with activity, capturing locals carrying on with a part of their everyday routines.

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Calmness pervades Stradbroke Island sunset

A peaceful and tranquil retreat, Stradbroke Island cannot be beat.

A peaceful and tranquil retreat, Stradbroke Island cannot be beat.

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