(20)16 Going on (20)17

2016 is now officially in the books, which means it is time for a quick round up of the last 365 days. While not a perfect year (is such a thing possible?), this last rotation around the sun was an overall good one for this blogger and In Search of the End of the Sidewalk.  The blog had nearly 9000 views from over 4,000 unique visitors, a number that isn’t terrible, but that I’d love to increase in 2017, so be sure to share the address with your friends -especially the bookish/travel-y ones! (Click here to link to the Facebook page so you never miss a post!)

It has been a year of transition at In Search of the End of the Sidewalk as I’ve focused more time on book blogging with the new “Card Catalog Reviews” that come out on Mondays and Fridays and a bit less on the travel blogging, as being DC-based has cut down on the international travel in the last six months. (With a that said, 2017 is starting off right with a trip to Mexico in January, South Africa in February and then plans are in the works for more adventures mid-summer. Travel blogging is not dead, just not a weekly feature.) I’m hoping to pair with some libraries in the coming year to expand readership of In Search of the End of the Sidewalk and also, hopefully help local libraries encourage reading and book discussions. (I’ve already spoken with three libraries in Idaho –Marsing, Homedale and Caldwell – and hope to partner with even more in the near future!)

All of that is to say, 2016 was a great year in the blogosphere and I’m looking forward to more posts, more readers and more comments in the New Year! To kick things off right, here is a *very* brief recap of last year in both travel and reading. Click on each to link to the original post.

Travel highlights:

Ringing in Chinese New Year in Perth

3 weeks in Ho Chi Minh City (and here, and here, and here.)

Caving adventures in Miri  (and here)

Summertime in Idaho

Revisiting all Washington DC has to offer

Best Fiction:

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Best non-fiction

Patient H.M.: A Story of Memory, Madness, and Family Secrets by Luke Dittrich

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos

Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic by Sam Quinones

A Thousand Naked Strangers: A Paramedic’s Wild Ride to the Edge and Back by Kevin Hazzard

 

Worst reads of the year:

The Ten Best Days of My Life by Adena Halpern

The Last Girl by Joe Hart

The City at 3PM: Writing, Reading and Traveling by Peter Lasalle

Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South  by Beth Macy

Wild by Nature: One Woman, One Trek, One Thousand Nights by Sarah Marquis

Unfinished business from 2016 (AKA: To be read in early 2017!):

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

 

The “Bear” Necessities

Everybody’s got their travel “thing.” Some people hop on planes in search of culinary delights (or disasters, whichever the case may be), while others want whatever death-defying experience there is to be had (skydiving and bungee jumping and ridiculously terrifying roller coasters come to mind). Some folks want to scale peaks or reach unknown depths of the ocean.

Me? It’s all about the critters! When I travel, my main goal is to hold/touch or at least visit the native fuzz balls.

I couldn’t spend four years in China and not touch a panda (click here for that story) or move to Malaysia and not go hang out with the elephants. Christmas in Thailand saw me snuggling with a monkey named Jackie (click here for that story) and I didn’t leave New Zealand without hunting out a kiwi named Kevin.

Of course, no trip to Australia would be complete without cuddling a koala. This was not as easy of a task as one might think! In many places Down Under, restrictions have been placed on koala-holding, meaning you can easily get your photo posed *next* to a koala, but it’s hands-off. But, there is no way I was finally going to make it to the land of shrimp on the barbie and not make physical contact with what must be the world’s cutest marsupial. A little research online lead me to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary outside of Brisbane, which meant our trip planning immediately took a turn to the north. No longer was Sydney going to be the home base of our southern hemisphere adventures, as there were koalas calling my name in Queensland.

Vacations may be for sleeping in and taking it easy, but when koala-holding day arrives, there is no need for an alarm. I was up with the first rays of the sun, dressed and ready to head out to the sanctuary before the crowds arrived. I wanted a non-molested marsupial!

Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary is on the edge of Brisbane, in what appears to be a residential neighborhood. (I would buy a house there in a heartbeat and then be the crazy lady who comes to the sanctuary several times a week, soon starting to pick up the crazy laugh of the kookaburras that live there!) We got there just after opening, traded in the tickets I had pre-purchased online (no waiting means getting to the koalas sooner!) and quickly scoured the map for the location of the koala cuddle station. Our beeline to the station meant bypassing the cobbled-together critter that is a platypus and the gum-tree dwelling kookaburra, as well as the giant field of free-roaming kangaroos and emus. While those were all on the must-see/do list for the day, they fell below the main attraction and life-long dream of holding a koala.

With just a few folks in line in front of us (how that is possible, I have no idea!), I purchased my picture packet, which was weirdly reminiscent of picking the photo packets for school pictures. Which combination do you want? How many wallets will you need to pass out to your friends? I definitely needed postcards to send home to family and friends and for just $2, a calendar for my desk at work was a yes as well. Simply put, I got all the things! If it was an option, I chose it.

Before long, it was time!

I quickly hopped into the picture area where I was promptly handed Minty, a dark gray koala bear with pink ears and a rubbery black nose. I was prepared for the adorable fuzziness and even the cuddliness, but I was not ready for the weight. Koalas are dense animals! You’d think that little guy would be mostly fur, but really their hair is quite short and the majority of their mass is body. Their heavy, eucalyptus-fed bodies.  My few minutes with Minty were up much sooner than I would have liked, but it was awesome to get the chance to hang out with him.

I may not be a sky or SCUBA diver (although the latter is set to change this weekend) and I don’t need to search out roller coasters or challenge my stomach with foods from afar, but if there is a furry animal to be held and I can get there by plane, train or automobile, it will happen.

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Our Home is Girt by Sea (AKA: We Have Giant Tuna!)

Australians all let us rejoice,

For we are young and free;

We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil;

Our home is girt by sea;

Our land abounds in nature’s gifts

Of beauty rich and rare;

In history’s page, let every stage

Advance Australia Fair.

In joyful strains then let us sing,

Advance Australia Fair.

Oh boy, do the Australian’s know how to rejoice in their beauty rich and rare! Last Tuesday night, I was Thad’s +1 for Australia Day, the biggest national holiday celebration in KL. Since we’ve been here, we’ve heard rumors that if we were to attend just one national day event, Australia’s was the one to which we would want an invitation.

Those folks were not wrong.

As a member of the 4th of July committee for two years in a row in Chengdu (which each year hosts two events: Chengdu and Chongqing), I am well-aware of how much work it takes to pull off these huge parties. The planning for next year basically starts about a week after the current year’s event. Having walked in those shoes, I was incredibly impressed with Australia’s shindig. Very over the top!

The evening started with the requisite speeches toasting the Queen of Australia (am I the only one who didn’t know they recognized the queen?!) and thanking the host country, but once the formalities were out of the way, the doors to the grand ballroom opened. In a rush, in flowed hundreds of guests, all headed straight for the food tables. Luckily, the food tables were ample and well-stocked. Thad’s first stop was the one labeled King Neptune, where an enormous tuna hung from above, the chef cutting off pieces for each person in line. After having more than a sample size of ol’ Neptune, we ventured over to the Outback table where an entire lamb was roasting on a spit. From there it was the seafood table which had an ice sculpture that dispensed shrimp for all the hungry guests.

(As pretty much the opposite of a “foodie,” I could leave or take most of the dishes that evening, but I was highly impressed with the presentation! Lights, fog machines, entire tunas, whole lambs, shrimp dispensers…all very fancy!)

In the midst of all these food tables scattered around the ballroom, guests mingled and nicely vied for the few cocktail tables, looking for somewhere to set their plates as they indulged in everything Outback. At one such table, where for a few minutes we commandeered a spot, we were introduced to several members of the Australian navy who are stationed in Penang. As I chatted with one woman who is up there with her husband’s post, I had a weird feeling that I had met the Australian me! She was about my age and does not have kids and follows her husband’s career from country to country. She was having a hard time finding a job in the area, so decided to go back to school and work on a degree program. Sound familiar?!

By 9:30, we decided to call it a night. I’d been in heels since 7AM and my toes were ready for a bit of freedom and I think Thad had worked his way around most of the buffet tables, so it was time to head home to kick off the shoes and loosen the belts.

Not only do they have adorable koalas and kangaroos as their beck and call but the Aussies know how to entertain hordes of diplomats looking for something cold to drink and a bit of meat to eat. Is there anything these folks can’t do?!

Word on the street proved to be right this time: Australia Day is where it is at when it comes to stuffy national day events!

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