A night at the Weribee Zoo Slumber Safari

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Now this is glamping!

After a trip from the sunny Gold Coast to cool Melbourne, I played soccer mum, picking up the iMax and ferrying the work team out to Werribee Open Plains Zoo.

There were six of us, staying in two cabins and ‘glamping’ for a night at the slumber safari.

I implemented an annual offsite in 2014 for work, and took the team to Bali for a spot of team building and serious business planning and sessions away from the day-to-day grind of the office.

This year, we combined with a conference in Melbourne and did our two days business planning prior to heading to Albert Park…. But not before some fun at the zoo!

The girls were happy to be assigned to the Growling Grass Frog cabin, and the boys were right next door.  After settling in, having a cold one on the verandah and admiring our view overlooking brolgas, Eastern grey kangaroos and a rhino, we were set for our first activity… a late afternoon wander through the zoo, and bus ride.

Our little tour took us past oryx, camel, kudu, eland, hippo and out towards the home of six Batchelor giraffe at feeding time.  What gorgeous and elegant animals they are, and so close!  Leroy the rhino wasn’t to impressed with us being in his territory and the zebra turned their gorgeously striped butts to us as we ventured by.

The highlight of the afternoon for me tho was getting up close and personal with the White rhino Kepamba.  He’s obviously immune to the awe he induces at around two and a half tonne, and was happy to munch away while we enjoyed taking turns patting his thick, dusty hide.  To be so close to one of the Big 5 when they’re becoming so rare, was pretty emotional.  The ones I saw in Africa all have their mighty horns cut every two years to keep them far less attractive to the menace of poachers!  To see this baby with his horn intact, and being much loved, was incredible.

Kepamba
The lovely Kepamba

The next visit had us drop by the lioness who gave us a few growls, just because she could, and we headed back to the Safari grounds for drinks and dinner.

With the theme of being sustainable and Eco-friendly, the Moroccan spread put on for our evening meal was pretty amazing, and all prepared on-site.  Bravo to the chefs!  None of us went to bed hungry!

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Chad gets up close a personal with a white rhino

An evening stroll through the zoo later saw us wandering through the Aussie section with the dozy koalas and kicking through the shearing shed, before heading back to the hippos by twilight, patting a python and looking in vain for the lovely cheetah.

Roasting marshmallows by the open camp fire finished the evening before we all retired to our comfy beds and rugged up for the night.

Leanne getting friendly with Kepamba
Leanne getting friendly with Kepamba

Waking to the sound of birdsong isn’t new for me, but to have lions roaring in the distance as well is a little unusual, and completely amazing!

A quick shower in the rustic bathrooms with our resident huntsman spider made me glad we weren’t visiting in the dead of winter when the cold winds would whistle up through the floorboards!

After our hearty brekky and a giggle at our fellow campers, all at breakfast in their onesies, from bub to grandma, we packed up the car and enjoyed our final zoo experience – behind the scenes with the cheetah at last and her keeper.  We wandered her grounds, got close up pics (still behind the wire) and watched her morning run for her rabbits foot.  Very cool!

We also snagged a quick visit to the serval cats, helping feed them their mealie worms for breakfast, and I couldn’t leave without checking in on the mighty silverbacks.

I’m heading to Uganda with The Hunger Project in two months and have added gorilla trekking on to my experience there.  It was hard to tear ourselves away from the interaction we were having with the dad silverback as he wandered down to the glass and promptly turned his back to us, while still managing to interact and watch us as much as we did him. It was pretty special and made me wonder how amazing and awe inspiring it will be when there’s no glass in between, and just jungle!

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Russell gets cozy with a Silverback!

If you ever do get a chance to head to Werribee, definitely book in for the Slumber Safari.  It’s totally worth it.

And if you can help support my fundraising efforts for the fantastic work of The Hunger Project, please head to… http://tinyurl.com/

I’ve created a Monster!

Brisbane BBI’ve decided to classify myself as a Business Chicks junkie, to coin a phrase.

I joined this fabulous Australia wide group of top chicks in June 2011 when actively looking specifically for a women’s networking group, but it wasn’t until August 2012 that I finally took myself off to my first event.

I booked some work in Brisbane, checked into the Sofitel for the evening and the next morning took myself off to breakfast in the ballroom featuring the amazing Doctor Catherine Hamlin.  I’d never before experienced The Business Chicks buzz or the magic of quite such a treasure of a guest speaker and came away a little awed, knowing no-one, but having definitely had a lovely start to the day. (And picking up a signed copy of the book Catherine’s Gift.)

In December of the same year, Sir Richard Branson was touring and I took myself and a colleague (#businessbloke) off to that event in Brisbane as well.  Ummm… Wow!  Rockstar entrance at that event! (For Sir Richard, not me…)

By then, I was fairly hooked.  I’ve since travelled to Melbourne to see the incredible Brene Brown, Seth Godin and Arianna Huffington; to Canberra for Deborah-Lee Furness; Adelaide for Michelle Bridges and Sydney for Todd Sampson.  Locally, Dr Lois Frankl and Ita Buttrose have graced the Gold Coast stage, soon to be followed by Naomi Simpson and Sir Bob Geldof. Not forgetting Rachel Zoe and Bobbi Brown in Brisbane.Brisbane3 BB Brisbane2 BB

 

And that doesn’t cover the guests I’ve missed!  You don’t get a speaker line-up like that from too many organisations!  And I will knock Perth off my To-Do List!  And New York…. San Fransisco…. LA…. Did I also see reserved Hong Kong and UK accounts on Instagram?  Global BC Domination on the way!

I’ve also managed to accidentally wangle my last couple of ‘Anniversary of Birth’ days with the BC crew (turning 39 each time) and guess I know where I’ll be around the start of August this year… when turning 39 again.  Someone will let me know when I can’t pull it off anymore, right?

Social media is a fabulous medium for making connections and I’ve made some gorgeous friends through the BC Community both local and interstate, of BC members and the team itself.  It’s always great to catch up with these friends at Premium Member nights, Networking events and their big events of course.

The wonderful Gwinganna experience opened up a great new bunch of connections and friendships (and was so close to home!)

Gwinganna

This year I’m partnering with other BC Trippers and heading to Uganda in May with a The Hunger Project.  There’s an opportunity that doesn’t come along every day! I’ve never done fundraising before so this is a whole new and confronting world for me!  Perfect chance for a plug here, so if you’d like to support my fundraising efforts, please head to www.tinyurl.com/c4e

I’d finally decided however, that I shouldn’t keep all the fun to myself and as my daughter is starting her a Diploma in Specialised Make-Up next month, I wanted to introduce her too, to the BC family.  Bobbi Brown was the perfect place to start, and although at 16, she thought it was all a bit overwhelming, she did love the music, the food, the speaker and got to clock up an extra one hour forty in drive time for her log book, before heading to a babysitting job, then coming home to check out the contents of her first ever goody bag!

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Why The Hunger Project Resonated with Me

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Charity is often a deeply personal issue and only becomes dear to us when we are personally affected or emotionally moved by an issue.

I was a giver, over a long period of time – little bits, to a lot of places.  I love the Guide Dogs, Fred Hollows Foundation and the RACQ Care Flight Chopper – they’re all personal favourites.

But choosing to partner with The Hunger Project and commit to raising over $10,000 was the first time I’d ever embarked on anything of this size or nature.

Here’s a few reasons why The Hunger Project got my vote and why I’ll be heading to Ethiopia next May:

The Three Fundamental Pillars of The Hunger Project.

Top-down, aid-driven charity models often fail to reach the people who need the most help. To be sustainable, we have discovered three critical elements that, when combined, empower people to make rapid progress in overcoming hunger and poverty:

  1. Mobilisation for self-reliance
  2. Empowering women as key change-agents for development
  3. Making local government work
  4. Mobilisation for self-reliance

The Challenges:
A. People in under-developed countries, particularly in rural areas, often live or work in isolation. Whether this is because they are physically isolated such as in the jungles of Africa, or socially isolated by caste or because they are women who are not allowed to leave their homes without a male escort, or villages that are divided by tribal rivalries, any kind of division weakens their potential collective power.

  1. Often aid money has come and gone, but the people are still hungry, and they come to believe that it will always be this way. This can lead to hopelessness and cynicism.

Our Work: When people are united for a purpose and act together to improve their own conditions, there is a multiplier effect and much more can be accomplished.

One of our first steps is to reduce the resignation that chronic hunger and poverty creates in a community.  We work to bring people together to unleash their creativity and productivity through education and skill building. Through a process of enquiry, we ask the villagers what is missing then help develop a social structure that allows local, productive action, self-confidence and strong advocacy in each region.  395,000 trained volunteers around the world are mobilising millions of others to take self-reliant actions.

In Africa, through our Epicentre Strategy, more than 121 clusters of villages have launched village-level projects to generate their own income and build classrooms, food storage facilities and health clinics.

In India more than 83,000 elected women representatives in India are speaking out and bringing water, health and education to their villages.

In Bangladesh 272,000 trained Animators and volunteer youth leaders are initiating projects such as campaigns against early marriage, dowry and violence against women; education programs for safe drinking water, nutrition and sanitation; birth registration for rural communities; and income-generating activities.

  1. Empowering women as key change-agents for development.

The Challenges: In most of the areas where we work there is severe gender discrimination which perpetuates a cycle of poverty and malnutrition.

Our Work: Studies show that women are the best change agents. We work with grassroots women to help them gain a voice in local decision-making, shifting local priorities towards nutrition, sanitation, clean water, health and education. We coalesce women who work together to end corruption, stop early child-marriage, and ensure punishment for rape and domestic violence. Our model emphasises important roles for women, working as equals to men, to determine community priorities and build the required skills to transform their lives for generations to come.  Many studies have proven that when women are supported and empowered, all of society benefits. Their families are healthier, more children go to school, agricultural productivity improves and incomes increase.

In Africa, Our Microfinance Programs provide women food farmers easy access to credit, adequate training regarding the importance of saving and income generation.

1.3 million people have taken the HIV/AIDS and Gender Inequality Workshop.

In India, our Women’s Leadership Workshop has empowered over 83,000 women elected to local councils to be effective change agents in their villages.

In Bangladesh, we catalysed the formation of a 300-organisation alliance that organises more than 800 events across the country each September in honour of National Girl Child Day, a day to focus on eradicating all forms of discrimination against girls.

  1. Making local government work.

The Challenges: Weak, corrupt, or unresponsive local government. Need we say more?

Our Work: In working with the local people we find and train leaders who learn to reform laws by transforming the mindsets of local officials. They focus on the issues of primary education and health care, family income, nutrition, water and sanitation. These can only be solved at the local level, and will only be solved when people are able to communicate their needs to leaders and hold them to account.

In Africa, Local government officials are included at every stage of our Epicentre Strategy. When the villagers build the epicentre building, local government provides nurses, teachers and supplies for the preschool and health clinic. Some African governments, having seen our success, are building The Hunger Project model into their national plans.

In India, we work in 3418 local village-level government units (gram panchayats), in 90 districts. There are 175 block-level Federations in 8 States where locally elected rural women come together to voice concerns and change laws as a collective unit. Currently, the priority issues include increased transparency at all levels of government. We also partner with 48 local organisations to jointly accomplish improved education, nutrition and health.

In Bangladesh, we work with 508 local government bodies (Union Parishads) ensuring 100 percent sanitary latrine coverage, 100 percent birth and death registration, and open budget meetings to provide transparency and accountability.

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If any of this also strikes a chord with you and you’d like to donate to this great cause, please support my efforts at: http://tinyurl.com/pd5c8y6

THP

The Hunger Games for The Hunger Project

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Well, I’m about to kick off my fundraising efforts for my adventures with The Hunger Project, with a movie night!  The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1 seems to be a good place to start!

I’m hoping to get at least 100 along to a private screening of the movie at Event Cinemas, Robina Town Centre on Saturday, December 6 at 6 pm to hear a little more on The Hunger Project and how it works and to raise funds for this great cause.

If you’re able to join us, please grab your tickets here:

http://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/the-hunger-games-for-the-hunger-project-tickets-14334638289?aff=efbevent

If you can’t make it along and would love the support my efforts, all donations are graciously accepted here:

https://thp.secure.force.com/Donations/CICD__Fundraise?id=70190000000WL9z

Next year, I’m hosting a Ball at Bond University in March and will be hosting some Ethiopian dancers, hopefully showcasing some jewellery from Ethiopian women, holding a silent auction and having a great dance with a band.  Stick around on the blog to find out more about that too!

I hope you can join me on this journey, culminating in a visit to Ethiopia in May, 2015 to see the grassroots work that The Hunger Project does to make a difference in people’s lives.

Breakfast in The Square, Hong Kong

Novotel, Nathan Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong

When staying in-house and upgrading to The Premier Floor to take advantage of the onsite options, we found it was worth dropping by The Square Restaurant for the morning feed, especially as it’s included in the rack rate, and is more comprehensive than the Premier Lounge offering.

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From 6.30 to 11 am each morning the Novotel’s main restaurant offers both a full American breakfast option, or an Asian Breakfast on the first floor.  And for the Aussies, a large jar of Vegemite is featured by the toaster. You lil ripper!

And it’s hard to go wrong with all that’s on offer!

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As you enter, the breads and pastries are featured to your right, with the relevant spreads on offer, as you make your way to your table.  It’s a fairly large space so lots of options!

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Two large coffee machines turn out espressos to cappuccinos and the three food buffets have heaps on offer.

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If you love the Asian style breakfast, there’s pork dumplings and bbq buns (or bums as noted in the sign) steamed vegetables, noodles, congee and fried fish.  For the more traditional; bacon, eggs, hash browns, tomatoes, sausages and baked beans.

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Afterwards, my hotel stay favourite includes Bircher muesli and prunes, yoghurt options and fresh fruit.  For the kids there’s cereal, and for those with a more discerning palate, even hams and a cheese platter.

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Not bad for an in house option when staying at the Novotel.  Worth brekky in The Square before a big day of exploring and shopping.

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Rethinking Retirement

On my final morning in Beijing, we headed to The Temple of Heaven, a Taoist monument dedicated to praying to the heavens to bring a good harvest at the start of spring, and to offer thanks when it was done.

This is a 600+ year old building, that’s managed to survive the Japanese and British, and has been restored to its former glory for tourists the world over to enjoy.

 Temple of Heaven

This story however, isn’t about the monument, but about the fun that takes place in the surrounding grounds of 200+ acres surrounding the central buildings.

Over 55’s can buy an annual pass to the parklands surrounding the temple allowing unlimited annual entry for around $20AUD.  Over 65’s are free.  And you should see what these creative retirees are up to!

On entering at The North Gate, there were couples learning Rock & roll, and incongruously jiving away to classical Chinese tunes.  Check them out here: http://youtu.be/DLVBi86HPoE

Others were honing their skills with a shuttlecock with an agile version of Hackysack.  Paddles were available for those who prefer a racquet to using their feet and large and small groups were loving kicking it around.  The feathered ball was also available for purchase for anyone wanting to take one home to try with the family. I’m kind of regretting now that I didn’t grab one off the touts for practice at home.  Then I’d be a legend by retirement!

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Others were learning or had mastered the art of tai chi and slowly went about their moves, completely engrossed and ignoring all onlookers.

One group of four that stopped us in our tracks was a human game of quoits and I captured a little on video. Their skills obviously the result of much practice.  Check out their skills: http://youtu.be/dtwF4VzwvyQ

One woman regaled us with her operatic tunes while women danced, and more practiced their musical instruments, mostly brass, and loudly.  And if not well, at least with enthusiasm.

I kid you not, I’m sure I heard bagpipes!

Others had dressed up in traditional Turkish garb and were practising their Whirling Dervish routines.  And all with massive smiles of enjoyment on their faces at the fabulous gift of being alive and the wonderful sense of community they no doubt felt.

So, for all those who think retirement means hanging up the boots, an occasional game of golf or going home to die… Think again!

What was it you’ve always wanted to accomplish?

Maybe it’s time to find a tribe and invade your local park!  Perhaps I won’t lock myself away in a mouldy attic to write a novel after all.  It appears my seniors beach volleyball team awaits!  Or salsa lessons… Retirement’s looking better to me every day!  But hey! Why wait?

The Tai Pan House of Pain, Kowloon

 

After a jam packed tour of Hong Kong Island one morning, hubby and I stopped for a late lunch feed, followed by a massage at Tai Pan on Nathan Road.

The special offered was a 50 minute body massage for around $35 AUD. So, ok, it’s not Thailand or Bali prices, but still better than the in-house spa or Aussie prices. Lockers used, plastic slides fitted, we were directed to the massage chairs and had our feet cleansed for a few minutes before commencing. And if I’d known better, this was probably when I should have cut and run!

In the couples room, we slipped on our loose fittings cotton tees and pants and lay face down to await our fairy handed pleasuring.

Well, it appears that my benign and smiling elderly Chinese handmaiden, had recently returned from concentration boot camp and was there to give me the pummelling of my life.

Chinese water torture, bamboo shoots under my fingernails or childbirth to my 9lb+ (4.7kg) daughter again would have been preferable to what was in store for me.

Now, I do admit to being a fair skinned, inclined to freckle, red-headed English-Irish rose, and it’s apparently been scientifically proven we have a lower pain threshold than other mortals. I also admit to having had three disc bulges in the lumbar area in the past which I’m inclined to be tender with, and do sit on my ample arse for far too long each working day.

All that aside, I’ve never had a massage that felt more like a gouging and left me begging, near silently and in tears for it to end. Had I been sensible, I should have called it quits within the first two minutes, but also have a large ‘suck it up, princess’ valve that was overactive this particular day.

My groans of agony were met with Chinese titters, and my vigorous head shaking ‘no’ when asked ‘you ok?’ seemed only to invoke mirth.

The wicked hooked talons of this vicious inquisitor poked and probed every muscle, joint, tendon, fascia, bone, nook and cranny. Elbows dug where no fingers dared and my body fought her every move.

If yoga class taught me one thing, it’s to breathe. Follow the breath, focus! Breathe in, breathe out. And still, my body fought her every inch of the way. I tensed, I moved, I twisted, I groaned, I gritted my teeth, tensed some more, and sobbed, and still she carried on, poking, prodding, massaging? All the while, I was breathing… Deep. Ragged. Sobbing. Breaths.

I tried to chant silently,… ‘Dear God, let it end’ repeatedly. I’m always writing and composing in my head, and tried to think of adjectives to describe what she was doing to me, but tears sprung when words could not.

She pulled each finger to the tip, to flick them out, and I though she was trying to cleave my beautifully manicured nails from their comfortable beds. They’re still sore… And it’s six hours later…

Finally, the karate chops rained down the middle of my back indicating the torture was almost done and it was time to roll over. I fantasised about practising some Bruce Lee moves on her as I finally managed with great difficulty to turn onto my horrified back.

Now I love anyone giving me a head massage, and I’m sure the one that followed, was possibly meant to induce me once again with feelings of wellness, bliss, happiness and relaxation and fellowship with the world. Let’s just say that it failed.

At last, I heard my husband kindly thank his massage goddess whilst I mumbled incoherently at mine and she patted me sharply on my lower and now incredibly sore back, whilst chatting in Chinese to me, no doubt letting me know I had a spot of congestion there.

Finally the girls left the room, for us both to change, and I broke down, and sobbed like a baby for five minutes flat, whilst my poor husband looked on aghast.

As I lie in bed, feeling the bruises tenderly under me, I feel compelled to warn all against the Tai Pan Mistress of Pain.

But hey, if you’re anyone but me, and get anyone but her, it’s probably worth your while…