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    En route – Day 2

    Day 2 of 4: Penang

    Penang! To be honest, Penang was so unlike anything in NZ that I felt a bit intimidated and much like a fish out of water – my first impression of the city left me disliking Penang. However, we went exploring a little after arriving at our hotel, and it didn’t take long at all for me to change my mind completely! In fact, I would love to go and visit Penang again one day!

    The people there are so friendly and everyone greets you with a smile (and from where they sit on their scooters, they wave back somewhat bemusedly as you wave enthusiastically from the sidewalk…maybe they’re used to us strange tourists?).

    That night we all took taxis to see the night markets, and my group’s driver was a lovely man named Henry. I felt sorry for him at first because he had to deal with a car full of teenage girls (who were now hyperactive after having been cooped up in a plane for close to seven hours), most of whom kept asking him to turn on the radio to a music station (anything in English, please?) and would sing along loudly. However, he took it in his stride and even got involved, entertaining us with interesting facts about the city, pointing out landmarks and telling us about his children, all of whom he is very proud of! Henry became our friend – even though I genuinely feared for my life a few times when he would enthusiastically gesture in his story-telling (with BOTH hands – which equals ZERO on the steering wheel!) and the car would begin slowly drifting into the oncoming lane. But, needless to say, we survived, and of course, we had a group photo taken with him when he dropped us off back at the hotel.

    Earlier that evening, a massive thunder/lightning storm had started. I put the slash in there because, really, there was more lightning than thunder. It was amazing to watch – especially as the room I shared with my roommate had a view of the mountains. We’d never seen any storm like it in NZ! Which explained why many of us were shrieking or yelping in fright at every lightning flash on the way to the markets, and good old Henry had just laughed at us – I think he said these kinds of storms happen almost everyday at that time of year. Of course, the minute I decided to try and catch a photo (or even a video!) of a lightning bolt (after the hundreds I’d just witnessed), the lightning stopped. Yeah, talk about trying to catch lightning in a bottle!

    The markets were interesting, but only five or so stalls were actually trading because of the storm – it was supposed to be a two mile long stretch of stalls, if I recall correctly. But that didn’t dampen our spirit! It was still heaps of fun, and I was such a touristy-tourist and got myself an “I <3 Penang" t-shirt. Laugh all you want! It's one of my favourite shirts, too! Also at the markets, a major cultural difference we encountered was the concept of bartering - it was actually expected of you! Well, the art of bartering eluded me - I was useless at it. I admit it. I was so pathetic at it that one of my fellow Youth Ambassadors took pity on me and appointed herself barterer on my behalf. She was much better at it. Although, maybe no one was quite as skilled as the drama students we had on the team - their bartering was a sight to behold and I still laugh whenever I think about it! Those stall owners didn't know what hit them - they had certainly met their match. Although, I think perhaps our laughing in the background as we watched may have slightly hampered the success of some of the serious bartering endeavours. IMG_0505

    From the bus on the way to our hotel.

    From the bus on the way to our hotel.

    View from our hotel room.

    View from our hotel room.

    The path a few of us walked along the waterfront for a stroll.

    The path a few of us walked along the waterfront for a stroll.

    The storm - one of my fruitless attempts at capturing a photo of a lightning bolt.

    The storm – one of my fruitless attempts at capturing a photo of a lightning bolt.

    En route – Day 1

    First, before we get to the heavy, life-changing stuff, I’ll just cover some of our journey en route to Turkey because it was one of the most culture-rich experiences I’ve ever had – and we hadn’t even arrived at our ultimate destination yet!

    As we had only one flight crew, we had to have one-night stop overs along the way to Turkey. It took about four days – we left NZ for Darwin (Australia) and stayed a night there, then stopped over in Penang (Malaysia) for a night, then Dubai (UAE) for a night, and then we arrived at Canakkale in Turkey, where we stayed for the majority of the trip. So to sum it up – five countries in five days. Wow! It felt as though we had travelled almost half way around the globe, and in Turkey the timezone difference to NZ was nine hours!

    DAY 1 of 4: Darwin

    I had been to Darwin once before and had already fallen in love with the place (well…certain aspects, definitely not the heat or all the creatures [big and small] out to kill you) and being back there made me quite nostalgic. It was amusing to see everyone’s reactions to the heat – at least I knew what to expect, so I was lucky!


    The Gallipoli Story

    The Dawn Service site, Gallipoli Peninsula

    The Dawn Service site on the Gallipoli Peninsula.

    I had the privilege of attending the Anzac Day Centenary commemorations at Gallipoli this year, having been chosen to represent the country as one of 25 New Zealand Youth Ambassadors. It was an absolutely mind-blowing experience, and it brought the meaning of Anzac Day to life for me in a way nothing else ever has.

    The Youth Ambassadors were selected from all over NZ – most were chosen through means such as competitions and programmes and from the cadet forces. I was selected via the Minister of Veterans’ Affairs’ Passchendaele Multi-media Competition.

    We travelled as part of the official New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) delegation to Turkey for the centenary commemorations on the Gallipoli Peninsula. As Youth Ambassadors, we had duties for the two services: we helped with crowd management (such as helping people find the right seats and facilities) and we walked with the crowds up to the Lone Pine and Chunuk Bair services after the Dawn Service (helping carry things for the public and trying to keep spirits up, as it was a 7km up-hill trek to the Chunuk Bair site). At the end of the Chunuk Bair service we helped with getting everyone loaded onto the right buses and off the Peninsula – quite an operation!. Prior to Anzac Day, we had also learnt and continuously practiced a set of songs to sing for the crowds as the stands fill up for the Chunuk Bair service.

    In the lead up to Anzac Day we went on two battlefield tours of the Gallipoli Peninsula, visiting war cemeteries (quite sobering, and an emotional experience at times) and walking some of the trails that the ANZAC troops had used 100 years ago.

    The trip offered four weeks of life-changing experiences, and I feel so honoured to have been in the company of the NZDF contingent and the Youth Ambassador contingent (consisting of our leader, our chaperones and my fellow Youth Ambassadors). I have met the most amazing people on this trip and have made life-long friends.

    I want to share with you my experiences and the insights that I gained while in Turkey regarding the Anzac legacy – I can prove to you that Anzac Day is more than just a holiday and that it is something that still affects us today. While I have always believed that Anzac Day is an important event to observe, I realise now that I had never fully understood it and so it was hard to connect with it – but this trip has changed everything for me. I wish that all New Zealanders could have the opportunity to visit Gallipoli themselves and see what we saw, but while that is impossible, I can write about it for you. That, I can do!