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A Twillingate Taste of Cod Tongue

Published September 9th, 2012

Here’s a Newfie joke: Hear the one about the Newfie who locked the keys in his car?

It took him an hour to get his family out.

Newfie jokes are Canada’s take on Irish jokes and levelled at the inhabitants of remote, rocky Newfoundland and their provincial old world existence that hasn’t changed much over the centuries.

Most are contrived by the good-natured Newfies themselves who have developed the keen sense of humour needed to survive in a relentlessly demanding environment.

The similarity with Irish jokes is no coincidence. In almost every bleak corner of this easternmost province of Canada are people of Irish descent. Early settlers came from southwest England around 1700 followed by droves of Irish - fishermen, pirates and timber cutters who created some hardy and astonishingly hospitable descendants.

Legendary Newfie hospitality was evident everywhere, in the abundant B&Bs and the wonderful habit in booked-out restaurants where those already seated invite strangers to join ...

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City of Ghosts

Published July 28th, 2012

An eerie chill pervaded the dark, dank streets and derelict buildings surrounding a shrivelled old man as he tended three bubbling cauldrons that sent steam spiralling up into unearthly shapes.

All was as it should be in the City of Ghosts.

Fengdu, a spectral town on the northern bank of the Yangtze River in southern China between Qutang Gorge and Chongqing city has been one of the major tourist stops on Yangtze River cruise itineraries attracting up to a million visitors a year.

It lies below the Gate of Hell, a soaring temple complex and shrine to the King of the Underworld that has graced the mountain, Mingshan, since 265 AD when two Han Dynasty officials tired of politics and fled there to practise Tao religious teachings achieving, as the story goes, immortality.

They combined their surnames, Yin and Wang, which sounded like “King of Hell” in Chinese and led the superstitious to regard Fengdu as a mystical, terrible place of malevolent spirits and eternal ghosts. But when I wa ...

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Sahara Safari

Published July 28th, 2012

It wasn’t just Bawadi, the secret service lad in purple pants with his feet planted on the windscreen and twirling a 9mm automatic that inspired a general sense of adventure.

It was also the huge purple, green and blue Mercedes bus he was supposed to be protecting from terrorists as it lurched across the Sahara at 130kph overtaking the dawdling police escort van to get six freeloaders to remote Siwa Oasis in time to catch a pretty sunset.

The police van, bristling with Kalashnikovs and seven Egyptian wallopers, faded to the rear as bus driver, Sami, wound up his new 60-seater across a crumbly paved road already 200km into the world’s biggest desert.

The flat, almost lifeless terrain was stony and speckled with stunted saltbush, a few stoic shrubs and an occasional gang of camels. A goatherd and his flock foraged among the sparse offerings before the shrubbery dwindled away altogether.

So did the police escort and Bawadi grew visibly nervous. Sami had outrun them so he pulled up a ...

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Heart of the Phoenix

Published July 28th, 2012

Mellowed and ruddy-cheeked after four days of pampering in Finland’s saunas and icy lakes I was checking in at Warsaw’s four-star Forum Hotel when events took a turn for the worse.

It was 3.45pm but the cleaners, it seemed, were still spiffing up my room. So I asked the receptionist where I could exchange euros for Polish zlotys. “Up the end there,” she pointed.

Up the end, a senior blonde babushka figure sat painting her fingernails iridescent pink. I offered a modest amount of euros in return for lots of Polish zlotys.

“No good,” she snarled.

“What?”

“The notes,” she said. “They’re not clean.”

“They are clean.”

“They’re used,” she countered, not about to back down. I poked around in my wallet and fished out a dog-eared US dollar travellers’ cheque.

She examined closely. “Alright.” She punched the details into an ancient computer. “Room number?”

“The room’s not ready yet,” I said.

“But what’s the number?” She demanded. I asked the receptionist.

“They won’t giv ...

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