Saturday, October 5, 2013

Bali Journal

Travel journal September 14 to 23, 2013

The Balinese are dark skinned, dark haired people with sometimes good, sometimes bad teeth.   Most all I have encountered have smiled and said hello, almost looking at me as if I am highly unusual - some novelty.  This goes especially for those who live in the immediate vicinity of Pukutatan, where we are staying at Medewi Bay Retreat for four days.  Our accommodations are amazing, of course.  All Australians or westerners here,  no Balinese.  Those who work here are Balinese and very good with service.  

The towns and buildings in general are made for the tropics.  Homes tend to be in small neighborhoods with narrow roads for access.  Lots of chickens range freely.  The roosters have been waking me early. In each neighborhood the houses are constructed of mainly gray stone, wood carved windows, and red tile roofs.  Some structures are covered in stucco or are made of red brick.  Each neighborhood appears  to have its own Hindu Temple.  Some are very elaborate and large.  All have carved stone that is incredibly beautiful.  These structures and neighborhoods are tucked into the jungle itself so that everywhere you look there are banana trees and coconut palms as well as flowering trees and hibiscus.  The locals seems to prefer driving scooters rather than cars, but most appear to be quite new, even the scooters.  Most everyone wears a helmet.  Occasionally you might see a family of four on a scooter, but not so much as in the Philippines.  

Both yesterday and today we walked the 10 minutes to the beach.  It is on the northern western coast where there is black sand, created from island volcanoes.  The blackest of the sand is powdery like flour and jet black ash.  The first foray to the beach we found lost of pink seashells, a few sand dollars, and black stones and lots of purple jellyfish that do sting, as Anna found out.  The second time, there was a dead pufferfish to add to the mix.  It was quite large, the size of a small a loaf of bread.  The third time, which was this morning, there were barely any jellyfish or shells, but there was loads of garbage that had washed ashore.  Mostly various plastic bags or food wrappers.  At all times the beach was nearly deserted, so we are definitely not in a developed area.  

Today we braved the local bus service.  The bus ride to Negara is about 45 minutes.  The buses are full of locals, and the local fare is about 1 dollar for the 45 minutes.  Or at least that is what we were expected to pay.  The buses themselves are quite old and dusty with open windows and narrow seats and aisles.  But we did fine and the man next to Anna was happy.  Along the way we passed open and terraced rice fields with an occasional worker hoeing the mud.  We saw egrets and water buffalo, chickens and goats.  There are also many wandering dogs.  In Negara we found a mall with loads of cheap plastic toys and cheap clothes.  There was also an arcade where the kids each got three games for a total of $2.  Lunch cost the family $3.  Crazy!


Day trip from Mdewei bay retreat.

Left at 8:10 am.   Began our trip up the mountain and stopped at an old banyan tree, that is so big it has a hole in it the size of a road.  Well, actually the road goes right through it,  on the roadside our guide pointed out a banana tree with bananas, a coffee plant, and chocolate cocoa tree with the pods hanging down off the trunk and branches.  Women in brightly colored sarongs were carrying supplies on their heads walked about, dogs and kittens too. 

The hot springs up on the northern coast  were great.  There were three spots.  One larger pool and two smaller areas with lion heads spitting out the warm water onto your shoulders.  It was a lovely setting.  Venders were selling swim suits and cloth and bracelets along the path in.  There were many Aussies and French there.  The water was as expected,  sulfury.  It reminded us of the emerald pool in Thailand.   It took about two hours to arrive there.  After about forty minutes we were own our way to the Northern shore to go snorkeling.  After much ado getting Anna the right size of fins, we headed out onto a very long pier over the black sand and onto a private long boat with a pilot and a guide.  Our guide pointed out Java, a volcanic island.  In fact we saw three volcanic islands, but I'm not sure if they were all Java.  The boat took us toward an island  30 minutes away where we put on our gear - minus life vests - and got into the azure water near the white sand beach but right over the coral reef area.  At first we were in quite shallow water, but then we ventured to a bit deeper water.  At points we were swimming right along an abrupt drop off, (seemingly an abyss) which was a strange feeling.  We saw all kinds of fish and coral.  Best snorkeling so far that we have experienced.  The school of black fish was fun to glide over and at one point the guide dove down and picked up a huge blue starfish for us to hold.  Alec released it back to the depth. Alec still doesn't like the mask, so he wore fins and goggles and came up for frequent breaths.  But the cool thing is he was able to dive down under too.  We boarded the boat, had lunch, rested a bit, then headed out for a second swim.  Great time!  Brilliant!

Before leaving Medewi Bay Retreat in Pekutatan, Brent won a week for two at one of four resorts set to be used in the next two years!  How cool is that.  


Took the trip to Ubud with the driver.  We stopped to see batik and a silver shop on the way.  Brent got a replacement wedding band there that cost me $35.  It is lovely and handmade.

Our new place called Bali Putra Villas is amazing too.  It is right in the middle of the bustling town of Ubud, but you walk way in to reach the villas, past wet rice fields, so that all sound disappears but that of birds and roosters crowing.  We have a two story, two bedroom, tiled floor, with kitchen, porch, and balcony, mosquito nets around the bed.  We have managed to convince the kids to sleep in the same double bed for most nights on the trip, so that is nice.

Thursday - Monday
Thursday was the big biking trip with a large KIS group.  Maureen and Al had arranged it for us.  We were picked up at our villa in a van, taken to the inside rim of a huge volcano.  There we had a lovely Balinese breakfast buffet as we waited for the others to arrive.  We gazed at the horizon - a beautiful large volcanic lake, more volcanic cones inside the larger one, and a mining operation.  Our entertaining guide told us about the indigenous people who live on the lake and don't like to get visitors; they still inbreed, wearing nearly nothing and live as they have for thousands of years.  

After all the troops arrived, we loaded our vans and headed to the Civet Coffee plantation and processing center.  This is the Cat Poop coffee that is so expensive ($80/cup in NYC).  Brent tried some after our little tour and explanation of how the coffee beans only stay in their digestive tract for 40 minutes.  After coffee and tea samples we were on our way to the bikes.

The bicycle ride was fabulous, lasting several hours and all downhill.  Anna and Brent went up ahead and Alec and I trailed last, which was fine.  The day was rather leisurely with stops at a few different rice fields, a Balinese home, the home of our main tour guide, and much beauty to see in each town we passed through.  At the end of our journey was another buffet of Balinese cuisine.  Our tour guide told us more about Balinese culture (such as the MBA - marriage by accident - that is, getting a woman pregnant and having to marry her or go to jail for 3 years).  At his home we were able to see his whole family wood carving beautiful window shutters - even the 10 year old!  The living areas were for extended families, very small and basic, with no apparent electricity.  Each family unit has their own Hindu temple - quite large and elaborate.  Families never sell their property and the youngest son must take over the home and care for the family.  Men can marry a second wife as long as the first wife agrees; the first wife can then give all the mundane housejobs to the younger wife.  Babies aren't to touch the ground until 100 days.  All this AND we got to see the pigs and piglets that they owned.  Another interesting fact was that the mothers awake at 5 AM to cook the day's meal over wood coals; there's just 1 meal a day and anyone can eat at anytime throughout the day.  We learned so much and saw so much!

In the evening we again went off with Maureen and Al to see a Balinese Dance Show at a temple.  The costumes were quite elaborate with lots of gold; there were monsters and musicians and dancing women.  The women had every single movement choreographed, including much to say with their big eyes and fingers, held very taut.

Much of the rest of our stay in Ubud consisted of shopping sprees and $6 massages and different kinds of food.  However, further highlights were the visit to the Monkey Forest not far from where we stayed AND the Cremation Ceremony (in the Monkey Forest).  It turns out that everyone is to be cremated here.  If you aren't rich enough to have a private cremation, then you participate in the community Cremation Ceremony that takes place once every 5 years.  We just so happened to be in Ubud during the event.  Native Balinese kept telling us to go; we all needed to wear sarongs, though.  So we ended up buying a few more so that Alec and Brent had something to wear.  Alec was not pleased.

So, eventually it was time to leave.  We had a full day ahead of us since our plane wasn't scheduled to leave until just after midnight Sunday night.  So, we hired a taxi driver (for $35 for the entire day) and went to Sanur Beach.  We hadn't heard too much about which beaches were best on the southern part, but it was near the airport.  The beach was okay - very crowded, mostly with locals, but there was a nice walking path just behind the beach which was lined with little novelty shops.  After spending much of the day there, the driver took us to a spot for dinner.  It was lovely!  The sun was setting, the tables were outside, planted in the sand and right next to the ocean.  The breeze was light and the menu was fresh fish that we could pick out ourselves from the vats.

A perfect almost-ending to our stay in Bali.  

The adventure at the airport was another matter. . . one I'd rather forget, so I shall not go into detail here.

Salamat tinggal (goodbye!)

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Sri Lanka for Spring Break

Our family had the good fortune to travel to Sri Lanka over our Spring Break.  Even more fortunate was that we were able to tour the small island country south of India with the father of a friend of ours. Gary is an expat who has lived there for many years.  He and Recika, a driver and friend, planned our entire trip for us.  It was amazing to arrive off of the plane and have a van and 2 new friends waiting for us.  The week that followed entailed many, many hours on the road (pretty slow roads) traveling up country to see many major sites.  What an extraordinary experience it was.

Sri Lanka has varied landscapes; we were not on the coast but inland which meant that we experienced the tropics and jungle and mountainous regions.

Among my favorite experiences

The elephant orphanage

The tea plantations in the mountains

 The two dozen monkeys at one of our resorts
 The varied religious representations: Hindu . . . 
 Buddhist. . .
 And Christian.  We were there on Good Friday and were surprised to see the Catholic churchyards filled with parishioners all in white, as well as witness an angel parade in the street!

 The 1/2 day safari
 The botanical gardens near Kandy

 the Indian Ocean

Roadside pineapple (for under $1) and King Coconut

Seeing how Batik is made

The Old seamstresses using the OLD Singer sewing machine to hem Anna's sari. 

 Food and People!

We so enjoyed our week in Sri Lanka!

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Car elevator - who knew?

I never knew there was such a thing as a car elevator.  But there is.  And now I can say I've driven into one.

Patricia had only told me "there will be parking" at the foot massage place.  I followed her there only to arrive at what looked like a one-stall garage door.  But, it was a car elevator.  I have to admit I pretty much freaked out!  The two other ladies in the car with me got a kick out of my reaction.

So, the door goes up, you drive in, push the floor you want (in this case B3) then the "close door" option.  The door shuts behind you; there is a bit of a jerking sensation and you're off!  The wall in front of you appears to be moving!  It's a bit claustrophobic.  Well, after a bit, you arrive on the other end, the door opens and you drive out.  Sounds rather innocuous, but I have to say it was so strange a sensation that I made one of the passengers hold my hand while I shrilled and shrieked.

There you have it - a brand new experience in Korea!

Try this link to see a picture and learn more.

Snow Days- And Sting! (Dates back to winter)

I'm from the Midwest.  We get around 80 inches of snow a winter.  So snow and shoveling and snowblowing, salting the sidewalk, following a snow plow down the road or sliding around a bit are no big deal.  We might wish for a snow day every time the snow falls, but in reality we would have to have 6 or more inches before school would get called off.

This is the backdrop of my experiences coming into this winter in the Seoul area.  It makes for some humorous moments in a culture that rarely sees 2 1/2 inches of snow at once and lacks snow plows, snow blowers, and proper snow tires.

This past week we had school called off early twice.  The first time it snowed a total of 2 1/2 inches (about 7 cm).   The snow was amazingly beautiful out my classroom window where I can see up into the mountain.  It was a wet and sticky snow, but I hadn't even imagined it was enough to call school early.  I thought it was silly!  But then I'd forgotten that people don't really know how to drive in that much snow around here, nor is it easy to drive down a snowy mountainside, now would there be snow plows to plow the roads.

So while the kids certainly enjoyed making snowmen or throwing snowballs, it took the twenty-some school buses a real long time to make it down the hill and onto the main road, because as I understand it, there was a 35-car fender bender at the intersection at the bottom.  As I was going to a Sting concert that night (yes, that's right, STING concert), I decided to walk to the nearest subway area instead of ride the bus.  Smart move.  The walk there is 25 minutes and quite doable even with shoes and a bit of snow.

On the other hand, the rest of my family waited for the school bus to take them home.  Usually the bus ride is about 20 minutes with 3 stops between the school and the apartment complex.  But this time it took forever!  Those who simply rode the bus all the way to the complex endured a nearly 3-hour ride.  My family got out at the first stop, rode the subway to a place near us, got out, walked the 15 minutes home from the subway and was still home an hour before the others!  That's no plows, bad tires, and crazy drivers for you!

Now I happened to be going to Sting with a friend of mine from Australia/China/Korea and her sister who was visiting from China.  On our short walk from a restaurant to the venue we saw a rare sight - someone snowblowing.  But the funny thing was that my friend had never see a snowblower.  I suppose if I'd never seen one before I might also have exclaimed, "Look at that!  They're making snow!"  I love it!

Well, suffice it to say, a few days later snow was in the forecast again.  People in charge of making big decisions panicked.  I get it - a few days earlier we had had a major mess on our hands.  So the Elementary Holiday Party set for after school was called off 24 hours ahead of time.  And when the snow started falling, the school decided to call it a day and send everyone home.  It just so happened that this time there was less than an inch of snow that fell.  To quote my father, "How do you like them apples?"

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Making friends

In recent days we have been fortunate to make some new acquaintances with our Korean neighbors.  This is somewhat of a big deal because as an ex-pat it can be difficult to mingle with the greater Korean community - something to do with the language and cultural barrier, I suppose.

Our new next door neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Kim, are very kind and inviting.  Mrs. Kim is a retired English teacher.  We met a few weeks ago in the hallway just outside our apartments on the 23rd floor.  Mrs. Kim struck up the conversation.  We've only seen each other a few times since then, but I stopped by this morning to request she let us know if any important announcements came over the apartment intercom system.  She invited me in for a marmalade tea and some conversation.  Her husband joined us and she translated for us.  Moments like these are precious because they give me the opportunity to ask questions, make observations, and get feedback from someone who truly can explain or answer.  Mrs. Kim is about 70 and so has lived through the vast changes in Korea in the past 50 years, since the Korean War.  She assured me that they are not nervous about recent saber rattling from the North, but understood how those from outside Korea would see the situation.  She told me about how poor they were when she was young, that rice was rare so they ate barley, how eating 2 meals in a day was a special treat, how most of the time they had to choose between paying for food or fuel but not both in the same day.  And here we are in this amazing, prosperous country now.

We've also begun to make friends with a family on the 9th floor.  The daughter Minji is 12 and her mother Sunny hoped she could continue learning her English by speaking to us and so she struck up a conversation in the elevator.  Anna and Minji spent a few hours together and I visited their apartment long enough to begin making friends with Sunny.  Minji has spent 2 years in South Africa - 1 with a guardian and one with her mother.  They seem very friendly and speak English pretty well.  Perhaps we will get to know them better.

Through the North Korean Women's Refugee Center, I've gotten to know the other teachers.  Some are Westerners and others Koreans.  We often have interesting or deep conversations in the car to and from the shelter where we teach English to the women refugees.

We look forward to making more new friends when we travel for 2 days with a group from our church on a tour around S. Korea a few weeks from now.

Each moment is precious, isn't it?  Let me encourage YOU to make a new friend, too.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mr. Toilet House

Me: What shall we do today?
Anna: Let's go to the Toilet Museum!
Me: Sure, let's.  Call up your friend and let's grab a cab and go!

1 hour later. . .

The girls were squatting over "squatter" statuary.
We were being grossed out by the life-size bronze statue with the hanging gold poo. . .

Thinking over how strange this place was. . . 

And really glad we found the largest golden poo ever!

Unfortunately we didn't get to see an actual arial view of the museum, constructed as a toilet.  But the interior view was plenty!

And to TOP it OFF, we saw the first annual Humorous Poo contest entries which covered the second floor.

I've never seen so much fake poo in all my life.
Thank you Mr. Toilet, AKA former Mayor of Suwon and Chairman of the World Toilet Association for a fun day.

Now for more serious matters, Mr. Jack Sim is now deceased, but he spent his life seeking to improve the circumstances of the poor who lack proper sanitation.  You may enjoy this short film on the internet: