Thursday, February 2, 2012

Superpower? Ok....

China. It's dirty. Really dirty. Get on the bus, somehow fitting a massive bag on your lap while studiously ignoring the blatantly pissed off middle aged Chinese woman on your right who has her own selection of bagged goods but who feels as though you might be over doing it. Try and decipher street signs and exit names by playing a matching game using a piece of paper you're clutching onto for dear life. Or attempt to communicate with the aforementioned woman on your right, who has already proven uninterested in your travels, and only manage to mispronounce the name of your destination and be interrupted by someone with a hacking cough who then proceeds to spit onto the floor of the bus. Dangerously close to your foot. Now, you still dont know where the bus is taking you, but you sure as hell hope the last guy you tried to communicate with was right on in pointing you towards this bus. Next the woman on your right decides to make a phone call to her offspring, but because the bus is so full, her husband is a few rows in front of her, so whatever shall they do? Solution: speakerphone. Easy. Now, you are not a mandarin speaker, but able to pick up on repetition, and they must have been yelling the same thing back and forth for ten minutes. Hopefully it was a productive conversation. You are dumped out of the bus eventually, in the middle of a main-looking road, with a divider down the middle, cars racing past, it's now after dark and so there a lot of lit up things and movement. A lot of movement. You try to show your hostel name to a cab driver who is jumping for your business in such a way that he is leaning on the hood of his car, smoking a cigarette and trying to motion you over. Alas, he doesnt understand your sad attempt to pronounce the street name or your exuberant gesturing. Welcome to China.
Our first stop was Yangshuo, a smallish town two hours outside of Guilin with the most unbelievable mountains looking like floating mossy covered teeth; jagged around the edges, not rolling and continuous. Its a tourist town for sure, and let that mean domestic tourists. Of course there are international tourists, but in china the amount of domestic travelers prevails. In any case, we were able to book a nice little hostel in advance, and upon arrival we realized that we were essentially VIPs. We had the place to ourselves. Needless to say we still stayed in the cheapest room, that being the 5th floor 8-person bunk room. It was as though we lived at the top of a very cold castle (no heat) and had a requirement of four beds apiece. The owner was a delightful man who offered us tea and rice wine and took awfully good care us. Before we left there he asked me to please rewrite his chalkboard list of tourist activities and I did so happily, and so I felt like I contributed to china. Perhaps not to the whole country, but certainly to one Chinese man. In Yangshuo, we began our affair with tea. Puerh, dandelion, rose, green, chrysanthemum, and so many more. We wandered in to a small tea shop one night and sat down with the owner and drank about a billion thimbles of tea. She taught us about tea ceremonies, and proper tea preparation, and tea distribution and tea taste. I think Sarah was floating on a cloud in paradise. We talked of tea pots and tea cups, and drank as drank and drank. I was beginning to feel very well hydrated. We returned to this very shop a second time, and made some purchases with our new found intelligence about tea, and to thank our new friend for her time and tea and information.
In Yangshuo, we also were able to take a cooking class, and a fantastic one at that. Being that we were traveling through China during low season, what might have once been a 15 person class became a semi-private lesson. Our instructor was cute as can be, and an awesome chef. Her English name was Jennifer. It used to be Hannah, actually, but her friends name was also Hannah so she decided to change it in order to avoid confusion. We met her at the market in the morning to get our groceries for the class and have a sort of personalized tour through the market. The Chinese markets appear to just always be open..24 hours. It was in this large place, reminiscent of a warehouse full of tables and tables and tables piled high with vegetables, fruit, sundries, nuts, raw meat, cooked meat, cages of live animals, tofu; the works. Along the sides are women sitting next to small individual fires with big low and wide buckets of snails (a specialty in Yangshuo). We sorted through the vegetables and picked our necessary items. On one side of the market is where you find the butchers with the live animals and it's a noisy ordeal and heart wrenching, especially seeing the live dogs and cats in their cages and hearing their whines. Jennifer let us know that it's not allowed to photograph the butchery. So we ambled out, laden with bags of vegetables and tofu and fish and chicken for Sarah, and eating the delicious sweet steamed bread that is common around china, and we found the car and headed to our class. The location was tres picturesque. We were right on the river, and it was about 11am so the lighting was awfully nice, and a table for two was set up on the balcony overlooking the nice view. We each had our own stations and sarah and i played copy cat through five delicious dishes which jennifer demonstrated and explained flawlessly. We made the exemplary Chinese eggplant, beer fish (a traditional Yangshuo specialty... I made beer tofu), cashew chicken (I used lotus favorite veg), bok choy, and stuffed mushrooms. It was a feast, and when coupled with a cold watery Chinese beer and the sunshine, you couldn't beat it.
Moon hill was our let's be active portion of Yangshuo. Its a popular very easy climb with an unusual rock structure atop it. It's like an extraordinarily tall flattened circular boulder with a giant hole carved out of the middle. Quite nice to look at. The "hike" up was maybe 30 minutes or so and there was a man made staircase the whole way... how very challenging. We made it up and were accosted by a Chinese woman selling water and coca cola who knew about three words of English and really wanted to take our picture for us and receive some money in return. A boy in a red sweater was rock climbing the underside of the moon hill rock structure and it looked very fun and also very frightening. He seemed to be enjoying himself. We took loads of photographs and enjoyed the spectacular view, then made our way back to our home on a bus/van type vehicle that was driving by and pulled over to wave us in for 3 rnb to get back into the center of town. Lovely. The Chinese girls on the bus thought we were funny. Maybe we are. I suppose you can never know yourself for sure. The next day was our bus, train, bus, bus trip to Jinghong. A fiasco or traveling and lugging things, and eating peanut butter crackers.

Saturday, January 14, 2012


As its been about a month since I was even in hong kong, I figure now's as good a time as any to write about it. after having been in Bali, stepping into an airport that was clean, and technologically advanced and bustling was like an ice bath. It couldn't have been more different, yet somehow I couldn't shake the feeling that I had accidentally taken some super fast plane and ended up in NYC. Lesson one: all major metropolitan cities are the same, just different ( much like the rest of the world, as ive learned...get to that later). Thanks to the college roommate of my parents' next door neighbor, and her family, Sarah and I could not have had a better experience in Hong Kong. We made it to their beautiful top floor apartment on the outskirts of the city just in time to see the sun setting over the ocean... and we thought we'd never again see a sunset like the ones in Bali...pff. Otis and Susan greeted us with big glasses of wine, veggies and dip, and the feeling we were at home with our families. Coming from the grimy inn in kuta, we were in absolute paradise. They have three little boys, Mason and Austin (7) and Harper (4 and a half). Possibly the most adorable children on earth. They were very excited to have new friends at home and we spent the night watching their totally awesome dance moves to flo rida, mj, and usher. These kids are going to be something big, with those personalities. The energy was so refreshing and revitalizing, having this beautiful family around us. Susan ever so kindly wrote us down in my infallible little notebook some suggestions of what to do and see in hong kong.
First morning: Dim sum attempt. So why not try and tackle dim sum the first morning in china? well turns out it can be awfully important to know mandarin. Starts off with Sarah and me trying to ask where the bus comes to, only to end up having a cab called for us. Ok, no big, sort of expensive but whatever, we'll deal. Next, we tell the cabbie "town hall dim sum" in central. So he instead decides that he likes a different place better for dim sum and drops us off at this seemingly random dim sum place somewhere in hong kong. So we go with it, what else can you do? We climb up some stairs and emerge into a linoleum floored, fluorescent-ly lit cafeteria full of people, reminiscent of elementary school lunch, and we are ushered to one of the many round tables, and we join the other five who are already partially immersed in their dim sum experience. Having only ever had dim sum at single pebble, I wouldn't say my experience prepared me at all for what was to come. There are people pushing steaming carts around, and more people shuffling about to gather around said carts in order to see what's offered. It's as though this might be the last food on earth or something, the way you can be pushed, elbowed and shoved out of the way. Our luck was spot on that day, however, for there were English speaking people at our table, and so a
kindly middle aged woman told us what each dish was. As a vegetarian... it's exceedingly difficult to know whether something is truly meat free, so Sarah was a tester. It felt like ten minutes the whole whirlwind time we were in there, people stamping our card and thrusting food in front of us, and washing our bowls and cups and chopsticks with boiling hot tea. We seemed to explode back out onto the street after, like a character being sent back into the real world after her journey through a wonderland of sorts.
We took to wandering the streets and beginning to understand the layout of the city. Everything is so damn clean, it's a tad unbelievable. One of the cleanest cities I've been to, and the polar opposite of the rest of China. We made our way through the Louis Vuitton and Gucci section of town, as well as the southeast Asian market section. One of the days we found our way to the peak tram. Hong Kong isn't really a place with loads of tourist attractions, it's mostly a city like any other, but this was definitely THE tourist attraction. We waited in an orderly line for our turn to board the tram, and when it only took about 3 minutes to get to the top, we sort of wish we had just walked... I had anticipated perhaps a bit
of a ride around for the views, but nope. We were deposited in the midst of this shopping mall on the highest point in Hong Kong and climbed up to the observatory with a 360 degree view of the city only to find Rolando Blackman hanging out right next to me with his girlfriend. We took some secret photos. The sunset was red and big and beautiful so we walked down to a little overlook, really a very insignificant location as it were, yet my cousin Shephard just happened to be in that place at the exact same time. Fancy that. So we exchanged shocked hellos and introduced our friends and chatted a bit and then went on our merry ways. It's sort of like a dream when things like that happen. What are the odds of being on a hilltop overlook in a huge city at the exact same time that your cousin just so happens to be on that exact same overlook? I'd say slim to none, but maybe odds are improving.
Otis and Susan were the best hosts we could have asked for and each night was full of wine and food and good old fashioned family fun. The boys loved having people to entertain and we loved being entertained. They kindly had insisted we stay with them for the duration of our stay in HK. Otis also helped us plan out the next bits of our China adventure. His travel agent booked us flights to Guilin, and he sorted out all of our bus information and gave us great insight and tips about traveling in China; not to mention allowing us to use his office/apartment in Shanghai instead of staying in a hostel. This family is a godsend, so incredibly thoughtful and in the most selfless of ways.
Our last night in HK we made a serious effort to make it to the waterfront on the Kowloon side to see the ever talked about light show. First things first, HK as a city has the most outrageous lighting. We were there around holiday time, so there were lights in the shapes of prancing reindeer, falling snowflakes, jolly santas, and then some... all on the sides of sky scrapers. It is so bright, brighter than NYC. Essentially every building has lights on the side of it. So, we figure the light laser show has got to be something awfully special. Turns out, it's a bunch of green lasers dancing about the sky and off of buildings, synchronized to a song that could have been in a dark scene of Fantasia. Really, not altogether too impressive. I think that letdown comes with the fact that the lights are already so wowing and effective, it's hard to go any bigger than they already have. Still. One hundred percent worth it to take the ferry over to Kowloon just to look at the city from the bank there. It's like the opening scene of a broadway musical.
The next morning we rose at 445, bright eyed and bushy tailed (as if), and Otis drove us to Kowloon to the bus station, and this began our journey into China.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Balinese thanksgiving

It all started at Napi Orti.  Sarah and I had decided a bit ago that we wanted to cook an American thanksgiving dinner (as best we could with Balinese ingredients), and then one night at Napi Orti pretty much everyone ended up getting invited.  Our dear friend gusti had insisted on being in charge of the chickens (no turkeys in Bali) and then he also decided to invite every one he knew to our thanksgiving dinner haha. The more the merrier, but as it was a late night bar scene thing, figures that I think only one person who was invited from that night showed.  All in all we had about 12 people!  Sarah and I spent the whole day in our miniature kitchen trying to sort things out, and cook everything to perfection on our two burners. We made a carrot and green bean casserole type thing in the wok, made with lots of garlic and coconut milk. So delicious. Also, a rudimentary stuffing made with delicious country bread from bali Buddha as well as apples and garlic and a sauce we sort of made from these packets of Balinese seasoning. It actually ended up being awesome. We bought a mango chutney at kue and that with the stuffing was incredible.  We also made delicious tempeh with coconut milk, and the most giant vat of mashed potatoes. In a wok. Try it. So we also only had four we had to get creative with where we put the already cooked stuff cause we were cooking for 12 so it wasn't like each dish could just fit on a normal plate.....  For dessert we had bought a pumpkin pie from kue which we had to precariously get home on the motorbike...ohhh my god I did not realize how much I just love pumkpin pie hhaha.

So around seven our guests started to arrive. Manja and Gil and Steph brought a watermelon and some vodka, so I chopped it up in the garden and then we made delicious watermelon drinks. Gusti showed up around eight with the chickens and a friend, astrid. The chickens were ridiculous....still on skewers from being cooked at the market and with their heads still attached and their feet in the bag. Apparently they were the texture of leather...  Since we had no plates we used banana leaves and our fingers, in true Balinese fusion style.  Aboe and keduk showed up eventually, with lots of arak, and Florie and Made came too.  It was an awesome thanksgiving. we had everyone go around and say what they were thankful for and it was adorable. There was a show at CP that night, so we all eventually trucked down there and had a serious time dancing and drinking more arak and it was a blast.

All in all, I think our thanksgiving was a hit, and everyone loved it.  This was the first thanksgiving everyone had had, except Steph cause she's Canadian, but good food and drink and can you go wrong?

Saturday, December 10, 2011

I finally caved and bought a fanny pack...

if you're avid and intent on finding out what I've been up to for the past month (which probably means you're putting off doing something more important) I suggest you get up, go make a cup of coffee, or pour yourself a glass of wine. a lot of things happen in a day, let alone a month so settle on in and get cozy cause this is a looong one.

last time I wrote i was preparing to spend the next four weeks at Jiwa Damai, the retreat center. Well, we stayed for a week.  The place was absolutely beautiful, two buildings, surrounded by Venetian water ways and with fish and lily pads in the water.  It is situated in a sort of valley (ditch) and the trees and flowers around it are gorgeous.  On the property there is a whole grove of coconut trees, and they produce their own pure extra virgin cold pressed coconut oil and delicious sweet coconut water.  Our impression of what life would be like staying there was that it would be stress-free, relaxing, a quiet haven, an opportunity to work side by side with and really get to know some Balinese people in a community based farming experience. well, it was certainly quiet and relaxing... almost too much so. As for the farming.... it was really a hotel
with a garden, not so much a farm.  And as we were in Bali during the lower season, there were zero guests staying there, so it was just Sarah, Margret ( the owner) and me... everyday. The other employees were fantastic, we just didn't have the interactions we had anticipated, seeing as if we ever even worked in the garden, we just weeded.

That being said, I'm so glad I got to go to Jiwa Damai, even if it wasn't what I had anticipated.  Margret is a psychologist with some very interesting philosophies and works and talking to her was eye-opening on a lot of levels.  Staying there we were also able to practice meditation and yoga for an hour in the mornings after sweeping all the tokay (super awesome balinese gecko) droppings off the floor.  Everything is open air (much like the rest of Bali) and so starting our day with yoga in the sunshine felt great.  Yoga was always followed by breakfast, which could be banana pancakes, eggs, or Nasi goreng. All of which are delicious. Astri and Made (maa-day) are the kitchen queens. They cook the most fanastical indonesian food. it's unreal. we would have fresh salads with lettuce, basil, tomatoes, beets, carrots and radishes... all picked from the garden.  sometimes a fresh blended nothing added tomato juice to accompany it. Matter of fact we had a bit of a tomato overload because all six million plants they had started ripening at the same time. tomato salad, tomato juice, tomato coated sweet tofu (so good), tomato sauce, tomatoes in soup, tomatoes in noodles, sambal (homemade spicy tomato sauce).

Aside from the mentioned tomato frenzy, nothing to complain about food wise, unless you can complain that we were given too much.  We had a very sort of set schedule at Jiwa Damai. Get up at 630. Sweep. Yoga/meditation at 8. Breakfast at 9. Work doing various things such as weeding or administrative work or picking ripe veggies or prepping lunch/ dinner if neither Astri nor Made is there until lunch at 1230. At 1 start working again, doing other various things amongst those which I previously mentioned and finish working around 4. Then it was reading and writing and showering time. Freezing cold showers, I might add. Then dinner at 630.  lather, rinse, repeat, you know?

I ended up doing loads of work for Margret with her Mac products.  (Dave Link aren't you proud?) she had just invested in an ipad2 and has an iPhone and a new macbook pro, having switched from some lame PC.  Basically I just helped her with shortcuts, and syncing things and installing iCloud and the latest software stuff. we had a blast cause I just hung out in her pristine house that only contained the colors white and turquoise. seriously though only white and turquoise everything. she told me stories of her travels and her life and it was fascinating, aside from her three sort of terrifying Balinese street dogs that are pseudo-domesticated. that is to say, they only like and listen to Margret and they will bark at you for twenty minutes and follow you at your heels until she calls them off. I was supposed to play it cool and ignore them or something but i was secretly terrified they would attack at any time.

our first night at jiwa damai we were in our second earthquake since having been in Bali. figures. we were in bed and then we both felt this weird sensation and were did you feel that? so that was an interesting welcome hahah but it was a super
minor quake and all was well. the rest of the days were just your typical monsoon season in Bali. it didn't help that we were in this ditch at the bottom of a village... literally the rainwater was just overflowing everywhere and pouring down the steps and splashing onto the walk ways surrounding the buildings.  as shoe-wearing is extremely un-common in Bali (sound familiar vt?) everything just ended up covered in muddy barefoot prints because in order to get from
the kitchen side to the sleeping side you had to go outside and walk around the canals surrounding the buildings. a coconut tree fell down after one on said storms and narrowly missed the lumbung that we very luckily opted not to make into our sleeping space for our stint at jiwa damai.

so, as youve likely gathered, jiwa damai mostly consisted of great food, a lot of sweeping, scary dogs, and rain. oh and michael jackson. ( we spent one night eating pisang goreng -- fried bananas -- and watching this is it with margret).  

good for us (and for her) margret had a clause in her letter to volunteers through wwoofing/workaway that gave both parties the ability to change the plan after one week. margret expressed that she would like us to stay and continue working with her, but we gracefully declined and explained that we were frankly just lonely and not doing what we might have expected it to be and she took it very well and was very understanding. as it turns out i ended up working for margret, editing and putting together a manuscript of hers to get it ready for publication. she exoressed interest in hiring me again for some article editing jobs while
I'm on the road. great way to make
some extra cash while I'm
spending it. we finished up our week there and made our way back into ubud. it was definitely a change to head from the land of bed at 930 to the land of bed at 330 am, but it just ended up solidifying how much I love ubud. the place feels like home. 

our first night back there we went to CP lounge, the late night hang out spot we later found out, to meet up with our friend gusti. Our soon to be great friends Aboe and Keduk's band was playing and we just had so much fun dancing the night away and meeting people and finally being social again. the first couple nights back we stayed in this cute homestay with an open air bathroom and great breakfast. only catch -- no sink. well...such is Bali.

we told gusti about our housing situation after we had decide to stay in ubud for two more weeks, and he was able to find us this awesome house out in the rice paddies. yes. I said house. we had one huge bedroom with two beds (although one of the beds was mostly just a slab of wood so we shared the other one), a big bathroom with a tub and hot water (only for the first two days), a huge furniture-less living room, and a kitchen! the kitchen consisted of a lovely table, a mini fridge, a sink, and two burners. we had two pans, a small frying pan and a wok. I'm pretty sure I can now make anything at all in a wok. that's how we made coffee, tea, thanksgiving dinner, and everything else. oh and we also had a gated in yard and a huge front porch. all this for $17 a night, divided by two. not too shabby, eh? gusti also hooked us up with a motorbike rental for under $3 a day, and taught us how to drive it. I'm probably never going to drive a car again. we lived about 4 km outside of downtown ubud so it was necessary, especially when coming home in the wee hours of the morning when the crazy Balinese dogs are all prowling around.  so pretty much we were living the life. gusti saved the day, to no one's surprise.

ubud really became home. we knew where to go for everything, and people who worked everywhere and it felt like being in Burlington or something. except way warmer. we made some great friends. Manja and Gildor are from Holland but live in France and we ended up spending a whole lot of time with them. they have come to Bali on holiday many times before, so they had a lot of good insight and were great to be with. they were staying at a friends place in campuan (western side of ubud) in an adorable villa type place also among some rice paddies, and right behind the Bintang supermarket. we had some very delicious lunch there that the lady who cleans for them cooked especially for us all. a very traditional Balinese meal of tempeh manis, coconut tempeh and veggies, spinach, bergedel, mie goreng and fresh mango juice. yum. all made with coconut oil. it was one of those meals where you want to keep eating and keep eating because the tastes are so good, but you're afraid you might burst at any given moment. we had to all sit around lazily looking at photos for a while afterwards.

earlier that week Sarah and I decided to finally conquer Mt batur for the sunrise hike, a volcano just an hour north of ubud. we went through this travel booking guy who wanted to charge us something like IR 550,000 each which is ridiculous, but we got it down to 300,000 each, so like $30 each and it included transportation to and from as well as breakfast on top of the mountain while watching the sun rise.  we got picked up at 3 am. awesome. especially cause the night before we decided to go to our favorite cafe that had Internet, cafe seniman, and have espresso at like 7 pm.... I don't think either of us slept more than an hour or something horrid before our alarms went blasting at 230. we had two other people with us for the hike, two French cousins who had just been in Australia for a while. it was great to have some other people to complain with about the ungodly hour, especially because that was normally our bed time.  the long and extraordinarily bumpy and winding car ride did not allow for sleeping unfortunately. we started off our hike with our guide Nyoman at about 430. pitch black, never been there before, only a headlamp apiece, crossing roads, lots of loose rocks, rogue motorbikes, you know, the usual.  we knew it was not a terribly long or difficult hike, but any hike at 4 am when you haven't slept much or hiked in a while is a challenge. we made it up in great time though, able to look down below us on the trail and see the huge group tours looking like a huge group of fireflies all swarming together in the night. lucky we started before them.  and my god, I have never seen the stars like that before. there was absolutely zero light pollution and so you could see stars forever. it looked like you could reach out and touch them. there is a lake at the base of Mt batur and with the moon and stars shining off of it, from hundreds of feet above, it was the most incredible view.  by the time we made it to the top, it couldn't have been better. the sky was just beginning to lighten up so we got to see the whole sunrise with a steaming cup of kopi bali in hand. the sun is so red and huge, and it outlined the adjacent mountains beautifully. during the sunrise Nyoman, having done this hike over a thousand times, had made his way to one of the warungs (small restaurant, or in this case, a kitchen) conveniently located on top of the mountain. breakfast was served. fried banana sandwiches and hardboiled eggs. not too bad for a mountaintop meal. we had this great spot on a ledge above the rest of the giant tour groups who had just finished their ascent, so we could watch the monkeys running around trying to steal breakfasts, and the steaming fissures from the craters.  there is one cone that is still active on Mt batur, but it hasn't erupted since 1996.  Nyoman told us that we were an exceptional team so he would please like to take us on an extended hike, over to the more active part and more craters and fissures.  it was so great, we extended our hike by almost two hours, walking around the summit to other neat places. we got to listen to the volcanic rocks crackling in our ears. they sound like pop rocks in your mouth. I may have collected a few. we also got to feel how seriously hot the steam coming from all the fissures is, it's wild. you can literally fry eggs over them. it was getting super hot by the time we started the downward climb.  for a portion of it we got to "ski" down in the volcanic sand. my shoes got totally filled with sand, but it was worth it. you just feel like you're not even on the ground but in some mysterious snow drift in the middle of the sky. by the time we got to the bottom we were all exhausted but happy; feeling proud of ourselves for managing to hike a volcano at 4 am.  we all sort of crashed in the car and made it back to ubud by 10 or 1030.

that night we met Manja and Gil and our other good friend Steph at a restaurant in Campuan where Sarah Gil and Steph got the smoked duck with lawar and Manja and I both got the Nasi campur there. it was reeeal good Nasi campur... but the best was still in Padang Bai. it was a lovely evening of conversation and food and then we made our way to Napi Orti to see Aboe and Keduk's band play.  

One night chatting with Aboe we ended up talking about music for a while and I showed him some pictures of dr ruckus and other project I've been involved in.  His band is apparently one of probably five good ones in all of Bali... they play mainly American cover songs (the far preferred genre in general..) He decided that I would sing with them
next time, and sure enough they were playing at Napi again a couple days later and he had no shame in announcing my arrival and calling me up to sing.  this was the beginning of something that came to define our time  in ubud. from that day on, I sang with them at every gig they had, even traveling to the southwestern beautiful coast.  at first it was oh sing two songs, then it was oh sing four, oh now five, ok now just sing every song in our books that you can. it got to the point where I was singing doors songs with a Latin feel because that was "my style" according to the band hahah. these guys became really wonderful friends. Keduk and Aboe are cousins and we got to know them the best by far. I can't even explain how badly I want to unleash them on New York City and see what happens. it's a bummer because neither of them have ever left indonesia because it's just so ridiculously expensive. Keduk just rips on guitar and plays the blues like nobody's business. Harrison I just really want to see you and him have a super shred battle because you would both have a ball.  Aboe has this deep gravely voice, giving Jonny cash a run for his money, and plays the doors like there's nothing else in the world worth listening to.  The bass player is absolutely incredible. I don't know how to spell his name but it begins with a k.   Also the percussion box is all they use and the player has a fantastic ability to sing perfect harmonies without knowing anything about the lyrics. it's really quite impressive.  I played with them at CP lounge a lot, Napi Orti a lot, bamboo bar once, and el cabron in padang padang twice.  

CP lounge is owned by Dewa (uncle d) and he's awesome. He is another cousin of Aboe and Keduk. this is the late night hang out in ubud. we would always go there after being at Napi Orti  and there were people there until anywhere around 5 am most nights.  there's an enclosed bit where the live music happens and because its closed in, unlike everything else, so the music can be played way later.  there's a big outside area where people can order food, or lounge on comfy cushions. we spent a lot of time in the comfy cushion area. There's also a pool table inside and lots of crazy lights reminiscent of club metronome, and between sets they usually played really  great hits such as the whisper song, and lean back as loud as possible. awesome. there was a definite crew of regulars at both Napi Orti and CP and so we made some really lovely friends.   

one saturday, pre-CP show we drove down to Padang Padang with the band and Manja and Gil to this cliff side bar called el cabron. it was about two hours drive through trafficy Denpasar and Kuta.  long and hot with seven of us in Aboe's sister's van with all of their gear...  this place was absolutely stunning. it has this infinity pool that makes it look like you can swim off the edge of a cliff into the waiting gorgeous   warm ocean.  The sunset was impossible to describe. Sarah and Manja and Gil and I made camp on some comfy bean bag chairs and enjoyed the show and the night.  I ended up singing for an hour or so. its this super swanky fancy bar/ lounge and it's the opposite of rowdy so it was a very laid back set.  Aboe has these books full of songs with their lyrics printed out so we just went from one to the next. there was a fair amount of people there who seemed to be enjoying themselves but it was hard to tell, actually. it sort of felt like a gig at an art gallery opening or something where no matter how loud and awesome the music is, it's just for the background.  we had to then hightail it back to ubud for the gig at CP at 11. we had a very healthy curbside Indomaret dinner of cup o noodles and granola bars. we tried to share with blackie, the only nice street dog in ubud, but he had no interest in noodles. 

being back in ubud was so easy to just live a normal life, doing day to day things and whatnot. we did manage to make it to another traditional dance called the legong and barong dance. it's entirely accompanied by gamelan and there are somewhere between twenty and thirty musicians, mostly playing gamelan, but a select few playing gongs or a flute. the music is so so beautiful, I miss hearing it all day everyday pretty much anywhere you go . anytime there is a ceremony (which is most of the time) there is gamelan music involved. it can be trance inducing or dance inducing. the costumes are so bright and beautiful and comprised of sarongs and scarves and headdresses and lots of makeup.  we saw the dance at the royal palace and we had front row seats, good for viewing, not so good for being accosted by women with buckets of refreshments for sale on their heads. post dance we went up the street to visit our friend Malik. he is a mind-blowingly talented artist and he works only with pen.  he does canvases that are approximately 2.5 ft by 5 ft, and they mostly feature rice fields and banyan trees. he is blind in one eye from playing badminton (his favorite sport), but the detail in his work
is impeccable. his big pieces go for over 5 grand in Singapore.

we got really really good at bartering in ubud. Chinese women are telling me im a business woman cause I wont buy anything for the prices they come up with.  we made this awesome friend in the upstairs bit of the ubud market (which is huge, ps). our first time buying stuff from her we got the "Barack Obama special discount" which turns out to be very similar to the "morning discount" and the "after lunch discount" and the "good luck discount".... Obama happened to be in Bali in Nusa Dua for a conference while we were there which was super ironic but gave us great excuses for getting stuff for cheap... we would barter with this woman who was all smiles and laughs and she would give us great deals and scoff at the ridiculously low prices we offered for everything. but we were super loyal to her and kept going back and so she hooked us up big time. 

our last night in ubud was a night out at Napi orti with manja, gil, steph, aboe, keduk, wira and loads of other cool cats followed by the rest of the night lounging at CP. nothin too suprising. except that when we tried to leave, we ran out of gas in our motorbike in the middle of jalan monkey forest hahah. sooooo I called aboe since we are serious freshmen when it comes to all things motorbikes and he sent Wira right along to first attempt to push our bike with his foot while he was on his motorbike with me driving ours and Sarah on the back of his. needless to say, that was a disaster. so he literally ran ours over to the circle k (convenience store) for safe overnight parking and then we all piled onto his bike and he got us home safe and sound.

when we got up the next am (after a very fulfilling three hours of sleep) we had to make our way into town to find a place with petrol who would take it to our bike at circle k so we could drive back home and return it to the owner.  it was a bit of a fiasco, and I got ripped off for pulsa (phone credit) accidentally by the nice guy who sold us the gas, but we had a good excuse to go into Bali Buddha and buy some delicious pastries for the upcoming days at the beach in Kuta. on the way home we stopped at this woman's house in our village where we had dropped off dresses we got at the market for hemming. she's really great and does it in a day and for $.50 apiece! we had our favorite driver, dharma, pick us up for the journey to Pura Tanah Lot (touristy temple on an island off the west coast) and then on to Kuta. we both sort of crashed on the drive there and woke up super groggy and emerged into the million degree heat and blaring sun to take pictures of this temple that was cool, but not as exciting as was hyped up to be. it's on this little island about 50 m from shore, but you can't go over to it so theres actually not too much to see/ do. we had this really odd experience where two other tourists came up to us and their tour guide (which you don't really ever need one of in bali) informed us that they would like to have their picture taken with us. mind you, we are running on no sleep, looking like hell, and I forgot my sunglasses in the car. so we just let it happen because it's just a picture, right? well, sort of. they had us stand on either side of them
and then they grabbed our hands and linked fingers. I can't say I've ever had a complete stranger hold hands with me for a picture in front of a temple ever before... so that was odd. then we left. 

arriving in Kuta after living in ubud was shocking. there are bathing suit clad intoxicated foreigners everywhere at any given time of day or night.  we were staying on this road called poppies 1, which is barely the width or a car, and exploding with market shops, selling stuff to idiot tourists for 400x the worth. Manja and Gil
had recommended the place. it was dirty and dimly lit and the bathroom was horrid (no sink again), but it was dirt cheap and removed enough (not that you can actually ever be removed in Kuta) that you could sleep at night. there were two beds in our room: one larger than a king size, but hard as a rock, and one twin sized more
soft bed that smelled like urine. take your pick. at least it was under five
minutes walk from the beautiful
beach....  so we spent as little time
in there as possible. we barely had time to arrive and for me to
go get a cup of coffee before aboe was calling to tell us he would pick us up in thirty minutes because we were playing in Padang padang again that night.  this time aboe had to play percussion because we were down a
man, so I sang the whole gig. three hours I think. the weather was less
promising this time, and the crowds were essentially non existent... but we had a really good time actually. we just messed around and tried things out, and butchered songs and nailed songs and overall players around. Sarah sang some songs too so that was really great.  on the way home we got some super delicious local food at a warung on the side of the road. Sarah and I split mie goreng for under a dollar. mmm. 

that night I had an extraordinarily interesting experience. I swear sometimes my life could be a movie. sarah was feeling a bit under the weather so she didn't venture out to brave the land of drunk australian schoolies and music so loud your head hurts. aboe decided we should go check out this club called bounty because his friend was playing there. so we had to weave our way in through the throngs of teenage boys with no shirts on and the girls in jean shorts in bathing suit tops. there was a cover charge at the door, but only for guys. Aboe didn't have to pay because he talked to the door guy in Balinese and was probably one of ten non aussie guys there hahah. so we walk in to find fifteen people on stage yelling the lyrics to summer of 69  very poorly while the musicians looked bored as all hell. every one was running around and dancing and it was bright as day inside. every person was drinking out of this opaque sports water bottle (idiot/break proof) and inside was this gross mix of sugary booze and juice. the keys player sent one over to Aboe and I tried it, it begs for a hangover.  the way the music worked was like accompanied karaoke by request. there were these huge huge books of songs. yet, somehow, they played summer of 69 SIX times while we were there.... with some eye of the tiger and don't stop believing mixed in. the poor musicians.  kids were hanging off of rafters and throwing water bottles and dancing on tables. I've quite honestly never seen anything like it. ever. it felt like we were in a movie, just sitting at the bar drinking a beer watching the chaos surrounding us. I don't ever want to go back there. 

the next two days in Kuta were spent lounging on the beach being solicited by women and men trying to sell us everything. ohhhh we missed the beach so bad.and the beautiful red sunsets over the ocean.  we ventured out for one last night out at a terrible club, much resembling the one previously described. at least we only had to buy ourselves one beer. Manja and Gil came to Kuta for our last night and we had delicious dinner and walked around doing some market shopping.  we had a flight at 10 the next morning so we got up at the god awful hour of six am.  

next chapter: hong kong and china. and our Balinese thanksgiving which I forgot to write about. 

Friday, November 4, 2011

goodbye ubud, hello farmland

today is our last day in civilization for a while. we go to the farm in a couple hours for the next month. the rest of our time here in ubud has been so great, it's hard to leave. the botanical gardens were a bit of a bore, but actually a beautiful property and I saw the smallest pineapple ever there.

we made friends at our favorite restaurant (Dewa) with a guy named Gusti who is an architect. He lived in France for ten years studying hospitality and hotel management and then working in those fields, and now he is in the middle of building two beautiful villa properties to rent out in the future. we saw blueprints and the beginnings and near finished products that he has been working on. unbelievably beautiful, I want to come
back just to stay there. the villa that almost done is in the middle of these rice fields and just has the most gorgeous views. we walked out to this village with our newly made friends Sophie and manou, from the french alps area. they are just lovely and we spent the next three days with them.

we saw a traditional dance called the Kecak and Trance dance. it has a chorus of all women who create the
music during the whole hour and a half performance. it's all a cappella, chanting and singing and clapping. quite strong and really impressive. the dance told the story of the Ramayana Epic, and the costumes were beautiful. the dancers were flawless and so precise. it was followed by a guy who reached trance and then walked over burning coconut shells with bare feet multiple times. then food to our new favorite bar napi orti with sophie and manou to meet gusti.

we've gone walking through the beautiful rice paddies, and had coffee ( or I did at least) at the best coffee place in town. we ate delicious sandwiches at the Clear Cafe with its gorgeous modern decor and spa like atmosphere. we went to a cultural art museum from ancient art through modern art and saw some
beautiful wood carved pieces. we went to the local library and read for a while. (ps everyone should read game of thrones). we went to goa gajah ( elephant caves... nothing to do with actual elephants) and saw the temple remnants and hiked around the property for two hours, climbing up and down broken stone staircases and through jungle cave things to stick on the path. yes, it was like indiana jones if that's what you were thinking.

on Friday night we returned to the jazz cafe and Nancy my new friend (the singer) greeted me right as we walked in and then invited me up to sing two songs. very nice, and this time
with a full band which was great. the owner was there and insisted on giving me a jazz cafe tshirt at the end which was super adorable. and he also gave both sarah and me stickers.

the next night was probably one of the best and most interesting and inspiring I've had so far. we ran into this guy on the street after dinner (Sarah ate an entire smoked duck! a specialty here) and he told us of a performance art piece happening at the bar in north western ubud and gave us free tickets. we decided why not and made the trek around ten thirty that night. there was an electric guitar player and a
percussionist as well as a painter. the whole show went on in pitch black
with only black lights as illumination to see what Tessh was painting. This is a group called Eggore from Japan and I highly recommend looking them up on the Internet although it's hard to get the same experience through a video. the music ranged from ambient tranquil noises to rough raw heavy metal/ rock sounds and was highly experimental and ever changing. the dedication that the painter had was beautiful and it was like some sort of interpretive dance by painting with his hands. it seemed to be just as much him following the music as the music following his painting. the group defines itself as "native hardcore". after the show Sarah and I were interviewed by this guy Lee who is a musician from England who has lived in japan for ten years and was here with these guys to help organize and promote their show. the filmographer has directed and worked on pieces that were in the Cannes film fest and he is making this documentary for Eggore. we then got to chatting with the guitar player Ken and the painter Tessh. Eventually most people left the bar but our conversation was so good and we were having such a great time that we hung out for a while longer with the group and a few other hang-around-ers. The percussionist had this drum called a hang drum and ohmy god I have never heard anything like it. it is one of the absolutely most beautiful sounds i have ever heard. the tonality is pure and soft and soothing and I could have listened to him play for hours and hours. I got to try my hand at it and had so much fun. its hard but really cool I'm going to have to learn it. we were getting beers on the house all night and ended up staying there until about 4 am when we shared a cab with the group and lee to get home. they were very gentlemanly and paid for our cab and insisted that we come to japan cause we will have places to stay and jobs teaching english if we'd like. great lovely night.

on Sunday we went to a Halloween party at the XL shisha lounge. there were jello shots, and punch and costumes and pumpkins and a live band and lots and lots of couchsurfers. the organizer even put on thriller because Sarah and I asked (because what's halloween if you don't hear thriller). we met a bunch of people who have been doing couchsurfing for ages and now we are looking into that for our time in china!

we are off to the land of farming and meditation and stuff so won't have internet very often, so I don't know when I'll next get in contact. we will probably be reading game of thrones a lot and also playing canasta and set back cause we are really good at two person card games now. love to all x h

Monday, October 24, 2011

ubud (pronounced oo-bood)

> now I write from ubud, in lower central Bali, it's a place full of life and culture and art and music. we got here on Wednesday morning and have found the most perfect little place to live for the next two weeks. it's called the wena homestay, so we live in a little apartment next to the family's home. we have a beautiful mosaic bathroom and our own little front porch with a table and two chairs and a light. we look out onto a pool of coy fish an a statue of Ganesh, all under a mango tree. breakfast is included in the IR 10k we pay a night ($5 each) and we get delicious papaya, pineapple and banana every morning with eggs and toast.
> padang bai was fabulous. probably the most opposite of the the tourist and surfer packed Kuta/legian/ Seminyak area which came as a very welcome
> relief. we really vacationed in padang bai, the beach everyday and not
> much other than that. we did go on a nice hike around the bay which included some hills that were so steep it felt like we werent even getting any closer to the top. this brought us to some really cool vantage points and to an unfinished hotel that was started by a Korean company in padang bai. the hotel was never finished because of worker treatment and pay so now it stands, the whole cement foundation and frame complete, two rooms with windows and finished porches and wiring in the walls. we lunched on one of the second floor unfinished porches. we had Nasi campur which is IR 7000 ($.70) and it's boiled rice, tempeh, veggies and potatoes. I think the most delicious thing I've had so far. it's sold mostly at little carts or in home convenience stores that also cook food for locals. it's what the Balinese eat 2-3 times a day. the tempeh here is unbelievably delicious. after our hit and sweaty hike we decided that we should shower and get Balinese massages. so we did. $10 a pop ain't so bad for an hour long massage. I'm
> pretty sure they thought Sarah and I were dating or something because they put us both in the same curtained off area hahahah. Balinese massage is awesome though, they put a bowl
> of tropical flowers in water under your face and they smell really good. then it's a lot of pressure and repetition and they jump on the table over you and its really cool and then pound your feet. whatever it is, it works.
> one night at our favorite spot, the sunshine bar, we were well into the bintangs and so we taught the locals how to play a stupid drinking card game called f*** the dealer. it's mindless and just requires everyone to drink a lot, and that we all did. there were probably 12 of us, and then at like 2-ish the power went out.. well that didnt stop us we played by candlelight until the bar owner decided 330 was a good time to close the bar. why on earth would we go to be when we were having so much fun? well a few of
> us decided to climb over the hill to the white sand beach for swimming and the sunrise. turns out the sunrise wasn't that cool cause it was cloudy but we didn't care, we were having too much fun. it made for a very very boring next day.
> now we are in ubud, and there are so many things to do it's hard to decide everyday! we have seen the blanco
> Renaissance museum, the royal palace, the monkey forest, and the jazz cafe. the museum was really provocative and interesting. antonio blanco was this exceedingly eccentric spanish guy who's life was sort of centered around painting and the female body. his wife was a famed Balinese dancer, and the subject of much of his work. his son Mario still lives there (the museum is antonios former home) and his work is great as well, we were able to meet him. the property is gorgeous and there are tropical birds all over the place. we even got to see a Balinese offering dance! the royal palace was lovely, nothing overly ornate, but definitely luxurious. Sarah and I both got to
> go into a section thats actually lived in and we learned tiny bits of Balinese dance. it's very hard, all about posture, hands and eyes.
> monkey forest day was yesterday and ohhh my god I could live in there. incredible. at first i was definitely wary, but soon enough I had monkeys climbing onto my lap or shoulder and sitting right next to me. they can get fiesty for sure but i had so much fun playing with them. the teeny babies are so cute, they just hang upside down on their mother's bellies and they're so mini. we didn't buy bananas but found a ton in there on the ground so we got to feed them loads. I think we were in the forest for maybe four hours! and I didn't even wanna leave. we are gonna go back later this week with more provisions. last night we went to the jazz cafe and man i felt at home. the place is gorgeous and way too expensive to go to but I would go every day. the jazz trio was great, Bari sax player from England, pianist from Bali and singer from java. she was unbelievable. I chatted with them during their set break and then ended up singing two tunes! it was a great success, they invited me to
> come back on Friday to sing with them
> again!
> just had our breakfast and going to check out the botanical gardens today. x

Friday, October 14, 2011

Seminyak and Padang bai

hello hello I write today from the cute little port city of Padang Bai, located on the east coast of Bali. The past week has been jam packed of relaxation, shopping, people watching and beer drinking. Sunday night was a real night out, Sarah and I made friends with some salsa dancers at a bar called bahiana after dinner, then moved on to club cosmo. figures we would find the only club hosting nightly drag shows and flaming drinks in Seminyak... and just around the corner from our hotel. there was a great rhianna drag queen and some very talented dancers and Sarah and I definitely danced the night away watchingthe fantastic show. after making some friends there we were directed to a club on the beach called la vida loca. a live band playing American top 40 hits as well as hits from the 90s. all of the balinese love playing American music. after stumbling our way home at some ungodly hour, we were pretty much wastes of space the next day until sunset when I walked down to the beach. my god you've never seen a sun like it. dinner at the Zula vegetarian paradise was delicious as ever and we went to bed awfully early. Tuesday we did a bit of shopping around and ended at the beach with our friend Made (the nice long chair rental guy who plays a flute like instrument) and read and swam and sunned for the rest of the day until sunset when we got ourselves some young coconuts and enjoyed them on the beach watching kids play and the sun be awesome. dined at this place called JPs warungclub... i mean I couldnt not go to a JPs in Bali haha.. our food was delicious and the waiter just plopped right down to sit with us and we chatted away the night with him. He introduced himself as "your man" which he thought was hilarious and we never learned hisreal name. He was as happy as can be chatting laughing and teaching us about Bali. there was a band playing more American songs. the keyboard player was great. after that we went down to this other bar on the beach road and saw the most fantastic beetles cover band. age range : 19-60. abilities: intermediate- advanced. english: poor- mediocre. energy and effort: through the damn roof. the 'John Lennon' if the group was definitely the youngest and had a great voice, also tried to speak in a british accent when speaking to the crowd. he would frequently call his band mates by the beatles' names and then 'George' would tell us that this was a very special song for us ( before every song) and then proceed to announce which song they were about the play. the bassman was the oldest and when we talked with them after we learned that his daughter lives in Kansas and just graduated uni and showed us her picture on his blackberry. that was a lovely night. Wednesday came and went very tired. We spent the morning searching around Seminyak ( which is far more vast than we had thought) for a designer clothing shop belonging to a contact of ours here. it's called Mister Zimi, the clothing is gorgeous. We sat down to lunch and read and get out of the heat because we had just walked for about two hours but we saw the coolest handmade furniture shops and nice boutiques and restaurants. we were definitely in the part of the city where you want to buy and try everything but its just too expensive. alas, we took this gorgeous road bordered in flowers and palm trees and beautiful villas to walk back to our area of town where we got ready to hit the beach for our last Seminyak sunset before heading east. we shared a large Bintang and read our book ( ive started reading the game of thrones... I cannot be bothered to put it down..) we dined on appetizers at a fancy little place on the beach street with nice lantern lighting and cool little hand towelettes that expand and moisten when you put them in water, then strolled back to bed. Thursday I got up early and went and had breakfast across the street at our usual spot called warung ocha, where lots of toast with butter and vegetate is only IR 10,000 and a cup of "coffee Bali" is only IR 7000. it's the best place for people watching. not many tourists are out before nine or ninethirty so we would watch the Balinese day begin, people off to work and school, and the women putting out the offerings (small handwoven reed baskets with flowers, rice, incense, and anything else thought to please the gods). These are on the ground in front of every store, restaurant, hotel, everything, everywhere, and the temples are covered with them. I like to sit and watch the kids grabbing on to their parents as they zoom by on motor bikes... following the Balinese driving rules.... whiiiich don't exist.. anywho then we waited for our driver Andreas and he drove us the two ish hrs to Padang Bai and get this - just told us to pay him however much we wanted.. which we decided on our equivalent of $20 and then found out that was way too much... can you beleive it? taking a NYC taxi for like ten minutes might be $20. this place is seriously cheap. we settled into our cute little place called the Marco inn. theres a hammock and a rooftop overlooking the sea, and our sheets are bright green! and only $5.50 each a night! we spent all day at a white sand beach with the clearest blue waters and quietest beach surrounded by palm trees. now THIS is paradise like we imagine it. the way of life here is so laid back, and quiet and friendly. apparently when the waves roll in at the beaches you can see giant turtles swept up in the waves! we will be looking today! to get to the beach you have to hike up and over this rocky hill (daily workout..) and then down to the glorious beach below. we made two friends on the beach, africano and victor; a Balinese and a Dutch. they are really nice and so we chatted with them a bit and got some tips about the area. Had dinner at cafe alola ( very nice place) where we sat on cushions and lounged. there are 3 bars here, all very small and we went to the Sunshine bar last night on the suggestion of victor and africano. what an awesome place. theres one big long wooden table outside that everyone sits at and the inside is teeny tiny. we met some Swiss german speaking people on vacation, a Swiss French speaking guy who teaches diving here, the locals who frequent the bar and those who run it, and a couple from germany here on holiday. we just talked and talked with the background of live reggae music mixed in with some queen and pink Floyd and we have found ourselves some great friends on this island! now it's beach time xx