Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Happy Bali-daze

Originally uploaded by gr8wendini
There are 'auspicious days' according to the Balinese calendar, and they are listed for each month--the descriptions range from what days to get married, or start a business or even cut hair.
It’s been quite a powerful week around the full moon and the Solstice. One of these days must have said 'auspicious day to bury the dead' because we returned to Ubud with Brandi Gatlin (joining us until the New Year) to experienced a Cremation in town, burning body and all. We had heard about it from people in town, and from Hibiscus Cottages, where we stay in Ubud. Immediately we were swept up in the activity of following these huge structures (one shaped as a Bull to denote that he was a from an aristocratic family) to a temple down the road. Western tourists (including us) were there in sarongs and sashes to respectfully acknowledge tis ritual. The procession was grand. Part of the belief is for the pall-bearer types to twist and turn to confuse the ghost spirit. There was definitely critical mass of paparazzi--what an incredible and macabre event to document. It all became very real once the bull-shaped structure that housed the body burned away, and suddenly my lens only saw this man's calves and feet sticking out--I was momentarily paralyzed and the memory is bleached in my memory forever. No one was crying, the Balinese have a much more organic view of death as the cycle of life--and even embrace the children with it by planting little pinata-type treats in the burning, so the children can search for them later in the ashes.

My rented motorbike was stolen on the full moon, much to everyone’s surprise, so there’s a new underbelly of how things work in Bali that I am learning now.

‘Tis the rainy season. Imagine torrential rain pouring down, even flooding in some areas. Rain for days now. Carrie hosted Christmas Eve dinner—fun and festive. Christmas in Bali was quiet for us. Sweet gifts exchanged with Carrie, Cheryl and Brandi. We did the traditional rainy day things like watching movies and played Yahtzee and Scrabble. Carrie and Cheryl (!) practiced yoga at the house because it was raining too hard to go to class. I would update more with photos but bandwidth is an issue in Indonesia, especially Bali. Uploading, downloading—oh am I behind on my flickr…

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Striking a Balance

Originally uploaded by gr8wendini

Somewhere between sunny days sprinkled in the rainy season, visiting temples and practicing yoga, taking in roadside attractions and fending off tourist vultures (“Do you need transport?”), photographing and experiencing with the naked eye, writing and not turning on a computer at all. I strive to attain balance. The official colors of Bali are Black and White. You can see this on the ubiquitous stripped grocery bags to the decorative parasols and checkered fabric around the sacred Deities. This is to acknowledge the symbolic light and dark side of life and ourselves.

Cheryl and I are a good yin-yang combo platter with different styles, approaches and priorities-balancing our travels together and finding time alone. Days feel like weeks from the perspective of travel. Every few days my brain sends me a message: “Memory card is full”. Keeping up a Blog is a good excuse to download.

It was the Ulu Watu sunset Kecak (pronounced ke-chuck) dance performance that had the light bulb go off for us that said yes, this is uniquely, definitely, Bali. Ulu Watu is one of the sacred temples up high on a cliff revered by the Balinese, although they also believe demons live in the sea. More spiritual centers are located in lush mountain country, like Ubud. There are many aggressive monkeys at Ulu Watu, Cheryl walked around with limited sight in fear of losing her glasses. A monkey swiped a mobile phone from a Japanese tourist while we were there. Me, I carried a stick.
The LeGong dancers are may favorite, I’m enchanted watching them and may take a lesson while I’m here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Gado Gado go get a massage-o

Originally uploaded by gr8wendini
Yesterday was an adventure. Cheryl and I walked along the beach from Seminyak to Kuta, known to many as the proverbial armpit of Bali. It’s the Surf center of the island (and perhaps the world). Kuta is uber tourist central with so many stores, strips, and a mall, it’s easy to cultivate one’s “shop till you drop” muscle. I have flashes of Canal Street in the sense of the sheer abundance and repetition of everything and of course, the street hawkers trying to lure tourists in. It’s a bit overwhelming, and I find that I have to keep my “New York” on so as not to be some vulnerable prey. Aside from incidental Christmas music played in the mall, and the shop girls wearing Santa hats, it’s easy to forget we’re in the heart of the holiday season.

We had a delicious lunch on the beach—the locals quickie of fresh veggies called Gado Gado (can be made with meat). We paid .50-cents, this was our first real meal deal. Even the mangy, sick Bali cat at our table (don’t worry we didn’t touch) got a gift of salty fish from Cheryl.

Not to be completely cliché, but we were told to check out the Hard Rock Café in Bali because there are beautiful pools laid out in exquisite landscaping, so we went before the restaurant opened and they let us in for a view, as we walked away we were stopped to do a peel and win lottery-type card game, and Cheryl ‘won’. The young guy, Nannang, was more excited than we because he gets a $50 commission, and that’s a lot of money here. But of course the prize needed to be collected immediately. We were asked to take a “no obligation” ride 15 mins away to a resort tour of one of those time share pseudo scams. Of course we weren’t going to be sucked in, but we went along for the free driving tour from Kuta to Nusa Dua, which was exciting in itself.

Nusa Dua is where the Climate Change Conference is happening now. CNN did a story on the publicity stunts that Carrie helped to organize. She was also one of the ‘snails’ in a snail costume. Here’s the story:
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=17132657 Al Gore spoke last night. It’s exciting being so close to the action.

Carrie is hosting a party here tonight and she has quite a circle of lovely expatriate friends working in Forestry, UN, and other global agencies.
We had a group dinner with some of them, and went to see excellent music of a band call Sarharaja at a bar/club “Obsession” here in Seminyak.

I’ve now had my first massage at a place called Cozy, which reminds me of Bliss©. There are three types of massage in Bali. 1. The locals on the beach offering for $5, 2. Getting a legitimate treatment at a center like Cozy (90 minutes for $8.60, this was excellent) and 3. A destination Spa experience associated with high-end hotels or like Jari Menari (“Dancing Fingers”) here in Seminyak, and that is more like $25.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Seminyak, Bali.

Originally uploaded by gr8wendini
Yesterday we got our introduction to where we are staying, starting with an early morning beach walk with Carrie and Putiah (Pronounced Poo-ti, not to be confused with my favorite word Pookey or Carrie’s house helper Putu!) Putiah is the cutest, sweetest, Bali dog who resides here at 4 Gang Uma Sapna, that’s our address if you want to Google Earth us. The name translates to Gang (little road) Goddess Dream, just a few doors down from the Hotel Uma Sapna. The people visiting or those who are ex-pats in Bali are mostly Aussie and Europeans, not many Americans.

There is currently a construction project on the beach with a condo high rise in the works, none of the locals are happy about it, that is perhaps the only thing that reminds me of New York. I did meet the foreman, a certified ham who had me photograph his crew (see flickr) while they were on break @ 7:30 a.m. The ‘hip factor’ is in the red here. Not that’s it’s bad thing, just a déjà vu of Williamsburg meets SoHo on the coast of Bali, and I wasn’t expecting it. There is a street, Jalan Oberoi, also known as "Eat Street", where all the high-end designer boutiques are, and this is where celebrities shop while visiting Bali. Because we are staying in an upscale area, nothing is cheap.

We got initiated with the destination sunset beach bar/restaurant Ku De Ta. We blended right in sipping Bellinis on lounge chairs overlooking the Indian Ocean as well as drinking up our first Balinese sunset rich in pink, fiery hues painted before our eyes. Ku De Ta (kudeta.net) even has a “Chill Out” style sunset soundtrack. Oh yeah, they’ve got it covered. Our server was named Wayan (meaning first born) as is most every male here.

After the sunset, shopping tour (nothing bought), we came back to the house tired, although still early (9 p.m.), and, (OK full disclosure) proceeded to watch the DVD season of 30 Rock. How ironic, we are in one of the most the beautiful places in the world, and there we were having a giggle-fest watching TV before retiring. An anomaly.

We rented motorbikes for the month from a man named Wayan (surprise, surprise). This morning was our first day out to the local supermarket called Bin Tang. We followed Putu into town for a 5-minute ride in rush-hour traffic. My hands were shaking by the time we parked. Riding home was much better, but Cheryl and I need to get over the newbie wonky factor, and gain confidence by continuing to bike.

While we grow accustomed to Bali time, reading our Lonely Planet and Rough Guide by the amazing salt-water, perfect temperature pool, Carrie, our host, is hard at work with WWF organizing publicity stunts around the Global Warming Conference. The day before we arrived, she had Brazilian-style Capoeira dancers pop big balloons that said CO2 at the end of their routine. This made the cover of the Jakarta Post and today she is doing something with Penguins on the beach. It’s hot in Bali—sometimes dry, sometimes humid.

The middle of the day is shade activity time or else it’s oppressive. We are just entering rainy season, and got a little today. We came armed with umbrellas as we were told this is a good gift.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Touch down

Originally uploaded by gr8wendini

This must be the place. I’m writing now from the bale pronounced bal-lay) where I slept last night outdoors with a island roof and nested under a mosquito net. My view right now is the Carrie’s beautiful island home. It’s indoor/outdoor nature. The bathrooms, the pool, the spaciousness...

Here's a view from Carrie's(above). The sounds of creatures the forest the beauty of being completely immersed in nature—I’m in it—except this isn’t a nature sounds alarm tone-it’s real!

So far we’ve only come from the airport at night. My initial “hit” is like what I felt upon reaching India—hot/humid (we arrived at 10 p.m.), lots of motor bikes, cars, traffic and Hindu art along the roadside. Even from the airport, I knew I’ve landed someplace special. Kind of like the type of salsa & chips you are served at a Mexican restaurant is your key to knowing if it’s going to be a good meal.

Some back story of getting here via Guam:

We have arrived in tropical weather after a push of time zone and sleep deprivation. Cheryl stayed up the entire night packing until Blue Van picked us up at 5:15 a.m. on Friday morning. We experienced a 41/2 hour delay in Houston as our plane had a mechanical malfunction and we were stalled waiting for a new aircraft—so much for avoiding the George Bush International Airport…

We flew directly to Narita, Japan and were there for a NY minute. Not even time to pee! All passengers headed to Guam got rock star treatment and were whisked away to make our connecting flight, which was boarding. Cheryl and I hoped we could skip Guam altogether and catch a Saturday night in Tokyo. No such luck.

No matter how you slice it, on Continental Airlines, you must go through Guam before landing in Bali. Yes Guam. Honestly, I never gave much thought to Guam aside from using it in Mad Libs when asked for “a place”.

Guam, although tropical and beautiful in places, proved to be just as we anticipated: underwhelming. Aside from being a U.S. territory military base, it is a honeymoon hotspot for young Japanese couples as it is inexpensive and a quick flight into Miami-like humid temperatures. It is strip mall America all the way with chain food like Pizza Hut and stores like Ross. Disconcerting how one can travel so far to land in a place that is so straight up American, you feel like you never left the USA.

Our Hotel, chosen from the internet, priced for the “budget traveler”, The Tamuning Plaza Hotel was disappointing to say the least. We would have been better off to pony up the extra $30-40 and having 5-star treatment at a generic beach resort like the Hilton, which we will do on the way home. We walked and spoke with the locals, and weren’t in the safe womb of a resort so we had to be resourceful on our own—like finding a place for breakfast and a taxi back to the airport—pick up service only!

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


When car #26 started driving away from Third Street at 11:00 a.m. on the nose, who knew I’d be buckled in on a plane on the stroke of noon? My flight was scheduled for 1:15 p.m., and I was braced for the usual hurry-up-and-wait game at the airport—but when I got to the gate, the woman said “Why don’t you get on this flight, we’re about to close the door” I managed to be the very last person squeezing in on the 10:30 a.m. flight that was delayed for 1 ½ hours due to weather in Cleveland. I had too much unchecked baggage, they let me get away with that too. Thank you Continental.

I’m feeling lucky. Pronoia: Pro-NOY-a: Of or pertaining to the feeling that the universe is conspiring for you. It’s a great concept. There’s even a book out with this word in the title.

I had a delightful conversation with Eddie, my driver to LGA. Not sure how we go
t on the subject, but there we were cruising by BAM on Flatbush Avenue talking about Herman Hesse. I told him I had only read Siddhartha, and he recommended “Narcissus and Goldman”. I will pick this up before we leave for Indonesia as English language books are something of a commodity over there, Carrie always stocks up when she visits. I packed “Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts, which I’ve started, but no doubt got side tracked with my never-ending stack of New Yorkers I try to keep up with. Whenever I feel inadequate, I blame it on New Yorker magazine.

Last night, 12/4, I had a lovely goodbye dinner with my Mom and Popcorn after which was my “May the Fourth Be With You” Bon Voyage get together at “The Room” on Su
llivan St. in SoHo (not to be confused with “The Other Room “ or “Another Room”—now I’ve been to them all). My new friend, Tammy Parish, was bartending and we had a nice posse representin’ for a cold Tuesday in December. This past week, Winter really kicked in, so I’m grateful to be skipping out now and missing most of the holiday season. Oh, Happy Chanukah.

And so the journey begins, I detour now to Austin, TX. via Houston to link up with Cheryl before really leaving. Before October, I had never been to Texas in my life, when I ca
me in for Cheryl’s Golden Birthday hootenanny, which was when this whole Bali idea was concocted. “Gee Woo (she calls me Woo) I have all these air miles"…oh really?

Austin is a ‘blue marble in a red state” I love this Cheryl Smith testimonial. Austin was indeed the only county voting blue in the last election. Of course, the thought of being in Houston today at the George Bush International Airport does make the hair on my arms raise, but it’s only for a connection. Hee haw!