South East Asia Journal

December 2004 to January 2005

SE ASIA 1.  Dec 15, 04

I just got in to bankok yesterday after 36 hours of travelling.

Strangly enough I've experienced no jet lag.

I spent my first evening with a backpacker from wisconsin. we watched a Tai Elvis impersonator for a couple of hours before I crashed. It was quite odd. More disturbing than Elvis was the large number of dirty old men with young tai women. But, what're you gonna do?

I've been walking around checking out temples all day. I'm all buddah'd out. Just as I was about to call it quits I ran into this brazillian girl named Alexandra. (Don't worry Christa, I told her about you.) Turns out she and her friends are going to cambodia tomorrow to see angkor wat. So I figured what the heck.

I gotta go meet her in a minute, so I'm going to jet. Just wanted you all to know that I'm off to a good start. So the adventure begins.




SE ASIA 2.  Dec 19, 2004

First I want to say thank you to everyone who took the time to respond with such wonderful remarks such as 'glad to hear you're not dead.'

So the adventure continues. SE Asia is definitely more stressful than Europe. The buses are never on time, people are often trying to scam you... Which reminds me I did get scammed. I figure, it was bound to happen sooner or later, so I got it out of the way early.

I was on the bus to Angkor Wat and we get near the border. The tour guides ask for money for the visas to go into Cambodia. They ask for 5 bucks more the actual visa costed, but we were aware of this. Unfortunately, I forgot to bring a passport sized pictures of myself for the visa. So I didn't mind paying the extra 5 if they could help me out of this jam. What they did was the most blatant form of bribery that I've every seen. They had me take a 100 Bat ($2.5) bill, fold it up, and staple it where picture should go in the visa application. But, low and behold, it worked.

The real scam was when we crossed the boarder. After the bus ride from Thailand to the boarder we were handed off to a second guide. He seemed nice and actually spoke English. As we were crossing the boarder he explained to us how his nation obtained a new president over the last few months and how foreign policy has been changing. He explained that the dollar had been dropping in value and the exchange rate was slightly less favorable than it had been in previous years. Basically he gave a very convincing spiel about needing to exchange money at the boarder. We all exchanged money there and were taken for ~$20 to 30 a person due to a false exchange rate. Not a big hit to the wallet, but a hit to the ego.

The rest of the road was bumpy as hell and fifteen hours after we left Bangkok, we arrived in Siem Riep near Angkor Wat. The Girls, myself and three Austrians that we met on the bus found a place to sleep, grabbed an excellent 4 dollar steak, and some beers, and then crashed. The next two days more than made up for the harsh travel to and from Angkor area. There are dozens of temples in Angkor (which used to be a city as large as New York, housing over one million people, in the 11th century). I ended up travelling in a tuk-tuk (a motor cycle with a cart attached to it) with three Austrians. (The Brazilians didn't go to the temples until mid-day because they were waiting for a friend. We did meet up with them in the evening for drinks.)

For two days this tuk-tuk drove us everywhere we wanted to go. It cost me a whopping $7.50 for both days combined. It was fantastic. I'd never seen so many ancient temples. Angkor Wat was immense and very impressive. (It's the largest religious building in the world). But my favorite temple was Ta Prohm. Nestled in the jungle, this temple has been over-run by huge trees and vegetation. As the tree roots engulf the walls you begin to feel a bit like Indiana Jones searching for some ancient treasure. The temple was such a classic example of ancient ruins that you felt like you could have been on the set of Tomb Raider... No wait, it was the set of Tomb Raider, and several other films as well. The temples were great, but after two days and very little sleep I was all templed out.

Cambodia itself was significantly poorer than Thailand. Most people lived in a cross between a hut and a house. Several times police officers tried to sell us police badges (either fakes or extra ones that had been lying around the office). Beggars were common. Children everywhere tried to sell you postcards an other commodities for a dollar. Cambodia was really like a giant dollar store. "Mister, mister you buy postcards for your girlfriend. One dollar. You no buy from me now you buy from me when you come back." I heard things like this dozens of times a day. But, you have to be patient with these kids, they're only doing what their parents ask of them. On the whole the Cambodian people were very friendly and good natured.

Oh, and one more thing that I'm proud of. Our Tuk-tuk driver took us to this Cambodian restaurant twice, each time I got curry as spicy as they would make it (though Cambodian food is much less spicy than Thai food). Because of this, I earned the title of "Mr. Curry" from the owner of the restaurant.

Anyway, the Brazilians, the Austrians and myself when our separate ways this morning. I set out back to Bangkok where I am right now. Tomorrow I will travel to the north of Thailand to Chaing Mai, where I will go on a 3 day jungle trek. For now I need to get some sleep. (I haven't gotten more than 6 or 7 hours of sleep since I got here.) Until next time-




SE ASIA 3.  Dec 24, 2004

First let me say that SE Asia is not all smiles and games. You do pay a price for having everything so cheap. That is, you're viewed as a walking bag of money. Everyone is always trying to rip a little whole in the money bag to squeeze out a few coins. You feel this when you're getting harassed in the streets to buy some crappy jewelry. More than anything, I felt like I was a commodity whenever I booked a tour. For example, when I booked a trip to Chiang Mai I was hustled onto a bus with dozens of other travellers. 4 times out of 5 travellers were probably not put on the bus represented by the company that they purchased travel from. I was shipped to Chiang my where we were herded to a guest house. Here they gave me a pitch about a trek. I had already booked a trek with another company. The trek I booked was a bit different than the one that was being advertised here. These people have no idea what trek I actually booked, but somehow they all manage to exchange my trek receipt from Bangkok for credit for their trek. (I later found out that my fellow trekkers paid anywhere from 30 to 55 dollars for the exact same trek. The same kind of thing happened in Cambodia, but I thought that was because Cambodia was underdeveloped.) The only reason that I didn't put up much of a fuss, was because I picked a trek at random and had no idea whether the one that was being pitched to me in Chiang Mai was better or worse. It did all work out for the best, but it doesn't feel good to feel like cargo.

Anyway, onto the good stuff. I have to say that I think I had an even better time in Chiang Mai that in Angkor. It was really fantastic. I arrived in Chiang Mai at 6 am from a freezing cold overnight bus. I was a bit grimy, and very sleep deprived, but I was out of Bangkok, which is a bit of a dump. Myself and 8 other people were herded to this guest house: the Chiang Mai Inn. I find it kind of ironic that we were herded here, because this was the guest house that was recommended to me by my buddy Peter. Anyway, I decided that I was in Chiang Mai early enough that I should go straight onto the trek. Who needs a day to recover from a virtually sleepless bus ride anyway? I straightened out things with my guest house (who was organizing the trek). Next thing I knew I was in the back of a pickup truck which had two bench's installed lengthwise and facing each other. There was also a crude top to block out the sun and to strap our bags onto. The truck started to pick others up and we were on our two hour journey to start our three day two night trek to the hill tribes of northern Thailand.

There were twelve of us. Myself, an LA boy, two Israeli's who live in the states now, four Brits, two Dutch, two French, one Thai guide, and a partridge in a pear tree. We made our first stop in a little market to stock up on supplies. We tried some local oddities; whole fried frogs, and fried maggots (which taste a bit like thin french fries). I also has an encounter with a comically persistent street merchant. She was selling tacky water-bottle holders for 50 cents. I didn't want one so I said Mai Chai (no), she said Chai (yes) and thrust the holder at me. I said Mai Chai, she said Chai, I said Mai Chai she said Chai, etc. This went on for about 3 or 4 minutes. The rest of the travellers had a good laugh.

We hit the trail and it was gorgeous. It had some of the beauty of Yosemite, but with its own charm all together. Bamboo and waterfalls were plentiful. As we ascended the mountain you could feel classical Asian beauty that you see depicted in their artwork. The bamboo looked like it was from the famous bamboo fight scene in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. It was really awesome. More than the scenery, what really made the trip was the people. They were all very cool, intelligent, open-minded, and diverse. I has some great conversations. One particularly good one was about how God and science either compliment or contradict each other.

We got to the hill tribe village by the grace of our hill tribe guide. The guide was 21 and dawned a Limp Bizkit t-shirt and a studded belt. He liked the band, but didn't know what the hell they were saying (his English was very limited). Our second guide, the tour guide, was a character. He would often laugh like this: "Ha... Ha... Ha.." always followed by "why not?" Strange, but fun guy. We called him moonshine because he helped brew moonshine in the village and was a bit of an alcoholic himself.

The village was made mostly of bamboo. We stayed in a bamboo hut. It was actually quite nice. The hill tribe people cooked us a nice dinner of authentic Thai curry. I asked for some chili to add to my curry. The guide chopped up a small bowl of the small very very hot chili's for our twelve person group. No one else wanted any. So I had to protect my reputation. I put the 12 servings of chili in my bowl and chowed down.... I finished it, but I had met my match. My tong was lolling out of my mouth by the end of the meal. But I earned the respect of my fellow... no I didn't earn any respect. They just thought it was funny.

Later that night the hill tribe kids sang for us and we sang songs like old McDonald for them. It was a lot of fun. We played guitar and relaxed until bed time.

The next day we went to two waterfalls. They served as a brilliant showers. On the way to the first one our guides chopped down some large bamboo stalks. They cut the stalks in sections and then in half lengthwise. These pieces were to serve as our bowls for our upcoming lunch.

At lunch we lounged in the sun by the waterfall surrounded by bamboo eating noodles. Doesn't get much better than that.

We retired in another bamboo village. Funny thing about these villages, they all have little stores where they sell us westerners water beer and snacks. It's a bit touristy, but not too bad. Oh, and I forgot to mention. On of the great things about this trek is that we never had to carry communal supplies, because they were at the villages already.

We had another nice evening, this time by a bonfire. The evening was packed with games that you would play as an icebreaker at summer camp. It was fitting, because this was a bit reminiscent of camp.

The last day we went on a quick hike and went elephant riding. It was pretty interesting. Elephants are slow and easily distracted by food. Ridding on the back of their necks you get jostled left and right by their huge shoulder blades. It was fun for a laugh, but this truly was touristy.

After the elephants we went river rafting down some weak but pleasant rapids. I had outlined a siege plan for the second boat, but the trip ended too quickly to implement the plan. I did try to hook he second boat's guide with my paddle and pull him into the drink, but I jumped the gun and ruined the element of surprise. We docked and hoped directly on a set of bamboo rafts. These were strange, because for most of the ride, the raft is fully submerged several inches.

Finally the trip had come to an end. We had lunch and drove back to Chiang Mai. Several of us met up later that night for dinner and drinks in Chiang Mai's famous Night Bazaar. It's what it sounds like. A bazaar at night. I got a couple of things at this bazaar. (One of which was a Thai SIM card. So, now I have a Thai Phone number: 66-6-9190945. Its a pay as you go kind of a thing. It's cheaper than a phone card too.) At the bazaar I recruited one of the girls who was Christa's size, to try on dresses for Christa, but none of then fit right. Se la vi (spelling?).

We had an awesome night drinking and talking till half past three. One of the guys from our trek even convinced me to buy a suit in Bangkok, that is, if I have time. We parted and I crashed.

Today, I spent 6 hours learning how to cook Thai food. I took a class with 9 other blokes... Jesus, I've been hanging around the English too long. We learned how too cook Tom Yum something or other soup, vegetable stir fry (the dish where you see flames shooting 3 feet in the air when the chefs swath the food around in the Wok), Green curry, Penang curry, Pad Thai, Mango and sticky rice, and spring rolls. I even got a little cook book. My stomach is still hurting from all of the food that I ate there.

Right now my laundry is being hand washed for just under $3. And later tonight I'm going to a Muy Thai match. Christmas eve rocks!

Tomorrow evening I go back to Bangkok. I'll try and get a suit, go to the old capital of Siam (Ayuttaya). Then off to Singapore. I don't have any specific treks planed in the near future. My travels will probably mellow out for a week or so. At least until I take a three day trek in Taman Negra national forest in Malaysia. Oh, and one of the guys in my cooking class convinced me to get a diving licence when I go to southern Thailand. I'm quite excited about that.

This is about it for now.

Over and out


Mr. Curry

SE ASIA 4.  Dec 30, 2004

Hi all, Gmail doesn't have mailing lists yet so I have to click contacts each time I send these mass emails. If you didn't get one of the previous emails and you want them just let me know. Anyway, here we go.

The last week has been rough. I can really feel the devastation over hear. I was in Bangkok during the quake. The tidal waves seemed unreal, at first. They became more real as people around me scrambled to change their flights and travel plans (myself included, but I'll get to that later). A day later people started pouring into Bangkok by the droves. This is when I felt the gravity of the situation. Several people I spoke with made it back from Phuket (an island in the south of Thailand that I was going to be at in a week and a half). On the 27th I met a Vietnamese girl who had just made it out of Ko Phi Phi (an island just south of Phuket). She recounted the horrors. She said that the waves swallowed the island. Only those on the east side of the island were spared. She had bandages on both of her feet. And she had lost everything except for a small backpack. I offered my condolences. She said that she was very lucky with her injuries. People with her were hit by objects left and right. A guy that she had been travelling with had been ripped across the side. Then she told me that one of her friends was missing. She started to sob a little bit. The worst bit, she said, was if they don't find her friend (which she doubted that they would) she would have to tell the friends parents. I saw the same girl the next morning trying to book a cheap bus ride back to Vietnam with the money that she had left with her.

I haven't heard too many other stories like that one, but I know their are thousands just like it. I almost felt guilty when I went to the travel agent to change my flights. I've been trying to change my flights for the last 3 days. SE Asian travel agents need to contact the LA office to confirm my flight changes, so it's taking a while. I've spoken with five different offices (two in person, and three over the phone) hopefully I'll get something that works. I've been pretty stressed about rearranging the flights. I've struggled to find a good way to reroute my trip. By the evening of the 27th I had gone through 3 or 4 variations of potential trip changes. I was really getting frazzled, and my vacation wasn't becoming much of a vacation anymore. Then I ran into an Israeli traveller who I had spoken with the evening before. He was relaxing in possibly the best smoothly stand in Northern Thailand (50 - 75 cents for fantastic 16 oz smoothies). Apparently we both go there several times a day. I ended up chatting with him.

He had wanted to be a goat farmer because he, simply put, liked goats. This was three years ago. Since then he changed his mind and had been travelling the world. A true wanderlust. His travels had made him pretty wise. We talked a little about my travelling stresses and he told me to stop fighting. I kinda looked at him funny. He explained: Why should I worry so much about if I go to this beach or that temple. I really didn't know which was better. If I had to take an extra 10 hour bus ride trip to get to a certain destination due to bad planning it might be worth it if it saves 15 hours of stress. Of course he wasn't saying that I shouldn't plan at all, but just to relax. I'm not doing the conversation justice, but for the first time in about two days I was just happy. I wasn't stressed. The tension just sort of evaporated. After that, the next 24 hours just kind of went smoothly. It was very strange. I parted with him at 8:30, picked up my suit (which I'll talk a little about later). I headed over to visit my buddy Adi's uncle, Ami, who lives a half hour away from my guest house. His flat was the epitome of luxury compared to the dirty (but fun) streets of Khoa San Road, where I had been staying. We chatted about his textile business and Thai culture. It was very nice to be able to relax and chat. I felt kind of like I was back in the states. A few hours later I snagged a cab back the the guest house. (A thirty minute 15 mile taxi ride for just $2.50, phenomenal!)

I slept easy that night. I got up early and did a little research on where to go for the rest of my trip. I thought for a while about what I've done, what I've enjoyed, and what I felt that I was supposed to do. I decided to plan my travels around what I've enjoyed. So, at 8am I went to the Malaysia Airlines office downtown. I had decided to change my phuket portion of the trip to Borneo where I'll climb a 13,000 feet peak which towers over the massive island... that is if the LA office gets off its ass and approves the flight. Sorry, just a little peeved at the lazy office which keeps on forgetting about me. Anyway, I put in my request, went back the the guest house. I packed up my gifts and my suit. I headed over to the post office to mail the stuff back home. On the way I ran into a software salesman and purchased probably $3000 in software for $18. (I hear its even cheaper in Indonesia.) I mailed my stuff then got an excellent 1/2 hour Thai massage for $2.50 (I still can't get over how cheap certain things are over there). I got some Pad Thai, grabbed my bags just in time for the airport bus. On the way to the airport I received an interesting history lesson on the Khmer Rough by a Canadian girl who had just gotten back from Cambodia. A flight, a night layover in Kuala Lumpur, another flight and I was in Singapore.

Now I did skip a couple of things that I'd like to come back to. After Thai cooking in Chiang Mai I met my first Fin every. He was a construction worker who had been practicing Mui Thai in Finland and who had once jumped into a lake in negative 90 degree Celsius weather (of course a hole was first cut in the ice that was covering the lake). Mui Thai is a little disappointing. Most of the fighters only got a few good hits in. Only that last two fights got vicious. Their was only on knock out, and it was on a punch to the ribs. 'Did I miss something? What did I miss?' I found myself and just about everyone saying. It was still a fun evening. Myself and the Fin would bet beers on who would win the match.

The next day I bummed around then took the train to Bangkok. On the train I met a couple of Thai women who barely spoke English. I had an enjoyable time with them none the less. They tried to teach me some Thai and a little about Bangkok. What was really funny about them is that like 3 minutes into the conversation they asked for my email. 15 minutes in they asked for my US and Thai (which no longer works) Cell phone number. When I asked for their email they told me that they didn't have a computer or an email account. They also admitted that they wouldn't be able to carry on a conversation in English without lots of hand gestures. I think the info was for one of their sons for some reason or another. I don't really know; I don't think they did either. I think they were just excited to speak to an American.

Anyway, I got into Bangkok in the morning and devoted the morning to getting a suit. I tried some internationally recognized tailor, but it was Sunday and his shop was closed. I checked out three shops, and when I finally found a shop that I was comfortable with, I talked prices. I bargained the guy down a little from $150 to $125 for a three piece charcoal grey 50% cashmere 50% wool/cotton/anti-wrinkle polymer, with satin-silk lining. After three fittings over the next two days I was very pleased. I don't know how good the quality is, but the stitching looks pretty good (better than the other two tailors's suits at least).

After I got the ball rolling on the suit, I hit up the weekend market. This is an enormous open air market; one of the biggest in SE Asia. You could look through the shops for days and still not see everything. I spent four hours shopping and looking around. They had jeans, silk, silverware, food, jewelry, all sorts of clothing, art, accessories and animals. More specifically baskets of baby bunnies, and baby puppies. Also, lots and lots of fish. One even flopped out of his pool a just as I passed by. Those of you who know how I feel about fish can understand that seeing him fly out of the cheap fish pool flopping on the ground just behind me freaked me out quite a bit.

I found a little shack where the women cooking didn't speak English. I ordered random meat soup pet ma. It was pretty good, but there were definitely certain things in the soup that I'm happier not knowing what they were. After four hours of shopping I went back to town. This is where I met the Israeli guy that I spoke about earlier for the first time. I turned in early since I was heading to the old capitol of Thailand (Ayuthaya) early next morning.

Ayuthaya... nice temples, but they don't hold a candle to the temples of Ankor. I met some interesting people on the trip. An entomologist who brought his staff of 50 to a Howard Stern rally as a company moral buster, a 19 year old Nepalese girl who wanted to go into information sciences, but has no idea what it was, and her 21 year old brother who worked 7 days a week at his parents jewelry store and dreamed of opening a jewelry shop of his own in the states. Our tour guide was awful. Awful to the point of comedy. She spoke horrible English. I could barely understand her. It was pretty funny watching the non-native speakers struggle to understand her and then give up minutes later. She wouldn't answer questions, and when someone complained, she pretended not to know English. It was all very funny to me. To some of the other travelers; funny... not some much.

On the ride back I tried to call STA travels. I had their number by the recording I got was all in Thai. So, what did I do? What else; I pressed random buttons. I found that 0-1-# got an English recording. Unfortunately I couldn't get a person on the line from the recording. So I started guessing random extensions. I got a person on my 5th try; extension 101. I found out where the office was in Bangkok, but it did me no good. when I got over there later in the day it turns out that they couldn't help me and that I had to deal with the airlines directly (hence the talk about Malaysia Airlines earlier). Now we're caught up to the point where I was stressed out.

Now fast-forward to Singapore. Singapore is a breath of fresh air after travelling in a nation where most people who aren't in the tourist industry speak very little English. The public transportation is excellent, people are helpful, crime is nil, the buildings are modern, and most importantly, the bathrooms have toilet paper. Singapore is a plastic town without too much rich culture, but it's a great cure for home-sickness.

My first day I went to an electronics mall. I've never seen so many cameras in one place. But they weren't any cheaper than in the states, their were more of them (many of which we don't have in the states). But they weren't all that much better. I find that a well crafted piece of electronics can be quite beautiful. But, if a camera is a beautiful woman than this shopping mall was a dirty brothel club. Hundereds of camersas cluttered together, people hustling (though much more gently than in Thailand) you into their booths. All of the majesty of these technological marvels just vanished. I left, what I thought would be a great toy store, a bit disillusioned.

Later that day I met up with a Dutchman named Chris and we hit up the zoo and the very cool night safari. The night safari included a tram ride and a walking tour of all sourts of noctournal animals at night (duh). We even saw a pair of stripped hyinas going at it. Unfortunately we weren't allowed to take flash pictures. Our guide was pretty good, but he continuously spewed out tree hugger propaganda. I know I'm from Berekeley and should be used to it, but I was trying to enjoy the safari and this guy was laying on a guilt trip like a jewish mother (no offence mom). His parting words were. "I'd like to leave you with an Native American saying. 'Not until every forest is cut down, until every fish has been caught, and until every beast has been shot will man realize that you can not eat money.'" His sentiments were admirable, but he just wouldn't shut-up about conservation. The night safari was really cool though. One of the best parts was the flying squirel habitat. These squirles would jump spread their arms, which were webbed, and do a quasi glide for about 20 yards. Very cool.

Chris and I just wrapped up our second day of travelling. It was relaxing. Not too hard core. We saw an Asian history museum, Little India, the main shopping road (Orchard Road). Then we caught a $4 move (the only cheap thing in Singapore). It was called Kung-Fu Shuffle, and it was a blast. It was kind of a Jackie Chan meets The Matrix, Meats Loony Toons, meets Dragon Ball Z, meets Cheezy commedy movie. A lot of fun. And now here I am. Chris and I have a bottle of imitation Jack and some coke. We'll have no problem finding fellow hostellers to drink with. Or maybe the owner. (We were drinking wine with the owner 'till 2 am yesterday, just talking about life: very cool.)

Later tonight I'll call the travel agent and try and change my flights to see Malaysia, Borno and Bali. I think I tried to bite off more than I could chew with my original plans. I'm on vacation, and it doesn't seem that way if I'm off rushing everywhere. I'll just have to cross my fingers until I get flight confirmation.

Tomorrow will be New Years at Stenosa, the man-made Singaporean tourist island. Should be a good time. It won't be the same without my New Years kiss (Christa you say Aweee, Adi you make a gagging noise). I'll keep everyone posted when I get my new itinerary.

Happy new years.




SE ASIA 4b.  Dec 30, 2004

I wanted to make a quick addendum to the previous email. I after calling the LA office at 2 am and 4:30 am this morning, Singapore time, I finally got my flights straightened out.

I'll be in Malaysia peninsular from Jan 1 to 9. Here I'll explore Taman Negara national forest, check out the old colonial city of Melaka, and explore the modern city of Kuala Lumpur.

Then off to the north of Borneo (Kota Kinabalu). Here I will climb mt kinabalu, explore the jungles, and maybe go to a hot springs.

On the 14th i'll be off to Bali where I'll spend a week and a half in the sun with beaches, scuba-diving, and island exploring.

On the 25th back to Kuala Lumpur, and then on the 26th back home.

Oh and one more thing that I forgot to mention about Singapore is that they have a few small tweaks to the English language which I find really funny.

First, they often say 'can' in replace of 'sure, I can do that.' For example: I'd say, "I'd like to change my flight to the 9th of January, is this possible." The ticket agent would reply: "Can, can."

Second, the word arrive is not in the Singlish vocabulary. Anywhere you would see the word arrive: 'arrivals' in the airport, 'arrive' in directions, 'you will be arriving at your destination in 5 minutes' on the trains, the word is replaced with "alight." i.e. Your train will be alighting in 5 minutes. I asked some locals about this and they genuinely thought that the two words were interchangeable. My theory is that the large Chinese population here couldn't pronounce the 'r' in arrive so the country just replaced the commonly used word arrive with the next closest word without an 'r.' I just find this funny.

Catch you all later.




SE ASIA 5.  Jan 7, 2005

Where did we leave off. Let me just take out my bifocals and precariously rest them on the tip of my nose. much better. Ah, Sentosa. Sentosa is an odd kind of an amusement park, no real rides, but they have a sea world, which is ok, a giant statue of a merlion (a made up mythical creature for the sake of commercialism), a golf course, nature walks with made up dragon lore and skeletons for kids, cool art work, many other events that I didn't go to, a really cool light show that was projected onto a screen of water, complimented by fountains and fire, and finally a nice man-made beach where the new years celebrations were to take place. I wandered about Sentosa with my Kiwi friend Andrew for the better part of the day. (Our other compatriot, Chris the conservative and very tall Dutch man had already been to Sentosa, so he would meet up with us later.) We saw the sights. They were good for a laugh, but nothing spectacular. Night came upon us and we met up with Chris. We grabbed a quick dinner and prepartied with some cheap imitation Jack Daniels that we had and then hit the beach. In past years the beach had been filled with 20 to 30 thousand people. This year, because it had been raining, but more importantly because of the tsunami people really weren't in the mood to party. I would guess that only 5 thousand showed up. It was still fun. The DJ's played pretty cool music in the beginning.

We wandered the beach where there were 3 stages set up. We gravitated towards the center one where we met 3 Finish girls. They were pretty cool. We drank, danced and talked with them for most of the night. They were pretty interesting, but nothing spectacular.

There were no fireworks out of respect for the tsunami victims. As a result, the countdown was a bit anticlimactic. After the countdown, people started to trickle out fairly rapidly. By one or two, there were only about 1 thousand people on the beach. The music turned to techno. The quality of the DJ's were sporadic. But we still had a good time. We left around 5 am. We couldn't quite hold out until sunrise. No matter.

I had wisely changed my flight on the 1st to late in the afternoon. I used that time for sleep. I packed my bags and headed to the airport to go to Kuala Lumpur (KL). While waiting in the Singapore airport I discovered that they had free Internet and free gaming it was really amazing. The limited you to 15 minutes at a time so that others could play and check emails, but it was free and you could keep coming back. It was quite a novel concept.

I arrived at KL at night. I hoped on the high speed train to get to the city from the airport (which is 75 km south of the city). There I met a nice Canadian who had been to KL before. He gave me a run down on the sights to see, places to go, how to get to my hostel. He even gave me a map that he no longer needed. Travellers can be so nice.

At around 10pm I got to my hostel. The Kamellions travellers lodge was where Chris (the Dutchman from Singapore) had told me to stay. He was going to meet me there the next day. Chris had raved about this place, but it seemed like a dump. The rooms weren't that clean, the ground was dirty, the bathroom hadn't been cleaned up too well. It was acceptable; average, but nothing special. It wasn't until I spend a couple of days there that the charm and the atmosphere grew on me and I began to see some of the magic that Chris had told me about.

The next day I went to the Petronas Towers (Malaysia's equivalent of the twin towers). For several years they were the worlds largest buildings. Now its some pineapple shaped building in Taiwan. I saw the whole city from the sky bridge between the two towers. It was really amazing to see how advanced Malaysia is. (Malaysia Peninsular that is. Malaysia Peninsular is the west land mass which comprises most of the population of Malaysia. The eastern part of Malaysia is on the island of Borneo, where I will be going tomorrow morning.) Malaysia is definitely more advanced technologically than Thailand. They have this vision 2020 thing, where they want to be a first world nation by 2020. Unfortunately their wages are pretty low here, so a lot of the really bright people move elsewhere for better pay. None the less, the city is much more advanced than I would have expected.

After the towers I went to the national mosque. I was a little apprehensive about being an American in a Muslim nation, but so far no trouble, so I figured I'd press my luck. I was amply rewarded. Not only did I not receive any hasteling, but I was allowed to enter the mosque (provided that I put on one of the robes that they provided for tourists). It was very interesting. Many many pillars, immaculate marble floors, a towering dome roof, and beautiful colored and decorated carpeting. I even read several pamphlets on Islam and Muslim tradition very interesting.

Next I went to the Asian civilization museum. The had an exhibit about how the golden rule is perceived in different cultures as interpreted by the children of those cultures. It was very nice to see this loving spirit. I also learned about mosques. They had an exhibit about mosques of the world, two of which I had visited (the Medina in Spain and the blue mosque in Turkey). I learned that all mosques have at least one dome to represent the sky and the heavens, a minaret to call people to prayer, a Minbar which points in the direction of prayer (Mecca) and a steps that lead to a seat near the Minbar which I believe represents the seat of God (but I'm not sure). In Islam they don't believe that God has any form that we can conceive of, certainly not a human form, so I think that I'm wrong about the explanation of the chair. Regardless, it was an interesting museum.

I checked out bustling china town, where I bought a couple of low quality DvD's for $2.50 a piece (which I later found out was a rip off). But, they did let me watch a few minutes of each DvD so I think they work. Whatever.

I met Chris later that evening. We had dinner then packed for Taman Negara the next day. We got an early bus to Jerantut, the last big town before Taman Negara. We stocked up on supplies like food and long socks which we thought would prevent leeches from getting at us (boy were we wrong). Then off to Taman Negara. We got there and prepared to do a nice two hour inter tube ride down the river. But, apparently inter tube riding had been cancelled for about half a year due to too many deaths (5 unofficially, but probably more). We were informed that all of the deaths were because people didn't listen to instructions or they tried to raft without a guide. Either way, we didn't do it. We decided to take a guided tour to some jungle caves. Chris, myself, and a German and Romanian couple (Kai and Liana) took a long boat to a jungle path entrance. We trekked through the jungle for about 30 minutes until we saw a pile of rocks. This was the cave? I was expecting a boring tourist cave, but no! We had to crawl on our hands an knees, through mud, over small streams. It was similar to my Sequia National forest caving experience, but with more light shining through the cracks, less time in the cave (only 20 minutes), less knee and elbow pads (none), and a helluva lot more bats. The trip was very memorable.

We went back showered and then had dinner. I got a tom yum gai soup. I asked for it very very very spicy. In Thailand no one took me seriously, so I'd since started to get cocky. I got my ass kicked. The first few bits were perfect, but the spice was cumulative, and the peppers were on the bottom. I got practically one full, very spicy, pepper in every spoonful. Eventually I had to swallow my pride and eat a around the chillies. The spice still permeated the soup, but it was much more tolerable. My saving grace was definitely the banana chocolate shake that I had with the meal.

After the meal we went on a jungle safari. this is a jeep/truck with benches in the truck bed. There's a guy who sits on top of the truck with a spot-light and looks for animals and then tries to blind them so they stay put long enough for us to take pictures. It was all pretty comical. We saw wild boars, owls snakes birds, and two small leopard cats. Another tour group saw a 15 ft long snake. It was an interesting experience.

We met in the morning with our group. Myself, Chris, Kai, Liana, and a couple of Ausies: Mark and Steve (who had a Milo fetish (Milo is like Nestle's quick)). We had a guide named Aris who was described by the tour agency as 50-50. 50% sane 50% not so much. The second 50% made the trip entertaining. We took a long boat up the river for about an hour and a half. It was gorgeous. We sank into the cushions of this long boat as we travelled up a 40 yard wide gently winding river in the middle of a 130 million year old jungle. It was beautiful and oh so relaxing. We stopped at a sandbar for a lunch of fried rice, and then we headed off to a smaller left fork in the river. The water turned from a green color to a rich black color and the scenery became more lush. The boat slowed, but I saw no dock in sight. The boat veered towards a steep embankment accented with a large tree with buttress roots that grew horizontally out of the embankment before curving back up to the light. I said half jokingly, "please tell me this is where we get off." It was. The guides pulled themselves up this 60-70 degree embankment. And hauled our bags to whatever flat spots they could find. Then we climbed out, holding onto roots and rock where we could find them. 10 meters of climbing and we found a worn out concrete staircase. after a few steps we saw a worn out building. It was a failed bungalo. I guess people didn't want to take an hour and a half tour to get to and from the main village. The place looked like jurasic park after it was abandoned. Dirt, moss, and various pieces of foliage covered the bungalow and stairs. We were given the advice "don't taunt animals" and then we were off. The path was there, but hardly well warn. We had to climb over and under logs, push away spikey branches and vines, and traverse stream after stream. Apparently we were lucky. Had we been here a month earlier we would have had to swim across these streams which would have been as wide as 10 meters. It would have been a neat story, but none the less I'm glad we didn't have to.

The jungle foliage was amazing. Dense, diverse, palm oil trees all over the place. We saw foot prints of an animal that is half white and half black. Aris said it had been there half an hours ago. We saw several wild elephant foot prints. We heard monkeys. Unfortunately we never saw any animals. Leeches on the otherhand... we saw in spades. Leeches come in many sizes. Medium size leach is about an inch and a half long and a little less than 1/8 " wide, but they can contort their bodies quite a bit. It's only once they've had their fill that they triple in size and then fall off. They move like a very limber and agile inch worm, and every step that a human takes has the ability to alert 1000 leeches, that is, if the area is heavily populated. Luckily, if we were on the move we were too fast for most of them, but when we stood around they'd crawl up your shoes burrow through your sock and start a sucking. Leeches are very clean, though. They don't have any diseases. They used to be used by doctors to clean your blood. Some people even believe that they suck out the toxins in your blood. They don't hurt, it's more the concept of the leach that bothers me. If you rip them off while they're trying hard to hold on the pin size hole that they've bored bleads a lot more. I became the resident expert on burning them with a lighter and then flicking them off once their grip had become losened. By the second day I also found that I could feed leeches to small fish that lived in the streams. My hatred for fish melted a little.

Anyway, back to the trek. Our guide loved cookies. Some people like GORP and balanced snacks; not our guide. He was in charge of the food. Our real meals were balanced, but our snacks were all cookies. I would say that about half of the weight of our food was cookies. No joke. Every half hour he would break out another small pack and offer them around.

Oh, I forgot to mention, that we got a late start because we had the guide take us to the worlds largest canopy walk in the morning. It was basically a bunch of crude rope ladders and planks with safety net were lashed together and attached to trees as far appart as 40 or 50 meters. That was very cool.

Anyway, we were pressed for time, to get to our camp grounds before dark, but he told us that we had to check out this one cave. We had to pull ourselves up with a rope and when we got inside I could think of nothing other than "the Batcave has nothing on this." There were literally several hundered thousand to a million bats in this cave. The noise of innumerable fluttering wings filled the senses. The entire ground was bat shit. Guano doesn't smell and actually makes excellent fertilizer. The ground was its own ecosystem of cockroaches and bugs. When we looked back at the entrance we saw a beautiful view. The entrance made this wonderful picture frame for the greenery of the jungle. We hurried back and made it to camp just as night was falling.

Our camp grounds was an enormous cave. It was like it was out of a movie. There were even stalactites and stalagmites. I stood on a giant stalactite and had a picture taken of me. (This would be unthinkable in a US national park.) We had a great dinner of curry. There was a fire pit with a little bit of damp wood and damp twigs in and around it. We wanted to make a fire. I used what my friend Eric had taught me, with what little resources I had, to concoct a fire. But, the wood was all very wet. I failed twice. Finally, I cheated a little. The guide lent me a candle. I systematically started small fires in all around my small log cabin of twigs. By the end, there was nothing left of the candle, but a fire was burning bright.

In the morning we discovered elephant footprints in the cave. We were told that when humans aren't here, elephants sleep in the cave.

The next day was similar to the first. At one of the breaks the guide made a leech and a giant red ant fight. It was hilarious. Unfortunately it was not a death match, but I'd say the red ant won.

At about 3 we made it to an actual doc where our boat was waiting for us. We swam in the surprisingly clean river. The swim was divine. We all felt so much cleaner and happier. Then we cruised off the the aboriginal tribe to view their culture. It was basiacally a bunch of huts made from palm leafs and the occasional tarp (what'd you expect from a nomadic tribe). We all got to see how poison darts were made, and fire one (minus the poison) from a blow gun. To my surprise, the blow gun was a wopping 7 or 8 feet long! It fired straight and true and I hit a little one by one ft piece of styrafoam from 15 or 20 yards away. If only my dart skills were this good I wouldn't have so many damn holes in my appartment wall. But I digress.

After that we travelled back to base. Chris and I didn't have a place to stay so we bargained one of the hotels down from $25 to $15 for a descent chalet for the night. (Remember EVERYTHING is negotiable in SE Asia.)

The next morning we took a boat a minibus and a big bus back to KL. Here's where I started to feel ill. We got back to the hostel and I went straight to sleep. Not for long, though. I tossed and turned. I was hot and cold. It felt like a fever, but it was getting worse and worse. I started to get scared. I had heard about all of the horible diseases here, but prayed that I'd never get them. My fears seemed like they could be becoming real. When I wasn't improving, I called my parents at 3am their time. My dad called an infectious disease specialist and said that it was probably the flu. But if not, Dengue fever, or Japanese ensephalitis. I would go to a hospital tomorrow if I didn't improve. It got worse. I managed to soak a towel and use it to wet down my head and neck. That helped a little, but the relief was short lived. I wanted to re-wet the towel, but getting up was very painful. About an hour later I forced myselfe to re-wet the towel. As I stumbled to the bathroom I began to feel nautious. I rushed to the toilet and vomited. A few minutes later I arose. Then I did a mental double take. I was like 80% better. Just like that. I immediately remeber a similar relief that my old roommate Nick had experienced in Hawai after having a bad dinner. I was so relieved. I called my parents, who were still awake worrying. They were talking about potentially flying over to Asia. (I've really got great parents; for this I am eternally grateful.)

After this scare I decided to take it easy the next two days. But, Chris came back from something or other at 9:30 pm our time and asked me if I was hungry. I was. So we went slowly to a small Indian resturaunt around the corner from our hostel. On our way we passed a unique hindu temple where they lit small candles on coconuts made a wish and smashed the coconus in a large bin the way we would throw a coin in a wishing well. Chris and I ended up talking to a bizzar, but knowlegable Indian named Shiva Rama who often refered to himself as a Pentium 5 or Pentium 7 (refering to his plane of thinking). He was a plethora of knowlege, but he is quite the antithisis of a linear thinker (meaning he was quite hard to follow). He had dinner with us, and even performed some numerology for us. (Numerology is like palm reading, but with birthdays.) It was interesting, but I payed less attention to it than Chris did. We agreed to meet him the next day at another temple.

The second temple didn't have the coconuts, but it was very unique none the less. All of the hindu temples that I'd seen, including this one, were very brightly colored. Shiva Rama explained this along with many other facets of the Hindu faith. It was a very nice afternoon. Chris became very interested in crystals and bracelets and asked Shiva Rama to help him pick out crystals for himself. I went to the mall to get a rain cover for my backpack for the impending Mt. Kinabalu climb. I also ended up purchasing 15 DvD's for $13. Once again, I viewed one of them to make sure the quality was good. It appeared to be good, but you never know. I found out later that the quality was ok, but not great (it wouldn't support surround sound and the video quality wasn't as good as the original). But, for less than 1 dollar a DvD, I'm not complaining. I did learn how to tell the good from the bad for future DvD buying endeavors.

Chris and I met up later that night and explored a little more of the city, including a large mall called Time Square. There, Chris purchased the 12 DvD set of the exteneded edition of the lord of the rings. This was the good quality, DvD 9, surround sound version. They played it for us with surround sound and showed us how we could tell the difference between a single and double layer DvD (DvD 5 vs DvD 9). The package was about $40 and included The Lord of the ring boxes. (I guess you have to pay for quality.) This was the most reputable place I'd seen. I'm thinking about getting the set when I get back to KL on the 25th (any suggestions yes/no?).

Chris and I chatted and relaxed till late an then we crashed. All I've done today is wake up eat, shower, and write emails. The KL tower at night is next on my to do list (you get to see the whole city at night at a slightly higher elevation than at the twin tower bridge).

Oh, I forgot to mention about the atmosphere of the hostel. There's a large living room with couches centered around a TV with continuous movies playing. There's cheap beer and water. There's a deck, a fridge, a modest stove, and several out door tables. I've spent the last two breakfasts speaking with Mr. Ali, a 40 something year old traveller from Pakistan who's been travelling for 17 years and is just about to settle down with his new bride. I met a guy who got hit by the tsunami in Tsrilanka (an island near the south of India where half of the nation parished). I spoke with all sorts of interesting characters, watched some stupid movies, drank a few beers. The place really feels like a haven. It'll be sad to go, but I'm sure I'll find something else with an equally interesting atmosphere as I travel on.

One other thing I have to say with regards to atmosphere. Travelling with Chris has been brilliant. That's one of the great things about travelling. Meeting someone and sharing in their lives. He grew up in Holland, did a year abroad in the US, went back to Holland, worked, quit his job and is now looking for workin in Asia for a change of pace. We shared life experiences and world views. He seems to approve of Bush much more than I do and he abhores Michael Moore. Definitely not what I think of when I think of European world views. But, he did help me to strengthen the notion that everyone is different and unique regardless of where they come from.... won't you be my neighbor. And, segway into something a little less 'PBS special.'

Tomorrow morning I'm off to Borneo to climb Mt. Kinabalu and see a little more jungle. I'll probably take it easy one more day to make sure I'm completely over the flu. Until, then keep the emails coming.




SE ASIA 6.  Jan 13, 2005

Normally travels don't go as planned, but Borneo went like a swiss clock. I got up at 5:30. Got on my flight at 8. I got a 25 cent bus from the airport to the main bus station. I immediately hopped on the bus from Kota Kinabalu to Mount Kinabalu. With in two and a half hours of being in the Sabah province of Borneo I was at my destination: the base of the highest peak (at 4095 meters) from the Himalaya's to the Kingdom of Papau (part of the coalition of the willing).

Unfortunately I didn't have reservations for the base of the mountain, the upper mountain lodge, or a guide. Luckily (remember the clockworks thing), I met an Australian couple who mistakenly booked a room with four beds at the upper mountain lodge. We ran into a Welshman (Robert) turned Malaysian (after marrying a Chinese Malaysian who owned a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur). He joined our crew. I got a cheap dorm room for the base of the mountain, then the four of us took some nice day hikes around the base of Mt. Kinabalu. The vegetation is astounding. Borneo has some of the most diverse flora and fauna (not that I really know the difference between the two) in the world. It had hundreds of indigenous species of plants along with plants from all over the globe. Needless to say, the day trek was beautiful.

The next morning I had a ridiculously heavy breakfast of steak and eggs. Not smart on a hard trek (while I was still sick), but it tasted so good.

We got a guide and started hiking. Mt. Kinabalu is 99% uphill. The mountain starts with gentle assent with mildly thin air, then it gets steeper, you get more tired, and the air gets thinner. Luckily the hike was short; only 6 km. We left the base around 8 and got to the upper mountain lodge around 1. As you ascend you could see the vegetation change from looming canopies to dense palm frauns to small scraggly trees interspersed with flowers. This is about where the upper mountain lodge, Laban Rata, was.

Laban Rata got all of its supplies from hardcore locals who hiked supplies up from the base of the mountain. The locals would take two trips up the mountain per day with such items as a hundred and five rolls of toilet paper and 15 Kg of noodles on their backs. Men and women alike would carry these commodities in old burlap sacks modified into backpacks, or modified wicker baskets. As a result, the prices were double or triple what they were at the base (though still cheaper than in the US).

We got to bed around 6 pm and woke up at 1:30 am. By 2:30 we were on our way to the summit to beat the sunrise. Here's where the foliage changed more drastically. From scraggly trees with lime stone bases, to bushes and orchids, then shrubs and granite, finally just granite... and a couple of local rats. We scaled the mountain in the pitch dark. The last bit was the worst. The last 300 meters or so was very steep, very slippery, and the atmosphere contained very little oxygen. But, we all made it to the top.

We waited for a dramatic sunrise. It never came. The sky just got lighter and lighter until the cloud revealed that they intended to hide Borneo from those that scaled the peak. We were still excited to have climbed the peak, but understandably a little disappointed.

Mt. Kinabalu redeemed itself. About a half hour into the descent the clouds parted and Borneo was revealed. Mind you, the clouds only parted partially. This gave the effect of a mystical land enshrouded in clouds and mist. It was truly spectacular. But, as quickly as the clouds departed they returned to conceal the lush rain forest.

Did I mention the mountain harbored a rain forest. It does. In fact, it is the epitome of rain forest. 30 inches of rain is a lot for a place in California for a year. Mount Kinabalue receives 5... meters of rain a year. Just astounding.

And rain it did. On our way down it poured. I had had my rain coat off at the time. The clouds appeared to burst at the seams and pour fourth. I was so wet so fast that it wasn't even worth it to scrounge for my raincoat.

When we finally reached the base the rain had stopped. The Welshman and I went back to the main city of Kota Kinabalu, while the Australian couple found their way to a natural hot springs. I had conquered Kinabalu and was ready for relaxation in Bali, but my flight wasn't for another couple of days, so I changed the flight time to the next morning. Robert and I got a nice cheap hotel, then we started a drinking. We ran into a Brit and found a nice bar with a dart board. Robert promptly mopped to floor with us. It wasn't until the Brit and I teamed up against him that we could beat Robert. But, it was proper fun and I learned some new games that will aid me in putting even more holes in my wall at home.

The next morning Robert and I parted and I was off to Bali... or so I thought.

The Swiss watch stopped. My flight to Kuala Lumpur was delayed and I missed my connecting flight to Bali (the last one going that day). I was pissed, but the swiss offer one hell of an insurance policy. When I arrived in KL I was greeted not by an agent, but by a Malaysian airlines officer (someone higher up on the food chain). He waived me passed the hour and a half immigration line, then he flashed his ID badge at the customs agent and we went by undisturbed. Then he gave me a new flight the next morning and accommodations for the night. These, however, weren't normal accommodations. They were accommodations in the "best airport hotel" in all of Asia (as was decided by CNBC Asia and some other magazines). The hotel was five star and fantastic. So was the food. I know that finding a little hole in the wall that is superb is really cool, but this food was up there with some of the best that I've had in Asia (except for Thai fruit and smoothly stands, they are just unbeatable).

I also seized the opportunity to shop in KL. I got loads of software and I nice surprise gift for someone... they know who they are.

When I got back I got to eat and actually use a proper gym! After 6 weeks of no gym this was an exquisite treat for me. Some might think this sounds silly, but if felt great. Afterwards, I retreated to my luxurious room; complete with separate bath and shower. I decided to try both. A bath at night and a shower in the morning.

By the end of my stay at the Pan Pacific hotel I no longer felt like a backpacker, but a dignified business man. (Oh, I forgot, when I used the Internet I got to use the executive business office where I got my own office complete with leather chair.)

Off to Bali without a hitch... Never trust airlines. The officer at Malaysia airlines who seemed so trustworthy, who promised that my bag would be rerouted to Bali on the flight the next morning was mistaken. The bag never came. I arrived at Bali bagless. I was upset but they said that it would probably come on the next plane and that I would probably get it later that night (tonight). This was less than encouraging. But what could I do. I hopped a $2 cab to the popular beach town of Kuta and found, on the advice of a stranger, a nice private $5 room.

My worries about the bag seemed to melt away. There is something magical about Bali. There are shops everywhere. Illegal DvD stores every 20 meters. I didn't have my luggage so I just bought some cheap, but nice shorts, shirt and towel and then hit the beach.

Robert once told me that Malaysians were lazy. He'd been living in KL for 13 years, so I didn't argue. He said that they come from a culture where if they need shelter they just reach over and make a hut out of palm leaves. If they're hungry they just grab a coconut or one of dozens of fruits ripe for the picking. They never worry about cold weather. Their resources promote lethargy. I don't know if I entirely agree with him, but I definitely noticed some level of incompetence in the less developed regions of Malaysia. Anyway, that's not the point. The point is to draw a parallel between how Robert described the Malaysians as having necessities at arms reach, and how the Balinese seem to have hedonism at arms reach.

Really good $2 steak. Cheap drinks. Amazing beaches with ocean water as warm as bath water. Surfboard and boogie boards everywhere. Beautiful waves waiting to be ridden just a few meters off shore. Amazing sunsets. And I've only been here for half a day.

I rented a boogie board and just played around for a few hours. I talked with some of the locals and they said that they would give me private surf lesson for two hours for like $5. Just fantastic.

As the sun set I ran into a German who I had met earlier in the day. We cruised off to see some authentic Balinese dancing/story-telling. There were some dancing women and and some kind of a dragon and a weird white beast and a couple of evil looking men in the story, but I didn't know what the hell was going on. Neither did he. But it was great lot of fun. We headed back. To my surprise, I found my bag waiting for me at my hotel (where I had told the airline to bring it if it ever did come). Not worrying or caring when my bag arrived paid off!

Tomorrow I'm off to the north east of Bali to get my scuba diving open water licence. I hope to dive once near a sunken ship off the coast. We'll see if that's allowed for beginners... Over and out.




SE ASIA 7 Jan 18, 2005

So I think I figured one of the biggest differences between SE Asia and most third world nations, and the USA and other first world nation: Infrastructure, large scale organization, and uniformity. This, leads to a less economically efficient country, but it is what gives many of these places their charm.

In the morning when I went to Tulamben (a very small city in the North East of Bali whose main attraction is the sunken ship, the U.S.S liberty, just off the coast), I took an organized bus to the nearest medium sized city about an hour and a half away from Tulamben. I could either hailed down little van-busses called Bemo's and take several of them to Tulamben, or haggle with my bus driver to get a private ride to Tulamben. I did the later. It really started to hit me how much of the culture and life style seems to be ad hock. You see tons of people just sitting on doorsteps not doing much of anything. Some people have full time jobs, but a lot of them just seem to do whatever they can to get by. This later faction of people often sell stuff on the streets or try and drive you around, or give your tours.

When I was in Tulamben I started to feel the culture of Bali. There were a couple of dive shops and resorts there, but other than that there was nothing. If you wanted to get around, there were no taxi's. You just grabbed the nearest local and asked for a ride. They always had a cousin or an uncle with a car or motor bike. My first day there I realized that I didn't have enough cash for four days in Tulamben. I ended up getting one of the waiters to leave in the middle of his shift and take me on his motor bike to go to nearest ATM; 45 minutes away. We drove on some of the most scenic roads that I've ever seen. Everywhere was green: Dark green, light green, rich green, yellow green. We passed by mountains, valleys, and so many beautiful rice terraces. (Rice terraces are rice fields that are staggered into different vertical levels because they are build into the hills.) We took a shortcut through his village where everyone lived in little huts or modest houses. Chickens, dogs and cows (all of which are much more slender than the fat animals we have at home) roamed the streets. As in Cambodia, Gas was sold in little 1.5 liter containers of whatever was available. For the first time in my trip, for a brief two hours, I was the only white person anywhere. I was even a novelty to some of the locals. One of the kids there giggled as he was coaxed by his friend to say hello to me. I spoke back which seemed to please the exceedingly shy child. I spoke to Imade (the driver/waiter) as we drove back and he told me a little about his culture.

He got in trouble for skipping out of work. But, I told his boss that Imade heroically offered to give me a ride because I was low on cash. I told the boss that he only asked for gas money and that he also gave me a tour of his village. Of course Imade did make a small profit off the trip, and the boss probably knew that, but he seemed satisfied by the story of Imade helping his guests and Imade seemed quite pleased with the praise. (I would become very fond of Imade for the rest of my stay at Tulamben. We would talk about his family and Balinese culture from time to time.) It is this kind of ad hock system of work that I am talking about. It reduces reliability of anything in daily life, but it allows for infinite customization of your travels.

Rewinding. My driver dropped me off at the only completely locally owned and run dive center. There were about 4 other centers and 6 other restaurants in the small town. The place offered the cheapest rooms in town, which still weren't half bad, but the dive instructor seemed a little less than knowledgeable. I hunted around and found another dive center, Taunch Terminal (dive station in German). Needless to say it was German owned.

My next three days went something like this (give or take): Wake up, walk 10 minutes from my place to Taunch Terminal. Assemble my dive gear with my one fellow Open Water Diver classmate, Renee (another Dutchmen). (Only 16 million Dutch and I seem to run into all of them.) We would go with our Austrian instructor Robert, who loves America, but dislikes the American people, dubbing them ignorant of the world, to the pool. We would do a few breathing techniques or out-of-air drills then off to breakfast. After a nice breakfast at the PADI five star, gold palm, and some other glitzy certifications resorts restaurant. We would go off to the classroom. Renee and I would skim our manual, watch a video and then take a test or two. Then, we'd break for lunch. There would only be two or three other people in the restaurant at a time. It was located just a few meters from the stony beach and had a beautiful ocean/plam tree view. Then we would gather our gear and head off to the ocean. Renee, Robert, and I would explore the reefs for about 20 minutes and then review what we had learned in the pool. Every time we dove we would see at least a couple of black tipped sharks ranging from 1 meter to a little less than 1.5 meters. Also, there was one place off shore where one of the dive schools had made a replica of an old prop aircraft out of wire. It wasn't quit life size, only 5 to 10 meters in length and in wingspan. They had constructed it and placed it there as an interesting home for coral and sea life. Boy did it work. Coral and fish flocked there like taxi drivers to the street that I'm currently on (the street is in a tourist city, not Tulamben). It was really cool. Anyway, then we would clean our gear and go lounge on lounge chairs; staring vacantly into the sea, talking, and reading. Renee and I were joined by Renee's friend Luke. On occasion a few other people would visit the lounge chairs, but for the most part we had the view to ourselves. Then we would head to a beautiful seaside (everything there was seaside) open air shelter where we would get massaged for an hour. Finally, we would have dinner, several beers or bears, for those of you who are lucky enough to remember my inability to distinguish between the two on my pub crawl email about a year ago, and then we'd call it a night. I'd walk home in the dark (there were no street lights). It was a bit scary at night in a village with no police station and no real accountability, but in the end I found it quite safe. We would repeat this process in varying orders for the next three days. Having nothing to do meant that I did very little, which meant I actually just relaxed. That's hard for me to do, so being forced to do nothing was great for me.

After three days Renee and I received our Open Water PADI Diving certificates. The next morning Renee, Luke and I did the wreck dive. I got an underwater camera and we were off. The wreck dive was fantastic. We saw so many fish, fields of weird burrowing sea snakes, sea horses, starfish etc. Sea life flocked to the boat the same way that sea life flocked to the wire airplane. It's just that there was a lot more boat than their was airplane. We got to swim through breached hulls, around eroded decks, I even found the steering wheel and got a picture steering the ill fated U.S.S. Liberty. The forty minute dive was over in what felt like no time at all.

After unloading the three of us went back to my place where I had arranged transport to Ubud. Ubud is pretty much Bali's cultural and artistic capital. The Dutchmen where going for a daytrip while I was to stay a couple of days. Oh, before I go on I just have to say that my hotel made the best banana pancakes. They would serve them with thinned out honey and chocolate syrup and vanilla ice cream upon request. I couldn't get enough of them. Anyway, off to Ubud. Our driver/wanna be tour-guide stopped off at several locations in the middle of dangerous winding roads so that we could take pictures of the scenic rice fields. We were honked at quite a bit, but our driver seemed to take it as part of his daily routine. Three hours later we arrived in Ubud. Our driver spotted a random local leading a couple of Swiss backpackers down a narrow lane. He followed them, opened up his window and shouted to the Indonesian guy. A minute later I was following the guy to my room in one of seemingly hundreds of bungalows in Ubud. I had to fight my way through tropical trees, flowers and bushes; the place felt like it was being over run by a baby rainforest. The room was large, with a big terrace and it had free breakfast. The bathroom sucked, but for $5, what do I expect, the Ritz-Carleton?

We left the driver who was paid to wait 8 hours for Renee and Luke and then drive them back. He ended up making $45 for the day which is a lot for him, so he was happy. We had a beautiful lunch in a converted temple looking building. (Half of the frigging bungalows, restaurants, and art galleries seem to be in the middle of converted temples. I guess that's the architectural style). After lunch we looked into the activities in Ubud. There were painting classes, and silver working classes and carving classes, but they all took a full day and we didn't have that kind of time. As we discovered this, it started to rain. We found shelter in a small café by a bungalow which really was situated in a small forest. Our shelter was a small palm leaf parasol that shielded our table. We were pestered by the waiter who insisted on making incoherent conversation. He could speak English, but I think he had a learning disability or something because he spoke quickly and stared off into space as he did so. Eventually, the down pour did NOT cease, despite Renee's sage like prediction that it would in exactly 15 minutes. So, we ventured out in the pouring rain to the local marked. Many of the side streets flooded and we had to plod in 2 inch deep water. We got to the local market. I bought my sister a gift and they bought a few trinkets as well. Then, back to our original lunch destination for tea and coffee. This was the third café stop in like two hours. The Dutch sure do love their drink .breaks

The rain finally died down and we headed along monkey forest road (the main street in Ubud) to, you guest it, the monkey forest. On the way Renee and Luke encountered a fake DvD stand. They had never seen one and were enamored. They spent about an hour there buying DvD's and by the time we got to the monkey sanctuary it was starting to get dark. But, this meant that we were the only ones there.

The forest was a spectacular display of Balinese vegetation and the place was littered with moneys. There were even monkey temples which the monkeys overran. They were all over the place. Don't worry, I took plenty of photos But, it was getting dark so we could only stay a short while. We left in search of food. We stumbled upon a very nice restaurant and decided to take a seat. As we passed the entrance I thought I saw a familiar face looking at the menu. I did a double take. The guy looking at the menu was Steffen, the German who I had hung out with four days earlier on my first night in Bali. I found out that after we parted he picked up a girl from Java (part of Indonesia) who spoke fluent German. They spent the next three days almost exclusively in his hotel room. On the night that they parted she revealed to him that she had been married for 6 months and was on holiday. After 10 minutes of talking with him, at the bar, she discretely removed her wedding ring. I thought you only saw that stuff in movies. Anyhoo, we all ate together. The meal was fantastic, the best that I've had in Bali so far. Renee and Luke left and Steffen and I wandered back to our respective hotels. I'll be seeing him again for dinner tonight and perhaps a little wing-manning later at the bars.

I woke up at 5 am to the sound of roosters which would not stop until I got out of bed at 8:30. I got my free breakfast and got the hell out of there. I spent a good hour or two wandering around until I found a suitable place. Finally, I found another jungle/temple/bungalow similar to the first, but cleaner, with a nice bathroom, and quieter. I booked my travel for the next day to Nusa Lemboan, (a misspelled Island near Bali) then I took a nap.

Ubud is absolutely filled with art galleries. I figured the paintings would be cheap and I will soon be in need of some good art with which to adorn my future apartments. So, I was resolved to get some good Balinese art. I spent the better part of the day looking and pricing different art. At the end of the day I spent a little over a hundred dollars on one 3X4 and two 2.5X3 acrylic paintings. The larger one is a painting of the rice fields being harvested. It is a blend of greens and yellows which made me feel warm inside. The later two were both of brightly colored birds in forests with Bali's largest mountain in the background. These colorful paintings are soothing but still vibrant and alive. I don't know enough about art to know if they are really good or not. But, I like them, and their quality appeared superior to many other paintings, so that's good enough for me.

I had a watermelon mint milkshake for lunch (my own concoction of course) and some local fried rice. The food really is one of the best parts of SE Asia.

I wandered off to get an Indonesian SIM card for my cell phone. Now I have one for Thailand, on for Malaysia and one for Indonesia. But, it's like a couple of dollars to buy the card and after that it's just like a calling card that can be Topped-up.

After this I'll grab a bite with Steffen, hit the bars, grab some rooster-free sleep, then off to the Island for surfing (first learning how to surf), lounging in the sun, and maybe some more scuba-diving. The end is just around the corner, I gotta pack as much fun in now as I can!




SE ASIA 8.  Jan 23, 2005

So I didn't end up running into Steffen, but no worries. I had a relaxing night. I had an excellent beef dinner at this restaurant called the lotus something or other. It had the most tranquil atmosphere ever. Dim lighting, little ponds with lilies, geckos on the walls and tables (no wait that's just all over SE Asia). I puttered around and then called it a night.

The next day I was very excited to get of the main Island of Bali to go to Nusa Lembongan. The advice of a Stanford girl who had been to Bali kept ringing in my ears: "What should I do or see when I get to Bali," I asked the girl. "Get off the Island," she replied. She was referring to going to the smaller Islands (of which there is only one very near by that is inhabitable for tourist). I got very excited as I took the ride over. The excitement began to dwindle as rain poured down and the skies loomed gray. But, I made the most of it. I spoke with a guy named Simon who claimed to be the "original westerner" on the island. He was a bit of a hermit, but he was a philanthropist. He'd been setting up free clinics around Bali, and his organization was helping the rescue effort in Sumatra. I also spoke to a couple of Swedish girls, Erica and Tess. They had both just graduated high school and were on holiday for a month.

As soon as we got to the island, the girls and I had to hunt for a place to stay. There were no shortages of bungalows. We were hustled from place to place until we found a nice one run by an Aussie and a local who had met and married in Kuta several years back. The rain finally cleared around noon and I rented a bike to explore. There are actually three islands: Nusa Lembongan, which you can bike around in about an hour and a half if you don't stop. Nusa Ceningan, which is a small Island attached to Nusa Lembongan by a silly little bridge only large enough for motor bikes to pass over. And, the massive (by comparison) Nusa Penida; which is good for snorkeling and scuba diving. Anyway, I checked out the beaches of the island. I think I must have seen 15 tourists on my trip. It was really similar to Tulamben in terms of isolation. I liked that. I finally found the perfect chill beach. It was appropriately named, 'Dream Beach.' It looked like one of those beaches in the Corona commercials: Crystal clear light blue water, fine white sand with a hint of gold in it. On one edge there was a small cliff that jutted out along the side of the sea. This cliff was adorned with many small palm plants. The beach was only 100 meters long, but it was all mine. There were a couple of locals working on a new resort in the distance, but not a soul was on the beach. I had found my little slice of paradise. I laid out on my towel and drank it all in. An hour or two later someone else showed up to enjoy the sun. I had grown spoiled by having the beach by myself. The intrusion prompted me to leave and search for more beaches.

I found some other neat beaches with waves crashing artistically against rock walls. But, nothing would compare to Dream Beach. When I returned, I spoke to a frequenter of the Island, a Frenchman named Fansua (spelling?). He told me that it wasn't fair. You're not supposed to discover the best beach one the island until you've been there for at least three or four days. That made me pleased with myself, though it ended up working out that the trip had been my first and last one to Dream Beach. The remainder of the evening I spent having dinner and talking politics with Fransua and three older Canadian travelers.

The next day I was set to scuba dive. The Island was supposed to have some of the best diving in Bali. But, rain put a damper on that. The day was filled with a lot of relaxing and doing nothing. I wasn't complaining. I walked down the beach in the light rain and watched the local seaweed farmer's work. They farmed seaweed for 10 cents a kilo. They sold it to Japan and America for use in beauty products.

On the way back to my bungalow I tried out a reflexology massage. Basically a guy digs his thumbs into your various tendons until you're about to scream, and then he eases off. It was supposed to help, but I didn't really notice a difference. (Apparently the guy was a professional because he had been doing it for 15 years and the father of the owner of my bungalow was a frequent customer of his.) All I have left from the Reflexologies is a bruised right thigh. Good stuff.

By the end of the day the rain subsided and I decided to bike over to Nusa Cenigan (the island without tourists). I made it to the island passing over one of the most questionable suspension bridges that I'd ever seen. I made it half way up to the top when my bike promptly broke. I could coast, but when I pedaled the wheels wouldn't turn. I made it down the hill where local after local asked what was wrong and tried in vain to fix my bike. At first I was wary that they were trying to make a quick buck. But, on this Island where there were no tourist, I was once again a novelty. They were just being hospitable. My favorite attempt at fixing the bike was a, roughly, 14-year-old kid that seemed like he knew exactly how to fix the bike. I handed it to him. He picked up a rock and smashed it against the gears. I was about to be impressed. I guess that was the Indonesian equivalent of hitting the TV to get better reception. Unfortunately, it was just as effective as hitting the TV (by this I, of course, mean not very effective). I kept on moving. I saw a local soccer field. It was a little plod of dirt with two crudely made goals that were made out of what I thought were fishing nets. I had seen locals from 5 to 30 years-old playing soccer over there earlier, but now they were just milling about. I asked one of them if it would be all right if I took a picture. Immediately the group sprung to life. One of the older ones started shouting something in Indonesian while another was hollering to me "Wait, wait!" Within seconds the crowd had doubled and there were four or five soccer balls on the court. No game was being played, but everyone was showboating; heading the ball, making fast breaks in random directions, just showing off for the camera. I quickly took a few shots. Then a couple of the little kids ran up to me and asked me to take their picture. As soon as I started to take it, more little kids flocked and tried to squeeze their way in. I snapped the picture and then showed them how it turned out. The kids were so excited. (I don't think they had ever seen a digital camera before.) I practically had to wrestle my camera out of the kids' hands to get it back.

I kept moving, looking for the nearest mechanic. About five minutes down the road I found one. In about 10 minutes the bike was fixed… well sort off. It threatened to break down several times on the way back to my bungalow. But, the sun was setting fast, so I didn't have time to go to another mechanic. I made it back safely.

I met up with the Swedish girls and a couple of Canadian surfers, Tyler, and James, and an Englishman named Andy who had busted up his jaw surfing. We ate dinner at this little local café. All of the vegetables were fresh, but their menu was very… let's say seasonal. I asked for chicken, there was none, I asked for beef, there was none. There was however, fish. There were two big ones that had been caught an hour ago. If a chicken had been killed earlier in the day there would have been chicken on the menue, but this was not the case. I thought it was really cool to have food that was so fresh (though I did stick with vegetables). Man I'm going to miss the fresh, cheap, flavorful food of Asia.

While we were waiting for the food the owner brought out Jenga. I thought that was classy. My mom would have approved.

When we finished, we got the owners 15 year-old son to get us a handle of Arak (the local liquor) with honey and limes. The six of us, with only three drinking, sauntered on down to the beach. That evening I asked Tess what her drink of choice was, beer, vodka, rum, etc? She responded with one of my favorite lines of my trip: "I don't like beer, but I loooove liquor!" James brought out his guitar, which had several broken strings tied on or ghetto rigged to the guitar with a bobby pin. We played music, sung drank, talked, and basked in the moon-light (the moon had an awesome perfectly circular ring of clouds around it which lingered for quite some time.) It was one of those perfect evenings.

I went to bed with half a litter of Arak in me. I slept like a rock. And in the morning the sun was shining. It was time to scuba dive. Fransua was diving too. As well as a Norwegian guy named Gary.

We hit up two different dive spots around the islands. The coral was bright, the fish were tropical, and I had a lot of fun. There were a few times where I felt like I was holding the group back because I was a beginner and used my air up more quickly, thus forcing the group to prematurely have to surface, but it wasn't too bad. We saw lionfish, and some really cool camouflaged fish. Some people saw a manta ray, but I missed it.

I relaxed in the hot sun and read. As the sun started to go down I decided to meet Gary for dinner. His place was down the beach. I didn't realize how far down the beach. It was quite a frigin' ways. The tide was coming in and it enveloped part of the beach. I had to wade through it. I tried to find a back road to Gary's bungalow, but I kept on running into natives' houses and they'd shoo me back to the beach. I was about to give up when who did I run into, but Gary coming back from a sunset surf. We found the right path through the maze of houses and retired to his place for a good (by Indonesian standards) pizza dinner.

Gary had done everything his parents had wanted though high school. He'd gotten good grades, stayed out of trouble; he stayed at home too much and played on the computer. After high school in Norway he took the opportunity to go to a government subsidized school for one year that taught you outdoorsy skills like how to make a fire, how to make your own clothes, how to survive in the wild, and how to scuba dive (diving was Gary's main focus). It sounded like an amazing experience. Gary assured me that it was. It changed his life. He started to travel. He's been slowly chipping away at an Electrical Engineering degree. But, he's really found his own balance in life. I admired that about him. He wasn't an extreme travel bum, but he wasn't a cookie cutter suit and tie kind of guy. I saw a lot in him that I strive to attain.

The rain started to come down over dinner and it wouldn't stop. I was a half hour walk away from my place. So we went knocking on doors asking people for a motorbike taxi. Eventually I found one who charged me a double or quadruple rate of $2 to take me home in the rain. I arrived safely and hit the hay. In the morning of my last day there, I would try my hand at surfing. (The waves had been uncooperative earlier in the trip, but they were usually good in the early morning.)

At 6:30 I woke up and barged in on Tyler and James. Tyler was sick, but James was down for the dawn attack. We hired a boat to take us out to the reef break waves of an area known as Playgrounds. The waves were gentle 3 to 4 footers. There was also a nice lane to the right of the waves where they died off so you could paddle back out without getting relentlessly pummeled. The Coral was about 5 feet down. So, we both had our occasional brush with it. James and I were the only ones out there. Mount Agung (a 3000 meter volcano) loomed beautifully in the background off the coast of the mainland. Some of my favorite parts of the two hours grueling session was sitting on our boards watching the sun rise over the little island and looking over at the volcano covered with just a little bit of haze. It was really peaceful.

As for surfing… well I didn't have too much difficulty catching the wave. That was just like boogie boarding. (That and James would often tell me when to paddle.) It was standing up that kicked my ass. I believe that I stood up maybe twice or three times for about a second or two before my awkward foot positioning caused me to be flung from my ghetto cracked and repaired and cracked and repaired long-board.

James caught a few nice waves, but all I could do was cheer him on. We paddled back to the boat that we had hired and I collapsed. It was hard work, but I had a lot of fun.

We would spend the remainder of the afternoon just talking and reading on hammocks by Tyler and James' place. Midway through the afternoon one of the locals climbed a 5 story palm tree and unloaded some coconuts. He climbed it just as easily as if there were a ladder there. When he came down, he and the other locals gave myself, the Canadians and the Swedes some coconuts (after chopping off the tops to get to the coconut milk). I got to try my luck at lopping off the top of my coconut with the rusty hatchet. And, man, is it hard. The Balinese guys made it look so easy. By the time I was done my coconut was a mess, but it worked and the coconut tasted great.

After doing a lot of nothing Tyler decided that it was time to do something. We hired a boat and went for a sunset snorkel. The sea life was similar to the scuba diving, but not quite as nice. It was the company that made it fun. I found a clown fish and its baby (which the 3 inch long mother was bravely protecting from us). When I showed Tyler he responded with "Awe cool, you found Nemo!" An aside about Tyler: he has an Electrical Engineering degree, has been traveling for 3 years, and after traveling in Asia, he wants to open up a banana milkshake stand when he gets back home. Also, he talks pretty exclusively about surfing and food.

We got back and had a late dinner. Andy joined us. He had just gotten the stitches removed from his chin from the surfing accident. I had to excuse myself for a power nap because surfing and sun had wiped me out.

When I got back we all played cards 'till midnight. Tyler, Andy and myself crashed. I believe that James and the girls got some Arak and partied into the night, but I'm not sure.

The next morning I had my breakfast as I prepared to leave the island. One of the nice Indonesian girls who kept calling me John (as many people here seem to do; that or Joss), told me that my friends had just got on a boat. I looked out, and there were Erica, Tess, James, and Tyler on a boat ready to surf. I ran to the beach under the bright Balinese sun and yelled at them. They saw me, and they all waved. This seemed like a much more fitting good-bye to me than the one after cards the night before. Nusa Lembongan had been an awesome tropical Island. It was really one of the highlights of my trip. Everything there-after will be nice, but will represent a slow mental transition back to home.

Back to Kuta. Kuta is the most touristy town in Bali. It's near the airport. It's kind of like a mini Cancun, but with a lot more shopping. DvD's are everywhere for $1. I'd planned my last stop in Kuta for the beach and for the shopping. I got a place and immediately looked for a tailor. I had limited time before my flight and I wanted to get some stuff custom made. After much hunting around I found one that I liked. The tailors here are cheaper than in Thailand, but the selection of materials and the Tailors' abilities to communicate in English are significantly worse. No matter, they still know their stuff. I'm getting a custom-made sheepskin leather jacket and four shirts made. Then, I bought too many DvD's. I tried to take a break from shopping to surf, but the waves had died. I thought maybe they'd be big enough for a boogie board, but they weren't. I still got to play in the water. I was going to call it a night, but I dragged myself out to the bars. I felt very awkward at the spring-break style clubs that adorned the streets of Bali. I talked to a few strangers. Most of them were on holiday for one or two weeks. I was shocked when I found out that those that had two weeks in Bali were staying the entire time in Kuta when Bali had so much more to offer! I felt old. I remember when I had a blast in Mazatlan partying all night. I abandoned the remains of my beer and wandered down some ally-ways to the beach. (Remember Bali is a Hindu nation and is thus very safe.) I was starting to feel depressed. I thought that the waves and moonlight would cheer me up. I was right… sort of. I ran into a group of 7 locals from East Timor and one 42 year old German. The German was married to the prettiest girl in the group who was celebrating her 24th birthday. All of a sudden I was the center of attention. We tried to tell jokes, but there was a bit of a cultural and language barrier. The birthday girl told this joke:

"There once was a man with a monkey. They traveled to Kuala Lumpur and the man asked the monkey where they were. The monkey replied, 'We're in Kuala Lumpur.' 'Good,' the man said. Then the man and the monkey traveled to the capitol of Java and the man asked the monkey where they were. The monkey replied, 'we're in Jakarta.' 'Very good,' the man said. Finally they flew to the international airport in Bali." The birthday girl then turned to me and said, "Do you know where that airport is?" I replied, "Denpassar, I think." She laughed and said, "You are my stupid monkey!" At which point everyone else started to roar with laughter.

I combated with several jokes, but many of them were lost in translation. They passed a vodka and 7-Up bottle around and talked. The kid next to me worked in an illegal CD quasi-factory. I tried to ask him about it, but his English wasn't great. The best I could get out of him is that the university professor walks around checking on everyone. I think he just meant his boss, but whatever. It started to rain, and we all scattered. I was feeling much better. I went to bed determined to surf the next day.

I woke up early and rented the longest easiest board to ride that I could find and I wandered into the water. It was the first time I was out on my own. Normally there's someone there to yell, "paddle, paddle!" at me when a good wave is coming. I struggled for a while with the waves. I once caught one and managed to take it quite a ways on one knee by mistake. Then I had to battle wave after wave to get back out. And, of course, as soon as I made it out there, all of the good waves stopped. I persisted. I still couldn't stand. After a little over an hour I resolved to give it one last go and then try again later in the day. A little wave came my way and I started to paddle. The board caught, and I don't know what I did right, but next thing I knew I was actually standing! The wave was probably only 2 or 3 feet high and a good deal of it was foam, but it was chugging along at a good pace. I was on it long enough to make some gentle turns. I rode that wave all the way to the beach. The board slowed to a halt and I alighted to the sand laying about a foot beneath the water.

It's going to be a good day. I'll get measured more for my suits and shirts. I'll shop, I'll relax in the sun, and hopefully I'll catch up with James.

Now for a bit of Balinese culture. There are like three or four classes in Bali. Each have their own naming scheme. But, 99% of everyone I have met is the same class (though I don't know which one that is). From a social standpoint, noone really pays much attention to class anymore. The first-born child, boy or girl, is named Putu, Wayan, or one other name that eludes me. The second child is Made, Koman, or some other name that I forget. The third child is Nyoman, or two other names that I can't recall. The fourth child is Ketut, just Ketut. The fifth child starts over with Putu or Wayan. There is a word that comes before the name to denote make or female. For men the word is "I" for girls I don't know what it is. You've never seen a place with so many people with the same name. Just bizarre.

I'll talk to you all again at my next and last email.




SE ASIA 9.  Jan 26, 2005

So James did show up. And he brought Tess and Erica. (The girls changed their mind at the last minute about going to Kuta.) We arranged to meet with four more of the girls' Swedish friends later that night. The four of us plopped down at a nice bar with a canoe in front of it and enjoyed happy hour. Not fifteen minutes later the other four Swedish girls showed up. There was a little screaming as the girls got reunited. Every one of them had blonde hair and blue eyes. I thought that had just been a myth. Anyway, we drank and chatted and then 3 Norwegian guys showed up. They were friends with the Swedes. Turns out they were engineers doing some kind of independent study in Bali. What a sweet deal.

The gang of us cruised to another bar and then to a cool Reggae bar. I felt young again. I helped to drag a good portion of the group onto the dance floor. The atmosphere was much more relaxed than the night before and the place felt more like people having fun than just a meat market. The night wore on and the novelty of the Reggae bar began to wear thin. So we headed next door to a Karaoke bar. Most of the Swedes had pealed off over the course of the night and only James, Tess, Erica, myself, and the Norwegians were left. We had a blast. We sung Sublime, Green Day, Summer of 69, and a couple of others that I forgot. There was also another group there that seemed to trade off songs with our crew. They had this one guy that thought that you had to friggin eat the microphone. The guy knew the words and had a descent voice, but it just came out as loud static. If it wasn't for immense laziness and apathy, I would have forcibly taken the mic and positioned it a few inches away from his face. Whatever.

We left for bed around 3:30.

Up at 6:30 with James for a dawn attack. The waves weren't great. I managed to catch several, but standing up proved too difficult. I was also suffering from a headache from lack of sleep/alcohol. James and I split up for a couple of hours. I picked up my tailor made shirts and leather Jacket, then I got a DvD binder to harbour all of my fake DvD's, which, to my surprise, they even sell at the Bali airport for an inflated price of $4/DvD.

James and I met back up an hour later by a McDonald's with a McDonald's delivery scooter and a sculpture of Ronald McDonald surfing. James had rented a motor bike. We were going to go to the water park (kinda like raging waters; water slides, pools, expensive crappy food, the works) which was a 15 minute walk away, but James insisted that we drive. I think he was enamored by the fact that you can rent bikes for $3 for all day. The girls didn't want to drive so I took the second bike. I was a little shaky at first, but after a couple of minutes it wasn't bad. The hard part was remembering to drive on the left hand side. I was nervous, motor biking for the first time, and on a busy street, but I think that Erica was even more paranoid than myself. The motor bikes really are not very safe, but they are pretty easy to learn on. We drove to the outskirts of town for James to get gas for his empty bike. Then we took a ridiculous 20 minute round about way to get to the water park. We started in Kuta, the water park was in Kuta, yet I remember following several signs that said Kuta this way. Regardless, it was exhilarating.

We got to the park and hit the slides. I felt like a kid again. I was running up the stairs pushing over little kids to get the the front (maybe I wasn't that bad, but you get the idea). For a brief while it was really refreshing and fun, but the novelty did wear a little thin. Luckily there was plenty of lounging to be done. A little lunch, one or two more drops down the slide and I said my farewells to James, Tess, and Erica.

I packed and grabbed a cab to the airport. We ran into a Hindu celebration of some sort. Everywhere I travelled the Hindu's were celebrating something or other for like 20 days or 3 days or 10 days. So many Gods, so little time. Seriously, I love the Hindu people. They believe in Karma, and as a result, almost everywhere in Hindu Bali is very safe. But, these guys were having a parade down the middle of the main road. The streets weren't blocked off or anything, they were just marching along.

We eventually made it to the airport and I flew off to KL.

I made it from the airport to my guest house in record time. My stored baggage was still there, which made me pleased. I dropped my bags around 11:30 pm and called my Welsh friend Robert, whom I met at Mt Kinabalu in Borneo. He met up with me around midnight for some beers. He also brought along his lovely southern bell friend Tammy. We had some beers outside. Tammy and Robert were constantly swatting mosquitoes away from me because of the recent outbreak of Denge fever.

Then we cruised off to a great 24 hour Indian restaurant. It was around 2am, but since it was my last night in Asia they were determined to show me a good time. The Hindu's in Malaysia were having a massive 4 day ceremony (maybe the same as the one that I saw in Bali). It was their atonement ceremony. They marched 15 km to the outskirts of town to a place called the Batu caves. They would stick fish hooks in their back and small spears through their cheeks in order to atone for their sin's. (Kinda puts fasting for Yom Kippur into perspective.) I unfortunately, I missed these acts because we arrived at the caves a little after 2:30.

The Batu caves are massive limestone caves which you get to by climbing about 300 steep steps. At the top is a small Hindu temple. 

But, at this time of large ceremony the place had turned into a carnival. There was neon everywhere, street vendors selling all sorts of crap, there were even rides, and this was all going on at 3am; imagine what it was like during the day. Oh, one thing I forgot to mention was the trash. My God was there a lot of trash. You could have waded through it, and this was with continuous cleaning. There were roosters and even a sacred cow that they had somehow managed to get up the steep steps. It was definitely a crazy experience.

Robert took me home. It was a perfect last night in Asia. Four hours later I awoke to pack and did some last minute shopping for DvD's and Software. I also stopped by a shoe shop where the salesman wanted to go to America. I told him he could call me to ask advice on where to travel. He was very grateful, but as I left he tried to sell me Ecstasy. What a weirdo.

I managed to get myself a comfortable exit row seat, and I'm about to board. This email is actually being written from a Burger King Internet terminal.

So that's my trip. Hope you enjoyed the long emails.




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