Where I've Been

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Bali and Surabaya, Indonesia

And so begins the history of my blog. This blog will be a blog of my travels. I’ve been a little reluctant to start a blog considering that once anything is added to the internet it essentially stays there forever, and being that I am clearly destined for a meaningful political career in the future and the stupid things I will say will only hurt the chances of a presidency or head of some women’s union or something else of commensurate merit, I’m doing it anyway.

A short and perfectly skippable history of the title and URL: One day I was in Belize and I saw this guy selling a stonecarving he had made of the Mayan god of travel. I tried to bargain him down to buy it but while doing so somebody else up and paid full price (idiot tourists). But I decided the carving was a cool enough thing that I thought I would name something meaningful after that Mayan god of travel in the future like a dog, a baby, or a blog. I have fulfilled my obligation. Oh, and the travellator is from this:

Which are the ingeniously titled moving walkways in Singapore.

I’m currently working in Singapore for National Instruments. I’ll go into Singapore later. But a week after I came to Singapore we had the Indian festival of Hari Raya. I don’t know what that means, but we were awarded two days off work. I realized I had a four days weekend four days before the weekend. So I booked a flight on Garuda Airways (an Indonesian airline) for a weekend of luxury in Indonesia. I really wanted to visit Bali because I’ve heard incredible things about it and President Bush told me that if we are afraid to go about our everyday lives then the terrorists have already won. He can’t possibly be wrong. Unfortunately, Bali is a favorite destination for many locals, especially other Indonesians and getting a flight there proved to be impossible through about 12 airlines. Fortunately, I booked an open jaw flight: arriving in Surabaya, Java and leaving from Denpasar, Bali 3 days later. That garnered numerous objections from my coworkers, even the Indonesian guy told me: “you’re going to Indonesia? Alone? You’re going from Surabaya to Denpasar?? How?? Alone??? They don’t speak English in Java, it’ll take a day to get there, transportation is bad…” I’m sure he kept going, but with eyes and jaw wide open I boarded the plane.

I arrived in Surabaya around noon to find that I didn’t have enough money to pay for the visa to enter the country. Normally I’m smart with these things but I needed to buy congee with century egg (a very interesting Chinese breakfast) while in the Singapore airport and now didn’t have enough money. The customs guy was generous enough to take my passport and send me to the street outside the airport to look for an ATM. Now I used to live in the Philippines and so I’m used to having random (and by random I mean everybody within earshot of the crowd of people yelling that a white guy was walking around) people staring at me, but it’s always flattering. I can only assume that they go home and sit around the dinner table, breathing excitedly “and you’ll never guess what we saw at the airport today”. I found an ATM machine, it didn’t work. I was somewhat worried that I wouldn’t be able to find one. But after walking for about 20 minutes, sure to not let on to anyone that I was looking for a way to extract a large amount of money, I found a working ATM, paid for my visa and promptly set about finding a domestic flight to get me to Denpasar in Bali. They were all booked. All of them. I tried twice. All 4 airlines were booked solid that day. I walked about, chagrined. A guy offered to drive me there for $100 (5 hour drive and 2 hour ferry). I thought about it, hard. I decided to try the airline another time. Ah, the charmed third time. This time they miraculously produced a ticket that left at 8PM. It must have fallen behind the desk before. Incidentally, when I finally boarded the flight it was about 2/3 full. I just don’t know, people. I just don’t know.

With my 5 free hours I decided to see the city. So I sat down at a little café where a few guys my age were sitting. Here they are:

We started talking, me in English and them in very poor English (I not so good too). Finally they got the gist that I wanted to see the city. One of them offered his bike and away we zoomed. Here are random pictures I took on the back of the bike. Indonesian people are really cool. They all smiled at me.

This lady is carrying a birdcage with a cover on it so as to not to frighten the birds who are notoriously afraid of dangerous driving (like driving a motorbike while carrying a birdcage).

This guy is hanging out of a bus. Look closely, he has an electric guitar in one hand and is waving at me with the other. Rock on brother.

Here's us

Because people in southeast Asia love to shop they assume everyone else does as well. So the first place we went was a huge plaza (mall) that had just opened and had everybody excited. Naturally the whole mall stared at me. Including a couple of teenage girls who stopped and said hi. Then came back and took a picture with me on their cellphone. Then came back and took me to a photo studio they had booked and took pictures which I can only describe as “engagement-like”. In gratitude I took this picture of them with me. I’m the tall one.

Then my new friend and I started touring around. He had an interesting sense of time. He told me it would take an hour to get from the airport to town. It took 20 minutes. The he told me it would take another hour to get from the mall to Chinatown. It took 25 minutes. My suspicions were confirmed when I asked him to take my picture and he asked me to wait ten minutes while he put the kickstand down on his motorbike. After 17 seconds we were back on the road.

Here is a picture of a Buddhist shrine:

Here is another Buddhist temple. I absolutely love eastern temples. Especially Chinese Buddhist. I could stay days in there. The incense, the smoke, the lights, the different altars, the people bobbing and kneeling, the carvings, the architecture. Love it, really do. So we went to a few temples, then back to the airport. You were good to me, Surabaya 2006, I’ll remember that.

That evening found me in Kuta, Bali, the center of backpackertown. After finding a place to stay, I walked around Kuta. All around were Aussie surfers in their shorts and t-shirts, Europeans in their man capris and loafers, hippies in their hemp and dreds, and local guys and girls out looking to score any of these. I walked by the monument to where the bombings happened back in 2002. Remarkably near to where the bombings happened in 2005. Both in the month of October, only a few days from the day I was there. Luckily, my buddy George's words kept echoing in my mind and I stayed safe. “Stay the course” “Take the fight to them” “Bring ‘em on” “We’ll smoke ‘em out”. That’s my boy. That night was a blur of music, lights, Aussies pouring Fosters on each other, and Paul Hoganesque voices yelling drunken epitaphs to Steve Erwin. The next morning I awoke and went to the beach, or maybe I woke up on the beach, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I was viewing some of the best surfing in the southern hemisphere. Waves crashing about me, I bought a bamboo mat and laid on the hot sand. My surfing was a little rusty since I had last longboarded in San Luis Obispo so I passed and headed to get some food. Eating at supposedly the best restaurant in Kuta cost me $12. And here it is:

mmm. I chatted with the waitstaff quite amicably for an hour or so and then hopped a taxi for Ubud in the center of the island.

Can I tell you how much I love Bali? And especially Ubud? Currently Bali is in a thai with Thailand for my favorite place on earth (this sentence has a joke in it, see if you can spot it). The people are extremely friendly and speak decent English, there are beautiful beaches, mountains, the food is quite good, it’s cheap for us Americanos and the Bali religion deserves a prize. I think it’s the coolest religion I’ve seen. They’ve got to be the ones that get saved, or at least get Honorable Mention. First off, they are Hindu, but not like Indians or Nepalese, they are Balinese Hindus. And that’s something special. As such they believe in a pantheon of gods but technically only worship one god for the Muslim government of Indonesian to recognize them. They build temples religiously (which kinda makes sense). Every family has their own temple which consists of a gate, a shrine, some statues to ward off evil gods and spirits, and assorted other stuff, generally all made of stone. It is their duty to dress up the deities, like these:

Then each village has three temples, one towards the center of the island where the highest deity can visit, one in the center of the village for everyday worship and one toward the ocean to appease the evil gods. Then there are temples for the cardinal directions of the island, and then a great Mother Temple complex for the whole island. My taxi driver stopped in the middle of road for me to take this picture of a temple. Cars were honking behind us, to encourage me to take the best picture I could.

As a result of the ubiquity of their temples they are always dressing up and going to make offerings, pretty much every day. The offerings are generally just little banana leaf baskets held together with bamboo splinters and containing rice or flowers. The offerings can be at the temples or really anywhere. Here’s a picture of one that I found outside my door in the morning.

Offerings to appease the evil gods, on the other hand, are usually rotten and are left about because evil gods like that kind of thing. It’s all extremely fascinating. To enter into their temples during certain times you have to dress in special clothing, even the tourists. But then sometimes you don’t, I'm not quite sure when the rules apply. Here’s an excellent shot of me pointing the camera at my lower half.

You’ll notice I’m wearing a green sarong and a yellow sash. Y’all will note that I normally prefer to wear a baby blue sarong with a beige sash but, when in Rome…

I could go on and on about how fervently they believe in the appeasement of these gods and their duties and the festivals and cremation ceremonies and their cleansings and rites of passage and caste system and housing arrangement but let’s first talk about monkeys.
Monkeys are sacred. As such, they have a holy park set aside for temples and monkeys. You pay to go in and see the monkey temple park, and you can also buy bananas to feed to the hl monkeys. This is me in a sort of holy communion with the sacred monkeys.

This sanctimonious old lady was trying to stare me down. She won, she always does.

Here’s one of the evil god temples in the monkey park.

Note that the witch widow goddess is about to eat a smiling baby. That may strike you as odd until you realize that they’re both made of stone and there’s really not much eating going to happen there at all anyway.

Here are more picture of the sacred monkey park.
If monkey sexuality offends you please do not look

Ubud is characterized as the artistic heart of Bali and, as such, there are incredible traditional dances that occur there every night. Being an incredible dancer myself I went. Unfortunately, my camera decided to start being very bad that night. This is the best of a series of extremely dark and depressing pictures that came from my camera that evening.
It shows the gamelan which is an all male a capella chorus of about 100 guys in black and white checkered sarongs with a red sash. They sit in a circle surrounding a rack of torches telling the story out of the Ramayana or Mahabharata (Hindu epic stories) while dancers in full costumes come to the middle and act out the epic. The dancing is similar to Thai dancing in that they make very angular body shapes like they have cramps in several major muscle groups simultaneously with their eyes open wide, eyeballs darting back and forth. It’s different than watching Britney Spears dance, at least the gamelan have a better voice.
They are really quite incredible, the show is about an hour and a half and their a capella is like a syncopated rhythm chak chak chak chakA chakA chakA chakA chakA chakA chakA chakA chakA chakA chakA chakA chak chak chak interwoven with solos, then slowly and morosely and then back to the rhythm (the A is the offbeat in chakA, feel it people, just feel it). Evidently when the dances are actually done in worship, the gamelan put people in a trance, who then run through the fire. That’s exactly what happened afterward. A guy kept walking through flaming coals as the gamelan chanted. Sorry, the camera didn’t want to have any part of that. But here’s a picture of me with one of the stars of the show. Evidently I was rather entranced myself.

I enjoyed the art and culture so much that I bought a nice painting. I will display it rolled up in the corner of my room with my rolled up paintings from Tanzania, Argentina, China, and my sculpture from Zanzibar.

Indonesians drive on the left side of the road which is inherently dangerous and should be avoided. But luckily I had a stylish helmet from 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Here’s me on my hog.

Ubud also has a nice palace that has some Dutch colonial influence since they inhabited Indonesia a while back.

Ubud has a lot of beautiful rice paddies and most guesthouses will even advertise a “rice paddy view”. Here is a “rice paddy view”.

The final place I went on the way to the airport was Tanah Lot, a temple on a rock in the water which can only be reached at low tide.

Holy Snake! Yes I paid to see the holy snake which is what that guy to the left is charging for. I even touched its Imminence.

Just a sweet shot.

Here's a place in town with a bunch of people resting. Those are carved fish skeletons hanging from the roof. I don't know why.

And here's another temple. I told you, there are a lot.

Full of admiration for the Balinese people and their beautiful culture I boarded the plane and headed back to Singapore. Until next time.

That's me, I'm the Travellator