Posted by: aitzko | December 12, 2009

The girls are here!

They made it to Japan!  Their flight was long and arduous ( no individual tv screens in the backs of the seats!!) but they made it.

Yesterday I had the day to myself while Petrie was at work and we waited for the girls to arrive in the evening.  I went to Ueno Park, a beautiful public space, even in the winter.  In fact, some of the trees still had their fall colors, and there were a ton of evergreens, so it was really gorgeous.  There are also a ton of museums in this area – something like the National Mall in DC, although these museums are definitely not free.  Unfortunately, it was POURING rain all day long, so I couldn’t walk around too too much, but I made it a museum day.

My first stop was the Tokyo National Museum.  It’s actually really quite big, but unfortunately the top floor was closed for renovations, so I missed out on the “Highlights of Japanese Art” part.  Instead I saw some sculupture, some ceramics and laquerware, and some textiles.  At the end, they had this neat activity where you could make your own kimono – except it was a postcard. 🙂  They had all these stamps with beautiful Japanese designs and symbols, which I started using right away.  It was only when I was finished that I realized that there was an explanation sheet that detailed all their meanings, and here I was haphazardly stamping my kimono.  Oops.  It came out really cute anyway, though.  It was funny, I wasn’t the only adult doing it – lots of older ladies were stamping away too!

After this, I went in search of tea to warm my freezing self, and I amazingly navigated that transaction with as little confusion as possible.

We are out the door, so I”ll tie it up later!

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Posted by: aitzko | December 11, 2009

I eat raw shrimp, among other things.

Yesterday was awesome!  It was funny to be so excited to come to Japan, and then to be doing something as mundane as laundry.  But, it absolutely needed to get done, and I’m glad it did!  I met up with Christine after work, and we went to the Asakusa area of Tokyo.  There’s all these little shops and stores selling all kinds of souvenirs, so we wandered up and down for a while.  It seems that the theme of my trip is becoming cats.  Cats everywhere!  In  Bali, it seemed to me like a crazy cat lady must have come and said, “What an adorable cat sculpture!” and then told all her friends, and the Balinese caught on that cats sell.  But here, in Tokyo, there are zillions of little cats with their paws raised.  Apparently, if the right paw is raised, they’re welcoming guests or customers.  If the left paw is raised, it’s inviting luck, money, and fortune.  If both paws are raised, it’s both!

We also wandered up to a gorgeous temple, and took lots of pictures.  It was really cool to be walking around Tokyo, but it was so cold!  (The girls are bringing my winter clothes with them, so I have a very limited and not-very-warm wardrobe.)  So after wandering for a while, we made our way to Starbucks, and got some hot chocolate and sat down to catch up on the last oh, nine months. 🙂

After Starbucks, Christine and I met up with her friend Hajime, and his friend, who’s name I can’t remember or pronounce, but she was very sweet. 🙂  Hajime speaks excellent English, so communication wasn’t a problem.  Um, also, by the way?  Christine is REALLY GOOD at Japanese!  I was suuuuper impressed.  So Hajime showed us his favorite sushi restaurant in all of Japan.  It’s a teensy, hole-in-the-wall kind of place, but the food was awesome!

Now, I said that I’d try all sorts of things while I”m here.  Anyone who knows me knows that I’m not a particularly adventurous eater, and of all things, the food I dislike the most is seafood.  So being in Japan was going to require some serious branching out.  But I tried almost everything!  I had salmon and tuna and all that, but I also had scallops, and eel, and squid, and RAW SHRIMP.  Christine and I took pictures to commemorate the occasion, and so I’d have photographic proof when no one believed me.  The only place where I drew the line (and Petrie as well) was at the sea urchin.  But it really was pretty delicious.  They just kept giving us more!  There was sake, and this kind of seafood-pudding thing, and green tea, and fish dipped in miso…I actually got pretty stuffed.  The only thing that really freaked me out was when the chef gave this kind of soup to Hajime and his friend, that had the entire shrimp in it.  Like, antennae and everything.  Shudder.

But the food was great, and the conversation was awesome, and I had an absolute blast!  It was partly great just to see Christine again, and meeting her friends was fantastic.  They were really cool, and we got to chatting with the other people in the tiny restaurant as well.  They wanted to know how far Boston was from Philly – most people I have met on this trip so far have trouble grasping just how big the US is.  Haha, my roommate Meinir was shocked to find out that Wales was approximately the size of Massachusetts.

I am attempting to build up my Japanese vocabulary so I don’t feel completely helpless.  I can now say thank you, good morning, yes, no, and that’s about it.  I have some work to do.  Christine and Hajime were teaching me words, but I have to repeat them over and over if I’m going to remember them!  I promptly forgot how to say see you later and chopsticks (unrelated) but I’ll ask Christine again tonight.

Today I’m going to go exploring around some museums, and we’ll meet up with Cait and Moser in the evening!  Can’t wait!  This is going to be fun. 🙂

Posted by: aitzko | December 10, 2009

Tokyo!!

I made it!  The flight was actually not too bad, with a stopover in Kuala Lumpur.  I didn’t really sleep, but I have trouble sleeping sitting up.  Got here easily- Christine’s instructions were perfect, and the Airport Limousine Bus was so efficient!  When they say 8:40, they really mean 8:40.

For first impressions, the airport bathroom was CLEAN!  Like, not just an approximation of clean, but clean!!!  I cannot explain how exciting that was.

Also, I bought a teensy bottle of water for 100 yen, which is somewhere in the vicinity of a dollar.  This kind of woke me up – I’m used to Bali, where two regular sized bottles of water cost under 50 cents!  So I will need to get used to that pronto, before I spend every penny I have left. 🙂

Christine was ADORABLE and set up her apartment for us girls to come over.  It looks like it’s all set up for a slumber party!  Her apartment is so cute, with nice little touches all over the place, and spotless.  Note to self:  try to emulate Christine when you go home and clean up your room.  She’s working today, so she had her lovely friend Blaire show me around the apartment building.  Christine left me a little care package with guidebooks, instructions, and cookies.  That girl knows the way to my heart.

I am thrilled to be meeting up with the girls – Cait and Moser are arriving tomorrow morning.  This will be great!

Today I plan to do some laundry – the inside of my suitcase smells like a middle school boys’ locker room – it’s not pretty.  Also, I could really use a shower.  After that, I plan to do a little exploring, armed with Christine’s info.

Hooray Japan!

Posted by: aitzko | December 9, 2009

I make some sweet jewelry, and enjoy my last day in Bali.

Okay, so this has got to be a relatively quick one!  Today’s my last day in Bali.  I’m leaving this evening to go to Tokyo, and meet up with Petrie, and then the girls!  I could not be more excited.  It will be great to have some travel companions after this last week plus alone.

Yesterday morning, I took a silversmithing class!  It. Was.  So.  Cool.  I made two necklace pendants, and I could not be more proud of them!  They actually came out really well!  It was an awesome class – a couple other people were in it with me, and the teacher was great.  He showed us how to do each step, and then pretty much left us to it.  He monitored us, of course, but I made both my necklaces totally by myself. 🙂  And they came out nicely!!  This class was such a great decision.  Silversmithing was great – it was challenging, but not too difficult to make something really pretty and wearable.  I highly recommend it!  In case anyone comes to Bali and wants to check it out, it was at Studio Perack (turquoise and white sign) on Hanoman St.

Bali has been great.  I think it was a good place to get my travel feet under me, and get started.  In honor of my leaving Bali, I will now present you with this list:

Things I Have Shared My Room With In Ubud

  • Approximately a jillion mosquitoes
  • A spider the size of a softball
  • A golf-ball sized spider who hung out next to my mirror until he disappeared… gulp.
  • A few geckos ( these are EVERYWHERE, and adorable)
  • A cat (yes, a cat.  I heard a noise and looked up one day, to see it creeping along a ledge near the ceiling… um, hi)
  • A toad (or a frog, I really don’t know the difference, but this big guy was hiding behind the toilet, until I came out to take a shower)

I hope you have enjoyed it.

Anyway, tonight I’m off to Japan!  I have some time to kill while I’m here, but I’d rather not walk around – I’ll just get all sweaty and grimy, and have to sit on a plane all night, so I think I’ll seek out some air conditioning to keep somewhat clean.

Another thing:  I think I’ve finally started to get used to the heat.  By this, I don’t mean that I’m not hot anymore, but rather that I no longer mind that much when I’m completely coated in sweat.  Lovely.

Well, this is it until I get to Japan!  I’m not sure how often I’ll update – I’ll have access to Petrie’s computer (Thanks, Petrie!), but I know Cait has an action-packed schedule for us, and I cannot wait. 🙂

So for now, selamat siang, and terima kasih!

Posted by: aitzko | December 7, 2009

I take the long way home. The very long way.

Whew, this one should be a doozy!

Well, last night I went to see a Legong performance at the ARMA museum, that place I went to a couple of days ago.  It included dinner, which was delicious – cucumber soup (spicy!), roasted chicken, fish sate, and fresh fruit for dessert.  The dance was AMAZING- ARMA is apparently known for having really talented dancers, and this totally lived up to my expectations.  The setting is pretty awesome – an open stage, a beautiful building behind them, etc.  This dance was performed with a full Balinese orchestra, which means a lot of percussive xylophone-like instruments, a few drums, a few gongs, and a flute.

Balinese dance is really interesting – it’s immensely graceful, but these graceful movements are combined with complex hand gestures that each have a symbolic meaning, and really intense facial expressions.  They open their eyes really wide, look rapidly from side to side… it’s really cool to watch.  And the hands?  There is something that they do that I can only describe as Balinese Spirit Fingers.  They wiggle their fingers, but only the third and forth ones.  Or, they’ll make a scissor kind of gesture, but not the way we do it – it actually looks really difficult.

You know what would be awesome?  If we had Balinese Dancing with the Stars.  Sure, Donny Osmond can do the Viennese Waltz, but what about the Kecack?  I would love to see him do some Balinese Spirit Fingers.

Anyway, it was an awesome performance, and I was really glad I went.  On my walk home, I got approximately 7 calls of “Taxi?”, and at that hour, almost everything is closed.  Sigh.  I have to say, it will be really nice to get to Tokyo and not be constantly asked  “Taxi?  Taxi?  Where are you from?”

When I got home last night, I let myself into my little cottage, and sitting there to greet me on the bathmat was a spider.  But not just any spider.  This spider was the size of a softball.  No joke.  HUGE.  So, naturally, I did the grown-up thing to do and went as fast as I could to the front desk, where I asked someone to squish it for me.  A very nice young man came to do just that, and I think he hit it once, but it scuttled under the bookcase.  He told me, “It no hurt you,” which I take to mean that it isn’t poisonous?  Awesome.

I was pretty much terrified to go to sleep after that, so I stayed up for a while with the lights on.  I also used a combination of packing tape and clothespins to make my mosquito net around my bed as secure as possible.  I’m still alive, so I guess things are good.

This morning, I got up to go on one of the walking tours detailed in my guidebook.  It takes you around the countryside around Ubud, a good stroll through local villages and ricefields.  Well, I was doing pretty well on my walk – I had navigated pretty well, and had gotten through about half of it.  The scenery was beautiful, and I had said hi to a few people along the way.  Unfortunately I got a bit turned around and wasn’t sure of the right way to go, so I stopped at a store and asked really quick.  The guy at the counter pointed me in the right direction, but another man standing nearby said “Ubud?  I’m headed that way!  You can walk with me.”

What he meant to say was, “I’m headed in the general direction of Ubud, by going through some rice fields, some jungle, up a muddy slope, through some more ricefields, through some more jungle, and over a bamboo bridge that I’m working on that will take us over a river ten feet below.”

Seriously!  Agung became my impromptu guide, and I had NO idea what was in store for me.  He was on his way to go work on the bamboo bridge that it turns out, he is actually building himself, and since it “wasn’t that much farther” to the road, he let me walk with him.  Oh.  My.  Goodness.  I am so not kidding – I was practically chasing after this very fit 57 year old man, up slopes, through rice fields… it goes on and on.  And yes, I crossed his “bridge, ” which was really like five bamboo poles about ten feet above a river.  Of course, it was all gorgeous – absolutely unbelievable scenery, but I didn’t take pictures – I was too worried about keeping up with Agung!  It was actually pretty funny – he apologized for laughing, but he just couldn’t help himself:  it was too funny, how clumsy I am!  No joke.  He was laughing at me because I kept tripping, and sliding in the mud.

Agung was very nice – he told me he has 6 kids, the last three are triplets, and they give him no end of trouble!  They’re about middle school age.  He has three grandkids already from his older children, and they all live with him.

Phew!  Eventually, Agung and I got to the road, and I dragged myself back into town, exhausted.  But what a morning!

Posted by: aitzko | December 6, 2009

Power outage and yoga class

Well, I finally found the yoga place!  Class this morning was great, but man, I forgot how out of shape I am and how long it’s been since I actually went to class!  I know I’ll be sore tonight. 🙂  I might try to make it to another one tomorrow, to make sure I get in a little physical activity on this trip!  Besides the massive amounts of walking, of course.

Last night we had a power outage in the entire Ubud area.  Poof!  This wasn’t a huge deal until later though.  I had tickets to go see another Kecak dance, performed here in Ubud.  Unfortunately, things were a bit harder to see because of the power outage, but it was actually kind of neat to watch the dance by firelight.  This time, I understood more of what was going on, and could follow the story a bit better.  Every performance is different, so it was still pretty cool to watch!  In addition, they performed a traditional dance that’s usually done to drive away evil spirits when there’s sickness or death in the communtiy.  Two little girls are “entranced” – a divine spirit temporarily descends into the girls, and they dance.  They do the entire dance with their eyes closed, but in almost perfect unison.  It really is pretty mesmerizing to watch.  When they’re done, they “fall” to the ground, and a priest brings them out of the trance and blesses them.  Again, it would have been cooler to see it in more detail if the electricity was working, but it was pretty cool in the firelight.  At one point, the clouds parted and you could see this patch of stars – awesome.

The power outage only really bothered me on my walk back!  It was pitch black!  The passing cars provided some light, but I used my cell phone to navigate the treacherous sidewalks – thank goodness I had charged it that afternoon!  When I got back to my cottage, the rain started.  And oh my goodness, was it raining!  I crossed my fingers and prayed that the roof wouldn’t leak – it appears I was in luck.  The electricity returned this morning, thankfully.

I forgot one thing – have I mentioned the roosters?  In addition to the ubiquitous dogs, roosters are EVERYWHERE in Ubud – and they want to make sure you know it, too.  I am so not kidding.  All day, they go, “Just wanted to let you know that we are ROOSTERS AND WE WILL BE COCKADOODLING AT THIS VOLUME FOR THE REMAINDER OF THE DAY THANK YOU VERY MUCH!”  Whew!  It’s no joke – they never shut up!

Today, another museum, some planning for Thailand, and a different dance – a Legong – tonight!

Hey everybody!  Things in Bali are still going great, and I’m enjoying Ubud tons.  This morning I took a walk to try and find this place called the Yoga Barn for some classes, but I totally could not find it!  I plan to try again tomorrow and ask for help – I know where it should be, but I think it’s set back from the road a little bit, so I might need a hand finidng it.

Anyway, I went to an awesome place called the ARMA museum instead.  This place is AMAZING.  It’s way more than just a museum – it’s a cultural center AND a resort, as well!  It’s located on five hectares (like I know what that is) of land, and it’s this huge complex.  A ticket is 250,000 Rp (roughly $2.50), and you get to tour the entire place.  It’s got a huge collection of Balinese and Indonesian art, by both native artists and expats, including Walter Spies.  First of all, the buildings and the grounds are gorgeous.  I took way too many pictures.  You’re not supposed to take pictures inside the museum (obvi) but I got as many as I could of the grounds and the buildings.  Balinese architecture is awesome- there’s so much attention to detail, so much intricacy.  I wandered around the museum for an hour or so, then took a walk.

The resort is so picturesque – If you can afford to stay there (rooms start at $90/night) I SO would.  The nicer rooms have their own private villas, and private pools.  It’s like a little garden oasis, with fountains and little paths and sculptures everywhere.  Some people are caught between the desire for comfort and luxury in a hotel, and a desire to immerse one’s self in the culture – the ARMA hotel provides an awesome fusion of the two – the entire organization cares so much about Balinese culture, you can find it in every aspect of this place, but the facilities are beeeeeyoooootiful.

I wandered around for about two and a half hours, it was so gorgeous.  The ARMA museum also offers nightly dance performances, and classes in a whole host of subjects.

Okay, now here is where I need your help.  I’d like to take one of these classes while I’m here in Ubud, but I can’t decide which one!  The ones I’m interested in are:

  • Woodcarving.  Balinese woodcarving is GORGEOUS, and when you’re finished the class, you have a small piece to take home with you.  On the other hand, I might just want to buy something by a professional…
  • Balinese Dance.  This looks SO cool, but we all know how uncoordinated I am, and if you’ve ever seen me dance, I’m sorry.
  • Hinduism in Bali.  This would be FASCINATING, I’ve already been enthralled by what I’ve learned so far.  And you get to learn how to make an offering!
  • Balinese cooking.  Yum!
  • Silver making.  This last one is not offered by ARMA, but by a shop in the area.  This class will show you how they make beautiful silver jewelry, and you finish the class with a piece you’ve made yourself!

So what do you think?  I’m going to try putting in a poll.  Vote, and let me know!! 🙂

P.S. I hear cooking classes in Thailand are awesome, so I might want to save cooking for there!

Boy, am I tired!  But I’ll try to write this down while it’ s still fresh in my mind.

Last night, I went to a restaurant called Nomad recommended by my guidebook.  As I was finishing, a sweet Australian girl named Sasha came by my table and asked if she could sit down – her friend had been with her, but was feeling ill, and went back to the hotel.  Sasha didn’t want to sit alone, so she came over!  I think she was about 19, and on her “gap year, ” except not really.  As Sasha explained it, the rich kids get to go travel for a whole year, whereas she worked her butt off for her vacation!  It was great chatting with her, and we talked about all sorts of random stuff – apparently their kangaroos are kind of like our deer, in that they’re everywhere, and you have to be really careful not to hit them while driving!

I went to bed fairly early, cause I had to get up early today for the bike ride.  They picked me up around 8:15 in a van, and we drove up toward Mt. Batur.  Also on the bike ride were Steve and Marissa, a young Australian couple, and Brian, an Australian approximately my dad’s age.  All were super nice, and great people to be on the trip with!  On the way, we stopped at a little organic farm, where they showed us a lot of the plants they grow on Bali, like pineapples, cinnamon (which comes from a tree that smells like cinnamon if you put your nose up to the bark), bananas, coffee, ginseng, vanilla, etc.  They showed us how they make the coffee, and then had us sample some various drinks – coffee, ginseng coffee, lemongrass tea, ginger tea, and cocoa.  All were, of course, delicious.  And being a sucker for tea, I totally caved and bought some.

We kept driving up to a restaurant that had an amazing view of the mountains, or should I say, volcanoes.  They haven’t erupted for a long time, but still could.  Luckily, they didn’t today. 🙂  Breakfast was pretty good, and it was really nice talking to Marissa, Steve, and Brian.  It turns out Steve proposed to Marissa when they went to Japan last year, and Brian’s wife is Japanese and he’s traveled there extensively, so they all had good things to say about the next leg of my trip!  After breakfast, a bit more driving, and then we got out and got on our bikes.  Wow, let me say – in my last post I compared something to being like riding a bike.  Perhaps we should rephrase that, because while I eventually got the hang of it, I was pretty shaky at first!  It’s funny, when you haven’t ridden one for years, it really takes a while to get the feel of it again.  Brian had been a triathlete pre-hip surgery,  so he was really confident, and made us all look stupid as he rode his bike one-handed, taking pictures with the other.  And then we began our ride!

I took a ton of pictures, but I’m afraid they won’t do the scenery justice.  The views were AMAZING.  We went by lots of rice field terraces, and farmers going about their work.  It was a beautiful day for the ride – hot, but with a breeze.  We stopped to take pictures several times, and of course for water and a snack of a banana.  They were really tiny, but really sweet.  The bananas, that is.  The rice fields were amazing, and just went on for miles.  We passed through several villages, too, and kids would come running out to say “Hello!” and get high fives as we passed.  I tried, but when I lifted my hand up I wobbled like crazy, so I left the high fives to Brian and Steve.  The kids were adorable, though, and shouted out “Where are you from?” and “Where are you going?” to practice their English.  We exchanged “Selamat siang”s with the adults (good afternoon – specifically between 11 -3ish), and waved.  Brian said that it must be like TV – “Oh, it’s 12:30, time to watch the tourists go by!”  Anyway, it was an amazing experience, and I’m so so glad I went!  It was such an awesome way to see the countryside.  And believe it or not, it was mostly all downhill!  There were a couple parts that went up sharply, and we had to get off the bikes and push – we’re not in that good shape!  But for the most part, easy ride, great scenery, and friendly people.

Unfortunately, just as we were going through a dip in the road, there was a man shoveling on the side of it, and some gravel was in the road.  Just as Marissa was approaching it, a motorbike came the other way, and I think she got a bit freaked – and crashed.  She got a huge scrape on her knee that looked not at all fun – we all stopped to clean it off and patch her up.  They had a car following behind us just in case of such an event, so they brought out the first aid kit.  It really didn’t look too great, so Marissa and Steve went back to get it looked at.

Brian, our guide and I continued on, and just after Marissa and Steve left, a ceremonial processi0n came by – just in the middle of the road, a total surprise!  Women carrying offerings on their heads smiled and waved and said “Hello!”, and it was really too cool.  We continued on until the end of our ride, at which point we hopped in the truck to go get lunch at our guide’s family compound.  Most Balinese families live in compounds, or collections of buildings that house the entire extended family.  Often, three or four generations will all live together.  Haha, since the van had taken Marissa and Steve back to Ubud, we rode in the truck that held the bikes – I sat up front with the driver, and Brian and our guide sat in the back of the truck, with the bikes!  Brian said he liked it that way so he could wave back to the people we passed.  Haha, I considered popping in the back, but funnily, all I could think was, “My mother would kill me.” 🙂

So lunch was delicious, and we had an impromptu, multi-language lesson.  I’m sorry to say that my Bahasa Indonesia isn’t much better than before, but it was certainly fascinating!  Brian used to be a language teacher – which explains a lot, like how he speaks so many languages!  He’s learning French, so we chatted in French for a while.  I have to say, its terribly embarrassing not to speak more languages – I feel like everyone else speaks several!

After lunch, the tour was over, and now I”m back in Ubud!  I have to say, though, I”m exhausted!  I suppose the ride took it out of me, as well as being in the sun all day.  I covered myself in sunscreen, so I’m not really burned, although I am rather pink – but not bad.  A miracle!  Thank goodness for the little things.  I wish I could describe the scenery better, but every time I try, my words really just don’t do it justice.  Anyway, it was an awesome day, and I got to meet lots of interesting new people!

I think I’m going to check out the Yoga Barn tomorrow, a place near my hotel that offers yoga classes, and all sorts of fun stuff.

Missing everyone, hope you’re all well!

Oh, PS – when I first got in the car, they asked me if I was Canadian, and I said no, American.  Apparently, it’s best to ask Canadian first, because if you mistake a Canadian for an American, they get really offended!  Great.  Glad to see that our reputation preceeds us.  Sigh.  I’m doing my best to work on that!

Posted by: aitzko | December 3, 2009

I go to temple and get rice on my forehead.

So far, Ubud is awesome.  Last night, I went for dinner at a really nice, very posh looking restaurant located right at the center of town, and across the street from the temple,  down the street from the Ubud Palace.  Everyone was so nice and full of smiles – I think the difference in the people between Kuta and Ubud would be like going from New York City to a small, friendly Midwestern town.  The restaurant’s atmosphere was awesome – really well decorated, friendly and attentive staff, etc.  The food was delicious – I’ve noticed that I’ve been taking lots of pictures of my food, of all things.

I had some delicious lamb chops  prepared Balinese style, and a pina colada.  The restaurant was crowded, so they sat me at the same table as a French couple.  It was actually a huge table and could have sat at least two more people, so it’s not like we were on top of each other or anything.  Halfway through dinner I realized they were speaking French, and made some conversation – who knew I’d be getting French practice in Bali??  I actually did okay, although there were a couple times when I was totally at a loss for what they were saying, at which point they helpfully translated into English.  I’m really out of practice, so it’s nice to know that it’s like riding a bike – I may be rusty, but the basics are still there!  Note to self:  must start going to meetups when I get home!

As we were eating, a procession started developing outside.  Apparently, there was a four-day ceremony going on in Ubud, and last night was the last night.  It happens about once every six months, so I’m glad I caught it!  There are tons of ceremonies in Bali – some that must be performed every day, some that happen once a week, once a month, once a year, once every five years.  It’s just a part of daily life, and everything is based of an immensely complex calendar that requires a priest to figure out.  Anyway, just as we’re eating, this huge procession starts going by!  The whole town came out.  Everyone was dressed in their best – a sarong and a white shirt for men, with a white cloth wrapped around the head, and for women, gorgeous sarongs in every color, with a bustier on top, covered by beautiful long-sleeved lace shirts.  Seriously, I put on my sarong and I felt horribly underdressed, although plenty of tourists were dressed more casually.  It was really awesome to have all this going on during dinner.  When I was finished, I went out to watch with the rest of the crowd.  Unfortunately, my pictures aren’t that great – it was dark, and I also didn’t want to be obnoxious and stick my camera in the middle of these important religious ceremonies, so I tried to be discreet, but unfortunately this resulted in pretty mediocre pictures.  I was standing to watch, when I started to talk to a couple of Balinese guys – Nick and Dito.  They asked me where I was from, of course, and how long I was in Bali, and told me about the ceremony that was going on.  A dance was being performed, that would last late into the night – until 2 or 3 in the morning.  It’s all about good and bad spirits, black and white magic.  According to Dito, the bad spirits can offer protection, while the good spirits can offer luck.

Dito offered to escort me into the temple – which was SO COOL.  I don’t think I would have been allowed in during this festival ordinarily, but since he accompanied me, it was okay.  He said I could take pictures, so I took a few without flash, and tried not to be intrusive to the people praying.  He talked to me about their religion, their ceremonies, etc. – very cool.  Then he offered to let me pray with him – “Not to my gods, to your gods!” (Side note:  I have found that attempting to explain my religion to the Balinese people is kind of useless.  G’day, my driver from Kuta, had asked me about it – when I said “Jewish,” he said “Jesus, yes?” and I said “no… Jewish.”  “Hmm, Joos”…he replied thoughtfullly.  I tried to explain, but with limited language skills, I figured it was best left a mystery.)  So we went over to the shrine, and Dito showed me how to sit like a good Balinese woman, feet tucked under your butt.  Originally, I had sat down cross-legged like him, and he laughed and told me I was sitting like a man.  He made his offering, while I tried to sit unobtrusively, and when we were finished, he blessed me with water, and showed me what to do – you take some of the water and sip it three times, then you take a bit of rice, put some on your forehead, and then put some on your collarbone, then eat a little bit.  So awesome!  We watched the ceremony a little more, and he told me about what he does – he said he’s a carpenter, an electrician, a mechnaic, a driver… I don’t know if he’s legitimately talented at all of these things, but from what I understand, it’s not unusual for the citizens of Ubud to be trained in lots of things.

So that was my awesome night.  This morning I met a great guy at my hotel, Phil from New Zealand ( or was it Will?)  He was on his way out to meet his partner in Sanur, but he said he really liked the hotel, so that bodes well.  He’s in the military, stationed in East Timor.  He suggested a walk to do that’s in the Lonely Planet guide book, and gave me some tips on things worth doing.  He also warned me to be careful – he said so many people fall in love in Bali, his partner’s Balinese!  Haha, I told him I’d watch my back.

Okay, it’s a lovely day outside and I’ve been in here too long!  This internet cafe is going to love me this week.

Tomorrow I’m taking a bike ride with Bike-Baik tours, which got great reviews on Trip Advisor ( http://www.balibike.com), so I’ll update on that tomorrow!

Oh, and if you talk to my mom, please tell her to keep reading my blog – she didn’t want to hear anymore after I described the Monkey Incident, it freaked her out.  No more monkeys!  And thanks, Lesley, I hadn’t known that was a thing – now I don’t feel quite so horrible about it. 🙂

Posted by: aitzko | December 2, 2009

Ubud!

I made it to Ubud!  I’m staying at this adorable place called Matahari Cottages – it’s RIDICULOUSLY cute, and I have my own tiny cottage.  It’s decorated in tons of antiques – there’s a chair I’m afraid to sit on because it looks so delicate.  Also, the shower?  Is in the middle of the bathroom.  I already almost destroyed an entire roll of toilet paper by waving the darn thing around.  I’m going to have to work on that.  The only downside is that there are looots of bugs around the area.  I have mosquito netting and all, so that helps, but while I barely saw any bugs in Kuta, there’s an abundance here.

My hotel serves afternoon tea, so I had that this afternoon, around 3pm.  It’s served on more antique china, etc. – unbelievably cute.

Ubud is a really artistic community – there’s beautiful artwork and crafts everywhere.  The vendors are also less aggressive, for the most part.  I’m also inclined to believe that Ubud has seen its share of crazy cat ladies – on a brief walk around the center of town, I saw several shops selling an array of carved wooden cat sculptures.  I’ll try to get a picture if I can, without anyone insisting that I come inside and buy one!

Ubud thankfully has a slower pace than Kuta.  It’s more laid back, less frantic.  It seems that there’s a special temple ceremony going on at the center of town tonight.  And watching the dance is free!  So I’ll be doing that, but it’s not until 9pm, so I have some time to kill.  I have lots of time to explore Ubud, and I plan to do some day trips from here.

Right now I’m at an awesome little internet cafe – the computers look brand new, there’s beautiful art on the walls, and the staff is very helpful and attentive.  And it’s less than five minutes from my hotel!

One thing I haven’t mentioned – there are a LOT of stray dogs in Bali.  They’re all pretty mangy – literally, they have mange – and not well cared for.  There are a couple organizations that exist to combat this problem, like Bali Adoption Rehab Center (www.freewebs.com/balidogs), but they alone care for over 100, and the dogs are never ending.

Another thing – it’s great to wander around, but the sidewalks are treacherous, if they exist at all!  Haha, it’s hard to look at all the awesome stuff around you and also keep an eye on your feet.

Enough for now!

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