Saturday, November 26, 2011

Photo Post #2: Bali, Indonesia

OK, here is part two of the holiday photos, showcasing our time in Bali. Well, sort of anyway. I was a bit ambivalent about Bali, in the true sense of the word. We stayed in Nusa Dua in a giant resort. It was not the type of place we'd have ever stayed in before, and to be truthful I felt a little out of my depth and like I didn't belong in there. And, lovely as it was inside the resort, it was very isolated from the rest of the island and island life. In a way, I wondered how much we were missing out on by being all the way down there, out of the action.

However, that said, I did enjoy the doughnuts every day at breakfast. Best. Doughnuts. Ever. My waistline enjoyed them too... there were scales in every bathroom! Talk about putting a bit of a dampener on the holiday eating! Surely that kind of unpleasant surprise should be reserved for when you get home? It didn't stop me from eating those lovely doughnuts though...

The Balinese, like most people in South East Asia, have a very open and obvious spirituality. It affects every moment of their day to day lives. It's almost embarrassing to be a Godless westerner, such as I am ('what religion are you?' Ermmm... ).

Despite this, I was very taken with the offerings placed on every footpath, on stairs and steps, on pedestals and alters, tucked into plant pots and motorbike number plates. I couldn't seem to stop taking photos of them, and when we got home I had dozens upon dozens of offering-photos to sort through.

Like good little tourists, we visited a number of temples.

They were always flooded in sunshine and hard to photograph, so I tended to aim for the shady places;

In places like this, I like peeking in hidden corners and finding tucked-away pavilions and seeing the things that people have left behind for a later date or time, like their lunchboxes;

like bottles with ornately carved wooden stoppers and metal teapots;

and the essentials for a life spent day to day with your Gods.

We also spent a little bit of time in the irrepressible Kuta. I had expected the worst, but to a girl who has spent too much time at Bangkok's Khao San road in the past, and who has been to Phuket and Vang Vieng (Laos), and who was so harrassed by touts in Hanoi (Vietnam) that she turned around and screamed at someone to 'just f*ck off', Kuta really wasn't that bad! I expect it's seedier at night, but during the day it was just a place with lots and lots of little tourist shops and a fairly mediocre beach with some nice shade from the scalding sunlight. We even managed to get a little lost on some backstreets and there wasn't a person in sight - local or tourist - to point us in a different direction.

We also spent a little bit of time in and around Ubud. I had a bee in my bonnet (love that saying!) about visiting Gunung Kawi because I particularly like looking at old sites. It was not the most interesting place like that we have ever been to, I got the distinct impression that all the interesting parts had been 'removed' (IE stolen) at some time in the past, a feeling akin to the intense disappointment you feel around some of the Cambodian temples when you find there is not a single statue with it's head intact. However, despite this, Gunung Kawi was quiet and shady and beautiful. There was a little river running through the centre of the site as well as loads of gorgeous big trees. I think it was probably one of the nicest places we went, not least because there was hardly anyone there!

And all around Gunung Kawi? Rice terraces! Oh, I do love a good rice terrace!

I don't think there is anything else in the world so Green and cooling as rice.

Have you noticed I mention being hot a lot? Bali is hot. You'd think that would be self evident, being the tropics and all, but Bali is also quite grey, there is an awful lot of concrete and carved stone surfaces, reflecting all that tropical heat right back at you. A shady spot with an ocean breeze is sheer bliss. We could have sat on these Tanah Lot stairs for hours.

But when the sun went down every day it was just warm and still and glorious. Most evenings we left our resort for one of the dozens of cafes nearby where we spent the time eating and drinking and trying to keep the toddlers occupied (it was our first real 'family' holiday, we travelled not just Chef D, SP and I, but also with D's mum, his two sisters, one sister's husband and small child).

In the end, I don't think I really 'got' Bali. I felt like I'd seen a lot of it before, in other places. The roadsides lined with shops reminded me a lot of some places in Vietnam, the tourists - mostly Australian - made me think of Phuket, and the rice fields and the beaches could have been anywhere in South East Asia. Kuta was tidier and better maintained than I expected, but I was shocked by how shabby some parts of the supposedly 'superior' Nusa Dua were. Clearly, the tourist dollar is not spread very evenly. Nothing about that is new, but I thought that at least in the more touristed parts of Bali it would have been. Still, it was interesting and nice to see somewhere new. The food was good and we didn't get sick, and I am seeking a recipe for something called 'Pepinchak Udang' which is this kind of fabulously delicious coconutty prawn curry (Google is not helping me out this time).

So... this is my Bali, I think: life and death on the small scale, gory and gritty and grim and beautiful, with a backdrop of hot pink and chrome.

Next time: Thaton.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Promised photo post #1: Singapore

Even though Singapore and Thailand are only a small fraction of the photos that I took - Bali getting the Lion's share - I've decided to separate the photo posts out by country. I was going to do it all in one but figure it would just be too big and it's almost midnight so probably best not to push on at this point. To be honest, I wasn't really feeling the love with my camera on this trip, but there are still a few photos which are nice enough to share (pics are very small for copyright protection purposes, I get iffy about the snaps I take on holiday). There are more pictures on another card somewhere, but I haven't been able to get them organised just yet. Oh, and I'm not in any of these pictures because, in my unbiased opinion, I am much better behind the camera than in front of it...

Anyway, enjoy!

First, we went to Singapore for four nights. On one of our days there we toddled off to Sentosa Island to visit the aquarium - we seem to make time for aquariums whenever there is one. This aquarium is one of the smaller ones we have visited, but SP was fascinated at every corner.

Personally, I was taken with the octopi, beautiful creatures (and this is one of my favourite trip photos, too).

Afterwards, we had a cold drink at a certain giant multinational coffee shop.

I don't know where these two find their energy sometimes...

Of course, while in Singapore we made sure to try some chili crab at at night hawker centre (where we went with my cousin, who lives in this city of glass).


Next post: Bali

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

We're back and gardening!

Actually, we've been back for almost a week and yet seem to have spent very little time at home relaxing. I haven't even managed to sort out any photos yet, must get onto that...
Chef D and I both had a few more days each off from work and we've spent that time constructively (and constructing) in the backyard which was totally overrun by weedy grasses while we were away.

Our house, which we'd hoped to be back in by the end of the year, is nowhere near ready. This is no surprise but still disappointing. We have been consoling ourselves by attempting to build a house for our future chickens. However, SP is going through an especially clingy patch with both of us and progress was predictably slow, and so although we would have liked to have finished the coop by now that's not yet ready either. Nevermind, the chickens will not be moving in until we have, so there is plenty of time left to complete it.

Now I'm off while SP is napping to try and sort out some pictures for the promised travel photo posts.

PS. I love Jackie French and have been reading this book as part of my chicken-research. I'm in no way affiliated with her, but since I think she's pretty cool - as are her books - I thought I'd pop up a picture :-)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Post script to the Bad Luck Car story

We had tried to call the car hire office to 1. ask them if they would try to put the credit card payment through, now that we had resolved the issue at our end, and 2. see if we should get the tyre fixed here or just drive the three hours back to Chiang Mai on the spare. The office-girl got so confused at part 1 of the call, that we didn't bother with part 2. Susan told us where we could get the tyre fixed, and that it would cost 'only 50 baht' ($1.58 Australian) which just seemed absurdly cheap to us. To find this tyre place we were to drive to Mae Ai and , 'look for a rotisserie chicken shop, painted red and orange, which is quite unusual here, and then there is a road off to the left, go past that, and then on the other side there is a strange big shop with lots of glass like a modern furniture store, a long way off the road, about 200m, and then there is a little gas station, and then, after that, you'll see the tyre place and there is a barbecue chicken stall out the front, a normal one, and a wooden sala, very nice and new.' Clear as mud, such is life with Susan. The part she forgot to mention is that she didn't mean driving from here to Mae Ai, but more like the far side of Mae Ai back in this direction. In reverse, in other words.

Anyway, Susan's directions aside, we found the place quite easily. Dylan checked the price with the tyre-man by way of pointing to the screw in the tyre and using the only Thai he can remember, 'Tao rai?' ('how much is it?'), and his answer was 'pet-sip baht', which is 80 baht, or $2.53 AU. Really? So little?

And what do you get for your $2.53? The tyre plugged and fixed and refilled with air; the tyre replaced on the car and the spare re-gassed and back in the boot; all other tyres pressure checked and refilled if necessary; two men busily at work for no more than 10 minutes while wife and child don't even have to leave the car.

Take that, Bad Luck Car!

Do you ever feel that we, in Australia and no doubt other western countries, may be paying quite an inflated price for some things? (I know, I know, labor costs, training costs, material costs, overheads etc etc... but, still...)

Friday, November 11, 2011

Loi Krathong and the Bad Luck Car.

It's Loi Krathong here, one of the major festivals in Thailand. 'Loi' means 'to float' and a 'Krathong' is a little offering made of banana leaves, incense, small money, candles etc which gets floated down the river. It's also one of the major harvest times (here in the north anyway), and held over the full moon period in the 12th lunar month. People also celebrate with fireworks and festoons of lanterns over their gates, fairy lights everywhere, and giant lanterns which are lit and float up high into the sky where they drift about under the stars like fireflies until they burn out. Loi Krathong is also called the 'Festival of Lights', or the 'Lantern Festival'. It's all quite beautiful to look at and there is a kind of festive and lighthearted air, like at Christmas in Australia.

Last night we drove into Thaton to sticky-beak at the festivities. I'm confused about whether last night or tonight is the biggest night of the festival. Last night was the full moon which is important, but tonight is the last night of Loi Krathong so it's the last real opportunity to let off all the fireworks and lanterns. Our little town is basically a main road lined with shops and lots of alleyways coming off the road. There is a large river running through the middle of the town bisecting the highway. Very broadly speaking, the Thais live on the south side of the river and Shan people live on the northern side. Various other groups of people live up on the hillsides in teeny tiny, scrapingly poor villages. The higher up you go, the poorer the people become and the more evident the poverty. Anyway, even though Thaton seems very small and quiet most of the time - and still has no 7-11 or ATMs - every time there is a festival thousands upon thousands of people flock to here to celebrate and it's suddenly quite a bumping and noisy little place. Last night the street was lined with little stalls selling food and trinkets and clothing, while other vendors had carnival type games for the kids to play ('pop the balloon with a dart' and so on).

Last night the street wasn't closed off at all, but people swarmed all over it in enormous crowds while we nosed our car through them very, very slowly. We went through the town and over the bridge and drove on for a bit until we found a place we could turn around and then crept back over the bridge again, a boat in a sea of bodies. Halfway across the bridge a girl gestured to us to wind down our window, and then she told us that we had a flat tyre. We hadn't felt a thing because we'd been driving so slowly. Ah yes, this car... the Bad Luck Car.

When we arrived at Chiang Mai airport the other day we swanned straight up to the car rental counter and showed them the booking form we had. While D waited for it to all be sorted, I went off to the ATM to withdraw some cash... and my card didn't work. So I tried the next ATM with the same result, and then, heart-sinking, tried the third: 'No bank reply. Please contact your bank.' I went back to the counter and as I opened my mouth to tell D I couldn't get any money for some unknown reason, he cheerfully informs me his card has been declined by the car-people, so we'll have to use mine. Stalemate. I whither with embarrassment. We knew D's card might not have enough on it, but had never imagined that mine wouldn't work either. I'd even checked it the night before so I knew exactly how much money I had on it, plenty, well more than enough. So why didn't it work? We tried to call the 'overseas help' number on the back of my card, only to discovered that 'this number is no longer connected,' super bloody helpful indeed! So, what to do? While D fumes and paces trying various different phone numbers, and I shrink, and SP shouts 'car? car? CAR!?' at the top of her lungs through the airport, we are reminded of one of the reasons we love Thailand so much: people are just too nice. We are told we may have the car, and just pay when we return it. Massive relief!

But I said this was the Bad Luck Car. A day or two after that, D scratches the back bumper on a low and unseen concrete post. In the entire 10+ years I have known him, this is only the second time he has ever done something like that. Yesterday we went for a long and very windy drive up a quite tall mountain to Doi Ang Kung (all quite nice up there, although I dearly wished I had taken a jumper or worn long pants, and that I could read at least a tiny bit of Thai instead of being totally illiterate). When we got back down to the flat lands just outside Fang, SP told us in her unique way that she gets car sick, by demonstrating violently from the back seat. Oh yes, sick everywhere. And since we had no idea she got car sick, since it never crossed our minds, we were not at all prepared for the possibility. We had no spare clothes for her (but did have a clean nappy at least), we only had a couple of baby wipes. We pulled over at a truck stop where people laughingly waved us towards the hose where D did his best with her clothes and the car seat. When I get nervous I laugh, and I couldn't stop laughing hysterically. I had tears running down my face. Who knows what they thought of me? This falang woman who thinks her child vomitting is hilarious? (It wasn't, of course, but I couldn't stop myself). For the record, SP was completely fine and chatting away by the time the sick was rinsed off her seat.

Then we've had the flat tyre last night, followed by the stop at the side of the road to discover there was no jack in the car....

So we drove home, very slowly, and somewhat defeated.

(Turns out there was a jack, Dylan found it this morning under the passenger seat, and found we'd run over a screw, which was the cause). So we have: 1. Couldn't pay for the car. 2. Scratched bumper. 3. Toddler spew everywhere. 4. Flat tyre. 5...? Still plenty of time for more to happen with this car, we don't leave until Monday!

Incidentally, I am still debating whether or not to chase up my credit card issue or not while we are still here. I am a little afraid I will be left on hold for hours at international rates, and our cash flow crisis has been averted thanks to internet banking (ie we paid off D's card, which, in hindsight, we really should have done before...)

I was going to tell you about the Night Chorus, but this post is already much wordier than I intended, and has also taken me about five hours to write thanks to all the interruptions, so that one will wait until next time.

(Apologies for no photos over the last few posts and probably the next couple to come. Putting up pics as we go is in the 'too hard basket' at the moment through a combination of factors - tablet is wireless and no wireless access here, little point and shoot camera was broken on the third day of our trip [waaaaa!], and there are way too many other photos on our 'good' cameras for me to sort through and pick out at the moment etc etc -but I promise to do a couple of photo exclusive posts when we get home.)

Monday, November 7, 2011


The other night, as we lay in our enormous bed in our luxurious resort, just as I was dozing off to sleep, the Earth quivered and trembled beneath us, and I thought, as I lay there rigid with fear and my heart pounding in my ribs, no amount of luxury will save us if this gets serious. On Saturday we flew from Denpasar to Bangkok, where we stayed the night in a hotel ringed with sandbags, a precaution against the flooding which has swept through the city this year, the worst in decades. Then I sat in an airport and looked out the window where the smog was so thick that I couldn't see clearly across the tarmac. I can't help but think our Earth is reproaching us: What are you doing to me with your mines and your oil palm plantations and your deforestation and your pollution? And she shakes in outrage and weeps floods of tears of despair.

Anyway, that aside, we have made it back to our second home high in hills in Chiang Mai Province, where I always start to desire a simple life and daydream about moving here one day to live in the hut in the lychee grove. Susan and Yuki are the same as ever. Shu is the only boy still here. Boy? Shu is a man now (19 or thereabouts), and recently married to a girl in the village (and she - her name is something like Ju-Lee - was married off at 13 to a man who was 'useless,' according to Susan, and had a child with him who is now three years old, and then divorced him for a cost of 700 Baht and then married Shu. Apparently she's quite 'together,' for a village girl.) There are several more monkeys that we don't know. Sadly, Pinky died some months ago. We'll be here for a week or so, enjoying our other life, and plotting how to take some of feeling home with us.

No idea or what who I'm talking about? Try here for previous posts on Thaton.