Bali

Week 1

Confession      

I could live here.

Or could I? It’s pretty damn hot. Everything costs something, even if it’s a bit silly. But really, it’s quite genius that people can find a way to charge for such an array of trades. You have to respect that.

But the smiles, kindness, warmth, and generosity is overwhelming here in Bali. The secret ingredient is carrying a little girl, who attracts soooooooo much attention. She’s not a fan, but we are.

With a huge stroke of luck, we managed to have found the best host and group of neighbors on the entire planet. Our compound has about 4 bungalows, each with a sweet, well traveled and intellectual group. Put us all together with a pot of Papua New Guinea coffee and the conversation heats up and and rides along for half the day. Before we know it, we scramble out to the beach and downtown for a little swimming and shopping, then race home with sleepy babies and loads of funky fruit.

My initial meeting with the school I’ll be teaching at went well. The English department coordinator is brilliant and well organized, so I feel safe in her hands. The only worry I have is transportation. A friend dropped me off at the school yesterday with a bike and a drawn map and said it’d be an easy ride back. Once I started pedaling on the road (which is actually like a highway with small trucks and a thousand motorbikes swirving in and out of two lanes without any real proper bike lanes, let alone shoulders) I realized that if I actually made it back to the bungalow alive, I must kiss the ground, say a little prayer and make a huge donation some where.

Obviously I made it back alive. But I swear to god I need a t-shirt saying “I cycled down the bypass in Sanur and survived”. Pretty much the most terrifying thing I’ve done in my life. Childbirth? Cake.

Sooooo how the hell am I going to get to the school then? This is my dilemma. Not a terribly difficult one, but one as much. In the meantime, Ellie’s napping, Seth’s snorkeling and I’m going to get back to my book.

I think I could live here.

“Based on an evaluation by the Bali Police, over the past five years there has been an average of 1500 traffic accidents each year in Bali. Of those, an average of 550 resulted in a fatalities. That equates to almost two deaths every day on the island’s roads.

In 2011, between January to April, so far there have been 173 recorded deaths, 482 serious injuries, and 985 minor injuries. As in previous years, the accidents are dominated by motorcycles.

To reduce the traffic carnage, the Bali Police are attempting to educate the public on safe driving – not only adults but also school children. The scheme is supported by banners in a number of strategic points across Bali appealing to drivers to take more care.”

I saw a woman breastfeeding her baby on the back of a motorbike yesterday. It was both beautiful and absolutely terrifying. Continual amazement.

A few tidbits 

  • Staff here never put their phones on vibrate, so every hour or so the room breaks out into a little jig with Lady Gaga, some country song about being a girl, obnoxious techno, and even some bollywood.
  • Riding a motorbike was not as scary as I thought it’d be. The 8th graders laughed at me for thinking it’d be scary at all. (apparently they have not read the statistics!)
  • The Brits teaching here use so much slang and fillers! (Right, ok, yeah? Right.) I don’t hear the students using it, however, so I wonder what they think about it, or if they even recognize it as slang. I find it contagious and distracting, personally.
  • I love the array of pencil bags here. Both students and teachers have them. However there’s one kind that I really want, which is created from trash in Jakarta. Must find these!
  • What else? I think we’re going to try to make it to Ubud this weekend. Exciting!

Exam Results

University of Cambridge International Examinations results came in today for my school, here in Bali. This morning, the teachers surrounded the scores posted on the board. Some murmured to themselves and some jumped up and down, then started dancing around the room singing praises.

Seeing how involved these teachers are with the success of their own courses, the students and the future of the students is pretty awesome. I don’t remember any of my teachers caring what kind of grade I got in school…

Update: It’s seventh period and the results are being given to the students. 11th and 12th graders are finding out what qualifications they have for college. Did they get high marks? A* is the highest they can get, G is the lowest and obviously beyond failing. When looking at results, you want at least a C or above. Walking through the halls, it’s pretty easy to see who got the high marks and who got low ones.

Right now I can hear high fives, clapping, rooting, screams, and a girl sobbing in the bathroom.

Traditional Market

Made (pronounced mah-day, which means second born), our super awesome guide/driver, Seth and Ellie at the fruit market. We tried eating durian, which tastes like over ripe arm pits. The fruit is extremely smelly, but considered a delicacy. We were not a fan. However the snake fruit is a new favorite! You peal off the scaly shell and eat the apple/nutty meat. We also got some fresh guava and lychee. Yummmmmm!

Canang

Canang offerings for sale in a market near Denpasar. You see these offerings every where, on the street, around school, outside of doorways, every where.

Fish Soup

Today while Ellie and I were in school, Seth caught a gigantic cat fish, which we ate fried and in an insanely spicy soup. We swam in a local pool and then Ellie barfed all over me on the back of the motorbike.

Ah, life in the third world.

This morning we drove to Ubud and the surrounding area. We first visited Goa Gajah, or the Elephant Cave and explored fallen buddha, cave, and walked the pools around the 11th century statues…. amazing.

We then shopped in Ubud, avoided rabies in the Monkey Forest (pictured above) and enjoyed a few amazing meals, capping the night with a Legong performance.

Exhausted. Stinky. Head is swimming. Good night.

Goa Gajah

Just a short five minute walk down the beach from our bungalow, you see these jukung traditional Balinese boats for fishing. More details regarding the underlying symbolism:

“Although jukung may appear simple enough to the international travellers’ eye, like most things in Bali there is an underlying symbolism associated with these craft and they are constructed following a strict set of religious guidelines. When a fisherman decides to build a new boat he must first carefully choose the tree that will be used for its timber. The Balinese prefer to use the wood from the indigenous Belalu or Camplung tree, which is light, strong and ideal for boat building. Such a tree can only be cut down on an auspicious date in accordance to the ancient Balinese calendar and a special day is also sought forconstruction to commence. All members of the local fishing community offer their carpentry skills toconstruct a new jukung and this social interaction is a vital element of the Balinese Hindu culture.

The majority of jukung are built using a set of dimensions that are closely related to the owner’s personal body measurements. The Balinese strongly believe in harmonizing with the physical environment and spiritual world, thus human measurements are used in an effort to balance these invisible forces. Just like a human body, a jukung is not symmetrical. In fact, the bamboo floats that are attached to both sides and run from the bow to the stern are not even parallel. Yet this basic, but ingenious design gives the jukung a heightened degree of stability when out on the open seas.

Once the jukung has been fully constructed and brightened up with a bold coat of paint, it then undergoes a complex blessing ceremony. Offerings of rice, flowers and fruit are presented to appease the Gods and the jukung is sprinkled with holy water by a priest before it is considered seaworthy. The jutting bow is decorated with an image of the mythical Gajah Mina (elephant fish) with its fierce bulging eyes to ward off evil. The spirit of Gajah Mina is also though to bear the power of night vision and guidethe jukung through all sorts of weather conditions.”

From: http://blog.baliwww.com/guides/329

Week 2

Doors and Crab Island

Eliana and I outside our neighbor’s door. (The doors here, seriously the doors, are so amazingly beautiful…)

After the Independence Day celebrations yesterday at school, we carpooled with our neighbors to Nusa Dua for some beach combing. We played with the crabs on “crab island” and built sandcastles.

Crab island in particular was a lot of fun. Hundreds of brightly colored crabs the size of Ellie’s palm would pop out of the holes in the sand, but would disappear the second they felt any vibration. So if we stayed still, they’d all come out and scurry about. Once you took a step, you would see nothing but sand. Neat.

Someone loves satay.

Check out the video to see what it’s like to ride the Climax slide at Waterbom. I saved it for last, after riding every other slide, including Smashdown (which the force of the vertical fall really does feel like it’s smashing you down and ripping the fat from your thighs). Climax is about triple that and forces you to make a lot of involuntary noises on the way down. Fun!

Ellie was fantastic in the morning and rode (the slower slides) 5 or 6 times with each of us. She loved the Raft River and Macaroni Slide. She loved the kiddy pool, too.

I think it may have been the fries and hot dog that did her in at lunch time. Because for the second time within a week, I had barf all over the front of my bathing suit. It’s a bit hard to even nod in the direction of eating healthy here. Really. I think we need to made a better effort at it though, cause the trend I’ve noticed with her is that she doesn’t digest the fried food here at all. (And most things are BBQ’d or fried here…) It’s the easy access to veggies that we miss most.

After a short nap in the shade, we took on the rest of the slides in the afternoon. I think it’s safe to say that we took full advantage of the park. In hindsight, we all agreed that it was magnificently well organized, clean and the lifeguards super friendly, especially when I had a pool of barf between me and Ellie.

Week 3

Confession 

If we were to have another baby, I’d love to have one here. The overwhelming joy and warmth that radiates from practically every single person on this island when they see a baby is astonishing. Even the men will break into a huge smile, touch your child’s hand and ask their name.

It’s remarkable and not at all like it is back at home, where people are a little afraid to get too close or to upset your child. That moment of hesitation instantly transfers to the child and they too hesitate. I see it in myself and I see it in Ellie.

I’ve really tried to open up here. To hold the hand of other children, to ask their parents their names and ages. It’s an effort, for sure, as I tend to cross the street when I see another stroller at home. The best explanation I have is that I try to avoid the fake conversation. Because I know the other parent doesn’t care and their forced half smile tips me off to avoid them at all costs.

But here? The conversation isn’t fake. People are genuinely interested in learning your child’s name and trying to make them smile.

I walked down the street last night searching for vegetables. Alas, the market was temporarily closed (random 30 minute break?), but Nyoman, Made’s wife saw me and ran up the street to hug me and Ellie. She drove us to the closest market and insisted on driving us home, too.

Nyoman said goodbye by holding my hands and touching my forehead with hers. She then bent down and held Ellie’s hand and said goodbye. Ellie returned it with a warm smile, wave and goodbye. We’re learning.

Eid

It’s the Muslim holiday Eid this weekend. Since Bali is part of Indonesia, which is a predominantly Muslim country, school is closed for three days next week!

A five-day weekend? What are we going to do?!

We have a few ideas, specifically trekking up the Kintamani volcano and/or hopping a boat to a nearby island for a few days. We’ve always wanted to explore Lombok, Komodo, Lembongan, or Flores. This may be our chance.

Follow Made

I got a text from Seth saying “we have a surprise for you, just follow Made”

So Made picked me up from school and drove me to a restaurant not far from our bungalow. Just up the street, really, which is surprising because the street doesn’t really look like it would have a nice restaurant.

But “Ikan Bakar”, which means grilled fish, was exactly that. Seth and Made went ocean fishing in the afternoon and had the fish grilled and served to us here (picture above). A wonderful surprise! And the sea bass was absolutely divine.

Reality

Yesterday I got a chance to chat with some friends on gchat. It felt so so good to reconnect over gossip and emoticons. I really miss you guys…

I appreciate the feedback on the blog. It’s great to hear that people are reading and enjoying it. I like to share our experience with you, both the good stuff and even the not so good stuff. Because you know, Bali is not all about amazing restaurants, princesses dancing in palaces, Hogwarts-inspired international schools, and gigantic water slides.

I’ve had a cough for over a week now. There are three bug bites on my left hand and big toe. The air conditioning and the fluorescent lighting in the staff room at school makes me feel like I’m researching in a dentist’s office.

Yesterday, while brushing my teeth (by pouring bottled water on my tooth brush), a frog climbed out of the sink drain and watched me. This is the second time this frog has crawled out of our sink. In fact, if you sat any where in our house (be it the open air bathroom or kitchen) for at least five minutes, you will most likely be able to spot a trail of ants, a frog, a gecko, or a wasp.

And finding vegetables is a real pain in the ass…

Oh and this article (which is about the failure of the public bus system unveiling last week) is a fantastic example of reality in Bali.

Seth’s got a stomach virus and is taking it easy these next couple of days. I set him up with a movie last night while Ellie and I went into town. (Did you know that you can buy movies here for less than a dollar?! It’s a bit of a crapshoot whether or not they will work, but we’re 6 for 6 so far!)

I bought vegetables. Glorious vegetables for stir-frys and snacks. Mmmmmmm….

Now I’m on the hunt for the 6th Harry Potter book. Silly, I know. But I made the commitment and have to follow through. The book shop “sold out” of all the HP books. And the only other one I know of is in Ubud and even then I’m not sure if they have it in stock. It’s time to do some investigative research on new and used book shops on this island. I not only want the HP books, but I want to buy some of the Balinese folktale books about geckos for Ellie. I found one for 145,000 rupiah (about $15), which is a huge rip off here.

In fact, this book shop dilemma is closely tied to my work here at school and maybe even my thesis. The pathetic school library, barren “resource center”, “rumored” public library that only one person knows of, and the difficulty in finding a reasonable book shop are all factors affecting the reading habits of my students and really, all the children on this island.

How can you expect these kids to read when they can’t find any good books?!

Tanah Lot Temple

Pura Luhur Ulun Danu Brata!

Seth swimming in the Gitgit waterfall!

Week 4

Legong dance practice. Ellie is in heaven watching so many Balinese princesses practice…

The little girl in the pink shirt nailed it. She had the eye shifting and finger wiggling down beautifully. We forecast her dancing at the palace by 17.

“Two butterflies! Butterflies. Butter – Flies. Two. Dua. Dua. Not tiga. Dua. Yeah!”
-says Ellie to her friend Ayu

Today’s To Do List [because you know I love ’em]                           

  1. Drink ABC Mocha instant coffee, eat a bowl of Frosties
  2. Check e-mail, think about working, don’t
  3. Try to remember what I use to look at on the Internet and give up trying
  4. Jog the beach boardwalk
  5. Shower
  6. Debate whether or not I have the guts to take down the three wasp nests that I’ve spotted in my bedroom and kitchen
  7. Read my book on the bed in the garden
  8. Buy satay and rice at a warung on my way to downtown Sanur
  9. Walk to Hardys and buy 13 [more] movies [that Seth would totally tease me about] for $10
  10. Nap
  11. Make a vegetarian stir fry with eggplant, kobi, garlic and mango sauce
  12. Read my book or watch one of my new chick flicks
  13. Go to bed early

Writing Workshop

One of the seventh grade students in my writing workshop submitted the following sidebar for her article on animal cruelty. It’s only her first draft, but I am still pretty happy with her work. And the picture! It’s going on the front page of our little newspaper.

Cock fighting: Animal Cruelty or Tradition?

Did you know?

1)  Cock fighting is use as a sacrifice to the ground to balance the world.

2)  Cock fighting is also use as a blessing for the ceremony.
Cock fighting is part of animal cruelty, but in some parts around the world it is also tradition. In Bali, cock fighting is traditional or can be said as custom. Cock fighting is use in every ceremony in Bali. In Balinese ceremony they need cock fighting for sacrifice, because the Balinese believe that if they fight the rooster and the rooster dies, they will re-incarnate as a human. Balinese also believe that if they fight the rooster before the ceremony it would give the gods blessing to do or carry out the ceremony.

The Art of Happiness

I know I’m a little late to the game, but I’m finally listening to the audio book “The Art of Happiness” featuring psychiatrist Howard C. Cutler who poses questions to the Dalai Lama.

I listened to the first five chapters as I cooked and ate dinner last night. This is the first time I’ve listened to an audio book and I’ll admit that the timing was perfect, as having another voice beside my own in the kitchen is quite comforting. The content is also very relevant and touches on a few topics Seth and I discussed while here in Bali, such as happiness and acquisition, being tied down to your own possessions and the freedom of letting them go. So far, a very good book.

Oh, Plagiarism.

What a fun lesson to learn, plagiarism. I asked the kids point blank if they fully typed out and created their own set of directions for their “how to build a kite” article. They looked at me straight in the eye and said “yes”.

I then handed them a print out of the website that had their article, word-for-word, published (including the spelling error of “your” for “you’re”). Their jaws dropped and eyes bulged.

I didn’t reprimand the kids, but rather gave them a bit of a reality check. You see, here in Indonesia, you can copy anything you want. No seriously, you can make a thousand copies of full texts for a mere 40k rupiah (roughly $4 bucks) and pass them out as texts for students. One book is all you need to buy!

It’s rather convenient, as a teacher, to not have to worry about copyright laws here. You can steal and copy anything you want! But the danger is that your students do the same. I can now see why most teachers have their students write extensively in class.

Lesson learned (for both me and the students), I think.

Week 5

“Mobil’s broken, so we take motorbike.”

It’s not like I could argue. I knew the ride to Ubud would be long, and my goal to make it to Taro to see the elephants would make the ride even longer. It was worth it though. I got some excellent books at the Ganesha Book shop, some adorable elephant quilted purses at the traditional market in Ubud, hiked the Tegenungan waterfall, and rode a Sumatran elephant.

Kind of awesome.

Snack with Made and Nyoman: Tapioca cake with shredded pumpkin and coconut paste/cake in banana leaves. A bowl of hot coconut milk with cinnamon and large chunks of pumpkin and bananas.

Bonus: A glass of Balinese coffee and kicking a soccer ball around with a 2-year-old.

Confession   

I’m wrapping up my 7th and 8th grade reading curriculum quite nicely. I thought I would be scrambling this week to get it done, but it’s only Tuesday and I’ve got the majority complete.

The newspaper’s coming along, if only the kids would stop plagiarizing and writing their articles like a giant text message. No joke. lolz

I’m less concerned about my work here in Bali and more concerned about my transition back home. I’m trying to follow American news, but it’s depressing the hell out of me. I mean, come on, is the postal service really defaulting? And who is running for president?! Expats joke that they’re huge Obama supporters here. They ask what I think about 2012 and all I can say is “what other options do we have?!” There’s no way I’d ever support my children learning about creationism (or intelligent design) in their science books. This is not an episode of The Simpsons, folks.

Going home to the educational system and politics in America scares me.

G&T       

I ran into my neighbors Lee, Theola and Nanny (Lee’s mother) at Hardy’s after school. They invited me over to dinner, so I bought half the food I expected I needed. I was sold on the idea of guacamole (and chicken fajitas). They were delicious. But let’s rewind a bit.

As I was unpacking my groceries, my neighbor Amy called me over for a drink. She makes a mean G&T (gin and tonic) and swore that we were finishing the bottle she bought during her first week here. Sure.

We gossiped and exchanged books, and she invited me to go to the beach this weekend. Sure! I say. I’ve always wanted to check out the bukit peninsula (specifically Uluwatu). She asked if I wanted another G&T.

Sure.

She gives me a tour of her bungalow. It’s gorgeous and has an upstairs with two little twin beds, which would be perfect for friends or kids to stay when they visit. I daydream for a minute of living there for a number of years…

I pop over to Lee’s to see if they need help preparing the fajitas. Theola seizes the chance to tag along and she joins me at Amy’s until dinner is ready. It’s already 7:30 and my stomach gurgles the only liquid in it.

After some drawings of mermaids with fairy wings and chatting about the convenience of having a woman come by every day to cook Amy dinner and give her a massage for a mere $40 a month, I decide it’s time to eat.

Theola and I walk into Lee’s villa and he offers me a G&T.

Sure!

He realizes he doesn’t have any tonic, so he walks over to Amy’s to borrow a can. He returns saying he met her and she was naked. And the can of tonic he was holding had a gecko in it.

He then walked to Sarita’s and got a new can of tonic. He makes the G&T and apologized for how strong he accidentally made it. Suuuuure…

By 8:30 we’re finally eating the delicious fajitas I introduce the story with. I assure you, my neighbors are pretty awesome.

I say this with a pretty severe hangover, too.

Week 6

Amy whispered to me as we watched the bonfire light up “Quick! What is the name of Sarita’s son-in-law?! He’s standing right behind us!”

“Dan!” I say as I whip around and greet his back-lit silhouette. I think he barely recognized me wearing Amy’s long black and white dress that swept the floor.

It turned out that Dan actually worked at the location of the party. Dan was quick to point out that his whole family was there, plus all of my neighbors and many other people I know within the small network in Sanur.

“Bali is small, so you can’t fuck up.”

I hear ya. Amy invited me to the BBQ after a quick arak attack at the bungalow. I say yes, and here I was, at Dan’s office with about 100 other people from around the world, drinking Bintang and eating burgers. The crowd was way chill and the conversation engaging. I had a small epiphany talking to a traveler from the Czech Republic who said she believes the US undervalues and underfunds education as a way to keep the population stupid enough to manage. Because isn’t it easier to scare and control people when they don’t know any better? She had me convinced that I must find a way back to Bali. Or at least a way out.

We, as in my neighbors Amy, Lee and a new friend Christina, left the party around 10:30 and went to an opening party for a surf magazine in Seminyak. The crowd was vastly different and the intelligence level had plummeted. If it weren’t for the free drinks, glittery showgirls walking the catwalk overhead and the brilliant match-ups blasting through the speakers, I’d say the time spent at SOS was ok.

Attention spans drained quickly and I was convinced at 1:00 am that it was far too early to cab it home. I must go to the African beach party.

I say yes, because you know, most adventures start just by saying yes.

We arrive to a huge bonfire on the beach. I swear the Balinese really like to burn shit because between the bonfire and rubbish burning here, it’s quite difficult to get the smell out of your hair by the end of each day.

Anyway, back to Africa. The moon was huge and lit the waves that crashed about 20 feet form the bar overlooking the ocean. There was dining room sets strewed across the beach and a few select daybeds for young Asians to pose on for pictures. The eye candy was well worth the time. I was quite content to sit on the steps for over an hour chatting about silly things, such as milking sharks because the cheese in Bali is horrendous. Right.

By 3:30 am, I’m in a friendly debate about the ability to judge people by their star signs in the cab on the way back to Sanur. We each slowly start fading in and out of catnaps on the way home and arrive safely.

A magical night out.

Finale:

I don’t think any recap I write could give yesterday enough justice. I honestly believe that I lack the vocabulary to describe the level of glamour that I witnessed. The money involved to throw a party, a dinner party here for 20 guests, trumped any small fortune thrown at a wedding I’ve been to.

It’s impossible to try to describe that. Just look at the pictures when you’re done reading here. (And yes, I soo swam in that pool at midnight on a full moon.)

The dinner was quite the finale to the day at the beach with Amy and friends. We sped to Balangan Beach and spent the afternoon dipping in tide-pools and drinking out of coconuts.

I’m thankful to have been a part of such a beautiful weekend; my last weekend here in Bali. It’s bittersweet having to pack today. Bitter to leave the Bali family that has been so kind and welcoming, and sweet to know that tomorrow, I get to be in the arms of the two greatest loves of my life. If they were here, I do believe it would be a million times harder to leave this island.

But alas. You know me. The next adventure awaits.

One thought on “Bali

  1. Pingback: Two Weeks in Bali « Bali or Bust

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