Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Feeding the Hungry

As you're probably aware, my travels often take me to developing countries, places that are rife with poverty, hunger, and malnutrition. While I generally haven't had the opportunity to participate first-hand in any development projects, though I would love to, I at least try to support those of my friends who are involved in these types of projects. I've donated to this organisation before for another project in Cameroon, and my friends are now starting on a new project there to help rural Cameroonian women grow and prepare nutritious food. Please consider donating to this worthy cause, especially today, when Global Giving will match all donations. Here's the link to find out more!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

And a few afterthoughts--as I predicted

A few things I forgot to mention in previous posts:

1. Kek Lok Si. I can't believe I forgot to mention this at all in any of my posts. My colleague and I went to see this as we noticed it on the drive to one of our school visits. Turns out it's this huge temple that has been sadly overrun by souvenir shops. I mean, I understand the need to sell things, but a ceramic, life-sized German Shepherd? Really? Is that a good souvenir of a place that exists for spiritual enlightenment? There isn't much to say about the place, but I think my colleague and I were quite annoyed at the souvenir shops at every corner inside the temple grounds, especially when we've been to enough temples that aren't like that. It was just too commercial for our liking--maybe that's why you see a lot of the Disney characters there!

2. People in Bali could tell my Indian roots. When they asked me where I was from, and I told them Canada, they said I looked Indian. Very few people figure it out so quickly! Maybe it's because I had my hair in a French braid?

3. The only men who ever introduced themselves to me by name in Bali were all named Wayan. I'm assuming there are other names there, but I just thought it was a strange coincidence that 3/3 men were called Wayan.

4. The lizard story. For those of you who did not follow on Facebook, I was kept awake one night in Bali by a small lizard. He was making noises like birds make, but like he was angry. I could hear him (at least I hope it was him and not a rat or cockroach) in my garbage bin all night, and it kept me up. He appeared the next night, and I got a photo of him. I like having them around because they'll eat bugs and other creepy crawlies I don't like, but I don't want the lizard to be too near me in case he drops on my bed by accident. That would just freak me out.

5. Incidents. I didn't have any credit card fraud or serious events like that this time, but I did manage to forget the clothes I'd hung in the closet in my hotel in Singapore. The hotel sent them by courier to me in Jakarta, but they didn't get there in time because they were stopped up at customs, of all things. Thankfully a colleague from Canada was spending additional time there in Jakarta, so she will at least be able to get them back to Canada, and then I can pay for local, regular postage rather than courier from Asia. In Bali, on my last night, I slipped and fell on the wet tile coming downstairs from my room. It was just the last two steps, but it gave me a scrape on my right arm and a bad welt and bruise on my left shin. Finally, my flight home was rather miserable. I had been a bit congested from a very minor cold I had developed earlier in the week, and as a result, my ears didn't pop during my trip, so I experienced a lot of pain for many, many hours. I went to my doctor and learned I have an infection. I felt like Asia was sick of me and was trying to spit me out, in a way! ;o)

Pictures of Asia 2012!

Remember to actually click on the album so you get to see the larger pictures and not just the thumbnails that flash by on the screen here.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Last day in Bali

One of the things I think you'll find everywhere in Bali, aside from multiple solicitations from people about the massages, taxis, etc. is the abundance of tour options. There are a lot of options for people who like to trek and cycle, and although that would be fun as well as good exercise, I don't really have the proper attire for such activities, so I thought I would tour by car instead. There was one volcano tour that would have been nice, but I copped out and chose a tour of the Royal Family temple, a rice paddy, and a lake temple. The bonus was that we got to stop at a silversmithing factory and store as well as a coffee plantation. More details about that in a moment. Readers, some of you may be upset with me about missing the volcano, and I'd like to have seen it as well, although you do view it at a distance, so I figured it might be like seeing Popocatepéhuatl in Cholula, Mexico, and I decided on this particular tour because there were already a couple of people going on it, and it seemed like it might be a new opportunity to make new friends. After all, when you travel alone, it can be fun to meet new people from different countries.

My travel mates were a lady and her mother from the Czech Republic, neither of whom spoke very good English, although the daughter was somewhat conversational, but between them and the driver, who's English was poorer, it ended up being a fairly silent trip for the most part because no one could communicate with each other, and I would translate what I could understand of the driver. It also ended up being a hungry trip because our last stop was supposed to be a restaurant that overlooks a rice terrace, and the ladies decided they didn't want to stop there. While the rain that began certainly prevented the view, it didn't prevent my hunger pangs; thankfully I'd started snacking on Ritz cheese & crackers I had brought with me just in case. The ladies were vegetarians, and perhaps even vegans (they didn't want to try the kopi luwak, the kind where the civet, or whatever that animal is called excretes the coffee beans out its hind side, which made me think they classify it as an animal product), so they couldn't be bothered to stop for food. I understand their point, but it was slightly inconsiderate, especially when the driver told me after we dropped them off that he was really hungry because he hadn't had a chance to eat breakfast today. Everyone was friendly enough, at least. The only thing about the driver not knowing English well is that you couldn't really learn much about where you were or about life in that area. It made me appreciate that tour guide I had the first time I came to Jakarta all the more because she was so knowledgeable, and she spoke English, and I could ask her about anything. At one of the places we went to, the lakeside temple, I asked the driver if the weather was cool like that all the time there, and he responded, " closes at 7pm every day."

The silver shop was interesting for me in terms of how they make some of their pieces with local, natural ingredients. The glue they use to put small silver beads on silver balls, for example, is made from a local berry. To polish the silver to white, they use tamarind, and to give the silver an antique or almost pewter look, that's when they use some sort of chemical oxidising agent. But the tamarind makes me think I should maybe try it next time I have to polish my silver. I have a bunch of it at home, so it might be a good eco-friendly polish. They have tons of beautiful things in the shop, but my main attraction was to their filigree work. It was so delicate, and I've never seen such an array of filigree products.

The coffee plantation, well, I'm not sure how much of a plantation it was as it didn't really fit my idea of what one should look like, at least not one for commercial use. The coffee trees were mixed with mangosteen, jackfruit, durian, coconut, and cocoa trees, and there was one lone guy there roasting and grinding the coffee beans. He looks like he can make just enough to supply the tourist gift shop where it's hoped you will buy the coffees and/or teas you just sampled. They also had a couple of civets there so you could see how kopi luwak is made, a drink I'm sure I've mentioned in a past entry, probably from my first trip to Indonesia. They will let you sample all the coffees and teas there for free as well as hot chocolate, but the kopi luwak, you have to buy for Rp50,000, about CAD$6 for an espresso-sized cup, if not smaller. I had already bought some kopi luwak blended with regular coffee, so I decided again trying this overpriced coffee. I really don't see how the flavour can be that great to justify the demand for this type of coffee. Perhaps that's why I should try it just to see, but I'll try my blended one. A friend who has tried the pure and blended varieties said the blended is much more palatable, so I'll trust that!

The Royal Temple, in Mengwi, was the next stop after the coffee place, and I would have liked to know if the temple was still used and if there is still a royal family. I had asked him about the latter, and he stated they they lived "over there", pointing to the temple. Well, the temple was in such run down shape, I doubt anyone was living there, and I didn't see any type of abode in the vicinity that looked habitable, so I'm not sure if there still is a royal family or not. One of the things I learned about these temples is that menstruating ladies are not to enter (you'll see photos of the signs!). I thought this kind of restriction only applied to Abrahamic religions, but apparently I was wrong. It must be hard to enforce, though. I mean, many cultures would not adhere to those laws, and women wouldn't want everyone to know if they were menstruating, so it's not like you can show up and say, so sorry friends, I can't go in; I'll have to wait for you because I have my period. Not gonna happen. And who's gonna check, anyway?

In any case, both temples are old, and I'm not really sure if the temple is still actually used. It's hard to tell because the stonemasonry is all covered with moss. It's not unlike Ireland or even Juneau, Alaska with all its mossy stone fences, and it some ways it's even reminiscent of places like Xilitla in Mexico, but regardless, it really ages the stone a lot. The driver said the royal temple is only 100 years old. It seems hard to believe because it looks 1000 years old to me, so I'm not really sure. Wait, this is where Google can help. Sure enough, the Royal temple is much older than 100 years. More like 500! Anyway, the other temple was at Lake Beratan and was quite beautiful, retaining more of its gold colouring than the Royal Family temple. The temperature of that place was much more refreshing, as you drive up into the mountainous region to get there (ears popping along the way), and then you're near a large body of water as well, so between those two things, it was a really pleasant place to be.

The rice terrace was the other attraction. We really just stopped in a very good viewing point, and I was finally able to take some decent photos, rather than trying to take one from the window of a vehicle while driving by! Seeing people work in the myriad rice paddies all around made me more thankful for home. I mean, I don't have to toil out in the sun or the rain with a small scythe (commonly seen around these parts) to whack away at vegetation or harvest plants. While scenes like these are romantically pastoral, I cannot forget that they are the result of the hard work of a lot of potentially very poor people.

A final note, unless I have an afterthought that I'll need to record later, is that Bali is filled with spas and spiritual retreats. It isn't the first place I think of when I think of going for a spiritual retreat; most people think of heading to monasteries in Thailand or ashrams in India or places like that, but if you're into that, you should definitely give Bali a try. Myself, I have never felt the need to go somewhere to have a retreat. I'd rather just be sitting somewhere outside looking up, down, or across at all God's creation (relative to wherever I'm sitting!) and reflecting, listening. It's usually in my most mundane moments that my greatest lessons are finally gleaned because they are the times that force me to reflect on my adventures and my actions, and that's when I learn the most about myself. I have had several moments like that already on my Bali trip. Perhaps you have already found these entries to be more reflective or poetic than I usually write, and I think it has been because I have been able to process my experiences more than I normally do. And I suppose that's part of the reason I love to photograph the mundane in my travels. It's daily life, people's realities and lived experiences that teach us so much more than just seeing the touristy places they worship, the castle fortresses they protected, or the feats of architectural genius they achieved. I also wonder who wiped away their children's tears when they fell or comforted their aging mother when her husband passed away? What tragedy did some parents feel when they felt so desperate as to sell their own children? What joy could be had by the simplest moments of delicious iced tea drink, well-deserved after a long day out in the rice fields? Some of those questions are ones I may never know the answer to, but rather than just letting it all pass me by, I want to take it all in and capture what I can whenever possible. It may be a simple 4-letter word with a scientific explanation of how we exist physically, but it connotes so much more. Life.