Saturday, April 30, 2011

Bali... Bali... Bali...

Who saw The Bucket List? Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman leave town for a last hurrah. Jack brings his Admin, who schleps an espresso machine and Jack's special blend of coffee. Yeah, you remember, so hold that thought.

Our China trip became our Bali trip shortly after some friends gave rave reviews of their trip into Indonesia. The flight was uneventful, but our luggage was strapped with security tape in Jakarta and we went through security so many times, I ran out of fingers.

Then we arrived at our villa and this was part of my welcome. Those are rose petals floating in a bubble bath. Not too shabby.

I always say that being on vacation with Allan is like marching across Europe with General Patton. He tends to be a man on a mission, so when he said this would be a relaxing vacation, I admit I was skeptical. But on our first day, not only did we not leave the villa, but a massage therapist stopped by to give me a massage and facial.

It wasn't necessary to go out for food, oh no. Our butler gave our personal chef instructions of what and when we would eat. Then our driver took us where we wanted to go. The driver was a necessity. You do NOT want to drive in Indonesia. There is no speed limit, and there are 10 motorcycles for every car, and there are three lanes of cars on a two lane road (one row drives on the center line).

This rice paddy was on the road to Tulamben, where we dove the U.S.S. Liberty. The Japanese torpedoed the ship in 1943, and when the crew couldn't pump the water out fast enough to save it, they ran it up on shore. It shifted during a volcano eruption in the 70s, and now is 40 meters offshore. We dove a wall also and went down to 30 meters, but didn't see the bottom.

On the ride back, we stopped so that Welmoad and Michel, a very interesting couple from The Netherlands could buy a small sculpture made from black stone mined at volcanoes. Good souvenir. Allan is helping them pick it out.

We saw no other Americans in Indonesia (plenty of Australians), but English was spoken everywhere. Also on the dive trip, we met a British soldier and his wife, as well as a couple from Kazahkstan.

Above is a private Hindu Temple in Ubud. I don't think you can own a temple, but I suppose you can build one next to your house. On many corners, there are small temples where people make offerings twice daily. This country is full of small cardboard trays with rice and flowers.

When I first saw these two men, I thought they were relaxing and chatting. They are in fact, hand stitching shoes. I bought three pair of shoes in Bali for under $20. Not each - three pair for under $20.

There were plenty of bargains to be had, but I never get to spend as much time as I need. Allan's an old fuddy-duddy, and he makes me stop before I've run out of money!

We found a open air restaurant, and stopped for a beer and a nosh. I just love the dress here. All the servers (male and female) wore sarong skirts. I have to have one. To go with my new Bali shoes, of course.

Bali is a poor country. The roads are full of potholes, the sidewalks are cracked, buildings are dilapidated, but I noticed that there were no old cars anywhere. All the cars on the road were very new. I suppose that very few people privately own cars, they ride motorcycles. Then we saw this - a 1963 Chevy Impala.

We just had that one day in Ubud, but if you go to Bali, it's worth a little more time.

Bali is 90% Hindu, so it's people are pacifists, unlike a lot of Indonesia, which has a larger Moslem population.

Here Allan and I are with a performer from the Barong dance, based on a Hindu story about the struggle between good and evil. The play is performed every day at 9:00 AM, so you can stop by any day. The stands were packed.

I'm happy to report that peace and order win out over chaos and evil. The band accompanied with drums and wooden flutes.

One of these (below) is the devil. Can you guess which?

After the show, we took a ride to the top of a volcano. During the ride we were pulled over by the police. We were warned that we might get stopped, but bribe money was ready. It's cheaper to pay a bribe than registration.

Close to the top, we stopped for a little roadside shopping overlooking more rice paddies. At the top, we had a buffet lunch with a great view.

There's a lake at the far side of the volcano's center. We didn't get to ride over, or take the boat across. Katut, our driver said the road was worse than average and the boat was not running.

What better way to follow lunch than with some gourmet coffee? We did that at a coffee plantation.

Ah, now the end of the story... Jack finds out the process used for making his coffee. A small animal called a luwac ingests the bean. It is marinated in the animal's digestive system and then released covered in luwac poop.

The beans are collected, cleaned and roasted in the traditional way, shown here.

After a short tour, we were given a flight of coffees (hot chocolate for me). Allan tasted several varieties other than luwac, which we purchased as gifts. And yes, he paid $35 for 100 grams (about 4 ozs.) of luwac to try at the office.

It wasn't a big hit.

We stopped here at my insistence. I had to have a picture of the furniture at this shop. I'm sure this is where I lost my glasses.

Most wooden items in Bali were carved deities, animals - mythical and otherwise, and oddly I thought, the male copulatory and urinary organ in a variety of sizes.

Another stop put us at the beach, where locals had shops selling souvenir shirts, hats, more shoes and the usual tourist stuff.

All that walking made us hungry.

This was dinner out. I like the cuisine in Indonesia, the spices and flavorings. But I got really tired of fileting my own fish. I carefully separated the bones, but most bites I ended up with at least one in my mouth. But the drinks were good!

This is Taneh Lot, a temple built on rock about 100 meters off shore. During high tide, it's surrounded by water. We visited in the afternoon, during low tide, like all the tourists.

To reach the temple, you pass dozens of... you guessed it, souvenir shops. We reached the Holy Spring, but people weren't touching the water, which surprised me a little. (Don't you need to touch it for affect?)

We couldn't walk up these steps, but we walked pretty much around the structure. Then up some steps nearby for some rest and relaxation, and some people watching.

We stayed right here until sundown to get a nice shop of the temple with the sun setting behind it. And the beer (Bientang - the local brew) wasn't bad either.

These two were interesting - monk photographers. One spent a little time doing glamour shots for a western woman in jeans and a pink shirt. Allan and I had fun speculating about that threesome.

Though we had most of our meals by the pool at the villa, we always have one dinner at a nice restaurant, so we ate outside at one called the Living Room.

The last full day we did some horseback riding. Indonesian horses are a smaller breed than we're used to, but they didn't have any trouble carrying the two big Americans along the beach on the Java Sea.

I had another massage the morning we left, this time with a body scrub and a bubble bath. It's a pretty great way to end a week in Bali. I could go back. Wanna come?

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Takatori Yama

Today is our anniversary - 27 years. We've had some great fun and seen alot. We'll be heading to Bali in a few days. Good thing for us we both like to travel.

We live in Yokosuka, but our section of town is called Shonan Takatori, and the ground is primarily rock. A few days ago, we took a hike up Takatori Yama (Mount Takatori to you). My student and friend Kimiko Ito introduced me to the area which can be reached by climbing a set of steps (sound familiar) just a 5 minute walk from my house.

It's cherry blossom season. The trees are covered with pink blossoms for ten days or so. They don't stay on the trees long, but are enjoyed tremendously while in bloom.

This is a good hiking area, so we passed young mothers with toddlers, couples with backpacks, and even came across a few American guys grilling.

Since there's plenty of rock here, there are rock climbers. The average age of the climbers surprised me. They aren't teenagers and as many women as men were climbers and spotters, or whatever the correct term is for the guy handling the ropes.

It's no accident that the rocks are flat vertically. They've been cut and the blocks used in foundations for houses.

The tower peaking out at the top of this photo is our destination. We will however, take a different route.
Allan loves to take photos wherever we go, and he's pretty good at getting the shot.

We made it to the top. You can see Mt. Fuji from here, IF the skies are clear, which they weren't this day.

The first two photos are of a rock carving of a Buddhist deity. Here it is from the observation tower. It's a kannon, which is neither a he or a she.

These last two carvings or paintings are ones I can't identify, but definitely religious. Actually, we would call these friezes.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Almost Normal

Twenty-four days after a 9.0 magnitude earthquake caused a tsunami and nuclear reactor meltdowns, things are fairly normal again. Well, normal for Japan. Train service is limited, stores are dimly lit and have shorter hours, and many areas have rolling brownouts (to conserve electricity). We have not had any loss of power since the beginning.

March 17th marked our halfway point in Japan. Allan's contract ends Sept. 16, 2012, but we may stick around a little longer to see if another position opens up. What do you think about Italy or Spain?

Everyone should travel abroad. You never know what you'll see... like a monk on a corner. Or what you'll learn about the culture. March 3rd is Hina Matsuri (festival for girls). There's a festival for boys as well on May 5th. No mother's, father's or secretary's day, but two celebration days for children.

For girls' festival, Hina ningyo (doll) is displayed and the house is decorated, although I'm not sure what that entails.

The decorations are promptly removed at the end of the celebration, else the daughter may not marry. I can't explain chocolate rabbits for Easter, so don't expect me to explain this.

I've said before, students wear uniforms through high school. And colleges have some dress restrictions as well. This was last Sunday when Allan and I went to Kamakura on the train. These girls may have been to cram school, or something like Sylvan, private tutoring. They study English and one other language, with Japanese teachers who usually cannot pronounce many English words correctly. Then when the students try to communicate with westerners, it's next to impossible.

Japan is a cash society. I pay our electric, water and gas bills at the 7-11, and the phone bill is paid at the business office, which is close to base. As far as the rent, I walk to the agent's office every month with 290,000 yen in cash. That's a lot in any currency.

Speaking of the house, some houses are built in strange places, like this one over a tunnel or on such a steep hill there is no vehicle access. You can only reach it by foot, and it's usually quite a climb. Would you want to lug a stroller up those steps?

Here's my washer/dryer. They hold 1/2 of what yours do. The washer has no hot water, so Allan devised this hose from the sink using a waterbed attachment. It takes about 4 hours for the average load to dry, so I partially dry my laundry outside, then finish in the dryer. It's a bit of an inconvenience, but it's the price we pay.

Here's a common site on a sunny day. The Japanese say mother is always busy when the sun shines.

Tubs are for soaking after you've showered, and the water recirculates through a heater, so no soap in the tub. Nothing browns in the oven, which turns off when it's open. Sometimes it will come back with the start button, but most times you cancel and reset it. If you have an oven, it's very small, but everyone has a fish grill.

Houses have shutters, which are traditionally closed every night, but most are only closed when the house is empty or during very bad weather. My student Kimiko was shocked to see my shutters open when I was away for a week. Oops!

Not all rooms are air conditioned. We have a unit in each bedroom and two in our main room. We keep that door closed.

Your mailbox is public domain. Anyone who wants can stick something in your mailbox. So I guess it's not a federal offense to take something out. I wish someone would take my junk mail, please.

In Japan, we drive on the left, and people are very cordial. If you're driving on a 4-lane road and you need to stop, just pull to the left and take care of whatever. People will go around you without shouting obscenities, honking, or giving you the finger.

It's okay to slurp your soup. I don't think parents insist their kids slurp, but it's very normal to make noise. You can inhale over food, but don't blow on it. The rule is; in is good, out is bad. So don't blow your nose. You can smoke in a restaurant, but not on the street. Why? Because restaurants have ashtrays, so it's more about cleanliness than health. If you can find one of these, feel free to stand next to it and smoke.

Shoes that tie also have zippers. If you remove your shoes whenever you go into a residence and some restaurants, it's just easier.

The only sign for the girls' department in this Japanese store is in English. That's just weird. Signs are usually in Japanese first and English second.

This really isn't the paper bag section, but close counts and it's like a puzzle figuring out what a sign means. This one is easy, but some, you never get.

Handicapped and elderly people are accommodated on public transportation. A person in a wheelchair will get assistance from the driver, who will stop the bus, pull out a ramp and after folding seats to make room, wheel the rider onto the bus. He finds out the person's stop and does the reverse at that point. Any healthy rider will give up a seat to an elderly person or pregnant woman, or just someone who seems to be having difficulty.

A student gave me a 'Japanese towel' that I keep in my purse. It's smaller than a washcloth. Since public restrooms don't always have papertowels or dryers, they're pretty handy to have. I've needed it more than once.

If you want cream or a substitute for your coffee, you might get a product named 'creepy, so you can have creepy coffee or you could just drink sweat. Brian had this one. I must say 'eeuw'.

Speaking of creepy, most alleys aren't. Lots of good restaurants and shops can be found in alleys.

When I walked down my first alley in Yokosuka (it was nighttime), I admit, it was with some trepidation, but now I cruise along like I'm on a national park trail.

This alley leads to our favorite restaurant, Watami. It's an izakaya, a bar that has food. It's like tapas, small plates so you buy lots of different dishes.

And sometimes you find a yakitori stand. Yaki means grilled and tori means chicken. This booth has grilled chicken skin, chicken cartilage, pork heart, pork liver, pork tail (again eeuw!) and probably some beef.

I've tried many new things here, but I draw the line at standing in an alley eating only meat. Give me tablecloths and a nice bottle of Italian red. Yeah, that's the ticket.