Malaysia look, Malaysia stare, Malaysia lose your underwear

by Kt

30.04.2012

Oh yeah – we think we may have reached the pinnacle with Mark’s blog title this time. He has quite possibly crossed over that line from juvenile idiot to creative genius!!

Anyhow, we are still in Malaysia. In Georgetown to be precise. This is situated in the far north west of the country not that far from the Thai border. Penang is a small island, accessible by a large bridge or by ferry. We caught a coach up from KL which took 4-5 hours. It was super cheap and all ran smoothly apart from it turning up an hour late and us not really having a clue what was going on. When we did get on though it was pleasant enough. Good air con – big seats as they’d ripped out the standard 4 berth and put in 3 larger ones on each row. I was audio-booked up, which was a treat and when the journey finally ended I didn’t actually want to get off. Mark, unfortunately was not feeling particularly well. It had been touch and go if he could even travel that day but tabletted up and sat in fairly smooth, air conditioned comfort it worked out ok. The hot walk from the bus station onto the ferry was a touch challenging when we eventually arrived in Butterworth (hang over from British rule that one I should imagine). Within a few hours of being in Georgetown, I knew I was gonna like the place. It was everything KL wasn’t. Kind of spacious and full of character. It was even a little cooler, as being on the coast there was a bit of a breeze (still sweltering though!) There was old, colonial buildings, a lot of the old style chinese shop houses, colour, vibrancy but also a quiet charm.
I’d been put off of coming as the prices are a little higher than other locations but I really wanted to go and once I read that you could sort out your Thai visas here, it seemed to make sense.

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The place we were staying, ‘Moon Tree 47′, looked interesting when I booked it but it far out weighed my expectations and we ended up extending there, eventually for 10 days. It was an old chinese shophouse from the 20s which had recently been restored. Georgetown got UNESCO world heritage status a few years ago which is such a good thing because it means that all these beaten up old places are being restored, as they work as a great tourist attraction and therefore money maker. What better incentive to keep historical things from being knocked down/left to disrepair than make it a money spinner. The standard shophouse, as was ours, are fairly narrow but really, really long.
There was a main front area which had seating and a bunch of vintage stuff on display and for sale. There was a little reception desk in the middle, underneath the stairs, then a narrow coffee bar, then a partially outdoor courtyard area with fish and greenery (shop houses were built to feng shui guidelines), then another bit undercover, then another outside bit, a tiny kitchen and finally at the back stretched out a few of the rooms. We never really saw these but I believe they were air conditioned but fairly small. We had one of the 3 upstairs rooms which are massive. It only has a fan, which has been tough in this kind of heat, but an aircon unit just wouldn’t work. Our room has a high ceiling and wooden panelling. It, like the downstairs areas, has furniture in fitting with the heritage theme with simple deco type styling and a big glassless window with shutters. The bathroom is actually semi outdoors out on the roof terrace. Bricked around the sides with just a corrugated plastic roof, it’s nice to be showering outside again.

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The whole vibe of the guesthouse is vintage, eclectic, quirky and nostalgic. It achieves a style, that many try hard places never will.
I couldn’t be happier than when am sat in one of the beautifully shaped vintage leather and wood chairs, supping earl grey, reading a magazine
They also have (generally) great music playing – a really eclectic mix but even the cheesey stuff (some Whitney, instrumental ‘Heart will go on’ or Julio Inglesias) sound classy here. Lots of it is early to mid 20th century – Louis Armstrong’s ‘The Saints Go Marching in’, jazz (and I normally hate jazz but this is cool), even opera and cinema paradiso style, tango-esque instrumentals.
There are old photos of Malaysian people, getting married, in school photos and stuff like that. Piles of books and nicknacks, bakerlite switches, a huge collection of baby food crockery which looks to be post war – possible 40s/50s which I’m now obsessed with wanting. Beaten up old mirrors, old luggage.
Vintage and retro loving folk will get what I’m on about here. It is a haven or the likes of us!!

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As the many shop houses are being restored, there are some interesting cafes. One we went to, was in an old tailors so was done out accordingly with vintage sewing machines and the like. Another, called Edelweis, although I’m not sure why, was a little grander and was a very sophisticated environment for an afternoon cuppa.

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It was a good thing we liked where we were staying as we didn’t spend a lot of time out for the first few days. Mark was still not feeling very well. Unfortunately as he was feeling so dodgy he couldn’t face the idea of anything asian, not even plain rice. He could barely handle being in any food establishment but we ventured out to find places that did mainly plain, western food. A bit gutting being in the foodie capital of Malaysia, which is in itself a foodie destination. The food we had for those first few days was decidedly unispiring, as were the establishments. Turkey ham seems big here, I guess due to the muslim population. Have come across this a lot in the States and I really just don’t get it. It’s just hideously processed turkey. Yuck. I spent an uncomfortable 45 minutes picking turkey ham out of an omlette in a decidedly odd hostel cafe, with a guy who clearly had OCD, lining up the cutlery, salt and pepper, napkins etc on our table. Another guy was singing the same song over and over even though there was 2 lots of music being plaid simultaneously already and the lady just descended on our table at some point to stare. Just to STARE!
I did feel sorry for Marky. Poor thing. It’s not nice when you’re ill away from home let alone abroad and especially when having to deal with things like shared bathrooms and hot, humid days and nights. On the whole though, in all honestly, I mainly found it annoying. You do though don’t you? Other people being sick is tedious and gets in the way with what YOU want to do and worst of all you can’t complain (much) about it, as you seem like a right cow. Those few days did drag on to say the least! When I reached out a comforting hand what I was really thinking in my head was I’d like to slap him with that hand and tell him to get over it. It’s not just me who’s florence nightingale side is not fully developed. I know it’s not just me. You know who you are the rest of you. And to be fair, Mark is worse than useless when I’m ill. I was really sick once and he’d been out all day and evening and still came back and didn’t bring me anything – I’d had no food or medicine for 24 hours – nada. I have a bad back and he’ll do something odd like pull my leg! No, not metaphorically – literally. Or jokingly punch me in the stomach when I have a stomach ache. He is terrible to be around when you have anything wrong, so we are as bad as each other then I’d say. Although at least I mostly pretend to be caring and don’t bizarrely attack him when ill. Anyhow, it took a fair few days for him to get back on track and we could get out and about and eat in more interesting places.

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Malaysia is a mix of Malay muslim (predominantly), Indian and Chinese cultures. Georgetown is a happy mixture of all these if ever you did see one. In the centre of town you can be stood metres away from a mosque, hindu and buddhist temples. The call to prayer rains out at the relevant intervals, the incense burns outside the buddhist temples (they have cool, big incense sticks!!). It really is a great example of cultures working alongside each other and not segregated into different quarters. I’d say that the Chinese are definitely more prominent in Georgetown.

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There are lots of different types of buildings – some from 1800s, much from the 20s and 30s and some very identifiable with the 40s and 50s too.
Even the largest building in Penang, a hideous 70s tower kind of is okay – it’s it’s own thing.
It’s a pretty quiet place. The traffic mainly circles the centre of town but it’s not that crazy or fumey. They have kind of pavements – it’s part of the front of the shophouses and you can walk on it most of the time but sometimes need to go off into the (probably quite empty) street to get out of the way of a moped or some boxes from a business. It has an old fashioned feel to it that I like. You go past these places and people are running proper businesses. The guy with the printing press down the road is always there, late at night, churning out the paper. Lots of wholesalers and old fashioned trades. I have likened the place to France. Mark doesn’t really get what I mean. But you know those, quiet, middle of france towns – where it functions as a town – the businesses generally support the town, with a sprinkling of tourism mainly. Even the 70s bits reminded me of the purpose built areas on the outskirts of Paris. Or in someways it’s like Valetta, in Malta, which is almost like an abandoned city of old. It’s the old fashioned-ness but with it an every day practicality. I don’t even know what I mean really, but all in all, I jolly well like Georgetown.

The further out of the centre you go, of course, the more modern it gets. That’s when the maccy d’s and the furniture outlets appear. Not in a bad way though – nowhere is garish. Most of it retains an air of character and interest. We went out of town to a massive mall, by the sea. It was full of large modern buildings but along the street by the sea, and at the night market slap bang next to the 8 storey mall, were cheap food places and hawker stalls. It just works here. No-where really feels contrived. The mall was pretty impressive – my mall hating ways have been changed in Malaysia. I think it’s because, again, there was very few people there so it felt like I had most shops to myself, or the odd other person.
Mark had gone to the cinema complex on the top floor to watch Titanic 3D. Yes, Mark had. Not me. I do not like the schmaltzy rubbish that is Titanic. Mark, however, rates it as one of his favourite films. Uh huh – yep that’s right. So he was very excited to spent 3 and a half hours watching the whole commotion in 3D. Meanwhile I walked every inch of that massive plaza – that place was big so at the very least I had some major exercise. Picked up some much needed bargain togs. Mark, although having enjoyed his Titanic experience, had found the 3d effects a little lacking and was also a little distraught that a certain ‘scene’ had been cut out of the film, presumably to give it his U rating.

Trickshaws
The trickshaws here are the little seats with a bicyclist in the back. Most of the drivers look pretty old and we were most worried the weight of us pair, may give someone a heart attack. Most have flowers intertwined around the structure and some are really souped up with flashing lights, windmills and banging music. They are undeniably cool.

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Toy museum
I had read about a toy museum in Penang and wandering the streets one day we spotted it and decided to go back again later, only to lose it.
When I looked it up I realised this wasn’t the one in all the tourist literature anyhow. The toy museum everyone goes on about is outside of Georgetown and is not toys as such but figurines – mainly from movies and anime. It is pegged as the largest toy museum in Asia – but that’s not toys in my book. I don’t like action movies and neither does Mark really so that was definitely not our cup of tea, but when we found the small shop in town ‘Ben’s Vintage Toy Museum’, that was definitely our kind of place. They had only recently opened and had a great collection of proper vintage toys.

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This was definitely the best collection I’ve seen and this is the kind of thing I do like to go to. I was particularly obsessed with a set of french musical dolls.

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We ended up chatting to the guy about what he had and where he’d gotten it and he showed us some of the rare wind-up toys going.
Ben’s vintage toys facebook page. We took his ebay shop details for future reference but lost it somehow but have the facebook page at least. It was a funny reminder of some of the things we have left behind as we flicked through some of his collectors books – our yellow plastic pacman game and donkey kong for instance managed to sail through the ‘sell what you don’t need’ period of our trip organisations. Well you have to have pacman and donkey kong, don’t you?

As with vintage toys there was, of course, some delightfully sinister characters.
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Food
So, as I mentioned, Penang is known for it’s food and when Marks health finally returned (sounds very Jane Austen doesn’t it?) we got about trying some nice stuff.
There is posh cafe up the road from us that we went to when Mark still wasn’t great and he had a chicken pie (yuck at any time) and I tried a Curry Mee which is a local soup like curry which I had a gorgeous version of with fried soya skin (to make it muslim friendly as it often comes with fried pig skin). It had fishballs and prawns and squid and came with chill paste on the side to heat up to your liking. My heat tolerance has definitely increased in the last few months so I got quite brave with that.

Not far from us was the ‘Red Garden Cafe’ This is an outdoor but undercover place with tons of tables and tons of different eateries which is an absolute gem. It’s for tourists you could say, but having, say 20-30, different styles of food to choose from, meaning you don’t have to have the same thing was fantastic and it was cheap too.

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They had the most amazing Dim sum, we had some fried soft shell crab, mark had lots of pork and we we finally had some amazing Malaysian Indian food that was definitely worthy of the reputation.
On one of our first days we took a photo of the frog porridge claypot and put in on facebook to have a laugh.
On one of our last days, we took the plunge and ordered chilli frog and porridge. How brave of us, don’t you think? Well the frog looked very frogish. Had to mind over matter it and get the flesh off old hop along. The flesh was nice. Very soft. Somewhere between chicken and fish Mark said, which I guess kind of sums up a frog to some degree too. The chilli sauce was blow your head off strong whilst the porridge was do your head in bland. It is rice based and has a consistence like that in cheap work canteens where they use some crappy flour to create a gloopy sauce. It didn’t taste terrible but I’m not quite sure what you could do to it to jazz it up. It must come under the category peasant food, surely?

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Later in the evenings there is entertainment on which generally consists of some enthusiastic singers. Some of them sure could sing and there was indeed some interesting covers, lots of glitter and swooshing.
An interesting ‘feature’ of the red garden cafe was it’s advertising etiquette was perhaps lacking…
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One night we ate at a chinese recommended to us by the guy who runs our guesthouse. This place only had chinese people in which of course is a good sign and we were a little baffled by some of the menu (Judas’s ear wax anyone?) and weren’t wildly experimental by opting for squid for me (I LOVE squid) and (you guessed it) pork for Mark. My squid was to die for and I don’t really do pork but having tasted his it was darned fine. The accompanying fried rice was also divine and actually reminded me of my mums more so than the rice you get in take-aways restaurants at home. It was more moist and fluffy than that and had lots of egg and tit bits in it. It worked out a fair bit pricier than the red garden cafe and many other places but it is tempting to go back as it was sooo good.

In the early, Mark is sickly, days we ate at westernish places. We chipped up at one indian run pizza and pasta place and tucked in to some surprisingly tasty pasta only for me to choke on my spaghetti half way through the meal when I remembered we didn’t have enough cash to pay for the pasta I was currently inhaling. We had about 3 quarters of it but that was it. There are no ATMs in this central area for some reason – the nearest one’s were pretty far away considering it was quite late and dark by this time and Mark couldn’t go far because he was ill. Cards were a no-no, as were US dollars. The young waiter pretty quickly re-assured us, to our shock and horror, that we could bring the money in on Tuesday night. This was sunday night. They were trusting us to bring in the money owed to them in a couple of days time. Can you believe it? How trusting is that? I felt terrible and thanked them profusely as we left. As we got up the road we spotted a currency exchanger still open and so luckily managed to change up the US dollars and go back and pay them. With a healthy tip for their generosity of course! What an untrusting world I live in that this totally freaks me out!!!

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Malaysia – Lumpy Koala

by Kt

25.04.2012

Yes, Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur are tainted by Marks hilarious insistance on calling it that. I want to leave KL as soon as possible for that reason alone!

Well, actually I am happy to be leaving KL after just a few days as have found it a bit of a struggle. Quite probably the culture shock from laid back Bali to a big old city was going to get us anyhow, but the mixture of it being very hot, humid and fumey from all the cars makes it not the most fun to walk around. Add to that the most immense down pours that occur most days and the fact that there’s not that much of interest to do and that’s us done really.

We’re staying in a hostel right next to what is definitely the most interesting part of town. We are practically in China Town and have the old central market building just up the road and up the hill is what seems to be the main restaurant district. Malaysia is known for being a happy hybrid of mainly 3 groups – Muslims, Hindu and Chinese. It is also known for it’s amazing food. This was what I was most looking forward to. But we struggled to find this amazing food that is so hailed. We found decent food, but not amazing. We ate at a street sellers one night and had satay and fish and it was good but wasn’t blown away.
In the end I got a bit fed up and turned to my usual city bible (everyone should use it) Time Out. We went to a restaurant called Palate Palette which was described as being quirky and arty with good food. The food was indeed very good and it was nice to go somewhere that wasn’t super fancy but kind of independent and nice. I had taken to calling the place Palate’s Palette, in a Timmy Mallet tribute, which amused Mark greatly. For those of you who didn’t watch UK children’s saturday morning TV in the early 90s – don’t worry about it. It cannot be explained.

The hostel is small, as you would expect in town, the lady who runs it, Joy, is delightful. The place is quite quirky and our room, although without windows has aircon, and thank god for that. Makes it very difficult to leave to head out into the heat. The toilet/shower situation in the hostel is rather interesting. The rest of the place is done out nicely but these cubicles in which the shower is in with the toilet are in basic concrete, floor and walls. I did know this to be the case having read it on a review and thought they were being a bit fussy, but the problem wasn’t that they looked shoddy but more that the plumbing was shoddy. The toilet permanently leaked (clean water at least) so the flush never worked properly. Yes – you imagine right. It was often not a pleasant place to visit. The sink also leaked so the floor was just permanently sodden – although it was at least clean but still – yuk!!!

As I say, the city itself is quite hard work but at the same time easy. Does that make any sense? Public transport is easy to work out, cheap and available not far off from most places. They also often join up one station, with another station where you might change lines, with a sheltered walk way so you don’t get drenched in the afternoon downpours. And they can be quite far away. I guess they also provide welcome shade when the sun is out also.

The central market, which is just up the road from us is a cute little art deco building which used to be the food market, back in the day. A wet market I believe it is called. Now it is full of ‘stuff’. It’s very civilised, not a hustle and bussle market at all, more of a sophisticated arcade. The food in there is pretty good and it’s air conditioned (happy days). But it’s fairly boring after the first wander around if you’re not much of a shopper. They had an odd mix of tat, really nice quality stuff and then some fascinating antique things from thousands of years ago!! There was some contraption involving bells that Mark was most fascinated by. Some olden day musical instrument of enormous scale.

China town was ok, but they do tend to be much of a muchness in most cities and I was rather gobsmacked that opposite us there was a Kenny Rogers Roasters restaurant. I had never heard of such a thing. I love Kenny, but in Malaysia? Really? But I did discover that they love their chicken in KL, so maybe that explains it. It felt like the whole city was sponsored by KFC. Certainly, lots of the stations were. That creepy kernel was staring down at me from every corner. Sinister!

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We did go to the famous Petronas towers and in our usual style, after finding out it wasn’t free to go up anymore and more importantly that you had to book a slot and then come back at the allotted time which was generally hours later – we couldn’t be bothered. We did, bizarrely for us, enjoy a good couple of hours in the mall beneath the towers. This is testament mainly to the stifling heat outside, god that air con was lovely, but also that it was actually very quiet there. Not the crowds you would expect. Very few people about and we felt a bit retail-y for a change. We both went crazy and bought t-shirts. You may think this is insignificant, but let me tell you we were excited. New clothes!! New CLEANER THAN CLEAN clothes. I’m even going to save it for a special occasion. Get me!

One of the places I really wanted to go was Little India. We’d come through there briefly on the way in on the bus (didn’t I mention the bus – bus from the airport for the 45 minute journey to the city – about 3 quid each – bargain or what?). It was beautifully air conditioned and had swagged gold curtains – glamourous!! Anyhow, we headed off to Little India and I got us off a station which required us walking through a slightly ropey neighbourhood and was more of a walk than anticipated. Let me also explain that we had ended our soberness and had a few drinks the first two days we were here so were feeling a bit worse for wear in the intense heat. When we eventually reached our destination, exhaustion and dehydration dampened our enthusiasm to say the least, but it was also a bit of an odd place. It was cool looking – they’d recently moved the official little india to this site and paid a fair bit to deck it out. I reckon it’s because they realise the tourist attractions are a little bit thin on the ground. As I say, it looks great. Very colourful but it was, as Mark pointed out, a bit theme-parky. There was bangra music blaring out, really, really loud and there were lights and big shops selling souvenirs. Not the kind of ‘this is where the indians actually come to shop and eat’ kind of place I was expecting. I was expecting many, many restaurants too but there weren’t that many and in our hungover state we really wanted something easy and air conditioned. We were to have neither and went into a Northern Indian place where I recognised very little (understandable considering most UK Indian food is known to be very un-Indian) but it was a buffet and everything looked a bit ropey. In the end it wasn’t half bad. I always choose well in such ventures – always best to be vegetarian, and I did add in a chicken drumstick for good measure – to help fill out the plate so it looked like i had loads when in fact i didn’t. I had piled on tons of coloured pilau when the women explaining the buffet to us had for some reason piled Marks plate up with some wet looking steamed rice. It was not a meal of note and I was a it disheartened as I’d been looking forward to having Indian food in Malaysia as we hadn’t had any since leaving home.

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On our second night, having had way too much to drink the previous night in an irish bar (long story – involving pouring rain, being dropped off in the wrong place by a useless taxi driver and stopping in the place for a quick one), we ended the afternoon with a hair of the dog at a hostel around the corner with a reggae bar. I don’t know why it was a reggae bar but it was a massive place and we could hide happily in the corner. The brick walls all over the place had been written on by visitors, as is often the way in travellers bars and hostels.
I was sitting next to one scribbling which I found most peculiar/intriguing.
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Down and dirty with club 18-30. Malia 4/1/12 – for those of you who don’t know, Malia is a town on Crete frequented by young folk ‘larging it’. Fond ‘shout outs’ to lads on tour type holidays in the greek islands or the costas is not unfamiliar to me. But this is someone in Kualar Lumpur – not usually a destination in it’s own right so was likely a stop of before or after a far off destination such as Thailand or Australia. So it seemed odd, in this far flung place, that this was all that young traveller could come up with. That was the only words that sprang to his mind? Um??!

We had an absolute treat one day on our way back from the central market area. There was a guy being filmed miming to what was clearly his song. He must have been at least a bit famous as people looked marginally excited. He looked older than he probably was because of his grown up clothes. He had someone holding up some polystyrene beneath his face for the reflection – clearly the budget wouldn’t run to the proper reflectors. It felt a bit mean – but it was hilarious. We weren’t impolite to laugh outright there of course, we are better brought up than that!

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My strongest memory from KL, will be something that we saw that we just didn’t expect to see. We were staring down from our local train station at the graffiti style murals that were done on boards all along the river. After a couple of hours downpour, the day before, the water had been up a foot or so, up the murals and we had wondered how on earth they painted them. However, the next day the water was so much lower and showed it had actually been up and over the walk way the day before. As we were looking at this I spotted something and said something along the lines of ‘what the *?>!@* is that?’
A huge lizard thing walked out from under an area of scaffolding and had a bit of a potter around before going back under. This thing was big, really big. Not like an iguana, big, like a freakin dog big!! It was such a strange site to see in such an urban environment. I know we are in an exotic country but surely this thing didn’t live there. Maybe it had been swept in with all that water. Maybe it lived there all the time. The photo’s zoom was rubbish and you can’t really tell the scale but that is certainly a sight that will stay with me!!
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Bali – In summary

by Kt

18.04.2012

I’m gong to get the lowlights out of the way first

Lows:
Cockfighting
When we’d walked through the small village to view the herons there were baskets with chickens inside in front of a bunch of properties. I thought that was just where they kept their chickens ahead of putting in the pot or whatever. We also saw a man walking down the road with a large cockerel in his arms. Mark commented on how the cockerel seemed perfectly happy. We realised with horror, as we left the village, that those chickens in the baskets were all cockerels and they were being kept for cock fighting. We drove past two sets of men that were partaking in this ‘sport’. It was really disturbing and I hate animal cruelty for sport on any level. It is illegal, having been banned in 1981 and it is enforced sometimes, as people I’ve met have seen Police breaking up such events, but I guess if it’s something they’ve always done and is common place. I suppose you’re gonna have to come up with something pretty cheap and exciting to replace their buzz. Anyone, even the most poor, can easily get involved in this barbaric pass time. It is of course horrifying but I’m aware that I’m not in a position to judge. These things happen and it is a different world to that which I live in. Seeing as our government is trying to weedle stag and fox hunting back on the agenda after it was, happily, being banned for last 10 years. And we are supposedly an ‘educated’ society (well, educated at Eton, in the governments case). As for the Trump brothers and their sicko jaunt to Africa to kill as many ‘trophies’ as they could pay for (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-03-24/trumps-sons-in-trouble-for-zimbabwe-hunt/3910068) Well it’s all proof that if we can’t stop this kind of thing happening in our so called developed world, then storming in and giving a bunch of guys in a village in Bali a lecture isn’t really going to help. Especially as it is linked to spiritual beliefs, such as their cattle will die if they don’t partake. The Bali animal welfare groups have their work cut out with so many stray cats and dogs and noisy, ugly old cockerels probably come pretty low on anyone’s support list. I’ve since noticed the cockerel baskets in pretty much every village we’ve been too. It was common place in villages probably less than 100 years ago in the UK (despite being banned in 1835) and according to the RSPCA still goes on. I believe it’s still popular in countries all over the world as wide-spread as South America, India, the Philippines and like the UK, still very underground in France and Spain.

Dogs
When we were driving in from the airport I noticed that there were stray dogs everywhere and this made me a little tense. I love dogs but am a bit afraid of them if I don’t know them. The strays, however, turned out to be all good natured. The locals aren’t nasty to them, as in other places I’ve been (we had a particularly nasty incident in Corfu where the hotel owners brother beat a stray dog with a stick outside our room – sick bastard!) and they aren’t that scrawny in general, probably because there is so much canang left around with rice and various food in, it sees them right. The dogs that were more of an issue where actually the dogs from the homes who were all loose and were doing what dogs do and protecting their territory. Normally this meant them standing of the steps of their compound and barking like crazy, which was usually pretty much something of nothing. We did find though that sometimes they could be a little more agressive and over zealous – particularly if there was more than one of them. We had to turn back once when we were out on one of the more remote side roads when there was a particularly agressive fella who wasn’t going to let us past. On the whole they weren’t a problem but it was just added hassle and because I am dog nervous, gave me a bit more stress than I would have liked.

This dog, I am guessing, is not used as security…

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Highlights:
Sooo many highlights. It’s a really special island and we are sure to return.

The ice-cream moped
Like an ice-cream van it plays a little tune as it drives about. Ace!

Swastikas
They are everywhere. We had seen them tattooed on someone in Fiji, who was clearly not an aryan white power nut job and had been intrigued but hadn’t gotten around to looking it up. In Bali – the symbol is everywhere and there are even places called ‘Swastika hotel’. It’s actually a reverse image to the Nazi one and it symbolises balance in relationships. Good relationship with each other, all humans, with ‘god’ and with animals and nature. The total antithesis of the Nazi symbol then. I believe it’s used all over asia, as a Hindu symbol but also in Buddism. Having read up a bit about it, I’m still not clear on how Hitler came to decide on this as a symbol for the aryan race. You never see this anywhere in the west and I’m really used to it now and actually I quite like it. With it being a taboo it makes it more powerful – having it appear everywhere under a different guise is good. It’s like we’re taking it back! Taking away the negative
connotations and replacing them with good!!

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Indonesian TV
We had a TV for just 2 days but in that time I learnt a lot.
It is quite hilarious. They have lots of soap operas, which are quite addictive. There is a Korean soap opera that I particularly liked, dubbed in Indonesian. None of them are in English but they are soap operas so you can kind of guess what’s going on – if not – make up your own.
On the indonesian soap operas, the music is this strange, camp, overdramatic, almost medieval mix of piano and strings. Highly inappropriate to the level of drama – I love it!
There was also a panel show where 3 people were shown clips of funny things and had people in the studio doing the strangest thing and they had to try not to laugh.

They also had lots of Tom and Jerry and Woody Woodpecker. Old skool cartoons that for some reason are never on UK terrestrial TV anymore these days. I do miss them so. if anyone knows anywhere you can watch them online or download them, I would so love to have a retro cartoon watching marathon.

There was one thing that came on that was in English and subtitled in Indonesian – a Jean Claude Van Damme film. I found I preferred to watch the Indonesian shows.

Skin whitening
There are tons of products, like ‘Fair n Lovely’ for skin whitening. They also offer treatments in salons. It seemed a bit odd at first and a bit creepy, but then flipping that, aren’t half (if not more) of those of the lilly white persuasion constantly using either fake tan, moisturisers with tints in, or bronzers.

The Ubud royal family
I had read an article about the young members of Ubuds royal family. The family has no real power anymore and the young ones spend a lot of time on Facebook and on buying the latest everything. So I think I could be pretty sure when, up the hills of one of the cobbled streets in Ubud, a big, black Hummer went by – standing out in a town of mopeds, trucks, a few four by fours and vans – it could only be a brash show of wealth. It did seem quite unreal for a moment.

Paul Smith shops
Another thing which seemed out of place and most odd was the Paul Smith shops. They must have been knocks off but where decked out very stylishly and selling british themed stuff. So that was odd and the fact that there was four of them – strange!

Russian Andrey – the most amazing Tattooist ever.
Seriously this guy is amazing. He’s obviously a majorly talented artist first of all and he’s only been doing tattoos for 3 years but already he’s probably the best I’ve ever seen. Like crazy amazing.
Take a look: http://grimmy3d.ru

Antique sign
A sign Mark spotted when driving on the outskirt of Ubud.
‘Antiques – made to order’. Nuff said!

It doesn’t get Batur than this – fish soup and faeces

by Kt

14.04.2012

The day we left we were very reluctant to leave Ubud but it was an interesting hour or two’s drive up to our next location in the Kitamani region.
We knew we were in the right place when we suddenly reached a huge viewing platform that over looked a glistening lake with a volcano in the background. Was a bit of a good view! We headed down the hill for what seemed like an eternity, stopping briefly to receive a blessing and to have rice sprinkled in our hair, until we eventually reached the village of Toya Bunkhar which lay on the edge of Lake Batur underneath with (active!) volcano behind it.
Despite being a small settlement the accommodation prices are quite steep here as there isn’t much about and although we were paying a fair bit more than we’d paid in Ubud, our accommodation was ‘interesting’. I kind of knew it would be because of reviews I’d read online but it was only for a couple of nights and was cheapest alternative. The bed was massive which was a great but the room had a bit of a grubby feel and believe me, I’ve grown not to be fussy. The bathroom was especially interesting. The light flickered when you ran the tap and the bath was surrounded by some kind of concrete… umm… sculpture???

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The outside door of the room had a massive gap at the bottom so we had to load our bags up against it at night to stop the mozzies getting in. There was a TV – fancy eh? – but you had to switch the main light on for the TV to work so it took us half a day to realise that. But as we have found on our travels, when you turn up somewhere at first you can quite often feel a bit freaked out but usually within 24 hours you are acclimatised, get on with it and ignore any oddities/potential death hazards!!!!

Fish soup and faeces
Our first meal there, we had gone for a little wander to find the village very empty (they really get few people there at low season) but found a little cafe and I opted for the lake fish with soup which was quite frankly, utterly amazeballs. I’ve never really liked the idea of river fish. Probably because at home the rivers are so murky and grim. In fact, it’s only been quite recently that I’ve been more adventurous with fish – used to be a little bit squeamish and bones and the like. Well, I’m glad I’m glad I took the gamble as it was really one of the nicest things I’ve had since travelling – and I’ve been to Melbourne for goodness sake!! The fish was just lightly fried and placed on a bowl of a very light broth with bits of garlic, onion and tomatoe floating in it.

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The food we had in the evening at our accommodation was actually really nice too despite the slightly hap hazard surroundings. Mark had a bit of an adventurous turn himself and tried the special coffee from an area we’d passed on our journey up. You may have seen the Vietnamese coffee that became popular as an unusual christmas present a few years ago which was coffee made from berries (I don’t know how this is different from beans) which had been eaten and then – passed?? – for want of a better word by weasles. Well this is pretty much the same thing having been passed by the Asian Palm Civit. It’s called Kopi Luwak. Mark said it tasted good. I just giggled maturely and kept telling him he’d eaten poo. It’s supposed to be the most expensive coffee in the world.

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The next day we were to go out on a visit organised with the hotel across the road. This was a much posher hotel and had a lakeside cafe, which was an amazing spot to sit and watch the fishermen and the clouds moving slowly across the mountains.

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The hotel had a couple of pools hooked up the natural spa that was available from the thermals of the village. And for some strange reason they had a cute little beetle parked out front.

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Trunyan
One of the main reasons we were in the village was because there was a place I’d read about that I had really wanted to go. I’d recently read an amazing book called Making an Exit: From the Magnificent to the Macabre by Sarah Murray. This books talks about the way death is dealt with in different areas of the world, the similarities and the differences. It actually featured Bali quite heavily, as their cremation ceremonies and rituals are notoriously big and joyous occasions. The place we were going to, however, dealt with their dead differently to the rest of Bali. This remote village on the opposite edge of Lake Batur, accessible usually only by water, had a small cemetery where they left their dead out in the open. This had become a bit of a tourist attraction but fair play to the villagers, they charged a lot and so at least someone had to really want to see it to make the arrangements to get there by boat and make the various donations necessary for the villagers to grant you access. My fascination meant I was willing to pay that price and off we went in our boat across the beautiful lake which in itself was a fantastic experience.
We first stopped at the village and visited the temple. When you visit the temples, you often have to cover up with sarongs that they supply. With Marks newly shaved head I thought he looked suitably monkish in his.

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The village was clearly the poorest we had seen yet but they had an amazing resource on their doorstep – you could never go hungry with such an amazing lake, which unlike the sea was never going to be ravaged by over fishing. The village covered quite a small area – the temple taking up probably a quarter of it. The backdrop to the village was steep forest, hence it’s remoteness. And from the temple you looked over at the active volcano on the other side of the lake.

We then took the boat over to the cemetery. There were 7 or 8 bodies there. They are laid out and covered by a kind of bamboo cage to keep out animals etc. There is tons of stuff everywhere, which turns out to be their belongings which are buried with them. All kinds of things – crockery, clothes, lots of flip flops, a bright orange plastic toothbrush on one. They stay like this for about a year, then their skull and leg bones are lined up in an area to the right of the graves. The other bones and all their stuff is then discarded to the side of the cemetery. This being a very small area, it is just to the side of the bodies and was fascinating in itself. When we eventually realised what it was, you could see that in a box of plates was a thigh bone, or next to that pile of clothes was a pelvis. The hip bones of course stood out with that perfect rounded joint. There was a bra there which looked like it belonged to a young person. This was their history and this was their bodies. The bodies themselves were fresher than I had expected. The latest, being only a few weeks old. We were basically looking at recently dead bodies but it didn’t feel creepy or gross, it felt calm and i said a quiet little hello to each of them (quiet as in, in my head so I didn’t look completely batty). The reason that this tradition had come about and the reason that we weren’t actually gagging around such recently deceased is what makes this site special. The bodies do not decompose in the normal way and they do not smell at all. There has been no absolute conclusion as to why this is. There have been various theories about the water and such things, but the one most agreed upon is that is down to the huge tree that the site sits beneath. I’m not sure how. Something scientific. The villages believe that it is a spiritual thing and even if it is the tree, the fact that something natural has an impact on this is spiritual in itself. Anyway, before I go off and shake my crystals and chakras and get all new age on you, I must add that the pictures below contain the bones but not the corpses so you don’t have to look away unless you’re squeamish of death in general (dont’ be – it’s the only certainty we all have).

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The one thing that I do think they may have to consider in this modern world is the inclusion of the flip flops and modern plastic material that is put in with the bodies. This stuff, particularly the flip flops, is never going to decompose and indeed it was the most prevalent thing, besides the old money that covered the floor. Quite practically, gone are the days of using woven flip flops. They don’t last as long and the Balinese love colour and looking good (seriously, they are a well dressed people – even the poorest), so plastic of course is going to be top choice.
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As I say, I didn’t feel grossed out or anything, I was concerned about how intrusive it was but then people walk round graveyards all the time. The whole point of this is about death being out in the open, not hidden behind closed doors.

The visit also lead to us meeting an interesting pair – Mark got talking to a russian girl who’d just arrived from Ubud about our trip. She had not come to the area to go to Trunyan but oddly she had seen a documentary about it before and it had fascinated her – we got talking about it and she told us about a place in Tibet where their was a tribe who were shunned by the rest of society and their role in life was to do a special kind of body disposal for those important and rich members of society (for this was the most expensive way you could be dealt with after death). They basically took the bodies and scraped the meat from the bones for them to be fed to the mountain vultures. But if they had a couple of bodies at once they would first feed them the men because the womens flesh is sweeter so they would ignore the men if a woman’s flesh was on offer. Nice eh? Well that certainly puts Trunyan into perspective as quite low shock value doesn’t it??

Well, Yelena, was russian originally but from USA – she had lived all over but most recently had been mostly based in Chaing Mai as was her friend Poncho, from Mexico who had lived in the UK for a fair while – they are both yoga teachers. I had planned for us to go to Chaing Mai so it was great to chat with them and ask them lots of annoying questions. We were amazed when they said how expensive Bali was compared to Thailand. Mark had been a bit sceptical but I think talking to them he realised that Chaing Mai would indeed be a good place for us to base ourselves for a little while. They were both really interesting people and funny and a little crazy. We had a good laugh in that short time and we definitely hope to cross paths again sometime.

We stayed in Toya Bungkhar just 2 nights. It was lucky I had booked just those 2 nights – you couldn’t last much longer as there wasn’t much to do. Lots of people trekked up the volcano for sunrise. We had decided not to do it as it seemed quite expensive, especially as we had spent so much on the Trunyan visit (although much of that had come out of my personal ‘treats’ budget as it was my want!). I was happy to find that Yelena and Poncho also thought the charges were very high. You can’t do it independently apparently – there are guards up there who will send you back or try to charge you. Anyway, we didn’t do that which was probably a good thing as the day we were considering it was apparently quite cloudy anyhow. I’m sure we’ll have plenty of opportunities yet to climb stuff.

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Our next stop was Tulamben – a beach resort on the north east coast of Bali. We were to be stopping there for 5 nights so Mark could dive and I could plan our next destination, Malaysia. The journey there was a bit hair raising. Not that our driver was a bad driver – just normal for Bali standards. They just tend to go for the overtake, even on corners. It was more that we were up on winding roads up in the steep mountain. At one point we had a sheer drop on either side. A rickety old wooden bridge was another highlight. To be honest, we’d already had some hair raising experiences in Queensland and so I’ve just learned to accept that death may come and maybe I’d like to be buried in my flip-flops. The best part of the journey was not the scenery, although it was at times a marvel, but it was in fact the music. For the first hour we had the St Elmo’s Fire soundtrack. How this young guy who probably wasn’t even born when the film came out came to be listening to it, I’m not sure – I wasn’t even that old! Classic tunage!! Even Mark who hasn’t seen the film liked it as it was all 80s. For the next hour we were blessed with some old soul classics. Made the time pass a little quicker and took our minds of any potential collisions.

Can you Bali-eve it, we are in Ubud?

by Kt

05.04.2012

Bali is actually not far from Perth, only about 4 hours so it wasn’t a big journey but we did have to wake ourselves up to the fact that we were leaving super easy Australia and entering Asia – the first time for both of uw. Firstly, we must fess up to a little concern over the transit of our luggage from Oz to Bali. There have been some notorious cases of stuff being stashed in unsuspecting peoples cases and the best advice on offer was to lock your cases. The problem for us is our backpacks kind of suck in the security department.We had them lurking around the house for a while before we left home, but until we actually came to pack and leave, we didn’t realise there was actually nowhere proper to lock them. There is no hole in the zip to use – we have to padlock through the string that pulls off the zip. This is really rather pants and barely counts as security as, obviously, you can not only cut the string in about 2 seconds but also they have been known to slip off the zip itself anyhow. But the padlocking, along with a few cable ties back in the beginning, was our security and it wasn’t really a big deal or concern. But for our trip to Bali we had to be a bit more sure that no tampering was possible so we were really scratching our heads how to get around the problem. The solution, from Perth to Bali at least, was cling film! They have machines in the airport which I think in the past were used for broken cases but are great for the purpose of sealing your luggage. It really is just wrapping strong cling film round and round your case/backpack until everything but a handle is covered. It’s cute – they looked like little cocoons afterwards. So that was our solution and as our flight neared Bali and we heard the words over the tannoy ‘Death Penalty’ and then as we entered the airport and saw posters again with ‘Death Penalty’ in big old lettering, we were happy that even though we looked a little freaky with our shiny packages, we could breathe easy knowing our luggage tampered with. Admittedly they tend not to kill the western people found with drugs but prison sentences are lengthy and without much care for whether you are guilty or not, so better safe than sorry. Mark would be rubbish in prison!

So, with our visas sorted and our little plastic cocoon packages, we proceeded our drive from the airport to Ubud our first port of call in Bali. Co-incidence would have it that we were arriving on the Balinese new year.
This made for a VERY interesting ride to Ubud from the airport, as we drove for a couple of hours through the preparations for that nights celebrations. There were absolutely huge effigies made out of paper and glue (I think) which loomed over us as we drove along, snapping through the car window. They were painted bright colours and were generally delightfully menacing. I have never seen anything like it. We had certainly picked a great time to turn up. This was made all the more fun by our driver’s fabulous taste in soul music. We have an amazing soundtrack to this crazy, amazing drive. There were celebrations starting all the way and people were out on the streets. We came across a little procession at some point where kids had smaller hand held effigies that they were bashing on the ground and against the wall and everyone was making a right old din with bells and drums.

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It got a little tricky towards the end of the journey as we kept finding streets shut, ready for the celebrations, but we made it to our lodgings at around 7pm by which time it was dark (one thing I hate about being near the equator). We didn’t venture far that night because, as I said it was dark and we didn’t really know where we were or where to could go. Because everything was shut down for the celebrations and in preparation for the next day – very little was open. Although we knew that Bali would be considerably cheaper than home and australia, we were shocked when we discovered it was less than couple of quid for a beer or a wine and the same for tasty meal. We breathed a sigh of relief, realising that if things were this cheap, then we could indeed last a little longer with what was left of our budget. Happy days!

Shhhhh…….. It’s all gone quiet
The day after new year is known as Nyepi – the day of silence. Basically the whole island has to stay in, stay quiet and keep the lights off or dimmed at night. This is to pretend to an evil spirit that there is no one on the island, so he will pass by and not attack. People don’t work and are not supposed to partake of any form of entertainment, TV etc.
I’d accidentally found out about this about a week before we left and was a bit worried we wouldn’t have a chance to get any food the day we landed, to last us for the day (tourists aren’t allowed out of their hotels either – I believe the streets are patrolled, but we wouldn’t go out anyhow out of respect). But at our accommodation, they assured me that they’d provide all 3 meals that day and for free.
Rather than a hotel or hostel, we are staying in a kind of homestay. Basically a large amount of the homes in Bali, well at least in Ubud, are ‘family compounds’. These are based around kind of courtyard areas and have lots of small buildings/rooms off where various members of the family, over different generations, live. We are staying in a fairly big one with buildings all over the place. i think they rent out 5 or 6 rooms, but it’s never very busy. There is a pool here but that is actually incredibly unusual in the family compounds, so we got lucky. It is a lovely pool with a statue in the middle and is always a gorgeous temperature. The room has a big, four poster bed with muslin covering it to keep out the mozzies, a bathroom and a veranda to sit out on. It’s a little rough and ready in places, but has everything you need, as well as bags of character.
When we decided to stay an extra week we moved to a different room which had the added bonus of a sofa out the front on the veranda, which is lovely to slouch around on.

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The furniture in the whole place is gorgeous – the dad of the family also runs a shop selling this furniture. It’s made out of old boats and is big, chunky and gorgeous. He is Mr Chicken, so the sign says out the front….. We do not know why….. There are no chickens here.
That, in fact, is actually unusual -everyone else seems to have them. They are everywhere. The chickens here have really long legs. The cockerels start at about 4am and go on all day, but you soon blank it out.

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We are away from the road and not bang in the centre of town, so it’s generally pretty quiet. We do, however, have a lot of noise of the ‘natural’ variety. Various things make a racket at night – I don’t even know what half of it is. I think it’s frogs that make the most noise. They are often the culprit. Incredible for such small creatures, the racket they can make. And there’s bats about the place, so I’m presuming it’s them you can hear banging around in the middle of the night up in your roof (there is a wicker ceiling so there is space for plenty up there). On the first couple of nights it was really quite disturbing, but like everything you get used to it.

One of the loveliest things is there is some frangipani bushes in the garden so when you sit out on the veranda at night, the breeze brings over to you waves of the most divine smell ever. It is utter bliss.
So, seeing as we’d been travelling like crazy for months, the day of silence, being intrapt in our accommodation, a warm, lovely place, with a pool, didn’t seem bad at all!! We just settled down, chilled out and read.

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After Nyepi, it was actually a day and a half before we even saw anything much of Ubud. It was definitely a pleasant surprise when we eventually did. The sights and sounds of Ubud cannot be explained. It seems hectic at first but it’s not really and you get used to it’s foibles pretty quickly. The majority of traffic is mopeds. They are everywhere. With 5 members of a family on them sometimes. Very often holding onto baby, large packages and of course there’s the ones which have built in road side stores. They are super wide carts on the back of the moped and I have no idea how any of them manage to drive without falling off, but they do!!

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The thing you first notice, coming to Bali, is the beeping. Everyone is beeping – it seems very stressful. But actually, the beeping here is not ‘get out of the way’ beeping, it is, in fact, just to say to everyone else ‘here i am’!! That’s a big difference in my book. Everyone is driving defensively (in a positive way). You panic less about crossing the road (or walking in it, which you have to do much of the time due to dodgy or lack of pavements) when you realise that they will do their darned best to avoid you. So, you just keep your eye out and trust that between you and them, we’ll all stay upright!

We walked the streets in amazement that first day. I don’t think we even took any photos because there was SO much to see that it kind of blew our minds. There are temples you stumble upon and to be honest, most peoples homes/compounds looks as beautiful as temples. There are sights and sounds and colour everywhere, as well as lovely smells from food, flowers and incense.
We made our way down one of the main roads and although we hadn’t planned on going to it, stumbled on the Monkey Forest.
The Monkey Forest does what it says on the tin. It is a small forest surrounding a temple, in the south of central Ubud, which has… you guessed it… monkeys! As ever they are mischievous little beggars so keeping tight reign on sunglasses, cameras and the like is quite necessary. You are told not to take in any food in your bags – they will smell it and THEY WILL HAVE IT. They do sell banana chunks in there, for tourists to feed them, so the are well fed and not desperate for food at least. They literally clamber aboard the person who has a banana in their hand. If they try to hold it the banana back and not give it to them, the monkeys will get quite vicious. You have been warned before you enter, so it’s your own stupid fault if you do anything silly. But of course there were plenty of people doing that. A silly girl posing for a picture holding out her hand to the monkey as if she was giving him something. She didn’t have anything, so he was (probably quite rightly) p’d off and lashed out. Well what do you expect? It continues to amaze me the dumb way some people act in tourist places after being given some simple, ‘there for a reason’ guidelines. Some of the monkeys had got hold of some sweets. This looked all very cute and everyone including Mark was taking photos. I pointed out that the sugar rush was going to hit in a moment and it wasn’t going to be pretty and I backed off. I was proved right and a bit of a fracas erupted amongst the monkeys as the one who’d supped the sugar went a little berserk. Don’t give things with sharp teeth sugary treats shouldn’t have to be a rule, should it?
I’m not overkeen on monkeys – they have a right attitude don’t you think? They are like teenagers the way they look at you, all challenging, like ‘what you gonna do about it?’. After we’d been there a little while, when I opened my bag to get the camera out, one climbed right up my being and tried to get into my bag It’s backside was all too near my face for my liking. Despite Marks panicky voice beside me (‘walk away, walk away, they say you should walk away’ – umm, it’s ‘on’ me – how do I walk away from it????), I remained calm held onto my bag, glared at it and told it to get off. That worked just fine. Round one to me!

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If anyone has read the book Eat, Pray, Love, or seen the movie, you will know that the last part of the book is set in Ubud and the effect on Ubud can definitely be seen. There is the odd Eat, Pray, Love ornament on sale in the tourist shops and apparently prices for a lot of things in the touristy areas have been affected but most noticeable is there is a LOT of single 30 something to 50 something women here alone. Floating about here, often with the Ubud uniform of yoga pants and vest top with ethnic accessories. It’s not a bad thing obviously, it says something really nice about Ubud that women can safely travel here alone. I’m sure some of them are coming seeking something that they possibly won’t likely won’t find – healing, enlightenment, a hot brazilian lover (read the book), but I can’t think of anywhere where you’re more likely to at least come close to it!!!!
And yes – I have read (well I should say ‘heard’ as I have the audio book) Eat, Pray, Love quite a few times. I love the book, although I will never watch the film – I dread to think what they have done with it as it’s not a simple, film like story and in fact through much of the book Elizabeth Gilbert isn’t really a particularly likeable person but it’s a fascinating ‘journey’. And I can’t deny that unless I’d read about Ubud in that book, the town or even Bali may not have been on my list of places to visit on our year off. So I have much to thank the book for. It is every bit as amazing as the book describes, I also know to take it some things with a pinch of salt. The Ubud expat ‘lifestyle’ as a whole, is quite fascinating. Some are getting a little ancy at their lovely idyll becoming more popular and commercialised due to the Eat, Pray, Love knock on effect, but then they started moving here in the 60s and continued ever since, so they too have brought about change and commercialisation to some extent. The yoga centres and spas were not all there without western influence. It’s just life I guess. But it does make Ubud a unique place – every westerner who lives here or is staying long term is kinda similar, hippy-esque/new age/spiritual/alternative, whatever you’d like to call it. I bet loads of people from Brighton come here :) It’s very earth mother! Yoga, Meditation, chakras, healing – all things new agey really (I do hate that expresson but no-one’s really come up with another one to fit the mould). Having this kind of vibe, mentality and accessibility is one of the things about Brighton I love too, so suits me fine here. I’ve had a go at plenty of things in my time – reiki, cranio sacral therapy, hypnosis (10 years no smoking – thank you!), bowen therapy to name but a few. I definitely have hippy dippy, ‘alternative’ leanings which easily get lost at home amidst everyday stresses. Which of course it shouldn’t, as it exactly the kind of stuff that you should be doing to balance you out andn make you feel better able to handle the everyday stresses, but looking after yourself tends to come last on the To Do lists doesn’t it? Being here has kind of reminded me that taking time out should include looking after your mind and your body rather than just charging through the world.
All these things adds to the interestingness and complexity of Ubuds balance. The locals are quite straight forward about things. They are uber spiritual and make offerings at least 3 times a day, participate in the many, many ceremonies to keep on the good side of the gods and they use massage and herbs and the like to keep them well and on the good side of their bodies. Simple as that. That was what drew Elizabeth Gilbert here in the first place – looking for balance. It’s a buzz word for everyone trying to find something. And I can see how this is a place to find it – whether it’s balancing your mind of watching someone balancing 2 huge sacks on their moped.

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There’s a fair few cafes selling super food juices and various health food, raw foods and macrobiotics etc. It’s generally got a pretty hippy, wholesome vibe to it. I like it personally, it makes me feel at home – got all that stuff going on in Brighton. Plus the same stuff you’d pay a bomb for in a brighton health food shop or veggie cafe is super cheap here. We’ve even had a couple of wheatgrass shots (newsflash for the uninitiated – tastes like grass, sweetish grass!) which are pretty pricey at home so could never justify having them there.
All this healthiness has come in very handy as we have decided to give up booze for a while. We had our last drink on the Balinese new year, our first night in Bali. Guttingly, this was the point we realise that alcohol is really, really cheap here but we’re trying not to think about that. Ubud is actually a really good place to not drink though. It’s definitely not a party place, it has no bars, just restaurants/cafes you can drink in. Plus it has nice, cheap alternatives. I don’t really drink soft drinks. I gave up ‘pop’ about 12 years ago, before I even gave up smoking. I was a diet coke freak – including drinking it first thing in the morning, last thing at night and when waking up in the night. One day I had an epiphany about what was exactly is in these drinks and so just stopped. Since then the only fizzy I have partaken of is tonic water from time to time – well you have to have a gin and tonic don’t you? And perhaps the odd Pims. Funnily enough, during this trip, for the first time in years I’ve had some fizzy pop drinks on their own – some fanta and some sprite. It’s always when I’ve been out somewhere super hot doing lots of walking and have craved it to kind of pep me up. Can’t usually drink a whole one though – too sickly.
Anyway, juices are very common here and there are also, as I mentioned, the places that do healthy juice cocktails. We sometimes pop into one of those to make us feel like we’re having a treat (yep sad aren’t we!). Not sure how long we’ll give up for, but for the rest of Bali at least. Will help recuperate after those months of hectic travel. And we can finally eat well too. I haven’t had chips since we’ve been here – happy days!!! It’s not like I had them a lot in Oz, but you’d often end up somewhere where there really was nothing to eat cheaply but something with chips!!

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So the food is mainly Balinese and Indonesian and often a mixture of both. Lots of chicken, pork, a small bit of seafood, but not much as we are not by the sea (this is a good thing of course) and a fair amount of vegetarian options. My dad lived in the Netherlands for a few years and they have lots of Indonesians living there so that was the main Asian take-away. So I was used to Indonesian food from back then (mm 20 years ago?) but haven’t had anything decent since. The main indonesian dishes are Nasi Goreng, a kind of fried rice with particular spices. Satay – mainly chicken. But it’s not like the satay you get in the UK which tends to taste of peanut butter which I never eat (even though I like peanut butter). This is as it should be. I don’t know how to describe what that is, but it’s good!! Nasi Campur is a mixture of dishes of things like tofu, chicken, there’s some kind of thick compressed nut bake thing which is big here and which is lovely, a kind of bean salad and of course half boiled eggs in a particular sauce. I hate boiled eggs but Mark, who I’ve never known to eat them actually, finds these delicious. Balinese differs to Indonesian mainly by the spices being slightly different, but unique to Bali is their use of Pork (the rest of Indonesia is Mulsim, as opposed to mainly Hindu Bali). There’s various kinds of curries available, all delicious. Another speciality I finally got to try is black rice pudding which is cooked in coconut milk. This is an unusual taste at first, but is absolutely delicious

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Apart from exploring Ubud itself (which, believe me, never gets boring), we are yet to go anywhere further afield. After months of moving around pretty frequently, we’re enjoying staying in the one place for a while. Well, a couple of weeks feels like a while to us.
So we’ve settled into little routines and we’ve been able to spend some serious time doing work for our business (www.manawamusic.com). It feels rather apt as it’s the relaxation and motivational music that we (mainly Mark, him obviously being the musical genius) spent a year writing and recording before we left. Where better to think about things to inspire and improve peoples lives?
It’s pretty easy to get about, as we are fairly close to town – prob takes about 15 mins to get bang in the centre. We also have some great places nearby if we are doing loads (or doing nothing) and don’t have time to go in. Prices are cheap everywhere but on the less central streets like ours, they are at their cheapest, and best quite often!

Ubud is easy to walk around but it gets dark at about 7pm and it’s not so easy at night. Not because it’s unsafe, just that you can’t always see where you’re going on the further out streets. There’s quite a lot of dodgy pavings and massive holes that you can easily descend into. It’s fine in the middle but we are on an off road and if we go one way to town, it’s a bit ropey in the dark. It’s okay the other way, you just have to try not to step on any dogs or fall down any of the holes. We’ve not particularly gone sight seeing as such, we’ve more just wandered around in various directions, up various roads. It really is amazing everywhere you look. As half the homes look as good as temples and there is colour and gorgeous smells everywhere. Then there’s things to entertain you such as the aforementioned 5 to a bike families and the food sellers or gorgeous little kids or people dresses up in golden and colourful threads off to the temple. And ceremonies can just pop up around you at a moments notice.

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