• I'm back from an unexpected, nerve-wracking visa run to Hong Kong.  It's a shoppy, fashionable place with a beautiful cityscape and a surprising amount of seedy Pakistanis and Africans offering drugs or massages. Or tailored suits.
  • Chad is settled, happy, and overcoming jetlag.  We saw art today, and 798 really delivered with a few choice shows.  I'm very glad he's here.
  • Classes start soon, so summer vacation is coming to an end.


SO, we're back in Kuala Lumpur after a harrowing bus ride to Solo and some ridiculous nonsense we had to deal with at the airport.  I'm going to wait before writing more about my month in Indonesia, but suffice to say I'm happy to have an air-conditioned, reasonable, hassle-free, artificial break in Malaysia before heading back to Beijing.

Traveling by bus, especially in Sumatra, you're bound to see signs which are actually in Indonesian languages, but act like English homophones.  It makes things even stranger that Bahasa Indonesia has no concrete spelling, so the same word can be spelled many ways, or there can be regional, dialect variations.  This also means that any recognizable English loan words (like "business") could easily be spelled two or three different ways.  I'm sure this is also true with the hundreds of languages in Indonesia, most of which use Westernized script.

English homophones I've seen on signs in Sumatra:

Cat oven (I believe this means "kiln")
Door smeer (This means a car/motorcycle polish)
Air (This means water or any liquid)
Semen (This means "cement")
Tie rod (Can't figure this one out!)


Bali, in various pictures


ARIEL enjoys our lush garden in Kuta beach.
ROSS sunburn-edly waits for warung food.
CHAO dramatically overlooks the Wild Buffalo temple, in a borrowed sarong.


So, I'm in The Aquarius Hotel on Kuta beach drinking insipid tea and rather delicious oatmeal waiting for the two others to wake up.  We're all quite happy with this place; very resorty, but the most beautiful beach I've ever seen with frothy, crystal clear water and powdery sand.  It's a much welcome fun and dumb and relaxing atmosphere, and is reminiscent of Florida beach towns.  Now that I've seen the two tourist meccas on the island, I can make some general observations: 

** Even though Ubud is the "cultural capital," you can eat actual Indonesian food at warung in KutaUnless you want overpriced nasi goreng or hideous things like "Balinese tapas," you have to actually leave Ubud to eat. 

** Balinese dance and gamlean are so beautiful, especially when seen in Ubud palace.  The beaches are all Tom Petty covers delivered with thick accents.

** Relationships between Balinese and foreigners seem to be more meaningful, deep and friendlier in Kuta as compared to Ubud. This may be due to the economic discrepancy between the two kinds of tourists that frequent these areas.  Certainly, the locals in the tourist sector are more friendly here and give the impression that it's not only about milking you for cash.
** Ubud is a thousand times more beautiful as a city than the poorly planned, overdeveloped Kuta.  Even north towards fancier digs, Ubud has a more rewarding and "Balinese" landscape.
** North of Kuta in Seminyak or Legian, you notice that the expatrate community living in and around the area seems larger than Ubud.
** Ubud: hippie, new-agers taking crystal infused spiritual classes, eating overpriced cranberry muffins, being nervous and pretending not to be in Bali.  South Bali: Surfer type, beautiful people who miss Australia while eating overpriced brick oven pizza and pretending not to be in Bali.

The honest truth is that I do not ultimately enjoy touristy places.  Less simulated reality is healthy, even if it isn't pretty.

Tomorrow we leave to Candikunning and the lakes and hill towns of north Bali for a few days.  Also, a botanical garden and volcanic sand beach!  Hopefully it won't be overrun.


We've been in Bali for about five days now and have been mostly in the so called cultural center of Ubud and one night in some horrific beach town in the south filled with middle aged Australians dancing frenetically to Bob Marley covers delivered in slurred English. There is a lot to say about Bali, not all good, but I think Ariel puts it best in his email to family back in Miami:

"Hey guys, 

Bali is great but too damn expensive and touristy.  There's a lot of things that I hate about it, but it's so damn pretty at times that you really want to stay for years.  On the other hand, the locals are cash fiends and most people want nothing from you except for money, and that obviously leaves a bad taste in your mouth.  Bali is best if you're an indulgent, naive person willing to spend at least a hundred dollars US a day.  Backpackers it seems, deserted this bitch a long time ago and won't be coming back anytime soon.  

Out of all the places we've been to in Southeast Asia, Bali is the least friendly to it's tourists, (especially those who aren't desperately and stupidly throwing away money) and that's not a great feeling when you're on vacation and genuinely interested in the culture you've come to explore.  Bali is best it seems, for rich old ladies who think "Eat Pray Love" is the greatest story ever told, or people who've never been to asia before and never want to come back after.  Sometimes it feels about as hokey and removed from any reality as the World Showcase in Epcot center.  At present, I sit somewhere between moderately happy and terribly underwhelmed.  And nearly broke."

I'd also like to add: where is this money going?  Every single tourist facility in Bali overcharges (and occasionally just cheats tourists) dramatically, but the basic infrastructure here is below that of anywhere in Java, more comparable to Sumatra.  My father told me that the Balinese say that beggars on the island are from Java, but that is total nonsense.  Outside of tourist zones, the Balinese use poor roads, throw trash literally everywhere, have sidewalks with gaping holes and have large amounts of dogs with mange and disease wandering around.  Besides hostility, what lasting effects has tourism actually brought?

More on this later, as I formulate a more fair assessment of the place.  On a positive note, the temples, culture, babi guleng (roast pork) and especially music are magnificent.