Friday, January 28, 2011

What’s the buzz?

post001The wasps here in Bali are approximately the size of a ballpark frank. After visiting the volcano Batur we got hopelessly lost for a few hours but finally managed to find our way back to Ubud and then to our bungalow in Keliki village – just before the daily rainstorm hit. Sara went to sit out on the porch to wait for the rain and left the sliding doors open inviting the cooler air from the approaching rainclouds in.

post002Along with the cooler air came the aforementioned wasp buzzing like one of those Cox model airplanes. He zoomed around the room a bit and then bounced a few times up against a glass pane next to the open doors. After hitting the glass a few times though he settled in and began walking on it. The totality of his reality had shifted and he was going with it. Most likely for this insect’s entire existence if he could see through it – he could fly through it, but all of a sudden boom – this portion of the air was solid. So he adjusted, instead of continuing to literally beat his head against it he stopped trying and began walking on it until we walked his way to the other side of the door and then flew away.

volcanoleftThat’s how it is travelling to these far flung destinations that Sara and I find ourselves in. When we hit an obstacle seen or unseen we could pound our heads against it or we could just calm down and go with the flow. Here in Bali it has been pretty easy to go with the flow, whether we are motor biking up to the crest of a volcano, following behind Larry and Rai through city traffic on one of their professional shopping excursions, popping that deep fried bit of pork stomach in my mouth at a roadside Babi Guling joint or simply waiting out a thunderstorm in a mountainside wood shed - all is an adventure.

terraceWe wrap this stay in Bali up today and get ready to pack up and head to Jakarta in the morning. We fly out of here like a wasp through an open door – but something tells me we’ll be back.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

To the Bat Cave!

scorpionNow – starting the day by finding a scorpion in your shoe may not usually be an auspicious start but I think it may have forebode the excellent adventure that was in store for us. The alternative to not finding the scorpion before putting on my shoe would have been much more disastrous. Okay, the scorpion wasn’t really IN my shoe – seeing as my shoes are flip flops here – but it was underneath them when I moved them to put them on – and it was a real live scorpion – so that should count for something.

road01We continued our motor scooter assault of the Island of Bali today under the adept tutelage of our friends Larry and Rai Collins (pronounced rye – like the bread.) We buzzed through the rice fields of Keliki Village and met up with the dynamic duo  in Ubud at 7:30am and headed for the coast. Kids in school uniforms, two and three to a motorbike whizzed by and a steady stream of folks were headed into the city while we headed out.

road02Along our way we made several stops – some because there was something especially interesting other times merely to combat motorbike butt during our ten hour odyssey. One of our stops was Gua Lawa – a Hindu shrine that comes with the extra special complement of a cave which serves home to several thousand long nosed fruit bats all chattering and basically just hanging out. What we didn’t notice, but I discovered through a bit more research is that the guano slick floors of this bat cave are populated by pythons all fat and lazy, their bellies full of unfortunate bats.

bat02After walking around the temple grounds in our rented sarongs we headed back out on our scooters stopping by a roadside Babi Guling joint. Babi Guling is BBQ pork with the whole thing roasted on a pit after being rubbed in spices and filled with various goodies – here’s a recipe if you decide to try and cook it yourself.

pig01After our snack we headed a couple hours further down the coast  during which we weathered a thunderstorm in a woodshed followed by a rather fancy lunch in a seaside restaurant. On our way back to Ubud we made a side trip to talk with Larry and Rai’s incense supplier – remember these two are the proprietors of City Buddha back home and it has been the serendipitous meeting up with them that has made this trip to Bali a complete success for us.

incense01Anyway – the whole process of incense production was pretty cool. The stuff City Buddha sells is 100% organic and made from natural ingredients, flowers, spices, natural oils and the perfumey concoctions are trade secrets to the woman who manufactures them by hand. Sara and I received some free samples and got a first smell of a cinnamon scent that was pretty darn good.

kids01How Larry finds these folks is a mystery to me we were so far from the beaten path that the local kids came out in throngs to see us, testing their few phrases of English and squealing like Babi Guling candidates when we responded. Sara taught the throng her shortest poem by first rubbing her hair and saying “Shampoo” then rubbing her eyes and saying “Boo Hoo”. The kids chorused it back and we all laughed and laughed.

temple01In fact, pretty much, the whole time here we’ve had a smile on our faces. Tomorrow we ride up to the volcano.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Follow the Leader

b01So we drove our rented motorbike home to our Bali Bungalow in the dark for the first time tonight. The place we’re staying – the Alam Sari is about 10km outside of Ubud – which by Balinese terms is the boonies via unlit twisting and turning roads, hills, bridges, expanses of rice fields and choruses of chirpy things calling from the jungle that reaches toward the roadway.

Hence, even though my belly was full of a great Japanese meal suggested by and enjoyed with Larry and Rai – I approached the adventure with a bit of trepidation. The early part of the ride was no trouble through the well lit streets and with the traffic of Ubud. But, as we got further from the city the darkness became a canopy and the sporadic oncoming traffic blinded me with bouncing beams of light. Then, just as we made the turn near the temple that prefaced the most daunting portion of our ride another magical Balinese event.


A duck whisperer leads his weed and bug eating flock through a rice paddy.

It seems there was a festival going on at this particular temple and a procession of several dozen folks on foot attired in traditional dress were headed there. In order for the folks to safely make the journey a team of sarong attired men with torches was keeping traffic at bay. So we cued up behind the parade, first one, then three then a dozen or two motorbikes all waiting until the procession turned into the temple courtyard them we were flagged on to continue our journeys. Here’s the magic part. As we took off, the string of motorbikes stretched forward like a strand of Christmas lights extending before us. I could see every twist in the road before me as if candles floating down a river. Then one after another a bike would pull off until one lone rider was before us, and he carried on as we safely arrived home.


Coming home from school.

Today we motor biked south to a village known for its silversmiths where Sara picked up a few things and then to a batik co-op where I scored a couple shirts. We navigated via map by finding our intended destinations and then discerning the general direction, putting the map away and using a compass to keep us on track as we wended our way. We are so enjoying the freedom of traveling the side roads and alleyways.


Women doing batik at the co-op

While walking around the silver village we both accidently stepped in some dog poop. I don’t know why folks say they accidently step in dog poop – I doubt anyone steps in dog poop on purpose. But anyway, after doing so we headed down an alley to look for some water to wash off our flip flops. There are aqueducts all over the place that feed the water from the mountains into the rice fields. As we wandered down this alley we came across a tiny little silver shop that we would have never found otherwise and Sara got some great prices on some earrings and a ring – plus the proprietor fed us some of her home made rice flour bread.


Sara and the Jewelry maker.

Tomorrow we meet up with Larry and Rai again – this time to motor to a black sand beach. I’m sure something or other will happen and by the way things have been going it’ll most likely turn out good.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

All together now: “It’s a small, small world”

As my old friend Dr. Sief once said while we chased camels across a Bahraini desert in a hotel mini van, “It is a magical day!”


Sara Holbrook – motorcycle mama

Seems every day in Bali is a magical day. The last time Sara and I were here we took a long weekend between two weeks of teaching in Jakarta. As we boarded the plane a little girl walked up to us and said, “Didn’t I see you in Croatia a year ago?” Indeed she had. She was at a school we visited in Zagreb and here she was waiting to catch a plane in Jakarta bound for Bali. Chalk one up for small world syndrome.


A couple Komodo dragon statues in monkey forest

So Sara and I were scheduled to visit a couple of schools in Southeast Asia – Hong Kong and another for two weeks. Well due to circumstances beyond their control the second school ended up having to cancel our visit five days before our departure. Tickets were bought and paid for, schedules were made, house sitters and dog watchers hired. We were in a pickle. So we started making calls to our friends at international schools in the area, put our Utah based travel agent on standby and hoped for the best.


Have you hugged your elephant today?

Ta-dah – Kate at Jakarta international School said – “Why sure, you guys come back here we’d love to have you – only trouble is we cannot take you until a week after you finish in Hong Kong. Tell you what – what don’t you spend the week in Bali then come to us!?” So – boom, pow! We’re chillaxing in Bali!


Our bungalow at the Alam Sari

Okay, back to the small world theme. An old friend from decades ago now owns a great shop in Cleveland called City Buddha. Turns out Larry and his lovely wife Rai spend a couple months every year in Bali buying for the shop. So the night before we leave Hong Kong I get a facebook message from him asking we’d like to see if we can meet up. (Small world) I write back informing him that Sara and I are staying in Ubud, a city up in the mountains, far away from the surfers and such down beach ways and he tells us he and Rai have a house in Ubud (smaller world.)

post01We meet up with Larry and walk around town the first day and have dinner with him and Rai and the two of them talk Sara and me into renting a motorbike. The last time we were here, our friend and owner of the Alam Sari suggested the same thing but we were not brave enough to do so. With our new/old friends assuring us it was not necessarily signing a death warrant to get on a scooter here we took the plunge – deciding to try one for a couple days. The motor scooter has changed our life. We flit around the island like a couple of joined dragon flies now. Buzzing and burping up hills weaving in traffic, riding through thunderstorms. Sara’s helmet sports a sticker that says Rancid Hooligans. And that’s what we are! (At least as much as a couple middle aged poets from Cleveland Ohio on a Yamaha Vespa knock off could be.)


Rai discusses a purchase for their store with Larry.

We scootered behind Larry and Rai on a shopping trip for the store today in another village way further than we would have ever gone on our own, then back into Ubud for lunch at a place called Ibu Oka for barbecue suckling pig that Anthony Bourdain declared the best he had ever eaten and finishing the afternoon with a massage. Part of the spa treatment included a post massage scrubbing with aromatic and gritty paste of spices, followed by a burrito like wrapping in towels where it felt like I was being slow cooked as whatever was plastered on my body began to generate heat. A bath in ginger water and a shower and here I am writing this post.


Just one of roughly a gazillion wood carvings we saw today.

Oh yeah, we told the Alam Sari folks that we’d be keeping the bike for our whole stay.


Sunday, January 23, 2011

Canadian International School Hong Kong

CIS01Like everything in Hong Kong the Canadian International School reaches for the sky.  At ten stories tall the building is an apt metaphor for the high goals set by the students and staff. The campus clings to the edge of one of islands many hills resting atop pylons driven deep into the bedrock and affording quite a picturesque view of the harbor below.

cis02Sara and I started our week off with an assembly and then did classroom workshops with grades five through ten. This school is wired. Every student has  laptop and digital literacy is practiced with a gusto. But, this did not stop the kids from producing some great work the old fashioned paper and pencil way when we got to work in our sessions.

cis03We wrote definition poems, memoirs, worked on imagery, metaphor and editing. I especially liked the eighty minute periods which gave us a bit more time than usual to work a bit deep with the kids.

cis04Deep thinking was definitely something the students here are used to. Primary grades curriculum doesn’t break out into subject areas until sixth grade. Before that all the content areas are taught within an all encompassing theme. I’m not really doing the idea justice here – but it sure looks like it works.

cis05Suffice it to say – we had another wonderful international school experience – extra special thanks to Joanne, Tanya, Myrna, Matt and Stephanie for making us feel so welcomed during our stay. Seeya next time!


Hey Buddy–you got the time?

Hong Kong is a big city that works like clockwork. No wonder with all the timepieces in the city. Even with seven million people packed into this vertically proficient city one would have to assume each resident is sporting half a dozen watches on both arms considering the number of them for sale in this city. From a buck or two to the price of a starter home in a Cleveland suburb watches are everywhere.

Seventy five percent of the island’s land mass is still undeveloped but the other twenty five percent is packed tall and deep to form the mechanism that is Hong Kong. From what I could tell – everything worked – buses, subways, taxis, ferries, and trams up the side of mountains – clean, reliable precision at every turn. It was definitely one of the most navigable big cities I have ever been in. As my friend Larry, a frequent visitor to the metropolis, said it is a city designed for its occupants. I don’t think Sara and I ever got lost the whole week we were there.

Here’s a baker’s dozen pics from our visit.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Let it snow–let it snow–let it snow

Nothing gives one the sense of accomplishment like a freshly shoveled driveway. I think it is the instant gratification of seeing your job completed one clump at a time – step by step, seeing the progress in real time. It made me think how can we structure classroom lessons to give that same feeling of accomplishment as we go along. I was also grateful for the wool sweater I bought in New Zealand this past July – a long term bit of planning that has paid off in spades (snow shovels?)  this winter.

Here’s a couple pics.


Gargoyles are not known for their fondness of snow.


Suzi and Lili inspect my work.