Taxicab confessions

•March 26, 2009 • 2 Comments

PP: There’s lots of monkeys at Uluwatu, right?
Lele: I don’t like monkey.
PP: How about dogs. You like dogs?
Lele: Don’t like monkey. Don’t like dog. Only chicken.

PP: Lele, why is your name different on your license.
Lele: Lele is nickname. It mean “catpiss”.
PP: That’s not a very nice nickname. Who gave it to you?
Lele: My pather. When I little boy, always playing in rice pield…in water…like catpiss.
PP: Ohhhhhh…catfish…
Lele: Yes. And now I have whiskers like catpiss too.

The moment things really changed…

•March 21, 2009 • 2 Comments

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I could tell that Lele was a bit distressed.

Together we had come up with an attack plan for seeing the island…but it was in serious jeopardy of being dismantled by the upcoming Balinese New Year. Lele was wrestling with his obligations to spend time with his family and uphold his religious duties, while attempting to keep our scheduled island invasion intact. He almost seemed upset at having to break the news to me. His solution: scrap the original plan and take me along with him to his village and be a part of the celebration. How could I resist?

The ride through the coastal img_3502hills towards his village near Tutaganga is literally breathtaking. Each corner gives way to a sight that could easily grace the front of any postcard, but it isn’t the scenery that is so moving on this day. Lele has discarded his normal taxista uniform in lieu of shorts and a tshirt. His 11 year old son is with us as well, also dressed the same. Today, Lele is not my driver. He is Lele the father, the devout Hindu, and the friend to seemingly everyone as we get closer and closer to his real home. At each roadside temple, he leaves a small wreathlike offering and blesses it with a toss of water to thank Vishnu. At the root of Balinese Hinduism there is the underlying philosophy that we give offerings back to nature… To me, it seems more of a philosophy of respecting the beauty and destructive forces of our surroundings, in much the same way that an astronomer, with each new star or nebula discovered, relishes in the beauty and awesomeness of the universe, and the will that it imposes on us.

img_3504…and today, there are lots of respects to be made. So many, in fact, that we have to stop at a roadside vendor to purchase more wreaths! The vendor greets Lele and smiles. It is a smile bourne out of the recognition of an old friend. I have seen it countless times today as each seemingly random acquaintance reconnects with a shared past.

“I am famous in my village. You’ll see!” Lele beams proudly, and then tells me how with his elementrary school level education, he still intends to run for office, detailing to me the platform planks for his political career. “This road we are driving on, I asked my government to build it. The government remembers only the tourists sometimes. I will change that,” he tells me proudly and devoid of any hostility.

I’m feeling a bit uncomfortable as we get out of the car at his family’s compound. This is a special day, and I feel like I’m intruding. It’s not from the looks I’m receiving from his brothers, nieces am nephews, chickens, or the sow and her ten two-day-old piglets. Instead, I feel like I don’t deserve to be instantly accepted into such warmth. It’s overwhelming, and I’m on the verge of breaking down without being able to put my finger on the why of it all.

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I watch as Lele makes his offerings at his own shrines, both of which are humble and simple in their beauty. One is for the traditional Hindu gods, andimg_3513 the other is a shrine to his recently passed parents and ancestors…giving us both a moment to remember and thank the people who shaped us…and how important our families, his of the remaining twelve brothers and sisters, are to our continual growth. It also reminds me that I am, as the song goes, one generation’s length away from finding life out on my own.

Food has already been prepared for us all. We gather around a simple plastic table that is crowded with towering plates and black stone bowls. Lele pops open a few big bottles of Bintang with a spoon, and pours a few drops on the ground in front of each shrine before finally filling the empty glasses on the img_3509table. The skewered pork satay is delicious. However, the mixture of pork and coconut (eaten with handfulls of rice) has a slight rotten smell/flavor, which as brave as I’d like to sound, did trigger a slight gag reflex. I think it was more of a psychological thing as we in the West are conditioned to be afraid of pork and it’s handling. Later, I was told that the rotting flavor actually is more from the oxidation of the fresh coconut, which apparently “ages” quite quickly.

After the initial feeding silence, lively conversation resumes. I first think that they are talking about me, before realizing that catching up and bullshitting, the way men do when together in every society, is far more important a subject than the bule who has joined them for lunch. As the table talk dies down and the family members slip into a celebratory food coma, I take one unnecessary photo of the group. I say “unnecessary” because it is an image that will forever be ingrained in my mind.

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But Lele still has still has more to show me. We walk through the rest of the village and watch as people prepare for the next morning’s ceremony. img_3524People of all ages are decorating long bamboo poles with strips of grass and ornaments…basically creating the Balinese version of Christmas trees. Many have already finished theirs and have erected them by the road, allowing the pole to lazily bend over the street, just above car height.

We leave the village for a bit to climb a nearby hill. Looking down, the landscape is covered by a tapestry of rice paddies. The flatness is punctuated here and there with green hills much like the one I’m standing atop. The island’s volcanoes can be made out in the distance. I’m an hour’s drive from the chaos of Kuta beach, but this is the real heart of everyday Bali. It’s a heart who’s beat can only be felt by being inside it, and pictures are only taken as a formality.

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After our hike, Lele takes me fifteen minutes away by car to a nearby homestay. We check out the room and agree to a price. Lele says he’ll be coming to get me early the next morning but he sees that I’m hesitant to check into the homestay for the night. “You don’t like my village? You want to go back to Seminyak tonight?” he asks, as if deeply hurt.

In all honesty, I just couldn’t do it. In a small way, I didn’t want to intrude any more on Lele’s personally significant holiday. But there was a bigger reason that I couldn’t spend a third night alone in the countryside. I had seen too much and felt too strongly about the things I had experienced over the last few days. There was no way I’d be able to sit alone in a quiet room and try to process everything I was feeling. I needed to get back to Seminyak to be around other travelers and expats…to be able to express the way this place has changed me and to be reassured that I wasn’t the only one…

I explained this to Lele. I reassured him that I loved his village and the life it breathes into those that live there. “It’s no problem, Ryan. It’s very different to you, isn’t it?” He smiles genuinely in the way that shows me that he understands and that he has seen this reaction from my type before.

As it happened, one of his cousins was driving back to Denpasar to pick up his own wife and kids, and Lele arranged for me to ride with him. We rode through miles of small villages, each adorned with their recently erected roadside New Year’s day poles. It was like being in an ornate artificial tree tunnel; each adorned branch welcoming a truly changed person back into the world.

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My new friend Lele…

•March 20, 2009 • 4 Comments

img_3490The beach area of Seminyak on the island Bali is everything that all of the travel magazines and guidebooks promise it to be. It delivers relatively cheap accommodations, fantastic restaurants, and first class nightlife for those westerners that want to visit another country without being bothered too much with local customs. It also resides on a seemingly endless beach, where the countless spots for sunset photo-ops is matched in number only by the infinite pieces of trash left on the beach by those travelers flocking here for something different. That being said, it’s still not hard for me to enjoy myself here, so much so that I spent the first 3 days checking out the scene and enjoying some western comforts, while listening to many stories from local expats about why they left their lives back home and “went bamboo” here in Bali. I was starting to sympathize with them…doing the math in my own head…asking out loud the question “how do I get my dog over here?”, all of this before even seeing the rest of the island as I had originally intended.

I met Lele outside of Rumors on Jalan Laksmana my first day here in Seminyak. Up to that point, I had seen two types of taxi drivers in Indonesia. The first is the joker who, once you’re seated in the back seat, asks you where you’re going and follows it up immediately with the question “how much you pay me?” The goal here, being that metered taxi rates are so incredibly cheap (about $2.50 for a 15 minute ride), is to catch the tourist into quoting a rate higher than the metered rate…a number usually closer to the amount they pay back home. The taxi driver then ends up making quadruple what they would normal get on a metered fare. The second category, which Lele falls into, is the taxista who immediately turns the meter on once you step into the cab. Although this isn’t a complete sign of honesty, it doesn’t hurt, so over the next few days in Seminyak, Lele was my go-to guy. As my days here passed, I was planning my excursion out to other parts of the island, and each day I would run the ideas by Lele to see what he thought about my plans. We also worked on a deal where he would be my personal driver, paying him roughly $15 a day plus filling his tank up for him at the end of each day. This proved to be a minimal amount here since petrol is hovering just around a dollar a gallon.

The original plan was to head out to the east coast town of Amed, touted by The Book as having great snorkeling and beautiful white sand beaches. Instead, Lele suggested checking out a town called Candi Dasa. I had originally avoided it based on The Book’s descriptions, but as we were planning on driving right through it on the way  to Amed, Lele insisted that I check out the beach, literally called White Sand Beach, fifteen minutes and a small 300 meter hike east of the town of Candi Dasa. Big shocker to most people that know me, but I am naturally…genetically if you will…a bit skeptical. My gut reaction usually is bourne out of innate paranoia towards my own safety and, even though Lele had been nothing but reliable up to that point, I couldn’t help but thinking that his efforts to divert my original plan were in someway geared towards some financial boon for him…that he was attempting to rip me off in some way. But this is the “rip-off” that I would have missed if I hadn’t listened to him:

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It was right then that I made the decision to stay in Candi Dasa for 2 nights…and what I had basically done at Lele’s own insistance was cut him out of two days of a driver’s wage. I set up at a small homestay right on the rocky beach at Candi Dasa, where, both afternoons, I paid $4 for a one hour massage just meters from the crashing waves while gazing in a tranced state at the sunset below:

img_3499I was also able to hire a captain of one of the small motorized outriggers to take me snorkelling the next morning and be my personal water taxi, shuttling me to and from White Sand Beach for jsut a few dollars a day. From the stillness of the morning currents me, the captain, and a guy from Hanover were able to witness the beauty of Bali’s coast while making out the isle of Lombok’s volcano as it shape on the horizon. After snorkeling with sea turtles, we made our way to White Sand Beach where, once again, I was reminded even moreso how I need to ignore my gut sometimes. I was looking forward to spending a few hours on the beach alone, but as I was walking to the place where I had enjoyed the scenery the previous day, Hanover struck up a conversation with me in very heavily accented English. My attempts to ditch him by jumping in the 80 degree water or simply closing my eyes on the lounge chair did not seem to dissuade him, so I gave in. We spent the next 3 hours chatting about life back home and trying to figure out the psyche of the Balinese people… I could tell he was really yearning for something different in his life… that a man with his soul and intelligence just doesn’t belong in a VW plant trying to decide when he’s supposed to say “yes” and when he’s supposed to say “no”. We talked about our families, our dogs, our passions while the ever-smiling Balinese grillman on the beach barbecued us up some fresh shrimp caught right off of Candi Dasa. When we came to the subject of the world’s ills, he said something that I hope to never forget. “This is why people in Bali are different. Back home, we listen to our tv’s, our ipods, our radios…but rarely listen to what each other is saying. People need to talk more.” In my head, I was kicking myself for having earlier wanted him to leave me alone to my ipod, my book, and to an afternoon that would have been comparatively boring.

We took the outrigger back to Candi Dasa. The currents had picked up quite a bit by that time, and my new German friend climbed up to the front of the outrigger so that he could take full advantage of the splash of the water crashing  off the bow; the child underneath the repressed VW worker coming out with each bounce. I couldn’t help but join in as  Hanover, our Balinese boat captain, and I made our way through paradise, all the while getting soaked to the bone by Bali’s warm seaspray.

The next day only gets better…

Everything but the cat-poo coffee…

•March 12, 2009 • 5 Comments

Central Java is widely known for its prized kopi luwak coffee beans. In the city of Yogyakarta, one can be lucky enough to find a one-pound bag of the stuff for about $150…and this is a city where you can get a decent hotel room for $5 a night. Sadly, this is the one local custom that I did not partake in during the past 4 days, especially considering that a good cup of coffee or espresso is one of my favorite things in the world. However, I normally prefer the frothiness in my  cappuccino to come from steamed milk…and not from the fuzzy lip-tingling sensation of a digested cat-hairball. Yep, the reason for kopi luwak‘s outrageous price lies in the way it is harvested. Apparently, a certain breed of jungle cat has acquired a taste for Java’s coffee beans. The beans are then partially digested along with whatever else the cat has been eating, and then shat out for “harvesting”.  If you like, check out the wiki page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kopi_Luwak, or try Googling it. You’ll return a hitlist of various internet companies guaranteeing the authenticity of their product, and detailing why their coffee is, well…the shittiest.

Luckily, Yogyakarta has a lot more to offer than its coffee. Although still a big city, it has a much smaller feel to it than Jakarta, and has become the center of Indonesian (specifically Javanese) culture.

img_3363My first day here, I headed over to the local backpackers hangout, Via Via.  They have such a great setup for tourists, serving food and drinks, and most importantly, it’s a great place to organize very affordable tours around Central Java. The first tour that I chose was a simple walking tour through Yogyakarta’s attached slum village. I was a bit hesitant, at first, upon hearing the word slum. However, it was actually one of the quaintest and cleanest parts of the city, and had it’s own air-conditioning system being situated right next to the river. These parts of the city are almost like autonomous sub-cities. They have their own volunteer police force, each having it’s own “station” manned by a guy who uses a hollow wood block that can be tapped in different rhythms to warn the inhabitants of fire, crime, or to merely call a meeting.

img_3364The people living in this area make roughly $100 a month, yet seem to be very happy with their lives and sense of community. I didn’t ask the woman in this picture to smile…nor would I have wanted to. In this case, she was having a rather detailed conversation with our guide, most of which consisted of her bragging about her children. Everyone here wants to know where I’m from and how long I’m staying in their city. When I tell them I’m from the USA, they will without fail respond with “Ooooh! Barrack Obama!” Try getting that response four years ago. Indonesia is the world’s largest Islamic Republic, and most of the people here wish to go on living their lives without being lumped in as enemies of the West.

I had met a very energetic Belgian couple on the walking tour, and afterwards we all signed up to do the visit to Borobudur early the next morning at 5:00 AM. Our driver made his way through the small villages and rice paddies, all of which were shrouded in a beautiful lowlight mist, all the while being able to make out the volcano Mount Merapi poking up through its own veil in the distance. After 45 minutes of this breathtaking landscape, Borobudur began to loom on the horizon and take shape.

img_3422img_3407Borobudur is the largest Buddhist Stupa in the world, and, depending on whose list you’re reading, one of the seven wonders of the world. It’s also another example, like Pompeii, how the world’s most destructive forces can preserve something so awesome for 1200 years. In its simplest sense, Borobudur is a pyramid, like those of the Egyptians, or the step pyramids of the Mayans and Incans, and is a reminder to me that in the infancy of all of our civilizations, we were all striving for the same sort of enlightment, if only in different languages. I seriously cannot describe how amazing this site is. It seems to just belong there, fitting in timelessly with the beauty of its surroundings.

Ironically, the local school children, who came to Borobudur on a field trip, were not as interested in taking pictures of the temple as they were of getting their pictures taken with me. This was fun the first two or three times, but began to get a little old around the img_3423twelfth time of hearing “Misterrrrrr! I love you misterrrrr! Can I take your picturrrrrrrre!” Apparently, as part of their English curriculum, students are told to interview the bules for homework. So, usually, after the initial giggling, they settle down and produce a notepad with their questions scrawled on it. They suddenly become very serious, as if they are all aspiring Wolf Blitzers, and the interview begins. It really is adorable, and I can understand now why Angelina Jolie is always going to other countries and kidnapping the local children.

The next day, I attended a cooking class set up once again by the folks at Via Via. For about $8, me and my new friend Yukiko from Japan were given a hands-on lesson by a very patient Balinese woman. In 3 hours, we made and consumed a spicy chicken dish called ayam rica rica, a vegetarian dish called sayur lodeh,  and accompanied it with fried fermented tofu and a special rice dish cooked in coconut milk. I don’t have room to post the recipes here, but will gladly e-mail copies to those that are interested. The preparation was done on the beautiful rooftop of Via Via, right as the sun was setting which made the food taste even better.

img_3432Finally, a trip to Yogya is not complete without witnessing the art scene that it is known for. Both the Javanese Puppet show and the Ramayana ballet are set to the eerie sounds of the gamelan orchestra. They both tell the tale of the abduction of the goddess Shinta, and the subsequent ass-kicking done by her husband Rama and a crazy white monkey in order to get her back….and then it gets weird. It is basically your classic epic love story, rife with fire, self-castration, and magic circles of protection…pretty normal stuff really.  I found the ballet a bit more interesting, mostly because they actually gave us a very poorly translated plot synopsis…plus the children playing the white monkey’s posse were so funny to watch. There are lots of videos of this on YouTube if you want to check it out.

On the other hand, the puppet show should never be attempted in any country where mild hallucinagenics are legal by law. img_3435The show is done from behind a screen, so all that you see is their very twitchy and pointed sillhouetes gyrating spasmodically across the screen. Their pointed elbows poking around reminded me of my sister, and I started to laugh uncontrollably.  If you move to the other side of the screen, you can watch the gamelan orchestra play the music while the sole puppeteer tosses his little two dimensional puppets around in the light. However, couldn’t help feeling sorry for the poor bastard below, who sat there banging away disinterestedly at his 6 notes in what seemed like no particular order…for two hours. I have a video that clearly shows his contempt for his chosen profession, although I think this picture almost encapsulates his apathy:

img_3439“I knew I shouldn’t taken that SAT a bit more seriously…”

Jalan jalan in Jakarta

•March 9, 2009 • 1 Comment

The phrase jalan jalan is the Indonesian equivalent for “hanging out”. As a visitor to Jakarta, most of my jalan jalan was done in one its many traffic jams. The entire city seems to be stuck in a constant state of gridlock, most likely because it has gone from a city that looks like this:

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to one that looks like this in just a relatively short time frame, and with very little planning:

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I spent my first 24 hours in the cramped backpacker enclave, right in the city center, trying to stay away from my hotel room. Not to sound like I’m whinging, but Jakarta is so massive that it has the reputation of being a shit tourist destination. Its “charm” consisting of the spectacular view of the infinite urban sprawl from the top of the national monument, and the quaint old city of Batavia, built by the still-resented Dutch.

Luckily, I know people. Conor and I attended the same CELTA course in 2006 in Prague, after which he moved to Jakarta to teach English. So, after a galloping taxi ride to his house (3 hours, 15 miles, and $12 later) it was great to see Conor’s and his fiancée Rini’s smiling faces.

The first night was full of catching up since CELTA, sampling some of Rini’s exquisite Javan chicken curry, and giggling at pirated back-episodes of South Park on Conor’s finicky DVD player. The following morning, they escorted me to a travel agent so that I could book my flights to Yogyakarta and Bali. Good thing Conor was there to help me choose the airline that doesn’t crash as much. Apparently, Indonesian airline companies are so prone to accidents that they are not allowed to fly to Europe…great news for the nervous flier.

Conor, in addition to working long hours as a teacher, is also using his DJ-ing talents to bring Jakarta into the 21st century. As a result, he knew slightly more than the Lonely Planet Guide (AKA “Lying Planet” by backpackers) about the Jakartan nightlife scene. So, off we went for some amazing Chinese food and some…time in the car? Yeah, we left at 6:00 PM, got home at 2:00 AM…and, between the Chinese restaurant, a swanky DJ bar, a coffee and chocolate bar, and the electronics store (more on this later), we only were out of the car for about 2 hours. In case you’re bad at math, that’s six hours in the car…and that’s precisely how massive, chaotic, and confusing Jakarta is…with locals driving. I understand now why they call it the Big Durian…because, like the fruit, you have to do some digging and put up with a lot of odor and bullshit to find the center…and even when you find the center of the Durian, it may still trigger your gag reflex.

In my case, I was lucky to have such wonderful hosts and would go through it all again to spend more time with Conor and Rini…except next time, Conor, I promise not to kick over a glass of water into your laptop power supply with my big bule feet.

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Off to Yogyakarta on the airline that doesn’t crash…as much.


From Little Italy to Little India…

•March 4, 2009 • 2 Comments

I want to start out by saying that I absolutely adore my neighborhood back in San Diego, and for countless reasons. I love being downtown without having to feel like I’m in the middle of a metropolitan mess. The proximity to the harbor, local watering holes, and parks for my canine child, are all aspects that I pine for when somewhere else. That being said, these comforts have nothing to do with the marketting moniker of “Little Italy”. Having had  the opportunity to spend a lot of time in the real Italia, I’ve found the LittleItalyTM tagline to be a bit annoying, with its substandard “italian” food, heavily marketted “cultural” fairs in its Disney-like piazzas, the ever present odor emanating from Fillippi’s Pizza Grotto/Cultural Crisis Center, and wannabe mafioso types. Sure, there is the handful of older Italian men who hang out at Amici park, play bocce, and curse each other in Sicilian, but in the end VeryLittleItaly San Diego is as authentic as Nicholas Cage Copolla’s accent in Captain Correlli’s Mandolin.

img_3283Singapore’s Little India is a completely different story altogether. Having arrived on JAL at 12:30 AM, I was still very much blind to my surroundings on the taxi ride in from the airport. As always, the first night of hostel life took a bit of getting used to. The hard twin bed, the air-conditoning unit that is either completely off (the weather reminds me of New Orleans in August) or blasting an Arctic wind into the back of your neck, all leading to the restless and disoriented non-sleep that comes when your body passes the point of being exhausted after not having truly rested for 48 hours. Realizing that any sort of sleep is just not going to happen, I woke up at about 7:00 AM for my first (free!) hostel breakfast of two pieces of toast and orange water; using the word “juice” here would be far too generous.

img_3281However, within thirty seconds of stepping out the front door of Footprints Hostel, I completely forgot and forgave the previous 48 hours of airplane food, cramped seating, and sheer exhaustion. Previous to this trip, my only forays into Indian culture have consisted of a handfull of substandard Indian meals (being topped by one in Prague, of all places), technical support phone calls with Dell computer, reading the book Shantaram, and watching Slumdog Millionaire. So, before stepping out of those swinging double doors, it would be fair to say that I was culturally ignorant to one fifth of the world’s population. Within one block, I was overtaken by the most amazing mixture of odors; countless sweet and pungent spices that I only hope to someday be able to identify,  recently handmade floral garlands, and the light background smell of lingering incense. Walking through the cramped covered sidewalks of Little India, the odors combine with the constant pumping of Indian pop music and the  colors of an ages-old culture that, having never witnessed anything similar, overwhelmed me almost to the point of tears. If it had been any more than 8 blocks to the subway or MRT station, I might have seized up in a complete neural overload.

But, this is only the beginning of Singapore’s countless contrasts. Upon entering the MRT station, one leaves ethnic immersion only to enter technological bliss. All of Singapore’s mass transit runs on EZlink magnetic cards…a concept that is so brilliantly efficient. I bought my EZLink card at the Little India MRT station for $15 SGD (Singapore Dollars), $5 being the deposit for the card that is returned to you when you turn in the card at the end of your stay. To use the card, you slap it on a little magnetic disk at both ends of your transit, and the amount used is deducted right from the card, which can subsequently be recharged as needed. What an amazing contrast to the lines of people fiddling with change to board collectivos in Buenos Aires (if they can even GET change), let alone the completely useless public transportation offered in San Diego.

img_2470Getting off at the Chinatown stop was like being transported to another country where there were many more “firsts” in store for me. This time, it was my first Buddhist temple. Now, I could go on and on about the beauty of the temple, how it is dedicated to the very first Chinese immigrants that came to Singapore who were economically forced to live ten people to a small cubicle-like dwelling, and the complete sense of enveloping serenity. Not to sound insensitive, but I’m sure there will be a story and a photograph for every Buddhist temple that I will see over the course of these four months. In the case of Singapore, however, my interest lies more in the fact that within 50 yards of this location of extreme Chinese cultural importance, I was able to see an equally beautiful Hindu temple (another first for me), and an humble Islamic mosque. And therein lies the epitome of my fascination with Singapore. In an era that has been corrupted by constant fingerpointing between religions, each claiming the other to be the cause for the world’s problems, Singapore’s real story is how Malay, European, Chinese, Arab, and Indian cultures, while still retaining their own identities, have come  to create a society that transcends petty differences, and instead have worked together to build a modern day socio-technological miracle. Yes, there are rules. Yes, the fines and penalties are stiff for littering, smoking, and crimes against others. But all in all, people here are happy and extremely proud of what they’ve created, and by the looks of the countless construction cranes, what they will continue to create. It is easily the most culturally and technologically advanced city that I have ever visited, although I imagine that Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Tokyo will be eye-openers in their own right.

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After its amazing juxtaposition between cultures and technology, there is the Singapore Zoo. Even though San Diego boasts one of the largest collection of animals, I was quite please with how natural the Singapore Zoo looks and feels, and is the first zoo that I’ve been too where the enclosed animals actually seem happy, probably because in most cases they are surrounded by flora that closely resembles their actual environment. I remember looking at what I thought was the orangutan enclosure, but then upon looking directly above me, realized that I was inside the enclosure, which consisted of a natural tree canopy with orangutans hanging playfully just meters above me. In addition to the zoo, there is the theme-parkish island of Sentosa, complete with manufactured beaches, a cable car that ascends to what I’m guessing is a half mile above the causeway between mainland Singapore and Sentosa, and rides for the kiddies. Inimg_2516 my opinion, Sentosa’s real draw is the heavily armed Fort Siloso, that was built to protect itself from the Japanese empire. Unfortunately, the Japanese invaded Singapore by land over the Malay border, and the guns of Siloso were only used to blow up Singapore’s off-shore island oil depot before Japanese forces could confiscate it. In what I find to be an extraordinary historical juxtaposition, you can sit on the gun emplacement facing the current oil depot while a loudspeaker reenacts its original self-destruction; the view all the while cluttered with scattered tanker and cargo ships preparing to enter Singapore’s modern day harbor. You can also enter the exact bunker where the British surrendered Singapore to the Japanese, an event that is still considered to be the British military’s greatest tragedy and retold with lifesize wax models.

I am wholeheartedly glad that I planned to start my escapades here in Singapore, as it serves as the living Cliff Notes to all the cultures I am sure to grow fond of over the coming months. But, Singapore is small, and although it is an amazing place for those that live and work here, one can only explore so much before wanting to move on…not to mention, things are very expensive here compared to the rest of Southeast Asia. Luckily, nobody in Southeast Asia seems to wear larger than a size 28 waist, otherwise I would have done far more damage on my credit card.

My final night in Singapore before heading of to Jakarta tomorrow will involve eating once more in one of the many hawker centers (food courts on steroids) and having the token Singapore Sling at the place of its birth: the Raffles hotel. I have daily thoughts about all the people back home that I miss dearly…PLEASE comment and let me know what’s new so that I’m not tempted to perform my own Colonel Kurtzian vanishing act. 🙂

Zaijian!

PP

One quick night in LA

•February 26, 2009 • 1 Comment

After going on and on for months about the “Asia trip”, it’s funny how the first real stop on the journey was actually Los Angeles.

It really is a shame and entirely my own lameness that, before last night, I had never been to LA to visit Ryan. Over the last three years, he’s come down to San Diego on countless occasions to spend the weekend with me, and I’m glad, albeit a bit ashamed, that I was able to enjoy my last 16 hours in the US in this environment.

After picking me up at Union Station and grabbing a glass of wine at his place, we went to Hama Sushi in Little Tokyo. Most likely this was the best sushi I’ve ever had. Tried a few new things like sea urchin, which has always scared me due to other peoples horror stories but was creamy and delightful, an interesting dish of monkfish liver (picture attached), and red snapper that we were commanded to eat only with a slight pinch of salt…”noooo soysauce!” The snapper, yes simple red snapper, was the tastiest piece of fish that I’ve ever eaten.

Being in the adventurous spirit, we stopped into one of the many Japanese markets in Little Tokyo and, as I imagine will be a common theme once he meets me in Bali, talked Ryan into buying some dried small crabs and dried cuttlefishstrips. Ryan actually seemed to enjoy chewing on the dried squid and was plowing into the latter, while washing it down with wine. Don’t think that’s going to make the cover of Saveur. The crabs were crunchy and nasty…with a taste resembling the dried cat food that I was dared to eat when I was 6, which inspired me to try feeding it to Ryan’s cat. No dice.

Yeah, so about the cat… Spartacus apparently loves shoes…and by love I mean he likes to bury his front paws into them, and nest on top of them. I thought it was a fluke until I saw him do it three different times with three different pairs of shoes…in about a five minute span. Did I take pictures? Well, duh, And, of each individual shoe molestation.



After being haunted by the restless dream of missing my flight, and having to hire a formula one driver who mistakenly drove me to the San Diego airport instead of LAX, I made it on time to the gate where I await my 1130 boarding.

Ciao,
PP