- - - - - - Adventuring in Asia - - - - - -

Saturday, February 06, 2010

up to speed

Good day everyone! How's life on your side of the globe? All continues to be excellent here. I woke up to the sound of rain this morning and felt like it was a perfect opportunity for ketchup part 2...here you go!

First things first. Here is a little visual of where my journey through Indonesia has taken me thus far...all the way from Jakarta to Bali, that's 1195 km or 795 miles covered by train, bus, boat, motorcycle, car and on foot!

After leaving the mountainous areas in Java, I boarded the ferry and crossed over to Bali. My first stop was Medewi, the nearest possible place I could surf! I wasn't planning on going here originally, but I met an Australian girl who was traveling alone and decided to hang out for a few days. (side note: traveling alone does not equal traveling by oneself. More times than not on this trip, I realize that I have been surrounded by people constantly and need to get away for some time by myself. It's easy to make friends while traveling.) After being in Indonesia for 1 month with no ocean time, it was so good to get in the water! Medewi consists of a single road a couple hundred feet long, going from the main highway to the beach. It's a left point break with rocky bottom. The first time I went out, the local guys saw I was having a hard time getting into the waves, so they just waited behind me and pushed me into the good ones. Ha! This happens all the time here! I have had my best days surfing EVER in Medewi!

A surf competition happening one weekend I was there.

Medewi sunset...dang son!

After chillin' in Medewi, I headed for Kuta for NYE and my birthday (shut up, I'm only 2 months behind!) Kuta is an insanely touristy and dirty, but it was sweet to celebrate the New Year being surrounded new friends and throbs of people. It was like Times Square, Indonesia style.

The highlight of my birthday dinner was being sung to in 5 languages: Spanish, Portuguese, Indonesian, Finnish and English. And my homemade spinach pesto pasta, of course!

I also got to go on a diving adventure, thanks to my new friend Gideon, Hanna's cousin whom I met at her wedding. We had our own dive master and got to explore the USS liberty, which was sunk by a Japanese torpedo during WW2.

On drive to the dive spot...lots of rice!

After couple of days in Kuta, I was ready for some peace, quiet and good waves! I decided to head to a teensy island which lies an hour to the east of Bali, Lembongan Island. It's a beautiful place with pristine beaches, heavenly snorkeling and 3 famous surf breaks (Shipwrecks, Lacerations and Playground). I found a sweet little bungalow to stay in for $8 a night which was steps away from this:

I have a dream of living in a tree-house at some point in my life; this was the closest I've ever come. There were a few nights of VERY heavy rain during my stay. I woke up more than once to water leaking through the thatched roof and dripping onto my forehead. Solution: put my head at the foot of the bed. :)

I rented a motorbike one day to drive around the island. I met this cute little high school kid at a secret surf spot. He offered to take me around to some view points in the area. We had a great time taking jumpy pictures and making fun of my his English and my Indonesian skills.

After 5 lovely days in Lembongan, I made my way back to Bali eventually up north to begin volunteering. Since January 11th, I have been working in an orphanage called My Father's Home, located in a teeny village called Tukad Mungga. It's a pretty cool story how this opportunity came into being, a story I will save for another time. What I will say right now, however, is that I feel like I could spend the next 10 years here perfectly content. It's only been a month, but the kids with their sweaty little hands and faces have found the path straight to the core of my heart. Precious little ones.

Today's headlines at the end of the post: Bali, get ready! Mom, Bethany, Brittany, Mrs. Rovi and Donna are coming to see me next week!!!!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

ketchup, part 1

I used to always start my blog entries the same way. Something to the tune of "I'm sorry it's been so long. Internet access has been patchy, too much homework to do, my life is boring. etc. etc." But recently it dawned on me that introducing my posts with an apology is at best boring and at worst funereal. The only thing I'm sorry about is that you've missed out on all the epic adventures which have taken place over my past month (and to my family and friends for the 10 days of incessant worrying).

So, since you've been gone...

I traveled from Jakarta to Bali by train, bus, car and motorbike. We got in a small fender bender which turned our supposed to be 10 hour journey into 14 V E R Y long hours. They took us to the police station which was more or less an automobile graveyard. Scary!

I explored Yokjakarta, one of Indonesia's most historic cities, where I saw the world's largest Buddhist temple, Borodudur. Built around 800AD with almost 3000 hand carved panels which tell Buddha's life story in chronological order, it was worth the 4 hour wait in the police parking lot.

Since I hadn't really stopped sweating since I came to Indonesia, and it was to be my first Christmas completely on my own, I decided to head to the mountains, where I at least had a chance of being in weather similar to the homeland Oregon. I found coldness!

I arrived on Christmas Eve to a magical village where the smell of sweet, bell shaped flowers filled the cool mountain air. And on Christmas day, I climbed the volcano (Mt. Bromo) and ate the best fried rice ever at the top. All in all, not a bad Christmas, although I would have given anything to play the Franger family pickle game or eat some of Grandma's cioppino soup.

On my trip to Bromo, I met some great people from Malaysia, who invited to to accompany them to another volcano called Ijen. Money was the only thing stopping me, so when they said I could crash on the floor of their hotel room, I was in. They were wonderful people and invited me to spend the Chinese New Year with them in Malaysia...so tempting!

One of the primary occupations for men living in this area is sulphur mining. It was hard enough for us to complete the 5 mile hike. I didn't even go to the bottom of the crater (although many tourists do) because the suphur was so penetrating to the eyes and lungs. These hardcore guys make this trip carrying 198 pounds out of the crater and down the mountain, 2-3 times per day, some with no shirt or shoes for around 10 bucks a day. It was painful to witness and made me a little more thankful for my nearly minimum wage subbing jobs.

Gotta wake up at 5:30 tomorrow to be with the orphanage kids, so that's all for tonight. The rest will be saved for ketchup, part 2. Thanks for reading...much love!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

the long awaited day

Yesterday, December 18th, Hanna and Choqi were finally married. Wow, what a day. What a ceremony. What rich, deep, thick cultures and traditions this country has. It was quite unbelievable from start to finish, and although I am still processing through all that went on yesterday, I will attempt to lead you through my experience of a Batak Indonesian wedding.

3:30 AM- Ima wakes me up and the three of us (Hanna's 2 sisters and I) are off to the beauty salon to get our hair and makeup done. We sit in the chairs, three in a row and are transformed by the talented male artists. Ima told my guy that I would prefer to have light makeup...I guess "light" is a relative word. :) I really couldn't stop laughing at myself all day, especially when everyone would comment on how beautiful I looked. Comment freely; I have thick skin.

I'm wearing a shirt borrowed from Hanna's mom...love the purple leopard!!!

Below is the inside of the salon.

6:00 AM - Makeovers are finished, we head back to Hanna's house and put on our attire for the day. Most women wear Indonesian traditional clothing called kebaya. This consists of a skirt, tight fitting and stiff tube top which is worn under a sheer long sleeved, heavily bedazzled covering. Fabric is to Indonesian people as hot springs are to the Japanese. Conversations about some type of Indonesian fabric naturally occur at least 5 times a day, with great possibility of happening more frequently when the conversation is in Indonesian and I don't understand it. One of the highlights of the day was viewing the endless variety colors, styles and fabrics of the womens' kebayas.

Hanna's sisters and aunt, looking beautiful in their kebayas.

7:00 AM - We arrive at Hanna's church.
side note on religion: I learned today that there there are only 2 countries which require citizens to declare a religion on their national ID cards, Indonesia being one of them. Religion is a huge part of everyday life here whether the person is Muslim (86%), Christian (9%), Hindu (%2) or other. Hanna's family is deeply rooted by faith in Jesus as is my own family. In contrast with America, however, is the fact that if one nuclear family is Christian, probably all members of the extended family are too. Extended family being defined as everyone who is the same ethnic group and carries the same last name. I was amazed to think that nearly all of the 1,000 attendees of the cultural ceremony (described later) undoubtedly have Christianity as their declared religion. Different, huh?

This "blessing ceremony" was more or less similar to what a Christian wedding is like in the states. The procession, a sermon, exchanging of vows and rings, music..etc. I think music plays a larger role here though, with 4 choir performances, a few solos and performance of a traditional Indonesian instrument similar to marimbas. Between the blessing ceremony, photography, the families meeting each other and breakfast, we were at the church for 3 1/2 hours.

12:30 PM - We arrive at the hall where the Cultural Ceremony will take place. Did I mention that Hanna asked me to be her helper/maid of honor for the day? This title meant that I would ride in a pimp Benz with the bride and groom everywhere we went, directly follow her down the isle and around the stage to arrange her train whenever need be. Let's just say I felt a little more than inadequate since I was the only person in the room who had NO IDEA what was going on all day. Ha!

The above picture show one row of tables of the four total. It's hard to grasp the number of chairs and even harder to imagine who all these people are. The long line of people on the left are all Choqi's relatives. They enter in from the back, each family carrying a platter of food as well as a cylindrical basket of rice on their head to present to the bride's family.

The cultural ceremony was:

long- it started at about 12:30 and we got in cars to go home at 7:00. 6.5 hours, which wouldn't have felt as extended if it weren't so...

loud - imagine Manowar's final performance in NYC and times that by 3 for 6.5 hours. Everyday for the last week, Hanna's family would warn me that the Cultural Ceremony would be loud. I would shrug off their warnings nonchalantly but finally understood what they meant as we walked into the hall. There were 4 men, playing mostly traditional songs, with an occasional Jingle Bells or Deck the Halls slipped in. The problem, however, was the volume. It really was at a level which made conversation arduous. After 6 hours of sitting, trying to talk over the festivities, my throat was aching. I asked and no one knows why it's conducted at such a piercing volume. They just laugh and say it's ridiculous, too.

But, all in all, I'd say it was really a lovely event. It gave me some great insight into just how much the Batak people are centered around family. Blood ties are strong here, regardless whether you actually know them or not. If they are in your blood line, they are your family. Here are a few pics which highlight some of the more important events throughout the afternoon....

Forgive the blurry picture, but this was the climax of the whole ceremony when Hanna's parents presented the couple with an ulos. It's a handmade, expensive scarf thingy which symbolizes the parents acceptance of the groom as their new son.

Coming up on my calendar is...
- the 3rd and final event of Hanna's wedding, a casual reception (although I'm going to the salon again :)
- couchsurfing in an ancient city 7 hours southwest of Jakarta
- Christmas on a volcano!


Saturday, December 12, 2009

new colors

Wake up at 4am, 3 hour bus ride to Nartia Airport, 3 hour flight to Seoul, 3 hour (awesome!) layover in Seoul Airport, 7 hour flight to Jakarta, 1 hour car ride to Hanna's house, arrive at 10pm... I'm in Indonesia!

Hanna is one of the main reasons I decided to embark on this journey through Asia and for sure the reason why I came to Indonesia. We met on our study abroad program in Hokkaido in 2005 and spent a lot of our time together during that year. She informed me in an email last year that she would be getting married in December 2010. Enough said, I'm there!

It was so nice to see Hanna's face in the airport after 3 years of email and Skype communication. I look forward to spending the upcoming week with her and her beautiful family.
an old school pic of our days in Hokkaido. Hanna is in the middle.

As for my last days in Japan, aaaahhhhh, so much to say. A few of the highlights: I got to take part in tea ceremony. Although it's my 3rd time to attend the traditional art of Sadou (tea ceremony), this time, I actually got a chance to mix and serve the tea. Because this art is so ancient and refined, this privilege is usually reserved for those who actually know what they're doing. Words can't explain how honored I felt as the teacher and my host mother guided me through the steps of scooping the matcha powder from the bowl, tapping it two times on the side, gracefully pouring the hot water in, mixing it throughly with the bamboo whisk and finally serving it to the guests who are patiently watching the whole process. Breathtaking!

Highlight #2: Nagoya! I took a one night trip to Nagoya to visit my friends Christoph and Yumi, whom I also met during my time studying in Hokkaido. We spent our short time catching up on news for the last 3 years, talking about the in's and out's of teaching English in Japan and eating our way through Nagoya. Barbaqued Eel rice bowl...yummmm! Although vouched for the most economical way down to Nagoya (a 7 hour bus ride), my host family strongly encouraged (i.e. funded) me to take the bullet train on the way back. 1 hour 20 minutes! Zoom zoom zoom.

A few last words...when we got in the car after church today, the car thermometer read 43 degrees (109F)! It's not really that not, but its pretty darn close.

I was asking Hanna about some details of her wedding a couple of days ago and she informed me that it would be a big wedding. With 300-400 people being "big" in my mind, I asked her about how many people would be attending. Well, probably about 1000. Since that time, I've been trying to wrap my mind around a wedding with 1000 people in attendance. Still can't.

The only reason why taking the bus is better than the bullet train in Japan...tea service! Free green tea and roasted brown rice green tea at every rest stop. I took full advantage of this.

Indonesia pictures to come soon.


Sunday, December 06, 2009


Yesterday was Kimiaki's (my Japanese dad) birthday...he turned 72! Looking sharp for his age, huh? He is pretty healthy and independent. In fact, a few months before I came here, he went hiking on a nearby mountain by himself. All was good until he slipped and fell over a small drop off. Luckily, he was carrying his cell phone with him by which he called the park ranger immediately. He escaped with a few bruises, but, much to his dismay, is not allowed to hike by himself anymore. Happy Birthday, Kimiaki!

My days have been filled with a number of various activities since the last post. We went to a nearby hot springs town called Hakone. I've been here numerous times in the past, but still thoroughly enjoy each visit. Hakone is up in the mountains and is basically a town built around onsen, which is the Japanese word for hot springs. Let me tell you, Japanese people love hot water. They travel great distances, domestic and international. They build cities and railroads and expansive hotels. They change the course of rivers for a good soak in onsen. We stayed at a Japanese style hotel called Odaka. You might say DUH, of course it's Japanese style! But these days, Japanese people have the opportunity to go western in the little things: rice or bread for breakfast? squatty potty or sit down style toilet? green tea or black tea with dinner? AND the big things: kimono or wedding dress? Futon or bed? Wooden floors or the traditional straw like tatami? It's quite an interesting phenomenon- although you can't really say western culture is new to Japan- to see how naturally western culture has integrated itself into Japan.

Anyway, it was a good time wearing yakata (like kimono, except cotton), eating the 7 course dinner and, of course, soaking nakie buns (as the frangers would say) under the stars.

Other than that, time has passed quickly while...

painting Japanese style New Years postcards with my mom.

eating lunch with hilarious Aunt Toshiko.

visiting ancient castles

and reading funny signs inside the castles :)

Much love!

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

my other family

I consider myself a very lucky person. I have an amazing family. My mom is my best friend in the entire world. We could spend weeks, months, years together and never get tired of each other. My dad is known for his kind heart and jolly countenance, both of which go deep to his core. The boys, and their girls, are always up to something. You could probably say the 3 of us inspire each other to new and greater adventures. I am so thankful to have a family such as this.

However, on top of this greatness, I have another family, my family in Japan. Every time I visit them, it's once again confirmed- they are as close as it gets to blood relatives. I don't know why or how our relationship got to be so great, but I truly love these people.

My dad's name is Kimiaki. He worked for the city of Hiratsuka before retiring about 10 years ago. I love asking him questions because along with the answer, every time, I get a history and cultural lesson. Yesterday, while eating breakfast, chatting and watching the news, I asked him how long the Japanese president stays in office. He started his answer by explaining the German and American system, then moving on to England and finally Japan. All the while, Yoshiko, my mom is hitting and scolding him for giving me so much information. I try to ask 4-5 of these types of questions per day. Yoshiko reminds me a lot of my mom. She's outgoing, funny and always up for an adventure. Yesterday, I went walking with her and her long time (40+years) friend Miyoko. We walked along the river to the beach, admiring all the little flowers and the fall colors on the distant hills. Since my sister, Eiko, works during the day, I spend of the afternoon with Yoshiko, talking about recipes and family and my upcoming travel plans. It's quite lovely.

Aren't they precious?

Did I mention my mom is the best cook in all of Japan? Last night's tempura dinner. Yum.

Eiko is my sister. She is the whole reason why I became interested in Japan. She came to our house in San Diego almost 20 years ago as a exchange student. She just fit in with our family and thus began the relationship. She is a wonderful person, too- fun loving, smart and independent. Since my Japanese has digressed quite a bit in the last 3 years, she's always a great help when I find myself in a sticky spot.

Enough narrative, time for pictures. Today we went to Kamakura, the spot where the wedding was last week. Eiko took the day off and it was nice to take our time to visit a few more temples. The fall colors were beautiful, although they are nearing the end of the season.

Last, introducing...

Meticulous Japan.

Thirsty Japan.

Festive Japan.

Love you all. Don't forget to comment!!!