Only Planet

One Child, One Year, One Planet. A family of three traveling around the world...

You can contact us at werkingwells (at) gmail . com

Thursday, April 24, 2008


For some reason, rattling inside the depths of my brain, the date April 24th had some significance to me. No, it wasn’t my niece Sophia’s birthday—that was last week. I don’t think it was the anniversary of our first date, hmm… what could it be?

Today the mystery was solved! Tonight’s the first new episode of Lost since late February. Wahoo! Though I don’t carry too many fears while traveling, one of my deep-seated, almost Freudian worries is that I’ll be on an airplane that crashes on a deserted island and will survive. In fact one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen is Castaway, when Tom Hanks had to do his own dental surgery I pretty must lost it.

But Lost takes that fear and makes it “scary haunted house by Joseph Campbell and Ray Bradbury“ fun. While I wonder if I’m going to feel duped for spending so much time watching it, so far the story is compelling. Questions like: what will it mean that Desmond is Daniel’s constant, will the Oceanic Six go back to the Island, will Charlotte explain why there is a polar bear on the island, and what exactly is the Island, will hopefully be answered by the time the show is over. One place that might hold these answers is Television without Pity. My friend Luann turned me onto the site, warning me that its addictive properties is pure crack to anyone wanting to know more about their favorite TV show.

Speaking of TV, and islands; Kiwis have been featured in a couple of our recent favorites. On Top Chef, one of the competitors is from New Zealand. Dylan found his resemblance to a Hobbit uncanny, and has given him the nickname “Happy”—as opposed to Merry.

The other Kiwi sensation is the duo from Flight of the Conchords. Take Judd Aptow’s devotion to the under-thirty male and take away any snark and you have the adorable Brett and Jermaine. They’re either playing themselves, or two hapless immigrants trying to break into the music business. They are constantly stalked by Melanie, their one fan, and are directed by the least capable band manager in the world ( A guy named Murray whose day job is working some New Zealand tourism board or consulate. Murray must take roll every time they meet, no matter that it’s always just the three of them.) “Happy,” Jermaine & Brett all have to encounter people who think they’re Australians, which must be a running joke at American’s dismal grasp of geography.

This is not a Kiwi!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Working on my platform

One of the things I have learned about being a paid writer is that people aren't likely to pay you to write, unless they know that others want to read your stuff. So, the beginning writer often does a lot of "freelance," with a heavy emphasis on the FREE, work.

I've been doing some writing where I can pick up the gigs, including doing feature articles for a health-based user group and a popular travel site. Here are just a couple samples of my recent work (health & travel)--see, not all the time I spend at Milo's is spent chatting with the staff!

Another leg to the platform that professional writers are expected to have these days is the blog. Of course you're aware of this blog since you're reading it now, but there are tons of blogs out there that are really great. The book Julie/Julia was inspired by the blog that the author wrote while tackling every recipe from Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I'm using this blog as a launching off for my own book, which is being reworked yet again. Should be a little less messy than pulling feathers out of ducks, right?!

Just Another Day on Planet Earth…

I have a hair-trigger reaction that involves cringing whenever a “Day” is proclaimed. Whether it be International Women’s Day (March 8th—My birthday, Yeah!), Grandparent’s Day (September 7), National Teacher Day (May 6), American Recycles Day (November 15) or even Penguin Awareness Day (January 12) my first thought is what are they trying to sell me? My second is, does that mean the other 364 days of the year we don’t give a hoot about these things?

Speaking of giving a hoot—and special days—today is Earth Day. Even though the planet’s been around for 4.5 billion years, for the past 38 years Americans have noted April 22nd as Earth Day, complete with celebrations, conferences, and plenty of Earth-friendly products to consume. Back in 1992, I was on the planning committee of an Earth Day celebration at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) where I spent my time working at the Caltech Y: organizing events, checking out sleeping bags and watching Oprah. Even then we were worried about the amount of trash in landfills, air pollution (evidenced by the ride-share booth and tree planting) and a resource-lite diet (turkey dogs anyone?) but looking back on it, our concerns seemed so—well—academic.

Fast forward sixteen years and if food riots in Haiti, rice hoarding in the Philippines, American gas prices reaching all-time highs, and the environmental costs of the war in Iraq don’t get your attention, perhaps this will. A hundred years ago there were around 100,000 tigers living in the wilderness. Now there’s around 3000-4500 with the South Chinese Tiger numbering less than 20. Great, so every 5th grader at Arbor could get their own Chinese Tiger, but no one else. The South Chinese Tiger is doing marginally better than its Bali or Javanese cousins--they’re extinct.

Seems like part of the blame for the troubles has landed on China’s door. With a continually growing middle class, the Middle Kingdom is partaking in a few Western luxuries: more meat in their diet, more driving, and more consumption of natural resources with chilling results. But who are we to say that the Chinese can’t have our standard of living? In the brief time that we visited China we gained the strongest impressions of our entire trip. Dirt everywhere,

rudimentary plumbing, a whole nation driving their new cars like four-year-olds behind the wheel of a bumper car, extreme heat, and the people--god the people!

Let's just say a billion people is truly theoretical until you are pushed, pulled and body slammed by a few hundred while trying to get your order at a McDonald’s counter. Other countries--Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Egypt, Cambodia--are lifting themselves out of extreme poverty and they are heralded for their development. I have to say, if I were living in China and knew that I could have air conditioning, my own car, a bit more protein in my diet and even the luxury to travel within my country—I’d go for it. Can you blame them? They are doing what we’ve been doing in the West for years.

Aye, there’s the rub. We can’t really talk about population and consumption until we understand what and how much the population is consuming. So, rather than thinking only about American Priuses and biofuel consumption perhaps we should be thinking of global standards of living. It's going to take more than one day to figure this out--until then, instead of clinging to the American, or Chinese, or German way of life, we have to think about the surviving way of life. Whatever the case, barring a huge asteroid hitting it, the planet will survive. The question remains: how well will its residents fare in another sixteen years time?

For a truly excellent view of the glory of our planet, check out the Planet Earth series filmed by the BBC. We’ve netflixed the entire run and have watched it over the past couple of weeks. The recurring words out of our mouths are “awww,” “how’d they get that shot” and “that is amazing.”

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Reach out and Touch Someone

Remember the old AT&T ad from the early eighties that sang "reach out and touch someone?" Of course we've come a long way since then, when it was a big deal to call grandma on the rotary phone, but it wasn't until we really started traveling in the past couple of years, that we realized how connected the global population has become. While we debated taking a phone on our 2005 trip (we were going for the least amount of weight to pack as possible), it soon became clear how necessary a phone is when traveling. We were in Shanghai, riding in a cab that would hopefully follow our friend Andrea's (she had her mom, baby and a big stroller so there was no way we could all fit into one cab) and somehow our cab driver dropped us off about two miles in the wrong direction from our rendezvous point. Fortunately we had a cellphone, and after we hailed another cab, we called Andrea and she told the driver-- in Chinese-- where to take us. Imagining that we would still be on the corner, lost in China if we didn't have that phone, we've become adamant about carrying one overseas.

Cabdrivers, apartment managers, friends we've made while on day tours, even our hotel driver in Bali have been able to find us on our cell, which has increased our freedom to ramble. Even Andy's parents have phoned us while we were being biked in a rickshaw in Lhasa! So it was with great interest that I read this story from Sunday's New York Times Magazine. Seems that we're not the only ones benefiting from our cell. All I want to know, is how can I get that guy's job?!

Andy is buying a SIM card for our cell in Vietnam. Most places we bought a SIM were like this place, small and in random locations.

Monday, April 07, 2008

First You Eat, Then You Shop

A friend of ours writes and produces some sweet, cheeky, purse-sized travel guides that are all about eating and shopping in locally-owned businesses, which for some travelers might be incidental to seeing the Smithsonian or Louvre. However, if there ever was a city that needed an Eat. Shop. edition, it would have to be Hong Kong. While there are a few notable things to do or sites to visit, anyone who loves the city as much as we do knows it’s all about two things—eating and shopping!

After leaving calm, blissful, beautiful Bali we dove head first into Hong Kong’s densely packed streets to sample as much shopping and eating we could in three nights and four days. It helped that we spent a full week in Hong Kong in 2005 and knew the lay of the land and could also avoid the “kid centric” Ocean Park and Disneyland, since we did them before.

Hong Kong covers three different areas and is made up of four different regions, Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, Lantau and the New Territories. We made our home base at the YMCA on Salisbury situated on the Kowloon side of the city. As soon as we dropped our bags off in our hotel room, we ventured out to meet the crowds. It was dinner time and raining and about thirty degrees F cooler than Bali and it took about ten seconds for me to realize I was underdressed and that my flip flops—so useful for walking on the sandy beach—were no match for the rainy sidewalks, where it seemed that three centuries of oil and dirt were flowing down the street making it impossible for me to walk. Grasping Andy’s arm, we navigated up, away from the harbor and towards a mass of every type of restaurant in the world. We had to walk past it a couple times, but finally settled on a tiny noodle shop with no western signs, and no English menu-the only thing attracting us was a picture of a huge bowl of noodles and dumplings simmering in a beige broth. Sitting on tiny plastic benches, we crowded in with a dozen or so others and sucked our noodles and slurped our broth with the finesse any of the locals watching me glide to our seat. Ahh, yes, it was good to be back.

We insisted on visiting some haunts we enjoyed our last time and added some new favorites to our list. If you’d like to read more about these, I plan on sending an piece in on the website Bootsnall, where I have already written an article, and will send a link when it’s posted.

Dylan and I got a bit of food poisoning or something during one of our meals (could have been something in those noodles….) and spent a better part of two days looking for bathrooms throughout Hong Kong. Now, while conditions of everything in Hong Kong are markedly better than in mainland China or some parts of Bali, you do not want to spend more time than you have to in the bathrooms. Many of them are what I call squatty potties which are a serious disadvantage for girls who have to get down low and not only balance while doing their duty, but do so without 1-falling into the toilet, 2-be able to aim your used toilet paper into the basket which is never in an easy-to-reach position (most of the plumbing in Asia cannot handle modern amenities like tp) and 3-not gag from the 643 terrible smells emanating up from a toilet that has been there since the 1800’s, and not “cleaned” since the handover to China (1997). I exaggerate, but not much. It’s bad.

A few cruises back and forth on the Star Ferry, a day trip to Lantau to see one of the largest Buddhas in the world

and Dylan snapping up every ratty thing she could afford (including a stuffed panda dressed in a rat costume) and we were done. Originally we chose Hong Kong as a layover because it is the Year of the Rat

and so our rat-loving kid could further feed her obsession. But we soon realized we didn’t need an excuse to go back to Hong Kong, it’s a city that once it has it’s hold on you, never lets you go.

We made it back home sometime after two in the morning yesterday and jet lag is hitting hard this time. Falling asleep at 7:00 am only to get up at 2:00 pm isn’t too disruptive, but it has made it hard for me to fulfill my Bene/iced tea craving at Milo’s, maybe by Friday I’ll see the crack of noon!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Bali Endings

Is it auspicious that on our last day in Bali we witnessed our first cremation? The lady who braided Dylan's hair said that it was lucky to see one, and today two people were cremated next to a tiny shrine that overlooked the sea. To one side was the shrine, surrounded by four foot high tables overflowing with offerings. To the other, a small line of shacks that housed two food stalls (called warungs here in Indonesia) and couple of clothes stalls where Dylan could get her hair braided. Since the braiding took two hours we had plenty of time to watch the puppies fighting in the yard and the kids rolling in the dirt (or was it the other way around) and see the first of hundreds of scooters arrive with people dressed in colorful sarongs.

Eventually a processional of a hundred or more, each carrying an offering or playing an instrument, surrounded those carrying the body wrapped in a shroud, as they marched to what looked like a small log cabin. It was actually made of green palm trunks and big enough for the body, which was set inside. An enormous propane torch lit the body inside and for an hour we sat there and watched the structure burn. Many of the mourners quickly lost interest and wandered off to grab lunch or sit and visit with friends. One of the deceased was a young woman, maybe in her mid twenties. Someone carried a large picture of her, and a wreath of flowers that said "Surfer Girl" stood next to her pyre. The other deceased was an old man, who was laid to rest in a deer shaped structure.

The only place in America where death and the mourning process is so public and accessible may have been in the jazz funerals of New Orleans, but usually it's a private matter for friends and family. But life is more public in other parts of the world. Newly married couples parade down the street in Italy while onlookers cheer them. School children in Japan start their first day of school lugging all their supplies with them, including a futon, as they negotiate the streets. And in Bali, the whole community (and a few wandering travelers) usher the dead to their final journey as they rise with the smoke above the shoreline. This is why we travel, to witness how (as the Thais say) same, same--yet different we really are.

"See You Later, Alligator"

Ketut Liyer, the 9th generation medicine man featured in Elizabeth Gilbert's runaway hit Eat Pray Love, is grasping my hand tightly and peering closely at my brows. His voice is a sing song patois of English accompanied with clicking noises and some Balinese thrown in for good measure. I think he just quoted a song lyric "Let your conscience be your guide," as well as wishing someone goodbye saying,"See you Later Alligator!" Yes, he did say that and now he's telling me I have really good karma while he proceeds to read my palm.

If you've read the book you already know Ketut's story and how he played a role in Gilbert's Indonesian adventures. Ketut was originally planning to be an artist, but his life took a different turn and he ended up taking the path of a medicine man. Thanks to the book he's become very popular for wayward travelers like ourselves, and having a rich history of visiting a few psychics/fortune tellers/astrologers in my days, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to meet with Ketut.

"You are very smart," he says, "your weapon is your brains. But you're impatient. This is your first marriage, and you'll only have one. You've had four lifetimes, and you love to travel," which did seem a given since I was sitting on his front porch 8000 miles from my home. It seemed he said things that were common knowledge to those who know me, perhaps a feat for someone who just met me? But I was there less for the veracity of his reading than for the experience of sitting with this revered octogenarian in a world so remote from my own.

He read Dylan's and Andy's palms and gave them some pretty good news, except that he did seem to pause when he read Andy's marriage line. "You've been married once" he said, "Maybe one wife," looking at me he nodded, "yes one wife, long life." He was the third psychic I've visited who insisted that I was going to have, or already had, another child--a boy. Given that I'm beyond thrilled that my baby days are long over, I think it's time to teach Ketut another American phrase, "No way, Jose."

Ketut posing with us and a picture he painted, our favorite memento from this trip.

Mad Dog Photos

Here are a few photos to help illustrate the previous post.
Offerings on the hotel van for a safe trip

On the sidewalk in front of a business

Monkey on Ganesh's head, Bathing Temple, Monkey Forest, Ubud

On the way to a ceremony at a temple