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

Monday, March 31, 2008

Neither a Mad Dog or an Englishman

At least we try to adopt the local pace and stay out of the noonday sun. It's not too difficult, we are in bed by 9:00 pm each night, rise early each day awoken by a cacophony of some pissed ducks and take an 11:00am soak in the pool. It's not so much a luxury as a necessity since the mercury reaches in the mid nineties by 8:00 each morning.

The ducks are mad because they know something is up, their friends keep disappearing and we've seen evidence of where they go--there's too many menus featuring crispy duck for it to be a mere coincidence.

Most mornings we go for a walk, either along the beach to watch fisherman start their day or through a heavily forested road, where monkeys swing over our heads. After a simple breakfast of Nasi Goreng (Indonesian fried rice) or Jaffle (no that's not a misprint, its some sort of pastry that looks like an overly buttered pop tart) we head out to our first activity which has included zip lining through the forest, having our palms read, or looking for someone to braid Dylan's hair.

It's good to be back in Asia. Though we've never been to Indonesia, so much reminds us of Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, or Cambodia. A million motorcycles or scooters tearing down the road, followed by cars that have their own rules--a never-ending game of chicken. The heat that saps our strength by midday. Broken up sidewalks where water from the rice paddies flows under unstable grates. Touts every 20 feet asking if we want a taxi ride, a tour, something unnecessary to buy. Mosquito coils burning by our dinner table and a patina of dirt covering everything. Toilet paper, ice, air conditioning and a decent napkin are a luxury. Flowers, cheap massages and smokers everywhere, are a given. We've often caught ourselves forgetting that we've ever returned home, but rather feel like we've been in Asia since 2005, it's amazing how quickly we've gotten used to these quirks.

But Indonesia, and specifically Bali, has its own unique charms. Incredibly friendly people always asking where you've come from and where you're going to. Everyone asks what country we're from, and when we say America we're kind of an oddity. We've been asked why more Americans don't visit, and whether we like George W. Bush. Our answers to that are "Americans don't get a lot of vacation, it's expensive, they think it's far away and some are afraid of Bali because of the terrorist attacks," and an empathic "No we can't stand the man!" When I yelled "Yeah Obama" we got a healthy applause--guess he can be considered a local boy, he did have a few years studying in Indonesia!

Bali is an island in more ways than one. It's uniquely Hindu in a country that has the highest Muslim population in the world. Unlike most countries in Southeast Asia that are Buddhist, Bali goes further back, to Buddha's roots as a Hindu and it's evident in the multitude of statues of Ganesha (the elephant god--remover of obstacles)and Saraswati (goddess of wisdom and the arts) dotting the landscape. Tiny offerings are everywhere--baskets woven from palm fibers holding flowers, incense and rice--on motorscooters, dashboards, driveways, store counters, wherever the gods are welcome.

Dogs are in front of every home and they know they own the road since they don't bother to get out of the way of cars until one is bearing down, just inches from their paws. Then maybe, if the offending car or motorcycle has nowhere else to go, they might deign to scoot their butts off the street.

Sarongs are worn by many--especially in the tourist industry, but on a festival day almost everyone is sporting a sarong and for the men a headpiece. Women create their own headpieces by placing whatever they need to carry on their head and moseying down the street.

Bali feels like a country in itself and if we return to Indonesia and visit Java or Sumatra or even Lombok I'm willing to bet it won't feel like we're in the same country.

We've got some awesome pictures but are having technical difficulties, will post soon!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Greeting the Sun in Bali

Living in SIN

If you have to travel and your travel time is somewhere along the lines of 39 hours from door to door, there is no better way to go than Singapore Airlines with a layover in Singapore's Changi Airport. We've flown over 25 airlines in the world and have heard amazing things about Singapore Air, so our hopes were as high as our cruising altitude.

Stepping on the plane I wondered if we had stumbled upon a Miss Pan-Asia contest. Every female flight attendant was suited in a form fitting two piece long dress, their hair in a perfect french knot, and if too short for that, elegantly styled. Each was an equisite beauty and it seemed their only desire was to make sure you were a happy traveler. The guys didn't get off so easy as they were uniformed in a powder blue blazer, a color not seen since my cousin Jess' wedding in 1976, but they were also professional and very attentive.

A stack of newspapers greeted us as we stepped on the plane, and we discovered the most incredible piece of mechanics I've ever seen on a plane--a foot rest--even in coach! Unless you are under 5 feet tall, this might not seem to be the exciting event it was for me, but after too many flights with my feet dangling off the side of the seat, my feet could touch something! While my friend Steve regaled me with stories of eating lobster--or was it crab--on his Singapore flight, I ended up with fish. But it was one of the most delicious pieces of fish I've had in ages. The other six meals and snacks weren't too bad, we all dined on an especially nice plate of noodles during one of our three breakfasts, and the steaming hot towels that they brought at the begining of each flight only lead me to sigh--"Oh why haven't Americans figured out the rejuvinating joys of a hot washcloth?"

We had four hours to kill in Changi and entered the new terminal which was opened this January. Mind you we had spent a number of hours at Changi in 2005-2006 and were already impressed with the airport. Really, we loved you, you didn't have to get better Changi. With the full chaise lounges, the quiet music, and the unlimited shopping it was a pretty comfortable airport. But the new terminal exceeded any expectations a traveler should have. We tucked into a quiet corner of the terminal where a line of "beds" faced a small stone babbling brook. Quiet piano music could be heard in the background and there were none of the annoying calls over the loudspeaker that every other airport has asking "Mister Bom Bom to please pick up the white courtesy phone." Throughout the airport were islands of computers offering free internet time, which I gladly used to post to the blog. Dylan discovered the free movie theatre and swimming pool a little too late for us to enjoy them, but if she's given the choice of a destination in the future Changi is looking pretty good to her. Actually it looked pretty great for all of us, and if we were choosing a place to live in Sin, SIN (Singapore's Changi airport code) is as good a place as any.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Scrum at Gate 9

For many, a trip starts when they arrive at their destination, for me the trip begins when I walk out my door. I knew we were going somewhere different when we got caught up in the scrum of humanity that pushed itself towards the airplane at our San Francisco departure gate for the Singapore Airlines flight to Hong Kong.

A few years ago while planning our China trip, we met up with our friend Kara's brother Tom and his wife Andrea. While having lunch I asked them what the biggest surprise or difference was that they noticed between China and America. They turned to each other with knowing grins and said something about the concept of personal space and how it takes on a totally different meaning in China--and as we discovered, throughout most of Asia. To demonstrate, Tom got up and walked as close to Andy as possible (who wasn't part of the conversation since he was paying at the counter) and body slammed him. Well, my response would have been shock, or nervous giggling, but Andy just turned and pushed Tom--a guy he had just met--out of his way! Yes, they said, Andy would do fine in China. After five weeks there, and five months in Asia we were jostled, pushed, and herded through lines, onto buses and over tourist sites more times than we could count.

But after a couple years at home, where we have our own personal space to spread out, we forgot about the land where push can come to shove, until yesterday. I'm not sure why this difference exists. I can postulate many theories but my favorite is that a combination of a huge population, and limited resources creates some sort of Malthusian law that states if you don't get in there and fight for your space on the bus (or plane in our case) you might never get on. My only warning is to watch out for the five feet tall grandmas, they have elbows that can really jab in painful places.


Sunday, March 23, 2008

Sunday, Sunday...

One of our challenges while traveling in different countries was dealing with Sundays. In big chunks of the world, especially Australia, New Zealand, and most of Europe, we got used to stocking up on food, and not making any plans for shopping or sightseeing on Sundays because most places would be closed. Add in a holiday and even London, the cosmopolitan crossroad of the world looked as dead as the day after a zombie uprising. At least that’s how it seemed a couple of years ago when we landed at Heathrow on Easter Sunday.

Coming from the United States, home of the 24/7 economy, we’re a bit spoiled knowing that at any moment we can get our fourth meal at 3:00 am, or buy a flat-screen TV whenever we damn well please. Imagine our surprise when wanted to go to Old Navy and Target today for a few last minute things for our trip and found out they were closed. What??? Was there a holiday or something? Okay, maybe Easter is a biggie on the calendar, but for the born-again pagans in the room, not to mention the Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Atheists in our country, it seems a little unfair that things don’t close down for Yom Kippur, or Eid Al Fitar, or even election day.

But all was not lost. Kinkos was open so we could get more business cards made and Powells was not only open, it was teeming with everyone else in Portland who needed to get out of the house. If you’ve never been to Powells City of Books, it’s something akin to a Mecca for bibliophiles. As the biggest independent bookstore in the country (it might even be THE biggest bookstore) there’s not much that you can’t find at Powells. Our quest involved finding some books we wanted to read during our upcoming 33 hours of travel and subsequent beach lounging. Since we’re committed to traveling light, the criteria of our reading material was not only that it was mildly entertaining, but be something we’d be happy to leave along the way—our own little bookmobile.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

We're Baaaack....

Yes, it’s been ages since my last post. In fact, for what it’s worth, in the blogosphere I might as well have last posted in the Jurassic age, but this week seems as good as any for a re-birth of our blog—Only Planet. Eleven short years ago we embarked on the adventure of a lifetime, parenting a tiny bundle of baby who we named Dylan, after one of the greatest poets in the modern age. We’ll let you guess which one. After a rockin’ birthday party at the climbing gym this weekend, Tuesday saw a quieter celebration, with dinner at Mio Sushi (our favorite Portland sushi) and a macaroon from Pix. One birth among billions, yet for us, it was the birth of a universe—the parenting universe, and so we think about beginnings.

Ostensibly we started Only Planet to record the trip of a lifetime, or at least, our lifetime. Even though the trip eventually ended, there still seem moments I find worth writing about. They may not be as exotic as balancing on a wobbly camel in Cairo, or as disorienting as seeing Thais wearing white wings bowing and wishing you a “Happy Valentines,” but there are still snapshots worth noting as we throw ourselves through the ultimate journey—this modern life. And since I’m a writer, and writers write, whether about dashing through airports or the Arbor carpool line, I know there are stories I need to tell.

But I should come clean: we are traveling again. Spring Break starts Monday and Dylan’s school has a two week vacation, a truly civilized amount of time to go somewhere. Since we had enough airline miles on United to fly to the moon and back, or maybe Antarctica, we spun the globe and our finger landed on Bali for a destination. While we’ve seen much of Asia, we didn’t venture to Indonesia on our Trip (capitalized in our minds as the TRIP of 2005-2006), for various reasons. But I’m glad we didn’t, because now I feel rested, fresh and ready to tackle any of the challenges thrown our way… Another full body massage? Don’t mind if I do. Hot humid weather? Bring it on. So if you’re interested in following us as we do a little bit of praying, and a whole lotta eating and loving through Bali (with apologies to Elizabeth Gilbert), check out our blog for our many ponderous posts. With any luck there might even be something from the Travel Rat. It’s good to be back. Namaste!