Friday, February 27, 2009

Ubud Birthdays and Road Warrior-ing

So Ubud on the island of Bali Indonesia has become one of our favorite spots as today marks our tenth day in the city on the “Island of the Gods”.  We’ve been told by our hosts to not talk about price with our neighbors as we’re paying 100,000 rp (~11,000 rp = $1) and have seen three neighbors come and go, all paying more. We’ve been there long enough that Daewo knows that I like coffee, Leslie likes tea, we both like our eggs hard and Leslie doesn’t like the crust on her toast.

We’ve also learned that there are four main parts to the day in Indonesian Malay.  In the US it’s clearly Morning – Afternoon – Night. In Malay, it’s Pagi – Siah – Sore – Melam. 
Pagi is close to morning and Melam is night, but Siah is about from 10:30 in the morning to about 2-2:30 and then Sore is 2:30 to 5. 
It’s been a bit tough to remember all that happened, because 10 days in the same place start to blend together.  Leslie had a good idea though and recreated our timeline by going through her photos.  There’s a ton of them and we’ll share them with y’all eventually.  
After our last blog we headed to breakfast at the “RiverView Restaurant”.  It was okay, but nothing remarkable before spending the majority of the day goofing around in the pool at the Honeymoon. 
The pool is in a $40 a night place and is quite interesting.  A whole in the jungle is carved for the hotel, with a seperate enclosure for the pool.  20,000rp gets you access where you walk down a path tiled in intricate circular patterns with rocks that look like skipping stones.  The interesting thing about them is that they’re on end, so it takes 4-5 times the amount of rock to cover the same place. Everyplace with stone is covered by a tad bit of moss.  There’s a guy who appears to work full time with the impossible job of taming the moss.
The pool is about 5’8″ deep with a few lawn chairs surrounding it and a gazebo for when it inevitably rains.  Unlike pools in the US, the pool is filled to the brim.  There is a statue of a life-size woman at one end pouring water out of a jar and into a bowl, which is supposed to overflow into the pool.  The constant pounding of the water against the bowl has created a whole in the bottom though, so the bowl never truly fills. 
We’ve met a load of people around this pool, most a bit older than us and either retired or traveling with children and staying at the hotel. 
Compliments have come from a few different people as to our “show”.  The pool is fairly large and if there is nobody else in the pool then Leslie will stand on my shoulders as I attempt to walk along the bottom. 
That night we found another cheap little spot where a plate can run from 8,000rp-12,000.  Tables are communal, so we met a man from Germany and another from Austria and spent the night comparing education systems. 
On the way home we had one of our many encounters with the “shark lady”.  She was named by Lena and Marilyn and is known amongst the tourists for being very pushy with fruit.  She’s a very animated and nice lady, but negotiates like a banshee.
She grabbed me and I thought that I’d get six mangosteens and asked how much.  She started with 30,000, which is WAY too much for mangosteens.  I countered by saying how about 8,000?  She first laughed, then got a bit angry, then looked at me quizically before offering 20.  We eventually settled for six mangosteens for 12.
A holy man nearby then blessed us with good luck by ringing a bell at us.  :)
Day seven saw us decide to go on some hikes through the rice paddies and was remarkable for being the first of Leslie’s birthdays. 
We were thinking that because of the international dateline that her “birthday” was actually 364 days from her previous one, not 365.  At the same time though, it was 2/24.  We solved the quandry by deciding that Leslie was allowed two birthdays this year.  The sheer amount of rice paddies are amazing.  It seems like every spare piece of land in the city has been cultivated into a rice paddy. 
The walk was supposed to be circular, but we ended up finding a river and a “path” that went through a marshy rice paddy.  The good part of the path was probably about 2 feet wide and made of cement tiles.  We turned around and decided to try another path.
Even the rice paddies aren’t free from hawkers though.   One guy had ridden his motorbike out to fish for eels (I think) in the irrigation system of the rice paddy.  Yet, he tried to sell us little bone carvings he’d done.  They were pretty nice though and I thought about it for a second, until I realized I had no idea what I’d do with a little piece of buffalo bone that looked like a frog.
Another woman who worked in the rice paddy said, “follow me”, right after we didn’t buy a bone carving.  We followed as it was the way we were going anyway.  She said “coconut” and grabbed a coconut and started whacking at it with her knife.  
The knife is designed for dealing with bamboo, coconuts and rice.  The wooden handle was about seven inches long and topped with a ten inch blade that was in the shape of a banana.  Her knife blade got stuck in the coconut and came off the handle.  It looked like it had happened before though.  The handle was similar to a file for wood-working I own in the US where you can replace the metal file for different curvatures and courseness. 
After inquiry, she indicated she wanted us to buy the coconut for 20K.  We politely declined and went on our way, but even the rice paddies were trying to sell us stuff!
After finishing that walk we went on another “shortcut” to get back to Monkey Forest.  We didn’t take pictures the first time and hoped to get some better ones.  That walk wasn’t as interesting as the first, but did give us a handy new route that cut out the activity of the main road. 
This trip to the monkey forest was quite disappointing.  First, it was sore (late afternoon) after our hikes so the monkeys weren’t playing in the pool and most had retired for the evening.  We weren’t going to get good pictures so Leslie sat down next to a tree to get a picture taken. . . . . and immediately got bit on the butt by a monstrous ant. 
She screamed and jumped into the air.  She described the pain as worse than a bee sting and still has a welt four days later. She’s been a trooper though!
Trip 2 to the monkey forest wasn’t a complete loss though, as we found another path that gave us some cool statues and a chance to hike along the river.  I kept thinking “where are the monkeys” until I smacked myself in the forehead and looked up. There they were resting, playing and living about 300 feet above our heads in the treetops.
We then headed back for a quick shower before going to dinner.  The way to dinner was blocked by about 200 schoolchildren, all dressed in sarongs and white shirts (yes, the men wear sarongs).  I did feel good to see that somethings never change as a junior-high age guy grabbed a girls ponytail before she marched away in “disgust” while giggling with her girlfriend. 
“Devilicious” was the destination for dinner that night as we had some excellent vanilla iced tea, deviled eggs for 4K, vegetable shish kebob and chicken kiev for $3.50 each.  We had to rush a bit as we wanted to go to another dance that evening.
It’s fun to buy things from people on the street because both the hawkers and us are so used to saying “no” that “yes” makes everyone happy.  
First, we said we’d buy tickets from a few teenaged boys.  They kept trying to get us to go to a more expensive version of the dance we’d already seen.  Eventually, we walked away as they kept telling us why it was good.  An older lady offered us a new dance and we said okay, but the teenagers kept following us.  They informed us they had the ticket too.  Diplomatically, we bought one ticket from each of them. 
On the way back to the dance, we again went by Shark Lady.  She now recognized us and came running over.  “You buy mangosteen?”  She explained to us that the 12K for yesterday’s mangosteens was for small mangosteens that weren’t very good.  Today, she had much better mangosteens that were bigger and more juicy.  She demanded 20 and eventually we bought for 15.   She also gave us directions to the dance.
The first thing I noticed at the dance was that one of the older holy men (I don’t know the proper Hindu term) looked at me a bit odd.   He was about 80 and wearing all white.  I said, “Salamat melam” (good evening) and he looked at me quizzically before referencing my Arsenal shirt.  “You like Arsenal?  I am MU!” he said defiantly and stubbornly.  “Ronaldo very good.”  I didn’t argue with the elderly Manchester United supporter, but did think it was cool that we’d found common ground. 
The dance was different this time as it was accompanied by a traditional xylophone as opposed to human beatboxes.  There were a few different dances as opposed to a complete story and the culmination was the “Barong”, which is a huge mythical creature with a complex mask, moving jaw, and massive amounts of hair. 
Day 8 in Ubud (Leslie b-day #2)  saw us rent a motorbike for the first time.  We traveled around to the surrounding villages looking at different types of art they had for sale.  I picked up a small mask that I thought was neat for 60K rp.  I now have to carry it for a month, but I should be okay. 
One of the highlights had to be Arna Museum, which had loads of paintings and some very nice grounds.  Leslie got some pictures of some women putting together offerings for the gods. 
The proper Balinese-Hindu offering has three parts:  fresh flowers, water and incense.  They are then put in front of stores and homes for “good luck” throughout the day.  They’re usually about four inches square and sitting in a small open box.  We try not to step on them as they’re on the sidewalk.  They’re inevitably kicked over by the end of the day.  On particularly auspicious days the little boxes are stacked.  For ceremonies the offerings become larger and more complex. 
As we left it began to rain and we put on our raincoats.  This was our first experience with the “problem” with our coats and motorbikes.  The coats do a great job of covering the top, but they’re built for walking or hiking, not sitting in the rain.  As a result, our legs got SOAKED.
It doesn’t rain for long in Bali.  Rain in the Pacific Northwest is like an old metal watering can, slow, predictable and steady.  Rain in Bali is like having someone pour a five gallon water jug over your head.  It only lasts a second, but you get DRENCHED.
We booked it home and then intended to go on a tour of coffeeshops to find Lewak coffee (the coffee from the animal that poops coffee beans).  It was not for sale at the first place we went, but the guy working got such a kick out of the fact that we were looking for it he went and got it out of his personal stash for us.  He gave us his last cup so we gave him 20K instead of the 12 he asked for. 
I must say, it was good coffee.  It was much smoother than most we get and didn’t taste at all acidic.  He showed us some grounds and they were very fluffy.  They almost had the consistency of powdered sugar.  Big thanks to Wayan Kembar of Coffee and Copper.  You can see their site at He also gave us some good tips on where to go. 
We then spent WAY too much money at an all-you-can-eat buffet on “Balinese Night”.  It was really good though and they brought in a guy who did Jack Johnson/Bob Marley type folk songs.   He was pretty good and did requests.  He played “Stairway to Heaven” after Leslie requested Zepelin.  The food was great, but the bill ended up being $28.  No more of that!
Day nine started by heading back to Coffee and Copper because we saw they had Eggs Benedict.  It ended up being a sandwich with little hollandaise, but it was okay. 
We then took our motorbike on a trip Wayan recommended to see some villages before heading to the market to get more of the traveling dresses Leslie likes.  They’re light and roll up into a ball about the size of your fist, so they’re good to pack.  She decided she wanted some different colors so we went back to find them. 
The dresses are obviously mass produced and sold at wholesale to the people in the market.  As a result, Leslie quickly found that they could be had for 30K.  (~$3) 
The salespeople wish Leslie hadn’t figured that out.  Negotiating with her is like when a soccer goalie makes a save with their nose.  Yeah, they got the sale, but OUCH!
Leslie would say, “how much for the dress” at which point the salesman would try for somewhere 100-120K. 
Leslie would say, “how about 30?” 
The salesman would respong, “90?”
 ”I bought one for 30,” said Leslie
“Will you buy for 50?” 
“How about 30?”
Then, Leslie would start to walk away and the salesman would say, “okay, 30.”  One gave her a bit of a glare, but I was proud.  On the way out we ran into Wayan Kembar again and talked for a bit.
A local ceremony happened that day where there were men inside the temple while the women remained outside.  They had brought large baskets of offerings on their head and lined them up outside the temple.  A few of the xylophones played while tourists gathered to try and figure out what was happening.  We watched for a bit before heading off to continue our day. 
The ceremony had closed down a main drag and as a result I fought with traffic.  It was my first time when the motorbikes had reached three across a single lane.  Leslie took pictures from the back as I sweated in the front. 
Wayan had indicated  that we could take the motorbike down the rice-walk, so we tried, but it was VERY interesting.  I did okay with Leslie on the back, but the trail was only about a foot wide at times and I got dangerously close to crashing into the irrigation system, trees, rocks, coconuts, workers, etc.  We eventually parked and walked about half the way to the nice Salamik Organic restaurant Wayan had recommended.   Leslie had a great Shish Kabob overlooking the rice paddies.
We ended up with a firm desire for more mangosteen, so returned to the shark lady.  This time, she recognized and I said, matter-of-factly, “six for 15?”  She said okay, but proceeded to pick out the tiniest mangosteens ever!  We were not happy and are done dealing with the shark lady.  That is NOT how you treat repeat customers!
The rest of the day was eaten up at the pool with a sad discussion.  
Ubud has become the midway point of our trip and we’ve begun to cut out places in order to see others.  We’ve also determined that we should have dealth with the Vietnam visa issue while we were in Bangkok. 
As a result, we’ve bailed on Lovina and the Gili Islands in Bali and will be flying to Bangkok on Sunday.  Then, we’ll take a bus onto our next stop.
So, we were all depressed about not being able to go to Lovina that night back at the hotel until I looked at Leslie and said, “hey, wanna go to Lovina tomorrow?”
“But we don’t have time,” she responded.  I looked at her and hung the motorbike key from my hand and she smiled.
Day ten saw us wake up in the morning and borrow a map from an internet place we’ve been using.  We then hopped on the motorbike and pointed it north. We really didn’t have much of a clue where we were going, but knew that there were only a few main roads that should direct us there. 
We took a left out of our little place and went about 10 minutes before finding a breakfast joint than gave us a great English Breakfast for $3.50.  The English do some things very well, and breakfast is one of them.  For those who’ve never seen one, here’s wikipedia. 
We then started heading north.  We went buy a load of little towns and soon made it to places devoid of foreigners.  The towns were small, but the construction was continuing throughout. 
The fact that elections are right around the corner moved to center stage as blue, red, yellow and red/white flags flew along the highway showing allegiance to a particular political party.  Huge campaign posters flew and the local popularity of Barack Obama showed as one candidate had coopted “Yes We Can” (written in English) as his message. 
About an hour into our trip we noticed that we were heading up hill and it was becoming cooler.  We had been weaving around construction vehicles that belched black smoke out their tailpipes (catalytic convertors are optional here).  The traffic was light as we slowly made our way up the mountain.  We then stopped to look at the map and became famous. 
Tourists were a bit of a rarity in the place we stopped and the local schoolchildren were out.  Six of them came running over to us to say hi.  They all posed for a picture with five looking rather jubilant.  The sixth was very serious and apparently was a burgeoning bird trainer.  He looked very solumn and held a baby bird of prey that looked like a falcon in his hand.  Another sat by me on the bike and looked at the map as he tried to figure out what it was. 
Their english didn’t consist of more than, “hi”, “bye” and “how you?”, just like my Bahasa Indonesian!  Some older folks found us fairly quickly.  They knew, “won’t you buy sarong?” and “you like painting?”  The meant it was time to go, as making faces at kids is much more fun than being sold sarongs you don’t want.  They were kind enough to give us directions as well as the hard sell.  
We took a left and found ourselves back on the top of Mt. Batur overlooking the volcano, which was NOT where we thought we were going.  We added an hour to our trip, but thought it was okay. 
I thought we were about halfway there when we began descending on the other side.  At this point, it was cold.  The people around us were wearing jeans and parkas on their motorbikes.  We had put on our raincoats for warmth.  Soon enough, we saw the first wearing a raincover, then the second, then the skies opened up. 
This time, we could not go home and there was no cover in the middle of the jungle on the mountain.  We had no choice, so kept going.  We got completely drenched, but were still in pretty good spirits.
Ten minutes later the rain broke, leaving us soaked.  It didn’t take long to dry though as we headed down the mountain with the gradually warming climate. 
Civilization resumed towards the bottom as we shed the raincoats and made a left to travel along the coast.   The sun beat down from overhead and I could feel the burn beginning in my forearms.  I couldn’t change positions as I had to be prepared to brake. 
Three hours and fifteen minutes after we began in Ubud we pulled into Lovina.  It was a decent little beach town, but didn’t seem as fun as the Thai islands.  We found a retaurant and had a decent lunch. 
The beach was completely black though, due to the recent volcanic eruption.  The tide was in, so there wasn’t much walking to be done and we weren’t there to hang out on the beach anyway.  We were road-warrioring!
A quick check of the map showed us a better way to return to Ubud, so we took a different turn and found the main road we had originally tried to head down.   It was interesting as it was definitely built more for motorbikes than cars.  Two cars could pass going opposite ways, but barely.  The road was skinny and actually pretty well banked so that the motorbikes could go quickly without losing traction.
About thirty minutes into the return route the rain came again.  This time, we just took it in stride and continued on.  Both times, the rain came it was on the north side of the mountains.   We stopped by another lake on the way back to take some pictures, but not for too long.  We also found a much larger “monkey forest” on the top of the mountain.  There were hundreds of monkeys lining either side of the road and they did not look anywhere near as friendly as the ones in Ubud.  I found the best way to see these monkeys was at 20mph. 
The road back did not obviously go through to Ubud, so we found ourselves staring at the map trying to figure out how to get back as we rolled through rice patties and small villages.  Eventually, it felt like we were getting closer to civilization as the traffic became thicker . . . .and thicker. . . . . and thicker.
The lanes didn’t so much increase in number as they just got bigger.   My first realization that we’d hit the city was a stop sign.  I pulled up behind a truck and stopped.  Soon, a bike pulled up next to us, and then next to them. . … I then realized we were at a five way intersection and there were six motorbikes in a row behind the trucks. 
I fought my way to the left and pulled over so we could look at the map.  Leslie asked a guy fishing in the waste-water system how to get to Ubud and he said “straight .  . . left”.  We took the next left and went about ten minutes before pulling over and asking again.  The guy said we were going the right way and told us “next right”.  We took a right at the “T” and ten minutes later saw a sign for Ubud. 
Elation triumphed as we made our way home through Ubud.  When we got off the bike at Pondok Indah we noticed our knees. 
We had put on sunscreen while standing and the knees had been exposed when we sat down on the bike, pulling shorts up another 4 inches.  As a result, we both have stripes of sunburn on our knees.  :(
After a few showers we headed back to “The Yellow Sign Place” (we don’t know what it’s really called) and ate dinner for $4 at the communal table while chit chatting with Toto from Czech Republic, Mara from Italy and Yo from Japan.  The rain came again and the evening ended with us heading home for a well-deserved rest.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ubud and the Beautiful Culture

Hello family and friends,

We are still in Ubud and absolutely loving it. Ubud has been a great place to learn about traditional Balinese culture, and it is beautiful. I imagine you could stay here for months and still learn something new everyday about their culture and way of life.
Ubud is basically surrounded by several rice paddies and is the best place to look at all the beautiful art. I wish I could take it all home with me.
We are staying at a place called Pondok-Inda for 100,000 Rp ($10) a night. We have a magnificant view of rice paddies and a lovely deck where Wayan brings us breakfast every morning. Our room is big and has hotwater and flushing toilet which is always a plus. : ) We love it.
Once we arrived to our new place (second day in Ubud) we met our Canadian neighbors, Lena and Marilyn. Lena actually comes to Bali every year to export artwork back to Canada for her business. She is in love with Balinese people and knows her way around, so it was nice talking with her about Ubud.
We drank a few cups of coffee that Wayan brought to us before heading to the market, a rather interesting experience.
Back in 2002 and 2005, Bali, a predominantely Balinese Hindu cultural, was bombed by militant Islamists, decreasing tourism and increasing economic hardship. As a result, the Balinese people will bargain hard, sometimes even trapping or grabbing your hand until you say yes to whatever it is you’re interested in. I should also mention that you should never say yes to the first price offered. Usually, they will tell you a ridiculous price accompanied by the words “cheap, bring good luck” in the slight chance you will actually pay it.  For example, Bryan was looking at a watch that was worth maybe $5 and he wanted $40. I looked at him with my hands crossed, smiled and said come on now. He smiled back because he knew we couldn’t be fooled – or could we? : )
Anywho, so I found a dress I was interested in at the market when all of a sudden the lady was putting it over my head and told me I “have good figure for dress.” She offered the dress to me for 210,000 rp ($21). I told her it was way too expensive and took it off. I finally got her down to about 70,000 rp, but decided I didn’t really need it. That is when she took my arm and said “how much you pay.” I told her 30,000 rp and she said 35,000. I bought it. : )
I found another dress that I bargained down to 30,000 rp ($3), but Bryan accidentally gave here 500,000 instead of 50,000. Oops. It is very important to watch the zeros when giving money. We went back to her and told her what we had done. She was not honest at first, but we were happy she gave it back. 
The market was rather exhausting so we went back to our room, relaxed, and had good conversations with the Canadian ladies. It was Lena’s fourth or fifth time staying at Pondok-Inda, so she knew about a great view on top of the temple where we saw the most beautiful sunset. I had not seen a sunset like that in a long time, and as a result, I took about a million pictures. We could see one of the volcanoes from a distance as well.
As we were watching the sunset, Lena told us a little more about the Balinese culture.  I already knew a bit about their cultural after reading the book “Eat, Pray, Love” and one of the things Lena and this author described was the birth order naming system. First born – Wayan, Second born – Made (pronounced Mah – day), third born – Nyoman, fourth born – Ketut. After meeting about a million Wayan’s and Ketut’s, we have decided it’s important to know last names here. : )
Another interesting cultural learning experience is the family compounds. Families are very important in this culture and immediate and extended families live in what is known as a compound. Every compound has their own temple. I was amazed. There are also ceremonies for everything. I would love to go to a wedding or birth ceremony, but I probably need to become good friends with a family first.
After learning a little more about Balinese cultural, we went out to dinner with Lena and Marilyn. Lena knows all the cheap places in town and it was very good.
The following day we decided to go with Marilyn on a tour with Lena’s good friend Made, who she has known for 13 years. Lena stayed behind in an effort to pack boxes for shipping.
On the way to the terraced rice patties, we stopped on the side of the road and watched several women working in the rice fields. They were all wearing triangular shaped hats and were thrashing rice stalks. These women work very hard all day long.
We then made our way over to the famous terraced rice paddy.  See picture - 
 It was beautiful.
On the way to our next destination, we were able to see many Balinese people making their arts and crafts. We saw people carving wood and making the ever cool instrument known as the didgeridoo. It has been amazing to see all the creativity in Ubud.
The first temple we saw was called The Temple of Holy Water. To enter the temple you are required to wear a sarong that covers your legs. Bryan had to wear one as well. They don’t care so much about the shoulders as they do your lower body. The temple was very big and beautiful with a nice little pond in the center. Fortunately, this temple provided a sarong, but the next temple did not. Made ended up taking us to the town where the next temple was located and we bargained for a couple of pretty nice sarongs for 70,000 before entering.
After visiting the two temples we made our way over to the coffee plantation. This is where you can purchase Kopi luwak coffee which is very expensive. Kopi is the Indonesian word for coffee and luwak is the local name of the animal known as Asian Palm Civet. Basically, this animals eats and poops the coffee berries. If you ever saw the movie “The Bucket List” then you know what I’m talking about. : ) Bryan was going to drink some, but we ended up not having enough time. We kind of regret it now.
Our next destination was Batur Volcano. It was quite the view. Unfortunately, my camera died right before we arrived, so Marilyn took pictures for me and will send them to me when she gets back to Canada in May. We headed into a buffet restaurant and ate a lot of good Indonesian food while enjoying a splendid view of the volcano.
We drove around Lake Batur at the base of the volcano for a little bit before heading back to Ubud. We rested for a couple hours and then Made picked us up again and took us to a destination in Ubud where thousands and thousands of Herons migrate every year. No one knows why they migrate to this one specific spot in Ubud, but it has happened every year since 1965 since seven herons showed up and the town had a welcoming ceremony.  Now, there are thousands.  They only sit on one row of trees by the road.  Not on the similar trees behind them, or on the ones at the end of the road; only that little strip. We sat and watched them all fly in. The trees were covered with herons – it was amazing.
Later that night Bryan and I ate at our favorite cheap restaurant named Biah Biah (it means baby rice shoots).  We can eat for a total of $5 for the two of us. mmmm – and it was tasty.
The next day we woke up and made our way over to the monkey forest. There were hundreds of monkey swimming, playing, grooming one another, and jumping on tourists. : ) They’ll only really jump on you if you have food in your hand or you have something they want, whatever it is. The monkeys did not seem as aggressive as the ones in Thailand, but Bryan and I did not want to take any chances by holding them.  There was one guy from Australia who was asking for it. He was playing and holding every monkey he saw. He then tried to pet one of the baby monkeys while the mama was holding it. Idiot – what was he thinking. He got bit on his shoulder and started bleeding.
After the monkey forest we went over to a place called the Honeymoon where you can swim for 20,000 rp. We ordered food by the pool and relaxed for a couple hours.
For dinner we ate “sukling pig” (yes, that’s how they spell it) at a place that supposedly has the best in town. I did not care for this sukling pig, but Bryan loved it. He ended up eating my plate as well.
Later than night we went to a traditional Balinese Dance. It was called Kecak Fire and Trance Dance and was presented by Taman Kaja Community.  This community has about 140 families and almost all adult members of this community were involved in one way or another with the presentation. It’s hard to describe, but basically there were about 50 or so men chanting while a story was being told through costumes and dance. We loved it.  At the end of the presentation there was a trance dance. This is a god-inspired trance-dance that is used to protect society against evil forces and epidemics. The horse rider (man with horse costume)  is lulled into trance by repetitive sounds and in his tranced state he walks on a bed of burning coconuts as a way of responding to the sounds. Kind of hard to explain, but basically he was walking on fire and kicking the burning coconuts. All and all, it was a great cultural experience.  A burning coconut hopped the restraining barrier and landed on Bryan’s foot.  Yes, it was hot.
The following morning we went to a health food restaurant and store called Bali Buddha. Bali Buddha buys their produce from local farmers and is considered to be an environmentally and socially responsible business, and you know me, I’m always willing to support businesses such as this one. Bryan and I just had bagels with cream cheese because we wanted to eat the vitamin lunch at a place called “Traditional Balinese Healing” where Wayan from the book “Eat, Pray, Love” works. Unfortunately, she was not there and so we left and ate a big burrito instead. It was delicious.
We went back to our room after it started pouring down rain. The rain put me to sleep for an hour and Bryan sat on the porch reading.
Later that evening we decided to get an hour massage for 50,000 ($5) each. The two people who massaged us were married, and they did not give us any privacy to change. It was a great massage though.
We went back to Bali Buddha for dinner and had a couple traditional Balinese health drinks. I am recovering from a soar throat and cough, and Bryan has recently developed a soar throat as well. I ordered a drink called Batuk which treats wet and cold coughs and Bryan ordered a drink called Tolak Angin which treats cold and flu symptoms and improves immunity. They were disgusting. I can’t really tell you if it helped or not, but I’m sure it helped somewhat since I drank a shot of ginger along with the drink.
Well, it is the next morning and we are getting ready to eat breakfast. Ubud has been amazing so far. We have no idea when we will be leaving Bali because we love it here so much.
Hope all is well,

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

We’re Millionaires! We’re poor . . . . Indonesia and Singapore

Sound great, but it’s not so impressive when 1,000,000 rupiah is a little over $82. 

So I’m sitting in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia writing this, but thought that I’d go back and say a little more about Singapore before going on to the “Island of the Gods”.  
The train pulled into the station in Singapore about 9:30 at night.  We were hoping to grab the local skytrain/subway called the MRT, but soon realized that it did not attach to the train station.  As a result, we grabbed a cab to Backpacker’s Cozy Inn in the Colonial District of Singapore. 
The hotel was full, so we started attempting to find another in the middle of the burgeoning metropolis. 
My amateur history of Singapore is thus.  Singapore was a completely new city basically built by the British on top of a small fishing village.  There was not a large indigineous population, so the majority of the people in Singapore moved in to work with/for the British until independence.  As a result, the British (and English speaking world) are not seen so much as “those colonial invaders” and are seen more as a sibling/parental figure.  Modern Singapore is constantly trying to prove itself to be a world leader in modernity, economics, architecture, biology, etc. . . . . and they’re doing a pretty good job. For example, the “Eye of Singapore” is basically a HUGE ferris wheel.  You can see all the way from Malaysia to Indonesia and Singaporeans are happy to remind you that it is much larger than the “Eye of London”. 
There are many Malay, Chinese and Indians in Singapore.  As a result, the public language is English, as it’s everyone’s second language.  It was nice to be in an English speaking country again. 
There are about 4.5 million people in Singapore, but the city has been immaculately planned for 6.5 million.  As a result, Singapore is still actively recruiting foreign workers.  The city is huge and it’s rather refreshing to have so much space in such a large city.  The sidewalks, subway, et all are built to hold 2 million more people than are currently there.  As a result, it’s a monstrous city . . . that doesn’t feel crowded.
Well  . . . . except for the colonial district when you cannot find a hotel.  After walking a little bit Leslie sat down at a restaurant and watched the packs, which freed me to run around the city at breakneck pace trying to find a place.  Leslie ate valentine’s day dinner by herself in an “authentic New York deli” with a S$22 ($16 US) cheeseburger.  I ran up North Bridge Road and eventually found ABC hostel and checked us into our first dorm room for S$17 ($12US) per bed . . . so that’s $24 for two beds in a six person dorm. 
I (literally) ran backi to Leslie and we headed to the hostel.  Where the room was FREEZING!  The AC was completely cranked up and one girl was actually sleeping in a mummy bag. 
The next day we decided to go shopping, so went to the “cheap mall” on Orchard St. We took the subway, which was pretty easy and went to Orchard, which was huge, beautiful and INCREDIBLY clean. 
A popular shirt indicated that Singapore is a “Fine city”.  Spitting on the sidewalk?  S$100 fine.  Littering?  S$100.  Forgetting to flush the toilet? S$150.  There’s a line on the subway to stay behind until the train comes to a stop.  Passing the line?  S$500.  The fines are stiff, but as a result, NOBODY breaks the law.  Punishment for shoplifting is 7 years in jail.  There is very little crime and the place is VERY safe. 
I found a book I wanted on Orchard St. That was the third in the series.  In the US the first book was $7.99.  In Thailand, the second was 180 baht ($6ish), in Singapore, S$22 ($17 US).  I did not buy the book.
We did have to get food though, so ended up eating in a very multi-cultural food court in one of the malls.  There was food from just about every country imaginable while drinks, biscuits and dumplings could be purchased from mobile carts moving throughout the mall. 
We then saw “The Outlander” and “Bride Wars” as we felt we needed to relax.  In keeping with the orderly society concept, movie theatre tickets entitled you to a specific seat, so you didn’t have to wait watching trailers, just buy your seat early.  
The waterpark the next day was a blast.  I thought it was the biggest in the world, but was VERY wrong as it was TINY.  Fortunately, the MRT (subway) took us to a bus that only required 2 stops to get there and it was almost empty.  We didn’t wait in a single line all day. 
That night, we headed to Little India and wandered around before finding a spot to sit down and hung out with some Australians, they were fun.
Our last day in Singapore saw us head to a mall in little India with some decent prices.  It wasn’t the cheapest spot to shop, but we knew we could find what we needed (shorts, socks, etc.).  We then returned to the expensive burger place as Leslie *insisted* I eat the expensive burger.  It was great and then we headed to Changi Airport for a 7:05pm flight to Bali. 
Changi Airport was an experience of it’s own.  There are three terminals and it felt more like a cross between a mall and an amusement park than any other airport I’ve ever seen.  There was free internet, free movies, a free three hole mini-golf course, free bus tours of Singapore (if you had at least a 4 hour layover), a rooftop pool and every shop imagineable. 
We spent a few hours in the hotel but probably could have spent more.
Landing in Bali was interesting.  We needed to pay US $25 to get into the country, but they didn’t take visa and we didn’t have rupiah (650,000).  As a result, they let me past customs to use the cash machine as long as I said I’d come back . . . . okay . . . . .
We hopped a taxi at 10pm with a few Swedes to Kuta, which is the really touristy area.  We checked into a room and just stayed the night before heading out this morning. 
This morning we slept in,before checking out and trying to find out how to get to Ubud, which is where Jez and Faye (16 month travelers from England we met in Cameron Highlands) recommended.   It’s also highlighted in a book called “Eat, Pray, Love” that many around here have read.  
We found some food and then hopped onto the taxi about 1.  We made it to Ubud, which is a wonderful little town in central bali.  The trees are green, dogs and cats have returned to the streets and the humidity has gone through the roof.
We found a place called “Wena” in the guidebook that we checked into for 100,000 rupiah.  It’s okay, but smells like mildew and there’s no mosquito net.  There’s an extended family that also lives in the cottages.  It appears that about 5-7 cottages are taken up by the family with 3 for rent.  There’s a great jungley-garden that has a little path to walk through until you reach the room.
We weren’t entirely sold upon it, so went to explore the city of Ubud while looking at different hostels.  We probably saw 13 hostels this afternoon, with the vast majority of them looking exactly like the place we’re staying, with costs ranging from 70,000 to 100,000.  ($7-$10)
Number 14 was different though.  It’s a bit outside of town and located in a complex with many different pricepoints.  To get there we ducked through a stone archway and walked down a two foot wide stone path with plants on either side growing above our heads. 
The first room we saw was beautiful tile, enclosed with grass, overlooking some rice patties with marble counter-tops.  It was 400,000 rupiah ($40).  We asked to see the cheaper ones and found a nice tile room on the second floor of a building with a great view for 100,000 ($10-ish).  We check in there tomorrow. 
On the way back to Wena we split dishes at two places.  The first was rather expensive ($5 a meal) and we had a nice fettucine in a cream-avocado sauce with ham and spring onions.  It was great.  We also had our first avocade milkshake.  It was AWESOME!
We then stopped by and got some info on visiting a local volcano and local dance preformances before finding some traditional Balinese food.  The restaurant is very adament that they do not accept “Chinese influenced” food as acceptable.  
We had Mee Goreng (noodles and veggies) for $1, a potato appetizer for 50 cents and another 50 cents for a sticky-rice ball dessert.  That’s what we’re talking about! 
Fortunately, we’ve found an internet place that has decent speed (and a Linux operating system) for me to write this and catch us up on the blog.  Leslie headed back to take a shower as we’re constantly sticky around here.  
I’m gonna head back and see how she’s doing.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Penang Hill, Cameron Highlands, and Singapore

Wow, so a lot has happened since our last blog. I don’t even know where to begin, but here I go.

So our last day in Penang was spent exploring the beautiful Botannical Gardens and riding a train hundreds of meters up what is known as Penang Hill.
Botannical Gardens was huge, and it wore us out a bit because it was quite hot. There were several monkeys around, and after seeing the German girl being attacked by one, Bryan has decided that he is “NOT” (according to Bryan) scared of the monkeys – meaning Bryan is terrified of them now. : ) Ha ha, I was his protector as we were walking by them on the path.
We then took a taxi to Penang Hill and rode up a very steep hill on a train. Thankfully, we made it to the top okay and took pictures of an amazing view of Penang. We decided to eat at one of the restaurants, but decided it was a bad idea after we saw a sign that said “warning – pit viper may fall on your head” or something to that effect. So we went to a different location and ate what is known as laksa. Laksa is described as a fish broth soup spiked with a sour tang from tamarind paste and a mint garnish – served with thick white noodles. Supposedly, it’s one of the best foods in Penang, but Bryan and I thought it tasted like feet. Maybe it depends on where you eat it, but it will be hard for us to try it again.
Baba Nonya food is a type of food found in Penang (Laksa is considered baba nonya) and is considered to be one of the bests according to some critics. Bryan and I decided to give it another chance, and so we went to a major hawker section in Penang and ordered another dish known as Char Kway Teow. Basically, this dish consists of  rice noodles,  veggies, shrimp, dark soy sauce, and more. Bryan and I also thought this dish tasted like feet, so we gave up and ate chinese food instead. We probably would have tried more but we had no idea what we were ordering. Oh well.
The next morning we woke up at 5:45 am and  went on a mini van to Cameron Highlands. Cameron Highlands is 1, 829 meters above sea level, so you can imagine how happy we were going to a place where Bryan isn’t sweating 24 hours a day. It was so much cooler than Penang.
Our first stop before we arrived to Cameron Highlands was a place that had strawberry coffee and strawberry milk tea. The strawberry milk tea was the best thing I’ve ever had. I was going to buy some, but decided that this tea would be everywhere in the Highlands. Turned out, that cute little shop 40 minutes away from Cameron Highlands was the only place that had it. : (
We were riding with 2 ladies from Spain, one lady from Italy, and a couple from Australia. For those of you who don’t know, Bryan speaks pretty good Spanish, but I had no idea he was so good at making conversation. The two ladies from Spain were happy to speak to someone in their native language. They even complimented him on his Spanish accent.
Once we arrived to the Highlands, our driver took us to a couple hostels and allowed us to decide whether or not we wanted to stay there. If we didn’t care for it, he would take us to another. Bryan and I already knew which hostel we wanted to stay at, so our first stop was for the two ladies from spain. However, they decided it was too expensive and jumped back in the van. The next stop was the hostel we wanted known as Twin Pines. The Australians wanted to stay at a different hostel, but quickly changed their minds after they found out that the rooms were only 20 ringgets per night (about $6.50). The ceiling was slanted, but I didn’t care once I layed on the bed. It was very comfy. All of the people in our van ended up staying at this hostel.
We then ate breakfast, took a shower, and then explored the town. It was quite small but very nice.  Cameron Highlands consists of mainly Muslim people with some Hindus. At the time, I was wearing my pink t-shirt that I thought was modest, but then I quickly realized it was not quite appropriate after I received a couple glares from the people. So, I ducked into a clothing boutique and found the biggest shirt EVER. It was a little stylish, but it was mostly just 3 times too big for me, but hey, I didn’t receive any more glares afterwards and I felt much more comfortable.
Bryan and I were tired from staying up too late and getting up early, so we decided to go back to our hostel after eating Indian food. We went back and found the fourth season of Lost part one – right where we left off a year ago. Basically, we sat and watched Lost the rest of the day – it was just what we needed.
The following morning we barely caught the 10:30 am bus. There is only one bus in town (aside from the private buses) which leaves every two hours. We sat in front of a couple from England and quickly became friends. Our first destination for the day was BOH tea plantation. It was fun going to a tea plantation with a couple of Brits because they had never seen one before. Once we arrived by bus, we had to walk up a winding road which took about a half hour. The view of the plants and hills were quite beautiful and I took about a million pictures (as always). Once we made it, we all enjoyed a couple pots of tea and talked for a good hour or so. Jez and Faye have been one of my favorite couples so far. They have actually been traveling for 16 months and will probably go home in a couple of months – or at least until their money runs out.
We were walking around, reading all about the process of making tea before one of the workers started lecturing us about good tea. He told Faye and Jez that English tea is bad and why. I told him that Bryan and I often buy tea bags because they are cheaper, and he about flipped out. He said, “Promise me you’ll always buy loose leaf tea.” Bryan described him as one of those wine connossouirs from Napa Valley who consistently tell you why their wine is better. It was really funny.
We then decided to hike up the tea plants thinking it would be a shorter route back to the main road. I can now say that I’ve hiked through tea plantations in Malaysia. : ) It was the first experience for all of us. It was a bit steep towards the end, but the plants were so old it was okay to hang on to them for support. We thought we had made it to the road, but it turned out it was a private home. There was a huge dog growling at us from a far. Luckily, he was chained to a tree. The man who lived there quickly pointed us the right way, and once we arrived to the gate we saw a sign that said “Beware of dog.” Ha ha, that was also really funny.
Our next stop was the honey bee farm, which was not all that exciting. We were basically surrouned by thousands of bees doing their thing. We left and went to the butterfly farm.
The butterfly farm was actually very cool. Butterflys, insects, and reptiles were everywhere and we were able to hold many of them. It was very educational, but also very disappointing to find out that the butterflys only live for a week once they are taken out of the jungle by the Malaysians. Also, many of the butteflys had lost part of their wings and were acccidentally being stepped on by the tourists. : ( Aside from that it was a great place to take pictures of very unique creatures.
We started walking towards the strawberry farm until we realized the map did not accurately describe distance, and so we had no idea how far it was. We decided to skip the farm and go back to town. The taxi was more expensive then we thought and ended up waving at a private bus for a ride. We didn’t know it was a private bus, but we ended up only paying about 1ringget each for the ride. We were all very happy. 
We ended up going out to dinner with Faye and Jez, and had a lovely evening talking about traveling, politics, and religion. Faye and I got along very well. Afterwards, we ended up saying our goodbyes as they were headed to Kuala Lumpur the next morning. Bryan and I went to bed early because we were going jungle trekking the next morning.
We chose Adventure two which is a full day tour. Our guide picked us up around 8:30 am and our group consisted of an elderly lady from Germany, a young couple from Italy, and an older couple from England. Little did Bryan and I know, but our first stop was BOH tea plantation. Needless to say, I didn’t take very many pictures. We learned more about the plants from our guide and went on an actual tour, so I guess it was worth a second trip.
Our guide quickly described the rest of the day, and told us we would be trekking for four hours. We made it to the location (about an hour away) and started the trail. About a half hour in, the elderly lady from Germany started talking to our Malaysian guide about how she didn’t know it was going to be this difficult and that she was not informed it was four hours. She told him that if it was going to be four hours the trekking should start at 6am and not 10am and that his company is going to be in trouble one of these days for taking people out in the heat. The Malaysian guide was quite offended by her words and was angry at her from then on. We had no idea what to do because we understood both situations. We were all very concerned for her and didn’t think it was a good idea for her to come along either. However, she kept going. I consistently asked her how she was doing and told her to let us know anytime she needed to take a break.
The trail was filled with mud and it was hot since we we had come down several meters from the Highlands, but it was so much fun. I loved every minute of it, aside from worrying about the German lady.
We had the opportunity to drink Bamboo water (apparently illegal to do in the states and Europe) which tasted almost like lemon water. It was very refreshing.
We eventually made it to a bridge made out of bamboo. : ) It you are afraid of heights, you would have not enjoyed this part of the journey. Unfortunatley, this is where the elderly lady quit. She basically said there’s no way she will continue. We didn’t know what to do because none of us wanted to leave her behind, but she was not about to continue. Once we made it across, our guide found out she was not coming. He ended up staying behind with her and left us with his partner from the Aborigine village who didn’t speak a lick of English. It became quite the adventure from then on.
Our next stop was a waterfall. Not the most impressive waterfall ever, but it was still a highlight of the journey. There were bees everywhere, and this is where I was stung by a bee by a waterfall in the jungles of Malaysia (I like saying that). ; ) We ended up swimming in the blistering cold water, but it was rather refreshing.This is where our guide gave us some kind of fruit to eat from the jungle, but we had no idea what is was. It was sour but good.
We then hiked up the steepest part of the journey, and eventually (after almost sliding off the slanted pathway a couple of times) made it to the biggest flower in the world – the Rafflesia. It was very impressive. We took several pictures before heading back to the village.
It took about two hours to get back to the Aborigine village. This is where indigenous people live and work. It was quite interesting to see how they live. They hunt food in the jungle with a tool known as the blow pipe. Basically, they make what looks like a dart with poison at the end and shoot it out of the blow pipe. The animal will die within 10 minutes – and this is what they eat. We all had the opportunity to blow on the pipe, aiming towards a dart board that the people made.
We made our way back to town, but ended up going to the strawberry farm and a different butterfly observation before going back to our hostel.
It was quite the day, and we were very tired. The following morning we headed on a bus to Kuala Lumpur and then took a train to Singapore.
The train was actually decent. We watched Looney Tunes and “Fun with Dick and Jane” a couple times throughout our seven hour journey.
Singapore is a lovely and expensive city. Supposedly, Singapore is one of the cleanest and safests cities in the world, and I am pretty sure that is true. There are fines for everything here, but the crime rate is low, so I guess the fines work.
The architecture is very unique and the people have been so helpful and kind. It is very easy to get around either by bus, taxi, or the underground subway. It is a lot like NYC but better and cleaner.
Yesterday, we explored the shopping district (way too expensive), ate good food, and watched a couple movies at the theatre. It was a great day.
Today, we went to the water park. Bryan told several people that this waterpark was one the largest waterparks in the world, turned out it is one of the smallest. : ) However, it was a lot of fun. We had to leave early because of thunder and lightning, but we still had a good couple hours to play around in the water.
Tomorrow, we are flying to Bali, Indonesia. I am excited.
Miss you all,

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Indians are Coming!

So we’ve ended up staying in Penang for a few days.  It’s been a nice little town on an island off the coast of northwest Malaysia.  We got here rather late on the seventh and learned that the “Thaipusam” festival was on the 8th, which means the place we wanted to stay was booked . . . . and the next place we checked . . . . and the next.

All of Chulia Street (where we wanted to stay) was booked.  We had to stay in a side-street called Love Lane, but it seems to be okay. It runs 25 ringgit (RM) a night.  Exchange rate is 3.5 ringgit to the dollar, so that’s about $7.25 for the room.  For extra credit, that’s 10 baht to a ringgit.  The place (SD Guesthouse) is basic, but nice and clean.  There’s a bed and a fan.
To answer your question, Chalain, it appears that Malaysia is about 70-80% the cost of Thailand so far.  Internet access is 2RM an hour and you can get a meal for aroun 7-16, depending on what kind of quality you’re looking for.   We haven’t looked into transport yet, but that’s where we’re going right after this.  We’re going to look into jungle trekking in the Cameron Highlands :).   We have found Malaysia to be much easier on the pocket than southern thailand though.  The taxi was 5RM ($1.20-ish) and everything has been quite reasonable. 
Back to Penang. 
Penang was a small island with only a local population until the British East India Company set up shop and named it “Prince of Wales Island”.  The commander, seeing his mistake named the capital after the King, so we’re staying in Georgetown.  The British brought with them a bunch of Chinese workers, forcibly imported some Indians which intermingled with the native Malay population.  As a result, modern Penang is a melting pot of different cultures and is known world-wide for fancy foods.  Along with those are a strong contingent of Siamese (Thai), Achinese (no clue who they are), Europeans and Eurasians.  
We were expecting another little island with sand and tourist shops, but instead found a bustling city capital of 700,000 people :O  having just finished a massive Chinese New Years celebration and preparing for Thaipusam.  You can find a map  We are in the second row, fourth column.
We managed to check in to our place and headed out in search of non-Thai food.  We headed to the Banana Hotel, where we originally wanted to stay and I had some Singapore Noodles while Leslie has some Baba-Nonya (local Malay-Chinese mix) food Chicken dish.  We were both VERY happy before going to bed. 
We woke up the next morning in search of breakfast and found a little place on Chulia Street which had some decent eggs, beans and toast before heading off in search of “the festival” as we had absolutely no idea what “the festival” was yet.  In fact, we didn’t even know the name until about an hour ago. 
Our first guess was to head to Little India, which was pretty close by.  We made that trek and found one of the historic walks and headed around looking at Hindu temples and historical sights in Little India.  Eventually, the historical walk was cut off by people setting up stages and the like.  We looked around a little and then a nice lady told us “tonite”.  We took that to mean that we needed to head back later that evening, so we began a quest to find Leslie some new sandals, as one of the pair she had was taken by a dog (I think) back on Koh Lanta. 
Walking down Buckingham Street showed us exactly what Muslim shops look like on a Sunday.  Closed.  They were all shuttered, so we headed back to Chulia and made our way east to the main penang street and ducked into a little Indian place for lunch.
This place has become by far our favorite place to eat on the trip.  It’s on the expensive side  . . . $5 a plate :O, but was absolutely amazing.  I was hungry, but Leslie not so much, so she ordered a cucumber salad while I ordered some chicken dish, and naan flatbread. 
They put down what appeared to be 1 x 1.5 foot leaves in front of us before bringing the salad, followed by the bread and a small bowl filled with sauce and chunks of meat, something between a soup and a chili.  Upon the look of confusion on our face the manager offered to help.  He took the spoon and piled the dish on the leaf, which is the plate.  Then, informed me that I’m supposed to tear off chuncks of the bread and use it to grab the food. 
It was phenomenal.  The flavors were great, the bread warm and the chicken tender.  The staff hovered and it was a bit uncomfortable at first, but the service was good.  We planned to get a taxi to try and find a mall, but then asked the manager.  He informed us that we had a few blocks to go until we made it to the mall and gave us the directions. 
Following his directions brought us first to a street market, followed by a very large and modern looking mall.  On the way there though, we had our first encounter with Thaipusam as we saw a large man dragging a vehicle behind him with ropes attached to metal hooks attached to his back.  Picture: 
We canvassed the mall looking for sandals, but didn’t find what we wanted.  Instead, we managed to get some iced coffee as it was HOT! Post coffee, we went to take a nap. 
Finally, we decided to break down and ask some people at the hostel how to get there.  They told us that the main body of the festival needed to be attended by bus.  All we had to do was go fifty feet and get on the 101, which would take us there. 
So we headed to the bus stop and asked the people there and a nice couple Indian guys said they’d help us get there. 
We all got on the next bus (202) and headed down the road.  We ended up talking with a nice Malaysian woman who has traveled the world and loved talking about it.  Eventually, she talked with the guys we were traveling with and we learned that they weren’t Malaysian-Indian, but actually from India.  Twenty minutes later we found out we were on the wrong bus :(
An hour later we were the only people on the bus as it turned around and started heading back the other way.  The first people to get on were an Indian family of four that was actually FROM Penang, and they were a big help. 
I do not remember the name of the father, mother or 12-year-old girl, but the seven year old boy was named Sanji.  The father was very helpful and began to explain the festival. 
First, he explained that Hinduism is a very liberal religion with many different beliefs.  As he put it, “Ask 10 Hindus what the festival is about and you will get 10 answers”.   He said the basics of the festival is that you make the journey to the temple and dump milk over an idol is a purely symbolic act.  The act in intended to wash away bad forces from the world, such as earthquakes, tsunami, war, etc.  It doesn’t work, but it’s the thought that counts.  The hooks in the back or large nails through the cheeks ( represent penance for your sins and is done to earn forgiveness. If you want more of an explanation, the use wikipedia (
He sure could talk.  His son was quiet for the first ten minutes, but ONLY the first ten minutes.  Sanji pulled on his dad’s sleeve and whispered something in his ear.  His dad said he wanted to talk to me, I said okay.
Then Sanji said in near perfect English, “Planets that are closer to the sun absorb heat and therefore are very, very hot.”  Without pausing he went on, “The first telephone was invented by Alexander Graham Bell, the human femur is stronger than concrete, but it is the job of the human to keep it strong.”  For the next hour, Sanji rattled off “informations” from the science text books he apparently reads for fun.  His father was a bit embarassed, exasperrated and did not know how to make him stop.  Once, he even threatened to take away the science books.  He tried to get Sanji to ask a question about the USA or give some information on Malaysia, but it was just “The first car was built by Enzo Ferrari” and long-winded descriptions of technical devices as I just laughed. 
We finally got back to a stop fairly close to Georgetown and got off the bus.  Almost immediately, an enormous amount of indian people began to gather around us and swept us up in the procession towards the temple.  We’d been informed that it was about a 5 kilometer walk to get to the temple, but it would seem really short as the crowd just swept you along. 
After a block we parted ways with our friends.  They said we “could”, which I wasn’t sure if it meant that we should feel free to, or they wanted to be alone.  We decided to leave them alone and made our way forward. 
Traffic was still trying to make it through the crowd for a few blocks, but then the traffic was blocked off as the crowd became thicker.  Stalls were lined up along the sides, with some being closed or sitting places for watching the procession.  Most appeared to be blasting music out towards the crowd as people danced, jumped and made their way amongst towards the temple. 
Some of the guys were wearing no shoes and large metal contraptions that looked like this : 
The designs were different, but that’ll give you an idea of what they were like.  The swastika has been an Indian religious symbol long before the world had heard of nazis.  They were prevalent.  
Each guy dressed like that had a few handlers blowing whistles to try and make enough space for the guy to get through and not smack anyone with the large metal objects. 
However many of those guys were also the drunk teenagers, with one group having a very large metal spike poking out the top that they’d swing in a circle around belly-height to the music.  People would dance and duck as the spike came across. 
Probably the most elaborate thing we saw was a large vehicle with a goddess of some sort on it being hauled by 5-6 guys with hooks in their backs.  It was pretty impressive.
As we got closer to the temple though, it became incredibly congested.  One of us had to hold onto the other to avoid getting seperated in the crowd.  As it was late, the crowd was a bit drunk and the smell of strong alcohol would come by every once in awhile.  Imagine the front few rows of a rock concert for four kilometers leading to a temple with hooked people, people with needles through their cheeks and massive amounts of revelry and you’ve got the idea.
We made it about halfway before deciding to head back to the hotel and get some food.  We ended up taking a taxi back, which cost us 5RM as opposed to 3RM for the bus.  We ended up talking to the driver and asking him about his home in Bangladesh.  The taxi driver gave us a discount for “when I see her walk it is fun”.  I think we got the “nice guy / hot girl discount”. 
This morning we returned to the same place for breakfast before heading back towards the Indian district and getting a trishaw to take us to Fort Cornwallis foir 8RM. (trishaw:
We then did the “colonial walk” and took pictures of all the historical buildings along the way before going to the Penang State Museum, which charged all of 1RM entrace and gave us a “iNPenang” tourist magazine, which finally taught us the name of the Indian festival.  The colonial walk ended with us being back at the same Indian place we ate at yesterday as we managed to stuff ourselves. 
We’re thinking we’re going to make one more stop in Malaysia and look for a jungle trek before heading onto Singapore and Bali.  We now gotta find out if that’s Cameron Highlands or this other place Leslie’s been looking at while I’m typing this. 
Then, we’re gonna head to the botanical gardens and the ticket center.  With a little luck we’ll be out of here tomorrow morning.