The Good, the Bad, and the Bali.

The Good, the Bad, and the Bali
Before I get back to the dreamy rose of a place that is Bali, a few minor thorns:

The Airbnb I had booked, while lovely and perfectly adequate (well, minus air-conditioning, which I admit is a luxury, but a medical necessity for me) came with three roosters that lived right outside my door. This I didn’t mind at all. But as if their almost impeccable on-the-hour guffawing throughout the night wasn’t enough, it was somewhere around three o’clock in the morning when what sounded like a small army of ROUSes thundered across the roof. Cats? Monkeys? Welcome to Bali.
I lose my ATM card to nothing more than my momentary idiocracy. The sight of $1,000,000 rupiah (about $80) causes me to become dumbly flummoxed enough to quickly shove the money in my wallet and dart out of the vestibule before retrieving my card. Sigh. This is what my dad would call a silly “mental mistake.” Vintage moi. And yes, Mom, I have two other cards that I can withdrawal money from, so no skin. Promise.
I spend 90 minutes one morning trying to find a place to drop off laundry. When I get to the closest place that shows up on my google maps, it’s closed. When I find a second place, it’s attached to a tourist information kiosk (which is typical) which says “open,” but there’s no one around. A second tourist information kiosk I approach has someone working it and a small “laundry” sign, but when I inquire about laundry, the man just shrugs and shakes his head. Fourth time’s a charm. Finally I find an open laundry service- Ganesha Laundry Service. Ganesha, the remover of obstacles, and sweat stains, it seems. 4.5 lbs of laundry: $3.70. Clean clothing: priceless.

Ok, back to Bali bliss. Since my first night had unfolded so nicely without any real pre-meditation, I decide to, to an extent, ditch the itinerary (my family is laughing at me; we grew up being issued itineraries for vacations) and let each day plan, or not plan, itself, resulting in the following fortuitous synchronicities:

Day 3: attend class at Yoga Barn, where I meet Maria, who clues me into Go Jek, the app I will, for the rest of the trip, use to summon a motorbike to get around for roughly $1 a ride.

Day 4: I set out to walk the Campuhan Ridge Walk. It’s not a viscously hard walk, but 1.5 in, the heat and humidity warrant a break along the way at the Karsa Kafe, the only thing showing up on my Google maps, because there is nothing else around. I soon discover that the Karsa Kafe also happens to be the Karsa spa, because Bali. Out in Tjampuhan’s sacred hills in the middle of the rice fields seems the perfect place to experience my first Chakra balance ($9). A cute, young woman holding a bowl of stones ushers me into a gorgeous little room, and motions to lie down on the table. Massages, mediation, or any activity that calls for hyper relaxation of the mind tends to throw my brain into overdrive, so it takes a short while for me to relax and not ask myself “am I doing this right? Am I relaxing properly?!” Honest to Ganesha, those are the thoughts that swirl around, but soon, I’m relaxed, feeling a delicious fuzzy semi-consciousness invading. Time and space disperse, and I’m only slightly aware of the young woman as she moves stones around the different chakra points and acutely aware of her hands as they jerk and twitch ever so slightly against my body. I’ve longed believed in more than ,just one existential plane, and the stones and the energy pulsing through me, through this tiny oasis in the middle of a rice field in Indonesia are, right now, offering further proof. When I leave, the woman looks as disheveled as I look and feel. I manage to stumble to the entrance of the spa, where I pop open the Go Jek app and request a ride. As I drain the last drops from my water bottle, my motor bike ride arrives, and I giddily hop on (sans helmet) floating the 2 lush miles back to town in a post-rain, post-balance calm.

Day 6: After a late afternoon yoga session, I lazily make my way the .75 miles in the direction of home, stopping for a pizza and beer. Ubud is, as far as nightlife goes, the sweet Aunt that retires after dessert and coffee, so I was excited when I heard the faintest wafting of what sounded like live music drifting through the wide open windows as I swigged the last of my beer. It is Saturday night after all, and I adore live acoustic sets. Ten minutes into listening, a young woman with a hijab sits at the bar next to me and quietly orders. Her drink arrives looking so beautiful that without thinking, I turn towards her, blurting out “what did you order?!” “Milkshake,” she says, immediately sliding it towards me, “you want to try?” Samia is a college student from Lyon, France who is spending the year learning about agriculture working at a farm about an hour outside of Ubud. We listen to the music and chat, enjoying this simple, utterly life-affirming moment. We bond over watching a guy try to worm his way into a group of 20-something, tanned, mini-dress-wearing American tourists by buying them a round of shots. It doesn’t go well, and we giggle conspiratorially. Our conversation meanders through life, and love, and hedges into politics when I confess that, as amazing as Bali is, it has, because of the climate of increasing political unrest at home, felt bizarre to be away. Samia confesses a bit of the same. “Same in France. The divide, she mutters, “…that fucking bitch Le Pen…” trailing off as I laugh slack-jawed. No matter the mother tongue, or worshiped deity, or native continent, world events have set the veins in both of us on fire. She lets me read a page of her journal and a lone stops me in my tracks: what do we want to leave this earth, when even the broken letters of heart spell earth.
Until we meet again, Samia. Thank you for the unforgettable experience
and gift of your friendship. xo.
Day 13. My last night in Bali before a quick 2 day stopover in Kuala Lumpur before I head home, so I decide to hit up the creperie I found earlier in the week and indulge in a dinner and dessert crepe. And the whole moment is lovely. Until it isn’t.

I used to think that Paris was the worse place to be if one was sans paramour. But I was wrong. Bali is worse. It’s quite cliche and easy to fall in love in Paris strolling through the manicured gardens in the shadows of monuments after a liter of wine at lunch while romantic accordion music follows you around. This is not hard. But that is artifice. No one does passion and romance like Paris. But Bali is a more real kind of paradise. If Paris is the eyelash-batting coquette aiming to tease, Bali is the shy wallflower aiming to please. Bali shows you the beauty and the scars. The ruin and the rapture mixed. That is real. That is Bali.

Namaste. XO

The last night his me a bit hard, as I couldn’t help but want to experience such a magic. I walk in a very thin rain the 10 minutes back to my hotel, barricade myself in, and cry for ten minutes. I cry because I had just enjoyed a wonderful meal alone. I cry because earlier in the week, politicians in power began the process of revoking healthcare for millions literally overnight in a viscous show of spite. I cry because I am mourning the departure of the most remarkable president I have known in my lifetime so far, maybe ever. I cry because my country is about to inaugurate a joke. I cry because I don’t have a hair dryer. And I cry because I have, on this last this evening, felt the sting of a kind of lonely that I haven’t in a long while.

The next morning I awake to a sun gently muscling through a just finished rain. This is Bali. This is life.

Liz Gilbert Made Me Do It: Bali

Liz Gilbert Made Me Do It: Bali 

In third (fourth?) grade, I did a report on Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, because the words themselves sounded so mysterious and the culture seemed as foreign and opposite as could get from my suburban-raised self. And then Liz Gilbert happened. And then that damned movie with Julia Roberts and Javier Bardem happened, and, well, Bali.

Day 1:

Cultural immersion begins on the plane; as we board, a strange kind of peppy, foreign interpretation of western music is blaring and I feel like any minute the flight attendants are going to come around with shots. Ok, so we going to party. And then, during the announcements, the flight attendant says, in a super chipper voice, “the import of any illegal drugs into Indonesia is a very serious crime subject to the death penalty.” Oh, so, no party then.

Customs goes off without a hitch, and I smile kinda dumb-like when the agent slams the immigration stamp down on my passport, making that wonderful ka-thud. Side note: As I am checking in for my flight in Singapore, the gate agent asks me if I had American dollars ($35) for the visa into Indonesia. “No, I don’t,” I say. “Oh, well, you need. You can go get cash out of the machine, and change into dollars,” he says. “Ok,” I smile, “thank you.”  I intend to do no such thing. I had researched tourist visas for Bali well and knew the drill. I arrive in Bali and they don’t even look at this scrawny, pasty white girl twice.

It’s about an hour by car to Ubud and within minutes I know two things. I am never renting or riding a scooter. The traffic lanes seem to serve as gentle suggestions, rather than steadfast rules, and there seem to be very few traffic lights. Traffic is a kind of every-man-for himself whirlwind, and more than a few times I see families of 3 or 4 chugging along the highway with young children sandwiched in between the adults, helmets totally optional, as are shoes, it seems. And the really lucky kids who are small enough get to stand up on the scooter/motor bike, right behind the steering wheel in front of mom or dad, having the time of their life as we cruise a cool 40 miles an hour.

Finally, in the middle of the afternoon downpour (because I am a genius and came during the rainy season), I’m safely ensconced in my home stay. By the time I settle, wash my face, and pour a cup of hot tea provided by the host, the rain has stopped, and I sit under the covered balcony, gentle thunder rolling perfectly in the background as the sky brightens.

After dinner (where I go local all the way – Nasi Campur (chicken and rice) and a Bintang beer – $11 with tax/tip), I start to walk around the three main streets of Ubud, which form a kind of town square and have an amazing variety of restaurants and shops. Merchants are hawking their wares; taxi drivers are looking for fares. On a street corner, a lady thrust a brochure at me.

“You like see Balinese dancing? At palace,” she nods and smiles. Actually, I really do. Fifteen minutes later, I’m sitting in the courtyard of Ubud Palace as the show is starting, thoroughly gobsmacked at how the entire evening has unraveled so organically to perfection.

Day 3:

Welp, I’m on a scooter zipping through traffic holding on for dear life. Oh, and I’m in flip flops.

This is how it went down. I had, until now, been walking everywhere, but a few places I want to go are going to require a taxi. Having been informed about the taxi mafia (a.k.a. drivers that jack up fares for us unsuspecting out-of-towners), I enlist the help of a friendly policeman, who waves a waiting driver over. After I negotiate the price slightly, the driver, a kind-eyed Balinese man somewhere in his thirties, nods and hands me a helmet. Turns out taxis come in either two or four wheel varieties.

I blanche. “Oh,” I stutter like the naive idiot I am, “I wanted a car.”

He smiles and shrugs apologetically, gesturing to the thick traffic that clogs the main streets of Ubud. “Is better, the bike. You there faster much.”

He is right. The roads are barely a car and a half wide in many places, especially the central part of town, so a motorbike is, I’m learning, a much quicker way to get around. Since I’ll be damned if I’m missing the yoga class with the hot Venezuelan teacher named Carlos I’ve been cyber stalking since last night, I gulp, summon my inner Liz Gilbert, and slap on the helmet.

As soon as I find myself at Yoga Barn, I quickly start to mentally rearrange the rest of my stay, knowing that one class here is not going to be enough. Carlos plays soft reggae during class. By the time he plays guitar and sings during savasana, the resting period at the end of class, I’m a goner.

Lunch in the cafe afterwards finds me chatting with a woman from California. Maria, who clues me into a few local tricks, the best of which is an Uber-type app that will (among other things) summon a taxi for way cheap, effectively cutting transportation costs, such as the 1 hour haul back to the airport, in half. And no more worrying about the taxi mafia. The app also delivers food.

“Maria,” I say, “you are my new best friend.”
To Be Continued: that time in Bali where Aimee gets a Chakra balance

A Tale of Two (or Three) Meals: Singapore and Bali Part 2

A Tale of Two (or Three) Meals – Singapore and Bali Part 2

If New York City is the intimidating, rough-and-tumble, foul-mouthed, yet beloved, older brother, Singapore is the quirky, neon-loving, sweet and innocent tween sister who is constantly checking in on Facebook from the mall and posting exotic food pics on Instagram. Seriously. This city is made for shopping and eating. It also has a bit of an identity crisis. It’s utterly and beautifully cosmopolitan catering to the urban sophisticate, but also has natural green space to rival Central Park many, many times over, as well as the thriving Chinatown and Little India neighborhoods.

Though the name Singapore comes from the Malay words “singa” meaning “lion” and “pura” meaning “city”, the story behind the meaning of the nickname, and the city’s mascot, a mash up of the head and neck of a lion and the body of a fish called a Merlion, are fairytail fodder for debate.

Lore has it that, in 1299, a Prince Sang Nila Utama from the Srivijya empire landed on the island and, while hunting, saw a gorgeous unknown beast, which he was told was a lion, though it’s generally acknowledged that it was most likely a Malay tiger. He believed this a good omen, so he settled the city, established diplomatic ties with China, and subsequently ruled for 48 years. The merlion mascot is a nod to the “lion” seen by Prince Sang and the city’s first incarnation as a fishing village.

But back to food. One of the paradoxes of traveling is that I never feel more American than when I am overseas, especially when it comes to dining. Sometimes I am (accidentally) the “silly little American girl” tourist, and sometimes I am the American glaring at the “ugly American” tourist. Exhibits A and B to come.

On the third night, I take a left instead of a right (Thanks for the tip, Bugs) and stumble upon what would have happened if Dr Seuss had built a riverwalk spanning 5 action-packed blocks where adults can eat and drink while kids play in a central splash pad. This hub is awash in bright, pastel colored buildings, neon signs, and tons of restaurants/bars with choice patio seating. Called Clarke Quay, it’s arguably the younger, hipper of the three quays, a top destination for locals and tourists, and a must-do in Singapore.

I settle on a place with live music (covers of 90s songs, anyone?) and order up some edamame and one of Singapore’s signature dishes – chicken satay, which is a fancy way of saying yummy roasted chicken on a stick. The satay is fantastic, as is the atmosphere of the general public having a grand time in a wonderfully civilized and courteous manner. The minor blight is the American gent a few tables away who decided to turn the band’s cover of 500 Miles by The Proclaimers into his own personal karaoke moment at decibel level 8 out of 10 and proceeds to shout – I wish I were joking – “Freebird!” after the song. Sigh. This is why we can’t have nice things.

The next day, I’m determined to take on Chinatown and experience another Singaporean must-do: the hawker food stalls of Chinatown. I exit the Metro at the Chinatown station and get that “we’re not in Kansas anymore” feeling, but I’m excited. I also take it as a good omen that, as my eyes adjust to the light, the first thing one sees emerging from the station are the elaborate and massive decorations about 5 traffic lanes wide by 3 blocks long. The Chinese New Year is approaching, and it’s the Year of the Rooster, so at the center of the decorations is a gigantic, ornate, well, you know. Ah themes, and timing.

But, back to food. Rows and rows of narrow food stalls, but I have taste buds set on a specific one: a food stall that, in 2016, received a Michelin star rating where the entrees are under $4 called Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle. There is a short line to queue, but that is easily survived by drooling over the delicious-looking rotisserie chickens hanging just above the cashier. Making our way inside, the solo gentleman in front of me pauses to selfie in front of the sign. I smile. He notices that I’m smiling, nods, and smiles back. It’s an event. I get the chicken rice, another signature Singaporean dish. The chicken is fall-of-the-bone amazing, and the rice is sticky with a hint of sweet. Food: $3.60. Experience: priceless.

That night, I return to Clarke Quay, drawn to a place called Ramen Keisure Lobster King. Suddenly craving some fried rice and goya, I queue up and am quickly seated at a community table. I slowly glance around, trying to take gauge my surroundings. I notice that I definitely, at least at this moment, am the only blonde around. Cool. I order fried rice, 2 orders of Goya, and ask if they have Sapporo beer because when in Rome. “Of course,” the waiter answers. “Great,” I say, “a pint of Sapporo.” It’s not until my beer arrives I learn that here, a pint can mean ½ liter, or almost 17oz. Whoops.

As I devour the scrumptious rice and goya, I hear the same male voices bust out in some kind of jovial, incomprehensible to me, toast every so often. It’s by no means too loud, but it does fill the restaurant for a few seconds each time. The bill paid, I go to leave when the source of the periodic jubilation is revealed: the whole staff is bidding each table a goodbye as they exit. One foot out the door, I turn my head to return the good bye and promptly catch my other foot on door. Thanks, Sapporo. Fried Rice/Goya/Sapporo: $35. Lesson in ordering beer like a local: priceless.

To be continued.

Sayonara, 2016. Hello, Singapore!

I thought it would be fun to start blogging about the travels, life, and love. Below is the first post about my current trip to Singapore and Bali. Look for new posts over the following couple weeks!
Sayonara, 2016. Hello, Singapore!  (Part 1)
In its truest meaning, sayonara is a Japanese salutation used when there is an impending sense of finality surrounding a situation. It doesn’t just mean “good bye.” It signifies there will likely never be another meeting.
It’s 1:55 am on January 1st, and I’m finally about to shut my eyes after my first New Year’s out in three years. In truth, I had gotten home (sober, because I’m 41) an hour ago and proceeded to send a Happy New Year text to someone I shouldn’t have (because I’m human and it’s freaking New Years). 45 minutes later, I turn off the lights, say a silent sayonara to this dumpster fire of a year, and offer up a prayer gratitude that I’ll be on a plane to Singapore in less than twelve hours on my second annual New Year’s Day trip. I also resist the temptation to put a hit out on Cupid, as I tend to do annually on this day, but instead ask for a smidge of luck in the love department for the coming year.
On the flight from Austin to SFO, I start thinking about what changes I might need to be willing to seriously make to shake up some romance. Since I feel the universe operates with reciprocity, I know that while I must hold trust and faith close, I must also be willing to get off my yoga-pant wearing butt and continue to do the inner and outer work. Evolution is constant and the number of doorways to new understanding is infinite. A couple questions I try to ask myself a lot, with success and failure depending on the situation, are “am I acting with kindness to others and myself” and “am I being the kind of partner I would want?” So, while I believe in divine timing, even if she is a maddening, saucy minx, I also believe that love, and finding love, is action.
A few habits up for tweaking: would it kill me to consider wearing a real lipstick instead of my root beer flavored Smackers lip gloss? Perhaps I could invest in some actual lingerie instead of underwear that comes in packs of three that I occasionally throw in my basket among the bananas and granola bars on a Target run? Is this the year I expand my shoe-wearing beyond cowboy boots and glitter Toms with holes in the toe? Maybe I embrace cooking dishes with actual ingredients besides water and butter? Just spitballing.
In SFO airport, I savor a simple tomato basil bisque. It’s real and nourishing, a nice way to start the year. As I sip, I take a Facebook quiz titled “what does your love life look like in 2017.” Mid-bite, the answer appears: Alone and With No One. I gulp the rest of my soup down, quickly gather up my things, and head for the nearest place that sells alcohol where I spend $17 on a glass of wine a chocolate mousse dessert that I finish in four bites. Eff you, 2017. Eff. You.
I text one of my besties a screenshot of my results, to which she immediately replies with a delightful string of heartfelt expletives, further cementing my adoration. I board what feels like more than just a flight, quietly challenging 2017 to surprise me and challenging myself to do the same.
Next stop, Singapore. The Lion City. Bring it.