Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"But I need you today, oh mandi"

I thought you all would enjoy that song on a continuous loop in your heads. If I have to hear it constantly on my internal radio, you all should too. Share the joy, and all...

We have been in Indonesia for 8 days and seen 4 cities and a lot of countryside. Our flight to Jakarta was uneventful, the line for immigrations was interminable (though we did end up chatting with a nice young man from Pittsburgh, a Penn State student of mathematics and Mandarin, who's been studying in Singapore for the past year and a half), the city was huge, and we only stayed overnight and left the next morning for Bogor to see the botanical gardens. The gardens were quite pretty, though not nearly as well signed as you'd think botanical gardens should be. They did have an impressive variety of bamboos, orchids, and palms. From there we took off to Bandung for just an overnight in order to catch the train to Yogyakarta. The ride was bee-you-tee-ful: up into the mountains, through verdant rice paddies and plantations, just lovely!

Yogyakarta is supposedly the historical and cultural center of the island of Java, so we were looking forward to exploring the sights. When we arrived, we promptly got lost (between my already questionable sense of direction, the lack of street signs, the incorrect scale of our map, and our out of whack internal compasses from crossing the equator, we really didn't stand much of a chance) and spent an hour circumnavigating the train station and its surrounding neighborhoods searching for the street we wanted before giving in and relying on one of the local hotel touts to take us there. Best of all, it was only TWO BLOCKS from the train station! Anyway, we got a room and some dinner and an introduction to the batik industry for which "Yogya" is famous. Everywhere you go there are people selling batik everything. And you can't go to any of the sights without being invited to a "special gallery, only open the day you're there, the only government sponsored school of batik," and so on. Between fending off these folks and the becak (bicycle trishaws) drivers, it's absolutely exhausting. We did manage a visit to the sultan's palace one day, where we saw traditional Javanese dance accompanied by a gamelan (orchestra) and some really good examples of batik in their museum. The orchestras are comprised of gongs, metal and wood xylophones, drums, and singers. Sound like an awful combo? Your would be wrong, it actually was really nice.

The next day, we went to Borobudur, which is a 9th century Buddhist temple and a World Heritage site. It's from the same era as the temples of Angkor, but stylistically is completely different. The temple is 5 levels which rise like a stepped pyramid with a huge, central stupa. The scale is amazing! Like Angkor, all surfaces are carved, but the subjects are different, and the reliefs are much more deeply carved at Borobudur. It was, overall, mighty impressive.

This afternoon we leave for Bali (a 15 hour bus ride and ferry combo, leave at noon, arrive at 7am tomorrow), so we will (hopefully) be able to say we spent our anniversary on Bali, sleeping off the aches associated with a long bus ride and the usual case of "bus butt" (itchy, bumpy, chicken skin on the lower cheeks- not to be confused with "crotch rot," from hiking too long in sweaty pants).

Oh, since this is the first time we've been across the equator, here are a couple of notes: the days are getting shorter, I have no idea which direction is north, and, most importantly, the water in the sink whirls clockwise. My most scientific study involved toothpaste spit in the sink. Yes, I used the drainplug and let the foamy spit and water still before pulling the plug. And I repeated the experiment several times (one doesn't want icky breath) with the same result. And yes, I am easily amused!

PS: mandi is Indonesian for bathroom!

Toodles for now!!!

Friday, April 9, 2010

It's a zoo

Formula 1 frenzy is over for the time being. Last weekend was the race at Sepang, which is about 25 miles from Kuala Lumpur. Colin went to the track Friday to watch the practice sessions, and both of us went Saturday and Sunday for qualifying and the actual race. It was quite an experience to be part of the festivities after seeing the races on television. The cars are smaller than I imagined, and the noise was DEAFENING!!! Fortunately, we both brought earplugs. Saturday, I tried (with reasonable success) to memorize the teams' car paint schemes (none of them have numbers) and drivers in preparation for the big event. This year's race was the first with no rain in its 12-year history at Sepang, and it finished without major incident or injury to any drivers. All in all, a loud, sweaty, fun weekend was had by all 97,000 spectators.
Since we'd already seen what we want to see of KL and had a week to kill before our flight to Indonesia, we took off on Monday for Taiping. It's a small city off the normal tourist trail, and for the first time since we arrived in Malaysia, we actually felt like strangers in a strange land (we encountered no other non-Asians during our stay). There's not a whole lot to do there besides look at the pretty Chinese storefronts and 100-plus year old government buildings, but it's really a nice, quiet, and relaxed town. Its jewel is the Lake Gardens, which were landscaped in the 1880s on an abandoned tin mine. The pair of lakes spread like fingers through the park, and the trees and flowers are beautiful! We saw many vividly colored birds, more than anywhere else, in the trees and hunting bugs in the grass as well. The real surprise was the zoo in the center of the park- we thought it would be a tiny one since we circled the outside perimeter looking for the entrance, but apparently it's in a wormhole and expands once you're inside. The zoo was pretty nice (it's not the NC zoo or the National zoo) and has mainly animals that are native to SE Asia and the subcontinent with some African lions, hippos, and rhinoceroses thrown in the mix. We were fortunate to be there during feeding hours, so everyone was out and about munching their snacks. The local troupe of macaques who live around the zoo but aren't part of the zoo looked forlorn (what are we, chopped liver?!?! Oh, I guess that's the trade-off for being FREE!) when the zookeeper fed the animals in the enclosure below them
We're now back in GeorgeTown (yes, again!) until Tuesday, when we fly to Jakarta for the last leg of the trip (for now). We are bypassing Sumatra after all (it's raining, they just had yet another earthquake and more civil unrest in Aceh again. Call us wusses if you want, but we'd rather live to fight another day. Plus, Jakarta has a MUCH better reputation for stability- HA!). Our tentative itinerary includes Java, Bali, Lombok, and the Gili Islands, but it is subject to change with our whims.
We have uploaded the photos from Malacca, Kota Bharu, Kuantan, Kuala Lumpur, the Perhentians, and are working on Taiping (with a bunch from the zoo). Alas, you will need to look for Silat (the bizzarro martial art) examples yourselves- we deleted our movie (referenced in the previous blog post) in order to get photos uploaded. Anyway, toodles for now!