Posts Tagged With: dirty

Beijing: A Wall, another zoo, and some people who need putting in it.

Beijing was a good ending to China. It meant we didn’t leave on the huge negative hatred we had by the end of Xi’an. Or maybe we’d just got used to the spitting, squatting, staring and shoving by this point. Bad things in China begin with the letter ‘S’. There’s an episode of Sesame Street they never aired.

We started out, as I’m sure most tourists do, with Tiananmen Square. However, with two Metro lines to choose from (Tiananmen East and Tiananmen West) we were spoilt for choice.

“It must be a really big square if it needs TWO Metro stops,” I said to Ashley, quite excited.

“It’s the biggest in the world I think,” came the reply.

We arise from the ground to be greeted by a recognisable red building to the right of us with Mao framed nice and big in the middle…and a road to the left.

“Well, that doesn’t really count as the biggest square in the world. There’s a road going through it. I feel conned again,” I said, slightly disappointed.

After the mandatory photos of the big red Mao building, we headed back through the underpass to cross the road.

“Oh, ok. This is the square. I’ll let them off.”

We’d got out the wrong side of the road to appreciate the vastness of the square. Blocked by two rather large screens showing the beautiful sights of China on a loop, yes, but vast all the same.

Not quite sure how to get through to the Forbidden City without paying to visit a garden, we headed in the other direction and found ourselves in a modern looking, conveniently located tourist street. It didn’t take long to put the ‘2008’ date on the drains, artificial flowers and still fully stocked Olympic shop together and figure out that this street must have been built in time for the Olympics. It was like Disneyland. Until you notice a depressed sheep sat head in hands against a wall. Very odd.

By the time we left fakeville and reached the Forbidden City (through a garden we had to pay for) there was only an hour until closing time. And a homeless woman was having a breakdown. So we decided to do it another day. We did however, have time to go into a park behind the Forbidden City that gives the most amazing (but misty) view of the Forbidden City if you climb to a spot where an Emperor once hung himself. A bizarre sentence, yes, it may seem.

And so, as day two arrived in Beijing, it was time to hit the Wall. The Great Wall. One of the Seven Wonders of The World. A day to remember. It snowed a little. Doesn’t get much better!

And it was really cold. Really, really, really cold. But it was snowing! How could we not go to the Wall the day it snowed?! Imagine the beautiful photos! It’s higher up there, there’s got to be more snow! So we carried on regardless. There was no more snow.

The two main ways to see the Wall are tour or public bus. As the public bus cost a 10th of the price of the cheapest tour, we opted for public bus. We had a Metro station, and instructions to walk 500m east to the bus stop when we get there. However, east (or in fact north, south or west) is difficult to determine when you haven’t got a compass. Thankfully, a very nice man helped us out and pointed us in the right direction. Our new instruction was “second on the left”.

Before we reached “second on the left”, we found a sign pinned to a tree saying “919”, four Westerners and a man in uniform.

“Badaling? Badaling?” said the official man.

“Yes, yes. Badaling from here?”

“Yes, yes.” He spoke very little English. To make this easier, I’ve put the conversation in English.

“Ok. How much is it?”

“55 Yuan per person, per way.”

“55? I read 12!”

“No, no.”

Hmm. Something didn’t add up. So us and the other 4 Westerners worked as a team and found another bus stop further down – this time, the “919” was a sticker on a tree! Is that better than pinned to a tree?…

The same thing happened, only this guy wasn’t so sneaky,

“Yes, 55 each way. But with one, two, three in car, taxi, 400 Yuan.”

“Ahh, no, it’s ok, we’ll take the bus.”

Eventually, we found it. A bus stop specifically for 919 buses, full of 919 buses. At least 6 of them. Go team!

Our team of taxi tout avoiders had somewhat dispersed in the crowd but somehow me, Ashley and an American, Matthew, had managed to stay together. Matthew was a lovely bloke. He was also black – a rarity in Asia – as was proved when we arrived at the Wall for him to be met by two in-awe Chinese asking for photos with him. Good job he’s a good sport.

We weren’t sure when to stop walking the Wall. I mean, we didn’t want to end up out in the sticks, but thankfully our worries were put to rest by a huge sign in a square block of the Wall that read “NO VISITOR”.

We did it. We went as far as we could – I guess you could say we walked the Wall?…

We left the Wall feeling pretty good, if not slightly cold, which is more than can be said for when we left Beijing Zoo the next day. At least 50% of the animals caged were more intelligent than at least 50% of the visitors. Banging on the glass – including the gorilla enclosure, letting kids shout really loudly through the wires and  feeding crisps to the zebras. By the time we got to crisp/zebra girl, we’d had enough of “subtly” saying, “Oh, there’s a sign there – what dos it say? Oh, don’t bang? Oh ok then – I won’t bang the glass!”

Ashley approached crisp/zebra girl after we’d watched her for too long.

“Hey, hello, excuse me. Come here,” he ushered her towards the signboard. She looked stupidly and didn’t move. I joined Ashley, “Come, follow.” She still didn’t move.

“The sign says no feeding. Don’t feed them,” Ashley pointed to the crisps, “They’re wild animals. They can’t eat crisps.”

“Ahh, I know. I know.” Wow, she speaks.

We then proceeded to sit behind her for about 10 minutes. She knew we were there and didn’t feed them…until we eventually had to walk off.

Despite stressing out at the zoo and getting a tad cold, we had a pretty good time in Beijing. The Wall was more impressive than the Warriors and I think the Olympics must have worked wonders for upgrading the city here and there. That said, we were very much looking forward to getting out of China and into Japan.

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Categories: China, East Asia | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Observations on Myanmar.

In theory, I shouldn’t like Burma. It made me ill, at least twice; it’s full of stray dogs and skinny horses; the internet connection is like the one I had at home in 1999, which at the time was amazing but we’d moan about now in England. All the reasons I didn’t like Indonesia exist in Burma. I think there’re two differences this time though.

  1. I was prepared. I knew it’d be a bit grubby, I knew the internet would be rubbish and I knew travel would be slow and on terrible roads.
  2. The people are lovely. The local people gave up their seats for me countless times on buses, the hotel and restaurant staff went above and beyond the call of duty so many times and if people want to help you, they’re not after money!

Burma is a really interesting place to visit, and after the indecision to come or not, I’m glad I did. Here are a few things I’ve noticed;

  • The lack of internet access and blocking of Facebook, Hotmail, YouTube etc is overhyped. I was never once denied access to any of the above, although I couldn’t load the BBC or any reliable news websites. I think the government is changing, albeit slowly. The speed is sometimes annoying though. The only place I had problems getting on the internet was Bagan – which was only when there were power cuts.
  • Incidently, Bagan is the only place I’ve had power cuts – also slightly overhyped – most hotels have generators. The only thing is sometimes the air-con doesn’t run off the generator, presumably because it sucks the power.
  • Skype is always loaded on the computers and often advertised on the banners outside the internet cafes…but it rarely works and when it does, it’s only really good enough for audio only. Mandalay is the only place I got it working.
  • Betel nut, Betel nut, Betel nut. You’re walking down the street in Burma, someone walks past and smiles baring their horrible, red teeth. You look down in disgust and are met with a sea of red blobs of spit on the pavement (or more often than not, sand) below. Eww. It’s the betel nut stuff that the locals mix with tobacco, paste into a leaf with lime juice, wrap up and chew. When the flavour is gone and they’ve spat out enough phlegm to choke a small child, they pop a new one in. They can get through loads in one day. Personally, I think it’s a disgusting thing, worse than smoking. I would rather breathe in someone’s dirty cigarette smoke than walk through someone’s red betel phlegm.  But hey, who am I to judge.
  • Through The Wire. Telephones are expensive business in Burma. Mobile phones cost hundreds, if not thousands, of pounds to own and foreign SIM cards are blocked. I was surprised I saw as many mobile phones as I did to be honest. What I was more surprised by was how many of these I saw;

There are so many people who make their living from having an old landline phone or two wired up to the line from the street side! It’s amazing.

  • All That Glitters Ain’t Gold. Let me give you a bit of background knowledge first; in 2005, the government changed the capital of the country to a random town with no real historic relevance because their astrologer told them to. Wow. So they neglected poor, old Yangon and headed north with plans for a swanky new capital. On my first of many night buses, we skirted the “new” capital. It’s weird. Loads of big, new-build, empty hotels, glowing, empty shopping malls and vast, empty, smooth tarmacked roads…
  • Speaking of buses…if you get a bus in Burma, which is the only form of transport not controlled by the government so it’s recommended; your driver will honk his horn at anything. And it’s a bloody annoying horn. Really loud and honky. And he doesn’t care if it’s 3am and you’re sleep deprived. It doesn’t appear the other passengers care either because no one bats an eyelid.
  • Pure, honest kindness. I’ve already gushed over how lovely the people are here – here’s another example. In Bagan, we got horse carts. The next day, I was walking back to my hotel and I’m met with a “Remember me?!” It was our driver! After a quick catch up (didn’t take long, it hadn’t even been 24 hours) he offered me a free ride back to my hotel. When we pulled up and I gave him a dollar, he genuinely didn’t want it. I made him take it. For that I think I’m probably the mean one.
  • Despite a bizarre political history, Burma is changing. I’m glad I visited when I did. One of my fondest memories is sitting in my hotel reception in Bagan watching BBC News with the hoteliers and giving them a thumbs up at the political prisoners being released. Since returning home and seeing Myanmar all over the news, I’ve taken a real interest in how well things are going at the moment for the country and can’t wait to see what happens next.

If you come to Burma, which I’d recommend, you need to be prepared to begin or end bus journeys at unsociable hours, sit for longer than you’d want in an internet café and possibly have to go to the doctors! Above all, however, you need to be prepared to be welcomed with open arms, to chat with your new found Burmese friends and to make some long lasting memories.

Categories: Burma, South East Asia | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Burmese Days – Part One

This is two weeks worth of blogging. I’ve tried to make it as short as possible and break it up to save your eyesight and sanity! Here goes…

Yangon – The Neglected Capital.

Day..well, night one.

After a long flight with a very annoying American who reeeeeeally wants to go to Nepal behind me, I eventually arrived in Burma at about 6 in the evening. Immigration was a slow one as expected, but once through and ready to get my bag, I was met with a “Are you travelling alone?” and not from a local!

“Yes,” I replied.

“Would you like to share a taxi into town? I ask because I was travelling alone and I know how it can be quite expensive sometimes, but now my girlfriend has joined me. Do you know where you’re going?”

“Ooo, that would be good. Not really, I just wrote the first one in the book on the visa form! Do you?”

“We were thinking of trying this one.” Out came the Lonely Planet. It looked like a pretty good hotel so I accepted, and we even managed to barter the taxi price down from $12 to $9 so it was a right old saving! When we arrived at the hotel, I offered if they wanted to meet for dinner later.

We followed the guidance of our hotel man and found ourselves in a Burmese cuisine restaurant with buffet trays of various, ominous looking meats. I opted for the vegetables. Not wanting to be caught out before I’d begun, I checked the price before settling down, it was 500 Kyat for the veg, 500 for rice and another 500 for a lime juice. 1500 = just over a quid! Not bad.

When the food came, wow. A feast is the only way to describe it. We were given a plate of vegetables (for free), a selection of fish pastes and chillies (for free) and a bowl of soup each (for free). The table was full!

Day Two

I agreed with Daniel and Sarit to meet at half nine the following morning for breakfast, and what a breakfast it was! As far as hostel breakfast goes, you’re lucky if you get a choice of jam. Here however, you’d be hard pushed not to have a different jam each day for a week!

After that brilliant start to the day, we headed for a stroll around the city. We soon found ourselves in the midst of a market full of the biggest prawns I think I’ve ever seen, the weirdest looking vegetables I think I’ve ever seen and the most adorable little badminton players I’ve definitely ever seen! This led to Aung San Market, where you can indulge the tourist within with jade, longyis and tat to gather dust on your mantelpiece. The thing that I can’t get my head around is how these people make money when their neighbouring stall is selling exactly the same thing. I’ve been baffled ever since Bali on this one. The most confusing was four shops in a row in Kuching selling personalized rubber stamps. How much demand can there be in one city for personalized rubber stamps? Are four shops really necessary? And if so, would it not be better for the customers so they don’t have to travel so far and the shop owners so they had cornered a gap in the market if they spread themselves out a little? Just a thought.

Next stop was Sule Paya, a monument of some description in the middle of a roundabout. It cost $2 to get in and a “donation” to leave your shoes. When you’ve seen one mediocre temple, you’ve seen them all, so we gave it a miss. Not before almost having a sparrow thrust into my hand by a woman sat on the pavement with a closed basket full of the birds.

“It’s lovely but I can’t take it home! What am I going to do with it?!”

Seriously, why was she trying to sell me a bird?! That’s worse than the ones who try and sell you an oversized wooden dragon that would definitely be classed as excess baggage on Air Asia. How do they think we can get these things home?!

After a chat to decide whether or not we’d go in, I turned back around to be offered another sparrow by another girl. What’s going on here?!

“I can’t get a bird home! I travel for a long time. And my country won’t let it in!”

“No, you take and it fly away. For good luck. Please, you want. Take it.”

Now there’s a business plan – rubber stamp sellers take note – collect something from nature that will cost you nothing, cage it, sell it to a tourist to put it back where it came from. Dragon’s Den would love that one. No spending, 100% profit! Needless to say, I didn’t buy a bird.

In the afternoon, after Daniel and Sarit had left for their bus, I headed to Shwedagon Paya, which is supposedly where eight of Buddha’s hairs lay. I decided to get the bus, which was nice because someone gave up their seat for me – people are genuinely lovely here. The Paya was very impressive! A big gold stupa surrounded by uncountable individual temples. Oh – and there’s an elevator, just as Buddha would have wished.

When I got the bus back, someone gave up their seat for me again! It seemed too early to go back to my hostel so I headed back to the market for some food and found a little noodle woman, who gave me a big bowl of noodles, fried onions, chili sauce and two bowls of soup for 300 Kyat! 30p! My phrasebook came in very handy when locals gradually made their way over. I can’t help but think I did wonders for her business that night. I left just after dark, thinking my chatter with the locals had brought in the night – it hadn’t – it was only 6.15pm, but pitch black! I walked back through the market, the fish heads now stuffed with candles to illuminate their goods, and came back for some rest ready for my bus tomorrow night to Inle Lake.

Day three

Day three was spent in a supermarket getting food for a long bus journey, relaxing in my room before a long bus journey and trying to get comfy on a long bus journey. Nothing much happened of interest other than my iPod lasted well over its stated battery life and we stopped for dinner at a restaurant where all the waiters and waitresses were children, they must have been aged between 10 and 16. Is that child labour?!

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Categories: Burma, South East Asia | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Kuala Lum…phuurr, what’s that smell?

And so I’ve just got on the bus heading towards the Cameron Highlands to leave Kuala Lumpur.  And I’ve encountered my first Malaysian asshole. After waiting for far longer than I should have for the bus and beginning to think it was not going to arrive, I was quite relieved to finally sit down in the seat the bus driver pointed me to. I wave goodbye to my mum and sister who are, well my mum is, looking up and down the bus to locate me. Then these two men get on, one of them stares at my seat number, wanders up and down a bit and then comes back down for another seat number staring contest.

“The driver told me to sit here,” I said, “I think my ticket says four but he’s sat in four….what does his ticket say?” I waggle my finger towards seat number four. No-one bothers to ask seat number four guy what his ticket says for quite a while. Eventually, after a lot of asshole hovering in the aisle, someone asks seat number four guy. His ticket doesn’t say four! Asshole’s friend sits down next to me, and despite there being plenty of seats still free on the bus, asshole keeps hovering.

“Would you like me to move?” I asked, slightly annoyed at the fact I’d had to close my loading laptop twice already.

“Yes, yes,” he responds.

“Right, well just say so then. It’s not that difficult, no need to cause a problem is there?” I mumble, loud enough for the English people in front of me to hear, but quick enough for the asshole not to be able to understand. Quite glad now that his English was minimal. I contemplated throwing a difficult to translate insult in there for good measure but decided against it.

Despite this, Kuala Lumpur has been rather good! I was joined here by my mum and sister, Hayley, who took an impromptu holiday to see me for a few days after the disastrous start that was not being allowed on my plane, having a rubbish host in Yogyakarta and consequently a rubbish (actual) birthday. I was glad of the company. It was nice to be able to have someone I know to show my photos to, moan about how crazy dirty Indonesia is and show my surfing bruises to. I think Hayley had suffered a bout of culture shock by the time I arrived, as she found Kuala Lumpur very dirty and smelly! To be fair, it is a little, but it’s not a patch on Indonesia!

I was met at KL Sentral bus station and taken to the hotel to drop off my bags. I was then shown the sights of Central Market, where I let some little fish nibble on my feet! I know this seems to be the latest trend in the UK at the moment, but I’d not got around to having it done there and was keen to try it. Until I took my shoes off and faced the fish. It’s actually quite scary!

“They have no teeth,” the fish spa lady informed me, “They won’t bite, just massage.”

I eventually mustered up the courage to dip my feet in. It feels very odd. Difficult to describe but I’d recommend giving it a go.

We headed to “Kenny Rogers Roasters” for dinner. Yeah, Kenny Rogers as in the country music star. He was plastered all over the walls. I don’t know if he’s affiliated but it was an odd restaurant. My mum had asked if I wanted some Western food for a change, and for the sake of my sister’s dislike for rice and noodles, I agreed. Looking back, I think Hayley would have preferred a huge steaming bowl of rice boiled in Kuala Lumpur sewer water. We both opted for pasta as meat on the bone isn’t our strong point. I chose the Chicken Macaroni Cheese and she went for the Tangy Chicken Spaghetti. Mine consisted of macaroni shells, fake cheese sauce and those bits of sandwich chicken you buy in Tesco. Had I become so accustomed to nasi goreng that this was gross?

Apparently not as Hayley didn’t much enjoy her meal either. She had the same chicken as me, the macaroni substituted with spaghetti and instead of fake cheese sauce; she had “tangy” gravy poured over it all. Delicious.

The next day, we took the KL Hop On Hop Off bus to the Butterfly Park. This was great as pavements here aren’t made for walking. Unfortunately it rained during the bus journey so the lady at the butterfly park informed us there may not be as many butterflies due to the rain. Where they were hiding I don’t know. I didn’t mind though, because I saw more tortoises and turtles than butterflies! Hooray!

I also realised during my batik course in Yogyakarta that my souvenirs were becoming significantly tortoise themed after being given a little wooden tortoise by the French family in Bali and making my own tortoise batik. To add to the collection, I got a little fimo tortoise magnet from Kuala Lumpur yesterday. I’m not obsessed, they’re just everywhere…

Anyway…back to what I’ve been up to. The next day I saw some more tortoises and turtles. Genuinely. But they weren’t the main attraction, the KL tower was. However, when you get your ticket, you are offered to choose one additional activity, and as the F1 simulator was taking a siesta, Animal Zone it was! The KL tower lift made my ears pop, but when you arrive at the top, you’re given a little iPod-esque device with a video tour telling you which window to look out of and what you can see, quite cool. Then we went to Animal Zone and saw some tortoises.

Yesterday was another animal themed day. This time there were no tortoises, just deer, two bears, some pets and some ELEPHANTS! We went on a little package tour to a nearby elephant sanctuary – stopping at Deerland on the way – where you could feed the deer, see a hamster in a cage big enough for one of the bears and have your photo taken with a bear! An actual honey bear, like Winnie the Pooh. Except if A.A Milne had had his books illustrated with real honey bears, then Disney would now not be raking it in from the 100 Acre Wood.

The main attraction was of course the elephants – and the extraordinary amount of Lancashire folk on our bus, which always alters my mum’s accent. That’s Lancashire folk that alter my mum’s accent, not elephants. She doesn’t speak Mammoth.

Our ticket entitled us to feed the elephants, ride the elephants and bathe with the elephants! Very exciting! However, on hearing the words “Watch out for the poo”, seeing the colour of the water and watching everyone else being splashed with said water as soon as they sat on the elephant, we chose not to “bathe” with them. The feeding was fun though, and the ride. Hayley and I rode together.

“Can I get on first? Behind the man, then I’ll be in the middle, think it’ll be safer,” she asked, not knowing how sweaty the elephant man was going to be.

All in all, I have a very good first impression of Malaysia. Especially in comparison with Indonesia, so much so that I’m now considering changing my plans again to avoid having to head back to Sumatra for orang-utans and diving, but instead heading to Sabah as originally planned to do the same stuff in an all round nicer feeling country.  Subject to change. But hopefully not.

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Observations on Indonesia

Indonesia may consist of a hell of a lot of islands, of which I have only explored two, but there’s a few things in common I have noticed so far…

1. Rules of the Road

When driving in Indonesia, you should overtake and hoot everything, road signs hold no meaning and when crossing the road as a pedestrian, you are at the bottom of the hierarchy. Even on a crossing, even if the little man is green.

2. The Village Gates

I’ve noticed across Bali and Java that when a village or community stems off from a main road, there tends to be an arch, or at least some pillars to let you know where you’re heading into. I quite like the idea. They are all quite personal – some are, I assume, sponsored by mobile phone networks, some display the date of independence and some are painted beautifully. These are my favourites, they look very grand, like you’ll be greeted by Mickey Mouse at the other end with Jiminy Cricket on his shoulder and magic in the air. On the other hand, the worst ones look like the gate into Auschwitz. They may as well draw up a sign, “You don’t wanna be passing through here. Rape, pillage, murder, we’ve had it all ‘ere”.

Maybe I’m being too harsh, after all you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover, so why judge a village by it’s entrance arch? Who knows, behind the bright green one decorated with the independence date some twisted Walt Hitler could be waiting to attack.

3. No Smoke Without Smoke.

I hate smoking. Literally hate it. However, here in Indonesia, I would estimate maybe 80% of the population smoke. I think you can even buy chocolate cigarettes if my weak Bahasa Indonesian has taught me anything. And if there’s no-one smoking around you, then don’t worry, there’ll be a plastic fire not too far away to fill your lungs instead.

4. Double Standards.

This could be interpreted in a few ways. Number one; Indonesians are very house proud and will spend LOADS of time sweeping dead leaves from their porch….but the toilet may leave much to be desired. Number two; You could be driving through what appears to be a run down ol’ town full of shacks and bamboo hut houses…and suddenly pass the most amazing looking Mosque. Number three; Remember, the white people are infinite pits of money, this means tourists pay more!! I understand this isn’t exclusive to Indonesia but it’s very annoying.

Indonesia is like a really annoying friend. A bit smelly, might creep up on you and scare you for no reason, but you always have fun together so you keep seeing each other. (Don’t worry, I’m not thinking of anyone I know/have known/will know!) This is why I’m planning on coming back. I know, right?!

“But you hated Bali!”

“And that Couchsurfing girl!”

“And there’s rubbish everywhere!”

Yes, I know. But I want to like Indonesia. I think now, I’m half way there! I’m hoping Sumatra will make us friends for life. Maybe we’ll get those half heart necklaces to prove it.

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“You make like husband and wife in the bedroom?”

Everyday is a holiday in Bali. National Stare At The White Person Day. Everyday. You’d think with they amount of tourists (for reasons beyond my comprehension) that they’d have got over it by now. But apparently not.

My lasting impression of Bali is a dirty, overrated place full of stray dogs and heaps of plastic rubbish. If I was you, I wouldn’t bother.

The family I stayed with were lovely and couldn’t have been more helpful but I just didn’t get Bali. Here’s a little insight into my rather interesting itinerary…

Day One. Bali.

I had arranged a Couchsurfing place to stay in Bali. It was the first time I had tried it and if you’re not aware of it, it’s basically free hosting and staying all around the woirld maybe trading language lessons or cooking a meal. I was eager to try it and thought that a place like Bali, where I know very little about would be a great first place to try it.

I arrive at the airport, having been in text contact with who I thought was Ratna, the 19 year old daughter of the family. I knew that Papajero (the dad of the family) would be picking me up, but because I thought I’d been texting Ratna’s mobile, I thought she would be there too.During the huge visa queue, I get a text “I’m in a blue tshirt outside”. So when I eventually make it out of arrivals, I find myself confronted with many people (a lot with blue tshirts) all waving their signs with names of their victim to Bali. I don’t see my sign, instead Papajero has to ask me if I’m Lindsay, but we get there in the end.

Imagine the scene; arrive in a new country, not being able to speak the language, and then your only way out of the airport being a lone man with a long beard and an old 4 by 4. I was extra alert, any scary sign I’d be jumping out of that car. So when the conversation turned to boyfriends and the question “Do you make like husband and wife in the bedroom?” came up, I was ready to leap onto the nearest motorbike, of which I had plenty of choice.

“Err? Baa…nah, ye…but…meh…that’s a bit personal isn’t it?” was all I could manage on the spot.

“I only ask because in Bali, it is very bad. I meet my wife, we married after only one week.”

And so it went on for 2 and a half hours. Very scared, we eventually arrived at the house. I was started to doubt the family’s existence a little until his son, Udi came running to open the gate. Still not sure what to make of it, I eventually managed to fall asleep.

Day Two. Bali.

I am awoken very early to the sound of Green Day, “I hope you had the time of yoour life”. Yeah right. I attempt to have a shower, it’s quite weak. I go for breakfast and Papajero asks me if I want to go to Candidasa with him. Having no idea what else I can do, where Candidasa is or what there is to do there, I agree. We pick up two Italians from a hotel 5 minutes down the road and set off. It turns out Papajero has never been to Candidasa before and that it’s on the other side of the island. I sit in the hot car on my leather seat for about 8 hours. We had a little lunch break inbetween. By lunch I mean Nasi Campur, which is rice with whatever is lying around. That day little ants were lying around.

By now the dogs, plastic, fires by the road side and overtaking and hooting of every other veichle on the road was becoming quite draining. I was ready to come home. I chose to work damn hard for a year and save every bit of spare cash to have fun and enjoy myself not be stuck in the middle of nowhere, alone with a squat toilet and a pants shower!! The second night was very hard. I was literally planning the quickest way out. I already had a ticket from Bandung to Kuala Lumpur on the 25th of August. To get home from KL would be very easy, and relatively cheap cpared to if I carried on and flew home from somewhere else. This was a very tempting prospect. I could fly home on the 25th, be home for my boyfriends birthday and then come back out again in December – skipping the squat toilets!

It took a lot of self convincing over the time in Bali to stay. I knew, and still know, that if I go home early, I will have left my job for nothing, worked solid for nothing and endured 6 hours sat next to a Somalian pirate for nothing. It would be difficult but I knew I had to stay.

Day Three. Bali.

After the delights of the weak shower, I had to surcome to the mandi. A mandi is a deep bowl in Indonesian bathrooms that is filled with cold water to be scooped out and poured over the body. In the mornings in the mountains in Bali it gets cold, so this takes some courage. It’s not a pleasant experience, but being here in Yogyakarta where it’s a lot warmer, it’s actually quite refreshing.

On the morning of my second full day in Bali, I went to school with Coming. Coming is five and adorable. In fact her whole class were adorable.

I’d asked Papajero if I could maybe drop her off at school with him one day just to see what it was like andI was allowed to stay. For the two hours that they go to school. Towards the end, the teacher asked me if I knew any English songs or games, so I taught them the Hokey Cokey and we played Duck, Duck, Goose. I enjoyed my morning at the school, this was the kind of experience I was after. Things were looking up. Then it came time to leave.

“Oh, you must, email…” I followed the teacher into her office. She pulled out a book full of names, countries and emails. Apparently this happens a lot. I sign the book for her to then pull out another book, with the word “Donation” written on the front. Now, I don’t mind the fact that I had to donate to see the school and participate in the class. What I do mind is the fact that it’s at the end, after I’ve seen the school and participated in the class that the book comes out.

Later that day, Udi took me to the Water Temple on his uncle’s motorbike. I’d never been on a motorbike before and he told me not to hold onto the back because it makes him wobble. So I had to just sit. It was surprisingly easier than I thought! After the water temple, we headed across to the internet cafe.

“Are you going to go on the internet?” I asked Udi, just being nice.

“Yes” he replied.

In we went, and an hour later I head over to the man to pay. My hour had cost 4,500rupiah (it sounds a lot but it’s only 32p!) and I paid with a 10,000 note. The man gave me 3,000 change. I stopped for a moment and wondered whether it was worth questioning. Already hating Bali, I turned around, “Erm, 4,500? I gave you 10,000?”

“Yeah, but you pay for him too.”

I turned to Udi, “Did you use the internet? I though you were just watching that boy. I’m paying for you?”

“Oh yeah, sorry, I forget to tell you.”

“Oh right.”

The hatred for Bali was not due to disappear anytime soon. If you are white, you are rich beyond your wildest dreams don’t you know?

In the afternoon, Papajero invited me to a cock fight. It wasn’t my cup of tea but neither was sitting lonely on a porch in the middle of nowhere, so I agreed to go. Coming came too, and apart from her, I was the only female, and the only white person. Instantly asking for lots of stares. It was a pretty gruesome sight. Not the stares, the cock fight. They put the chickens in bags to make them angry. Then attach a little knife to their ankles and pluck feathers from their heads until they are very angry and then they let them loose on each other. The fight continues until one chicken dies or both are too close to death to fight. Although having said that, I only witnessed one draw.

When we arrived home, my luck had changed. A new family were stood on the restaurant platform looking quite lost. They were from France, and they were my saviours! Not only had they come at the perfect time when I really needed to vent how annoying it is to be thought of as a millionaire everywhere you go (which technically, in Indonesia, I am), but they were French! So I could vent my frustrations with no worries that the family would understand any of what was being said.

It was such a relief.

Day Four. Bali.

Now I had people to do stuff with, things became a lot easier. I had to wake up very early (5am!!) to get my ticket to Yogyakarta…Papajero had to collect a live pig for the ceremony the next day en route…I couldn’t watch the pig being put into a sack and dumped in the car live. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Neither was the chick with it’s legs tied together shoved in the glovebox. We then picked up a grandma. Then another live pig. Then another grandma. THEN we went to get my ticket, finally!  

In the afternoon, me and the parents of the French family went for a walk by the lake with Udi and later on we went to the GitGit waterfall. The waterfall was nice but the main attraction was the endless stalls of the same sarongs, batik and wooden carvings. I didn’t realise just how much you could barter down the goods until I watched the French family do it. I learnt to walk away and pretend you don’t want to pay that much and they instantly lower the price. It feels mean but the prices start ridiculously high so it’s ok. On the way back, we picked up a durian which we ate for dessert later that evening. It smells absolutely vile but tastes like creamy mango. Not bad, but nothing spectacular.

Day Five. Bali.

Day five was a biggie. It was the ceremony that I’d heard so much about. The pig, the fruit, the rice baskets, the gamelan…all was prepared and driven to the family temple. It was a very interesting experience! The gamelan went on and on. Then the dancing begun. Young girls came out one by one and picked their ‘victim’. I don’t know who was more of the victim though – the girl or the picked dancer. The first man to be picked was a leary paedo-esque man and it felt quite uncomfortable to watch.

“I don’t think I can watch this if it’s going to go on for as long as the gamelan goes on” I thought. Then she picked me. Neil’s dad from The Inbetweeners came to mind. (*If anyone sees the film, let me know how it is!!*)

It was actually quite fun and the parents of the French family had a go as well. They were pretty good!!

We were then offered lunch in a bag and I sat next to my new found friend, {insert name here}. I never did find out her name. But she was very old, and short and cute. And she lived in the little house next to the temple. She wouldn’t let go of my hand, it was quite touching. Bali grew on me a little that day.

Day Six. Bali.

On my last day in Bali, we headed to the hot springs pool near Lovina beach. Papajero assured us that we would have time to hit the hot springs, beach and eat all before my bus. And we did!

And now I’m here, in Yogyakarta. So far so good. I spent the first day getting lost and making friends with Yvonne who studies in York and is also travelling solo, so we had lunch together. In the evening, I was invited to a Couchsurfing meet up by my host here. There is a HUGE Couchsurfing community in Yogyakarta. HUGE! Everybody knows everybody.

The next day (yesterday) I took the obligatory trip to Borobudur, which is a very impressive Buddist temple. I went alone but met a couple from Luxembourg on the bus who I felt like I followed around like a lost puppy until we found the temple! After one tour of the temple, I saw Yvonne arrive with someone she had met on the bus, who turned out to be quite the saviour!

My host had been texting me all day with details of the Ramayana ballet. Turns out there’s two Ramayana ballets here! And I got off the bus at the wrong one. Luckily, Matthew (who Yvonne had met on the bus) was there, so I went in with him and not my host (who had gone to the other Ramayana ballet – it’s all very confusing!). Turns out the Transjogja stops at 9. Which isn’t helpful when the performance finishes at 9.30. Matthew offered to walk me home, as the rickshaw driver didn’t seem to know where the bus stop near her house was. If I could have got to there, I could have worked my way back to her house. But no-one apparently knows where they live around here!! Thankfully, Matthew let me sleep at his hostel for the night as the curfew at my hosts house was 12am. This morning has been a restful few hours reading after breakfast on a bench and internet in KFC. Fun times!

Categories: Indonesia, South East Asia | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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