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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Kuala Lumpur once again ... and on the home stretch :(

On Tuesday I left Bali sadly for Kuala Lumpur once again, thinking I would have an easy time of it with Malaysia Airlines' lenient 20 kg baggage policy.  Instead, I encountered the one asshole who works for Malaysia Airlines who was determined to make an example of me.  He decided that my new batik bag (which I was calling my carryon) and my very small purple day pack BOTH constituted carryons and that was "not allowed".  Fine, I said.  I will stuff one into the other and then it will be one piece.  Are you happy now?  Nope, he was not happy.  He then weighed my batik bag and determined that it was 1.5 kg too heavy.  By the way, almost no one who works for the airlines who is not also a member of the Nazi party would bother to weigh people's carryons.  Fine, I said.  I will take a few books out of the fucking bag and put them into the bag I am checking in which is not over the weight limit.  Are you happy now?  It's 7.3 kg now.  Is the extra 0.3 kg more than you can tolerate???  Then he decided that the few wood pieces I was carrying which weighed a few ounces each constituted "carry-on" as well.  By this time I was in a sweat.  I asked what had I done to make him so unhappy and what it would take to make him happier.  Checking in those wooden pieces would absolutely, definitely, break them.  I could understand his making trouble for me if he was pocketing the extra fees he would have liked to charge me, but no!   Finally I resolved the issue to some satisfaction after begging his supervisor to treat me like a human being.

Compared to all that buildup, the flight was a boring noneventful 3 hours to Kuala Lumpur.  Then a heinous hour waiting in immigration behind a huge number of people in red-and-white jackets saying "New Life".  I shuddered to ask, since I am not terribly interested in salvation or reincarnation.  Anyway I guess the Malaysian officials had a lot of questions in their minds too, so the process was godawfully slow.

After an efficient ride on the KL Express train, my host Siew Cheng (from CS) was waiting for me at Sentral.  She is a lovely person originally from Johor Bahru living in the Maluri area of KL and teaching in a school for tourism and hospitality management.  Her hospitality is a good example, I'm sure!!  She has a master's and is actually thinking of doing a Ph.D. project about the Couchsurfing phenomenon.  I think it would be fascinating.

I was exhausted and crashed early that night (probably from the ordeal with the baggage check-in).  However, I awoke early the next morning and Siew Cheng gave me some great advice and guidance about taking the public bus to Batu Caves, a 45 minute ride away from KL downtown where there is a huge cave system and within it a Hindu temple.  Oh, but first you must climb 272 steps to get there.  It was really impressive, and I wanted to do something Hindu-ish since I had missed Deepavali which ironically they don't observe in Bali though Bali is Hindu, it's its own special brand of Hinduism.  At the uppermost part of the cave, I both realized that the SD card in my camera was stuck in a locked position and I could not take any photos, and also that there was a large family of maybe 12 macaques who were playing around amusingly.  One level down there were roosters wandering around -- I couldn't figure that one out!


For more on Batu caves, see for a terrific discussion.  One of the most impressive things is the huge 42 meter tall statue of Lord Murugan, who I've never met before yesterday, but he was very golden ;-)


Halfway down the 272 steps I realized I did indeed have another SD memory card I could delete some photos off of in order to take photos, so then I climbed up the rest of the steps again!  Sadly the macaques were gone by that point and some staff told me they were "resting" -- but at least I had gotten to see them, and take photos of the other aspects of the temple and caves. 

I then went to one of the nearby Indian vegetarian restaurants at the foot of the caves where it was absolutely mobbed at 11 am plus I was the only non-Indian there, so I figured (and rightly so) that the masala dosa would be lovely!

On the way back on the bus, some Nigerian guy started trying to chat me up while totally ignoring my body language that was busily shouting "leave me alone!"  I told him I was leaving the next day, which was true, but he still wanted to get my phone number.  I had to tell him "that only really would make sense if both parties were equally interested, which is not the case" and he finally got the message and got off the bus without my number.

Once back in town with my daily cultural exploration needs met, it was time for some last-minute *shopping*, involving a special Deepavali shoe sale at Sogo, a number of products I deemed necessary to buy at supermarkets, and stocking up on two more 8 GB SD cards so I would not have memory storage problems again in the near future.  Overall, a success.  In the middle of this it started absolutely POURING rain (a little spillover from the typhoons in the Philippines??) and I started to think yes, perhaps now IS the time to leave Asia. 

Siew Cheng met up with me and we went for a lovely dinner at a really nice restaurant near Jalan Alor featuring her "hometown" Hakka cuisine.  Ultra yum.  There was a great vegetable named Kailan -- or perhaps it's the way it was prepared?  :)


This morning I caught up on internet stuff, haggled with a taxi driver, took the taxi to the train to the plane, saw the nice Deepavali display,

then took the plane to Taipei, and I am now in Taipei using the copious and generous free internet and waiting for the plane to San Francisco.  Oh, and free massage chairs in the Zen relaxation center.

Sad to be coming home, but I have had some terrific adventures and met some absolutely wonderful people.  I will find it hard to readjust to work and to the wasteful, "throw-away," often-entitled culture of the US, but very very easy to readjust to high quality toilet paper and the lack of mosquitoes ;-)

Hopefully soon after getting home I will upload some photos to this site to make it worth looking at again :)   Also look out in the future for the addition of my past travels which will be easy to cut and paste from their original text form.

I would love to hear from people once I'm home!  Hope you've enjoyed this almost as much as I have :)


My last days in Bali

I spent my final time in Bali kind of wistfully.  I wished I had "gotten out" more from Ubud, and at the same time I enjoyed every minute there.  Monday was spent doing a cooking class with Dorothy and a nice Australian couple at Bumbu Bali (see  Nyoman had offered me the opportunity to come see his clinic in a small village an hour away at the same time, but sadly, the cooking won out (I'll check out the clinic next time!)  Our cooking class included a trip to the local Ubud produce market which is always fun, a review of the ingredients most of which were familiar to me (but has anyone reading this used candlenuts for anything before?  If so, please tell me what and where you stock up on them in the US).  We made some yummy things, the best of which was a prawn dish in a lovely yellowish curry.  I will definitely try to duplicate this at home!



Though we were completely sated from the 7 course meal we had cooked, it was never too late to start planning for dinner (as it was to be my last dinner in Bali).  So I suggested we go to Indus Restaurant for dinner ( which I had been to 5 years ago.  Still situated with beautiful rice paddy views, lovely ambiance, but not quite as great as 5 years ago and up in price like everything in Ubud -- I'll call it the "Eat/Pray/Love" effect.  It was still a lovely if slightly melancholy goodbye dinner!

OK, this blog is a bit out of order.  There are other things I wanted to mention, more highlights of my Ubud stay.  Lest you think that all we did was eat, I wanted to mention 2 art gallery/museums that were particularly fascinating.  Now, they would need to be truly special in order to impress against the backdrop of Ubud that includes everyone being an artisan and there being gorgeous art everywhere, especially depicting scenes that could only be happening in Bali (the legong/barong/kecak dances, women carrying huge offerings piled on their heads to the temples for one of the ceremony days that seem to happen 3x a week, the beautiful rice paddies, etc., etc.).  But these two were expats who moved to Bali. 

The first one was Symon's Studio (see and click on "The Ubud Studio").  He is originally from Michigan, and per his website, "Symon has lived in Bali since 1978 and is best known for his bold portraits of sensual young Balinese men, done in vivid tropical colours and often to an exaggerated scale".  Guess what: we got to meet one of his muses, a guy named Sugi!  Fun!  And I loved the art.  A lot of it was iconic stuff involving Obama, Michael Jackson, Madonna, and other pop figures of our time, a la Andy Warhol.  Check it out.


The second was the Blanco Museum, chronicling the career of a Spanish/Filipino artist who also moved to Bali and married a local gal, and had a long productive career producing sensual art of the more female variety.  A nice companion piece to Symon though the style was very different.  The museum is situated in what was his fabulous home and gallery and studio... but what fascinated me the most was the incredible collection of tropical exotic birds living there, kind of as pets mostly.  A bird who I think was a toucan (but with a blue neck pouch???) took a liking to me and would not leave me alone.  He started nibbling on everything shiny I was wearing (ring, bracelet, those elephant earrings) and I had a grand old time.


In addition to food and art, we also did much walking, which I mentioned in a previous entry, especially the walk through the rice paddies which was absolutely beautiful.  We made a number of stops (see -- not sure I put that in the last entry) including seeing the organic farm that supplied the restaurant we went to and climbing up a little tower to get a really nice bird's eye view of the rice fields.  We walked from about 8 am to 6 pm till I thought my feet would fall off...  And then in the early evenings we would come across little bands of men and boys who were marching and playing music and had barong/lion dancers with them in order to ward away the evil spirits on Galungan.


I ended my last night in Ubud with a combined massage and manicure for US $10.  The lady insisted on painting flowers on my big toenails as a parting gift, though she was not actually doing a pedicure :)   On Tuesday morning I bid a fond farewell to Dorothy, my new friend from Singapore who I hope will make it to the US one day.  I was leaving for the airport -- and she was leaving for a cremation, a HUGE big thing in Bali.  I was jealous!  3 times in Bali and I still have not managed to attend a cremation.  I'll have to check out her blog for more details of that.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Magic, medicine, monkey dances and rice paddies in Bali

The days are just filled here.  I have not been bored once yet or had "down time".

The last time I wrote, I did not know my friend Dorothy had gone on a biking trip during which she took a spill resulting in a lip laceration and road rash on her chin, hands and knees.  This resulted in a trip for her to the hospital, complicated by Galungan so most clinics and hospitals were closed (almost as major as New Year's Day in the US).  So instead she ended up being taken to a government hospital where she was seen and treated and had her lip stitched with something absorbable.  Total price: $6.50 USD.  About $5 was for the consultant, and then they itemized everything for her, including 20 cents for lidocaine, 18 cents for the syringe, and so on.  She was sent out with a little packet of Amoxicillin, tylenol, and some sort of NSAID.  I heard what happened to her at the end of the day and thought I'd use my headlamp for a good exam (since I hadn't really used it for much else during this trip!)

Dorothy was worried about the level of contamination and about infection causing her to abort her trip, so I went with her to what was supposed to be the best pharmacy around, Kimia, in a town called Mas.  Let's just say, I was not impressed with their selection or inventory.  She did manage to get some Augmentin to cover the mouth flora and the fact that she'd sort of bitten herself via her braces, I gave her some of my Doxycycline to also cover MRSA, and she got some Bactroban to apply topically.  The two she had to buy were not cheap because they were not available in generic form.  At least I was able to help her with the communication issue -- I didn't have any problem in Bahasa at the pharmacy.  While I was there I stocked up on some omeprazole, cipro, and imodium for future travels -- these were generic and came to less than a dollar US.  Pretty amazing!  Dorothy is healing up slowly, by the way, and so far no major infection has set in.  More about this on her blog:

My next medical adventure involved meeting up with a guy named Nyoman who is a doctor locally -- I found him through the CS network.  We had lunch with him

and it was very interesting to hear about what his career as a general practitioner is like here.  He thinks he might rather be on Java than Bali, and also has dabbled in other types of work such as news reporting (a completely different topic!)  Very nice guy, and he invited me if I wanted to see his clinic an hour away in a small village tomorrow, and I would have, it's just that cooking classes are going to get in the way ;-)

My dermatitis issue flared with this stupid thigh irritation after having worn a sarong all day to the temples, and I mentioned it to my host, Elsha, who immediately summoned her Balinese healer, Jero, before I had a true chance to say "but it's so superficial that I feel this would barely be worth addressing in the context of his holistic view of the universe"...  Jero spoke not a word of English, and apparently had developed his knack for healing shortly after someone else inflicted black magic on him -- he wasn't from a family of healers as I would have imagined.  Instead she describes the acquisition of this specialized knowledge as "like downloading information with your computer -- he just had a sudden download."   Hmmm, I'm sure board certification doesn't differ too much.  Elsha is also using him to try to rid her house of the black magic that has been put on it by people who didn't like the philandering owner she is renting from...

Anyway, though the steroids and the powder were starting to help, I decided to give it a go.  Jero wanted to know my whole past medical history, so I had to relate it through Dayu who was interpreting.  He asked me the very wise sounding question about whether I suffered from frequent insomnia or interrupted sleep, and I told him I sleep like the dead, sleep all night, and have not yet had trouble falling asleep.  He then had to reconsider his approach.  I made the mistake of telling him I had past kidney issues and he decided he needed to focus on my kidneys primarily, though my problem this time truly WAS skin deep!  His diagnosis was, unfortunately, made once again through .... foot torture!

Jero squeezed my toes so hard I thought they would pop off.  I really had trouble tolerating the pain.  On the plus side, it did distract me from my skin problem!   After all the diagnostics, he made a few suggestions: a massage, which would be much like the foot torture only more prolonged, to help me with the kidney problem which honestly hasn't seemed like a real major problem this decade.  I explained to him that I currently had enough pain already.  Then he suggested as an alternative an extremely bitter broth that he would make by boiling certain leaves, fruits, and tree bark, and I would have to drink 2 liters of it.  I pondered it for a moment, closed my eyes and thought of the number of patients I have seen present with acute renal failure after ingesting herbal concoctions from other countries, and decided there was no way I could explain myself without being ridiculed beyond belief should this happen to me.  So, another polite but resounding "no."  I did, however, agree to try the topical preparation he suggested for my dermatitis which he would prepare from sandalwood oil.

It was all very interesting, and I tried to think of myself from an external viewpoint and decided that in his world view and context, I was just another typical noncompliant patient.  Kind of like the ones I deal with in the world of biomedicine and tampering-with-nature that I visit every day.  He, and I, both make recommendations to people that make absolute sense to us, and then it's still up to them whether to follow what we say... I guess at least in this case I was honest with him about what I was and wasn't willing to do.

My next medical adventure of sorts involved teaching a class for Elsha and Phil's staff, which I should have entitled "First Aid in the Third World".  They asked me when I arrived if I would teach this, and I thought it sounded like a fun challenge.  I needed to teach it to a group of people some of whom did not speak English, some of whom spoke a little English, and all of whom live in conditions where sadly when an emergency happens the first response of a person would never be to call 911 -- first of all it's "118" here in Bali, but secondly the considerations of how much the ambulance will cost and how long it will take to arrive always come into place.  So I had to present my suggestions that are based on ideal conditions, and translate and adapt them for real conditions in the developing world.  All this without belittling people's naturalistic and animism-based beliefs.

No amount of internet review of the Heimlich maneuver would have prepared me for this.

But it was incredibly fun!  My biggest concern was engaging the audience instead of boring them.  I started with asking them to relate their own experiences of emergencies they had encountered -- which included the driver always driving past people who'd had motorcycle accidents, another guy having had a serious burn, a third guy having seen a girl unconscious at the beach but didn't know what to do ... So I used these as examples and got my audience involved by asking them to portray victims.  They totally got into it and had fun and somewhere in there I got to teach about bleeding, wounds, hygiene, animal bites, nosebleeds, falls, the recovery position, unconsciousness, choking, burns, and I can't remember what else.  I first asked what they would do in a certain situation and got answers like 'we would chew a certain leaf and then spit out the juice and rub it into the wound to stop the bleeding..." or "get an old person to make a chalk-like paste...."  Tough to reconcile all of this with sterile technique!   I tried hard to be respectful, and said "here is another thing you could possibly consider..."  Anyway -- it was really endlessly fascinating, and almost endless!  What was supposed to be an hour review turned into three, but we all had a great time.


See  her blog entry about the class at  I've got to add this to my CV for sure ;-)

Other fun, nonmedical things I have gotten to do include going to an amazing Kecak performance (see , also known as the "Ramayana Monkey Chant," which is a trance dance with over 100 men chanting as the musical accompaniment (instead of the usual gamelan music that accompanies many traditional dance ceremonies). 


It is very very powerful and at the end, a solo performer dances through coconut husks that have been set on fire.  Pretty wild stuff.


This morning Dorothy and I went on a really amazing walk through the rice paddies,


stopping at Sari Organik restaurant for yummy pancakes made with beetroot, cashew nuts, banana and pineapple and a nice baba ghannouj and salad.  The restaurant is situated in the rice fields and they have their own organic farm.


We got to climb up and get a really nice birds-eye view of the rice fields.



The next distraction was various artists' shops along the rice field path (not unusual as everyone in Ubud seems to be an artist), and some purchases made by me.


I wanted hooks installed on the back, so the guy says he will deliver to my guesthouse -- we'll see if that happens.  I do have good vibes about it :)  We walked for about 5 hours punctuated by all these stops, passed some locals carrying a whole lotta stuff on their headds,  and ended up at a yummy Babi Guling place called Ibu Oka (Koren will eat her heart out if she translates this into English ;-)) 



Since then, more wandering around.  We have *NOT* yet bumped into Julia Roberts, who is here in Ubud for a month shooting the "Eat, Pray, Love" film.  Perhaps because I heard she's staying at the Four Seasons and does not hobnob with proles such as us.  By the way, I feel that that book (and its whiny, self-absorbed author) have had an influcnce on this area that has not been positive.  It has changed the lives of some of the characters that featured in the book and made them way more greedy and self-important, I have been told.  It has brought more "women of a certain age" to Ubud who are looking for enlightenment and a prince named Felipe.  Having read it, I wouldn't recommend reading it.

But to end on a much more positive note, here's the menu for the dinner we're attending tongiht :  Enjoy :)  We will -- even if Julia isn't there!