No passport needed

Yokohama beach, Oahu -Hawaii

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After a bit of traveling, you start to really appreciate the small things that home has to offer. For us in Hawaii, I can’t get over our (mostly) clean and beautiful beaches. The water is clear and blue and unbelievable sometimes.

DCIM102GOPROGOPR2297.JPGSeriously, you don’t even need a filter to bring out color. Our west side of Oahu looks this perfect. I have the sunburn to prove it.

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You can literally swim with turtles!

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I never though much of it growing up. Oh birthday, let’s have it at the beach. Oh 3 day weekend, let’s camp at the beach. Nothing to do, let’s go to the beach. I mean yeah, I live on an island but it really never occurred to me that people spend thousands of dollars and travel many miles to adore these beaches that we often take for granted.

 

Everyday I remind myself to be thankful.

 

 

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Memorial Day

So we’re back in the states (just barely, we live in Hawaii, and many would argue the validity of Hawaii’s state status but I’ll save that for another day). I’m still out of sorts, beyond jet lagged but it’s Memorial Day here.

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A day we set aside to recognize those who served in our armed forces and gave the ultimate sacrifice. Today I participated in the annual Lantern Floating ceremony at Ala Moana Beach Park. This is held on Memorial Day but the lanterns symbolize much more than our soldiers to encompass all lost loved ones. Ten of thousands of people gather together in remembrance of friends, family, and loved ones.

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Our family came together to celebrate and remember my grandmother who passed away last year. As somber as this event was, I can’t help but focus on an altercation between two guys. Altercation is probably too strong of a word. I may not have witnessed the entire confrontation but a taller Caucasian man was visibly upset and yelling at a smaller stalky Asian man who looked more embarrassed at the scene than anything. My mom yelled ‘hey’ or something or another to break the tension and keep things focused on why we’re really here. It was a short disturbance and will probably slip most of our minds in the near future.

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I’m hindsight though, I wish I had my mother’s instinct to speak up. It may not seem like much- with an estimated 50,000 people compacted into a little more than half a mile of shoreline- but I think sometimes it all we need. In the digital age of viral videos and our worst moments of humanity recorded and replayed, I think we lose ourselves in the pack. We lose ourselves, our voices, our morals, our guiding principles, and we become passive spectators. The beach was more than crowded. It was hectic, it was claustrophobic, and everyone was rushing to the water or trying to head out. At least fifty of us witnessed this and no one really said a thing.

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It seemed clear that the taller man was out of line and causing a scene. The other man with his family no less was non-confrontational. But what if it had escalated? At what point would someone have stepped in? I couldn’t be prouder of my mother in that moment. She’s your typical Asian woman who probably would have gotten annihilated had she physically stepped in but I have no doubt that she would have. Sometimes all it takes is one person, one word, one small act to change a situation. I hope to do that one day.

She’ll probably want to kill me for posting this (she’s one of the handful of my followers) so thank you for sparing me mother. But I just wanted you and whoever else is reading this to know that not all heroes are men and women in uniform or commit huge acts of bravery or sacrifice. Yes, we honor them on this Memorial Day but if it’s not too much I’d like us to recognize the living heroes too and that includes you.

STEP

For those of you in the US traveling abroad with worried and overbearing mothers (jk mom) you should look into the STEP program to further let your government monitor your movements, AGAIN JUST KIDDING. NSA please don’t abduct me. Basically, you’re giving the US embassies abroad that you’re comin’ in hot and to keep an eye out for you in case things go south. It’s a good concept should a natural disaster strike or you need legal, medical, or financial help (WOAH). It’s relatively quick, plug in the dates, your passport ID number, give them your email, and a phone number to include you in the phone tree- should any travel alerts come up or information regarding your country of visit.

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Unfortunately, I experienced the timeliness and thoroughness of the US Embassy Jakarta. They emailed me notifying me about a suicide bombing in East Jakarta. Attached to the email were brief details of the attack and recommendations to double check travel plans and adjust accordingly. It also provided multiple resources, phone numbers, and websites to further follow updates or reach the your nearest embassy or Consulate General. I didn’t think I’d need it and signed up to placate my mother but will definitely keep this in mind for any other extended travels.

Day 14

Day 14- Ubud

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Today’s bike tour started with our driver causally smoking a cig, waiting at the front desk. He seemed in no hurry for us to come down from our room or to get us to the main office. I already knew I was going to like these guys. Ebikes Bali had easygoing kids with jokes on jokes on jokes. We started with me fumbling with my helmet and I said it’s because I got a big head. Without skipping a beat, Ajus (ah-juice) said ‘big brain!’ Haha yes, Ajus 🤓

Once we figured out our bikes had an electric motor good for 50 km (our ride was 18 km) we didn’t hesitate to press that little gray button.

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Our first stop took us to a temple where Ajus explained that there are over 40,000 temples in Bali not including family temples. He said there are so many because you first build 3 temples for the main gods (I can’t begin to attempt to spell their names), 3 more for their respective wives, 1 at the crossroads or what I took to be the entrance to the village, and 1 at the northern edge to mark their limits. Totaling 8, and epic number.

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From there we headed to the rice fields where Ajus warned ‘men be careful. Me be careful. Bumpy road. Watch your balls.’ 😂😂 oh Ajus.

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At the rice fields we learned the cycles and the farming methods like using ducks to help clean up the fields before they burn it. He said farmers are very careful to collect the quack quacks or crispy duck! He also mentioned that sometimes rodents are a problem and snakes are brought in. But don’t worry, only poisonous snakes in Bali are in the forest. And don’t worry, don’t worry you have three days before you die!

We continued cycling around town and ended up at a coffee tasting company. They specialize in Luwak Coffee which lets these weasels eat the green coffee beans, pick up their poop, clean and grind the beans to reduce the level of acid in the beans and produce the ‘most expensive coffee since colonial times.’ (I guess homeboy never went to a Starbucks) The tasting of their blends were free but the Luwak coffee was relatively expensive at 50,000 rupiah a cup. Once we finished at the tasting room, Ajus asked how it went. He said they call it ‘catpoochino’ and I said oh yeah ‘cappuccino!’ and he said ‘ya, catPOOchino’ smiling with all this teeth.

Seriously, you couldn’t help but enjoy his company. It was all downhill from there- literally. It was a bit intense sharing about 12 feet of road of cars, mopeds, pedestrians, and stray dogs (there are quite a few) but we made it back in one piece. Another guide was joking legs not sore just here- pointing to his left thumb that controlled the electric motor. He couldn’t be more right 😭

Back at our hotel we took a quick nap and headed to the Monkey Forest. It describes itself at a nature sanctuary and reserve but it felt very much like an open petting zoo. They sell bananas and the monkeys are… tame… yet very unpredictable. Honestly scary is what I’d use to describe them. You can’t look them in the eye since it’s a sign of aggression, can’t approach the babies, can’t make loud noises, can’t run, can’t leave trash around, don’t tease them, don’t hide food, don’t panic but yet there are ‘handler’ type people around to help you feed them and take pictures. It’s hilarious because when they start acting up they pull out a sling shot (still wrapped up) and the monkey instantly obeys. The handler said it’s the monkey tamer 😂 We also saw Aunty with a long metal pole. She raised it up like how your mom looks when you answer back and the monkeys scatter so quick! She’s the guardian of the bananas. A small bunch is 20,000 rupiah with maybe 5-6 apple bananas or 2 min play time with monkeys 😭 we got a small bunch and instantly one latched on to Michaels shirt. Michael spun around and he looked like the carnival ride, you know the one with the swings. I wish through my laughing I was able to take a video or picture since it was beyond ridiculous. After that we headed out quick seeing how feisty the monkeys were. It didn’t seem like much more than a couple hundred monkeys running around, eating bananas, and scaring little children.

Our last day is tomorrow and we have a spa day planned. Excited to be going home and sad to say goodbye. Still a longs ways to go though 👋🏻 Malaysia 👋🏻 Korea 👋🏻 Hawaii.

Coulda been 👋🏻Australia 👋🏻 home. My bad Mike!

Day 13 pt 2

Our highlights of the day had to be the temples. I swear the parking attendant and person guarding the bathroom are making up their own positions. I’d love to set up at a park at home and charge tourists to use the facilities. And be sure to pay after you use the bathroom not before otherwise you will get stopped and asked to pay again. I stood firm though, I wasn’t about to pay another 23 cents!

Also, the women working the shops before the temples are very convincing that you need a sarong prior to entering the temple. In that respect they are correct. They fail to mention that free ones are available and encouraged. Those sneaky ladies want to charge you 20,000 rupiah too. It doesn’t sound too bad at $1.50 but if you keep going you’ll hear 10,000! I eventually heard two for 10,000. Obviously my face reads sucker because I would have paid the 20k.

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Michael’s on the hand reads local. With his darker complexion, big eyes, and prominent nose he fits right in. The Balinese have a Filipino look to them and are quick to talk to Michael. Once they see his scared and confused face they try again, obviously disappointed and in English “where are you from?” I swear this happened more than a handful of times. I get “your face like Asia yeah? Japanese?” 👩🏻 yes Japanese. “You speak?” No.. (more disappointment)

I think thats why we weren’t really approached in the temples. I often saw guides and overhead men explaining to tourists about the history and culture but assuming Michael knows what he’s doing we weren’t offered any help. It was fine though and we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.

The first temple was Pura Tirta Empul or a holy water temple built around or over a natural spring. Tourists and local alike come for its cleaning properties. The baths were very full and looked very cold. We were told it’s clean but the amount of people packed in there did not convince us. Many Balinese people go there to cleanse themselves and pray or we also observed them talking the water back by the gallon. Our driver said that is very common and many people come here.

Next was Gunung Kawi Temple known for the large carvings in the cliff face and surrounding rice fields. Oh man but they made you work for it. Flights and flights of stairs going down and heavy breathing individuals coming up. The shops selling sarongs and trinkets also lined the stairs. It was definitely worth the trek with many parts to the temple. On our way up we bought two sodas for 40,000 rupiah which I was like hm sounds expensive… but I’m thirsty whatever $3. About 10 min later when we arrived at the top, a man was yelling 5,000 rupiah! 5,000 rupiah! For a can of soda… I was like damn. But easy going Michael just said she obviously needed it more than us- so don’t worry about it.

We also visited Goa Gajah or Elephant Cave. It was much smaller than Gunung Kawai Temple but the rock carving was still amazing. While roaming around we found a small temple in the back. And small old woman was there prepping her flowers and incense for prayer. She called me over and two others to be included in her small ceremony. I loved it. I had no idea what was going on but felt it felt so intimate. She gave us flowers, sprinkled water on us, and put rice on our neck and heads. I asked our driver what it meant and he said it was a prayer and the rice symbolizes “clear mind.”

By now it late afternoon early evening and we’re told it’s probably best to head to our hotel because it was getting dark and the temples won’t be open for much longer.

So we say good bye to our driver Agung,
check in, and look for dinner. After all the walking I can’t help but look for a massage. While not as prevalent as Thailand, it’s still available and still ridiculously cheap. For an hour foot massage you can expect to pay about $5-8 USD. And don’t accept sticker price. Weasel them down!

Tomorrow we have an bike tour planned so we’ll need some sleep…

Day 13 pt 1

Day 13- Seminyak/Ubud

We arranged for our driver from the airport to shuttle us around today for 650,000 rupiah or approximately $50 USD for eight hours. Everything he said ended either in “yes my friend” or “brother.” Can we go here? Of course brother. Is this place worth the stop? Yes, my friend. It was very endearing. He’s in his late 20’s and very chatty when we were up and quiet when we needed some alone time. He would wait in the car and it felt like he put a beeper on us because when we would walk back to the car he would pop up from his seat with his bright red polka-dotted neck pillow and a huge smile. If he wasn’t in the car he was making friends with the nearby shop keepers or smoking a cigarette with old men. He would always keep an eye out for us and make sure he’d beat us back to the car by a few steps.

Our first stop was an outlet mall of sorts. He was as excited as us to look around because as soon as he parked he said “I will come with you. See something!” He was bored after about 20 min but he’d jump up when he’d see us and ask if we wanted to put our new things down in the car. And then follow up with “no rush no rush, look around.”

Back in the car we chatted with our driver. He was anxious to know where we came from, what we do, what it’s like at home, the cost of things, the beaches, you name it. He described life in Bali to be very hard on locals and very expensive.

For example, hotel workers work a regular workweek- 5 days a week 8 hours a day. But in Bali there’s an additional 6th day a week for with a 10 hour shift. And roughly a hotel worker would make $4-500 USD per month. most of these people know Balinese, Indonesian, English, and/or Japanese.

We told him we were looking for a small condo/apartment at home for $300,000 USD and he couldn’t believe it. He said we could buy a small hotel here…

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Ubud seems to be a quaint artisan community, we went through a silver district- very popular in Bali. A woodwork area with lots of furniture, wooden sculptures, rattan cages baskets chairs and tables, intricate doors and hanging pieces. Masonry as well, with large statues and pillars ready made to welcome guests in to homes or temples.

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We visited a batik weaving factory and watched women use wax to hand make designed as well as weave. The prices were quite expensive but they used silk and I assume cotton.

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We also checked out a couple of silver stores on the insistence of our driver. He said he loves silver! The items are again handmade with many pedants available, large rings, bracelets, and earrings. I tried really hard to find something but couldn’t find a piece I really loved and worth the price tag. Most pieces were about $50-100 USD.

For lunch he took us to a place he knew and enjoyed with his girlfriend. A BBQ place specializing ribs 😛 And a coconut because yes.

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I’ll post more about the temples separately since we went to a few. Ttyl 👋🏻

Day 12

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Day 12- Seminyak/Amed/ Tulamben

5am head start from Seminyak to Amed which we estimated about 2-3 hours travel time to the northwest coast of Bali. Our driver was on a mission and got us there in a little over 2. It was similar to the road to Hana with its twists and turns, narrow driveways, honking, and overtaking.

A quick breakfast and brief scuba orientation and the next thing you know were stuffing our bodies in a size too small bodysuit. “Oh don’t worry it’s better once you get wet. You’ll be fine.” Yeah. Tell that to my thighs. Though I’d have to grease up to zip up. Then a weight belt. Then a vest with all the contraptions and I swear a 45 lb oxygen tank later were headed into the water.

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But it was more than worth it. During our time down there I even contemplated getting certified. The instructors were very patient and very honest that your immediate instincts would be to surface.  But they really encouraged breathing and relaxation techniques to overcome that. The water was clearer than Thailand (but still not as nice as Hawaii) but the fish diversity and coral really made up for it. We couldn’t really take pictures since we needed to focus on breathing and swimming but it was so much fun. I was skeptical at first and then anxious and then excited.

After our day underwater and exploring the remains of the USS Liberty, which I was told didn’t have a super exciting combat story since it was a cargo ship. But it was beached due to damages sustained from a Japanese torpedo and later lost to sea because of activity from the nearby volcano, Mount Agung. Can I get a fact check? In any case, it was crowded with scuba divers checking out the ship and the fish and gaining underwater experience. We even saw a couple of turtles. So yeah, I’m now into scuba diving.

The drive back was much less exciting and much more crowded. Seriously, I though traffic was bad on Oahu  Balinese take it to a whole new level… 3 hours later and countless beep beeps later we arrived alive.

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Shower and a taxi later we got to a fancy French restaurant (also note taksi are minimum 30,000 rupiah 🙄 which is close to nothing but still) . The kind that serves food in four bites and takes 30 min between courses. But hey, this is what we saved for!

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