Monday, January 30, 2012

Back in KL and Singapore Trip

Traveling makes it hard to keep up on things like this.  Actually, it's really just that I've never been good at keeping a journal.  I'm trying to change that, though, but it still goes in fits and spurts.

Our last few days in Bali were great.  Mom, Dad, Joseph and Rachel arrived late Friday night, and we spent the rest of the time with them.  On Saturday we were pretty lazy and mostly biked around a little bit and went out to eat.  Sunday, we had a short church meeting in the morning (I was of course invited to speak by Dad), and then Josef and I went on an adventure!  We had left two beach towels at Nick's Pension in Ubud, and Josef saw a drum there that he wanted to buy but didn't, so we headed for Ubud and then planned on seeing a palace a little north of that.  What actually happened was I lost Josef about 20 minutes into the ride.  I went to Ubud on my own, and about 5:20 I went to Nick's Pension and asked for the towels.  They didn't have them and told me to come back around 8 pm, so I said I'd be back then.  Josef hadn't been to the drum shop yet, so I headed out to look for the palace on my own.  I struck northward, but my attempts at reading the map by myself failed, and I ended up half lost in the jungle, I took some awesome back trails and went through a little village where all the children stared at me and bought some petrol there.  It was fun going through the jungle, but I was also glad I made it back to known roads and Ubud shortly after dark.  I got to Nick's at 7:35ish only to discover that Josef had been there five minutes earlier!  We finally met up - it turned out he got lost and almost went to Denpasar before finding Ubud!  He bought his drum and a sarong, and we headed home.  

On Monday, Josef, Jonathan, Seth and I went out with the intent of getting a lot of rupiah coins and burying them.  We got the coins, found shovels and a box at a hardware store, and went home without burying our treasure.  Monday night we went to the Uluwatu temple in southern Bali for the sunset.  They warned us at the entrance about the monkeys, that they would steal things, especially glasses.  That turned out to be prophetic - Seth and I were taking pictures, and a monkey grabbed my glasses from behind and knocked them on the ground.  I got them before he did, but a few minutes later I wasn't so lucky; my glasses got stolen!  The monkey sat on the wall with them in his hands, looking pleased with himself.  I borrowed an umbrella to poke at him from another tourist, but that only made him hiss and bare his teeth.  I gave him a packet of tissues in the hopes that he would let my glasses go, but he ripped it open and went right back to my glasses.  Finally he gnawed the rubber off, poked out the lenses and bent and ripped the frame in two!  And thus I was chastened for my lack of heed to the warning given at the entrance and blinded for the rest of the night.  Dad drove my scooter back home and I took the taxi with Mom and Rachel.  After Uluwatu, we went to a seafood restaurant on the beach at Djimbaran Bay.  It was one of the best meals I've ever had, mostly because the seafood was so fresh, and there was a band on the beach that sang Beatles and Michael Jackson songs to us.

Tuesday morning we finally buried the treasure in the grounds of the place we were staying - not ideal, but we were out of time by that point.  Then we returned our bikes, got lunch, said, goodbye to Lena, and drove to the airport.  Indonesia took a parting fee of 150,000 rupiah, leaving a bad taste in our mouths, but overall it was a great trip.  We got in late Tuesday night after taking the bus to KL Sentral and then taxis home, and we left for Singapore Wednesday morning!

Bulletted summary of our Singapore trip: 
  • 5 hour bus ride, massage seats that leaned way back!
  • Zoo, night safari, taxi driver that picked us up many times (Mr. Chai) because he would take 5 of us
  • Stayed with the Garners; Sister Garner made us breakfast and was an awesome host
  • Jurong Bird Park, Raffles Hotel, Merlion, Singapore Flyer, Wicked!
  • East Coast Park biking (tandem with Ben), $3 Hainanese chicken noodles, best lime juice ever
  • Singapore National Museum, Josef got lost (asleep for an hour in an exhibit), dinner at Clark Quay
  • Singapore Turf Club, figuring out horse racing's finer details, budget terminal, plane home
That's Singapore in a nutshell.  We got back yesterday at midday, and mostly hung out.  We went to a symphony concert last night, a tribute to the organ.  Bach D Minor Toccata and Fugue (organ version and then the Stokowski arrangement), Liszt chorale fantasy/variations for organ and orchestra, Saint-Saens organ symphony.  The organist was famous, and he played very well, although he was French and I didn't like his style on the Bach as much as others I've heard.  The Liszt was a little long and boring at parts, although it recovered near the end.  The Saint-Saens was incredible.  The best performance of it I will ever hope to hear.

Church today, dinner with the Sanders afterwards (huge Chinese New Year feast, sweet and sour pork and kung pao chicken and beef and broccoli and singapore noodles), Mexican train dominoes (not the most fun to endure for two hours - I came in second to last due to some bad luck), and now bed.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Bali #2

It has been a full two days since I wrote last!  Yesterday morning we went river rafting.  Lena stayed behind and relaxed, and the rest of us got picked up at 9 to go to the rafting place.  They didn't let five of us sit in one raft together, so Ben and Jonathan took the first boat and Seth, Josef and I took the next.  Our guide was incredible.  He knew exactly when to have us paddle, where to pivot, and how to get us out of every tight spot we got stuck in.  There was a boat with a family of four fairly overweight people in it, and they started first, followed by Ben and Jonathan and then the three of us, so we were always in not-so-secret competition with the fat people, and we finally overtook them at the end.  We stopped halfway at a waterfall and took some pictures, and then we carried on.  Right before the end, we went over a four meter waterfall in our raft, and that was definitely the highlight of the morning.  I sat in the front with my feet over the top of the raft, and Josef and Seth  sat behind me.  When we hit the bottom, I was bounced up so high I was nearly standing on my head!  After we finished, we were fed a great buffet lunch and then drove back to Ubud.

Lena met us back at Nick's Pension, and we found a driver to take us to Seminyak, where we're staying until we leave.  We unpacked our stuff, walked to the beach (about 15 minutes away) to see the sunset and got some dinner at a cafe close to the beach.  I got fish tacos, and they were fantastic!  The exchange rate is 9000 to the dollar, so my food cost 40 some thousand rupiah.  It feels like you're a millionaire - I withdrew 900,000 from the bank my first day!  Crazy.

Today we were at the beach most of the day, and Ben and I got haircuts in the afternoon.  The beach has rental chairs and umbrellas for about a dollar, and we rented surfboards also.  The current was fairly strong, and the waves weren't the best for surfing in the morning, but it was fun body surfing and fighting the ocean.  We also rented scooters for five days for 100,000 each - $2 a day!  It's my first time on a scooter, but I feel comfortable on it already.  Too comfortable, really - going 60 km/hr in shorts, a t-shirt and flip flops probably isn't the safest thing to do, even with a helmet.  This evening we rode to Tanah Lot, a temple up the coast a little ways.  There's a huge market selling all kinds of touristy goods surrounding the temple; the temple itself wasn't very big, but the sunset view was fantastic.  We missed the actual sunset by a few minutes, but we still got some great pictures.  Josef and I climbed onto a cliff protruding out into the ocean with huge waves crashing up onto it every few minutes, and the view from there was incredible.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bali #1

Today is Wednesday, January 18th, and my second night in Bali.  However, I had probably best relate what's happened in the past two weeks before I go on from here.

The last week of school was a bit hectic, as per usual.  I got my final reports finished, though, and my two presentations went fairly well.  I still don't have my BYU class grade yet, but I think I finished everything that was supposed to factor into it.  I was very glad to finally be done with my semester and leave for a vacation.

We had a nice farewell dinner on Friday the 6th - it was on the second floor of the Xiyuan Hotel, right next door to our building, the Zeng Xian Zi Lou, and there were several courses of pretty good food, along with speeches and a slideshow.  I got the 'best actor' award for the semester, though I'm not sure how I pulled that one off.  Loud British falsetto, maybe.  I gave Xin Qiang a couple books and Carcassonne as a present afterwards, and he left.  If I'm in Beijing for my internship, I'll try to visit him in Dalian before his semester starts again.

I was planning on packing on Saturday, but Ben hadn't been to Zhong Shan Ling yet, so I biked there with him and took the better part of the day going around the mountain with him and seeing different sites.  I sat outside the Ming tombs and wrote my sacrament talk, which got me a few odd looks.  My favorite part was the pagoda, which was very tall and had a cool spiral staircase right up the middle.  We were both really tired by the end, so we biked down the fastest way and found a place to sell our bikes.

Sunday I spoke in church, said goodbye to everyone, and ditched to pack.  Ben and I got a cab to the train station around 5:45 for our 6:39 train (she wouldn't take us until he yelled that he'd pay 100 kuai above the meter), but we made it with Seth and Josef's tickets, thankfully.  We got to the Griffiths' house late (getting there with all our luggage was agony, to put it mildly), but Brother Griffiths was up and let us in.  They are such wonderful people.

We got an early start the next morning and flew out of Hangzhou to KL that evening.  From there, I'll summarize our week in KL.  We did the typical touristy things - Petronas (they let you go all the way to the top now, but you have to pay 50 ringgit), Batu caves, Central Market and Petaling Street Bazaar, the Islamic Art and Architecture museum and the National Mosque - but mostly we relaxed, ate good food, saw movies, swam and played.  We got through a good chunk of two games of Diplomacy, and all my friends now know how to play Cho Da Di and Oh Heck!

We left for Bali yesterday.  Lena (a girl from Shanghai coming with us) got food poisoning on her plane ride to KL on Monday, and they wouldn't let her continue to Bali, so by happy coincidence she ended up on our flight.  Good thing, too - after we got in, she got something like lockjaw, and we took her to the hospital right next door to the hotel we were staying at.  She's better today, but it was a little intense yesterday.

Our first hotel was modern and sparse and multicolored, called POP! Hotel, Denpasar.  The bathrooms were modular units that had a curved sliding door.  After leaving, we drove to Mt. Batur and hiked it, after being threatened by the Balinese mafia for not wanting to hire a guide.  Apparently it's required, and not doing it is disrespectful to the people and the holy site.  Anyway, two guys on motorbikes blocked the path and one guy threatened us with his knife, so we turned back and got another guide.

The volcano itself was spectacular.  Lena and Ben turned back halfway (Lena wasn't feeling well, and Ben volunteered to go back with her), but the rest of us made it to the top, and it was incredible.  The day was cloudy, and when we got to the top it was nearly covered in fog.  We hiked around the caldera on a few foot wide (at best) trail, with steep drops on either side.

After coming down, we drove to Ubud, where we're spending the night at a cool hostel called Nick's Pension, with bungalow-style rooms.  Lena got her own room, Jonathan and Josef gracefully took the one with no air con, and Ben, Seth and I are in the air conditioned room.  Rafting tomorrow!