19 December 2013

what a long strange trip it's been

     My days as an expat are over. I am a traveler, which is much different than being an expat. I learned a great deal about myself this past year, and I would like to share some of my lessons learned. For any of you interested in being an expat, my first thought would be to give it a trial period before committing to the idea 100%. I thought that by visiting a country many times, would make this transition easy. But, once you rent a house and interact with the locals, many cultural challenges occur. I talked with other foreigners living in Lao, researched my move, and prepared myself in as many ways as possible. But, once I began my life in a small village in southern Lao, none of this mattered.

     Community is very important for a foreigner living abroad. My choice to live in a small village did not allow me the opportunity to interact with many people with my background. It wasn't until I moved to a city, that I found community, with other foreigners. I think this is very important, when being an expat. Being able to talk, discuss, and learn from others with your own background is vitally important when living in a foreign land. Especially if that foreign land is culturally different than your own.

     Finding a project to do with your time, either a job or volunteer work, is important when living abroad. Yes, it can be fun not working and just relaxing, but the local population may not understand your leisure time. Learning the local language is important when living abroad. My problem was that there were too many dialects within a small area of Lao, and I had a difficult time learning from my neighbors in a small village. More opportunities arose once I moved to a city, but by then, I was done with the expat life and was getting back into the traveling life.

     I learned more about myself this past year, than the previous fifty years combined. I thank my family and friends for supporting me in this Lao living experience! i couldn't have done it without you all!!!

24 November 2013

plow men dig my earth

     The rice fields and terraces on Bali, are a work of art and community. All villagers share the work and responsibility of tilling, irrigating, and harvesting of the rice. More than 1200 Subaks (village associations) oversee the supply of water, and every farmer belongs to his village Subak. Usually, the farmer at the end of the water supply is in charge, insuring irrigated water to all farmers. This method of irrigation has been going on for a thousand years. My pictures are worth more than words . . .

Rice fields near my Ubud homestay
The setting of my cooking class (restaurant in the trees)

Rice fields near Ubud

Rice fields near Ubud

Rice terraces near Gunung Kawi

Tegallalang rice terraces

Tegallalang rice terraces

Tegallalang rice terraces

Tegallalang rice terraces

23 November 2013

many worlds i've come since i first left home

     The second part of my Balinese cultural experience, is about the many Hindu temples and ceremonies around this island. The Balinese people are celebrating their faith daily, and everyone is welcome! I got to experience two cremation ceremonies and one tooth-filing ceremony, but, I saw daily gatherings all over the island. Upon arrival in Bali, my first purchase was a sarong and sash, requirements for attending ceremonies, and entering temples. Most of the homes look like Hindu temples, the homes are surrounded by a low wall, and the entrance gates look similar to the one pictured here, at the Ubud Palace.

Ubud Palace
     There are many temples on Bali, and I got to visit a few. The Holy Springs Temple, dates from the 10th century.

Pura Tirta Empul - Holy Spring Temple
     On a ridgetop, overlooking the volcanoes and lakes of central Bali, is this relatively new temple site, Pura Ulun Danu Batur. It is located in the town of Kintamani.

Pura Ulun Danu Batur - Kintamani

Pura Ulun Danu Batur - Kintamani

     Goa Gajah is known as the Elephant Cave. This site dates back to the 10th century, and has a statue of Ganesha, the elephant-headed Hindu god, inside the cave.

Goa Gajah Cave Temple
     My favorite site in Bali, is Gunung Kawi, the Rocky Temple. Dating from the 11th century, this site has ten rock-cut shrines, each built in memory of a member of the Balinese royalty at the time.

Gunung Kawi Rocky Temple

Ceremonies are a daily occurrence all over Bali. I caught sight of one gathering on the beach in Padangbai!

Temple ceremony in Padangbai

20 October 2013

with rings on her fingers and bells on her shoes

Legong dance

     The highlight of Bali, for me, was experiencing the Balinese culture. Indonesia is a Muslim country, and all the Indonesian islands practice Islam, except Bali. Bali has been able to retain it’s Hindi faith, and this is evident all over the island. I will have to split this cultural story into two parts. The first part will be about Balinese dance. I spent eight days in the central Bali town of Ubud, and could have easily spent a month there! My days were spent walking in the rice terraces, and looking through the plentiful art galleries. My nights were spent attending Balinese dance performances. These were all breathtaking, magical experiences! I was mesmerized during these dances, but was able to remember to snap a few pictures.

Legong dance

     The dancers practice for years, starting at an early age, and only the gifted ones get to perform in the ‘big’ shows. I enjoyed the performances at the Ubud Palace because of the quality of performers, quality of costumes, and quality of gamelon orchestra. My favorite’s were the Legong dance, the Barong dance, and the Kecak dance. I will post some pictures and let them tell the story.

Legong dance

Legong dance

     Each dancer was constantly moving. From their eyes, and facial expressions, to their head and neck. From their fingers, hands, arms, and shoulders, to their toes, feet, legs, and hips. Their movement was brilliant and stunning!

Legong dance

     The Legong dance was my favorite, as the dancers were breathtaking.

Legong dance

     The Barong dance was fun, with the fanciful Barong, and the masked dancers.

Barong dance
Barong dance
Barong dance
Barong dance
Barong dance
Barong dance

     The Kecak Fire and Trance dance was hypnotic with the men chanting like monkeys, dancers twirling among them.

Kecak dance
Kecak dance

     Twice a week, there are dance practices at the Ubud palace for any children interested. The Balinese take dance very seriously, and the children were learning from the masters.

girls's dance class

boy's dance class

     I have not ever experienced anything like the Balinese dance performances, and the memories will be vivid for years to come!

16 October 2013

paradise waits . . .

beach at Anturan, Bali

    I’m going to take off my ‘expat’ hat and put my ‘traveler’ hat back on! These next few blog posts will take a detour from land-locked Lao, to some of the islands of Indonesia. With over 17,000 islands in Indonesia, I narrowed my month-long journey to just three, Bali, Nusa Lembongan, and Java. I departed Lao, spent a few days in Bangkok, then flew to Denpasar, Bali. Upon leaving the airport, I was greeted with a fragrant, tropical scent, and a salty, marine air! I left Denpasar, and checked into a room near the beach of Sanur, on the southeast coast of Bali. Taking a walk along the white sands, I felt my skin sucking in the salty air. All my life, I have lived near the saltwater, and I now realized how much my body missed the marine air!

beach at Sanur, Bali

     This blog post will feature the beaches and coastline of Bali. I spent some time exploring Sanur, enjoying live music at night, and strolling the beach by day. I was taken back into my past, to the many times I have spent gazing at the ocean, thinking about life, the universe, and everything.

beach at Padangbai, Bali

     I headed north, to the east coast fishing village of Padangbai, and spent some time exploring the beaches in the area. This small town was slow-paced, and had a relaxed atmosphere. There was live music at night and plenty of freshly caught seafood. There is a ferry to Lombok that departs Padangbai daily, and most foreigners only stop long enough to board a ferry. They missed out on a lovely town, with a vibrant community!

beach at Kalibukbuk, Bali

     On the north coast of Bali, are a number of small fishing villages. I stayed at two of these, each similar, slow-paced, with fresh seafood. Kalibukbuk was the bigger of the two, and had a few foreigners, but most of my days were spent with the local Balinese. Anturan was another town I stayed a while, and I was able to listen to live music in the evenings. September is a low season on Bali, room rates drop, and foreigners depart. This is the perfect time to visit, as the weather is still good! The north coast, at this time, is calm and as flat as a lake.

beach on Nusa Lembongan

     I explored the island of Nusa Lembongan, and spent days walking around this small island. It is located east of Bali, an hour away by boat. Lovely beaches, fresh seafood, kind people, and days spent lazing on the beach! My time on Balinese beaches was meaningful to me, as I started thinking about my life in land-locked Lao. I was able to look at my Lao life from afar, and think about my future. It was great to be eating seafood again, and soaking in the salty, marine air! Balinese beaches are excellent, and I highly recommend this island in September! More to come, as I will soon post about the culture of Bali, and the ancient temples on Java!

beach on Nusa Lembongan with Bali in the distance

11 August 2013

I got up and wandered, wandered downtown, nowhere to go but just to hang around

     Pakse is a compact city, making walking my preferred method of getting around. In the mornings, I like to walk through the big market. This is a market similar to the Seattle Pike Place Market, or your local farmer’s market. It is not a Safeway market, or a western shopping center. At this market there is a section with vendors selling vegetables. There are some vegies imported from Vietnam, but, for the most part, the availability is what is in season in Lao. This brings an amazing freshness, as the produce does not travel far from farm to market.

     There is another section of the market with vendors selling fruit. Again, mostly what is available, in season, in Lao. There is a huge variety of colorful, and flavorful fruit in Lao. I’ve sampled a great deal of what is available, and like them all. Well, all except durian. I found it interesting that some of the oranges have a green skin. The flesh inside is orange, however, and quite flavorful. There are no lemons, but some of the limes have a yellow rind, with a lime flavor.

     There is a section selling meat, similar to your local butcher. There are no prepackaged meats here. If you want pork, you go to the pork vendor and they will cut what you want, the same with beef, or chicken. All parts of the animal are sold and eaten, and I mean ALL parts, head, feet, tail, tongue, liver, and intestines included!

     The seafood section has many varieties of freshwater fish. Fish is the main protein source for the Lao people, and an amazing variety is available. There are frozen Vietnamese prawns and squid available as well.

     There are a large number of vendors selling prepared food in the market. Drinks, soups, rice dishes, meat dishes, and deserts. The prices are much less than the restaurants, but a bit more than the street vendors. Table and benches are set up to eat and drink.

     The largest part of the market has vendors selling a little bit of everything. There are vendors selling clothing, fabric, hardware items, cosmetic supplies, jewelry, electronics, kitchen supplies, etc. All the vendors will bargain, there are no set prices. I think this is what the vendors like, the interaction with the buyers. Buying a watermelon or a shirt, is not as simple as paying the listed price because there is no listed price. The buyer and seller take time to reach an agreeable price, and this can be quite fun!

     My morning walk takes me through this marketplace, and continues along the Mekong river, back to my apartment. Most afternoons I take a walk in the other direction, into the center of town. Here I buy street food, all delicious and inexpensive. The Lao businesses are all quite similar. A family will live and work in the same building, with a shop at street level, and living quarters upstairs.

     Walking is not something the Lao people do. They will use their moto to visit a friend two doors down. They will use their moto to go across the street. Thus, sidewalks are not used for walking. Sidewalks are used for parking their vehicles and selling stuff. When I walk, I have to walk on the street. Not what I prefer, but, when in Lao . . .