Tag Archives: travel

The “Other” Woman

I’ve never had it rough. Ever. A healthy white girl from a great family, I grew up in nicer-than-average Californian suburbs and spent most of my adult life in San Francisco. Beyond shoes, books, and  travel, I’ve never really wanted for anything. A close friend of mine likens this kind of life to “playing a video game on the easiest level.”

my life

I love this analogy 1) because it’s so true, and 2) it also speaks to the natural curiosity that goes beyond perpetually playing Level One. Traveling off the beaten path to developing countries has taught me that I have absolutely no right to bitch about anything. At all. It’s also shown me the chasm between the obscenely wealthy and the crushingly poor, and who ends up on which side of that chasm often has little to do with hard work or perseverance, but rather luck of birthplace. Of race. I guess that luck is a big reason I moved to Asia.

Now I’m not in a hut in the middle of Calcutta. But being in Japan for a few weeks has made me unpack my longing to live abroad, and not just in another English-speaking country like Australia or England. For over a decade, I yearned to be turned upside down completely, I just never knew why.

The foreign population of Japan is less than two percent, and being a minority– an extreme minority– is a jarring experience. I’m overtly stared at and photographed on the train. I’ve been blatantly ignored and avoided. I hear conversations in rapid-fire Japanese and pick up “Shinshia” and realize people are talking about me, right in front of me. I talk to people who’ve never spoken to a Westerner before. Being the only person of another race in a room is an unclear feeling. It doesn’t exactly bother me, sometimes it’s strangely freeing to be the novelty, but I’m constantly reminded that I don’t, nor will I ever, fit in. I could speak fluent Japanese, live here twenty years, marry into a Japanese family, learn every possible cultural custom, and not much would change. It’s sounds like I’m whining, but I’m not. I asked for this because I needed to experience first hand what otherness feels like. I don’t know why exactly. I’m not sure that it matters.

Maybe it’s good to feel uncomfortable sometimes. (I know– very Robert Frost of me)– but when you’ve been so lucky in your life it’s important to remember that most aren’t as lucky as you. Being lucky doesn’t make you special, it just makes you lucky. And maybe not being grateful for that luck is the definition of being spoiled. It’s a real fear of mine– forgetting just how lucky I am.

I hope this doesn’t sound like syrupy, white-liberal rambling–though I’m pretty sure it does. And I realize despite being part of the”other” two percent here, the racism or exclusion I deal with isn’t a fraction of what some endure. When you bring on the otherness yourself, it’s something of a contrived experience. It’s just the best I could come up with.

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Risk Defined, by Mark Twain

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Moments of Clarity and A New Use for Durian

Why hello there Kind Reader (how Miss Manners of me),

On my recent journey to Southeast Asia, I spent a few days wandering around the island of Lombok, mostly in the tiny town of Kuta. No, not the Hard Rock Cafe/Tijuana night club/Mecca for Drunken Aussies Kuta (that’s Bali). But Kuta Lombok: a quiet, mini-village nestled on the coast of the Indian Ocean.

The beach beauty defines language, but I’ll give it a shot. Powdery white sand meets cobalt waters…really, it’s almost stupid to try and describe it. The feeling of serenity and quiet that came over me was surprising–almost jarring. I became hyper-aware: my eyes couldn’t process what they were seeing fast enough to tell my brain what to think. I sat, quite dumbstruck, looking at this vast, pure expanse of exquisite nature and thinking: wahhhh? What is this? Where am I? It’s quiet, lovely, relaxing, and aside from a handful of other foreign gawkers, undiscovered.

The rest of Kuta? Not much is going on, really. My partner, Martin* and I hopped on a scooter and promptly got lost, meandering the hillsides where we found tiny villages, little enclaves of community living in the same way they have for centuries. Most are weavers, some are farmers, and some have little boys who, upon seeing a Western female, will promptly whip out their baby manhood and display it in all its tiny glory, straight up in the middle of the dirt road. Martin laughed and scolded the proto-deviant, which of course, the little perv couldn’t understand. I was somewhere between shocked, amused, and mildly flattered. I mean… what do you say? “Thanks Little Perv, for the creepy-bizarro greeting. Just gonna go over here now, and gouge my eyes out with a Durian.” But I digress.

My smelly, tasty weapon of choice.

Back in the village– well it’s technically a village but really just one dirt road with a few shops and hotels– I noticed a faded blue building with lots of Muslim girls and boys shuffling about out front. The sign was in Indonesian but I was sure it had to be a school. After a couple of hours I decided to walk by and sure enough, in traditional Indo-friendly fashion, I got my in.

“Hello!” It was a local man, possibly in his late twenties, sitting in the school courtyard with a few head-scarved female students.

“Hello!” I shouted back. “Is this a school?”

“Yes, please come talk to us.” So I did. Turned out he was the Math teacher, who spoke decent English. After a bit of chatting, well… I couldn’t help myself.

“Would it be alright if I came tomorrow and sat with the English class?” The girls mumbled to each other. Only one girl spoke enough English to understand my question.

His face beamed. “Yes of course! Please come and talk with the students! Yes yes yes!”

I was thrilled. So the next day I stopped by, and Martin, being bored, came along with his Iphone. The video is brief but you get the idea. Later (not shown) even the Math teacher sat in as student!


Sigh. I’ve been so fortunate to make a life with words. Writing, marketing, heck– I’ll even throw in acting. But nothing, nothing comes close to the feeling I get when I teach kids who are this excited to learn. Sort of like Kuta Beach: indescribable, beyond a physical beauty ever thought possible, effortless as air,  filling me in a way nothing else ever could.

Note: If you have trouble with the links… check out Popper Creative on Facebook where I’ve also embedded them.

* Thanks for the clips, Martin. (He still insists on Martin. One day I’ll get him to come out…)

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Will Work For Compressed Air: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Reluctant Relaxation

I’m wrapping up my Southeast Asia adventure… but had to share my latest article about a new client, PicThatWord, and the Founder’s misadventures in relaxation. Enjoy!

Article first published as <a href=’http://technorati.com/blogging/article/will-work-for-compressed-air-the/‘>Will Work For Compressed Air: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Reluctant Relaxation</a> on Technorati.

When Iphone game developer Scott McCarthy set off on a six-week sabbatical to Indonesia, his intentions were in the right place. Knowing that his photo/word association game, PicThatWord, would be launching worldwide on both the Iphone and Facebook in a few short weeks, McCarthy carved out some personal time before PicThatWord’s launch to travel through Indonesia with his girlfriend. He knew there would be work to do while he was on the road: check in with engineers, build out marketing, tweak screen shots, but ultimately, the Bay Area game-maker knew that it was now or never for a long-haul journey. The couple decided there was no better place to relax than Bali, Indonesia. And for the most part, they were spot on. For the most part, that is, until the pair stumbled onto a small village in northeast Bali called Tulamben.

McCarthy had been happily working for weeks at odd hours during his journey (what entrepreneur completely logs off during vacation?), but decided to unplug the laptop and spend a few days honing one of his many water-sport pastimes, SCUBA diving. Tulamben Bay is home to some of the most spectacular underwater scenery on the planet, featuring the staggeringly beautiful USAT Liberty Shipwreck.

Tulamben, like much of north Bali, is also terrifically low key: there are no banks, no ATMs, and only a handful of restaurants, resorts, and homestays. Upon arriving, while having lunch, McCarthy met Kedek Suteja of Aqua Dive Paradise, and soon found himself scooter-bound to Kedek’s dive center and homestay, and the relaxing reprieve quickly became a working partnership for both divers.


“I generally don’t make reservations, or plan much ahead when I travel,” said McCarthy, “I find the best and most exciting things happen when I don’t map everything out in detail.” This was true for his stay at Aqua Dive, and after getting to know Kedek and his staff, the entrepreneur soon realized he had found something special: a dive center just off the coast of world-class diving at about half of the cost of the resort-style dive centers flanking it. “Most divers [in Bali] don’t want to spend a lot of money on fancy rooms or homogenized Western fare. They want a local experience. They want to spend their money on amazing diving with local pros, not designer bath products and over-priced Nasi Goreng.”

After a chat with Kedek, McCarthy discovered that Aqua Dive had no web presence of any kind: no website, no Trip Advisor listing, no Facebook page. The resorts in town were capturing a huge portion of the market share simply because tourists couldn’t book ahead by researching Aqua Dive online. Ever the negotiator, and finding relaxation “a serious challenge,” McCarthy and Kedek struck a deal: McCarthy would build out Aqua Dive’s web marketing, and Kedek would arrange the dives.

Luckily for McCarthy, his girlfriend was busy getting her PADI certification at the center, so he had plenty of time to stay out of the afternoon sun to work, and within a few days, www.tulambendivers.com was born, complete with all of the traveler trimmings: maps, local history, email contacts—the works. Almost immediately Aqua Dive was found by Facebook fans and tourists, and McCarthy was paid with some of the best dives and equipment available, while feeding his addiction for business development.

“It’s a complete win-win,” said McCarthy, while gearing up for his last night dive at USAT Liberty, “Aqua Dive now has the web presence they need to grow, and I get to both consult and, yes, take some serious dive-time, which helps me grow too.”

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A Little Somethin’ for Technorati

Article first published as <a href='http://technorati.com/lifestyle/travel/article/bali-off-track-nusa-lembongan/'>Bali Off-Track: Nusa Lembongan</a> on Technorati.

Salamat Pagi!

So I’m still on the road in Indonesia and thought I’d do some cross-blogging for Technorati… here’s where I was last week. More to come!

Bali Off-Track: Nusa Lembongan

Just 12 kilometers off the coast of Bali, not far from the pounding nightclubs and pandering shopkeepers of Kuta, sits an island called Nusa Lembongan. This drowsy little mound hosts no cars, no post offices, no banks, and save for the morning cacophony of rooster calls, no distractions. Lembongan is home to some popular local surf breaks, as well as some of the best diving in the region, but for those who seek a break from the coastal action of Bali, this island retreat is the perfect spot to do as little as possible.

Part of the Balinese region of Indonesia, Lembongan is primarily Hindu; you’ll spot remanent offerings to the Hindu gods littering the dirt roads: sandwich-sized leaf baskets filled with flowers, rice, crackers, and incense. These offerings are made in the morning and at night to show Hindu deities gratitude and respect (which deities in particular, I’m told by a local hotel worker, can be quite complicated). Basket offerings are performed throughout Bali, but seem be more plentiful on Lembongan.

Life here is simple, but the people work hard. You’ll see petite, sun-hardened women walking down the dirt roads, barefoot, and with over-stuffed rice bags on their heads. Children, maybe as young as eleven, driving mopeds, with boxes of fruit precariously balanced on their foot-wide floor boards. Straw brooms briskly grooming simple storefronts. Lembongan is a step back in time, a quiet reprieve from the hectic woofer-thump of Kuta and the frenetic hustle of big-cities like Suryabaya and Jakarta.

A place perfect for a short-stay, Lembongan is not the typical resort island overrun with pasty-burned tourists and hordes of tchotchke shops. But there are some tasty local eateries, terrific water sports tours, and quaint bungalow homestays just off of the beach for less than 30.00 dollars a day.

From Bali, the fast boat drops you off at the main beach area, not far from the infamous Playgrounds and Lacerations surf breaks. North from there, you’ll find a smattering of hotels and homestays fitting all budgets and travel styles. We had no reservation at the Secret Garden, a budget-friendly retreat highly-rated on the travel sites, so with a nine-room occupancy, we weren’t terrifically surprised when we were immediately—but ever so sweetly– turned away. The Secret Garden boasts a two-minute walk to the beach, great diving tours, and the Yoga Shack, which offers twice-daily drop in sessions of Ashtanga and Hatha yoga, as well as Pilates. Eminently homeless and mildly concerned, we asked the friendly hotel-keeper for other options similar to Secret Gardens. He suggested taking a stroll down the beach to see what the other bungalows had available. It sounded dubious, but as it turns out, due to the supremely low-key profile of Lembongan, there are dozens of pretty, well-equipped, beach-adjacent properties not listed on any travel site. We walked no further than across the road when a older gentleman with that beaming Bali smile greeted us. “You need room? Come look.” That’s how we found Jepun Lembongan Villas.

Just fifty meters from the beach (literally a one-minute walk) Jepun has everything the off-track traveler needs. The property is just six months old, and the rooms have fresh teak furniture and the cleanest, most newly-appointed bathrooms I’ve experienced in Indonesia. 200,000 rupiah (about 24.00 USD) gets you a simply-decorated room with fresh beach and bath towels and a private outdoor veranda with a view of the lapis-tiled, heated swimming pool. Breakfast is also included, which consists of a fresh tropical fruit plate, fresh juice, toast, and coffee. There’s no WiFi, but internet is accessible through the various restaurants and cafes.

With a new home base, we toured the island to get the lay of the land. Often tourists rent scooters to tour the island, but wanting a slower, more physically-fit experience, we opted to hike around a bit south to Mushroom Bay. It’s about a 2.5 mile walk from Jepun, but the roads are clearly marked and easy to navigate, with lots of little watering holes and shops along the way. Take caution while walking, as you’ll share the road with scooters, cows, chickens, and the occasional tourist shuttle. Again by accident, we followed signs to The Beach Club at Sandy Bay, a perfect slice of paradise with all of the modern conveniences of the commercial mega-resort without the crowds, noise, or prices. A stunning cliff-framed oceanscape greets you as you walk to the back terrace, where you can flop down on a canvas beach bed next to the small but pristine infinity pool. The Beach Club offers a simple menu of sandwiches, smoothies, and fresh-squeezed juices, as well as a fully-stocked bar. Relax, check email (I know, it’s sounds wrong, but the connection at Sandy Beach is better than most), and soak up the sounds of crashing waves and gurgling local birdlife. Finish the visit with a healthy scoop of mint-choco ice cream (you’ll have earned it after trekking back to Lembongan Villas—it’s about a five-mile trek, roundtrip.)

The northeast side of the island isn’t widely accessible, being covered with a Mangrove forest and seaweed harvesters, so we trekked through Lembongan Village toward the center of the island, taking a slight shortcut back. We stopped periodically to snap shots of the gorgeous Hindu temples and statuary, which are sprinkled liberally through the island.

Once back, it was close to dinner time, so we strolled up the road to the local Warung Made,( “warungs” are cheap, outdoor, traditional restaurants found everywhere in Bali). The fried noodles with prawns are sweet, spicy, and utterly delicious, topped with a fried egg and fresh vegis. At 1.80 U.S., this was one of the most satisyfing and budget-friendly meals during our stay. Finish with a cold Tehbottle (Indonesian sweet tea) and maybe a sweet dutch pancake topped with ice cream and chocolate sauce.

We walked off our dinner and headed back to our private, pool-side villa for a quiet night of gurgling birdlife and the faint night buzz of mopeds. Sleep comes easy in Lembogan, far from the shopkeepers’ calls and pulsing nightlife just beyond the island’s shore.

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Toward a Defense of Crap

The Prambanan Temple, near Yogyakarta, Indonesia, is thought to be the most beautiful Hindu temple in the world. Built in the 7th century, this formidable mass of volcanic rock and gravity sits not as a quiet home of Hindu worship in what is primarily a Muslim region of the country, but as a theme park to visitors of all faiths, complete with a playground, pony rides, a petting zoo, and countless vendors hocking rows upon rows of souvenirs. Replica temple keychains, shelf-top tchochkes, ashtrays, pins, and postcards: they all serve one purpose. Fulfilling the basic human need for crap.

Now, our need for crap is not exclusive to impulse buys on the way out of a sacred monument. We need crap in our everyday lives, all the time. Example: if my best friend’s mom likes… I don’t know… pigs, you can be sure that her house will be packed to the rafters with pig crap. A pig doormat will welcome you inside her home. Sitting in the kitchen, you’ll find pig salt and pepper shakers on the table and pig towels hanging from the oven door. On the counter you’ll see a fat ceramic pig cookie jar, that when you lift of his pink piggy head, her kids can grab a handful of Oreos. In her master bath she has pig slippers and a pig toothbrush holder, and a shelf full of various pigs she’s collected from her travels abroad which serve no purpose whatsoever other than being perpetually adorable.

Now there’s no logical reason for my friend’s mom’s pig fetish. She’s not working out some childhood trauma from growing up on a farm, some misguided adoption of a family livestock as a cherished pet, only to learn one chilly Fall morning that her snout-faced companion became a butcher-shop commodity at the hands of her father. No, my friend’s mom is from Cleveland and has never set foot on a farm. She just happens to really like pigs and wants anyone she knows to know it.

After leaving Prambanan, my partner, Martin, and I took the crowded public “chicken” bus back to our hostel. I asked him why he thought people buy souvenirs. “To remember,” he said, “to take a piece of their experience home with them.” I used to think that too, and I’m certainly not above this kind of justification for buying trinkets from a tourist shop. For me it’s usually magnets, because I can somehow justify a a crap purchase if it is somehow deemed useful. The result is dozens of magnets on my fridge: Bora Bora, Taipei, Canary Islands, Chihuahua. But really, who needs that much cheap refrigerator decor? Who needs to post that many memos?

Crap doesn’t help us remember. It doesn’t truly reflect our experiences and it certainly doesn’t serve particular utilitarian purposes. Crap doesn’t even make us happy… okay, perhaps for a bit, but that joyful bargain quickly evolves into yet more things to fill our storage spaces. Far be it from me to champion the virtues of a spartan lifestyle, because I tend to be a fan of collecting things I might not really need, but I think we let the crap we buy identify us for others. So others can remember us, know where we’ve been, make the tiny, subtle, assumptions and judgements about who we are and what we keep around us. There’s nothing wrong with this, in my mind anyway, because my little armchair theory really applies to any external expression. It’s all about identity, really, a subject that far exceeds the confines of this little blog post.

Indonesia is replete with inexpensive, beautiful crap. The compulsion to sift through and collect millions of Rupiah worth of wooden Ganeshas and beaded batik everything is powerful. But in the interest of traveling light, spending wise, and desiring less, I’m hoping not to quell the crap desire. I’m hoping that the experiences themselves and the photos I take serve the need to remember, and that no amount of cement Hindu statuary is going to change how others see me, or how I see myself.

Okay, maybe just one Ganesha…

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Toilets, Love, and the Traveling Writer

It’s the journey of a lifetime: a six week sabbatical spanning Indonesia. After the tactful suggestion by my partner to bring only as much as I can carry on my back, it hits me: this trip is not the order-room service-and-sit-by-the-pool kind of trip. No, this is more of the muddy shoe-mosquito net-you-think-I-have-malaria kind of trip. No gauzy white curtains blowing through our palm-fanned bungalow. No swim up bar with white canvas beach beds. No blow dryers, no flat irons. No heels.

A new experience no doubt. Sure, I’ve roughed it before. Back in 2004 I took a surf trip to Costa Rica where friends and I stayed at the trendy eco-friendly (read: gringo) hotel, complete with cement rooms and giant hairy spiders as our silent wake up callers. But we had hot water and outlets, and now, I can’t help but wonder if this exotic excursion is going to push my city girl sensibilities to their breaking point. I can live without heels, and even makeup (I think?), but not showers. And toilets. There are toilets in the Javanese jungle, right? I have to draw a line somewhere.

We’re both global travelers, but my partner, Martin*, is what we call a Rugged Traveler. Before we met, he traveled the globe for eight months, mostly by motorcycle, holing up in dingy hostels and subsisting on local street food. He hiked mountains in India and built ferocious, roaring campfires using nothing but wet toothpicks and a broken shoelace. (Okay I made that last part up but you get my point.) Now, I’m not saying that’s not how I roll; I’ve just never rolled that way before.

I’m trying to frame the enterprise as a way to conquer a few fears: fears of uncertainty, intimacy, and caffeine withdrawal (as there will be no Phil’z coffee I am quite certain.) Because this trip will be a test in several ways. Can I travel—and enjoy, I mean truly enjoy—vacationing without my basic creature comforts? And what about us? Six weeks is a long span for a couple who are accustomed to two very different modes of vacationing. Will we bicker, spending so much time together, alone, in a culture we’re both wholly unfamiliar with, or will the experience bring us closer together? Will he object when we get to Bali and I suggest (read: insist on) a much-deserved spa day at the zen retreat I’ve already researched, mapped, and selected massage treatments at? I mean, after weeks of muddy sneakers and street side noodle bowls, a girl should be able to have one measly salt scrub at a hotel, right? With gauzy white curtains in a palm-fanned bungalow. And those curtains had better be blowing.

* Not his real name… he insisted I use Martin. I think I embarrass him…

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