Saturday, January 29, 2011

She'll be Comin Around the Mountain...IF she comes

'When does the bus leave?' We asked the lady behind the counter at the bus station who seemed to be there to unhappily answer your bus related questions regardless of what time of day it was. Yesterday we had stopped by in the morning to inquire about a bus timetable and then stopped back in after dinner with another question, and she was still there. I guess maybe when you work all day, every day, you are allowed to be a little disgruntled. 'At 11am,' she grunted. It was 10am. 'So we will come back at 10:45' we told her. Through past experience, we have learned that practically the only way to catch one of these elusive public buses is to make a personal appointment with the 'Queen of the Bus Station.' The other day we had stopped by to ask when the public bus made the 5km uphill journey to the next town. 'Every two hours' the Queen had told us, without looking up from the newspaper. 'And which hours are those?' Jonathan asked. She sighed and rolled her eyes like we had just asked what time they turn the Falls off at. (Which, by the way, we have been asked multiple times by people in the last few weeks. As soon as they find out that we are from Niagara Falls they say, in this order: 'Oh! Wow! I have been to Niagara Falls. I didn't know people actually LIVED there.' And then. 'Didn't they just turn off the Falls recently? I just saw a picture.' Apparently the one photo taken pretty much the only time the Falls had ever been 'shut off' in like 1970 has been circulating around the world and this is the first picture that, oddly, pops into people's heads when they think about the Falls. The Queen of the bus station glared at us as she started rhyming off the times the bus would run to the next town, '8:30, 10:30, 12:30....' 'Ok, we get the idea. Thanks. So, the bus will leave here at 4:30pm for the night market in Brinchang?' We confirmed. Now she was really annoyed. 'Yes!' she exclaimed. Great. We returned to the bus station at about 4:15 and went to the window to buy our tickets. 'Can we get two tickets for the 4:30 bus?' we asked. The Queen's hands flew in the air in exasperation. 'You just missed it!' She yelled. We looked at the clock right behind her. It read 4:25, even though it was actually only 4:15. 'It left 5 minutes early because of a traffic jam!' She told us. This confused us. First, it must have left much earlier than '5min' and second, how could there possibly be a traffic jam between this tiny village and the next tiny village, merely 5 km away?' We gave in and took a taxi into Brinchang. The bus would have been 3RM and the taxi was only 6RM, so really, it was the difference of $1 Cdn. We waited faithfully at the bus station in Brinchang for the return bus to Tanah Rata, where we were staying. We arrived half an hour early, to be on the safe side. Sure enough, there came the 7:30 bus, rumbling down the street in a cloud of thick black smoke at precisely 7:10. Ha!

We have been determined to get a handle on this public bus situation though, if only for vast accomplishment it would be.... and because with that extra 3RM we would save not taking the taxi, I can buy a delicious chocolate and peanut butter pancake. I am highly motivated by food, if you didn't get that already. This brings us back to what I was originally going to talk about before I got sidetracked by all that background bus babble. So we arrived back at the bus station at 10:30 for our 11am bus. 'How much is the ticket?' I asked. 'One ringget(RM)' The Queen's Assistant told me. 'You can buy it on the bus.' Great. We boarded the super stuffy bus and found a seat. This bus was not going to leave without us. We settled on practically the only bright blue, sticky vinyl seat that was more than less, intact. at least there were more chunks of vinyl there than not, which wasn't the case for the majority of the seats. Looking around, I was just content to be in a seat that was still upright, as the pair right across from us had somehow become so rusted that the bolts holding the seats upright had given out and the seats now lay on their back on the floor of the bus.

The Queen's Assistant started yelling and people started boarding. It was 10:35. Then the bus driver got on and the bus grumbled to 'life.' Then the bus driver got off and had a cigarette. Then the Assistant ran around the bus station yelling some more. At 11 o'clock, on the dot, the bus driver got back on the bus, followed by the Assistant and another bus employee, the bus door slammed shut and we started to move. As soon as the bus left the confines of the bus station, the Assistant, whose voice only comes in two volumes: Loud and Ear piercing came through the bus collecting money for the tickets. '1.50 RM' she declared, holding out her hand. 'But, YOU just told us 1.20RM at the bus station!' I protested. 'Ohhhh' yelled the Assistant, 'But this is the NICE bus.' Jonathan couldn't help himself and burst out laughing. I sent a sharp elbow this way. Another outburst like that and this ticket would surely become 2RM. 'And how is this the nice bus?' I asked politely. She waved her hand around like she was Vanna White. 'This bus has air-conditioning! The other bus you have to open the windows!' She frowned. I could use an open window right about now. 'This bus has air-conditioning?' Jonathan asked doubtfully. I looked up at the gaping holes above our head that probably did house some sort of ancient air conditioning, back before they were ripped in 1901. 'Sooo this is the nice bus?' I made sure I had heard correctly. Jonathan was still laughing as he handed over the 3RM for our tickets. I looked around to admire the nice-ness. Exposed wires were hanging everywhere. The dash had been ripped out and all that was left was reminents of the glue that had once held the dashboard in place. The material on the walls was slashed and the vinyl chairs that still managed to be somewhat vinyl-y had people's names carved into them. There was no ceiling. The tiny shards of tile lined the centre isle were black with decades of dirt. The Assistant ripped off two tiny tickets from her pile, handed them to Jonathan and then stood behind our seats. 'AIR CONDITIONING!!!' She bellowed to the driver. There was a disturbing noise followed by a steady stream of smelly, stale air pouring out from the hole above. So, she wasn't lying about the air-conditioning.. Then, much to our delight, the second bus employee started making his way down the isle, checking to make sure everyone had a ticket and then ripping the tickets that the Assistant had just dolled out. I counted, the employee to bus rider ratio was 1:2. No wonder they had to charge so much more to ride the 'nice' bus! We had the tickets in our hands for not even 10 seconds, no exaggeration, before the Official Ticket Ripper' took them back from us and ripped them in half. Darn. They would have been good souvenirs. Both the Assistant and Ticket Ripper were now beside us. 'So what time should we be outside waiting for a bus back town?' We asked. The Assistant yelled at the Official Ticket Ripper and he mumbled back, apparently discussing what time would be the most entertaining for them to tell us to be standing on the side of the highway awaiting the non-existent return bus. '2:45!' Yelled the Assistant at the same time as the Official Ticket Ripper stated '3 o'clock! The bus made a sharp turn and the poor belly-heavy Ticket Ripper tumbled back onto the broken seats parallel to us with a thump. Either that or the sheer force of the Assistant's booming voice knocked him off his feet. Both are equally likely. 'Ohhh this is SO blog-able, ' Jonathan mused.

When we arrived at the Barhat Tea House and Plantation a very short time later we were so happy we had made the trip. Other than the tea being (relatively) expensive, the teahouse itself sat on the edge of a cliff overlooking, and surrounded by the lush, green, rolling hills of the tea plantation. It was nothing short of spectacular and a backdrop we had never seen before. We spent the whole day sipping tea, hiking through (and over) the paths between the tea bushes and sipping more tea. The tea company had very thoughtfully biult a second tea house about a kilometre up the road and made it so you could walk through the tea plants in between cups of tea. So, we sat and had another cup of tea. If possible, the view from the second teahouse was even more breathtaking than the first. At about 2 o'clock, a full 45min-1 hour before the bus was scheduled to arrive for our pickup (depending on whether you believed the Assistant or the Official Ticket Ripper) we started watching out for the bus. Luckily for us, the road through the highlands was so twisty curvy that we could see the cars 'comin round the mountain' a good minute or so before they would arrive in front of teahouse. This, in theory, would give us more than enough time to jump from our tea table on the patio and scamper out to the parking lot in time to flag down the bus. Watching for the bus turned out to be a little more cumbersom than we expected, however, because keeping our eyes on the road meant that we couldn't look out at the gorgeous hills, which were significantly more pleasing than a bunch of old rusty trucks spurting out black gunk. We waited and waited at the edge of our seats, poised, ready to leap into action. We waited. And waited some more. In theory, we weren't that far from town. Five or six kilometers, maybe. Unfortunately, every single one of those kilometers was uphill. At 3 o'clock we went and stood on the side of the highway, just in case. At 3:10 we started waving down every bus that passed. On the off chance that our 'nice' bus had actually transformed into a 'nice' bus. It hadn't. None stopped. They all waved apologetically though. I was contemplating jumping out in front of the next bus that passed and demanding to be driven into town. Jonathan suggested we just start walking instead. How boring. That thought hadn't really crossed my mind. Deciding that filling out a claim with our travel insurance after getting smoked by an oncoming bus would probably be even more painful than huffing it uphill to the village, we started to walk. It was about 3:30. We had been sweating it out for almost 15min when we heard the familiar groan of the ancient engine belonging to our 'nice bus' coming from behind us. We flagged it down. It was the exact bus that had dropped us off. The same driver sat behind the wheel. The same Assistant sat in the front seat. 'Why are you walking!?' The Assistant yelled at us as we climbed the steps. 'Never mind. The ticket is 1.20RM now.'

Cameron Highlands Fact: Did you know that there are more Land Rovers in the Highlands than any where else in the whole world? Don't get too excited though, most appear to be from the very first batch ever manufactured...

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Tea Master vs The Tea Disaster

In Melaka we had the privilege of couchsurfing with a Chinese tea master. 'Yee Tea' was his couchsurfing profile name. His current mission: to meet every person in the world. Not wanting to stand in the way of such an ambitious mission, we immediately messaged him to assist in his quest. Free accommodation and the chance of hanging out with a 'master' would just happen to be side benefits. Considering Yee Tea had three-hundred-sixty-five positive references from fellow couchsurfers, it became apparent that Tea was already well on his way to achieving his goal. Yee Tea, fittingly, owns a tea shop on the main street of the old town of UNESCO World Heritage protected area of Melaka. 'Tea talk is free' his profile read. Perfect. We found Tea's shop pretty easily. 'You want a tri-shaw ride?' asked one of the thirty-eight tri-shaw drivers standing proudly beside his contribution to the 'tackiest tri-shaw in the world' competition. Its their thing in Melaka, apparently. They deck out their tri-shaw with fake flowers, flashing Christmas lights, heart-shaped pillows and Happy Meal toys and then tourists find the idea so entertaining that they can't possibly turn down a ride. 'No Thanks, we don't need a ride. Our friend lives right down the street.' 'You have a friend in Melaka?' the driver asked curiously. 'Yes, he owns a tea shop.' Jonathan told him. 'Ohhhhhh,' said the tri-shaw driver, nodding, 'Yes, he has many friends.' I guess you can't host five-hundred couchsurfers without your townsfolk taking note.

Yea Tea's shop was cluttered in a charming sort of way. The walls were lined with shelves that were stock full of ceramic tea pots in various shapes, sizes and colours as well as knick-knacks of the hand carvd variety, large silver canisters full of loose leaf tea and a couple beautiful tables that looked like they were sliced from the middle of a very large, very irregularly shaped tree. Yee Tea was asleep in a chair in the back. His wife jolted him awake when we came in and Tea immediately set about boiling the water for a cup of tea. We sat at one of the tables and Tea poured us fresh, strong, oolong tea from a tiny teapot where the tea steeped into miniature tea cups. Tiny cup after tiny cup of tea we drank, while getting to know each other a tad over 'tea talk.' When we could drink no more, Tea suggested we go explore the old town a bit and come back around 8pm, when he closed the shop. So that's what we did. The old town itself, particularily Chinatown, is a fantastic jumble of narrow streets lined with shops and restaurants offering eyefuls of window-hanging meat, huge bags of meat-crackers, and colourful sarongs and paintings combined with nosefuls of smelly dried fish, barrels of mushrooms and sweet pineapple cookies.

When we arrived back at the shop Tea suggested we head out into Little India for some 'cheap noodle soup.' We weaved our way down the streets and behind an outdoor kitchen to a parking lot full of tables and chairs and a big screen playing an Indian movie via projector. The tables were full of locals slurping down bowls of soup accompanied with large bottles of beer. If a tourist was even able to find this place, ordering would have been an even bigger challenge. Tea said something in Chinese to the lady stirring a massive caldron of boiling oil and then motioned for us to follow him through the maze of tables. Not long after followed two bowls of tasty noodle soup and a couple over-sized 'Tiger' beers. The two bowls of soup cost barely a dollar in total! We could get used to this dining with a local thing. Just as Tea was delving into Malaysia's multi-cultural society which is comprised mainly of the Malay, Chinese and Indian communities he jumped up from the table and returned with a couple of so-fresh-they-were-too-hot-to-touch chinese doughnuts (dough stretched out into long sticks and fried). 'To soak up the bottom of your soup with,' he explained. Chinese doughnuts to soak up our Indian soup. Multiculturalism at it's tastiest.

Tea drove us to his house on the out-skirts of the city. He and his wife live above the shop, but keep this house for couchsurfers, to sublet and for somewhere for their kids to stay when they come to visit. One of the rooms was currently subleted to a retired Dutchman who was rumored to speak English and be very nice. He came storming out of the bedroom when we arrived and jumped onto Yee Tea yelling, 'I KILL YOU' in very clear English. Tea laughed and graciously returned the sentiment, so we assumed this was a common greeting of sorts. These were to be the only words 'Fred' spoke in English that we understood over the next forty-eight hours. Fred, we think, was maybe a little crazy; quirky, at the least. He got very worked up about something and continued on ranting in 'English' for quite some time trying to get his point across. Judging from his hand gestures his anger had something to do with chopsticks. Then, from what we gathered, his dissatisfaction turned to something sushi related and before we knew it Fred had run into the kitchen and grabbed a large, extremely well cared for chef knife to show us how to properly cut air sushi. We think. The knife made me very uncomfortable and I quickly offered to return it to the kitchen for him. Then I hid it underneath all the dish towels at the very bottom of the very furthest drawer: this just in case Fred decided he wanted to demonstrate cutting something else in the middle of the night. When we woke up in the morning with all of our digits in tact we came to the conclusion that maybe Fred really was a nice guy who was just very passionate about chopsticks and sushi. 'What are you doing today, Fred?' I asked him on his way out the door. 'Coffee bean,' was his reply.

We spent some time in Chinatown that day, wandering relatively aimlessly and stopping often for goodies. One of the 'Don't leave Melaka without Trying' items in our Lonely Planet guide was the local drink: cendol. It was supposed to be sweet - so obviously it made it to the top of my list as well. Cendol is a odd combination of shaved ice, coconut milk, green tapioca drops and local liquid palm sugar. I don't know why the tapioca needs to be green- but it is. The tapioca itself, in case you are having trouble picturing it, is like the pearls or bubbles in bubble-tea. So chewy and not super flavourful, but obviously there. The drink came out in a large icecream dish that was piled high with shaved ice and topped with sugar. In my books, anything topped with sugar and containing coconut is a-ok, but it certainly was unlike anything I had tasted before.

We had a personal date with our very own tea master that afternoon to learn the secret behind steeping that perfect mug... or tiny thimble in this case. Yee Tea had trained in China and Malaysia to become a Tea Master. Little did I know, that there is apparently a lot more to drinking tea than plugging in your electric kettle, plopping in a choice tea bag and then piling in a hefty scoop of milk and sugar. There are different tea families, different temperatures to drink the teas at, things to think about and meditate on while preparing the tea, serving the tea, and finally a special way to drink the tea.

It all starts by preparing the table. On a tray, Tea had a variety of objects with which to set the table. A small, thick table cloth, coasters, a tea pot, teacups, loose tea, a bowl for the tea leaves, a holding jar, a scoop... Then there was a certain order in which these items were to be set on the table, and a specifc place for each of them. The whole event seemed like one big photo-op for me. I probably would have payed a bit closer attention had I known we were going to have to mimic all of Tea's movements. 'Your turn!' he declared. I made Jonathan go first and desperately tried to remember everything he did. You know Jonathan. He is so calm and serene and slow... 'Very Good! 95%!' Tee said to Jonathan after he had finished. Jerk. By the time I was through picking up an item, looking at Tea, him shaking his head, me randomly picking another item, plunking it onto the cloth, and then Tea moving it to it's proper place, Tea looked like he really needed, well, a cup of tea. 'Umm. Ok? 75%' he told me, most certainly only to not dash my dreams of becoming the next Tea Master extraordinaire. I'm not even going to get into how perfectly Jonathan poured the tea. Not a drop went a rye. Myself, on the other hand, poured almost the entire pot pretty much everywhere besides into the tea cups while posing for a picture. So, really, the mess was Jonathan' fault, because he should have known better than to distract me while I was pouring. 'Tea Disaster' I was declared. Which is really unfortunate, because I thought I was capable of making quite a tasty 'cuppa' before all this.

In addition to learning about tea, Tea explained a few thought processes that were common among his fellow Tea Masters. One idea that I thought was particularly interesting was that of the 'Eight Senses.' In addition to your five senses, Tea believes that a sixth sense of experience, seventh of thinking and eighth of memory are equally as relevant in how you interpret your everyday life. It seems obvious, when you think about it, that our past experiences would shape how we perceive our new experiences. That our way thinking, which may be significantly different than those around us, would create a framework through which we would interpret what we are experiencing. And that the knowledge we have, both formal and life would have a direct impact on how we live day to day and how we internalize and make sense of new circumstances.

Jonathan and I feel very lucky to be travelling right now. We think and talk a lot about what we see, who we meet and how this experience is shaping our lives and opinions as well as broadening our knowledge. Life is very different here than what we are used to at home in Canada. Often it is a lot to take in. We meet tons of other travellers from all over the world as well as a good number of local people. We love talking to other people about life and travel, exchanging tips and learning from each other's experiences. What is so obviously apparent is that every person is different. It's such an obvious statement that we often don't even think about it. Of course every person is different. Everyone has their own thoughts and opinions and a unique set of experiences and education to use as references. What we hadn't spent as much time thinking about before this trip, however, was how people come to be so different. Again, it's so obvious that we had just taken our differences as fact and moved on.

What we have found important to realize is that every person experiences the events of their life differently because the events are interpreted by each person through a personal set of senses. This is where the extra three senses became interesting to us. We come to Asia and look around. What we see, smell, hear etc is internalized by us through our personal lenses. Our lens takes in all these new things we are seeing, smelling, feeling and filters them through our past experiences and knowledge. Through this process, that we don't even realize is happening, we are able to understand this new experience. Each person is only capable of understanding a new experience through what they already know. It is impossible to use knowledge that we don't have or systems of approaching difference and change that we haven't nurtured (or even discovered yet) to interpret a situation. It is unreasonable and unfair for anyone to expect us, being Western and only having a limited experience in the Asian culture to be able to understand fully what we are experiencing, or even know for sure the way someone will interpret things we do or say. This is partly why we are travelling: to widen, and mature our personal lens and, over time, become able to understand and communicate with clarity, not only our experiences, but how others might be experiencing us. Of coure this doesn't mean that we intentionally go into situations ignorantly. We do our best to read, to talk to other travellers and locals and to learn from how we see the world happening around us. But its impossible to be prepared for every single situation and know how to react perfectly to every person. People are just as varied within a culture or country as the culture is itself from the culture we know. Therefore, the more experiences we have, the more days we spend immersed in this foreign culture, the more capable (we hope) we are of understanding other people's influence on us, and ours on them. Of course we also learn and grow through talking to other travellers, who, if from the west as well, would have experiences and thought processes at least similar to our own, and therefore easier for us to understand. Lessons that can be bundled up and easily delivered to us via other travellers are usually of the easier of lessons, however. Harder to digest cultural differences seem to be more often learned through personal experience. The idea of learning from others, or through fellow travellers' mistakes brings up yet another issue, however. Sometimes what people are saying isn't really getting the point across that they intend to, whether because of a language barrier or just their way of explaining. And then, even if your fellow travellers do manage to successfully communicate their point, it's not necessarily the case that you will interpret the information the way it is intended. Although, I suppose these are general issues with communication and not necessarily specific to travel. Nonetheless, that doesn't lessen the value of the experiences and systems of thought foreign to us either. Nor should it be an avenue deemed to offer no or even limited opportunities for growth and maturation. Quite the contrary, in fact. Still, though, tips, advice, stories and tall tales are internalized through that lens of ours. No matter how open one is to seeing the 'real' world it is impossible to see anything any other way than through what they already know or hold as true. One of the reasons we love travel so much is it's unabashed opportunity to learn. We've said before, and strongly believe that engaging with real life and real experiences are the best way to learn about the people, places and cultures. We have noticed significant changes in ourselves over the last three and a half months. Our experiences and knowledge have widen our horizons considerably and, no doubt, how we are experiencing Thailand today (we are posting this from Thailand) is through an enlarged and not-quite-the-same framework than we would have been able to experience it two months ago. Still, we are new, and, clearly, have a lot to learn.

After our tea ceremony, Yee Tea and his wife invited us to join them in making dinner. Tea and Jonathan set about making a pineapple curry while Tea's wife and I rolled sushi. (Maybe we should have invited Fred to join, considering his obvious passion for cutting sushi and using chop sticks). We had an absolute feast. Tea even plucked his leafy vegetable tree dry and fried the leaves up into the most perfect veggie serving I could imagine. The food was so tasty and it seemed so easy to prepare.. although it probably won't be once we are at home and trying to recreate the perfect combination of flavours. Our conversation outlasted even the last drops of scrumptious curry. We are very grateful to Tea and his wife for hosting us in Melaka. We would have loved to stay longer, but alas, we had to go off to Kuala Lumpar to pick up a Thai visa.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Singapore Fling

Our plane landed in Singapore around dinner time on New Year's Eve. After a quick transit ride to our hostel in Little India, we set off to see how the city was welcoming 2011. Our first stop was to fill our bellies for the last time in 2010. We found an Indian vegetarian restaurant and were surprised when we got the menu that we didn't recognize one single thing. We love Indian food and would have considered ourselves relatively comfortable ordering at a Canadian Indian restaurant. We felt absolutely helpless, and our despair must have been pretty obvious to everyone else in the restaurant, who all watched us like we were the evenings hired entertainment. Our server waited just long enough for us to scower the extensive menu a second time, searching for any word we recognized..naan? Daal? Vegetable korma? Nada. To our relief, he took pity on us and pretty much ordered for us. We had no idea what we were getting, but if the smells wafting out of the kitchen were any indication of how the food would taste, we probably should have pre-ordered seconds. Within a few minutes our table morphed into a buffet with small servings of about a million different things. Each tiny tin bowl had some concoction that somehow managed to taste even better than the previous one. We were in Indian food heaven. Our New Years Eve dinner was devoured in approximately seven minutes. I don't think I chewed one single thing. When will we learn?

We joined the throngs headed down towards what we figured must be where the party was. We really didn't have much choice in the matter. Once you made the move onto the sidewalk it was like you had boarded an express train. There was no stopping, no turning around, no exit. It was perhaps even less annoying that we had no idea where we were, since we didn't have much of a choice in direction as we shuffled along with the crowd on the sidewalk, cum sardine can. We ended up at the harbour and then were whisked across a footbridge that afforded spectacular views of the Singapore skyline and it's sparkly reflection in the night harbour. Good work Pedestrian Express Train. We got off at the 'stop' that would have been named 'Mall' for a healthy dose of air-conditioning. I can safely say that this is the first New Years Eve I have spent sans-winter coat...and winter. Where were the hot chocolates and toques? We stepped through the immaculate, fingerprintless sliding doors and into the mall and into the cold winter weather we were missing back home. It was 10pm and all the shops were open. In fact, the mall was packed like it was 8am on Boxing Day. And people weren't just milling about: they were actually shopping! Judging by the number of malls in Singapore, and by the number of floors in these malls, it seems that Singaporeans really enjoy their shopping. As if to prove her point, one girl on the subway carried a bulging cloth bag that read:' I see it! I want it! I'm buying it!' We wandered around, contemplating which of the five floors we should check out first. All the big brand names were represented. We could have been any where in the world, really. Apparently the North Face store agreed. Their maniquens were all suited up in the latest winter gear. Maybe they got confused and sent the Siberian maniquins to Singapore and the more realistic bikini clad ones to the Arctic? I don't know what happened, but I do know that, seeing as it was 30 degrees, plus humidity outside those shiny glass doors at 10pm, that the only place anyone in this city was going to sport that fluffy goose-down jacket was strolling around the mall.

We wandered in and out of the mall, passing the last hours of 2010 by admiring the breathtaking nighttime cityscape, listening to the live music from the waterfront amphitheater, breaking in the air-con, and gawking at the 11:50pm shoppers before rushing out into the crowd for the countdown to 2011. The harbourfront was absolutely packed, as you can imagine. The massive screen counted down the final seconds of 2010 and people hooted and hollered their way into 2011. Something that was missing, however, was the one thing single Westerners spend all New Years stressing about: the New Years kiss. There was no kissing going on. Not that the cheering wasn't enthusiastic enough or anything. The first firework exploded right on cue and the show continued on for a very very long time. So long, in fact, that it seemed as though no one had taken into account the massive amount of smoke that all these fireworks would create, and by the end, the smoke completely obscured the fireworks from sight (although not sound). Happy New Year!!! It was a perfect way to welcome 2011 - our year of travel! (That's right- It' official! We just snagged a great price on our flight home, for Dec 22nd 2011.. from Iceland!)

We were lucky enough to be accepted by local Singaporean, Wan, and his family to host us at their apartment for our last couple days in Singapore (through Couchsurfing). Wan lives in a Singapore suburb with his wife, two young children and, as we found out later, their maid. We jumped on one of Singapore's super speedy transit lines and motored to the other end of the country.. in about fifteen minutes. We were greeted at the door by a young looking, very welcoming Muslim woman. She had a wide smile and chatted excitedly with us about couchsurfing. At first we assumed that this was Wan's wife, but when she brought out a cute little photo book of Wan's wedding, with a different bride, we got a little confused. She made us tea, and brought out delicious homemade desserts and candies. So generous! Things weren't really making sense to us as we talked to the woman who was from Indonesia and had a fifteen year old son. She had only been in Singapore for three years... We thought Wan had two small children.. and that he and his wife were from Singapore. It was pretty comical for Jonathan and myself when we finally (we're slow sometimes) came to the realization that this bubbly, gracious woman was Wan's family maid. 'Ohh, maybe Wan did mention that the maid would be here when we arrived when I talked to him on the phone earlier... ' Jonathan said. Men. Can't live with them...

Wan, his children and his real wife arrived home not too long after we had finished stuffing ourselves with his homemade goodies. Wan and his wife were so friendly, welcoming and thoughtful. We really enjoyed their company and found their opinions about Singapore and it's politics fascinating. Their family is Muslim and when Jonathan's study of Theology came up we had a wonderfully honest, open discussion about religion with them. We chatted like old friends, taking up much of their Saturday morning. They were just so easy and interesting to talk to. In addition to the great conversation, we were also treated to a superbly delicious breakfast both mornings we were there. 'I'm not that good of a cook,' Wan's wife humbly said to me as she expertly tossed veggies, noodles and sauces into a wok one morning. After I had devoured a heaping bowl of said noodles, I wondered how much better the noodles could possibly taste, if she was a good cook? I can't imagine many things that could be tastier. Singapore is known for it's food, I wasn't surprised to read.

Another couchsurfing success! Our Singapore experience wouldn't have been near as fantastic without the infusion of spending time with real, open, knowledgable locals. And, having the honour of being Wan's family's first Canadian couchsurfers, we would like to believe that their weekend wouldn't have been quite as interesting without a little bit of Canuck infusion.

Comments on Comments:
Thanks for all the comments! I am so excited that people actually read our article in Niagara This Week! Your comments totally make our day. It is so great to hear from some of you whom we have lost contact with for way too long.

J&K's Indonesia Tips


We flew into Denpasar Airport and took a taxi from there to Ubud. There is an 'official' taxi hire immediately upon leaving the airport. We took an unofficial taxi and paid slightly less than the 'going rate' of the official company. There are a few common modes of transport throughout Bali and Lombok. First is a Bemo, which is a schedule-less public minibus. They are very cheap, but we needed locals to point them out to us and hold them for us. Really, it was no problem. Second, is private taxi ('taksi'). Every time we used a taxi (which wasn't often) we were able to barter the price down to at least 50% of the original price given us by the driver. Third, is
a tourist shuttle. The most well-known company is Perama. There are many other tourist shuttle companies that are slightly cheaper than Perama. We used several and all were reliable. Fourth, you can rent a motorbike (manual transmission) or a scooter (automatic transmission). We rented a scooter and had no issues. Be careful, though: the Balinese and Lombok roads are cluttered with daring motorbikers. We met more than a few travellers who sported a "Balinese tattoo", which is an ugly flesh wound resulting from an unwelcome incident on a motorbike (usually caused from extremely congested driving conditions).


Gas/petrol cost about 5,000rp per liter. As a nice, rounded number that equals approximately $0.50/L. Outside of large towns, fuel is sold in reused water/vodka bottles at stands on the side of the road.

Driving Conditions

As mentioned above, the roads can be uncomfortably full, especially around the larger cities. That being said, we still rented bicycles and without any effort at all escaped nearly all traffic with one or two turns. We found the bicycle to be an excellent way to explore. There is no need to carry a map: get yourself as lost in the adventure as you can and then just ask locals for directions back to whatever village you came from. It is so simple!

Technically, you also need an International Driver's License to drive in
Indonesia. If you decide to rent a motorbike or scooter, you are also officially supposed to have a license rating for that, too. The only people who seem to care about this is the police who use it as a way of 'ticketing' foreigners. We talked to person after person after person who were pulled over by the police and given the opportunity to give money so that the officer can "take care of the infraction" (read: bribe). When we rented a scooter, however, never were we stopped by the police.

We were laughed at when we asked about a helmets when we rented bicycles. You might (but not necessarily) be able to get a helmet if you rent a motorbike or scooter.

Driving distances on Bali and Lombok are not far. Still, driving times can be shockingly longer than expected.


Guest houses and hotels are easy to find. During our time there (December 2010) we never had to pay more than 100,000rp per night per room. This price would include a fan (not air-con), a cold shower (which was perfectly fine in the hot climate), breakfast and sometimes that even included a very nice swimming pool. Once, that price didn't include toilet paper. Rooms can be bartered for.


We really enjoy South East Asian food. For our taste buds it rates second only to Indian food. We found traditional Indonesian fare to be quite simple. Compared to other South East Asian cuisine, it lacked the flavour sensation that we were hoping for. Nonetheless, the food can easily be inexpensive and filling. When we told the wait-staff that 'we liked it spicy' the food would almost always taste better than our meals when we didn't state that. A simple and full meal need not cost more than 15,000rp.


Internet cafes are plentiful in many towns. Cafes in the larger cities offer free wifi for customers (is it really free, then?)


As a nice, rounded number, we were using an exchange of 10,000rp to $1cdn.

A Few of Our Favourite Things...

Sejuk Cottages on Gili Air

Kecak Cafe in Ubud

Our guided trek in Munduk, Bali

Renting bicycles

The friendliness of the locals

Thursday, January 13, 2011

It's All About Adam

I think I am going to send a letter to the Indonesian president, if someone hasn't done so already. I'm going to propose that they change the name 'Kuta Lombok,' to 'Adam Lombok.' The village formerly known as 'Kuta Lombok' is on the south coast of Lombok, and therefore was previously aptly named.. that is until the appearance of THE 'Adam.' Adam, luckily for me (since I'm assuming having an Indonesian village named after you has some perks) is my cousin. He travelled around Indonesia for several weeks in the Spring of 2010, and this is how, many months later, we found ourselves on a bumpy minivan ride from the very northern tip of Lombok, straight across to the absolute south of the island.

When we were visiting Adam in Squamish, British Columbia at the beginning of our westward journey we heard many tales of his Indonesian adventures. He had especially liked Kuta Lombok for it's infamous surf, beautiful white sand beaches and friendly people, in particular a local beauty whom we had strict instructions to search out: Ani. Kuta is popular with surfer-dudes who strap their boards to their rented motorbikes and allow the wind to whip through their flowing hair as they drift from beach to beach in flowered board shorts in search of the perfect wave. We had written down the guesthouse Adam and his buddies had stayed at and he had assured us that the owner, G'Day, of G'Day Inn would remember him. We only doubted him slightly... as I said, surf boards and their athletic owners are not exactly a novelty in these parts.

We had our shuttle bus driver drop us off at G'Day Inn. 'Do you have any rooms left?' We asked the tiny young mother on the steps of the dining room. 'For how many nights?' She asked. 'Three?' I asked. She shook her head. 'No. We have one room left and it is only available for 2 nights.' 'Ok,' we agreed. 'Sounds good.' We dropped our bags onto the bed, happy to be rid of their weight... again. The young woman and her mother were playing with the child in the courtyard when we came back out. 'My cousin Adam stayed here back in June,' I said. 'He was here with a couple other guys. From Canada? He really liked it here and recommended we stay as well.' I smiled trying to convince them that I was, indeed, paying a compliment. It took a moment for the words to translate in the young woman's head from her second (or likely third) language. I could almost see the wheels turning. Her blank stare turned into an (almost) sly grin. She said something to her mother in Sasak and they both turned to Jonathan and I with huge smiles like I had just confided a personal message from the Queen. 'I remember!' she exclaimed. 'Three boys! Motorbikes! They stayed in that room!' She told us proudly, pointing to the room next to ours as it had been previously occupied by Elvis Presley. She turned to her mother again and they both shook their heads and laughed. From that moment on, we were honoured guests. 'So, you want to stay three nights? It's ok! You stay!' she announced to us almost immediately after our 'true identities' (aka: of close relation to Adam) had been revealed. Regardless of reservations, it turned out, that we, relatives of Adam, would be given priority. Of all the people who passed through this inn, they remembered Adam and his friends.... what exactly had they done to be so memorable? I began to wonder.

Step one: Secured accommodation at 'Adam's hotel.' Check. Now we were off to steal, ahem, meet, Adam's friend.

We stopped into a beachfront warung for a bite to eat. The beach in Kuta is spectacular. Wide and white and hemmed in by green mountains on one end and steep cliffs on the other. Local kids splashed around in the ocean, naked. It was Sunday afternoon and the beach was packed with kids in their birthday suits frolicking in the sun. 'Hello! What's your name!' They managed to spurt out as we passed by, before falling back into the waves in a fit of laughter. Apparently we were as entertaining for them as they were for us.

We needed sustenance before we tackled our Ani hunt. We ordered the usual, rice mixed with unknown goodies. Our food arrived with a side of children. Unfortunately they were practicing their English under entirely different circumstances. There were three at our table, all under ten years old, leaning over on their elbows, practically poking their fingers into our food and droning 'you wanna bracelet, buy a bracelet, good price, cheap for you, special lunchtime price...' in one long continuous sentence. Over and over again. More children lurked around the entrance of the open air restaurant, just in case we bought up all the bracelets these three were touting and were on the lookout for more. Who knows, maybe we have a whole bunch of friends at home that would just love if we bought them a wonderfully local Lombok souvenir. Nothing says 'I was thinking about you while on vacation' like a cheap tacky hemp and shell bracelet. Maybe you will ALL be getting a bracelet next Christmas. Don't get your hopes up. This was the first time we had seen children selling things, and it was at first, shocking, and then just really sad. Each kid had a piece of cardboard that folded into three. Slits were cut at the top and bottom of the board so that the bracelets could be stretched from end to end, displaying their quality. 'Did you make the bracelets?' we asked. 'No,' the kid would reply, '20,000Rp.' 'Where did you get them?' we asked. 'Ok, for you, 15,000Rp,' would be the response. Boy they learn how to charm early here.

Bracelet-less and full, we went off in search of Ani. 'Everyone will know her,' Adam had told us. 'Just ask for Ani who has a stall on the beach selling sarongs and Lombok blankets.' Sounded like a breeze. 'She will be the only one not harassing you from the entrance of their shop.' Well that should be easy, considering we had only just begun to stroll past the shops and had already been instructed about ten times to 'Look lady!' at every single stall selling the exact same imported-from-China sarongs and sundresses. We started asking all the nice sarong shop owners where Ani's shop was. This was not well received. It would go something like this:
Stall owner dashing in front of us as we attempted to pass by: 'Hey You! Look over here! Just look! Cheap price! Special after-lunch price! Sarong! Blanket!'
Us: 'Hi...umm, are you Ani? Hmm, oh yes, right, I don't remember Ani having a beard in Adam's picture, so you musn't be her. Ok, well can you possibly direct us to Ani's shop? Yes, Ani. Never heard of her? Humm.. but you, wait, what? You are selling sarongs... and, what else, ohhh Lombok blankets! And I can look, you say? So, no, you aren't hiding Ani under that pile of sarongs, are you? No. Well, thanks for your help...' And this is how it went. Over and over and over.... until we were very close to the last shop. No one had heard of Ani. I silently wondered about Adam and his imagination. Making up such a nice sounding girl. We stood on the road and scowered (from a safe distance) in hopes of seeing someone who looked like their name was 'Ani' or 'Annie or maybe even 'Anee' in the shadows of the final stall. Maybe that was the problem? We had been mispronouncing 'Ani' this whole time! OR, perhaps we took a wrong turn and weren't in Kuta Lombok after all! What a relief that would be.

I almost didn't want to ask the last shop lady. 'Hi, we're looking for Ani?' I cut straight to the point. The lady looked at me. 'Ani?' Hope flickered. Maybe she existed?! This was the first person who hadn't responded to: 'Do you know where Ani's shop is?' with: 'Sarong! Special early afternoon price!' 'Yes, are you Ani?' I ventured. She was getting annoyed already, I could tell. 'No, what does Ani look like?' she asked. Seeing as I had never met Ani, and at this point, wasn't even entirely sure she existed, I found this question a tad challenging. 'Is she really skinny?' The lady asked. I sucked in my breath and tried in vain to remember the one picture I had ever, in my life, seen of Ani. It was about 3 months ago and Adam had shown us the photo on the screen of his cell phone. Was she skinny? There hadn't been many Indonesians who weren't skinny, so it would be a good guess.. I strained my memory. She had been sitting in the photo...a girl.. with black hair and chocolate-y skin... that sure narrowed it down. 'Umm, well she has a sarong shop and a little boy, I think.' This was exasperating. First no one knows who she is and now this lady wants to play twenty questions with me. 'No.' The sarong seller determined. 'The only Ani I know has a daughter, not a son, and she works in the cafe next door.' I was determined to at least meet someone (anyone) named Ani at this point, so I followed close behind apparently the only other person in Kuta (besides Adam) who had ever met anyone in Kuta named Ani. The lady yelled into the cafe and a truly tiny girl came to the short bamboo fence that bordered the cafe patio. She smiled, friendly but confused. Well, I certainly hadn't thought this out. We had been all over town trying to find Ani and I had never thought about what to actually say to her until she stood, looking quizzically at Jonathan and myself. 'Soo.. umm you don't know me..' (Obviously). No, that sounded dumb. 'I was sent here by this guy...' Sigh. Creepy. 'So, are you THE Ani?'

Thankfully Jonathan was on the ball. 'Our cousin Adam told us to come to Kuta and meet you!' he explained, simply. There were gasps from behind us. Jonathan had just said the magic word, and we didn't even know it. Ani barely got a word of greeting out before people literally came flying out of the woodwork to shake our hands excitedly and let us know that they knew Adam and then go on to share some personal 'Adam-experience,' much like you would brag about meeting a famous rock star. WHAT had my cousin done here? And, more importantly, what sort of juicy stories could I get out of his admirers to bring back home? After being introduced to everyone in the Official Adam Fanclub we sat down in the cafe for a drink and to chat with Ani.

Turns out Ani had just recently begun to work at the cafe to make a little extra money. She still had the shop, only two doors down, but it is mostly run by her mother. Her mother only speaks Sasak, the traditional language of Lombok, and therefore is not one of the pushy stall owning sarong sellers. Whenever a tourist wants to buy something, Indir, Ani's mom sends someone over to the cafe to fetch Ani who runs back to the shop to help out. Well, at least it all makes sense now! Indir got wind of the presence of 'friends-of-Adam' and rushed over to the bamboo fence to wave and smile a wide, toothless smile at us. 'She wants you to come over for coffee...if you have time,' Ani translated. Aww! She's so cute! Ani chatted with us in between taking orders and delivering the food. The cafe, whose name translates to 'Cheap, Cheap Food' (haha) has a beautiful 'panorama' (as Ani calls it) view over the beach and distant picture-esque cliffs along with good, cheap food. A combination of these factors means that the little open-air cafe is constantly packed. Indir peeked around the corner every few minutes to make sure we didn't forget about her coffee invite and give us another one of her adorable toothless smiles. Indir is toothless, we learned, because she chews betlenut. Betlenut, as far as I understand, is similar to tobacco, but seems to involve a lot more chewing and spitting, and is a notorious carcinogen.

It ended up that we would spend a lot of time at this little cafe with it's 'panorama' views over the next couple days, enjoying delicious food and chatting with Ani in between her running about at the whim of the constant flow of diners. There was one particular young girl, maybe ten years old, whose elbow marks were practically worn into the chest-level bamboo fence directly in front of our favourite table. It was, perhaps the saddest thing I have ever seen. She stood there, hanging onto the fence, trying to catch a tourist's eye. I told her a million times, politely, that I didn't want one of her bracelets. This was the biggest waste of my breath. Once she thought she had your attention, she would drone, in the most ridiculous of monotones...Miss, Miss, Lady... buy a bracelet... come on...20,000...(no response from me) ok, 15,000 (still no response) ok 10,000 (not even a glance) ok, 5,000. She had successfully bar
tered herself down to a quarter of her original asking price with absolutely no effort
from her potential buyer. Clearly she hadn't majored in business. When I couldn't handle her monotone droning any longer, I tried to engage her in some sort of conversation, just to make sure that she actually still had a pulse. 'Did you make the bracelets?' I asked. 'No, come ooooonnnn. 5,000.' 'Where did you get them?' Jonathan asked. She shrugged. 'Do you always stand in that exact same spot?' Another shrug. 'Why aren't you playing with your friends?' 'Ok, 5,000,' was the reply. 'Is that a special afternoon price?' We tried to joke. Nothing. 'There are lots of kids swimming on the beach, why don't you go for a swim?' She moved over in front of the next table without another word to start the process of bargaining with herself again. 'If we come back twenty years from now she will probably be standing in the exact same spot, selling the exact same bracelets,' I thought. It certainly poses a challenge to recognize that it is both of us, not just this young girl, who is in this interaction that comes framed and limited by our own individual tangled webs of motivations, thoughts, intentions, sore memories, upbringings, cultures and so on. Perhaps the greater challenge, though, is to honestly hope (or believe) that when we actually do relate so pathetically and brokenly with each other a vigorous and reconciled link between each person still is possible.

Apparently Ani can come and go from the cafe whenever suits her. 'I have a very nice boss,' she said. 'Lets go have coffee with my mom,' and she trotted out of the cafe without a word to anyone. We aren't generally coffee drinkers, but it sounded like a good idea. Indir flitted around with excitement when we came into the shop. 'I'm sorry I don't have any biscuits to go with the coffee' she said through Ani. She took a large woven mat from the back and spread it out on the floor, motioning for us to sit down while she made the coffee. It was like we were old friends that had stopped by for a visit.

Ani is one of the most amazing people we had ever met. Ani is Muslim, as most of Lombok's inhabitants are. When she was twenty years old she married a man that she had known for about one year. They had a daughter named Rini quite soon after they were wed. Ani's husband then decided that he would like to take a second wife. Ani wasn't keen on the idea, so when he went ahead and made plans to marry his girlfriend, Ani asked for a divorce. Ani told us that she considers herself lucky because her husband agreed to divorce her. Often, in these situations, the husband refuses to allow his wife to divorce him and it makes life incredibly difficult for the woman. Ani left with Rini. She receives no support from her ex-husband and he never comes to see Rini. The government helped Ani open a little sarong shop on the beach. Her mother does all the weaving back in their traditional village six kilometers from town. Each scarf and Lombok sarong takes 2 weeks to weave. Longer if you don't spend most of the day working on it. Their shop is also supplied with colourful cotton sundresses and cheap sarongs from a third party.

The shop itself is tiny. All the shops that line the (practically) dirt main road are the exact same. They have three shabby walls and a slanted roof, all constructed from bamboo. The front of the shop is open to the street. All three of the walls are lined with sarongs and blankets, all perfectly folded, and draped over bamboo poles creating a wallpaper effect. The shop is probably about 2.5 meters by 3.5 meters (8'x12', for those who have held out on adopting the metric system). In the back corner is a door short enough that I had to duck to pass through, that leads to the living quarters. The space is just wide enough to have bamboo stalks stretched across the length a half meter off the floor, forming the bed. Under the bed is storage of pretty much everything Ani owns. From lying in the bed, you could reach out into the 'kitchen' which is really just a collection of pots and pans piled onto the floor and a spot to set fire to some kindling for cooking. At night, Ani just pulls a board across the front of the shop. 'Then we're closed,' she explained, showing us how the 'door' worked. Ani and Rini live in the hut and most nights Indir stays with them, as opposed to taking the bumpy bus ride back to her place in the village. What amazes me about Ani the most is how absolutely, unfailingly, happy she is. She smiles constantly. Even the patrons in the restaurant comment on Ani's beautiful, consistent smile. Ani knows she will probably never leave Lombok. She works every day at the cafe, from the moment it opens until every tourist is plump full without a single day off and helps run the sarong shop at the same time. She is open and honest about her life, experiences, culture and happiness. Ani is just happy to 'be' all the time. Her happiness is contagious. I guess I find her so inspirational because I am not-so-happy all the time, but have all the same reasons to be happy that Ani has. I get annoyed when I get too hot, when the bus is late, when mosquitos bite my ankles, when my toast isn't hot... you get the idea. Ani is happy because she is healthy and alive. We could probably all use a little dose of Ani.

Probably because of her contagious spirit, Ani's shop was the most popular on the street with the local women. As we sat out on the mat, sipping Indir's sweet coffee, the shop's patio slowly became crowded with every person in the town, or so it seemed. I guess we aren't the only ones who find Ani and Indir charming.

Before Ani started working at the cafe a few months ago, she ran her shop, and in between customers, she did all her friends' sewing. The treddle sat in the corner of the shop, gathering dust. 'Can I see something you've made?' We asked Ani one night. She went to the back of the shop and returned with a small tye dyed tank top made out of soft cotton. 'Ohhh it's tiny,' I commented. Indir said something and the crowd laughed. 'That's because it's for a skinny midget' Indir joked (Ani translated). Apparently 'Skinny Midget' is a nickname of Ani's. She was tiny... it was true. Although, most of Ani's friends were small... and they were all beautiful. I wasn't that surprised to learn that nine of Ani's girlfriends had been swept off their feet by men from Australia, France and New Zealand and had moved away with them. The girls looked exactly like many women in the West wish they looked. Tiny feminine figures, flawless tanned skin and long shiny hair. 'But we all want to be fat and white!' Ani told us. Umm what? I offered Ani fifteen or so of my pounds, completely free of charge. Ani told us that many of her friends buy special skin whitener and bleach their faces to be lighter. 'They all have lines right here,' she said, drawing a line along her chin. Their face is lighter than their neck. Ani herself loves swimming (and lucky her, lives about two steps from a breathtaking beach) but hardly ever goes down to the water because she doesn't want the sun to make her skin darker. These concepts are completely foreign to me, coming from a land where weight-loss gimics and diet fads make billions of dollars every year, probably only slightly more profitable than tanning beds and self tanning creams. I would love to be as petite as Ani with perfect chocolatey skin. It's funny, in a non-funny way, how everyone wants what they can't have.

Speaking about 'wanting,' I was in the market for some cooling sundresses. I had been waiting until we got to Ani's shop (and it had been painful in the blazing heat) to get some new tropics-friendly clothing. I tried on pretty much every sundress at the shop and performed a little fashion show for all the women who were passing the hours with us on the shop's porch, so they could vote on their favourite dress. Good thing too, because Jonathan was doing the useless 'Whatever you want, honey. They all look nice' boy thing ('a happy wife is a happy life'). Sensing tension, as I huffed and puffed at Jonathan's less-than-interested response, Ani ran to the next shop to borrow a mirror. 'They won't mind. We share everything here,' Ani told us, referring to her neighbours in the close-knit shops on her street. 'No one ever goes hungry, because if I have something, I share with them, and they share with me. If someone has chili's, everyone has chilis. We are like family.' I looked around at all the smiling faces and nodding heads. I would be happy if I got to hang out with Ani all the time too.

Like me, Jonathan had been (more) patiently waiting until we arrived in Kuta Lombok to buy a hat from Ani. He wanted a rice hat. I was significantly less excited about the prospect than he was. Unfortunately Ani didn't sell rice hats (hurray), but, her neighbour did (darn). And this is how Jimmy entered our lives. Jimmy is the rice hat's name. 'Jimmy the Rice Hat,' is the name on the adoption papers, if you want to get specific. That's right, folks, this hat is so large, it has it's own personality and name. Jimmy practically needs his own seat on the bus. He was handmade by the father of the shop owner from bamboo. After Jonathan had forked over the small amount of cash to buy Jimmy, the woman sat with us on Ani's porch and weaved a chin strap for him. Jonathan loves Jimmy. As do all the locals we pass on the street who smile, giggle and yell 'Hey, Farmer!' as we walk by. Maybe they're onto something! Maybe we could arrange a day in the fields for dear old Farmer Jon and he could see how Jimmy would live up to the challenge... He also picked out one of Indir's hand woven Lombok sarongs. It really is a piece of art. You should wear it 'Lombok style' Ani encouraged him, showing him how to properly tie it around his waist. No doubt, ever since we had visited a sarong-clad Adam in Squamish, Jonathan had been dreaming of this moment. His smile reached his ears as he happily paraded around in his new hat and skirt. My smile resembled something of a grimace.

As Adam was the common link between ourselves and our new friends, the conversation often turned to tales of his visit. And they were plentiful. And plenty entertaining. 'Cheeky Adam!' Ani called him. 'When are you going to stop being cheeky?' Ani asked him one day. 'When I'm 45' was his reply. Ani laughed and laughed when she told us about all his 'cheeky escapades.' Indir was perhaps even more smitten with Adam than her daughter. She was keen to find out when exactly Adam planned on returning. 'How many months?' she would ask us every day. 'We went to the market and bought peanuts when Adam was here. She roasted the fresh peanuts for Adam, who ate them all, and she wants to know if she should get ready to make some more for him,' Ani explained. Ani told us that when Adam was visiting they took him to their village and Indir showed him how to weave a sarong 'Lombok style.' I laughed picturing Adam, and his friends, (one who was widely known as 'Gamook', which is the Indonesian word for 'fat') sitting by a loom attempting to weave. When we were leaving the final night, Indir chose one of her gorgeous blue scarves and insisted I take it as a gift. I had been admiring the scarves from a distance the whole night. They were meant for special occasions, and they certainly looked that way. The detailed design on the one Indir picked out for me weaves blues, pinks, greens and golds together in a stunning pattern. The gold strings practically glittered in the soft light of the shop. I was so excited, and so honoured to have been given such an exquisite, handmade scarf. Indir is very very talented. 'Make sure you tell Adam that I gave you a scarf!' Indir instructed me with one of her huge toothless smiles.

We left the party that had accumulated on Ani's porch and headed back to G'Day Inn. It was late, but Jonathan had a pizza craving, so we sat on the patio and ordered one from the guest house. 'Your cousin ordered the pizza all the time too!' G'Day's wife told us excitedly. 'Every day, more and more spicy!' she said, shaking her head. 'Well then! We'll have one Spicy Adam pizza, please,' we requested. What kind of legacy did my dear cousin leave that more than six months later this woman remembered what food he ordered and that 'he liked it spicy?'

The next morning a shuttle picked us up at G'Day for the long bus and ferry combo back to Ubud, Bali for our final days in Indonesia. The shuttle was early, which is funny, because nothing else is on time, and we were caught unprepared. Although, these shuttles are pretty sneaky and likely show up early so that they can usher you to their allocated 'travel agent cum cafe cum souvenir stand' where, if you hang out long enough, surely a meal time will pass. The shuttle staff are usually so friendly and the other travellers so chill-axed and chatty, that really the whole ordeal is more entertaining than annoying.

It was 8am. The driver pulled two dusty CD's from the dash board and shined them on his shirt. My heart started to pound with anticipation. The music on these CDs was going to be one of two genres. This we have learned through experience. As soon as the CD's were jammed into the CD player either super sappy 1990 ballads were going to pour out and fill the stuffy shuttle or, it was going to be techo-dance music. Western or Indonesian, it didn't seem to matter which language the dance music was in, so long as it was backed with a bass drum and synthesizers. It was not uncommon to be at a restaurant or bar with super-sap tunes playing as the background music and the staff joyfully singing along at the top of their lungs, like the forgot that they weren't still in the shower. Just the other day, our burly male bartender treated us to his rendition of 'I'm Every Woman!' These may be the only two types of music that are allowed across the Indonesian border. Either that, or, the Balinese just really like to 'Move it, Move it.' Jonathan and I stared at each other, wide eyed, waiting for 'Mitta DJ' to choose our momentary musical fate. 'Check this out!' blared the speakers, making me jump. The only thing I wanted to 'check out' was my imminent headache. I smiled, despite myself and bobbed my head mockingly to the beats. Our DJ/driver laughed and took my 'dancing' as a sign that I wanted him to crank the volume even louder. 'I'll give you something to dance to!' he exclaimed happily. I watched as the air freshener, which looked like a tiny bag of rice, swayed, jumped and danced around erratically on the end of the string that attached it to the rear-view mirror. Oh jeez. What have I done? The music stopped suddenly and I breathed a sigh of relief. Then a voice confidently boomed through the speakers:'On the First Day, God created the Earth- and he saw that it was good!' Interesting... Religious Dance Music? This was an interesting way to learn about the Creation story... 'On the Second Day, God created Man,' the voice continued, 'And he saw that it was good.' Jonathan looked around confused. Were other people hearing this as well? 'On the Third Day, God created Music- and he saw that this was good.' The story started to take a surprising turn... 'And on the Fourth Day, God created the Club- And all the Good people- Got Down.' I burst out laughing. Boom Boom Boom, went the bass. Pound Pound Pound went my headache. I looked at our watch-it was 8:13am. How long was this bus ride again? The booming other-worldly voice wasn't through with it's suggestions yet though. 'This should be played at a high volume!' It instructed. OH. MY. I watched the driver's hand on the wheel. Was he going to obey this demanding 'voice'? He didn't make a move for the volume. Small victories. 'SOS' the voice bellowed. At least we were on the same page now...

It might be in vain, but we could try to recreate the electronic orchestra in your head. Dance music is quick, so start by saying boom, boom, boom, boom in your deepest voice possible at about 170 beats per minute. Now picture a synthesized trumpet entering in over top of the booming bass drum. The notes of this digital trumpet are wiggling through what sounds like the only melody ever used in dance music (at least to our untrained ears). Then on top of this you can still add any collection of phrases that are possibly intended to help you dance your way through the song. Of course, as mentioned above, it was deemed important to 'listen to the siren', but Mitta DJ also made sure to remind you to "Drop it", to "Check this out", and that "'ere's sometin' ta dance to". Don't think for a moment, though, that these pointers were given only in a normal human voice. What dance song would be complete without a robot voice and a high, squeally chipmunk voice? We also enjoyed the music occasionally slowing to a complete stop only to be eased back to life with the 'broken record effect' given courtesy of Mitta DJ. It has been a real struggle (and a challenge that likely even has flopped) to paint a delightfully accurate musical performance of our ride. If somehow you can imagine all these parts layered together, though, you just might be able to find stardom in Indonesia! And yes, the bus ride was that long...

We boarded the ferry back to Bali, a little sad to be leaving Lombok. We had only been there a short time, but each day had been packed with so many great experiences, from the Gili Island paradise to the friendliness of our Kuta friends and all the beautiful scenery in between. We bought a 'pineapple-sicle' to eat on the ferry while we reminisced. I wonder if Adam had one of these pineapple-sicles.....