Sunday, 30 August 2015

Italians gone! and Hubud

Suddenly not hearing any Italian around the streets of Ubud any more. Plenty of Americans here though. They think I'm one of them. Then the awkward "where are you from" question....

Ubud seems to be a pretty friendly place. Upon walking into a bar alone late last night after rushing a deadline, I got invited to join a couple of friendly folks. I think one of them may have been one of the musicians performing at said bar.

I've mostly been meeting friendly traveling people at Hubud events though. Hubud is a very pleasant co-working space where I've taken a one-month membership. It's actually well set up and comfortable and I've been surprised at how productive I'm able to be there. There are obviously ample plug points (including for 3-pin!) and stable wifi. There are nice seats and (as someone else pointed out) right-height tables. Nice clean dry toilets with plenty of toilet roll. Of course there is a cafe with healthy options, but it really is a purpose-built co-working space and it shows.

Monday, 24 August 2015


After leaving Jakarta, I spent about the best part of a week bumming around Singapore, catching up with people and enjoying the city.

Turns out my sister's housemate is also starting his own business - a deli in Suntec. I caught up with Yeen Nie as we went to pick up her new bike (very exciting!) I caught up with the ever growing Grobys family (growing in size, not number... yet) and their new bike (with wheelbarrow attachment in front) and had a great time being driven around their carpark. I suggested that Seb get a becak driver's uniform. I went shopping for a backpack and new insoles with my sister Beatrix, and we found a cool camping store (Camper's Corner in Bras Basah) with a very knowledgeable and helpful "uncle" working there. I caught up with Buci and we talked about life and got lost, as well as discussing the history of his employer, TWG. I have to admit I like Singapore more and more.

The bakfiets being assembled
The bakfiets!

Happy Yeen Nie with her new bike!
Thoughts on TWG

While wandering about the store, waiting for Buci to be released, I admired their extensive and expensive tea collection as well as the impressive range of tea paraphernalia (mostly variously designed teacups, saucers, teapots, mugs, somovars....) More than tea, TWG is selling an experience, a lifestyle, a dream. It's all in the packaging... how else would they be selling so much tea at such a mark up to mainland Chinese who had travelled to Singapore!

It made me think of the "location independent lifestyle" "industry" - offering people an alternative, an enticing dream, and how to get there... for this low low price!

It also made me think of being a producer rather than a consumer - be a producer of content that adds value to the lives of others, whatever that might be. Justify your existence.

I then returned to Bali, where I caught up with Am in Kuta (after much hassle) and got some very sweet deals on the Hotel Quickly app! Spoilt with workspace by a nice pool, even if it was a bit cold to get into. After that, I travelled back up into the hills of Ubud, which seems to be full of Italians for some reason this week. Topping the list of most-heard language (after Indonesian and English of course).

I have also just been paid for my first 2 jobs on Upwork! Woohoo, cashflow! 

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Places I've been, things I've seen: Yogya and Jakarta

It is already my last full day in Jakarta. Since leaving Salatiga, I spent a couple of days hanging round bule cafes in Yogyakarta, then took an 8 hour night train to Jakarta. The train was pretty impressive actually, with security patrolling and professional-looking polite staff checking tickets, clearing rubbish, and offering food and drink from a little glossy-printed paper menu.

I was also amused by having to print out my "real" ticket at the station on a noisy and slow dot matrix printer! Can't remember the last time I saw one of those!

Travel tip: avoid weekend travel where possible, and this includes Indonesian trains, where the pricing premium put it on par with flying... when the flight is booked one day in advance! (And takes only about 45 minutes!)

It's been good reconnecting with people and places in Jakarta over the past few days. A few thoughts that have occupied a disproportionate amount of brain space while here:

August: the month of flags and nationalism
ID70, SG50. 3 close neighbours, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore, share the month in which they celebrate national (independence) day. Indonesia was liberated from the Dutch, Malaysia was granted independence from the British, and Singapore was "released" from Malaysia. Every August, the capitals (and possibly entire nations) are covered in flags and nationalistic signage celebrating freedom (merdeka). This year is a big year for Indonesia (70th year of independence) and Singapore (50th). I sat with Toby and said that I remember when Indonesia was celebrating its 50th! Then we again felt old together.

Happy 70th birthday from bir Bintang

El Niño
Musim kering (dry season), crop failure, el niño. I have heard these terms in passing while crossing from Bali and over Java. Farmers are having a tough year due to not enough rain. It is still raining in Jakarta, but only an hour or so of night drizzle each night. Not enough to clear the settling pollution. The sun is a weak orange egg yolk for much of the day (though not all of it). The air feels dustier than I remember.

The sort of thing that completely escapes notice when you grow up with it around you, then bewilders you when you return. The city of Jakarta must hire an ARMY of gardeners and landscapers! Possibly another army hired by the private sector: parks, shopping malls, apartment complexes, office buildings, etc. No further information on google. 

Friday, 7 August 2015

The places I've been, the things I've seen (3): Indonesia - Banyuwangi (again) and Salatiga

Things did not go as planned in getting to Salatiga! There was no transport until the following evening, so I had a further 24 hours to spend in Banyuwangi. I manage to find a place to sleep and eat and internet, and soon the proprietor came for a friendly chat. Ibu Dewi was originally from Semarang in Central Java, not far from Salatiga, and had spent some time working in Jakarta, where she taught cooking. She asked if I'd like to see more of Banyuwangi, and arranged for her daughter to take me round the next day.

The following morning, Indah showed up all smiley and friendly at my breakfast table and we discussed what I wanted to see in Banyuwangi. There were beaches and snorkeling, but I was interested in what her mother had mentioned the previous day, a floating house. I mentioned also that I didn't have much time as my bus was leaving at 6 pm and I wanted to get some stuff done online before that.

So off we went to Rumah Apung, having a great chat on the way, missing (several times) the small path that finally led us to the floating house where we saw fish and people snorkeling. There was a lovely view and it was a unique way to pass the time, chatting about the fish and life and things, and taking selfies and making videos!

We went back to shore, had a coconut, then made our way back to her mother's warung so that I could catch my bus to Salatiga.

Indah and me with the rumah apung and the boats going out to the rumah in the background

Baby shark!

MANY HOURS LATER, I finally reach Salatiga in Central Java. My hosts at Easy Language Education let me rest for a bit while I waited for Toby to finish class.

Toby was in Salatiga as a Fulbright scholar on an "intensive advanced Indonesian course". I figured I'd drop in on him and say hi, as I was in the neighbourhood (i.e. same hemisphere/island) and it had been a while since I had hung out with Toby (like just short of 20 years?) We hung out, got some beers in, he showed me some cool hang out places around Salatiga, and we generally caught up on each others' lives, did some reminiscing, swapped Mr Vahey stories, and felt old.

The next day, Toby and I headed out to a top secret abandoned church in the shape of a chicken (gereja ayam), took a few pictures, then headed out to a birthday gathering of other students on his programme, where we ate fried duck. To use Toby's words, "it was a fowl day."

Toby in front of chicken church

Rachel, Toby, and the giant chicken

The chicken is empty inside except for this small toko....!
View from the top of the chicken. Chicken faces Borobudur, which is only 2.5 km away. But it was not a clear day and you can't quite see the Borobudur in this shot. Toby had a better camera, and might have picked it up.

A quick word on Easy Language Education - They do language volunteer classes and are always happy to have people from different countries drop by and do presentations for the children. They want the children to see English as a vehicle to learn something else, and in this way to learn about the world, particularly the world outside Indonesia. They have a particular interest in providing exposure to children from less wealthy families. If you are passing through central Java and would like to help out with the project, please do get in touch. They also have a facebook page for their volunteer programme, Fingerprint. Taufiqi says that is probably the best way to reach out to them for now.

Taufiqi's village also does a homestay volunteer programme for those keen on experiencing life in a Javanese village. They do not charge anything, although I think they may accept donations. You would live with the villagers and eat what they eat (spicy!) while helping them out in the fields. I believe you can stay for as long or as short as you like. The village is around an hour outside Salatiga.

The places I've been, the things I've seen (2): Indonesia - Bali and Ijen

I flew out to Bali and stayed with Silvia and her affectionate dogs for a few nights, hanging out in Kerobokan, enjoying delicious Vietnamese food from Chung's warung Vietnam, and trying to work out my game plan.

Personal watch dogs!

View from the lounge
View from my doorway!

Warung Vietnam

Waiting for my pho

After a few days of that, I met up with Edea, Nana, and Ciama to do some touristy stuff, kicking off with lunch at Motel Mexicola in Seminyak before heading out to check out Tanah Lot, where I tried to avoid a tourist with erratic face-level elbows. We finished the evening (after a long drive) to Jimbaran for seafood dinner. We then had an adventure getting back as our Uber driver cancelled on us. Fortunately, technology came to the rescue and the helpful and courteous men from Go-jek and Grab Car  got us all home safely as well as giving me an idea for a blog post!

Tanah Lot

Smiley faces at sunset at Tanah Lot

Tanah Lot sunset

Balinese offering for the festival of Kuningan

After settling in to Bali a bit, I made my way up north to Ubud to meet Sydney, who was introduced to me by my uni friend Arif. We had a good chat and idea exchange, and I explored Ubud for a bit, being well looked-after at Amaluku Homestay.

Ubud education

I left Ubud several days later to meet up with Chung, Rina, and Tara back in Kerobokan and we started on our great adventure to climb Ijen mountain/volcano. We reached the nearby town of Banyuwangi after a quick ferry crossing onto Java and chilled for a bit and tried some local (spicy!) food. The next day we went on a bumpy (understatement!) car ride out to Teluk Ijo (Green Bay), a beach, before turning back and enjoying the sunset at Pantai Merah (Red Beach) instead.

Ferry crossing from Bali to Java

With our prettiest faces on

Road trip yo!

Getting our pretty on again, at Pantai Merah

Then it was time to head for Ijen.

We reached Ijen a couple of hours before it opened at 1 am. We needed to get there early to see the blue flames and we were among the first ones to enter the park. It was bitterly cold and we did not have enough warm clothing, so fortunately they had jacket rental(!) and I just tried to get up the steep incline as quickly as possible to warm up!

The night was clear and the stars were out in full force. Our paths were well lit by the full moon.

After some trekking, we started to smell the sulphur. From the edge, we needed to descend into the crater to see the flame, and we were advised to wet our face masks.

We put them on and carried on down the path into the pit of the earth, our eyes smarting, noses streaming, and throats burning from the fumes.

When I was near enough to the blue flame to get a good view, I decided not to continue any further, while the others carried on past the sulphur harvesters. After a while, I started to ascend, as I felt the need for fresher air. I was also glad I started ascending when I did, as more and more visitors were streaming down the path. In fact with all their headlights on, they lit the way all the way up the stairs, looking like stars themselves!

The path reminded me of a theme park - not quite real. With the mild sleep and oxygen deprivation, I kept thinking I'd hit my head on the "ceiling" in a "narrow" part of the path (the ceiling was actually the sky... no chance of knocking my head on that!)

The eerie landscape, the fumes, the unfamiliar mineral and rock smells, textures, and lights and colours... it was as if we had landed on another planet (ala Insterstellar... I half expected Matt Damon to pop out somewhere).

Man carrying about 60 kg of sulphur, Gunung Raung farting away in the background, causing Bali airport closures for 3-4 weeks as at time of writing....!

I waited for my friends once out of the crater and we soon started heading for the sunrise lookout point (another 45 min walk away).

Caught some nice sunrise pictures, saw Mount Raung farting away, then the painful descent back to the car, where we were exhausted and looking forward to sleep and food!

We stopped by a waterfall en route and my friends soon left me at the train station to find my way to Salatiga, where I would meet my friend from middle school in Jakarta, Toby.

Looks like Bromo!

The places I've been, the things I've seen (1)

Hello all!

Now on Day 35 of funemployment/retirement! Thought I was overdue an update, so here we go. Hang on, it could be a long one.

So the first stop was Pulau Kapas, with Abena! We spent a long weekend there, brainstorming and making our world domination plans. Well, Abena did. I just kinda read and drank and hung out and tried not to burn.

One of the beaches of Pulau Kapas

Kapas oh Kapas

Straight from Kapas, I headed for another island in North Malaysia: Langkawi! There, I was able to catch up with Leo and Jun-E right at the end of their 10-day long work-cation. After they headed back to KL, I hung around Langkawi by myself, still trying to think of things I could do that people would pay me money for.

Bus Butik in Langkawi

In Langkawi with a Tiger
After a few days in Langkawi, I decided to keep heading north, taking a bus to Bangkok (17 hours) and just hanging out there for a few days, exploring the internet Khao San area and meeting up with Dan, a web designer/photographer, to talk about living the location-independent life.

I returned to KL to sort out my belongings (which were piled up in Zara's room), catch up with people, and plot next moves.....

Lunch with the old team back in KL - good times, catching up with gossip ;-)