Wednesday, February 17, 2010


n Bali, festivals and celebrations are the heart and soul of the culture.So when we saw a tour that was going to view a cremation, it seemed too good to pass up. They don't happen all the time, and the one we attended turned out to be for a village elder who died at 110 years.
The men were all gathered outside the temple waiting to do the heavy lifting later on, while the women were inside making offerings. Many of the men sported t shirts that were printed especially for this cremation. That was the souvenier that Jim wanted.
This is a small view of the very elaborate structure that was all made from tissue paper and gold paper and bamboo. The photo of the deceased is at the top.
This is the framework at the base of the large structure that will be carried by the men of the village from the temple to the cemetery, nearly a kilometer away. Did I mention that it was very hot, full sun and no shade? When the Balinese are talking about how hot it is, you know it is hot! We saw the firetruck, and figured that they were there to put out the flames if they got too high. Actually, they sort of led the parade and periodically sprayed water on the crowd.
This is the large paper mache bull that would eventually contain the body to be cremated.
First it is carried out of the temple in a white coffin, which is carried to the cremation ground. Then a young male family member climbs onto the bull and is also carried along by the crowd to the cremation grounds. There is much merriment throughout the whole process, with the group of carriers trying to give the guy a wild ride. Even the coffin is twisted and turned, so as to confuse the deceased so he does not come back to the village to cause trouble.
At the cremation area, the body is slid from the coffin into the bull, and after much praying by the priests and family (much!) the wood is brought and the bull set on fire.
After being in the hot sun for 3 hours, I thought I might just die, too. But it was interesting to see, and I'm glad we went.

Monday, February 15, 2010

A little more Bali

Well, I didn't want to leave you in Vietnam because there are lots more things I would like to share about Bali in our last couple of days here. A week ago I was nearly ready to leave Bali, and now I hate to leave. I think the former feeling was more travel fatigue and the heat, but once you learn to relax and move at a slower pace, everything is more enjoyable. We haven t seen as much of Bali as we imagined we might, but that is mostly because we are happier to stroll around town than to spend 5 hours in a car getting to another part of the island.
I took a few more fabric photos, though one just vanished. There is so much variety here that it is astounding, and you fabric fiends would be in heaven.
Bats, anyone? This guy hangs around the hotel every morning, and the first time i saw him I was quite startled. I am not normally a big fan of bats, but was introduced to these large (the size of a small cat) fruit bats by my friend Wendy,when we met to sketch in Sydney. They were all hanging in clusters in the trees in the botanical garden there and it was quite a sight!
The hotel bat is a "rescue" bat that was found injured about 4 months ago and they took him in. Now he is fat and happy and may never want to leave again. I have grown rather fond of him.
This is another friend from the hotel, however he is an inanimate object. He also greets us as we enter our grounds. As I said, they have an abundance of red hibiscus, and every morning place them all about. We find them on our pillows, by the sink and over our front door. But I really like seeing them on the statues.
How did you spend Valentine's Day? We spent it riding around Ubud on a rented motorbike, seeing the sights and going a little way out of town to see the rice paddies. I had an excellent driver, who has motorcycle riding experience, thank goodness! I worry less about him than the other drivers on the road, who weave in an out of traffic. Jim said that his firefighter drivers training taught him that the best defensive driving technique was to Slooow down.
I was a little nervous out on the open road, but we made it back in one piece.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Back in Vietnam

Well, I tried no fewer than five times to post these photos of one of our last days in Vietnam, and by golly, I want to tell this story! So even though we are in Bali now, I will do a little back tracking. We decided that we wanted to spend our last two days in Vietnam in the Mekong Delta, and it is very easy to find trips going there from Hoh Chi Minh City. The first one we saw cost $190 per person, which was way too high, so when we asked at our hotel, she referred us to a travel agency that charged a mere $24 for the same overnight trip. Well, that should have been our first clue, but we were so pleased by the bargain that we signed up.
The bus was a little old, and the air con wasn't really working, but we ended up at the same place as all the other tourists.

Here is our lunch stop, and our lunch of river fish. The nice woman saw Jim struggling with his fish and offered to make up his rice paper rolls for him. Sort of like a fish taco.
I had grilled prawns, which has been my standard meal in Vietnam and now in Bali. They are cheap and usually very good. It is amazing that I have not turned into a prawn, for all that I have eaten!
After lunch, we sauntered over to the crocodile "farm" where several of these hungry guys were waiting for us. One German fellow decided to throw Jim's fish head to them and it was gone in an instant!
This was another stop along the trail--the coconut factory, where they make delicious coconut
candy, which some of you may get to sample. And at every stop, there was plenty to buy, from sunglasses to crocodile shoes and bags. Hmmm.
We rode in a boat like this through the narrow channels. Most of the boat oarspeople were women.We also rode for a short way on a pony cart. They kept us busy for the entire morning. I haven't even mentioned the stop for honey tea and music performance, or the rice pancake making demo.
Soon it was time to return to our bus,,where most of the tourists disembarked for a return to HCMC. But we were going to stay overnight and see a floating market in the morning.
Back on the road, I asked our guide how much longer we would be driving to our final destination. Three hours, he said. THREE HOURS more?? On a hot bus? Then how long back the next day? Five hours, he said. At that point I was starting to freak out, and told Jim that I could not ride 3 more hours, then 5 the next day, only to get on a plane at 9pm. Reluctantly, Jim asked our guide to let us off the bus so we could return to HCMC. He did not want to do it, but I was insistent. So there we were, two gringos,standing by the side of the busy highway, with our guide trying to flag down a bus. Finally one stopped--a sprinter van like the one our son drives, packed to the brim with locals. I sat almost on top of one poor guy and our driver drove like a bat out of hell toward HCMC. I guess I felt lucky to have found the ride, and I suppose if I was ever in the Amazing Race, I would want him for my driver. We made it back, with people helping us find our way at every turn. Some last days!

Bali beaches

My niece in France asked me to send her a picture from someplace beautiful. Well, that could be just about any place we have been on this trip, but some places are more beautiful than others. Jim decided that we should take a boat ride from Legian/Kuta area, where we spent a few days at the beach. So we "splashed out" and went for the overnight to Lembongan Island, just a short 30 minutes by fast boat from Bali. We even stayed overnight at the Coconut Villas and this is the view from our window/wall. We made one mistake, and that was cheaping out and not getting the air conditioned hut, and even with a fan this room was hot! But who can beat that view? It was tempting to sit and look out the window all afternoon.
Finally we decided to make the trek down the many stairs to the restaurant, and got there just in time for "movie night", which was Avatar! We spent one of the most bizarre evenings of the trip watching this blockbuster movie that we had not yet seen, with a background of whirring blenders (making tropical drinks), roosters crowing and then bells and chanting from the temple in the village below. But now we can say we saw Avatar. Do you think it was a pirated copy?
I had to take my camera out into the pool with me to get this shot of "the mermaid". This was a wonderful infinity pool, and we seriously considered scrapping the rest of the trip plans to stay here. But we reluctantly left the next morning on a sailboat.
This is the chicken coop. Not much room for these guys to roam around, but the baskets do a very good job of containing the birds in a small space.

Back on Bali we stayed one night in Sanur, and finally found a low key beach destination that was about our speed. The Bali Hyatt is along that beach and is a beautiful old style resort. We enjoyed using their beach chairs for a short spell, as we gazed out to sea.
I know, this is not making anyone feel sympathy for our plight. But just remember, it is VERY hot here, if that makes you feel any better.

Friday, February 12, 2010


I have always been a big fan of these Balinese umbrellas, but never knew their real name of umble umble. I would love to take some of these home to put in my garden alters, but once again, they will not fit. I like seeing them along the roadsides and especially in temples. Many colors, but mostly golden yellow. I am feeling a little frantic as I do blog posts now, since the last one I did disappeared when the signal was lost. I also try to do them when I don't take away from the time Jim and I are spending together, as I have always scorned couples who I see traveling together and they are both on cell phones or laptops!
This mossy dog was spotted in the monkey forest in Ubud and I had to take his photo for my lovely daughter in law,Rita, as she loves all animals, but especially dogs (and squirrels).
And yes, we saw lots of monkeys in the monkey forest. This guy was my favorite, as he was looking for something good in this offering. He actually picked up some hydrangea and smelled them. Sweet. Maybe a few grains of rice, or a cracker was what he was after. The monkeys were everywhere, as Jim said, "junked up on bananas". They were fun to watch as long as they didn't get too close.
The Balinese are great lovers of beauty, and I appreciate how they decorate their statues with
sarongs and a hibiscus behind their ear. The hotel we are staying at in Ubud, Ubud Inn, has beautiful gardens where the hibiscus are collected fresh each morning and place around all the statues. I could spend weeks here sketching the gardens!
I am especially drawn to these flower mandalas that you see around hotels and shops in pools of water. I think I will try to create some at home. My son has a friend in Portland who goes dumpster diving at the florist and creates these beautiful flower paintings. I said I want to go with him some night.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Ubud Market

I liked getting up very early to go to the market, as that was when the interesting action took place. My main interest was in seeing the various sellers of offering components, like this woman. These rounds are actually small square boxes made of coco fiber. Imagine having to make offerings three times a day, at several locations. You would go through a lot of these in one day
These are larger painted boxes for carrying offerings to the temple. It is so tempting to buy
several of them, but they are bulky and where to put it at home? We'll see if I give in to temptation, but I am running out of room for anything more.

TThis is just a minute sampling of the fabrics that you see hanging in almost all of the shops in Ubud and elsewhere. Hard to resist, huh? Some are cotton, some are actual batik, which is more expensive, and some are fine silk.Of course the quality varies considerably, but it is fun to buy one of the sarongs(or three) when you stop at a temple. It is oh, so hard to not buy a suitcase full!
SSee, there really is a use for those sarongs! Yes, this is Jim just back up a steep hill that he climbed down to visit a temple. It is a requirement for both men and women to wear a sarong while visiting temples or religious ceremonies. He kind of got into it after a while. But I don't think he'll be wearing it back home in Portland.
TThis is a holy spring that we visited, but did not bathe in ourselves. This photo is not too clear, but it gives you an idea of the volume of offerings that are left to be cleaned up three times a day. People come here to pray for certain things, and it is a very auspicious place.

Saturday, February 6, 2010


Sorry about the previous post, but blogger is being a little persnickity in Bali and was behaving a bit strangely, so my comments did not come through. Mostly I wanted to say a bit more about offerings and the amazing things that the Balinese weave from coco palm leaves.
Everything in the previous post was made from this natural fiber, including the elaborate bird. This is a typical temple, with the statues wrapped in special saris. When entering a temple, it is important to honor the customs and both men and women must wear saris. At our first stop, we were a little unprepared, but quickly bought a sari, or piece of fabric, and Jim borrowed one to wear.


Well, you may realize that I have left Vietnam, and am now in Bali. It only took us about 24 hours of travel time to make the trip, and Jim figured it might have been faster to go home and fly from there to Bali! But once we arrived, all was good again, and we were ready for a new adventure. And Bali is a new adventure, for sure! The first thing that we noticed, as we arrived in the evening, were these little offerings everywhere. I was charmed by them, as I continue to be, even after seeing them everywhere! The Balinese bring fresh ones out in the morning, and during the day, and it can be quite time consuming to place them around, as witnessed by the woman who brings them to our hotel each morning.

Monday, February 1, 2010

More Hoh Chi Minh City

Our second day in HCMC we decided to take a taxi to Cholon, or China town. There are
numerous pagodas, or temples in this area, but after one or two we decided that we sort of had our fill of pagodas for the trip. We saw the Jade Pagoda the day before and it was very interesting, especially since the monks were there chanting during our visit. Lots of incense fills the air, and hangs from huge coils that are donated in the name of loved ones, making it an even more mystical experience.
This is the fabric area of the market in Cholon, which we found to be much more interesting than the Ben Thanh market. That one is closer to the main tourist area, and hence, more touristy, with merchants trying to get your attention at every turn. However here I had a few women grab my arm trying to get me into their booths. I finally bought a scarf that I didn't really want, just to get out of there. The rest of the market was very interesting an had a more local feel to it. The main markets are so big , with such narrow aisles (not meant for us large tourists) that I can never spend too much time inside of them.
This is a pile of fabric pieces that will get folded or hung as above. Everything is precut and folded in neat piles or hung around the small stalls. They are happy to cut anything you like, but prefer to sell in larger amounts than one meter which is all I even buy. When they look dismayed, and ask me what I want to do with it, I feel a little silly saying "I don't know, I just like it".
There were many shops in Cholon selling these dragon heads. So many in fact, that I wondered if every family needs to have their own dragon. It was fun to watch people shopping for just the right dragon head. Maybe like we would shop for just the right Christmas tree?
Lanterns, lanterns and more lanterns!These were in the foyer of a restaurant. I think Jim is beginning to get a little tired of me taking photos of lanterns! But he is very patient.

Hoh Chi Minh City

Signs of Tet , or Lunar New Year are all over Vietnam, especially in HCMC. They do elaborate lighting displays and hang lanterns across the roads and in trees. I made Jim stand next to this one so you could see the scale of it. There were boxes and boxes of lanterns waiting to be hung. I would love to see these lit up!Wouldn't it be great to see the lantern factory where they are made? Hoi An perhaps?
Our first night in Hoh Chi Minh City sort of took us off guard with the intense heat and humidity. We have not experienced this kind of heat anywhere else during our trip so we had to adjust to it gradually. One way to do that was to visit the bar at the Sheraton for a happy hour drink (it's usually 2 for one), The cooling breezes and the gently swaying palms of the 23rd floor open air bar soothed and cooled us. We had a fantastic view of the Rex Hotel below us, where we went the next night for a drink. This place used to be a watering hole for the journalists and many others during the Vietnam war. Jim's dad worked for the CIA here for 8 years, so everywhere we go, we wonder if it is someplace his dad might have been. There is a lot of nostalgia here for Jim, and he remembers sending letters to his dad here.

This is a gate made especially for Tet, signifying the important elements for the celebration, like watermelons and these packages of rice and ? wrapped in banana leaves. At night they are lit up, too, and provide the locals with great photo ops.
We are able to witness all the stages of preparation, which I find to be so interesting. I still have not figured out where all these pink blossoms ended up, because they were not there the next day. Over some street somewhere. They are also huge-5 feet across, and made of a stretchy synthetic. Not unlike making fairy wings....Yellow mai flowers and pink blossoms are the special flowers for Tet. Really anything yellow or red, and you see small trucks carrying them all across Vietnam.
Well, here is my favorite shot of the lantern hanger. Yes, everyone of the hundreds of lanterns that are placed in trees and along the roads is hung by hand. No big trucks with cherry pickers here. It is almost better for me to see the process than to see it when it is all finished, however there are some streets where the decorations are complete, and they go on for blocks. When they are lighted at night, it is truly magical.