the sins of our dinner

Show me another pleasure like dinner which comes every day and lasts an hour.
-- Charles Maurice de Talleyrand

Chicken and Ribs.  Billy Bombers

Nachos with Cheese, Grilled Pork, and Jalapenos.  Billy Bombers

dusk at marina bay

All architecture is great architecture after sunset; perhaps architecture is really a nocturnal art, like the art of fireworks.
-- Gilbert K. Chesterton

everything's coming up beaches

Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

what dreams we weave

We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems
-- Arthur O' Shaugnessy

on our second day in Bali, after a heavy breakfast (i ate like there was no tomorrow), my wife and i piled onto the car and went with Mr. Lucky and Mr. Made on a roadtrip around Bali.

first stop was to see the famed Barong and Kris Dance at Kesiman, Denpasar.
The dance, it turns out, is actually sort of a dance and a play and a theatre musical rolled into one.

it's all pretty serious, almost ritualistic stuff, with the dialogue often times taking on a chanting sort of cadence throughout the play (or at least that's what i think).  and all the while there's some intense musical score accompanying the action, provided by a live gamelan.

honestly though, it was a little difficult to understand what was going on in the play.  we were seated about 20 feet from the stage and i couldn't hear what the actors were saying.
not that it would have mattered: it wasn't in english anyway and my sanskrit was a little, well, non-existent.  

so i ended up having to figure out which act we were in by comparing what the programme said should be happening with what was actually happening on stage ("act three, monkey dies, hey i don't see any dead monkeys anywhere.  maybe they've hidden the bodies?")

as far as i could tell, there was a heroic monkey and evil dancers and an evil king demon and an evil witch, a big, powerful, benevolent shaggy looking lion-like thing (the Barong) and a bunch of half-naked guys stabbing themselves with knives (later on i find out they were trying to stab themselves because of an evil magic spell.  but because they are also under a good magic spell, their knives don't work on themselves.  i think that the good magic spell has a serious design issue.  why even let the guys stab themselves in the first place, when the good spell could just cancel the evil spell from the outset?  it saves a lot of people a lot of stabbing effort and is just more streamlined and effective.  i want to talk to the wizard in charge of the spell to suggest a rearchitecture).  i googled it afterwards and it turns out that it is a classic good versus evil story, with mythological underpinnings, and with good winning out in the end.

the barong dance and its colorful cast
the ladies in the middle are evil spirits, welcoming smiles not withstanding.  the two guys in the red robes are evil emissaries. the guy with the long blond hair is evil too (his sharp claws are a dead giveaway).  the guy with the long brown hair is also evil.  only the half naked guys with the long knives are good.  

looking back, i realized, what the hey, nearly everybody except the monkey, the lion and the guys with knives, are evil yet in the end good prevails but not without sacrifices.  so i guess the play says something about how evil can be pervasive in the world but with some effort good will win out.  (judging from this review, "theatre critic" is not a career choice in my future i think).

the barong: good and heroic and takes down evil demon kings like it was his business (it actually is).
plus he's a nice guy: he'd had autographed this picture too if only he had hands, instead of clawed feet.

after witnessing a shaggy lion save the world, we head on back to the car and our guides take us to one of the many places where batik is made.

batik is pretty funky stuff.  first, the colors, the designs and patterns, these are not just randomly splashed onto the cloth.  The colors mean something (they represent the Hindu trinity, if you must know), and the patterns mean something, and ultimately certain patterns and designs can only be worn by nobility.  It is ceremonial cloth and i understand it is possible to tell people's rank judging from the pattern he or she is wearing.

Second, batik is handmade.  While there are now machines that churn out kilometers of the stuff for commercial sale and consumption, good quality batik is handmade.

A deliberately designed handmade cloth is pretty amazing in and of itself, but when you consider how intricate a batik fabric can be, and you see one being created, the whole thing is just mind blowing.

small circle, small circle, big circle.  repeat one million gazillion times
the richness, depth, and intricacy of a batik pattern alone is staggering, if we actually take time to look at it deeply.  it's even more amazing if we realize that all of it is handmade and not randomly mechanically stamped onto the fabric by a monster etch-a-sketch high on peyote.

but what takes the cake is that these guys, these batik-weavers, create the designs from their own imagination.  there's no paper pattern or picture, or signed off technical design specifications to copy from.  they sit down, take the fabric, and just begin drawing and staining the patterns onto the fabric.

each dot, each stain, lovingly crafted by hand. 

i can probably grab a pen and start drawing random lines and shapes on a piece of paper.  i can assure you, i'd just end up with a sheet of doodles and gunk.  nobody would look at it or even glance at it, much less wear it.  (my shrink would, though. look at it i mean, but that's only because i pay her to do it.  she probably wears dolce and gabbana, not other people's doodles).

but these guys create handmade cloth worn by royalty from their own minds.

each line, each stroke, etched with consistency and design
the fabric, too, is handmade on a wooden loom.  we were told, a day's effort of weaving will produce just 3 meters of batik cloth.  let me say that again: 8 to 10 hours' worth of effort will net you just 3 meters of batik.  that's barely enough for one shirt.

for a while, we watched as the lady worked the loom, methodically, delibrately and saw the cloth very slowly take shape.  only then did i really understand what the word "weave" means.

each strand, each yarn, purposefully woven into the whole.
being on a tour has a way of jolting you back into reality: after being mesmerized by the batik weavers, our guide politely informed us that we had a schedule to keep and so had to move on to our next item in our itinerary, the silver smiths of Bali.

these guys are in a different league altogether, as they can take a mangled heap of metal, and twist and turn and pull and something beautiful comes out.  (i'm not even going to talk about what happens when i try twisting and pulling things.  something usually breaks, and it's not pretty).

from pieces of silver, to small trinkets...
the silver trinkets in Bali are very intricate (and that is the understatement of the year)  and the quality of the work is outstanding.  i can say this because i routinely look at silver shops both in manila and in singapore just because i'm easily distracted  ("ooooh, shiny!").  the ones i've been to will have large signs saying "laser technology etching" or some such, to imply i guess a degree of precision and quality.  

the shops in bali have no such signs, and judging from the simple huts, i have my doubts there is a particle accelerator anywhere in the vicinity.  nevertheless, i must say i was blown away.  

our host at the shop told us it takes about three days to complete a set of earrings, much like the one here: intricate pieces...
i am still trying to imagine how long it takes to create something like this.

to the stuff of dreams.
i was beyond amazed when i saw this ship: the level of detail is mindboggling.  and when i was editing the picture to add it to this blog entry, my jaw dropped even more: i had zoomed to check if the picture was sharp enough and saw that the cables holding the sails together are indeed cables: you could see the that these have a twisted texture on them (click on the pictures to zoom and see for yourself).  i am still deciding whether i'd be more amazed if the twists were etched onto the silver or if they were really fine lines of silver actually twisted together.

it was soon time to leave again, and as we sat in the car, i realized it was just midday and already my jaw hurt from dropping all morning.  we check Mr. Lucky's list and up next were the woodcarvers and the paintings in Ubud, and a holy mountain spring temple, but not before having lunch in a fog shrouded restaurant beside a mountain pass.

[to be continued]

a culture of grilling

Red meat is not bad for you.  Now blue-green meat, that’s bad for you!
~Tommy Smothers

the little energetic listener that could

A daughter is the happy memories of the past, the joyful moments of the present, and the hope and promise of the future. 
-- Author Unknown

jasmin invited me and my wife to a surprise birthday party for her good friend, hazel, at east coast park, singapore.  i obliged after consulting with my wife (naturally) who said, "we'll go if sam goes."

sam is jasmin's beautiful 2 year old daughter whom i had kept telling my wife about.  after countless stories and endless tales of just how cute sam is, my wife finally realized i was torturing her with these stories and made up her mind: she had to see sam for herself.

so when we got the chance to finally meet sam, there were no second thoughts, no ifs, no buts.  "we're going", she said, and that was that.

sam is a bundle of joy: precocious and friendly, a little angelic spark that just kept going and going and going and going.  one minute she was running around playing with balloons, the next she was hopping like a rabbit who had one sweetened carrot too many.

and she has a mind of her own too.  at first, she pouted when her mom called her (it turns out jasmin had left her napping upstairs and she had woken up alone -- and understandably angry).  but peachy has a way with kids and pretty soon sam had forgotten about being upset and was off and running.  and hopping.  and shouting.  and giggling.

it didnt help that, it being a birthday party, she somehow got her hands on some chocolate cake.  it was like pouring gas on a forest fire, let me tell you.

i enjoyed all of it though: i was off to one side, happily snapping away.

holds his dear Psyche sweet entranced

I claim there ain't
Another Saint
As great as Valentine.
~Ogden Nash

on this day (of all days), i was walking around singapore while waiting for my wife to be done with her work.  i usually will try to bring my camera with me whenever i go on these walkabouts and today was no different

luck or maybe coincidence: i had chanced upon a couple having their prenuptial photos taken, and i could not resist taking a quick snap.

wishing everyone a happy (or, if you're keen, "miserable" -- whatever suits you) valentines day.

smile, breathe, and go slowly

There is more to life than increasing its speed.
~ Mahatma Gandhi

east coast park, singapore

waking up in bali

I have a "carpe diem" mug and, truthfully, at six in the morning the words do not make me want to seize the day.
They make me want to slap a dead poet.
-- Joanne Sherman

on day two, the alarm goes off at 630 am.
i previously had an epiphany: no matter where you are going, it's tough to get out of bed in the morning.

corollary to that epiphany: no matter where you are, it's hell to get out of bed in the morning.

a morning person, i am not.

but that's the irony of a vacation isn't it?  you go on a vacation to relax, and nothing relaxes more than sleep.  but sleeping in when you're on vacation on an exotic island (or a european city) is just so wrong.  so you force yourself awake, and in the process stress yourself out, which defeats the whole purpose of a vacation.  so, we should all realize: a stressful vacation is not an oxymoron.

moral of the story? vacations are for stress junkies.  if you want to relax, stay in bed instead, and eat a tub of chocolate ice cream once you wake up at half past noon.

i digress.

i drag my bedraggled self out of bed, look at my peacefully sleeping wife, and decide, why should i have all the fun?

so i pounce on her, and muster as much bleary eyed enthusiasm as i can, which amounts to hoarsely croaking, "wake up, dearest.  we have that 830 am tour you booked us on."

it was all a ruse really, to get her into the shower first, so i can get another glorious 5 minutes in bed.

5 minutes later (my wife insists it was 30 minutes), i wake up (again), and fumble my way through my morning ritual.  it helps that the showers at nusa dua are some of the best i've taken.

imagine a torrential downpour, or maybe a typhoon, but without the cold gusts of wind or the occasional flying piece of roof or wet animal, and with all that water coming at you from a 6 inch shower head.

and if that was not enough, the hotel provides you with a second telephone shower head with which to drown yourself further, in case you survive the first drowning.

having survived my first experience of voluntary self drowning, we head on down to the breakfast buffet.  (my wife and i are buffet junkies, by the way.  we keep tabs and copious mental notes about which hotel's breakfast buffet is best and which ones we'd rather forget.)

breakfast by a burbling fountain takes some of the sting out of getting up in the morning

going to bali off-peak means having your choice of seats.  you could also wake up ridiculously early before anyone's had a chance to shamble their way to the breakfast buffet

the staff at nusa dua and very friendly and attentive.  
they will also will help you stuff yourself silly with food and caffeine.

we have a nice leisurely breakfast (i pigged out and gorged myself with food enough for a starving village) and find out we have some time before Mr. Lucky arrives and so took in the sights of the hotel grounds once more:

we also took some standard, customary pictures of us standing beside landmarks, which was the proper, tourist-y thing to do.

before photoshop, this used to be conclusive proof of having gone to some exotic destination.  nowadays, it's another chance for people to magnify the photo and look for tell tale signs of bad copy paste jobs. 

every self respecting tourist does this

Mr. Lucky and Mr Made finally arrive and herd us into the car.  And with a quick and quiet lurch, we're off to another adventure within our bali adventure, this time a road trip across the island of Bali.

[to be continued]

the heart of this flower

as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
-- e. e. cummings

a lotus on a pond in bali

the rabbit awaits

wishing you and your families a bountiful new year

three halves make a short story long

and so, with a bit of pluck and a bit of daring (and some directions from our guide, Mr. Lucky plus some money for a cab in case we get lost), the missus and i set off on an adventure within an adventure: walking the streets of a foreign country with only our pair of grumbling stomachs to guide us.

not five minutes from the hotel we come across a massive, ornate gate /  tower.  the thing must have been 20 foot tall at least, and marked the entrance to the nusa dua beach resort.

enter and cross the threshold

soon after that we walk through a beautifully sculpted park (only, it's not a park as we eventually find out, but is a kind of gated city made up of different resorts; a resort city if you will) that was dotted with statues.  with striking frequency, we would encounter a statue of a boy, or an old woman or a garghoulish humanoid with a sword.  (yes, i know there is no such word but the statue does look part gargoyle, part ghoul with a bad hangover.)

the amazing thing was, it wasn't an ugly statue.  in fact, it was a beautiful statue.  but it was a beautiful statue of what i think is a ghoul who looks like he's had one drink too many.  (i wonder: if you set out to carve a statue of an ugly thing, and it turns out beautifully, does it mean it's an ugly statue?)

never had ugly been so beautiful

we eventually walk past the beautiful ugly statue and see another statue, or so we thought.  my wife sidles up to it and beckons, "take my picture quick".  i oblige and later we realize, it's not actually a statue, but a trash can.

now imagine that: how many countries have you been to which make you want to have your picture taken with a trash can?

bali, you had me at "the turtle".

talk about trashy art.

after containing our amazement with the trash can, we realize that we were getting hungrier but were not getting any closer to a restaurant.  we rounded a corner, and i thought,  here we go there must be a restaurant somewhere close by.

of course there wasn't and instead there was another huge gate/tower in a large rotunda.

with our stomachs rumbling in chorus (mine louder than hers) and generally just making it difficult to concentrate, i kept thinking, food.. just around.. the corner.. i.. can.. make.. it.. 

we trudge through the rotunda and round a corner and...

i blink and nearly pass out at the thought of having to cross such an impossibly long stretch of road while trying to keep my stomach from cannibalizing my spleen in desperation.

but somehow we make it, one agonizing step at a time, to another stretch of road with restaurants on both sides.  there was a japanese grill, and there was a sports bar, and we thought, just how wrong is it for us to eat in a sports bar in bali?

we eventually end up eating at what the signage said was a mediterranean italian restaurant, the Lotus SomethingOrOther (apparently, one of the first things to go when you're dying of hunger is the ability to remember names).

after being seated, i notice that even the placemat is made from carved wood.  now i've seen plastic placements, glass placemats, woven placemats, molded placemats, but a carved placemat?

my wife and i place our orders and twiddle our thumbs in anticipation.  at this point, i decided to keep my camera at the ready, realizing i needed to be quick with the pictures: i knew the two of us would set upon the food like a pack of starving wolves as soon as it's placed on the table.

and i was right.  as you can see, i was not fast enough for the bread.

[at this point, i figured it would be best if i stopped messing around too much with the saturation in photoshop.  i don't think green colored mutton is appetizing in the least]

first up was the soto ayam, a curry-ish (according to wikipedia, it's tumeric) sour-ish chicken soup with vegetables and vermicelli.  for a while, there was only silence, broken by the occasional slurping sound.

i thought that going for the soto ayam was adventurous enough for one day, and ordered tortellini and ham in cream sauce.

my wife on the other hand, was a little more gung-ho and ordered indonesian satay with rice and vegetables on the side

the tortellini was, well, pasta in cream sauce, but the satay was awesome, and i end up trading some of my tortellini for a few sticks.  my wife tells me it was a combination of beef, pork and mutton.  i couldn't tell though since i was too busy just gulping it all down, barely remembering to chew.

with stomachs filled and sated (my wife was sated, i was still reaching for the menu when she elbowed me discretely) we thank our waitress for the wonderful meal, paid and left.  we drop by a convenience store to buy some snacks and walk the long way back home.

on the way back, we notice that the turtle has a lid (that's how we found out it was really a trash bin.  if you look at the picture closely, you can see) and one of the guards at the resort greets me "konnichiwa" as we pass (i wanted to say, "hey yeah, konnichiwa to you too, dude." just to see his reaction, but just nodded instead.)

when we got back to the resort, it was just after dusk.  we then decide to have a relaxing nighttime dip in the pool which we had all to ourselves.

what came after that is hazy at best, and all i can remember is being sprawled on the bed, half asleep, tired but good-tired, and not-quite-hearing my wife telling me to stop hogging the pillows.

and that we had signed up for an 830 am tour the next day.