Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Traveling to Asia - A recap

Well I am long overdue on an update for the blog. I thought to do a bit of a Q&A post about the Asia trip as I was asked some interesting and funny questions.

Is the Thai food one finds in the US authentic?
Yep, with the exception of the tripe (intestines), all the food I had in Thailand was very similar to the food served in Thai restaurants here.

What was your favorite place?
Well it is a toss up between Bali and Hong Kong. Bali for it's mystical and sacred beauty and energy. Hong Kong for its combination of East meets West and absolute vibrancy.

How's your surfing?
Suffice it to say I have YEARS of practice ahead of me. It is an equally frustrating and fun endeavour.

Was everything made in China?
In Hong Kong, obviously most of it was but from what I could tell a lot of the things I saw in Bali and other places seemed to be locally made.

What was my least favorite place?
I would have to say the Sukhumvit area of Bangkok, it was a bit too seedy and depressing for my liking.

What were my favorite meals?
The food at the surf retreat, banana pancakes in Ubud, Pat Si Yu in Non Khai and sushi in Legian.

So did you meet any guys?
Well let's just say I did not meet the hotel heir that would sweep me off my feet, but I had fun anyway!

Are you going to move to Bali?
I don't think so but I would not mind spending 3 months of the year there.

What's the most valuable thing you experienced?
I could not really say, I think the real value of this particular trip will manifest itself in unexpected ways in the future.

So if anyone has any questions, silly or not so silly, feel free to comment or email them to me and I can answer them on the blog.

Back to Miami

On December 15th, I got back on a plane and flew from Bali to Taipei to Los Angeles to Atlanta to Miami. Surfboard, suitcase and two carry ons in tow, I finally made it back to my family's home in Miami early Monday morning.

I have spent my time catching up with family and friends, unpacking all my bags, going through two months of mail and email, uploading 2000+ pictures to my laptop and whatnot.

I met with my future employer, truly a gem of an induvidual - who gave me the security of being able to have a job to come back to while I was on my travels, and I decided not to take the job. Luckily he did not throw me out of a moving car when I told him. Strangely it was only that day that it occurred to me not to re-enter the airfreight industry. If anytime is the time to make a break, it is now, so with eternal gratitude to my lovely and gracious ex future employer, I am leaping into free fall.

So what am I doing now? Well, I have been busy with arts & crafts projects, making Christmas ornaments and my own gift wrapping paper, went for a surf in the not as warm as Bali waters of Miami. I figure I will enjoy the holidays with my family and friends, make my way back to Brooklyn in mid January sometime and keep adventuring in the meantime.

Wishing all a healthy and happy Christmas and New Year!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Sunrise in Bali

I went for my last Bali surf of the year yesterday and Marcy admittedly kicked my ass out in the water, it was a lot of work but I had fun nonetheless. I had a lovely last lunch at Lanai with Marcy and Melinda and made my way back to the disaster that was my hotel room.

Putting off packing, I went for dinner, went to the internet cafe and had that night swim in the pool under the stars. The stars are so bright here and so beautiful and if you watch the night sky long enough you see shooting stars. After chillaxing ( as a good friend calls it) I finally decided to tackle the nightmare of packing. I loaded about 10kg of clothes into my surfboard bag, I hope the board is now well protected against any possible dings or damage, but I really hope that it will get loaded without a problem. Good thing I have cargo experience, I'll get down on the ramp and do it myself if I have to! So a board bag, a nearly bursting rolling duffel and two carry ons later, I was finally done and off to sleep.

I got up at 6am after having about four hours sleep and dragged myself down to the beach to watch the sunrise. Yes getting up early is totally underrated.

God what a view! It was clear and low tide. You could see the volcanic mountain range to the North so clearly as the haze and pollution had not yet enveloped them, who knew there was a MASSIVE volcano right there! I walked far out into the ocean, the tide was so low and you could see live coral and little fish swimming in pools of water. I saw fishermen and women spearfishing and collecting seaweed, I saw tiny little crabs scurrying across the sand. I saw the local wild beach dogs playing, flocks of birds feeding and taking flight. I saw a huge live starfish on the sand and I sat down to watch it. It looked like it was tempting sand flies and then eating them. I saw lots of little insects go in but none come out so I assume they met their end.

I sat on the beach for a few hours and eventually had breakfast and got going. As I had to check out at 11am but my flight is at 4pm I thought to do another post and show some pictures from this morning.

What a great way to end my trip, with the hope, aspiration and life of a new day. Back to America I go with the spirit of adventure and absolute wonder in me.

Back to Bali

Monday the 3rd I got in a taxi, got on the Airport Express train, got on Singapore Airlines and got back to Bali.

Wow, its been a really long time since I have been really impressed by economy class service. Singapore Airlines are amazing - the cabin is tastefully decorated for the holidays, you get pillows and blankets, there is decent leg room, a huge on demand movie selection, a menu with good food and truly impeccable service from the cabin staff. The only unfortunate incident was that I lost my glasses somewhere that day!

Anyway, so I made my way back to Bali and it has been so great to come back. I have been surfing (trying to), smelling incense, watching the ocean, walking past the frangipani blossoms and dogs lying around on the ground, and seeing new friends that I feel I have known forever.

I have been back to lessons with Marcy (aka Mr. Marcy Sir!) and getting frustrated as all hell - 3 weeks out of the water did not do my weak paddle much good - but hey, I'm not complaining, I get to go out into the ocean every day and take it all in! I picked up my gorgeous new surfboard and we did a few lessons on the beach and up the coast. Last week I killed it going for two surfs in one day, a lesson with Marcy in the early morning and then a surf with Chelsea up the coast in the later morning, suffice it to say I slept really well that night.

Saturday I moved to a new hotel in Tangung Benoa on the Bukit Peninsula. At the beginning of my trip my mom very graciously and generously arranged for me to stay at a time share in the Nusa Dua resort area. So I packed up and schlepped my bags and my surfboard over to the Peninsula Beach Resort. I spent my days reading, swimming in the ocean and watching the fishing boats go by, swimming in the pool under the dark purple night sky with stars and frangipani trees overhead.

I have been taking taxis back to Legian where I was back on the tanker board for remedial surf lessons working on my pop up (jump up as they call it here) but the remedial lessons started to pay off on Thursday when Marcy took me out at KuDeTa and I probably had the funnest, best surf session I ever had. The conditions were gorgeous - glassy and not too big. I was able to get in a few super fun rides on the right hander. We will have to see how that translates on the significantly smaller board I bought!

I am really excited to go back to the US and see my family and friends but given the amazing experience I have had in Asia, it's no big surprise that I never want to leave.
So I'm going to pack in one last surf this afternoon, a swim under the stars, watch the sunrise, pack my bags and get on the plane for one long trip home tomorrow.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Hong Kong, China - Part 3

Friday I met Karen and her coworkers for a fun Chinese "comfort food" lunch, a typical "I'm so glad it's Friday" lunch. I went back to their offices for some incredible views of the harbour and then got on a double decker bus, that drove through some incredible winding roads to the other side of the island.

I walked around the Stanley Market and the Maritime Museum but I was really mostly taken with the gorgeous weather and amazing views, I sat for a long time just watching the fishermen and the ocean. After a stroll along the boardwalk and through the market again, I got on a bus and then a taxi (a 2 hour ordeal and a VERY long story) to meet up with Karen and her friends for drinks and dinner. We had loads of fun and I met some lovely people.

Saturday Karen and I dragged ourselves out of her apartment for brunch and a hike. We walked part of the Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail, about 2.5k - doesn't sound like much but a fair portion of it was stairs. Being the well trained athlete that I am, not a problem. Ha Ha. We were rewarded with some splendid views at the peak but we had to get going to a Hong Kong Chinese wedding rehearsal where Karen was the maid of honor. We raced back to Karen's and met up with Lilac and David. The venue was amazing, again tremendous views right on the harbour. After the rehearsal we jumped on the subway and went to visit Karen's jeweler. We walk in and Karen is greeted like a queen, we play dress up with some amazing jewels and have our arms twisted into buying a few things. I asked Mariane to indulge me and let me try on the most expensive piece - no problem, she whips out a four carat diamond. Holy cow! I could have blinded someone with that rock.

Sunday Karen went off to the wedding so I decided to walk around her neighborhood and the Soho area. I walked past boutiques and restaurants, past temples and through markets that sold everything from birds nests to shark fins. After some lunch, some shopping, some more shopping it was finally evening and Karen and I went for a delicious Italian dinner.

Monday I was treated to Yuly's mango breakfast and went off to the airport as it was time for me to go back to Bali. As happy and excited as I was to go back to Bali, I was a little sad leaving Hong Kong. I really had a fantastic time, it's a great city and I was hosted by a great friend. I am definitely going back one day!

Macau & Hong Kong, China - Part 2

Thursday morning Yuly prepared a gorgeous breakfast of a fresh fruit plant and a toasted English muffin with fresh mango (Carmen - I have the recipe from Yuly, it's AWESOME) for Karen and I on the balcony. Karen went off to work and I did some yoga. I headed down the hill, checking out the little shops, peeking down the lanes and generally was in a state of absolute wonder. I caught a taxi and went off to the ferry terminal, where I took the ferry to Macao.

It was a gorgeous sunny day and after about an hour the ferry arrived in Macao. I did not really have much of an agenda, so I did the touristy thing and hired a rickshaw bicycle driver to take me towards the colonial center. The old man was impressive, I was actually tempted to have him sit in the back and I would pedal but then I paid him about three times what a taxi would have cost me so I guess we were even.

I walked past the glitzy casinos to the historic district. It was so odd to see the street signs in Portuguese and Chinese (Macao used to be a Portuguese colony). If it were not for the Chinese writing, I almost felt like I was in some little European town, winding streets, plazas, colonial architecture - it was gorgeous. I strolled around, did a little shopping, saw the fort and the old cathedral, had an egg tart (like warm egg custard in a flaky pie crust - yummy!) and eventually walked back towards the pier and past all the casinos. A bit of a strange mix of it all.

I got back on the ferry and went for a Hunan Chinese dinner with Karen and her friend Eva. Dinner was truly fantastic - I am not generally a fan of "American" Chinese food, this food was different, better and left no heartburn! Also, getting complemented on my chopstick utilization by a Hong Kong Chinese lady was pretty cool - guess all my sushi lunches have paid off!

After dinner Karen and Eva suggested I go across to Kowloon to visit the Temple Street night market. Eva was kind enough to get me to the market via the MRT (subway). This area was amazing, tons of neon signs, tons of people out, busy, noisy but amazing to walk through. I did a little shopping in the market (one will notice this recurring theme in Hong Kong) and got back on the subway at about midnight and went back to Karen's. After several weeks of being in by 11pm, this was a long day. Hong Kong really never seems to sleep.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Hong Kong, China - Part 1

Wednesday I flew on Emirates from Bangkok to Hong Kong to visit my friend Karen, who I met on the surf retreat in Bali. After about two and a half hours flying we approached Hong Kong, it was sunset and the sun was hovering just above the horizon and all these misty little islands poked out of the South China Sea. It was positively dreamy. I made my way through Immigration, where they greet you with friendly smiles and give you orange gummy candies. I collected my bag and made my way to the Airport Express train to get into central Hong Kong, where Karen met me.

Somehow Karen and I had a small mix up on my arrival date, she had a cocktail function to go to, so I changed my shoes, put on some makeup and jewelry, Yuly (Karen's housekeeper) collected my bags and off we went. Karen and I went to a swanky restaurant in the IFC (International Finance Center) and had drinks with an international crowd of insurance, finance and real estate people. Talk about surreal, here I am overlooking Hong Kong harbor chatting with some heavy hitting movers and shakers.

Karen and I left the suit and tie crowd, got some dinner and had a chat. We ventured up the hill and decided to get one last drink on our way home. We stopped in at a bar called Soho Junction, where Karen and I were customers 4 and 5 respectively of this bar that had just opened. We sat down with 1,2 and 3 - an Australian guy, a French guy and an Italian guy. So there we were the five of us taking pictures, chatting and having a grand time together along with the Nepalese owner and the Nepalese bar back. We had a great time. Soho is one of my favorite parts of New York and I think I may love the Soho of Hong Kong even more. A mix of old and new, East meets West, all without the stuffy attitude.

After our drink, we hiked up the hill (Hong Kong is not for sissies or stiletto heels) and settled in for a good night's rest.

Bangkok, Thailand - The second time around

I arrived in Bangkok and made my way in a taxi to my hotel. I booked this hotel with hotel points. Wow, did I ever feel like a country bumpkin! After spending eight days in a place where monks ring the temple bells at 5am and you flush your toilet with a bucket, this was amazing. I stayed in the Plaza Athene. I got settled in my room, that had a fantastic view of the Bangkok business district. Housekeeping showed up to lay out my slippers and turn down my bed. The hotel was a novel experience by all accounts but it really blew my country bumpkin mind.

I went for a walk around the area and saw a street vendor cooking an awesome Pad Thai in a huge wok, so I sat down for dinner. For 30 Baht (or $1USD) I had the best Pad Thai ever, sitting at a sidewalk table, watching all of Bangkok race by. After dinner I got on the Skytrain and went to the Siam Square area. I went for a walk through the malls and parked myself at a nice little internet cafe.

Interesting observation, all of Southeast Asia seems to be obsessed with music by R. Kelly and Snoop Dogg. The unedited versions are piped through the mall speakers. It is a surreal experience.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Nong Khai, Thailand

Monday morning I packed my bags again and headed to Don Muang International Airport for my flight out of Bangkok. After an hour long flight, I arrived in Udon Thani and took a van for an hour long drive to Nong Khai. Nong Khai is a town in the Northeast of Thailand right on the Mekong River.

Our first stop was the Friendship Bridge, which is the border crossing to Laos. With the exception of the driver, another girl and myself - everyone got out at this stop. The girl, Rachel, and I introduced ourselves to each other and proceeded to find out we were both staying at the same place, doing the same yoga course. Rachel and I finally arrived at the Mut Mee Guesthouse, a lovely place at the end of a lane consisting of some thatch roof bungalows, some little houses and some patio areas overlooking the Mekong River and Laos in the near distance.

It was an intense week. Four of us, Jesse & Mical from Canada, Rachel from Ireland and I, signed up for a 7 day intensive yoga course. I ended up doing this course at Pantrix based on the recommendation from my friend Teba. Our days were long, yoga practice twice a day, theory, meditation and more. At times it was difficult both physically and mentally but I am so happy I did the course. Pancho and Beatrix, who run the course, are incredibly special people and I am blessed that I could spend some time learning with them.

So along with lots of yogaing, it was a fairly quiet week. Breakfasts and dinners overlooking the Mekong, strolls along the river and through the markets, and a few nights hanging out at Gaia, the floating bar and lounge.

We celebrated Loi Krathong Festival. The festival is to venerate the river goddess and for good luck. It is also to venerate Buddha and symbolic of letting go of one's grudges and anger so one can start life again fresh and new. Very interesting. Rachel and I made our own Krathongs. Krathongs are little shrines out of pieces of banana trees that are decorated in banana leaves, flowers, incense and candles. The Krathong is lit, a wish or prayer is made and then the Krathong is launched into the river. It was a full moon and a magical night with all these shrines and candles floating down the river and the smell of incense permeating the air.

We finished our course on Monday and on Tuesday it was another day of sad goodbyes. For me it was time to go down to Bangkok again and off I went.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Bangkok, Thailand - Part 2

Sunday I got on the Skytrain and went down to the river where I caught a tourist ferry boat and took a bit of a tour. We passed the luxury hotels, Chinatown, some Wats (temples), lots of dilapidated looking buildings and the Memorial Bridge. I got out at the stop for the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaeo, where the sacred Emerald Buddha is kept.

I first stopped for lunch at The Fishermans Seafood Restaurant, where I had a fantastic seafood curry while overlooking the river. After lunch I went off towards the palace, I walked past hundreds of street vendors, got caught in an afternoon downpour but I eventually made it to the grounds of the Palace and the Wat. The Palace buildings glittered with gold and the gardens had beautifully manicured trees and lawns. It almost felt like being in Disney World - it was so clean!

I went to Wat Phra Kaeo first and I bought some incense, gold leaf, a candle and a lotus blossom. I have never prayed in a Buddhist temple but I sort of watched what the locals were doing and went for it - it is quite a beautiful ritual. One lights the incense and holds the incense, the flower and the unlit candle between your hands in prayer. After you have said your prayer, you take the gold leaf and stick it on one of the Buddhas in the prayer area. The prayer area is outside in an open courtyard or covered by a small roof, it is not in the main temple where these rituals take place for the common people. After saying my prayers I went to look around and saw the famous Emerald Buddha.

I strolled around the palace grounds and eventually made my way to Wat Po to see the famous Reclining Buddha. The Wat is the oldest Buddhist temple in Bangkok and the Buddha is amazing, it has to be way more than 40 feet tall and over 100 feet long and it is covered in gold. In the same room as the Buddha are 108 bronze bowls, you make a donation and get 108 coins to drop in the bowls for good luck. After seeing the Buddha and dropping my coins, I went to the main chapel, left my shoes outside (as one does) and walked in. About 25 monks in saffron robes were praying and chanting along with the lay people. A spectacular experience. After some prayer and repose I went to the massage school attached to the temple and got a foot massage. Quite the treat after all that walking.

I had wanted to see the famous flower market, so I hired a tuk tuk (sort of like a 3 wheeled motorbike contraption) to take me there. I saw dozens and dozens of roses, lotuses, carnations, orchids and a variety of other flowers I don't even know. I felt like the only Westerner for miles.

I decided to be brave and get some food from a street vendor. It was an interesting exchange, I can only say "thank you" in Thai and the cooks English was limited too. So I had her make me anything, somehow we managed to communicate soup to each other. I sat there in the middle of the flower market, among the locals, who were all eyeing this weird woman who had braved their sidewalk. The food arrives and initially it looked like squid but upon closer inspection I came to the realization that it was chopped up intestines with chili and vegetables. Wow - ok so I thought I better try it. And it was spicy, not the spicy of make my eyes water and my nose run, oh no, it went WAY past that. I managed to eat maybe about a third of the dish and then the cook presented me with some sort of a soup with something that looked like liver in it. Yum. I ate some of the broth but could not manage to choke down the liver.

I had always thought I was fairly brave when it comes to food but this experience proved, not so much. Hey, at least I tried it. It was pretty funny actually, all these Thais were watching me to see how much I would actually be able to eat! After downing my bottle of water, I paid up and caught a taxi to the Skytrain station. After the funky food, I had a major desire for something familiar and soothing, like ice cream. So I hopped on the Skytrain and and went to the mall.

I know, I know - for not being a mall person, I'm spending a heck of a lot of time in them. (Actually I'm not, it just seems like it sometimes.) Anyway, I walked around this super mall, I think it was even bigger and posher than Suria in Kuala Lumpur. I never made it to get any ice cream - I hit the internet cafe and got an iced coffee instead. After a long day, I made my way back in the direction of my hotel, stopped for a Pad Thai at The Copper, where they were playing an entire Jack Johnson CD and I could not have been happier.

Thursday, November 22, 2007


Just a word about Thanksgiving. First of all, Happy Thanksgiving to all my friends and family who are celebrating the American holiday of Thanksgiving Day today. Thanksgiving is a holiday about gratitude - something sometimes forgotten amidst our turkeys, stuffing and cranberry.

In the spirit of this holiday, I write today from Nong Khai, Thailand, a few things I am grateful for.

My family and friends who have inspired me and given me unconditional love and support and have encouraged my changes and adventures.

The little challenges I have faced that brought me to a point where I wanted to change my life.

This journey, where I have learned so much, seen good and bad, beautiful and ugly and have made amazing new friends in the process.

My education and upbringing that have given me so many opportunities and blessings millions of people in the world do not have.

Wishing everyone lots of love and a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Bangkok, Thailand - Part 1

First impressions. I arrived into Bangkok on Friday evening from Malaysia. We arrived into Suvarnabhumi International Airport which is the new international airport in Bangkok. I got in a taxi and proceeded to sit in the worst traffic I think I have ever experienced. Bangkok is renown for its traffic and pollution, amongst other things, as I would soon find out.

I finally arrived at my hotel, tired and hungry, the doormen referred me to a little restaurant next door called The Copper. I had my first Pad Thai in Thailand and it was delicious. I also happened to walk past the first Thai "massage" parlor for men only, that I would see.

The next day I got up and left the hotel in search of breakfast. Although it really was not that early, there wasn't much activity on the streets, the food vendors, the prostitutes leaving whoever they were with the night before and me. Interesting.

Back in NY I had been speaking to a friend about my trip and told him that i had plans to go to Bangkok. He made a face and told me Bangkok was a cesspool. I did not stay in a hostel, I was staying in a tourist area - not in a red light district but that day, on Saturday, I had to agree with my friend, Bangkok was a cesspool.

Desperate to find a bit of respite from the riot of pollution and the pervasive feeling of the sex trade being all around me, I went to have brunch at a lovely French crepe restaurant. I sat there for hours, in the garden, taking in the soothing environment. Eventually I went on my way again and got a massage and stopped in at an internet cafe for a while. I thought somehow I was safe but all of a sudden I hear this old American man talking to this young Thai women about the events of the previous night. Suffice it to say I was not that keen on hearing the rest of the conversation and decided to walk back to the hotel.

It was amazing to see the women hanging out on the sidewalks in front of the bars and restaurants, looking for their next client and all the Western men, young and old chatting up these women. I went back to the safety of The Copper for dinner and after dinner on my way back to my hotel, what do I see? An older Thai couple walking a baby elephant! Obviously I had the requisite reaction of "Awwww" but I quickly realized they wanted me to pay them to feed or pet the elephant. I wasn't about to do that.

I was so disturbed that evening by the little bit that I saw of the rampant exploitation of women and animals. I emailed some friends who have some extensive experience traveling in Asia and my mother, who had been in Thailand 35 years ago. My friends told me that it is often "normal" for country girls to enter into a few years of prostitution to help their families or they go into the city to become seamstresses and end up getting tricked into prostitution. Maybe some of these girls and women voluntarily have gone into this line of work but none of them looked happy to me, they all looked hard and sort of hollow, no matter how beautiful they were. My mom was understanding of my feelings and suggested I take a boat tour on the river the next day.

I never intended to post any social or moral commentaries on this blog. I really always intended to keep it for entertainment only but as one of my friends put it, it is only by bringing awareness to the problems that anything will ever change.

I mean have you ever been in a hotel that has a sticker on the safe that says "If you think a child might be at risk of sexual exploitation, please contact hotel management."???

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Part 2

Day 2 in Kuala Lumpur, I got up, had a breakfast of noodles, dim sum, sushi and fruit. Strange but all part of the breakfast buffet.

After breakfast I walked to the Petronas Twin Towers and had a look around. I had intended to go to the skyway (the bridge that connects the towers) but the tickets were all gone for the day, so I just walked around inside instead. Attached to the towers is the Suria Mall. I am not a mall person by any means but somehow I was intrigued by this super mall and went to check it out. (James - you're loving me now!) I walked by Chanel, Marc Jacobs, Prada, Ferragamo, Armani, Jimmy Choo (who by the by is Malaysian) and kept walking.

I found a little museum on the third floor with Malaysian artifacts - old pictures, antique jewelry, swords and statues. Its very interesting to see the mixtures of different cultures in Malaysia. The museum was filled with Chinese, Malay, Indian and Islamic artifacts. Much like all the stores and people. There were women with their heads covered with scarves, the scarves are actually held in place with beautiful pins. You see all types of people, Indian Sikhs with their turbans, Chinese teenagers, Malay school kids. The only thing that scared me were the ladies in their abayas and veils, this is the Muslim style of dress where all you can see is the eyes of a woman. (Correct me if I am wrong anyone). So I saw two ladies in this style of dress accompanied by their men and the women's eyes looked so terrorized it freaked me out. Maybe they are ok with their custom and I respect that but somehow it just scared the crap out of me.

Anyway, I've gone off on a tangent. After the museum I went to the Gallerie Petronas next door where they were exhibiting Malaysian women artists. A great show with some really lovely pieces.

I kept walking through the mall, found a foot reflexology place , a bookstore and a cafe where I spent the rest of my afternoon. I don't know if it was the rain outside, my lingering cold, or the intense humidity later but I was pretty spent. I made a night of it with room service and the Discovery Channel. (James - now you REALLY love me.)

On Friday morning I got up, packed, had breakfast and went to the Petronas Twin Towers again. Once again, I missed the tickets for the skybridge, so I opted to get on the subway and take a trip around town on public transport. I took the subway to the central station where I walked to the monorail station. I took the monorail through the Golden Triangle area - once I got on the monorail Kuala Lumpur looked like a lot of other big cities, maybe not as bad as some in certain parts of Africa or South America but it definitely had its "economically depressed" looking areas. Maybe it was just the architecture.

I turned around and went back towards KLCC, got out at Jalan Bukit and walked to Jalan Ampang, past the rubber museum, past the Pakistani Embassy and eventually made it back to my hotel where I collected my bags, got in a taxi and headed to the airport for my flight to Bangkok.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Part 1

This is the Bali beach where we surfed, not Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur was an interesting experience. I left Bali on Wednesday afternoon, after another early morning surf. Despite the big knock on the head the day before, it was good to get in the water the next morning. Anyway, the quickest way to get over any fears is to just jump right in again.

I flew to Malaysia on Air Asia and caught a taxi to KLCC (Kuala Lumpur City Center) where my hotel was. For a good portion of the way we passed a vast expanse of palm groves, with the songs Rhinestone Cowboy by Glenn Campbell and Love Is Strange by Dolly Parton and Kenny Rodgers playing on the radio - I KID YOU NOT. (By the way I looked up the details for these songs on google - just in case anyone is wondering.) Anyway, the palms are used for cooking oil and now are also being used in bio fuel technology.

So we made it into downtown Kuala Lumpur and the traffic came to an absolute standstill, much to the aggravation of my insane speed racer taxi driver. We drove past the Petronas Twin Towers, which are the second highest buildings in the world. They are really very beautiful, they sparkle like diamonds when the sun hits them or when they are lit up at night. It was really weird to be in a big city again and I was somewhat strangely energized by it. I checked into my hotel, dropped my bags in my room and went to find a place for dinner.

I found a great restaurant called Top Hat. It is in an old colonial house that has been converted to a restaurant. The decor is colonial, the floors terrazzo, and the music? Well the music was Cuban! Candela by the Buena Vista Social Club - if it were not for the Malay, Chinese and Indian staff, I would have thought I was somewhere else in the world.

I had a starter of "top hats", a phyllo like dough shaped into little top hats and filled with a spring roll like filling. The top hats were delicate and delicious. I then had a smoked salmon tartare salad. Salmon with mango, creme fraiche and lemongrass sauce. My inner foodie did rejoice. Besides the food at the Surf Goddess Retreat and the banana pancakes, I was not that taken with Indonesian food which was surprising because I eat almost anything.

Anyway, I made sure to leave room for dessert as I spotted panna cotta on the menu and could not resist. The first time I recall having panna cotta was in Switzerland. My aunt who everyone loved so much, had passed away. After her funeral we had a big luncheon commemorating her and panna cotta was served for dessert. Somehow I just associate it to family now. Anyway, so panna cotta is like a vanilla flavored pudding with a jello like consistency, this one was served with starfruit and watermelon. Fantastic.

Being that I had been up since 4:45am, I was pretty exhausted and I walked back to my hotel, had a bath and called it a night with the down comforter.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Legian, Bali - Part 3

The last few days I took a bit of a break from surfing. I have been trying to take care of my cold and my shoulder and doing a whole lot of nothing.

Saturday I met up with Alain, we hopped on his moped and drove to Redz, a surfboard shop. We had stopped there on our way back from the beach on Friday and checked out some boards. I had no intention of buying one but when I heard the price Alain was getting, I decided to join him on Saturday. So I ordered my surfboard and Marcy will kindly pick it up for me next week and hold it, while I make my way through Malaysia,
Thailand andHong Kong, until I get back to Bali in December, when I will be able to christen the board in Balinese waters!

After the exciting outing, we came back to town and I had a rest at my hotel. Later I met up with Alain and Dan at Melinda and Marcy's bungalow for afternoon tea. Alain had brought over a fantasticPont l'Eveque cheese that he brought from France, I brought American grapes, Melinda supplied the crackers, tea and coffee and Dan and Marcy brought their stellar personalities. We had a lovely and highly sophisticated afternoon at the beach bungalow.

Sunday I read a book and met Chelsea and Melinda for a few mango daiquiris and some dinner at Lanai.

Monday my day started like any other, breakfast of papaya, watermelon and pineapple by the pool. I eventually made my way to Tri, my massage therapist, who Melinda set me up with to work specifically on my shoulder. Tri proceeded to stick about 10 acupuncture needles in my arm and shoulder and hooked up the needles to this electricity transmitter. Needless to say once he turned the current on I looked like I was having a seizure. After 20 minutes of twitching, the needles came out and it was time for massage. Now this is not a spa massage, this man goes to work- this is
deep tissue work that brings tears to your eyes, but for $15, less shoulder pain and an extended range of motion it was well worth it.

I was supposed to go for a surf after but my lesson got canceled due to bad conditions, so we rescheduled for this morning and I went off to do some sidewalk/window shopping, headed off to theapothek (pharmacy) for some cough medicine and made my way to Lanai to watch the sunset and have some dinner.

This morning Marcy and Melinda picked me up at 5:45am and we went for a surf at the break in front of the bar KuDeTa, I have been advised the correct name for this break is Poofies.
In any event, it is a long paddle out past some pretty heavy shore break but once you got to the outside the waves were really nice, not too fast and not too steep. I caught the first one on my own but I went left instead of going right (on therighthander ) like I was supposed to. Duh! I kind of exhausted myself with the paddling and the rest of the waves were a combination of me paddling and Marcy pushing me. You'd think all this time in the water I would be a stronger paddler by now! It gets a little frustrating. Anyway so towards the end of my lesson there's a big wave coming my way - I ditch the board and dive under. Well, somehow me and my board went in the wrong direction and I had a head on collision with one of the fins. Yes I covered my head, but apparently not well enough. So once I popped up to the surface Marcy was all "Are you ok ??" I just rubbed my head and said yeah I was fine, I just knocked my head and I ask him if I'm bleeding. He says yes! I figure he's just being full of it and touch my forehead. Sure enough, blood! So I got out of the water, Marcy got me some ice and we got the bump back down to non alien like levels. I did suggest we amputate, as my dad used to say when we got a cut when we were kids, but Marcy was not too much into surgery. Ha ha ha

So after a shower and suitable application of antiseptic for cuts, tiger balm for sore muscles and arnica for a number of bruises, I had some breakfast and made my way to the internet cafe. I'm off to Kuala Lumpur after a morning surf tomorrow.

Note 1: Not sure if the monitor is bad it if it is the compression of the photos that is making them look crappy. Will fix them once I get to a proper high speed connection.
Note 2: To my family, I'm a little banged up but I'm OK, don't worry - it's not like we have to amputate anything and I've got a hard head anyway.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Legian, Bali - Part 2

Sheila left back to the US on Tuesday and I was on my own again, it was a bit sad after making such great friends, to see them all go.

Wednesday I had another lesson with Mr. Marcy Sir and all of a sudden, what do I feel? A sore throat! Oh no! I sort of expected to get a cold after leaving NY, but I figured it would be in the first few weeks, but OH NOOOO! My body said NOW you really have time to rest, WHAM! So in addition to being slightly crippled with a minor shoulder injury (several months ago I was a bit overly ambitious with a forearm stand in yoga class) now I'm sick too! As one can imagine, excessive paddling tends to aggravate the shoulder. To make a long story short, I made my way to the Circle K for some cold medicine and Melinda hooked me up with some nasal drops. After suitably drugging myself I hibernated in my room the rest of the day.

Today Marcy, Melinda, Alain (another one of Marcy's students) and I made plans to drive up the coast and surf a different break. I willed my body to recover and it did, not as fully as I would have liked but good enough. Marcy and Melinda picked me up at 5:45am (yes, I said 5:45AM), we picked up Alain and off we went. We drove through all these small villages and past lots of rice paddies. After about an hour, we made it to the beach. A desolate place of black volcanic sand with a small warung (a Balinese sort of little restaurant, kind of like a shack) and nobody but a few chickens, a rooster, some dogs and us.

Marcy unpacked the surfboards, we suited up, put on our sunblock (SPF45 for me Mami) and walked around the cliff to the other side of the beach where a small lefthander was breaking. Man, it was amazing! It was a misty overcast morning and we have cliffs and palm trees behind us, the ocean in front of us, a big rock jutting out of the water to our right and a religious ceremony to our left. We paddled out and it was totally surreal to be in the water hearing the traditional Balinese music accompanying the ceremony and seeing the local fishing boats on the horizon.

The swell was nice but smallish, rolling and fairly glassy but it was not my best day in terms of performance. I was on a smaller board, a bit sick and seriously lacking in my paddle power but man, it was a highlight of my trip and I would not have missed this morning for the world.

Legian, Bali - Part 1

So I made my way back down to the beach on Saturday. Sheila and I had decided to go dancing but due to a massive downpour and the club only opening at 11pm we scrapped that idea. We were quite the sight at dinner, the two of us yawning away at 9pm. I just don't have the energy I did at 21!

Besides, we had a morning surf lesson with Marcy, Melinda's boyfriend, the next morning. Marcy, aka Yes Sir! Mr. Marcy Sir, was quite nice to me the first day, however subsequent lessons proved he is quite the paddle nazi, lots of "paddle, paddle, paddle, harder, faster, eyes up, chin down!" Ha ha ha!

Anyway the last few days with Sheila were great. We took in some lessons with Marcy, a few massages, a bit of lounging at Lanai (a beachfront restaurant) taking in the sights and sounds, checking out the guys, a good time all around.

By the way that's Sheila surfing not me.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Ubud, Bali - Part 2

Sheila left back to Seminyak on Thursday and I decided to stay on in Ubud for a few more days. I moved to a new hotel, Artini Cottages 2; Artini reminded me of lots of miniature palaces surrounded by lush gardens filled with white frangipani flowers, hot pink hibiscus trees and purple bougainvillea plants. I had booked a regular room but the staff at Artini
hooked me up with the honeymoon suite at the back of the hotel. A
lovely room with an expansive view of the gardens and cottages.

On Friday I decided to take a jewelery making class. Other than playing with beads and string as a child, I had never really made any jewelry. So I booked a class with the awesome
people at Studio Perak. The other students definitely had some designs in mind and one was quite intense about his work. I, on the other hand, had no design in mind but I eventually got some sort of idea as to what to make. With lots of assistance from my instructor Ketut, I made a ring that I am actually quite pleased with. I am calling it my lesson in going with the flow.

After class I meandered through town, stopped at the crowded market, bargained with a girl for some gorgeous silk batik scarves and made my way to the Lotus Cafe for lunch. I had Mie Goreng, sort of an Indonesian version of Pad Thai.

Lotus Cafe overlooks the back gardens of Pura Saraswati (Temple Saraswati). The temple, despite looking quite ancient, was built at the end of the 19th Century and dedicated to the Goddess Saraswati, the goddess of water, learning and creativity. Her name, Saraswati, literally translates to "the one who flows", kind of cool. After a stroll through the lotus filled garden, it was time for my daily
reflexology session and dinner.

I had dinner at the cafe "Kafe" which is under the yoga studio and met of all things, Swiss tourists (She from Basel and He from Solothurn - just in case anyone was wondering). Anyway so I hear them talking and can not resist piping up and telling them amount Yani,
the Swiss speaking Balinese tour guide. I'm not sure what tripped them
out more, a Swiss speaking Balinese or a Swiss speaking New Yorker/Miamian.

The next day after a yummy breakfast of Balinese coffee and banana pancakes, it was time to head back to the beach.

My ode to banana pancakes, oh how I love thee. Seriously they are AMAZING. I am no big fan of bananas, I appreciate their nutritional value but I have been the victim of potassium overdose in the past (specific people will know what I am talking about, yes you James). Anyway in Bali they make these light, crepe-like pancakes and fill them with a sliced cooked banana. Oh my god, they are SO delicious. I have a whole new appreciation for bananas.