Bali Obama!

I know that I owe two days of posts on Hong Kong, but I’m starting to realize that I simply can’t record everything. I wish I could, because I have experienced so much in such a short period of time, and it’s all so new and overwhelming that I wish I could share it with you all. Alas, I cannot.

Thus, I give you a rundown of the rest of my time in Hong Kong: On Saturday, I tried to do one of those self-guided walking tours and failed miserably, which was great, because I kept getting lost and discovering new places and atmospheres of the city, which is, frankly, my favorite thing to do in cities. I literally spent a good 45 minutes trying to find the Zoo/Botanical Garden and the Government House, both of which were a total letdown when I finally did reach them. Pictures to prove this soon. Then, I met up with a friend from high school, Alison, whose family is from Hong Kong and who has, since graduating from college a year and a half ago, gotten a job in China, though she sometimes comes back to Hong Kong on weekends. Her mom was having a luncheon, so we had amazing homemade Chinese food, then wandered around markets and fun parts of the city, before finally heading back exhausted for more amazing homemade Chinese food for dinner and several addicting episodes of House. Just what I need, a new TV addiction :-)

Sunday was hike day, then Monday I decided to head out to Lantau Island to see the Tian Tan “Big” Buddha, and the pretty island. It was definitely impressive and cool and worth seeing, but my favorite parts of the day were the amazing vegetarian food at the Po Lin Monastery restaurant, the Monastery itself, and the fact that as I was getting on the gondola/air-tram thing to head up there, two American women in front of me asked if I was traveling alone and if I’d like to hang out with them for the day. I am consistently impressed by people’s friendliness and willingness to talk to me and spend time with me – not that I would do otherwise, it’s just I’ve never experienced it on this scale before. But then, perhaps I am just more willing to talk to more people myself, as I am alone, and thus I meet more people anyway. Anyway, Sunday late afternoon I returned to HK to meet up with my friend Karen’s roommate from when she studied abroad in HK, Nicola, with whom I’d been playing phone tag all weekend. She was so wonderful and sweet, so excited to show me “the real” Hong Kong. We went to Ladies Market and Mong Kok, getting some local snacks (fried fish balls, egg waffles, shu mai, and bubble tea…yum), and wandered up Nathan Road in all its craziness (don’t ever stay in Chungking Mansion unless you want to die!) in order to get to the waterfront in time for the nightly “Symphony of Lights” show on the harbour. Then we went to dinner at a local place, and I can now say that I have eaten beef stomach. Seriously. And it’s kinda good. The idea is the hardest part. We met up with a friend of hers for a drink at a rooftop bar at the Hotel LKF (I think) in Lan Kwai Fong, which was super cool, and then it was home to get some sleep before my flight to Bali.


So, now I am in Bali. Got in yesterday afternoon, in time for about 90 degree weather with probably 90 percent humidity, and an hour and fifteen minute car ride ahead of me. I’m sure my enthusiasm is palpable.

Bali. I don’t know how to explain it. The whole way in, I’m sure my mouth was open, except for when I was talking to my driver, because I was just in awe and shock. I have never been anywhere like this. I didn’t realize just how Western Hong Kong is until I got to Bali and realized I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. I’d read many things and heard how many people love it, particularly Ubud, but the whole ride in, I wasn’t sure how I would ever be able to love it, because facing it on my own seemed far too overwhelming. Arriving in Ubud, I felt slightly better, as the streets were better paved, there was a sidewalk, and I started seeing more westerners. I recognize that sounds bad, in a way, but the fact of the matter is that I really only have been to Western countries before, and I didn’t realize until Hong Kong how weird it feels to stand out so genuinely that people don’t even think twice about whether or not you’re a local. Of course I will stand out anywhere in Indonesia, no matter how many westerners there are, but somehow I feel slightly better not being the only one, because Ubud has a huge expat community, so I could ostensibly live here, despite the fact that I pretty clearly don’t know what I’m doing. Anyway, while many Balinese do speak some English, never underestimate the value of being able to communicate easily with someone.

After I did get into Ubud, to my hotel, I knew my first order of business had to be to get a skirt or a dress, because, even with a tank top, jeans were unbearable. Walking down the street, I discovered the one thing that no one mentioned beforehand, the one thing I can’t seem to get past: the haranguing. Part of standing out so evidently is that you automatically become a target for anyone wanting to sell anything. Now, most of the time, it’s not too bad. Except for the taxi guys. I can’t overstate this enough: every two seconds, at least one guy is saying, “Taxi? Taxi, missus? Transport?” At first, I politely said, “No, thank you,” but that seemed to encourage them, so I moved on to ignoring them, which seems to elicit no different a reaction. I think it’s because I’m a girl alone. I don’t just get taxi solicitations, of course, and I think girls in groups or with men are more likely to  be left alone in that respect. I think this because I’ve spoken to several people who say they think even the people bugging you for taxis are nice and polite, and are polite when you turn them down. I confess, I do not find them polite. They are not outright rude, nor are they terribly aggresive, but they are incessant and irritating. If I were looking for a taxi, don’t you think I would approach you? If I ignore you, what makes you think I’m going to suddenly change my mind and turn around if you keep asking, or respond to your comments?

And then, upon arriving at the market, I found myself, like all the other westerners, hounded by the sellers, though I confess I did expect this. But, in my exhausted, jetlagged state (I seriously have probably slept a grand total of 5-6 a night since leaving the US), it was just too much, in addition to the taxi guys. I felt like a commodity. Ooh look, a foreigner, that means money. In the end, I chose a shop over a stall at which to buy a dress, but I was probably ripped off because I didn’t learn until after being there that you can bargain in stores too. Ah well, I have a comfy dress now in a beautiful fabric. I do need to go get a sarong and some light pants, though, an activity I am dreading.

In any case, in my exhausted, jetlagged state, I found myself on the verge of a breakdown, so I ran into the Casa Luna cafe/restaurant, which not only was the first place I saw, but had free wifi and is affiliated with my hotel, so I’ve read about it and know the food’s good. I soothed myself with some water and a mango lassi, before approaching some Americans I heard talking to ask where they were going to watch the Inauguration last night. Then, my luck turned upward. Turns out, one of the women is traveling on her own too, and is from the Bay Area as well, and so, as everyone else was leaving, she came and sat with me, and we ended up hanging out for several hours, having dinner at the restaurant, chatting for a long time. She’s been here for a while, and promised to show me the ropes, telling me all about the great yoga place and the interesting people she’s met; I can’t even begin to describe the relief I felt at making a new friend, who was in so similar a situation to mine. As I have told many of you already, traveling alone seems good in theory, and, some of the time, it’s very nice, but it can also be incredibly, incredibly lonely, and terrifying at times. Meeting new people who, as I said, actually want to be chat and be friends is wonderful and so relieving. You no longer feel so alone in your burden, if I may say that.

Anyway, then things went downhill a bit. After dinner, we parted ways for an hour before I was supposed to meet her and her friends to go to watch the Inauguration. Unfortunately, I ended up being late to the meeting place and no one was there. Had I been thinking rationally, I would have realized they couldn’t possibly have gone far, considering I had been promised they’d wait. But, of course, I wasn’t thinking rationally, because I was exhausted and overwhelmed and in a new place, which meant that I ended up angrily storming the streets of Ubud late at night – angry at myself for reacting so badly when here I am expecting to be mature enough to travel the world – until I asked this American couple around my parents’ age if they knew of anywhere other than the one obvious place in town that was showing the Inauguration, and then I had a total breakdown. They took pity on me and took me back to the one place that was having a huge inauguration party in order to have a drink and help me feel better. I really can’ t thank them enough for taking care of me – I felt so stupid and embarrassed, but they were absolutely wonderful, and reminded me of my friend’s parents. The rest of the night passed very well – we met some other people near my age and enjoyed the Inauguration with plenty of other excited Americans and Balinese. You wouldn’t believe how much the Indonesians love Obama. I mean, everyone I’ve met seems to, but the Indonesians feel an even stronger connection to him because of his years living here as a child. Every Balinese we met last night was adding Obama to their name. It was hilarious.

Anyway, more to come, but I’m off to a yoga class now. Keep up the comments!

6 Replies to “Bali Obama!”

  1. I’m sorry things have been kind of tough but glad to hear that there are nice people to help you out. Honestly, traveling alone doesn’t appeal to me for exactly the reasons you mentioned…part of me feels like it’s something that would be a great experience, but then part of me feels like it would just be HARD. Hopefully as you get into the groove things will get a bit easier.

  2. OK, I am a comment whore! But I cannot resist adding one more. I know exactly what you are going through with the hustlers, and I would be lying if I said that it gets better. To be honest, it does not get better, you just learn how to deal with it. So, here are some strategies that I used from travel journalist Franz Wisner:

    Self-bidding war
    A seller hands you a pair of sunglasses and asks for twenty dollars. Tell him there is no way you’d accept anything less than thirty dollars for such high-quality eyewear. Bid yourself up again, and he’ll shake his head and walk away thinking you’re crazy.

    The thespian
    Happy kid playing in the street. Mom sees you coming, yells out her child. Suddenly, the boy becomes melancholy with droopy eyes and a pouting lip as he hits you up for a donation. It’s an acting scene, so take part. Bury your head in your hands and cry along. Nine times out of ten, the kid will know he’s been unmasked and start to laugh.

    Misdirection play
    When approached by a pack of vendors who speak English, ask for directions to a far-off or obscure location. They’ll argue among themselves about the best route and forget about selling you anything.

    Define yourself out of a job
    “Taxi, taxi. Senor, you need a ride?” Kurt’s favorite response to the cab hustlers is to ask them if they are “official taxi drivers.” They’ll say yes and wave a bogus license or useless driving certificate. “Oh, I’m sorry,” he’ll then say. “We only ride with unofficial taxi drivers.”

    Say what?
    On the beaches of Brazil, we were constantly solicited by men trying to sell sodas, umbrellas and t-shirts. “I only buy from people who think Argentina is the best soccer team in the world,” I’d deadpan, spawning looks of horror from the locals. The Brazilians would do anything for a sale…anything, that is, except renounce their beloved soccer team. Note: do not try this technique with soccer hooligans.

    Extensive tastes
    From the salesman with everything, ask for the impossible. “Got an etch-a-sketch or pogo stick?” But careful for what you ask. Make sure it’s way out there. My friend John Dawkins asked for a “falcon rug” as we crossed the border into California from Tijuana one afternoon. We jumped into John’s van, laughing. Ten minutes later, a perspiring, panting salesman tapped on the window. He held a large, falcon-crested rug high above his head. Sold.

    Language barrier
    Learn a few words in an obscure language like, say, Czech. As the hustlers attack, repeat the words over and over. Point to yourself and chant the word “Czech” several times. Confused, they’ll shift from English to Spanish to German to French trying to find common ground. After a couple minutes they’ll give up in frustration and hound someone else.

    Better to give
    Ask and you shall receive. Someone offers you a souvenir, take it. Literally. Tell him “thank you for the free gift.” He’ll grab it back faster than a Christmas present exchange. One salesman, however, turned this technique against us. “I’m happy to give it to you,” he said. “But I was hoping you would give me a gift in return. A gift of a few dollars.” Ouch. Out-hustled by the hustlers.

  3. Hey there! Wow, what a couple of days – I’m so impressed, I haven’t gone anywhere nearly as exotic as Hong Kong or Bali and definitely had pretty bad cases of the shakes/loneliness myself so you are not alone for one and doing much better than I could as well :). I can’t wait to here more.

    By the way, I hope you don’t mind, I’ve been doing some promotion of your blog among the web marketing channels I uses and am going to do a writeup on my blog. Keep it up, I can’t wait to read more and hang in there, you’re awesome!

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