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Archive for November 14th, 2008

Bali-Bye and on to Bangkok

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The most exciting thing that has happened since I last wrote is that I have become an uncle. Just less than 24 hours ago, my sister-in-law Emily gave birth to Asha Marguerite Johnson Denton, a lovely little girl born at home. Derek called me first thing this morning with the news and I could feel his glowing fatherdom from halfway around the world. I can’t wait to meet Asha.

I am now in Bangkok, staying in the unique and somewhat charming Atlanta Hotel with its classic art deco lobby, plain rooms, reasonable rates and an astounding number of firm rules posted on almost every blank surface, mostly telling the reader that bad behaviour of any sort will not be tolerated and any transgressor will be immediately surrendered to the Authorities and locked in gaol for the duration. Nonetheless, it is a fun place to stay and it has a great restaurant overseen by an impressive octogenarian cashier/matriarch who has been at her post since the dawn of time. I happened to meet one of my co-workers from the City – Thor Kuhlmann – at the reception desk last night. We knew that we’d both be in SE Asia, but had no idea we would actually overlap at the same place at the same time. I spent the morning with Thor today, but I’ll come back to that in a bit.

Our last few days in Indonesia were very quiet, and tainted a bit by mild sickness. My ear got worse and Kristi developed flu-like symptoms. At first she was convinced that it was dengue fever or malaria or both, but relaxed a bit when the fever proved not high enough. It wasn’t fun, regardless, so we decided to make an earlier-than-planned exit from the island. We were lucky to get two spots on the Blue Water Express boat to Benoa Harbour on Bali on the morning of the 10th, plus a reservation at the Swastika Bungalows that evening. The boat ride was uneventful, quite scenic and a bit bumpy. It was also about twice as long as the earlier trip from Padang Bai. Returning to Bali and then to the bungalows felt calm, quiet and familiar. It was nice to be back in the lushness and flowers, and to see the daily offerings appearing everywhere again. We spent the rest of the day relaxing and had a nice lunch of local nosh (nasi campur) at Wayan’s Warung, right by our bungalows. Kristi mostly napped and read in bed, and I went for another tasty massage across the road.

For our last day in Bali, we relaxed again in the morning then hired our driver from earlier, Ketut, to take us around to the various craft villages between Sanur and Ubud. We visited places selling stone and wood carvings, textiles and silver. We didn’t buy a ton of stuff, just some batik napkins, several small wood carvings, and Kristi bought a few nice pieces of silver jewellery. Unfortunately Ketut backed his van into a tree and shattered the rear window at our first stop, and had to drive back to Sanur to get another vehicle. Poor fellow.

We watched the sunset at Tanah Lot, which was easily the most touristy place we saw during our time on Bali. It is a temple in a lovely setting on a stone outcrop in the ocean surrounded by crashing waves. Walking through endless stalls selling touristy crap wasn’t pleasant, and the crowd was thick, but we found a nice spot on the next headland over from the temple where we could look back on the temple and at surfers down below as the sun made its progress toward the horizon. The sunset was spectacular and certainly worth watching.

Ketut made quick work of the drive to the airport and we were there in plenty of time to have a bite to eat before checking in, boarding and flying off. The flight was fine and we touched down in Singapore on schedule at 00:45 and took a taxi in to Laurie’s place, once again marvelling at how orderly Singapore is.

I had to wake early to get organized and out the door to make my 11:00am flight. Kristi is staying in Singapore for a few days, then Hong Kong for a night before heading to Vancouver (and work). We were sad to say goodbye, but I’m very happy that we were lucky enough to share a great trip together.

My Air Asia flight got me to Bangkok just after noon, and the taxi ride in was surprisingly fast compared to past years. A new train to the airport that is under construction will improve things even more. I checked in to the Atlanta, then walked to the local 7/11 for water and a SIM card for my phone. Back at the hotel I made contact with local folks who I want to see, and I relaxed.

In the early evening I was invited out to see the Loy Kratong celebrations down on the Chao Phraya river by Alex Duke from PSI, the NGO I will be volunteering for here, in Laos and in Phnom Penh. Alex is a very friendly young guy from Australia and England. He and his girlfriend met me on the riverside under the Taksin bridge, which was a feat in itself given the dense crowd. The festival is a time to give thanks for the year’s water, and is celebrated at rivers and lakes (and ponds and public fountains). It involves launching colourful floating offerings with a prayer of thanks. After enjoying the crowd and the sights for a bit, we paid 20 Baht (66 cents) for a 20 minute boat ride up the river with a gaggle of other folks clutching their offerings. The river was raging, and was lined with colourful light displays and populated with many festive boats. We chugged upstream to near Wat Arun, apparently an auspicious vicinity to launch the offerings. As we returned southwards, we were waved to the side of the river by an officious police boat and made to sit there. About ten minutes later we were treated to a front-row view of a mid-river fireworks display sponsored by three hotels, with one barge in front of each stretching off in front of us. I’m not usually a huge fan of fireworks, but these were pretty impressive because of their proximity and context.

Once docked again we wandered around a bit longer, then rode the skytrain homeward, them to their apartment and me to the Atlanta.

I met Thor for breakfast in the hotel this morning at 9:00, then we went for a walk, first to the Erawin Shrine (Hindu, but very popular with Thais), where we watched eight dancers sing and dance with not much gusto. They are paid to dance by people praying at the shrine, and they do it all day most likely, so I can understand their lack of vim. We turned south down Ratchamdamri Road to Lumphini Park, a large, well-groomed and attractive park with trees, orchids and moderately-intimidating lizards swimming in the lake.

As lunch was approaching, we went to the food court at the large MBK mall near the National Stadium. The food court was heavenly, with stall after stall offering every imaginable Thai delight, plus some international goodies. For 100 Baht (three or so dollars), I had a spicy papaya salad (made fresh and professionally in a giant mortar and pestal), a sticky rice, black bean and coconut milk desert, and an iced coffee. I even had four Baht change.

In the afternoon I headed north to the Mo Chit Skytrain station, then took a cab to O-zone, a drop-in centre and needle exchange for IDUs (intravenous drug users) run by PSI. The staff, volunteers and clients were a wonderful group of people, and I spent the several hours photo-documenting their work: an outreach worker meeting, condom education and recreation (playing music, watching DVDs, eating and relaxing in a safe environment). I felt welcomed and appreciated by everyone there. I’ll be sending them a CD of my images once I’m back in Canada.

One of the staff drove me on his motorbike to the Ari transit station and I rode back to the hotel. This entry has been the focus of my attention since then, but soon I’ll hopefully join Alex and Thor for a beer and dinner.

Written by sockeyed

November 14, 2008 at 02:00