Saturday, March 31, 2018

Saturday, Mar 31st, Singapore


In the U.S. you have two major gardens serving different recognized purposes.  Longwood Gardens is a wonderful show garden, founded by the Du Pont family.  The Missouri Botanical Garden is a botanical research institution, founded by Henry Shaw.  In Great Britain, the Wisely Gardens (Wedgewood) serves as the show garden, and the Kew Gardens (British nobility) is the research garden.
On Thursday, we visited Singapore's research garden.  Today, we saw their show garden.  Boy, was it a show.

Gardens by the Bay founding Executive Director (Kiat W. Tan) who retired a couple of years ago, credits his father with inspiring both his fascination for horticulture, and for helping get the gardens begun.  When Tan was eleven, his father gave his mother an orchid which impressed Tan.  "My father gave my mother a spray of orchids that I thought was just beautiful.  And it lasted for more than a couple of weeks.  What flowers would do that?  They were Dendrobium, a French-bred Dendrobium."  Later, Tan's father, who had founded the first commercial rubber company in Singapore, donated funds to prevent the site from being developed.

On the way home, we took our final subway ride to the Sri Mariamman Hindu Temple in Chinatown.  We wandered for a while among the streets surrounding it, and then returned to our hotel room in the late afternoon to wait until we will take a taxi to the Changi Airport.  The subway is being shut down tonight for maintenance, and we've decided to head there by taxi just after 2am.

To see all of the photos taken today (lots), click on Saturday, Mar 31st, Singapore

Friday, March 30, 2018

Thursday & Friday, Mar 29-30th, Singapore


Singapore has not disappointed us.  It's a huge place, with almost 6 million people.  We've walked, taken busses, hopped on and off double-deckers, and rode the underground.  Yesterday, our goal was to see the Peranakan Museum, and the Singapore Botanical Gardens, and we were very impressed with both.

We were also impressed that the City uses its subways to display posters inviting passengers to comment on housing and health care.

Photos weren't allowed in the Peranakan, and it would be hard to capture in photos what it contained.  The term is used to describe those here whose ancestry stems from marriages of foreigners to local women.  Similar to our immigrant communities, Singapore has very distinct invasions and occupations of cultures from far and near over the past six hundred years.  The museum has several excellent exhibits which inform the viewer of the customs, ceremonies, beliefs, occupations, and styles of each.  There is also a photographic presentation of the faces and stories of many of those who call themselves Peranakans.

The Singapore Botanical Gardens took most of the afternoon.  We took the underground (four stories down), and were continually astounded at the number of passengers staring only at their cell phones during the entire trip.  Two transfers later, we stepped out into a UNESCO World Heritage site (the only tropical garden so designated) spread over 82 hectares growing 10,000 flora species.

Once there, walking through the world's largest orchid garden was jaw-dropping.  And the ginger garden, and every other exhibit and collection.  The cost ($1) can't even cover the brochures they hand out, much less the enormous maintenance expenses.  We saw new colors and shapes and sizes, and we were in awe of it all.

Today, we went out again to see some of the finest combinations of architecture, containing exhibits of interactive art and science.  The southeast area of Singapore has seen how over three billion dollars worth of investment can do to create a dazzling array of structures integrated into garden landscapes. 

The creativity which has been brought to bear on the design and styling of buildings and landscapes is truly breath-taking. 
Nearby the Marina Bay Sands, the ArtScience Museum contains several floors of interactive art and science displays within a giant lotus flower.  Collaborations between technology companies, the British Museum in London, and many internationally-known artists have created a wonderland for kids and adults alike.

To see all of the photos taken over the past two days, click on:

Thursday, Mar 29th, Singapore
Friday, Mar 30th, Singapore


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Wednesday, Mar 28th, Singapore


Given my design for Post titles, I think that might be the shortest title I've written.  Singapore (other than the Vatican) seems to be the only city that's a country in the world.  We've been here since Monday night, and will leave on Saturday morning.  By the way, that's a MerLion statue in the first photo - half-lion, half-mermaid.

As we're on our own, we've been just figuring out the city subway, bus system, restaurants, and museums.  The Lonely Planet guide recommendations focus on the waterfront, Chinatown, and downtown.   Both the National Museum and the Asian Civilizations Museum were outstanding.  That is one of the first known statues representing the figure of a sitting Buddha, around the 2nd century AD in Gandhara,

We have tried to garner enough energy to stay out late enough to watch the waterfront light show, but have given up twice.  We can feel our age now, and staying out after dinner takes its toll.  We almost got to see hundreds of people in a Zumba class along the waterfront - but it rained them out.  Too bad, I have enjoyed the ladies at the Roseland Community Center, and would have liked to see if the dance styles are similar.

To see all of the photos taken today (not many), click on Wednesday, Mar 28th, Singapore.  

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Saturday, Mar 24th, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia


America is fast asleep now.  It's between 1am and 4am across the country, and we're thinking about dinner on the day you haven't had yet.  We've had a full day of news cycle of what happened yesterday.  Our Saturday is fully underway, and yours hasn't even started yet.

Let me tell you what it looks like outside.

You and Trump had another bad week.  He signed a budget bill that didn't get anything he wanted done.  You got many more fired government officials, and it looks more like Congress will lose some Republicans.

Trump declared war on the world of commerce.  And the world said "we'll get back to you".  The stock market didn't wait, and you got poorer.  Your only option now is to wait it out.  Farmers didn't fare as well, as the prices they get for everything we sell overseas went down.  Your price for everything we buy overseas went up.

John Bolton and Mike Pompeo made plans to come to new offices to defend and negotiate for us in a couple of weeks.  Offices that their predecessors have been walking around as ghosts in for months.  You won't miss out on whatever happens, because no one is really in charge.  Aides to the President report this morning that he had no daily agenda all week.

But though the rest of the world is nervous about what we're going to do, they are well and enjoying their lives.  And why not?  They wake up each morning knowing pretty much that their leaders aren't eager for war, physically or economically.   Everyone's looking at the long term, even longer than this life.

To see the few photos I took walking through the Monkey Forest this morning to get a bathing suit in Ubud, click on Saturday, Mar 24th, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.


Friday, March 23, 2018

Friday, Mar 23rd, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

This morning we attended a traditional Barong Dance, held in a village not far from Ubud.  The village was selected by the government a few years ago because of its high concentration of batik painters, mask carvers, dancers, weavers, and musicians.  All are essential for, and fully in display in, the Barong Dance.  A Barong is a mythological animal (usually much like a lion) that represents good in a continual battle with Rangda (Demon queen and mother of all spirit guarders). 
In a five-act presentation, the plans of Rangda to devour the son (Sadewa) of Dewi Kunti are foiled by witches, a Hindu god, servants of Dewi, a mischievous monkey, a boar, a bird, and finally the Barong.  Supported by the music of a Gamelan orchestra, the performance is well worth seeing.
Later in the day, we stopped by a Batik outlet, a museum of Balinese Art (Museum Puri Lukisan), and the Ubud Royal Palace.  In the latter, we watched a troupe of dancers, accompanied by another Gamelan orchestra, perform.
This evening ends the organized sectio of the Malaysian/Indonesian part of our trip.  Tomorrow, we start a to days on our own at a southern Bali beach town, and then fly to Singapore for five days o our own.  After that, we fly to Tokyo and start another tour.
To see all of the photos taken today, click on Friday, Mar 23rd, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

Thursday, Mar 22nd, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

After two wonderful days on the north coast of Bali, we drive south from Lovina for the town of Ubud.   The road climbs up and down past rice terraces along the way, and we try to time our photos out the windows to not include electric wires we tell ourselves we can Photoshop out of the picture. 
We visit Brahma Vihara Arama, the most important Buddhist monastery in Bali, complete with golden Buddha statues and a pristine natural setting.  Our guide (Putu) took us on a special tour of a mostly non-tourist center, currently serving as a meditation resource. 
Our main destination was Tanah Lot, an ocean temple built atop a huge rock surrounded by the sea at high tide by one of the last priests to come to Bali from Java in the 16th century.  The rituals held there include the paying of homage to the guardian spirits of the sea, as sea snakes found at the base are believed to guard the temple from evil spirits and intruders.  
I found some surfers sampling the waves just east of the rock.
Finally, we arrived at Ubud.  The town gained a reputation many years ago as a mecca for scruffy backpackers, cosmic seekers, artists and bohemians.  Now, you’re more likely to find western travelers seeking great restaurants, gallery art and photographs, handmade clothing and silver, and exotic daytrips.
To see all of the photos taken today, click on Thursday, Mar 22nd, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Wednesday, Mar 21st, Lovina, Bali, Indonesia


We took a drive today from where we're staying on the beach past ancient rice fields into the interior of Bali up the mountain to the Ulan Danu Temple on Bratan Lake.  A wonderful journey past monkeys begging food, vendors asking where we are from, and billboards displaying the photos of the candidates for public office this year.  Our fellow travelers had just gotten back from an early morning boat ride to see a large group of dolphins, and I was basking near the waves in my kind of temple.

On the way, our guide (Putu) helped us understand the history and culture of each village.  As we passed the village roundabouts, each with their own statue in the center, he told us the translation of the name and the many uniquenesses of the locals and their territory.
If there was a connection to the major periods of historical conflict (Independent Kingdoms, Dutch occupation, Japanese conquest, New Republic of indonesia, Dutch re-control, Independence, Sukarno, Suharto, Tourism), he helped us integrate it into what we saw.  We competed with dozens of cruise line busses for the first time on our trip, but thankfully we had more patience (and time to spend), and they were gone before us.

On the way back home, we visited a popular market to sample fruits and look over clothing.  I bought a hat to replace one I'd lost, and Pat bought some durian she'd been eager to have where she wouldn't have to bring it back to the resort (really stinks, but delicious).  Our main guide, Pam, bought us lots of other exotic fruits.

We have the bulk of the afternoon to ourselves before dinner.  Some will use the pool, others wander.  Pat and I are chilling out in the room.  The photos just ended being sent to my Google Album for the day - the earliest time ever (5pm).  I may add some more after dinner, as there is reported to be some dancing later.

On the shore of Bratan Lake is a special temple, said to be where the last Hindu ceremony to purify through a final cremation occurs.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Wednesday, Mar 21st, Lovina, Bali, Indonesia.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Tuesday, Mar 20th, Lovina, Bali, Indonesia


"Kauai on steroids" is how Pat describes Bali to a friend.  Our bus journeyed from Candidasa to Lovina today, and we stopped along the way to see two villages, a volcano within a volcano, and a temple.

Penglipuran is famous for its long rows of family-compounds all featuring the same designs.  The entrance gates are particularly striking, adorned with carved Hindu characters in lava stone.  The 226 families in the village descend from those who served bravely in the Balinese military, and include the family of our local guide.

At the northern edge of the compound is a 75 hectare bamboo forest maintained by the families which we walked through.  The beauty of its tranquility and vertical eye-popping power is overwhelming.

We also stopped at Kintamani, and admired its views of Mt Batur and Lake Batur.  The lava flows down the side of the volcano are a vivid example of the impermanence of the landscape here.  Surrounding the volcano is a larger caldera, containing a lake on several sides.  This is one of the premiere restaurant views we have seen, and are well worth the long drive.

After lunch, we drive to the Pura Beji Sangsit Temple.  The temple is dedicated to the rice goddess Dewi Sri, and its northern Balinese architecture contains large floral designs and fierce warriors.  The faded colors are more apparent here, and we wonder how spectacular they must have been centuries ago.

We returned to the Ramayana Resort for dinner, and watch a beautiful sunset across the Bali Sea.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Tuesday, Mar 20th, Lovina, Bali, Indonesia. 

Monday, March 19, 2018

Monday, Mar 19th, Candidasa, Bali, Indonesia


We're glad the trip design lands in Bali last.  There are places with better food, stranger animals, older ruins, bigger jungles, and more challenging politics.  But few places have a more humane intersection of social, religious, cultural, artistic, and sensual experience.   

We headed out early this morning for the first of a series of days visiting parts of the island of Bali.  The awe of this place can be found in the villages, representing extended families which have fought for their identities, authority, and security for five hundred years.  And as we learn more about how they express themselves, and what traditions and customs have survived, we see the beauty of their lives.

Tenganan is a four-walled Bali Aga village of original, pre-Hindu inhabitants who we were privileged to visit.

We continued to a central moat-surrounded facility in Klung Kung, where a table and chairs beneath a wooden ceiling decorated with elaborate murals depicting punishment in hell and rewards on earth.

We ate lunch looking across rice fields to Mt. Agung, the most active volcano on Bali.  Fortunately, it was quiet today.

Quiet enough for us to ascend to Besakih, Bali's most important temple.  On the slopes of Bali's equivalent of Mount Olympus, this structure is reached by many long flights of 1,000 year old stairways passing many levels of lava stone terraces and pagodas which contain family compounds with courtyards and shrines.  This site incorporates the holy triad of temples venerating the Hindu trinity. 

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Monday, Mar 19th, Candidasa, Bali, Indonesia. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sunday, March 18th, Candidasa, Bali, Indonesia


Today was a flying day - from Java to Bali.  In the morning, however, we had time to walk down  Marioboro Street to do some shopping.  Pat has consistently questioned whether I should get a small backpack to carry the stuff needed to make it through these daily jaunts outside of the hotel ad bus (water, umbrella, camera accessories, maps, etc.). 

I usually stuff them in my jungle fatigue pockets, but the pants have been dropping a little low with the thin plastic belts I wear to more easily pass through the x-ray machines at airports. 

We found one at a store at least a mile down the street, making crossing three main intersections necessary twice.  Pedestrians aren't given much respect here, and you just have to use timing and a bit of bravado to make it across. 

On the way to our resort hotel tonight (Ramacandidasa Resort), we had dinner at Warung Smiley, a well-known and liked local stop run by a couple who also sponsor the local chapter of Trash Hero Candidasa.  They are great chefs, supportive community activists, and they deserve all the help we can give to them to help the young residents of Bali protect their island's environment.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Sunday, Mar 18th, Candidasa, Bali, Indonesia.

Saturday, Mar 17th, Yogyakarta, West Java, Indonesia


Last day in Java was spent at Borobudur.  What a great treasure.  Built 300 years before Ankor Wat in Cambodia, the 2 million stones it contains result in a very impressive structure.  The stupa surrounding the top contain buddhas that visitors try to reach though the holes and touch for good luck.  Monks and dedicated worshipers perform ritual clockwise circling of the four layers past story reliefs.

Because I got lost trying to reunite with the group at the rendezvous point after reaching the summit, I had to climb down the exit stairs, walk all the way around to the entrance stairs, and climb up again to try to find them.  What work and panic!  They were worried too when I didn't show up.  Sorry guys!

On the way back, we had coffee at the Original Powan Luwak Coffee Store.  Some of you who know the story of civet digestive enzymes, and how coffee beans are transformed in the pass through the intestines of this cute little creature.  I'm told it moderates the acidity, and is a highly prized taste.

  This evening, we attended a performance of the Ramayana Ballet in a large open-air theater.   The dancers were beautiful, the gamelan orchestra was superb, the story was complex and well-presented.  After 41 years of daily shows, I think they've got it together.  Don't miss it.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Saturday, Mar 17th, Yogyakarta, West Java, Indonesia.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday, Mar 16th, Yogyakarta, West Java, Indonesia


Three weeks into our travels, we're still excited.  Of course, getting up early each morning to a wonderful continental breakfast, being driven to unusual and spectacular places, having lunch at local restaurants (often at resorts in the mountains and along coasts), visiting more exciting places until late in the afternoon, returning to the hotel to freshen up and answer emails, and then heading out to dinner at another choice restaurant - isn't hard to find exciting.  But it can be exhausting too.

Prambanan is a 9th century Hindu temple compound in outside of Yogyakarta.  It is the largest in Indonesia, and one of the largest in Southeast Asia.  It is the only temple dedicated to the Trimurti (Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva), and it's content far surpass most other Hindu structures.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Friday, Mar 16th, Yogyakarta, West Java, Indonesia.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Thursday, Mar 15th, Yogyakarta, West Java, Indonesia


Today, we drove to Taman Alum Lumbini, where a replica of the Shwedagon Pagoda (Yangon, Myanmar) was built.  The second highest pagoda outside of Myanmar, it was finished in 2010 by local Chinese buddhists who visit it on holidays. 

Our drive to the Medan Airport also included a stop along the road to see caged bats.  Some stretching three feet at wingtips, they are consumed at local dinner tables.

From Medan in Northern Sumatra, we flew across the equator to Yogyakarta, West Java, where we will be staying at the Phoenix Hotel.  A five-star hotel in the heart of the city, we'll be here for three nights while we visit Prambanan (largest Hindu compound in Indonesia), the Sultan's Golden Pavillion and private Water Castle, Borobudur (largest stuppa-style Buddhist monument in the world), and a Ramayana ballet.

To see all of the photos taken today, click on Thursday, Mar 15th, Yogyakarta, West Java, Indonesia.