Monday, November 30, 2015

Balls and Bowls

Sunday was a fabulously brilliant day in Sydney and Sam's friend Nadine had organized a group of friends to meet for a game of Lawn Bowls at Clovelly Bowling Club. First we had lunch at Coogee Beach although we didn't actually get in the water. It looked pretty nice though. The beach itself is a few miles south of the City on the Tasman Sea.

One of the things to do if you're part of the 'in' crowd is to have a game of bowls. It's sort of like getting all your friends together and going to the bowling alley for an evening. The bowls club is fairly official, we had to sign in as guests and there are regular members; there were other groups like ours that seemed to be having a bit of a lark throwing the balls (or bowls) back and forth. Of course, as you might expect, there are many similarities to bocce and curling except for the fact that the balls (or bowls) are weighted on one side so they roll way to the right or left (so a lot like curling!).

The club was perched high above the ocean with a spectacular view, not too far from Coogee beach and the wind was howling. Fun hats (when they didn't fly away) added to the festivities.

Scotty had to give a bit of instruction to Sammy. But she caught on quickly.

 Ross figured his curling expertise would come in handy.  Not so much.
Strangely enough Nadine's friends included folks from Wales, New Zealand, South Africa, another guy from Canada (Edmonton) and one or two actual Sydney-ites.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Off to Oz

Our last few days in Bali were pretty exciting.  First we went to a temple (yes another one!) which was perched high on a hill over the ocean. The monkeys at this temple were a bit aggressive and we were again warned not to wear anything sparkly - earrings, watches, glasses, etc. We were fine, but the tourist in front of us had his glasses stolen by a very tricky monkey - as we looked to the left at the monkeys climbing the cliff, a monkey hidden in the tree above just reached down and grabbed them. He chewed on them for a few minutes, broke off both the arms, then tossed the lot onto the ground. Ross grabbed onto his hat and glasses a bit tighter after that.

The temple also had a dance/music presentation called Kecak Ramaynana and Fire Dance - 55 bare-breasted men chanting and creating vocal percussive rhythms with movement. It really reminded me of Polynesian dancing. There was a bit of a story with a golden deer, a white monkey, a giant, burning grass fire and some mythical characters - viewed while the sun set over the Indian ocean. Quite a spectacular setting.

Dinner was at Jimbaran - 24 restaurants on the beach - tables as far as the eye could see as the waves broke over the sand.

The last night's dinner was pretty impressive too - the menu they had on the table was a list of about 30 items - which at first we thought we would select from, but no, everything arrived, including the entire spit-roasted pig. Scott and Sam joined us (it was Scotty's birthday!) and someone had ordered birthday cake since we obviously hadn't had enough food already!

On Thursday night we said goodbye to Bali and landed in Sydney where the temperature had gone from 39 on Thursday to 17 on Friday morning. After the humidity of Bali it was a GREAT relief to be able to go outside and not be totally uncomfortable. It's now Monday and Mike and Liana have just arrived from New Brunswick. Here's the view from our apartment - if you've been to Sydney (even if you haven't) you may recognize the opera house and the bridge in the distance.

Sadly, we've been here for 4 days now and haven't seen a kangaroo yet! Maybe tomorrow.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Cooking the Balinese Way

Our first task of the day was to go to the market at 6:00 am and select food for our cooking class. If you know me, you know that there is not much that can get me up at that hour of the day, including going to the market at 6:00 am! So, after sleeping in until 7:30, and having a leisurely breakfast, Ross and I met the rest of the group at 9:00 for our cooking class. (We weren't the only ones, there were a few others in the group who value sleep more than shopping.)

I would likely classify today's lesson as a cooking demonstration; we did get to mix and stir a few things but most of the prep had been done ahead of time.  Our teacher, Heinz, a Swiss who has studied Balinese food extensively, taught us that most of what we know was wrong. You don't just boil the chicken bones for stock, you must boil it first, throw away the result, then boil it again. MSG occurs naturally in many foods and is not necessarily bad for you. The food we have come to know as Balinese is in fact Chinese, Japanese or Indonesian. You don't roast chicken at a specific temperature, you roast it based on how much time you have.

Our first task was to eat - a Balinese breakfast, mostly fruits (again, a few I've never seen before), Balinese cakes, rice flour dumplings in palm sugar sauce, coconut cream.

Then we donned our aprons and began first to prepare the spice pastes for seafood, meats, beef, chicken and vegetables. The ingredients include fresh turmeric, galangal, kencur, candlenuts, lemongrass, salam leaves - I'm pretty sure I won't be picking these up at Butcher Boys!

Everyone got into the act threading the sate meat onto skewers.

Many hours later we were presented with our feast - including roast chicken in banana leaf, pork in sweet soy sauce, yellow rice, peanut sauce (which the Balinese never eat with their sate according to Heinz), vegetable salad, rice cake in banana leaf, black rice pudding, sweet corn and coconut, fried bananas, nasi goreng (fried rice) and many others. 

Now that I know how to cook all this Balinese food, next time I want some I'll know where to get it. In Bali!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

We Have a Lesson

Not only did we visit a school today but we ourselves were schooled in a few different aspects of Balinese life. Students in the public schools go Mon-Sat, in the private schools Mon-Fri.  They start early, perhaps 7:30 and are done around 1:00.

The students were happy to see us and practice their English (they learn 4 languages in school - Balinese, Indonesian, English and Japanese) and I'm sure we caused a bit of havoc for the teachers. They gathered at the front to sing for us - we were surprised when they started with Old MacDonald and You are My Sunshine - then their national anthem.

Four of the older girls performed a wonderful traditional Balinese dance for us.

We were escorted around the village by a local tour guide; they have made a business out of displaying their community to visitors. We were served "breakfast" at a compound (where they live) which consisted of sticky rice balls with banana, banana fritters, and some other delicious foods which are hard to describe. Bamboo is used for many things here (musical instruments, artwork) but it is strong enough to use in building.  They use it to support the concrete beams in construction such as shown here.  This is a new community centre that is being built.

We walked around the village and over to a rice planting demonstration area. Although you see the cattle below pulling the plow, this technique is not used much any more, machines are more the norm.

Rice seedlings are hand planted. I believe this is still the process.

After the rice is harvested and dried, it is pounded to loosen the husk, then winnowed using this technique of tossing it in a basket to separate the rice. They still may process it this way, but more commonly, someone in the village has a machine to do this.

Our final lesson for the day was a visit to Tenganan, an ancient Balinese village, one of only a few still in existence. This particular one had many crafts such as single and double weaving (ikat), basket weaving using a rattan-like reed found only in that area, painting on palm leaves, mask making. All in all a very informative school day for us!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Elephant Park

Elephants are the most amazing creatures and it's certainly not the first time that I've blogged about them (or last?).

Today we visited the Elephant Park which was more than an hour's drive from our hotel. Driving here, as you may know, is a combination of luck, skill and an acute awareness of the unwritten rules of the road.  With endless scooters and motorbikes, very narrow roads, and people pulling out or turning directly in your path it's a continuous game of chicken. But somehow, to my total amazement, it all works smoothly and everyone gets where they're going!

First thing at the park, we were treated to a fabulous buffet lunch, then a long bumpety ride through the jungle on the elephant. Rollie described it as rock'n'roll, our guide suggested it was a good massage. These are Asian elephants from Sumatra as they are not native to Bali, but the park has about 31 altogether. Not as big as the African elephants we've seen previously.

Of course our elephant needed to cool off in the pond for a spell.

The show afterward had the elephants playing harmonica, basketball, soccer painting and just sitting around on the bench.

I'm not sure it's because of the volcanic ash that has grounded Australian tourists, the Paris attacks that have affected European travel or just the time of year but it seems pretty quiet tourist-wise here. Along the beach at night we can wander by countless empty restaurants and there were only a few others at the Elephant Park today. Good for us, but not so much for the Balinese economy.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Markets and Market Villages

Yesterday we headed in to Denpasar, the capital of the province of Bali. It's quite a large city, but it seemed to be much more open with large boulevards and open areas.  No buildings over 4 stories. Our main destination was the public market as well as the fabric stores.

The public market is similar to Granville Island Market, except make it 4 stories (including a basement) and put twice as many stalls on each floor, plus add a few cockroaches and mice.

Here you could buy and kind of vegetable, fruit, spice, flowers, fish, chicken alive or dead. No 'food safe' rules here that's for sure!


The half spheres in the middle of the photo are brown sugar.

Imagine a street about 2 blocks long and all it has are fabric stores, one after the other. That's where a large portion of our group members spent their time, selecting fabric to be custom made into shirts, dresses, etc.

Then just as we were heading back to our bus we heard a loud CRACK, looked back and a tree had broken off and fallen down onto the sidewalk we were just on. The tree wasn't rotten, but our guide thought it could have been caused by termites. It only knocked one scooter driver off his bike.

Today we visited some local villages, each with an art specialty. For example, one village for batik, one for silver making and one for wood carving. All the quality is exceptional and the prices were pretty good - better if you know how to bargain, which I apparently don't.

We also had a presentation of music/dance this morning - the Barong Dance which tells a story of good/evil and included monkeys, witches, boars, some mythical creatures and a few humans who all tried to commit suicide in the end.  All very interesting.

Again it was accompanied by a Gamelan orchestra but today there was an additional instrument - the rebab - which is a two stringed bowed instrument.

Monday, November 16, 2015


As you might know, rice is pretty big business in Bali. Not big business in the sense that it's a huge exported crop but just in the sense that it is widely grown and a lot of their diet consists of rice.

Most farmers will get 3 crops of rice in a year and since there doesn't appear to be a 'growing season' here, we've observed it in all its various phases, e.g. planting, harvesting, etc. They use a type of irrigation organization system called subek.

These fields have been recently planted.

Once the crops have started to grow they erect flags and scarecrows to keep the birds away.  They'll even have a bell that is rung manually to scare the birds.

The crops turn golden when they are ready to be harvested. They are harvested by hand using a sickle.

And put into baskets.

When full they weigh 20-30 kg which they carry on their head.

After harvesting the ducks are brought in to eat the bugs.  This field had well over a hundred ducks.

Then it starts all over again. Most farmers don't own their own land, but rent it from the landowner and one family will usually cultivate 1-2 hectares of rice fields. Rice will be alternated with other groups such as corn every few years.
As more hotels and resorts are built, less land is cultivated for rice. And, not surprisingly, there are shrines/temples scattered throughout most rice fields.


One thing that always amazes me when I travel is that, despite our globalization, I can still go places in the world where they have fruit that I've never seen before.  Here in Bali, besides the snake skin fruit that I mentioned earlier there are a lot of jackfruit growing in trees and they're about the size of a watermelon. They look pretty cool.

The mangosteen is quite popular - thick brown skin with a white, sweet juicy interior.

The tamarind tree produces pods with fruit inside but it is (apparently) very sour.

Here's a market stall with durian on the top left and in the middle bottom is the pink dragonfruit. Also here are mangosteen, snake skin fruit, lychee, mangos, bananas, passion fruit (bottom 2nd from right).

It's not that I'd be surprised to see these in Butcher Boys, I just never have.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Dance and Music at Ubud Palace

For some reason Ubud, the village we are in, has its own king, with his own palace which we visited last night for a dance performance.  The Balinese traditional dance is very slow and graceful, with emphasis on hand/finger movement and facial expressions, elaborate costuming.

Of course it was all accompanied by a 20+ piece gamelan orchestra which were very skillfully played - nothing like my demo from the other day!

The masked dance was presented also, and a bit on the scary side:

Earlier we had a lovely dinner overlooking the Campuhan Ridge Walk - which we had completed in the morning, before my batik lesson. This tourist thing can be pretty exhausting!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Monkey Forest - in which Ross's hat is saved again

They warned us before entering the monkey forest that we should take off our glasses for fear that the monkeys would take them; little did we know Ross would be fighting off the monkey from taking his hat!
Just look at that cute little mother with her baby:

Although there is a monkey forest just a few blocks from our Ubud hotel, apparently the Sangeh Monkey Forest we visited is a bit more relaxing. There are about 1000, mostly cute, macaque  monkeys, some giant fruit bats and a very high pressure sales pitch by the guides at the end which I managed to avoid with our guide saying "Yes" and me saying "No" several times in a row.

Suddenly one jumped up on Ross's back and had a death grip on his hat.  Fortunately with my quick reflexes I managed to get couple of pictures before Mel helped get him off.

Ross was unscathed except for the trauma - both from the monkey and knowing that I was more interested in getting the photos than rescuing him!

Cremation by the Hundreds

I'm not sure if all the following facts are correct but this is what I got out of today's tour - you can Google it if you want more info.

In Bali, when someone dies, if you have the money and it's the right day (?) you might get cremated and have a big ceremony.  If it's not the right day or you can't afford it you will get buried and then several years later your bones will be dug up and you will be part of a community cremation ceremony. It just so happens that today was a HUGE community cremation ceremony at the Ulan Danu temple on the shores of Lake Bratan.  The temple area is like a large park, with various temple areas.

When we arrived there were hundreds of people waiting around for their turn to go into the temple. As one community group finished another group would be called in. Each group numbered several hundred and they might be honouring 100 or so cremations.

There were bands playing and processions - it was all very colourful and interesting. By the way, the actual cremations didn't take place here, only the offerings and prayers.

Then on the way back through the villages we saw what we believe may be an actual cremation.  Not sure though!

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