Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Back in the US

Almost home! After about 26 hours of travel time we have landed in Washington, DC and I am awaiting my final flight to Chicago. Because of the free ticket, I am doing a little backtracking but being able to fly business class made the extra flight worth it.

It is good to almost be back home again and it is definitely good to be back in the US.

It was after my trip to Turkey in the 90s that I realized just how good we have it in the US and when the US Customs official says "Welcome home, Mr. Childs" I really do mean it when I say "Thanks, it's good to be home again."

Off to the gate. The last leg is here.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Long Road Home

Bali is in the history books and it was a fantastic trip. I saw many new things and experienced the charm of the people of Bali over the past two weeks. I can only hope that my photos have captured some of the emotion and vibrancy of the island and its culture.

Now it is time to journey home. It will take about 28 hours including the layovers in Tokyo and Washington, DC. My travel companions have departed for various locations including London, New York, Florida, and Viet Nam. Photos from the trip will start to be posted after I get settled back at home. I have taken almost 4,000 photos and they became somewhat difficult to sort through on a daily basis. I have seen some that I am very happy with and there are a couple of shots that I particularly like, especially the sunset shots at Borobodur.

My first leg home was on Thai Airways and Thuchawate and the staff made the flight very pleasant. Next up is the long leg from Tokyo to Washington, D.C. on ANA and the final jump is from Washington, D.C. to Chicago. It will be interesting to compare the service on all the different airlines.

My special thanks to Tewfic El-Sawy for setting up a trip that was as enjoyable as my trips with him to Cambodia and Bhutan in 2006. You can visit his site at www.tesimages.com to see more of his travels. I learn more from him on each trip that I take and look forward to the next one, wherever it will take us.

If there is a lan connection on the ANA flight I will add some parting thoughts. If not, I will be studying a presentation that I am to give on 01 August at work.

It will be good to be home again.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Free Friday

It is Friday morning in Ubud and we have a free day!

Well, it might not be totally free since this is to be a shopping day and if there is one thing that abounds in Ubud, it is shopping. If it is art or craft related, it can be found in Ubud. There are very few shops that will not bargain, so how much you actually spend is somewhat dependent on your negotiation skills. Our general rule of thumb has been to start off at something around 60% of listed price and then you are off and running.

There are several restaurants and shops that we have frequented that we have particularly enjoyed. Nomads is a restaurant that was founded a number of years ago and serves the most delicious food and desserts. For lunchtime, Café Moka can hardly be surpassed for its fresh French baguette sandwiches. The Dirty Duck restaurant is very popular and got its unusual name because just as the restaurant was completing construction, a family of muddy ducks walked through and left muddy foot prints on the floor. The workers all exclaimed “those dirty ducks” or words to that effect and the name stuck. They are famous for, of all things, fried crispy duck.

We have also been a number of times to Dragonfly, a restaurant and wireless internet café. The breakfasts are wonderful, the staff is truly helpful to internet neophytes like me, and you are always welcomed back. Located on Jalan Dewi Sita road, I highly recommend it when you want to connect.

The Agung Raka Bungalows have gone out of their way to make our stay pleasant and to provide us with guides and drivers that are both knowledgeable and helpful. I would return to stay here anytime.

We went to see the Buddhist monument, Borobodur, yesterday in Yogyakarta. Imagine a temple that took 100 years to build, was actively used for 100 years, and then covered in volcanic ash for 800 years. It was re-discovered by Sir Thomas Raffles, the Governor of Java, and the volcanic ash was painstakingly removed from the entire site. Over 2,000,000 stones were then catalogued and moved to a staging site so that a firm foundation could be built on the site and the monument re-built, stone by stone. It was very impressive to see and as the golden hour of sunset approached, we went into high gear taking photos. A long day, we didn’t get back to Bali until 1:00 AM.


Thus, Friday off.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Bali Time

It is the 22nd of July, Sunday and we have the morning off for a change. We have just had breakfast at Dragonfly, one of the internet hotspots in Ubud. It is nice to have a morning off for a change. Usually we are having breakfast early and then off for a shoot.

There are more than 15,000 temples on the island and we have attended a number of the festivals. It is imperative that you have a sarong if you are to be admitted onto temple grounds. I have been impressed with not only the number of festivals at this time of the year but also with the friendliness of the Balinese people that we have met and who have welcomed us. The festivals take a great deal of preparation by the villagers and we have had lots of fun seeing the villagers at work and at play.

Work time for the festival starts at about 4:00 in the morning for the men who are preparing most of the food that will be used in the festival. To see twenty men sitting around wooden blocks chopping meat into a paste like consistency that will be used for satay is a sight. All of them carry two knives for the preparation of the meat. We are very careful not to offend any of them! Never, never, offend a man with a well used, razor sharp set of knives! Lots of chilies, garlic, shallots, and bamboo spikes and you are ready for cooking. We also have seen several suckling pigs being roasted over open fires, on long stakes turned by hand.

When all is ready, the people get dressed in the most beautiful sarongs and finest clothing. I have been very moved by the interaction between the fathers and young sons as prayers are said and blessings received. The traditions are being passed along from generation to generation.

The Balinese calendar is based upon a 210 day calendar year and the festivals are timed for that calendar. July is a big month for festivals and there are many each day. On two occasions we have been driving and have seen festival goers and actually stopped the cars to see where the festival was taking place. Imagine a busy highway (busy for Bali), and walking at the side of the road are approximately 1,000 people carrying banners, food, with a band and all dressed and headed to the temple grounds. Two cars pulled off to the side of the road and 8 doors flew open with 7 crazy photographers with cameras in hand trying to get to the head of the procession. It was approximately a mile walk to the temple grounds and we were allowed only into the outer courtyard because we were not wearing our sarongs. We shot for about ten minutes and when our drivers caught up with us we immediately got into proper dress. Tewfic had told us to always have our sarongs in the cars. Showing the respect to the Balinese people, we were allowed into the temple grounds to photograph the ceremony.

Today, Sunday, we will be photographing Balinese dancers who will be performing for us in a private shoot.

I will have some photographs posted soon! I promise!

I am learning Balinese time very quickly.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Selamat Pagi!

Good Morning. It is 7:30 in the morning on Monday 16 July and I hope that this will become a habit. If I can type for an hour at this time before we start shooting, I will be able to share thoughts while they are still fresh.

Early morning is, I think, a special time at the Agung Raka Bungalows in Bali. The air is clear, usually still, always humid, and generally all you hear is the running water from the rice paddies as they are irrigated. The Agung Raka is a group of “bungalows” that sit amongst working rice fields. I am in a bungalow that is the furthest from the entrance and I have an unobstructed view of the rice paddies from my lower deck area.

The bungalows are two stories high with the sleeping quarters upstairs and the bathroom downstairs. We are fortunate to all have air conditioned bungalows and we have Tewfic to thank for that. He is the photographer who set up the tour and came two weeks early to check on all the arrangements. We were originally supposed to have only three air conditioned units and at the time I had opted to not take one. There are no screens here so to get any air at night would have meant being very sure that the mosquito net around your bed had no holes in it!

My bathroom has one of the most original skylights ever designed. You look straight up into the open air and if it is raining very heavily, well, you are just going to get wet. I have made peace with the very large spider that was in the tub the first morning. Our accommodation is that, if he eats lots of bugs and mosquitos and scurries away when I am around, he will live to see another day and I won’t have a panic attack whenever I see him. He is still alive and I am still calm.

Same arrangement with the 8” gecko that was on the wall of the sleeping quarters when I first arrived.

The working day starts early here in the rice fields and I have yet to be up before they start. There are three plantings of rice in this area per year and we are fortunate to be able to see them preparing the fields for the next planting. Everything is done by hand and given the heat of the day, this is the “coolest” time to work. If you are prone to intense labor while wallowing in the mud and water, then this is the life for you.

The first thing that we did before setting out to visit any of the festival sights was to purchase sarongs. Imagine seven of us at the market looking at all different styles and colors. There is everything imaginable and they are primarily one size fits all for the men. The cotton one that I purchased would probably wrap three times around most of the Balinese men here but it does fit me, so I am told. One day I may even decipher the methodology of putting it on correctly. It will NOT be worn on any casual Friday so don't anyone get their hopes up. Photos have been taken and will be printed upon my return. What fun to bargain with the locals at the market. Group buying got us from $18 US down to $9 US for a sarong and belt. I had fun taking charge of the bargaining and I am quite sure that the owner only made 400-500% profit from the sale.

Our first stop in our new native costumes was to a cremation ceremony. We were welcomed into the compound by the family because we showed respect by being in native dress and our guide had a word with the son of the deceased man when we arrived. The ceremony was very elaborate and I have a number of photos. They will be on the next post along with a more detailed explanation of the ceremony.

There are many temple festivals ongoing in and around Ubud. We have been to four temples that were in various stages of setup for the festivals and we will be attending our first one tonight. Last night we attended a dance festival and I was able to get a front row place in front of the dancers. Very colorful and 12gb of photos.

I am getting the high sign that it is time for wheels up for the afternoon shooting so that's about it for this edition.

All is well, the food is delicious, it is hot, humid, sunny, cloudy, and the photos are coming along nicely. It is also now the afternoon of the 17th of July.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Wheels Up - Time to Go!

The countdown clock has hit zero and the grand adventure to Bali has begun. I am flying All Nippon Airways (ANA) to Tokyo and then on to Bangkok. When I went to Asia in 2000 I flew Singapore Airlines and had a wonderful flight. In 2006 I flew Korean Air and thoroughly enjoyed the flight. Also in 2006 I flew United Airlines and there is really no comparison between the US domestic carriers and the Asian carriers. I have been fortunate to have flown business class on each trip.

ANA is so far living up to expectations. One of the first and most lasting impressions on each Asian carrier is that the flight attendants truly appear to be glad that you are flying with them. That makes such a difference. As usual, I was asleep by wheels up and woke up about 45 minutes into the flight to find that there was a warm moist towel to wash my hands with and a cool glass of green tea to enjoy.

I opted for the Japanese lunch and it was fantastic. The meal consisted of several courses:

Zensai – Prawn roulade, baked golden brown squid, simmered whelk shell, smoked duck breast, and sweet corn terrine.
Kobachi – an assortment of simmered vegetables
Shusai – Sake-steamed cod with special sea urchin egg sauce
Sunomono – Snow crab and lightly vinegared mozuku seaweed, steamed rice, miso soup and assorted pickles
Desert – A wonderful parfait, mocha a la mode

The cold sake was also very smooth and added just the right touch to a fantastic meal.

This is the longest leg of the trip – 13 hours to Tokyo. I have watched two movies including “A Good Year” based on the book by Peter Mayle. Albert Finney stole the show in that movie.

It is almost 9PM in Chicago and we have a little over 3 hours before arrival in Tokyo, then a 5 hour layover, and finally, a 6 hour flight to Bangkok.

And yes, for everyone who reminded me, I am getting up every two hours and walking around for 5-10 minutes (when I am not sleeping, watching a movie, or eating).

The 6 hour flight to Bangkok found me very tired and I was not only asleep before wheels up, I didn’t wake up until two hours into the flight. Another meal on the plane and this time I opted for the international cuisine rather than the Japanese meal. Somehow, grilled eel after having been up for about 20 hours was not my first choice.

Bangkok is Bangkok. Hot and humid. I was lucky and it did not rain for the day and a half that I was there. I met up with some friends for dinner and then a little karaoke. I did NOT sing, it would have emptied the club and the uproar would have made CNN. I did do a little shopping and am ready for a 4AM wakeup for my flight to Bali on Thai Airways. Now the real part of the trip begins. It is a 4.5 hour flight to Denpasar, Bali and then a 45 minute ride to Ubud where we will be based for the two weeks. Unlike Bhutan where we were constantly on the move, we will only unpack one time in Bali.

I was afraid that this blog would be impossible to create while on the trip because the edit page comes up in the language of the local country where you are accessing it. I made the right guess and the language screen popped up and I got it to English. Shame on Google for not making that choice a little clearer.