A Travellerspoint blog

Arrived!

How I got to China...

sunny 25 °C

Well I'm here safe so you can all sleep soundly again now ;)

The journey was long but relatively uneventful. Terrible turbulence over Eastern Europe on the first leg of my flight, worst I've ever experienced. It was pretty unsettling but thankfully we got through it unscathed . I managed to grab a couple of hours sleep which was something, think I may have done something to annoy the couple next to me tho since they stopped making eye contact. Perhaps they tried to wake me up and I swore at them? I've been told I do that. Watched Prince Caspian which was a bit rubbish really, but that was followed by watching our landing on the plane's "nose cam," which rocked!

We landed at Dubai fairly early morning, the sun was just coming up when we disembarked. The terminal building is a long way from the area where the planes are moored so we had to get out onto the tarmac and catch a bus. Crazy place, the terrain is all dead flat and the constant haze obscures the horizon so the land blends in with the blue/grey sky. Anyway, didn't get to appreciate it for long as I had a four hour wait to enjoy at the terminal. I have never seen such a busy airport. Seriously, there was barely any room to sit down, people just seemed to take their shoes off and fall asleep anywhere. Maybe their shoes were the source of their power?

dubai.jpg

Anyways, I managed to kill an hour by wandering round and getting to know the airport, killed another hour or two watching Battlestar Galactica on my iPod, managed to change a little money and buy a McDonalds to tide me over. Didn't feel too bad, figured I'd work it off soon enough. Looking back at it now the time flew by and I caught my connecting flight no problem.

BeijingLanding.jpg

Slept most of the flight to Beijing. Figured I'd need to be alert for my seven hour wait for my connecting flight at Beijing Airport. I woke up in time for the approach and landing tho. I did my best to look for the Olympic site but I couldn't make it out. Plane landed safe and I stepped out into Beijing's shiney, glass-walled airport. It's about here I finally realized I was in China and probably would be for some time. I decided to celebrate by eating some biscuits. Then I watched some more Battlestar Galactica, read an entire book about Tai Chi, rewrote war and peace... heh. Some guys I was sharing the bench with said they wanted to help me eat my biscuits and being a kindly soul I said sure and offered them my water too, looked round and they'd bloody finished them!! What a bunch of gits!! They're just dam lucky I don't know Kungfu.

BeijingAirport.jpg

Check-in opened at 5:30am, two hours before my flight was due to leave so that gave me something to do. The checkin board had been kinda vague about which desk I should go to so eventually I just joined a queue and hoped for the best. It worked and through the fabulous art of international mime I managed to convey that I wanted to go to Yantai and I already had a ticket booked with the airline. Feeling fairly pleased with myself I set off for the gate. Had a little trouble at security when they started asking me questions and my mime skills failed me. This time I resorted to staring blankly which seemed to be effective as they waved me through.

BeijingAirportToo.jpg

I can't remember the flight to Yantai, I must have gone out like a light. I feel a little guilty as the flight wasn't very full and they were making all the announcements in English as well as Mandarin, clearly for my sole benefit. I woke up in time for landing to find one of the Stewardesses had left a bottle of water and something small and ambiguous wrapped in tinfoil beside me. I was grateful for the water but suspicious of the small parcel so said my goodbyes and legged it before they noticed I'd left their unidentified foodstuff untouched.

Yantai Airport is kinda... what's the word? Provincial? Put it this way, there were plants growing through the tarmac, you walked off the runway into the baggage claim, which was dark because none of the lights worked... you get the idea. Found my luggage ok despite being in the dark as there were only about 10 bags coming off the plane and just the other side of the room was a small row of smiling faces behind a sign with my name on it. Two young ladies (Fiona the translator and Hilary a Canadian student) and two gentlemen (the school driver and Wong Sifu the Shaolin master).

Hilary was very chatty and I think happy to have some new arrivals. Theres been only three people studying these last few weeks as a lot of people had to end their stay because of Olympic visa troubles. The day prior to my arrival another new student had arrived; Kasim, also from England. I spent most of the drive to Muping chatting with Hilary and Fiona who speaks excellent English. China seems a little homogenous at the moment, lots of the buildings look the same and since I can't read the signs I find it hard to differentiate areas.

School_gates.jpg

When I arrived at the school I was shown to my room. The bed had a marvelous "love pig" sheet and pillow cover. I think this is the standard for all Kungfu schools since Kasim in the room next to mine has them too.

Lovepig.jpg

Lovepig02.jpg

I did my best to unpack but they're refurbishing all the buildings atm and I'm a little short on furniture. I think we'll be moving rooms in a couple of weeks, not sure whether I should invest in some shelves now or wait a while.

At lunch I met the other students here at the school. There's Shlomit from Israel who I knew already from e-mailing her when I was researchingt he school and Jamie, who I was disappointed to learn has no magic torch (but has spent a considerable amount of time studying Mantis fist so be polite). After lunch a few of us went for a walk up the road to see a lake, which was nice, played a little pool, badly, then I went back to my room and accidentally fell asleep. I woke up to see Kasim standing in my doorway, looked at my clock and it said six o'clock. I figured it was Monday morning and I was late for Taichi, but no, I was just making a dick of myself when I started panicing and jumped out of bed trying to work out where the hell I was since it was actually dinner time Sunday evening.

lake.jpg

The food here is pretty good, they always have a couple of vegetarian dishes and a couple for normal people, plus the rice every meal. Chopsticks are obligatory since they have no knives and forks but I've been coping like a pro :).

After dinner I was introduced to the headmaster, Qu Sifu and we discussed (with the help of Fiona's excellent language skills) what I would be studying. I said that I had intended to study Shaolin kungfu but that I knew little about Mantis fist and that I would welcome any advice he could offer. He said maybe I could train Shaolin for the first 6 months and Mantis for the next six months. I said that'd be lovely :)

There's five students total, four on the Mantis Kungfu roster, one (me) on the Shaolin path.

Since it was sunday and there was no Olympics showing on telly the students decided to hijack the school projector and watch Forbidden Kingdom. Unfortunately the disc would not work in the DVD player so we put on a Chinese movie... but that didn't have English subtitles so we put on a third movie (also Chinese, anyone heard of Jet Li's Bodyguard from Beijing?) which had chapter select in Mandarin script but for some reason was dubbed in English and had no Mandarin subtitles... a dvd that can only be operated by a team of Mandarin and English speakers. Some kind of conspiracy? I'll let you decide ;)

After this wonderful cinematic masterpiece I found I was once again feeling tired so headed for bed, hoping to be fresh for my first days kungfu...

Posted by IRShaolin 04:50 Archived in China Tagged backpacking Comments (0)

Bali 2008

Official warm up blog

sunny 28 °C

I need to test how this blog thing works so although it's old news, thought I'd write a little bit about my trip to Bali about a month ago.

Bit of an odd holiday as it's the first family holiday I've been on since I was about 16, and when I say family I mean pretty much my whole family; mum, dad, aunt, uncle, two cousins, a couple of friends, my sister and my brother-in-law... although to be fair it's his fault we had to go to Bali again so I shouldn't complain too much.

For the benefit of those of you who haven't been, Bali is a tropical paradise located in the centre of the Indonesian island chain. It is something of an anomoly in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim nation, as the island's population is entirely Hindu. Tourism is central to Bali's economy and a percentage of everyone's income goes towards honouring the gods and making the temples ever more grand. The more popular Bali becomes, the more beautiful it becomes. The circle of life... ;)

Unfortunately in recent years terrorists chose Bali as a target and the tourism trade has suffered as a result. Bali is now a lot quieter than it was, the street hawkers a little more persistant and the haggling a little tougher, although anyone who knows me will tell you haggling was never my strong suit.

Anyways, my sister, Nick, married Minggu in May last year and was using this as an excuse to travel to the the tropical island of Bali every opportunity she could get and this time she kindly invited us along for the ride. The main reason we went was to introduce our family to Minggu's, the top class snorkelling and white sandy beaches were simply hardships that had to be endured along the way.

We were met at the airport by Joker, Made and Minggu's uncle Wayan who were going to drive us to Padang Bai. It's about an hour and a half drive from the airport in Denpasar to the village where Minggu grew up, and the views along the way are fantastic. The ubiquitous padi fields set against the backdrop of the majestic mount Agung. Hmmm, let's see if we can find the insert picture button...

pic01.jpg

did that work? Not sure the picture really does it justice but you get the general idea. It's lucky the views are so good really as it gives you something to focus on other than the driving.

On my previous visits to Bali I have usually stayed in fairly modest accomodation, this time however we went a little more up-market. Three swimming pools, a king size four poster bed, hot and cold running water and a giant statue of Garuda standing guard, all just over the road from the beach. Not bad for £12 a night!

Pic02c.jpg
Pic02b.jpg
Pic02a.jpg

The Balinese way of life is a lot slower paced, so in an effort to acclimatize we got some drinks and headed for the pool. After an hour or two of lounging around we strolled to the restaurant to get more drinks and make sure we really were getting the hang of island life. We had a few days of this, punctuated by trips to the beach and the occasional massage. Hard life, eh?

Indonesia is famous for its coral reefs and Ali and Bernard (aunt and uncle) were keen to see for themselves. Unlike Australia where you have to travel by boat for an hour or more to get to the reefs, in Indonesia you just wade into the sea. Butterfly fish, parrot fish, bat fish, puffer fish, clown fish (Nemos), all in abundance. Let's see if we can paste a video link in here...

Ta dah! Man, I'm getting good at this ;)

But Bali isn't all about the beaches and bacardis, there's a rich tapestry of culture and history to explore (I'm really getting into this blog thing).

Our first day trip took us to the Water Palace in Klungkung, Mas, Goa Gaja and finally Ubud where we enjoyed the hospitality of the Lotus cafe and Monkey Forest.

The Water Palace in Klungkung was the home of the Royal family in Bali until some historic event happened in history. Fascinating stuff, sure you'll agree... I didn't read as much of the background as some others on my trip so if you really, really want to know what happened ask mum. The reason i didn't do that much reading was that I was taking photographs since as you would expect from a Balinese palace, it's absolutely beautiful. Let's get that picture thing working again;

Pic04a.jpg
Pic04b.jpg

Next stop was Goa Gaja (elephant cave), so called because of the elephant carving in the cave and something to do with Ganesh. I know a little more about this place than the water palace because some local guy started following me around and telling me stuff... then expected payment, cheeky bugger. Anyway, set in a forested valley the elephant cave is an old temple, one of the oldest on Bali, and a place of meditation even today. Outside the cave are six statues (there used to be seven but one was destroyed), that are used in purification rituals. The outside of the cave is covered in carving meant to mimic the look and feel of the rainforest and a large evil looking face meant to ward off evil spirits. The inside of the cave is hot as an oven and in addition to a number of shrines, has small alcoves carved into the walls to accommodate meditaters... meditatees? erm, religious types. I was only too happy to get out of there to be honest, with the incense burning, the excessive heat and that whiney little guy constantly trying to fill my head with facts, things were starting to spin.

Pic05a.jpg
Pic05b.jpg
Pic05c.jpg

We stopped briefly at Mas, the woodcarving district, and looked around a gallery there. There was some good work but I was a little disappointed. On a previous trip to Bali my mate Crispin showed me a top place with some truly stunning work and I've never been able to find it since. Anyway, we had a little poke around and a chat to with the carvers and we were on our way.

Pic05d.jpg

Next was a well deserved lunch at the Lotus Cafe in Ubud. This place totally rocks. Totally. The cafe is built bordering the entrance to the Lotus temple, which gets its name from the large ponds packed with lotus that lie either side of the path to the main gates. I'm going to let the pictures do the talking here.

Pic06a.jpg
Pic06b.jpg

There is no better setting in which to eat your chocolate brownies and icecream :)

Ubud is the arts and craftsy village on Bali. There are lots of shops selling paintings and wood carvings, some clothing shops and a very large market. Many people feel this is the 'real' Bali and come here to find themselves, buy linen trousers and wood bead necklaces, but to be honest it's just as touristy as the brash, Ibiza-like Kuta, just in a more friendly way.

One thing that really does set it apart though is the Monkey Forest. In a similar way to the Elephant Cave, the name is efficiently descriptive. Just outside the centre of Ubud is an area of rainforest surrounding a very old and holy temple. The temple plays host to a troupe of Balinese Macaques, which whilst not tame, have become accustomed to the constant stream of curious humans and the delicious sweet potatoes they bring. It's fascinating and a little intimidating being so close to these animals. They're not small and they have pretty large teeth, if they want your hat, sun glasses or water bottle, there's not really much you can do to stop them. And they do want your hat, sunglasses or whatever else you've got so they can barter food from you. I'm not saying don't go, just don't have anything loose they can steal and whatever you do, don't hide food from them.

Pic07a.jpg
Pic07b.jpg
Pic07c.jpg

Busy day we had there, luckily we had a few rest days scheduled to recover from it so we headed back to the beach, the swimming pools and the bar.

There was one brief excursion to go fishing with Minggu's father however, although I got up in time to join them, I was a little the worse for wear from the previous night's festivities and felt that spending four hours on a boat wasn't a good idea. Turns out I made the right choice as even those who were feeling chipper when they set out weren't so chirpy when the boats dropped anchor and started rocking.

Our next daytrip took us to the mother temple on the slopes of Mount Agung, an active volcano and the Balinese holy mountain. This is the largest temple complex on Bali and has some very old structures.We paid our entrance fee, all donned our obligatory sarongs and met our guide, who was a very nice guy but whose name I forget.

To get to the temple we had to walk about a mile uphill in the blistering heat, past hundreds of small touristy shops. Upon enterring the temple complex proper you are immediately greeted by ladies selling postcards at exhorbitant prices and small girls who press flowers into your hand then expect payment. Not the most pleasant part of my visit. Anyway, we did our best to be gracious and politely say no, we didn't want to buy anything, not even for luck and no, we couldn't exchange the Euros they had, and no, we didn't have any foreign money 'for their collection'... It's a bizarre experience and not one we as Europeans would associate with a holy site.

The temple itself was very grand and our guide, when we could hear him over the postcard ladies, very informative. We slowly made our way up through the complex to the highest temple, from which we could look down over much of Bali.

Pic08a.jpg
Pic08b.jpg
Pic08c.jpg
Pic08d.jpg
Pic08e.jpg
Pic08f.jpg

On the way back Nick, Minggu and I stopped at Goa Lawah, the Bat Cave (I kid you not), so called because... well i think you probably get the idea. This is another very old temple built around the mouth of a cave that is packed full of bats. The smell was quite indescribable. We didn't stay long but was interesting to see the bats.

Pic09a.jpg
Pic09b.jpg
Pic09c.jpg

We had been planning to go to Ulu Watu to visit a temple and watch a traditional dance but Minggu suddenly remembered it was his nephew's 1st birthday and there was some ceremony he should be involved in. It seemed like this might be a good opportunity to go meet the in-laws so a few of us headed over. Minggu has quite a large family and confusingly most of them seem to be called Wayan. In Bali children are named in the order of their birth, the first child is called Wayan or Putu, the second is Made or Kadek, the third Komang or Nyoman, the fourth Ketut, irrespective of sex, and once all the names are used up in a family, they start again from the begginning. You'd think having fewer names would make them easier to remember but in reality it just makes life confusing. Almost everyone has a nickname that is used instead of their given name.

Getting a little off track here, where were we? Ah yes, nephew's birthday. We arrived at Minggu's family complex to find things already underway. The holy man was busy blessing an impressive spread of food and offerings, including a spit roast pig! We sat and chatted until it was time for the ceremony. Young Nephew was brought out and puppeted through the actions by his mother and auntie as he was blessed. Yay! congratulations all round and with the ceremony over, we got to eat :)

The pig was delicious, the satay eye wateringly spicy and the rice just kept on coming.

Pic10a.jpg
Pic10b.jpg
Pic10c.jpg
Pic10d.jpg

So our next outing really was Ulu Watu. The Kecak dance is held every evening as the sun sets and since the temple was back near Denpasar we would have to make it an overnight stay. We headed across in the afternoon so we had a chance to check into a hotel and have a look around Kuta. Kuta is the pubs and clubs area of Denpasar with a lot more upmarket shops and restaurants. It's also the area that was bombed twice in the last few years so we were not particularly keen on staying there longer than we had to.

The hotel was great, quite a large complex surrounding a swimming pool and a small temple. Our visit had coincidentally coincided with the biannual reconsecration of the temple so there was a full gamelan orchestra being set up and tables covered in offerings. We all split up and spent the afternoon wandering round the shops and taking in the sights of Kuta. We were planning to meet back at the hotel but we all seemed to run into each other at McDonalds. Odd that :)

Next stop Ulu Watu. This temple is set atop cliffs overlooking the sea and facing West and like the Monkey Forest there is a troupe of Macaques that calls it home. We all donned our sarongs again and made our way through the temple to the stage area, hoping to get good seats before the crowds arrived. Unfortunately Nick ran afoul of the monkeys and had her sunglasses stolen and destroyed before her eyes. Possibly Karma for poking one with a stick on her previous visit... ;)

Kecak is special because no instruments are used, the dance is set to rhythmic noises and chanting generated by about 100 chorus members. It tells the story of Rama fighting the evil king Ravana with the help of the monkey king Hanuman. It is an enchanting experience, the sun setting behind the performers as the dance continues.

Pic11a.jpg
Pic11b.jpg
Pic11c.jpg
Pic11d.jpg
Pic11e.jpg
Pic11f.jpg

We stopped at a small out-of-the-way restaurant on the way back to our hotel, consumed a few drinks and ate some pizza. My cousin Daniel topped off a culturally rich evening by asking the question "do you think anyone has ever blown their nose on an omlette?" Magic.

When we got back to the hotel we found the reconsecration ceremony was well under way and realized sleep probably wasn't an option for a while. The gamelan orchestra was well underway with people banging gongs and chanting. I really like that kind of thing but not every member of our party was as impressed, particularly seeing as we'd had quite a long day already. Thankfully they called it a night at about eleven.

The following day our group split again, with some returning to the swimming pools and bars of Padang Bai and some taking a detour to another temple at Tanalot. Tanalot is a picture postcard temple on an outcrop of rock that is cut off by the sea at high tide. Beautiful place although it was packed with tourists.

On the drive back we watched the sun setting over the padi fields.

Pic12a.jpg
Pic12b.jpg
Pic12c.jpg

Our final day out we thought we'd do something fun. Bring on Water Boom! We spent a whole day at the water park in Kuta. We went with some of the younger members of Minggu's family who had a whale of a time. Shame we couldn't take our cameras on the slides.

Before we left we wanted to have a bit of a party with Minggu's family and thank them for their kind hospitality. We arranged for a pig which was roasted over the course of the day, and in the evening everyone got together to eat and make merry. Dad showed the kids his famous paper bag trick and I demonstrated a few little card tricks for the nippers. A good time was had by all and I'm pretty certain the drinking carried on well into the night after we left.

Pic13a.jpg
Pic13b.jpg
Pic13c.jpg
Pic13d.jpg
Pic13e.jpg

Unfortunately all good things come to an end, as did our time in Bali. The beautiful setting, great weather, the simple way of life and the layed back attitude towards everything make it a very easy place to fall in love with. I think we were all sorry to leave.

Ok, that's the first blog over, let's hope I can keep this up B)

Posted by IRShaolin 04:06 Archived in Indonesia Comments (0)

(Entries 21 - 22 of 22) « Page 1 2 3 4 [5]