Here we are in Ubud, Bali, the setting of the “Love” part of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, “Eat, Pray, Love”.

So far, I have not left my husband to go find my Phillippé (for those of you who are worried).   Should I decide to follow in Gilbert’s footsteps, however, I would apparently have plenty of company here in Ubud (women of a certain age looking for romance . . .).  Actually, I wonder where they find the energy in this lethargy-inspiring climate!

Learning would be the best way to describe our first week here;  this country is full of complexity and contradiction.  First of all, our bodies still learning to function in this very hot, humid climate (first lesson, drink water constantly).

Other things we are learning:  to sleep with the night chorus of frogs, birds, and cicadas, and the sunrise crowing of roosters.  To walk on the road without being hit by a scooter.  Our first words of Balinese (matur suksima = thank you) and Indonesian (dri-makasee = thank you).  That the questions, “Where are you staying”, or “Where are you going”, are polite conversation and do not require a precise answer.   That every day brings new religious ceremonies, holidays, and offerings.   And learning the market value of items versus the “tourist price”.

Although the kid’s main “homeschooling” task has been keeping a daily journal, I’d like to think that they are accomplishing lots of “experiential” learning.  Vivianne is amazed at the many life-forms in the jungle:  beautiful flowers (falling from trees throughout the village – really), banana and coconut trees, salamanders, monkeys, giant millipedes, huge butterflies, dragon-flies, tropical birds, bats, and ant super-highways.  She was somewhat traumatized in the monkey forest, by a macawk who jumped on her head to steal and eat her brand-new flower hair clip (yum, styrofoam).

Théo, ever the 7-year old boy, is fascinated with the scooters, the tilling machine used to plow the rice patties, spectacular lightning and thunder-showers, the RC car with flashing lights owned by a boy down the street, and the way our hotel staff fold napkins and towels into hats, butterflies, and swans (he is now begging me to buy him an origami book – internet will have to suffice for now).

Last night, we attended a traditional Balinese dance performance, where every eye and hand movement has meaning.   The kids were seated in the front, the best seats in the house, and were transfixed for 90 minutes.   They were previously able to take a Balinese dance lesson, so Théo was thrilled when they did “his” dance, a warrior dance.  Of course, they were just as thrilled with our bedtime ice-cream snack.

On another level, we have been confronted with some third-world realities, such  kids and babies without helmets on scooters, roosters spending their days in tiny cages (we haven’t told the kids about cock-fighting), poor old ladies begging for money, a slug crawling in the lettuce in Vivi’s sandwich (she handled it quite well – even ate the rest of the sandwich!), washed out roads and rubbish in alleys, and people grabbing our arms, begging us to buy stuff.

But this is Ubud, so this all coexists with 5-star restaurants, the Nike store, Billabong, and high-end spas and villas. Central Ubud is very touristy, especially since the Gilbert book publicized it widely.  Spas promote “eat, pray, love” treatments, and one can buy any variety of souvenirs blaring the slogan.  It is obvious however obvious that the country-side, and the “real Bali” (where the tourist buses don’t go) is never very far.

These are of course just my first impressions.  We are hoping to both gain a deeper understanding of the culture and country, and to venture further afield in the next few weeks.

Next up is Nyepi, a religious holiday starting tonight with a parade of monster spirits (people have been working hard on the styrofoam and papier-mache monsters all this week).  The monsters are later burned to dispel evil spirits.  Tomorrow is a day of fasting, rest, and purification dedicated to the Gods;  everything in town is closed.  Tourists are given a break, so if we stay in the hotel compound tomorrow, we will still be able to eat.

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We arrived in Singapore past midnight, to a blast of heat (30 degrees celsius), and humidity (89%)!  We find ourselves to be constantly thirsty.  Luckily, our hotel has a lovely rooftop pool.   Also, air-conditioning is present on the MRT, the buses, and everywhere indoors, so we have not been far from a place to cool off.  Further, every afternoon has brought loud but refreshing thunderstorms.  Running through warm rain is such a novelty!

Much of our time in Singapore has been spent at the city’s three world-class zoos:  the Jurong Bird Park (“The World’s Largest Bird Paradise”), the Singapore Zoo (“World’s Best Rainforest Zoo”), and the Night Safari (“The First, The Only”).  We were able to see an extraordinary variety of birds and animals, and also a few shows featuring extremely well-trained animal stars.  The animals in general did seem quite well cared for, in very large and natural looking enclosures.  There were also free-ranging orangutans, and large walk-through enclosures full of fruit bats, flying squirrels, and various exotic birds.  The Bird Park and the Zoo are also involved in various conservation efforts, such as protecting the 12-wired bird of paradise and the Proboscus monkey.

Although traveling with children is often like window-shopping – you can look but you can’t really go in – we are enjoying the Singapore atmosphere of multiculturalism, varied architecture, general friendliness, and endless food choices (Malaysian, Indian, Chinese, Thai, plus English, Western, and everything else, at any price point).  The different neighborhoods are so well-marked out (stemming from Colonial history), that crossing from one into the other is like visiting a different country (e.g. Little India to the Colonial District to China town . . .).

Theo and Vivi have developed a taste for Bubble Tea, Dan seeks out the big multicultural food courts, and I’m partial to fresh papaya and either Iced Kopi or hot Kopi made with espresso and condensed milk.  The kids are still attracting lots of attention, mostly from the many tourists from other Asian countries.  The kids have also developed amazing stamina for our all-day walking tours!

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It was great to spend a day with our expat relatives, Uncle Aaron and Auntie Amy.  They live on Lantau island, which is accessible by train or by ferry.  Aaron is a pilot for Cathay Pacific, and Amy works in a medical office.  We liked their cute apartment, and enjoyed being served a great coffee, home-made granola, and a German beer (Aaron often flies to Frankfurt).  The kids were also relieved to go for lunch involving pizza, spaghetti, and cake.

Uncle Aaron is especially cool, obviously because he is a pilot, but also because he has an X-box!  Théo and Vivi couldn’t get enough of Rock Band, and improved their skills impressively over a few hours.

Our time in Hong Kong has been a bit of a blur!  After about 3 days of jet lag, we finally woke up at about 5 am instead of 2 am.   Yesterday, we woke up at 7 am!  The kids are adjusting to being 16 hours ahead, although Théo is still exhausted (meaning cranky and constantly acting up, teasing Vivi, etc.).

The day after our “fart” day, Théo and went on a factory tour (related to Dan’s business) to Shenzen, China, while Vivi and I went to the Ladies Market in Monkok.  Both days were full-on culture shock for the kids.

Théo was treated as a novelty toy at the factory, and treated to lunch, which started off with chicken feet for appetizers (not the best first meal on a woozy stomach).  Théo was so grossed out that he barely ate anything for about 24 more hours, when we stopped at a “Monster Burger”.  It was also a very full day for the boys, as they had to leave at 8 am and didn’t get back until about 6pm.

Vivi and I had our own culture shock, when we naively took a shopping trip to the most populated place in the world.  Hong Kong itself is incredibly busy, with 6.8 million people crammed into a city the size of Manhatten.  But Mongkok, the area that contains the Ladies Market, is the world’s most densely populated area, at 130, 000 people per square kilometer (compared to the 1 252 people per square kilometer we are used to).  Vivianne was stared at, her cheeks pinched, and her head patted.  Many residents of this area are immigrants from mainland China, and have had little experience with cute little red-headed girls.  It was pretty overwhelming, especially on a few hours of sleep.  We bargained for hair-clips for both of us (found out later that we got a good deal), and had lunch at a noodle shop (suspect meat but the noodles and broth were fine!).

The day after was a sight-seeing day on Hong Kong Island.   We took the world’s longest escalator, which goes for 20 minutes up the side of a mountain.  We also took the Peak Tram up Victoria Mountain (although the weather has been unusual, socked in with fog, so no views), and ran down through the forest.  Over on Hong Kong Island, it is much more familiar, with more tourists, expats, English speakers, and more familiar restaurants and stores.  We found a Chinese staple that the kids love – coconut buns fresh from the bakery.  We are also quite adept now at taking the MTR commuter train, as it takes at least 45 minutes for us to get out of the suburbs where our hotel is located.

“A Fart Day”

Théo describes our 26-hour voyage to Hong Kong, and the next day, in a single word:  FART.

Upon waking up in L.A. at 3am to catch our shuttle to the airport, Théo announced that he felt ill.  Putting it down to fatigue and motion sickness, we continued on with our voyage.  Theo threw up once in the van and once at check-in.  The flight to Vancouver was very turbulent and even 2 Ativan didn’t stop my own shaking.  Théo threw up a couple more times.

In Vancouver Théo felt better, so we got on our 13.5 hour flight to Hong Kong.  Théo slept most of the flight, except for waking with night terrors, recoiling in horror from the overhead lights, and screaming, “Je vais mourrir! (I’m going to die!)”.  This flight was also quite turbulent, so when Vivi said she was feeling sick it was no shock.   She nicknamed herself and Théo, “the Barfy Kids”.

When we arrived at Hong Kong immigration, Théo was stopped by the “health check police” who stuck a thermometer in his ear, put a mask on him, and escorted him off to the nurse.  As his fever was still low-grade, we were allowed to proceed, at the end of the line-up through immigration of course.  By the time we got through, our bags had been taken off the conveyor, but we finally hunted them down.

We took the train to our hotel, with 3 transfers.  It was wonderful to see a bed, but it was a short, jet-lagged sleep.  In the morning, Dan headed out to a meeting with his manufacturer.  Théo’s fever gradually increased to 40 degrees celsius, and Tylenol wouldn’t bring it down.  So, with the help of hotel staff, we took a taxi to the medical clinic.

The driver dropped us off at the wrong clinic (a dental office), so I dragged two tired kids through a busy market place trying to find the right place.  A young English-speaking woman, an elderly woman, and two police people pooled their ideas and finally rescued us.  And thank goodness the doctor spoke English.

However, I didn’t have quite enough cash to pay the doctor his fee.  We had to go change a traveler’s check, while the clinic held Théo’s passport ransom.  The first bank wouldn’t do it, and after waiting in a long line at the next bank, I was told that I would have to produce the “purchase order” for my traveler’s checks, even though I had my passport.  Who travels with the receipt for that transaction?

I then decided to try a cash advance on my credit card, as I couldn’t see any ATM’s.  The bankers agreed and had me wait again to process this.  They came back saying that it would be impossible to advance me money, as my name on my passport didn’t match my credit card.  The name on my credit card doesn’t include my middle name, but my passport does, so they don’t match.  Excuse me!!???

I was getting rather frustrated, not running on all cylinders (3 + 6 hours sleep over 3 days/nights), and Théo was not sure he could continue moving.  Vivi was sweet and helpful, insisting on carrying both her and Théo’s car seats.  Finally, we found an ATM and thank goodness it worked!

We walked back to the clinic, paid the doctor, collected our 5 prescription bottles of bright pink, yellow, orange, and purple medicine (including antibiotics), and rescued Théo’s passport.  Then it was a bit of a circus trying to get a taxi, but finally a nice grandfather helped me flag one.  Luckily I had brought the hotel’s stationary for the driver to read.

Théo was so relieved to get back to the hotel and into bed!  Enough homeschooling for one day.

It’s just the kind of day it was:  fart.

Our final day in Disneyland was a long one – we stayed to see the fireworks and “Fantasmic”.  I must say that Disneyland is one of the smoothest run operations I’ve ever experienced.  The management, crowd control, service, quality of rides and shows, cleanliness, and attention to detail are all quite impressive!  No wonder it is such a popular destination for families!  (No, I was not paid to write that).  The volume of people on a Saturday though was huge compared to during the week – if you go, pick the weekdays for better access to all the rides and experiences.

In many ways, hanging out on a San Diego beach is just like being in Mexico!  The weather has been absolutely stunning – cool at night and sunny/hot during the days.  I could have easily just hung out at the beach for the whole past week, especially after all the work it took to get here and how tiring the theme parks are!  Imperial beach is a campy little beach town, where you can eat any clams you dig, and the beach is fringed with weathered surfer flops and Mexican eateries.  In one of my alternative lives, I would be a surfer chick with little surfer dude kids.

Théo and Dan made a visit to the USS Midway museum, a recently decommissioned aircraft carrier.  Théo may have had a defining moment – he thinks he might want to be a pilot when he grows up (just another of many indications that he is very much like my brother, who happens to be a pilot).

Sea World

We loved the dolphins at Sea World!  In particular, a one-year old dolphin was very playful, splashing people with his tail, then swimming around and popping his head out to watch the resulting commotion.  His favorite target seemed to be toddlers, who gave the best response with shrieks and howls (the kids really got drenched!).

The penguins and the Wild Arctic exhibition were also neat, as were the Blue Horizons Dolphin show and the Shamu show.  Dan liked petting the sting rays.  Theo liked the Shipwreck Rapids ride, although we were all subsequently soaked and shivering.

Sand, sun, and water were just what our tired and Disney hung-over kids required.  It was a beautiful day, and the sand really is perfect.  Theo even found some running water, which is the most calming thing in the world for him – he can build dams and dig for hours.  To my relief, he could finally stop re-enacting his favorite ride – California Screamin (5, 4, 3, 2, 1, blast-off!) .  I was able to walk for 30 minutes along the beach, while Dan did some digging with the kids.  I even spotted an Orca!  And Vivi found a pet – a ladybug, which she made a home for in a shell.


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