A Travellerspoint blog

January 2009

From Riches to Rags

semi-overcast 31 °C

As we sit by another hotel's swimming pool in the heart of a city teeming with people struggling to survive we are struck by the air of unreality and we realize that we are simply skating across the lives of locals before we zip on to our next adventure. Our path around South East Asia barely leaves a ripple, yet countless thousands have been effected by our presence: the crews of hundreds of planes, trains, ships and vehicles of all kind have held our lives in their hands; thousands of hotel and restaurant staff have cooked, cleaned and welcomed us; people have washed our clothes and carried our bags, (even whe we've tried to stop them); they have guided us, guarded us, and pedaled us around ancient monuments and modern cities. Yet our presence here is commemorated only by the few dollars that we have left in people's pockets and by the donations we have given on behalf of our Canadian friends.
Today, in Surabaya, southern Java, we visited a school for the poorest of the poor - a school for the children of garbage pickers. These poverty stricken people eke out an existence by scavenging through the city's garbage in search of anything that can be sold, re-used or recycled. Their environmentally conscious efforts should be applauded and rewarded in this day and age, but they are not. However, thanks to the incredible generosity of our friends and colleagues in Canada, their children now have a school with a new roof, together with newly painted ceilings and walls,
Here we are with a bunch of very happy kids who all want to say, "Thank you very much," to everyone who donated to the reconstruction of their school last year. We want to say, "Thank you," too. Here in this world of poverty and despair you are all Great Canadian Heroes.

Posted by Hawkson 23:34 Archived in Indonesia Comments (1)

One Country - Two Worlds

sunny 33 °C

There are thirteen thousand islands in the Indonesian archipelago, stretching from the equator to Australia. Our journey between two of these islands, Bali and Java, was just a thirty-minute ferry ride. Yet the gulf between these two is greater than the gulf between Canada and South East Asia.
Language, customs and religous dogma have doomed the Balinese and Javanese to eternal rivalry and conflict.
The Balinese are predominantly Hindus whose lives are dictated by superstition and ceremony. Almost every day is a ceremony day, or the preparation for a ceremony day, or the day of rest and rejoicing following a ceremony day. Seventy percent of a Balinese' meagre earnings are spent on ceremonies. No undertaking, however insignificant, is commenced without reference to the calender, and no price is too great to appease the Gods.
Across the Strait of Bali the Javanese are predominantly Muslim. Here the townsfolk suffer the constant deafening blare of muezzines as they compete with the noise of traffic and the bellows from neighbouring mosques. There is hardly a moment's peace from four a.m. till after nightfall - hour upon hour of religious incantations blasted through huge loudspeakers high on the minarets.
Indonesia may be tolerant of non- muslims but no one can escape the constant ear bashing of the immams.
Our journey between these two worlds began when we travelled through a tranquil national park in Bali to the ferry.
The ferry, not unlike the Gabriola ferry,was crowded with locals. Unlike the Gabriola ferry the lounge was blasted with incredibly loud karaoke music from a giant screen. As has often been the case on our travels we were the only Westerners and the stewardess must have sensed our discomfort. She quickly guided us away from the melee and took us to the captain on the bridge. We were then given the entire top deck - just for us. Preferential treatment?
And when we arrived in Java at Banyuwangi the driver of a mini-bus turfed out all of his local customers so that he could turn around and take us to our hotel - very embarassing.
But this story is about the two worlds - Bali and Java: Bali is a peaceful backwater while Jave is the most populous island in the world.
We are now in Surabaya - a city of luxury hotels and enormous shopping malls; a city of sophisticated people who would not be out of place in London or Vancouver. But, around Surabaya's corners, in dirty little back alleys, there is indescribable poverty.
During the next few days we will spend time with the people of Surabaya - some of whom we already know - and we will be visiting some of the poorest people in this world - in any world.

Posted by Hawkson 04:02 Archived in Indonesia Comments (2)

Bali - Close to Heaven

semi-overcast 30 °C

We lounge by a pool on Tony's terrace and watch plump golden koi hide from the midday sun under giant lotus pads.
We are on the top of the world. All around us the soft curls of the hillsides are stepped into waterlogged rice paddies that take giant's strides down to the coastal plain at our feet. The young rice is impossibly green - too green to photograph or paint without cries of trickery - and the entire scene is clearly digitally enhanced. Even the silence is deceiptful. We are lulled by a soft warm breeze into a feeling of total tranquility, but it is a delusion - a chimera. The air is constantly abuzz with dragonflies and butterflies, and is frequently ripped by the shrieks of exotic birds in the branches of of the clove and rambuttan trees. A koi leaps from its watery world and splashes noisily back again. Bamboo wind chimes clunk sonorously in the breeze. Tomorrow's dinner quacks loudly as he forages for his final meal amid the clumps of rice seedlings, while the chickens trumpet the successful laying of another breakfast.
There may be no infernal combustion engines here - no chainsaws, motorbikes or leaf-blowers - but the air is alive with the constant clamour of nature. And in the evening, when we have watched the sun slip back into the Sea of Bali, the frogs and gekkos take up the chorus and the heavenly choir gets louder ... much louder ... very much louder. Heaven may not be quite what it is cracked up to be!

Posted by Hawkson 20:21 Archived in Indonesia Comments (2)

Anyone for Tiffin?

semi-overcast 29 °C

Here we are celebrating the halfway point in our adventure by being terribly British and taking "Tiffin" in the renowned Eastern and Oriental Hotel, Georgetown, Malaysia. Ex-pats have been fed and watered in this bastion of colonialism since the days when the sun shone continuously on the Empire in 1885.
Tiffin, (lunch), today consisted of a fabulous assortment of local seafood with exotic sauces and salads. Grilled lamb, duck and chicken to follow, together with such British rareties as braised oxtails and fish pie. The deserts were simply divine.
And to make lunch just perfect we bumped into Kate and Mark from the English Midlands - new found friends from Langkawi Island - with whom we shared adventurers tales.
Here is Jim's fish plate starter!

But we don't usually eat like this. Last evening we ate at the Night Market - spring rolls, chicken biriyani and roast duck with rice for just six dollars for us both, and that included a can of Sprite each.
In each country we've tried most of the local delicacies, (although we steered clear of the Vietnamese poodle soup). We've had Pad Thai and Som Yam soup in Thailand, Cao Lao in Vietnam, while in Laos we had traditional barbecue - a large clay pot filled with burning charcoal is dropped into a hole in the centre of the table and a specially made lid is placed over it. The metal lid is a shallow dome with perforations in the highest part and a deep rim around the edge. Stock is poured into the rim and quickly boils, while the dome part gets red hot. It's a do-it-yourself dinner. As soon as the barbecue is hot the waitress brings heaps of fish, meat vegetables and noodles and you just boil or barbecue whatever you want on your own personal stove.
Each country has its own eating culture. Sometimes we are given knives and forks, sometimes just spoons and sometimes chopsticks, while at other times the food is plopped straight onto a banana leaf on the table and we eat with our fingers - that certainly saves on the washing up.
We've eaten Thai, Laotian, Vetnamese, Malay, Chinese, Indian, Japanese and Italian, (Great pizzas in Hue, Vietnam).
We've had Luxembourg baquettes, French croissants, British fish and chips, American hamburgers and Norwegian salmon. We've even had pancakes with maple syrup - very Canadian eh!
Jim's breakfast this morning was Sang Me (fried noodles) with dried anchovies, roast seaweed and fried dace with black beans, followed by a quintessentially British bread and butter pudding.
At a rough estimate we've eaten in two-hundred restaurants and now we're off to Bali for a plate or two of Indonesian Nasi Goreng, (fried rice to you).
And in Vietnam we both took a cooking course so that we can entertain you all when we get home. Bon appetite!

Posted by Hawkson 18:16 Archived in Malaysia Comments (2)

Malaysian Monkeys

sunny 33 °C

After a week on Langkawi Island Jim decided that the local tourist brochure needed a reprint.
Here is his suggestion:

Langkawi - Close to Paradise

Miles of sun-drenched white sand beaches.

Float above the tropical jungle on one of the world's steepest and highest cable cars.

See exotic wildlife up close - sometimes too close.

Pick your way across litter strewn beaches to swim in ...... Whoa! Wait up a minute. You can't say that. You can't mention all the litter on the beaches. What about our man Fred?

We've seen Fred. (Not his real name. We changed his name to protect his identity). We saw him every morning at 7.30.am. as we headed across the wide sand beach towards the turquoise sea and threaded our way past yesterday's detritus of beer bottles, cans, bags and plastic of all kinds. Fred would be there with his trusty tractor towing a giant, shiny machine full of cogs, conveyor belts, sieves and rakes. It is called a beach-cleaner. And if Fred pulls the right lever he can lower this giant machine onto the beach where it will scoop up the sand and shake it and sift it until all the garbage is heaped into its giant hopper and all the lovely clean sand is back on the beach.
But, every morning after our swim, and after Fred had driven his giant,shiny machine up and down the beach a few times, we would thread our way back through all of yesterday's garbage - all the bottles cans, bags and plastic - still on the beach .... just re-arranged a little.
Why? Because Fred, (not his real name), discovered he can drive his tractor much faster along the beach if he doesn't use the giant, shiny machine. And, if he doesn't use the machine he doesn't have to drive all the way to the dump will all the garbage he collects, so he can go home for breakfast with his wife, Jane. (Not her real name either).

So - what to do? Finally, on Friday, Inspector Bliss could stand it no longer. So he put on his policeman's voice and had a few friendly words with Fred.
Fred was "Velly, velly solly" and he quickly lowered his giant, shiny machine to the beach and began picking up the litter.
"Thank You," said Inspector Bliss. But as Inspector Bliss and his lovely wife strode off across the beach, Fred quickly picked up his machine and raced off.
We were hoping to take a photo of Fred but he didn't come back with his tractor again. What a shame.
But then we looked through our album and realized we did have a good likeness of Fred. He's the one peering through our car's windshield in the third picture above.

Posted by Hawkson 18:35 Archived in Malaysia Comments (5)

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