Monetary graffiti


Call me a cynic, but not only am I fairly sure Rachel no longer <3s Jim, but that she, too, assumed their love would be temporary—given that she put the year and all.

Woke up this morning—on the living-room couch, since that was the farthest I could get from the windows in my one-bedroom apartment—fan still going, to learn Irene had been downgraded. Quickly bored to tears by WNYC’s “reports” of dog-walkers in Williamsburg and the endless reporting that there is really nothing to report.

Mostly I’m wondering how Irene feels now that she’s been publicly branded with that big scarlet D across her chest.

One of the worsts parts about having to cancel my dinner plans* last night due to impending hurricane was the fact that I no longer had a pressing reason to clean my apartment. So I didn’t. Instead, I somehow managed to spend the entire day, while waiting for the coming on of Irene (sorry), posting on Facebook.

Here, then, is my “Hurricane Preparation” photo series.

(I) Excessive supply of water: check.

Filled up pretty much every bottle (or reasonable facsimile) I could find with water (after I’d BRITA’d it, of course). Added several more jars later in the evening after I’d finally done my dishes. And put them all in the fridge. (Except the Thermos. That just seemed wrong.)

[Yes, that beat-up peeled-off silver/blue one has seen better days. It survived falling out the back of a minivan in one of the dustiest places I've ever been (Ratanakiri Province, Cambodia) as well as, of course, volcanic mud.

(II) Jesus candles: check.

No need to fear! I got my Baby Jesus candle. Actually, I got Baby Jesus AND Our Lady of Altagracia. I can’t tell you how happy I was when I found out my local bodega a) had exactly the kind of candles I was looking for and b) HAD ONE WITH BABY JESUS!

Also interesting to note, while I was traipsing around in the rain in the late afternoon looking for open stores/bodegas (not many), I noticed that, much to my relief, the Lower East Side bars were as packed as ever. Apparently douchebags don’t break for hurricane prep.

(III) A/C out of the window, onto the floor: check.

I have no idea why I appeared to be the only one in New York worried about the stability of a god-knows-how-many-pound air conditioner hanging out her apartment window during a hurricane.

(IV) Masked windows: check.

There was much debate on the interwebz as to whether or not to tape Xs on one’s windows. I figured a) it certainly couldn’t hurt, and b) I spent five bucks at an East Village deli on a roll of masking tape slightly wider than the one I already had at home, so you could be damn well sure I was gonna tape my windows.

(V) Bathtub full o' water: check.

What? Everyone kept telling me to fill the bathtub with water. Seriously, though, I felt like Amelia Bedelia. Note to self: Don’t assume that the rubber tub-stopper thingy you were so sure was in the cabinet under the bathroom sink is actually there.

(VI) Excessive hard-boiled egg supply: check.

If nothing else comes of Irene, I now have at least three friends who are unlikely to ever forget this little hurricane tip posted on Facebook by the Boiled Egg / Travel Maven: Boil up all or most of your eggs now and stick ‘em in the fridge. Even if we lose power, hard-boiled eggs actually stay good for a reasonably long time. (Don’t peel them, of course. Duh.)

[Unlikely to forget because they actually boiled a bunch of eggs and now will have to eat them all week. Sorry, guys.]

(VII) Closet full o' seaweed: check.

OK, these were not actually purchased during my last-minute pre-hurricane foraging (Everyone in this town knows better than to go to Trader Joe’s for last-minute anything.). This is just my ‘normal’ stash. What can I say? I love me some roasted seaweed!


(VIII) Fully masked Confederate-flag-esque windows left very slightly open: check.

The debate over whether to leave your windows open a crack raged for hours on Facebook. And was potentially much more consequential than the one over masking tape. In the end, I went with the advice of two friends who’d been through hurricanes (both in Hawaii, bizarrely enough). The first was already quite convincing when she said: “One of the best ways to guard against breakage is leaving the windows open a crack. During a hurricane there are swift and significant changes in the air pressure—you’ll feel it—and this is actually one of the main causes of shattered windows: outside air pressure changes quickly, puts pressure on glass, glass shatters. If you leave the the windows open a crack, the air pressures equalize. You’ll still feel the change and see the glass flex, but it is less likely to break.”

But then another (non-hurricane-experienced) friend posted a Snopes entry dispelling/dismissing the myth, and I was truly torn.

In chimed my friend Brandi: “When I was living in Hawaii during hurricane Iniki, we took the advice of opening our windows and glass doors a teeny bit. The apartment next door’s completely shattered, but ours did not. Myth, my ass.”

As I learned years ago, it’s best to let Brandi have the last word.**

The Morning After: hurricane, schmurricane.

Is that the sun I see, little darling?

Note how later in the evening my Confederate flags, unbeknownst to them or even me at the time, became Union Jacks. (Perhaps I did spend far too much time reading The Help this week.)

In fact, I resisted reading the entire day because I figured if I didn’t have electricity on Sunday there would be nothing else to do, so I should take advantage of having power while I still did. Of course, instead of watching all those DVDs I’d planned to watch, I did this.

I had also assumed that at some point on Sunday I would be “forced” to eat all of the ice cream in my freezer. While I’m glad I didn’t have to have it for breakfast, I will admit to being somewhat disappointed at the moment.

Goodnight, Irene.


*I was supposed to cook dinner for two friends last night, but given the fact that the entire city was going to shut down at noon (or at least my friends’ ability to get to my apartment), we had to postpone.

Thus I was left with the dilemma of what to do with the three-pound flank steak in my fridge. I could freeze it and hope for the best (if the power outage was brief but not quite brief enough, being in the freezer would save it from spoiling as it would in the refrigerator). I could put it in the slow cooker as planned and have a large emergency supply of Korean BBQ (well, “BBQ”) beef to get me through the hurricane. But if I lost power, it would quickly spoil and go to waste.

Thankfully, my friend Vanessa came up with the perfect solution: Cook the beef and freeze most of it overnight. That way I have food to eat for dinner and a better chance of being able to eat it later as leftovers.

**Actually, to let Hawaii-hurricane survivor #1 have the last word: “I just read that article in full, and it is about the myth that opening windows will prevent a roof from being blown off. That’s silly. It’s about decreasing the rapid pressure changes that can shatter glass, which I’ve seen happen. If the freaking wind blows your roof off, your windows don’t really matter.”

 

Leaked Cable: McCain Promised Qaddafi To Help Secure Military Equipment From U.S.

 

 

 

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I can really use a reminder.

 
 

Instructions for use:

1. Read headline and think to self, “And *you,* Matt Taibbi, of all people are shocked by this? It’s just par for the course. The world is these people’s fucking golf course, after all.”

2. Take seat on subway.

3. Read first four paragraphs of article.

4. Briefly wonder if other subway passengers are noticing your open-mouthed gape and popping-out-of-head eyes.

5. Read more.

6. Shake head in disbelief.

7. Read more.

8. Shake head knowingly.

9. Read more. (OK, it’s really not that long, I promise. I’m just a slow reader.)

10. Shake head in cynical resignation.

11. Be outraged. Be very outraged.

I don’t call it the Daily Outrage for nothing, people.

August 19, 2011

As promised, today’s rant is cross-posted on The Rude Pundit‘s blog.

This blog post is rated R for rude. Contains language some may find objectionable. You’ve been warned.

Be afraid. Be goddamned fucking afraid.

I was very flattered when the Rude One invited me to be a guest blogger in his absence—me, who’s not even a “real” blogger and, when she does blog, it’s about her travels in Southeast Asia, not politics in the U.S. (I usually confine my political rants to Facebook.) So flattered, in fact, that I had to accept. And by Saturday, boy, was I glad I did, as I felt a major Michele Bachmann rant coming on. So apologies, Rude, for not writing about my glamorous life working in New York City’s nonprofit sector, and thanks for the opportunity. Here goes.

Just when we’d finally stopped tearing our hair out over the fact that Sarah Palin could actually be a presidential candidate, into her Ferragamos (though apparently not without suffering for it) steps Michele Bachmann. Not just, as less than 5,000 Iowans have now ensured, a serious contender for the Republican presidential nomination, but a leading contender.

I usually think of myself as a cynic. A cynic who believes that approximately half the American populace is insane. And yet . . . and yet . . . every once in a while they still manage to surprise me. They did it in 2004 (though that was not so much a surprise as a heartwrenchingly depressing dose of reality). They did it in 2008 when Sarah Palin was not immediately laughed off as the most ridiculous vice presidential candidate in history. And now, yet again, I realize I’ve underestimated the stupidity of the American populace. Because as much as I chided friends on Facebook for being “amazed” that Bachmann won in Iowa and “in disbelief” that she wants to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell (I mean, come on. This would be the mildest of the anti-gay legislation she’d put on the table, I assure you.), wasn’t there something inside me that was, still, in 2011, utterly incredulous that this was actually happening? That part of my gut whose immediate reaction was “Really? Really? Has it really come to this?”

Bachmann’s ascension and candidacy are terrifying for a multitude of reasons, some of which are outlined in this week’s New Yorker profile by Ryan Lizza. I encourage you to read every last cringe-inducing word about her “education” (read “religious indoctrination”) at the hands of some of the country’s most radical—and slavery-condoning—“theologians.” You know, the kind who write things like “When people curse their parents, it is clearly a capital crime (Exodus 21:17). The son or daughter is under the lawful jurisdiction of the family. The integrity of the family must be maintained by the threat of death.” Because, of course, we’re pro-life. The kind of people who, like Bachmann, get their law degrees at Oral Roberts University, whose founding twin goals were “to equip our students with the ability to bring God’s healing power to reconcile individuals and to restore community wholeness” and “to restore law to its historic roots in the Bible.” If you want, you can delve even deeper into the nitty gritty fanaticity (yes, I just coined that) of the aptly-named Dominionists by reading the words of the son of one of said theologians himself.

But I digress. What’s got me particularly riled today is actually the effect of Bachmann’s candidacy on women and our future as one-half of this country.

You see, good feminist that I am, I judge women exactly the same as I judge men. Hillary, Sarah, Michele—you don’t score extra points with me just because you’ve got a vagina. It’s infinitely more significant to me that you are a (choose one) lying manipulative hack / raging idiot / certifiably lunatic religious fanatic. So when I first heard, back in May, that New Jersey high school sophomore Amy Myers had challenged Michele Bachmann to a “Public Forum Debate and/or Fact Test on The Constitution of the United States, United States History and United States Civics,” I thought “Good for her! This woman’s knowledge and interpretation of American history are just embarrassing. She totally needs to be taken down. And by a teenager. Go, girl!”

What had not yet occurred to me, however, was the impact the kinds of things Bachmann was saying could have, and was already having, on young people—specifically on their views of women leaders.

In her letter to Bachmann, Myers wrote: “As one of a handful of women in Congress, you hold a distinct privilege and responsibility to better represent your gender nationally. The statements you make help to serve an injustice to not only the position of Congresswoman, but women everywhere. Though politically expedient, incorrect comments cast a shadow on your person and by unfortunate proxy, both your supporters and detractors alike often generalize this shadow to women as a whole.”

Now, that is one eloquent teenager. Who is, unfortunately, dead on. It hit me hardest when, in a subsequent interview, Myers characterized Bachmann’s frequent misstatements as an embarrassment to all women with political ambitions, making it harder for them to be taken seriously in politics. “It took until the 19th amendment for women to be able to vote, and now it seems like the most famous women in politics are kind of jokes,” she is quoted as saying.

“It seems like at school there’s always a separation between what people think men can do and what women can do,” Myers said. “If a girl says she wants to go into politics, people say ‘Oh yeah, like Michele Bachmann?’”

When I read that, it just about broke my heart.

Really? Really? Has it really come to this?

Is this really where we are at now in this country? Have we come this far to have our hard-won accomplishments (meager though they often may seem) nullified by fucktards just because those fucktards are women? Just because there are enough other fucktards around to vote them into public office?

And all this is without even mentioning her frightening stance on the truly critical issues affecting women’s rights in this country—which is of course dictated by her religious beliefs. Who was made from whose rib? Who was given dominion over the earth and all the other living creatures on it? You got it, ladies.

I’m not sure how much worse it has to get before the sane people in this country realize we’re in fucking serious trouble and whatever you think you’re doing to fight against it, well, it ain’t bloody good enough, now, is it?

I don’t have an answer to this, and I consider myself even more jaded than the Rude One, whose response, when I asked him if he’d recommend reading Winner Take All Politics, was: “At this point, I don’t know if I can read more depressing shit topped with a few encouraging words about organizing.”

So, yeah. I’m not going to do that. I find it hard to believe it would be possible to organize our way out of the mess this country is in. A lot of us had hope in 2008. (And I say hope, not crazy-ass expectations that Obama was the second coming and was going to fix all the fucked-up shit and everything would be better forever. Please.) Where’s that hope now? Hope has left the building, motherfuckers. And more and more, I’m starting to think we sane folks should just leave the goddamned country and watch the crumbling of this empire from afar instead of continuing to clutch our front-row-seat tickets to the apocalypse in our sweaty little paws.

I can hear you now.

“What? A new blog post?”

“It hasn’t even been a whole year since the last one!”

Once in a while somebody (OK, my dad) asks me about my blog, and it used to be I’d say, “Yeah, I keep meaning to write something for it.” Until I finally did. Then, once I posted my big ol’ where-the-hell-have-I-been update (aka the final chapter in The Lavafoot Chronicles), it just didn’t really occur to me to do any more blogging. Why? I guess I haven’t felt I had anything to say.

Then the Rude Pundit, whose blog I love (but, be warned, is not for the faint of heart), asked me to be a guest blogger during his annual vacation-week-of-guest-bloggers. I was incredibly flattered. Not to mention a bit bewildered. In past years his guests have included bloggers like Angry Black Bitch and Pam Spaulding of Pam’s House Blend. I’m not even a “real” blogger.

In trying to decide whether I should take up the challenge, I asked the advice of a writer friend. “I don’t have anything interesting to say,” I whined to him. “For someone who doesn’t have anything to say,” he said, “you sure post a hell of a lot on Facebook.” He had me there.

So I accepted the Rude One’s invitation, and in doing some of the background research for my post—which you can read on rudepundit.blogspot.com this Friday, August 19—I of course came upon several things I just had to share, and did so where I usually do these days: on Facebook.

And why not the larger world? What the hell, I decided. I may as well warm up my “audience” by posting some of that here. For those of you uninterested in Mia’s political rants, however, be warned, you may want to stick to my photo albums and photos of the day (which I do hope to start doing again, as I have *so* many more for you…).

And so here begins my official blog post (yes, pilfered from Facebook). Which might or might not be the start of a new chapter in ‘miandering, the blog.’ We shall see.

——————-

This week’s New Yorker piece on Michele Bachmann by Ryan Lizza is, I think, a must-read for all who care about the future of this country (and beyond). So please, yes, read it. But, I know, reading an entire New Yorker article takes dedication. So for a quick and bitter taste of the radical theocracy espoused by not one but two serious contenders for the office of president of the United States (a country founded, you may recall, on the separation of church and state), I suggest you check out this Daily Beast column by Michelle Goldberg.

A Christian Plot for Domination?

Then, if you just haven’t had enough, you might want to delve even deeper into the nitty gritty of the radical religious right and its ideological forbears by checking out “Michele Bachmann Was Inspired By My Dad and His Christian Reconstructionist Friends — Here’s Why That’s Terrifying,” written by the son of one of those very forbears. You will learn everything you need to know about Christian Reconstructionists (also, and more aptly, called Dominionists) who believe “It is not only our duty as individuals, families and churches to be Christian, but it is also the duty of the state, the school, the arts and sciences, law, economics, and every other sphere to be under Christ the King. Nothing is exempt from His dominion.”.

Know where Michele Bachmann got her law degree?

Yeah.

Be scared, people. Be very scared.

Yes, it’s been well over a year since my last new blog post (in September I posted an old unpublished one I’d found, which was basically a glorified photo of the day). Yes, I survived my skin graft surgery and continued, albeit only for a short time, on my journey. Yes, I’ve been home for almost a year now. Yes, the last post I wrote (about the volcano incident that put an end to my mianderings for several months) was just about exactly 15 months ago and yes, that is, coincidentally or not, just about exactly the amount of time I’ve been back in the States now.

No, I did not intend to abandon my blog. Believe it or not, even after I stopped traveling and returned home I still had every intention of continuing to write posts. And yes, that means I am now well on my way to hell.

But in any case, I am finally doing it and am hoping that this magical ability I seem to have found to force myself to finally write something for the blog (Is there a law against how many times you can use the word ‘blog’ in a blog post? If not, perhaps there should be.) will, if not continue, at least serve to guilt me into not letting 15 months pass before the next one.

The truth is I still have photos galore and gone-but-not-quite-yet-forgotten travel stories to share. All I need is some more of that magical motivation dust to get me to, in the wise words of a previous generation’s Nike ad executives, just fuckin* do it.

And so I shall give you the briefest of updates and then direct you to what is, OK, really the briefest of updates: my six-word memoirs recounting the end of my trip. (Yes, I finished those back in February right after I got home, but no, I didn’t ever get around to telling anyone.)

Without further ado (about nothing, we know), I give you a brief account of the last 15 months.

Learned from a scientist friend (a rocket scientist, actually, and we know that rocket science and brain surgery are our culture’s jobs with the highest degree of apparent difficulty) that I’d inaccurately named my ‘lavafoot’ photo album. What had left me with third-degree (aka full-thickness) burns was volcanic mud. Lava, you see, glows. Which makes it a lot harder to step in accidentally. Who knew? Well, aside from the rocket scientist, apparently quite a few people—all of whom thought I had to be crazy for stepping in lava and who had obviously paid more attention in science class than I had.

Had skin graft surgery in Sydney on October 30, 2009. It hurt. A lot. A whole hell of a fucking lot. Awoke from the anesthesia to be confronted by the meanest nurse in history who basically yelled at me for moaning in pain. Spent another month at my cousin’s slowly starting to walk again with two crutches, one crutch, no crutches, escaping an oxycodone addiction by getting headaches and nausea from oxycodone, and wondering at my twice-to-thrice-weekly hospital visits why on earth that stupid-ass surgeon told me I’d be ‘better’ in a week. (It must be stated here the my cousin Tara, her husband, Andrew, and their lovely daughter, Scarlett, have my undying love and gratitude for taking me in and taking such good care of me [and taking me to all those damned hospital visits] for way longer than they should have ever been expected to.)

November 11, 2009. One of my last dressings. And the day the physiotherapist took me off crutches.

Graduated from twice-weekly dressing changes and evil skin-scrapings by the least sympathetic physician’s assistant in history to a compression sock which hurt like hell at first to wear but now (yes, 15 months later I still have to wear it) now luckily only hurts if I don’t wear it. Had twice-weekly physical therapy with the two kindest, most sympathetic, sweetest physical therapists in history. Had my health insurance run out on me but was treated anyway by said kind, etc. therapists (whose kindness made me cry more than once, I’ll admit. Yeah, things were really rough there for a while.)

November 18, 2009. My first try with the compression stocking. It hurt so much and made me bleed so I had to abandon it. Now this is what my leg looks like every day.

Healed enough that I was ready to leave my cousin’s and go on a 10-day silent meditation retreat—my third and, as I said after my second, my last. Spent a few days in the Blue Mountains which were quite lovely but not, like I’d originally thought, anywhere near my meditation retreat. Returned to Sydney for a week or so more of recuperating, then went to stay with my friends Lars (whom I know from high school) and Jilli and their son Nemo in Castlemaine, about an hour and a half outside of Melbourne. They were wonderful hosts to me for about two weeks and I’m so very lucky to have gotten to stay with them. Went to Melbourne for a week or so. Met some lovely folks there and enjoyed the city quite a lot.

Kangaroos! Just a short walk from my home-away-from-home in Castlemaine.

Flew to Tasmania to finally start ‘traveling’ again. Found you couldn’t really ‘travel’ anywhere in Tasmania without a car, so rented one with two boys too young to rent one themselves. Saw beautiful scenery. Felt really old. Traveled for another incredibly frustrating week on my own basing my itinerary on whatever buses happened to be running on whatever days.

My favorite thing about Tasmania was the road signs. You know I'm only slightly kidding.

Returned to Hobart (Tas’s capital. And yes, all Aussies call it Tas. Or Tassie.) for a few more days of sightseeing nearby but fell into a funk which became a depression which I later self-diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder.

You see (the theory goes), my foot was finally healed enough that it no longer needed 100% of my body’s energy to be focused on its healing. And once that physical stress was no longer in the spotlight, well, what appeared to happen was that the emotion, trauma, whatever you want to call the non-physical stress I’d been through for the last three months finally caught up with that other part of my body: my brain.

At that point I became entirely dependent upon the kindness of strangers, and I am forever grateful to a German woman my own age named Steffie who was my roommate in the godawful youth hostel in which I was staying. She took me out for brunch to celebrate my 41st birthday and, as I deteriorated shortly thereafter, cooked soup for us in the hostel kitchen to make sure I ate something other than the eggs I had boiled for myself before the PTSD had really taken hold.

After one godawful week borded my scheduled flight to Christchurch, New Zealand. My plan was to travel a month there and then fly back to Australia to catch my already-booked flights to Thailand and Burma (both tickets I had already purchased back in Castlemaine when I still thought I wanted to keep traveling). Almost wasn’t allowed on that flight because the one leg of the trip for which I was missing a ticket was the one from NZ back to Australia, and apparently you can’t enter New Zealand without having an exit ticket. Even if you can show proof that you’re booked on a bloody flight from Melbourne to Bangkok one month later, so OBVIOUSLY you’ll need to be leaving New Zealand to do that.

Spent a tearful hour or more putting a very nice travel agent (who assured me she’d seen worse) through hell finding out what my options were (A ticket to Fiji I wouldn’t use was in the offing. Clearly they’d done this before.) and trying to choose one. Finally I decided, since I was not allowed to purchase that one missing flight back to Australia (which I’d previously just assumed I’d purchase when I was in Kiwiland) because I didn’t yet have a visa, which was required in order to buy a ticket to Australia, that I’d simply had enough and this was probably a sign that I should just go home.

Spent approximately $1,600 on a flight from Auckland to New York for a month later, having been told by the travel agent that it would cost me only $150 to change the date. Made it to Christchurch, which was fucking cold. Realized New Zealand was fucking cold, especially the more beautiful parts to which I’d planned to travel (I was not, however, no matter how desperate things got, going to sign up for that Lord of the Rings Tour), and not only was I miserably depressed and lacking any motivation to plan my month of travels, I did not have the appropriate wardrobe for said month of travels.

My favorite thing about my hostel was this sign. You know I'm not even slightly kidding.

Was made even more depressed by staying in yet another youth hostel (this was what my budget would allow, unfortunately), was lucky enough to meet a friendly local yoga instructor / web designer with whom I saw several movies and basically had my only social contact in New Zealand, and decided what I needed to do was just get the hell out of there and go home—which I did, one week, several more tearful trips to travel agents and over $500 more dollars later.

Going, going, gone.

Realized on my way to the airport that it was the first day in weeks I hadn’t felt depressed.

Knew I’d made the right decision.

I’ve written way too much now to bother going into detail about the last 11 months at home. It’s pretty boring stuff anyway, so you’re not missing much. Suffice it to say that after recuperating with my dear friends Jessica and Hartley (and the lovely Zoe and Mollie) in Allentown, PA, and couchsurfing with various wonderful friends in the city, I moved back into my old apartment in May, two weeks ago finished my second long-term temporary job of the year, and am once again officially unemployed (the kind of unemployment without the unemployment check, unfortunately).

So I should have plenty of time to edit and upload those thousand-plus photos, some of which (can anyone say Angkor Wat?) I’ve been sitting on for almost two full years (!) now. Well, I didn’t do it any of the other times in the last year I was unemployed for several months at a stretch, so…don’t hold your breath. But do wish me some more magic motivation dust and…well, in the wise words of a past generation’s New York Lottery ad executives: you never fuckin* know.

Meantime, feel free to check out those six word memoirs, and at the very least I have many long-overdue photos of the day to post for you in the coming weeks.

Lastly, for the curious of mind / strong of stomach, what post-volcano blog post would be complete without updated photos? The ‘lavafoot’ album is still online, and new and, I’m pleased to report for all our sakes, much-less-gruesome photos have been added.

*OK, that particular word was mine.

(Old) Photo of the day: The saga of the assy

Wow. I can’t believe a) I’m just now finding out I’ve had eight draft ‘photos of the day’ ready to go for the last year and never posted them, and b) how much the one from September 5, 2009, can now be seen with some seriously bittersweet irony, as it’s about my ‘biggest regret of the trip’ being not getting photos of assies and cat ovens. Clearly that is the first one to be belatedly posted. This may be just the kick in the ass I needed to start blogging again. So check it out: miandering is back! (And maybe eventually she’ll actually write something new…)

Photo of the day
September 4, 2010 (originally dated September 5, 2009)

One of the biggest regrets* of my trip (Seriously. What is there to regret, really?) is that when I was in Bali I saw but never got a photo of the Isuzu SUV I saw with a decal on the back window that said ‘ISUZU TOTAL ASSY.’

So when I saw these boxes on the shelf of the motorcycle repair shop at which I was getting my laundry done (no joke) in Rantepao, Sulawesi, I was SO happy. I went back to my hotel and got my camera, but ended up dilly-dallying too long and the shop was closed when i got back (Another regret! Why did I choose that particular moment to wash my hat?).

Motorcycle Damper Assy boxes, Motorcycle repair/laundry shop, Rantepao, Sulawesi, Indonesia

Motorcycle Damper Assy boxes, Motorcycle repair/laundry shop, Rantepao, Sulawesi, Indonesia

I texted my friend Rob, who made a joke about the danger of my getting a motorcycle damper assy in the rain. Rob had been with me on the road in Bali and known of my unfulfilled longing for a total assy photo, and now I remembered that he had coined an expression I now felt compelled to not only adopt but promote. You see, there was a guy at Tutmak Cafe in Ubud, where Rob and I often hung out because it had free wifi. This guy, however, was there more than often. He appeared to live there. Even when we stayed until closing and finally left as the staff was locking up, he was still there. He had a Mac Book Air and always sat in the same seat. We sometimes sat on the couch opposite him and my last night there there was a problem with the connection and I mentioned something to Rob about losing my Skype icon and Mac guy freaked out on me about how you’re not supposed to use Skype there because it uses too much bandwidth. He was a jerk, it was true, but I didn’t think much about it.

Shortly thereafter, when I was in Flores, Rob told me that he’d arrived at Tutmak early one morning and, very purposefully, taken Mac guy’s seat. Mac guy arrived a minute later and was apparently seething, refusing even to respond to Rob’s (pleasant, I’m sure) ‘good morning.’ When he told me this I actually thought this was a pretty rude and petty thing to do, but he’d said ‘No one is a total assy to my friend and gets away with it!’ which was sweet enough. It was only several days later that I suddenly came to appreciate the full comic and vengeful brilliance of his action.

In any case, the now-lost damper assy opportunity put me in mind of all this, resulting in my posting this Facebook status: Mia Lipsit wants you, too, to adopt her new expression ‘total assy.’ Not sure what it means but it has something to do with vehicles, as in ‘Isuzu Total Assy’ and ‘motorcycle damper assy.’ To be used as in, ‘That guy is a total assy.’

But back to Rantepao.

As luck would have it, though, my bus the next morning that I was told would leave at 8 am (“If all the passengers are here at 8, it will leave at 8.”) was, ha, actually a 9am bus (The guy who sold me my ticket refused to acknowledge he had said any such thing to me. My guide had served as my interpreter when I’d bought the ticket the day before, but still, his English was impeccable…). This left me with some unexpected extra time in town, which normally might have been an annoyance but in this case was a blessing.

My first order of business was to go back to the shop and take this photo. I was ready to be all ‘Hello I came to take a photo of your damper assy’ but no one at the shop said anything or even looked my way at all. Score. Next task was to go by another hotel to try to pick up the falling-apart copy of David Copperfield which had been offered to me by a young English woman with whom I’d failed to meet up the night before. I found her eating breakfast (and, as it turns out, she was taking the same bus as me, not only well aware that it was meant to leave at 9, but awaiting a pickup directly from the hotel. No fair!) Still…double score!

A fairly successful morning, I’d say. And not a bad start to a day of ten hours on an uncomfortable bus.

*The other biggest regret was not getting a photo, when I was in South Bali, of a sign that said ‘CAT OVEN.’ I actually saw another cat oven sign in Jakarta a few days ago on my way to the airport, but as I was again driving by, a photo was not possible, so this still remains but a dream. (Cat oven had long been a mystery but a few days ago I finally figured out that ‘cat’ means ‘paint,’ which I just now brilliantly verified by googling it. Oven…not so sure, but if it’s for painting cars perhaps they do call them ovens…)

Over the last two weeks I’ve tried coming up with different ways, none of them quite right, of setting out to tell the story of how I ended up where I am at this very moment, on an aerobed in my cousin’s living room in Sydney, nearing midnight, an oxycodone, a glass of wine and a sleeping pill under my belt and still awake thinking about the fact that soon I will be in the hospital undergoing skin graft surgery.

My first ‘mental writing’ of the blog post started with my throat, and went something like this:

The day after the accident I woke up with a sore throat and thought, ‘Great, just what I need now is to be getting sick on top of everything else.’ But it didn’t feel quite like the sore throat you get when you’re getting a cold or flu. Maybe it was from crying so much the night before, I thought. A post-nasal drip. It didn’t seem to last long, or perhaps my mind was too focused on the pain in my foot and getting myself on the 9:42 train that I forgot to notice. Later, on what turned out to be a 10:50 train, when I took a drink from my water bottle, I noticed it again and it hit me: it was from screaming. Twenty-four hours before I had screamed longer and harder and certainly louder than I’d ever screamed in my life. Surely that would have some kind of physical effect on one’s throat, right?

But that wasn’t it.

Not my screaming theory, which was, I believe, well…sound. I just couldn’t figure out where to go from there storywise.

Then there was the text transcription idea. As in transcribing some text messages I sent during and after my trip to Gunung (Volcano) Papandayan in West Java to my friend Marc, who had been living about 10 hours further east, in the city of Jogjakarta.

14-Oct-2009, 10:57:51 am
I am in the crater of an active volcano. The most active in indo. Fucking cool. Smelly tho. U should come here if u’ve never seen all the bubbly lava & shit!

14-Oct-2009, 01:03:38 pm
I’m in hospital w serious burn on foot & leg fr stepping in lava. Want 2 come 2 jog asap. Don’t trust docs here. Will try 2 go tomorrow. Can u talk to asheeth? Maybe u can meet me at train and take me 2 his place? Not sure how hard walking will be. Again. Can’t fucking believe this. I’m in so much pain.

14-Oct-2009, 08:55:52 pm
Injected pain killer seems 2 finally’ve set in. 2 bad it’s long after they drained my huge bubbleblisters, if u can even call em that, & cut off all my skin. Now waiting 4 hotel waitress 2 bring me back hosp receipt & change if there’s any, & drugs promised me by nice lady doc, including pain meds 4 sleep.

14-Oct-2009, 08:59:41 pm
Hurt so bad i screamed & cried like a baby. In fact screamed like i was having a baby & no doubt disturbed & perhaps amused others. These bules can’t take pain.

(‘Bule’ means ‘foreigner’ in Indonesian.)

But again, I wasn’t sure where to go from there. Too many blanks to fill in, and how to fill them?

Then there was the idea of starting way at the beginning. Like how I didn’t even know this volcano existed 48 hours before but was convinced by a hotel manager in Bandung and some older European tourists that I must see it (though I was skeptical, having seen a number of active volcanoes in different parts of the world and being therefore pretty volcano-jaded. Not as jaded as waterfall-jaded—which I totally am, as I never need to see another waterfall in my life—but still pretty jaded.).

Or how I set my alarm for 5:10 that morning but couldn’t get up and didn’t want to and snoozed until 7:30 and thought several times of just skipping the whole damned thing and going straight to the beach town six hours away, my original destination in West Java. And how something in my head told me maybe I wasn’t supposed to go to the volcano and something bad would happen if I did, which is not a normal type of thought for me so I dismissed it as silly, since I’ve never really been the type to have premonitions (well, except that time my backpack was stolen on the bus in Ecuador…but I wasn’t thinking about that in bed that morning when all I wanted to do was keep sleeping). I ultimately decided that coming all the way to this town, Cipanas, and not seeing the volcano was just too lame and I needed to get my lazy ass out of bed and go see the damned volcano, even though you are supposed to go early before the mist sets in and it was likely the weather would be crap and there’d be no visibility when I got there. (I also decided if that turned out to be the case it would be my own damned lazy-ass fault.)

But no, those things were really just tangents and would make the story too damned long. And, frankly, I’ve been tired from the pain meds and just haven’t felt like writing the whole story or writing at all (yes, even though I’ve now written all this, which is what always ends up happening when I get all Nike on myself and just do it.).

So, creative ideas now spent in the above half-assed ways, I will now just give you the facts as I’ve already related them a number of times in emails to friends and family. Plus photos, of course. I always have photos. Even in hospitals I have photos.

So, yeah, I went to this active volcano. My assumption was I would hike up the trail (about a half-hour walk, according to my guidebook) to the edge of the crater, look down, oooh and aaah, take photos and come down. But what I didn’t realize was that at this volcano you don’t look over the edge of the crater, you are basically in the crater.

IMG_7781

See that little sign in the back? It says 'balagadaha/crater.'

When I saw the bubbling pool of lava (the still image below links to the video, which for some reason I could not upload) I thought back to my other volcano experiences and concluded that no, I had not, in fact, seen anything quite like this. So I was glad I dragged my jaded ass here after all. Hence that first text to Marc.

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Click on this image to link to the video of the bubbling lava.

The nightmare started a short while later. I realized I couldn’t find the trail I’d come up on. It was basically all just rock everywhere (and lots of smoke, and lots of deep impassable crevasses in the rock out of which was coming lots of smoke). And it all looked the same. I kept starting off in different directions, each of which at some point ended up far enough out that I knew it was not, in fact, the trail.

On one of those false starts I stepped on what looked to be solid grey rock but turned out to be soft and hot and…lava-y? I pulled my foot out quickly but still felt the heat on my sock for several minutes and thought ‘Whew, that was close. It really is dangerous up here. I’d better be more careful.’ I even took a picture for the blog. Little did I know.

IMG_7795

My first misstep.

So, yes, on another of my false trails I ended up doing the same thing, except this time I felt my foot go down into what felt like burning hot quicksand (if someone wants to correct me and tell me what I stepped in was not actually lava but volcanic mud or something with a more technical name, please do. Since I am both ignorant of such things and lazy (lazy/traumatized? Not sure.), I have not yet managed to google it.). I pulled it out quickly as I could but it was too late. My leg and foot felt like they were on fire. I had no idea what to do. (Except scream.) I rolled up my pants leg and poured some of the water in my bottle on it, but didn’t take my shoe and sock off because touching them would burn my hands. And even after it cooled I knew I would still have to walk back.

And I screamed. I screamed from the pain. Then I screamed for help. I screamed like I never screamed before. And I blew my whistle (which is attached to the zipper of the daypack I carry). I was doing my best not to get hysterical, though. Trying not to think about how no one might hear me (it’s very loud up there, what will all the lava bubbling and geysers smoking). About how there might not be anyone coming up at all (since it was so much later in the morning than you are supposed to go), in which case I wouldn’t be found until God-knew-when. About how I could die up there and no one would know. Clearly my best was not successful enough, but I pushed those thoughts away as best I could. Like I said, I was managing thus far not to really lose it.

I knew the one thing I had to do was find the trail back, so thankfully the adrenaline or whatever enabled me to keep walking so I could attempt to do so. On yet another false start I ended up in view of a stopping point I’d been at on the way up, where three Indonesian guys had insisted on each taking a separate photo with me (in Indonesia being a foreigner is kind of like being a celebrity in that for some reason strangers want their photo taken with you). I saw three people and assumed it was those guys and started waving my arms and screaming like crazy. The moment I saw them begin to move up the trail in my direction is when I finally cried and started, frankly, to get a bit hysterical. When I knew I would be rescued. Both makes sense and doesn’t at the same time, eh?

So I walked back toward the crater sign once again (my only marker). The three figures turned out to be two of the young guides I’d met when I’d paid my entrance fee (and whose services I’d refused because, well, I was sure I didn’t need a guide for a half-hour walk up a marked trail to a volcano and back) and an Australian guy who was clearly much, much smarter than me.

IMG_7796

About half-hour after the accident, on the way back down the trail (since I was being carried by a rather small guy probably still in his teens, we of course had to take rest stops).

If you can believe it, the guides felt the appropriate thing to do at that moment was to lecture me repeatedly with their fucking ‘I told you so’s—‘that moment’ being while I was in excruciating pain and getting more and more hysterical and begging them to take me to a hospital.

I shouldn’t complain, of course, since one of them ended up carrying me down on his back—for which I am, of course, forever grateful. (He mentioned several more times on the way how I should have taken a guide. Jesus Christ, did he think I was not sorry I hadn’t taken a guide?) Near the bottom of the rocky trail another guide had come with his motorcycle, and took me the rest of the way down and then to a clinic about 20 minutes away where no one spoke English and the standard of care was, well, substandard. But at least the guy there used Betadine, put on a bandage and gave me some drugs.

Then motorcycle guy, a very sweet young guy whose name was something like Jaja, took me back to my hotel (about 40 minutes’ drive), where I managed to get them to find me someone who could speak English, who helped me book me a private car (driven by said guy’s brother) to take me two hours to the nearest city, Taksimalaya, where I knew (from Marc’s research) that I could get a train to Jogja the next morning.

That night the pain grew worse and worse until I could barely walk (when I saw the two huge brown blister-bubble things that had grown out of the sides of my ankle when they took off the bandage I could see why!), so I hobbled out of my room and asked the hotel staff to help get me to a hospital. A young woman from the restaurant spoke some English and asked if I wanted her to accompany me, to which I of course said yes. She turned out to be really helpful, so I was very lucky to have her with me.

So, yes, as I explained in my texts to Marc, they drained all the liquid and cut all the hanging skin away and it hurt like hell. But I was pretty OK the next morning and got the train to Jogja and got myself to Marc’s apartment. It was later that night that the pain got so much worse that I was no longer able to walk. For the next five days or so I hopped around the swelteringly hot room Marc was renting, and he drove me on his motorbike to the local hospital, where they gave me new dressings and new pain meds. By now I had amassed quite the collection.

IMG_7804

drugs drugs drugs

During this time I had been showing my gruesome photos (which you can see if you really want to) to several nurse and doctor friends back home in the States to get their advice. Then I found out I could see a dermatologist at the hospital and did that. She told me the care I’d been getting from the ER and clinic staff (in her own hospital) had not been ‘adequate,’ and the bandage needed to be changed every day, not every two days. She also said that I was in danger of losing range of motion in my ankle because I had not been moving it at all (because of the pain) and the skin was starting to heal in the (unbent) position my foot was in. One of my nurse friends and one other doctor had told me this as well, so at this point I was very concerned about that and about my care overall, and realized that this whole situation was just really untenable. And basically just bad. I was scared. So I decided to get out.

The next day I was on a plane to Sydney, where my cousin lives and where I felt more confident in the standard of the health care.

When I first got here I went to a local GP who told me the burn would take three to six months to heal and that I had to change the dressing myself every day (unless I wanted to pay $50 to $80 a visit for him to do it). For three to six months. Wow. So my cousin bought me the supplies I needed and her husband helped me change the dressing for the first time the next day. From the time we did that the pain got worse and worse until during the night it had become truly unbearable. So, fearing something was still not right, the next day I went to the ER and was seen by several nurses and doctors who told me that the dressing I had was all wrong, as were the pain meds given to me by the GP, as was the prognosis and treatment. They said what I needed was a skin graft. Wow.

So they referred me to the burn unit at another hospital, where I went yesterday for my consultation, and now I’m scheduled for the surgery on Friday. They will be taking skin from my thigh and grafting it onto the two places (right where the ankle bones stick out) where the burn was the worst (3rd degree, as it turns out, though I’d been told it was all 2nd degree by all the other doctors I’d remembered to pose the question to). And, miracle of miracles, the surgeon (named Aruna…they seem to use only first names in the medical profession here) confidently and cheerfully assured me that in about a week it would be completely healed (well, the skin will always look different from my other skin there; that’s the only ‘scarring’ I can expect). Then I will just need physical therapy to make sure I get back my ankle mobility and range of motion—which my two cheerful and confident physical therapists, Rachel and Julie, have assured me I will.

So overall, though of course I feel unlucky to have had another accident (what is it with my left leg this year, anyway?), this time so much more serious, I am of course lucky in so, so many ways.

Lucky that it was not worse. (I’m here and ready to do the Merrell/Goretex commercial the minute they ask me. That shoe seriously saved me. If my entire foot had been burned, especially the bottom, well, I don’t even want to begin to think about how much worse it could have been.)

Lucky I had Marc (to whom I am forever grateful) to take me in and take care of me in Jogja.

Lucky I have a cousin living in Australia who was willing to take me in and take care of me (again, I am forever grateful to Tara and her husband Andrew and their 3-year-old daughter Scarlett whose smiles and laughter and general adorableness have also been helping a lot).

Lucky I was able to get somewhere I am finally getting the right medical care.

And lucky to be alive and for this to (hopefully) have turned out to be nothing more a particularly bad chapter in my travels (as opposed to something more permanent).

And now, of course, I’ve written a more detailed account than I’d planned to when I though I’d just spit the rest of the story out. But…yeah. That’s my story.

Thanks for reading it, and please send your best successful-surgery, speedy-recovery, good-healing thoughts, energy, vibes, prayers—whatever your brand of that kind of thing is—my way on Friday morning* (and during my week of recovery, too, if you remember)! Thanks!

And special thanks to my friends and family who’ve been checking in on me every step (ugh, sorry) of the way during this ordeal. It’s been so comforting to me to know someone was always (time differences notwithstanding) out there in cyberspace for me to ‘talk’ to. Thank you SO much!

Photos of Gunung Papandayan (including the bubbly lava video) are here.

For the morbidly curious (and strong-stomached), photos of my injury are here. But seriously, don’t look if you are not morbidly curious and/or strong-stomached. Seriously.

*Sydney is 15 hours ahead of EST in the States, so my Friday morning is your late afternoon/early evening on Thursday.

Transport, Moni, Flores, Indonesia

Transport, Moni, Flores, Indonesia

Typical transport in Indonesia (though just as often there’ll be a goat on top instead of–or in addition to–people). Climb aboard!

Toilet, Borneo Global Backpackers Hostel, Kota Kinabalu, Borneo, Malaysia

Toilet, Borneo Global Backpackers Hostel, Kota Kinabalu, Borneo, Malaysia

Best toilet brand name EVER!

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Potato chip bag, Bali, Indonesia

Ever wondered where your potato chips come from…?

Indonesia is a vast country and home to multiple religions and ethnic groups. So while you can certainly identify elements of an overall ‘Indonesian’ culture, in some regions the distinct subculture of the people who live there is what comes across most strongly. This is true in, among many other places, Bali, the areas in and around Bajawa in Flores and the Tana Toraja region of Central Sulawesi. Intricate rituals are part of daily life in all three of these cultures, and I was lucky enough to have witnessed death rituals in both Bali and Tana Toraja. And, of course, have some pretty fascinating photos and videos to share with you as a result.

Balinese culture, as you may have gathered from previous photo albums I’ve posted, is quite unique. People refer to it as Hindu, but Balinese Hinduism differs greatly from that practiced in India, and is really a mixture of Hinduism, Buddhism and the animist traditions of the people indigenous to the island.

While in Bali I was lucky enough to be invited to attend a cremation ceremony—which I know may sound a bit odd. As a fellow American (who has attended numerous cremations over the years that he has been visiting Bali) pointed out to me, in Western cultures you would of course never think of inviting random strangers to the funeral of one of your family members. But funerals and cremation ceremonies in Bali (and elsewhere) are events attended by the larger community, and outsiders are welcome and even encouraged to attend. I was invited to this one because it was in the village of Nyuh Kuning, home to the Bumi Sehat clinic at which I was to volunteer, and one of the people being cremated was a member of the family in whose compound Robin Lim, the clinic’s director, had lived for many years. But as it turned out this didn’t really matter, as the ceremony was attended by a good number of tourists, many of whom I’m sure didn’t have any connection, even as tangential as mine, to the families involved.

The Balinese, in fact, are so accustomed to the presence of tourists in their lives that in several paintings I saw at museums in Ubud, scenes depicting village life and all the attendant goings-on (cow-milking, rice-harvesting, bathing in the river, etc.), also included a random Westerner or two with a camera looking on!

Cremation ceremonies are held by every village for all of their dead at once. How often they do this depends on the wealth of the village, as the ceremony is an expensive one and, as in most things, economies of scale prevail. Some villages do a cremation ceremony every year, but Nyuh Kuning holds theirs every five. The one I was to attend, I was told, was for 32 people.

I won’t pretend to be an expert on Balinese cremation ceremonies and can’t even explain everything I saw, but I will tell you what I can and the photos and videos will illustrate, if not elaborate.

After someone dies there is a funeral and a burial, but it is believed that the person’s soul will not be at rest until cremation takes place. When it comes time for this, the body is dug up and the remains are taken out to be cremated. They are placed inside the body of a wooden animal that serves as a sarcophagus, usually a horse or bull, which will be burned, thereby conveying the soul to heaven.

The first part of the ceremony (which I did not attend) involves carrying the body from the burial ground to the cremation ground. When I arrived at the cremation ground I found that there was an entire hall full of elaborate offerings—flowers, clothing, intricately-folded money and many a roasted baby pig (some laid down among other offerings, some impaled on large sticks).

At the appointed hour the families of the dead begin to pick up all of the offerings and carry them in a procession to the area where the actual cremation will take place. The family members, one carrying a photo of the dead loved one, parade around the sarcophagus (now we know why the roasted pigs are on sticks!) and, when the procession has finished, place the offerings on the ground at the base of the sarcophagus.

It’s not a particularly somber event, perhaps because in most cases the person has been dead for several years, but the parading around the sarcophagus is probably the most solemn part. A priest is then presented with a tray full of jars and bottles containing several types of liquids (holy water and various herbal concoctions, presumably), and each is sprinkled in turn into the cloth-covered box with the remains in it. A very elaborate and lengthy ritual.

Once all of this has taken place, everyone stands back and the entire thing is set on fire and all that is left to do is watch it burn.

One thing I found strange was how small the sarcophagi seemed to be, given that each was supposed to able to hold a dead body. This confusion was compounded as I watched them cut quite a small hole in the top and place what appeared to be a very small amount of remains (wrapped in white cloth) inside. I learned later that in this particular ceremony, the bodies were not actually burned. Apparently after the last one five years ago everyone in the village got sick, so, instead of assuming that, for example, something was amiss in the lunch that followed the ceremony, the village elders decided this was a sign from their ancestors that they should no longer burn the actual bodies. Make of that what you will; as it turned out, this particular cremation was all symbolic.

You can view the photo album (which includes several videos) here.

Coming soon: Death rituals (part two)—a Torajan funeral.

Having used up my 60-day Indonesia visa, I’m currently in Borneo applying for a new one so I can return for another six weeks, this time to explore the western islands of Java and Sumatra.

So with nothing else to do and free wifi at my hostel, I’ve been a busy little photo-editing, blog-post-writing bee, and I’ve posted links to three new albums below.

By way of background: after the month I spent in Bali (doing very little except waiting for my knee to be ready to be walked on properly again), I traveled across the island of Flores, then did a boat trip between Flores and Lombok, the main purpose of which was to visit the Komodo islands to see the dragons, then headed even further east to the island of Sulawesi.

You can see the photos and read the descriptions of my Flores adventures in the albums listed below.

Enjoy!

Crossing Flores
Bajawa
Komodo Island Boat Trip (includes video)

Up next: Balinese cremation ceremony post and album.

Greetings from Sulawesi, in East Indonesia. I have much to tell and many photos with which to tell it, but I need more time and internet access than I’ve had lately to do so.

I have, however, brought my trip up to date (inasmuch as this is possible) via the magic of six-word memoirs.

So until I get my act together (no comment, please), feel free to visit my SMITH magazine profile page for some tiny little updates.

Greetings from Makassar, the capital of Sulawesi in northeast Indonesia. I left Bali two weeks ago and went to the islands of Flores and Lombok (took a three-day boat trip in between), and just landed here yesterday.

Hopefully in Sulawesi I will have more access to both electricity and internet than I have had…as well as time so that I can write a post about my recent experiences and upload some new photos.

In the meantime, I have plenty of other new photos ready for you. Three new Bali albums, including some videos from Monkey Forest, are on the photos page, and listed below. Enjoy!

Last Days in Bali
Temples
Monkey Forest

First off, I’m sorry I haven’t written any new posts in so very long. As most of you know, I’ve been recuperating from a fractured kneecap and, while you would think all that time spent doing pretty much nothing else would have made it an ideal time to write, I just haven’t been able to muster the will to do so. I’ve been pretty down, actually. Not being able to walk around and explore the few places I’ve managed to get myself to has really been a drag. But I am on the mend, and am now walking—still with a bit of a limp, but not hobbling like before—without my half-cast-thingy (called a backslap), which I wore for over six weeks after the original cast was taken off (about a week after my fall).

Now I’m in Bali and still doing pretty much nothing, but I’ve seen some pretty amazing things and have finally gotten around to editing photos and posting the albums online.

I’ve also been doing a very small volunteer project for a great organization called Bumi Sehat, which is a birthing clinic that also provides general medical services to poor folks here in Bali. They run completely on donations from individuals (and fees from those who can afford to pay), so if you’re feeling generous, do check out their website, where you can donate via Paypal. What I’ve been working on for them is a proposal to raise money to send four young women to midwifery school, a project that has its own website where, if you prefer, you can donate so that the funds go directly toward these scholarships.

The need for a pay-as-you-can clinic in a poor country is, of course, quite obvious, but what I also learned in talking to the clinic’s director, an American named Robin Lim who’s lived in Bali for decades, is that the hospitals here, as well as many village midwives, will actually keep the baby until the family comes back with the money to pay for the birth. She told me of one horrific case where twins were born and the parents couldn’t pay the full fee so the midwife kept one of the twins and then sold it. (Robin got human rights lawyers involved in that one and they eventually got their baby back, but in most cases like this the families would probably have ended up with someone else’s baby. Because this was an identical twin they were able to know it was truly their child.)

I know, too awful to even wrap your head around. I’ve been to the clinic when births were happening and it is truly a wonderful, comforting place where the women are getting very good—and compassionate—care. I of course am hesitant to ask anyone I know to donate (as I told the clinic’s volunteer coordinator from the outset, I hate fundraising), but, since a very small amount of money goes a very long way in a place like Bali, I’m just putting the information here in case you feel so moved.

On a lighter note, I’ve had some very funny experiences here thus far, so I thought I’d share a few anecdotes with you. (And don’t forget to catch up on the photos of the day, as there are some good laughs there as well.)

One
My friend Rob and I met an American guy who studied here back in college and comes back to visit every few years. He invited us to a dinner the family he stays with was giving in his honor. After dinner, some of the kids were playing and one boy said to another, ‘You’re fat and you have no teeth.’

The other boy didn’t react at all. Apparently, here things that we would take as insults are just really statements of fact that no one gets too fussed about. Like when Brad (the American) arrived at his family’s house this year. They greeted him and said, ‘You got fatter.’

Two
Rob and I were at a bar seeing some live music when two street dogs came in. (This itself is not so unusual. Street dogs are everywhere in Bali and are mostly ignored.) They were playing, biting each other’s faces and rolling around, and ended up right between our table and the next. Suddenly, one of them started mounting the other, which caused a big laugh among the patrons, one of whom was a young English guy who said, ‘I didn’t think this was that kind of bar!’

Three
I was hobbling home one night (wearing my backslap, which kept my knee from bending) and passed some men sitting on the sidewalk. (There are always men sitting on the sidewalk. Sometimes they are there to call out ‘Transport?’ to you. Sometimes they are just sitting and chatting.). As I walked past, one of them said, ‘I think you are a little bit sick.’ (Sick seems to be a catch-all word here, since most people’s English is limited, so I guess it covers being hurt, injured, etc. That or he had some other kind of insight without even talking to me…)

Four

This one is actually hearsay only: My friend Rob went to another island, Flores, where he met a really interesting man who took him on a tour of some local villages. The people in this area are Catholic but also retain a lot of their animistic traditions and rituals, including animal sacrifice (you can see Rob’s photos here). They got to talking and this man told Rob that he’d seen God several times, and started describing what he looked like: a sandal, a foot. The foot, he said, was white. And had hair on it. “Like a tourist,” he said. Which was followed by: ‘Jesus was white, right? Like the old Jews.’

I’ll leave you with that—and the photo albums, which you can check out on the photos page or use the links below where, to make things a bit easier, I’ve listed which ones are newly-posted (some of them are actually, chronologically, quite old). In the Ubud album there are a number of videos as well. And, as always, the stories are told in the captions to make up for all I’ve not been writing. Hope you enjoy!

INDONESIA
July 2009
Bali
Offerings
Ubud (includes Kecak Fire Dance)

MALAYSIA
June and July 2009
Pehrentian Islands

Cameron Highlands

Cherating

The Accident

CAMBODIA
April and May 2009
Last Phnom Penh Snapshots

While I haven’t been writing anywhere near as much as I should be, I have been writing, at the very least, six words at a time.

And the fine folks at SMITH magazine are once again featuring my little six-across-the-globe project in their Editor’s Blog. In addition, they’ve made one of my recent postsWet flip-flops. Shiny linoleum. Bad combination.today’s Six-Word Memoir of the Day. It can be found, along with all the rest of  my sixes from the past seven months, on my SMITH profile page

(And Editor Larry Smith’s post, conveniently, will catch you up on where I am now and why…another excuse for me not to write! Thanks, Larry! But no, really, I promise my overnight-in-a-Malaysian-hospital story soon.)

After four months in Cambodia, most of it spent in Phnom Penh, I’m getting set to move on. I’ve booked a ticket to Kuala Lumpur and leave in less than two weeks. My plan is to explore Malaysia and then Indonesia (and that is literally the extent of my plan as it currently exists). The other day I was thinking that the only thing I’m really sad about is leaving here ‘my girls,’ as I have come to think of them. As I have mentioned, though I suppose only in passing, I have been teaching English to teenage girls who are in an aftercare program run by an NGO here. They were all victims of child sex trafficking, and live with foster families here in Phnom Penh because it is unsafe for them to return to live with their families (some of whom, sorry to say, actually sold their young daughters into sexual slavery).

So I was thinking about my girls and remembered that I had never posted the links to some videos about them on here as I’d meant to do. And so I am remedying that now. Read the rest of this entry »

For the last few weeks (possibly even a month) I have had on my to-do list a notation to go up to Street 172 here in Phnom Penh to take photos. ‘Street 172 pics’—I was constantly rewriting it at the bottom of each new scrap of paper. Almost as soon as I’d written it down the first time, however, I’d already forgotten what it was I’d seen there. But I knew it involved more than one prime photo (of the day) opportunity. And so I reminded myself to go back.

Well, I finally went last weekend and was I ever rewarded. As I walked down the street, greeted with one amusing sign after another, all I could think was, ‘Wow…the street that keeps on giving!’ It gave so much, in fact, that I decided to post the photos as an album instead of separate photos of the day.

You can view the album here, and here’s hoping you enjoy this little journey of discovery as much as I did!

First of all, thanks to those who gave me such positive feedback on ‘Dear motodup driver,’ and for sharing their own absurb Asian transport tales with me. I was especially gratified by these responses because, frankly, I had hesitated to post that piece, as I was concerned I came off sounding mean and/or condescending. The other thing these exchanges did was remind me of some things I should have included in the original post. Therefore, and herewith, an addendum: Read the rest of this entry »

Thanks to strong and convenient internet connections (thank you, Vietnam) and time ‘off’ (thank you, Khmer New Year), I’ve put some more albums online:

Ban Lung, Ratanakiri Province, where I did a three-day jungle trek;

some more Phnom Penh fun;

and, yes, rice mysteriously laid out to dry on the street.

A full listing of photo albums can be found by clicking here or on the ‘Photos’ link above.

Also, if you look at the menu above, you’ll see I’ve added a new page I’m calling ‘Post archive for the lazy.’ There you’ll find links to all past posts.

I may not have seen any sites in Dalat yet, but at least I’ve improved the blog!

A bit of background for you:

Motodups are motorbike taxis, and they are everywhere in Phnom Penh—and I mean everywhere. Except when you actually need one. Only then will they not materialize out of thin air before you’ve even closed your front door. Only then will they appear to disappear from the face of the earth. Only then will you actually have to stand in the street looking for one to flag down.

My plan was to write ‘Ode to a Motodup’ to explain to the uninitiated the intricacies of how this system works. But I’ve opted instead for the simple, direct, time-tested epistolary form, which I think will convey all you really need to know.

Read the rest of this entry »

OK, perhaps my level of excitement when I realized I was *thisclose* to a whole bunch of frolicking monkeys at Angkor Wat a few weeks back was unwarranted. But I have no trouble admitting it; I was damned excited (there was a teeny tiny baby monkey, after all). And took video. And so the other day, after struggling with a still-broken laptop, figuring out new and creative and not-so-creative ways to preserve my photos and other documents, and spending literally a week trying to upload these damned videos, I have finally attained monkey video upload success.

And so, without further adieu, for your viewing pleasure, feel free to visit my youtube page. (Unfortunately there is sound as well on my camera, so at some point in one of these I think you may hear evidence of just how excited I was. Of course, later I found out these monkeys are quite a common sight around the main temple, but still…I was personally really happy to get to spend part of my afternoon watching them.)

Hope you enjoy!

PS If you haven’t visited my SMITH profile page yet (or even if you have), I encourage you to do so (again?), as I’ve added photos to many of the entries (some with commentary…just click on ‘backstory.’ Turns out SMITH actually gives you more than six words in which to tell a story—which you know for me can be dangerous…).

Greetings from Phnom Penh, Cambodia. I have two pieces of news I’m quite excited about that I wanted to share with you—both related to my favorite online magazine, SMITH, a community of which I also happen to be a member.

Some of you may have heard of SMITH, as it is the originator of the Six-Word Memoir, which started out as a project on the website, became a New York Times bestselling book and then basically went on to become a worldwide sensation. You can read more about the project and the first book, Not Quite What I Was Planning, here.

Read the rest of this entry »

The fact that the first song I heard after touching ground in Thailand—played in the bathroom in the Bangkok airport, no less—was the theme from The Godfather was, I figured, probably not a very good sign.

And it did turn out to be something of an omen of things to come. First I left my brand-new Swiss-made one-sheet-of-aluminum water bottle, which my best friend had given me as a going-away present the day before, on the plane. When I realized this, I had to ask at least five airport and airline personnel (miming ‘water bottle’ each time) before I found the one person who could help me. She radioed the cabin crew but no luck. The report came back over the walkie talkie: no sign of it. Read the rest of this entry »

Greetings from Tacome Pai, an organic farm in northern Thailand, just outside the very touristy town of Pai (which I have not yet ventured into) and four hours north of Chiang Mai (which, yes, I finally left—at least temporarily).

Here on the farm (which is also a guest house) we cook our food outside on fires, sleep in huts, husk rice (it was just harvested and we came specifically for the harvest festival, which ended last night and featured lots of great music), drink homemade (not by me!) rice whiskey and, yes, have wireless access (though I am the only one traveling with a laptop). Read the rest of this entry »

Mia is oppressed by her new and disturbing compulsion of being able to think only in Facebook status updates, and wishes she could stop. But since she cannot, she gives you, without further ado, her first blog post: a travel tale told in Facebook-status-update-eze.

(For those of you unfamiliar with Facebook, yes, this is all going to be in the third person.)

The Facebook Chronicles: Week One
a travel tale, Facebook-style

Read the rest of this entry »

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