Sunday, May 25, 2014

Ubud, (Bali), Malacca (Malaysia), Gold Coast (Oz) April 2014

Ubud, (Bali), Malacca (Malaysia), Gold Coast (Oz) April 2014, Poem The Valley Beyond

Photos at the following link – they include some fascinating shots of the Australian heart, lungs and gizzards from the plane:

Veins of Oz, tree like arteries

Our second visit to Bali was unexpected. We had planned to return to Vietnam – we hadn't made it to Ninh Binh last year so our plan was to fly to Hanoi and head South by train to Ninh Binh and spend few days there and head south again to Hoi An. But events unfurled and we accompanied Cara to Bali – Denise to assist Cara in establishing a business provider. We stayed in Sanur on the coast for 3 days and then moved inland to the higher Ubud
area. We'd been there in 2010 refer blog and had enjoyed it.

This time around we stayed in the 2 Seasons villa at Penestanan, a wonderful villa and pool in an attractive, well appointed village, plenty of restaurants and warungs (cafes/small restaurants) centre for the arts and a 5 minute bike ride to Ubud centre, depending on the time and traffic. The villa is owned by the family of Nano, our most gracious, obliging and smiling host who had motor bikes there immediately. Nano offered to take us to his village for the Ogoh Ogoh ceremony and parade and I wish now we had taken up the invitation but we went instead to Ubud which was quite spectacular, however being part of the local one would have been wonderful. Next time. Nano helped out when Cara was 'disconnected' from her motor bike on 'Dead Mans Curve', a frightful and as it turned out lucky experience which could have been much worse. He negotiated the damage to the bike with the renter which was a minimal cost.

Notes on the day:
We walked through the Penestanan interlaced lanes today, in thick warm air spiced by cooking aromas and smoke and incense from offerings to appease the spirits, by fabulous dwellings with artistic pathways, heavy wooden doors and secret gardens, water courses along the side, wee waterfalls, overhanging lushness, mossy rocks, brightly coloured leaves and heavenly flowers, tiered deep rich green rice fields, birds and dragonflies, frogs and lizards, ducks and geese and smiling people.  Yes, such a contrast to Coleman Ridge, Canberra with its bold bare blue sky, its rearing and tumbling mountains and space, so much space and solitude; to each its own beauty.

Ogoh Ogoh and The Day of Silence, Nyepi

The Ogoh Ogoh parade and Ngrupuk ceremony takes place on the eve of Nyepi, The Day of Silence. All is part of the Balinese New Year and a series of ceremonies, but these are the culmination. Ogoh Ogoh is quite a festive occasion and the representations of evil spirits as huge grotesque monsters are paraded before the people and lambasted, taunted and turned three times at crossroads to confuse them into leaving humans alone. The Ngrupuk ceremony follows the parade and the monsters are burned – I think this takes place at the cemetery.

The Balinese take their spirits seriously and offerings with burning incense sticks to appease the spirits can be seen everywhere. In fact black magic is known to be prevalent but it mostly affects the Balinese who believe in it. The Day of Silence, Nyepi, is a day for fasting and contemplating the spiritual journey and relationships with others, forgiveness and reconciliation. It is a public holiday and nothing moves or makes a sound. Hindu security, the Pecalang patrol the streets and tourists must comply. I have placed a poem at the bottom of this blog which incorporates Ogoh Ogoh.

Our experience at 2 Seasons was so good that we wanted to stay longer but unfortunately it was booked so we had to move. We were keen on staying in the Penastanan area and found Villa Asri which was offered by Steve Castley, the manager of 14 villas in the area. Without the character of 2 Seasons, nonetheless it was modern with a pool and a houseboy, the wonderful Katuk, a local village lad who made breakfast each morning and maintained the spotless establishment. I showed him a few ways of cooking the egg but he didn't rate his skills highly and was amused by my claim that it was 'easy'.

During our stay in Penestanan we checked a number of restaurants both there and in Ubud. The Bebek Bengil aka Dirty Duck Diner and Minami being clear winners with each dish we tried, and Murni's Warung down at the bridge being the most disappointing for the three of us. In fact there were a couple of local Penestanan warungs which were far better than Murni's, particularly one just down the path from Villa Asri. Oh yes and Naughty Nuri's chargrilled pork ribs were succulent and superb. The side courses were ordinary, but yeah, the ribs were good.

And while at Villa Asri we enjoyed a great night of entertainment at Bayu's Kitchen where an excellent local blues rock band went through a number of R&B standards in their own arrangements and they were happy to have me join them on blues harp and vocals for 'Got My Mojo Working' which I really enjoyed. The band asked me to join them in a few days but unfortunately we were booked to Malacca.

Malacca, Malaysia

Our plan was to go to Malacca for a few days, then to the Water Festival in Bankok which we had enjoyed immensely two years ago, and then, if we had enjoyed Malacca, to go back down by train or bus to Penang before flying to the Gold Coast and old mate Len's birthday. Malacca was to be the litmus test for Malaysian culture, cuisine and compatibility. We have found people to be friendly throughout SE Asia, indeed probably more openly friendly, with a smile, than Aussies.

That said, natives in some parts of Oz are friendlier than natives in other parts! If you walk for example in Sydney or Adelaide, people are less, much less likely to nod and say hello than in parts of Melbourne or Canberra, so I have noticed on my walks. In fact I found people ignored my greeting in Sydney and Adelaide. Why? Mistrust I guess, some insular defence mechanism, or just plain rudeness. A sweeping generalisation?? Well perhaps it depends on the locale, the hour of the morning or afternoon and the demeanour of the local populace.

From the notes:
I wrote this a couple of days ago and it’s still in my outbox. We’ve arrived in Malacca after a day’s travelling, staying at the Roof Top Guest House - number 3 on the Trip Advisor guest houses. Denise reckons it’s a step down... but it's great for a guest house IMHO and she’s warming to it.  We just had prawns a la special sambol at the local Chinese on the corner and they were tops - the earthy balachan fish paste with free range chillies and Chinese mumma is out the front cooking on a huge wok while toothless grand dad is yelling to another toothless old codger. The son, our waiter, speaks perfect English.

Must admit I didn’t have high expectations of Malacca in the culinary field and also I thought it might be a bit restrictive re having a wee toddy at the end of an afternoon as is my/our wont.
I had a vision of a colonial outpost that was hidebound in Christian and Muslim censures - funny what you make out of our guesthouse’s restriction of footware in the house, but then I unfortunately have an imagination which follows its own extremities at times.

Well of course I was totally wrong on all counts, as you might expect. Malacca, where we are in the midst of the historical city is very attractive in many aspects. It is small town, as our KL driver said he’s Chinese from Penang, but ‘small town’ is good, everything in walking distance. This morning we wandered into Chinatown and again like last night we found wow factors in a small Chinese establishment where we were the only Caucasians. Amazing. It was yum cha… for breakfast! The lovely lady with perfect English placed a large plate of wonders before us to choose from.  The delectable morsels we pointed to were fabulous.

So, we'd tried the local Chinese cuisine and found it to be superb and our taxi driver had said that Penang cuisine is the best, there being a substantial Chinese population in that province. It was looking good! The following morning after the yum cha breakfast we walked up to the ruins of the church of St Paul where they had buried St Thomas Xavier, the Jesuit missionary – and relocated him later to Goa, India ('sure – yer man didn't mind a bit'). There was a large monkey strolling along and Denise would go no further but fortunately a local artist Francis K S Goh was also on his way up and Mr Goh could talk the tail off a chimp, and so Denise, enchanted by the palaver, followed. And needless to say I bought one of his drawings, which I'm happy with.

The ruins were well worth a look at on the hill above the town. Built in 1521 by the Portuguese as a chapel and handed to St Francis Xavier by the Catholic Portuguese conqueror Alfonso De Albuquerque the buildings were enlarged to incorporate a school. The Portuguese were defeated by the Dutch in 1641 who turned it into a Dutch Reformed Church for a few years until they built the new Christ Church near the river. Then in 1824 when the Brits came in they used it as a powder magazine, as you might. Now it is occupied by a few cats, intriguing old gravestones and possibly a homeless person or two. Oh, and it makes a fine backdrop for ladies posing. The link to Malacca photos is

Interestingly I had read that Alfonso De Albuquerque who had sacked Malacca in 1521 stripped the town and sultanate of 60 tons of gold, jewellery and precious stones. This Booty, or mammoth appropriation was loaded onto three ships bound for Lisbon. As Fate would have it the ships were caught in a huge storm and sank with booty into the murky deep. They have never been found. Poetic justice? Boy, the Malaccans must have had a party. 'Smirk? Moi? Naah mate, that is really bad news eh?'

Breaking News April 2014:
Underwater drones may have successfully found the 16th-century Portuguese vessel Flor De La Mar, which is believed to have sailed from Malacca with stolen treasure from the sultanate when it sank.
At least two underwater salvage companies have claimed that the galleon that sank during a storm circa 1512 has been sighted in Java Sea, close to Semarang in Indo­nesia.
The Malaccan Chief Minister is quoted as saying “We would request for royalty from the salvaged treasures through cordial bilateral channels.

Well, I like his optimism! Cordial?

When it sailed out of Malacca bound for Portugal, it was reported to have carried 54.4 tonnes of gold and 200 chests filled with precious stones.
The manifest also included tributes from the Kingdom of Siam (Thailand) to the King of Portugal, including golden statues of life-sized monkeys.
Albuquerque’s own possessions included two bronze lions which he had planned to adorn his tomb upon his death and bracelet made out of gold and a bone of an animal which supposedly had magical powers to prevent bleeding if the wearer was injured in battle.
The ship hit a reef during a violent storm, broke into two and sank, taking with it about 400 soldiers, boys and girls of all races to be given as slaves to the Portuguese royal house and all its precious cargo.
As for Albuquerque, he barely escaped with his life.

Later that morning I tried the dreaded Durian, the 'King of Fruits' and the smelliest – the odour of which has caused it to be banned from hostelries, public transport, hospitals – in fact part of a hospital in Melbourne was evacuated recently ( April 2014) because of a suspected 'gas leak'. Yup, the durian.

I ate it in an ice cream concoction, and the funny thing was that the young person who served me was looking at me as though I had the plague. Well, it has a creamy texture - ripe peach perhaps and is sweet with an aroma of an overly ripe mouldy Camembert – not the astringent ammonia yellow rind smell but the earthy oozy cheese itself, mixed with a pungent SE Asian drain odeur... There are many types and aromas. Our KL taxi driver said that he and his daughter love it and his wife hates it. Does wonders for the marriage.

We also tried Nonya laksa and popiah, two of the local specialities at a very reasonable cost, and each quite delicious. The popiah is a Malaccan version of a fresh spring roll, salad and ground meat with sweet suace and chilli sauce and Nonya cuisine derives from Peranakan culture, a gumbo of Chinese, Malay and Indonesian.

In the afternoon we found the local Rasta bar along the riverside and in the evening, the Honky Tonk Haven bar which is run by a Kiwi pianist and his jazz singing wife. Apparently there are two bars of this type, where you can jam with the owners, the other being Me and Mrs Jones Cafe which unfortunately was temporarily closed. For a look at Honky Tonk Haven and owner Joe 'Itchy' s skills on the old joanna with a local Dutch trad outfit go to

There on the riverside the sun cast its golden glitter upon the water and life was enchanting, momentarily. We had a chat with an engaging fellow from the American south 'How y'all doin'?' he asked the two of us. 'We're all doin' nicely thanks, how y'all doin?' And yup he was all doin' well. He worked there, an engineer, and had some cooking tips for pork ribs, was looking to a laid back retirement, sitting in the farm in Alabama on his porch. Now, he was off to do his Friday night rounds. Also a chat with an Irish couple, Sean and Claire who had moved there with his work and she was seeking work, they lived out of town. He played a button accordion he said which was difficult instrument with which to join in a jam due to the key. Well I had a couple of blues harps and made arrangements with the owners to return for a jam, but the best laid plans... often go awry.

We decided to head for Jonker St Markets then back to the Chinese cafe for their fried oysters and egg. Past the hugely colourful trishaws, one offering 'free wifi', past Mr Potato, past the Morale Uplifting Association, past the Fuan Hin Coffin shop and into the bustle, kitch and glitz of Jonker St. It's this variety which makes SE Asia so fascinating, but we're not attracted to markets so we took a side street towards the hostel. As we turned into our street I was bowled over by a motor bike rider who had tried to lift my bag. It was so quick that all I recall on the ground is thinking 'watch for cars behind'.

The injury to my elbow and arm which had scraped along the road caused a stream of blood and Denise phoned the Rooftop owner who came quickly and very kindly took us to the medical centre. They checked me out, gave me a tetanus injection, painkiller and antibiotic tablets and we headed back to the cafe for an oyster omelette and Royal Dutch Stout, after which I felt much better – that stout has unbelievable clout! The
Staff here were great!
Chinese cafe owners and clientele had a juicy topic of conversation – much yelling and joshing between the grand father and his fellow bon vivants, who were also sipping the stout. Well it hasn't dented my enthusiasm for Malaysia, nor the Malaysians who we found to be as friendly as anywhere in SE Asia, notwithstanding my motor bike thief, but we had news from home and returned earlier than intended. Well you can be in the wrong place at the wrong time anywhere in the world, including our own country. 

Notes, Gold Coast :

Yesterday we drove to Binna Burra high in the picturesque Lamington National Park. It is rich, lush bountiful country, big and handsome and bold. Its mountains and valleys are spectacular, forged by a generous god. It is ours, no? Ours for ever. The blood that was splattered on granite is long dried and washed away. Over here the government panders to exclusivity, a fear of Asian and Middle Eastern hordes over running our precious land. The concept of our temporary occupation, a global village or ‘there but for fortune goes I’, is not to be entertained. Yet we are often spruiked as a ‘fair minded happy go lucky race’.  But those that have, which is our mostly middle class population, fear sharing too much, the thin end of the wedge etc.

Up at 6 again today. The beach is like Pitt St at that hour. So many health conscious people here. Joggers armed with strapped calculators, so much flesh, toned and untoned on parade. I just found the big Greek brekkie for $9.95 - couldn’t walk past and afterwards I felt at one with the crowd ha ha.

I’ve had this niggling thought that so much apparent hedonism is alien to what I have become.
I don’t fit with these people. This is not my race. There is a certain competitiveness and almost confrontational aspect to interaction which I find unsettling. Everything here is just so, perfect, whistle clean and new and within flash canyons of glass, and concrete and chrome, the perfect human shape is sought, and the perfect human thought centres on oneself.   Abbott in his speedos would stroll at ease along the boulevard and though the crowded beach. Yet there are also many large overfed bodies that move at ease here. We grow big folk. Consumerism that eats itself, its health, eventually.

The Valley Beyond, Thoughts on a Walk

The middle pond which was two thirds dry
a month ago is now, as I ascend the bank,
fit to blush, and there in a stream, is a spill off.

The contented hills sit plush and green
where a family of roos scratch and graze.
So picturesque, and the wisps of mist that arise

and drift on the belly of water now raise thoughts
which somehow alight on Bali at Nyepi
when spirits of discord soar over the island

and people are bound to their homes in silence
for a day of retreat and contemplation.
No traffic nor planes, mere flame for illumination,

no movement lest the dark demons sense
a twitch of life's inhabitation and their lust
insistent on tender souls might ravage a nation.

The carnival parade of cartoon monsters
called Ogoh Ogoh, on the eve of Nyepi
thrusts hideous faces and gruesome poses

out of the night and into the light to loom
above and upon the dream world of the crowd.
Demonic creatures with fangs and huge breasts

hold severed heads high dripping with blood.
These figures portray Life's lesser bequest
to our weaker selves, our failure to conquer

those thoughts and deeds of anger and greed
and lust and pride, deceit and envy which hover
and leach upon our worthy higher aspirations

and vampire like, the wraith spirit triumphs
in jubilation. Young girls bearing torches,
their sacred virginal fire will confine the effigies

to a blazing end, and so may goodness transpire.
And I recall a procession from my youth
in those black and white days of certitude

lead by priests in Roman robes with crucifix
banners and stern resolve, each step a step
of affirmation, each step a step

of confirmation as voices proclaimed louder
the Faith of our Fathers, living still, we will
be true to thee 'til death. And close to that route

twenty centuries prior, Caesar's soldiers
leapt to water and shore on a shingle beach
inspired by fire and drums and prayers to Mars

intoned by priests in sacred Roman robes
but more, by that cold will of Caesar to conquer.
And now as I walk down the pretty valley

the immutable mountains rise and fall
in perpetual motion, and this is my altar,
this valley my church, this walk my prayer.

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