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Boston!

Sunday, July 12th, 2015

It’s been pointed out to me that we never wrote about our trip to Death Valley last April. However, we’re on a special kind of trip this summer: one in which, instead of traveling somewhere to see the place, we have traveled to see the people! Five of our favorite-est people ever have all converged on one location: Boston! Luckily for us, Boston isn’t exactly the worst place in the world to visit, and five-in-one was too good of a deal to pass up! =)

The best part of the trip: being able to spend time with friends that we haven’t seen in a long time, and the fact that they were excited to see us as well. The less-than-perfect part of the trip: Boston is hotter than home, and slightly more humid at times… It even rained once!

Our friends took it upon themselves to make sure that we saw Boston while we were here and got a feel for the city. Here were some of the highlights!

Row of brownstones on Jen and Marc's street

Row of brownstones on Jen and Marc’s street

For the first half of the trip, we stayed with Marc and Jen, two of our friends from the Stanford Ballroom Dance Team. They have a spacious top-floor apartment in the South End of Boston, in one of the buildings called Brownstones because they are made all out of brick. And the top of their apartment has a roof deck! So we spent the first evening with everyone on their roof deck after dinner.

Jen on the bridge at one of my favorite spots along the Esplanade on the Charles River

Jen on the bridge at one of my favorite spots along the Esplanade on the Charles River

Jen gave us a walking tour of a good chunk of the Boston neighborhoods. Starting in the South End neighborhood, we passed through the Back Bay, strolled down the Esplanade along the Charles River, meandered through the shopping area of Beacon Hill, visited the Boston Commons and Public Gardens when we got to Downtown, followed the Freedom Trail for a few blocks and peeked in the fence of a really old cemetery with people we’d read about in history class, and ate and shopped at the Faneuil Hall and Quincy Hall plaza, where Marc joined us after work.

Fun at the Museum of Science

Fun at the Museum of Science

Jen also explored the Museum of Science with us, which is a really fun hands-on activity center more than museum. We analyzed our bodies, the efficiency of our walking, how well we could ignore distractions, our facial recognition ability, etc., and then played with light, freezing shadows, combining our faces, and more!

Imitating the painting at the MFA

Imitating the painting at the MFA

For the second half of the week, we stayed with David and Janny. David is a good friend from the Berkeley Ballroom Team, and Janny is a lovely musician he has decided to marry. =) Janny explored the Museum of Fine Arts with us, where we did exciting things like re-creating a scene in a painting. This particular painting was a painting of the art gallery in which it was hanging, which also happened to have another picture of an art gallery hanging on its opposite wall… Meta. So meta.

Exploring the Tree Canopy Walkway at the Ecotarium

Exploring the Tree Canopy Walkway at the Ecotarium

Janny and David also took us to the Ecotarium, a hands-on science museum geared more toward children which happens to have a walkway installed up in the treetops! We spent some time on platforms high up in the top layer of the trees, and then experienced our first zipline to get back down to ground level!

Ted and Jason at "KO at the Shipyard"

Ted and Jason at “KO at the Shipyard”

We also got to visit with Jason, Ted’s best friend from high school. Jason showed us some of his favorite spots in East Boston, including this park that has a waterfront area from which you can see all the rest of Boston, and this little stand in the middle of a shipyard at which you can get a drink in the middle of the industrial complex. He also showed us around Cambridge, including his fancy bio lab at MIT and the campuses of MIT and Harvard. Later we watched Inside Out, which was a great movie, with him and his friend Esther. Apparently it’s been a long time since I’ve gone to the theater, because I wasn’t prepared for (a) having my tickets attached to reserved seats (which meant we couldn’t sit together), or (b) having my too-close-to-the-front seat come with a full-on recliner! So fancy!

Eating at Barcelona with Jen and Marc

Eating at Barcelona with Jen and Marc

Eating at Top of the Hub with Janny and David, with a view of all the city lights in Boston stretched out behind us

Eating at Top of the Hub with Janny and David, with a view of all the city lights in Boston stretched out behind us

Throughout the trip, our friends took it upon themselves to make sure that we ate at all the best places in Boston, from local yummy sandwich shops like Flour and Cutty’s to fancier-than-I-ever-eat delights like Barcelona, a tapas restauarant, and Top of the Hub, a restaurant on the top floor of a tall tower from which you have a view of all of Boston—and we got a window seat!

And in between doing all of these exciting things we played lots and lots of board games!!!!!!!

Overall, we have had a wonderful time visiting some wonderful people in Boston and are glad we chose to spend some of our summer here!

Epilogue: A Dozen Quirky Observations about Indonesia

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014
creative luggage

creative luggage

These do not relate to one specific part of Indonesia, but are things we have observed about the country as a whole during the last 2 weeks:

  1. Kleenex is a multi-purpose instrument, serving as facial tissue, toilet paper, paper towels, and napkins.
  2. That being said, toilet paper, soap, paper towels, and an automatic flushing mechanism are luxuries. As are consistent hot water, internet access, and power… even at nice hotels.
  3. Pillows are too fat. Perhaps intended as a sign of luxury?
  4. There are not as many mozzies (mosquitoes) as in the Amazon, but still way too many for a Ted (Pamela boasts just one bite).
  5. Cardboard boxes are apparently suitcases. They get taped up quite securely, wrapped with ribbon or extra tape for a handle, and checked at the airport.
  6. Children find us quite interesting. They stare at us, and get super excited if we look at them and smile 🙂
  7. children

    children

    Roads here are crazy. There are more motorbikes (mostly small motorcycles & scooters, not Harley’s etc.) than cars/trucks, and people drive with complete freedom to crowd the shoulder with motorbikes, pass at will, use the other side of the road, fit many vehicles into one lane, etc., all on ridiculously windy narrow roads meant more for motorbikes than cars (possibly kept too narrow on purpose because there are no speed limits, so the too-narrow road acts as a natural speed limiter). It’s scary whether you’re in the car or on the bike.

  8. Speaking of motorbikes, I’ve definitely seen ten-year-olds driving them on the roads in the more remote villages. There is no law here with a minimum driving age; in fact, if you don’t pass your driving test, you can get a license anyway by paying for it.
  9. Food here is cheap. You can get a complete, healthy meal at a restaurant for $3-4. In the US, the only meal you can get for that price is fast food crap.
  10. When they say that the food/water here will mess with your digestive system, the proper response should not be “bah, I’m made of stronger stuff than that.” Because it will, in fact, mess with your digestive system…
  11. crazy roads

    crazy roads

    Indonesian restaurants overall failed to impress. The best food we had was the home-cooked meals that we were served on the boats. And it’s going to be a long time before I eat more nasi goreng (fried rice).

  12. Shopping (and in some cases, even eating) is also not a pleasant experience. Shop (and restaurant) owners won’t stop talking to you. Any time you pass by, they say, “yes?”, beg you to enter their store, entreat you to stare at objects other than the one that caught your attention, and then stand there talking to you while you attempt to conduct a private conversation. However, they are always willing to give you a “discount” and promise a “good price”. Meaning, don’t ever pay what they first quote.

Indonesia Part V: Bali

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014
Balinese Home

Balinese Home

Our adventure in Bali did not start off very adventurously. Upon being met at the Denpasar airport by Putri (our guide) and Noman (our driver), we were taken to the travel agency’s Bali office because we had asked to pay for our last flight at their office since we’d booked it after paying for the rest of the trip. We’d also asked to use their phone to call our bank since they’d never received the wire transfer we’d made to pay them. However, a quick stop at their office turned into an all-day campout, as they decided that they wanted the issue resolved before we left that day (not possible) and basically wouldn’t let us leave again until 5pm when they decided they wanted to go home too. We finally checked into our (really nice) hotel in Ubud, the cultural center of Bali, with all these intentions of exploring the town… but never made it out of the room again except upstairs to the roof and downstairs to get dinner. Incidentally, Indonesia is clearly much less worried about lawsuits and more lax on building codes, as upstairs led to a flat rooftop covered with building materials and no railing, and I could very easily have fallen off. 🙂

Monkey Forest

Monkey Forest

The next morning, we were picked up by a company called The True Balinese Experience and taken to what you might refer to as the suburbs of Ubud, where we cycled through Carangsari Village and its surrounding rice paddies. Our guide pointed out the Hindu village temples, offerings left on the side of the road and various other places, a school, farms, and even took us to his own house, which he described as a typical middle-class Balinese home. His house has a separate building with living quarters for each generation of his family, a shared bathroom in back, and a shared living room/eating room in front, with a total of perhaps half a dozen separate buildings, along with a family temple (every family has one of these to supplement the communal village temple), and a covered stage-looking area for ceremonies. Our cycle journey ended at a Monkey Forest, where peanuts were placed in our hands and macaques climbed up our bodies to sit on our arms and eat the peanuts. After being served lunch, we were taken back to our hotel and wandered the downtown area of Ubud on our own, exploring its numerous boutique shops with locally-produced goods. Then our night ended at a restaurant for dinner whose food was delicious… if you could get over finding a dead mosquito in your soup (I could not).

Beach!

Beach!

We spent our last morning in Ubud exploring the shops in the other direction from our hotel, until we were picked up at noon by a new guide, Suija, and his driver Suda. They drove us to the south coast of Bali, to an area called Nusa Dua — Island #2. Nusa Dua is mostly beach resort hotels, to end our trip with some relaxation. On the way there, Suija taught us more in Bahasa, the national Indonesian language. Bahasa has no verb tenses and no singular and plural, making it very easy to start plastering words together into sentences. Once we arrived at our beach hotel (apparently full of Russians; even all the menus are in Russian too), we got lunch and then… went to the beach. It had water. And sand. And squishy watery sand. And green plants in the sand. And it was warm. We learned that Pamela likes jumping on waves and going splish-splash, and Ted likes digging in sand and pulling out pumice stones. Until it wasn’t so warm, and then we walked up the beach a bit and got in the pool. It was warmer. Until it wasn’t, and then we washed up and got dinner instead.

Tanah Lot Temple

Tanah Lot Temple

We arranged with Suija and Suda to have them pick us up the next day and show us some sights in Bali. They took us first to Tanah Lot Temple, a Hindu temple built on a cliff that is surrounded completely by water at high tide (we could only look at it across the water from another cliff). Then we went up, up, up to the jungley mountains inland where the villages mostly cultivate rice, and looked down on a valley full of rice terraces at Jatiluwih, which was quite an awesome sight. Unfortunately, the mountains were cold and rainy and we were dressed for beach weather… so we left the rice terraces soggy and chilled. Lunch at a restaurant with a view of the terraces we saw more as a place to binge on hot soup and hot chocolate, and our last stop, a “floating temple” which was built in the middle of a lake, we barely even looked at because we were quite wet and miserable. Besides, it was so foggy we couldn’t see much. There was, however, a ceremony going on. It warmed up a bit as we came down from the mountains, and we stopped at a wood-carving shop to look for a carving of a Komodo dragon (it was too expensive, but we got to watch a carver at work) and then at a market store with cheap souvenirs (which were weirdly priced quite high; the cheap wood carvings cost more than the fine quality ones), then got dropped off back in Nusa Dua, received word that our wire transfer had finally gone through and the tour agency would stop harassing us (yay!), and walked down to the “village” area where there were shops and restaurants. The restaurants were quite cheap compared to the hotel, and we got the best chicken sate that we’ve tried in Indonesia (the rest had been rather disappointing). The shops all seemed to basically sell the same goods; a seemingly incredibly popular good for them to sell was a wooden phallus bottle opener. Go figure.

Jatiluwih Rice Terraces

Jatiluwih Rice Terraces

On our final day in Indonesia, we actually had an omelet for breakfast, attempted to buy some wood carvings (which involved asking our guide to pick one up for us, finding the same one for cheaper at the hotel, telling our guide nevermind, and having him end up returning it…), and went on a photo safari, taking pictures in pretty places around around the resort before Suija and Suda picked us up to go to the Denpasar airport and begin the long journey home: domestic 1.5-hour flight to Jakarta; 4.5-hour layover; 7.5-hour flight to Tokyo; 7-hour layover in which we will (fail to) meet up with Ted’s brother for lunch; 9.5-hour flight to San Francisco; 1-hour drive to home. Selemat tinggal, Indonesia!

Indonesia Part IV: Komodo etc.

Thursday, July 10th, 2014
Komodo Dragon!

Komodo Dragon!

This part of our journey began with a short flight from Bali to Labuan Bajo, on the island of Flores. Unlike Java and Borneo, which are mainly Muslim, and unlike Bali, which is mainly Balinese Hindu, Flores is mainly Catholic. Our guide here, Paul, explained that when getting an ID card in Indonesia, every person must declare a religion, and the religion is printed on their ID card. The options are Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism, or Protestantism. And since 1980, inter-religious marriages are not allowed; one partner must switch religions upon marriage. In addition to your religion, your ID card will also state your occupation.

At Labuan Bajo, we boarded a boat with Paul and the boat’s crew of 3, and set sail west across the Flores Sea to the island of Rinca, which is part of Komodo National park. At Rinca, park ranger Kashmir (?) took us on a short trek in search of Komodo dragons. The only dragons we saw were at the beginning and end of our trek, in front of the ranger station. Apparently they come down to the station because they smell the food. There was one there when we left and 2 there when we returned. The dragons are giant lizards about the size of a crocodile. All of the rangers carry large forked sticks that they use to ward off the dragons in case of attack; attacks are apparently quite frequent. During the actual trek, Kashmir frequently stopped after hearing something that might have been a dragon, but ended up showing us a long-tailed macaque (monkey), wild chicken, deer, or water buffalo. The water buffalo are like a cross between a cow and a rhinocerous, and they like to take mud baths (which is difficult for them right now during the dry season). And upon returning to the dock, I learned that a long-tailed macaque will, in fact, start to hiss at you if you get too close to take its picture. 🙂

Flying Fruit Bats

Flying Fruit Bats

After finishing our trek on Rinca, our boat took us back to a mangrove island we had passed where, around sunset, thousands of flying fruit bats take off from the trees and fly towards Flores to look for food at night. Having thousands of bats flying overhead at sunset is a pretty cool sight. 🙂 Then our boat parked us in the Rinca harbor overnight.

The next morning, the boat started moving before either we or the sun were up, around 5:15am, we got up to watch the sun rise around 6am, and we got to the island of Komodo around 7:45am. Komodo is the other part of Komodo National Park, except it is much bigger than Rinca with approximately the same number of dragons on it, so it is even harder to spot one. And since June-August is breeding season, they are usually pretty reclusive around this time, digging nests and burying eggs. Once the eggs hatch, the babies will run up trees to live for the first few years, since the adults will actually eat them instead of taking care of them. On this trek as well, the only dragon we saw was when we returned to the ranger station. This one was a female, whereas the 2 on Rinca had been males, and this one was hungry and on the move, whereas the 2 on Rinca had been lazily lying there. Rangers surrounded it with forked sticks so that it would not attack the tourists while we took pictures of it. During the actual trek, our guide Alvin pointed out a lot of his favorite birds, such as the Oriole, and caught a flying lizard for us. We also saw some deer. Alvin told us that he knew Paul and that Paul had asked him personally to take us. This is his last month working as a ranger; he intends to enroll in college next month.

Coral Reef

Coral Reef

When we finished our trek on Komodo, our boat parked near Pink Beach and we went snorkeling over a coral reef that lay between the boat and the beach. Well, I went snorkeling. Ted’s flippers were too big; his mask couldn’t seal to his face over his glasses, and he dropped his snorkel on the bottom of the sea and had to have a member of the boat crew dive down and retrieve it… so he swam to the beach and back with me while I looked at all the pretty things underwater. 😛 The water was only a few meters deep, and at the bottom it was covered with coral and fishies. My favorite was a multi-colored fish that was neon blue, green, and purple and perhaps 9 inches long. After I climbed out of the water, our boat began the 4-hour sail back to Labuan Bajo, where we checked into a nice hotel on the beach and enjoyed some traditional dance performances of the Manggarai people in front of the restaurant that was under a gazebo. The next morning, we flew back to Bali to begin the last leg of our adventure.

Indonesia Part III: Java

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014
Atop Borobudur

Atop Borobudur

On Java, we were met by our guide Dwi and our driver Kus, who drove us from the airport on the north shore to our hotel near the south shore. We spent the night in the Manohara hotel at the base of the Borobudur Buddhist temple, and went up to visit it before sunset. At the temple, there is no inside, but you can climb up the outside. The bottom levels are ringed with reliefs etched into the wall that depict the life and teachings of the Buddha; the top 2 levels are ringed with giant stupas, bell-shaped mounds of stone with Buddha statues sitting inside of them and little diamond- or square-shaped windows through which you could peer at the Buddhas. From the top, you have a view of the whole surrounding valley. We played around at the temple until we got kicked out at closing, and then went back to our hotel for (bad) dinner (though it had dance and music performances!) and early sleeping.

We awoke the next day at 4am and ascended Borobudur a second time with Dwi, this time in the dark. We awaited the sunrise at the top of the temple, getting constantly blinded by hordes of people who do not know what flashlights are for. Eventually the sky became lighter and fewer people tried to find us with their flashlight, but the sky was quite cloudy and we never actually saw the sun appear, just saw some clouds turn pink. We explored the rest of the temple that we hadn’t gotten to see the previous night; while doing so, a group of middle school girls ran up, greeted me, and told me how pretty I was, then couldn’t stop giggling when I told them they were pretty as well and posed for me to take their picture, haha. I don’t think kids here see many foreigners. 😛

Prambanan

Prambanan

We returned to the hotel for a (bad) breakfast, and at 9am, Dwi and Kus took us to the nearby town of Jogjakarta/Yogyakarta, the old capital of the island which can’t decide how to spell its name. In Jogja, we got a tour of the Sultan’s palace, in which the 10th Sultan currently resides while acting as Minister of Finance in the democratically-elected Parliament; the compounds we saw are basically a museum of pictures and artifacts from the previous 9 sultans. We also saw the Sultan’s Water Palace, which was only used by the first 2 sultans before being struck by an earthquake but is for some reason still safe for tourists to wander… It had gardens and swimming pools that served as a secondary retreat for the sultan, and a defensive wall to protect him from attacks from the Dutch.

After visiting the palaces, we got to tour a batik factory and a silver factory. In the batik factory, we watched the process by which the Javanese handmake their fabric: first stenciling on a pattern, then waxing the design, then dying it such that everything not waxed gets colored, then boiling it to remove the wax, leaving behind white areas with the design. In the silver factory, we saw artisans at work spinning silver threads and making jewelry out of them, and learned the process by which silver is mixed and shined. We then left Jogja and went to the nearby Hindu temple at Prambanan, which is the largest Hindu temple in southeast Asia. This complex has 3 main temple pyramids, one each for Brahma (the creator), Shiva (the destroyer), and Vishnu (the protector), with statues of each god inside of them after you climb a tower of steps. In front of these main temples are 3 smaller pyramids for the gods’ vehicles: a swan, a cow, and an eagle, respectively. Around the complex are mini-pyramid temples at each of the 4 gates, and two “twin temples” mirroring each other across the complex for no apparent reason. We stayed there until sunset, and then went to a hotel in Jogja, ate (yum), and crashed.

The next morning, we slept in until–wait for it–5am!, got an early breakfast (the restaurant literally opened early for us), and were taken to the train station for a 4.5-hour train ride down Java to the town of Surabaya, where we were met by our guide Anwar and driver Imam for another 3-hour drive south to the Bromo Cottages, a hotel near Mt. Bromo, which is an active volcano. This hotel is very high up; we drove through a lot of mountain farming villages on the way and ended up on top of a mountain with a very nice view. Unfortunately, the room itself smelled like mildew, but we didn’t stay there long. We took pictures around the premises and then went to bed around 8:30pm.

Mts. Bromo & Semeru

Mts. Bromo & Semeru

We woke up again at 3am because we’re crazy, and got in a 4-wheel drive jeep with Anwar. In case you ever wondered, it is not at all comfortable to ride in the back of a jeep. The seats are sideways, so you slide back and forth; your head is too high to see out of the window; and it is very bumpy. The jeep took us to approximately 8,800 feet up, and we walked a short distance to watch the sun rise over the valley below. Then we walked a short distance further to see a spectacular view of Mt. Bromo’s crater inside the caldera, with another volcano, Semeru, in the distance. The jeep then took us down, down, down to the bottom of the crater, and we walked up, up, up to its rim and looked down and saw the steam billowing out from within. By the time we returned to the hotel, 5 hours after we’d left, it was time for… breakfast!! And they had eggs, instead of just noodles!!! After breakfast, Anwar and Imam, picked us up again to drive us 3 hours north back to Surabaya. On the way, Anwar stopped a few times and had us get out to point out eucalyptus and clove trees, leaves that close when you touch them, a waterfall, giant spiders (!!), and other things of interest. A few local kids came running up once and introduced themselves, and most of the village people who saw me smile at them as we drove by smiled back. When we reached Surabaya, we took a very short flight to Denpasar (on the island of Bali) and waited until the next morning for the flight that would take us east for the next section of our adventure! While waiting overnight in Bali, we gave in and ate pizza for dinner…