Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bali: Part Three

Ubud. Such a strange, little word, and such an imperfectly perfect little town. I spent my last four Balinese days and nights in Ubud. And if Bali hadn’t completely lodged itself in my soul before, then Ubud sealed the deal.

But first, to back up a little, Guspur (who else but Guspur?) picked us up in silly, pretty, spring-bread land Kuta. We were tan, well-fed, and probably a little buzzed from our morning, pool-side beer (don’t judge, you’d do it too if you were in Bali).

We loaded our stuff and ourselves once again into Guspur’s mini-van. The drive from Kuta to Ubud was a short one, but because we couldn’t resist one more Guspur road trip, we asked to stop at the sea temple, Tanah Lot.

Tanah Lot is one of thousands of Hindu temples in Bali, but it’s probably one of the most famous and most visited. We parked and walked through crowds of people and stands on a stone path to the temple. Snake charmers performed in front of tourists. Touts hawked souvenir key-chains. Large crowds of Japanese took elaborately staged pictures of one another. But then the crowds cleared and the path opened up and there it was, this impossible temple in the waves.

It suddenly didn’t matter that there was both an actual sea and a literal sea of tourists. It didn’t matter that random Asian people kept asking to take pictures with us (this happens more than you would think if you are Western and traveling in South East Asia). Nothing could really take away from the beauty of this man-made house of worship sitting improbably in the middle of nature’s own beauty trump card.

We didn’t go inside, but instead let Guspur lead us away down a dirt path. If this was an episode of “Locked Up Abroad” this would be when Guspur attempted to convince us to carry a pound of cocaine with us to Ubud. But no, Guspur simply knew a good, quiet place to get the best view of the temple. We found ourselves in the middle of a modern golf course, part of a resort hotel. And there on a little ledge near the 7th hole, we stood and could take in the sea temple in its entirety. The tide was coming in and the waves broke with bursts of foam against the rocky cliff at the base of temple. And miraculously no one got hit in the head by a golf ball.

We began to walk back, and as we walked the sun started to set, framed perfectly in the sky above the temple. It was such a nice way to end our last Guspur "road-trip." By then it felt easy to walk and talk with him. This guy who I had initially been so mistrustful of turned out to be not just a wonderful guide but a good friend. We walked and stopped occasionally for pictures as the sun sank lower into the sky.

 When we’d had our fill of the view and taken all the pictures we could fit on our memory cards, Guspur led us back up through the mini market place that led to the parking lot. Because Guspur was always plying us with food, he also purchased little Balinese snacks-rice flour cakes filled with sweet, syrupy liquid and handed them to us to try. As with everything strange in Bali, they were wonderful.

We got back in the van and made our way toward Ubud. Before we reached the guesthouse we stopped at the Monkey Forest. If you’ve read “Eat, Pray, Love”, then you’ll know that there are more than a few monkeys in Ubud. You’ll also know they can be terrifying.

My favorite part of the monkey forest might have had to be this sign.

Is that not the scariest thing you’ve ever read? After reading that it was all I could do not to turn around and flee to the safety of Guspur’s minivan. Not only are we not supposed to touch or “tease” the monkeys (whatever that means, I mean do monkey’s not liked to be called names?), but we also have to make sure we don’t have food anywhere on are person or a monkey may find it. And if you’re thinking that this is like a zoo, where the monkeys are in nice, little enclosures you would be wrong.

These monkeys are everywhere! This is the wild people. Suddenly I found myself in the middle of that movie, “Congo”, which I don’t think many people saw but which I did and which scarred me forever about vicious, killer monkeys.  I looked up and saw monkeys in every tree, swinging from branches, scurrying up trunks. I looked around and saw monkeys on the ground, monkeys on ledges, benches. Some of these were of the tiny, adorable variety. There was even one scrappy one drinking directly from a soda can.

But other monkeys were not cute or scrappy. They were huge, with scary, angry eyes that would fix on you in a bizarre game of monkey chicken until you looked away. There were monkies who walked slowly and ponderously around, clearly daring any human to get in their way. There were fat, old monkeys who dozed on the ground, but there were so many of them I was sure I would step on one.

 I kept nervously glancing up at the sky, waiting for a monkey to drop on me and start eating my hair or doing whatever it is mentally unbalanced monkeys do. When I wasn’t delving into monkey paranoia and could actually focus on other things, I could see that the monkey forest is an undeniably beautiful place. Everything is dark and green and covered with moss and vines. It felt ancient and old. Massive banyan trees with these crazy tangled branches blocked out most of the sunlight. Statues of dragons and monkeys were everywhere, and sometimes actual monkeys sat on the statues of monkeys and it was all very earthy and primal.

Our only close call was that at one point a monkey walked up to my friend, Caitlyn, and began to hiss at her.  She had been talking a picture of him and apparently this monkey was over the whole humans taking pictures thing. It even snapped at her leg, but luckily didn’t bite her, so sadly I have no exciting, rabies scare stories to share.

We made it out of the monkey forest alive and finally arrived at our guesthouse. For the first time in our entire visit we smartly listened to Guspur and stayed at a place where he knew the owners. This was not a hotel with AC and cable. There was no pool or fancy swim-up bar.

But it was one of my favorite guesthouses from my whole time in Asia. It was just so lovely. Balinese guesthouses are often arranged in compounds. There’s a main house where the family lives and cooks, and then clustered around are little houses where the guests stay. This was a fairly small guesthouse, with maybe 6-10 little houses for guests. Our little room was perfect. It was the bottom floor of a two-floor house. It had one main room for sleeping with two beds and huge floor-to-ceiling windows/doors, one of which opened right out onto a little koi pond. 

There was a little porch on back that opened up onto paradise. There’s no other way to describe it. Over-saturated green trees and plants lined an almost neon green field. Tropical flowers stood out as little bursts of color. There was a small spirit house right by the porch, and every morning the owner of the guesthouse would come and light incense on it. Every manner of bird and lizard made its presence known, especially at night, when they made their presence known loudly. Directly beneath the porch was the koi pond, the same koi pond that the windows on the other side overlooked. It wound around half of the house like a little tropical moat. Hotels are usually these bland, sanitized things, places to sleep, jumping off points, but not really important or memorable. This guest house was just as important and memorable as everything else in Ubud. For four nights it felt like this little, blissful home. Not to get all "Eat, Pray, Love" (it is hard to talk about Ubud without bringing up that book), this little guest house spoke directly to my soul. It was peace. I think about it now and just feel a flood of longing for that peace, for this moment of time that was in almost every way perfect. 

I wish I could have just an hour on that porch right now, an hour to sit in one of the comfy chairs, with a plate of fruit on the table in front of me. We spent so many hours on that porch. Sometimes I read and listened to the bugs and birds chirp around me. Other times I just sat and looked out at what was in front of me, nature in the highest definition.

 In the mornings of our stay, we would sit on the porch until one of the guest house owners came by with our breakfasts. It was a "simple" Balinese breakfast, fruit pancakes (basically bananas inside of crepes), fresh local fruit (mango, papaya, bananas, pineapple, whatever was fresh) and of course coffee, dark, strong, bitter, wonderful coffee.

I could have been happy spending three days just on that porch, but of course there was beautiful, quirky Ubud, right outside our guesthouse gates.

But because this blog is already so long, I will have to leave Ubud for next time. 


Here's a confession I've never told anyone, but in the spirit of honesty thought I would share it with the world.

I get nervous whenever I do an interview with someone. I'm not talking job interview where I'm the one being interviewed, because duh, everyone gets nervous about that. I'm talking about the interviews I do for my work with and Belle magazine. It's always been this way. I can still remember my very first interview, for V Magazine for Women when I was a rising senior in college. It was for a piece about vintage fashion in Richmond and I interviewed the owner of Halycon. I was terrified. I have no idea why. If I had gone into Halycon to buy clothes I would have no qualms about speaking to the owner, but put a tape recorder in my hands and a list of questions to ask and I get the clammy palms, shaky voice syndrome. I can usually hide it, but it's always there.

I thought this was something that would get easier the more interviews I did. I did a few more after college in Charleston for a sports/outdoor lifestyle magazine start-up that never actually, well, started up. One of these interviews I had to do while on a mountain bike. I kid you not. Let that image percolate for a while. Here I was, trying to be all inquisitive and curious about this guy, while simultaneously trying to literally not die as we sped along backwoods trails at the Naval Plantation (sounds cooler than it is). It ended up being less of an interview and more of a remedial bike lesson, as this man kindly instructed me on how to bike without clutching my handle bars for dear life and stare directly down at the ground beneath me. But hey, it made for a great article. Which never ran anywhere.

I didn't interview anyone for a couple of years (my lost years where I was a barista, a nanny, and a teacher to Thai children among other things), and then I started working as a freelancer here in Richmond. And there they were again-interviews. I've done dozens since then, and I think or at least hope I've gotten better at it (in no other exercise do you get such intense feedback of how much you suck-because you have to sit there and listen to your interview technique again and again as you transcribe the quotes, it can be brutal, I over used the phrase "mm hmm" to the point where I now clamp my mouth shut in fear if the sound mm starts to leave my mouth during an interview).

But I still get nervous. I'm curious if this is just me or if other journalists feel this way too. I can't even fully explain why. If I were talking to these people in a non-interview there'd be no nerves at all. Maybe the interview thing scares me, because I know I'm supposed to be a journalist, capital J, and that's still new. I still feel like I'm writing for my school paper, interviewing college kids about their Thanksgiving plans (to be more accurate interviewing only my friends about their Thanksgiving plans because I was too terrified to ask random strangers).

Or maybe it's just because I'm shy and some things will always be a little scarier for me. It took me a really long time to be okay with being shy, but I am now. It's harder for me to make friends, but I also think it weeds out those fake friends that you hang out with but don't really like. If I make a friend that person is going to be someone I legitimately want in my life.

But I digress. The interview thing can be annoying, and sometimes I just wish the nerves would completely go away. And maybe they will eventually if I do it enough. But in some ways I hope they don't. I'm a firm believer in doing things that scare you. And it's nice, that when my life is fairly safe right now in other ways, I have these scary little moments to tackle frequently.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Bali: Part Two

A very long time ago I started to write about Bali. I got through a big chunk, but there was still much to be told about that impossibly gorgeous Indonesian island. I should have written sooner. It's been more than a year and a half since I saw Bali, eighteen long months that have caused my memories to weather and smudge. I am terrified of losing those memories. In fact that might be one of my greatest fears, to lose the places I've seen to time, for them to fade until they're undistinguishable. So to alleviate these fears I turn to writing. And now, after too much of a delay, here's part two of my tales about Bali, the little Hindu island that completely burrowed its way under my skin and into my heart to the point where it broke a little the day I flew away.

I last left off with Lovina, the small beach town on the north shore of the island. Because I always love any form of writing that includes a map (yes I am a dork), I thought I'd help you all out (and myself, because well, geography is not my strong suit). This is Bali.

Lovina is at the middle-top, directly to the left of Singaraja next to a picture of a dolphin and a little swimming person. This island may seem big but it is actually about the size of Delaware, i.e. tiny. After three nights we left Lovina and headed to Kuta, which is at the very bottom of the map, where the island juts out between the Indian Ocean and Badung Strait. Lovina and Kuta seem very far from each other, but if memory serves correctly the drive was about 3-4 hours.

To get to Kuta we turned to our Balinese driver/tour guide/protector/guardian angel/Renaissance man/friend, Guspur. When he dropped us off in Lovina we had arranged for him to come back and get us for the drive to Kuta, and Guspur showed up dutifully on time. We loaded our bags in his van, said goodbye to our beautiful Lovina hotel and headed south.

I saw a lot of spectacular things in Bali, but some of my favorite memories come from sitting in the backseat of Guspur's minivan, luxuriating in the AC, munching on jack fruit crisps (he always had bags of them waiting for us) and listening to the greatest soft rock hits of the 80s and 90s. On the way Guspur would fill us in on Balinese history or geography. If we saw something on the side of the road that looked interesting he'd stop and let us get out to investigate or take pictures. Our ride to Kuta was relaxed and unhurried. This was not the way I had grown accustomed to traveling in Asia-no death defying bus rides, no nauseatingly bumpy (and sometimes crash-y) train rides. This was easy, the way every road trip should feel.

Guspur told us more and more about his life. In addition to his jobs as a driver, tour guide and DJ, he also coached soccer. He told us about his trips to Java with his team, and even showed us a video of the team he made (and sang the background music for, naturally). He talked about his family, about his plans to build a house. He showed us videos of other foreigners he had driven around the island. There was one English or Australian guy who he couldn't speak fonder of. They had climbed a mountain together (there was also video of this-Guspur really liked taking videos). And it became clear that for Guspur, the people who rode in his van weren't just customers. They were people he let into his life. So many Balinese people were this way, but it never became less extraordinary-how open and welcoming these people could be. It's so different from how we are as Americans-where individualism and privacy are everything, and where outsiders are often marginalized and made to feel unwelcome. I felt welcome every second I was in Bali. I understand on a cynical level that tourism is such an important lifeblood for these people in financial terms. But I also think it was deeper than that. Especially with Guspur he seemed genuinely delighted to talk to us, to get to know each other via the great, universal medium of a road trip.

I could never get enough of what was outside the window. Car rides usually put me right to sleep, but this time I didn't even want to blink. I didn't want to miss any of it. It was amazing how quickly Bali could change, how in an hour it could go from flat, black sand coast to hilly, rocky peaks shrouded in mist to lush green rice paddies. There were glassy lakes, which Guspur told us were footprints of old volcanoes. There was temple after temple after temple, all ornately carved and usually bedecked in various brightly colored fabrics. There were actual, live volcanoes. We stopped a little ways inland at one of them, Mount Batur, a gray hulk of a volcano with a smooth lake at its base. We ate lunch at an open-air restaurant that overlooked the volcano, with a buffet of every possible delicious Balinese food there is (think chicken and pork satays, yellow coconut rice, fish steamed and wrapped in dark green banana leaves, and heaps of shrimp and vegetables). The food was great, but it was obvious that the restaurant was arranged for and existed because of that view.

We ate and stared. I could have stared for hours at this. There was so much contrast-the vibrant green earth next to the colorless, barren mountain. A large crater lake sat at the bottom, and beside it we could make out a village clustered on the banks. Guspur dutifully filled us in on history-that the village had been destroyed several times by eruptions. He said that every few years there was a ceremony where people sacrificed animals to appease the gods of the volcano. As a Hindu island, gods and the happiness (or lack thereof) of the gods is very important to Balinese people. Over and over again over the course of my time there I was reminded of how spirituality and every day life are inextricably linked in Bali. Religion and belief aren't things people partake in once a week or during daily prayers. They're tied into everything-especially the earth and everything on it. 

I love the fluidity of Balinese spiritualism-a way of life that isn't bogged down in rules and laws, but seems to float easily through everything. Most Balinese people are Hindus, but they also place a great emphasis on animism. This means they believe that gods and goddesses and spirits are present in everything, from the smallest plant to a huge volcano. You may think this kind of belief is crazy. You may disagree with it. But if you ever go to Bali, I think you'll at the very least understand the root of it. It's very hard to be in Bali and not feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of nature there. All of the extraordinary things that in most places are spread far apart are instead condensed onto this one tiny island. You simply can't get away from the power and beauty of nature there. There's nowhere to turn that is plain or unremarkable. It's high volume beauty everywhere and all the time. And I feel like if you grow up with that, it would be hard not to see a higher power in everything around you-to not feel like the earth you stand on is full of spirits. 

( Quick aide: My favorite Balinese spirit legend (a legend that Guspur told us about, naturally) is that the island sits on the back of a turtle. The turtle in turn is supported by two dragons. When the dragons move and the turtle moves, earthquakes happen. As a result it's very important for Balinese people to keep the dragons happy.)

Eventually we peeled ourselves away from the view of the volcano and continued our little road trip. As it grew dark we made our way through Ubud, back past the airport we had flow in through in Denpasar, and finally into Kuta. 

I may have to revise my earlier statement. I think it would be possible to grow up in Bali and not feel like the earth is magical and full of spirits-if you grew up in Kuta. Not that Kuta isn't beautiful. The earth part of Kuta is stunning, white beaches next to dark blue ocean. But the beauty of nature is easily overtaken by the craziness and noise and crowds of the town part of Kuta, a place that could not be more different from the rest of Bali. It's Bali by way of Miami and Myrtle Beach. 

Kuta is where the fabulous people go. Okay well actually the really fabulous people go to Seminyak, the beach next to Kuta with the outrageously expensive resort hotels. Kuta is just for the average fabulous person from Australia or Asia who has jetted in for the weekend for sun, surf, and most importantly, the nightlife. 

As we drove through Kuta to our hotel, I couldn't keep my jaw off the floor. Where an hour before there had been lush, scenic rural life, now I was in the middle of an urban jungle. Western shops lined the streets, everything from Quicksilver to Dolce and Gabbana. Trendy restaurant after restaurant crowded for space along the streets, selling every international food except for Balinese. Tanned throngs of skimpily clad girls and shirtless guys made their ways back from the beach to hotels. Dressed to the nines crowds headed into the fancy restaurants. This was not the Bali I knew. I couldn't help but wonder where in the hell was I?

Guspur navigated his van into a tiny street with the very distinct name of, Gang Poppies I. This street was crowded by stall after stall and store after store. Every few feet there were signs for massages and manicures (did I forget to mention that because of cheap massages and mani/pedis offered EVERYWHERE in Bali I developed something of a spa habit while there?). Stalls hocked cheap T-shirts, Koozies, and every possible trinket or souvenir you can think of. Bathing suits, boogie boards and surf boards crowded for space. The van just barely fit on the street. Finally Guspur got us into the front of the hotel we had found in our guest book.

Worried as usual, he stood patiently by the car while we went to check for rooms. It being past dark on a Friday we were out of luck. Guspur herded us back into the car and to another hotel on our list. Same deal. Finally on our fourth or fifth try (Guspur refused to leave our side the whole time, and clucked in disapproval over the rates we were sometimes given), we found a hotel with a vacancy. Guspur helped us with our bags, and we made arrangements for him to pick us up after three nights to go to Ubud. He cast an anxious glance around at the revelry, waved goodbye, and headed into the night. 

Suddenly we were on the college spring break I never had. The hotel was a free for all of drunken twenty-somethings. It was a large, multi story building, with a huge pool in a central courtyard (a pool with a swim-up, fully stocked bar, obviously). The room was luxury, or at least the new definition of hotel luxury I had come up with since traveling around South East Asia. A fancy hotel was one with AC, no mosquito nets (because there were actual doors and windows), and an en-suite bathroom. If those three things were satisfied it was thrilling.

This hotel had all three of those things AND real cable TV. Not the fake cable that a lot of other Asian hotels had with like 5 news channels and Discovery Channel. This was real cable, like cable back home. There was even MTV. We settled into the room giddily, showered, changed, and then set out into the night. We ate at a restaurant near the beach, one of those vague European kinds all over Asia that offers everything from pizza to fish and chips. Then we decided to head to one of the many blocks in Kuta full of bars and clubs.

Now I have been to many a bar in my life. I have even been to a few clubs. But Kuta nightlife is hardcore, no playing around nightlife. People come to Bali simply for the nightlife in Kuta. And if you need any proof for how wild it is you need only know that it is frequented heavily by Australians, who are definitively the drunkest nation of people on Earth (that should be on their currency). None of us were looking to bop fists to techno music next to coked up tourists, so we found a bar a little more our speed. It was crowded, with the usual mix of leathery middle aged people who acted well below their age, creepy European men who did nothing but stare from across the room, and inebriated but otherwise normal men and women from all over the world. There was a band. We got some Balinese beer and danced and sang along. It was sweaty and silly and lovely.

Whenever I was out in Kuta, in the very back of my mind I thought of the 2002 terrorist bombing that ripped through a packed nightclub there, a nightclub only moments away from the bar we visited on our first night. The bombing killed a lot of tourists (most of whom were Australians) and it hurt the tourism industry, which is so important to the island. But ultimately things bounced back, which was clear by the time I was there in 2009. The thing about terrorist actions is that in addition to being cowardly and evil they're usually ineffective when it comes to getting people to stop living their lives. I remember thinking, as I looked around the crowded bars of Kuta, full of people dancing and drinking and in general engaging in much revelry, that humans are extremely and wonderfully stubborn creatures. No one is going to get us to stop flying in airplanes, and no one is sure as hell going to stop us (and especially Australians) from going out and getting drunk at bars. 

I wish I had some wild stories about my nights out in Kuta. But sadly I was too old and too American to get too crazy (seriously, Americans are some of the quietest and least drunken tourists around, WHO KNEW!?). There was one club I was dying to visit, if only to see if it was real. I had read about and heard about a club with a bungee jump. It was in Seminyak (the fancy beach), which was a 5-45 minute cab drive away (depending on traffic, which could get brutal). We went there our second night with the intention to go to said club. We dressed up, had dinner at a cute little restaurant down the beach. Then around 11pm we walked over to the bungee jump club. Because we were not regular club-goers, we were early. As in four hours early. As in at the club 4 hours before it OPENED. Yes friends, this club did not OPEN until 3am. This may shock you. I know it shocked me. It is because sadly neither you nor I are fabulous. The fabulous people go out when the rest of us are soundly asleep. The fabulous people do not sleep at night. They sleep during the day and are nocturnal. Because how else do you go to a club at 3am?!

I glimpsed the bungee jump above a large fence, so I know it's real, but I never did see it in action. This is my one regret about Bali. What I would have given to see one of the fabulous, jetsetters lose his or her dinner while bungee jumping at a club? Oh well, maybe one day.

The rest of Kuta exists in kind of a haze. It feels like such an anomaly, so different from the rest of my time in Bali, so much louder and more hectic. But there were lovely moments. If Kuta were in the United States I would probably write poetry about my time there.

We spent hours at the beach, tanning (and more often baking) in the bright sun. The beach at Kuta is wide and flat, and absolutely packed with tourists and touts.

The good thing is that if you get thirsty you can get an ice cold Coke at a moment's notice. Simply sit up, look around and five people will surround you selling Coke. Same goes for fresh fruit, ice cream, beer, literally anything your heart desires. The beach is lined with people selling surfing lessons. Before I got to Kuta I naively thought I might try one of these. I had rock climbed in Railay after all. Surfing would be a breeze!

Then I got to Kuta, saw 1) how big the waves were and 2) how many people were in the water at all times, most of them on surf boards of their own. I realized that it was inevitable that if I tried to surf I would either knock someone out who was also learning to surf or get knocked out myself by an amateur (or drunk) surfer. I didn't swim for these reasons as well. Being in SE Asia I had gone soft about waves. In Thailand there were no waves. The water simply rolled gently in cute, little lapping movements. In Lovina there weren't real waves either. But Kuta, being on the Indian Ocean, had much colder water and real, honest to God waves. It is a surfing capital so I probably should have expected that, but it still took me by surprise.

So my swimming in Kuta was done in the hotel pool. Oh that pool. It was probably full of grossness because of the spring break crowd who frequented it. But it was so cold, so blissfully cold on those insanely hot, sunny days, when a five minute walk outside drenched you in sweat. My friends and I laid out and read by the pool for as long as we could stand the heat (usually 20 min. tops), and then we'd hop in the water. Sometimes we'd just stay in there. After all with a SWIM UP BAR, why would we ever leave? I remember lazy afternoons sitting at that bar on one of the underwater stools, sipping an icy Balinese beer, listening to music and conversations. One time we struck up a chat with an Alaskan boy (for some reason meeting someone from Alaska felt just as exotic as meeting someone from Poland). We talked, and swam, and drank. Then we hopped out of the pool, dozed off for a little while. When it got too hot we jumped back in, ordered more beer and did it all over again. It wasn't spiritual or magical like the rest of Bali, but it was pretty damn wonderful all the same.

We got hour long massages for ten dollars. We had our toe-nails done, then came back the next day for our hands. We browsed the trinkets and souvenirs and bought gifts for friends and family. We found an awesome restaurant with free Wi-fi (always a holy grail) and delicious baguette sandwiches.

Kuta was weird. It was a commercial, overdeveloped, noisy town full of traffic and tourists and touts. Compared to the rest of the world it would have been pretty. Compared to the rest of Bali it was kind of an eye sore.

And yet I have no hard feelings toward Kuta. In fact I have fond feelings toward Kuta. Maybe because I've romanticized anything having to do with my travels since I left. But I think it's more about the fact that when I travel I become the eternal optimist. I am the annoying travel mate who gets overly excited about everything, from the kinds of fruit that are offered in the complimentary buffet to the little soaps that come in the hotel bathroom. I've seen a lot of aesthetically ugly buildings or neighborhoods or even entire towns in my travels, because let's face it there's a lot of aesthetically ugly things in the world, especially of the man-made variety. But when I travel I have no harshness in my heart for these things. I'm so happy and in my element that I have rose colored glasses for everything. Everything becomes beautiful, even touristy sprawl on an otherwise perfect island.

I like that about myself when I travel. I wish I could retain that when I'm home, that lack of judgement or snobbery-the exuberant, excited way I would see everything in front of me. At the very least I can remember it. And even now, eighteen months later, when the rose colored glasses should have worn off, when I should be able to look at Kuta objectively and say, "Eh", I instead look at Kuta and smile. Instead I look at Kuta and feel lucky to have known it at all.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Babies Sing Rolling in the Deep.

This is the best thing I've heard since the news that there were PARACHUTING Navy Seal dogs.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Who is this person?

Someone is stalking me. She resembles me in every way except she is a raging perfectionist. I am afraid, because I think she has a nefarious plot to take control of my body.

But seriously you guys, who is this person? I took my Ethics final today, and I got an 82%. It has been KILLING me ever since.

Granted I have good reason to be mad at myself. I studied for an hour and a half in the library prior to taking this final. I have six finals this week, SEVEN if you count the take home one that was due last Sunday, and well something had to go. So I chose Ethics.

Ethics has been a battle all semester, not because it's difficult, but because the fact that I was forced to take this online, community college ETHICS class in order to obtain a Bachelor's of NURSING degree in SCIENCE has slowly driven me insane. We read Hobbes and discusses the Social Contract theory and I silently weeped over the fact that I was forced to take this class despite already having a Political Science minor. We talked about Divine Command theory and I tried not to scream from thinking of the 12 credit Western Civilization ginormotron of a course I took for the Honors College of CofC.

And so it's been hard to find motivation, compared to say, the useful courses I am taking. I can study for a Nutrition final with gusto, because I know that more than likely this will be relevant. I might have a patient one day ask, "Hey Nurse Liz (they'll call me that), what Vitamins should I take if I want to have healthier gene expression?" (They'll ask that too, people are often concerned about healthy gene expression) And I'll think back to my Nutrition class, and tell them to take Vitamin A which can be found in things like apricots, sweet potatoes, and liver (yum).

I am motivated in my BIO, Anatomy, and Developmental Psychology classes for much the same reason. But then there's Ethics, a class I constantly forget I'm even taking because it's online. And I force myself to write posts about Kantian ethics, when I could be doing a vast number of other things. And sure, Kantian ethics is important if I was going to be say, a philosopher or...nope, a philosopher, that is literally the only profession where that would be important. But Kantian ethics is not something that is going to come up as a nurse. Never in my life will I hear, "Hey Nurse Liz, what would Kant advise me to do in this situation?" And if I did I would run screaming from the building.

So my point is I had no motivation and I thought the final would be easy like the mid-term, so I didn't study enough. And I got 12 questions wrong out of 70. And I walked out of that testing center full of self-loathing. Which is why I want to know who this new person is, who gets a B and feels like a dimwit. I used to love getting B's in college. A B was a solid, hearty grade, nothing to be ashamed of, preferable even to an A because a B showed some proof that you had a life outside of school.

But things have changed. B's are no longer expectable. I want A's on literally everything. I want that 4.0 GPA like I want someone to discover calorie free chocolate.

And this is not the only disturbing trend toward perfectionism in my life. I want to be a freelance writer and I do just that, but I want to take on everything and be perfect at all of it. If my room is dirty it pains me. Right now it's dirty, probably not to a normal person, but to me it is. It is taking all of my willpower not to vacuum and dust, because I know that time should be spent on studying instead. But I am very close to being the person who dusts her vacuum cleaner.

Is this some part of the aging process I wasn't aware of? Or is this simply something that has been dormant inside of me my whole life and has now been triggered, like a really obnoxious genetic disease?

All I can say is THANK GOD I was not like this the first go-round in college. Thank God I wasn't like this in high school even. I did well and I tried, but I didn't feel like I had to get everything perfect. And because of that I had a very happy high school and college experience. I didn't get a 4.0, but I also didn't obsess over a B. Instead I went to the beach in the middle of the school week.

I guess I'll just have to learn to deal with this new freakish side of myself. There are still pockets luckily where the perfectionism has not invaded. For example all anyone has to do is ride in my car and the trash and dirt will dissuade any notions that the driver is a perfectionist. Look inside my closet and it becomes apparent that I am somewhat of a hoarder, saving literally anything that could have any minute smidge of sentimental value (this includes everything from movie tickets to receipts).

It is my dearest hope that I keep this pockets of slobbery.

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Normally I like to let things percolate a little before I write about them. But I don't want to let this percolate. I want to write about this tonight, May 1, on the night I found out, that Osama bin Laden is dead.

The truth is I haven't thought about Osama bin Laden a whole lot in the last few years. Probably in the past 7, 8, even 9 years, other than when his face has graced newspapers or news broadcasts.

9/11 has come and gone nine times, and I've thought about that day, about what we lost, but I haven't thought about the man who engineered it.

So tonight when Andy Cohen of all people (I was watching Watch What Happens Live, sue me), said that sentence, "Osama is dead," I wasn't really prepared for what I felt in that moment. It was a surge of vindication and relief, and joy.

I've never been joyful over death before. It's a little strange. Even when Saddam Hussein was killed, there was something gruesome in it to me. I thought he was a terrible man who deserved to pay for his crimes. But I couldn't really be excited about death, no matter who it was.

But I feel happy about this tonight. I feel ecstatic and full of emotions I didn't know were there. I remember what it felt like all those years ago, when we first invaded Afghanistan, when we were so raw and broken, and were so sure that what we were doing there would heal us, give us justice for a day we'll never really get over. I remember how freeing the anger was then, how good it felt to be angry instead of sad. We funneled all of that anger into its rightful owner-this man in a beard who had ripped a hole in the world, who had hurt us as he had hurt so many people all over the globe.

This man turned children into his own personal weapons. He used lies and exploitation to turn people into bombs that would kill more people. And all the while he sat there in his caves, so frustratingly out of reach. And so after 9/11 we all pictured what it would feel like for him to be caught, to be killed. We wanted it on a visceral, human level. And that didn't happen, not in any simple way. Things only got more complicated and more broken and sad as the months and years passed. We never got that release, that feeling of vindication. Instead things became jumbled to the point where even our victories felt like we had still lost.

And so maybe that's what this is, tonight, nearly ten years after two towers fell and changed the world.  For tonight we're back on that straight line of cause and effect, of crime and punishment, of good guys getting the bad guys before the credits roll. Tonight we remember that early anger, how primal it almost was. We remember how much we longed for something, anything, to assuage that anger. And for the first time, we're granted that relief.

And maybe I should feel bad about this. Maybe a truly good person, a saint, would not wish death even on this man. At the least they wouldn't be happy about it.

But the simple truth is that I am happy about it. And I can't even feel bad about it. This man was a monster. He's hurt so many people. His death doesn't fix that. It doesn't bring those people back. It doesn't end terrorism.

But it's justice, a justice I think we had all forgotten how deeply we needed.
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