Friday, 19 September 2008

Bali On My Mind

I have been away from my blog too long, and many things, mostly good, have happened since my last post. Upon my return from Bali, my employers have asked me to continue at my current firm, and I have agreed to stay on for another month or two, but will not be renewing my contract. I have also accepted a freelance position at the SPCA to assist with campaigns and government lobbying work. I have a job interview with a highly-esteemed organisation on Monday, 22nd Sept 2008, and am hoping for a positive outcome.

Tuesday, 26th August 2008: Asia for Animals Conference

So there I was at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal on 26th August 2008, waiting for my flight to Bali for the Asia For Animals Conference 2008 -- no job; no money; no worries. I had received a call from my direct supervisor upon my arrival at the airport asking me to retract my resignation letter and return to work, but I had not promised her anything.

I later encountered Siti Bahijah, one of our SPCA Committee Members, together with a vet and her assistant from Ipoh, at the departure gate, so it looked like I won't be flying solo after all.

We arrived at the Ngurah Rai International Airport on schedule and were duly chauffered to the Sanur Beach Hotel, where we would be staying for the next 3 days.

The SPCA delegation to the Asia for Animals Conference 2008
From left to right: Me, Jacinta, Sharon, Glyn, Nicole and Cunera.

(My report on the AfA Conference will be in a separate blog entry. To visit my album of photos taken during the Asia for Animals Conference and Bali Zoo Check, please go

The Conference ended on a high note on Friday evening, 29th August, with the reading of the Resolutions. There was to be another vegan dinner with a live rock and roll band at 1930 hours, but I could not stay as my parents would be arriving at the airport very soon. I shook hands with everyone and said my Thank Yous and Goodbyes, called for a cab from the Hotel concierge counter, and was soon on my way, luggage in tow, to the airport again to welcome my parents to my beautiful Bali.

My parents were in luck, as they arrived on the eve of Hari Raya Kuningan and would be able to witness all the festivities. I met them at the International Arrivals gate and we then met with our driver cum local guide, Warta. We chatted all the way to dinner and I pointed out the roadside shrines, spirit guardians, 'canang' and 'penjor' to my parents and explained the significance of each.

We had an enjoyable dinner on the beach at Jimbaran and had a little walk after dinner to watch the fire-dancers and buskers perform. It had been a tiring day for my parents, so we proceeded to our hotel, Dewi Sri Cottage, in Legian to check in.

The hotel was picturesque from the outside and looked positively charming with its garden furniture and fish ponds. However, the rooms were a little run-down and not clean enough by my exacting standards, but it didn't really matter, because we were on holiday and would not be spending much time indoors in our room.

Dad was feeling peckish and so I consented to walk down the street with him past the Kuta Bombing Memorial to the Circle-K convenience store for snacks and milk. We stopped by a small shrine to Lord Ganesha on our way back to the Hotel and gave thanks for a safe journey.

We were up early on Saturday, 30th August, in anticipation of an exciting day of witnessing the Kuningan festivities. The Hotel was operating with only half its staff as the others have returned to their villages to celebrate the festival with their families.

From our breakfast table under the trees, we could see that the black-and-white sarongs wrapped around stone carvings of deities and guardian spirits had been replaced with gold ones for Kuningan. 'Kuning' means yellow in Malay and Bahasa Indonesia, and Kuningan celebrates the triumph of good over evil and the cleansing of the spirit, hence the replacement of sarongs for everyday use with special festive ones. The air was fragrant with the scent of incense, and special 'canangs', or offerings, bearing more fruit and blossoms than the regular ones were placed at each doorstep, altar and shrine. Hibiscus blooms were placed behind the ears of stone carvings, and fresh marigold garlands rested on the necks of many of the statues. Women and children in their holiday best walked on their way to the temples with baskets and decorated boxes of 'canang' on their heads or in their arms. This is the Bali that I love, and I am happy to have the opportunity to let my parents experience it as well.

There was a bit of ruckus in our room after I discovered a sun skink under my blanket, but after we had driven him out to under the bougainvillea plants, we had a laugh over our scare. Warta arrived to pick us up after having first gone to the temple for prayers with his family, and I was fascinated to see the mandala-like decorations made from coconut leaves hanging from the van windshield. I admire the Balinese for their creativity and the fact that they make worship such an important part of their daily lives, and Kuningan is an excellent testimony of the same.

We were to visit two of Bali's most important Sea Temples on Saturday: Ulu Watu and Tanah Lot. We had a decadent lunch at a Solonese restaurant before continuing on our way to Ulu Watu. We had to put on sashes and sarongs before being allowed to enter the sacred site, and were advised to put away our sunglasses, cameras and other belongings to prevent monkey attacks. We hiked along the stone-paved coastal trail to reach the temple, and were rewarded with the sight of families in their Kuningan finery entering the temple for worship with their amazing baskets of offerings. We did not have any problems with the long-tailed macaques and returned to the van safely.

The Tanah Lot Sea Temple Complex, all decked out in umbul-umbul flags and other festive paraphernalia!

Our next destination was Tanah Lot. I did not have the opportunity to enter the Tanah Lot temple last year as we had arrived during high tide and we could not get across to the temple, and I was determined to visit it again this year. Umbul-umbul flags, ceremonial umbrellas and 'penjor' gave the sacred site a carnival atmosphere, and I led my parents on a walk to see the locals having picnics at the park and having their photographs taken with snakes.

In a cave, priests were inviting worshippers to visit and stroke the 'holy snakes'. Dad thought that there would be many snakes of various types. Mum thought that there would be just one snake, but it would be enormous. I thought that there would be a nest of writhing yellow-lipped sea kraits. We entered the cave and were a little disappointed to find just one tiny yellow-lipped sea krait in a sandy pit.

At another cave, priests blessed devotees and visitors with holy water that trickled out of a spring in the cave under the sea temple. The water was fresh, not salty despite being in the middle of the sea, and we could see why the locals believed it had healing properties. The priests sprinkled the water on our heads, pressed rice grains onto our foreheads (as bindhi) and put jasmine flowers behind our right ears.

A procession to the Tanah Lot Sea Temple on Kuningan Day.

We spent some time at Tanah Lot, witnessed two absolutely splendid processions and had a look around the surrounding villages before returning to our hotel. After a shower and a rest, I invited my parents to explore Kuta on foot. And what a brilliant idea it was! As it was Kuningan Day, we had the great fortune of seeing 'barongs' and processions in the street. The 'barong', which signifies the triumph of good over evil, went to the doorway of each shop and home to bless the occupants. In return, the 'barong' troupe received a little money from the shop or homeowners.

While taking the back alley to the Matahari Department Store, we saw a temple ceremony going on. The worshippers were all dressed in white and gold, and 'gamelan' musicians played absolutely mesmerising music as the locals offered their prayers.

The air was fragrant with the scent of jasmine incense as we finally arrived at the Matahari Department Store to shop for souvenirs. Outside the shops, there were horse carriages and the horses’ handlers waiting for passengers. The horses looked healthy and well-cared for, and I didn't object when Mum asked if we could ride in a carriage back to the hotel. I paid the horseman and off we went, cantering through the streets of Kuta, past the beach and its nighttime revellers and back to our little hotel.

Sunday, 31st August 2008 - Temple and Volcano Visits

Sunday began with breakfast followed by a long drive up north to Mount Batur. As we were driving through Ubud, the village of artists, I requested our driver to stop and let us walk around as my parents were enchanted by the place. We visited the Ubud Palace and walked around the quaint, beautiful homes and shops for an hour until it started to drizzle.

Visiting the Pura Tirta Empul, or Holy Water Spring Temple, in Tampak Siring.

Our next stop was Pura Tirta Empul, or the Holy Water Spring Temple. We were told that the temple was constructed in the 10th century, and the freshwater springs have never run dry. The temple complex was divided into 3 levels, signifying the 3 microcosms, and to enter each level we had to walk through the typical Balinese split gate, signifying a split mountain or volcano. The ancient temple complex was tranquil, clean and surrounded by lush greenery, and we were grateful to have the opportunity to visit it.

We resumed our long drive to Kintamani -- past fruit orchards, temples, colourful processions of women bearing trays of fruits and offerings on their heads, rice fields and more 'barong' troupes visiting homes in the village.

We arrived at Kintamani at lunchtime and proceeded to the viewing deck of the restaurant which is situated on the outer rim of the outer caldera of the volcano. Mount Batur is a 'female' volcano, while Mount Agung is a 'male' volcano. Understandably, Mount Batur is the more volatile of the two.

We had a lovely buffet lunch while looking out at the fertile farms thriving on the basaltic lava and the scenic Batur Crater Lake. I am happy that Mum and Dad are adventurous about food and liked everything they tried. Soon, it was time to return to the van, and we took intermittent naps through the long drive back to the hotel.

Dad, Mum and I admiring the terraced rice fields.

We explored Kuta town again in the evening, and ventured into a local food court for dinner. Did a little more shopping and sightseeing after dinner before retiring to our hotel.

Our Bali sojourn came to an end on Monday morning as we had to leave on the earliest AirAsia flight to Kuala Lumpur. Although we did not experience any true "Ring of Fire" moments, my parents and I spent quality time together visiting my favourite travel destination, Bali Island.

To visit the rest of my Bali photos, please go HERE

Wednesday, 3rd September 2008: Vinayar Chathurti

My managers called me back to the office for a negotiation today. I agreed to continue with the firm but declined to renew my contract. This offers me the freedom to leave for a better job upon giving sufficient notice.

Today is also Vinayagar Chathurti, Lord Ganesha's birthday in the Hindu calendar. I went to the Maha Mariamman temple in town with Priya to offer prayers. I prayed for peace for our country in crisis, and for mankind to demonstrate better environmental stewardship.

Priya and I finished off the evening with some vegetarian fried rice and cold beer. The beer was necessary because I get despondent each time I think about the political and economic mess my country is in. Oh well. Bottoms up.

Saturday, 6th September 2008: Forest Safety & Confidence Knife & Parang Workshop

It has been approximately one year since our Bushcraft Beginners Course, and our facilitator from the MNS Nature Guides, Ashleigh, felt it timely to hold a refresher course and workshop on knife and parang safety at the Kota Damansara Community Forest. Thus began one of the best Saturdays I have ever had.

The workshop participants met up at the forest shelter and were briefed on safety procedures before we entered the forested area. We were asked to buddy up (I paired off with Vegan Eugene) before starting the trek and presently arrived at a little clearing where we could stand in a circle to listen to Ashleigh's instructions. We learned the correct way to carry, unsheath and use our knives, kukris, parangs and machetes, and then practiced clearing a trail with our equipment.

Bushcraft John showed me the correct way of clearing overhead vines and soon I had cleared a good portion of the trail, after having apologised to the plants beforehand. Ashley taught us how to select and chop down a tree (we chose the Acacia Mangium as it is a fast-growing introduced specie). It started raining quite heavily as we were practicing chopping down the Acacias, and in those foggy and slippery conditions, we were asked to halt, put away our knives and proceed to the shelter. We carried the felled trees with us to do small knife work with.

At the shelter, we stripped and peeled the bark and cut the logs into pieces approximately 3 feet long. We stripped some of the inner bark to make cordage with. I was pleased that I still remembered how to make cordage from plant fibres and bark, and soon made a few lengths of strong cord.

We had a one-hour break for lunch and I was particularly glad to have a hot drink after our rainy and cold afternoon.

Ashleigh showed us the various techniques of cutting, carving, shaping, drilling through and batonning the wood using no other tools but our small knives. My 6-inch Mora knife was heaven-sent, and I was soon merrily practicing how to make tent pegs, bowls, notches and hooks with my pieces of wood.

The workshop was not merely to show us how to use knives safely for arbitrary purposes, but to teach us how to make effective tools and build or improvise shelters in survival situations. We made butterfly notches to secure pieces of wood together before binding them with bark cordage.

Later, we went to another clearing and learned to cut down another Acacia tree using our 6-inch knives. We laboured over our pieces of wood until 1630 hours, polishing and grinding our 'try sticks' to show the different techniques used to make different survival tools and implements.

Rushed back to the Bachelor Officers' Quarters at 1700h to shower and clean up, and then off to 'Just Thai' in One Utama for Dad's belated birthday dinner. It's been a great weekend so far.

Friday, 13th September 2008: Blood Donation Silver Jubilee (I think)

It's either my 25th or 26th blood donation at the National Blood Bank today. I don't think I kept an accurate count (not without checking my Donor Records), but I didn't get a pin or mini-medal this time, so I could be wrong. My haemoglobin count was 13, which is pretty low for my standards. The Blood Bank was practically deserted as it was a Friday afternoon during the fasting month. They managed to extract 350ml of blood from me in 2 mins and 40 seconds (a new record!) and then I was given food, beverages and iron supplements. I got back to the office before lunch hour was up. If there were an Olympic event for speed blood donation, I might just qualify.

Saturday, 14th September 2008: Mid Autumn Festival

It's been a crazy week, what with the preventive detention of a blogger, a journalist and a Member of Parliament this week under the draconian Internal Security Act and all. The ruling coalition government is only too aware of the growing grassroots support for the opposition coalition and their calls for justice, transparency, integrity and meritocracy, and had lashed out by incarcerating opposition leaders and supporters. But we shall not be suppressed! We will work together and not turn our backs on our country. We will fight to eliminate corruption and reform the judiciary and law enforcement systems. And we will ensure the 3 detainees are released unconditionally.

Today is also Mid-Autumn Festival in the Chinese calendar, and my family took a breather from the insanity that is Malaysian politics to celebrate the Festival. After dinner and washing up, we put up a little table in the garden and set out tea and cakes so we could admire the full moon, as we are expected to do this time of the year. The Twin, the Twin's Girl and I put up paper lanterns all around the house, and lit a special one in remembrance of Murphy.

I tidied up after our little party around midnight, checked the Net for news on the 3 detainees, and retired to my room to work on my review of the Environmental Quality Act.

Sunday, 15th September 2008: SPCA Sunday

Arrived at the SPCA shortly before noon and handed out gifts from Bali, like the big Santa that I am, to the staff and vets.

Rose and I got to work immediately and I proceeded to mix up a batch of diluted tickwash and bathe all the dogs in the Sick Bay and Kennel E. Rose then left to supervise some college students while I continued shampooing and tick-washing all the dogs on my own. We were finally done by 1645 hrs and I helped Rose get the 5 kittens that she was to foster into a carrier and into her car.

It had begun to rain by then and I was rather concerned that our Sick Bay would get flooded again in the night if the rain doesn’t reduce in volume. I swept out and mopped the shelter office and then scrubbed and disinfected the puppy cages, maternity kennels, cattery, central area, front reception/admin areas and all the sinks, tubs and gutters. The rain helped to flush the soap away.

While I was putting the pails and mops away, I saw our general worker, Muniandy, bend double over the sink and vomit copiously. I patted him on the back and asked if he wanted to go to the clinic. He was reluctant in the beginning, but I told him that I would pay for the medical fees and claim for it from the shelter officers later, and so he agreed. Marianne was still unable to leave the shelter due to the rain and I offered her a ride home as well. I showered, got my passengers into the Battletank, and drove to the clinic near Ampang Point. Sashi turned up on Muniandy's motorcycle to bring Muniandy home after treatment, and as the rain had let up by then, I agreed. Drove Marianne back to her home, went back to the Bachelor Officers' Quarters, fed and cleaned up after the cats, cleaned the Quarters up and read Kishore Mabubhani's "Can Asians Think?" until 0200h.

I've got a pool party and several other events to attend next week, so I'm rather looking forward to it.

Wish me luck with the job interview, my friends!