Remember, slower pizza’s more luscious

The pizza took a long time.

This wasn’t unexpected – in fact, we had ordered appetizers to stave off our hunger, though they seemed to do more to whet our appetites than satiate them. I think we all agreed in the end that the results were worth putting up with the extended though minor physical discomfort . But it was more than just the experience of Chicago deep dish pizza(a truly epic creation) that made the wait worthwhile. It was the people I was waiting with that made the simple event one of the highlights of the whole trip.

We had been hanging out all weekend, seeing other old friends and making new ones. The night before we had partied hard at Justin and Danielle’s wedding, dancing with wild abandon and generally having a good time. The spirit of camaraderie, of mutual enjoyment of each others’ company, had been building up to the point when we sat down, hungry for pizza.

It wasn’t that we talked about anything deep and meaningful. We laughed at things on TV, threw stuff at each other, joked around. The conversation was as random and shifting as it was silly, funny, and clever. But that was the best part – that was what kept me grinning like an idiot and laughing until my eyes teared up.

As we did our best to finish off the last of the hearty slices, someone joked that if we didn’t eat it all, the pizza would not be self-actualized. We continued to joke about the term and ponder its proper definition as we struggled with our last filling bites. In the context, we really used it to mean “fulfilling the purpose which something was created for”. To that end, the pizza was generally victorious.

But among us, I felt a different sense of completion. There with my close friends, I experienced a wholeness, a feeling of being where I ought to be. It was Happiness – feeling thrilled just be around them, hardly able to wait to hear the next words to come out of their mouths. It was hard not to feel thankful for them, and for all the other friends and family with whom I’ve shared similar experiences.

Not to mention extra gratitude for the slow pizza that made it all possible : )

Bali Ha’i May Call You

Luckily, I did not fall in these rice paddies
Things I did on Bali: ate at a secret organic restaurant, swam in hot springs-fed pools at a secluded spa, photographed a misty volcanic lake, rode ojek (motorbike) on windy mountain roads in the pouring rain, fell in a rice paddy, and bribed a police officer.

And that was just one day.

At the end of our stay in Indonesia, we managed to fit in six short but busy days on the island of Bali. Even just the name of the island conjures up a hectic barrage of images and expectations: a sublime tropical isle, relaxing on beautiful sunny beaches, world class surf, fancy resorts, and swinging bars and clubs. And from our own experiences so far in Indonesia, we expected cheap local food, limited western cuisine, touristy shopping areas, and the same hot, muggy weather. Additionally, there was an unknown factor – we were overlapping our stay to hang out with Mel, a friend of my stepmom, who was traveling with several friends we had never met before.

Image by Melinda NorrisThe combination of the novel and the expected that we found was just right. The resort in Seminyak was wonderfully luxurious, especially after weeks in homestays and other relatively humble accommodations. There was plenty of shopping to be done, with great finds everywhere, such as the beautiful batik, handmade by locals in the traditional style. Sometimes it a took a little effort to find, but there was good local food all around, with the usual cheap prices. And the music scene in Ubud was first rate, with a variety of genres played live every night by seriously talented bands in multiple cool bars.

Some of the best parts were completely unexpected. There was more western food at the resort’s expansive breakfast than we had seen in the past two months combined, including many things we had been sorely craving. Mel’s clan of Aussies were the best by far, from her partner, Jason, and her sister, Sue, to her friends Toni and Simone. They were up for anything, with plenty of fun plans and ideas, but also willing to be spontaneous and able to keep smiling no matter what craziness got thrown at us. We enjoyed finding good food together, chatted for hours, and danced the nights away as if we had been at it for years.
Image thanks to Mel and Jason

Of course, there were some not so pleasant surprises as well. The beaches were not much cleaner than others we had seen on Java, and the waves weren’t very impressive either, although we didn’t look very hard for the real surf spots. The expected hot muggy weather was broken up by rain, often ending an afternoon out. We didn’t let that dampen our spirits too much, but the hassling from locals selling things was downright aggravating. The Kuta shopping area and adjacent beach were the worst – in many areas you could barely go ten steps without being set upon by hawkers shoving cheap sunglasses or sarongs in your face. Many shop workers tried to harass you into buying something, often lying to your face and inventing ridiculous stories to go along with their outrageous prices.

Yet despite having a few of the worst experiences, our time on Bali included some of my all time favorite memories of the whole trip. One of the top experiences was our trip on ojek out of Ubud to the volcanic crater lake. The sun was warm overhead but the breeze was refreshingly cool. We cruised slowly along the straight, flat, smooth road past craft shops and terraced rice paddies, with increasingly more impressive views of old volcanic cones, raising their green tops amid a perfect blue sky. The leisurely pace set by our friendly and helpful tour guide allowed us all to enjoy the scenery and for Mel to take plenty of photos. It was the right kind of adventure, just like our time in Bali – a wonderful blend of the expected and unexpected. To put it simply, I was Happy.

Bali may 2010.jpg

Days Gone Bayah (2010-05-06)

“You wear sarong. It’s good.” a middle aged Indonesian man said to me as I walked down the path to the beach in Sawarna. A day later we would meet Pa Ma’ani again at our homestay there. It turned out he was an English teacher at a high school in the nearby town of Bayah (pronounced bye-ah in case you couldn’t tell from the bad pun in the title), as well as at a private school he ran out of his home. We spent a long time talking to him about our trip and our backgrounds, and he told us about his students and school. That week while we were staying in Sawarna we made two trips by ojek to Bayah to talk to students. We also agreed to come back a few weeks later to stay at Ma’ani’s home.

Paul Taking a Nap With The Kucing

Two weeks later we were bouncing down the rutted and potholed road from Bayah to the city of Serang, five hours to the North-West. There were seven of us stuffed in to the Unsera Universitas SUV: Ma’ani; Pa Irwan, who was part of the faculty at Unsera, and who had become our guide/translator; Pa Malik, the Dean of Social Politics and our host; our driver; and a young boy who lived in Serang and was hitching a ride. The day before we had visited SMA Bayah to speak at the opening of an English speech competition, and I had unfortunately come down with my first illness of the trip with severe stomach cramps, so I was more than a little wiped out. Apparently corruption in the region has caused the roads in the area to be left in total disrepair, and we regularly have to swerve left and right to find a passable way, or slow to a crawl as we pitch and roll in and out of man sized divots. But was have many interesting conversations, about the language, the school, local politics, and differences between Indonesia and America.

A Parade Through Serang Once in Serang we went to the home of Pa Malik, where we would spend the night. After a delicious dinner of goat satay with peanut sauce and stir fried vegetables we went for a walk and ended up taking a Bemo over to the university. There we met with some students who were setting up for the opening ceremony of their “English Day Club” which we were to speak at the next day. It was with some chagrin we discovered our names had been put on the banner for the ceremony. Apparently our visit, was a big deal for the students. The students were a very interesting group of people, from many backgrounds, and with varying English ability. Some were from Serang, and some were from other parts of Western Java. Some spoke nearly fluently, others were shy and didn’t say much, although we thought they were all very talented, especially considering English is a third if not forth language for many of them. Finally we went back to Pa Malik’s for a dessert of pisang goreng, showers and bed.

Unsera English Day Club The next day is a bit of a blur; we went to two ceremonies at two different schools where we spoke with students. At the opening ceremony for the English Day Club there was a very involved and amusing skit performed by the students. There were musical performances, including an impromptu performance by Jen of Let It Be, and finally a short question and answer session. A good time was had by all, and we was very impressed at the length to which the students went to put the ceremony together.

Next we went to an Islamic university that was working to improve their English program. There we spent some time speaking with some of the faculty, and then had an involved interview and question and answer session with the faculty and students. There we received some more interesting and thoughtful questions about America and our culture and education.

Overall, our spur-of-the-moment journey as either ambassadors of the English language, or oddities from overseas on display (I’m not sure which), was a great experience. We met many fascinating Indonesian youths and teachers. We had many interesting conversations; sometimes the same one, ten or twenty times with different students. And we learned a lot about Indonesian culture, while at the same time hopefully creating a good impression of ours.

These are the kind of experiences that make traveling so worth while. The kind you don’t expect and never know quite what they’ll look like until you’re in the midst of them.