Janus in Singapore: Bali, Bali, Bali!

March 14, 2017

For most exchange students coming to Singapore, Bali is usually the second destination for a weekend away after Kuala Lampur. It’s one of Indonesia’s many islands, known for its gorgeous and varied landscapes that include beaches, forested mountains and volcanoes, and rice fields. Home to most of Indonesia’s Hindu population, Bali is also famous for its many temples and places of reflection, and is a popular destination for yoga enthusiasts and meditative retreats.

Enjoying a quick snack!

In truth, it was a bit of a surprise to hear that Bali was such a popular place for exchange students. I took a class back at Richmond centered on Balinese and Javanese music, and our professor, who spent a not-so-insigificant amount of time in those islands, told us that much of the area was calm and traditional. A few older friends of mine spent honeymoons on the islands, too, and told me they thought of Bali as more a romantic place than a tourist-y destination. Nevertheless, I went with an open mind – my flatmates had gone through the effort to organize the trip, from booking a villa for several days, a driver, and our tickets to and fro, and all seemed to be quite excited – if they went through that much effort, it must be worth, it right?

Main building of our villa

I was blown away by the quality of Bali’s Ngurah Rai International Airport. When I think of Indonesia, I think of a country very similar in terms of economic development to the Philippines, and I had grown accustomed to dirty, slow, and disorganized airports. When we landed in Ngurah Rai, however, it felt like I was landing in Shanghai or San Francisco or Dubai. The area was spotlessly clean, with high ceilings and an excess of windows giving the building a sense of grandeur. It was busy, suffocating crowded in the ways that Beijing’s Capital Airport or Manila’s Ninoy Aquino Airport were.

Enjoying a giant coconut

Outside the airport, however, we were faced with the usual tourist conundrums. Our villa was about a forty minutes drive away from the airport given the mid-day traffic, so we wanted to book an uber or grabcab to make sure that we had a driver who knew how to go somewhere fairly far away, and a driver who wouldn’t trick and scam us. We didn’t do our research thoroughly enough, though; in many tourist-y destinations (like an airport) grabcabs and ubers are not allowed to enter to give local taksi drivers an advantage. Instead of a $8-10 uber ride, we ended up paying around $25 because the taksi drivers knew we didn’t really have leverage. It was early in the morning, we were tired and in a new country – they could just ask just about any price to take us to a villa 40 minutes away, and they knew we would pay it.

The pool offered a relaxing end to each day

The villa itself was probably the highlight of our stay in Bali. 8 of us shared the 4 bungalows with king sized beds. There was a sizeable pool in the middle of villa, along with a gorgeous kitchen and patio area where we spent most of our nights relaxing and swapping stories about home. Besides two of my flat mates, the rest of the people I travelled were exchange students at SMU who I knew through friends of friends, so it was interesting to hear about their experiences at university. The gap year in college is much more common than I imagined – some of them spent time in Canada or Central Africa all on their own with no real plan besides “experiencing the world.” To be honest, the idea appeals to the romantic inside of me. A year without any real responsibilities besides just getting to know yourself and another part of the world better? Sign me up. But there’s also the part of me that’s already accustomed to the way life works in the U.S. I wouldn’t be able to totally enjoy the experience because I know I’d be constantly thinking about what comes after.

A view at Kuta Beach

Kuta Beach, which was only a few minutes’ walk from us, was unfortunately quite a disappointment. Although we caught an absolutely gorgeous sunset, the beach was quite dirty, with litter scattered virtually all over the dirt-colored sand. The water was foamy and even at shallow depths, you couldn’t see the sand because of how dirty it was. It was quiet a shame – the waves were large and powerful, and a few free spirits spent all day surfing. It would have been an absolute joy to swim around and play that game where you see how long you can stand upright before getting knocked down by the waves, but I would need to take a day long shower before I could clean the muck off of me if I did that.


Naomi at Akita Week 8: UNI-eed to read this

October 27, 2016

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Who has the bluest hair? Patrik and Isabella have a competition going on and Isabella is winning as of now. I don’t know why but in this picture, Patrik’s hair actually looks pretty blue compared to Isabella’s but in real life, Isabella’s is much darker. They have both dyed their hair twice in Akita. They both brought dye from back home…dedication, huh? Every time they see each other, the blue hair is mentioned at some point. You can hear Patrik’s heart break a little each time someone tells him Isabella’s hair is bluer. Lots of people on campus think they’re a couple too. It’s a great time.

I asked my mom to send me my heat techs (clothes from Uniqlo meant to keep you warm) that I left at home so she ended up sending an actual care package full of American and Okinawan snacks. I shared some with my friends. Well, mostly American friends and they were all excited and nostalgic with the taste of fruit rollups. There’s a picture of Tristan putting the fruit rollup tattoo onto his tongue! I don’t know why my mom sent me a package of fruit rollups because I never ate them growing up as a kid…she probably sent it because of the Halloween packaging. She also sent me a huge 240-piece bag of assorted chocolates – Milky Way, Snickers, 3 Musketeers, and Twix. Too much candy.

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Over the weekend, our school set up another bus trip for us to the Oga Peninsula. We headed to the GAO Aquarium first. We could see the ocean and it was absolutely beautiful. I missed hearing the waves crash. Anyways, the aquarium also had some animals, in addition to all the fish, frogs, jellyfish, and eels. It was Patrik’s first time seeing a polar bear and penguins! There were seals awkwardly floating in the water. They looked like grandpas; it was so kawaii (cute in Japanese). There was also an exhibit with the fish that eat at your dead skin cells. The fish were in this container that had holes where you could stick you finger in so I did it and it felt…funny? The fish were nibbling away on my fingers. I bet if I stuck my foot in the container I would’ve never stopped laughing because of how ticklish it can feel. We also saw a vending machine that sold solely food and it was weird, as the food included hot dogs and takoyaki. Japan really gets invested in their vending machines. You can’t go 100 meters without seeing at least 3 vending machines. That’s not an exaggeration.

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Really quick, there was a room with tanks on the side of different types of fish. In the middle, there was a big cage with two turtles in it. Isabella and I didn’t pay attention to what was in the cage because nothing was moving so we just went straight to the tanks. However, right as we were leaving the room we noticed the turtles inside the cage. It wasn’t moving at all. It was completely still. We both started staring at the turtle wondering if it was a toy. As we were staring, Isabella asked, “Is it real?” and RIGHT after she asked that question, the turtle blinked. Needless to say, we both freaked out and yelled a bit.

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After the aquarium, we headed to Nyudozaki Cape, the northernmost cape on the Oga Peninsula, for lunch. All the food was too expensive for us college students, so we ended up just exploring the lighthouse and the ocean near the restaurants. Thankfully we stopped at a grocery store before the aquarium so we weren’t that hungry. The picture of the menu shows a picture of a bowl of rice topped with uni (sea urchin). I took a picture to send to my mom since she loves uni so much. I’m not a picky eater; I eat everything, but the only thing I cannot eat is uni. My mom plans on visiting me at the end of November and I’m sure she’s going to want to go to this cape solely to eat that bowl of uni. Delicious.

I tried taking a picture of Annabelle, Isabella, Tristan, and Patrik jumping but they could never get it together. Someone was always still on the ground. Tristan didn’t jump in one of the pictures. I ended up giving up and going to the coast. We found some stairs, stairs as in a bunch of rocks lined up, which led down to the ocean. There were a bunch of hermit crabs crawling in the water and a couple of small fish swimming around. We jumped from rock to rock to get deeper into the ocean. It wasn’t too cold, the wind felt nice against our faces, and the sound of the waves was relaxing. I can’t tell you how much I missed the ocean.

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After the cape, we went to the Namahage Museum and Oga Shinzan Folklore Museum. There’s a story titled the Legend of Namahage: The 999 Steps. The Han emperor brought five demonic ogres with him to Japan that constantly stole crops and young maidens from the villages. The villagers decided to trick the oni (ogres) with a proposal. The villagers commanded the oni to build one thousand steps to the Goshado Shrine in a single night, if they could then the maidens would be offered to them, if not then they would have to flee the village. The oni made it to 999 steps before a villager mimicked the crowing of a rooster, making the oni believe it was the morning. They ended up running away in panic. We actually watched a short performance on the banter between the Namahage (oni) and the household head. Although we didn’t understand much of what was said, we found the Namahage to be hilarious with their sluggish/deep yelling. After the show, we walked around the Namahage Museum filled with costumes and demonic masks. We even saw a man carving the masks by hand!

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The last place we visited was Mountain Kampuzan. There was a rotating observation deck at the peak of the mountain but we had to pay 540 yen. No one ended up going on it because the view was already beautiful enough. There was some performance going down below and you could hear someone banging away at the drums. It was a nice way to end our day trip. Once we got back on campus, everyone was too tired to do anything, despite it being a Saturday night. I pushed myself to finally do my load of laundry that I’ve held off for the past week. Isabella ended up cooking pasta for us so I didn’t have to worry about making my own dinner. She was worried the garlic red sauce tasted like seafood but it tasted just fine. We ended up watching Friends afterwards and called it a night.

 

 

 


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