Bali: The Island of the Exotic

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Bali has always been the ideal tropical getaway for years, and when Eat, Pray, Love came out, the seams of tourism for this little country island exploded.

The locals suddenly saw an onslaught of Western tourists and adapted accordingly; they picked up basic conversational English and an exceptional customer service attitude. Embarrassingly, my friend and I didn’t know Indonesian or Malay – except for a few well-known terms like “thank you” and “exit”, so it was a pleasant surprise (and relief) when they could speak to us in English.

We stayed in Bali, Ubud, for about 3 days and flew to Bandung for 6. Looking back, we would have gone with 4 days in Bali and 5 days in Bandung instead. We didn’t visit any beaches (what blasphemy!), but we had a ton of fun doing other activities like volcano trekking, water rafting, cafe hopping, indulging in balinese massages and rice terrace visiting. Our itinerary is pretty cookie cut-out, and I remember wishing we were more divergent on this point :(

Okay, here’s our itinerary for the 3 days we were in Bali.

Day 1:

  • Checked in to Jalan Tirta Tawar, Indigo Villas (they will be closing this year, sadly)
  • Dinner at AA Juicery & Cafe (4.6 star rating) – A vegan cafe with genuine fruit juices! Very delicious and cosy setting!

Day 2:

  • 2am: Mount Batur Volcano Bali Trek (about 2-3 hours to reach the top if you go at a consistent speed)
  • Lunch at a place which had quite bad food. It was part of the package.img_7708
  • Rice terrace visit

Day 3:

  • 8am: Water-rafting
  • Ubud Money Forest
  • Coffee Plantation (Famous for Luwak Coffee aka luwak poop coffee)

    This was amazing. They let us try 16 different kinds of coffee in small cups! So delish! We didn’t try the luwak coffee though.

  • Balinese massage (no photos here! haha)
  • Bamboo Bar for our last night, and Spanish foodfor dinner before that. (it’s nearby the Bamboo Bar, you can’t miss it. I can’t remember the name unfortunately)

A few points to note:

  1. Mozzie infestation: Especially at night. It’s a bloodfest. If you frequently get bites in your own country (less mozzie-ish country, that is), you should plaster yourself all over with mozzie stickers here.
  2. It’s expensive: Bali, it seems, more than the other Indonesian states, charges way too high. A day tour package is at least USD$65 and at most a hundred. So watch out for the lowest prices. Haggle, if you can.
  3. Bring good walking shoes: You’re probably going to do a lot of walking during the day tours so bring along a pair of comfy walking shoes. I brought a high-cut converse pair of shoes and suffered abrasion bites from the shoe’s high flap :(
  4. Mind you, volcanoes aren’t hot. They’re cold at the top. Contrary to popular belief (or maybe it’s just me), volcanoes are just like mountains when you climb to the top. I can’t believe I was so silly to have thought otherwise. So bring proper thick jackets when you go volcano trekking!
  5. Adventure water rafting (don’t try the commercialised ones for the real kick!): At first, we thought that we’d be tumbling over three meters high waterfalls in our dinghy. It was quite smooth-sailing, nothing scary. I’d have to say that USS’s Jurassic World water rapids ride was a lot more hair-raising. We went to the Ayung river. I can’t recommend you others because we didn’t get to try ‘em, but if you’re looking for a real thrill, you might want to seek out another river.
  6. Taxis are a convenience. Watch out for over-friendly taxi drivers, too.
    1. The taxis are affordable, even if the day tours aren’t.
    2. I also can’t help thinking it’s because of tourism that has made these taxi drivers a whole lot more “open” than they would usually be… Some would even go as far as to invite you out for drinks and stuff – see what your limits are and act accordingly. Don’t be pressured into thinking you’ll be a prude / rude if you refuse.
  7. Indonesian and Western food galore. Yup, a lot of the shops sell a variety of Indonesian and Western food. We absolutely enjoyed the rich flavours of the Nasi Goreng, Ayam Penyet, Mee Soto and Balinese Chicken Soup. The average pricing for a local dish would be between RP15,000 to RP25,000.
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This free gift doesn’t give me the cheap creeps

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They love to say that the Gospel is free. Well, it is free. Like the free public clinic sitting at the corner of the street. Do they just mean the water?

It is free; and the man handing out gospel tracts know it.

It is free, but we don’t like free things too much.

Buy a macdonald kids meal and you’ll receive a ratty free gift that our kids are better off without. You would venture into trying that “free facial” but don’t these things come with a price at the end?

When you say “it’s free!”, we immediately conjure up a catch somewhere, and get the impression that the giver simply can’t wait to get rid of the freebies.

We’ve grown cautious and free is a dirty word.

So… in our minds a free public clinic is somewhat false advertising; and even if it was free… it’s for those who can’t afford it. And those tracts? Probably sandwiched with subscriptions that will never see the light of day.

I am wary of freebies. But this freebie, this one of gospel, grace and God… it gives me none of those cheap creeps.

In fact, there has never been another story in history that offers the most valuable thing in the world to its inhabitants so graciously, without any strings attached.

Unless there’s such a thing as a free massage chair, there isn’t another free gift that can change your life forever.

The gospel is free but it cost a certain someone everything. Angels and demons don’t even qualify for this offer. I have trouble believing I’ve won free truffle fries and now I’m supposed to believe God has paid my debt and I’m on my way to heaven? What atrocity is it that this grand gift doesn’t come with a price tag!

That free clinic over there? It cost a doctor’s money and passion. The tract distributor? His time and energy.

The free gospel? A set of three heavy rusted nails driven into fragility, precious blood to flow, and death; it cost the life of God.

“I won’t charge you by the number of times that you think you need to come for church services. Nor do I swipe from your spiritual credits when you sing worship songs half-heartedly. I don’t exact or demand for your suffering to then bless you. But there’s something I want, and that is for you to pay me…

Pay me the attention that I desire from My creation. That’s you. It’s your attention I want. Your smile, your thoughts on Me, songs of thanksgiving. I promise you that this journey doesn’t have to be free in the way the world sees it- its cheapened meaning. There’s nothing cheap about my love for you, nothing boring. It’s the richest journey you’ll ever take.”

It is the most expensive free gift of all.

What kind of a Giver would love like that?

The free gospel is unquantifiable grace; a million times over.

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What Time Does

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The clock on the wall bears a weight Pattie does not quite like. She cannot stand the gentle peeling on its edges, its ugly numericals and stiff mechanical clucks.

She doesn’t throw it away, however, for she has respect for things that work just fine.

Today is different, the clock seems to say to her. It’s George’s disappearance anniversary: It’s been 20 years since he vanished.

“They always say time will tell,” Pattie tells the old clock sadly. Her cheeks are hollow, paved with the running of many old tears. They still burn the corners of her brown eyes.

But Time did try to tell her before. Pattie would fret about and busy herself, choosing to press through life ignorant of herself – she keeps saying that she is the sum of her memories, and so she lives on borrowed recollections, and time.

But today is different. 20 years stand staring back at her, mercilessly, from the old clock on the wall, and Pattie finally hears its faint voice. It has grown tired, too.

“I have tried to tell you;

but who am I?” Time whispers, softly and humbly. “We don’t help you erase or ease pain. We don’t retain memories, or life.”

“We don’t do anything… but obey the heart.”

A Brief Breakup with Samsung Notes

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Dear Samsung S Notes,

I feel like murdering you for a little bit. I feel betrayed by you, and I am upset at myself that I ever thought I understood you.

My brain is filled with the images of what we shared. Notes, thoughts, letters. We used to have so much together.

I lost all my S Note memories today, even after I backed them up via the Samsung Cloud app.

It’s like a part of me has been ripped out like paper and torn out of my life – you can’t just take 120 memos and then walk out of my life. I am going mad. Everything we’ve had since the start of 2013 has vanished, save for a silly document called “Scraps and scribbles”, something I’d written in that nature and had totally left to fester because it was used for “testing”. It had four words. This must be some kind of a cruel joke.


Could you have found a better way to get back at me? I don’t think so.

If one day the virtual planet short circuits because of power overdrive, and you had to leave me for good, I wouldn’t blame you. You were aloof from the start, anyway, and mostly invisible.

We ought to cool off from each other and reflect about how we can do things better next time – and for me, that means buying a real note book that won’t just run off in the night, especially when I need him the most.

In scraps and scribbles,
Grace


Afterword:

It’s not easy when your files and memories get deleted – especially when you did back them up.

To help me cope better with this recent trauma, I installed some of these apps that will hopefully help bridge any future feuds. I hope they’ll help ease tensions between you and your Samsung notes too. All the best.

1. Dropsync: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.ttxapps.dropsync&hl=en
2. Google Docs
3. Evernote

Don’t expect to be Treated Fairly in this Life

I remember feeling really terrible one anonymous day.

It was so bad I couldn’t sleep all night. I felt like the whole world was somehow in it. ‘They’ say your loved ones have the greatest access to your heart. I think ‘they’ really knew what they were talking about. One can never get used to hurt – we may get used to the pain – but the sting that follows is so obstinate and irrational, it’s downright irritating (and you know it)

When I experience hurt like this, I know that I become susceptible to funny, alien thinking. These bouts of alien feelings are smart. They trigger my regret-nerve, and they know exactly how to aggravate the hurt. Alien feelings make me feel terrible yet demanding. They make me insist upon all my rights and I want to pen the injustices down. But I stop myself. Why do I want to write about things that make me upset?

I sit quite still. I realise I needed to hear something that doesn’t come from me. I dismiss my thoughts.

I remember sitting cross-legged on my bed, hunched over my favourite book in hand. It’s by Sarah Young. Everything in me wanted to sleep the pain away forever, everything with regards to that one terrible day. But we know that’s not possible. I flip the book open, and there I see it.

If you’re feeling pretty run over yourself, I hope this reading tides you through those alien feelings, too.


Do not expect to be treated fairly in this life.

People will say and do hurtful things to you, things that you don’t deserve. When someone mistreats you, try to view it as an opportunity to grow in grace. See how quickly you can forgive the one who’s wounded you. Don’t be concerned about setting the record straight. Instead of obsessing about people’s opinions of you, keep your focus on Me. Ultimately, it is My view of you that counts.

As you concentrate on relating to Me, remember that I have clothed you in My righteousness and holiness. This is also not fair, it is pure gift. When others treat you unfairly, remember that My ways with you are much better than fair. My ways are peace and love, which I have poured out into your heart by My spirit.

– N.D, October 2014

How to Slow Down Time (Read Slowly)

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The speed of life accelerates with eyes glued to a phone.

It doubles when it comes to swiping the ice-pucks on super portables.

Don’t even get me started on the rocketing effect that laptops have on time.

(Think Sims 3 and Minecraft:
Games that take us hours to build and draft)

~

When I sing a slow tune, or call up my grandmother

Read a book from cover to cover,

Write and reflect on what i’ve gleaned:

never to say “never” and

not to believe the phrase “all these, I’ve seen”

~

The clock slows down, and I hear me breathe

What time was lost,

now is suddenly found (for, there is just no time to grieve).

Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Maybe we’re all sick, with this too much of everything.

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Every once in a while you pick up a book that gives you access into the heads of very interesting people, and compels you to feel vaguely connected to them. A sort of short resonance with your own souls and theirs. This book was somewhat that for me. Turns out the book also expresses that feeling pretty well:

“This pause in time, within time … When did I first experience the exquisite sense of surrender that is only possible with another person? The peace of mind one experiences on one’s own, one’s certainty of self in the serenity of solitude, are nothing in comparison to the release and openness and fluency one shares with another, in close companionship …” – Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Honestly, I’m not much of a philosopher. I can’t say I’d be able to follow through entirely with Plato’s Republic or the big book on Marxism (I’d like to try though). But what I can say is that I appreciate and enjoy Art, Literature and Music. What I love about this book is that it opens up that realm for the reader: a place where Philosophy, Art, Literature and Music converges. Those things are made palatable for the novice reader, and in small bites, we slowly enjoy each of the facets delicately littered throughout the book (We see Literature in the adorable naming of Leo for the cat (it stands for Leo Tolstoy, the writer of Anna Karenina), Art in the Japanese film of “camellias upon the temple” by Kakuro Ozu and several mentions of classical music and how its a healing balm to the soul)

Sypnosis of the Story:

The story is narrated through the eyes of a fifty-something concierge, Renee (Madame Michel) and a twelve-year old girl named Paloma Josse. Both are highly intelligent, and both are searching, vaguely, for the meaning in life. Renee sneaks inconspicuously through life, hoping that no one will ever find out that she knows more than – really – what she ought to know about, as an inconspicuous concierge.

You start off feeling slightly put-off at their intelligence and ill-will towards the rich, which seem to border near self-righteousness and arrogance. But as the book spanned on, I developed a fondness and admiration for the two women, who possessed an inner strength I realised I also wanted for myself.

That climatic point is really, towards the end of the novel. It is as though you’ve been waiting for that point when you can finally insert the key into the treasure chest to understand and to see what the essence of life might be. We travel silently alongside with Renee and Paloma, lost and searching, but eventually emerge knowing. These women are the ones who want the world to be a better place – and though they did not know how, they finally did.

What does the title mean?

The title was mentioned only once in the entire book – Paloma notes that Madame Michel “has the elegance of a hedgehog: on the outside, she’s covered in quills, a real fortress, but my gut feeling is that on the inside, she has the same simple refinement as the hedgehog: a deceptively indolent little creature, fiercely solitary – and terribly elegant.”

What was bad?

The initial stages when they seem to be overly-intellectual to the point of sounding like that kid in your school who always answers the questions in class.

Should you read it?

If you’re the type who loves expounding and musing over profound thoughts, I’d say go for it.

My rating:

3.5/5

Perth ain’t no pushover

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“Land of the farm animals and infinite fields,” declared a friend of mine.

Just tell someone you’ve just been to Perth for a holiday – then watch their expression go from excited to confused (something that of an odd horror). “What did you DO there??” they ask, genuinely surprised. Or “Did you do farm stay?” As if all Perth is known for is their cows, farms and fields. Or the occasional honey and nougat.

Alright, okay, I used to believe that about Perth too.

Until I visited it in June, and then promptly decided that I had to go back someday.

Contrary to popular belief: Perth has beautiful towns, cities and streets. Perhaps it is because I stay in Singapore, where everywhere is bustling, energetic and loud – that I appreciate that perfectly fine balance that Perth offers: both the bustle and the tranquil, quiet living.

Fremantle: Your mish mash of lovely food, buildings and things

fremantlemarketLet’s take a walk down Fremantle (or Freo, as it’s affectionately known) at nightfall. The streets are lit up with orangey lights. There are colonial and Romantic buildings at every turn. Nearby, choruses of laughter echo from Sandrinos, a fantastic Seafood and Pizza restaurant ($35 per person). The three of us marched into the crowded but very welcoming restuarant – the long queue (a good indication) didn’t feel like an eternity, and the hostess chatted with everyone in the line with perfect ease. I still remember her cropped short hair and blue eyes. She was obviously busy, but she sure didn’t make us feel unimportant. Our turn soon came, and we discovered the best way to eat mussels: chilli-ed. The seafood platter (which was meant for two) filled us three up at only AUD$42, and the carbonara with mushroom and ham, was first rate.

Sandrinos kakulasisters

Another curious place we visited in Freo was the famous Kakula Sisters, a quaint little shop selling raw ingredients, creative knick knacks for cooking and all sort of gustatory supplies. A heaven-sent place for the chefs. If you’re looking for quirks like the whole nutmeg or mung beans, you’re in the right sort of place.

It’s great how their beaches are nearby the towns. The City Beach, which is a short drive away, is perfect for that whim of ocean and books. It’s a very interesting beach. Before your eyes meet with the crash of waves, you are greeted with hilly sand mounds, all with dancing green plants atop of them. It’s different from your ordinary beach, I reckon. A good kind of different. Just. Look. At. This:

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Obviously with a name like City Beach, you’d know the City’s around the corner. A mere 15 mins drive away.

Sadly, our trio didn’t get to see much of the City, since we only visited it on our last day (how ironic), however, whatever we saw of it was good. A special place to just make a detour in the City is the lovely London Court. Though it’s a tad touristy, you still get a wonderful feel of the Harry Potter-like street (it’s a setting of Tudor England, to be more accurate).

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Leederville, Subiaco and Mount Lawley: Small Towns with Big Charm

Alright, these small towns have big personalities, and what we truly loved about ’em most were their cafes with delicious decor and food. So, first on our honour roll is….

1. Piccolo’s Corner, Leederville

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Amazing breakfast or brunch on a budget. It’s super old-school and vintage-y, yet not without elegance and charm. The food takes a while to prepare, but they were all awesome. We had Piccolo’s Breakfast (Free range poached eggs with bacon, avocado and spicy capsicum with relish served on toasted ciabatta, $17.50), Home-made Beetroot pesto, free range poached eggs, danish fetta and fresh basil on toasted ciabatta with a garlic rub ($15.50), and Tarragon and garlic field mushrooms served with wilted spinach, asparagus, homemade basil pesto and a poached egg on toasted ciabatta ($18.50).

2. Tuckshop, Northbridge

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It didn’t sound very appealing to me at first, but I was dead wrong. Tuckshop is a simple casual cafe with complex dishes. We ordered Ciabatta with Tasmanian smoked salmon, lemon ricotta, asparagus and fennel salad ($18.50), Smoked cod, potato and leek bake with poached egg, cheddar toastie ($18.50) and a Lamb, rosemary and vegetable pie ($12.50). All of which were impeccably prepared.

3. Little Caesar’s Pizzeria, Leederville

On our first night in Perth, our host brought us to Little C’s to grab pizza. Really delicious, (Yea, I can be a little repetitive when it comes to describing food) but the time it took to prepare the pizzas was really quite long. My friend had gastric while waiting.

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4. Chocolateria San Churros, Leederville and Subiaco

San Churros has got pretty tasty churros and average tasting hot chocolate – though I would rather recommend Koko Black for hot chocolate of any sort.

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5. The Walk Cafe, Subiaco

Wicked coffee, and at a dirt cheap price. ‘Nuff said! $3 for per cup.

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Caversham Wildlife Park: Aussie Animals

For AUD$25 per person, I think there ought to be more animals in here. It’s a lovely and cosy zoo, but the variety of animals and birds aren’t very much. You get to see the usual range of australian creatures and a few more others, but I don’t think the wildlife park fully justifies the $25 that you pay. The must-sees are the kangaroos (the albino ones are really adorable), wombats, quokkas, farm animals (llama gangstass), koalas and a species of birds that makes sounds akin to your heartbeat. It’s pretty cool.

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And that wraps up my short stay in Perth. For what’s it worth, Perth was great. Though 5 days might be a little short to conclude that “Perth is no pushover”, I’m still sticking to it. I need to go back there someday, and if you’re still not convinced, visit it yourself. <3

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Why Do We Fall in Love So Easily?

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Falling in love with your eyes:

Lovely looks, in a second
Catches your eye, you can’t pretend
She’s far beyond the clueless crowd
If only you’d send your love out loud

Falling in love with a sound:

A flutter in your tummy
Her insane laughter echoes
This weird game of rummy
Will never be as fun
Without her laughing solos

Falling in love with words:

An adorable scribble, a size of a rabbit’s paw
Scrawled on parchment, undyed and raw
The old stamp winks on, it’s a cute impression
This penpal, the writing thrill, a marvellous sensation

Falling in love with a good friend who leaves:

You hear again, that silvery voice
That never leaves your head, it’s not your choice
Wave goodbye, that familiar sad smile
Will it still stay the same yet for many miles?

Falling in love with a mystery:

Why do we fall in love so easily
Why do we fall in love so secretly
It remains a mystery,
Love maintains forever
her inscrutable secrecy