Island of the gods


Koming, our host at Ketut’s Place, was explaining the ornamental door that featured Rama and Sita, the protagonists in the Indian legend Ramayana. “Do you know Ramayana? Yes, that is Rama… Sita. Just like Julia… Roberts.”

He meant Romeo… and Juliet.

He was giving us a little tour of the different parts of a typical Balinese household. There is the ceremony building, where cremation and weddings happen. There is the parent’s home, the room that featured Rama and Sita, said to be reserved for copulating. If you see your folks sneaking out of the main house to go to the honeymoon room, you know they’re gonna do the dirty.

There’s the temple. The temple is the most interesting, mystical, ethereal part of the compound. Koming said most Balinese traditional houses have temples or shrines.  It is where the spirits of their ancestors are believed to be staying while waiting for reincarnation to kick in. Owners of the family land are also not supposed to sell their properties as the spirits of their ancestors will be “confused” when they reincarnate to a different set of people around. It is believed to bring bad luck to the family.

The little tour was followed by a sumptuous traditional Balinese dinner.


Scenes from Bali

The chartered car from Denpasar took me on an hour and a half ride to Ubud. Closing in, we passed by strings of shops, restaurants, yoga studios and t-shirt places. Streets were getting filled with travelers and locals out for a late lunch or on their way back to their hotels or homes. A beautiful temple on the left, a charming gilded shrine on the right, and a few more in the next 500 meters.

The car pulled over on the side of the road, just right across the central market and Ubud Palace. I slid out of the car and the scent of incense from the nearby fountain shrine did it for me. I’ve arrived in my spirit town.



An ultra mini guide on NYC


People were on a rush all the time. Cars clogged the streets. Garbage poured out on your path. Train stations were grimy and dank. And hotel receptionists were rude. Yet there was something about Manhattan that struck me as both that wintry wonderland and dreamy place in the movies in your head and at the same time it was that perfectly chaotic city where real people live and real life happens.

I loved New York City on my first and only trip there in 2009. We went to Queens first to visit friends and of course, having been stuck in the Midwest for months before traveling to NYC, I needed a Jollibee fix. The next day, we took off to Manhattan and spent the rest of time enjoying these things about the island where dreams are made:

There’s really no point in getting the best hotel suite because this city is out there in the streets. (Any city!) Skip the cab or the double-decker bus (by all means, skip the double-decker bus!), just walk. One day of walking will make you feel like you have been here for a week. I like 5th Avenue for the torrents of people milling about in all directions. Chinatown for the ever enthusiastic way of business. Times Square for the energy and optimism it seemed to evoke. Upper West and Upper East Sides for its beautiful architecture.

New York City is like a big bowl of heterogenous breakfast cereals floating in, well, milk and honey. One night, I sat in one the chairs scattered in the elevated front of the New York Public Library and I let my mind be carried away by this stream of people mindlessly,  or mindfully, moving to their destinations for the night.

Take a walk in one neighborhood and you’re in Beijing, few blocks more and you’re in Milan, continue walking this way and it’s Seoul. No doubt: America is a country of immigrants and built by immigrants, I don’t know how others fail to see that! I think no other American island draws more diversity than Manhattan.

Theater District
Theaters are clad with large billboards promoting the night’s big shows. Theater goers are in line: some dressed to the nines, some in their shirts and jeans (tourists!). This much culture is so soulfully stimulating and already, it’s like actually watching the shows themselves. Theaters are peppered from 42nd Street all the way to 53rd.

I watched Chicago and really enjoyed its sarcasm and humor. Being a fan of musicals, I can live here in New York and watch one show every single night. I’ll be homeless after a week.

Artists and Creativity
Singers, musicians, bands, painters and sketch artists show up in subway stations, side streets, parks, piers! They’re everywhere! While some do it for a living, I think some of them just want to give free shows and add to the artistic identity of New York City. Here’s where anybody with a paintbrush or a saxophone and a heart can just setup his own stage on the sidewalk, paint the city’s skyline, play a violin and just perform. Indeed, it is the world’s biggest stage.

Grand Central Station
The Grand Central Station is so grand, beautiful and charming it deserves a solo slot in my top 5. It blew me away. It’s easy to imagine yourself running away with the love of your life in this romantic and dramatic train terminal. There were many nooks to explore inside and it’s tempting to spend hours on top of the staircase and watch the comings and goings of people. All in such beautiful backdrop.

2009 was 7 years ago. Time to plan to go back.