Grab and Gojek - A Ray of Light in the Otherwise Dismal Transportation Scene in Bali

Transportation in Bali, at least from the perspective of this budget traveler, is severely broken. Compared to the trains, subways, public buses, ferries, and more of the rest of our trip, travel was so much of a bummer that for mostly this reason, we will have a hard time recommending Bali to prospective travelers.

Don't get me wrong: we saw some really cool stuff. There were oodles of seclude waterfalls, myriad gorgeous rice terraces, innumerable friendly people, countless cute monkeys, delicious food and drink, a really really tall statue, and more. But getting to each of said places was a challenge (and not the good kind of challenge where you feel like you accomplished something afterward, but more like the kind of challenge you might euphemistically call talking to your Trump-supporting uncle about politics.)

Bali's epic fail of a transportation scene is an open secret. The roads are overcrowded and sometimes downright scary due to poor infrastructure investment; the public transportation system that was once in place has pretty much ceased due to all locals now owning their own scooter; the taxi system has been called a "mafia" where prices are monopolistically high and the aggressiveness of the drivers is nerve-rattling; and renting a scooter, while an attractive option, comes with a risk of playing into police bribery*. Most travel guides suggest hiring a driver and private car to take you around to the various sites, but besides costing more than our total daily budget, this option felt just too chauffer-ish.

Enter Grab and Gojek, Asia's answer to Uber and Lyft. Prices are very reasonable and clearly communicated, the drivers never once failed to be friendly, miscommunication is rare since you select destination via the app, and the cars were all airconditioned*. While private ride-share takes away from the travel experience, separating us off in our own little bubble, it was pretty nice when it worked. But many areas ban Grab and Gojek* while others were so remote, there weren't any drivers around.

So what do you do in the absence of good transportation options? We got creative. We rented bikes and took to the back roads. We bummed a ride with the every so friendly locals. We walked...a lot. And, unfortunately, we did less than we would have otherwise. Temples went unseen, beaches went unswam, and chocolate plantations went ungrazed.

If we get a chance to tell you about our epic 2-month Singapore/Malaysia/Indonesia celebration trip, you'll hear about tons of the awesome stuff we saw and did, but you'll also probably hear about why it ended on a bit of a less than positive note all because of Bali's bummer of a transportation scene. So it goes.
Saturday February 1 2020File under: travel, indonesia

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The Photo Not Taken

One of the main tourist attractions in Bali seems to be instagrammable photo ops. The roadside is littered with colorful signs to pose under, [albeit beautifully] woven hearts and nests, and swings galore. Never, however, was this photo-in-lieu-of-actual-culture made more apparent than today at the Handara Gate.

Due to a series of circumstances too convoluted to get into, Della and I hired a private taxi for the day to take us to some sights and drop us off at a somewhat off the beaten path mountain town. Sights included UNESCO World Heritage rice fields (which were pretty magical), a temple on a lake and surrounding gardens (which felt a little like Disneyland, i.e. contrived for tourists but still kind of nice), and the Handara Gate (actually a gate to a golf course resort).

The scene at the gates epitomized the it's-all-about-Instragram phenomenon that we can't help but sometimes feel overwhelmed by. You had to pay $3 and stand in line for 20+ minutes to get your photo op. And that's it. You never got a chance to actually admire the gate, since there was always someone posing there. There wasn't anything else there (unless you wanted to get in a quick 9). These hoards of people drove to this spot to stand in a line to get the photo and leave. But we weren't going to become one of them. We hopped back in our taxi (much to our driver's surprise) and were on our way.

The gates are beautiful. And we understand the draw for sure. And if we pass by again when the line is shorter or we don't have a complicated situation with a taxi driver, maybe we'll join the masses. But at the moment, we couldn't bring ourselves to do it. So instead, I thought I'd Photoshop myself a nice little picture. So I cropped myself out of a jumper from earlier in the day, and badabinga: you can't hardly tell*.

Pictures are a part of travel for sure. It's a great way to remember a place and a time. I cherish some of my travel selfies and look forward to taking many many more. But I hope that the next time I find myself lining up to get a picture in front of a faux cultural icon, I stop and take a moment to reflect. And then probably go post it on Instagram.
Monday January 20 2020File under: travel, indonesia

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Borobudur and Prambanan

One of the things I was excited about in planning a trip to Indonesia was to check out Borobudur, the largest Buddhist temple in the world. I remember taking a class in college that focused heavily on the temple, its intricate carvings, and the symbolism of, well, everything. Whatever knowledge I gained at the time has since gone far away. All that I retained is that Borobudur is kind of a big deal. So Della and I set the alarm for an ungodly hour, saddled up on our rented scooter, and braved the almost certain death of Yogyakarta's highways to get a glimpse.

In short, it was spectacular. We made it early enough that the temple was covered in morning mist and before there were too many people so we could get some goofy pictures. We watched the interpretive video*, ate at the restaurant*, but mostly walked around to look for new angles to take it all in from (always with the photo op, of course).

In the less-than-adequate planning that I did for this trip, I didn't pay much attention to mentions of Prambanan, the nearby temple complex which is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I figured we'd figure it out when we got here, so that's just what we did. With little in the way of expectations, we again braved the melee of the roads* and struck out for Prambanan.

I don't know that I'd say that Prambanan was more impressive than Borobudur— because the latter had a lot of anticipation and acclaim, both of which usually tend to increase my enjoyment—but it was pretty rad. Esp. after we ran from the hordes at the temple proper and the constant dodging of line-of-selfie-sight, we found the place to be super nice and immensely photogenic.

Two spectacular temples in two unforgettable days*. If you ever find yourself in the area and planning on visiting Borobudur, I encourage you to consider buying the combo ticket for there and Prambanan. I think you'll be happy to did. But maybe consider a taxi to get there instead of scooting. Then you'll be both happy and alive to tell the tale.
Friday January 10 2020File under: travel, indonesia

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on Sat 11th Jan, 2020 10:23 pm EST Mom said:
Loving these fun posts. Keep ‘em coming.
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Celebrity Status in Indonesia

**Tap on the shoulder** "Photo?"

It would seem that people in Malaysia and Indonesia love to get their picture taken with me and Della. Not necessarily people who we've shared an interaction with or even made eye contact with. Sometimes it's parents herding their shy child to pose with the bule-bule or hip twenty-somethings wanting something for their Instagrams, but other times it is a group of giddy hijab-wearing ladies or families taking a stoic portrait-for-the-mantel. We try to match the tone and appear as fun as possible. Because it is fun! People wanting their photo with us for no reason? We feel like celebrities. The photo session is always followed up with handshakes all around and lots of shared smiles.

The phenomenon seems to happen more where there are less foreign tourists, places we might just be holing up for a day or two to wait for a ferry or catch up on some internetting. In Semarang, Indonesia, a lovely lady at a mall food court* asked for her photo with us because we were her first foreign customers! Naturally, I asked for our photo with her too! At Prambanan, Borobodur's lesser known yet still spectacular cousin, it was such a flurry of one after the next that I had to duck away lest I melt in the blazing sun.

Rarely do we capture the moment, because we're both busy being in the photos. But occasionally, after I've slunk away, I get a chance to snap Della who is always game to keep posing and smiling.

But now that we've hit Bali, it seems like a our fame has run its course. Among the sea of tourists, we're no longer a novelty. And I'm okay with that. The interactions, while sometimes tedious, always seemed to have a genuineness of real excitement and, afterwards, real gratitude. These traits encapsulate our impression of the people here—so nice, so helpful, and so proud of their country*. So until my fame hits back stateside, I at least got a taste of what being a celebrity is all about
Saturday January 4 2020File under: travel, indonesia

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Twas the Night Before Christmas 2019



Twas the night before Christmas
With the air thick and moist
The jungle all around us
Sings with its enchanting voice

The chirps of the bugs
The calls of the birds
The howls of the monkeys
Form these foreign words

Four kinds of primates
Or was it five?
That we saw today
On our boat ride

Macaques and proboscis
A few I forget
But watching the orangutans
Was really the hit

So human-like and graceful
They swing tree to tree
The babies and their mamas
Were the most fun to see

Now we're anchored in the magroves
With the jungle close at hand
Three nights on this houseboat
Is our Christmas plan

We'll look for more monkeys
See what Borneo has to share
We'll night hike to tarantualas
If we might dare

It's a different Chrsitmas
Than at home it is true
We trade cold for hot weather
A ham for fish stew

But even without trimmings
Carols, gifts, and bells
We have each other
And time to oursevles

For us, that's just right
Plus it gives me a reason
To write my "Night Before" poem
To chronicle our season

Now the candle's burning low
And tomorrow's an early start
So I'll pass along this wish
From the bottom of my heart

May your Christmas be
As joyous as mine is
Full of love, fun, and smiles
And perhaps some bad rhyme-es

These "Night Before Christmas" posts have become some of my favorite over the years. If you're interested, check back to poems of the past via the archive.

Monday December 30 2019File under: holidays, poetry

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on Thu 02nd Jan, 2020 04:47 am EST Horge said:
Happy 2020 already to both of you!
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Malaysia Is Inexpensive...And We Love It

Today, with all our expenses combined—food, transport, entertainment, and hotel—Della and I together spent less than $30. And it isn't because we scrimped and saved, cutting corners and pinching every penny*. We have a hotel room with air condition and our own private bathroom. We eat out 3 meals a day (sometimes more), getting a beverage and dessert with almost every meal. And we do stuff! No, we only spent $30 today because Malaysia is inexpensive...and we love it!!

When travelling in a place where things cost approximately 1/4 of what they do in the States, it is easy to live like a king without breaking the bank. In fact, it was one of the reasons that led us to choose our destination this time around. And 2+ weeks in, it has totally worked out. We love it. We love being able to order at a restaurant and not worry about the price, because we know it will be reasonable. We love being able to take a cab when it's pouring rain because it will be less than a Starbucks coffee back home. We just love it.

But don't take my word for it. Here are a few examples of our expenditures over the last couple days to give you an idea:
5-hour bus ride from Lumut to Kuala Lumpur (on buses more comfortable than I've ever ridden in before: seats arranged 2 on one side of the aisle and 1 on the other, leg supporters, gorgeous interiors (curtains, etc.))$6.75
Today's lunch: plate of fried noodles with grilled chicken, plate of fried rice with grilled chicken (both delicious) and 3 cups of ice tea (one with sweetened condensed milk that was heavenly)$3.75
Splurge date night to the cinema* complete with caramel corn, drinks, and candy$11.50*
OYO Dragon Inn hotel room which is clean, where the staff is super nice, and is in a super convenient location$14.50
40-minute ride on commuter railway to popular tourist destination$0.50

Of course one could spend lots of money here. We opted not to go to the top of a tall building which would have cost almost 4X our hotel room. And the "hop on hop off" tourist bus is way more than public transportation and walking*.

To prove we're having an awesome time here despite spending less than one hour of Seattle's minimum wage each per day, here are some photos.

Thursday December 19 2019File under: travel, malaysia

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Have Another Drink

A lot is said about food with regards to travel. And I'm sure I'll add my 2 cents before this trip is done. But one my favorite parts of Malaysia and Singapore so far are the drinks! Delicious, interesting, new, and cheap—couple that with a climate that makes you want to drink something cold and icy all the time and you've got a recipe for fun!

To start with, there is, of course, tea. We got to tour a tea plantation and factory (being sure to take the requisite 1 million selfies). And although the traditional pot of tea is nice, my favorite way to take tea is with ice, milk, sugar, and BOBA! I finally get the bubble tea craze, though I will have a hard time paying $5 back in the states when it comes to about $1.25 here.

Other favorites so far have been fresh mango smoothies (made with real mango), coconut milkshakes (made with real coconut), strawberry juice (made with real, grown right out behind the restaurant strawberries), and corn juice (made with real corn)*. Who knows what Indonesia will have in way of can't-be-missed drinks. But I can only imagine they will be cold, they will be cheap, and we will drink a lot of them!
Thursday December 19 2019File under: travel, malaysia

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Supertrees of Singapore

The same way Paris has its Arc de Triomphe, Dubai its Burj al Arab, and Mostar its Old Bridge, perhaps the most associated image of Singapore is that of its Supertrees. In a slightly jet-lagged state and with first-day-of-vacation walking optimism, Della and I set out to find said icons to see what it was all about. We succeeded [and got the requisite photos to prove it], but we found Singapore's Gardens By the Bay to be so much more than Supertrees!

I actively avoid getting too much information about a place before I visit lest I'm unable to keep an open mind upon arrival. Singapore, and Gardens By the Bay, was no exception. So aside from the trees, we didn't know what to expect. As it turned out, around every turn there was something new and wonderful to see: large scale installation art, topiary gardens, water features, an amazing food court*, and a holiday light installation to that puts Vegas to shame. We wandered through mostly deserted paths and were positively giddy*.

All in all, Gardens By the Bay set a wonderful tone for the upcoming 2 months of adventure: hidden wonders, delicious food, and being together. This is going to be fun!
Sunday December 8 2019File under: travel, singapore

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on Sun 15th Dec, 2019 06:03 pm EST Mom said:
Wow! Looks like a great place to spend some time. Where are all the people?
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on Thu 02nd Jan, 2020 04:47 am EST Horge said:
Looking forward to helping you get some more jumping photos into your collection!
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2019 Summer Juggling Recap

If you're not following @wrenanddella over at instagram, what are you waiting for!?! In this new day and age of social this and insta that, Della and I finally got around to having a place to put pictures up on a slightly faster timeline than this blog. But since we all know how traditions die hard with me, I offer up some photos from our 2019 juggling summer season. Enjoy.





Tuesday November 19 2019File under: juggling, pics

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on Thu 02nd Jan, 2020 04:46 am EST Horge said:
Taking the opportunity being juggling diapers to catch up on my BdW finally. So many shows in 2019! Looking at them, I gotta ask though: where do y'all manage to store all your props? I mean, just between stilts and cowboy hats it seems you'd need a room all of its own, no to mention all the clubs, ropes, etc.
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Cover Story of the Skagit Valley Herald

I've posted a number of times here on BdW about small town newspapers and the occasions I have appeared. I even have a series of posts called "Minor Media Mentions" where I capture for posterity the occasional photos or blurbs that make it to various print media outlets. This latest, however, doesn't feel like it quite fits the category "Minor". Recently, a profile story about me and my crossword endeavors was featured on the front page of the Skagit Valley Herald.

The SVH runs the Universal crossword, which, up until this past year, was a somewhat of a throw away puzzle constructed and edited by a persona non grata. Then editorship was taken over by David Steinberg, a great editor I've worked at the Orange Country Register and the Puzzle Society. This allowed for some of my puzzles to appear in the paper, which I thought was neat, something a small town paper might be inclined to point out—"Today's crossword is by area man" or whatever. So I pitched the idea when I had a puzzle coming out. To make a long story short, this article is what came of the pitch, notably not in conjunction with one of my puzzles. In fact, it doesn't even mention having a puzzle in the SVH, which was the pitch in the first place.

I can't deny that it is nice to have a feature story about me on the front page of my town's newspaper (albeit with a less than flattering photo). It feels like a neat nod to this thing I do. It would have been great if things could have come together to have the feature run with a puzzle, but I guess you can't have it all. If you want to try some of my puzzles, I've started a bit of a resume, as it were. Here's to hoping it keeps growing.
Monday September 23 2019File under: media, crossword

Toggle Comments (3)comment?
on Tue 24th Sep, 2019 08:07 pm EDT Chris said:
Congrats! Although I can't say I appreciate the cliffhanger - how did it all end on page A9?!?
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on Tue 24th Sep, 2019 08:10 pm EDT Chris...again said:
Ok, I'm an idiot, I JUST found the link the whole article you so blatantly provided :-( , I have shamed our honored brotherhood of SVH front pagers!
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on Wed 13th Nov, 2019 04:30 pm EST Horge said:
Nice work. One question, are you planning to post a copy of this Skagit article on your wall with the crosswords? That'd be pretty meta. Though I think you should also then post on your wall a copy of this Blog article talking about the Skagit article talking about your crosswords. Now that'd be some Inception-level meta-ness. (p.s. check your email dude)
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Recent Comments:
*Mom on Borobudur and Prambanan
*Horge on Twas the Night Before Christmas 2019
*Horge on Supertrees of Singapore
*Horge on 2019 Summer Juggling Recap
*Mom on Supertrees of Singapore

Recent Content:
*Grab and Gojek - A Ray of Light in the Otherwise Dismal Transportation Scene in Bali
*The Photo Not Taken
*Borobudur and Prambanan
*Celebrity Status in Indonesia
*Twas the Night Before Christmas 2019
*Malaysia Is Inexpensive...And We Love It
*Have Another Drink
*Supertrees of Singapore
*2019 Summer Juggling Recap

Websites du Friends:
* Wren and Della
Della and my juggling website
* The Real Food Show
A circus-inspired elementary assembly show to teach kids about healthy eating
* Della Moustachella
Della's performance website
* The Fun Bags
Della and Sadye's Performance Troupe


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