Pythons, Rambutans and Kasti-ball: Living in Balikpapan

 

Elyse and Me.Python in Balikpapan.copyrightSam and I just got back from a trip to Kuala Lumpur, where he attended training for a certification and I tagged along to do really important things like sleep, eat LOTS of roti canai, drink as much ice coffee as my nervous system could withstand … and see a few sights. Hey, when you’ve been fighting tax software for two weeks straight, a gal deserves a bit of a break!

I’ll post more on our KL venture shortly, but in the meantime, I thought a few pictures of life in Balikpapan might be in order, starting with last week’s hash where Elyse and I got to pet a python! (Sam was a bad*** and ran the whole way, so he didn’t have time to stop for a pic!) Anyway, since Maggie, Elyse and I were ambling along at a slower walking pace, we chanced upon this man who had apparently just captured the beauty and wanted us to pose for a picture (thanks, Maggie for taking such a cool angle!). So, what does a python feel like? Dry, cool, with surprisingly soft-ish skin and you can feel the muscles moving just underneath!

And Sarah just reminded me that I have not posted any pictures of the wonderful, hairy fruit that is rambutan. So Sarah, in honor of your passion for these things, here’s some photos of a bike trip to a local rambutan orchard where we learned that there are actually several different types of rambutans … although I confess I couldn’t really tell the difference between one type and the other!

Rambutan orchard owner standing by (what I think is) a Garuda Rambutan tree.

Rambutan orchard owner standing by (what I think is) a “Garuda” rambutan tree.

Orchard Owner with Pak Sam, me and Pak Yayan. I am of average height by U.S. standards, but here, I look like a giant!

Orchard Owner with Pak Sam, me and Pak Yayan. I am of average height by U.S. standards, but here, I look like a giant!

The amazing Pak Yayan (this guy is 66 years old and still wins all the bicycling tournaments !) leading the way through a kampung.

The amazing Pak Yayan (this guy is 66 years old and still wins all the bicycling tournaments!) leading the way through a kampung.

Kangkung fields (water spinach)

Kangkung fields (water spinach). This stuff is delicious. You chop it up, boil it for 2 minutes, drain and then saute with oil, onion, garlic, black pepper, red chili pepper and soy sauce. So good.

An exceptionally pretty kampung (village)

An exceptionally pretty kampung (village)

Laundry Day

Laundry Day

And other pictures of life around Balikpapan …

Sam participating in warm-up exercises for an Aids-awareness walk. People here take their warm-ups very seriously. For the 5-k walk, there was about a 30-minute warm-up session!

Sam participating in warm-up exercises for an Aids-Awareness walk. People here take their warm-ups very seriously. For the 5-k walk, there was about a 30-minute warm-up session!

Aids awareness walk. This is a somewhat controversial thing in conservative Indonesia. In fact, a few days before this walk, I saw another Aids Awareness walk through the city center. On that day, giant banners were being held high stating : "Aids ... just say no to sex!"

Aids Awareness walk. This is a somewhat controversial thing in conservative Indonesia. In fact, a few days before this walk, I saw another Aids Awareness walk through the city center. On that day, giant banners were being held high stating : “Aids … just say no to sex!”

Enjoying a bowl of Bakso (soup with meatballs usually made from tapioca flour and fish or beef) after the Aids awareness walk. Happily,Indonsians take their snacks as seriously as their warm-ups. Yum!

Enjoying a bowl of Bakso (soup with meatballs usually made from tapioca flour and fish or beef) after the Aids Awareness walk. Happily, Indonesians take their snacks as seriously as their warm-ups. Yum!

Balipapan city hall. The totem pole in the foreground and shield designs on the building (background) are designs from the indigenous Dyak Indians.

Balikpapan city hall. The totem pole in the foreground and shield designs on the building (background) are designs from the indigenous Dyaks.

Boy and his ukelele

Boy and his ukulele. Ukulele’s (called “gitar kecil” or small guitar) are extremely popular here, especially with pre-teen boys.

Lady at Window. I saw her on one of our bike trips and had to stop to ask for her portrait. I believe she told us she had five children!

Lady at Window. I saw her on one of our bike trips and had to stop to ask for her photo. I believe she told us she had five children!

View of coast and Balikpapan's main mosque from Chevron complex

View of coast and Balikpapan’s main mosque from Chevron complex.

Me at the helicopter pad (background) local hangout spot at Kemala Beach

Me at the helicopter pad (background) at Kemala Beach in downtown Balikpapan. Every evening, tons of locals hangout here with friends and/or their dates for a view of the sunset.

Sam playing Kasti

Sam playing Kasti. This is a traditional Indonesian game. Here’s Sam’s definition: “It is sort of like the English game Rounders with an Indonesian twist on the rules that seems to have perhaps been inspired by the creator of Calvin and Hobbes.”

Housing at Balikpapan Baru. This is a huge housing complex where various subdivisions are named after countries and cities of the world. Here is Paris!

Housing at Balikpapan Baru (a housing/commercial area northeast of city center where many expats live). This is a huge housing complex where various subdivisions are named after countries and cities of the world. Here is Paris!

... and here is poor Napolean.

… and here is poor Napoleon.

Ahem! Siloam Christmas Special..

Merry Christmas! Local hospital’s Christmas special: For less than 100 bucks, you too can obtain Magnetic Resonance Imaging of your … anus.

View of Manggar Beach. While this beach is only about 20 km north of city center, thanks to the incredibly slooooow traffic, it takes 45 minutes to an hour to get here!

View of Manggar Beach. While this beach is only about 20 km north of city center, thanks to the mind-numbingly slooooow traffic, it takes at least 45 minutes to get here! Traffic and driving speeds are definitely not Balikpapan’s selling points.

We often walk to Kemala Beach to enjoy a cheap, fresh dinner of grilled fish, kankung and white rice. Simple but so, so good. The only downside? The huge rats that pccasionally scuttle a foot away from you ... and the cats that jump on your table to eat your food!

We often walk to Kemala Beach to enjoy a cheap, fresh dinner of grilled fish, kankung and white rice. Simple but so, so good. The only downside? The huge rats that occasionally scuttle a foot away from you … and the cats that jump on your table to eat your food!

Local wicker factory behind wicker store. Men are stripping rattan and bamboo harvested from the forest.

Local wicker factory behind wicker store. Men are stripping rattan and bamboo harvested from the forest.

Wicker Shop. There are many of these along the main road of Jendral Sudirman, with clusters near the airport.

Wicker Shop. There are many of these along the main road of Jendral Sudirman, with clusters of shops near the airport. Lots of people commission all kinds of wicker furniture to be made. While I think the artificial wicker (poly-resin) is about the same as it would be in the states, the natural wicker furniture is a good deal.

Ocean's offerings. Shark, Snapper and Box Fish! Ocean's is Balikpapan's premier restaurant on the beach, between Pasar Klandasan and Plaza Balikpapan.

Ocean’s offerings. Shark, Snapper and Box Fish! Ocean’s is Balikpapan’s premier restaurant on the beach, between Pasar Klandasan and Plaza Balikpapan.

Mr. Monitor Lizard, Our Backyard Pet! He pops out to say hello around noon every day.

Mr. Monitor Lizard, our backyard pet! He is bigger than this picture presents and he pops out to say hello around noon every day. These guys are actually great to have around as they eat rats … something Balikpapan has in abundance, unfortunately.

Sam and Pak Nurul (our driver) at Crocodile Farm. Love the sign!

Sam and Pak Nurul (our driver) at Crocodile Farm. Love the sign!

Tourist map of Balikpapan

Tourist map of Balikpapan.


Pasar Klandasan, Balikpapan’s Awesome Fresh Market

View of Pasar Klandasan from parking lot

View of Pasar Klandasan from parking lot

Balikpapan is flush with large fresh markets (called “pasar” in Bahasa Indonesian), especially in the old town area of Kampung Baru and Kebun Sayur, where Blue Sky Hotel stands prominent, or along the ocean-front drive of Jalan Jendral Sudirman.

Lucky for us, we are about a fifteen minute walk from the latter area … and Pasar Klandasan, one of Balikpapan’s biggest and best fresh markets!

From the parking lot (pictured above), this place may not look like much, but once you step under that white sign and venture inside, a new world exploding with color, smells and sounds assails you.

Inside Pasar Klandasan (it is very much appreciated to give a little change to the special needs individuals often seated in the center of the main walkway. )

Inside Pasar Klandasan (it is very much appreciated to give a little change to the special needs individuals often seated in the center of the main walkway. )

It’s a destination onto itself just to walk through the narrow lanes lined with stalls selling everything from freshly caught squid and slurpy, newly-slaughtered (and quease-inducing) chicken , to cookware and household items to basil , pineapple and tomatoes. And then there are the little shops and stalls lining the outside, selling fresh coconuts, random housewares, papaya and bananas … you get the picture.

All of this leads to the (not-so-picturesque) ocean front where fishermen bring in their catch and a wooden pier lined with barbecue fish stalls hovers on stilts over the tidal mash-up of sandy beach, plastic bags and a lot of other stuff you probably just don’t want to know about. Coming here is, in my opinion, a Balikpapan highlight. It’s a great way to interact with the locals (who should win the Friendliest-People-on-the-Planet award) and, short of growing your own produce, you won’t find fresher ingredients! But this place is meant for photo’s, so here’s a photo tour of my favorite Balkipapan grocery-stop:

Sponge and sundries vendor just inside the main entrance. This is where I buy my kitchen sponges...

Sponge and sundries vendor just inside the main entrance. This is where I buy my kitchen sponges…

Santi, the nicest egg seller ever! (a big carton costs a little under 3 USD. She also sells big bags of Kopi Kapal Api (excellent, finely-ground Indonesian-brand coffee) for under 2 USD a bag!

Santi, the nicest egg seller ever! (A big carton costs a little under 3 USD). She also sells big bags of Kopi Kapal Api (excellent, finely-ground Indonesian-brand coffee) for under 2 USD a bag!

Banana row. A bunch of bananas goes for about 10,000 IDR (less than 1 USD). The boy is wearing a face mask made of ground rice grains, tumeric and water. It is used ubiquitously to protect skin from the sun and is thought to also lighten and soften the complexion.

Banana row. A bunch of bananas goes for about 10,000 IDR (less than 1 USD). The boy is wearing a face mask made of ground rice, turmeric and water. It is used ubiquitously (though usually not applied so thickly) to protect skin from the sun and is thought to also lighten and soften the complexion.

Lady selling flower petals just inside the main entrance. These are used to decorate graves.

Lady selling flower petals just inside the main entrance. These are used to decorate graves.

Ibu Djumiati and her nephews. This is where I buy most of my vegetables. She sells almost everything you can want, and most of it is locally grown. A can purchase a huge bag of veggies consisting of local basil, carrots, tomato, bell pepper (red and green), green beans, broccoli, cabbage, romaine lettuce, avocado, onions, garlic, chili peppers, chives and pineapple for about 10 USD!

Ibu Djumiati and her nephews. This is where I buy most of my vegetables. She sells almost everything you can want, and most of it is locally grown. One can purchase a huge bag of veggies consisting of local basil, carrots, tomato, water spinach (delicious! called “Kangkung”), bell peppers (red and green), green beans, broccoli, cabbage, romaine lettuce, avocado, onions, garlic, chili peppers, chives, limes and pineapple for about 10 USD total!

Dragon Fruit, Papaya, Squash, Avocado, Mango, Cantaloupe and Limes!

Dragon Fruit, Papaya, Squash, Avocado, Mango, Cantaloupe and Limes!

Another view of Ibu Djumiati's stall. She has the best price for pineapples!

Another view of Ibu Djumiati’s stall. She has the best price for pineapples (8,000 to 10,000 IDR — under 1 USD)!

Dried fish stall across from Ibu Djumiati.

Dried fish stall across from Ibu Djumiati.

Closeup

Closeup

Pak Ridwan carrying my groceries so far. A lot of men and boys will ask to carry your goods. In exchange, you give them $10,000 IRD (under 1 USD) for their help. They are always really nice and can point you in the direction of a certain vendor if you aren't sure where to go for something.

Pak Ridwan carrying my groceries so far (trust me, by the end of your trip, you’ll be glad for the help!). A lot of men and boys will ask to carry your goods. In exchange, you give them $10,000 IDR (under 1 USD) after they help load your things into your vehicle. They are always really nice and can point you in the direction of a certain vendor if you aren’t sure where to go for something.

Haja Lela  picking out my potatoes (women who have visited the holy city of Mecca are given the title "Haja"). Haja Lela went to Mecca in 1996.

Haja Lela picking out my potatoes (women who have visited the holy city of Mecca are given the title “Haja”). Haja Lela went to Mecca in 1996.

Haja Lela weighing my potatoes. I always go to her for my potatoes and sometimes tomatoes and onions. She's really nice and, like Ibu always gives me a fair price.

Haja Lela weighing my potatoes. I always go to her for my potatoes and sometimes tomatoes and onions. She’s really nice and, like Ibu Djumiati, always gives a fair price. Potatoes go for 15,000 IDR per kilo (a little over 1 USD).

Varitiations of Tofu

Variations of Tofu

This funny guy is always coming up to foreigners and speaking some dialect that is to me, uncomprehensible. He knows Bahasa Indonesian, but he just likes to see how long it takes for a person to catch on that he's just messing with you.

This funny guy is always coming up to foreigners and speaking some dialect that is to me, incomprehensible. He knows Bahasa Indonesian, but he just likes to see how long it takes for a person to catch on that he’s messing with you.

Warning! A few graphic photos of poultry, beef and seafood…

Beef (local) Vendor.

Beef (local) Vendor.

Where I get my chicken... Yup. Not for the faint of heart. On the bright side, this lady (who was too shy to give me her name) is so sweet and she gives me the same price she gives to locals. Currently, about 38,000 IDR (a little under 3 USD) for a large chicken. She even puts the head and feet in a separate bag for me so I can give those to a friend of mine who uses them!

Where I get my chicken… Yup. Not for the faint of heart. On the bright side, this lady (who was too shy to give me her name) is so sweet and she gives me the same price she gives to locals. Currently, about 38,000 IDR (a little under 3 USD) for a large chicken. She even puts the head and feet in a separate bag for me so I can give those to a friend of mine who uses them!

Pak Faddil's fish stall. Where I buy my Snapper and Tuna ... about $3 per kilo!

Pak Faddil’s fish stall. Where I buy my Snapper and Tuna … about $3 per kilo!

Fish Alley with Pak Faddil's fish stall on the left. This is where I get my snapper and tuna, usually for around 40,000 IDR (about 3  USD) per kilo!

Fish Alley

Delivering freshly caught fish (usually afternoons at around 3:00)

Delivering freshly caught fish (usually afternoons at around 3:00)

Crabs ("Kepiting") ... Balikpapan's Speciality

Crabs (“Kepiting”) … Balikpapan’s specialty

And now, winding our way around the parking lot outside to the back of the pasar…

Drink vendor in  parking lot

Drink vendor in parking lot

Man selling salak (snake fruit)

Man selling salak (snake fruit)

 

Pet fish, anyone?

Pet fish, anyone?

Chickens going to Klandasan for slaughter...

Chickens going to Klandasan for slaughter…

 

Pak Iskandar weighing my apples ... usually his wife Ibu Muliati is here. They are super nice and often throw in a seasonal fruit for free. Apples are, relatively speaking, pricey in Balikpapan. They sell for about 35,000 IDR (under 3 USD) per kilo

Pak Iskandar weighing my apples … usually his wife Ibu Muliati is here. They are super nice and often throw in a seasonal fruit for free. Apples are, relatively speaking, pricey in Balikpapan. They sell for about 35,000 IDR (under 3 USD) per kilo.

Typical dry goods and sundries shop lining the pasar parking lot

Popping into a little shop (“toko”) for dry goods and sundries. These tokos surround the parking lot area.

Coconut and local stone vendors outside market, before pier

Coconut and local stone vendors outside market, before pier

Pandanus leaf baskets for cooking rice

Pandanus leaf baskets for cooking rice, seen especially during Ramadan

Backside of Klandasan ... where the fishermen bring in their catch

Back side of Klandasan … where the fishermen bring in their catch (see the little patch of blue water to the right?).

Backside of Klandasan; where they slaughter chickens (to left) and sell grilled fish (at right)

Wooden Pier behind Pasar Klandasan, where they slaughter chickens (to left) and sell grilled fish (at right)

Klandasan Pier

Klandasan Pier

View from Klandasan Pier

View from Klandasan Pier

Hut with light blue is where the chickens are slaughtered, bright blue building is the back of Pasar Klandasan

Hut with light blue is where the chickens are slaughtered, bright blue building is the back of Pasar Klandasan

View of developing Balikpapan: Balikpapan plaza and Cahaya mall in background

View of developing Balikpapan: Balikpapan plaza and Cahaya mall in background

Best time to go: mornings for fresh produce, afternoons (3-ish) for freshly hauled fish.

Where it is: Just off Jalan Jendral Sudirman (the main road hugging coast), across from the main mosque (the one that is lit up at night with different colors). Nearby shops include Diamond Photo, Toko Anda and Toko Mickey. Across the street and down away is the well-known Toko Susanna. The large malls of Balkipapan Plaza and Hypermart are within easy walking distance, as are the Novotel and Grand Sudirman hotels and Ocean Restaurant.

Bargaining? Yes, but it’s not as flexible as other places. I can usually bargain down a little from the stated price … except for the regular vendors whom I frequent and the price is already established.


Seven Bikes and a Boat: Cycling Trip from Balikpapan to Penajam

Bikes on Board Ferry To PenajamOne of the best things about living in Balikpapan is the stupendous, completely original, I-can’t-believe-I-get-to-do-this-on-a-regular-basis! cycling here.

One recent experience was a group ride from Balikpapan’s Kampung Baru (also known as “Water Village”) to Penajam, a village across the Balikpapan Bay, where back roads lead through idyllic little plantations of tapioca, water farms filled with fish, crab and shrimp, and ultimately a wide, sandy beach where tourists haven’t yet caught on to what’s on offer.

Catching a boat from Kampung Baru:

Ticket to PanajamGetting a boat from Kampung Baru is simple: the water taxi terminal is a little north of the Kebun Sayur/Pasar Impress market. The easiest way to reach the water taxis is to arrive at the parking lot/angkot (public mini bus) station just outside called “Pelabuhan Speed, Kampung Baru Tengah” (translates to “Speedboat terminal at middle Kampung Baru”). From the parking lot, follow the narrow alley that leads over the water where little shops line the left side and a fish market is on your right. Keep going until you must turn left or right; turn left and you’ll see a small ticket office on your right just before the pier leading out to little blue boats. Purchase a ticket at the ticket office (make sure you specify Penajam as there are other destinations as well), load your bike and self onto the boat assigned (they are all numbered, so it’s easy) and … off you go!

Life insurance for

Life insurance certificate!

The boat ride itself is great fun; so much so that I forgot to time it, but I’d hazard a guess it lasted about thirty minutes. Fare for the regular boats to Penajam totals 15,000 IDR per person (no extra for the bike), but if you want to use a speedboat, which is also available at this same terminal, the price is higher.

An unexpected bonus for the regular ferry ticket purchase? It comes with life insurance! Perhaps not the most reassuring of facts, but to us, it was at least amusing.

Directions from Penajam Wharf:

Penajam Wharf

Penajam Wharf

Once you’re in Penajam, just follow the main road (“Jalan Penajam Kuaro” a/k/a “Jalan Propinsi”) out of town for a little over seven kilometers, then hang a left as shown in the map above. This side road will then take you down to a bizarrely well-developed wide, two-way asphalt highway that no one uses as it is apparently built to lead to a bridge that will cross the bay to Balikpapan, but completion of said project looks dubious.

Take a right on the highway-to-nowhere and continue south, then veer left just before the river. You’ll cross a bridge that appears still somewhat under construction, then through water farms until you veer right down a dirt road that parallels the beach.

Just follow that until you can’t go any further without crossing a rather sewage-looking creek and you’ve cycled about 24 kilometers and reached the turnaround point! Several stalls along the beach sell snacks, instant coffee, bottled water and sodas if you feel like taking a little coffee break.

Getting Back:

Ferry Boat

For return, you can reverse your path (we did) or head right up one of the side roads to reach the main road once more, Jalan Penajam Kuaro. But if you stick to the coast like we did, most of the ride is fairly flat. The nice thing is that, due to the small size of the town and the fact that the main road parallels the entire ride, it is quite difficult to get lost! Once at the Penajam Wharf, just buy your return ticket to Kampung Baru for the same amount (15,000 IDR) and you’re headed home with the wind in your hair and some pretty cool views.

Ikan Bakar Asian Tip: If you’re in the mood for lunch before heading back on the boat, there is a great Indonesian seafood restaurant on the right, just a little after turning back onto the main road, called Pondok Ikan Bakar Asian. Fresh squeezed lime juice, grilled fish, steamed rice, sauteed water spinach, barbecue kampung chicken, freshly made sambal served on a sizzling plate…. Mmm, mmm!

Photo Tour:

Leaving Kampung Baru Wharf

Leaving Kampung Baru Wharf

Motorcycle? No Problem!

Motorcycle? No Problem!

Man at Wharf

Man at Wharf

Father and Son

Father and Son

Man with Kalimantan Stone Tings (Penajam Wharf)

Man with Kalimantan Stone Rings (Penajam Wharf)

Bridge to dirt road

Bridge to Dirt Road

Loading Palm Leaves for Pasar (below bridge)

Loading Palm Leaves for Market (under bridge)

Floating Fish Plant (under bridge)

Floating Fish Plant (under bridge)

After bridge, heading toward farmland

After bridge, heading toward farmland

"Live Shrimp for Sale"

“Live Shrimp for Sale”

Laundry Day

Laundry Day

Bike Route to Village

Bike Route to Village

Vendor Selling Snacks ... a/k/a Kampung Sushi!

Vendor Selling Snacks … a/k/a Kampung Sushi!

Closeup ... the chicken-stuffed rice wrapped in banana leaves was pretty tasty!

Vegetable-Stuffed Fried Tofu (left) and Chicken-Stuffed Rice Wrapped in Banana Leaves (pink tray). Which one to try? Both, of course!

House on Rice Fields

House on Rice Fields

Woman with Wheelbarrow

Woman with Wheelbarrow

Drying Fish

Drying Fish

Ladies of the House

Ladies of the House

A View from the Road

A View from the Road

Beach Scene

Beach Scene

The Beach at the End of the Universe...

The Beach at the End of the Universe…

Coffee Time!

Coffee Time!

Returning from Beach Area

Turning Back at Beach Area


Blunders in Bahasa … and how to inadvertently hit on polite gentlemen.

The other day, a friend and I finished a group walk (a/k/a “Hash“) where, at the end-point, most of the hash members were enjoying delicious Lontong and Kari (the former, compressed rice steamed in a banana leaf so that, when unpeeled, the rice retains the shape and has a mild gelatinous texture; the latter, curry sauce with lemongrass).

Naturally, we decided we’d like to join in that endeavor, so we grabbed a bowl and plopped down next to a middle aged Indonesian man sporting a festive green hat. Since I was sitting closest to the man and had never met him before, I thought I should say something in order to be genial. The problem was, the man (who, like many Indonesians, was very polite and reserved) seemed to be taking pains not to look at me or my friend. Solution? Well, that hat of his was pretty cool, so I thought I’d start with that.

I cast the man a side-wise glance, grinned and said in my best Bahasa Indonesia,  “I like your hat!”

The man, in return, sat perfectly still for a second or two while staring straight ahead. After another moment, a slight smile tugged at his mouth and then he said, barely looking my way, “Thank you.”

Progress! Pleased with my social foray thus far, I thought I’d keep going. “From Java?” I guessed.

“No,” he said, and now that amused smirk grew bigger, “from Bali.”

“Ah, Bali,” I repeated while nodding wisely.

Another moment of silence passed until he said, “You speak Bahasa well.”

I thanked him, protested that I did not, but added that I was trying to advance myself. And from there (and with the help of my friend who actually does speak decent Bahasa), we fell into a scintillating conversation regarding various cities in Indonesia, local delicacies and the virtues of the stinkiest fruit on earth … a/k/a “Durian.” After our chat and snack of Lontong, my friend and I bid the gentlemen adieu and returned to our respective homes for the evening.

When I saw Sam later on, I relayed the story of my Bahasa exchange and wondered out loud why my new hash friend was so amused when I complimented his head gear. But it wasn’t until I was lying in bed that night and thinking the conversation over that it hit me that … I’d gotten the word order wrong!

Because in Bahasa, you typically put your adjectives and possessives after the noun. For example, in English, we’d say “the brown dog” or “his house,” but in Bahasa, it would be “dog brown” or “house his.” Interesting stuff, I know, but this is where it really becomes important to get these things right:

Because instead of saying, “I like your hat” (Saya suka topi anda), I’d actually saddled up to an extremely polite man who was minding his own business, grinned wide and announced, “I like you, hat.” (Saya suka anda topi).

I probably will never know if that man thought I was a schizophrenic hash-ette who’d developed an undeniable attraction to green hats, or if he merely assumed I was attempting to cover up my forward ways by pretending my initial come-on was really directed to his topi.

Either way, I finally appreciate those mind-numbingly boring elementary school lessons on diagramming sentences! Poor Mr. Valley would be vindicated, if only he knew.


Hash House Harriers in Balikpapan: HASH Mash

Me in my Balikpapan Hash shirt!

Me in my Balikpapan Hash shirt!

For the uninitiated, The Hash House Harriers (A/K/A “Hash”) is an international running group dating back to the late 1930’s when some rowdy British expats in Malaysia decided they needed a way to sweat off their hangovers.

Despite these beginnings (or perhaps, because of them), hashes are now going strong around the world, with over 2000 chapters spanning every continent (although it doesn’t appear that Antarctica’s is currently active). Today, there are hashes for every walk of life: family hashes, women’s hashes, men’s hashes, group hashes … you get the idea. And Balikpapan is a hasher’s paradise, with a hash going on somewhere in town at least three times a week! Continue reading


Young Adult New Release! The Orphan of Torundi now available on Amazon

The Orphan of Torundi is available on Amazon today!

Here’s what reviewers are saying:

“The Orphan of Torundi delivers all the key ingredients for a successful young adult novel…. A vivid landscape, a refreshingly unique plot and a lovable protagonist will keep you rooted to the story from the very first page. Surprising twists, and a heart-in-mouth romance take this novel beyond your average Young Adult read: all will rejoice in the turbulent adventure Sam takes the reader on.” -The Children’s Book Review Continue reading


Thirty Meters High at Bukit Bangkirai (Balikpapan’s Canopy Bridge)

Panorama of Canopy Walk

About a two hour’s drive north of Balikpapan city central lies one of East Kalimantan’s tourist draws: the canopy bridge walk at Bukit Bangkirai.

Bukit is actually a park within the rain forest, featuring log cottages for overnight stays, a small restaurant, restrooms, several [overgrown] jungle treks, a questionably maintained swimming pool and, for those who linger until five in the afternoon or so, the lure of viewing East Kal’s famous Hornbills that frequent the area around dusk. Continue reading


Announcing Early Review Copies for The Orphan of Torundi!


It has been a while since my last post.  But I have some arguably valid excuses.  To wit, (1) moving from China to Borneo is a slightly involved procedure and (2) I’ve been busy completing tasks for my soon-to-be-released novel, The Orphan of Torundi!

I thought it would be fun to post the ARC/Catalog Copy here.  So, without further ado … Continue reading


The Glory of China’s English-Language Signs

Bathroom philosophy puts a spin on it.
Bathroom philosophy puts a spin on it.  But when you think about it, really, this is spot on.  Because … what is this world that we live in?  And what is a jream?  And are they one and the same?  You could spend hours just mulling that over…

One of my great regrets about our year in China was my failure to capture the brilliance and hilarity that is the English language restaurant menu. It is worth going out to eat for that alone, even if the repercussion of said venture includes the digestion of certain unthinkable delicacies.

Well, I don’t have those awesome menu descriptions captured in all their pixelated glory, but I did snap a few signs we encountered in our day-to-day lives. Continue reading


Looking for a unique greeting card hailing from the Pacific isles of Tonga?

Tongan Greeting Cards Pua DesignsThen look no further!

Amy, who has been awesome enough to share her completely original Tonga-livin’ experiences here on Tonga Time … you know, things like climbing coconut trees (well, Toni gets credit for that — thanks Toni!) to making fresh coconut cream from scratch, to small, inconsequential tidbits like having a baby in Tonga!!!! … well, she’s taken her killer graphic design experience and turned it into a micro-business in the Friendly Islands!

If you get a chance, visit her new Tongan greeting cards website at Pua Designs.  Just click her logo!

(Oh, in case it wasn’t clear, I was joking about the inconsequential nature of birthing a child.  In Tonga.  In the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  With a bucket and adult diapers.  Yup.  I totally could do that…)