Cycling the Appian Way

Appian Way leading to park from Rome.

Appian Way leading from outskirts of Rome to regional park.

My earlier post about the holy month where we currently live got me thinking of my own favorite time of year: Christmas!

And though I am not Catholic, I especially love the way Catholics celebrate Christmas until Epiphany, January 6. Because otherwise, it’s kind of a bummer, right? There’s all this to-do leading up to the One Big Day, and then, as soon as you sacrifice a tree and rip open all those presents come Christmas morning, you’re only left to console yourself with the emptiness of materialism and debauchery of over-eating with perhaps a trip to your local church where you pretend to acknowledge what Christmas is really about. Nope, the Catholics have got it down: celebrate Christmas every day for twelve days straight! And what better place in the world to do that, than in Rome? Continue reading

Seven Ways to Embarrass Yourself in Bahasa Indonesia

Balikpapan CowAfter living in a foreign place for a while, perhaps one tends to forget how many painful exchanges have been inflicted upon the ever-patient native speaker, all for the sake of acquiring whole wheat flour or topping up one’s mobile phone credit.

And for whatever reason, no matter what language you are trying to speak in whatever country you may be in, universally, it seems the majority of these errors rotate around the unfortunate theme of body parts or functions or byproducts. Have you ever noticed? So here’s a list of top [mostly] Bahasa-bloopers I’ve collected thus far, with hopes to update it as I go: Continue reading

Ramadan, Balikpapan-style

Mosque between kampung homes, taken during Saturday Hash.

Mosque between kampung homes, taken during Saturday Hash.

Balikpapan, the city in Indonesian Borneo, where Sam and I currently live, lies just 88 miles south of the equator. And today, June 21, marks the Winter Solstice for us and the Summer Solstice for those living north of the equator. It also happens to be a few days into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan this year, when (amongst a myriad of other observations and probably as many exceptions) followers abstain from eating or drinking during the day, pray six times throughout (starting at around 4 in the morning), and break their fast at night. Continue reading

A day at Manggar Beach, Kalimantan Indonesia (East Borneo)

Self parasail at Manggar Beach! The blades in the motor strapped to his back are completely unprotected. Yikes!

Self parasail at Manggar Beach! The blades in the motor strapped to his back are completely unprotected. Yikes!

Manggar Beach lies about 21 kilometers east of downtown Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, and though it isn’t even close to the white sand and crystal blue waters of one’s dreams, it’s got something else to offer that’s completely unique.

Try visiting on a Sunday afternoon when bizarro homemade, self-propelled paragliders weave treacherously between picnicking families, girls dig for mussels amongst watery tree roots, and farmers tend to their zucchini and tomatoes in the pretty garden plots that outline the area. At high tide, you can walk (or even better, ride your bike!) along the beach until a canal and the sea force you up into the fields. No worries about that, because riding along the tiny paths snaking between vegetable gardens, fish hatcheries and the random dirt-bike circuit is tons of fun — mostly because everyone you pass has nothing but a grin to offer … except the random farmer who will ask if you want to pick vegetables from her garden! (Which we thanked her profusely for, but declined.) Continue reading

Kuala Lumpur on a budget: tips, side trips and street food

Sign outside of shop in Malacca's Junker St district

Sign outside of art shop in Malacca’s Junker St district

Kuala Lumpur (“KL” to most) is Malaysia’s shiny, cosmopolitan capital, probably most known for the Petronas Towers (the world’s tallest twin towers) that shoot 451 meters into the sky. This town has about everything a visitor could want: history, activities, universities, museums, a bustling economy, a vibrant nightlife, good public transportation, tons of hospitals (should you need it), shopping galore (and I mean really shopping galore, with every possible venue from super slick malls, chic boutiques to aromatic night markets), a sunny climate where practically anything will grow, excellent food, some really cool islands like Penang or Langkawi just a ferry or a quick plane-trip away … you get the picture. But like most large cities around the world, KL can be pricey, too. So when you’ve only got a day and a half free in this swanky town, how do you make the most of your time-lah* and what is there to see (and eat!) on a budget-lah?

There are the usual activities like a hop-on-hop-off tour, visiting the twin towers and museums, or shopping, but if you want to see something outside the city center, here’s our list of things to do in Kuala Lumpur on a budget, things not to do and things we wish we did: Continue reading

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! Continue reading

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! Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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