Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Random Clearing House and South East Asian Wrap Up


Bobby’s Random Clearing House

We spent 2.5 years in South East Asia and not every idea I had fit cleanly into a topic thesis, or supported a through line of thought. Here are those left-over orphaned ideas and half-baked musings.  They are the underdeveloped notions that refused to sit down and wouldn’t play nice with others. Let’s just acknowledge that not everything can be an anecdote, but, for some reason, I couldn’t bring myself to abort these zygotes with the delete key. Congratulations folks, it’s another unrequested episode of Bobby’s Random Clearing House. 



Lonely Planet

I would put forth the theory that 2 people have impacted this region’s economies and futures more than any US sanctions or UN contributions or any single politician, or world event.  Tony and Maureen Wheeler are responsible for armies of youth deploying themselves throughout a hippy trail of SE Asia.  Is it a good thing that they sent millions of kids into the developing nations of tropical Asia? Maybe. I find it to be an interesting topic. If you google them, you agree.

On the topic of backpacking – I think everyone should live out of a backpack for a year. You'll stop buying things you don't need. When you have to carry it on your back you have a different criteria to judge it by. Soldiers and backpackers – humping the rock. 


PLEASE!

Why can’t we get fitted sheets in Asia? You always get 2 flat sheets. Wrong! One night of sleep and everything is a ball of wrinkles with the mattress showing. Fitted sheets guys – it’s the simplest of solutions. Hell – all our sheets are made in Asia anyway. Just save some for yourselves, or rather - just for me when I visit. 

Embracing Bad Examples

You think China is a success story but their road map was Singapore. China is just following the example of the Chinese overlords of Singapore who left their root country and created a new one in southern Malaysia decades ago. Singapore: A perfect example of how people will relinquish personal freedoms for economic opportunities. Affluent Asians emulating the worst of the West: consumerism, ostentatious displays of wealth and shopping malls. God how I loathe the shopping mall. It’s Mission Valley on an island. Completely soulless. Apparently, all humans really want is a modern apartment complex in close proximity to a shopping mall. Why don’t we just build apartments in malls? Or does it really even matter where we live when we can order UberEATS and watch Netflix on a comfy couch? Let’s just all save ourselves a little time, take the shortcut, and move directly to the hospice bed with the colostomy bag and the VR goggles. Isn’t that the real dream? Singapore - pass. I love the Indian food but otherwise - hard pass on S’Pore. Waiting for Tobin to box my ears on this one, and the next.


The Chinese

One can graph the arc of American prosperity. You could climb the rise and descend the fall as if hiking a gentle rainbow. It starts with the depression that the second world war pulled us out of, then the booming 50’s, the globalization of the capitalist countries of the 60’s and 70’s. The decadent 80’s might have been the peak and then we began the decline, but at least our ramp up was in a manageable clump of decades and it took a long time before we got fat and lazy (as the Asians are happy to point out). Not China. They went from an agrarian society with no more than subsistence living to middle class overnight. These Chinese have gone from 0 to 60 in about 4 seconds, and it shows. You put a thrifty genotype in the middle of a food court and you get exactly one thing – exploded fat youth. The cultural reveal is more telling. They don’t know how to behave internationally. They are the equivalent of the horrible Americans who went abroad back in the 70’s. Loud and brash. Sure, they can buy it all while thinking their cash excuses their poor manners. It doesn’t. They just haven’t been middle class long enough to learn how to do it in a humble fashion. Its why old money looks down their nose at the nouveau riche.

Investors look for growth industries. Here’s a million-dollar tip - In the near future there will be CEZs: Chinese Exclusion Zones: places that Chinese people are not permitted. They will grow in popularity with the affluence and crushing number of the Chinese population. Invest now and watch your money grow! 


Reader Q & A 

Get ready! It’s that part of the show again where I answer questions I’ve collected from readers. Let’s begin!

Q:“You sure have a lot of opinions. What’s your criteria for deciding if a place sucks or not?”

A: The 4Ps: People, Place, Price, and Plates (Food) are my criteria that make or break a country or city.

Q: “I thought the best coffee in the world is supposed to come from Sumatra and Java. When I was in Bali I hated it. Do you like it?

A: I call the Indo joe “black hole coffee”, no matter how much cream you pour in, the color never changes. It’s cowboy coffee. They don’t use a filter so there is an inch of mud at the bottom and you need to dental floss after chewing your way through the grit. Just like Colombia – the good stuff gets exported. Most of what you drink “Bali style” is low grade shake. 

Q: “I don’t really know any Indo food. What’s your favorite dish?”

A: Rendang. It’s a tough cut of cheap meat seasoned with the world’s greatest spices. Don’t ask me what they are, I appreciate the mystery. I can tell you this: No one ever stops eating rendang because they get full. No chance. They quit because their jaw gives out.


Lips

Whenever a person makes a blanket statement in this ridiculous epoch of political correctness, they invite harassment. If I haven’t lost you yet, hold on tight because I suppose I’m going to push past that and type this anyway: There are exceptions, but for the most part, Asians, for me - aren’t the ideal of beauty. There – I wrote it and I’m feeling brave enough not to delete it. I also don’t like the art of Mark Rothko. I am entitled to have an opinion on matters of subjectivity, aren’t I? My blog, my opinions. You’d be hard pressed to find a leading Asian man who wasn’t a martial arts expert. I believe that’s what Chuck Norris built his career on. For the longest time he was the only white guy throwing kicks. (My mom and I had lunch with Chuck Norris. It was 1986. Ask me about it.) But regardless of my personal bias I think the objective truth is that they all have perfect lips. Pre-puckered, genetically ordained perfection, and overinflated by 30 PSI just for maximum thrill. Then pinched for a blush of color.

Speaking of lips - It used to take me 4 years to go through a tube of lip balm and since I would lose it in under 3 years, I’ve never used one up. I have almost no lips (You must now admit that “My Thin Cruel Lips” would be a terrific name for my autobiography). Aleja… well, that’s another story. There are only 2 things on a girl you can get away with calling fat: hair and lips, and Holy smacktastic whoppers if she doesn’t have gigantic lips from heaven. We now go through a tube in 3 months.


Beware Of The “Weekers”

Weekers – Those who come out for 2 weeks and think they’ve “done the country”. There are so many people who shouldn’t be allowed to travel. There ought to be a passport test or a series of infractions that could put you in front of the revocation board. Or at a minimum, these people should only be allowed to go to all-inclusive resorts where they wouldn’t be allowed past the property boundaries, which would have to be newly reinforced with barbwire. Don’t be a “weeker”.

Poverty

All of this trip was spent in the developing third world. We were surrounded by poverty and there is always the guilt that accompanies that. I think I have an apt analogy to explain the difference between rich and poor. Could it be as simple as this: Rich means my phone battery is permanently on 97%. Poor means their phone battery is permanently on 7%. My worries are eliminated and they’ve got to constantly manage that final 7%. Does that resonate?

... If you aren't stubbing your toes and tripping yourself into a hospital the city planners feel as though they've failed



Living In Happy Oblivion

When you live in a foreign country, there's always this haze around the edges of the known. It’s where your true understanding takes a step into the abyss. There's a lot in my daily life that I don't understand. I just go with the flow. Every once in a while, you're confronted with the need to understand deeper: “Exactly what was this vs that? And why change it now?” But mostly I just live in happy oblivion.

Human Zoo

There is something inherently unjust in touring the world, and rewarding the primitives for perpetuating their anachronistic societies. We want them to exist in a frozen time warp; a human zoo. We don’t want modernism to take root. And what do they want? – They want material possessions. They want what every developing society wants after they meet their basic subsistence needs: mobile phones, internet, and a scooter. From The Americas to Polynesia to Asia and beyond– I’ve seen it with my own eyes.  


In terms of tourism in this country (or any country for that matter) don’t mistake acquiescence as affection, or good manners as respect. We tourists are just one more invading army that the citizens of Indonesia have had to tolerate to survive. They have been living off the crutch of other nations for so long they have never really been independent. I’m not an expert on Indonesia, but I am an expert when it comes to being a man of surplus in the developing world. Trust me; they are actors and I’m just a big dollar sign coming their way and they’ll play any part they think they can get paid for. 

So Smart!

The Most Important Word

There is a single word you should learn when visiting Bali that will vastly improve your life: “suda”. It simply means; “already”. As soon as they hear it, they mumble, “ah suda” and leave you alone. “Ya lo hice” is the Spanish equivalent but doesn’t really quite match the effect. It’s like a magic force field and they immediately bow to defeat & squirt off. “You need sarong, Bintang, transport, t shirt, chopstick… ?” “Suda!” “Ahhh suda.” Then my charitable side emerges and I give them 5,000 rupiah and they get to keep their product. I call it a 30-cent exit tax.

How To Be An American Expat

I'm a Millimeter American. That’s a Yank who has lived abroad and understands the metric system. If you want to be a true expat you need to retrain yourself to start thinking metric, not imperial. Kilos not pounds, centimeters not inches. Imperial is absolutely inferior. Why memorize fractions when you can use whole numbers? “Pass me the 11/32nd socket” vs “Pass me the 9 mil socket”. You also have to give up Fahrenheit, even though it’s superior to Celsius. Trust me, it is. You need to learn another language. Doesn’t matter which one. Once you break one code you automatically get a foothold in the others. And remember - Vocab is more important than conjugation. People are very forgiving when you try in their language. They’ll get the gist. Languages tend to swing. 

And yet so dumb!

The Massages

I miss watching their little brown toes claw into the floor as they cantilever into my back, working my lower spine. My face in the horseshoe cutout. I enjoy the anatomy lesson when she works the cables in my forearms and my fingers curl up

From Friend to Novelty

I was a dude from the neighborhood who went on this 6-year sailing trip. I was a point of pride to brag about: “I just got an email from Bobby, he made it to Fiji!” I came home only to rebuild my burned down house and then left again on a new 4-year trip. I came home for a month just to get a change of clothes and then I left again for another couple of years backpacking South East Asia. My friends have figured it out by now. This traveling thing isn’t the anomaly; living in the States is the anomaly. In order to make a real friend you have to put in the hours, and to keep a real friend you have to put in the hours. I’ve moved from friend to novelty. Now I’m the “Where’s Waldo guy” who travels constantly. I don’t share in the common struggle any longer and I’ve been moved to a different column. I’ve gradually become a “Post-American” and even though I have a perfect US accent, I’m not really on the team anymore. It’s very strange to realize that. 


A Final Quote From Skinny

My brother says: “The life of Waldo is not THE dream, it's HIS dream.  But he's living his dream... and THAT is THE dream.” – So maybe I made it after all.

Let’s Do The Numbers!

It was 28 months, 6 countries, & 1 pandemic. 0ver 10,000 miles flown, 6,000 miles driven, 400 miles sailed. One more big trip in the bag. Goodbye Asia – you were absolutely wonderful!

Your man on point,

Captain Bobby

P.S/ See ya in Europe!





Friday, March 11, 2022

Bali Part 2

And So Began Our Retreat Into Hedonism. 

When the rim of the wine glass is smeared with your buttery lip impressions, the prawns were probably delicious. And they were. We ate at least 2 meals per day in restaurants. We rented a scooter by the month and a car whenever our bottoms got sore or the wet season arrived. We never missed a wine tasting or an archeological hike and our rice paddy views with our own swimming pool soothed our Ubud souls.



Ubud

Ubud seems to be better for restaurant pricing, but more expensive for massages. Aleja says it’s because “not only do they align your spine, they align your chakra too”. You need to know that Ubud is the vortex for all things spiritual. Said another way: “it’s the wack job capital of the world”. When the kooks in Sedona and Venice Beach get thrown out for being too crazy – they go to Ubud. Living here means constantly refining your exit strategy for when the conversation turns Looney Toones. “Cake in the oven” doesn’t work. It needs to resonant with the common citizen of Ubud, so something more akin to, “I’m receiving telepathic messages from my spirit gecko. I need to go!” That will be met with a knowing nod and blissed out smile. Live to logic another day, I always say…

As weird as Ubud is, we tried to make it even weirder with ascots, monocles and pencil mustaches (thus called as they were drawn on with an eyebrow pencil). We recruited friends and wallowed in our revelry. 

It made the rounds on the internet but it's not far from the mark





This guy had no sense of humor!

About Those Friends… 

It is a wonderful thing when, as a road weary traveler, the world conspires to make you sit still long enough to develop friendships. We joined a health club, bought squash rackets, took pottery classes, and built a list of Ubud’s best restaurants at which we quickly became regulars 

We made many many ceramics and gave them all away

Our trivia winning team: Chika, Ben, Dean and Bruce (Phil, who was a friend and asset to the team, missed this evening)



Ben and Aimee on a road trip



Of course there were Colombian dance parties!

The Bandits! We did nearly everything with Dan and JRae


The Naming Game

You’ll notice that the Balinese all seem to have the same names. Here’s why: The first born is named either Wayan, Putu, or Gede. The second born is either named Made or Kadek. The third born is either named Nyoman or Komang. The fourth born doesn’t get a choice – only Ketut. It cycles over again to the remaining first names for the fifth kid. Shampoo, rinse, repeat. The sex of the child doesn’t matter. The name game stays the same. Males get “I” in front of their names and females get “Ni” in front of their names. Birth order matters here. I’m actually the first son, of the first son, of the first son. You’d think I’d be crowned “King of All Friedmans” but my name doesn’t help my standing on this island since “Bobby” (spelled “Babi” but pronounced exactly the same) means “pig”. When I introduce myself the blank stare of disbelief is uniform. I lighten the mood by making the joke complete for them by repeating it James Bond style: Bobby. Bobby Guling. That means “suckling pig”. You see it on signs all over town. It’s a very popular dish.


Amed & Tulamben

We made 6 trips to this area that spans about 30 minutes of driven undulating coast. Gorgeous and almost primitive when compared to Ubud or Sanur. The scuba diving of an old WW2 wreck was fascinating and the reefs rebounding during the pandemic made the snorkeling fantastic as well. Who can argue with 83 degree water and clear visibility?





This is the Liberty wreck which sat on the beach from 1942 until 1963 when a volcanic eruption made it slide beneath the waterline. History amps up the thrills




Sidemen

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves




Munduk

We went just about everywhere on the island at least once. Munduk we went to twice. Poor restaurant selection but the views were stellar, and the people were very nice. Priscilla gave us her scooter for free since some of the roads were too small for the car we had rented. It’s a wonderful human experience when you are undercharged and willingly overpay to reward their largesse. 

We had that waterfall all to ourselves. There are changing rooms here that have been abandoned since the pandemic. It tells you how crowded it once was. But today… we went nude!


Parts of Munduk look like a Dr Suess cartoon



Lovina


We ate spicy street corn from the same vendor each night as the golden orb burned its way into the ocean and delivered perfect sunsets nightly. We walked black sand beaches but swam in the pool. There is not much to do in this town and that’s just as it should be. 

Inland from Lovina




Kintamani

Our friends treated us to a “Mystery Day” and the 4 of us spent a night in one of the few places you need a jacket. This is the caldera of a dead volcano. The lava scars are still visible today. Does anything really die on a Hindu Island in the ring of fire?  





Jatiluwih

Their communal system of water management is quite interesting. I’m not going to dig into it here but if you are interested beyond the photos, you should Google: “subak”

Do I have a beautiful model or what?


This whole area has been designated an Unesco world heritage site. Go there!

Canggu

Home of the influencers and gym rats. Crypto conversations can be overheard everywhere, the food is mostly vegan, and of course these beautiful people are too pretty to wear masks. Hence the covid epicenter. We passed through a few times, hung out with friends and logged some beach time. 



Jimbaran

Allen Carey - I know. You got me. Noted.

Where the tear drop, that is called: The Bukit, shakes hands with the rest of Bali, there is a beach called Jimbaran. It is known for its calm surfless waters, bedazzled fishing fleet that sparkles across the nighttime waters, and their harvest from the sea that is showcased at the famous local fish market. We stayed at a lush hotel and walked the sand to a string of restaurants and picked the protein they cooked for us. It was so delicious we did it 3 nights in a row. 







Nothing wrong with a rooftop pool and a swim up bar


Uluwatu

This island is so unique that each corner has its own culture and feel. Uluwatu has the allure of its dramatic sheer plummeting cliffs and death size reef breaks. And there is a massive temple with danger monkeys for only a small extra charge. It’s beginning to challenge Ubud’s monopoly on lunacy. There is an expanding pocket of weirdos who are choosing surf and sun over the cooler rainy climes of Ubud. Imagine that. This is where the cool kids can develop their own conspiracy theories. 







Lembongan, Cenigen, & Nusa Penida – The Balinese “Off Islands”

I occasionally find myself asking the question. “Why is this so good?” In the case of the above referenced islands that are off the east coast of Bali (but are owned by Bali and considered Hindu Bali) you're not staring out at the blank ocean. You're staring at the beautiful dramatic coast of Bali with its chaotic weather systems and these little spider fishing boats bobbing in front of you. They harvest seaweed and are 25 years behind the Mother Island. It’s so good because they are a time machine that allows you to visit Bali as it once was. You’re welcome.

The family plots of seaward farming between the islands of Lembongan and Cenigen

Partying in Nusa Penida w Dean, Seonghee, Lina & Rayco

Staring down Bali 
The Seal Pup of Love in Crystal bay



Nusa Penida From The Diary

“We had a big day. Scootered down to Crystal Bay and snorkeled. Then came up to Gamat Bay. Drove the scooter down a terrible gravel road. Parked on the last flat spot and then hiked the remaining kilometer to the beach. Had it all to ourselves until the boat came in and the Chindo (Chinese Indonesians – Non derogatory and coined by Dean Costello, trademark pending) tourists that can't swim are put in life rings while standing on coral. 15 minutes and then the boat releases the mooring and jets away for the next bay. Fun to drive home all salty without a helmet or mask. This place is still the wild west.”



The tourist boats have trained them to eat crackers from your hand. Maybe not so wild west


Our Ubud And Surrounding Areas

There is a reason we chose to live here. Look closely, you might catch it -





Sayan Point





Looking down from our balcony as the farmer plows his rice paddy below

Typical Balinese street scene

Tagallalang rice paddies - about 20 minutes north of us


Our sweet landlord lady who brought us fruit and thanked us regularly

Candi Tebing Tegallingah. My favorite archeological ruin on the island. About 900 years old

We surprisingly had time for many shady cocktails. I guess we finished work early this day

Ain't nothing wrong with the centrally located Campuhan trail of Ubud

If Bali didn't exist some Hollywood producer would hire a team of writers to create it

Taken early one morning from the Campuhan trail

I had a dream. The brief was simple: "Book dry, butt wet." I hired the local boys to drill and assemble my hammock vision of splendor. 

I believe the mission was accomplished. 

Do you have a minute for some time lapse beauty?



Honorable Mentions:

Ringside seats in Candidasa

Ringside seats in Balian. Have you booked your tickets to Bali yet?


Kitties

We heard a noise. We looked inside. Some momma cat had given birth inside a giant vase on our balcony. 



Friends. Food. Fun

It really does boil down to that. We built wonderful friendships around the dining table, and we ate delicious foods as we laughed from the belly. Simple pleasures during a complicated time. I hinted at it above, but it is worthy of repeating: All of the beauty of Bali is merely window dressing to the human connection that we made with a small subset of friends. It’s those bonds that matter the most. We miss Bali but we really miss our friends.

Your man on point,

Captain Bobby











Georgia

Crossing the Border The Georgian immigration lady literally put a diamond loupe on my driver's license and passport and went over every ...