Monday, June 23, 2014


It's a good news for readers like me that there are quite a few bookshops in Bali. The most visible is the Periplus chain with more than ten outlets on the island. They sell new books and magazine in English language, but browsing is a hassle because everything is shrink-wrapped. So, I'm not that big of a fan and only buy from them books that are already on my wish list.

For most Indonesians, Gramedia, a national chain that's been around since I was a kid, is the go-to bookstore. They have a large selection of books and magazines in both English and Indonesian, and also stationery and some arts & crafts supplies. I usually go to the one in Bali Galeria Mall on Jalan Raya By Pass not too far from the airport. For someone based in Ubud, that's not very convenient. So I only go there when I have other things to do in the area.

In Ubud, my favorite is Ganesha Bookshop. A tiny, quiet shop with interesting collection. On the front section of the store, you can find used books in English and other languages that include fictions and subjects ranging from travel to spirituality, while in the back you can find a selection of wonderful old and new references on Indonesian history, politics, arts and literature. Like a precious jewel box full of surprises, this bookshop never fails to offer something that I want to take home.

Look for these landmark at the corner of Jalan Raya (Main Road) Ubud and Jalan Jembawan.

For those not venturing to Ubud, Ganesha also have shops in Sanur and Kerobokan that I have yet to visit.

How to Deal with Money, Honey

Indonesian currency is called Rupiah, not to be confused with the Indian Rupee. These days, One US dollar is about Rp. 12,000.-. So with less than US$100.- you are entitled to be called a millionaire.

The bills are pretty colorful, but not enough to make it easy on newcomers to the country to tell difference from one to the others because of all those zeros. It seems to me, the higher the value, the crisper the bills tend to be. Which kind of makes sense because large bills don't get exchanged as frequently as the small ones. Here are a Rp. 20,000.- (green) against Rp. 50,000.- (blue):

Rupiah bills in the hand of a fish vendor

Speaking of crumpled bills... When I first started visiting Bali, I was amazed that every time I buy something in the market and receive some change, the vendor would hand me crumpled bills of varying colors. At first I thought, "Is this a trick to confuse me?" But it's not. It's just the way they keep the money. The don't keep them straight in their wallet.

That practice maybe changing, judging from what I see here. A little daughter of a market vendor is straightening up some crumpled bills she just received. Oh, in case you are concerned, this is not child labor. Mothers bring their kids to work everywhere that's not an office (markets, craft workshops, etc.) especially the ones that haven't started school yet. It's a family affair, and the kids have fun being surrounded by adoring grown-ups.

Ayu (4) straightening out her crumpled bills.

To figure out how much your currency is worth against the Rupiah, use this currency converter website.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Kids Love

I've always love being with kids: playing, teaching, working with, and photographing them. So nothing makes me happier than to be in Bali where I am always surrounded by them. I was happily abandoning my blog posting activities to soak in the joy of being with them. Three of the closest to me are my niece and nephews, age 13, 11, and 9. Then, mostly through them I got to meet so many others. 

One fun event for me was when I got to attend my niece's elementary school graduation ceremony. All the non-graduating kids participated in a performance, and they were just looking gorgeous in their dance outfits. Here's is my youngest nephew who got to be one of the warriors in the heroic Wirayudha dance. 

And one of the Legong dancers:

Then, as school was on vacation for the most part I was in Bali, I saw kids everywhere I went. These three were hanging out with their puppies in the backyard of a natural dye workshop I was visiting where their parents work.

They were having fun with three of the six puppies they have.

The same happened when I visited Pura Meduwe Karang. As my husband and I were entering the temple, three girls ran up to us offering flowers. It turned out that the oldest and youngest one are the daughters of the temple's priest, and the one in red polkadots is of the temple's guardian, Pak Komang Jer. 

They had more flowers than visitors to give them to.

I already had one flower on each ear, so I thought they should have one too.

The older girls by the lovely temple carving

I felt privileged to meet these girls, but also a little sad that not many people visit this temple. I think the location in the north made it unpopular as most visitors to Bali tend to crowd the South and Center part of the island. If you ever made it to Kintamani to see the lake, please try to continue north to Kubutambahan and see this temple with its unique style of ornamentations not seen anywhere else on the island. Don't forget to bring your open hearts for these girls!

Friday, June 8, 2012

House of Masks and Puppets

It's been a while since I visited any museum in Bali. To be honest, as someone who frequents museums, I have not been impressed by the standard I've seen in the past. But the other day, when my sister-in-law offered to take me to Setia Darma House of Masks and Puppets, I decided to see if things have gotten better in the museum world here. 

The collections, over 5000 pieces from around the world, is housed in a series of traditional Javanese structures called joglo. This enterprise is headed by Mr. Hadi Sunyoto, a cultural enthusiast whose restaurant, Warung Pulau Kelapa, I've enjoyed dining in. 
I imagine, that if you're a scholar, this is a good place to do research. It reminds me of Fowler Museum in Los Angeles. 

Photographing there is a real challenge as the light is really low, but I liked the effect. It gives the place a sense of mystery. I took a liking to this particular piece:

Here are some of the wayang golek, traditional Indonesian wooden puppets, from their collection. Each one of them has very distinct character.

And of course, no collection is complete without a representation of that honorary Indonesian, President Obama. Indonesians are very proud that Mr. Obama spent part of his childhood in their country. Here he is hanging out with the likeness of Mr Hadi Sunyoto himself.

Setia Darma House is located just a few miles out of Ubud, in Banjar Tengkulak, Kemenuh village. As a lot of places don't have a proper street address with numbers, just ask your driver to head to the village, and ask the locals once you're there.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Meatballs on Wheels

Having been living in the US for half my life, I've been adhering to the three-meal a day schedule for sometime now. I'm always surprised when, at around 4pm, different members of my family would start bringing in some kind of food that seem to appear out of nowhere. Yesterday, it was bakso (meatball soup.) I wasn't hungry at all, but a flood of childhood memories came rushing in, and I decided to join in the fun for old time sake. I followed my nephew outside to order one for myself and got to meet this really friendly guy as he was busy preparing bowls after bowls of soup.

This is different from what I was used to seeing in Jakarta where I grew up. Back then, the vendor walked around pushing a cart, instead of riding on a motorcycle. But the set up is similar: a big pot of broth with a stove underneath, a stack of bowls, spoons, hot sauce, soy sauce, and a caseful of meatballs and noodles. He has a "dishwasher" too, but it's not up to Western standard, so I thought I spare you the horror.

Every bowl is made to your preference. Check out the options of what you can have in yours.

Remembering my parents' concern about the not-very-clean bowls, I brought out my own bowl. I decided to have everything: two kinds of meatballs (one is meatier, the other more starchy), noodle, shredded cabbage, fried tofu and fried wonton. I didn't question the nutritional value. Probably not much, but who cares when it's fun. And here's my bowl.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

To Market, To Market...

I first learned about how early the Ubud central market opens from the woman who made breakfast for me the first time I visited the town. She would serve a great banana pancake with fresh fruit juice by 7 am, and she mentioned that she started her shopping at 5:30 in the morning. Since then, my favorite thing to do on the morning after my arrival is going to the market, because nothing grounds me more than getting in the middle of hustle and bustle with the locals, seeing familiar food, and hearing the native language spoken. It's an instant welcome that I find very comforting. And when you're still jet-lagged, waking up super early, it's good to know there is somewhere fun to go to.

I always bring my camera along on this first day while I'm still excited about things, because after a few days, I become one of the people who go there to buy food supply and not so much a photographer on a mission. After all, who wants to lug around a camera while loading up on fruits and vegetables?

That said, I do suggest that you always bring your camera because you never know what you might encounter. And if you like your shot to have that authentic Balinese scene, I strongly encourage that you get there early, because by 7:30am, the crowd starts to shift: less locals, more tourists, and the outside part of the market becomes a parking lot for the tourist buses.

Here's a sampling of what's on offer to whet your appetite to go exploring in the market when you're here. Enjoy!

A variety of sweet snacks to go with your coffee

Freshly harvested eggs for your omelet or pancakes

Tangerines for your juice

If you need more substantial breakfast, freshly grilled pork satay is also available

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Looking Forward to Being in Ubud

I am so excited that the day is finally here! I have a flight heading to Taipei at 1:15am.

The first leg, 14 hours to Taipei, no doubt will be filled with short sleep, followed by a lot of movie watching, interrupted by meals. After three hours layover, I will continue with the five hour flight to Denpasar.

I'm looking forward to being met by my family at the airport, after one year of being away from them. After hugs and kisses all around, they will then whisk me away in a two-hour drive to our home in Ubud, the official "art center" of Bali. I put a quote mark on the word art because to be fair, pretty much everywhere, you can find enclaves of artistic people creating things, but for a long time, most people head to Ubud to get a fill on everything from painting, sculpture, dance and music. Anyway...

Half of the journey from the airport is through busy urban streets, and if this is your first time to Bali, you'd probably be disappointed. You may think, "I traveled all this way for THIS?" ... traffic jam, chaos, noise. But wait, somewhere along the way, you will notice the air becoming cooler, the roads narrower, and you start to see this...

...and you feel relieved. And you'd hope for more of this and better. Trust me, you will. You'll find on your walk on the edges of town some white lotus flower...

or the vibrant pile of passion fruits and mangosteen in the market...

or a surprise ceremony happening right there in there market because you happen to visit on the day where they honor the God of Transaction...

This time, I will be in Bali for 60 days, as my Visa allows. And that's about the only plan I have. Otherwise, I'll just go with the flow, carefully paying attention to what gifts I might encounter during my stay. And I can assure you, on the Island of the Gods - Pulau Dewata in Indonesian - there is always some gods who can't wait to give you gifts. I promise I'll share mine with you all through my stay there!