You know all of those Christmas songs they play on the radio during the holidays (“Let it Snow”, “White Christmas” for starters)? And how they always conjure up images of white, powdery snow? And how wonderful and magical and delightful it is? Even when, in all actuality, it is cold, wet, and ultimately a pain in the ass when it inevitably gets into your boots? Despite the false sense of fluffy comfort that snow often lulls us into, the fact remains that winter has always been inextricably linked with snow (at least, coming from a Midwesterner-turned-East-Coaster), so it came as a source of confusion when I went to college, only to realize that half of my friends (most of whom had grown up in sunnier climates) had never seen snow before.
I, being the jaded veteran to snowy winters, often kanyeshrugged at my friends’ visceral reactions to the first snowflakes on Columbia’s campus (“SNOW!!!!!!!1111”). And, you know, I thought my blasé attitude was totally merited — until this topic of snow was brought up at work several months back. I thought Columbia was strange, but being in the company of people who had lived in California their whole lives was a total eye-opener altogether. However, as I tried to rack up memories of white Christmases in a vain attempt to prove that not everybody has been deprived of snow, I mentally came up with a list of winters past. But then I realized that I couldn’t mention the Christmas before, because I had been sweating bullets and enjoying the sunset at Angkor Wat. Nor could I mention the year before, because I had spent Christmas riding elephants in Bangkok. Or the year before, because I had just arrived in Sydney. Mid-conversation, I found myself at a loss for words, as I had to actually stop and think about the last time I had a holiday season with snow, and I eventually came to the stunning conclusion that I have not had an actual white Christmas since …
… wait for it …
… middle school.
Case in point:
2010: Vietnam, Cambodia
2005: Indianapolis … and it didn’t snow! Hah!
2004: Las Vegas
2002 and before: HAHAHA COME ON. All I remember was that I was in middle school and therefore, I was an irritable, pubescent teenager with a crotchety temper, an unhealthy addiction to Neopets, and an alarming tendency to rage over petty middle school drama on her LiveJournal. Anything from this time period will remain forever blotted out in my memory.
That said, if the past 8 years are anything to go by, it’s that I am presumably fated to spend the holidays in a place that Does Not Snow. Luckily, this hasn’t served as a source of bother for me, because (a) warm weather? Bring it! and (b) I don’t really buy into stereotypical holidays anyway. So obviously, it made perfectly logical sense that the 2011 family Christmas trip would take place in Bali, with a bit of time to spare in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.
See, since moving to San Francisco, I was essentially in a bit of a rut up until December, travel-wise, seeing as I’m the type of person who demands a temporary change in pace every 3 months or so, lest I go stir-crazy. Besides a two-day work offsite to Monterrey and a visit to my relatives down in San Diego, I had essentially been in the same city (and okay, surrounding area) for nearly six months. And for somebody who thrives on expeditions and excursions, I was going nuts.
Now, enter Bali. Tropical island, lush, green, bursting with fauna — about as far removed from San Francisco as you could get and very much worth the eight hours of flying.
To paint a portrait of Bali requires lots and lots of green paint. No matter where you are on the island, you’re constantly immersed in a thick blanket of greenery, and for somebody who’s so used to urban landscapes and wide open seascapes (none of which are green in the slightest, at least not in a visual sense), it’s a marvel to stare outside your car window just to soak in the scenery. That, and green is my favorite color, so.
If you had to ask me to name my top five animals, monkeys would rank pretty high up there, along with cranes and tigers and dragons (shut up, dragons so count — I will always be proud of my zodiac sign!). So, of course, I was ecstatic when we went to Ubud Monkey Forest, which — surprise, surprise — is populated by a cartload of monkeys. Fun fact: the collective noun for monkeys is indeed “cartload”. Or tribe, troupe, or barrel. I think I prefer cartload.
The forest reminds me a bit of Kenya, in that the monkeys are just right there and in front of you. As cool as zoos are, it sucks that you’re usually separated from the animal by this barrier of glass, whereas in places like Masai Mara and Ubud, there’s no feeling of restriction. There were monkeys literally everywhere that I’m surprised that I didn’t catch some funky monkey disease.
When you’re in Bali, you’ll see these things a lot: tiny, handwoven baskets placed on oversized leaves. These baskets usually contain flowers, money, incense, and the like — and believe me when I say that you’ll see them everywhere: temples, doorsteps, spas, the ground. Balinese families place these spiritual offerings (prepared by the women) every morning on the ground as their way of giving thanks.
Because it’s not a Cindy post until there’s food porn, here you go.
If you ever go to Bali, you must must MUST eat suckling pig. Good suckling pig is roasted to melt-in-your-mouth perfection and the skin fried to a delicious crackle and holy SHIT, is it amazing.
Another dish worthy of note is the Bebek Bengil Crispy Duck at Dirty Duck — it’s different than the duck I’m used to (roasted Peking duck!); think less succulent, but with far more crisp.
Unfortunately, as the Bali leg of our trip was winding down, we finally experienced the true meaning of the rainy season. We had been spared the precipitation for the first few days, but man, when it rains in Bali, it really freaking pours.
A caveat when travelling to Bali: wear pants (I probably shouldn’t have to explain this one) and invest in some good insect repellent and Cortisone. I cannot stress this enough. As somebody who has served as walking, talking bait for mosquitos for well over two decades (years of living in a house shrouded by trees and slumming it in summer camps out in the woods have made me a survivor of countless mosquito bites), I can safely say that you WILL be bitten relentlessly.
Exhibit A: (Please don’t actually click this if you have extremely delicate sensibilities.) my legs after the very first day in Bali. Trust me, it did not get any better after that night. The itching got so unbearable, so I ended up scratching my legs so raw to the point where my ankles swelled to the size of grapefruits and I was limping rather pathetically to my plane from Denpasar to Singapore three days later. Not to mention, I realized that Bali is a hotspot for dengue fever, which is not exactly reassuring.
Bottom line: mosquito bites, thou art a bitch. Also, I do not have dengue fever. The end.
Anyway, one day of being a temporary cripple did little to deter me from exploring Kuala Lumpur. If you’re ever in KL, check out the Butterfly Park and the National Mosque! And wear lots of sunscreen!
There you have it! A Christmas holiday post in the dead of May — ha! In the meantime, I have to go do laundry and pack for my trip to New York. That said, I’m going to be a bit of travelling within the US over the next four weeks, for a variety of reasons that range from work to pleasure to family-related things, so if you’re going to be in the following cities, shoot me an email: New York, Seattle, Providence, Chicago, or Boston. 🙂