Monday, May 25, 2009

North Korea's at it again...

North Korea once again defies international warnings with its underground nuclear weapons testing. The US Geological Survey said a 4.7-magnitude quake was detected at 0054 GMT, 10km (six miles) underground. Russian News quoted it as being between 10-20 kiloton, significantly more powerful than the 2006 tests (BBC).

This time they've managed to piss off China, in addition to the predictable responses from the US, South Korea, and Japan.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Former Korean President Commits suicide

Former president Roh commit suicide today, leaping behind his mountain home. He was known for his pro-North Korean stance. He grew up in a poor family, self studying for the bar exam without a college education. Roh received recent criticism for the economy and was undergoing an investigation for accepting bribes. He apologized to the Korean people, "I have no face to show to the people. I am sorry for disappointing you". It's worth mentioning that his platform was based on anti-corruption and that it appears that it was his family, not he, who accepted the money totaling $6mil.

This is an unfortunate tragedy for a man so accomplished, who has done so much for his country. May our flags fly at half mast to honor the president.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bali Airport Lounge Access

Hopefully this is my last Bali experience in Bali. I'm typing this entry on my laptop from a free Wifi connection at the airport lounge. It's nice here. Not that nice, though.

Right after we cleared customs there were people advertising the executive lounge with signs. 100,000 rupia/person for those without the privilege of business class tickets. Heck, we have 3 hours to burn - $10 each seems like nothing. A quick investigation of my pockets revealed what I already knew - about $60 in Korean Won, $2 US, and no more Rupiah. My new best friend, who we'll refer to as "Bob", assured me that it wasn't a problem that they didn't accept credit cards - there was a money changer nearby. Besides, they accept dollars or rupiah. Unlike every other world currency, the Won rate was printed on a laminated sheet of paper. Needless to say, they wanted in excess of $50 in Won for $20 in Rupiah. Yeah, right!

No problem still, Bob maintains. He'll escort me to the ATM machine then the lounge. Way too trusting, I left my bags with Katie. The first red flag was going through customs in the wrong direction. Bob takes me to a customs official and they chat in the local tongue. He asks for my passport, assuring me that I'll get it back on the way in. OK, fair enough, I have my boarding pass and government issued ID.

We walk down the stairs to the general international deparature section of the airport. Bob points outside and says the "ATM's there". What!?!? I ask if he's going with me, to which he responds, "No". A quick glace at the seemingly hour long line through security is enough for me to bail - the lounge isn't worth that much.

Bob senses my discomfort and introduces me to another airport security guard - his "friend" after a few Indonesian words. This particular official is guarding a locked glass exit door where he could obviously let passengers circumvent the metal detectors and X-ray systems. Bad juju. Bob assures me that it won't be a problem to get back in. I remain confused, staring at the line of passengers with their luggage. We go over the plan - come back to this door. The security guard will escort me to the front of the line. Just give him a little money. Aghh...the light clicks in my head.

I exit the airport with my boarding pass but no passport and a wallet with no money. The ATM eating Katie's Korean card looms in the back of my mind. Eventually, I get $25 in Rupies. I slip the guard 50k under my boarding pass - not so smooth. The amount is high, but I didn't feel like taking my chances. True to his word, he takes me right to the front of the line. Bob awaits on the other end of the metal detector. Luckily, I have no bags to X-Ray.

The rest is history. I got my passport back without any payoffs. We got in the lounge without event. Katie did notice a credit card machine before falling asleep on the couch.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Bali - Last day

There's always enough hand made quality souvenirs in Bali. It's entertaining to watch the artists at their crafts before buying gifts. In this case she was working near the pool at the Hyatt.
We ended the vacation with a snorkeling trip off a glass bottom boat. I didn't end up doing any SCUBA diving, but that's just fine.

There were lots of colorful tropical fish, starfish, and a nasty eel to watch.

That evening we saw a "fire dance" show near a temple with an incredible ocean view.
The monkeys there were a bit more aggressive. They'd steal tourist's glasses, sometimes selling them back for fruit.

Bungy Jumping In Bali

My second AJ Hackett Bungy site. As cool as it was jumping at sunset and night, it may have been better to jump a few hours earlier for the pictures to turn out.

The first jump was their "traditional" by the ankles. Frightening, as usual.

The second jump was with a harness, which allows you to do more silly things. I ran off the edge with the intention of doing a few back flips, but pretty much wussed out after about a half of a flip.

Third jump was a "pedal bike". They put me in this black leather Evil Knievel suit. Riding off the edge was a lot more intimidating than I'd have guessed. They attached the bicycle to the bungy cord as well. Unfortunately, my safety line got caught in the front fork of the bike early on the fall. The result - I was hanging upside down under the bike. Oh well, still fun. Safe? I hope so.

I should have done the "motor bike". You ride a motorized scooter down a ramp then off the edge of the tower. I can only imagine...

The highlight was my tandem jump with Katie. I think she wanted to be talked into it - it didn't take much. They attached us both by our ankles and off we were!

Bali Day 4 - Adventure Sports!

Today we moved hotels to the Bali Hyatt, which is amazing, by the way.

Kate was going to do a wakeboarding lesson, but we decided against it. It was a little windy and the ocean was rough. I got a chance to play behind the boat. Our host managed to do a pretty impressive job considering the fact that it was the worst board I've ever seen. Instead of boots, the bindings resembled the front of sandals. He moved like an experienced surfer and was able to do some jumps and 180s.

I got a little air, but ended up falling too often. One time my feet came out of the bindings while I was still in the air! I blame the silly helmet they made me wear.

We rented a Jet Ski at the same beach that offered the wakeboarding. It was a pretty good time. We managed to throw ourselves off the vehicle a few times.

I got a chance to play a little ping pong with a Russian Woman who must have played in the 1974 Olympics - she was pretty good.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


Today we went to the Monkey Forest and Monkey Temple in Ubud. It was pretty fan-tastic! The pictures speak for themselves.

I did get scammed by a local (right), but it was worth it. After buying bananas to feed the monkeys, he sold us some overpriced bags of lychee fruits. The monkeys went nuts over these! They would literally climb all over you until you handed over their prize. Then they'd often hang out on your shoulders, making a mess on your clothes.

The guy sold me "his artwork", which was cool and hand made, but not likely by him. $20 later he was long gone. I saw similar pieces in the nearby market for cheap, cheap that afternoon. Oh well. He did show us around like he owned the place.

According to our guide, there were 450 monkeys there. It was pretty amazing having so many running wild.

Later that afternoon we did a whole lot of shopping. When it started raining hard we sat down to eat at the first place we saw. It was fantastic!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Day 3 - Evening

On our way downtown we stopped at a fabric store. I walked out with a cotton shirt that has pineapple fiber interwoven and Katie got this hand woven silk piece that changes colors as it moves and in the light. We vowed not to spend any more money and kept moving!

This picture screams Bali! A tourist van is blocking the entire road. The scooter waiting for it carries 4 people and a chicken. I missed the picture of a man, a woman, and a TV on a different scooter!

We bought tickets for a traditional Balinese dance. With about 90 minutes to kill we wandered around Ubud. It's crazy there, so much going on...nothing like our little haven. We ended up here for a drink. It was listed in our guide book like all of the other cool places.

The dance was entertaining for a half hour, then we left for dinner. This new Thai place had an amazing ambiance and mediocre food. The restaurant made a call on our behalf and our free shuttle service was there!

Day 3 - Elephants!

We were up at 7 to go for an elephant tour at 8. A call to the front desk and we had fried rice, fried noodles, fruit, and coffee delivered to our room. Pretty fantastic eating outside with the rice paddy view!

The Elephant tour arranged driver was waiting for us promptly at 8. I didn't expect to see such amazing views during our hour long ride. It was another "drive and shoot" photography moment like yesterday.

We elected for the "long" elephant tour, which included lunch and a ride through town. It was amazing and Marsela was a great sport. We went through the park, which was beautiful, and had several stops where we could get off. We were lucky enough to see a few monkeys, then a local, who might as well have been a monkey, up in the treetops. He was cutting down leaves and coconuts, then made it down rediculously quickly. We stopped at this really cool hut that he built and he gave us coconut milk in a coconut (tasted ok, not sweet). For Marsela, 2 entire coconuts. She would stomp them, lift the pieces with her trunk, then chew out the insides. She even finished our 2 when we were done.

We were greeted by the locals in their village. On the way back we saw a family of ducks and swans in the rice fields. There were the typical families on scooters and even a van with Japanese tourists taking pictures of us!

When we got back Marsela took a dip in the pool and let me ride on her neck! She played a harmonica, which was a neat trick! We purchased 2 fruit baskets to reward her for her hard work. She loved the corn and pineapples!

After that we got to play with a baby (5 year old) bear! She was too damned cute - about a hundred pounds of "I want to lick you and climb all over you"!

The baby elephant was much more into the food we had and much less into us. She would also go after your camera and other such non-edible things. I was petting her head and apparently I tickled her. She nearly knocked Kate and I over with one trunk swing. Lots of power there.

Lunch was mediocre then we were off to our hotel. I had big plans for the afternoon, but I promptly conked out.

Day 2 - Coffee, Elephant Cave, and a sunset

We drove onward to a coffee and cocoa plantation. The free assortment on the left is: Bali Coffee (OK), Ginseng Coffee (delicious - I bought some in the gift shop), Hot Cocoa (tasty), Ginger Tea (not bad), and Lemongrass Tea (Interesting). They had free local tobacco to roll, but I declined. The Ginseng Coffee was really good. I bought some in the gift store to take home.

Next stop, Goa Gajah, the Elephant Cave. The pictures pretty much speak for themselves. The Elephant cave is an old Temple that was rediscovered in the last century. It has nothing to do with Elephants, by the way. Here we were scammed by a local. He approached Katie, giving her a tour of the different things. It was annoying since we only had 20 minutes since we wanted to catch the sunset at the next famous spot, but he had interesting information. The whole thing lasted about 10 minutes. I tipped him 5,000 rupies and he informed me that the going rate was 50k. After going around and around I gave him 20k more and said that was more than fair since we hadn't agreed to anything.

Katie gave in and handed him the cash. I still think that I should have dragged him to the "tourist security guard", paid the guy 10k and explained the situation. Oh well, 5 bucks is no big deal, but it's the principal. Everyone else has been very polite.

Our final "tour" destination was Tanah Lot this famous temple on the beach. It was breathtaking, despite the fact that the sun set behind clouds. It was also a tourist magnet, swarming with travelers with a range of accents. We sipped drinks from coconuts from a restaurant on the cliff. We're told this is one of the reasons to come to Bali. (Unfortunately, my better pics are on the other camera)

We had dinner in a place from the guide book in Ubud. Fresh tuna was on the menu so we ate up - sashimi and a grilled steak. I also had pork spare ribs. Delicious.

Day 2 - to the Volcano...

Our hotel has everything you need. The free shuttle service will take you anywhere local for free. The restaurant is good, cheap, and always open. The front desk has tour brochures and will arrange everything for you. They have massage facilities and local artists (woodcarvers) work on the compound.

The first day out we had a hotel provided driver take us around the island. We had 8 hours to go wherever we wanted for $60. Better deals are easily found in town.

We made a few stops along the way. The first was a shop with vintage painted signs. The next was a grassy terrace with a view. As soon as we stepped out we were covered with locals who inundated us with their wares. They literally put their stuff in your hands and all rapidly yelled numbers. It made me a little nervous and Katie flipped out - it was worse than China she claims. Their other trick was to say something like "1 dollar" or, equivalently, "10,000 rupies" with something like chopsticks in a holder or a chess set, referring to 1 item. After awhile you get used to walking past and ignoring them.

On the way to our first real stop, a volcano, we were stopped by the police. Our driver got out, handed him a few bills, and we were on our way. There were similar payoffs every place we parked and at the main entrance to the volcano. We experienced an interesting aspect of Balinese tourist culture 10-20 cents at a time.

We enjoyed an Indonesian buffet outside, overlooking a vast panorama that included the ocean, volcano, and green shrubbery growing around the black magma from the last eruption. You can hike the mountain. We chose to eat lunch, take some pictures, and move on.