Bali Bound

As was the case 4 years ago when we were living in Nanjing, Chinese New Year crept up on us and we were faced with the prospect of either sitting in China for a week with nothing to do (everything shuts down), or pay through the nose for tickets out of the country. Our wallets are unhappy with our decision, but we’re not. 

Our friends had previously purchased tickets to Bali, Indonesia for CNY and they were generous enough to let us and 2 other families crash their vacation. Bali has been pretty high on my travel list for the past few years and I’m so glad I finally got to experience it–especially with some of our closest Shanghai friends!

DCIM101GOPROG0751574.JPG

Since we were pokey at purchasing tickets, our flights were less-than ideal. It took us about 24 hours and three flights to get to Bali. Our most painful layover was in Jakarta from 12:30-5:00 am. At one point, Greyson had a major blowout that took three people to contain. As we were in the throes of de-pooping, Kinley threw up all over the airport floor. Traveling with kids is soooooooo fun.

airport

Our first destination in Bali was Ubud. Ubud is inland and is the cultural heart of the island. Most of my travel group wasn’t too thrilled to add Ubud to the itinerary, but I made a passionate argument in favor of it, and I’m glad I did.

img_8660

Upon arrival, we visited the famous Tegalalang Rice Terraces. They’re still used to farm rice, but their main value is in the tourism they draw. Unfortunately, that’s how much of Bali is–I would have loved to have visited it before it was “discovered.” We were able to hike down the rice terraces, which proved to be pretty challenging with both kids, the heat and the humidity. I’m pretty sure that tears were shed, though noting compared to the misery that followed. 

Kinley had a meltdown of Biblical proportion on the way home from the terraces—kicking, screaming, clawing, more screaming, wailing and gnashing of teeth. She hadn’t slept the previous night, had sadly thrown up on the floor after she said her stomach hurt and was ignored (we were preoccupied by the blowout), and was being dragged through a hot, new country, so we had it coming. She was so exhausted that she fell asleep standing up on the front of the scooter during the ride back. She didn’t wake up for 16 hours. #respect

Chris stayed at the hotel with the kids so I could join my friends for dinner at a beautiful open-air Indonesian restaurant. The restaurant had traditional Balinese dancers and I was entranced. The more I travel, the less mysterious the world is, but something about the beautiful costumes and motions seemed so exotic and foreign. 

img_8475

Legong dance is usually performed by two women and it involves lots of dramatic facial expressions (shifty eyes and pursed lips), flexed fingers and side-to-side head movements. I loved the ornate clothing and the way that their headpieces were constantly bobbing. They invited me up to give it a try and I like to flatter myself into thinking I did pretty well.

Once I got home, Chris took a turn exploring and stumbled on a cremation ceremony with hundreds of participants that went well into the early morning (perhaps a Ngaben). It involved all kinds of intense religious stuff and a guy in a scary mask. I’m sad I missed it; it sounded really fascinating.

Ubud is deeply religious and saturated in culture. Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, but Bali is Hindu, which is what makes it so unique. There were signs of the people’s devotion everywhere. People were commonly seen wearing surangs (skirts worn by men and women) and headdresses. Religious clothing was even placed on the sculptures of gods in prominent areas & some of the larger banyan trees were even wrapped in large surangs. People leaving the temples had rice pressed to their foreheads and flower petals on top of their ears. Even the hour-long drive to Ubud was a blur of stone gods for sale along the roadside, and nearly every structure, whether a home or business, had an alter or a small temple on the property.

img_8563

The sculptures in the background are traditionally dressed.

img_8628

Another sign of the Balinese’s complete religious devotion is in their offerings. Daily offerings, called canang, are small shallow boxes made of coconut leaves. They’re filled with different flowers and plants (representing different gods), a gift (usually a cracker, or a piece of waffle cone at the ice cream shop we loved), and a stick of incense. These offerings are littering Bali. They’re on the floors of businesses. They’re on the sidewalks. They’re on top of parked scooters. I read that the average home has 15 offerings and they are replaced EVERY DAY. One alter we passed had a mountain of old canangs to the side that were slowly deteriorating in the elements. 

Only females can make the canang and typically women offer the associated prayer unless they’re menstruating. They begin by dipping a flower in water and use it to sprinkle the offering. Afterwards, they fan the smoke of the incense 3 times with their hand while offering a prayer. It was not uncommon to see women attending to this each morning. It’s understandable why Ubud perpetually smelled of incense). 

offering-2

During our time in Ubud, we enjoyed some fun shopping and visited a lot of interesting temples and historic sights. We also took a trip to Monkey Forest, which, as the name implies, is teeming with monkeys. The monkeys are brazen from too much exposure to tourists. If you’re not careful, they’ll jump on your back and try to steal whatever they can get their creepy little hands on (Michaela nearly got robbed of her sunglasses). I was really worried about Kinley showing too much interest in the monkeys (or vice versa), so I threatened that she’d have to get a rabies shot if a monkey touched her. Unfortunately, one of the park employees didn’t get the memo and was helping Kinley feed a monkey. I think it was possibly one of the hi lights of her trip though.

monkey-1

After two and-a-half days in Ubud, everyone in our group split for a night, which our family spent at a resort in Nusa Dua. Typically, I’m not a big advocate of resorts. My philosophy is: if you’re paying money and taking the time to travel to a new country, it’s stupid to isolate yourself in an artificial paradise. However, when you’re traveling with kids, you have to know your limitations (or more importantly, theirs) and taking a break in paradise is usually a good idea.  We had a beautiful room and access to a lovely beach, which unfortunately we only enjoyed for about 30 minutes before a torrential downpour. It’s Bali’s rainy season and they can get 3-6″ of rain in a day. I figured we were already wet, so the kids and I had the pool and ocean mostly to ourselves.

brunch

Over the following 4 days, we rented an open-air beach house with our big group of friends. We didn’t realize how treacherous getting to the house would be (it was at the bottom of 150 uneven, steep, winding stairs, and a 10 minute walk from the nearest road), so thankfully the employees helped us with our bags. The weather continued to be spotty, and the beaches were pretty anticlimactic, but we had so much fun regardless. We enjoyed meals together, played games, and stayed up late talking. We did make it out on a few excursions, and whenever the rain cleared, we’d grab our stuff and run for the door to explore. 

  

Happy (Chinese) New Year

Our 2016 New Year card:

This year, we’re celebrating Chinese New Year, not only because we live in China, but mostly because it affords procrastinators like me an extra 28 days to get letters out in the mail. 

After majoring in Chinese, living in Asia 4 different times, and getting his MBA from an international business school, Chris had the unrealistic hope he’d never have to live in China again. Then he accepted a three-year position in Shanghai with Ubiquiti Networks managing their sales and distribution for China.

Kinley grows more intelligent and sophisticated every day. She’s fully conversational and despite our best efforts, her vocabulary includes “damn it” and “go away.” Threenagers are real. I can’t believe we have to do this again in 10 years. 

When she’s not making me question my abilities as a parent, Kinley is unabashedly making friends. The Chinese have an intense interest in her and call her “yang wawa,” which translates to “foreign doll.” She would have a decent start to her college fund if she charged people to take her photo. While the attention may be feeding her inner prima donna, it’s also made her quite social. Unfortunately, she’s in a country with 1.3 billion people that she can’t talk to. 

Greyson is the newest addition to the family. He was born in Shanghai on May 30th. The hospital was quite posh, so there aren’t any exciting horror stories to accompany his birth, although everyone was expecting some. Greyson’s two most distinguishing features are his easy disposition and his hair. He was recently the victim of a rather unfortunate haircut. Popular opinion is that he looks like Kim Jung-Un, Hitler, and/or Trump. Thankfully he has nothing else in common with his fashion predecessors and is a sweet, happy baby. 

Despite his bad hair, Greyson is also the recipient of much attention from the Chinese. People can’t believe we have not one, but TWO kids!!! We’re a big family by Chinese standards. I use this to my advantage when my toddler is eating fruit snacks off the subway floor (she obviously has a remarkable immune system). I reserve a special “Sorry, I have SO many kids that I can’t manage ALL of them ALL the time” look for such occasions. I use it frequently. 

I’m enjoying our time in China. It’s a bit of a juggle having two kids in a city with 23 million people, but it’s an amazing cultural experience. China has taught us all kinds of things, like how to hock a loogie, how to cut in line, and how to stomach strange food. We drive a scooter and live on the 21st floor of an apartment building, so I’d say that we’re pretty integrated. Now, just to learn the language…. On the flip side, I’m getting really good at charades considering that hand gestures are my main form of communication. 

Happy Chinese New Year!

新年快乐 

The Gilbert Family img_8400

Battle Of The Baby: America vs. Taiwan

Taiwan’s baby culture is totally different than what I’m accustomed to, and I think it’s great. Let me start by saying that Taiwanese people’s love for babies nearly rivals their love for pandas. Am I stereotyping Asians? Yes. Is it a fair stereotype? Definitely. The fact that this is even a thing proves my point:

Incase you were wondering, it's a dog.

It’s a dog. I’m sure the poor thing has lots of questions about who he is and where he came from.

The point is that babies, like pandas, fall pretty high on the totem pole. Now, a baby panda…. no amount of dimpled hands and leg rolls can touch that. Fortunately for Kinley, there aren’t any baby pandas at the zoo, so the spotlight is all on her.

Photo from Huffington Post

Photo from Huffington Post

Taiwanese people love babies so much, they’ll practically grab your child right out of your arms. The fact that they’re strangers doesn’t seem to be of much importance. Coming from the States, this seemed like pretty unusual behavior. My first experience was at Costco during the time I had injured my foot fleeing from the spider. I decided to take a minute to focus on wrapping my foot before embarking on a shopping spree, and when I looked up, Kinley was in the hands of a random Taiwanese couple. This was a surprise since she had previously been buckled her into her car seat.

Last week we were eating at our favorite beef noodle soup restaurant when the owner’s wife asked to hold Kinley. We’re regulars there, so the waitresses usually take turns passing Kinley around. We never object since it’s a chore to juggle a squirmy baby and scalding soup while balancing on a stool that’s barely big enough to hold my bum.

IMG_2626

 

After about 10 minutes of enjoying good food and conversation, Chris and I realized that Kinley was no longer in the restaurant. (I know–we’re totally incapable parents.) Almost immediately we spotted her with the owner’s wife standing outside the restaurant waving to people passing by. (I’m sure she couldn’t resist the opportunity to do a little free advertising: “Look, our restaurant is full of cute babies!”). Kinley seemed to enjoy the change of scenery, so we laughed and watched from inside as we finished our meal.

Had a stranger in America removed Kinley from her carseat or walked out of a restaurant with her, it would have been a totally different story: panic, calls to 911, and hyperventilating into a brown paper bag.

In the States it’s totally normal–and wise–to be suspicious of strangers. Everyone’s eyeballing each other, wondering what no good the other person is up to. At least this describes me. My first thought when I see someone creepy is that they’re hiding semi-automatics in their trench coat. I worry that people with road rage will whip out a gun instead of their middle finger, and I think about how helpless I would be if the pesticide guy who sprays my apartment monthly is actually a rapist.

Taiwan is kind of like a social utopia by comparison. It’s the 2nd safest country in the world and because people feel safe and assume the best in one another, they interact differently. I’m accustomed to putting a wall up when I leave the house because I don’t want to get too friendly with other people and freak them out. (For example: I have to stop myself from staring at the cute baby in the checkout line at Target because I’ve been at it for 3 minutes and it’s borderline creepy.) I also put up a wall to deter strangers from getting too chummy with me. It’s a sad way to live.

However, the Taiwanese are kind, trusting, and see the best in each other, which means that I’ve actually learned how to have a normal relationship with strangers. Initially it seemed odd that people would welcome themselves into my personal space to kiss Kinley’s feet or pat my leg while carrying on a one-sided conversation. (I don’t usually have much to contribute other than, “I don’t speak Chinese” which never seems to deter anyone.) It also seemed bizarre that strangers would be so eager to get a photo of Kinley. Taiwan has helped me see that, for the most part, people have good intentions and the only bizarre thing is how cautious and detached we have become as a society.

IMG_4908

“Done That”

I’ve been pretty complacent about living in Taiwan–as you’ve probably noticed by my lack of interesting blog posts that detail life aside from my spider woes. It’s a shame to live somewhere so foreign and have the attitude, “Eh.. been here, done that.” (It’s a small island, so we literally “did that” when we were here 3 years ago). Anyhow, I’ve made a few friends and I’m getting myself out of the house and doing more. Since said friends are new here and don’t speak the language, I guess I’m the experienced one (if you can count previously living in Taiwan for 3 months”experienced”). Somehow I’ve tricked everyone into believing that I know what I’m doing, and I’ve begun organizing weekly adventures so they can see the island. The fact that I have a Chinese speaking husband is only a teeny tiny advantage–we’d be lost for days without him.

This Saturday’s adventure was, drum roll… Fulong Beach! Yes, we’ve been there and we’ve already done that, but who the heck cares? It’s a beach, AND they were hosting an international sand sculpting competition, which was awesome. I seriously underestimated these artist’s abilities. I was anticipating a few meter-high, eroded sandcastles (the pieces were built a month ago and it’s rained nearly every day since), but all of them exceeded my expectations. Some impressed me by their size, others by their detail, and some by the creativity of concept. I think I need to take up sand sculpting–I’m feeling inspired. Needless to say that they were in remarkable condition for being over a month old. The artists use some sort of a shellac that forms a rock hard shell and preserves their sand art.

Fulong Beach.

Fulong Beach.

 

This was "Around The World In 80 Days" and it was sculpted on all 4 sides.

One of 4 sides to “Around The World In 80 Days.”

Doesn't that building look at home in those misty Taiwan mountains?

Doesn’t this look right at home in Taiwan’s misty mountains?

IMG_4936

This was one of 4 sculptures the artist used to tell a narrative.

Morocco - my favorite piece.

Morocco – my favorite piece.

IMG_4944

The detail on this sculpture is insane–look at the tiny people in the alleyways!

IMG_4930

Venice’s Santa Maria della Salute.

This is Kinley's reaction to seeing a "wave" (aka - that tiny stream of water) come at her.

This is Kinley’s reaction to seeing a “wave” (aka – that tiny stream of water) come at her.

She's a crowd pleaser. The audience doubled in size within 5 minutes. Taiwan has the lowest birthrate in the world, so any baby, especially a foreign one is picture worthy.

She’s a crowd pleaser. This audience doubled in size within 5 minutes. Taiwan has the lowest birthrate in the world, so any baby, especially a foreign one, is picture worthy.

A Face Only A Father Could Love

I get a lot of flack from my family for my abnormally long “awkward phase.” Because the photos are too good not to share, and to give hope to anyone who is going through a similar phase, here is a snippet of the Father’s Day letter I wrote for my always-loving dad:

They always say that a woman’s self esteem depends heavily on the male influences in her life. You must have done something right because I have buckets of confidence. I always have been confident — even when I was a brace faced dork with bad hair, a lazy eye, and a Krispy Kreme hat. (Yes, that’s me on the left. Unfortunately.)
191
The point is, I’m fully aware that I’m not exceptional to the world, but I’m exceptional to my family. They instilled in me some kind of remarkable confidence that somehow didn’t get squashed during my long and painful awkward phase.
Image
It’s too bad that I don’t have a paper bag over my head in this photo. However,  I seem pretty content to be goofy little me.
Image
This is me exuding confidence on the volley ball court although I was on the C team. The C team was for all the un athletic, sorry souls who couldn’t serve the ball overhand and didn’t make the A team or the B team. I also played tennis all 4 years of high school and didn’t win a single game–now that’s tenacity.
Image
Around my senior year in high school, I eventually began to grow into my skin. This was a big relief seeing as how the Krispy Kreme photo wouldn’t have looked so great tucked into my graduation announcements.
Since I’m married and have 2 dads now (it’s a pretty good deal), I want to thank my amazing father-in-law, John, who is equally supportive. I think he has as much faith in my ability to accomplish the impossible as God Himself does. He genuinely believes that I can be a model and should be on the Food Network. While both are impossible until I grow a foot and actually learn how to cook, I love his atypical optimism and faith in me.
The moral of the story is:
  1. Parents do a lot to shape the confidence of their children. Hit it John Mayer…. “Fathers be good to your daughters. Daughters will love like you do…. Girls become lovers who turn into mothers, so mothers be good to your daughters toooooo.” (applause)
  2. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, the prettiest petal in the peony, nor the best blogger on bandwidth (it’s getting creative up in here). Only one person will ever be the smartest, prettiest, or wittiest, but I doubt that’s a reasonable excuse to mope around and not do things for fear of embarrassment. Having a little confidence will nudge out the disappointment when we do fail, but like me and my tennis racket, you’ll have a good time in the process.

Reincarnated

This week my mind finally began to relax as I had convinced myself that there were no more absurdly large spiders in living in my bedroom. For a month I have been jumping out of my skin at every corner, haunted by creepy-crawly nightmares, and grinding my teeth to the bone. A cute little gecko moved in, and seeing him around made me feel confident that he was our only guest.

Image

There are two way to achieve a nubby smile: 1) Eating grass 2) Grinding your teeth because you’re an arachnophobe sleeping in a spider-infested room.

Last night I noticed that my gecko’s tail had fallen off–a defense mechanism when they feel threatened. Chris and I nervously joked that our little roommate probably saw a spider twice his size and his tail detached as he was sprinting away.

We went to bed and all was well until I made my way back from the bathroom at 2 am. There, standing in the doorway to my bedroom was “the beast.” Reincarnated or resurrected. Who can say?

I grabbed the designated spider-killing flip flop, and stood there rooted to the spot… too afraid to move… too afraid to kill it. All I could do was to stare, despite the fact that I didn’t want to, at his grape-sized abdomen and long, jointed legs. I would have called for Chris, but he doesn’t respond well to being woken up in the middle of the night. It’s kind of like poking a bear after it just cozied in to hibernate for the winter.

You may recall that we had a similar situation in China: https://humor2me.wordpress.com/2012/11/06/r-o-u-s/

Eventually Kinley got hungry and started crying. I was still frozen in the hall while the spider held his ground in the doorway. My maternal instincts (apparently lacking) weren’t strong enough for me to jump over the spider and run to my crying baby.

Kinely’s continued crying eventually woke Chris and the bear within. His anger proved to be productive since he channeled it in to killing the spider so he could go back in to hibernation mode. This morning he admitted that he would be too terrified to get remotely near the beast it if he were his usual self.

Although the spider was dead, I nearly had a complete metal breakdown. I had to force myself to sit down and feed my hysterical baby although I was trembling like like I had come within an inch of my life. Kinley likes to lightly skim her fingers up my neck and across my face while she’s nursing. Last night it nearly threw me in to hysterics. There were so many times I almost dumped her on the bed and ran away from her little fingers as they made spider trails up my neck and back.

I eventually went upstairs and sat in the middle of the floor. I was too afraid to be downstairs, too afraid to sit on the sofa in case there were spiders in the cushions, and too afraid to be near a wall for fear they would crawl across it and land on me. I literally think I might be going a little bit crazy. In my defense, all of my childhood nightmares were about spiders, and things seem much scarier when it’s the middle of the night. The grogginess is disorienting and suddenly your very calm, sleepy heart rate gets an unfair shot of adrenaline.

When I did eventually navigate my way back downstairs, I stepped on something soft (the ear of a stuffed animal) and literally dove into bed where I broke in to tears. Chris had assumed his usual teddy bear personality and joked with me until I could settle down enough to go to sleep.

The moral of the story is: I’m going to need some serious dental and mental work when I get home.

Image

While this is not “the” spider, I feel it’s an accurate depiction so perhaps you can begin to understand the source of my anxiety.