INDONESIA – Bali

1 May

Bali is a mountainous island of volcanic origin. Flying in, it felt like our airplane was hovering extremely low over beautiful, turquoise waters with no land in sight. But then suddenly, we landed and had arrived on a slice of paradise.

Bali – ISLAND OF THE GODS

We instantly felt the “spirit” and “energy” of this heavenly place. Profoundly bound to tradition, the Balinese population is devoutly religious. Approximately 93% of the Balinese are Hindus, and there are still strong traces of what must have been the oldest and most primitive form of religion in Bali – animism, which is based on the respect for all things and all creatures.

In the name of religion, walking the streets of Bali required some attention. The sidewalks are lined with these colourful, shallow woven baskets containing rice, fruit and flowers. Three times a day, they are faithfully placed around family homes, in temples and on the pavements, outside of every business establishment. A truly beautiful sight!

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Canang sari or small offering baskets made out of coconut leaves

These small baskets or canang sari are offerings the Balinese make to their Gods (Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu). Offerings are a very important part of daily life in Bali and these little baskets are seen as a way of giving back what has been given to you, bringing prosperity and good health to the family and maintaining a good relationship between people and spirits.

We also saw larger baskets full of rice in boats…I assume it was an offering for a healthy catch of fish!

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Daily offerings at village & family temples, home or business entrances, or any spot that the Balinese hold sacred (special tree, statue, etc.) 

And talking about boats, the traditional fishing boats that we saw in Jimbaran Bay, known as jukung, are graceful vessels that only use on main cloth sail. These boats venture out into the coastal waters in the evening with their catch before sunrise to sell at local seafood markets. Although we were not so impressed with the seafood at Jimbaran Bay, we did have some delicious fish in Bali.

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Bali – ISLAND OF TEMPLES

But I prefer to talk about the temples, as they don’t call Bali the Island of a Thousand Temples for nothing. We hired a driver and went exploring…..Temples can be found everywhere in Bali, but we quickly learned that most of them are private property! Each Hindu family has its own sacred temple (usually taking up much of their personal yard or terrace space). It’s called a Sanggah or Pamerajan.

The first sacred temple, we visited was The Royal Temple of Mengwi (Pura Taman Ayun). This temple is one of the most important ones in Bali. Built by a King of the Mengwi Dynasty, this impressive complex stands on an island in a river. Its inner temple is surrounded by a moat. Pura Taman Ayun literally means “Garden Temple in the Water” in Balinese.

To protect Bali from evil spirits, this temple was built as a series of garden terraces with courtyards on different levels. An eleven-tiered meru is dedicated to the rice goddess Dewi Sri. We just made a quick tour around this beautiful complex as we were there in the morning at a lovely 40 degrees Celsius or so!

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The Royal Temple of Mengwi (Pura Taman Ayun) – with its 11 tiered meru

But my favorite Balinese temple, without a doubt, was Pura Ulun Dan Bratan. This water temple complex is located in the mountains, on the shores of this gorgeous lake called Lake Bratan. We arrived there at around 5 pm, and could take a breezy, leisurely stroll observing the amazing sights.

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At the Pura Ulun Dan Bratan Temple on Lake Bratan

We learned that, built in 1663, this temple is used for offering ceremonies to the Balinese water, lake and river goddess, Dewi Danu, due to the importance of Lake Bratan as a main source of irrigation in central Bali. This lake, located 1200 m above sea level, is known as the Lake of Holy Mountain due to the fertility of the area.

Pura Bratan, with Lake Bratan and the mountains as a backdrop, was a scene that walked away out of a photography magazine. Just unreal! Anthony and I really enjoyed walking around the complex but more so, discovering what was beyond its gates.

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A row of fishermen was sitting along the shoreline (young and old combined) catching tiny, silver fish. A sort of misty glow that came from the lake surrounded them.

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Locals fishing at Lake Bratan or the Lake of the Holy Mountain

Just beyond their location was a local man burning something by a small temple, his wife making offerings. He was proud for us to take his picture…but then quickly sent us on our way, as I think this was a paradise type scene; only privy to locals perhaps?

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Other nature scenes that take your breath away in Bali are the rice terraces. Vegetation is thick and luxurious and the landscape extremely green.

Agriculture is still very traditionally based. The most important product is of course, rice which has been cultivated in Bali for over a millennium. It is considered a gift from the gods and has inspired many legends and mythological tales.

Vast rice fields occupy the southern planes and the carved sides of hills and mountains, creating these characteristic rice terraces. We visited the Jatiluwih rice terraces (UNESCO World Heritage Site), with Mount Batukara as a backdrop. They have breathtaking panoramas and are so exotic looking. We even got to take a scroll in the high grass (and bought a painting to etch this beautiful scenery in our minds for eternity)!

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At the Jatiluwih Rice Terraces (UNESCO World Heritage Site)

The finale of our day was a stop at Bali’s Twin Lakes. These two lakes – Lake Buyan and Lake Tamblingan are the result of Balinese volcano activity. From a viewpoint, along the road, we took a moment to connect, and observe the magnificent, lush rainforest landscape and peaceful water scene.

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At Twin Lakes – Lake Buyan and Lake Tamblingan

The other days on the island, we enjoyed the small beach town of Sanur, biking along the beach, and indulging in early morning or late night swims. Our gorgeous Ellora villa had 2 sweet breakfast chefs & a private pool – what a treat! (http://www.elloravillasbali.com).

Well, this is Bali for you….but there are other sides too. Such as the yogi, artsy and picturesque town of Ubud. We visited this magnificent little town in the centre of Bali for two reasons. We wanted to get a glimpse of the very avant-garde and greenest school on earth, called the Green School Bali (http://www.greenschool.org), and catch up with some wonderful travelling friends. Aaron Eeden, recently hired by this innovative institution gave us an insightful tour of this wonderful bamboo, open-air school structure with its forward-thinking, sustainable surroundings.

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Green School Bali

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With forward-thinking education specialist Aaron Eeden at the Green School

Then we met up again with Brie & Bjorn & family (our 3rd. world encounter after Peru and Thailand!) for a raw food lunch. Yes, that’s what you do when you are in Ubud and it was surprisingly delicious…even the desserts!

We then proceeded to take in the rural countryside of Ubud with a walk along the top of a ridge, with stunning scenery on either side called the Campuhan Ridge Walk. What a pleasant way to spend hiking for a couple of hours with these wonderful people, surrounded by stunning nature…and incredible art work!

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On the Campuhan Ridge Walk, Ubud with Brie, Björn, Luka & Zora

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So that was Bali, stunning nature scenes, beautiful temples… I almost forgot the scrumptious food (that Nasi & Bami Goreng and those satés from the local night market in Sanur are hard to forget!)….. and the SERENITY….. the SERENITY!!!

There is something truly special about this place…It’s hard to describe, a special feeling. I guess you got to GO to experience it!

We certainly will be back, but for now we say farewell to this spiritual, beautiful place with its wonderful kind and smiley people!

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INDONESIA – Wayang Museum Jakarta

23 Apr

INDONESIA – WAYANG MUSEUM JAKARTA

Growing up a Dutchie, I loved eating Saté Ayam, Nasi Goreng, Babi Pangang, Krupuk (Kroepoek) etc. and enjoyed listening to history tales of the V.O.C. For this reason, I was quite excited to visit the former Dutch colony of Indonesia. Our first stop was Jakarta, formerly known as Batavia and the capital of the Dutch East Indies.

With one available day of sightseeing, I opted for Fatahillah Square. This square used to be the centerpiece of Batavia, the town built by Dutch colonizers in the image of their cities back in the Netherlands. The square still houses graceful townhouses, several colonial looking museums and even a canal with a drawbridge. The area is really bustling, especially at night!

In the late hours of the day, street performers, food stalls and live music acts (being enjoyed by youngsters sitting on large plastic mats), give the square a real special vibe. We observed this scene, while sipping a delicious “White Koffie” at Café Batavia (http://www.cafebatavia.com). This gorgeous, 19th century café is a real step back into the colonial era. Such grandeur! The many pictures on the wall (including those of Indonesian and Dutch royalty), tell its tales.

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Café Batavia & Fatahillah Square, Jakarta at night

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During the day, I was drawn to visit the square’s intriguing Wayang Museum.

This museum, dedicated to Javanese puppetry, keeps collections of Wayang and dolls from various territories in Indonesia and countries such as Malaysia, Thailand, Suriname, China, Vietnam, France, India and Cambodia.

The building that houses this collection was constructed at “De Oude Hollandsche Kerk”, a former, old, Dutch church location.

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The Wayang Museum, housed in a former Dutch Church

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A couple of giant puppets at the entrance of the Wayang Museum

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Wayang (or “shadow” in Javanese) refers to traditional theatre in Indonesia. To be more precise, Wayang is nowadays most often associated with the puppet theatre performance or the puppet itself.

In 2003, UNESCO designated the Indonesian shadow puppet theatre; Wayang Kulit, as a “Masterpiece of Oral and Intangible Heritage to Humanity”. In return for the acknowledgment, UNESCO required Indonesians to preserve their heritage.

There is no evidence that Wayang existed before Hinduism and Buddishm were brought to Southeast Asia. This leads to the belief that the art was imported from either India or China, both of which have a long tradition of shadow puppetry and theatre in general. However today, Wayang is both the most ancient and most popular form of puppet theatre in the world.

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After guiding me through the Wayang Museum, my capable guide Aldy took me to his humble, private workshop. Here, he told me that his Dad was a skilled and well-known puppet maker in the region. When I asked him if his he had passed on his shadow-puppet making skills, he honestly admitted, that he had tried….but failed. Aldy did not have it in him, and his father did not want to go bankrupt!

Such an art. Wayan Kulit or shadow puppets are carefully chiseled with very fine tools from dried buffalo leather, and mounted onto bamboo sticks or supported by carefully shaped buffalo horn handles.

Master models, typically on paper, are traced onto the buffalo skin or parchment, providing the figures with an outline and with indications of any holes that will need to be carefully cut (such as the mouth or eyes).

One small Wayang puppet could take up to a month to make and requires the finest precision. One tiniest mistake and the puppet maker would start all over again. The detail of these puppets is truly incredible!

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Shadow puppets, carefully chiseled with very fine tools from dried buffalo leather

Instead of passing on the art of making Wayang, Aldy’s father taught him the performance skill, at which he became very good (pictures of him presenting to international dignitaries graced his walls). I was fortunate to receive a private shadow puppet performance from this well-known dalang (the genius behind the screen who narrates the story). Usually these theatre acts take about 8-9 hours, but I was already pleased with the shorter 10-minute version.

The plays are typically based on romantic tales (the story of Ramayana – an epic tale from India which is more then 2000 years old), or local stories/happenings. It’s the dalan or master puppeteer that decides the direction of the play.

Wayang kulit is a form of theatre that employs light and shadow. Historically, the performance consisted of shadows cast on a cotton screen and an oil lamp. Today, the source of light used in Wayang performances is most often a halogen electric light.

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Wayang Kulit – shadow puppet performance

The Gunungan (or Tree of Life) is the most important in Wayang theatre. It is used to signal the beginning and the end of a performance, or to evoke strong emotions, scene changes and the elements of fire, earth, air and water.

The Kayon is decorated with a Tree of Life on one side and the face of the demon Kala (time) on the other. The Tree of Life (see below) represents the Universe and all of the creatures that inhabit it, from the demon giants located at the base of the tree to the birds that perch on its peak, the latter symbolizing the human soul.

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The Gunungan or Kayon – the “Tree of Life”

The demon Kala (below) is surrounded by a halo of flames. His presence represents the evil forces that exist in the universe.

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The enflamed demon Kala, who is believed to send evil spirits away

Because of the intricate artwork and the blessing it provides to the seller’s family, it’s near to impossible not to pick up one of these pieces of theatre art. And so with 2 puppets, a Tree of Life to bring me good fortunate, and some wonderful memories, I said goodbye to dalang Aldy and the Indonesian Wayang.

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For a shadow puppet show, workshop or to buy Wayang, visit:

Note: Twenty percent of all sales from this studio go to support the training of young, Indonesian, Wayang makers. In order to keep this traditional form of Indonesian art alive (which unfortunately is slowly diminishing), Aldy’s dad regularly teaches youngsters his craft.

Ki Edan Aldy Sanjoyo (aka Aldy) @ The Puppet Studio

(around the corner from the Wayang Museum)

Kalivesar Timur No. 3, Kota Tue – Jakarta Barat

Tel. 081-8922489

Email: Aldy_lio99@yahoo.com, FB: aldysanjaya

 

 

 

 

LUNAR NEW YEAR 2015: The Year of the Goat

17 Feb

To take in the preparations for Lunar/Chinese New Year 2015, a first visit to Bangkok’s China Town was in order….What a fascinating, colourful place!

Wishing you all good fortune, prosperity, health and joy in the Year of the Goat.

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Krabi, Thailand: Wat Tham Suea (Tiger Cave Temple)

19 Jan

This year we spent another wonderful Christmas on the beaches of Ao Nang, Krabi. We rock-climbed, relaxed in the ocean, and on the fabulous beaches, slept in the jungle at the base of Spirit Mountain (Chong Phli)….where we woke up to the sounds of a rooster and some monkeys….and learned to live with colonies of ants and some scorpions.

It was different from last year in that we got to share each beautiful day with a Brie, Björn, Luka and Zora; a wonderful travelling family from the US that we had met in Cusco, Peru (they were at the start of their Southeast Asian exploration…sorry you weren’t with us GiGi)!

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With Luka, Brie, Zora & Björn, at the entrance of the temple complex

Our one cultural visit, was a motorcycle ride to the Buddhist Tiger Cave Temple, locally called Wat Tham Suea. What is appealing about visiting Wat Tham Suea is that it’s one of the most sacred sites in the province and an active meditation hub where monks live and worship. According, to our friend Michael who lives in Krabi… definitely one of the more interesting temple complexes in southern Thailand. So off we went on our scooters….in search of wisdom and enlightenment!

This golden temple is located about 3 km outside of Krabi Town, and as we slowly we approached it, we saw what looked like a tiny, shiny statue on top of a tall mountain. Filou kept asking me, if I was serious about us hiking up to this structure, so high up in the sky….but of course, I am! (trying to convince him that there might be an elevator, didn’t fool him – he knows better by now).

Western places of worship tend to be centrally located and somber in colour. In contrast, Thai temples are further removed and often located on mountains and in caves. They are very colourful in nature, often ”guarded” by brightly painted animals…a real focus of artistic endeavours (you’ll find unique architecture, sculptures, paintings, decorative arts and crafts in these locations). The Tiger Cave Temple was no exception!

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Tiger Cave Temple or Wat Tham Suea. Statue of Buddhist monk with golden tiger.

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Apparently, Wat Tham Suea (which dates back to 1975), got its name TIGER temple because of a monk named Jumnean, who went to meditate under the cave and witnessed tigers roaming around. Another legend talks about a huge tiger living in these caves in previous times. Tiger paw prints can be found on some of the cave walls and the bulge of the cave also resembles a tiger’s paw.

Besides tiger paw prints, many unique artifacts (stone tools, pottery remains and Buddha footprints) were found around these caves and temple grounds, which makes this an archeological site of interest…however, we were most drawn to climbing the limestone tower, so we could witness the “footprint of the Buddha” and the largest bell tower in southern Thailand.

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Largest bell tower in southern Thailand

So off we were, for our hike to the top. We consider ourselves to be in decent shape (after the many hikes we have done in the past year), but the heat (we chose to go only at 4:30 pm) and the 1260 steps to reach the top (some quite steep ones), made this quite the interesting climb up….

The stairs to the mountain-top shrine are surrounded by lush vegetation. We weren’t even walking for 5 minutes when large monkeys were surrounding us everywhere. This meant a couple of deep breaths, as these creatures might look cute but can indeed be quite vicious.

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Before taking off, some fellow visitors had expressed concern that we were taking our children up this steep staircase (with its many twists and turns). However, they didn’t know our “monkeys” yet…. All 4 children basically ran up the hill; even 5 year old Zora…what a trooper! Honestly, I could hardly move and didn’t feel my calves for a week, but we made it all, and…

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Björn and I. Me with my beet red face (not a sunburn… but the energy from walking up 1260 steps…still smiling though!).

The view at the top left us breathless! The area surrounding the temple is made up of jungles and forests, including many old and growing trees in the Kiriwong Valley. We had a 360-degree view of stunning countryside and the Andaman Sea. It was a moment to pause and take it all in…

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And of course, besides the views there was the huge golden Buddha statue, standing 278 meters tall….as well as several shrines, statues with interesting symbols such as snakes, and antique looking gong bells. The locals and monks were praying and showing us some of their rituals. Most local temples are off limit to visitors, so we felt thankful to have had this experience.

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And so when the sun was setting and it was slowly getting dark, we made our way back down the 1260 steps with a peaceful mind.

With a delicious dinner alongside the river, at the Krabi night market, we said good-bye to our wonderful friends and another great stay in Oa Nang.

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Year in review – 2014

19 Dec

Dear Family & Friends,

I look around & see detailed stories & mini films that continually replay themselves in my head; the vendor lady in Bolivia with her incredibly, colourful tablecloths & scarves, Filou happily strolling The Great Wall of China, Anthony enjoying his favorite coffee in Vietnam, the gorgeous sunset over Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the gorgeous, little girl in her traditional Chiang Mai, Thailand outfit, Emile swimming with turtles and sea lions in the Galapagos Islands and me, paragliding in Canoa, Ecuador: snapshots of some unbelievable memories that put a great, big, happy grin on my face. I’ve just come back from the photo shop where I printed about two-dozen pictures, to give our new home in Bangkok that personal touch.

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Emile Turtle

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Still daily, our family reminisces about the amazing life memories we’ve created together this year. The beginning of 2014 was the start of the 2nd. half of our trip around the world. It was on the beach of Krabi, Thailand that we rang in the New Year (and made a wish that one day we would come back here…I guess be careful what you wish for!). After a fantastic month of “beach bum” life & making new friends, we moved on to Chiang Mai. It was here that our (grand)fathers joined us for 2.5 weeks. What a joy for Emile and Filou to have their Opa from Holland and Jichan from Canada together, and share in a bit of their unique, world-schooling, travelling life.

Then it was onto Malaysia, New Zealand and the Fiji Islands. The land of the Kiwis was probably our favorite one from that line-up; learning about the fascinating Maori aboriginal culture, seeing erupting volcano’s and hot springs, and eating delicious lamb. Definitely a country to return to one day! It reminded us very much of back home…incredible nature scenes, delicious fresh produce & foods, and a warm & friendly people.

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Our longest, transatlantic flight was from SE Asia, via Los Angeles to South-America. A week-long stopover in the US gave us the opportunity to reconnect with grandma YiaYia and uncle Nuno. We had great fun together bowling, singing karaoke, and taking nature walks.

After touchdown in South-America, we headed to Cusco, Peru – a lovely high-altitude town surrounded by breathtaking ruins and the gorgeous Andes mountain range. The cold weather (no indoor heating) made us put our “adjustment” hats on a bit, but the warmth of the colourful, local people & wonderful friendships with several expat families, turned our stay into a very memorable one. And of course, seeing the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Machu Picchu was pretty sweet!

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Then, we travelled by bus to rugged Bolivia with its incredible Uyuni Salt Flats and gorgeous Lake Titicaca. But South America’s highlight for the family was definitely Ecuador & the Galapagos Islands. We went out with a BIG BANG!

Who gets to swim with sharks, giant tortoises and sea lions, jump off a cliff to go skydiving, fly in a 6-seater plane with the windows open, get close to the very rare blue footed boobies or experience world cup soccer in a beach shack with Ecuadorian Futbol fans & the very best of newly-made international buddies? It really doesn’t get any better….and our entire trip was just like that; a phenomenal dream come true. It is without a doubt that the year 2013/2014 will forever be engraved in our family’s mind as a special one!

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Our world trip ended in mid July, but we couldn’t quite leave the adventure behind…and so after 5 incredible weeks with family back in Canada – re-appreciating our country and taking in the incredible orderliness, cleanliness and calmness – we took off again. This time to settle in Bangkok, Thailand; the place that was our family’s favorite and the perfect location from which Anthony could explore new business opportunities in the ASEAN region.

It’s been close to 4 months that we’ve been living in the Land of Smiles now…and we all love being in Asia. The sun is priceless; no snow shovelling, snowsuits, hats or scarves! Although I have to admit, it’s sometimes even too hot for this sun worshipper….but the winter months of Dec. & Jan are perfect…and we get to enjoy our pool often!

The food here is plentiful, full of variety and scrumptious. Every morning we wake up with a mango smoothie, made from the sweetest fruits you’ve ever tasted. Personally, I’ve become addicted to pomelo; a type of Chinese grapefruit….but so sweet and juicy. And Anthony…well, I don’t have to cook for him anymore; he has developed a love relationship with the street vendors! He goes for the simple chicken & rice dish (Khao Man Gai), even tolerates the very spicy sauce that comes with….and he often eats Lap Moo on our street (which is lined with about 6 different vendors each evening). This is a spicy ground pork & toasted rice dish that comes with anis, cucumbers & green onions. His absolute favourite!

The rest of the family has also taken to Bangkok’s fabulous street food. Emile devours the most amazing grilled crab on the street and Filou loves his rice-paper wrapped salad rolls (he’s still our salad king!)….and me? Well, I’ve found an award-winning place for Chicken Pad Thai – don’t tell the rest of the family but I go there often by myself during the day….it’s just too good and for $3.00, what’s not to love?

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We all really enjoy the area we live in – 59 Sukhumvit (& Thonglor). Apparently, the Thonglor area is somewhat of a hip area to reside in. We had no idea, but are happy to be in this very Japanese influenced neighbourhood. So many great grocery stores (the Japanese really know how to do the best fresh fish)…. and of course it has many fabulous restaurants for us sushi lovers.

We quickly learned how to say 59 or haa sip gao (actually Emile learned it at school and taught us)… as the first two weeks in Bangkok, we had a hell of a time getting a taxi driver to take us home. The kids did not have school transportation yet, and so we stood on many a hot street corner smiling and waving – hoping someone would take us home to the right location. The traffic in Bangkok is a nightmare although the Skytrain system is fabulous and so we mostly use this BTS system to get around. And of course, then there are the minibuses that pick Emile and Filou up each morning at 7 am to go to school.

Days are long and full of new learnings for the boys at their new school: Lycée Français International de Bangkok (http://www.lfib.ac.th). After some initial adjustments (getting used to being in school again, kids making fun of their different French accent, learning how to write cursive as the French LOVE their “lettres attachées” etc.), the boys are thriving! Emile is in Première with lots of autonomy – he’s on top of his homework, his changing class schedule & acing his subjects.

But more importantly, he is making lots of friends – mostly because of his newfound love for Ping Pong (the kids play every chance they get at school), and his continued love for soccer. He qualified for the “Coupe d’Asie” soccer team & will be competing against teams in the region. He has also started a rock band called “Rock Storm”. As the lead singer & guitarist, he’s working hard towards a grand finale, year-end performance. Très cool!

Filou remains our social butterfly & quickly made tons of new friends at school. He’s also working hard academically & has become the Lycée’s “billes” champion. Marbles is what turns his crank at the moment, and of course; playing music. He still loves his piano & is now taking lessons at a high-tech music studio where he learns to play by ear using animations & computers, under the guidance of a qualified Thai teacher.

As a family, we’ve already taken in some wonderful local festivals such as Loy Krathong (Nov. 6). Loy means to float and a Krathong is a small boat made out of banana leaves & lotus flowers, decorated with candles & incents. We took a boat tour in the Klongs, made our own Krathongs and send our creations onto the lake at night (to ask forgiveness and thanks to the God of the Water or “Mae Khong Kha”). We even put a piece of our hair and nails in our Kratongs like the Thais do….this will take all bad energies away and make for a good year ahead!

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And recently, on December 5, we celebrated the King’s birthday – also knows as Father’s Day. King Rama 9 or his Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej was born on Dec. 5 in 1927, so this day has become one of great celebration for the Thais, who absolutely adore & respect their King. This great man, who has worked incessantly to create a better life for Thai people everywhere, was unfortunately too sick for a birthday speech this year – but regardless, the streets were flooded with people wearing yellow t-shirts to pay homage (yellow is the colour of Monday – the day of the week the King was born on).

And we’ve all travelled to Singapore to arrange for our new Thai visa permits. It was a fantastic week of sightseeing….and with our newly acquired papers in hand Anthony was able to set up his new company – Asia Clean Innovations or ACI (http://www.asiacleaninnovations.com). Last week, he moved with 4 Thai staff members into his new office & is very busy travelling the ASEAN region, speaking and making connections. There are many good opportunities for him to bring Western Clean Technologies to the region and he loves the work in this quickly developing marketplace.

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I have immersed myself in what “expat life” for women here is all about. I help to raise money for various causes, play tennis, get motivated by a fantastic Thai personal trainer 2x a week, socialize (my new friends are warm, interesting women who are a true reflection of the United Nations; Canadian, French, Dutch, Filipino, Indian, Congolese, American etc.), I network…..and spend lots of time with the kids.

Also, I’ve started my own online jewelry business: http://mysilpada.ca/rose.swagemakers and contribute to an on-line magazine called Wanderlust: Expat life & Style. Our family and trip around the world was actually featured in their latest edition: http://www.joomag.com/magazine/wanderlust-expat-life-style-in-thailand-december-2014-january-2015/0084451001417429450/p46?short.

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So life is all good, although we also had some challenges back home this year…..In Holland, we lost our Uncle Guus and recently our very beloved Aunt Else, whose brave battle with breast cancer ended. In Canada, our Uncle Terry went through some major operations – and thanks to his lovely wife Berengère was given a second chance at life. But the hardest was not being able to be there for our sweet brother James who had a major stomach operation. Thank goodness, all went well and he is making great progress to a full recovery….with of course the loving care of Ayako & Betsy. His bravery is inspiring! Also both our mothers are dealing with some health challenges that we are monitoring closely…when it comes to this, being afar is not always easy!

But we will finalize 2014 on a great note and will end the year in the same way that we started it….being happy & grateful on the beach of Krabi, Thailand.

We wish you all a very happy & healthy 2015. May all your dreams come true like they have for us this past year!

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We always love to hear from you…and in case you want to follow our continued adventures, go to https://yolomomonthego.wordpress.com (and click the “follow” button).

Anthony, Rose, Emile & Félix Watanabe-Swagemakers

Photo Essay – “Art in Paradise”; a fun, little, interactive museum in Bangkok

4 Nov

We’ve been going a fair bit to the Esplanade Mall here in Bangkok, as it’s the location for a great indoor skating park for the kids.  Each time, upon entering this mall, we noticed these colourful signs for this interactive, art display.  And I don’t know about you, but when your kids beg to go to a museum, you take that opportunity and run!  After taking the escalators up to the fourth floor, we arrived at the entrance of  “Art in Paradise” (http://www.artinparadise.co); a permanent exhibition of interactive, colourful art.

Here, kids (and big kids), are allowed to touch paintings, sit on them and take funny pictures ….their interaction provides the allusion that they are part of the art works themselves – how cool!  It really did bring out the imaginative and fun side in Emile and Filou, and they’ve never asked to be in so many pictures (they are usually quite good with picture taking because of our world tour adventure and my frequent insistence on capturing their cute faces…but they don’t call mom the “sleazy photographer” for nothing; they can do without the multitude of posing).  But not this time…they wanted to pose, interact, be part of the art…and had a fabulous time. I guess what is not to love when you ask the Mona Lisa a question and she answers you right back?

Our visit to this fun place, is best captured visually – so see below.  For those who want to visit:  The Esplanade Mall is located at the Thai Cultural Centre – MRT Stop in Bangkok. Cost: 300 Baht for adults (about $10), kids are cheaper if they are less than 120 cm tall.

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Singapore: Visas, Deepavali and Fun

28 Oct

We have been living for 2 months in Thailand now, and it’s been exciting, full of learning, challenging and mindboggling. …Although there are many things to write about – we’ve really come to love it here; the inspiration to write has escaped me a little (perhaps because a life of living – with school and work – is not quite the same as daily adventures on the road).

I realize that it is travel that inspires me….and so it was easy again to write about our recent trip to Singapore; a new country for us all. I will pick up my blog writing and share with you our Thailand adventures but for now here’s a recap of our week in Singapore.

October 19, 2014 was the start of a 2-week school holiday for Emile and Filou, which was perfectly timed as October 20 was our 60th day residing in Thailand. As we were still on a 2-month tourist visa, this was the day we had to leave the country…and go to a place from where we could apply for our next permits: our non-immigrant status (lasting us another 3 months….and giving us the opportunity to apply for work permits).

We were told Singapore was the best and most efficient place to do this, so off we went to this young city that is known to be both a concrete jungle of modernism and order… as well as a garden city and champion of environmental initiatives (their water technology, such as their NeWater; high purity, filtered waste water, is so good that they joke about drinking their own pee water). Perfect work city for Anthony….and a great place for some kiddie, vacation fun!

On our drive into Singapore from the airport, we noticed the most colourful flowers everywhere, and many beautiful tropical trees (think of big bonsais trees) lining the city’s highways. Apparently, these trees are both esthetic and functional as they help to keep Singapore’s roads cool & shady, counteract anti-glare from upcoming traffic and provide a barrier to prevent traffic accidents. This all helps to keep the city clean, green and safe….very well thought out indeed.

Our first morning was spent (with several others) at the Royal Thai Embassy Singapore, where after a little moment of stress because of one missed document, we handed in our package of paperwork with the hopes of a good end result (which we received the next morning….yeah, we were allowed to return to Bangkok!). So relieved to have accomplished the main purpose of our visit, we started to think about having some fun.

Our first stop was a visit to the Island of Sentosa (http://www.sentosa.com.sg/en/), appropriately called the STATE of FUN as it’s a true haven of attraction parks, nature discoveries and beaches (they even have their own Universal Studios – which we purposely avoided; lining up for rides all day in the burning sun….not so much our thing!).

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Filou on the Island of Sentosa; State of FUN

Emile and Filou chose the Skyline Luge Ride to get some of their energy out (http://www.skylineluge.com/luge-singapore/skyline-luge-sentosa/). In small, LUGE-like little cars with steering wheel, they navigated down approximately 680 metres of Jungle & Dragon tracks. After their thrill rides, a chairlift took them back up the hill for a next round and view of Singapore’s beautiful panoramic and skyline scenery. Their enthusiasm for this activity was thrilling; big, big smiles!

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Skyline Luge Rides at Sentosa

From there, Anthony and I were excited to add the Southernmost Point of Continental Asia to our list of have been’s (during our honeymoon we visited Cape Agulhas – the southernmost point of Continental Africa, which still holds very dear memories for us).

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At the Southernmost point of Continental Asia

So we took Sentosa’s complimentary shuttle towards Palawan Beach – a gorgeous stretch of white sand, accessible by a long and beautiful suspension bridge. Once on the islet, we climbed up one of the two viewing towers to take in the views of the South China Sea. The water was one of the nicest I have ever experienced, and the boys must have agreed as they spent almost two hours splashing around.

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Palawan Beach and its suspension bridge that leads to the islet that houses the Southernmost point of Continental Asia

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Taking in the views of the South China Sea, from a viewing tower

Next day, the boys and I were off to the local Science Centre (http://www.science.edu.sg/Pages/SCBHome.aspx) – a great place of discoveries; fire shows, learning about new, cool inventions, playing music and seeing an interesting IMAX movie called Titans of the Ice Age. Also, it was a good spot to get into the Halloween spirit, as they creepily served the boys’ head on a platter.

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Cool fire show at the Singapore Science Centre

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A plate of juicy Emile

That night, we met up with Anthony to celebrate Diwali, also known as Deepavali or “Festival of Lights”. As Indian is one of the four official nationalities of Singapore (the others are Malay, Chinese and Eurasian), it was a fantastic place to be. This Hindu festival is celebrated in the fall every year and signifies light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil and hope over despair.

We headed to Singapore’s Little India, an area that was bustling with activity, people and local street vendors. We first enjoyed a delicious vegetarian meal at a small, local restaurant (where we talked to our Indian table neighbours who gave us some great suggestions on what to eat).

Then we headed back into the crowded streets, and a very bright and colourful temple complex was calling us.

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The Sri Thendayuthapani Hindu Temple in Little India, Singapore

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We respectfully took off our shoes, entered, and observed with interest what was going on inside. On the right hand-side, we noticed a group of people sitting on the floor, praying. Right in front of us, men were lined up, waiting to receive their Deepavali blessing. We were encouraged to join in and receive ours, complete with a red bindi on the forehead (the red colour representing honour, love and prosperity).

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Lining up to receive a Deepavali blessing

Further into the temple, there were various, colourful statues of gods and goddesses, some of which were being adorned with beautiful rings of flowers. At their feet, huge amounts of bananas were placed as an offering.

It was all a unique sight and we felt blessed and welcomed to be there. Not only were we encouraged to partake in the festivities, several Indian Singaporeans happily explained local customs and traditions to us. It was a great evening of cultural experience, good food and celebration: A Happy Deepavali!

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Filou with Lakshmi; the Hindu Goddess of wealth, love, prosperity, fortune & beauty. 

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Besides its rich cultural history, Singapore is also known for its greenery and gardens; one of those being the fabulous Gardens by the Bay (http://www.gardensbythebay.com.sg/en/home.html).

As it was quite hot when we arrived, the boys and I first headed for the Far East Organization Children’s Garden – a nature inspired play area with a 7.5 metre-tall tree house and several fun climbing structures. To cool down, we quickly ventured towards the Water Play; an enormous splash pad with sensors that detect movement, to create a corresponding sequence of water effects. Very cool!   The boys ran around like crazy and had a lot of fun.

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The kids at Water Play; a huge splash pad with sensors that detect movement (and create a corresponding sequence of water effects)

From there we headed into the cool-moist Cloud Forest conservatory; a 35-metre tall mountain covered in lush vegetation, complete with the world’s largest indoor waterfall.

I provided the kids each with a self-guided audio-tour, which they got totally into. They kept explaining to me the cool facts they learned, such as: Did you know Mom that all teas come from only 1 plant? (they rightly assumed I would find this interesting as I am a huge consumer of tea).

By lift, we reached the top of the mountain and via two walkways that appeared to be totally in the clouds, we made our way back down. My vertigo was definitely tested again (mucho scary!) but the aerial view of the canopy, the mountainside with its gorgeous planted walls and even the view of Singapore by the water…made up for it (and Emile was a great help holding my hand)!

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The world’s largest indoor waterfall at the Cloud Forest Conservatory

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At the Cloud Forest, Gardens by the Bay

Our final stop was to admire the futuristic looking trees at the Supertree Grove. These unique structures are made up of reinforced concrete cores, trunks, planting panels and canopies. They are about 16 storeys high and some are embedded with photovoltaic cells to harvest solar energy. The tree trunks are truly stunning; covered with over 160,000 plants and more then 200 species of orchids, ferns and tropical flowering climbers.

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At the very unique SuperTree Grove

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To round out our fun time in Singapore, we all headed to the Zoo for its Night Safari (http://www.nightsafari.com.sg)

After quite a delicious meal (bongo burgers for the kids and spicy Korean BBQ chicken for us), we lined up for the guided tram tour. This 40-minute night ride got us up real close to some of the most fascinating nocturnal animals.   We also ventured onto the Leopard Trail on foot, where we saw a great number of wildlife, indigenous to Southeast Asia (of course many Asian cats such as the Clouded Leopard and majestic Gir Lion), but even free flying bats….and other creepy and unique looking creatures.

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So, with visa in hand and some great memories of exploring this very prosperous, orderly anomaly of an Asian country, we were all excited to return home to cheap, messy, culturally rich and oh so charming Bangkok.