Saturday March 3, 2012
Taiwan had been off my travel radar for decades. It would take a lot of nudging even to even consider landing there, say when crossing the Pacific, which was an even rarer occurence. But my how times and things have changed. In a pinch, how does one resist a meticulously planned 5 day ride up and across the island’s highest road topping out at 3275 m? Followed by an almost 90 kms of downhilling right to sea level, the next day? Resistance was futile. Even my better half succumbed.
A proposal one night by a cycling friend who frequents the island many times each year, sealed the deal. Before we knew it, and it was just in a matter of days, a handful of those who expressed interest in the trip soon snowballed into a group of 20 adults and 2 toddlers and 17 bikes of all shapes, sizes and persuasion. Air tickets were snapped up on JetStar, 20 kgs into Taiwan and 30 kgs and more on the return leg.
Sounds like fun ? It was. Waiting for the D date, that was excruciating, so much so that, even I had to be ‘sedated’ of sorts and orgainsed a short trip into Thailand as a precursor to this trip.
This much delayed write up can also be blamed on time, or a lack of it, being spent elsewhere, like rediscovering my road bike, and researching our next trip to Formosa in the coming months, but it’s going to be worth it.
A lot has happened since …..and with beautiful memories nicely captured by master videographer Joeel Lee and friends
A more complete analysis here,
It’s raining cats and dogs and every other living organism known to mankind. Whilst I recognise the need for moisture to sustain life on this planet, would it be too much to ask if the rains can be kept to a more convenient time frame, say from 11 pm to 6 am ???
Why a double whammy you ask ? Well when it rains, cycling is out and when it rains, kite flying is out too. Accompanied by lightning, there is the risk of frying one’s kite as well as oneself.
OK one good thing about the incessant rains is that this rant will end with some photos of a nice hotel we stayed in recently. If anything, it’ll give some nice ideas on interior decoration like designer rain showers for the bath. And I’ve also stumbled upon the slideshow feature for WP. 2 good things about the rain today which I might add is easing up. Yippee !
It has been almost 6 months since I first peered out my bathroom window (with my shower in full swing) to be greeted by the sight of 2 huge manta rays in the sky. Each in shocking pink and lime green, at least 5 metres across and had tails of lightweight nylon 15 metres long. And yesterday it was deja vu, but this time it was a huge ink black cuttlefish with eyes as big as hubcaps peering into my bath.
Within those months, I’ve had the good fortune to befriend two neighbours from across the street and fly these giant kites from the field below my apartment block. For simplicity’s sake they’ll be referred to as KB 1 and KB 2 (KB for Kite Brother)
KB 1 is the real enthusiast with dedicated equipment like a pro.
A special kit bag to hold half a dozen kites and spare bits like carbon rods and swivel hooks. Reels of various sizes with lines of various lengths and poundage. Yes, like fishing, one must take kite lines seriously. The capacity to hold or fly a kite in the air with the weight of a full grown adult, say 160 pounds, before out of luck mayhem happens like a broken rod or snapped line. Then comes the reels of various diameters, the larger ones being able to reel in or let out a kite faster than what the kids use. Remember rolling pins or old Coke bottles?
KB 2 being younger has the knack of buying the latest and the best, easily swayed by marketing. I mean look at his car, decked out with bits of carbon and fiberglass. No wonder he’s in the business of selling ‘car bits’ cleverly designed himself and some parts made to order from a factory in Malaysia – online of course. This leaves KB 2 ample time to indulge, what with his fast car’s boot chock full with kites, picnic chairs and the all important ice cooler box, filled with various brands of …. chilled beer !
Occasionally KB 2 will show up in the evening with his 2 young sons, who after 5 minutes will turn their attention to their laptops and I phones. So much for the great outdoors, shrugs KB 2, as long as the cooler box is also filled with fizzy drinks and food, the kids will be fine.
KB 1 being the true kite master is down at the field 3 to 4 times a week. That’s a lot when multiplied by 6 months. Sometimes twice a day, with a break at mid day for lunch. Needless to say in our tropical climate, this Chinese man has the complexion of a Toblerone chocolate bar ! And with a wife whose constant bickering about the bad effects of sunburn. I try to avoid the heat and UV when I can but heck sometimes, to quote KB 1. “To fly a kite, one must embrace the wind no matter what time of day”
KB 1 is also the most helpful of strangers you have just met. As he had learnt the ropes literally by himself, he’s always keen to teach newcomers not to make the same mistakes he did.
Stay away from the trees. Stretch your line out a few hundred feet before lifting your kite. No point in running like a mad hatter when the wind is dead zero. There were just too many times in which KB 1 took my kite without me asking and walked away with it. With the line laid out at 300 feet, reeling it in fast and seeing it soaring in to the evening sky, we spent many hours in total kiting bliss, so much so that sometimes, our wives will make the trek down to see what the fuss was all about !
KB 1 even looks after the field mind you, and has even told off some clueless soccer kids that leaving their trash on the field was not cool. “Watch out for the 3 deep potholes in the field”. He has since fill those out with rocks and waste wood, just today. Carried on his rusty bicycle’s basket no less.
When one spends hours on end tethered to a kevlar line guiding sails of parachute nylon and carbon rods in shocking colours, it won’t be long before ‘man gossip’ happens. I mean how else would I know that KB 1 led a life of driving huge oil tankers at all hours, before a bad work accident twisted his left foot 180 degrees?
Apparently his compensation was enough for him to stay at home and fly kites at age 54. And there are stories about him having to work at a young age so that his single mom could send his brother KB 2 to school. KB2 being the more successful at this point in time showers KB 1 with many manly gifts from pricey Oakley sunglasses, nice watches and even kites that have lost his fancy. KB 1′s two sons are all grown up and have joined the Singapore Navy, and yes his wife laments that her whole family (except her) are too tanned.
KB 1 has graduated into stunt kiting, a natural progression he says, edging me on constantly to move from static kites to the next level. In local parlance this is akin to ‘poisoning’ in that I have to spend and acquire more stuff that I am not ready to play with.
It was a sad day too when I asked KB 1 about KB 2′s absence from the field. It seems some unsavoury Middle Eastern blokes were keen on moving into the ‘bits of plastic and carbon to make your Japanese car look faster’ business and were also hacking his website and claiming to be the designers and vendors of those ‘bits’ Isn’t having loads of oil under your deserts enough ?
I was mildly incensed at this but more than that KB 2 went AWOL for 3 months or so. We both missed that cooler box too ! KB 2 like most Singaporeans had made the best of the situation and took up a night course in attaining his vocational taxi driving license. Very handy when the next recession strikes. Now the running joke among us is, will he use a Lancer Evo 10 as a taxi. I’m sure there will be a demand to find out what 250 kmp/h feels like.
Lo and behold, 24 hours ago, I see a giant black cuttlefish from my bathroom and KB 2 is back. Grabbed my kites and camera and headed down, much to my wife’s amazement who muttered something like, “Oh, all the brothers are back” There was so much chatter between the KBs that I decided to sink in my camp chair and let them carry on.
Yeah yeah, spending many a glorious sunset with two other guys may seem weird, but really, when the winds pick up, that’s all that matters (almost)
PS> In our increasingly urbanised enviornment, kite flying has grown in leaps and bounds. There’s just something about having control of one’s kite that’s sailing high up in the open skies that says, I am in control, and want to be in control of such a simple flying object (well there are complicated pricey kites too) in a wide open space, that has timeless appeal.
Perhaps it’s the many restrictions that are imposed upon our everyday lives that makes kiting the total opposite. Training one’s sight on a faraway object sure beats hours in front of the computer screen, unless it’s to check today’s wind and weather conditions! And of course being outdoors in a cool evening breeze, among the brothers, with similar passionate interests, is a sure way to forget the worries of the real world, if only for a few windy hours. I dare you to not bring your phone along too.
It It was no coincidence that we had to check into the Banyan Tree Phuket resort after the G’s flights home . Coleen had won a 3 night stay there, at a media event (ie sponsor’s givaways) last December. It was worth US$1950 and we had the chance to redeem it almost 7 months later. Having the G’s on a road trip to Phuket for 6 whole days, that was the coincidence. Friday to Sunday was our ‘now time’
With our G-sitting duties done, I spent most of my time by the pool, on the deck chair, checking out cloud movements during the day and the stars during the night, while indoors, well one can zone out in the jacuzzi or in front of the big screen. I don’t recall my board shorts being completely dry in those 72 hours.
I was contemplating other titles like ‘Coping with the Gs’ or “Getting on with the Gs’ but Road Trip sounds best as, it really describes an almost 800 kms journey up and down the Andaman Coast of Southern Thailand with the G’s.
Who are they, these Gs, you ask? In short the Gs are my parents, both with a combined age of 158 years, which makes me a half century young too. ‘G’ started out as short for geriatric, a none too nice term for sometimes grumbling/feuding parents.
I take full blame for wittily coining it. It has stuck on with my better half and me, as a reference code word when referring to mum and dad. We now regard the letter G as a loving term, without any sarcasm, well almost.
When their words and deeds defy logic or rational thought, we usually take a deep breath and say, “It’s the Gs” Just fall back and accept come what may. More micro managing with whyfores and therefores will only lead you faster in to G-hood.
There’s even a G 1 and G 2. (Not to be confused with Canon Powershot cameras)
When their moods are nice and correspondingly their offsprings will be too, G is uped a few notches to Genial Grandparents, though in a single blinding moment any one G can become ‘Grumbling’
With the meta out of the way here’s a look at the G’s and Us on a road trip. All of 6 days, it’s trails and tribulations had a special added element, just to keep things in balance or add to the potent mix of grumbling, sighing and gereral well being of the non Gs, seated up front.
It’s Mom’s friend from Church, 80 year old Aunt Dorothy. Recently widowed, she has all the power of a single woman again, but we found her to be genial, confident, courteous and all round very nice to ‘be with’ (Much to Dad’s instant consternation and impatience, mostly because, she’s not him. Mom has her own special patented brand of G-ness, it’s a bit delayed, in that I’ll hear the negatives and my shortcomings in the following…..months!)
Just to recap, we had done another road trip in the Thai north in 2009, with the third party being a mum in law from Malaysia. People say I am brave, but I have to be as I hold almost all the cash, keys to the car, hotel choices and maps in my head.
Of course there are many compliments too from friends who do not have the time nor patience to carry out such a long, taxing 1300 kms cross country trip 24/7 with their own special set of Gs, but see that 2009 trip was much too long, 13 days. I blame myself for wanting to explore new cycling routes. We have halved the duration now.
This is Road Trip V 2.0 and I’m getting smarter.
Click on photos to embiggen.
Just a week from returning, Dad’s fondest memory of the trip was my navigation skills without a map. (I had cycled the road to Ranong and further north, in May last year) and his many durian feasts. Not much else. While I credit Mom for holding hands and helping Dad across busy roads, packing his stuff each night, taking medication, and even edging him on to marry the durian lady with much laughter all around. That’s so like our Gs doing things that will bewilder us once in a while.
Trips like this seem to bond the G’s for a while, before they get back to their set ways back home. Having to co exist with each other in a different enviornment, does bring out the best in them, and we know that a 3rd party friend or relative nearby always makes them think twice about making a scene.
Mom is looking forward to another trip next year while Dad in his own impatient way, says why not next month, we’re not getting any younger. I don’t blame him as he used to disappear to Thailand for 2 weeks each, and did that 3 times back as recently as 2009.
Even I don’t do that no matter how many nice bicycles (and a very understanding wife) I have. The last 2 years have not been easy what with insomnia and having to walk much slower with a walking stick. (I’ll have mine in carbon or titanium please) 2010 was a zero travel year for him (visits to hospitals don’t count) and it does, to put it bluntly, suck not being able to go where you want to. If an ageing G says, “Sh*t, I haven’t gone to Thailand for more than a year” I’d better have a back up plan.
That was said with much anger and frustration compared with a sadly poignant admission, “Christopher, I don’t think I can travel alone anymore” upon our return last week. We all know he shouldn’t anyway, what with some memory loss, he might miss his return flight or easily fall prey to some con artist, but this is one sad truth that all of us will have to face someday. ;-(
Latest intel from Mom says Aunt Dorothy is keen to play 3rd party again. Wow, that soon.
I sort of have a Road Trip V 3.0 in my head, but I must also have some kind of bicycle in the back of the car, or back in the hotel, maybe cycling around at midnight in a strange town, to delay the onslaught of my own G-ness.
More than just a fancy book title, the island’s swankiest highland village has morphed into a must visit for every visitor. New hands will go ga ga over the town’s market square and shopping. Having just an hour or so to do that, they buy up handicraft and trinkets by the bus load, before returning to their buses and day tours of the exotic Balinese countryside.
Old hands watch and ponder, from a discreet restaurant, hey we were like that once maybe 20 years ago. Me? I try to avoid the place like the plague, but then again like the book says, the place is a ‘mood’ Catch it in your right ‘mood’ and soon you’ll be an old hand, never wanting to leave, save for the odd bicycle ride into the countryside. Useful things those state of the art bicycles.
Ubud’s market is a real market before the daily transformation. Locals hustle and bustle for their daily needs from as early a 5 am. Messy, grimy and with suspicious odours. I’ve yet to enter their deep dark and dank below road level areas. You hear the odd gripes about rising prices and shrinking portions. Locals buying in bulk seem to do so for their businesses mostly restaurants. They’ll pass the costs on to their customers.
On one very hot morning, wife is thirsty and insists on a cooling coconut drink. I am quoted Rp 30 k for one. No point haggling, it’s almost US$4.00. We walk away and the price drops to 20 K. I cross the street to a local warung and get a cut up coconut. Rp 10 K. I’m sure the locals pay less, but the thing to note here is she’s thirsty and water wont do.
Come sunlight and say after 9 am, the produce market changes into the tourist market. This is a good time to be there. Mess cleaned up quickly and in it’s place, neatly laid out souvenir stalls waiting for the huge white tourists buses from the south to disgorge their contents.
My mood insists that I make a last visit on the very last day of each trip. People watching at it’s best. Plus photo ops galore. Intelligent mood dictates that we find our lodgings as far away from the town center as possible, which we cleverly do. And of course having a folding bike handy really beats walking 2000 metres just to get lunch or dinner or a new bikini.
I once did a tally of the days and nights I’ve spent in Ubud. It added up to 62. That was in 2000, so that figure is severely outdated. There’re lots more, hidden somewhere in my trip diaries, waiting to be counted. For simplicity’s sake, I’ll just double that figure. East Bali and Amed is looking good these days. It’s peaceful, quiet and with a spider web of roads and trails waiting to be to be explored on a mountain bike. It could just be the next place to stay a while.
From a previous post on food, it’s also possible to dine in a different restaurant everyday for a month in Ubud, but we now know the good from the less good (thankfully we were spared the bad ones)
We will leave the island soon, and with the impending departure, the mood is sombre as we have to deal with traffic, immigration and crowds at the air port.
Weak hearted foreign visitors are taken aback and may be shocked by it. Others with stauncher differing faiths express mixed feelings from disdain to downright fear. Kids will have nightmares. Camera happy people like me can’t get enough of Bali’s Ogoh Ogoh. And only in Bali would you find hedious, gigantic paper, foam and plastic ‘monsters’ parading the streets till midnight as part religious cleansing ceremony, part celebrations and mostly an excuse for a good party.
It happens once a year during the March or April full moon to herald in a new year, after the most intriguing of all Balinese celebrations, where ironically nothing happens. This is the day of Nyepi or silence. 24 hours of quiet. People stay indoors, eat quietly indoors, no sounds, no conversation, no lights (except candlelight) no cooking, no frolicking (ie, behave or abstain) and meditate. The more devout will also fast for a day.
Basically no one goes out, the streets are devoid of people and traffic. (save for emergency vehicles) This applies even to tourists and village pecalang or ‘enforcers’ make sure that the rules are strictly enforced. Out driving with no good reason ? Your keys will be taken and you’ll have to walk home quietly. In recent years with the influx of mass tourism, the Balinese are dead serious about Nyepi and the airport is shut down for 24 hours. No flights in or out.
What’s the significance of all this, you ask ? Well it’s simple yet bewildering. With such silence for a day, the demons and malevolent spirits will think the island is devoid of life, and thus leave to haunt another place. Balinese demons are that naive for a day. Yet the ogoh ogoh prevail and have their boisterous street parades on the eve of Nyepi.
Sadly, we were not in Bali at the right time, just about a month after Nyepi. I cannot fathom 24 hours of plain doing nothing, not even with fast wifi, which in Bali is intermittent at best, but who knows one day in the future. Apparently there are even more, but sombre celebrations in the days after Nyepi and invitations have been ‘expressed and offered’ to me for the whole period :-)
We saw the remains of Nyepi, that is the many ogoh ogoh left to flounder in village halls and street corners. Those that were not spectacular enough, did not win any best ogoh ogoh contests, and thus were not burnt at midnight. Some were rotting and as freinds assured us, have no spirit or ‘power’ left in them. Months of handiwork gone and it’s mind boggling that about 20,000 ogoh ogoh all over Bali are made and then torched at midnight before Nyepi.