8 Things Everyone Must Know About Me

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Even after almost a year and a half of living in Indonesia, I still have moments of feeling like a stranger in a strange land. I never blend in, and I always stand out. But I also live in a beautifully relational country. So instead of just staring at me like a stranger, I regularly am approached and questioned about my life. It was unsettling at first. The introspective American in me was like I don’t know you, why do you want to know my life? But as a learner of a new country & new culture, I learned to lean into relationship and opened up with people. Especially as I’ve been learning the language, the amount & types of questions have only increased. I now expect the questions when I meet someone new. I now have my answers memorized. I am prepared.

I guess we do something similar in America. When we meet someone new, we usually ask name, where they are from and what they do for work. Those are standard small talk questions in America. Indonesia has different standard small talk questions, which often make me laugh. Here are the regular questions I am asked from 1 – 20 times a day.

Question #1: Where are you going?
This question, literally translates from the Indonesian as “want to where?”, is used like Americans say, “What’s up?” Sometimes we are actually asking a direct question and want a direct answer, but usually it’s just a casual greeting to acknowledge someone’s presence. And it doesn’t make sense in English. Mau ke mana, which means “Where are you going?” is used by my neighbors as I’m about to drive off, by my friends as I see them in town, or the gas station attendant. To which my answer, regardless of who asks it is always, “walking out & about” or in Indonesian, jalan-jalan.

Question #2: Where are you from?
Answer: America
Follow-up: How long have you lived in Bali?
Answer: [approximate time frame]
Follow-up: Oh! You speak the language [Bahasa Indonesia] so fluently!
Response: Well, I’m not fluent, but thank you.

Question #3: Are you [already] married?
Answer: Yes, I am already married.
Side note: Indonesian language has interesting feature of using “already” and “not yet” for yes and no questions. Have you already eaten? Have you already showered? Have you already…? Rarely do I respond with a hard “no” to a question, it’s almost always a “not yet”. Have I been to Jakarta? Not yet. Have I learned Balinese language? Not yet. 

Question #4: Is your husband Indonesian? [as a result of my apparent flawless language skills, I suppose]
Answer: He’s American too. Although, clearly we look like a nice little Balinese couple!

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Question #5: Do you [already] have children?
Answer: Not yet

These are standard regular questions that anyone from a taxi driver to a shopkeeper to a waitress may ask me. Depending on how long the conversation continues, here’s a few of my favorite questions I am regularly asked.

Question #6: What’s your religion?
Answer: Protestant Christian. What’s your religion?
Culture note: This always catches me off guard. Indonesia has 6 official religions [Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Protestant, Catholic & Confuscism], and everyone HAS to have a religion. Like, it’s required. Like, an Indonesian isn’t allowed to be agnostic or atheist. It’s on their government ID cards. It’s assigned at birth. You can’t marry someone of another religion. One person has to change their religion to marry. Religion to Indonesians is as standard as gender or hometown.It’s even on application forms!

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Question #7: How much did you pay for (fill in the blank)?
Indonesians will constantly ask how much I pay for stuff. Oh, I like your shirt, how much was it? Oh, you are renting a house for 2 years, how much did pay? Oh, you are sitting next to me at a red light, how much was your motorbike? Nothing is off-limits when it comes to asking the cost. Sometimes I am proud a good deal, and will share openly. Other times, I am ashamed of being ripped off for being a foreigner. But it’s a constant.

Question #8: Do you like living here?
Answer: Of course, I love living here.
Side note: Is there any other answer that would at all be polite to say here???

I absolutely love how relational Indonesians are. Nothing is ever a distant or removed task, but a chance for a personal connection. One of American friends recently commented after a trip to the States that self-checkout lanes would never work in Indonesia. And it’s so true. These people are hard-wired to be in community. I’m learning how to live in a relational culture, and it’s simply beautiful.

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JoyFilledWander Snaps

Hey all you snappy SnapChatters out there! I’m giving this SnapChat thing a try! I recently discovered some of the great travel bloggers out there using SnapChat, like Expat Edna, Mark Wiens, and Drew “the Hungry Partier” Binsky. They are rocking it on SnapChat with more stories, photos and videos from the road. SnapChat has become a new way to see “behind the scenes” of someone’s life with it’s unedited raw life moments. I also have enjoyed the SnapChat community. I’ve reached out to some of these popular Snappers, and have gotten such personal responses. I’ve spent time in real life with fellow Snap-Travelers, and it’s just a unique community.  So I’m jumping in and adding my stories to the world. Follow along my SnapChat for stories from this American girl living life in Asia!

Things you’ll see on my SnapChat…

Beaches!

Culture Moments!

Foodie Love!

Volunteering Stories!

Glimpses into my new normal!

Things to inspire YOU to travel!

Oh, and my own geofilter for my neighborhood beach!

So, Scan my code and follow along @joyfilledwander

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Happy Snapping!

Top 10 Beaches in Bali for Photographers

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Bali is a paradise of beaches. Any type of beach goer can find the beach of their dreams in Bali. Like surfing? Check out Uluwatu. Enjoy swimming & sunbathing? Nusa Dua is your beach. Like your beach with a side of party? Kuta & Seminyak is for you. Like to eat on the beach where your meal came from? Head to Jimbaran Beach. There’s really something for everyone at the beaches of Bali. Even photographers!

I love photographing my travels, and in Bali, that means beaches. Over the past few months I’ve been traveling to some of the beaches of southern Bali, which are most well-known beaches on the island. Many I had heard of before arriving, but some I had not. I wanted to visit these beaches as a photographer, and see what made them unique. Here’s a look at the 10 beaches I visited and what I loved about them!

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#10 Kuta Beach: If you are looking for photos of flat dark sand, throngs of tourists in bikinis, merchants seller their goods, and drunken surfers, then Kuta Beach is your spot. I know this beach is a “famous” surf spot, but I really don’t get the appeal. I always find it crowded and unpleasant. These are the photos that make me don’t want to come to Bali. I’m not into the party or club scene, so I’m probably not the ideal expat for Kuta Beach, but either way, there’s way more interesting beaches to photograph in Bali.

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#9 Seminyak Beach: A step above Kuta, but not much. Still crowded, still rather dull, Seminyak does offer spots of secluded beach. And I have noticed some impressive waves on this beach. Parts of this beach can look quite nice, but it’s really determined by tourist season.

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#8 Dreamland Beach: Speaking of tourists… I’m not a fan of this one because it’s one of the few southern cliff beaches that tour buses can access. Therefore it’s packed with tour groups. Plus you have to walk through a long stretch of souvenir shops & pushy sellers. It’s pretty, it’s simple, but as a photographer, it’s a pass.

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#7 Nusa Dua: This beach has the advantage/disadvantage of being mostly a beach for resorts. The advantage is that it’s quite clean. The disadvantage is that sometimes it can be quite crowded. But Nusa Dua does offer some unique photo spots that other beaches do not. One is a water blow, just off the beach. When the tide is just right, the swell is legendary. I like this beach for swimming, as it’s a pretty protected cove and the waves aren’t too crazy.

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#6 Padang-Padang: Another “famous” surf spot, but a little overhyped if you ask me. There’s a charge to park and a charge to enter the beach. It’s a pretty small beach too, for all the fuss. It does have some great cliff and rock shots from the beach, which make it unique. It’s a nice beach, but it gets crowded quick.

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#5 Secret Beach [Pantai Tegal Wangi]: I call this one secret, because I never hear anyone talk about it! But when studying the map of Bali one day, I stumbled across it. It’s remote and cut out of the rocks. It’s a small beach, but definitely has the private island beach feel. When we were there, a wedding was about to take place. It’s a great spot for a secluded Bali beach wedding. It has a real isolated feel.

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#4 Bingin Beach: The only downside to this beach is the stairs. But other than that, it’s a gem. Soft white sand, nice waves, cool rocks & caves giving Bingin a nice unique coastline. I also enjoyed photographing from some of the cafe’s above the beach for some great wide ocean shots. This is a lovely beach that might even be worth all those stairs. It’s not for the faint at heart!

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#3 Jimbaran Beach: I’m partial to this beach, because I live on it. But other than that, it’s still a great beach. It’s fishing beach, which makes for great local culture shots of the boats, the fisherman, the fish and the markets. It’s a sunset beach, so sometimes it glows. There are a lot of tourists at sunset, so getting that isolated postcard photo feel won’t happen at Jimbaran Beach. But if you want to photograph a beach with character, this is the spot.

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#2 Balangan Beach: What a gem. The best part of this beach is the great overlook on the coast. Part of the cliff juts out, and gives you wide views of the coastline from all angles. I could photograph from up here all day. The coast is so rich and green, and the sand is a beautiful sandy tan, with turquoise water that just pops. The beach itself is nice too. But this overlook is a real nice spot.

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#1 Uluwatu Beach: I know, I know. It’s touristy. It’s hyped. It’s always crowded. But it’s all worth it you guys. It’s epic. After walking down who knows how many stairs winding through countless shops & restaurants, you see it. This crazy stone cave opening up into the ocean. You climb down a few more precarious stone steps, walk across a stone bridge, and you hear the crashing waves coming through cove. You can barely see the sky because the cliff walls are so tall. But as you walk toward the sounds of the ocean, the walls widen and you are at the edge of the world. Uluwatu Beach is beautiful and unlike any beach I’ve seen before. You photograph here for hours, and never take the same shot. Depending on the tides, you can go through the caves to the other side of the main opening, and a whole new beach awaits. It’s a photographer’s dream come true. Don’t miss it.

Happy photographing!!

8 Books That Will Inspire Wanderlust This Summer

Can reading be an addiction? If so, I’m addicted to reading. For multiple years in a row I’ve completed reading challenges of over 50 books a year. Back in 2013 and again now in 2016, I’ve been doing a travel-themed reading challenge called Around the World in 80 Books. As I read books set in different countries around the world, I get to be immersed in a new world and a new culture.

So this summer, whether you are hitting the open road for adventures of your own or looking to live vicariously through someone else’s, check out these reads!

Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski- Northern Thailand
This lush book by Mischa Berlinski will have you booking a ticket to Thailand today. Set in the northern mountain country of Thailand, Fieldwork is the story of 2 American expats, the mysterious death of a cultural anthropologist, and a remote hill tribe of people. Berlinski beautifully weaves together the storylines, which thrusts Thailand to center stage. Romance & mystery, culture & drama, and great writing will whisk away with this read.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter – Almafi Coast, Italy
I read this a book a few years ago, and while I couldn’t remember the plot, I could remember that it made me want to visit the Almfai Coast in Italy. A rocky love story set on the cliffside cities of Italy’s famed coast, this book could not have a better setting. Opening in a 1960’s Italian sleepy sea village, jumping to the cutthroat modern-day Hollywood, through movie pitches and unfinished novels, we meet the lovable Pasquale, an Italian hotel owner whose greatest dream is to host American celebrities. American actress seeking refuge from filming in Rome, Dee Moray, shows up on the right shoreline, and checks into Pasquale’s “Hotel Adequate View” because she’s dying. As the years pass, and the story unfolds from many sources, we begin to understand the full story of what happened that fateful weekend at Pasquale’s inn. Lives were forever altered, and destinies changed. Oh, and Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton play a significant role as well. What’s not to love?!

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson – Australia
I read this book right before I went to Australia for the first time last year. And I’m so glad I did. Bryson’s comedic & quirky look at this unique country really captures Australia’s heart & soul. Bryson travels throughout much of the island country, and comments on the oddities of each section. His outsider’s outlook, an American having lived in the UK, was wildly entertaining. If you didn’t want to head down under before, you will after this book.

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey- Scotland
This book I loved solely because of the description of Scotland. The plot is average, but the Orkney’s of northern Scotland sound simply captivating. The titular character, Gemma Hardy, knows loss. In her 10 young years, she’s become an orphan and now lives within a strict boarding school. But instead of withdrawing from the world around her, Gemma looks for friendship, connection and belonging wherever she goes. From boarding school to employment and beyond, Gemma is a girl searching. Employment takes Gemma to the isolated Orkney’s, where she must begin again connecting to the world around her. Howling winds, snow falls, cold ocean waves, and abandoned caves was all I kept picturing while reading this book. Sign me up for Scotland.

Through Painted Deserts by Donald Miller – United States
Ready for a road trip this summer? Join Donald Miller as he travels across America in a journey of self-discovery. Similar to Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, the plot is not what keeps you turning pages. It’s the travel. It’s the movement. It’s the discovery. Donald Miller is a great writer of our generation, tackling hard topics like faith & spirituality. I loved reading him wrestle through these big things like hiking through the Grand Canyon. Throw this book in your bag when you hit the open road.

Girl at War by Sara Nović – Croatia
I can honestly say I’ve never really given Croatia much of a thought when making travel plans. But this book put me right in the center of former Yugoslavia through the eyes of Anna, the young narrator. Girl at War by Sara Nović is told with alternating storylines, jumping around in Anna’s timeline, but each section tells the story of the conflict around Anna and within Anna. From her early memories of the Adriatic coastline, to the arrival of military troops in the capital of Zagreb, through unspeakable acts of violence and horror and onto America where Anna relocated, the story moves quickly. It’s a short book, packed with a powerful story. Pick it up and dive into the ancient beauty of Croatia.

The Katya Hijazi series by Zoë Ferraris – Saudi Arabia
Truth – Saudi Arabia fascinates me. Maybe because it’s still such a mystery. Which is also why I’m loving the Katya Hijazi series by Zoë Ferraris. These books gives so much insight into the lives of women in Saudi Arabia, and Islam in general. The characters of Nayir and Katya are interesting and well developed. I very much enjoyed their story lines, weaving in and out of one another’s lives. Each book features a murder mystery and criminal investigation set against the religious extremism and the harsh desert of Saudi Arabia is the perfect combination for a cannot-put-this-down read. The second book, City of Veils, picks up roughly a year after Finding Nouf, the first in the series. Nayir Sharqi & Katya Hijazi have distanced, after what appeared to be the beginnings of a relationship. Nayir Sharqi is a devout Muslim man, and a scholar of the Qur’an. Katya Hijazi is a modern woman who continues to work in the medical examiner’s office, and is forced to lie about being married to keep her job. A new case, the tortured body of a young Saudi woman tortured washes up on the beach, intrigues Katya as she attempts to look past the burqa at who this woman really was and what caused her death. This story also has an element of an outsider looking in as well, with the storyline of an American woman searching for her missing American husband who may or may not have connections with the washed up woman. I haven’t finished the third book yet, but in case you can’t tell…I will.

Where’d You Go Bernadette? by Maria Stemple – Pacific Northwest & Antartica
What can I say about Where’d You Go, Bernadette? It’s laugh out loud funny, sentimental, and mysterious all at once. When acclaimed, yet reclusive, architect, Bernadette Fox goes missing, her teenage daughter, Bee, takes the investigation upon herself. Using her mother’s correspondence, Bee pieces together her mother & father’s secrets that may have led to Bernadette’s disappearance. This witty read is a page-turner you won’t put down! I loved this book! Written entirely through “correspondence” [emails, faxes, letters, transcripts, voicemails, texts, etc…] this book has the most unique voice. From rainy Seattle to frigid Antarctica, Where’d You Go, Bernadette? is non-stop fun! Traveling this year? This book will keep you going through plane rides, layovers & road trips.

Do you have a favorite book that inspires you to travel? What is it? Let me know in the comments below!

Happy reading & happy travels!

How to Plan Your Next Trip

I’m a planner by nature. I love researching, reading, planning and preparing. This skill comes in quite handy when preparing for a trip to a new place. I’m constantly preparing for some kind of travel. Whether it’s a visa run to a new country or a weekend on our own island, I like to be prepared to get the most out of our adventures. Often, I’m planning a trip to somewhere brand new. Maybe I’ve met someone who has been there before, but usually not. So I have to start from scratch.

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So how do I do it? How do I plan a trip to a city I’ve never been before? I’ll share some of my favorite planning resources…

I almost start with WikiTravel. This is a user generated travel guide on a city. This helps me understand a few things about the city right away. Like, how should we get there? Can we drive or fly or take a train? I also can get an idea of the layout of the city. Usually a larger city will have it’s specific neighborhoods or districts highlighted on WikiTravel. While reading this, I start to get an idea of what area of the city we’d like to stay, and where some of the best things to see are located.

Once I have a basic understanding of the city, I can turn to Trip Advisor. I am a huge Trip Advisor contributor and consumer. How did we ever travel without this?!? TripAdvisor gives me real life experience with attractions, restaurants, and hotels. I hardly go anywhere without checking it on TripAdvisor first. If a restaurant has a TripAdvisor sign in the window, I’ll look it up on my phone before trying it out. It’s also a great way to get menu recommendations at a popular restaurant. The TripAdvisor map function also allows you to narrow down what part of the city you are exploring for the day or whatever. Super helpful.

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Almost right away, I’ll open up the city on Google Maps. I love being able to “star” or save a location for future use. As I begin to note tourist attractions or restaurants that I don’t want to forget, I star them and keep them for later. The more I star, I’m also able to see geographic groupings of what I’d like to do. This is helpful in planning a travel route. Novice travelers lose so much time by crisscrossing the city multiple times a day to get to their stops. If you know where things are on the map, you can chart out a logic route that can save you time in the long run. Google Maps often will giving you the driving, walking and even public transportation routes between destinations. In larger cities with public transportation this is really key. You can set what time you’d like to depart, and it adapts the route to include subways or buses if available. Google Maps is probably the travel tool I use the most.

By now, I feel like I have a good understanding of the city. I know it’s neighborhoods and the basics of what to see and do. Now I turn to my favorite travel inspiration source: Pinterest. Here I can search a city and find beautiful photos, or links to other travel blogs & travel guides, or maps of the city. Pinterest is loaded with travel resources that constantly keeps me inspired. I’ve often found a photo on Pinterest and said “I need to take that photo”, and added it to my map. This is the fun part. What’s beautiful about this city? What’s a must-see? What’s off the beaten path?

If I need more photographic inspiration, I turn to Instagram or Tumblr. By using hashtags to search, I can find some great places, restaurants, or events to check out while I’m in the city. Most cities have a hashtag, but some are even more specific. As you find cool posts, look at what other hashtags are used. Maybe it’s a foodie tag or an explore tag, which are great. Those can help you find some great restaurants and cafes and more usually posted by locals from that city. For example, Bali has #explorebali, #balifoodies, #igersbali, and #thebalibible. Each of those tags have their own account, which is filled with must-sees in Bali.

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My final stop in travel planning is YouTube. Ironically, this is my husband’s first choice! In my opinion, I feel like I have to wade through a lot of “junk” to find the “good” on YouTube. But the good is there! Usually if I can do a more specific search, the better results I get. I’m so thankful to the quality video bloggers out there, because I am not. I value their resources!

So by now, I probably have a long list of what I want to do, see, eat and try while in the city. If I’ve been starring my Google Maps along the way, I can see the general area of where stuff is grouped together. I can choose where we want to stay, and how we will get around. If the city is in a new country, I’ll research visa or immigration needs. I forgot this step once when we were planning for Australia, not realizing as an American that I couldn’t get visa on arrival! Glad a friend spoke up for me in time to get the application in! There’s plenty of hotel websites out there, but my favorites are Agoda and AirBnB. Agoda, especially in Asia, have the most selection of hotels. And AirBnB is my favorite for wanting to get off the tourist track. Staying in a local neighborhood really lets you immerse in the city.

Hope this helps you in planning your next new travels. Let me know where you are headed! Maybe we’ll meet up.
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Secrets in Sanur

Some things are better left forgotten.

We always assume that when something or someone has been forgotten, it’s a catastrophe. Forgotten birthdays, forgotten anniversaries, forgotten kids at school, or forgotten meals on stovetops. It usually doesn’t end well. But what about forgotten places? Too often a forgotten place leads to disarray, chaos and danger. But sometimes a forgotten place can lead to beauty & wonder.

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That’s what I found when I recently discovered a forgotten amusement park in Sanur, Bali. Originally it had been designed to be a vast entertainment complex just a short taxi ride away from tourist town, Sanur. It only opened for 3 short years. But since closing it’s doors in 2000, it’s been left to the wild. And the wild has been good to it.

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I didn’t even know where to begin. I saw the remains of the old ticket booths at the entrance, and made my way inside. Doorways had been broken down, and the trees had begun making their home inside. Several structures still remain, like an amphitheater, an old pond covered in lily pads, large multiple story buildings that could have been hotel-like properties, and even an epic vaulted crumbling ceiling multi-purpose space. Graffiti, like the trees, has overrun the buildings. There’s hardly blank spaces left on the walls anymore. But it adds to the abandoned feel of the whole place.

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Small paths lead off from the main areas, and fear somewhat gripped my heart as I walked down these unknown roads. Every few feet, I’d see something new. A signpost, an old bathroom with no walls, another smaller theatre building, and large areas of unbroken concrete which skateboarders seem to love. In one section, I looked up and saw a huge net stretching through the trees. And I realized that the remains of the building below was probably an old aviary, home to exotic birds. The most eerie section to me was an large man-made pond, which had been filled in with stones. Legend says that when the park closed, the wild animals that were part of the entertainment were never collected, like the birds, and even crocodiles. And that after awhile, the crocodiles turned cannibal. Was this large stone pond the home of cannibalistic crocodiles?? I got out of there pretty quick.

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The Balinese are such a creative people, and Taman Festival did not lack in typical Balinese creativity. Ornate stone carvings lined many buildings, and detailed statues guarded entry ways. Brightly colored tiled mosaics could still be spotted on stone pillars throughout the park, and intricately laid into the walkways. Details and careful thought had gone into this place. And it stands empty, a shell of what it was destined to be.

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I think the same thing can happen to us. When we forget what we were created for, who we were destined to be, we become walking and talking relics. What gives us life? What gives us purpose? Find it and live it. That’s only way to remain truly alive anymore. Our generation refuses to settle for status quo. We are a generation of more. We are a generation of finding ourselves. But once we find it, we gotta live it. I love getting to live life in Asia. It fills me and fuels me. What fuels you?

Milestone.

Milestone: a stone functioning as a milepost.

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Guys, we’ve officially lived in Asia for ONE YEAR. It’s been one year of learning a new language, learning a new culture, living life and making friends. It’s been challenging, and it’s been wonderful. It’s been hot, and it’s been fun. We’ve seen our conversation abilities grow by leaps & bounds during this year. We’ve gone from barely speaking a word of Indonesian to speaking several hours straight only in Indonesian. We’ve navigated new roads, both personally and physically on our motorbikes. We’ve seen some of the most beautiful parts of this planet.

And the journey continues from here…

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Seeing Singapore in 3 Days

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Singapore is a crossover city. It’s East meets West, it’s modern meets traditional, and it’s glam meets gritty.

The former British city-country is known for it’s clean streets, intense traffic, high prices, and good food. So I wasn’t sure what to expect when we booked our trip to Singapore this year for our visa renewal trip. I love Asia and Asian culture so much, but I also miss parts of American culture too. Indonesian food is fantastic, but sometimes I long for good cheese and Chick-Fil-A. Driving a motorbike is wonderful, but there are some real advantages of traveling by car [aka trunk space]. Our Singapore trip came at the perfect time. I was ready for a change of scenery and new city to explore.

When we first arrived in Singapore and got in a taxi to our hotel I was immediately struck by the view. The roads are huge! There’s cars everywhere! The buildings are so tall! There’s no burning trash or cows on the side of the road! I was not in Indonesia anymore. We chose to stay in the Tiong Bahru neighborhood of Singapore, which is near Chinatown. I strategically picked this neighborhood based on a reliable source…Instagram. Tiong Bahru is home to THE cutest cafes in the city. This coffee shutterbug was a happy girl. But we didn’t stay put for long, we were ready to explore. Armed with a data plan for our cell phone and some stars on Google Maps, we set off the conquer the city.

There’s a few general areas/neighborhoods in Singapore that I was looking forward to checking out. From Chinatown, to Little India, the Downtown Riverfront, Orchard Road and the Marina Bay area…I had quite the list of stops. Here’s some of our highlights from each stop!

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Chinatown:
It’s in Chinatown that you can really see a blend of Asian & Western influences. There may be a beautiful pagoda surrounded by a glass & concrete high rise. It’s wild. And so beautiful. I saw some of my favorite architecture in this area. Unique colonial houses line the streets on Duxton Hill Road. I grabbed a quick cup of cold brew coffee at MavRx Coffee Apothecary and browsed the shelves of Littered with Books. My heart was happy. We continued walking up to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. I didn’t have high expectations for this place. It’s on a lot of travel blogs, but guys, I’ve been to Chiang Mai, Thailand. It’s the place to go for looking at Buddhist temples. But Buddha Tooth Relic surprised me. The simple exterior does not prepare you for the view within. I have never seen so many Buddha statues in one place in my entire life. All shapes, sizes and poses. It’s Buddha central. But, really, you can only look at Buddhas for so long, so we walked on. Also in Chinatown is the Sri Mariamman Temple, the famous Hindu temple. But I live in Bali, so Hindu temples are my daily life, so after a quick photo op, we moved on. For dinner, we visited our first hawker center, Singapore’s famous food court dining experience. These hawker centers are the BEST way to eat well & affordably in the city. We tried out the Telok Ayer Market. It’s near the heart of the financial district, and it’s the fanciest hawker center we went to. The food was tasty, lots of great options. My favorite part of all the hawker centers was all the options!. Stalls on stalls on stalls. Indian, Chinese, Malay, Indonesian, Western, and then some. And it’s SO GOOD. After dinner, we checked out the rooftop bar on One Raffles Place, called 1-Altitude for sunset. It’s a pricy cover charge, but we went on ladies’ night, so that helped cut the cost for us. We got there before sunset, which meant before the crowds, and had fantastic views the whole night. We could see the Marina Bay Sands hotel, Chinatown, and more. It was the perfect first night in the city. After the sun had set, and the crowds started coming for the nightlife, we descended from the clouds and back on the city streets.

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Downtown Riverfront:
The area around Clarke Quay is really great, especially at night. It’s alive with lights and sounds. The river itself shines from all the lights. You can take boat tours down the river, or walk it’s banks like we did. There’s tons of restaurants and bars offering so many great options. There’s thrill rides, like bungee swings over the river. With so much to see and do here, you could easily spend a few nights checking it all out. We had exhausted ourselves however, so after a quick stroll around the river, we headed back to our hotel.

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Orchard Road:
I’m not a brand name, high end shopping kind of gal. I like a good mall like any American, but I’m not one to get all excited about Louis Vutton bags or the latest Jimmy Choo’s. Thankfully, Orchard Road shopping district has a little of everything. If you are a luxury shopper, this is your stop. But plenty of malls had great budget, quirky, and casual shops too. I really enjoyed walking the street, popping in and out of stores while window browsing. Emerald Hill Road offers a unique bit of architecture in the midst of a concrete jungle with some restored colonial houses, most of which are bars, pubs & cafes. It was cute, but I thought that Chinatown’s Duxton Hill Road offered a more authentic look at these homes.

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Little India:
Not far from Orchard Road is the Tekka Centre Food Court in Little India. A totally different hawker experience than Telok Ayer Market in Chinatown! I felt like Telok Ayer was catered to businessmen & women on lunch breaks. Where as the Tekka Centre was a loud, colorful, fragrant mix of all kinds of people. You can definitely tell you stepped into Little India! There seemed to be more food stalls at Tekka Centre, and again I loved browsing and compiling the tastiest meal. After a delicious lunch, we walked to the Mustafa Shopping Centre to browse some budget shopping, and I was totally unprepared for the size and scale of this place! Anything, absolutely anything, you could think of buying could be found here! It felt like a Super Walmart on steroids. Overwhelming, sure, but fascinating, yes. After an exhausting shopping experience, we stumbled into Butter Studio, an adorable cafe with some delicious desserts. It recharged us for the rest of our day.

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Bayfront:
We continued to roam, down Haji Lane for photos of brightly colored buildings, over to the National Gallery, past the beautiful Fullerton Hotel and down to the waterfront to greet the Merlions. The Merlions, by the way, is selfie central. Singles, couples, tour groups, families all getting in on the selfie action. After taking our own selfies, we walked across the beautiful and unique Helix Bridge, and finally arrived at Marina Bay Sands. There’s so much to see and do in just this area alone that we really didn’t leave enough time [or money!] to see it all. We grabbed a quick dinner at the bottom of the Marina Bay Sands Mall, at the hawker centre on the ground floor. Then we went over to Gardens by the Bay for sunset. And I was so glad we did. We decided to just do the Supertrees, not the larger exhibits, and it was enough for me. Maybe on our next trip we’ll go back to see what we missed. We paid to walk across the bridge in Supertrees, and got great views of the city and the trees. I loved it. Then we laid back on the grass and waited for the sun to lower and the light show to begin. Every night at 8pm, the SuperTrees have a programed music & light show, and it did not disappoint. Probably one of the best free things you can do in Singapore. After a long and wonderful day, we headed back to the hotel.

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Tiong Bahru:
On our third & final day in Singapore, I was finally able to spend more time in the beautiful neighborhood near our hotel called Tiong Bahru. It’s an up & coming neighborhood, popular with artists, coffee drinkers, readers, and hipsters. So I felt right at home. The Tiong Bahru Bakery is a great stop for a morning coffee and fresh baked pastry. Flock Cafe cooks up a nice breakfast also. I wandered through the eclectic bookshelves of Books Actually and Woods in the Books, a creative children’s bookstore. Plain Vanilla Bakery is worth a visit too, with a delicious raspberry lemonade on the menu. Tiong Bahru is not a large neighborhood, but full of things to see. I loved the architecture. Oddly, it reminded me of Miami, Florida, in the 1960’s with it’s art deco vibes. I loved it. There’s also some great wall art throughout the neighborhood. For our last lunch in Singapore, we at the Tiong Bahru Hawker Centre, which was my favorite hawker centre. The ground floor is regular market, with fresh fruits & veggies, and beautiful flowers. The upstairs is the food court. After stuffing ourselves with another delicious meal, we packed up and headed for the airport. Singapore was a beautiful whirlwind. I can’t wait to do it again.

Some helpful tips for a Singapore trip:
– At the airport, we bought a data-only SIM card for my unlocked iPhone 6. This allowed us to have access to maps the whole time we were in the city. It was valid for 5 days only, but only $15 SGD. Worth it!

– The buses & the metro are so easy to use! Don’t waste money or time on taxi’s!

– Again, hawker centers are the only way to eat in Singapore on a budget! Restaurants get pricy quick. If you are a budget conscious traveler, plot out the hawker centers on your map and create your travelogue around that!

-Swimming in the iconic infinity pool above the Marina Bay Sands Hotel is for hotel guests only. So, if you want to drop $400 for the experience, knock yourself out. But it was definitely out of our price range!

Happy [Balinese] New Year!

Happy New Year! Yes, I know it’s March. No, I’m not losing my mind. Just recently, we celebrated the Balinese New Year known as Nyepi. Much like the Chinese New Year in China [been there] and the Thai New Year in Thailand [done that], the Balinese New Year is unique and special to their own beliefs, culture and traditions. I have to admit, I’ve never had a new years like this before!

The preparation for the New Year begins several days before. Families are cooking, purchasing supplies, preparing offerings, and building the community ogoh-ogoh. The ogoh-ogoh is the icon of Nyepi. They are giant paper ache monster statues representing evil, which the Balinese believe contain the evil spirits on the island. Every neighborhood community fundraises & builds multiple of these ogoh-ogoh for a New Year’s Eve parade.

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I joined our Balinese neighbors for our neighborhood parade. Before we left their home, they performed a Hindu cleansing ceremony to rid their property of evil spirits. From prayers to chanting to tying a red string around their toe to banging a wooden stick and lighting torches, I would say the evil spirits were sufficiently scared away. [Fun fact: While they were banging the sticks together and walking around their property, all I could think of was that scene from The Parent Trap where they tricked their dad’s fiancee into believing that you scared off mountain lions by banging two sticks together!]

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We waited anxiously for the parade to begin. I remembered as a kid, awaiting the start of our town’s Fourth of July parade. I would hold my bucket tight, ready to fill it with candy and prizes that would be thrown by the passing floats. This was parade was not like that parade. After the sun had fully set, the moon had risen, and the street lights illuminated the crowds, the parade begin. Each “float” was accompanied by loud music, often rave or heavy metal. The float bearers would bring the float slowly past the bystanders, and pause at the center of the intersection. At the intersection, the music would change or get louder, and the float would begin to spin and lurch wildly. Parts of the floats would break off. The crowd went wild. Large demons, enormous cultural characters, and even outrageous tourists were depicted through the different floats. Perhaps the most eerie was a dramatic portrayal of a demon being defeated by a reincarnation of a Hindu deity. It was unsettling to watch.

And then, just like that, it was over. We walked home with our neighbors, talking about the different floats we’d just seen. I was amazed to see that even the littlest kids were out with their parents. In my mind, I had just seen something straight out of Halloween Horror Nights, and here were 3-year-olds walking home with mom & dad. I went home and went to home, hoping my dreams would not be filled of what I had just seen and curious about the day of silence to follow.

The next morning, I noticed the silence immediately. Normally from my bedroom I can hear airplanes taking off & landing, motorbikes zipping by, car horns honking, temple bells, the mosque call to prayer, and voices, always voices. But Nyepi Day, Balinese New Year’s Day, I heard none of that. Silence. It was a silence that invaded my ears. I was afraid to talk above a whisper. But then I got out of bed, opened our doors and relished the quiet. The Day of Silence is quite significant for the Balinese New Year ceremony. After an evening of loud noises & monster parades, they believe the demons had been chased off from Bali, and now, for 24 hours, they needed to remain silent so the demons wouldn’t come back. Silence meant no going outside of your home, no lights, no cooking, no entertainment, and no sounds. We followed *most* of those rules. But the Balinese take them very seriously. The Bali airport is the only airport in the world to close for a regular holiday. The Hindu police roamed the neighborhoods making sure no houses were too loud or too lit.

I was most excited for the evening. Sure, our house would be pitch black, but I wanted to see the night sky. With every outdoor light in Bali turned off, I was expecting the sky to explode with stars. And it did. I was not disappointed. Stars covered almost every inch of the inky blackness. As I laid under the bright night sky, I was thankful. Thankful to be living in this new culture with it’s sometimes strange traditions. And thankful to be seeing the beauty of Creation flung across the universe before me. What a blessing.

The day after Silent Day was back to normal. The morning people began disassembling their ogoh-ogoh, and some even burning them on the beach. Balinese Hindu legend believes if you don’t burn them within the month, the demons will come to life. So just for safety sakes, everyone burns them. Offerings were left at the temples. Prayers were said. And life began again in a new year.

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