Saturday, 30 April 2011

Of Man Dates & Quiz Nights

With Mrs and Little Mudblogger back in the UK for a month or so I'm without domestic companionship. Luckily my chums here have all been in the same situation and have found various forms of distractions. Friday night saw Arlene on a girl's night out so Brent and I took ourselves over to BSB, played a couple of games of pool (2 -1 to Brent), had a couple of Coronas (which were $5 a bottle DURING Happy Hour!), saw Fair Game (I struggled to stay awake) at the cinema and had a coffee (I struggled to get to sleep).

Tonight was the first (and hopefully not last) pub quiz at the King's Head Tavern. It was organised by mum's whose kids go to the Australian International School. Our team, The Valsalva Maneuvers (Jim, Maxine, Libby, Jeff and Maxine's parents John and Eve), was on track to win but then word got out that points could be bought and so other teams were magically earning 25 points during a 10 point round. Libby, Jeff and I decided that we would prefer win a moral victory rather than get involved in the cash for questions game, but at the last minute Jim put his hand in his pocket and came out with 1,000,000 rupiah and bribed the scorekeepers to let us win. Still, it was for charity and several hundred dollars were raised for the school. And it meant I wasn't stuck back home, moping after my family. So everybody won :)

Monday, 25 April 2011


Today is the anniversary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli, Turkey and the start of the first major battle of the ANZACs during World War I. Australians and New Zealanders mark today as a national day of remembrance to commemorate all those who died and served in military operations for their countries.

As Balikpapan is the location of a major amphibious landing site from World War II, and where the last major ANZAC engagement in World War II took place, I went along to the dawn service with some Australian friends.

It was a short but moving occasion, with Callum playing reveille on the pipes, and Jim and Adam both giving readings with Jim's daughter Jade helping to lay a wreath. What really made it poignant was where the event was held - in the Chevron compound on top of Pasir Ridge which, at the time of the invasion, was known as Hill 87 and was a important Japanese stronghold and the location of the main defensive garrison in Balikpapan.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

In The Jungle

The mighty jungle is where we spent Sunday, visiting an animal preserve and a nature reserve.

We were up at 6:45am to met with Jim, Maxine and their family to drive out to the sun bear enclosure (20km out from Balikpapan) in order to be there for the morning feed. We were all highly impressed with the facilities, presentation and orderliness of the KWPLH preserve.

The preserve has a very well presented information area all about the sun bears and Borneo's wildlife and environment (Bahasa Indonesian and English) After watching the bears nosh on papaya, bananas, honey and termites we headed further along the Samarinda road to Bukit Bangkarai (which turned out to be a lot further than we'd been told) and went on a nature trail through the rain forest. It was only about 5km long but wound around huge (unidentified) trees and climbed a couple of hills until we eventually came to the main draw - a 7 storey high rope bridge walk through the canopy.

Normally I'd be a bit worried about the site's health and safety record but I had only heard good things about Bukit Bankarai so Rachel and I volunteered to talk Oscar, Hayden and Jade up the tower. Despite the cloud cover the views were magnificent and all three kiddies crossed the two bridges like budding Indiana Jones'.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Oscar The Otter

We were invited to Brent and Arlene's house for a BBQ on Friday afternoon, and since they have a pool in their garden we presumed to bring our swimmers. Oscar made a beeline from the car to the pool (fervently avoiding the slobbering attention of their dog Jack) and would have been straight on except for the fact he was still in his normal clothes.

On Saturday we made our usual mid-day retreat to the BDI pool and met up with newcomers Jeff and Monica, who brought their two daughters. Robin and Kirsty came along after about an hour and all the kids played together until rain threatened and the pool got to crowded when the locals started arriving in the late avo.

Oscar's confidence is coming on leaps and bounds. He will happily dive off the edge, swim around for a few breaths before circling back and pull himself out to do it all again. He can just about swim unassisted for 3 or 4m now, and once he remembers to come up for a lungful of air he'll be at the point we can let him be. Not bad for only 3 months of weekly lessons, plus the occasional afternoon here and there.

Funny Things I Have Seen

I meant for this to be an on-going feature of my blog, but with our time here coming to an end (more on that later) I'm posting the first batch in one go instead.

From left to right:

Weight Gain formula - despite having the kind of figures that most Westerners aspire to, Indonesian's believe that a heavy figure (i.e. fat) shows that you have plenty of money to spend on food, so they dose their children with this kind of crap to look affluent.

Willy Sausages - I really don't think I have to explain why this is funny.

Cheese Timtams - Timtams are an iconic chocolate biscuit (much like Penguin bars but nicer). Cheese is great. But put them together? Only in Indonesia.

Bird's Nest House - rearing swallows to harvest their nests to the Chinese bird's nest soup market is an industry here. Huge edifices with swallow-sized holes are built in the middle of residential areas (meaning you get bird poo everywhere) to allow the birds to make nests, which are then removed and ground up and sold at +$1500/kg. So if you ever see a documentary on Discovery that says the farmers climb up rickety bamboo poles to get the nests from cavern roofs you now know the truth.

The next FTIHS will be dedicated to the idiots who ride motorbikes here.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Bali Revisited

I've been so bust since getting back from Jogja that I've had no time to even think about blogging the events that have transpired, but today is a holiday and I have cleared my desk for the long weekend.

After getting back from our family holiday to Borobodur we had barely time to settle in to our routine when we decided to go to Bali for a long weekend. Our time in Indonesia is getting short (more on that soon) so we wanted to take the opportunity to see more of the country.

Other than tourism we had a good reason to visit Bali (again, more on that soon) so instead of the necessary one day visit I took a couple of days off and we had a long weekend of it. We flew in on Friday and took a taxi from the airport which Rachel negotiated down from a $15 fare to $8. Her rule of thumb is to offer them 50% of the price they want and then bargain from there. This was to set a trend that was to last the whole trip.

We stayed at 100 Sunset Hotel, a "boutique" hotel in Kuta. I'm not sure what boutique means but it was a very nice place; small, quiet, well appointed (if a little frayed on the edges) and more importantly free. On the Saturday we went into Kuta for a shopping trip, a visit that successfully wiped away the experience of my previous visit back in December. Pretty much the entire day was spent shopping - DVDs, batik, hammocks, t-shirts, sunglasses, dresses, knick-knacks, presents for the people back in the UK, shorts and most importantly the consummate Bali souvenir - a Bintang singlet for Oscar. All the stuff we need for the next stage of our life (like I said before, more on that later). We got back to the hotel in the early afternoon and had a swim so that Oscar could show off his aquatic skills. Steve Zissou had better watch out because Oscar is like an otter. For dinner we went back into the main part of Kuta and ate international cuisine - Domino's Pizza!

Sunday featured a trip to Waterbom, an amazing waterslide park in the heart of Kuta. It was so well camouflaged in a palm forest that you'd never even know it was there. It's very family orientated and Oscar could go on at least 50% of the rides, which was a marked improvement from the waterslide park we went to in Milan last year where he couldn't go on any of the slides and had to stay in the children's pool area. Waterbom had a similar kid's pool, with a set of small slides and a big tipper bucket. Oscar was intensely happy, as were Mr and Mrs Mudblogger. We took him on the lazy river which he thought was great, and afterward we took it up a notch and got him to climb up to the top of the big tower with us for a descent on the larger slides. The two he was allowed on were ones you had to sit on inflatable rings so he alternated between mummy and daddy. The boy has no fear and as soon as we hit the pool at the bottom he was ready to go again. Even the one that had a lengthy, pitch black tunnel didn't put him off - though he did describe it as "spooky" on his first go on it. We spent at least 6 hours at Waterbom - the last 2 hours were during a torrential downpour. Getting wet on wet didn't put us off, but when the park started to flood and our towels got drenched we decided to call it a day. Taxiing back to the hotel we made a few retail stops to pick up some silk and batik pillow covers/bedding, ornaments for the house and a couple of sarongs for Rachel.

The morning on last day of the trip was spent at the hospital that was the reason for us going to Bali. More later I promise. We then split up - Rae and Oscar going to the domestic terminal to fly back to Balikpapan and I went to the international terminal to carry on to Perth for a 3 day business trip.

Footnote - pics coming soon

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Indianna Beckett and the Temple of Borobudur

Ever since I saw a photo of the stupa atop Borobudur temple I've had it high on the list of places I wanted to visit in Indonesia, and a week ago (whilst travelling back from Perth - see previous post) I took the opportunity to divert to Jogjakarta to meet family and friends for a long weekend break.

The break started somewhat hectically when I landed at Bali airport and only had 50 minutes to get off the plane (I planned ahead and only travelled with carry-on), get through immigration (landing card already filled in), pass customs (oops - I forgot the 2 kg of bacon and 5 kg of cheese in my suitcase which necessitated a compulsory "donation" of $10 to the customs agent who told me to zip up and get lost while his boss's back was turned) and dash to the domestic airport (only a minutes walk away and I had already checked in for the next flight in Perth). Even with all that pre-planning I only made the gate by the skin of my teeth.

And so when I landed in Jogja I met up with Adam and Greg who were my travelling partners for the drive to Magelang where our hotel was. After three or four beers, some salty snacks and a breakneck drive through the dark we arrived at our hotel at 10pm. Most of the rest of our party had turned in so we three stayed up and had a few more beers and listened to the river, not 10m away, rushing by.

The next morning we were up with the larks. Actually it was the geese who lived by the river's edge who woke us up so we went up for breakfast. We didn't realise it when we arrived in the night that the hotel was built on a steep slope leading down to the river, so we were quite surprised by the hike up to the restaurant. Fully fortified by eggs, beans and hash browns plans were drawn up for a day at the hotel's adventure playground (tree-top walks, zip lines, archery, etc), lunch at a local restaurant in Magelang and a lazy afternoon by the pool (which was a washout because of the heavy afternoon rains).

On Sunday (day two) I had the longest lie-in since I arrived in Indonesia, waking up at 9:30am, a full 3 hours after everyone else woke up (by the geese again). As I struggled upwards/towards breakfast I met with the gang coming down hill. Rae ordered me to continue - saying that if I was going to have a lat morning I should at least have something to eat lest I turn into a hungry curmudgeon (my words, not hers) later on. I didn't complain. I can't remember what happened during the rest of the day but there was pool time, that I am sure of.

The reason for my memory being cloudy about Sunday was because on Monday we were up at 3:30am (before the geese) and in a bus at 4am heading towards the temple of Borobudur to greet the sun. If you don't know what Borobudur is then I suggest you check it out because I would rather extend this post with photos and not paragraphs of text.

Even though the upper terraces (aka Nirvana) - where the stupa were located - was out of bounds (which didn't keep us from climbing up and subsequently getting caught by security) it was a truly beautiful and amazing experience. I'm in love with the volcanic stone used to build it and the bell-like design of the stupa are stunning.

Following the Borobudur visit we all took a horse and carriage ride through the rural surrounds of the temple to see the how the land and people co-exist. Though not exactly thought provoking, the tour was very nice in its simplicity.

Indonesia might be a frustrating place to live, but I can't deny it isn't beautiful.

By the end of Monday I was a bit tired of the hotel at Magelang and because Dave, Angela and Paige were heading to Jogjakarta (Dave had a early flight on Tuesday morning) we decided to jump into their taxi and make a run for it. We got to our hotel (the 5-star Melia for a staggering $65 a night) at 8pm, put Oscar to bed and said our goodbyes to Dave who was moving from Balikpapan the next day. We really do hope to see you guys in Australia when you come over.

As for me, I had hoped for a lie-in in the morning so took an early night while Rae had a bath. Sadly we forgot that we were back in a proper city and the 5am prayer call woke us up. I secretly believe the geese had followed us down from Magelang to get their revenge for us waking them up on Monday morning. Rae and Oscar were a bit under the weather so we spent a lazy morning in the hotel, with a brief foray to the pool, while Angela and Paige caught up with the rest of the gang (who had travelled down that morning) and went to see more temples. I caught up with Adam at the airport that afternoon and we both flew back to Balikpapan together.

And that was the end of the trip for me. Rae and Oscar stayed behind with the other mums and kiddies, did some shopping and souvenir buying and I got to enjoy two peaceful nights back in the house. Until they arrived and my serenity was shattered. Oh well!