Sunday Snapshot | Happy Birthday Buddha | Lantau Island, Hong Kong

Sunday Snapshot | Happy Birthday Buddha | Lantau Island, Hong Kong

Happy Birthday Buddha! After a harrowing bus ride, we finally arrived at Tian Tan Buddha–the world’s largest outdoor seated bronze Buddha (with quite possibly the longest name).  We alighted from the bus only to find ourselves immersed in a cloud. Despite being one of the largest Buddhas in the world, we could barely make out its silhouette from the base of the stairs. Finally the clouds drifted away and the buddha became visible, but only to coincide with a million people joining us around the statue. I love the ‘human element’ in photos, but it was getting a bit ridiculous. Until this happened. As I was about to finally capture a photograph without a single sweaty tourist, this monk centered himself in front of me. After chasing after the perfect shot all morning all I had to do was hit the shutter once. Today also happens to be Buddha’s birthday, making this the absolute perfect shot for Photo Friday.  Hope you...

Tainan Walking Tour: Retracing Taiwan’s Oldest Streets

Our first visit to Tainan was almost exactly a year ago. We didn’t plan to make exploring the historic streets of Tainan an annual event, but Andrea Bocelli happened to be performing there this past weekend. And because my husband is ahhh-mazing, he surprised me with concert tickets to see the Italian opera singer I’ve been slightly and quite randomly obsessed with since we came to Taiwan. A pretty good birthday present if I do say so myself. I know not everyone is on the Andrea Bocelli bandwagon, but I get goose bumps every time he belts out in that rich, velvety tenor voice of his. And I couldn’t have been more delighted by the concert, even if we had to don ponchos to combat the light drizzle permeating the outdoor venue. Good thing I wore those heels… Tainan is probably one of my favorite cities in Taiwan. I know, I know. If you’ve ever read our blog before, chances are you’ve heard me claim ‘such and such’ to be my favorite spot for something or other. But there really is a special feeling about Tainan. Perhaps it’s because, as the oldest city on the island, Tainan emanates history and tradition. In the exposed redbrick walls that tell tales of Dutch colonialism at Fort Anping; in the ancient temples and shrines that have remained authentic in the face of modernization; in the delicious street foods that tell stories from centuries past—each strand comes together to weave the tapestry that is Tainan, both past and present. Tainan is easily walked, although it might leave you sweating a bit during the...
Padangbai Barong Dance: An Exorcism Ceremony

Padangbai Barong Dance: An Exorcism Ceremony

We weren’t expecting to see spiritual warfare when we went to Padangbai. Our main purpose for visiting the small fishing village was actually just to check out the action below the water: reef sharks, manta rays, turtles, and general ocean scenes seemingly taken straight from Finding Nemo. And while we were fortunate to experience the incredible marine life Padangbai boasts (sans manta rays), this wasn’t the most memorable part of our short stay in the town. That’s because this was no typical day on Bali’s east coast; it was the day of the Barong dance ceremony. Now we had already seen numerous Barong dances before arriving in Padangbai, a favorite being in Ubud. So when we heard we would have the opportunity to see another one, we weren’t all that excited. I mean, it has got to be like the Harlem Shake—once you’ve seen one, you’ve pretty much seen them all, right? Wrong. Especially when it is a local, religious ceremony; then it’s still an entertaining performance but with a much deeper, spiritual purpose. As it turns out, our previous encounters with Barong had left a crucial element out of the tourist driven performances: exorcism. But before we get to the juicy stuff, here’s a summary of the story of Barong, according to Balinese mythology. Don’t worry, it’s quick. Barong dance portrays an epic battle between good and evil, a similar concept in most world religions. Barong, often depicted as a lion, represents ultimate good. In contrast, Rangda is an evil witch, or demon queen, skilled in black magic. Does this not already sound reminiscent of a certain Narnia...
Ubud, Bali: More than just ‘Eat, Pray, Love’

Ubud, Bali: More than just ‘Eat, Pray, Love’

We were sitting at breakfast in the middle of who-knows-where-Java, drenched to the bone and devouring our glamorous breakfast of plain toast and Nescafe after a failed attempt at climbing Mt. Bromo.  (Well, in all fairness, we succeeded in waking up at 4am and climbing to the viewpoint to see the sunrise. It was the constant downpour—aka lack of seeing anything—that constituted as failure.) A couple of minutes into our breakfast of champions, a retro British gal (also returning from the not so epic Bromo quest) asked to join us as she awaited her next transport. Our conversation soon arrived at the generic, travelers meeting other travelers questionnaire, somewhat reminiscent of freshman year of college. After covering the basics of “Where are you from?”, “How long are you here?” and “Is this going to be a long term, clingy friendship kind-of thing? Cuz I can’t tell if you’re annoying quite yet.”, our chatting soon turned to Ubud. Our new friend had just spent a month practicing yoga there, and I was intrigued to find out if it lived up to all the hype it receives. After all, I kept hearing Ubud was supposedly the one place I just had to visit while in Bali. Like finding out your favorite male celebrity is actually only attracted to other men, her description more than turned me off: “Well, actually, it’s quite Eat, Pray, Love at the moment. A lot of middle aged American women soul searching and practicing bunny yoga. But I still loved it. Everyone does.” Ughhhhhhh. I inwardly groaned for about five minutes, thinking back to how much I...
Getting Out Of Kuta

Getting Out Of Kuta

We had heard the warnings. Fellow travelers felt personally responsible to inform us that Kuta was now the remnants of a past paradise, transformed into an overrun tourist town where too many high-priced souvenirs and western restaurants (think Hard Rock Café and Wendys) now dominate the landscape. We heeded their kind advice, and chose to stay at the amazing Puri Bambu hotel in Jimbaran Bay. But you know how it is. If you’re told not to play with fire, the first thing you do is try to turn bacon into a welding torch. So obviously we set off to Kuta on our first day in Bali, just to see if it lived up to our expectations. The first thing we noticed was that there were about 10x more foreigners than locals. And the second thing? The Hard Rock Café. Determined to understand why so many tourists came to a city that appeared like it could be any other city anywhere else in the world, we headed to the beach. Of course this would explain the obsession some have with Kuta! Unfortunately, we were met with a disappointing reality. The beach was filled with trash, and a sewer smell pervaded the area. Mamas, as they called themselves, roamed like hawks, and it didn’t take long for me to become their prey. Normally I’m pretty good at resisting when locals try to sell me overpriced services and goods. This time, I managed to leave Kuta beach with a manicure and pedicure, and I’m still not exactly sure how it happened. In all fairness to Kuta, Dan did have a good time...