Healing Hands

The average massage in Bali costs about $8.00 for one hour. When I learned this, I was thrilled and immediately made it my mission to find the best spa in Ubud. In the beginning, I thought this would be fun. I naively thought there was no such thing as a bad massage. I am here to tell you, I no longer believe this to be true. It has been a long process in which I have kissed many toads to find my prince, (Rama at Spa Shangri-La), and now that this intense research project is behind me, I feel compelled to share what I have learned. Of the bad massages I have had, and sadly, there have been many, they generally fall into three categories:

The One-Trick-Pony

The One-Trick-Pony is not the worst of the worst but, generally falls under the uninspired category. As her title implies, the One-Trick-Pony has one weapon in her arsenal and that is to find one spot, and one spot only, and rub, and rub and rub some more. What the One-Trick-Pony lacks in variety she makes up in persistence. It is likely the One-Trick-Pony learned this tool on the first day of massage school, and was so blown away by it, she decided to make it her entire repertoire. Much like the cute guy in college who knew one chord on the guitar – it afforded him female attention and just seemed like a good idea – he wasn’t at all bothered by the fact that his subjects might experience nausea and bleeding from the ears after repeated performances. Treatment by the One-Trick-Pony may also result in undesirable outcomes such as 3rd degree friction burns or the appearance of someone who applied sunscreen with a serving fork.

The Crouching Monkey

The Crouching Monkey is next on the list of the worst massage techniques for several reasons. The Crouching Monkey combines extreme strength with elite gymnastic agility which is the key to this truly unpleasant massage. The secret to the Crouching Monkey lies with the therapist discreetly mounting the table and crouching on top of the unsuspecting victim client. From this position she is able to exert super-human, ape-like strength and thus, the healing may begin. An important detail that adds to the Crouching Monkey is the fact that, rather than proper massage tables, most Balinese spas use tables made from one long piece of wood with a hole cut out for the client’s face. These holes are generally too big for most human-sized heads so, the client has to balance on their forehead using their neck muscles to keep their heads from falling through the hole. This adds to the excitement of the Crouching Monkey and is an important element in the technique. As the client is being therapeutically smothered into the table, it is virtually impossible to audibly request less pressure as all their muscles are fiercely tensed to keep their heads from being pushed through the hole like a Pez dispenser. The Crouching Monkey is all about intensity, never getting distracted by bothersome details like human anatomy or musculature. Sometimes the pressure is applied to areas lacking in significant muscle tissue at all, like the scalp, fingers and toes. If it feels like your skull is being crushed during your scalp massage, or your fingers or toes are being dislocated, you’re probably experiencing the Crouching Monkey. In addition, after the treatment, you may experience any or all of the following symptoms: headache, ringing in the ears, charlie horse, memory loss, muscle spasms, blurred vision, erectile dysfunction, palpitations, incontinence or loss of appetite. Don’t worry it will pass – you’ve just survived the Crouching Monkey!

The Slap-Happy (aka the Pugilist)

Another signature move that I have only encountered in Bali is the massage slap. In their quest to distinguish themselves as world leaders in the healing arts, many Balinese massage schools are incorporating this technique. I assume the objective is to increase circulation and improve blood flow to certain areas of the body. When done correctly, it is rather benign however, when wielded by an overachieving practitioner it can result in serious discomfort. There are several variations to the technique that range from the gentle karate chop down the back to the closed fist punch to the feet. The mildest forms of the Slap-Happy usually include a light smacking which is more startling than overtly painful but, invariably results in an abrupt call to attention, instantly bringing the client out of any relaxed state they may have been experiencing. This may be unpleasant but pales in comparison to the experience when the Slap-Happy is applied with gusto. In these instances, the shocking, overly enthusiastic administering of the slaps feels rather personal – as if the client is evoking memories of a rigid grade school teacher or overly critical mother in-law. What better way to work out hostilities than under the guise of healing people?! While the hematomas may heal, it will be the blow to your psyche that is most debilitating. I couldn’t high five for a month. Applause gave me the shakes. And, worst of all, when my husband playfully slapped my rear as I was standing in the kitchen, I instantly reeled around, took him down to the floor and choked him out. Rather than continue like this, I’ve decided to bravely face my fears and have formed a support group for others with spa trust issues. I’ll keep you posted on our progress.

I hope this information is helpful. I have spent the last several months as a guinea pig purely in the service of others. I say, if I can save one person from a terrible spa treatment at the hands of an inept masseuse, then it was all worth it. You are welcome.

 

 

Cambodia (Spring Break – 2014)

This year for spring break we traveled to Kuala Lumpur (KL) and Siem Reap, Cambodia. Due to the fact that there are no direct flights to Siem Reap from Bali we had to fly through KL. And, despite the fact that we were flying Malaysian Air on a 777, I felt perfectly safe (what are the chances of the airline losing two of their 777s in two weeks – pretty slim, I would think, right?!) It’s pretty obvious the airline is focused on safety these days. In my experience, I haven’t found most Asian pilots to be particularly chatty but, this guy was coming on through the whole flight with pretty lame announcements. I think the airline  knows everyone is feeling a bit insecure about the fact that they lost an entire plane full of people. Not sure the weather reports and folksy chatter were enough to assuage everyone’s nerves but, he was trying. I think the passengers on our plane would have preferred a little more honesty, something like: – “Hi folks it’s your Captain, real shame about that incident last week — wanted to let everyone know we are still on course. If you look out the window, right down there, that is exactly what we are supposed to be flying over.  We promise not to make any unexpected turns, and I repeat, we are still on course.” I’ll be back in ten to let you know we are still on course.”

We spent the weekend in KL which was nice. It’s a little farther than Singapore but, has many of the same attractions – lots of shopping, eating and movies. We saw a movie, did some shopping and ate a lot! Although Singapore was once part of Malaysia, it feels much more Western than KL. We ran across many more women in traditional Muslim dress including many in Burqas. By now, Fletcher has seen many women in Burqas but the first time he asked: “Mom, what are those ninjas doing here?” Now, instead of my initial reaction which is often sadness, I try to imagine the women are secret ninjas working undercover on some fantastic, exciting mission. At times, I’ve also thought how liberating it would be to never have a waist band or belt on anything you wear! Bring on the all you can eat buffet!

 

KL cab rule

Posted rules inside the Kuala Lumpur  taxi from airport. The kids especially loved the “no kissing!”

Next we flew on to Siem Reap to visit Angkor Wat and the other temples in the area. Surprisingly, the kids really enjoyed it. I think their favorite part was riding in the Tuk Tuk all around the city. We also had delicious meals everywhere we went. Not sure if it’s the French influence in Siem Reap but, the food is fantastic! Except for one truly disturbing restaurant we ran across called Pyongyang, which is a North Korean chain (Yes! North Korean!). I was blown away that these actually exist!  We heard that the waitresses sing and play musical instruments to entertain everyone, while patrons enjoy delights from the menu such as dog casserole and viscous pine nut gruel (seriously, could I make this up?!) paired with specialty liquors from No. Korea in tantalizing flavors like mushroom or sea cucumber. Even though it piqued our curiosity, we obviously weren’t going to support anything related to the No. Korea regime thus, we had to forgo our dinner with Dear Leader.

 

After three days visiting temples, we were ready for something different so, we took a tour of a traditional “floating” fishing village and a bird sanctuary on the Tonle Sap river. The combined river and lake system is of major importance to Cambodians. The Tonle Sap is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia and is unique for two reasons: it’s flow changes direction twice a year and it rises and falls dramatically over the wet and dry season. The lake may shrink to 2500 sq meters during the dry season and increase to 15,000 sq meters in the wet season. We visited during the dry season which is from November to May. After seeing everything at close to the lowest point of the year, it would be interesting to go back and see the lake and river during the rainy season when it looks so dramatically different.

The Randy Rabbit

Having already said goodbye to our beloved pets when we left Los Angeles, I was vehemently opposed to acquiring any animals in Bali that we would inevitably fall in love with, attach to, and then have to leave – most likely, with another ex-pat family that would be looking for a new home for them in six months. This was too painful to contemplate and I was never, under any circumstances, going to put my kids or myself through that again!!!

So…..we have a dog, a chicken and a bunny. I will say that I held my ground for many, many days (about 3) but, sadly, here in Bali, most animals come with a hard luck story and ours are no exception. Our newest arrival, a small chick, was found by Allie, tangled up in a fence at Green School hysterically peeping for it’s mother who had disappeared, (naturally, it came home that day in Allie’s backpack). “Our” dog just showed up one morning and never left – quickly ingratiating herself with her extreme devotion to the kids. And, our rabbit was reported to have narrowly survived a horrific attack by dogs that took the lives of his two siblings – not to mention he was a baby bunny! Have you ever seen a baby bunny?! Did I also mention that I am not made of stone?

The dog and chick are easy. The dog pretty much walks herself. She roams the neighborhood, socializing with lots of other dogs which keeps her happy and occupied most of the day. About three o’clock, she reappears and waits on the driveway for the kids to come home from school. See?! So ingratiating! The chick contentedly lives outside, by himself, in the rabbit hutch that the rabbit outgrew. We feed him and give him water and he’s happy as a clam. Eventually, when he gets bigger, he’ll join our neighbors flock of chickens and roam our yards. And lastly, we have the rabbit who lives in Allie’s room. He is our problem child. Most of the time he stays in a cage but he needs to be let out several hours a day. This wouldn’t be a big deal except for two problems: he loves to chew and lately, his adolescent bunny hormones are wearing party hats, which makes it virtually impossible to take your eyes off him for a second when he is out of his cage.

To date, he has chewed up three lamp cords, two computer chargers, a power strip, laces on a pair of shoes and the large box for Allie’s keyboard. After destroying any electrical device he can get his bucky little teeth on, he moves on to greater mischief generally involving Allie’s stuffed animals. At first, I just thought he enjoyed jumping up on her bed and running through the pile of plush toys but, there was a more sinister motive behind his romps. Apparently, our cottontail Casanova was working to identify his fleecy target and make his move. After several incidents, the tension and fear was palpable among the animals on the bed, justifiably so, given the fact, that the aftermath usually involves one of them being plucked out of the crowd, dumped unceremoniously in the trash – never to be heard from again, while our long-eared Lothario lays panting on the ground. As Allie’s herd of animals dwindled, we were faced with a dilemma of how our family could peacefully coexist. Short of handing out tiny cans of mace or those whistles women blow to ward off unwanted advances, we needed something that addressed the real problem.

Luckily, we have found our hero. Her name is Dr. Made and she is the founder of the Bali Vet Clinic (she is also the Dr. who took care of our mange outbreak last summer). She assures me she has just the remedy for our problem. I hate to break it to our bunny but, his days of libidinous exuberance are numbered. I’m hopeful this will restore the peace in our house!

Anubis greeting the kids as they get home from school

Holidays in Bali

We’re still here!! Although our original plan was to return to the U.S. in December, we decided to extend our stay a little longer. Our new plan is to move back in July. We’re all enjoying Bali so much it seemed premature to leave especially, when the kids are so happy at Green School.

We also decided not to travel home to the U.S. for the holidays this year. This was not an easy decision. We haven’t seen our families or friends for several months and celebrating Christmas without any of them felt very strange.

That being said, there was an upside to skipping some of the less than wonderful parts of the holidays such as:

Boring office partiesno one works in an office in Bali so, no parties!!

Waiting in endless lines to mail packages at the last minute – it takes weeks to send something from Bali, what’s the point?! Online shopping only!

Crazy neighbors’ gift-tin filled with balls, so steeped in rum, the smell alone may send me over the legal limit – rum costs a fortune here, no one would be caught dead pouring it on  blobs of cake!

Last minute rush to the store for the assistant teacher that I forgot to include on the gift list – all our assistant teachers are Hindu, they don’t care about Christmas!

And last but not least:

Excruciating school holiday concert — Not exactly! Get a load of Green School’s concert to kick off the holidays!!

Usually, by Christmas day I’m so tired of Christmas music I want to scream but, since this year I heard very little of it, I actually caught myself standing in the middle of Ace Hardware gleefully singing along to We Wish you a Merry Christmas. That was a first! I think by next year, I’ll be ready to jump back into the full-on American version of Christmas, despite it’s obvious pitfalls of overspending, overindulging and being desperately over-scheduled.

Although we didn’t go home for the holidays, we did take a trip to Australia where we celebrated Christmas and New Year’s. It was a new experience since it was the middle of their summer and we loved it! More on that soon!

Dunsborough – Margaret River

After our visit to Perth and Fremantle, we drove down the coast to Dunsborough, a beach resort town popular with Perth residents. Unfortunately, it was a bit cold to do much at the beach other than look. The kids were a little disappointed — to make it up to them we went wine tasting – yeah!

Margaret River is the wine region in Western Australia and, despite our less than delighted offspring, we managed to visit several, absolutely stunning wineries — and, the wine was fantastic! Although, to be completely honest, my opinion may be a bit unreliable since, all  I’ve been drinking lately is wine from Bali (yep, they actually make wine in Bali!). This probably gives me the credibility of a hobo but, sometimes you just have to make the best of things! The other option is the alcohol they make locally called Arak which, in some cases, can make you go blind so…wine for me!

For our last two nights we decided to book a farm-stay which are popular with families vacationing in Australia and New Zealand. Farm stays began as a way for farmers to make a little extra money and for city folk to see animals up close and experience authentic farm life. I would guess in the early days farm stays were on real working farms and guests got to help out with actual chores. Not so much anymore. These days the focus is more on the guest part than the actual working farm part. So, while I had visions of Rachel Ward on Drogheda – the reality is closer to a slumber party in the middle of a giant petting zoo. Fortunately, the kids didn’t seem to notice and had lots of fun.

It was a great trip! We even managed to bring a few extra bottles of wine home in our suitcases. I was a little nervous when our suitcases went through the x-ray machine at customs and the agent was looking at the screen – but, he didn’t even notice the extra bottles in any of our four suitcases! Granted it is Bali so, there’s a distinct possibility that the x-ray machine was hooked up to a camera in the parking lot or pointed at someone’s shoe but, I choose to think the gods have taken pity on me and knew I couldn’t risk blindness anymore. Either way, a nice welcome back!

Perth – Fremantle

We just returned from a fantastic trip to Western Australia. We started the trip in Fremantle, the port area of Perth which recently, has become a lot less dockworker and much more  hipster. There are tons of coffee shops, boutiques and cute restaurants everywhere. Although the weather was a bit cold and windy, we still managed to have a great time!

One of the highlights of the trip was our visit to the Fremantle Prison which was built by convicts in 1851 and was operating up until 1991, without significant upgrades to the electrical or plumbing, making it a pretty unpleasant place! Our guide for the tour was an older gentleman who we learned was the former warden of the prison during the last 20 years of it’s operation. Even though there were several kids on the tour, he didn’t feel it was necessary to hold back on the details of prison life. I’m fairly certain my kids have been scared straight! Especially graphic were his descriptions of the smaller prisoners and their “slop” buckets getting thrown over the railing of the top floor, in the hopes of landing on a guard and knocking him down…or worse (mostly, worse). Allie just looked at me wide-eyed and asked – “Why would they do that?” Good question! I was caught a little flat-footed on that one. I couldn’t recall any references to prison riot questions in any of my parenting books. Before we left, I added a card to their suggestion box — maybe a little sensitivity training for the Warden? Or at least, a trauma counselor who can debrief with the families..

Another unexpected highlight was the night we wandered into a local bar/restaurant to find a huge crowd gathered to watch and cheer on the local AFL (Australian Football League) team — the Fremantle Dockers. They were playing in the semi-finals for the first time in the club’s history and the place was going nuts! If victorious, they would go on to the championship game (the AFL superbowl!). Although, to the unacquainted fan (me), the game looked like a huge contest of hot potato with lots of high-kicking, apparently it is the most popular game in Australia and consistently draws huge crowds (50,000-100,000+) at virtually every game. Happily, that night the Dockers won but, sadly were defeated in the finals 😦

On our way out of Perth, we stopped at an animal park advertised as offering a truly, hands-on experience with a varied collection of Australian wildlife. We were excited for the chance to experience the rich, untamed and perhaps savage beasts of Australia up close. As advertised, we got up close and personal with the animals – unfortunately, the only action we saw was a kangaroo hopping away from a three year clutching a handful of pellets it was trying to force feed to it. I’m pretty sure the rat that jumped out of our kitchen trash can the other day was much, much wilder.

My apologies to the squeamish…..

After our extended visit to LA and Houston, it was finally time to return to Bali. Now that I’ve been back and forth a couple of times, it’s become clear to me why we don’t get that many visitors — the trip sucks! This time we flew through Seoul and arrived into Denpasar at 1:00 am getting us to our house around 3:00 am – needless to say, after traveling for 28 hours, the kids (and adults) were pretty wiped out.

We ended up being away for almost six weeks and during that time, I wasn’t the least bit concerned about being away from our house or stuff. In my vast experience of living abroad (not vast at all), Bali feels incredibly safe. In addition, our staff is exceptional so, I knew everything would be handled and cared for perfectly. The only small worry I had was leaving our bunny. And, even though we had given very specific instructions, and in March, we had been gone for two weeks and found him perfectly healthy and content on our return, I still felt a tiny pang that something might happen this time. We had already suffered the loss of Fletcher’s love bird who made a prison break, (chewed through the cage bars), and escaped. I wasn’t sure I, I mean they, could take another pet debacle.

So, in we stumbled at 3:00 am, almost as wired as we were exhausted. Marc, Indra and I were unloading the car when I heard Allie scream – “something’s wrong with Casper!” and that inkling of worry became full fledged dread. I hesitantly went into her room and was horrified to see that her rabbit’s nose was about five times it’s normal size giving him the look of a miniature, white, fluffy elephant seal. In addition, he was crouched in his litter box dancing in place like his feet were on fire. Guessing this was probably not the latest bunny fitness craze, I was convinced it looked bad for our bunny.

Naturally, the only vet in Bali that treats small animals is over an hour from our house. So, the next day we gathered up Casper and piled into the car for the long ride to the vet — which was exactly what I wanted to do on our first day back! We walked into the vet and she immediately looked at our rabbit and exclaimed — “mange!”…..What? Mange? How could he have mange? Not that we haven’t seen a lot of mange since we arrived. There are plenty of street dogs with mange running around but, none that come into our house and, unless Casper was out cruising the village, I was doubtful he’d run into them.

At first, I was relieved that the vet was able to diagnose him so quickly but, that relief quickly morphed into horror as his treatment and a further explanation of his condition unfolded. If you’re like me and the only time you’ve thought about mange was when someone used the term “mangy dog” please, let me enlighten you. Mange is actually an infestation of microscopic, parasitic mites that live on animals multiplying ferociously, while savagely burrowing and consuming their skin. If left untreated, they will feed on the host until it is overcome by the pests and dies. Pretty great so far, right?! Oh, but it gets so much better!  It can also be transmitted to humans! Anyone heard of scabies? Yes, scabies! I was under the misguided assumption that scabies was one of those diseases like scurvy or plague that was popular with pirates and scullery maids — but, no one gets scabies these days, right?! Wrong! Apparently, people can definitely get scabies from their infected pets — and, as the vet was telling us this, I kept having slow motion flashbacks of Allie and I picking up and holding the bunny the previous night and that morning.

In my head, I wondered how upset Chris (our landlord)l would be if we burned our house down. Clearly, that was the only reasonable option. Another thought….Silkwood showers followed by baths in alcohol for everyone. I then found myself reminiscing about my former innocence when I thought lice was the worst thing that could happen. Lice?! Lice is for weenies. I can take care of lice with a comb and a bucket of water but, this my friends, was a whole new level of repugnant. As I longed for the days before I became acquainted with these tiny, creepy invaders, I was having trouble thinking clearly over Casper’s screams as they pulled the crusty scabs off him (no, I’m not kidding…truly awful!) Our poor bunny! He was a mess! Between the Betadine they used to scrub him, and the blood from his wounds, he looked ready for Easter, like someone had colored him yellow and pink. Fortunately, there is a reliable treatment the vet actually had, (one never knows in Bali), — an injectable insecticide that kills the mites, is harmless to the animal, and generally leads to a full recovery. That was great news….but, I was still wondering how I would disinfect our house and ourselves…..

As soon as we returned home from the vet, we went to work on the house and scrubbed every inch as if there had been an industrial accident. We decided that the cat that sneaks into our house in the middle of the night must have been the culprit so, I’ve resorted to sleeping with one eye open and a spray bottle next to my bed that I can wield at the first sign of the pernicious creature. I’m proud to say I’ve landed a few direct hits in the last few nights which I’m hoping will encourage him to find another place to frequent for his evening activities. I’m also happy to report Casper is doing much better. If all goes well he should be fully recovered in a week or so. Phew!

The adventure continues!

Day after his trip to the vet - looking much better. His nose is raw due to the removal of the enormous nest that had been built which created his enlarged nose. The Vet removed it and estimated there were millions of mites living in it. Horrifying!!!!

Day after his trip to the vet – looking much better. His nose is raw due to the removal of the enormous nest that had been built which created his enlarged nose. The Vet removed it and estimated there were millions of mites living in it. Horrifying!!!!

Casper day after trip to Vet. Looking better - crust still very noticeable on his feet and he is still very itchy! Poor bunny!

Casper day after trip to Vet. Looking better – crust still very noticeable on his feet and he is still very itchy! Poor bunny!