TEDx Ubud

I just spent most of last Saturday at the TEDx event that was held here in Ubud. TEDx (versus TED) events are smaller regional happenings organized to highlight projects and people doing extraordinary things in the local area — in this case Bali, and other parts of Indonesia. In the past, I’ve spent hours on the TED website watching videos of brilliant speakers from past events so, I was ready and eager to be dazzled. Here’s what I took away from Saturday…

While the speakers that participate in the primary TED conference are extremely eloquent, often genius presenters (past TED speakers include- Pres. Bill Clinton, the Dalai Lama, Steve Jobs, etc), it quickly became evident that, although all of the participants are doing extraordinary things, many were not all that practiced at being in front of a large group of people. At first, I was a little disappointed — I was hoping to be enraptured and entertained as I often am on the TED site. And, while I’ve loved watching videos of people like Taylor Wilson (the kid who developed a nuclear fusion reactor at 14), I also know the closest I’ll get to a rocket scientist most days is watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory. Like a shot of espresso, It’s easy to watch the TED talks, get a quick hit of inspiration, and then move on to more important things like deciding on what to feed the kids or why the cat just puked on the rug.

Yet on Saturday, it wasn’t Bill Clinton or the Dalai Lama making the presentations. These were real people. People I might have gone to school with or known from work. And although, all of them were quite accomplished and successful in their own right, it was their (for lack of a better word) ordinariness that made them imminently more memorable. While it probably isn’t a big deal for Bill Clinton to prepare for a TED talk, these people all showed tremendous courage getting up in front of the large audience (most with high expectations like myself) and putting themselves out there. And they’re all, without exception, doing amazing things. There was a young, exuberant woman bringing libraries to poor villages in Bali, an earnest, Indonesian man running an NGO focused on human trafficking, and a French woman who created an organization that is restoring the coral reefs off the coast of Bali, to name a few. They were all up there making themselves vulnerable to critics like me sitting in the audience.

After sitting through the event, I couldn’t help but think …..what am I doing in my life that is making a difference? I haven’t donated a kidney or started a foundation for blind orphans. I’m not even a vegetarian and sometimes, (gasp!) I forget to bring my own reusable bags to the grocery store. What does that mean for me? Am I doomed? Can I make a difference even if I’m not doing grand works mandated by a meaningful mission statement? If Woody Allen is to be believed and 90% of life is showing up than these people from TEDx are killing it – they’re showing up and bringing sandwiches. It begs the question – how can I show up more in my life? How can I be more courageous and passionate? Could I turn off the computer when my kids get home from school? Could I more than pretend to listen when my husband had a bad day at work? These are small things but, maybe they can lead to bigger things. I found it funny that after all the brilliant TED talks I’ve watched, it was not the Dalai Lama who generated these thoughts for me, it was a group of relatively unknown people speaking at a modest TEDx event in Ubud who radiated such optimism and showed by example that everyone can change the world – the first step is showing up. But, just in case….if you hear of any blind orphans looking for a kidney – let me know.

The TED website — http://www.TED.com



Captivating young Lovely Indonesian woman who brings libraries to poor villages in Bali

Lovely, young Indonesian woman who brings libraries to poor villages in Bali

Eat, Pay, Leave

For those of you who never watched Oprah or maybe spent 2006 in a coma, you may have missed the sensation that was Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir recounting her journey of self-discovery that eventually became a movie of the same name starring Julia Roberts. And, for those of you who missed it, you’re probably unaware that the “Love” part of the book took place right here in Ubud – where Gilbert discovered the meaning of life, met her soul mate and lived happily ever after…..allegedly.

The wild success of that book had a largely unanticipated effect on Ubud — hordes of middle-aged women clutching dog-eared copies of the book, clad in flowing clothes, descended on Ubud in search of spiritual transformation and their own Javier Bardems. This created a backlash with some of the locals, (and by locals, I mean westerner transplants wearing flowing clothing who had arrived earlier than the aforementioned tourists and already achieved profound spiritual transformations). A few got their hemp drawers in quite a bunch and created t-shirts and posters with “Eat, Pay, Leave” -clearly demonstrating how much more evolved they truly were.

Thankfully for us, the phenomenon of Eat, Pray, Love had died down by the time we arrived but, the nature of Ubud is largely unchanged. Ubud attracts people of all kinds but, there is definitely an otherworldly feel to the place. Visitors often become imbued with the Hindu traditions and practices which are an integral part of life, allowing them to see spirit in all things. At least that’s what I read on a brochure the other day…..sounds great, doesn’t it?!

I was hoping to experience my own spiritual awakening during our stay. I don’t think you can live here without becoming at least a little curious. I also wanted to discover the secret to the peaceful countenances so prevalent on the Balinese. Ironically, my opportunity came along recently during an especially chaotic lunch with the kids at a local warung (cafe). I met a woman who helps non-locals set up appointments with traditional Balinese healers. It sounded perfect!

We settled on a date and I roped in a friend to join me. After an hour in the car, we arrived at the traditional Balinese compound where we were led to the healer – a very distinguished looking, older man dressed all in white. We settled onto the tile floor of the bale (which is basically a porch outside one of the houses) to wait our turn. We were told to write down some questions we might want guidance on from Pak Mangu. About three hours later (it must have been a Bali HMO), we were up. My friend went first and began to ask some personal questions to which Pak Mangu answered with wildly inaccurate responses. Trying to overcome her skepticism, she moved on to a more specific question about a physical issue and Pak Mangu went to work on her using his hands and feet. He seemed to have an intuitive touch and was able to hone in on areas of discomfort redeeming himself a bit to my friend. After about 20 minutes, it was my turn. I was somewhat intimidated now for several reasons — one being, Pak Mangu didn’t speak any English so, we had a translator with us who would repeat our questions to him loud enough for anyone sitting within earshot to hear and comment on (amongst each other and only in Indonesian). I felt like I was in an episode of Seinfeld. I asked him “How long should we stay in Bali?” to which the gallery giggled after they heard the question. This was not going like it did in the book. Clearly, not the appropriate question. I quickly decided that, at least on this day, Pak Mangu’s soothsayer skills were on the blink so, better to stick with more concrete issues. I had been struggling with a cold so, I told him I had been sick and feeling tired all week. He laid his hands on my head and pushed on several points on my body and at times I would feel a surge of energy. Not the worlds colliding, heavens opening experience I was expecting but, after four hours on a hard tile floor I was grateful for anything. After our treatments, we were ushered to the temple where we prayed and Pak Mangu prepared our “medicines” which were curiously from the same bottle.

On the ride home our guide told us that our readings may have been inaccurate due to the full moon that was happening that night. Apparently, this affected how the gods were communicating with Pak Mangu. Maybe in the future the gods could mention beforehand that they are going to be tied up and spare us the four hours on the hard, tile floor.

Funny, the next day I felt really good. My cold was gone. Had it runs it’s course or did Pak Mangu actually heal me? Who knows? What I do believe is where we put our intentions our thoughts and actions follow so, maybe I wanted to be better and so, I got better. Not to diminish what Pak Mangu does for people. He struck me as a man who practices healing with a sense of purpose and dignity and I’m sure many people benefit from his dedication.

The subjective nature of spiritual experiences is becoming clearer to me. I’m certain our interaction with Pak Mangu was colored by our feelings of discomfort and lack of faith in the process, while others who visited him that day reported great results. Analagous to what I recently heard about Ketut Liyer, the healer who still lives and works here in Ubud, and the man Gilbert credits with bringing about her intense spiritual awakening. Apparently, he gives everyone who comes to see him virtually the same advice. Seems the gods are often distracted by the moon.

Although this didn’t pan out exactly as expected, I plan to keep trying as many new experiences as possible. Being in Bali is a gift, and one that I don’t plan squandering just because my first experience was not the transcendent adventure I hoped for – in any case, I’ll keep you posted.

Pak Mangu

Pak Mangu

Pak Mangu in front of the temple in the compound

Pak Mangu in front of the temple in the compound

Pak Mangu in his examining room/waiting room.

Pak Mangu and patients — in his examining/waiting room.

Royal Cremation Ceremony

Here in Bali they know how to send someone off properly. Today, I attended the cremation ceremony for the king’s brother who died recently. Similar to the royal family in Britain, the royal family in Bali has no official role in government yet, they are still revered and granted an important place in Bali culture and society.

Cremations are one of the most spectacular ceremonies in Bali. In the beginning of our stay here, we were amazed by the number of ceremonies that are conducted almost daily – honoring anything and everything. Weddings, deaths, births, teeth filings, blessings of tools, and on and on and on. You name it! If it relates to any aspect of life (or death) they acknowledge it with offerings to thank the peaceful spirits or to placate the darker forces. At first glance, the preparations (including the decorations and offerings) were all similar or standard for each rite. Now that we’ve been here a little while, I’ve started to notice differences in how Balinese observe their religious rites. Much like the US, the size and spectacle of a ceremony depends on the wealth and importance of the family. And nowhere is this more evident than in the cremation ceremony. While the poorest of the Balinese are buried, and eventually, (sometimes as long as five years later), cremated in a group, the wealthier are cremated right away. While there may be differences in the pomp and circumstance of the cremation ceremony, the belief is universal that the body needs to be burned to set the soul free from worldly ties, and to start a new life in a world that is believed to be even more beautiful than Bali itself.

During the cremation ceremony, there is a large procession of people dressed in colorful clothes, carrying gifts and offerings, accompanied by musicians playing traditional music. The body is carried at the top of a large tower. The size of the tower depends on the status of the family. Today the deceased was a member of the royal family so, the tower was 11 levels which is the maximum height and reserved for royalty. As the tower is carried through the procession, It is shaken and spun around to confuse the spirit of the deceased and prevent it from returning to haunt the living.

Upon arrival at the cremation site, the celebration stops and the body is transferred to a coffin, usually in the shape of a bull or lion (today was a bull). The coffin is then set on fire and the crowd goes nuts to celebrate the departure of the spirit into the heavens.

Here are two videos from the ceremony. My apologies for the quality. It was pouring so, I didn’t go to the actual cremation which is after the procession and open to the public. I wasn’t that keen on standing in the rain. 😅

If you’re interested in a good quality video, I’m attaching the link to the king’s funeral procession that took place a couple of years ago. It looks much better than mine – it was taken by a real photographer. It’s a little long but the end is crazy!


We’re in Singapore for a long weekend. The kids had a couple days off of school and we needed to make a visa run, (our visa requires that we leave Indonesia every 60 days). While Singapore is relatively close to Bali in miles (two+ hours by plane), in other aspects, it is light years away. I certainly can’t speak for all ex-pats living in Indonesia but, I’m always reassured by the close proximity of Singapore. Knowing that good medical treatment, air conditioning, and serious retail are just two hours by plane has made living in Bali less intimidating.

We’re staying on Sentosa Island, an area of Singapore self-proclaimed as “Asia’s favorite playground” — I would say it’s more like being in the middle of a giant, somewhat tired, theme park. There are tons of “family adventures” to experience, even a Universal Studios which we didn’t feel compelled to visit since we live so close to the original. We did however, check out the new aquarium, which is purported to be the largest in the world, and it was definitely big. Not sure it’s the greatest aquarium, or even close to as good as the Georgia aquarium in Atlanta but, it is huge.

Although they have gone to great lengths to offer attractions for the whole family on Sentosa, the real draw is the enormous casino located right in the center. This made a lot more sense after watching tour bus after tour bus filled with middle-aged Asians disappear into the underground parking structure yet, curiously, no one was emerging to zip line or enjoy the bug zoo. While the kids are having fun, I’m about done here (1 1/2 days on Sentosa is plenty!) Apart from the stifling heat, we’re having a good time (never realized how much I adore central air!). I’m looking forward to exploring the city to discover some of the more interesting elements of Singapore.

I must admit we’ve brought our shopping list of “necessities” we’ve missed since moving to Bali and I’m hopeful we will be able to find everything –although, I suspect we’ll realize upon our return that we haven’t really been deprived of much at all. The whole idea was to learn to live with less so, I feel a bit hypocritical rushing to the mall here…..but, hey, I’m not made of stone! 😉

Back in Bali!

Returning from New Zealand, we all felt very differently flying into Denpasar versus the first time we arrived – much less like we were landing in a foreign country. Not sure Bali feels like home yet but, it’s definitely becoming less exotic and more familiar. This really hit home for me the other day when I walked out of the house and found this lying on the back porch:


Soccer balls and sickle


Closer view — yep that’s a sickle!

I guess the gardener had left it there while he was busy working on something else. And the best part is — I didn’t even think it was weird (at first glance). For those of you that thought sickles were only for Grim Reaper costumes at Halloween, not the case here in Bali! They’re still used by gardeners and rice farmers and the occasional seven year old boy who wants to hack stuff in the garden. Yikes!

Soon after returning to Bali, we had our first real bout of sickness, starting with Allie and working it’s way through the rest of the family. The kids seemed to get over it quickly and were back at school within a couple of days versus the old folks (their parents), who took much longer. I’m just glad it was respiratory and not some stomach bug that is difficult to identify and more likely to require medical assistance — something we’ve been desperately trying to avoid. We’ve heard “Bali Belly” is inevitable and, at some point everyone succumbs to it but, we’re not going down without a fight. I refuse to stop carrying hand sanitizer in my purse. I know everyone thinks I’m a crazy American but, I can live with that if it keeps us healthy. That being said — I hear medical care is getting better here and, if you can get good medical advice most medications are available over the counter and at very reasonable prices. We recently had to buy some antibiotic cream for an infected bite on Fletcher’s foot. I sent a photo of it to Dr. Sonya at home and she recommended an antibiotic cream which they had at the pharmacy over the counter (the name brand!) for $7. So easy!

Last Days in New Zealand

After Queenstown, we ventured on to Te Anau which is where most people stay who are planning trips to see the Fjords. Our plan was to visit Doubtful Sound — named by Captain Cook due to his doubting it was navigable — in hindsight, I think Fletcher wished this were true. It was a stunningly beautiful, but long trip for us (especially Fletcher). The day included a car ride, bus ride and two boats rides all totaling about ten hours. And as any of you who have young boys know, nothing excites a kid more than looking at scenery for hours and hours on end! The part he enjoyed most was the power plant we visited on the way. It is the largest hydroelectric power plant in New Zealand built two kilometers directly into a solid granite mountain. The tunnel is so large that two buses can pass each other (I think it’s actually wider than most of the roads in Bali!) and the hall where we viewed the turbines looks like something out of a James Bond Movie.

Next we moved on to Dunedin which is known for its abundant wildlife. We visited an albatross colony which had over 20 nests with chicks. Albatross only have one chick every two years –and, when you see how large the chicks are and how much they eat, it isn’t surprising they don’t reproduce in greater numbers. One funny coincidence in Dunedin  — the tour company we used to organize our trip booked us at the Fletcher Lodge — it was great! They even have a dog named Fletcher!

Our trip ended in Lake Tekapo where the Mt. John observatory is located. We took the evening tour up to the observatory to view the stars. It was extraordinary! Even with naked eyes, the view of the sky was awesome and it got even better with the help of the many telescopes at the facility. What fun to experience a whole new perspective from the southern hemisphere. I think when you live in the city you forget (or maybe have never known) what the skies actually contain. Being a city person for a very long time, I probably hadn’t seen the whole Milky way since I was a kid. It is spectacular!

Tomorrow we return to Bali. It’s been a great trip!!


Queenstown is spectacular! Not only is it incredibly beautiful, there is more to do than almost anywhere I’ve ever visited. Bungee jumping began here in the mid 80s, and despite the fact that I don’t consider myself much of a thrill seeker, (unless you include brushing my teeth with tap water in Bali), we found tons of other things to do that were just exciting enough for all of us.

The first day we arrived we took an hour-long, eco-tour zip line, which included four different zip lines that were about 200 meters each, followed by a luge ride down the mountain. So much fun!

The next day we all went for a two hour horse trek that took us through stunning landscapes and included an area where they filmed Lord of the Rings. They definitely get a ton of mileage out of those movies — lots of “Lord of the Rings” tours available on just about any vehicle you can imagine — boat, ATV, horse, you name it!

The last day we went for a Shotover boat ride. Billed as “the world’s most exciting jet boat ride” — I was immediately wondering why we needed to go on the world’s most exciting jet boat ride –why not the neighborhood’s, or even the town’s most exciting? After all, we were in a place where they take their excitement very seriously — I  didn’t feel a real need to be that excited. It didn’t help that when we were waiting on the dock as the boats came in with passengers from earlier trips, they all looked a bit overwrought. But, I figured this is my year of living dangerously so…what the heck? The ride was actually really fun and exciting — the only part I found too exciting was the part where the driver tries to get as close as possible to the rocks that the boat is passing at about 60 mph. Apparently, this is integral to the excitement — could have lived without that part.

Lake Wanaka

After leaving Franz Josef, we embarked on a lengthy drive to our next stop of Lake Wanaka. The drive took about four hours but was filled with some of the most spectacular and varied scenery of our visit. It was fascinating how different the terrain was within just a few miles.  About an hour into the drive, we stopped for a hike through a lovely, lush forest that ended at a historic bridge. And, despite the density of the woods we all noticed an absence of wildlife – it was eerie. Apparently, on the island there are no large predators, snakes or other creatures to worry about except for these annoying little sand flies that hang out by the water and are out for blood!

We only spent one night in Lake Wanaka which seemed much too brief to explore everything the area had to offer. Lake Wanaka is the fourth largest lake in New Zealand and attracts a lot of vacationers in the summer months. Since it’s the beginning of fall, here in New Zealand, we just missed the high season on our visit.

View of Lake Wanaka from our hotel

View of Lake Wanaka from our hotel

View of Lake Wanaka

Another view of Lake Wanaka – beautiful!

On our way out of town, we stopped at Puzzling World and spent several hours. It was created about thirty years ago by a couple that loved puzzles and over the years they have created and collected lots of different illusions including many that involved our participation. In addition to the illusions, there is an enormous life-sized maze outside that we spent a long time trying to navigate.They predict it should take about 1-2 hours to complete the maze — it was really hard! How did it go? Let’s just say….. no one wants to get lost in the woods with the Evans! We eventually found our way out but, not without a lot of complaining from the younger participants who kept wanting to go out the “emergency exits” — wussies!

Franz Josef Glacier

Upon leaving Christchurch, we embarked on a four hour train ride through the New Zealand countryside — so beautiful!! After the train, we drove for two hours on the “wrong” side of the road in the pouring rain before we arrived in our next destination — Franz Josef –which is on the western side of the south island. Franz Josef is known for several glaciers that are perched right above the town.

There are tons of activities to keep you busy in Franz Josef. On our first day, we rode a helicopter up to the top of the glacier, visited the wildlife center where they breed kiwis to release into the wild and hiked up the mountain to the bottom of the glacier where it feeds the river. It was a great day!

Kids in front of wildlife center. There were several kiwi youngsters inside. Unfortunately, no pictures allowed...bummer

Kids in front of wildlife center. There were several kiwi youngsters inside. Unfortunately, no pictures allowed…too bad, the young kiwis are very cute!!

I also feel compelled to mention another important “discovery” about New Zealand. At the end of the day, we ended up at a casual bar/grill for dinner — which was definitely a “guys” establishment –geared toward attracting male clientele with big screens showing a variety of sports matches broadcast from all over the world. And, as if the live testosterone displays were not enough, there were several posters displayed around the place, instructing how a “manly” man should behave. All of this would have been fine except, for the fact that when we sat down, I noticed the background music was….and no, I’m not making this up — Engelbert Humperdinck (now, let’s not focus on how I know that…that is not the point!) For a minute, I was taken aback and thought, maybe this bar is more Village People Macho Man than Marlboro man….but, then I remembered, earlier in the day, when we were in the grocery store and were treated to Michael Jackson’s greatest hits, or later, when we were in the helicopter tour office where, (based on the young hipster employees), I thought we might hear the latest Jay-Z, Coldplay or even Justin Timberlake offering. But no! We were treated to “Elvira” by the Oakridge Boys, circa 1981! I haven’t heard this many 80s hits since my junior prom but, I love it!

…So, based on my extensive research, if you love 70s and 80s music, friendly people and stunningly beautiful scenery then, New Zealand is for you!

One of the "instructions" posters from the bar/grill

One of the “instructions” posters from the bar/grill

Tomorrow we’re off to our next destination Lake Wanaka and then on to Queenstown. We hope everyone is having a great spring break!!

Spring break is here!!

It’s spring break at Green School and we decided to take advantage of the long break and venture to New Zealand. We’d both always wanted to visit and now seemed like a good time. I would have thought it would be easy to get to New Zealand from Bali but, actually it’s a long trip! First we had to fly to Brisbane (5 1/2 hours), where we spent the night and then, the next afternoon we flew to Christchurch which was another 3 hour flight (not to mention the five hour time change!).

Despite feeling a little jet lagged, we had a great day here in Christchurch. As many of you probably recall, Christchurch suffered a devastating earthquake two years ago (last month was the two year anniversary). We were told not to bother spending time here because most of the city had been destroyed and there wasn’t anything to see. On the surface that is mostly true — however, it was fascinating to see and hear the stories of people who lived through the quake and learn about how the city is moving forward.

We took a bus tour of the city (I guess I secretly appreciated all those tours my mom dragged us on as kids — now I get to torture my own kids!). Some of the details that emerged about the quake were pretty terrifying (especially, for those of us who live with the constant threat of “the big one” looming). Apparently, it was one of the most intense quakes that has occurred on the planet in recorded time, due to the “peak ground acceleration (PGA)” of 2.2 (for you non-geology majors or non-Californians, that is a measurement of how fast the ground was moving up which meant, in this case, it moved up so violently that people were actually thrown into the air!) In contrast, the Haiti earthquake only measured a 0.5 PGA. Sadly, 185 people were killed and, of those, 115 died in the collapse of one building. That building was only six stories which collapsed onto each other, leaving the sixth floor relatively intact allowing the people on the sixth floor implausibly, to walk away from the rubble. There is a memorial of 185 empty white chairs displayed prominently across from where that building stood. Over 80% of the buildings in the city have been or will be torn down and the city is in the process of rebuilding. They have embarked on a plan that will virtually rebuild the entire city center and environs. Ultimately, when the project is complete, I’m certain it will be an enviable place to live and work.