Thursday, 30 September 2010

A pool, a pool, my backyard for a pool

My sister and I were spoilt growing up. We had swimming pools in two of the houses we lived in. The first was at a red-brick house my dad built in St Ives, when it was still considered a bushland suburb on the outskirts of Sydney. I was a little kid then, but I can still remember dad teaching me to swim. And the day he caught a snake in the pool and cut off its head. The image of the headless writhing body has stayed with me till this day.

Our next pool was some years later when I started high school. It was built after we moved into the house my dad renovated in Chatswood West, on Sydney's north shore. I recall my then best friend Lynne and I recording a 'documentary' about St Francis of Assisi, using a Super-8 camera, in the pool before it was filled.

And my mother, a woman who never gets her hair wet, falling onto the pool cover one freezing winter's day and slowly sinking. And drunken poolside teenage parties. And coming home from the beach all sandy and burnt and throwing myself into the soothing blue chlorinated water.

I would love a swimming pool now, but they are costly to build and have to be maintained. Spanner laughs like a pirate whenever I mention the possibility. If I had buckets of money, my pool would be long enough to do laps in.

Dream on!

This leads me to the reason for this post, which is to show off the pools in the two gorgeous hotels where I stayed in Bali.

The ocean swimming season is just around the corner, so I am thinking (note the word) about increasing my swims per week to four. Then there's the search for a squad.

Anyway, feast your eyes on these beautiful pools. The rectangular one is at the Oberoi in Seminyak and the more organically shaped one is at the Santi Mandala resort, about a 15 minute drive from Ubud.

More soon on upcoming ocean swims.

Monday, 27 September 2010

My bloody family and how absence doesn't make the heart grow fonder

I know this blog is supposed to be about swimming and writing*. But because I've not been doing much of either lately, today my post is about my bloody family.

This is the story...

I arrive home from my holiday and nothing has changed. I know I was only away for 12 days, but I thought the deal was that absence makes the heart grow fonder.

That's garbage. And talking of garbage...

The house is a mess. I still don't have an oven that works and there's a hole in the wall for a dishwasher. The broken machine is next to the kitchen bench, its pipes pinned to its sides with masking tape.

The downstairs toilet reminds me of the latrine in the petrol station at Drummoyne. I will never ever in my life use that facility again, so that gives you an indication of the state of the dunny at home*.

The dog is scratching. Five hours later, I'm scratching like a maniac and youngest daughter Miss Hissy is covered in bites. I still can't figure out if it's the dog's fault or some microscopic bitey thing lurking in the unwashed bed linen.

My erstwhile eldest daughter Precious Princess is nowhere to be found. She's locked in some infinite hip-hop party diorama. Our only contact is via text message, where she informs me she is still alive and will 'be home soon'. Her room resembles the interior of the dog's kennel.

I have failed as a mother.

In the end, there's only one person to blame - my spouse, Spanner, who likes to dish out cliches such as, "Don't worry, be happy" and "Life goes on regardless" and "No one notices the mess but you."

I reckon the dog noticed it too. Or is that just wishful thinking on my part?

*Profuse apologies to those of you who expected this blog to be about swimming or writing.
*I could draw parallels to the Commonwealth Games Village in New Delhi, but I won't.
PS: Pic is of my dog sleeping peacefully on freshly laundered sheets.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Bali lows: what the travel brochures don't tell you

I haven't read Elizabeth Gilbert's account of her time spent on a mission of self-discovery in Bali in her memoirs Eat, Pray, Love. I'm not sure what she found there or whether she wrote about some of the more pressing issues impacting on this beautiful island and its people. Probably not. After all, it was all about her.

I was only in Bali for 12 days and loved it.

But no one told me about:

* the burning off. What recycling? Plastic bottles and bags, the whole kit and kaboodle goes up in smoke every day in Bali. It blows off the coast, but in the northern town of Ubud the air is thick with poisonous fumes each morning and evening.

* the raw sewerage that pollutes the rivers and the ocean. Actually, my friend Ms Love-a-chat did warn me about this. She and her hubby chose not to swim at Kuta Beach earlier this year because of the raw sewerage that poured into the Indian Ocean every day after the rain.

* the dreadful plight of street dogs. Thousands of starving maltreated dogs prowl the streets of Bali rummaging for food. Ms Fivestar and I were nearly holed up by a growling street dog when we went for a walk around a village close to Ubud. I didn't fancy frothing at the mouth so we made a beeline for our comfortable resort. The sad thing is that Aussie ex-pats tend to import their own spoilt fat canine creatures, even though it is possible to adopt a street dog.

* the traffic. I will never complain about Sydney traffic again. Unless you cycle down a small village back street, Bali is in gridlock for most of the day and night.

* the rampant overdevelopment of the south coast. This includes Seminyak, Kuta, Legian, Nusa Dua and almost down to Uluwatu (watch out surfers at Blue Point and Padang Padang, the developers are encroaching on your piece of paradise). Eyesore hotels litter the coast. It's fugly and sad. Where have all the rice paddies gone?

* children begging on the freeway. The eldest child knocks on the car window while mum sits on the median strip cradling a newborn. Sometimes there is no mum at all. This is terribly worrying.

And let's not forget regular sightings of the Bintang outfitted (singlet and cap and Bintang in hand) Aussie tourist - tattoos are mandatory for blokes and sheilas. God bless their fat farty bottoms, for they bring in the tourist dollar.

On the bright side, there are initiatives to clean up Bali, though it's stuck with the Bintang-sucking Aussies. Coca-Cola Amatil has a program to clean up the beaches and help the recovery of sea turtles at Kuta Beach (KBSTC).

There's also a program to help Bali's street kids at

The Bali Animal Welfare Association recently launched a petition to help save Bali's street dogs and eliminate the cruel treatment of animals in Indonesia. The petition is at and needs 5000 more signatures.

Spanner just came in and told me that it was impossible to save the world. But that's just Spanner.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

My final three fave Bali experiences: the art of Zen and how not to wear funny undies on your head

Fave experience 3: The Balinese people know how to smile and go with the flow

Being a jaded Sydneysider who's used to passing people in the street without any acknowledgment of their existence (and vice versa), I was initially shattered to learn that in Bali everyone greets you with a huge smile. My jaw was aching after my first day on the island.

"Hello. How are you? Selamat malam, sama sama, terima kasih." Arrgghhh. Too much genuine niceness does my head in.

But after a couple of days I got into the swing of things and even ended up pressing my palms together in the customary 'prayer' greeting pose. I know - what a wanker. But man, it helped me find my inner-Zen friend.

Arriving back in Sydney was a rude shock. Today I beamed like friggin' car headlights at a fellow supermarket shopper who looked right through me before pretending to study the ingredients list on a packet of two-minute noodles. I guess it's back to no more 'Mrs Nice Guy'.

Fave experience 4: The massage, rose petal bath and funny undies
This is what one does in Bali. Ms Fivestar and I had a massage on our first afternoon in Ubud. It was pouring outside the day spa that overlooked a river. We were left to get almost naked, except for these funny undies that we initially mistook for shower caps (with big eye holes in them).

Next, we lay across from each other on two massage tables while our masseusses wove their finger ballet magic in perfect synchronisation. I almost forgot Ms Fivestar was there until it was over and we were asked if we would like to share a bath filled with rose petals. I looked at Ms Fivestar who wore a mortified expression (and the funny undies).

She let me have the bath. For the next 20 minutes I lay in a blissful state, the heady fragrance of the petals seducing my senses. Crikey, where's Spanner when you need him?

Fave experience 5: The colours, smells and hustle and bustle of Ubud
For me, the colours were their most vibrant in Ubud in central Bali. Red hibiscus and pure white frangipani, cinematic green ricefields, statues of Vishna draped in golden cloth, women in white lace tops and intricately patterned sarongs, intense blue skies, bunched grey clouds, muddy brown water.

Smells: jasmine, clove cigarettes, frangipani, incense, spices such as cloves and cinnamon and herbs like lemongrass and galangal.

Despite the millions of tourists that visit each year, Ubud maintains its culture and traditions. Although it's crammed with people and traffic and dogs and chickens, it still runs on 'Bali time'. No one is fussed when a procession to a ceremony stops the traffic for 10 minutes. There's no road rage here. Nor resignation. It's more about acceptance. There's a reason for everything. A calmness. No tug. Just give and take and live and learn.

These are the things I love about Bali (you can read about my fave 1 and 2 things in the two posts prior to this one). But it's not all beer and skittles. Watch out for my next post in which I will document the five things no one tells you about Bali.

Selamat tidur.

Monday, 20 September 2010

I am in Bali still: number 2 excellent experience

Balinese like a ceremony, and witnessing their love of ritual and celebrations of life and death has been one of the most wonderful and eye-opening experiences for me.
Ceremonies and rituals take place every day in Bali. In the morning, offerings of flowers, fruit and incense (and often lollies, biscuits and the occasional cigarette) are placed outside shops, in the middle of streets and footpaths and in the numerous shrines to thank the gods and to bring luck for the coming day.

The ceremonies are traffic stoppers - literally. In Ubud we saw streets in gridlock as the official ceremony organisers brought the traffic to a standstill. The Balinese cremate their dead, but because the cremations are so expensive they will often bury a couple of dead relatives for a few years and then, when there's enough, they will dig up old Uncle Wayan and Aunte Made and go for the group cremation. Not a bad idea beacuse it costs to so much to have a ceremony. You know a ceremony is going on in a village because the entrance to the family compound of the family organising the do is festooned with intricately woven bamboo, coloured cloth and flowers.

A long time expat told me that the ceremonies send many balinese broke, but they continue to have ceremonies because it is tradition. And let me tell you now, tradition is being severely eroded here (more of that in later posts).

Here are some of my pics.

Ooh, better hurry and load pics as I'm sitting outside in public hotspot so I don't have to pay to blog. It's getting dark!

Saturday, 18 September 2010

I'm in Bali where the living is easy - if you're a tourist

This will make you jealous.

I'm sitting in a poolside bar that overlooks the beach in Seminyak in southern Bali. A light breeze and overhead fans temper the late-morning heat. Balinese music (much like that piped through a Sydney day spa) adds to the laid-back atmosphere. To my left is the resort pool, bordered by fringed yellow umbrellas and teak lounges. The hotel is decorated in the Balinese style, with thatched roofs and lots of ornate stone carvings. The obligatory temples dot the grounds. It's all very beautiful.
Life is good.

My holiday is coming to an end so over the next few days I'll share with you my top 5 Balinese experiences and then the not-so-good. I'll start with a day I'll never forget, even when I'm old and senile:

1. Cycling from Kintamini to Ubud with Jegeg Bicycle Tours. My friend Ms Fivestar and I were lucky enough to meet Nyoman, a young Balinese man who started his tour company in Ubud just over 12 months ago. Nyoman's brother drove us to Kintamani via a coffee plantation (more about the coffee in upcoming posts).
It's almost 90 per cent downhill from the volcano Kintamani to the cultural centre of Ubud in Bali's heartland. We whirred our way through numerous villages where the children ran onto the streets, hands outstretched so we could give them high fives. They called out: "Hello! Where are from? What is your name?" as we flew by. We stopped to walk through rice paddies that undulated to the horizon. We also went into a Balinese family compound and saw a 10 year old girl weave a substantial basket in 15 minutes - her fingers were a blur as she wove the pandanus into a cube shaped receptacle for flowers and other food offerings to the spirits that form the basis of the Hindu religion.

At the end of the tour, which nearly killed Ms Fivestar (it was the 10 per cent that got her) we went to Nyoman's family compound where his sister-in-law served us an amazing Indonesian banquet. I felt extremely privileged to be welcomed into his home. Ms Fivestar and I are blessed to have met Nyoman and his family.

Next, I'll bung in the remaining four excellent experiences. But this is more than enough for one post. I am now bracing myself for the trip into Kuta, which was described by one lovely New Zealand woman I met here as "a crazy place". Gawd. More of that later. I feel a dip in the pool and a long cool drink coming on.
See youse round like rissoles...

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Eat, play, drink: I'm off to Bali

I'm going to Bali. Not with my family but with my friend Ms Fivestar.

Some people might consider it selfish to race off to Indonesia when Miss Hissy (Hiss) is struggling to the end of term 3 at school and Precious Princess (PP) is talking about dropping part of her double university degree.

But I think it's a sensible option that will keep me sane.

I asked both Hiss and Spanner if they wanted to have an adventure holiday with me and they said "no". Miss Hissy's excuse was the sailing season had just started and she didn't want to miss two weekends. Spanner didn't have an excuse. I'll never figure that man out. But maybe that's a good thing.

PP - who recently told me her calling is hip-hop - was keen, but I shouted her the trip to Uluru last year and wasn't about to offer another all expenses-paid trip.

So, it's me and Ms Fivestar looking for all the world like a couple of middle-aged eccentric lesbians (that's what everyone will think and I don't bloody care) romping around Bali seeking our inner something-or-other.

I don't intend to go on a self-indulgent romp like Elizabeth Gilbert. I'd rather climb a volcano, ride a bike through a rice paddy and do a day-spa. Oh, and eat. Lots. And down cocktails on the beach at sunset.

Spanner is such a bastard.

Hopefully, I'll get the chance to post while I'm away.

Until then, bon voyage to me.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Father's Day must have been invented by men

I always have a good old chuckle when Father's Day rolls around. Because, as women know, every day is father's day.

As I suspected, Father's Day came after Mother's Day. It was thought up by some duck in Spokane, USA (where else) in honour of her father.

But I prefer to think that digruntled blokes lobbied for their own special day.

Here's the conversation that led to its creation:

Trev: Geez mate, the missus gets a day off. But what about us?
Gazza: Mate, I reckon we deserve some sort of recognition for all the stuff we do.

*There is silence. Trev and Gazza have a scratch and contemplate their schooners.*

Trev: What do we do?
Gazza: Well, last night I sit down with little Jay and we watch The Simpsons. The whole episode.
Trev: Mate, that's beautiful.
Gazza: And yourself, mate?
Trev: Yeah, well... The missus is about to take out the garbage and I say, 'Let me do that love.' I mean, I'm on my way out anyway. No wuckin forries.
Gazza: Mate, you're a deadset legend.
Trev: Mate, aren't we all?

And that's how it came to pass that Father's Day was instituted as a national day to recognise the hard yakka that goes into being a dad and a hubby in AUSTRALIA, land of the friggin' free ride for every bloke with breath left in his lungs.

Some years ago I gave Spanner this fantastic card for Father's Day by a cartoonist called Naf. It features a paunchy, balding man wearing a jumper and plaid slacks. He is standing next to a vacuum cleaner and punching his fists in the air in a sign of victory. His wife is seated on the lounge with a book. She looks less than impressed.

The caption reads: 'John turned off the vacuum and waited for his medal.'

For me, that sums up Father's Day.

Enjoy Sunday. You know who'll be doing all the hard yakka!