I love weddings, so when we got the invitation to attend our friend’s Indonesian wedding we couldn’t pass up the opportunity, considering we would be in Asia anyway. We arrived in Jakarta happy to see the familiar faces of friends Adrianne and Tom. However, with all the details of an Indonesian wedding, they were busy much of the time with rehearsals and last minute preparation. Lucky for us we were welcome to tag along for a first-hand cultural experience, one I couldn’t resist.
All the planning paid off, as the three-day event was beautiful, steeped in tradition and symbolism; providing a crash course in all things Javanese. The bride and groom and the groom’s family, whom live in Jakarta were incredible hosts. The extravaganza started with a welcome dinner where the guests were given gifts, swords for the men and jewelry for the women. The flavorful food, amicable guests and delicious food set the tone for the next two days.
Siraman: Bathing Ceremony
Tom and Adrianne anxiously awaiting the bathing ceremony to begin, cleansing them in preparation for marriage
The festivities got under way on day two with a traditional bathing ceremony known as Siraman. This ceremony is meant to cleanse the bride and groom both physically and spiritually to prepare them for the bond of marriage. With Adrianne and Tom dressed in traditional Javanese batik and draped in jasmine flowers, which smelled lovely. Nine family members are chosen to pour ladles of water over their heads. The water used in the ceremony is collected from different sites of familial importance making the ceremony very specific to the bride and groom. I couldn’t resist snapping pictures of the surprised expressions resulting from cold water being poured over their heads.
Tom and Adrianne being cleansed during the bathing ceremony
Ijab: Signing of Wedding Documents
The wedding day itself consisted of two consecutive ceremonies, the first of which is the Ijab, the official signing of documents. The bride and groom, father-of-the-bride, witnesses and the Imam (religious officiate) are all seated at a table for the transaction between the bride’s father and her future husband. Much of this ceremony was just between the families as dowry was discussed and everyone exchanged handshakes. Lucky for Tom, Adrianne excepted his dowry and did not ask for more even when prodded jokingly by the Imam. It was fascinating to watch and culminated with the signing of the marriage documents and exchange of rings, similar to a ceremony in the U.S. without any official declaration or kiss.
The signing of the official wedding documents known as Ijab takes place at a table with the family, imam and witnesses
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Erica and Matt Chua: A Wedding to Remember
After spending nearly three years on the road, we look back on all that we put up with to save a dollar. Were all the long bus rides and sleeping at airports worth it to keep the expenses in check?
You’ll never hear me claim that there is a better way to travel than budget travel. Getting as close to the locals’ spending as possible is the best way to understand how their life is…and isn’t that why to travel? Not only the experiences, but also the differences between experiences in different places are enlightening. Exposing yourself to where the locals eat, stay and play will teach you more about a place than a tour ever would.
If I wanted something easy and comfortable I’d try to have that at home, not in some distant land. Why would I put my money towards temporary comfort instead of investing in permanent comfort? At home I want the most comfortable things possible, but on the road I want the most locally authentic experiences possible.
This does create some problems though. It’s caused us to end up in some places where I was deathly allergic to things. It’s led us to some pretty dirty places. It’s made us terribly sick. The romantic idea of living like a local is much better than it is in reality.
Here is one great example. We thought we had scored a great deal on a place to stay in Seoul, in a student building, on AirBnB. The listing made it clear that it could sleep two, evenings were quiet times, and there was free rice. They had me at the price, but I fell in love with the idea of free rice. See the photo above? That’s how we slept for three nights. On the fourth day I ran into the building manager, the same person who had checked us in, and he asked how we were sleeping. I responded that we were doing fine. Then he asked the key question, “would you like another mattress?” Why yes we would! How had he failed to mention this earlier, such as when the two of us checked in?
The funny situations like this one are the good, bad and learning of budget travel. I would never experience this at the Ritz…
Budget travel is not for everyone. It is not a vacation complete with private beach bungalows and drinks with little umbrellas. It is hard work, long bus rides, cold showers and beds with no pillows. It is the path we chose for many reasons, first and foremost to save money and travel longer, but also to live a little bit more like the locals.
This trip was never about just seeing the world, it was about experiencing it. Which meant dining where the locals did, taking the long bus rides and lower class transport. Some of my most fond memories are from the crazy things we did to save a few bucks. But, there are a few things that I just didn’t like about budget travel:
Ordering food from right to left, when price is your main concern I often found myself reading the menu from right to left- look at price first. Several times I passed up the item I really wanted for something more affordable.
Cold showers, I got pretty tired of trying to get the soap to lather while showering with the glacial water on offer at many of our budget hostels and hotels. Hot water is a luxury when your trying to stay on budget. Along those same lines I hated that space was also a luxury, bathrooms in most places we stayed would have the shower right over the toilet and everything in the bathroom would be soaked.
Overnight buses were the bane of my existence, especially in South America where averaged one overnight bus every 10 days. Not only did you get a terrible nights sleep, but you had to worry about your stuff getting stolen, which happened to us on an overnight bus in Bolivia.
These three things may have saved us a considerable amount of cash, but I’m glad that there is no overnight bus in my future or terrible two dollar meal around the corner. Ultimately these were small sacrifices to fund our 37 country tour and I would do them again in a heartbeat, but life is better with hot showers!
Smarty pants astrophysicist Stephen Hawking has joined Facebook and said in his first post “I have always wondered what makes the universe exist. Time and space may forever be a mystery, but that has not stopped my pursuit.”
Oh brother. Whatever.
Well, you know Mr Hawking, you may be the smartest man alive but a lot of us on Facebook have some pretty brilliant moments ourselves. I am upping my scientific and intellectual Facebook game. Be forewarned. And remember, it’s OK to hate the player but don’t hate the game? Feel me? You are no longer in the ivory tower on Facebook. You are now on the street. And it’s about to get real.
So, for starters, you aren’t the only one on Facebook who wonders about what makes the universe exist and about space and time and stuff like that. I think about them too. Not all at the same time. But I think about them sometimes. And think about many other complicated sciencey things too.
When I am on an airplane I like to look out the window at the clouds and think to myself, “Let’s see. There are three kinds of clouds. Stratus, cumulus, and one other.” See? You are probably already realizing we are a lot more alike than you originally thought. That’s OK. That will happen to you a lot on here. Keep an open mind on Facebook. Ok? That’s important for everybody — but especially for guys like us.
Oh…and after I think about the different types of clouds, I’m not done. I keep going. I saw this one recently (see below) I keep staring at the cloud formations until it comes to me, using my vast imagination (again like you) and I figure out what the cloud shape reminds me of. This one reminds me of a puppy dog.
I am interested, Mr Hawking, to find out if your mind works this way too and if you agree the cloud looks a lot like a little puppy dog? Cutie, huh?!
Anyway, congrats for joining Facebook. This may be the most exciting and surprising intellectual journey of your life. And I suspect — if you give it a chance–you will finally get some answers to all your questions about the universe.
Three months, 11,000 miles of travel and visiting more than 20 cities, we are leaving China. After all this, what do we think of China?
China brings to mind one word: wow. I knew very little of China prior to coming here. All I knew was that we had three months, where we would go and what we would do was completely unknown. Wow, how time flew, we did so many things, traveled to so many places. Wow, the people I met. Wow, this country is beautiful. Wow, the trains. Wow, the people. Wow, the history. Wow, China, wow.
Some big, eye-opening wows I am not going to miss: etiquette and hygiene. I found that no matter what, I can’t stand it when people chew with their mouth open. I can’t eat when lips are being smacked together and half-chewed pieces of food are falling from people’s lips. I can’t believe that children are expected to do their business on the sidewalk, when there are public bathrooms everywhere. It is not that the infrastructure for cleanliness doesn’t exist, they have made an honorable effort, but etiquette and hygiene just doesn’t seem to be the cultural norm. Wow, I look forward to being in a place where people are not spitting on bus floors and I have to dodge human feces on the sidewalk.
As good a place as any?
A father holds his child while it defecates in the middle of the Forbidden City, one of China’s largest tourist attractions. A bathroom was less than 100 meters away.
The good, no great, wow, surpass my gripes. My biggest wow was the honesty of the people. I have traveled all around the world, dealt with people of all cultures, yet I have seen few as honest as the Chinese people I dealt with. There was no foreigner pricing, what the locals pay, you pay. I didn’t have to negotiate for a bowl of noodles like in Hanoi, worry about getting overcharged for entrance tickets like in Thailand, or worry about being robbed like on buses in Cambodia. Sure, prices at markets are quoted to be negotiated, but the daily transactions, complete with posted prices, was amazing. A few times I tried to round up my bill to not have a pocketful of change, but was forcedto take my change. Wow, thank you China, for your honest people. Clearly they exported all their shady people to the world’s Chinatowns.
Wow, the infrastructure. China is pumping money into its roads, trains and national infrastructure. It is clear that not very long ago this infrastructure was pretty bad. We rode on many unpaved streets, riddled with holes, but were happy to see that brand new highways and streets are being built almost everywhere. We rode every type of China’s trains and were amazed by their quality and service to everywhere. It is true, you need to buy your tickets early or you end up in the “cattle class” of hard seats, but any higher class and “wow”, what a nice, affordable way to travel. We rode the trains almost 10,000 miles and have no complaints. Wow.
China is an amazing country. If you haven’t been, add it to your future travel plans. In the future, with all the changes, travel here will only get better. I assure you communication will be a problem, but the people will work with you to help you. The storekeepers will help you get what you need. The trains will take you where you want to go. Wow, I’m going to miss traveling in China.
Saying ‘goodbye’ to China will be like saying goodbye to a close friend, she has treated me so well and provided so many amazing memories. I have to admit I was nervous about what people were saying about her before I came and how it might affect my relationship with her. But, China has far exceeded any expectations I had and while not everything was perfect it wasn’t the horrible experience everyone warns you about, like when you room with your best friend in college. Regardless about what people say about my new friend behind her back I will always defend her, because until you get to know her you have no right to comment.
Yes, there are the glaring examples of poor hygiene and bad table manners, but past that the other issues regarding travel in China are surmountable. The vast distances to travel are combated with nice, clean trains even if you do have to plan ahead. There is a considerable language barrier, but the people are surprisingly helpful in trying to understand you. Best of all they won’t rip you off just because you don’t speak their language. I was always shocked by the low prices of things and that it was the same price as the locals paid.
What I will miss most about China is the scenery, which never failed to amaze me. Around every corner was a new panorama of breathtaking beauty. The sights in China are so unique as well, no other country has a 5,500 mile wall, five holy mountains, including the best view of the world’s tallest mountain and countless awe-inspiring temples, monasteries and Buddhas. The amount of things to see in China could keep you busy for years. It certainly kept us running at a frenetic pace to see over 20 cities in the past three months, but it was more than worth it. From back alleyways in Pingyao and the rice terraces of Yuanyang to the majestic mountains of Tibet, China’s superlatives will be hard to beat.
Next to the scenery the best part of China is the food, the sheer variety and incredible tastes of this vast country were delicious to explore. I loved the skewers of meat hot off the grill and pitchers of beer for just a dollar in our first China stop: Qingdao. Since then the Peking duck in Beijing, spicy Sichuan food in Chengdu and the interesting yak options in Tibet made for some of my best food memories thus far. With meals costing between 50 cents and fifteen dollars you can’t go wrong.
The only thing that can make great views and delicious food better is sharing it with amazing people and China delivers on this front as well. We met some of the most intelligent, interesting and well traveled people on the road in China. From English teachers in Qingdao to fellow travelers on the hiking trail in Tiger Leaping Gorge the people we met in China will remain one of the highlights of China. It was always fun to get to a new hostel and run into an old friend, many a times this caused us to be up until all hours of the night catching up on each others travels. I will miss all of our diverse China friends.
I will try not to cry, but I won’t say “goodbye,” instead I will say “see you soon” because I will most definitely be back. I know there will be a lot of changes between now and then so; “keep in touch, will ‘ya?”
It has become a disturbing trend lately for politicians to defer expressing an opinion by explaining that they aren’t an expert in whatever area is under discussion. (I’m old enough to remember when the most common use of this phrase was commercial actors saying, “I’m not a doctor – but I play one on TV!”) I’m not a scientist either, but I know enough to figure that when 97% of climate change studies attribute it directly to human activity, that’s a pretty good argument.
In fact, I’ve heard that phrase used so often lately that it has become an ‘earworm’ (a disturbingly evocative description of those songs or soundbites that get stuck in one’s head). So here’s my musical response to this over-used excuse . . .
Number one tour guide in Vietnam? Me. Being your own tour guide can save you money, but could present you with unexpected adventures such as needing a quick repair job. When we got to Mui Ne Beach I saw that the town was a straight line along the beach, a very long line. It was roughly 20km roundtrip to see Mui Ne and another 40km roundtrip to Phan Thiet. To tour both Mui Ne and Phan Thiet would be about $30 USD, but renting a motorcycle was $10. Quick math and motorcycle experience made it a clear choice, rent the bike.
I gave LOCAVORista the full Mui Ne tour and continued to Phan Thiet. I made it 3/4 of the way through the city tour and thought, “I hope this thing holds out, I am a long way from where we started.” Within 5 minutes I felt the rear end shimmy as the engine began to cut out. Immediately I made LOCAVORista get off the bike and asked, “Is it flat?” She laughed and responded, “Completely”.
I walked the bike over to the repair shop and they immediately started speaking to me in Vietnamese, because they, as everyone here, thinks that I am Vietnamese. Irregardless of what I may look like to them I had no clue what was going on. This clearly was a repair shop but they were saying no and pointing.
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Erica and Matt Chua: Motorcycle Maintenance in Vietnam
I haven’t confirmed this with my parents, but I am quite sure that this is the first year I will not be attending the Great Minnesota Get Together since I was born 29 years ago. The Minnesota State Fair is my favorite “holiday” and a Minnesota tradition I can really get behind. Lutefisk being the only other Minnesota tradition that I [unwillingly] participate in each year, but who can get behind lutefisk as a tradition for anyone but their worst enemies?
It’s hard to pick the best part of the Minnesota State Fair. Is it the abundance of twangy country acts performing for free at the Leinie’s Lodge? The grandstand shows featuring bands that were popular decades ago, but you can still sing-a-long to? The people watching? The toothless carnies in the Midway or the plethora of food on a stick?
While the people watching is second to none, leading you to stare uncomfortably at entire families of people so rotund they couldn’t find a shirt to cover their belly and are eating chocolate dipped bacon on a stick. Going to the State Fair can really be an esteem booster as you leave wondering when the last time many of your fellow fair goers saw their feet. But, the people watching wouldn’t be half as entertaining without an artery-clogging treat on a stick to eat while you cattily observe.
It is especially fun to see what those crazy fair organizers will come up with each year to out-do deep-fried Snickers Bars. Some of my favorites include; pork chop on a stick, I’m convinced it tastes better just because it’s on a stick, mini donuts and the best Fair treat there is a buttery piece of sweet corn on the cob. None of the food on a stick I have encountered in Asia has been as tasty as Fair food, but it’s been much more bizarre.
Below are the top five foods on a stick I’ve had in Asia:
1. Ecto-Cooler Slime Dough Balls
These were actually looking like a good snack option as they were being made fresh at the night market in Luoyang, China. However, after we ordered them we were getting ready to pay when the sauce extravaganza started. First was a squirt of what looked like hot sauce, then a “healthy” helping of mayonnaise, which didn’t see too bad until she squeezed on the neon-green ecto-cooler slime and sprinkled pork floss on top. We ate them anyway as we had paid a whole 40 cents for them and I can’t tell you if they were good or bad because there were so many strange flavors happening at once it seemed like something only Willy Wonka could have dreamed up.
2. Ancient Ice Cream
This is genius, right up there with dippin’ dots only far less creative. From what we can tell this “Ancient Ice Cream” is no different than any other ice cream except in it’s cement block shape and high price. But someone is making money because we fell for it.
3. Deep fried gyoza roll
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Erica and Matt Chua: Food on a Stick
I had only one goal for India: survive. Hours after I wanted to be in a hospital, between gasps for air, I wondered if my goal of survival was too ambitious. The trip between Agra and Varanasi started well enough. We had reserved beds in an air conditioned sleeper car, complete with fresh linen that was Four Seasons compared to our crowded and sweaty, jail-like experience in General Seating. Shortly after laying down to sleep though the ride took a turn for the worst: I was struggling to breathe.
To put it gently, I have terrible allergies. One could say I’m allergic to life, but that would be an understatement, I’m allergic to dead and inanimate objects as well. Luckily my allergies are manageable: avoid horses, animal pens, and untidy, pet infested homes. If exposed to such situations my body floods my head with mucus, constricts my airways, and, in extreme circumstances, makes my whole body break itch. Overall, my allergies can quickly create an uncomfortable situation.
Only four times in my life have I actually considered that my body could suffocate itself. The previous times I had access to medical attention. This time I was out of bullets, I tried everything I was carrying to no avail; I needed medical attention and I needed it now. I didn’t know where the train was, where I could get help, or at what point barely breathing would become not breathing. It was during this crises that I realized I was not carrying the right medicine to deal with such situations.
As soon as LOCAVORista awoke she began peppering me with questions about my obvious issue. I tried to ease her concerns, but it was hard to hide my condition. The train was moving too slowly, minutes felt like hours and I wasn’t getting better. Finally I admitted: I need to go to the hospital.
After finally arriving in Varanasi and surviving past dozens of hotel touts we arranged a rickshaw to a private hospital. I was quickly seated with a physician that had a US medical degree on the wall. He was convinced I needed to spend a night in the hospital, have a chest x-ray, and get a cortisol shot. Accepting that I would only spend a night in an Indian hospital if I were severely bleeding or unconscious, he finally wrote orders for me to receive nebulization. My 12 hour ordeal came to an end after 10 minutes on the magical machine.
This situation made me reassess what I carry to fight my allergies. Previously I carried an arsenal against allergies in general, but nothing to deal with an emergency. Allergies are uncomfortable, but a breathing emergency can kill. I didn’t worry about emergencies at home as medical treatments are always near; while traveling, help may not be available when it’s needed most.
Due to this experience I re-evaluated what I’m carrying, specifically adding Prednisone for emergencies. This deals with my specific condition, for others though carrying an EPI-Pen may save their lives. Below is a list of the things that I carry to deal with allergies and allergy-induced asthma. Obviously you should consult a specialized physician who knows your specific conditions before setting off.
- Fexofenadine HCL (brandname Allegra or Telfast). This is my stalwart against general allergies and available inexpensively, over-the-counter, globally.
- Diphenhydramine (brandname Benadryl). This is the ultimate over-the-counter allergy stopper. The problem is that it knocks me out, one to two pills of this over a 12 hour period and my allergies are gone; but I will be sleeping for that entire period. When things go bad this clears my system.
- Albuterol Inhaler–PRESCRIPTION ONLY (brandname Ventolin). This is an emergency inhaler that helps me breathe when allergies are overcoming me.
- Flovent Inhaler–PRESCRIPTION ONLY (no generic at this time). This is a “daily use” corticosteroids inhaler that I use when I’ve been having extended breathing issues (multiple days). I use it until I feel confident that whatever has been aggravating my allergies is gone.
- Prednisone-PRESCRIPTION ONLY. I was not carrying this at the time of my asthma attack on the Indian train, but should have been. For an allergy induced asthma attack this is a literal lifesaver. I won’t travel the third world without it again.
Do you travel with medical conditions? How do you deal with emergencies when you are far from professional assistance?