Monday, September 28, 2009

Hansen's Competition

In an effort to win some cash last week, I entered this competition called "Hansens Loves San Francisco." The competition was basically a forum for sharing your pride of your hometown while capturing a Hansen's soda in the photo. I've never entered any competition before (let alone a photography one) but a friend recommended I try this out. Plus for every online vote you receive, Hansen's donates $0.10 to the National Gardening Association. I'm no gardener but why not support it anyway right?!

There are four weeks of competition and each week one photo is selected as winner. The 4 weekly winners then compete head-to-head for the most votes over a 10-day period to be awarded the $5,000 grand prize. I entered Week 2 and here is my photo!

I thought this particular photo of AT&T Park would be a great fit because it encompasses so much scenery that is unique to San Francisco. There are thousands of fans who come not only to watch Giants baseball but to enjoy the spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay. What better way to spend a hot summer day than at the ballpark?

I entered Week 2 of the competition and although I rallied a bunch of friends, family and co-workers to vote for me, I didn't end up winning. It was fun sneaking that Hansen's can into the ballpark though and I have no regrets :) GO Giants!

Friday, May 29, 2009

I heart Jenny Lewis

Hands down, my ultimate favorite thing to do in the Bay Area is listen to live music...and what better venue is there to go to other than THE FILLMORE in SF! Classic, plus I dig the free posters :-) I saw Jenny Lewis play there last night and she rocked it. What an amazing performance! You might recognize her from the indie rock band Rilo Kiley. They're hit song "Portions for Foxes" is one of my faves. She's also recorded a few songs with The Postal Service and I am seriously in love with her voice!

If you haven't heard her music or the new album- Acid Tongue, then the you must! (Check out Jenny's encore performance- Acid Tongue).

Opening the show with her song "See Fernando"

Jenny, Johnny & Farmer Dave

Jenny's singer/songwriter band mate (and boyfriend!)- Johnny Rice

Jenny and Johnny singing a duet- best stage couple EVER!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Balinese Hindu

Bali is sometimes called 'the island of a thousand temples.' Without counting the number of household temples, there are between ten and twenty in every village. These temples are places for the Hindu Balinese to worship many important Brahman or Hyang Widhi manifestations. It was with great pride that Maguna and his brother Nyoman escorted the five of us to their place of worship- the Brahman temple of Ubud.

The customs and etiquette when visiting Hindu temples have a long history and are filled with symbolism. Maguna and his family have held many small ceremonies at this temple before. For worship and prayer, Maguna's custom is to bring with him an offering of flowers. These flowers symbolize a gift from the natural world. Visitors and worshipers to Hindu temples are required to remove shoes and cover up in a sarong before entering them. Since many of us (except for me!) were sarong-less, we had to purchase the proper attire outside of the gates.

Upon entering the temple grounds, we noticed several stray dogs wandering around all over the place. It turns out that it is actually quite common for strays,
sacred cows and various species of birds to congregate inside temples. The Hindu religion teaches that all life-forms are created by Brahma and that humankind needs to share the world with the animal kingdom.

Temples of this kind are often so picturesque and beautiful. It was instantly clear to me why they are the object of interests to tourists and photographers that come to Bali from all over the world. The moment we stepped out of the temple we became an immediate target to many of the locals. I was overwhelmed and frightened as we were engulfed into a circle of children holding their hands out and young women waving around post cards, bracelets and sarongs. Tourists have become few and far between in this town, particularly due to the sudden economical changes we are facing. I was able to see first hand how much the lack of tourism in Bali has affected many of these people. Their desperation and unnaturally aggressive behavior was slightly unnerving.

I began to understand how the Hindu religion teache
s compassion and tolerance towards the poor and weak. At the exit areas of the temples worshipers or visitors often distribute Prasad and give out spare change to beggars, mentally or physically challenged individuals, and destitute women and children. In the end the visitor exits the temple experience with "Prasad" in their hands and a changed mental state. Maguna urged us to contribute what we could to these people, and we happily did so. This experience certainly did teach me the rewards of compassion.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Trek to Ubud, Bali

A couple months prior to our arriving in Indonesia, my buddy Jimmy went on a Carnival cruise with his family where he befriended Maguna- a Carnival staff member and a local Balinese. We were fortunate to be visiting Maguna's home country during his two month break from Carnival. He works overseas for 10 months straight, and once a year gets a long and much needed vacation for about 2 months. Maguna tagged along with us throughout our week in Bali as an amazing behind the scenes guide and TRANSLATOR!
(From left to right: Tyler, Alex, Maguna, Jimmy, Cav, me).

Our first night out with Maguna we ate at an authentic Indonesian restaurant and afterwards he took us to see live music and go dancing. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Maguna liked to party. Then again, I can understand how anyone working on a cruise ship for 10 months straight would want to l
et loose upon disembarking. I can't even imagine living on a ship at sea for 10 months in a row, I would literally go crazy!

Following our night out, Maguna and his older brother Nyoman rented a van and drove us north to Ubud where we'd catch a Balinese play, go to a Safari park to ride elephants, visit an active volcano and enter one of the most sacred Hindu temples in all of Indonesia. Needless to say we accomplished more in this single day then we did the rest of the trip. Although each activity was so different from the next, I can't say that anything beats riding elephants in Bali. I was looking forward to that the entire trip, and definitely did not leave disappointed :-)

Early in the evening before returning back to our hostel, Maguna guided us to the top of Ubud where we had the most gorgeous panoramic views of Bali. We could turn in a circle and see all of Mount Batur and hundreds of temples and rice paddies. Mount Batur is one of the most active volcano's in Bali and still has eruptions every few years. It was apparent when looking around the volcano where the lava flow had ended from its last eruption in 2000. Based on Mt. Batur's volcanic history, eruptions tend to occur once every couple of years. If that is the case then the town of Ubud might just be a little over-due for another eruption. Can you even imagine seeing something like that? So crazy!

Arriving in Beautiful Bali

Eight days into my South East Asian excursion, the random and spontaneous thought occurred to fly to Denpasar *Bali* Indonesia for our final week of travel. I've always thought of Bali as renowned for its highly developed arts and beautiful white sand beaches. After reading Eat Pray Love I immediately knew it was a place I wanted to visit- and not just because the exchange rate is 10,000 Rupiah to the US dollar! (Yes, its totally a chick appealing book) The Balinese culture has so many different influences that make it unique, which I think is what made me so curious about it to begin with. From India to China to Tibet, Bali adheres to many combination's of existing cultures and religions. The majority of Indonesia's small Hindu minority (93.18%) reside in Bali, while the remaining population follows mostly Islam- similarly to Malaysia.

After an extremely brief contemplation, the decision was easy- Bali it was! Mike ended up taking a train back down to Singapore while the remaining five of us purchased flights from KL to Denpasar. Upon arrival we made it into the town of Kuta- one of the more hustle and bustle touristy towns within Bali. As our agenda wouldn't have it any other way, we landed just in time for yet another rainstorm. It was too dangerous to attempt to hop on a motorbike or take a taxi to anywhere outside of Kuta until the rain calmed down, so we ended up staying for more than just a couple days. Although it wasn't ideal to stay in such a crowded town for so long, we enjoyed exploring the area. Alex and I got a 2 hour body and foot massage for about $10. That was awesome! :-)

At our hostel we met a nice kid selling day trip packages to tourists- his name was Imade, otherwise known as the "Sas". Sas was very sweet and loved to chat it up- he smiled from ear to ear at the sight of us Americans. As we approached him he proudly said "whaddup homies?!" and then turned to his friends giggling while glancing our way for approval. It was cute. We could tell he was slightly shy with the ladies, but really enjoyed getting to know all the people who passed by his little stand. We ended up hangin out with Sas a bunch while at our hostel- practicing with him our pronunciation of Indonesian words like "lebe morra" (cheaper please) and "terima kasih" (thank you).

At the age of 21, Sas taught us all an incredible amount about ourselves and the Balinese culture. He would wear a tiny pink flower behind his right ear every time we'd see him, and it was only after I noticed this with Sas, that I began to notice ALL Balinese wearing the same tiny flower behind their ears too. Flowers are worn this way during prayer or ceremony sessions, which occur multiples times a day.

We watched Sas provide several offerings to the gods, in which he'd put together a basket of incense, rice, crackers and flowers and place it neatly out in front of his stand. Sas said that the Balinese Hindu believe that knowledge is an essential medium to achieve the goal of life as a human being. The offerings to his gods occur three times a day, and is a ritual of giving back what the gods have given him. It is a sort of sharing that is based on their gratitude for the richness of life, and brings good health to themselves and their family. Sas taught us that to smile will bring us good fortune and good weather, so to never frown. Needless to say with all the rain we had been seeing throughout our trip, all of our mouths began to get sore from smiling so much!

Witnessing the amount of wisdom and logic that comes so naturally to Sas at his young age surprised most of us. Sas has never been anywhere outside of Bali before- as is the same with most Balinese I had learned. It became clear to me after meeting him how fortunate I was to be able to have the luxury of traveling- to learn so much from actually emerging yourself completely within another culture. The world would be a more beautiful place if others shared his optimism, gratitude and appreciation of life.

Cameron Highlands

No trip to Cameron Highlands would be complete without a visit to the tea gardens and strawberry farms! ( be honest there isn't really anything else to do in Cameron Highlands besides those types of tourist attractions). The six of us high tailed it from Penang with one of the craziest bus drivers I have ever witnessed. The ride was long and curvy, and the fact that we were all slightly hungover, and on top of that getting motion sickness from the driver accelerating around insanely sharp turns, was not exactly the most thrilling experience. We were all pretty relieved to pack up our belongings and never look back at that bus again.

As luck would have it, we arrived in Cameron Highlands just in time for some crazy thunderstorms. It began pouring rain upon our arrival, and we rushed around the town without umbrellas trying to find a hostel to stay. Let me just say that we probably would not have survived without our Lonely Planet copy of Malaysia 'on a shoe string.' That guide was so legit, and I would recommend it to anyone.

On our first full day in Cameron Highlands, we took a shuttle into town and walked 2 or 3 miles to the BOH tea plantation. The plantation was packed with tourists from all over the world, but the scenic views from up top where absolutely breathtaking. As we hiked down into the valley we were able to see rows and rows of tea bushes being maintained by local gardeners. We spent a significant amount of time at the factory, watching the production process and lounging in the cafeteria sipping Mango & Rose Lychee flavored tea and eating crumpets. Yes, crumpets.

It was interesting to read that the BOH tea factory produces 4 million kgs of tea annually- which translates to about 5.5 million cups per day. This represents about 70% of all tea produced in Malaysia. This being the case I could have easily purchased a bunch of BOH tea at a local convenience store outside of the plantation, but instead opted to spend 5x as much at the BOH gift shop. Why not, right?!

After spending a majority of the day at the BOH tea gardens, we headed off to the strawberry farms, only to get caught up in yet another rainstorm. I love strawberries and all, but I was not too impressed with the farm that we went too. It was closed due to the rain so we didn't even get to pick our own strawberries! I was bummed...but immediately got over it as soon as we discovered an ice cream stand that specialized in strawberry toppings.

We only spent a couple of days in Cameron Highlands, and our final evening we all went out to a Chinese style "Melting Pot" for dinner. We ordered the works and got all sorts of crazy unidentifiable meats and vegetables stacked tall on porcelain pink plates. At one point 'during the meal we realized we were chewing on jellyfish. Although it tasted totally disgusting, we all agreed that with every bite it was sweet sweet revenge against that a-hole jellyfish that got me a few days back.

Cheers to that!

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Jellyfish

There are two things that are a part of my official "I will not let that happen to me in this lifetime" list.
#1) Agreeably letting a friend pee on me #2) Getting stung in jellyfish infested waters. I can now cross both of those off the list. I've always admired the beauty of the jellyfish but NEVER did I expect to ever be caught up in the ocean with one!

I had a bit of a rough start once we got to Penang. The six of us hiked 2 hours to a secluded beach called "Turtle Beach." We had heard from a passerby that there were jellyfish in the waters and to be careful if we planned on swimming. Of course, during the 2 minutes I actually entered the water (hardly waist deep) I felt the sharpest pain on my right thigh, then on my left thigh and on my foot. It was like being electrocuted! After only about a minute and a half, both of my thighs started swelling up with pink blisters. It looked and felt similar to what happens after a bad burn. I wasn't able to identify the jellyfish at the time, but the most common species in Penang is the Chrysaora Quinquecirrha jellyfish. Although their stings are not lethal, the toxins emitted from their tentacles are poisonous and cause temporary paralysis. I was fortunate to be so close to the shore!

Locals helped out by spreading plant aloe over the stings

I know we've all heard at one point or another that the best remedy for a jellyfish sting is pee, right? Well...Mike was gracious enough to relieve himself over my blistered legs. I must say that no matter what the circumstance, you just cannot help but laugh at the sight of a friend rushing over to save the day with urine! It was only after this that I discovered that the whole 'urine antidote' idea is a total myth. In fact, it actually has the opposite effect because it releases more of the jellyfish venom from the wound- whoops! (Clearly none of us knew this at the time).

Learning Experience. Great Story. I'm a Jellyfish Survivor.