Last Photos from Southeast Asia

Phoenix, Arizona, United States

Well, here they are: the final photos from my trip. Lots and lots of them. (You can find the full set on my photos page.)

I still have more to write as well, and hopefully I’ll do that soon — about Northern Vietnam, Thailand for Songkran, the seder in Phuket, Bali, Java, Singapore. But pictures for now.

Singapore (May 2016)

Java, Indonesia (May 2016)

Bali, Indonesia (April-May 2016)

Thailand (April 2016)

Vietnam (March-April 2016)

Passing Over to Bali

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

I’m in Bali, and it’s better.

Back in the 1990s, I went to a World Music Institute performance by a Balinese gamelan group at Symphony Space, in Manhattan. I probably went to the concert because every time I went into one of those global craft stores and asked about the thing I liked most, it was from Bali.

I’d never heard anything like it. The climax of the show was the kecak monkey dance, which blew my mind. Recordings can’t do justice to the weird ways that the sound traveled and shifted around the room as the dancers chanted in complex, interweaving patterns. Since then, I’ve dreamed of visiting Bali, to hear the music in the place it came from.

Tonight I lived that dream. I sat in the front row at the Ubud Palace and watched a performance of Balinese dance and gamelan music, performed at a high level. It was wonderful. It capped a day that also included a visit to a jungle full of monkeys and temples, a wander through galleries of Indonesian art and handicrafts, and a lunch overlooking a river. Then we went out and had a delicious Balinese dinner, followed by gelato made with local ingredients.

A new adventure

It’s good to be on a new adventure again. Indonesia is somewhere new: new currency, new food, new languages to reckon with. Bali is still culturally connected to other places I’ve been — shades of Myanmar and especially Malaysia — but it feels distinct too. The landscape is different, and so is the culture: no more karst mountains or reclining Buddhas.

My Dutch friend, Leander, and I will spend a couple more days here in Ubud, soaking up the culture and going on a pre-dawn hike to the top of a volcano. Then we’re hoping to rent a car and drive all over the island, going wherever the road and our whims take us.

It feels good to be doing something new again. Not only is this a good place to be right now, to refresh my Southeast Asia adventure; it’s also making me feel more positive about the new life I will be creating in a few months in South Korea. A night and a day in Bali has left me feeling refreshed and hopeful.

Seder in Phuket

Backing up a bit, I should note that the Chabad seder in Phuket was impressive: some 400 people, mostly Israelis, packed a big hall at the Novotel to celebrate Passover. There were more people at the Chabad House as well. (The seder was impressive, but Phuket was not; Patong Beach was my least favorite place in all of Thailand.)

I sat at the English-speaking table with Levi Shemtov, a remarkable young guy who’s buddies with Rabbi Shmuel Tiechtel from Chabad of ASU and runs a kosher restaurant in Uruguay, and I also sat next to a guy — Mark something — whose mom lives in Lucas Valley, and who has been to Chabad of Marin a few times, and who used to live in Phuket for about ten years.

I’m not very religious, but I’m grateful for what Chabad has done, which is to re-create a global network of synagogues and Jewish points of contact, something that existed across the world for centuries but was devastated during World War II. To put on a kosher seder for 400 people in Phuket is no easy feat! Indeed, the maror (bitter herbs) got held up by Thai customs, which in this case defeated Jewish customs. (Personally, I declared eggplant a bitter herb and made the blessing on that.)

The seder was what seders should be: joyous, chaotic, raucous, a confused muddle. The food was great and there was lots of it. It arrived in the wrong order. People stood up in groups for no apparent reason. Half the room was on Hallel while the other half was still eating. It was, in other words, like every good seder I’ve ever been to, writ large. And in Thailand.

The Beginning of the End

Patong Beach, Phuket, Thailand

Yesterday I bought my ticket home, and my heart broke a little.

It’s getting to be time. I’ve moved on average every 2.5 days for the last six months or so, and I’m tired. I’ve noticed it in small but telling ways: not bothering to blog about Northern Vietnam or Songkran, caring less about taking good photos, doing less exploring on my own and booking more package tours so I don’t have to figure it out.

Still, it hurt more than I expected to put a final date on this adventure, to cap it and say I’m going home. (I’ll be back in Phoenix on May 18.)

What hurts most is that I will be saying goodbye to someone I met at the very beginning of my trip. Someone who has become rather important to me, as it turns out. She’ll take me to the airport, and then maybe I won’t ever see her again. We always sort of knew that the day would come, but it’s none too comfy to see the date on the calendar.

Bali before bailing

Before that day comes, though, I still have one more big adventure to go: Indonesia and Singapore. Tomorrow I’m flying from Phuket to Bali, and I have 17 days to explore Indonesia. From there I’ll go to Singapore for four days, where I will meet up with my important Bangkok someone.

Altogether, that’s 21 days (plus two more at the end in Bangkok) — just two days less than I spent on my trips to Myanmar and to Laos, both of which felt like they went on for a good long time — possibly too long. So I’m not done. I have quite a bit to go.

But the end is on the horizon. The end of this adventure that has occupied my thinking for so long.

And then it will be time for new adventures. For some time in the US, a visit to NYC, and on to a new life in Korea. Much more to come.