Sanur Beach area, Denpasar, Bali, Oct. 29

For a day that was officially designated as “rest,” it sure got filled up with activity and discoveries. I was slow in getting going, having breakfast at 9:15 a.m….but then I realized from the number of other hotel guests also showing up at that time that, oh yeah, right, this is what people do when they are on vacation.

Since so much of my travel in the past ten years has been research related, I’m quite rusty in the skill of full-blown relaxation. I think it was the poet Gary Snyder who, in recounting a Zen teaching, said one of the hardest spiritual tasks is to “waste time conscientiously.” People were on their loungers by the pool at 9:15, had beers going by 11, and were still there at 4:00 when I took off for my second walk. Hope they have good dermatologists. I could go on at some length about the other guests and their physical dispositions (especially the scorched red German fellow with full upper body tattoo) but there are more interesting things to talk about.

My first walk of the day was in the late morning when I knew it’d be hot and sultry, but I wanted to try it out and see how well my “filters” were working.

(Digression: This is one conception of how we go through our lives and environments. It comes from Mr. Tokyo, who must navigate streets around the Shinjuku area on a regular basis and must therefore know what he’s talking about. He has teased me on past visits when I’m newly arrived and gawking
at this and that and he asks me, “Filters not in place, eh?” It’s easy to
create a long and interactive list of what these filters might be, ranging
from emotional states to general interpretive skills (based on education, 
background, gender, etc.), and all bound up with culture and any given
social moment shaped by historical forces & so on. The point is that we
all have them in operation much of the time, but knowing this is so makes
all the difference between awareness and default defense mechanisms.)

Before I even made it to the roundabout with the Ganesha statue in the middle marking the right turn to the beach, I stopped at a temple and tried to figure out what deities were involved and the directionality of the altars. Some faced east, others north, none west that I could tell, and it was all rather run down and in need of cleaning. I had already noticed the little offerings that businesses put out in front of their establishments–ranging from the smallest sandal shop to big resorts. (I’ll def. get more info. about these offerings in the coming days).

The beach itself was alternately glorious and squalid, expansive and claustrophobic. A long line of parasols with foreigners under each and every one was far back from the surf and in the shade of trees. Since it was around 11:30 a.m., hardly anyone except boys and fishermen were in the water, and there were signs out warning of jellyfish. I found a pavilion at the end of a little jetty and so could enjoy the relative calm of the mid-day lull.

Walked on past the Hyatt and wasn’t much impressed, then back to Sativa Sanur cottages for a siesta followed by a swim. The pool water was like a bathtub and, while refreshing simply because it’s not hot like the afternoon air, it was just too warm to stay in very long. But I felt rejuvenated afterwards and wanted to walk the other direction than what I did in the morning.

The path I thought I could take through the Hotel Mercur grounds turned out to be wrong on the map, so I continued until I found a road leading to beach access (one that went by a place called “Hidden Paradise”). And what a beach! It must have been some kind of school and work holiday because it was just full of local folks. I was the only foreigner in sight and so tried to sit in a shadow and not be conspicuous.


If there were jellyfish in the water, everyone was sure toughing it out. Little kids w/ parents (all women and girls were covered, if only in a t-shirt and short pants…but there were no swimsuits that I could see.) Men and boys were in their skivvies and that seemed normal. There were food vendors carrying big trays on top their heads, couples on dates all dressed up looking cool and pretty, families on blankets, young toughs carousing and noshing each other in water fights, little boys climbing up the side of parked boats to jump off, and all lit up in a late afternoon sunlight.


Adding to the scene was an abandoned trawler, listing slightly and waiting for the next typhoon to finally go down. In walking down the beach a bit, I heard an eerie hum that I at first thought was a recording but turned out to be an upright bamboo with vertical and triangular cuts in it. I wondered if it might be a talisman of some sort but the owner of the beachside restaurant said it was just for atmosphere. I wonder.  I loved the all-seeing boats lined up in a community of vision and order.  I hope they bring their owners plenty of fish (or tourists) and a sustainable income.


The walk back was a lesson in social stratification. Locals crammed into a small, heavily used, and poorly maintained beach area while just a few steps up the path (open to all) one enters the refined world of resort-land. There are gardens, lawns, restaurants in buildings rather than flimsy tin siding, security personnel, and of course the mostly caucasian clientele paying probably $150 a night and more.  Imagine a local person walking by a scene like this…



Bali diversity


Had a fairly smooth transition from the world of transportation, airports, and itineraries to the reality of 12:30 a.m. on-the-ground logistics.  I’m traveling very light (one carry on bag, one day pack) and so zoomed through the Denpasar airport where , exactly as requested, there was a driver holding a card w/ my name on it.  Such a welcome sight, and a nice guy as well: two kids, a girl 6 and a boy 12, who want to travel and see the world before they return to Bali.  

Finally made it to Sativa Sanur cottages around 1:15 and was surprised to see so much activity on the streets in the neighborhoods en route: restaurants still open, people in bars watching tv, clusters of scooter riders plotting their next move, couples walking the street hand in hand….and these are all locals, not foreign tourists.  

My first walk was to the beach about 10 min. away, and my first stop en route was at a temple.  Tomorrow I will have someone who can walk me through the various deities and symbols so dramatically displayed & am looking forward to the education.  I particularly like the little spirit offerings businesses put out on the sidewalk fresh each day & will include a photo if and when it is appropriate to take one.  

The heat is something else!  Reminds me of Japan in mid-August.  I guess that is what a hotel pool is for…although I hope the sunburned Germans drinking beer will let me in.



Thank you Japan • Hello Bali

This last day in Tokyo was spent catching up, working on projects I’ve delayed for one reason or another (letters of recommendation, a textbook chapter for Oxford to proofread, itinerary adjustments) and nursing a numbing head cold.  A night of eating and drinking w/ Mr. Tokyo, plus a change in the weather and poor sleep after the earthquake left me vulnerable.  Or perhaps one of the million people ahead of me on the sidewalk sneezed and I walked into that cloud.  At any rate, I hope Bali lets me recover.

Had a terrific Indian dinner w/ Max prior to his attendance at a vampire theme party.  It seems Halloween weekend is non-stop parties from Fri. to Sunday, so I appreciate that he could make time to meet me.  We had a good chat about recent work (his Honda TV commercial just started) and other opportunities at NHK that he’s will persue.  Turns out he’s the youngest foreign announcer they have right now, and the only one with native fluency in Japanese.  

I suppose this sounds like a typical doting parent, but it’s wonderful to see one’s kid doing well in the world.  My first night in Japan had me dropping bags at his apartment then rushing over to the Westin hotel for a fundraiser for breast-cancer research.  It was great to see him kick off the evening in front of a crowd of several hundred well-to-do people.  He may have picked up a little discipline from me about achieving long-term goals (nothing more long-term than starting a Ph.D. !) but his success as a translator, voice actor, MC, narrator, actor, and entrepeneur is entirely his own making.  Hang in there Mr. Tokyo!



There is quite a lot more to say about Japan–I haven’t even mentioned yet my amazing trip to Nagano–so I will be retroactive in the coming days as I ease into Bali and move slowly.  

Nor have I said anything about my forthcoming book…which I hear is now available in hardcover but not yet paperback.  Once it is published, you can count on shameless self-promotion!

What’s a blog for anyway?  To document, speculate about, reflect upon, analyze, and otherwise engage creatively the place and moment as they come.  One of our topics tonight at dinner was a review of the various dimensions of reality:  a single dot is the 1st dimension, a line is the second, space is the third, time is the fourth, and the fifth is a singing group from the 1960s.

See you later, Tokyo!



7.1 quake gets my attention


No damage, no injuries reported, so a majority of Japanese will likely shrug it off and forget about it.  On the other hand, I will remember the 3 a.m. roller coaster ride that the 19th fl. of this Shinjuku hotel provided.   I suppose I should not be surprised after all the years I’ve lived in the SF area (as well as about 8 years in Japan), but I’m still awestruck at the power of these tectonic shifts.  The map above shows how far away from Tokyo the quake was (and how close to Fukushima).  

But wait, you say…wasn’t the 1989 Loma Prieta / World Series earthquake in SF area the same size?  Actually, it was 7.1 (some say 6.9) and had the following effect:

The Loma Prieta earthquake, also known as the Quake of ’89 and the World Series Earthquake,[4] was a major earthquake that struck the San Francisco Bay Area of California on October 17, 1989, at 5:04 pm local time. Caused by a slip along the San Andreas Fault, the quake lasted 10–15 seconds[1] and measured 6.9 on both themoment magnitude scale[5] (surface-wave magnitude 7.1) and on the open-ended Richter Scale.[1] The quake killed 63[2] people throughout Northern California, injured 3,757[3] and left some 3,000–12,000[1][6][7][8] people homeless.

So the Japanese will continue to ride upon the slippery cosmic catfish whose movements cause earthquakes…as I head to another region prone to even more seismic “adjustments” on Monday.    Dear Mother Earth….be gentle w/ us fragile humans, even though after all the environmental damage we’ve caused, we hardly deserve it.


Temple or shrine? Does it matter?

The morning of my Sasebo departure, a pre-breakfast walk took me up the hillside and towards a heavily wooded area that, given the density of buildings surrounding the green, had to be a religious site.  Past experience has taught me that a temple or shrine would be tucked in the watershed, though there might be an outpost on top.

Approaching from the backside, I first had some stairs to ascend.  Neighbors starting their Sunday were more than surprised to encounte a foreign visitor who talked to them about the weather, the fine morning, and asked what was up ahead.  


I rounded a corner of steps carved into a sandstone boulder and was amazed to see a sheer rock face overhang, w/ all kinds of bodhisattva and buddhas below. Many had their original heads knocked off during the brief but destructive crackdown on Buddhism that lasted primarily from 1869-1875 as the feudal era ended (temples were used for repressive government agendas) and Japan’s modernization began in full with the Meiji period.


Photos show the statues with heads, but usually these are not the originals but ones replaced by similar yet often oddly proportioned ones. The place perfectly combined Shinto and Buddhist practices via Shingon traditions, w/ a fine statue of Kobo Daishi (or Kûkai) on the main temple altar. The shrine altar, however, backed up against the cliff and probably went back into a cave.


Just a wonderful place to discover at 7:45 a.m. on a Sunday morning.   


Viewing the Domain / “Kunimi” in Sasebo, Kyushu

Who says a blog has to be a linear accounting of time and place?  Here’s a quick flashback to 24 hours outside Nagasaki in the port city of Sasebo, where I visited a former student now living and teaching in the JET program.   I thought I’d listen to her stories of adjustment and cultural adaptation, but a certain mountain intervened.

Sterling McClain must have taken three of my classes during her career at USF.  A recent  grad, she is now teaching in the JET program on an island near Saikai. She’s been in Japan a whole 2.5 months and will stay 2 years if she can surmount the challenges of an incompetent supervisor and relative isolation.


Knowing of my love for mountains, Sterling wanted to show me a trail she’d climbed recently, and so that’s where we headed after a nice Thai restaurant lunch in a hard-to-reach neighborhood. Like Nagasaki, Sasebo is situated around its fine harbor–one currently being used in part by the U.S. Navy (a whole other topic)–and so neighborhoods tend to go up the hillside.

Sterling’s little car and GPS took us to a bigger mountain than she had in mind, and having thus being unable to find the mountain she climbed before, we aimed at Kunimi-yama, “seeing the domain mountain.” This is an old tradition in Japan that originates in China and was well-established in the early Nara period (early 7th century). A little homework would be required to learn whether and for how long the practice was carried out at this site.  Several years ago I visited a mountain outside Nara named for this custom, accessed via a couple temples with bragging rights that emperors visited, climbed, and viewed their domains.


Without a map or local knowledge about the terrain, we simply tried to follow signs and trails, which went well enough until a multitude of animal tracks (wild boar and deer) led us astray and so required some reorientation to get back on trail.  Eventually, and after some thrashing around on steep hillsides, we found the trail and headed to the top. Since the trails were not well-maintained, I had braced myself for all trees and no view. Instead, there was a massive concrete viewing platform that had been constructed in the 1960s. Up above the trees, we felt positively regal, with vast distances, contours, mountains, shorelines, and cloud colors to enthrall and delight. As I told Sterling, Kunimiyama provided one of the best Kyushu views ever.


This was not an easy walk, but S. did not complain, kept up with me pretty well, and was a tough cookie descending rocky and tricky slopes with only an impromptu walking stick as assistance (I got one too, even though I had good tread on my boots). The dwindling light and approaching darkness motivated us to keep moving until finally we reached familiar sights and found the car. Wrung out and pooped, we were satisfied that we done something significant and deserved a reward of Chinese food.

A final surprise was going through the Kunimi tunnel heading back to Sasebo and catching the sunset in full regalia. Passing cars compromised the aesthetics of the moment but oh well. We found dinner (and Yosekoi celebrants) west of the station in a Chinese place, then walked back and said our goodbyes.



Tokyo Return

My trip back to Tokyo was effortless.  An easy bus ride to the Nagasaki airport, a courteous security check that did not require shoes to be removed and which questioned, tested, then returned my measly 3 oz. of water (with apologies for making me wait an extra 15 seconds).  There was free WiFi, TV sound turned down, food and drink at every turn, and a nice view out the windows of the boarding area.  I flew on Solaseed, a no-frills airline started in 2002 in Miyazaki, Kyushu after the domestic market was deregulated.

What I will also remember is the tarmac crew (two young women in overalls and a man conducting traffic) standing there and waving goodbye using their entire right arm.  When the plane turned away from the terminal and fully onto the runway to start its taxi, these three people bowed deeply, sustaining it for a couple seconds before going about their business.  Quite touching…a kind of ritual that has to be done even if there is no audience to appreciate it.

Back to my son’s amazing 7th fl. apartment on the edge of Shinjuku, although after one week away, the construction sounds on adjacent buildings has grown more insistent.  I’ll probably move to a hotel for a couple nights since I have two letters of recommendation to write, a textbook chapter I wrote (and illustrated w/ mostly my photos) for Oxford to review, and preparations to make before heading to Bali on Monday.

Oh yes, and there will probably be a typhoon (number 27) that comes through on Fri. and Saturday, with another one pushed further out to sea at the same time.  My son will head to Hiroshima for a TV broadcast on the production of sake in which he is the lead actor, but hopefully the typhoon won’t be that rough on travel plans.  (More about him in a later post…)

In the next couple days, I will also update this record of events that took place earlier in the month.   Here is the view from his place after the last typhoon roared through just before I left for Nagasaki.  Unfortunately, some 28 people were killed due to mudslides on an island to the far south of Tokyo.