Real Men Wear Sarongs

The sarong, that classic piece of Southeast Asian clothing and indispensable item of backpacker fashionwear, never seems to go out of style. Another thing that never seems to change is that Westerners, especially Western guys, don’t know how to wear them. I’ve seen quite a few guys walking around looking rather silly because they can’t take more than a few steps without retucking the fabric, or otherwise they have to constantly use one hand to hold it up. The Indonesians make it look so effortless….

But it can be, really! Bob and I each bought a sarong and the woman who sold them to us was kind enough to explain to us how to tie them. For women, it’s pretty easy. Simply wrap the whole thing around yourself twice, then tie the top two corners together. For men, it’s a little more complicated, but nothing impossible. Check it out:

First, wrap the sarong around yourself about one and a half times. Any old way you like. Make sure it’s tight enough that it won’t fall off, but you can still breathe!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There are men’s and women’s sarongs, distinguished both by the colors and the designs or pattern used. To the untrained eye, it was pretty hard to tell where the line was drawn, but I think the one Bob chose is definitely masculine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then it gets a little tricky. The basic idea is to fold the remaining fabric like an accordion. Keep the fabric tight as you go. The pleats should start out bigger and get smaller, i.e. the length of fabric for the bottommost fold should be the longest, the fold after that slightly shorter, and so on.

 

The bottom one should be several inches long, but the top one might be just two inches or so. When finished, you’ll be able to see all the pleats. The number of pleats you make is up to you.

 

 

Finally, all the way around, fold over two to three inches of fabric at the waist. This will help keep the folds in place.

 

 

 

 

 

Voila! Pair with a nice shirt and traditional cap for the complete Balinese look. For women, wear a long- or 3/4- sleeve shirt and complete the look with a scarf tied around the waist. This is the traditional outfit, and of course many Balinese wear t-shirts and jeans nowadays, but both men and women still dress traditionally for formal or dressy occasions. And they never have to walk around with one hand glued to their sarong… now you know why!

Eating Indonesia

While it’s easy to find Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese food in the U.S., Indonesian cuisine is more elusive. With the exception of fried rice, tempeh, and satay, I really didn’t know what to expect. Naturally, I was pleasantly surprised, both because I like to eat everything and more importantly, Indonesian food is absolutely delicious!

Being an archipelago of over 17,000 islands, there is, of course, a lot of regional variation. We were in Bali first, which is notably a majority-Hindu island. The cuisine doesn’t feature beef at all. The country as a whole, however, is majority Muslim, so there is very little pork production. Chicken, fish, eggs, and soybeans are the main sources of protein. Actually, we agreed that Indonesia makes THE BEST fried chicken we have ever had. It’s so tender and juicy, never dry or chewy. I don’t know how they do it. Maybe it has something to do with all chickens being free-range; that is, nobody has bothered to build any coops and they just peck  around yards all the time.

 

Salak, referred to as snakeskin fruit

This being Asia, rice and rice noodles feature prominently. And being a tropical country, there is a wonderful variety of exotic fruit. This snakeskin fruit has a taste that is somewhere in between an apple and a pineapple. It was very refreshing and makes a very good snack or dessert. For those who prefer sweeter desserts, Indonesia delivers.

 

Indonesian cakes and sweets

Their cakes are made with sticky rice or rice flour, and are usually flavored with palm sugar. They’re really not as sweet as they look. Shopping for fruit and cakes in the market is enough to work up an appetite! Restaurants in Indonesia come in several different forms: indoor, outdoor, air-conditioned, fan-cooled, naturally cooled, portable stalls, or sometimes just  a grill on the street.

A nightly fixture on Indonesian sidewalks

This was the only pork we saw in three weeks- being grilled Balinese satay-style. When many people think of satay, they think of the classic peanut dipping sauce, but actually there are more styles. This one was marinated in a very spicy sauce and eaten with sticky rice. (You’ll also notice this friendly guy has no fridge- we suspect that’s what made us ill. Our Western stomachs were not strong enough.

Advice (that I should have listened to myself): Look for food that is being freshly cooked, and if you’re still suspicious, only eat a little bit. Other than that, I don’t really worry about hygiene standards. The food-stall people have woks with huge fires underneath, which is pretty much guaranteed to kill any nasties. Rice- and noodle-based dishes are safer, because bugs are more likely to be hiding out on meat. Yes, that fried rice may still contain some chicken, but it’s only a tiny bit. Eating whole skewers of sketchy satay is worse.

Bob tucks into a bowl of kwetiau goreng

Snake bean and coconut salad

My favorite day in Bali was the day I attended the Paon Bali cooking class. I won’t give away any of Wayan and Puspa’s recipes, but if you ask me nicely, I’d be happy to cook up some of the dishes I learned! This stir-fried tempeh, in particular, was amazing. I had eaten tempeh before, in the US and Japan, but that stuff is nothing like homemade tempeh in its country of origin. It was so much more flavorful-not bland or dry at all. For this dish, we fried the tempeh pieces in coconut oil and allowed them to cool before cooking them with the chilies.

Stir-fried tempeh

Wayan, our teacher, told us we could try a piece of plain fried tempeh- big mistake. We all kept going back for more, and it was looking like there would be none left for the dish! Served with perhaps a tzatziki dipping sauce or some salsa, this would be an amazing snack.

 

 

Speaking of snacks, here are some that I found in a grocery store- these were totally mysterious to me. I must admit I wanted to try Singkong Garlic, whatever it is.

Indonesian snacks

Why More Americans Don’t Travel Abroad

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In Sydney, we stayed in a six-bed dorm room with another American and two Germans, which prompted one of the Germans to declare, “I’ve never seen so many Americans in one room.” In Indonesia, the only other Americans I met in three weeks were a couple on vacation in Bali. It’s true. Not many Americans travel abroad.

That story, by CNN, lays out four main reasons Americans don’t travel: not enough time off work, the high price, our own cultural and geographic diversity, and our fear and/or misconceptions about the world beyond our borders. It’s true that we don’t get as much time off work as citizens of many European countries, for example. And taking “gap years” is generally not done. (That’s a topic for another post.) Our geography is extremely diverse; whereas a Singaporean wanting to go skiing over the winter holidays has no choice but to leave the country, we can just fly to Colorado. And yes, it’s expensive to cross the Atlantic or Pacific (although low-cost carriers are trying to break into the Pacific market, so watch that one.)

In my opinion, our cultural diversity probably leads more people to travel, not fewer. Let’s be honest: most of us hang out with people who look pretty much like ourselves. This prevents most of us from truly learning about another culture. And even if you do have lots of friends from many different backgrounds, it’s probably impossible to have friends from everywhere in the world. In the article, one guy mentions that since he lives in LA, he can visit one of many ethnic neighborhoods for a cultural experience. He theorizes that for some people, that may be a substitute for travel. I disagree. While residents of many cities can visit their local Chinatown or eat at a Spanish or Thai restaurant, I don’t think anybody comes away from that experience thinking “Okay, I don’t have to go to China/ Spain/ Thailand now,” unless it was a bad experience! Usually those are the kind of experiences that pique one’s interest- trying a new cuisine, witnessing a festival, making friends with someone who was born in foreign country. My trip to Thailand five years ago can be directly attributed, in part, to the fact that I had tried and enjoyed Thai food in Virginia. Being able to try things out at home before traveling abroad is a great resource we Americans have.

I think that the number one obstacle to international travel is fear, skepticism, misconceptions, ignorance- whatever you want to call it. It’s in our own heads. We’re afraid that we’ll be misunderstood, ripped off, mugged, or worse. We don’t want to get hurt or sick. We’re skeptical of the benefits of international travel, or we’ve heard that the locals don’t like Americans. And we’re ignorant of countries and cultures themselves- we’re just not very internationalized, compared to most people I’ve met overseas. It’s partially a media problem. While the Japanese watch Desperate Housewives and the Indonesian high school girls I met absolutely adore Twilight, the converse doesn’t happen to us: we don’t get very many foreign movies and TV shows, and the news on foreign countries tends to be much less than favorable. This leads us to think destinations are dangerous or scary, without ever having seen the human side. It’s partially a school curriculum problem- we don’t emphasize foreign language learning or classes on comparative cultures. And it’s a self-perpetuating problem: if my friends and family didn’t travel, it would be very hard for me to go against the grain and go abroad. Unfortunately for us, we are rather isolated geographically, but that’s no reason to put up barriers in our own minds.

Luckily, there’s a cure, even if you don’t currently have the time or money to travel abroad (or think you don’t.) Take all your vacation days- you earned them, and plenty of studies show that taking time off boosts productivity. If it’s just a money issue, try looking at other destinations. In the comments section for that article, lots of people complained about the high cost of European vacations. Central and South America and much of Asia are very good value- it’s much cheaper here in Asia than staying home. If you find yourself thinking that travel outside the US (especially in countries less developed than the US) is too scary, think again. Most places, in fact everywhere I’ve ever been, are not as bad as most people think. Jakarta and Manila have a fairly dangerous, slummy image in the American media, but both are developed, world-class cities with air-conditioned shopping malls and English newspapers, and most residents do not live in slums. You’re probably just as likely to get hurt or sick as you are at home, and a lot less likely to get mugged than in most American cities. And actually, most people do like Americans. Many don’t like our government constantly meddling in their business- but people are very good at separating the American public and the government, and don’t blame us for their actions.

The cure is knowledge. Read, read, read- but try something other than the news once in a while. Blogs and novels offer different viewpoints. Embrace the cultural diversity we have on our own soil. Educate yourself. Even if the number of Americans with passports remains low, we don’t have to be so misguided when it comes to foreign travel.

Balinese Art and Architecture

No wonder Bali’s so popular. It’s absolutely enchanting. I loved the look of it. There are glassy rice fields just about everywhere you look, and their unique style of architecture is seamlessly integrated into modern towns. The sculpture is magnificent as well. One finds many characters scattered around, playing the role of protector.

Protecting a government building

Protecting an intersection

A Barong, a Balinese protective lion, appears often.

One day, we even got to see a Barong dance!

The barong makes his entrance

There are several types of traditional Balinese dance, and these are popular tourist attractions. We watched the Legong dance as well, which is a story about the good guys defeating a group of evil witches.

The good guy confronts the witches

No question, though; the temple gates were my most favorite.

A typical temple gate- yes, they're all this ornate

I know you’re wondering: “What about the beaches?” Hmm… how should I put this: “Just ok.” I think there are more impressive beaches on Bali, but I didn’t go to them, and neither do many tourists. When most people think “Bali,” they don’t think of the whole island (which is actually quite big,) they think “Kuta.” This is Kuta Beach, the most heavily touristed strip of sand.

Kuta Beach- reminds me quite a bit of the Atlantic Ocean

Australia: Three Favorite Things

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It’s hard to sum up eight weeks in a country- but I’ll try.

Three Favourite Scenic Spots:

  1. Uluru- obvious. Probably our favorite thing in all of Australia.
  2. The Great Ocean Road, west of Melbourne- especially the Twelve Apostles area. I had seen photos of them but I was completely unprepared for how big they were in real life.
  3. The Whitsunday Islands, particularly Whitehaven Beach

    Bob models a "stinger suit" at Whitehaven Beach

Three Favourite Attractions:

  1. Hunter Valley Zoo. We kept fondly reminiscing about this place for days and weeks after we’d visited.
  2. Horizon the Planetarium, at SciTech in Perth. This planetarium runs the most advanced software in the southern hemisphere- actually, the program is still in beta. We enjoyed getting a tutorial on the southern night sky. Very nice planetarium, interesting movies, knowledgeable staff (and the rest of the museum was a blast too!)
  3. Art Gallery of New South Wales- the free tours here were excellent. If you can’t make the tour, they also offer free audio downloads.  They have a great collection of Australian art.

Three Favourite Foods:

Dip in sour cream, then sweet chili sauce

  1. Potato wedges with sour cream and sweet chili sauce. The best bar snack EVER.
  2. Burgers or sandwiches with “the lot” (the works.) In Australia this means lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese, a slice of beetroot, and if you’re lucky, a fried egg and a slice of caramelized pineapple.
  3. Fish ‘n’ chips. We tried them all over the country, and our favorite was the fried basa in Bowen, Queensland.

Three Favourite Animals:

  1. Little penguins (at the Penguin Parade)
  2. Koalas (in any zoo or preserve)
  3. Tropical fish (at the Great Barrier Reef)

Three Favourite Wineries/Breweries:

  1. Paxton Vineyards
  2. The Monk Brewery
  3. Irongate Estate

Three Favourite Aussie Slang Terms:

  1. Bogan– the Australian version of a redneck.
  2. Budgie smuggler– the very cheeky term for a man’s Speedo swimsuit. Unfortunately, more common than we’d like.
  3. Too easy! This little phrase can be used anywhere, anytime, especially if you are a B&B owner in Townsville.