Tuesday, February 18, 2014 0 comments

I don't understand...

I don't understand...

Alright, time for my usual beginning-of-a-new-term mind boggle over the English names students choose.  The most interesting of my sophomore classes:  Milk (a guy), Fish (a girl), a boy named June, Dorvai (a guy...I asked where he found it and he said he made it up himself.), Water, and Aqua.  

Oooh! Shiny!

So, at the end of last semester, one of the classrooms in the language labs that I 
used for three of my freshman oral English classes was dismantled a couple of weeks 
before the end of the term in preparation for the move to the new classroom building 
that was scheduled to be opened for the spring term.  Why in the name of sense they 
couldn't wait another week until classes finished beats me, but there you go. Anyhow, 
the class monitors were put in charge of finding alternate places to meet 
(Sigh...freshmen monitors...it got interesting sometimes.) Anyhow, one of them 
somehow managed to get permission for us to meet in the new building in second-to-
last week of the term.  It wasn't even officially opened yet, although nearly 
everything was in place.  As it turns out, ours turned out to be the first class held 
in the new building.  During the middle, a workman came in sheepishly to add another 
piece of glass to one of the desks.

Anyhow, this semester, most of the English major classes are in the new building.  
The downside is that it's the furthest possible teaching building from my house, so I 
need to be sure to leave the house ten minutes earlier than I have before to give 
myself time to get down there.  But it's super convenient for the students--it's the 
closest to the dorms, and right across from the cafeteria.  The upside is that it's 
brand-new and super modern.  

I'm excited that in my new classrooms, the students have chairs and little tables, 
that can be moved and don't involve crawling over anyone to get in and out.  Much 
better than the long rows of fold-down seats in the older buildings. We can clear 
space of skits, or push desks together for group work.  Another exciting thing is 
that all the classrooms have heat--it's always been a normal part of life in China to 
freeze through classes in drafty buildings, but as new buildings are built heaters 
are becoming more and more common.  I guess with the rising affluence of China it's 
become more feasible to have the luxury of heat, and as conditions rise this 
generation begins to see things like heat as more of a necessity than it was before.  
So, things are getting more comfortable, although I don't think the dorms are heated 
yet.  However, it's not doing me much good so far today as I'm not sure where the 
office is in this building to get the remote to turn the heat on.  Even without it 
isn't on, though, I think the classroom was a bit warmer than in the other buildings, since 
it's new and not yet drafty.  I should have sent one of the students to get it, but I 
didn't think of it until they were gone.  I will in my afternoon class.  

The other fun thing about the new building is the technology.  As I was telling my 
students this morning, every year I'm in China my classrooms get better and better.  
My first year back in Jingzhou I had a large chalkboard and usually chalk.  Here in 
Wuhan, I have at least always had powerpoint.  But this...this is cool.  The screen 
is not just a pull-down white projector screen--it's a huge touch-screen.  I can 
operate the computer from the screen if I want, and there are buttons up the sides to 
bring up a keyboard, a highlighter, drawing and writing tools, etc.  There're even 
buttons to make audio recordings and a camera, but I haven't figured out how those 
work yet.  But with the writing tools and all, I can just use my finger to draw on 
top of my powerpoints, underline things, highlight things, etc.  All I have to do is 
tap the screen to go to the next slide, instead of running back over the the computer 
terminal to use the mouse.  The students got several laughs out of me, though, as 
it's very sensitive and, as this was my first time using it, I kept accidentally 
rifling through the slides when I was just trying to point something out.  I kept 
doing things I didn't mean to do.  After they left, I played with it a while, so I 
should be able to get through the next lessons without so many accidents.   

I love my new classrooms. :)


Working on a Snowy Day

Well, back home in Tennessee, I probably could have rolled over in my nice warm bed (why is it that a bed is never quite so exquisitely comfortable as it is between snoozes when you have to get up early? When I'm sleeping in the sheets get sideways and my back hurts.).  I woke up to, as predicted, about an inch of snow--although even as I left the house the snow was mixing with rain as the temperature is about 34, although it's not supposed to warm up much during the day.  The snow wasn't really sticking to the roads and even on the sidewalks it was already turned to slush, but it was pretty on the trees and rooftops and cars.  Anyhow, instead of a snow day (unfortunately, no need when you're walking to work anyways), I scurried off through the slushy drizzle for my first day back teaching. 

This semester's schedule is crazy as always, although crazy in a good way. Sometimes I can't believe they pay me to do this job...here it is: 

Tuesday:  Sophomore Writing, 2 classes. 8:00 and 2:00

Thursday: Masters Students Oral English. 4 classes, but each only meets every other week, so they alternate.  Two classes on the even weeks, and the other two on the odd weeks. 8:00 and 10:00.  

And that's it.  The Masters Oral English is extremely easy, as this is my third semester teaching that and I can use lessons I've already prepared and know well.  Also, since I only see each class every other week, one lesson lasts two weeks.  
The writing is a bit more work, but it's the same course I taught last spring so I 
don't have to completely reinvent the wheel, although I do hope to improve on my 
lessons from last year as I'm getting another chance at it.  Of course, with writing, 
there will be quite a bit of out-of-class grading and reading of essays to do, but I 
had three classes last year and only two this year so even that won't be quite as 
terrible.  Also, since my classes are at 8:00 and 2:00 on that day, I will probably 
continue the habit I started last semester of just staying in the classroom building 
for the hours in between and using the time for grading and lesson planning.  The 
other teachers think I'm a bit nutty to hang out in the teaching building that long, 
but it works well for me as it's easier for me to focus on work if I am actually at 
work.  At home there are too many distractions; I get a lot more done sitting in a 

I had expected to continue teaching the freshman oral English I was doing last 
semester; I'm a bit sad not to see those students any more as I was finally getting 
to know them all.  I really enjoyed my freshmen, and teaching oral English--so much easier and more fun that writing!  But, I do have a lot fewer classes this way--two writing classes in exchange for eight oral classes.  My coteacher from last term had told me we would definitely be working together again, and we had already split up the curriculum and all.  However, the students had told me that their schedule for this semester listed Michael as their teacher, not me.  (How in the world do they have schedules in December for the next term, and I don't get mine until Saturday before classes start on Monday???  And I'm the one who has to prepare??? Ah, China.) 

Turns out that, as I should have learned already, always listen to the students, not 
the other teachers.  I know that sounds counter-intuitive...the teachers should get 
information first, then pass it on to the students.  But it's been proven over and 
over that the higher-ups who make decisions don't tell my Chinese coteachers things much in advance, either, but somehow the students find things out.  So far, anytime a coteacher and a student have told me conflicting information about scheduling or holidays or what have you, the student has been right.  Ah, China.  

Overall, though, I can't complain about a job in which I work two days a week. Here's to a new semester, on a snowy day. 
Friday, February 14, 2014 0 comments

Flying Home

I guess they don't want to encourage people to sleep on the chairs in the waiting area of the departure hall, but they know very well that many people do, so it seems like they would be a little kinder in having chairs without gaps in between them to make it slightly more comfortable.  Oh well.  I arranged my bags around in the seat next to me and made a pillow of sorts out of a jackets and a couple of scarves.  I had intended to use my inflatable neck pillow, but it inopportunely sprung a leak.  I couldn't find any comfortable way to recline, but made myself somewhat comfortable sitting up leaning on my bags.  I used on of the sarongs I bought in Ubud as a blanket, and actually slept fairly well, all things considered.  I probably got four hours or so of sleep all together, although I'd have to wake up every forty-five minutes or so to unkink all my muscles that were going to sleep.  

About a quarter to five I rearranged my stuff back into flying order and went to brush my teeth and freshen up.  I planned to put on shoes at this point, but I just couldn't bring myself to just yet.  I may end up being cold for a few minutes once I land in Wuhan, but it's worth it for a few more hours in flip-flops.  

Check-in and security went as usual, and I headed in search of breakfast on the way to the gate.  I had been disappointed, as the Krispy Kreme I had been to on my last trip through the Don Mueng airport was on the domestic departure side, and there wasn't one listed on the international departure side.  Fortunately, the signs were wrong...there it was, tucked in the corner right next to the Subway and McDonalds.  I had a subway sandwich for breakfast (yes, I know that's rather an odd breakfast, but I wanted something solid and non-greasy), sitting in a small waiting area balancing it on my lap, since all the tables were full.  I bought a couple of donuts, of course--I ate one for dessert after I finished my sandwich.  I wasn't in the least bit hungry for it, and sadly it was cold (what kind of Krispy Kreme doesn't have warm donuts at 6:30 in the morning??), but after I'd waited all night for it I wasn't going to turn it down.  I saved the other for later, though, as it was cold anyhow.  

I finally wandered down to the gate.  After sitting for a few minutes, I stood up and surveyed my belongings, considering whether I needed to go bad enough to schlep it all to the bathroom or not, when someone three rows back stood up to and called my name.   

Kristin, who works at the university-next-door where we go on Sundays, had been travelling in Thailand and had booked the same flight back to Wuhan.  Later on, we saw another teacher from Wuhan also on the same flight, but neither of us was close enough to talk to him. What are the odds?
We finally landed in Wuhan around lunch time.  Other was one of those landings where they pull the stairs up to the plane, you disembark onto the runway, and then they bus you to the arrival gate. As I was still wearing flip-flops bad it was supposed to be only 43 (although sunny) in Wuhan, I was prepared to freeze, but I was pleasantly surprised that it didn't seem too cold at all.  Maybe it was the sunshine. I did, however, put on shoes after collecting my bag from baggage claim.  

One of the great things about running into Kristin was that we could split the fare of the rather expensive taxi home, since our campuses are so close. It was a good trip, but coming home is nice, too.
Thursday, February 13, 2014 0 comments

Passing the Time in Bangkok

The things we do to save money...when buying plane tickets for this trip, I found that getting a flight from Bali to Wuhan, which involves a connection in the middle, usually in Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur or occasionally Guangzhou, would cost more than four hundred dollars if I bought it from cheapoair or kayak, my current go-to sites.  The flights would be at convenient times and have a reasonable layover that would get me home in a day...but I really didn't want to spend that much.  I looked at Air Asia, the local discount airline, but it's primarily a point-to-point airline--there are only a few routes on which you can book connecting flights.  However, I could buy a ticket from Bali to Bangkok, and then a separate ticket from Bangkok on to Wuhan.  Together, they would be well under three hundred.  

Unfortunately, the times didn't line up too well.  The flight from Bali arrived in Bangkok at 3:00 in the afternoon, and the afternoon flight to Wuhan left at 3:50.  As I had to go through customs, and especially once I decided to check a bag that I would have to collect from baggage claim and recheck, the time was just too tight.  There's no way to make that flight.  However, there is also a morning flight, at 7:30...

So here I am.  I've spent the night in an airport before, and this probably won't be the last.   It ends up being about a sixteen hour layover; I've had worse.  And after all, I'm saving money...

I've been to this airport before, last summer for my flight down to Phuket.  I know there's a Subway and Krispy Kreme in here...but they are after security, on the way to the gates.  Sigh.  Why do they put the good stuff in there where you don't have too much time, and out here where I'm spending hours, it's nothing but fried and greasy versions of local food?  Oh well, something to look forward to.  I had dinner at one of the restaurants up on the balcony overlooking the check-in area.  Feeling a bit nostalgic for the Thai food I ate down south on Ko Phi Phi last summer, I ordered Shrimp with fried rice, and some spring rolls.  Now usually Thai food is good, but as I said this was the greasy version.  The shrimp weren't bad, really, but still one of those things that you know as you're eating it that you'll probably regret it.  

After eating (and before the dodgy shrimp took effect) I followed signs to an "observation deck."  It turned out to be an leftover hallway with some scattered seats, but it did have windows that overlooked one of the runways, and it was quieter up there than down in the main seating area. It was also a bit cold up there, with the air conditioning working a bit too well for once, but I figured that was probably good for me to start adjusting back to winter.  I sat and played games on my kindle and watched the planes take off until the sky turned pink and then black and the moon rose. 
Wednesday, February 12, 2014 0 comments

Come Full Circle

Sitting on Kuta beach, waiting on sunset, just as I did nine days ago...I started and am ending my time in Bali here in Kuta, like most people, as the airport is here, and as it's the most popular tourist destination in Bali.  I like it well enough but a couple of days spent here has been more than enough.  It has a nice enough beach, although nothing special, really, and all of the tourist amenities-there's a Hard Rock, Pizza Hut, and McDonalds right behind me.  Kuta is famous, really, for its surfing and late-night partying, both of which I feel too old for, so I guess that's why it doesn't keep my attention longer.  It's a good place to stay to get to the airport, though- I can see the end if the runway sticking out into the bay from where I sit. 

One improvement is that I certainly feel better this time around. I still have a bit if a cough, but nothing compared to what it was, and I have a somewhat normal appetite back and thus more energy.
I came out here to sit on the beach a little before five. I thought about going swimming a bit earlier; I had enough time but I wasn't sure I really wanted to get so sandy and waterlogged again, and have to carry damp, salty clothes home. Now that I an here looking at the waves, I'm rather glad I didn't-the waves are rather high. The only people more than about ten feet out all have surfboards.

The beach is crowded as everyone comes out to sit in the sand and watch the sunset.  I brought along  one of the colorful sarongs I bought in Ubud to sit on, and got through a few more chapters of David Copperfield as the sun slowly sank lower in the sky.

The sun finally set, turning the sky pink, although gathering clouds blocked the view of the sun before it quite made it to the horizon.  I watched the changing sky until it was too dark to read any more, and then went for a walk along the edge of the surf, getting splashed a bit by the warm water as the tide was coming in.
I lingered standing in the sand for quite a while, mesmerized by the crashing waves. Far down where the beach curved toward Seminyak, someone was setting off fireworks.  Some natural fireworks flickered in a rising cloud out over the water as sparks of lightning illuminated the clouds. I finally pulled myself away from the hypnotism of the waves and headed off in search of one last gelato.
Sunday, February 9, 2014 0 comments

Sweet Home and Proud Mary

The last two evenings in Ubud I've gone to one of the many dance performances put on every night for tourists, but I decided to take a break tonight. While a good way to pass the evening in a country where everyone seems to go to bed early, tonight's offerings sounded quite similar to last night's, and while I enjoyed it, at an hour and a half long I found that the dances went on and on for several minutes past interesting. Don't get me wrong; I enjoyed seeing them and I'm not complaining; it's just that last night's were quite repetitive and I found the first ten minutes of a twenty minute act to be sufficient to get the idea.
Anyhow, I guess most people pass the part of the evening that they aren't at a show having a leisurely dinner, but while I have mostly gotten my appetite back, I've gotten into a routine of having toast at the homestay in the morning and then a large meal around two, so as to be in the shade in the hottest part of the day, and then just a gelato break before the show in the evening.

I had my gelato break early today, so I spent nearly three hours at an internet cafe trying to get caught up on my blog; I might have stayed longer but I finally got fed up with the internet going out every half hour. I definitely won't be going to that place again. 

Still a little early to head back for bed, I stopped along the way at this place, attracted by the live music.  Two older local men were set up with their guitars, and they were playing classic rock.  The singer has a deep gravelly voice that disguises his accent.

I ordered a drink and found a comfortable spot in front of the fan, and felt right at home as they played the opening bars of Sweet Home Alabama.  That was followed by Pink Floyd, and then Proud Mary. 
I did smile, though, at the set up: they had pulled the restaurants pink high chair between them with their picks and controls for the amp on the tray and their beers in the seat. Whatever works, right?
Friday, February 7, 2014 0 comments

Even here...

...there is a Starbucks.  I used to think McDonald's was everywhere, but goodness, Starbucks are spreading like kudzu here in Asia. Even here in Ubud, surrounded by rice fields, a Starbucks has sprouted. 
I probably should have stayed out in the name of protesting corporate takeover and the distraction from local business...but they have good wifi and, I hoped, air conditioning.  (Meh. Very weak air conditioning).
At least this is one place in Indonesia to get away from smokers-there aren't many. I did have a fuzzy feeling of affection for Starbucks for this little sign.
Thursday, February 6, 2014 0 comments

Back to Bali

I had planned to stay two full days, at least, on Nusa Lembongan.  Then again, while it was a nice island, it just didn't quite live up to my expectations.  Honestly, going to the beach on a Thai island last summer has probably ruined me to all normal beaches for a while; they all seem bland and boring compared to Ko Phi Phi.  But then again...Bali is so hyped.  Everyone I talked to said, "Bali! It's amazing! You'll love it!", and every guide book and travel book touts it as a paradise on earth.  I know a big part of my apathy is my lingering whatever-weird-illness-this-is, but honestly I'm just not seeing it yet.  Maybe I've just been to the wrong places, but the sand is coarse and neither white nor black (although I did see some black sand, or rather, dark gray, from the bus on the way to Denpasar).  Here on the island, the swimming area is way over on the other side, and the water outside the bay was so rough I got seasick going snorkeling.

I didn't want to do any further snorkeling, not if it involved getting into any more small boats.  My plan was to rent a scooter and take myself over to the swimming beach for a while, and then poke around the island a bit and maybe find a nice place to watch the sunset, if it happened not to cloud up by then as it usually seems to in the rainy season (another disappointment...the sunsets I've seen haven't lived up to the hype of Bali's famous colorful sunsets, either.  It's mostly been hazy).  But I still just felt...tired, apathetic.  Yet again I felt like maybe, maybe it wasn't just illness's effect, but the place that was boring--if I just moved on, in the next place I'd feel alive again, would be so wonderful that I'd feel like enjoying it.  So I scrapped my plans for renting a scooter.  After a day and a half, I was tired of sand.  Tired of water.  Tired of the heat (the air con was rather pathetic).  I got a ticket on a boat back to Bali. 

Once back on the larger island, I got a taxi up to Ubud, a fairly small town that is the cultural hub of Bali, and its second-biggest tourist draw.  This was the place that had intrigued me most when planning my trip to Bali; maybe here I would find what I was looking for.  
Wednesday, February 5, 2014 0 comments

Sunset on Lembongan

I thought while still on the boat returning from snorkeling that I was going to go back to my room, flop on the bed in the (weak but at least better than outdoors) air conditioning, and take a long nap.  I felt terrible, and exhausted.  But by the time we got back to shore and I walked back down the road to my homestay, I was feeling much better, and not in the mood to go in just yet.  So I kept walking past the gate and right on out to the beach.  I saw a couple of other people go for a quick swim down there, despite the boats, and I really didn't care any more if I was weird for swimming there or not.  The same old guy was holding down a bench under an umbrella at the hotel with the beachfront grounds, and he encouraged me further, telling me where to leave my bag so it wouldn't get wet (which was very kind of him, and as it turned out, very helpful, as the tide was coming in and it would have gotten wet if I'd put it where I otherwise would have).

I waded out into the water and spent a pleasant hour bobbing around.  There was a bit of an undertow, so I did have to keep an eye out on where I was so as not to be washed up against any of the boats.  Frankly, it's a bit boring to swim alone with no one to talk to, as there weren't many waves there (inside the breakwater) and no where to go, so it was just floating around, but it felt good to laze in the water so I stayed quite a while.  Finally I drug myself out, just in time to catch my flip-flops before they got washed down the beach by the tide, and headed back to the homestay.  I still wasn't really ready to be out of the water, but needed a change of scenery, so when I got there I dropped my bag in a chair by my door and got directly into the pool.  There was a ledge just right for sitting on in the corner; if there was somewhere comfortable to put my head, I think I could have taken a nap right there in the water.  Every now and then I would leave my perch to swim around the pool.  I stayed in until not only my fingers but my entire hands and feet were wrinkly.  

After thus thoroughly soaking myself, I went in and showered (the coldest water of the day, incidentally), and finally surrendered to that nap that I was thinking of earlier.  I slept most of the afternoon.  I thought I'd probably missed it, but I drug myself out to walk back down to the beach to see if there was any kind of sunset, and arrived at the perfect time to see the sky go pink.  It wasn't the greatest sunset I've seen, but it was nice, and I stayed sitting on a concrete ledge and looking out over the water until it got dark.  The locals were busy as darkness fell--they were doing some sort of fishing or seaweed-collecting, and as it got darker, I saw their spotlights come on from their little boats as they moved slowly around the calm water of the bay inside the breakwater.  
Tuesday, February 4, 2014 0 comments

A Walk on the Beach

After checking into a "homestay" (that seems to be the popular word here, but whatever you call it, hotel, guest house, losmen, whatever, they all seem to be the same thing), I thought I'd go for a swim.  The ocean was tantalizingly close; I could see a little piece of it just at the end of the little dirt lane that the homestay was on.  And it really was that close...but there was no one swimming when I got down there.  There was a tiny area between anchored boats, but that was the rockiest area and didn't look like the best spot.  Well, maybe down the beach a ways...

I walked around the beach, curving around almost to the end of the small island, but along the beach there were now the homes and fishing equipment of the locals.  A few were out collecting a particular kind of seaweed that washed up, storing it in big woven baskets.  The sand here is rough--it's still got a lot of shells and bits of coral and all that haven't yet been worn down into grains.  It was a beautiful sunny day and a nice walk on the beach, but nowhere that seemed like a swimming area. I finally turned back. Almost back to my little lane, I ran into a friendly local sitting in the shade and chatting with the few passersby, and he said that I  could swim there; it was safe and there weren't any rules against it, but it seemed a bit weird to swim among the locals' boats, and no one else was around, so I just went back to the hotel.  The lady there told me that the swimming areas were on the opposite shore of the island, and really too far to walk--I'd need to rent a scooter to get over there.

I was tired and hot by this point, and it was getting later in the day, so I didn't want to go too much trouble.  I enjoyed my walk on the beach (other than sweating in the hot afternoon sun), but decided to stick with the hotel pool for that afternoon.  And it was lovely.  

Wahyu Homestay

Once I got off the boat on the beach of Nusa Lembongan, I asked for directions to a hotel listed in the Lonely Planet.  My usual source, hostelworld, had only one listing on the island, and apparently it was already full for the night, or the website just wasn't getting along with the wifi I had, or something like that.  Anyhow, there seemed to be plenty of places to stay, so I wasn't too worried.  And even if this one in the Lonely Planet was full, at least it should be in a convenient area, so I could just find a nearby one.

So much for that...I don't know how the Lonely Planet person found this place; they had to pass dozens of others on the way.  Anyhow, after a long slog half the length of the island in the middle of a hot afternoon (how I enjoyed the little bits of shade I found!), I did find the place, down a little dirt path running down to the beach.  Of course, it was already full, and it looked like they were doing some remodeling, anyhow.  There were two or three other places on the same little path, though, so I ducked into the next one I came to, the Wahyu Homestay.  They had a small pool, tiled in a brilliant blue and with a running fountain, and a shady restaurant area near the gate.  I asked to see a room, and was surprised at how cheap it was...100,000 Rp for a fan room, and 150,000 Rp for an air-con room.  As I was sweating profusely, I immediately opted for the air-con--50,000 Rp is only about a four dollar difference.  

I asked to see the room, and was led to one with a double door leading right out to the pool.  Inside it was clean and colorful.  I had found my spot on Nusa Lembongan.  

Waiting for the boat in Sanur

I'm moving on from Kuta-as I rather expected, it was loud and touristy.  Not that everywhere isn't going to be touristy, but hopefully elsewhere there won't be quite so many hawkers incessantly trying to sell something.  Besides, I'd like to see a beach that's not in a big city. 

So I am sitting in a small shelter on the beach in Sanur, waiting for a boat that should leave in twenty minutes for Nusa Lembongan.  Nusa Lembongan is one of three islands in the Nusa Penida archipelago, just off the south coast of Bali. The description in Lonely Planet sounds like just what I'm looking for-white sand beach, blue water, a view across the water to Gunung Agung, a mountain on Bali, and good snorkeling in Mushroom Bay. 

So, here goes nothing. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014 0 comments

Losmen Cempaka

Due to both the bad wifi in Java and the nature of places-to-stay in Bali--I haven't found any real hostels; it's all "homestays" that have cheap single rooms--I didn't book ahead for anywhere to stay after leaving Yogyakarta.  Bali is enough of a tourist destination that there are plenty of places to stay, at varying levels of quality, anywhere you'd want to stay, and it being the off-season, I wasn't really worried about finding a place.  Upon arriving in Kuta after sharing a taxi with three other travelers (a Finnish couple and a French guy) from Denpasar, I followed the advice of Lonely Planet and struck off down a street with several listings, knowing that where there was one LP-listed hotel, or losmen as they are called here in Indonesia, there would be plenty of unlisted ones.  I wandered down Jl. Poppies II, one of the tourist drags, crowded with losmen, restaurants boasting western food, and souvenir shops with increasingly obnoxious proprietors, and of course the guys at every corner repeating the same chorus, "Transport?  You need transport?  Taxi?  Lady? Yes transport?" that would very quickly be grating on my nerves.  

After a bit of wandering, I found the place listed in Lonely Planet, but typically they were full already, but as I expected, there were plenty of places around.  I ducked into one across the street; they only had fan rooms left, and as I was nearly soaked through with sweat from carrying all my belongings through the afternoon heat and humidity, I decided to keep looking.  The guy from that place, though unasked, appointed himself as my helper and drug me into the neighboring places of his friends, since he couldn't help me.  The next place, like his, only had fan rooms left; the second was too expensive, but the third finally worked out.  They had an air-con room, albeit with only a cold-water shower, but that didn't sound like a problem as hot as I was at the moment (why does going somewhere hot always sound like such a good idea when it's cold at home??).  

The rooms of the Losmen Cempaka ran in a line down either side of a green jungle of a courtyard, with a temple like shrine across from me.  Each had its own tiled section of porch out front, and the air conditioner was so new it still had a tag hanging off.  The bathroom was a little odd as half the floor was covered with a layer of white rocks, but I figured that just made it interesting.  For my two nights in Kuta, it turned out to be a comfortable and cool oasis.  

Ferry to Bali

Those of us continuing on to Bali had assumed that, as we'd already gone two days without an air-conditioned vehicle, and wasted a lot (okay, two) extremely early mornings looking at the inside of clouds instead of volcanic views, surely this last leg of the trip would at least maintain the same standard of mediocrity, not get worse...

As usual, we were wrong.  In the little town on the coast near Ijen where our group split to go our different ways, the six of us (me, the Swiss couple, a Chinese couple from Beijing, and the Japanese guy) continuing to Bali were crammed onto an already overflowing public bus, with two seats on one side of the aisle and three on the other.  Small windows up near the roof were open, which was only helpful when going a certain speed.  Other than that, it was again meltingly hot, sticky, and so crowded that we had to complain to the conductor that we'd paid way too much money for tickets not to get a seat, at which point he managed to shuffle around a few bags and make his buddy move to stand on the steps so that we could all cram in.  

I expected this to be absolute misery, as I knew we had to cross the ferry, and then it was three or four hours, I wasn't really sure, on to Denpasar.  However, we were closer to the ferry than I thought, and the fuss over seats turned out to be rather a waste of time.  We moved five minutes down the road before pulling onto the dock and directly onto the ferry.  At that point, inside a ferry, the temperature inside the bus became unbearable, so most of us decamped to the upper decks, where at least there was fresh air, if you could manage not to sit by anyone smoking.  A few locals, used to the heat, did stay on the bus to nap on the empty seats.  
I went up to the top deck and found a shady seat next to the Chinese couple.  While still hot, at least there was the occasional breeze as the shore of Java grew smaller and smaller behind us.  The crossing didn't take too long; maybe forty-five minutes if that; you could see Bali hazy in the distance from the port.  Just before arriving we all filed back down the stairs and reinserted ourselves to sweat on the bus.  Fortunately, not everyone returned--apparently for the locals, a place on the bus is just the way onto the ferry, and they weren't continuing on to Denpasar.  It was still fairly full, but not maddeningly so.  I managed a window seat this time (not that it helped much), with a mother and little girl next to me. 

And on we went.  The scenery along the way was beautiful--maybe Bali really would be the wonderland and paradise everyone had made it out to be: on the left, brilliantly green rice fields dotted with thatched-roof huts stretched across the field to the feet of distant volcanic mountains.  On the right, there were frequent glimpses of beaches and blue water reflected the nearly cloudless sky; I was excited to see that some of the beaches were even volcanic black (okay, really dark gray) sand.  Alongside the road, locals gathered at wooden stands selling piles of durian and coconuts.  Surely now that I was out of Java, I would feel better and my energy would return; who could be apathetic in paradise? 

On the Bus Again

When everyone finally wandered back to the van from the rather useless slog up to the rim of Ijen's crater, we all piled in for the last leg of our trip.  When organizing the trip, there were three possibilities offered--you could be returned to Yogyakarta, be dropped off in the city Surabaya, or taken to the ferry to Bali.  I, of course, had chosen Bali, as the whole trip for me was just a way to take the scenic route getting there.  I mean, as it turned out, it was mostly not terribly scenic and rather long, hot, and miserable at points, but it did get me there, eventually, and I did see a whole lot more of Java than I would have if I'd flown.  I mean, I could have taken the twenty-six hour direct bus, but even so it would have been dark through most of the interesting parts, and that just didn't sound like fun at all anyhow.

The last one back in the van was Maryam, and she hopped in with her to-go coffee--in a baggie, with a straw sticking out, which is a weird but not unheard of to-go method for drinks here in Asia.  You'd think cups wouldn't be that much more expensive, but...well, like many things in Asia, it may not make much sense to the American mind, but I suppose it works.  We did take a few photos of the coffee-in-a-bag just for the novelty, though.  

Normally I prefer to go it alone rather than joining a group, but occasionally it can be fun as a single traveler--at least I have people to talk to for a day or two.  Most of us were traveling alone, or in couples, so we ate a couple of meals together and enjoyed the company.  I mostly talked to two other single travelers, Maryam from the Netherlands, who I met in the hostel in Yogyakarta, and Ronni, a British girl who is also teaching in China, although in a kindergarten instead of a university.  We also spent some time with a Swiss couple, a Japanese guy, and an Indian guy who lives in Singapore.  

Ijen Plateau

As far as scenery goes, Java's thing is volcanoes.  With 127 active volcanoes and plenty of remains of volcanoes from the past, there are plenty to see: Merapi, one of the most active in the world, near Yogyakarta, which has been erupting frequently for years; Bromo with its barren moon-scape slopes; Krakatoa, the big one that supposedly made the loudest sound in modern history (heard 3000 miles away) when it erupted in 1883; Tambora, which caused the Year with No Summer in 1815. I saw two while I was in Java, Bromo and Ijen. 

The Ijen Plateau is a region of Volcanic hotspots in eastern Java; the main peaks are Ijen, Merapi, and Raung.  Ijen has become a fairly popular place for travelers as it's possible to hike up to the rim of the crater, and look down over Kawah Ijen, a lake that has formed in the crater, at just over 7000 feet.  Around the lake, vents cough out sulphurous smoke; sometimes the lake even boils when the volcano is particularly angry.  

Another interesting thing about Ijen from the Lonely Planet: "Around 300 collectors (all men) work here, getting up at between 2am and 4am to hike up to the crater to hack out the yellow stuff by hand.  For most the only protection against the cone's noxious fumes are the cotton scarves they tie around their noses.  These DIY miners then spend the next six or so hours scurrying back down the volcano with loads of 60kg to 80kg on their backs. It's incredibly tough work that pays very little (around 600rp [five cents] per kilogram), and yet the physical exercise keeps the collectors incredibly fit- few report health problems, despite breathing great lungfuls of sulphurous fumes virtually every day of their lives. Ijen sulphur is used for cosmetics and medicine, and is added to fertiliser and insecticides. Historically, sulphur was commonly called brimstone.  Some of the miners achieved local celebrity status after appearing on the BBC's landmark Human Planet series."

Some people go on a night hike into the crater; the sulphur-vents burn blue and give an eerie light.  The smell of sulphur is so strong and the volcanic gases burn people's eyes and throats, so most people wear some sort of gas mask. While seeing the blue lights is supposed to be an amazing experience, I didn't even think of going on that little adventure. First of all, we had just had three hours of sleep the night before, so I really wasn't in the mood for an all-nighter, and second, it's highly recommended that anyone with respiratory problems not go into the crater, and I figured my bad chest cold counted. 

For all those who chose not to go on the blue-light hike, we again were up at 3:30 and left at four for a hike up to the rim. I started up the wide, hard-packed dirt road to the crater with everyone else, but I told them not to wait on me and soon fell behind.  Ordinarily, it wouldn't have been too bad, but while my chest cold seemed to be getting better, or at least migrating into a head cold, the afternoon before, during the night it settled into my chest again.  It's hard to hike up a steep hill when you can only take shallow breaths. And besides, it was quite foggy; the trees along the path blurred in and out of the mist like wraiths.  I don't like to be a quitter, but it was obvious that there wasn't going to be much to see in these clouds, and getting out of breath was making me cough too hard to go on.  

After about a kilometer, I turned back and headed for a little shelter I had passed a way back and set on the concrete step and began writing this post (although I didn't finish; I am wrapping it up sitting on the beach in Bali). After a while a girl from Jakarta came along and sat down while waiting on her friends to catch up, and we chatted for a while. I did see some of the sulphur miners come by with their loads of ghastly yellow chunks. A couple set their baskets by the side of the road for a bit, and I got a closer look.  The sulphur really does have a strong smell of eggs.
After a while, I wandered back down to the parking lot, bought some strawberry juice, changed from my nasty hiking shoes into flip-flops, and waited for the rest of the group to return.  It turns out I made the right decision to turn back; as I had thought, there wasn't much to see in the fog at the top.  As soon as everyone straggled back to the van, we were off again.