Spoiled in a Good Way


The first beach we went to in Bali was Sanur because it was known to be more quiet than Kuta, the party hearty beach.  I didn’t think I’d fall for such a touristy beach but when we finally reached Kuta a few days later, the cynic in me relented as we found home in the waves.  Joshua, the skateboarding snowboarder, predictably fell in love with surfing.  I was content to rent an umbrella-shaded lounge chair while watching the three of them have fun:  Jason trying to stand on the board, Joshua managing to balance with his teacher’s guidance and Jimmy body-boarding with another hired surfer dude.

So this is how the prices of the accommodation go.  If you want to stay as close to the beach as you can, there are older resorts which must have seen their heyday some decades back and which cost half of the newer, swankier hotels.  They may have a swimming pool which is ideal before and after slathering your body with sand.  You can find better value in the smaller, less busy streets.  And you must know already that to save on food, go local, not Western.  Bargain with the taxi drivers.  It cost us 500,000 rupiah for the three-hour drive from Sanur to Rony’s place in the north near Lovina, and 200,000 rupiah for a one hour drive from Kuta to the Green School area.

We met two guys from Lebanon who rented a car straight away from the airport and they said it only cost them 250,000 rupiah a day and was well worth it.  Jason and I originally intended to rent a car but we chose to hire a ride instead.  The guys from Lebanon were a part of a project called Earthship Biotecture and were filming a documentary about ecological architecture.

Eight days is not enough in Bali but it’s also enough considering the adventures that we’ve managed to squeeze in.  We hit three different beaches but never ventured to the nearby smaller islands where boatloads of tourists disembark.  We weren’t able to return to Sanur and rent bikes which I really wanted to do because the there was a perfect bike path along a lengthy stretch of beach.  We weren’t able to make it to Ubud which some people swear is the best part of Bali, but we can save that for another time when the kids are older.  By then, Bali might have turned into a nightmare if they are not able to turn around the garbage situation.

When we headed back to China, we passed by Hong Kong again and this time we knew better than to get a hotel in the city.  For the same price as a budget hotel in Bali that comes with a garden swimming pool, in Hong Kong you get a pitiful cubicle that makes an overnight stay in the airport, a luxury you would rather splurge on for free.  The kids sleep well but it may be harder for the parents.  What’s a few hours of rest anyway that can’t be compensated for in the plane?   Cathay Pacific may have the best selection of inflight entertainment that spoils us because mainland airlines don’t offer that ridiculously wide range of choices from indie films to commercial hits, from game consoles to meditation videos, from Jamie Oliver to TED Talks.  Ah, peanuts please and a glass of orange juice.

Joshua’s front tooth came off while he was brushing his teeth but the tooth fairy probably skips airports.


Can’t resist posting some more Bali photos:


P.S. Clement, the French couchsurfer we met in Bali just sent me a message on Facebook that Ubud was very touristy and crowded when they visited a few days after leaving Rony’s place.  Perhaps there is such a thing as a race to go somewhere unspoiled and unmarred by tourists.  As soon as a place gets labeled must-see or featured in too many guide books, the flock of phone camera-toting travelers (made worse by the selfie sticks now) swarm in, reaching a point of discomfort.


Made It to the Green School!


My husband was not impressed and held a skeptical view, but I’m an easy-to-please fan and it’s been my dream since watching John and Elora Hardy’s TED Talks.  My husband may not share my appreciation of the Green School, but my friend, Donna who has the same dream would.   Another friend of mine who has not gone there before was also doubtful when I told her that there was a substantial amount to be paid to tour the school, bamboo factory and Green Village, but then the money raised from tours went to sponsoring local children who can’t afford the tuition fee of the pricey international school.

Despite my husband’s discouragement, it was the architect in me who insisted on seeing the Green Village and the education researcher in me who asserted to bring the family to the Green School.   We had a bit of a night adventure going there since it was an hour away from where the hotels are.  I thought we’d be able to find accommodation nearby but the one available was at the Green Village with an astronomical price tag only the super rich can afford and the Green Villas which was fully booked.  We were fortunate that kind souls led us to Made, a common Balinese name pronounced ma-de, not maid.  Apparently, his house near the Green Village is a listed AirBnb.  For the past two years, architects, designers, teachers and parents the world over have made their way to his home, welcomed warmly by Made and his family.  The people who found their path to Made’s doorsteps were pilgrims like me: architects and engineers who wanted to study the amazing bamboo structures, teachers who wanted to learn from the Green School and parents who were hoping to send their children to the well-known, ecologically innovative school.  During the tour, I met a fellow Filipina who wanted to apply there as a teacher.

I don’t know how people cannot be impressed by what we saw but I guess like in everything else, I have to respect people’s opinion and views no matter how different they are from mine.  Perhaps it’s a form of sour grapes, or maybe they see the hypocrisy in the overriding elitist world order of things despite parallel actions reaching out to the local community, or maybe it’s not just their kind of thing but somebody else dragged them there.

The Green School runs a number of programs linking the school to the humble community outside the fantastic, almost mythical world inside.  Trash for class lets local children study English for a whole semester in exchange for 5 kilos of trash.    The middle school students built a bridge together with local engineers that connected two parts of the town, previously inconvenient for villagers to pass.  The school transforms used cooking oil into bio-diesel and produce bio-soap from the excess glycerin.  The nursery and aquaponic areas are roof tiled with windshields from junk cars.  They recycle trash, generate electricity from the river, use waterless toilets, compost waste, grow organic vegetables and do just about anything you can imagine eco warriors would do.

They have a maximum of 25 students for each class with three teachers – one international, one local and one assistant. There is a dedicated area where parents can relax, do their work, meet and organize activities.  The kids can wrestle in the mud or create whatever they want in the Ruang Mimpi or Dream Space.

After visiting school, our group headed for the bamboo factory where photos were not allowed to be taken.  Pictures were okay in the school as long as they didn’t include the students’ faces while in the Green Village, we could take all the photos we want of the unoccupied villas which are usually 80% full.  Seeing how restless Joshua and Jimmy were in the factory, I thought I should not have gotten that part of the tour which was quite educational, but then Joshua told me he found it interesting how the bamboo floor slats were put together by threading a long bamboo nail through the drilled holes.

The Green Villa is a feast for the eyes, designed by somebody who obviously revels in her wildly crazy, creative, genius mind and crafted meticulously by precise, patient, loving hands.  The Green School was founded by John Hardy who wanted to create a magical school and accomplished just that.  His daughter, Elora Hardy continued in the same vein but branched out on her own unique pioneering path producing one-of-kind luxury homes in bamboo.  Imagine taking a piss inside a giant basket or a having a TV room with woven walls to partially block off the light.  Circular bamboo-framed glass doors pivot.  There is joy in every joinery.

I asked the tour guide who were the superstars who have stayed in the villas and he said they weren’t allowed to take photos of or with the guests but he couldn’t help asking Vin Diesel whether he drove through Bali’s curvaceous mountain roads by drifting.

Before going to Bali, I studiously pored over loads of AirBnb options, tried to convince Jason to book but his decision prevailed to choose accommodation once we arrived.  It was plain luck and serendipity that we eventually ended up in Made’s Airbnb listed place and it was an experience to treasure just like our stay at worldschooler Rony’s.  One person who stayed with Made for six months filled the guest room door with tiny flashcards for learning the Balinese language.  Others left sweet little thank you notes and photos of Made with the foreign visitors so staying there, you felt part of a worldwide network sharing a not-so-secret secret.


Made in Bali


I always liked to believe that I was made in Bali.  My parents had their honeymoon in the most famous island more than four decades ago when it wasn’t riddled with resorts and the beaches were far from crowded.  I was born not long after but their December honeymoon could not have produced me because my conception was later around June as my birthday fell on the Valentine month. Paradise swayed little power and magic as the marriage ended in divorce but I’d still like to think I was made in the shores of Bali.

When I conceptualized our trip around the world, I wanted our first stop to be Bali because for over a year researching alternative schools, I have been intrigued by two TED Talks about the Green School and the Green Village.  Bali is also near, doable and requires no visa.  So we slung our backpacks on and did away with check-in baggage to practice our skills in traveling light.

A few days before going to Bali, I stumbled upon the Worldschoolers Facebook page which then led to World Schooler Exchange which, among other opportunities, linked globetrotting families with other families who opened their homes to the wanderlust-infected.

World Schooler Exchange is a platform for people using the world to educate themselves and their families through travel. This site is for all world schooling individuals and families out there who want to live like a local and fully experience another country. Rather than just the usual house swap for a week or two, here you will find swaps for people who want to spend a bit longer and totally immerse themselves in a local community. Everything here is really useful and relevant to making your global learning experience easier, helping you connect with other world schooling families round the world.

And that’s how I found Rony and her lovely family from Israel who have been living in Bali for half a year and before that, Spain.  They had extra space in their lovely beach villa and wanted their three unschooling children to meet people from all over the world.  They welcome couchsurfers too and we came almost at the same time as an artistic, vegan, couchsurfing couple from France.

When we arrived at their house located thankfully in a relatively non-touristy area, Yam and Dandu started painting on Jimmy’s face and arms while Joshua spun round and round the cloth hanging from the roof beams.   They took us to the Sing Sing waterfall and Dandu who was then one day shy of his fourth birthday, became our barefoot guide across the cool rushing water.   Rony carried baby Luna in a sling so she couldn’t cross the river with us.

Staying at Rony’s place, we didn’t feel like tourists but family.  She lent us their car to go to the market in the morning.  Jason drove on right hand side which he hasn’t done since living in England more than 10 years ago.  The market was an adventure with hawkers recognizing we were foreigners the moment we opened our mouth.  Jason took pictures of the weighing scales, the old type with small metal weights.  For dinner, Jason introduced Rony’s family and the French couchsurfers, Clement and Fanny to the Chinese home-cooked favorites: tudousi (potato strips cooked in vinegar) and xihongshi jidan (stir fried tomatoes and eggs).

At first, we planned to spend only one night at Rony’s so that we can arrive at the Green School before the weekend but we decided to stay for Dandu’s birthday.  Clement and Fanny also extended their stay and chose to join the celebration because what can be more important than a child’s birthday?  What a party it was with everyone pitching in their talents.  Rony’s husband, Yoni cooked Dandu’s requested chicken schnitzel after which we scrambled to prepare for the 4:00 shindig: painting the banner, blowing balloons, wrapping souvenirs, decorating the place, popping popcorn.   The adults took turns organizing games for the kiddies one of which was Stop Dance which had one young excited neighbor standing on his head on the sofa.  Clement acted the wild DJ swinging his long hair in the air like a rock star.  After the planned games, the kids took over playing hide and seek.

Clement and Fanny are quite an adventurous pair.  They have been traveling the whole length of Indonesia by hitchhiking and they aim to go back to France by land.  The year before, they drove around New Zealand spending two months in the north island and eight months in the south.  They bought a van, fixed it up and sold it at the end of their journey for more than what they bought it for because of the improvements they had made.  Clement makes wedding videos for a living while Fanny is a graphic artist.  We were mesmerized by Clement’s video of New Zealand with music he mixed on his own and shots taken from a drone.  We were equally awed by Fanny’s artworks on skin and paper.

In one of our leisurely chats sprawled on the couch, Rony told me how the pictures that she posted on Facebook seem idyllic living in a renowned “paradise” like Bali, so she also shares pictures of the kids crying and wailing every now and then.  In the spirit of Rony’s balanced reporting, not everything we did in Bali was perfect as the pictures we choose to take and upload.  The kids fought. Somebody punched another in the eye.  We argued.  We got bad taxi deals and learned our lesson.  It rained so laundry took too long to dry and smelled.  There were overpriced bad restaurants.  Garbage washed up on some shores or gathered by the road side.  Litter marred the coastline.  Vendors in the touristy beaches kept offering unwanted massage, bracelets and hair braids.


Still, dreams are made and dreams come true in Bali.  This is my wish list all ticked off in this trip alone: we were able to tour the Green School and Green Village, live with worldschoolers, party with couchsurfers, try a spontaneous AirBnB adventure and enjoy with local eyes.  Joshua rocked the waves surfing while Jimmy body boarded, swishing left and right, giddy with glee.


Launch Pad


Over ten days and not a peep from my blog.  We’ve officially launched our series of international travel, our dream to go around the world in sections, with our trusty backpacks. Unlike other road trips we took locally in China, I didn’t have the time to pause and write. Overwhelmed by 500 photos of the journey and how to resize them for easy uploading, the first order of the day was to learn via YouTube how to resize multiple pictures in a jiffy. Instead of telling the story through words, I’ll cheat in this article and let the pictures do most of the talking to let me catch up more quickly with the backlog of stories.

From our current town of Xishuangbanna, we first flew to Kunming, a bigger airport hub and the capital of Yunnan province.

Then on we went to Hong Kong to link up to the flight the morning after.  We had to stay overnight in this overpriced, overly cost-prohibitive city of seemingly highly stressed individuals. We knew next time, we won’t choose a flight that stop overs in a place this expensive or we shall just sleep in the airport.  Still an exercise in making the most out of everything, we explored the area and tripped upon a mall’s art exhibit that made the stay in the nearby cubicle of a room bearable.

Anyway, the best TRULY is yet to come……


…..because we’re off to Bali!