Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ms. Crafty learns a new craft

Another country, another new craft... Or maybe two. But I'll hold off on sharing about the second one. First things first and all.

I have been wanting to try batik for decades, literally. I think I was still in elementary school when I first decided that I want to make my own fabric. And tie die did not cut it. Over the years, I've looked into fabric and yarn dying classes but couldn't work up the courage to fork over a handful of hard-earned dollars to make it happen.

That is, until Bali. Things here are affordable. And Indonesia is the center of modern batik. The tradition of dying fabrics with a wax resist dates back a long time, some say more than 1,500 years. The last couple hundred years, Indonesians living in Java have really pushed the art form farther and, lucky for me, my instructor Widya grew up in Java and has been practicing his craft in Bali for the last 25 years.

So what exactly does batik entail and what did I make this time? Well, as the saying goes, a picture is a worth a thousand words....

First I drew on paper some elephants I'd seen in South Africa's natural park. Then, I traced those onto my white cotton fabric, along with some lotus flowers and other greenery.

Next, it was time to get waxed! Not me, silly. Rather, it was time for me to attempt to retrace my pencil lines using hot wax that drips from a special tool called a chanting (or djanting, depending on who's spelling it). Yes, this wax hurts when you drip it on yourself as I inevitably discovered firsthand.

When I was done with the chanting, Kumon (Widya's brother-in-law) held my fabric up to the light, noting where it had not soaked through and then retouched my work. A lot.

Then it was time for the wax stamps. One of ways to speed up the batik process is to use bronze stamps dipped in wax and then applied to the fabric. This is also a handy way of making repetitious designs and covering the edge of the fabric which is more challenging than the middle.

With the first round of waxing done, it was finally time to paint! and paint-by-numbers I did.


I even made a cheat sheet of my design with colored pencils indicating my choices.

Using this handy color swatch as a guide. (Luckily I'm not the only Type A person in this craft!)

After the first round of painting was through, I opted to do another layer of waxing. This is totally optional, but it makes for more complicated and beautiful designs. It also takes longer, making mine a two-day project. And again proving that persistence leads to perfection... Or at least interesting results.

After waxing, comes painting. Again I relied on my trusty notes and Kumon helped out so as to speed things along.

Once the second layer of ink was dry, it was time to dunk my work five times:

  1. First in the fixative so the dyes would be permanent,
  2. Then in cold water to rinse off the fixing chemicals,
  3. Next in hot water to melt off the wax (be sure to stir well with a big stick!),
  4. Then back into the fixative to preserve the dye which was under the second layer of wax, and
  5. Finally back into the cold water for one last rinse.

Then hang to dry and celebrate!

I know you are all so impressed with my handiwork, but just in case you're having a tough time imagining what one might create in 5 days on a single project, here are some shots of Widya's and Kumon's beautiful works:

And since 2 days wasn't enough for me, I'm planning to head back into Widya's batik studio this weekend for another go.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Do nothing and feel better

I have discovered a new approach to my health. I essentially do nothing and yet feel better. Truly. Want in on my secret? It's called Yin Yoga.

So technically it's something, not nothing. But the practice is a lot like doing nothing as your muscles aren't supposed to be actively working. Instead you get into a position, find the point at which you can't go deeper, back off 20-30% (or sometimes more), and then prop yourself up so that your muscles can just relax. The result? A deeper release... all the way in your body's connective tissue. Poses are "held" for 3-5 minutes in which you essentially just try to relax, breathe and let go. Yawning is encouraged. In fact, the less you actively do, the better.

I tried Yin Yoga for the first time a little over a week ago. It was surreal.

As I lay in a somewhat contorted, but well supported back bend tears streamed down my face. It was nearly the end of my first Yin Yoga class and I tried not to be self-conscious while crying in a room of 30+ strangers. Although the purpose of the pose was to release the chest, laying with my feet tucked under me had unwound some of the damaged tissue from my accident nearly 7 months prior. In a moment of supreme clarity I realized why I had broken my feet.

No, I'm not talking about the fact that I made a bunch of bad decisions all in a row. Although, yes, that is true too. I'm referring to why it was necessary for me to break my feet.

Your feet are your foundation. Obviously. But strangely as my yoga instructor said this and as the fascia in my feet released some of their tension, I realized that breaking my feet created an opportunity for me to rediscover and redefine who I am at my core.

I grew up with the stereotypical expectations to which most women in the United States are accustomed. I would get married, have children and live happily ever after. And while I am married and happy, the assumption that I would have children has been plaguing me for years. That is, until I broke my feet and spent a month living in Oregon being introspective. It was in that safe and undistracted space that I was finally able to really embrace the truth that I do not want children.

Let me repeat that:

I do not want children.

I will not be having or raising children.

And I will live happily ever after.

Traveling around the world with my husband I have had so many people ask me how many kids we have. And when I say zero, the second question is always the same: when will we? (Or alternatively: what are you waiting for?!) For months I have felt uncomfortable telling these people that I don't want to raise children. My hope is that through this Yin Yoga practice, I can embrace my reworked foundation and confidently conclude future conversations on this topic with a simple: "no, none for me ever, thank you."

For those of you who were excited by the prospect of doing nothing and feeling better for it, don't fret. You too can practice Yin Yoga without fear of wanting to disown your children. That's not to say you won't find some other odd insight buried in your connective tissue, but I think it's doubtful that your revelations will be the same as mine. And perhaps you too will be delighted to get to know yourself better.

And for anyone who is wondering if I cry every time I do Yin Yoga... thankfully, that's only happened once. In fact, I laughed my way through another class were we shoved tennis balls into uncomfortable places like under our ribcages, which turned out to be a most excellent way to heal my bloated gut. After every class, I have found new space, mobility and/or flexibility in my body. And all for the high price of lounging like a ragdoll.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

No more canibals, I hope!

Fiji has a reputation of being a country of cannibals, rightly so as in the olden days unwelcome visitors were killed and devoured. Luckily this practice is out of vogue today, or so we'd been told.

Although we'd been in Fiji for a week, we hadn't explored its many mountains or native forests at all. From our homestay in the Sigatoka River Valley we could see majestic limestone cliffs which calling our name, begging to be explored. A quick conversation with the Fijian ladies who work at the Homestay and we learned that the famous Naihehe cave was in the vicinity. And better yet, our host Monica hadn't been before and was eager to take us.

Following the local customs, we went in search of kava to present to the village at the base of the cave. We found it for sale in the home of an Indian man, who wrapped it up nicely for us for $15 Fijian (about $7.50US).

Kava is a local root crop that when ground up and mixed with water produces an intoxicating brew. Fijians have been drinking kava for centuries and it plays an important role in local rituals and rites of passage, as well as your typical Saturday night drinking binge.

With the kava in hand, we arrived in the appointed village to ask permission to visit the cave. Normally, one of the three of us would present the kava, but although Monica speaks Fijian, she was not familiar with this ceremony and Josh and I were totally helpless knowing only hello (Bula!) and thank you (vinaka) in Fijian. A village man, who would later serve as our cave guide, offered to present the kava to his village members on our behalf. Phew!

We took off our flip flops and entered the large house. The floors were covered in tightly woven rugs made out of pandanus leaves and we sat cross-legged on the floor in a circle. Mark, our appointed representative, spoke slowly in Fijian, offering the kava as a gift, praising the village and asking that we be invited to enter their ancestral cave as friends of the village. He then handed the wrapped kava to another man who turned the it over and over in hands, saying words I did not understand but seemed to be positive. The ceremony ended with everyone smiling and us being allowed to tour the caves with Mark as our guide.

Mark presenting the kava (wrapped in newspaper and a red plastic bag).

The village elder accepting the kava and granting us permission to enter their sacred cave.

We four loaded into our rental car and drove a short ways down a muddy road to the edge of the wide but shallow Sigatoka River. Rather than pay to take a local bilibili raft across the river, we opted to wade and the cool water felt wonderful on our hot legs.

On our hike to the cave we passed an Indian family farming tobacco, climbed up a dirt slope, walked along a gravel road wide enough for two vehicles, and tromped along a narrow path in the rain forest. Finally we made it to the cave entrance, just as it began to sprinkle. We ducked into the cave with our headlamps in hand and walked in a shallow creek through the cave's various rooms.

Naihehe cave is the most famous cave in Fiji and it was the stronghold of the Saubatu people during the days of tribal warfare. When under siege, the entire Saubatu village would take refuge in the cave, staying there for 2-3 weeks at a time without any difficulty. They wisely kept the cave stocked with food and sleeping mats, among other things, so they could run and hid there at a moment's notice. It is said that during the last great battle, the Saubatu people holed up in the cave for 100 days and 100 nights, relying on a gap in the the ceiling of the largest room which they climbed up to on vines so they could resupply with root crops and fruits from above. They also enjoyed freshwater prawns and fish that swam in the river running the cave.

A little prawn caught while swimming through the cave.

Inside the cave are several large "rooms" which became the village's sleeping quarters, living room, dining room, and kitchen. There is also a raised stage from where the chief would give orders. And there was an area where kidnapped enemies were murdered, cooked and eaten. Fijians were canibals after all.

The cave is also home to some lovely limestone formations. (Yes, they really did sparkle.)

As we grew closer to the cave's exit, we could hear the rain. It was falling in buckets, like a nice, high-pressure shower. Except we weren't dressed for the rain. Still it was warm and we didn't care about getting wet. We laughed with a child-like glee, wrapped our electronics in plastic bags that we picked up on the way in (discarded litter was finding a higher use) and sloshed our way back towards the car. We even got to slide down a muddy slope, courtesy of gravity and the recent rainfall. I haven't laughed so hard in ages!

Luckily we could wash off all the mud in the river. By the end of the day, we had survived a cannibal cave, torrents of rain and a slippery muddy rebirth. What an adventure!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

I like farms too

Like all good little sisters, I have to do what my sister is doing. Now that we're all grown up, you'd think that tendacy would go away. Maybe it does for some people, but not for me. So when Josh gave me the reins to pick our lodging in Fiji, I decided we must visit a farm.

Now you may be wondering if my sister really is a farmer. The answer is yes. I am proud to say that after nearly a decade at a major technology company, she went back to school to learn organic food production and now she works for a farm on California's coast. To say that I admire her zest for life and audacity to live her passion is an understatement. Words cannot describe just how cool I think my sister is.

So that's how Josh and I ended up spending three wonderful nights at the Teitei Homestay in the Sigatoka (pronounced sing-a-toka) River Valley.

And there was plenty to explore! We walked to the Sigatoka River with the help of our trusty guide dog.

We hiked up the to the highest point on the Homestay farm and got to hang out with owner and native Fijian Monica who told us all about the plants on the way, including some wild turmeric root!
And we, of course, got to tour the farm with its fruit trees, duck pond and clutches of chickens, ducks and geese of all ages. I couldn't help myself from holding a sweet gosling born just days prior.

I also had the privilege of attending a Fijian wedding in a neighboring village. Below are some photos from the pre-wedding rituals, including where the groom's family provides gifts to the bride's family, serves tea and cake to all the guests and the men drink kava.

I didn't stay for the whole day-long affair as I had plans with Josh to go caving. (More on both these adventures in another post.)

All in all, Teitei Homestay was my favorite place in Fiji. The meals were fresh and home cooked. The people were interesting and welcomed us like family. The place was beautiful (did you see my photos!?). Tasty tropical fruits were growing everywhere. And the adventures were truly one of a kind.

Oh! And there were lots of small fluffy things for me to cuddle, including three cats.


Circumnavigating Viti Levu, Part 3

Okay, this series of posts is getting quite lengthy. I would apologize, but since you can skip by it without any trouble, I guess there is no need. For those of you still reading at this point, thank you. I hope you find something interesting here. Luckily, our drives from Suva to Sigatoka and Sigatoka to Nadi were on days with only a little rain, so there are more photos!

THE SOUTH & SOUTHEAST: Suva to Sigatoka to Nadi (Wednesday and Saturday mornings)

Pictured above:

  1. A sugar can truck hauls it's load to the mill while spewing dirty diesel fumes
  2. Shack-like houses on stilts
  3. Sigatoka Sand Dunes national park where we spied locals fishing with nets on a sandbar
  4. The sugar cane train's narrow tracks separate villages from the highway and are used as makeshift pedestrian paths
  5. Trees with arching canopies create a foliage tunnel for a dirt road
  6. The manicured and fake island atmosphere of tourist town Denarau
  7. The colorful facades of a local village and it's communal grazing area for cows
  8. Each bus stop wearing signage indicating who was responsible for its presence: the local woman's club, the Muslim community, a wealthy family, and even McDonald's (in Nadi)

Last glimpses:

  • Winnie-the-pooh cloth hanging on the line next to brightly colored floral sarongs
  • Seventh Day Adventist "tobacco-free" hospital
  • Fancy, first-world condos with views of the bay across the highway from small shanty shacks in ethnic Fijian villages
  • Villages with cars and power poles
  • Larger roadside farmstands with 10+ varieties of fresh produce stacked for sale
  • Empty lots scrubbed clean to the dirt by yellow bulldozers await future development
  • Fences made of pastel painted used tires
  • Men dressed in jeans and tennis shoes, rather than sulus and flip flops
  • Brown squirrel-sized mongoose with thick tails running across the highway

The End.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Circumnavigating Viti Levu, Part 2

Our journey around Fiji's main island continued on a drizzly weekday afternoon. Because of the weather, there are fewer photos here so you'll just have to use your imagination!

THE EASTSIDE: RakiRaki to Suva (Tuesday afternoon)

Pictured above:
  1. Dirt roads to the fancy resort where we went scuba diving in the Bligh Waters
  2. Clothes lines draped from end to end with colorful children's shirts and sarongs swaying in the misty rain
  3. Entry sign to one of many villages along the King's Highway in the inland northeast, maximum speed of 50 kilometers per hour
  4. Kids and adults returning home from school, work on the local bus
  5. Lush green hillsides covered with tall stragly trees and the invasive African Tulip Tree with its flame-red tulip-shaped bouquets of flowers topping the pinnacle of each green leafy branch

Additional observations:

  • Young boys playing rugby in one corner of the Communtiy field while the older boys/twenty-something men play in a another
  • A string of dairy cows on their slow plod across the highway and back to the barn for the night
  • Two young goats attempting to get out of the rain by hiding under their mum's belly
  • Boys with sticks and bush knifes out for an afternoon stroll
  • Middle aged women wrapped in sarongs and wearing long cotton dresses selling homegrown produce by the side of the road
  • Cucumbers, tomatoes, durian and papayas stacked up in wooden planks
  • Young boys holding out a bunch of bananas in one hand and display a single digit with the other, trying to make a sale along the Kings Road in last hours of daylight
  • A serious-faced toddler holding a family-sized rainbow umbrella on a hillside
  • Brown lazy rivers meandering through the green grassy fields spotted with palm trees and black and white spotted cows
  • Women in long floral-print cotton dresses with their daughters doned in dresses cut and sewn from the same cloth display their wares in a corrugated metal farmstand
  • Slow rush-hour traffic and weaving cars as we make our way through Suva as dusk


The adventures continue in my next post combining our drives from Suva to Sigatoka and Sigatoka to Nadi.


Circumnavigating Viti Levu, Part 1

Sometimes the best way to get a feel for a place is to travel its countryside. With just a week in Fiji and no ambition to make the hop to any of Fiji's 300-plus outer islands, we opted to rent a car and circumnavigate its big island: Viti Levu.

We started on the dry side of the Island, just north of Nadi. (Well, actually Josh started at the Nadi airport where he picked up our rental car. I started at the Vuda Point Marina where we entered the country on our friend's boat.) On our first day, we drove north to Lautoka, the second largest city in Fiji. From there, we continued north in a clockwise circle and spent two nights in the small town of RakiRaki where we were able to go scuba diving and watch local kids play rugby from our hotel room window. Heading southeast, we entered the wet side of the mainland and passed through lots of villages before arriving in Suva, the capital and home to the Fiji Museum. From there, we drove west to Sigatoka and then north into the interior where we enjoyed a Homestay on a farm for three nights. Josh's last day in Fiji brought us to the Sigatoka Sand Dunes and then north to the tourist town of Denarau and finally Nadi where I holed up until my flight out a couple days later.

As we drove around the island I took notes and photographs in an attempt to capture the essence of rural Fiji.

THE NORTHWEST: Lautoka to RakiRaki (Sunday morning)

Pictured above:
  1. The bus station in downtown Lautoka packed with privately operated buses headed in every direction.
  2. Indian sweet shop by the side of the road where we bought four fried donuts and four chickpea savory bites for just $1 FIJ ($0.50 US)
  3. Corrugated metal houses painted in bright reds, pinks, blues and greens
  4. Sugar canes fields on fire in preparation for the harvest
  5. Trash littering the roadside: tinned food, beer bottles, plastic bags, foil chip bag
  6. Cows with curved horns tied up and grazing along the highway beneath fluffy clouds begging to be flown
  7. A mother and daughter dressed in pink crossing the fields behind the belching sugar cane mill, with the sugar train engine awaiting it's next journey.
Additional sightings:
  • Mangrove swamps dried up with colorful boats moored in mud
  • Families walking with rainbow umbrellas along the highway
  • A whole village dressed in their Sunday best seated on the dirt ground under pole roof outdoor room listening to a sermon
  • Seventh day Adventist, Catholic, Muslim, and Hindi churches and temples and schools
  • Goats! Black furry baby goats, Dalmatian spotted goats, brown goats, grayish white goats--some grazing freely, others tied with long twine ropes
  • Tiny homes with immaculate yards, swept dirt front yards, a rainbow of flowers individually planted just so
  • Satellite dishes on corrugated metal roofs
  • A yard full of broken down and banged up cars
  • Buses belching diesel fumes, driving through a cloud of exhaust
  • Bus stops dotting the highway where relaxed woman, teen boys and families awaited their pickup in the shade

See the next post in this series for EASTERN FIJI.


Sunday, October 5, 2014

Are we there yet?

Josh and I started our travels nearly 10 months and I figured it was time to update our itinerary page. There you can find a listing of where we've been and where we might be headed. We are hoping our travels extend far into 2015, but the winds may shift and bring us back to Seattle sooner rather than later. Everyday is a new adventure in our world!


Saturday, October 4, 2014

A Country Divided

Everywhere I looked in Fiji, I saw duality:

  • Ethnic Fijians vs. Immigrants from India
  • A dry side in the west vs. a wet side to the east
  • Fancy resorts with tourists vs. Villages without electricity
  • Sugar cane and cattle farming vs. Tobacco and subsistence crops
  • Monotheism (Christianity and Islam) vs. Polytheism (Hindus and Fijian Ancestor Worship)
  • Automobiles vs. Horse riding
  • Anything goes dress code in the towns vs. Conservative traditional attire required in villages

Despite the bifurcation of life in Fiji, people here seem to navigate these differences without any difficulty.


This was made ever more clear to me when Josh and I visited a local village with a Fijian, Monica, as our guide. Before arriving in the village, Monica and I wrapped ourselves in sulus. After our business in the village was over, we took off the sulus revealing our shorts beneath. This surprised me as one of the villagers was with us throughout the entire event and he deemed it appropriate for us to hike without the sulus. Odd, I thought, but also surprisingly refreshing as this acceptance of two dress codes seems a handy way to maintain traditions while also keeping up with modernity.


The same juxtaposition of lifestyles is the case with the locals who work at the resorts. All day they are surrounded by tourists, mostly Australians, Kiwis, Europeans and Americans (from the USA) where they serve drinks and meals that easily costs $30 Fijian per person. And yet most women make less than $20 Fijian a day, typically about $2/hr. The resorts they work at have hot and cold water, electricity, air conditioning, and every modern convenience. At the end of the day, these people return home to small houses often without electricity or running water, and most definitely without hot showers and Internet service. And yet, many people make the long commutes (up to two hours each way by bus or on foot) to the resort so that they can supplement their families' gardens with store-bought goods.


Disclaimer: The following is what I have learned while here in assorted books and at the Fiji Museum in Suva, and is likely to be incomplete and possibility even inaccurate. My apologies in advance for any errors here; revisions are welcome in the comments section following this post.

The last example of the double-sided nature of Fiji that I will write about is the history of its peoples. The ethnic Fijians trace their ancestry to Melanisans and Polynesians (like most of South Pacific Islanders) and historically they practiced ancestor worship within tight-knit tribes or clans. Warring between the tribes was common and deadly. The winners ate their enemies so as to gain strength from them. And they were known to bury their enemies alive in the footings of their homes to ensure it would be strong. Sometime in the 1800s, Christian missionaries began successfully converting ethnic Fijians to Christianity and several battles were fought over whether Fiji would become a Christian nation.


In addition to fighting between Fijian tribes, people from Tonga attempted to colonize the islands. In an attempt to throw out the Tongans, Fijians agreed to join the British empire in 1874. This decision solidified Christianity in Fiji, but also opened the gates to waves of immigrants from India who the British brought over on 5-year contracts as indentured servants to work in the sugar cane industry. A few decades later in 1916, the practice of indenturing Indians was brought to an end and formerly indentured workers were permitted to stay in Fiji. And in 1970, Fiji became a sovereign nation again.


Today, the population of Fiji is split roughly 50/40 between ethnic Fijians and Indo-Fijians, who maintain mostly separate settlements, speak different languages (in addition to English) and practice different religions.

Perhaps the most striking difference between today's Fijian and Indian communities is the opportunity for the accumulation of wealth. Fijians own land communally and Fijians who have businesses and/or successful farms can be called on by relatives from their home villages to share whatever they have. In other words, Fijians accumulate wealth as a community only.


Indo-fijians, on the other hand, operate more similarly to westerners in that the profits of their labor accumulate to themselves and their immediate family only. The result of this is that many of the larger shops and industries are owned by Indo-fijians and this has created resentment in the hearts of some Fijians who wish they too could work hard and improve their individual circumstances. But alas, there does not seem to be much movement within the the ethnic Fijian community to change this traditional aspect of their culture and so one would expect the disparity in prosperity between ethnic Fijians and Indo-Fijians to continue to grow. These differences also boil over into the political realm and tensions exist unde the surface.


Luckily for us, wherever we traveled in Fiji we were made welcome. Our experience in Fiji was made all the more special by the country's diversity, despite us being the only white people in some of the places we visited.


This post is for my mom and all the other flower-lovers out there.

Our first stop in Fiji, once Josh picked up our rental car, was the Garden of the Sleeping Giant. This garden takes its name from the shape of the mountain where it is located, which some say looks like a sleeping giant. Surprise! It wasn't the name that got my attention, but rather the plethora of orchids it promised.

Allegedly home to thousands of species of orchids, I took it upon myself to attempt to photograph each variety.... a few more than once. Below is a sampling of what I deemed the prettiest, weirdest and most photogenic of those in bloom:

And, yes, even when I am traveling my need to organize things by color still persists. What can I say!? I'm just special like that.


Blending in or standing out

A few weeks ago, in Tonga, I saw an octopus while snorkeling. I looked down and there was a translucent white creature swimming toward me, about six feet below. Octopi don't really swim though; they sort of walk in water, moving one tentacle at a time, reaching it forward like a ballerina's toe and then curling it in as the octopus slinks along behind. I was mesmerized. But I snapped out of it enough to holler to Josh and Cheri--through my snorkel mind you--that there was an octopus they needed to see.

We three circled around the octopus watching it blend in with the surrounding rock. First, it took on a reddish color with bumpy texture to match the coral behind. As it continued to seek a resting place, the octopus gracefully and gradually faded to a deep, smooth maroon and hid itself in the underbelly of some stag horn coral. The octopus watched us watching it and decided it was time again to move along. It's tentacles turned yellow first, then it developed a yellow stripe down its back and finally the rest of the octopus transformed to a mottled pastel pattern as it matched itself to its surrounding yet again.

Only when it trawled across a distance of a few feet did it let its true color--transculent white--shine through. And then it was gone! A double-take and I spotted him, curled up around a furry textured coral mimicking it's variegated colors and polyp-like spikes. Each time the octopus changed positions, it transformed itself to perfectly blend in with its location.

As I swam in the ocean, I wondered how many times I have snorkeled past an octopus, blind to its proximity, mistaking this amazing creature for another bit of coral. I also admired the octopus for its ability to fit in most anywhere, yet still retain its true color. As I travel around the world, exploring new places and trying to feel at home in different surroundings, I know that I rarely blend in. And despite that, I sometimes still lose myself in the tangle of textures and personas that the unfamiliar bring. As I continue my adventures, I will think about that octopus and know that I am me regardless of where I am or what I am doing.