Let there be light

For Mother’s Day weekend the fine folks who plan this sort of thing put on an evening show of lighted-up stuff down by the Viaduct. I had jogged by in the morning and it looked like a thing to do so we did.

That’s a person in a lighted costume up above, who did a mesmerizing fairy dance that even managed to make lots of high fives look elegant and mysterious.

Thousands of other people also thought it would be a fun time! It was shoulder to shoulder. Some of the installations seemed pretty cool, like one that made noise when you touched it. But the artist’s vision might or might have included the reality we saw: 50 sticky overstimulated kids slapping as hard and fast as possible so all the sounds and all the lights.

The Harbour Bridge got in on the act.

This sculpture is actually there all the time but looked cool all lit up.

This Plexiglass tunnel boasted the most pretentious artist statement. Vitruvian Man, polygons, harmony, blah blah blah. But many many people lined up to walk through and experience the novelty of lights. And Plexiglass!

Many of the same sculptures will be on display in Parnell in July… maybe with a smaller crowd?

Singapore Gardens by the Bay

We had a nice tour of Singapore’s giant garden domes. I think they have to keep the plants indoors because it’s too hot outside.

Giant indoor waterfall

Cherry blossoms

Flowers

All the pictures above are things you’d expect to find in a botanical garden.

More surprising … downright surreal in fact… was the All-Stars of Cosplay convention.

I am a little uncomfortable around a lot of this cosplay stuff, to be honest. But this family of tourists was all in and didn’t share my queasiness, and it was cool to watch mom and kid having such a good time.

Supertrees light show

Adding to the feeling that Singapore is actually Disneyland, twice every night you can watch a fantastic music and light show at the giant tree sculptures. Just like Fireworks on Main Street USA.

It was amazing… maybe not breaking any new artistic ground with the classics themes and the flashing lights… but still, wow!

Our boat, the Silversea Cruise

There’s the boat we stayed on for two nights in Ha Long Bay, the Silversea Cruise. We were ‘upgraded’ to this boat after choosing another one. All the details of what amenities you get for what price are highly specified , but somewhat opaque to the average punter like me.

The basic deal is you can do one night or two. I opted for two, but in reality one would have been enough. Same basic itinerary each day. The boat holds 40 guests, but we had about 25 on board.

Inside was fine… about like you might expect: cabin small, food beautiful to look at and pretty good to eat, staff a bit smarmy. We saw a few roaches in the bath, probably unavoidable in that climate, but unwelcome.

Prov and I got to take a turn driving, that was fun.

There are no pictures for proof, but I did catch a squid 🦑 (I’m adding the emoji because it was auto-suggested, which is its own kind of awesome) during the evening fishing activities. It was only a couple inches long.

Ha Long Bay Cruise

If you’re in that part of Vietnam, you gotta see Ha Long Bay. It’s recognized as a unique natural attraction by UNESCO. What makes it so special is the population of tourist boats that cruise around. There are thousands of them, or hundreds anyways!

But like all Earth’s special places, Ha Long Bay is under threat. You see, it can actually be difficult to observe the boats due to the nearly 2,000 steep rocky islands that also occupy this sacred place.

The Vietnamese government is doing what it can to allow the boats and the pesky islands to coexist. They’ve even turned a few of them into tourist attractions… you can go ashore and explore caves,

climb up steps to get a better view of the endangered boats,

learn about pearls,

and even buy souvenirs from a floating market!

I’ll make another post focused on our particular boat, but for now just keep all the endangered boats in your thoughts and hope someone figures out how to control all those islands!

Marble Mountain

Halfway between Da Nang and Hoi An you pass through a stretch of road lined with shops selling carved marble stuff from little trinkets like we bought to giant Buddhas suitable for a town square.

Turns out there’s a quarry nearby. And you can tour it.

After riding up in the fun external elevator, you wander around a bunch twisty little (trails and) passageways, all alike. There are pagodas and carvings and views…

The view from Seawatch Point is a-changing.

Some of the carvings depict important cultural icons. Can you make out the symbology of this bench?

The boys climbed up into a cave and couldn’t find the girls on the other side, so the visit got truncated a bit. But we still had time to exit through the gift shop.

Down by the riverside

Hoi An is built on a bunch of rivers and estuaries. A lot of the nicer stuff is along one waterway or another. Early in the day it’s pretty peaceful.

By afternoon it’s cafe society time.

And at night it’s shoulder to shoulder.

Old Town Hoi An Sites

We bought the combo ticket good for up to five of the old town attractions, and we managed to find four to go in.

1. Phuc Kien Assembly Hall

One of several 19th century Chinese assembly halls. Shrines, sculpture, carvings, bonsai, etc. Very pretty but also easy to overdose. The spiral things hanging from the ceiling are long incense sticks that must burn for weeks or months.

2. The folkloric music performance

This was the most ham-fisted production I can ever remember seeing. Traditional instruments and seemingly well-trained musicians and singers and dancers, but all stuck behind a bunch of bad artistic choices. Flashing lights, sappy choreography, and then this:

3. The old merchant house

This was the neatest of the attractions we saw. A 300 year old house, supposedly in the current family’s hands for six generations.

The light in those pictures make them look painted.

One of the previous generations.

4. I can’t even remember

Tegalalang rice paddies

After lunch we gambled that the rain would stop and headed to the World Heritage Site Tegalalang rice paddies.

The rain did stop and held off while I walked rim to rim to rim. Impossibly steep, intricately engineered waterways, lots and lots of tourists.

It was interesting to see different people navigate the muddy paths. I saw a Chinese girl in white ballet flats and a flowy pleated skirt do the whole walk without a drop of mud on her, and a European in sturdy REI travel clothes who was utterly covered in goop.

Have another cup

Lee hadn’t seen a coffee plantation, and Chuck and I were both willing to do it again, so Kadek took us to one. See, said the guy who showed us around, like the Hollywood sign!!

The tour was pretty similar to the previous one, but a little better overall. Here’s some specimen plants, here’s the coffee processing, interactive this time…

Hot work and a hard life. I would not want to bet which of us is older.

Then on to the tasting, including a cup of the Kopi Luwak, the famous civet cat poop beans. For the record, it was a good cup of coffee, but I’m not gonna be shelling out the $50+ per pound on a regular basis.

We got to pet a sleepy (probably drugged, now I think of it) civet, and then exited through the gift shop.

Woulda bought a poo hunter t-shirt, but all they had was an Asian medium size… which I definitely am not.

Tirta Empul

On our final full day in Ubud, our Airbnb host Kadek took us on a sightseeing tour. We originally planned to do a bike tour, but seeing the amount of traffic on the roads convinced us otherwise.

Luckily, Kadek is also a driver, so he knew just where to take us.

First stop, the ATM for another couple million rupiah. Second stop, the Tirta Empul holy water purification temple. Real Balinese Hindus come here to pray and wash away sins. The Eat, Pray, Love set (who constituted the majority of people we saw in the baths) do the same, although if anything they take it even more seriously. And tourists like us come to take pictures.

The temple grounds are really beautiful. I find the Balinese carvings and sculptures to be really evocative… their mythological creatures somehow seem just exactly mythological enough.

Everyone has to wear a sarong, which they give you on the way in.

The Balinese Hindu calendar seems to be neither lunar nor solar according to the explanations we got. There are ceremonies and rituals at odd intervals, and then more that happen for births, deaths, marriages, and so on. There’s a good time to start a business, a good time to get engaged, and so on. So with all that complexity, we had no idea what the big procession we witnessed was all about… but it was pretty impressive!

After all the offerings were put on a table, many of the marchers got to take a break in the shade. Out comes the phone, and snacks.

Then more parading of fancy and apparently weighty icons, and the big shaggy dragon brought up the rear.

It was all in all a really special place, mystifying but benignly so. Kadek did us a solid on the way out by getting the door guard to let us skip the enormous handicraft bazaar they funnel you through on the way out.

Coffee plantation

Yesterday Chuck and I went on a “downhill bike tour”, more about that in the next few posts.

The tour included a stop at a coffee plantation, where we got a perfunctory tour of some plants,

a peek into the traditional methods of producing coffee,

a viewing of the beans in various stages (including freshly pooped out by a luwak or civet),

and a tasting of all the things we might choose to buy on the way out.

It was fine, in a cruise ship attraction kind of way.

Ubud Monkey Forest

A few hundred meters from the Royal Palace is the Sacred Monkey Forest.

One minute you’re walking down an overstimulating commercial thoroughfare, the next you’re in the cool quiet jungle.

But it’s not like it was unexpected… we saw a handful of monkeys in town as we got close, and there was this right outside the gate…

The monkeys are long-tailed macaques, and there are about 600 of them. They can leave any time, but they mostly stay in the reserve: lots of nice trees, no motor scooters, and a steady diet provided three times a day. Sweet potatoes, corn, bananas, etc.

You are warned when you enter to not make eye contact, not to smile at the monkeys, and to remove all your shiny jewelry or the monkeys might steal it.

Mostly, the monkeys seemed way more interested in their own lives than ours… you could instantly see the social hierarchies being played out around the feeding area.

This monkey was posing, minding her own business, and then this happened:

There are several temples inside the reserve, with a lot of cool and/or disturbing sculptures.

All in all I was fascinated and a little creeped out. I kinda want to go back and just observe quietly, maybe next trip.

Ngockin aroung Ngunguru

We are up north this weekend visiting ex-boss Tom at his family farm in Tutukaka. But the hotel there wanted way too much for a room, so we found an Airbnb in Ngunguru, the ngext towng over. Pronungciation has beeng a topic. There’s no hard G, so no gurus in Ngunguru.

Anyway…

Ngunguru sits on an estuary. There’s a few hundred houses, a mix of second homes, retirees, and some people who make the commute into Whangarei. Pretty sleepy.

The next morning we went for a walk around. Despite there being nothing to see, we saw a lot…

The jandal fence.

The time capsule.

A whole series of funny little ant-themed pictures on the sidewalk.

The blue car that drove off the road.

A funny sign at the golf course and sports complex clubhouse.

And more. Would you want to spend your remaining time here? I don’t think I would, but it’s always a nice surprise to find some of the “more than meets the eye” stuff that surely exists everywhere.

New Year’s Road Trip Stop 5: New Plymouth

Our second and final night on the road was at New Plymouth, on the West coast.

We got in about dusk and went for a walk to shake off the road. One of the first sights we saw was this eerie light hanging out over the water.

It turns out to be Len Lye’s famous Wind Wand, one of several cool pieces of public art around the downtown area. Art takes money. New Plymouth has enjoyed some influx of wealth due to offshore oil and gas exploration. The current government, with its Green Party coalition partners, has stopped that program, so things are a bit tight at the moment.

We saw more Len Lye art at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery… like a lot of more recent art that appeals to me, these pieces are conceptually so simple that I say to myself “I coulda done that,” but then I find myself saying “But I didn’t and I’m glad somebody else did, because it’s magical!”

We walked around town for a while, had lunch, chatted with a blind clarinet player who was busking on the town square, and thus inspired picked up a couple of Django Reinhardt CDs for the drive home.

On the way our of town we stopped to see the Te Rewa Rewa Bridge and walk along the seaside track.

Mt. Taranaki looms in the background. It’s a ways from NP, but the road passes relatively close by, and it’s the most amazing mountain I’ve ever seen, as big as most Rocky Mountain peaks, and just sitting there all by itself.

Of all the places we saw on this quick trip, I’m most excited to go back and explore the New Plymouth and the Taranaki region in more depth.

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