The Highs and Lows of Solo Travel

The Highs and Lows of Solo Travel

My mother always told me my wanderlust began August 13, 1962.  I was born in Kimbrough Army Hospital, Fort Meade, Maryland on August 11, 1962.  As a result of a jeep accident that left my father in a coma for weeks in January of that year, not even knowing he was going to be a father, he received a medical discharge on August 13th.  My parents packed up their newborn, without a name, except “female Marvin” and took me on my first road trip of 350 miles to the place I would call home, Warren, Ohio.

Fast track to 2019…..I have now spent the better part of the last 5 years living abroad.  First, in Paris from August 2014 until February 2015 and when I decided I needed to continue my travels/living abroad, I moved to China in August 2015.  I haven’t looked back and I feel it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. That being said, most everyone, including myself, talks of all the great things about international travel and living….all the “highs”.  I’ve taken mad scooter rides through the back streets of Saigon; attended the Royal Funeral of the Queen Mum; climbed the Great Wall of China and stood where it ends at the Bohai Sea; slept on the rooftop of the world, Mount Everest Base Camp; dined at the Captain’s table on massive cruise ships; found a person from my hometown in a tiny village in rural China; ridden a camel in the Gobi Desert; and visited Angor Wat.  I’ve visited 34 countries of the world and if you count territories belonging to other countries, such as Puerto Rico, Aruba, and Tibet, that number jumps to 43.  I’ve experienced Christmas through the eyes of a child in a communist country.  I’ve prayed in Buddhist Temples and witnessed exhuming of a body for a Hindu cremation or Ngaben Ceremony in Bali.

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As “high” as you can get.  The rooftop of the world EBC. Photo by Jan

The “highs”…. I could go on and on because that’s what everyone wants to hear about, right? Or, maybe, if I’m honest, because that’s the story I want to tell.  But, what about the “lows”?  I know I sometimes go on and on with all the happy, happy, everything is great bullshit, but for me, that is my coping mechanism, because yes, sometimes there are “lows”.  In most instances, attitude really can improve a “low”. I’m not saying it can make it a “high”, far from it, but it can help you through that period.

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So, what are the lows of solo travel?  I was going to start with the biggest low of my journey, but I think I am going to start with the time I felt most alone.  I arrived in Beijing, a day before the other recruits in August of 2015.  The first thing I noticed was that I was given a private room.  All the other rooms in the dorm had 2 names on the doors.  I thought maybe many people came with friends or I was just the odd man out and luck of the draw I got the private room.  At this point, I wasn’t too concerned, but the next day everyone else starting arriving. Jane told me they figured since most everyone else was on their gap year between high school and university they thought since I was older, I wouldn’t want to share a room with one of the “kids”. Ok, I felt old and alone and I had to spend the next 2 weeks with these “kids”.  I kept to myself for a while, but that’s not really my style.  I don’t remember the circumstances, but somehow, we (a group of 6 or 8) ended up on a search for alcohol and snacks.  I’m sure you can imagine me on this quest.  For the rest of the time we were together, I spent most evenings in someone’s dorm room, laughing, drinking, singing and dancing.  It was another low when at the end of 2 weeks we all got our teaching assignments and had to say goodbye, most likely never seeing each other again.  It was amazing the bond that was formed in 2 short weeks.  I’m happy to say I do communicate with many of that original group.  But, I have never felt that alone as I did when I first arrived.  I learned that people will accept you for who you are no matter your age, looks, race, or religion.  You discover that those who pack up and move abroad without knowing anyone usually have a similar mindset as yourself.

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Those “kids” in Beijing

Other lows I have experienced traveling…. sometimes your heart hurts.  After spending 5 months with 2 lovely roommates in the tiny village of Xiashan, China and with the entire staff of an all Chinese primary school, you have to say goodbye.  You know all along this day would come, but your heart still hurts.  Deep down you know you will most likely never see these people again.

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Li Zi Han aka “fish lips”

What about Li Zi Han, aka “fish lips”, that little girl in grade one who made up to me on my first day in the classroom.  She wanted to be a dancer.  What has become of her and will she follow her dream?  What about the little girl who didn’t have crayons and I gave her a box?  When she finally got her own, she returned mine. Will she grow up to be a kind and caring young lady?

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One of my naughty boys

What about the naughty boys in grade two who always tried to see what they could get away with? Will they grow up to be doctors or lawyers?  What about the charming Frenchman I spent much time with during my last few weeks in Paris.  The one that showed me “his” Paris…..the Paris off the beaten path, the smoky cafes, the paper cups of wine while we walked the streets late at night as he walked me home.  I had to say goodbye to friends who were like family in Changning, Hunan.  All my friends, teachers and students at the kindergarten in Qingdao.

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My sweet Marlon

My sweet Marlon, yes, I still have contact, but it’s not the same.  My bestie in Qingdao, Erwin, oh how I miss him and our antics. Will I see him again now that he has moved to Norway?   Goodbyes, when you travel, are most often lows.  Yes, sometimes your heart hurts.  Having spent 2 years now in Dong’e, I am not looking forward to the goodbyes that await me at the end of this school year.

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My bestie in China, Erwin

 

 

 

Sometimes your heart hurts, but not because you are saying goodbye.  Those nights you are trying to fall asleep, but you know your best friend back home, home as in hometown, is struggling and you can’t be there to share a glass of wine, a good cry, a laugh, and a hug.  That night you are all alone in your apartment and have a little cry because you know your brother is receiving an award and you won’t be there.  You know he understands but he’s the closest family you have left and it gets you down.

 

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My brother before the award ceremony

 

 

Then there are the lows that you will look back on laugh.  That time in Changning I drank a little too much, imagine that.  That wasn’t the low, because it wasn’t the first time and certainly not the last.  The low is when you are sick for 3 days and only have a squatty potty.  I think I remember saying “I hate you China, why can’t you have normal toilets”?

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That time I drank too much and was sick for 3 days

Then there are the times you feel sorry for yourself lows.  The time I returned to Xiashan, my roommates were gone, most all my Chinese friends were home with their families for Chinese New Year and I got the flu.  The sneezing, sniffling, achy head, fever, I can’t breath kind of flu and there is no one to take care of you.  You can start to feel sorry for yourself.  Those times you are traveling with too much luggage because you are coming or going from the USA and you get to the train station and no elevator, no escalator or the escalator isn’t working so you must lug your suitcases up and down stairs.  China, why?  That time I agreed to go home with one of my Chinese co-workers to visit her family for several days in a February.  When we arrived in a very rural village, I learned I was staying in a home with no running water.  Her mother heated water from a pump outside over a gas fire and filled a washbasin each morning for us to bathe. Her bedroom had no heat and the toilet was a hole in the ground outside.  Really, I’m 50 something years old, I’m sleeping with no heat, now I’m going to have to find my way in the dark and go outside to pee in the middle of the night.  What did I get myself in to?  I will admit, after first feeling sorry for myself, it ended up being one of the most memorable experiences in China.

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How we bathed when I stayed with my friend at her home in the countryside

Since I see I am getting a bit long winded here, I will wrap it up with the biggest low of my journey…..my broken back.  You never think you will end up in a hospital, halfway around the world, 24+ hours travel time from your family and friends.  You can read about it here.  I had wonderful care. I survived and am on the road to normality.  If I am honest with you and myself, this was tough for me.  When I was finally able to reach my brother, between MRI’s, x-rays, doctors, etc., it was the middle of the night his time. I put on a brave front as I told him I was in the hospital, injured bad and would probably need surgery.  Trust me, it took everything I had not to bust out into tears.  Then he spoke with the doctor and other than my tests being sent to doctors in the USA for review and confirmation, it was agreed I would have back surgery the next day.  The doctor put Mark back on the phone, he asked me if I needed him and Lori to come to China.  Although it would have been nice, it would serve no purpose other than being there for emotional support for me.  It would also more than likely be 2 days before he would even arrive in Dong’e.  Holding back the tears I told him no.  The next hardest part for me was when I was wheeled into surgery and about to be put under and I realized I hadn’t talked to him to say I love you.  I wasn’t scared or worried, but somewhere in the back of your mind is always that “what if I don’t make it”.  Obviously I “made it”, but those few seconds before I went out, I was very sad.  I spent the next two weeks post-surgery confined to a hospital bed.  Then for about 6 weeks after I was home, it was a struggle.  I had plenty of help and caregivers, but it was easy to fall into “why me?”.  This is where attitude played an important role. Every day I looked for something good, some improvement anything to make me happy and to see the light at the end of the tunnel.  This period was the toughest for me emotionally since I have been abroad.

As I stated in the beginning, choosing to travel and live abroad has been one of the best most rewarding decisions I have made.  A life of travel isn’t always a bed of roses.  I think it is even more difficult as a solo traveler and a female.  Yes, I have felt alone.  Yes, I have had my heart hurt. Yes, I have felt sorry for myself. Yes, I have missed my friends and family in the states.  No, I wouldn’t change a thing.

“My confession is I fall in love with so many places I’m always half broken-hearted by goodbyes. And I don’t believe in non-attachment.  There’s no passion inside of that.  I believe in burning and longing.  And I believe we leave tiny pieces of ourselves in every placed we’ve loved.”  ~ Victoria Erickson

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Everything You Always Wanted to Know About China and Some Things You Didn’t

Everything You Always Wanted to Know About China and Some Things You Didn’t

 

China, Zhōngguó, PRC, the Middle Kingdom, a country of nearly 1.4 billion people…..1 in 5 people in the world is Chinese……it’s the place I currently call home. 

Living in China for going on 4 years, I am expecting my first visitor from the USA.  I decided a blog of some essential things you should know, some fun things, some bizarre things and some things you really didn’t want to know should be my next topic.  So, Debbie, this blog is dedicated to you. 

First and foremost, you need a Visa to enter China.  To obtain this Visa, you need a letter of invitation from a Chinese citizen or a complete itinerary including flights and hotels confirmations for every city you plan to visit during your stay.  You can apply for a Visa through a 3rd party agency or take it to the Chinese Embassy in your home country along with all the necessary documents and of course money.

You have your Visa in your hot little hands, now what?  Before leaving your home country, it is a good idea to download a few apps for your smartphone.  If you plan to use Facebook, Instagram or any Google apps, you will need to download a VPN or Virtual Private Network as these, and many other apps/websites are banned in China. VPN’s can be difficult to download after you arrive in China.  It is also advisable to download a translation app.  Google Translate and Dear Translate powered by Youdau are two I use.  Wēixìn or WeChat as it is known in English is a Chinese multi-purpose messaging, social media and mobile payment app. It is China’s app for everything and was named by Forbes as one of the world’s most powerful apps.  These are the top 3 apps I recommend you download before you arrive in China.

Although it is becoming more widely used, most Chinese speak little to no English.  Learn a few words before you come and remember “Chinese” is not a language.  There are between 7 and 10 language groups in China with Mandarin being spoken by about 30% of the population.  It was designated the official language of China in 1913.  It is also known as Pǔtōnghuà which literally means common tongue or common speech.  Under these 7 to 10 language groups there are many dialects that fall into each group.  Under Mandarin alone, there are 8 sub-groups, with 48 different dialects.  It’s no wonder it is such a difficult language to learn without even getting into the tones.  Cantonese is another of the language groups that most people are familiar with.  Learning a few words, hello or nǐ hǎo (knee how), goodbye or zàijiàn (zi ji en) and thank you or xièxiè (shay shay) are 3 to get you started.  It’s also a good idea to learn basic numbers. This is especially important when dealing with taxi drivers and bargaining for items. 

Water or shuǐ (schway) or specifically rè shuǐ or hot water becomes somewhat of a joke with westerners, but I’ll address that in a minute.  First and foremost, DO NOT DRINK TAP WATER IN CHINA!!   The locals don’t even drink the water.  Bottled water is readily available and cheap.  A sixteen-ounce bottle usually sells for about 2 rmb or $.30.  A five-liter bottle sells for between $1.50 and $2.00.  It’s not a problem brushing your teeth with tap water, just don’t guzzle a big swig.  Ok, back to “rè shuǐ”…..forget about getting bīng shuǐ (ice water) and you will be hard pressed to even find lěngshuǐ (cold water).  You may get room temperature water but be prepared to get hot water everywhere.  The first thing they will bring you in a Chinese restaurant is hot water or hot tea, even if it is in the heat of summer.  The Chinese believe hot water is beneficial for your health.  It does become a joke…. the “hot water cures everything”.  If you say you are getting a cold, the answer is, “drink more hot water”.  I have a headache, “drink more hot water”.  Even recovering from back surgery, my caregiver kept telling me, “drink more hot water”, you must keep your back warm, and so on, you get the picture.  Just be prepared to drink hot water.  You will get used to it.

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Now that you have consumed all that hot water……bathrooms in China….be prepared for the dreaded “squatty potty”.  You will have to use them….there is no avoiding them.  Although, I have a few tips for finding western toilets in airports and train stations.  Look for the handicap sign, most often they will have a western toilet.  Most hotels and upscale restaurants in bigger cities will also have western toilets.  Other than that, work those squat muscles. When I lived in Hunan Province my apartment only had a squatty potty.  About toilets, restrooms in China do not provide toilet paper.  Always carry your own.  Some may have a dispenser inside the restroom at the door, but not often. Always carry your own, I can’t emphasize that enough.  In some of the larger cities, they now have a TP dispenser at the restroom which uses facial recognition technology.  You get your allotted amount and can’t get more for a certain period of time.  Always carry your own!!!!  This is useful for restaurants also, always carry your own not only for restroom visits, but many restaurants do not provide napkins.  Before I close out the topic of toilets, Chinese children wear split pants while being potty trained.  This way, when nature calls, they can just squat and go.  Don’t be surprised if you see a parent holding a small child over a trash can to poop.

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Etiquette…..don’t expect it to be the same as in the west.  Chinese people are naturally loud.  I guess with 1.4 billion people you need to be loud to make yourself heard.  They may appear to be arguing. They are probably just having a normal conversation using outside voices.  Queues, they don’t exist. If you are in line and let any space open, be prepared for someone to go in front of you. Every man for himself, I kid you not.  There is no such thing as personal space.  Don’t be surprised by spitting, burping and farting in public.  If you hear a big old haaawwwwkkkk, be prepared to see someone spit, it could be man, woman, or a little old grandma type.  People spit, that’s all I can say.  Don’t be surprised if you are out to dinner and happen to be eating, let’s say chicken.  Chicken is served by being chopped up with bones, skin, head, and feet.  It’s acceptable to spit the bones onto the table or even the floor.  Out to dinner, burping is normal.

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Food in China….don’t expect Chinese food in China to be the same as in the USA or Europe.  There are no egg rolls, General Tso’s chicken,  egg foo yong or fortune cookies in China.  Expect to share all food at meals.  Unless you are in a noodle or other small shop, meals are not served individually.  Food is served family style usually on a large revolving table.  Whatever is in front of you, just grab some with your chopsticks and take a bite.  Sometimes, it’s best not to ask what it is….if you don’t like it, spit it out and don’t take anymore.  If you like it and want to know, ask after the meal, you may have eaten something unusual that would ruin the remainder of your meal. Don’t be surprised if there is a platter of fried bugs on the table like we would place a bowl of peanuts.  Don’t stick your chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice.  This would be offensive as it looks like incense sticks at a funeral.  You won’t need to tip the wait staff as there is no tipping in China.  Be prepared to see some exotic food at street markets and street vendors.  It’s perfectly normal to see a deep-fried scorpion and other bugs on a stick.  Starfish on a stick are popular also.  Of course, chicken feet are everywhere. 

You can read my blog on Chinese food here: Who Was General Tso and Why Do Americans Eat His Chicken?

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Now that I have either scared you away from visiting China or just made you more curious, here are just some fun, sometimes crazy facts:

The Great Wall of China is probably the most famous sight in China.  It is 8850 km or 5500 miles long and cannot be seen from space.

All of China is one time zone….Beijing Time

The Chinese Army is 2 million strong or roughly the population of Paris.

35 million people in China still live in caves.

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Cave dweller

Urine Eggs are a delicacy. They are eggs boiled 24 hours in the urine of boys under the age of 10.

Over half the population of pigs in the world are in China.

On average, China eats 1.7 million pigs per day.

 

All pandas in the world are owned by the People’s Republic of China.  They are on loan to zoos all over the world.  When a baby panda is born, it is shipped by FedEx back to China to expand the gene pool.

Stuck in a traffic jam, no problem, call a motorcycle taxi. 2 people will arrive on the motorcycle, one will stay in your car while the motorcycle whisks you to your destination.

Hotels in China can refuse foreigners.china_6

Facekinis are a thing. 

China may have a pollution problem, but they are leading the world in green energy.

 

Check out the following short YouTube Video

I think I have given you enough information on my take of life in China.  China is a wonderful country with wonderful people.  It is rich in culture and steeped in tradition.  It is also very different from what most westerners are used to.  If you choose to visit China, embrace the craziness. Embrace it because crazy to you is perfectly normal to someone else.  Accept the cultural differences, learn something about the culture and its history and you will probably end up discovering something about yourself.  As James Michener said, “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion, and avoid the people, you might better stay at home”.

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My 6th Christmas Abroad ~ What It is Like Not Being “Home” for the Holidays

My 6th Christmas Abroad ~ What It is Like Not Being “Home” for the Holidays

“Home for the holidays”!  Maybe I should start out by defining “home”. The dictionary tells us that home is a noun, an adverb, an adjective and yes, sometimes even a verb. For this blog post, home is “the place where one lives permanently, especially as a member of a family or household”.  If we take the word permanently as important, then “home” for me is/was Warren, Ohio. So….probably the last time I was in Warren Ohio for the holidays was 1999.  My mom, who was the epitome of Christmas, died in February 2000.  After that, I started spending the holidays in Florida.  Once, in 2009, the holidays were spent on a cruise ship in SE Asia. Yes, this part of the world has always been fascinating to me.  2018 marks the 6th Christmas I have spent out of the USA.  4 of which I will have spent in China.

Facebook memories…love them or hate them, they happen.  I was recently reminded of my post from December 2012.  “Another year has come and gone…..it has been the best and the worst year of my life….and blah, blah, blah….we’ll skip to the part where “I woke one morning and decided to be adventurous.  I have enrolled for an online course at the University of Miami of Florida to teach English as a second language.  I will start the course on January 7, 2013.  Hopefully, I can take a leave of absence from the YMCA, live abroad and teach English next fall”.

Christmas in Paris

2013 turned out to be life changing indeed.  I finished the course in June and started applying for positions in Paris, France. I was asked to a job interview for an agency in Paris.  After a Skype interview, I agreed to a face to face in Paris which I went to in October with a great friend.  The interview went well, but visa issues and such did not pan out.  At the same time, I was struggling through a dark time as my long-term relationship had come crashing to an end, leading to my first holiday abroad…..and I ran, I ran so far away……actually my Christmas gift from my brother and sister-in-law was an airline ticket to Paris for Christmas and New Years.

My first Christmas away from “home” was just what I needed. I rented a small, as in micro size, flat in Montmartre. Paris during the holidays was magical. Christmas Eve was spent at Sacre Coeur for midnight mass listening to the angelic voices of the Benedictine Nuns.  I returned “home” wanting to return to Paris.  I applied and was hired at another Paris agency.  I spent 2014 preparing to move to Paris.  I took a leave of absence from the YMCA, once again rented an apartment in Paris and flew to Chicago for my work visa.  3 days before my flight to Paris, I found out my work visa was denied…WTF….I packed my bags and moved to Paris in August of 2014 despite being jobless.  My second holiday abroad. I met some great expats and even Christmas caroled, drank mulled wine and ate mincemeat pies at Shakespeare and Co. bookstore. 

Caroling at Shakespeare and Co.
Mincemeat pies and Mulled Wine

 

 

My “home” in Amsterdam

Alone, but not lonely, in Paris, I woke Christmas Eve morning and decided to jump on a train to Amsterdam.  I booked a berth on a boat with 10 others.  What an amazing Christmas.  It was cold as I sat in solitude on the eve of Christmas. The night was clear, the stars sparkled in the water and the moon was a sliver as I sat on the top deck sipping a glass, well a plastic cup, of champagne.  I didn’t feel lonely, but I felt totally alive and filled with emotion. 

Top deck of my “home” in Amsterdam
Sipping bubbly in a plastic cup in Amsterdam on Christmas Eve.
Christmas Eve in the Red Light District
Christmas 2014

 

 

 

Christmas morning, I shared breakfast with strangers, cooked by the owner of the boat. We sang Christmas songs, laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. Then, I went to the zoo.  I had to head back to Paris that evening as I had friends arriving for the New Year’s holiday.  The New Year’s holiday is a whole other story for another time…..cliff note version….we were watching fireworks over the Eiffel Tower, got pepper sprayed and I lost both of my phones.  We were fine, and life went on.  I stayed in Paris until February 2015. 

Those months in Paris fed my wanderlust.  I couldn’t return “home” and carry on.  I didn’t return to my job and all I could think about was I needed to travel.  I needed to live abroad again.  August 2015 landed me in Beijing. 

A Xiashan Christmas

My first Christmas in China was spent in Xiashan, a rural village in Shandong Province.  China, being a communist country, doesn’t celebrate Christmas.   I had 2 roommates, both on their gap year from high school, one from Australia and one from Germany, Jessica, and Adrian. We all taught at the primary school in Xiashan. Our school, because they had “foreign teachers”, planned “Christmas”.  They provided Santa hats for all the children.  The thing that touched my heart the most was the headmaster handing a Christmas gift, filled with one apple, to each child.  The happiness in their eyes and hearing them say Merry Christmas as they received their “gift” was quite emotional.  This was Christmas. This is what it’s all about.

Christmas Apples

Christmas 2016 found me in Qingdao.  Qingdao is a large seaside city with a big expat community. I had friends who invited me to a traditional American Christmas celebration.  They had a tree, gifts, Christmas carols, and a turkey dinner. That was all fine and dandy, but the thing that made Christmas special was at our kindergarten Christmas celebration. I was surrounded by Chinese teachers, Chinese students and Chinese parents.  We all joined hands around a Christmas tree.  The children’s eyes were filled with wonder.  As we held hands, we all sang We Wish You a Merry Christmas. Maybe this doesn’t seem like much, but it brought tears to my eyes and joy to my heart. I was in a communist country, celebrating a Christian holiday and I felt like I was “home”.

A Qingdao Christmas

2017 I spent in Dong’e.  I will spend 2018 here as well.  2017 I spent with my kindergarten kids and co-workers.  The school provided Santa hats for all the kids.  I taught them Christmas songs. We made Christmas cards they could take home. We made Christmas cookies.  It was heartwarming watching and listening.  This year I will have a party with all the students I tutor. I expect this year to be as wonderful as all the rest.  For now, Dong’e is my “home”

Christmas in Dong’e
Christmas Joy

Have I missed being “home for the holidays”?  I honestly have to say no. Sometimes I see things going on and think, “I wish I were there”, but something will happen here and I’m glad to be where I am.  I don’t miss the commercialism and I love the simplicity here.  Yes, if I am honest, I get feelings of melancholy, but that fades. I miss the lights, the scents, and the music, but somehow, my heart and soul are full.  If things go as planned, but we know what sometimes happens to the best-laid plans, I hope to be in the states for the holidays in 2019 and return to life abroad in 2020. 

I will end with the rest of my Facebook memory from 2012, the Holstee Manifesto:

“This is your life.  Do what you love and do it often.  If you don’t like something, change it.  If you don’t like your job, quit.  If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV.  If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love.  Stop over-analyzing; life is simple.  All emotions are beautiful.  When you eat, appreciate every last bite.  Travel often; getting lost will help you find yourself. Some opportunities only come once: seize them.  Open your mind, arms, and heart to new things and people.  We are united in our differences.  Ask the next person you see what their passion is and share your inspiring dream with them.  Life is about the people you meet, and the things you create with them, so go out and start creating.  Life is short.  Live your dream and wear your passion.”

Merry Everything and Happy Always!  Peace to you my friends in 2019!

Breaking my Back in China ~ 10 Things It Taught Me

Breaking my Back in China ~ 10 Things It Taught Me

This weekend I passed the 8-week mark since my accident and surgery.  The experience has definitely been a life lesson. What did breaking my back (and tailbone) and having surgery in China teach me?

 

  1. Life Can Change in an Instant ~ You hear it all the time; “do it now, tomorrow isn’t promised”, “hug your loved ones, who knows what tomorrow will bring?”, “life is short”, and “don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today”.  If you’re like me you shake your head and say, “I know, I know” and go about your day.  Going about my day, not a care in the world except packing for a 2-week trip to Paris.  Shit got real.  Looking back, things really do move in slow motion as you realize something “bad” is happening and it is totally out of your control.  Life changed in an instant. I was in a hospital, in a foreign country. I had a broken back and tailbone. I was trying to contact my brother in the states.  I was told I needed surgery.  Turns out I was lucky.  The T12 was resting just against my spinal cord and there was evidence of bone fragments.  Lucky, why? Things could have been much worse.

 

  1. Bedpans Suck ~ I know, you’re saying, “of course bedpans suck”. Well, you don’t realize how much they suck until it’s your only option. Forget the pain. Forget you’re in a hospital in China.  Forget everything……it’s that moment when, “oh, shit”, no pun intended, I can’t get up to use the bathroom.  Bedpans suck!

 

  1. A Smile is Indeed a Universal Language ~ My Chinese is poor and other than a few doctors who had studied in the states, most of the nursing and other staff spoke no English other than hello. Peter, my English-speaking host in Dong’e, naturally couldn’t be with me 24/7.  I could tell it was stressful to many of the staff when they knew they had to attempt to communicate with me.  They even avoided eye contact in the beginning.  A couple young nursing students even looked fearful. Finally, I got them to start to look at me and I would give them a big smile and a thumbs up.  Guess what? I got smiles back, a few giggles too.   Soon, everyone had a smile when they came into my room.  Next, I showed them we could communicate with google translate…..more happy faces!  I learned a smile goes a long way to bridge the communication gap.

 

  1. You Can Get Excellent Medical Treatment Outside the USA ~ I quickly learned things are much different in a Chinese Hospital. You can refer to my prior blog post for those. As news of my situation got back to the states, many were concerned about the level of care I would get outside of the US.  I soon found out that several of my doctors had trained in the United States, some even at the Cleveland Clinic. Their willingness to share treatment options with my family and doctors in the states put us all at ease.  As treatment progressed, before and after surgery, I always felt I was in very competent hands.  Many things are extremely different from what would have happened if I was in the US.  I received TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine) right alongside what would have been done in the west. Although I am still recovering, I can say, without a doubt, I received excellent medical treatment in China.

 

  1. Bedpans Suck, & They Suck Worse When You Need an Enema ~ I won’t get into any gory details. We all agree bedpans suck.  Now as someone who is as regular as the Brown’s losing, 4 days seemed like an eternity or at least like the 635 days of the Browns losing streak.  This is all I will say, when they tell you they are going to give you an enema and you know you have to use the bedpan, it will be the best worst moment of your life.  It was also at this moment, I learned that there is a point in time when you lose all modesty and you don’t give a shit….

 

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  1. 14 Days in Bed at No More Than a 45°Angle Makes One Weak ~ 2 weeks go by, I’m feeling good….little or no pain.  I have cabin fever and just want to go home.  The moment arrives, I move to a full sitting position. Wow, feels pretty good.  Next, I get strapped into my Ninja Turtle-like back brace.  The doctor comes in and asks how I feel.  I give him the thumbs up and ask if I can walk to the restroom use a real toilet. He nods okay.  Whoa, not wow, whoa, I stand and immediately feel light headed and my legs feel like mush, but I walk the gauntlet, ready to sit as soon as I am in the bathroom.  I make it back to my bed and sit again.  The doctor asks how I feel.  I tell him weak and light-headed.  He tells me that’s normal and not to worry.  It is now that I learn that you don’t get a cushy wheelchair ride to a waiting car.  I got to walk myself out of the hospital.  When I finally arrived home, I realized how weak I had become in 2 short weeks. Thankfully I feel myself becoming stronger every day.

 

  1. Everyday Tasks Aren’t So Easy ~ As instructed, I knew I couldn’t bend, twist or lift anything heavy for several weeks. No problem, right?  Wrong!  Although I got “bathed” and had my hair washed at the hospital, I couldn’t wait for a hot shower and wash my hair.  Who knew raising my arms to wash my hair could be so difficult and exhausting.  Then trying to lean forward to put it in a towel, not easy.  How do I dry my feet….hmmmm, I have to sit down. Mundane tasks like putting on pajama bottoms, again I have to sit.  Clipping my toenails, forget it. I had to ask my caregiver to do it.  I was so happy to get rid of the bedpan.  But guess what?  When using the toilet after back surgery, there is a position between standing and sitting that is extremely uncomfortable. Sneezing or coughing, if standing, I looked for something to support me.  I soon learned that I took many things for granted. Day by day those everyday tasks are becoming easier and almost starting to feel normal again.

 

  1. Posture is Important ~ One of the first things the doctor told me when I arrived at the hospital was because of the nature of my injury, my stomach would be distended. This became more noticeable after I came home. My low back seemed to naturally want to push my abdomen forward while arching my back.  I realized I was going to have to pay close attention to my posture.  Along with doing stretching exercises I had to consciously pull my abdomen in and not let my back sway. This made a world of difference in how I felt.  I still catch myself slouching and tensing, but as soon as I adjust my posture I feel my whole body relax.

 

  1. It’s Easy to Get Lazy ~ I remember when my brother first started his own business. He had his office in his home.  I commented how nice to just roll out of bed and work in his underwear or pajamas.  He immediately corrected me.  He told me he would never get anything done that way.  He said he got up, showed and got dressed just like he was going to an office offsite, otherwise you get lazy.  I learned he was correct. In the beginning, the doctor didn’t want me out of bed for long periods of time, so it wasn’t a problem.  As I improved and was spending most of the time up and about my apartment, I learned I did accomplish more if I treated it like a normal day.  I still have the occasional lazy, stay in pajamas all day kind of days, but I definitely feel better and do more if I get up and get dressed for the day.

 

  1. Attitude is Everything ~ I must admit, during this little hiccup in my life, it hasn’t all been smiles. I have had some bad days.  When I finally admitted to myself that the Paris trip was off, I cried. When my brother and sister-in-law were willing to drop everything and come to my little rural town, I felt bad. I could very easily let myself get depressed and feel sorry for myself.  What good would that do?  I couldn’t change anything that had happened.  I made the decision to wake up every morning with a positive attitude.  Even if it was taking crazy selfies…..some days it was a struggle to be positive, but it doesn’t matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.

I will close with the words of Edith Wharton. “One of the great things about travel is that you find out how many good, kind people there are”.  This is probably one of the most important things I learned.

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I Survived a Chinese Hospital ~ Part 3

I Survived a Chinese Hospital ~ Part 3

I am in pain laying on a street in rural China….I am in an ambulance….I am in a hospital bed being told I have a broken back and need surgery…..It’s the middle of the night in the USA….I can’t reach anyone on the telephone…….Luckily, my future surgeon had spent 1 year studying in Seattle…..I remained calm as I told him I understand I need surgery but you have to understand I will not go under the knife until I can speak to Mark, my brother……I then spent 2 weeks in Dong’e People’s Hospital, Shandong China. My third experience with hospitals in China turned out to be rather serious.

Friday, September 7, 2018, I left my house at 11:40 am, not a care in the world.  I was on my way to my favorite noodle shop for Lanzhou LaMian.  In 15 days, I would be leaving to spend 2 weeks in Paris and beyond.  I would take in a Jimmy Buffett concert or 2 and enjoy my favorite city.  11:45 am, in a mere instant, everything changed.  As I was going down the road on my scooter, I passed a parked car.  With “perfect” or “not so perfect” timing, the rear driver side passenger flung her door open.  The force of her opening her door combined with the speed on my scooter created the perfect storm.  I went flying and my scooter landed partially on me.  As I was laying on the street in Dong’e China, a woman was trying to stand me up. I knew standing wasn’t going to happen and that I more than likely had a back injury.  I had my purse crossbody and managed to find my phone and call Peter (my sponsor in Dong’e).  I handed the phone to the woman who was still trying to get me to stand up and Peter explained to leave me on the road and an ambulance would arrive.   Peter and the ambulance arrived nearly together.  I was soon loaded in the ambulance along with Peter and the woman who hit me, also the one trying to get me to stand.  I later found a video of me being loaded into the ambulance on Chinese social media.

Let me explain that arriving at a hospital in China isn’t exactly like arriving at the ER in the USA.    There is no ER where an ambulance pulls in and unloads you to a room where you wait for a doctor. The ambulance pulled into a parking lot, a team arrives at the ambulance and you are transferred to a bed.  The bed is then wheeled through the parking lot and into the front door of the hospital where you stop at the reception desk and get checked in.  Now I’m assuming the procedure would be different in a life or death situation, but this is my experience. While at the desk, the woman that caused my accident had to pay my admissions fees.  From this point, I’m not sure of all the places I went.  I had x-rays, an MRI a CT scan, blood is drawn, urine sample you name it, I had it or gave it. I must admit, in all my years, I have never had anyone insert a needle so effortlessly, quickly and painlessly as I did here.  I finally ended up in a room and was able to get in contact with my brother, Mark.  Dr. Alex, my surgeon spoke with him on the phone and then forwarded copies of my x-rays and MRI to him to be looked at by a Dr. in the states.  Surgery was scheduled for the next day.  I had a T12 compression fracture and a broken tailbone.  The T12 would be fixed with screws at T11 and L1.  I was in considerable pain and finally received an injection.

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One of the first things I learned being admitted to the hospital here was you need to provide your own pajamas, pillow, and blanket.  One of my friends took care of my linens and pajamas for me.  Next thing I learned is that the hospital does not provide meals for patients, these too are provided by family, friends, or wei mei which translates to “beautiful takeout”, kind of like Uber Eats.

Finally, I got some relief from the pain. I didn’t have much of an appetite, but Peter brought me some noodles.  I also was not allowed anything after midnight since surgery was scheduled the next day.  I managed to get a decent night sleep before the early morning blood pressure and temperature wake up.  Next, I was off for an EKG.  The doctor felt there was a slight abnormality and sent me for an echocardiogram.  Once he was satisfied that my heart was okay, they started preparing me for surgery.  Peter, Kimi (my teaching assistant) and my friend Dee were all with me. Dee would call my brother, even though it was the middle of the night in the states, as soon as surgery started and again when it was over.

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My friends saw me off to surgery

Soon I was being wheeled away, I snapped a picture of my friends wishing me well and then they took my phone to keep Mark updated.  Next thing I knew I was in the OR.  It all happened so fast the only thing that bothered me was I hadn’t spoken to my brother or sent him a text before they put me under.  I knew my friends would be speaking to him, but I was a little upset I didn’t tell him I loved him.  I knew he knew I did, but something tugged at my heart and that “what if” was in the back of my mind.  I didn’t have much time to dwell on it because they were putting an IV in the back of my hand and I was about to breathe that stuff that would help knock me out.  Again, the IV insertion was a piece of cake.  They definitely know how to insert needles at this hospital.  I looked around at the team I was about to put my trust in and saw Dr. Alex. He asked if I had any questions and was I ready.  I gave him the thumbs up and he gave them back.  The next thing I remember was waking up and being asked to identify the people around me.

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Dr. Alex, Dr. Li, and my ICU nurse

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My hardware

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spent 3 days in ICU.  Lucky for me, my student Lucy’s mom was the head doctor in ICU.  Lucy’s mom, Sonya, speaks good English as she has also spent time training in the USA.  She even spent several months at the Cleveland Clinic.  The first 24 hours in ICU was pretty much a blur.  I do know I was well cared for.  Someone even came in and brushed my teeth for me.  Once in a regular room, I insisted I could brush my own teeth.

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Day after surgery. Checking my incision and changing the dressing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My IV was easily moved hand to hand several times as they didn’t like the way it looked.  I had several visitors, and someone always provided me with food. Although, all I really wanted to do was sleep.  After 3 days, I was moved to a regular hospital room.

Once I was in a regular room, I quickly realized that nurses do exactly that, they nurse. They are there for your medical care/needs.  Everything else is taken care of by family and friends. Even medication is your responsibility.  The nurse would bring my meds morning and evening and tell me to take them 30 minutes after eating.

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My Caregiver

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Foot bath

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peter found a caregiver for me.  He also wanted someone to spend the night, but I refused.  I did need a little privacy/my time.  She came and spent approximately 10 hours per day with me in my room.  Slight overkill in my opinion but, that’s just the way it is in a Chinese hospital.  She even tried to hold my kindle for me while I read.  I know she meant well and was “doing her job”, but some things I had to back her off. Peter brought me my Vietnamese phin, coffee, condensed milk, and my mug.  Every morning when she arrived she would make me a cup of coffee.  She helped me when I needed the bedpan.  She helped bath me and wash my hair.    She made sure I had meals, although I often ordered from wei mei.  I had no dietary restrictions except Dr. Alex suggested I eat a lot of fruit.  You know, get those bowels moving. I received daily acupuncture.  Acupuncture treatment was on my abdomen and accompanied with electric stimulation and heat lamp.  This was also to help keep the bowels in working order.  There was also twice daily leg treatment to prevent blood clots.  Unlike American hospitals, the Chinese don’t believe in getting you up and walking immediately.  They feel bed rest is necessary and best. So, I spent 2 weeks in bed and at most having my bed raised to about a 45-degree angle for “sitting”.

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Some of my care team

I was the only patient in my room, except every now and again an outpatient was put in the other bed to receive an IV.  They would be there for a couple of hours and then leave.

The second day I was in the room, someone came in and made a mold of my body, front, and back. About a week later a lovely blue ninja turtle suit arrived.  I say ninja turtle because the back brace I would be sent home in looked like a turtle shell.  Solid front and back pieces that adjusted with Velcro straps.  Chinese women don’t have much in the way of breasts, so when I put the brace on the first time I had to laugh at the cutouts made for my boobs.

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Leg treatment

 

For 2 weeks my routine was pretty much the same every day.  Wake up for temperature (thermometer in the armpit) and BP, doctors’ rounds, check my wound, dressing change, coffee, acupuncture, leg treatment, lunch, rest (nothing happens between 12 and 2:00 in China), leg treatment, read, watch movies, dinner and in the evening have visitors and more reading and movies.  I usually called for the nurse around 11pm for a final bedpan, lower my bed and lights out.  I had no bed controls or light switch at my bed, so someone had to come to take care of that. That was my life in Dong’e People’s Hospital.

One surprise, near the end of my hospital stay, I asked Alex if I could have a glass of wine at night.  He said, “sure, 1 small glass”.  My friends brought me a bottle of wine and I enjoyed a glass in the evening at the hospital.

 

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When they let you have a glass of wine in the hospital.

 

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Before I was released, I had another MRI and X-Rays.  My caregiver gathered all my belongings.  I had acquired quite a few. I had about 6 or 7 boxes of milk and yogurt.  I was told this is a typical “gift” brought to you in the hospital.  I also had bananas, dragon fruit, a watermelon, and a bag of apples. I was instructed to get dressed and a nurse came and helped me into my ninja turtle suit.  Still sitting on the edge of my bed, Dr. Alex came in.  He asked me how I felt.  I still haven’t stood or walked at this point.  I slowly stood and told him I felt a little light headed.  He told me that was normal and to try to take a few steps.  I asked if it was ok if I walked to the bathroom and used a “real toilet” for the first time in 2 weeks.  That was my first experience up and walking.  I came back into my room and sat on the bed.  He gave me my release instructions and said I was free to go.  Mostly, I was told no bending, twisting or lifting and if up for longer than 15 or 20 minutes to wear the back brace and to continue to get plenty of rest.  I was also given exercises to do while in bed.  I said okay, and we said our goodbyes until I would go back for a check up in about 1 month.

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All of my gifts, milk, fruit, and mooncakes, to take home.

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My ninja turtle shell.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unlike in America, there is no wheelchair ride to a waiting vehicle.  My first big walk was out of the hospital and to the parking lot.  That walk seemed like a marathon, but I did it.  Its now been 6 weeks since my accident and I have no complaints about my treatment or recovery.  It is truly a different experience than I would have expected in the states.  I learned what to expect in a Chinese hospital. I can I happily say, “I Survived a Chinese Hospital”.

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A visit from one of my kindergarten buddies.

 

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Students and parents visiting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Bali ~ Island of the Gods ~ A Brief Journey into Balinese Hinduism, Part 3 The Ngaben Ceremony

Bali ~ Island of the Gods ~ A Brief Journey into Balinese Hinduism, Part 3 The Ngaben Ceremony

“The body is only an encasing for the soul which is eternal”.

2:30 am……my alarm sounds…..darkness surrounds me and I listen to the night sounds. I let my mind drift to the Kuburan or cremation grounds. I am about to participate in the “awakening of the dead” or ngagah.  We will be exhuming the body of Ketut’s mother to prepare it for the Ngaben or cremation ceremony. In Balinese, ngaben means turn to ash. I do nothing for several minutes but allow myself to reflect on the lives and deaths in my own life. Next, I do my best to properly attire myself in my kamen, kebaya and anteng and then make my way downstairs to wait for Koming and Ketut.

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Exhuming the body.

It’s a crisp, clear August night/morning as I travel to the Kuburan on the back of Ketut’s motorcycle.  We arrive at the Peyadnyan and I make my way to the Petak.  Family members are preparing the tools and supplies needed for exhuming and then cleansing the body/remains.  I follow the family to the Kuburan where some members of the family have already begun the exhumation process.  A solemnness hangs in the cool night air as young and old look on. No one is openly mourning as even this, “the awakening of the dead”, is the beginning of a celebration; a celebration of life.  A time to celebrate helping the soul of the deceased move on from their previous life.  Koming’s flashlight goes out, so I use the light on my phone to assist the young men digging at the gravesite.  A yell of joy comes from in front of me.  They have reached the body.  Some of the men now drop their tools and pull the dirt away with their hands until a once white sheet is lifted from the grave.  I brace myself as this is the first time I have seen a body that has been exhumed.

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Photo Credit to Elemental Productions.  Out of respect for the family, I did not photograph Ketut’s mother’s remains.  This is an unrelated exhumation.

First, I see the skull, then a torso still wrapped in funeral cloth and finally smaller bones of arms, legs, hands, and feet are added to the pile.  Water, water with flowers and coconut water are used as we wash the “body”.  The torso is placed on a fresh white sheet and the skull and other bones are placed as if a whole body.  It is a sight I will never forget, forever etched into my mind’s eye. It was not a morbid sight. The way the remains were so gently cleansed and lovingly cared for touched my soul.  Today, after all, is about the soul which will first be purified by fire which represents earth. Tomorrow it will be purified by water so it may return to heaven.  After the cleansed remains are wrapped in the white sheet, they are then placed and wrapped on a rattan mat, wrapped and moved to the burning area.  Before the grave is re-filled with dirt a pengiber iber or chicken representing the happiness of the Ngaben is released as we say masuryak or horray.  In the old tradition, the chicken was released into the grave and buried. New traditions allow the pengiber iber to be released free outside of the grave although it still represents replacing one soul with another.

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Around me, more shouts of masuryak went up. Soon all the remains of the 18 souls were in the burning area.  Time for the Ngaben to begin…..the “turning to ash”. As the community looked on, the black of the night took on an orange glow.  I looked around at the faces of those watching friends and loved ones’ physical body beginning the journey to return to the panca maha bhuta or 5 elements; pertiwi, apah, teja, bayu and akasa (earth, water, fire, air, and ether).  Pensive faces lit in the glow of the fire, young children looking on with wondering eyes, me filled with emotions, questions, and a sense of peace.

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We all stood quietly in the still of the morning and as the glowing embers were dying, the sun made its dramatic entrance.  Next, the ashes were gathered and placed on white sheets.  They would later be distributed to the families for the next steps in the ceremony.

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Koming informed me we were finished for now.  I could join her at the market and then we would go home to have breakfast, shower and prepare for the next activities.  After the market, we stopped by a street vendor to get breakfast.  We picked up bubuh to take back to Kenari House. Bubuh is made with a rice congee base with various toppings added. It can be made spicy or not and is served in a banana leaf.   Tear off a piece of the leaf and make yourself a spoon if eating on the go. After breakfast, we showered and changed and headed back to the Kuburan.

 

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bubuh

 

 

 

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Upon returning to the ceremony grounds the sarcophagi were uncovered and ready for the next part of the ceremony.  A sarcophagus could be a lembu or bull or a singa mangaraja, a lion with wings.  The animals would be taken to the community of the deceased in celebration and then returned to the cremation grounds and placed on the wadah or structure for burning.

 

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Before the start of this part of the ceremony, there was a short service blessing the sarcophagi/animals.  As the animals were taken to the respective communities/compounds, I sat near the petak and watched and listened.  Friends and families, visiting, laughing and celebrating.  The gamelan played.  Soon, the sarcophaguses were making their way back.  They were taken to the Kuburan and placed on wadahs.  The family now filled the animals with items needed in the next life.  Once prepared, the priest checked and blessed with holy water.  The family gathered around with more offerings and circled the sarcophagus.  Finally, Ketut and Koming using incense sticks, lit the animal on fire.  Again, we all watched as flames engulfed the sarcophagus.  As the flames died down, we went back to the petak, had a lunch of nasi campur and satay followed by a frozen bean curd pop called es lilin.

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Around 3 pm, after what had been a long and emotional day, Koming said we were finished and I could return to Kenari House.  She wasn’t able to take me, so I took a leisurely stroll home where I enjoyed a glass of rose’ on my patio and thought about all I had experienced in this circle of life.

Next post-Nyekah and Nganyut

Ashes to ashes….dust to dust!

 

 

Bali ~ Island of the Gods A Brief Journey in Balinese Hinduism, Part 2 Ngening Ceremony

Bali ~ Island of the Gods                                  A Brief Journey in Balinese Hinduism, Part 2 Ngening Ceremony

I attended my first cremation in June of 2016 in Kathmandu, Nepal.  Although also Hindu, it was somewhat different from my experience with the Balinese Cremation.  It was here that I met a couple of Sadhus or wandering yogis.  I was able to take a photo, but for a price.

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Sadhus in Kathmandu

I was never pressured on Bali for money for taking a photo.  In Kathmandu, the body being cremated was recently deceased. Whereas on Bali, Ketut’s mother had died 2 years prior and had to exhumed.  The time factor is because the extensive cremation ceremonies on Bali are expensive and go on for several days.  Therefore, once every three years, the entire Banjar or community comes together for one mass cremation or Masal which saves money for the all the families involved.  Both ceremonies prepare the body or remains for cremation which includes cleansing, dressing, and wrapping.  Many flowers are used during this portion of the process.

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Preparing the body in Kathmandu

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Funeral Pyre in Kathmandu

 

 

 

 

 

 

In Kathmandu, after the body is prepared it is moved to Funeral Pyres of the banks of the sacred river Bagmati which later meets the holy river Ganges and set on fire.  After the cremation, the ashes are sent off down the river. I did not have the opportunity to learn as much about the cremation in Kathmandu as I did in Bali.  My experience with the Balinese was that there are specific parts to the cremation ceremony, of which the Ngaben is just one.  These ceremonies take place over many days.  I will begin with the Ngening Ceremony which is the first part I attended.

I arrived on Bali late Monday evening August 13th.  Planning on attending the Ngaben (cremation) Ceremony on the 16th, I woke up at a leisurely pace on Tuesday. I enjoyed a breakfast of bubur injin (black rice pudding with coconut milk), fresh fruit and Balinese coffee.

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My bubur injin

It was a beautiful morning on my balcony followed by a walk into Ubud.  After a trip to the supermarket, I returned late afternoon and enjoyed a G&T with some cheese and crackers again on my balcony.  Upon ordering Ayam Panggang (chicken and vegetables with red curry sauce) for dinner, I discovered the ceremony was not just one day.  Koming asked what I was doing Wednesday.  I told her I had no specific plans.  She suggested I go to the Ngening Ceremony with the family.  I questioned the Ngening Ceremony as I thought the ceremony was on Thursday.  She explained that that before the Ngaben Ceremony which is the actual burning, we had to collect the Holy Water or Tirta for use in the cremation and this ceremony is called Ngening.

Koming arrived at my room early Wednesday morning to “dress” me for the day’s events.  To participate I needed to be in traditional Balinese attire.  She provided me a Kamen (sarong/skirt), Kebaya (lace jacket) and an Anteng (sash).

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Kebaya

Her being quite a bit smaller than me, the jacket was a bit snug across my breasts. She suggested we not fasten it.  The kebaya was white because white signifies mourning. Although the color signifies mourning, the ceremony itself will be a joyous occasion, a celebration.

 

The death ritual is a time to celebrate and help the deceased move on from their previous life.  It is believed that everything in the universe, including the human body, is made up of “five great elements” or Pancha Mahabhuta.  These elements are as follows:

 

  1. Pertiwi (soil/earth)
  2. Apah (water)
  3. Teja (fire)
  4. Bayu (air)
  5. Akasa (space/ether)

Each of the Pancha Mahabhuta are made up of 5 Pancha Tanmatra or elements of the senses. They are as follows:

  1. Ganda (from the nose/smell)
  2. Rasa (from the tongue/taste)
  3. Rupa (from the eyes/vision)
  4. Sparsa (from the skin/touch)
  5. Sabda (from the ears/sound)

It is through these ceremonies/rituals over the next several days that the body is returned to its Pancha Mahabhuta.

Koming explained to me that she would not be able to be with me while at the Peyadnyan (ceremony area).  Ketut, being son number 4, it is his duty to ensure that a proper cremation ceremony is carried out for his mother. Koming, his wife would be there to assist.  She told me I was free to walk around and take photos. Fed and dressed, Koming put me on the back of her motorcycle and off we went to the Peyadnyan.

The first thing I noticed when we arrived was a giant sign/billboard.  It had the names and photos of 18 people/groups of people who would be cremated and a schedule of “events”. IMG_20180815_081111.jpg

Koming left me here and went about her duties. I took a moment and viewed the souls we would be celebrating, then made my way inside.  This was my first visit to the Peyadnyan, it was a feast for the senses.  Colorful offerings were everywhere, music was playing, the scent of flowers and incense filled the air, children were laughing and playing, the clothing of the women from the Banjar (community) who were helping was lively and colorful. Indeed, it had an air of celebration.  As I wandered around taking everything in, I was greeted with smiles and hellos from everyone.

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Soon, Koming messaged me and told me the procession was about to begin.  She instructed me to just walk with the crowd, but not in the line with the families carrying the offerings.  The guys in the band or Gamelan (traditional instrumental ensemble of Indonesia) seemed rather jovial so I fell in step with them. During Balinese death rituals, music is considered a form of offering.   With a police escort at the front, we left the Peyadnyan and the procession started down the main street.  We, the entire community, walked through the streets for about 20 minutes.  We ended at a riverbank and the priest conducted a short ceremony.  The procession then regrouped and walked back to the Peyadnyan.  The Gamelan music, again playing along the route, gave a festive atmosphere.

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The procession heading down the main street

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Arriving at the river

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The priest giving the service

 

 

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At the river, the Ngening Ceremony

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My buddies in the band aka gamelan

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Carrying offering in the procession

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Upon returning to the Peyadnyan there was a flurry of activity setting up for the afternoon’s activities.  I sat down and was mesmerized as I took it all in.  Koming came to me and handed me a brown paper wrapped package.  “Lunch”, she told me.  Lunch was Nasi Campur. Nasi campur is a spicy street food consisting of a scoop of white rice, noodles, peanuts, an egg, vegetables and small pieces of meat. Eaten with the fingers, it is quite delicious.  Side note, when eating, the left hand is NEVER used to eat or pass food.

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Lunch

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Nasi Campur

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After lunch, another flurry of activity to finish setting up for the afternoon.  The afternoon would consist of the Topeng and Corong Corong.  I walked around a bit looking at the beautiful offerings and listening to the gamelan music.  Soon, Koming told me to move toward the entrance to the Peyadnyan the topeng dance was about to begin.  Topeng means mask in Indonesian.  The dance has several masked actors who perform, dance and tell ancient stories concerning ancient or mythical kings and heroes. The actors are adorned in colorful costumes and accompanied by lively gamelan music.

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Next was the Corong Corong also called Peras Perasan.  This is the ceremony for the grandchildren. One thing I noticed during the day’s events, the children actively participate in the ceremonies.  They understand this is a celebration and they are helping the deceased move on from their previous life.  During the corong corong a large basket filled with offerings is in front of the specific Petak (shrine/altar) for the deceased person. In this basket are things the deceased will need for the afterlife.  The family members, including the grandchildren of the deceased, form a procession and as the gamelan play, they walk around the offering box and in front of the petak.  In general, the symbolism of the corong corong is that the deceased spirit is going on a far journey like sailing the ocean. This spirit will return reincarnated to the grandchildren who live in the house and give them the inheritance of all they had.

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Koming

 

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The Priest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Around 5:00 pm, Koming told me the ceremony was finished and Ketut would take me home. She also asked if I still planned to attend the Ngaben (cremation) Ceremony tomorrow. My answer was yes, of course.  This meant a 2:30 am wake up to go to the Kuburan or cremation grounds. Ketut and Koming would sleep at the Peyadnyan and would come to Kenari House at 3:00 am to get me.  With me on the back and his older daughter on the front of his motorcycle, Ketut took us both home.

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Ketut and Kiara

I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am to Ketut and Koming for so graciously including me in every aspect of these most important ceremonies. It was an amazing day and I was physically and mentally exhausted.  What an honor.  Tomorrow we start with Ngagah or “awakening of the dead”, the exhumation of the deceased.

“The body is only an encasing for the soul which is eternal”.

 

3 short videos follow

Gamelan Music

 

 

Topeng Dance

 

Procession during the Corong Corong