1-14 Silversmithing or How to Make a Silver Ring

I want to be a silversmith when I grow up.

The paper-coated silver strips

No. Seriously. I love blacksmithing (hence the blacksmithing class in my past), but it is hard to do mostly because it requires space and materials. I did do some on the little forge I built during the class, but it was always kind of a pain. I think silversmithing solves that problem.

We took a silversmithing mini-course. When I saw it on the travel sites, of course I got excited. Anything creative does that to me. It seemed cool and was well-recommended on all the sites I saw, so I contacted the place and set up an appointment. (More complicated that one might think, but it all worked out in the end.)

Punching out the letters

We walked up to a beautiful archway at 9am. Inside the archway was a family compound. We went in. The smiling grandma in the first doorway pointed us further back. The two kids in school uniforms on the next porch pointed us further back. We went down a small slope and into an open-sided pavilion. A middle-aged woman put down her wash and ushered us over to chairs. She brought us water and a bunch of books of silver jewelery pictures. We sat and slipped through them while we waited for something else to happen.

It needs to be noted that during our brief stopover in Australia, Jason once again “misplaced” his ring. He left it at a friend’s house while he showered. So, Jason was shy a wedding ring and we were making silver jewelery. Does this seem like an excellent opportunity to anyone else? We decided on rings. Just to be cute, we went for matching ones.

Welding the rings shut

The teachers at the place were excellent. They sized the ring, then used calipers and the ring size to mark out a piece of paper in the correct shape. We drew out our design. They cut out the design and glued it to a strip of silver.

Once the strip was glued on, we had to etch the design into the metal. We used a handful of tiny punches to cut the lines. The punches were straight and curved and came in a variety of widths, curvature and lengths. It was like piecing together a jigsaw puzzle, except instead of pieces I had to match the line to the right shape and size of punch. It took us quite awhile.

When the etching was done, we flipped the strips over and punched “TEGABIS” into the backs. I messed up the “E” in mine. When the teachers saw it, they took it away, soldered new silver over and gave it back for me to fix. Did I mention they were good teachers?

Grinding, sanding and polishing to a smooth finish

The teachers took and pounded the strips into rings by hitting the metal around a round stick with the back of the hammer. We each had to try the ring on a few times, and cut out tiny strips of metal, to get the right fit. When we were satisfied, they welded the ring shut.

After the ring was a ring, I thought we were done. Nope. First, the teacher painted them with an oxidizing agent, then he left them in front of a hairdryer. When the oxidizing agent had properly taken affect, we started buffing them. Three rounds of buffing made them shiny and smooth, then we repeated that on the inside.


At the end of the morning, we had two new rings and I have a new hobby. (Well, once I get home I will have a new hobby.) We joked that now we have wedding rings. It took us 5 years and a unique path, but isn’t that just a reflection of us?

1-14 Cockfighting and Warungs

The men, lining up with their cocks.

Our transition into “travel mode” was fairly easy. We started in Bali, one of the travel destinations of the world where they are as used to tourists as I am to cockroaches. (That comparison speaks to the last two years of my life as much as anything else.) A lot of people spoke “tourist English.” That’s enough to hawk wares, order food and point to destinations. It makes being a tourist a lot easier.

So, what I’m saying is that we’d been taking it easy. We weren’t throwing ourselves in the deep end and trying to travel on local buses first thing. I did want to start easing into things more though, so I was determined to get out a bit more.

Opportunity number one occurred while we were waiting for the herons. We were waiting on the roof of someone’s house/shop. Below us, men started to amble up with chickens. They were sitting the road, laughing and chatting and petting these roosters. I have a very low opinion of chickens, so I thought they were a bit crazy to be petting them. Then they started riling them up, stroking their shoulders against the feathers and pointing them at other roosters. Once two roosters got going, the men would let them posture and start to fight while keeping a firm grip on the rooster’s tail. When the rooster got too aggressive, they would each pull their fowl back by the tail feathers and settle it down. This was meant to train the roosters on how to fight without damaging them.

Hold on tight to your tail feathers!

One of the other tourists we were waiting with decided the roosters were more interesting than the herons and went down to egg on the men. He didn’t quite get that they were training them and kept offering to place bets on the fight. His additions made watching them all the more entertaining. As the evening wore on, they did let two cocks fight for a brief moment.

More than the cockfight, it was interesting to see the process. As the day was winding down, the men started to gather in front of the shop. They fetched their roosters from wherever it was they spent the day and then started to congregate. They joked and gossiped like old friends. The cockfighting was really just a side gig, because what they were really doing was unwinding from the day. That became more and more apparent to me as the other tourist tried to get them to engage in the fight part. He didn’t get that it wasn’t about the fighting, it was about the socializing.

Once we got back, we decided to go find food. We’d been playing it pretty safe, eating in restaurants that had English translations on the menu or at the hotel. I wanted to venture out into the unknown. We went to a warungor local food stall. The one we ended up in was pretty local, but still had minimal English translations on the menu. (It is Bali, afterall.)

A street warung in Jember (a few days after this post.)

With very few problems, we managed to order food and drinks. Then we sat and waited. The place was dimly light and a bit smoky from the cooking, incense and cigarettes. We alternated between watching a gecko climb out from under the calendar pinned to the wall and the soap opera playing on the tiny TV in the corner.

The food was decent. Jason thinks Indonesian food is delicious since it mostly consists of fried noodles or rice. I think it is delicious because it has tempeh and tofu. We both win.

Going out was not record shattering. I did not have some epiphany about life. But it felt good to push the bubble and step away from the touristy things. Besides, it is better food at a better price.

1-8 Birdies!

Birdie on a temple…

We walked into a tourist information shop looking to book a ride to the airport for the next day. There aren’t really any public tourist information booths in Ubud, so every place is trying to sell you tours, drivers and tickets. While we were there, I asked about trips to see the herons come home to roost. I had barely asked and the guy was calling his driver to come pick us up and take us there immediately. We decided to roll with it.

One local myth says that the people of Petulu were poor and had to walk very far to find work or to go to their gardens. They felt that they had angered the gods and that was why they were being punished with a hard life. They decided to hold a major feast and ceremony at their temple for three days. They hoped that it would please the gods and they would make it possible for the people to lead easier lives. On the final day of the ceremony, the herons came and roosted in the trees. In the morning, they left but at night they returned. They made their nests in the trees around the village and raised the chicks there. The people knew that the gods had seen their ceremony and agreed to make their lives easier because now they have many people who use the street, both for tourism and as a through-way which means they can make their living closer to home.

And you thought the pigeon poop was a problem.

A second legend says the birds are the spirits of the people killed in a battle that occurred the day they arrived. I didn’t get as much information on that legend. It seemed like the people in the village believed the first while the people outside the village believed the second.

Coming home to roost.

The birds were everywhere. There were no less than twenty nests in every tree on the street. While we were there, it was nesting season, so there were bunches of baby birds peaking over the edges of the nests or wrestling with their parents. For a baby animal, bird babies are not that cute. They are so ugly they are cute, but they are not in their own right, cute. I guess birds in general are not usually cute. They are usual majestic or graceful, but the hatchlings were neither of those yet.

Look close at the nest to find the baby.

At sunset, the birds who have been out hunting all day, come back. During the not-nesting seasons, they come back by the hundreds in great flocks. While we watched, there were several groups that came back about two hundred at a time. That was neat, but not the awe-inspiring mass we’d heard about. In fairness, I got to see birdies, so I think it balances out in the end.

1-8 Museums and Rice Paddies

The gates to the museum.  Impressive, no?

Our second day in Ubud, we decided to go look for culture and rice paddies. The Agung Rai Museum of Art (ARMA) was supposed to be one of the best art museums in Bali, and it was in the same direction as some rice paddies I wanted to take pictures of. So, we went exploring.

The ARMA was pretty neat. As usual, I don’t have the artistic background to appreciate modern art. There were 2 pieces that stood out to me. One was a painting covered in religious symbols. Each symbol was in a little box and the boxes made rows. I think if I knew more about the symbols in question, it would have been a fascinating piece. As it was, I could recognize the Hindu and Buddhist origins but that was about all. The second artist had squeezed the paint out of the tube in long lines. She layered them on top of each other with spaces in between to make an amazing 3D effect in the rice fields, on the hat of the workers and the thatch of the houses. I thought that was pretty cool.

Me, trying to carve. 

More interesting was the “traditional” section. There were traditional style paintings from a huge range of time periods. The older ones were batik images showing scenes from Hindu epics while the newest one depicted the Tiger plane crash in April, 2013. It was interesting to see the different influences throughout history and how they chose to display them in the museum. The paintings from around WWII had a distinctly Japanese cast, everything from flowers and mountains to the way the human form was depicted. The more modern ones had more colors per image while the older ones had one main color and then one or two highlight colors. (I wonder if this comes from the history of batik, in which colors are layered over one another with the negative spaces created by wax.)

The path to the paddies

After we wandered around the galleries, we went out to the wood carving demonstration. The carver allowed us to try, but we were both being timid. I was afraid I would ruin it, which made him laugh. He didn’t seem to think I could, which looking at his other stuff, I’m not sure I could have. I think he would have just incorporated it back into the work and no one would ever know the difference.

We wandered out the back of the museum into a rice paddy. At first, the path was nice and neatly kept with stepping stones to walk on. Then, it turned into plain concrete, and finally into raised mud. I think we were further than most tourists go, but it was interesting. The first ones we were walking through were all plain mud. There were little nurseries in the corner with bright green rice seedlings while ducks roamed the mud. We met a nice old farmer working on blocking his seedlings from the ducks, but we couldn’t communicate much with him.

Duck, duck, grey duck (or brown duck)

After awhile, we wandered out the back of the rice paddies and into a little neighborhood. On a whim, we followed a sign that said “Kris display” (‘Kris’ are the Hindu swords.) The sign pointed into someone’s household complex. We walked in and stood there in confusion for awhile. An old lady found us and brought us to the kris display. There were a bunch of beautiful kris with stunningly rippled blades. She had a wide variety of ages of the blades. They were her husband’s but he died and She was trying to sell some to us, but we turned her down and left. I think she needs to sell them to a museum.

Down the alley

The contrast between the curated art museum and the back room of an old woman’s house didn’t even strike me until the evening. Somehow, it seemed to fit that both of those things would exist basically side-by-side in Ubud. There were a lot of contrasts like that in Ubud.

Rice paddies tucked in behind the main road

1-4 Puppet show, Dawn at Borobudur and Overnight Trains

What do these things have in common?

They are all my excuses for not writing a blog post or six today.  Sorry.  Here’s some pictures from the last few days instead.

Cockfighting on the streets of Ubud.

Jason working on his new wedding ring.  Maybe he’ll hold onto this one.
This altar was tucked into an alcove on a busy main street.  A small miracle must occur each time someone places an offering on this altar without getting hit by a car.

The roof was a bit low, I promise I’m not as grouchy as I look there.
Javanese shadow puppetry.  These puppets are beyond intricate, though much of the detail was lost in the photo.

Borobudur, an ancient Buddhist temple, just after dawn.

12-28 Sacred Monkey Forest!

Monkey on a wall! They did that a lot.

After a 2 hour taxi ride, we arrived in Ubud. The taxi took 2 hours due to traffic, it had nothing to do with the distance we traversed. I had happily forgotten traffic existed.

We wanted to go out and explore a bit in Ubud and we had most of the afternoon to do it in. We put our stuff in our room and asked directions to the Sacred Monkey Forest since everyone said it was near by.
As far as I can tell, the story with the Sacred Monkey Forest is that a very long time ago, a group of Hindus built a temple in a forest. The monkeys inhabiting the forest were either made sacred by the presence of the temple or the temple was put there because they were sacred monkeys. I’m not sure, but either way those monkeys have a great life.
Seriously, hundreds of statues.

The entry is a wide walkway with stone walls and terraces leading up into the forest. The entire sanctuary covers several acres in the heart of Ubud, but the part accessible to tourists is probably about a square mile. The paths were mostly paved with tightly fit stones and framed in knee-high walls. There were statues, cornices and other fancy stonework every ten feet and much of the wall itself was carved. Places like the inner temple had higher walls. The stone work throughout the complex was covered in green moss, that almost glowed when the sun hit it right. It was a pretty stunning effect on the guardian statues.

The highlight of the place is the monkeys. Technically, they are long-tailed macaques, but whatever. They were totally not afraid of humans, like they brought their still-nursing babies out among the humans kind of not afraid. They would scramble past us, jump across the path in front of us, walk right up and say hello, rummage people’s pockets for food, and sit and stare at you from the middle of the path.
This monkey wanted to check me for food.  (I had none)

I think my favorite monkey moment was trying to take a photo of a monkey, only to have another one walk up and start exploring my pants. I handed the camera to Jason and let it explore my hands and pockets until it got bored. SO CUTE!

Jason and I walked behind the inner temple, to an area that was a bit quieter. There was nothing spectacular to look at, so it wasn’t full of tourists, which made it spectacular in and of itself. (The inner temple was off limits to people who were not dressed appropriately and they did not provide appropriate clothing. Basically, it was off-limits to tourists.) We were standing in a small walkway between the temple wall and the forest watching the monkeys on the wall when a monkey fight broke out. A bunch of monkeys went jumping to and from the wall while monkey noises were coming from the forest. Jason and I froze and watched behind each other to make sure we were not going to get in the way of any teeth or claws. The monkeys leapt around for a bit and then settled back down. The whole time we were back there, the monkeys totally ignored us, even when I was within a foot of one. (It snuck up on me!)
I bribed it with a banana, but it kept showing its butt to the camera.

While observing other tourists (a different breed of monkey) Jason and I both had some strong reactions to their actions. One group of tourists had a handful of bananas. They were tossing the bananas back and forth over the monkey and teasing it. When it got pissed and swarmed someone for them, they were surprised and tried to tell it “no.” Then they were surprised when the monkey didn’t listen and grabbed the banana. This offended me rather a lot for several reasons. First off, this is not your space. This is a place, and these are monkeys, that are sacred to someone. By opening up the space to people who do not share their faith, they are being generous. We, as outsiders, need to be respectful of their faith. It isn’t important whether or not I share that faith, I still need to show respect to the people for whom this is a sacred place. Secondly, the monkeys are wild animals. They are going to follow their own rules and do their own thing, they aren’t going to listen to being told “no.” I feel like that was almost part of the sacred space. The monkeys do their thing outside of human control. Which brings me to the last realization. People like that expect that they can control everything. They think they should be able to ration out the bananas to the monkeys they like. We don’t get to control everything, sometimes the monkey takes the bananas.

The creek that fed the holy pool.

Speaking of monkeys and bananas. The women at the front gate were selling bananas to tourists with which to feed the monkeys. We each took a few bananas and held them up. The monkey ran up our clothes and stood on our shoulders to grab its banana and a few then sat their to eat their bananas. It was pretty cool.
We spent probably 3 hours exploring the sanctuary. Aside from the gorgeous main temple, there were hundreds of other statues and shrines scattered around everywhere. A larger shrine to a holy spring was down a bridge (carved like snakes/dragons). At the bottom, there was a small temple, and a pool. From behind the temple, we followed a narrow path along a creek to the shrine for the holy spring.

Basically, the Sacred Monkey Forest has all the things I love: old cultures, beautiful art and nature. I was a very happy camper.

The wall of the inner temple was a work of art in its own right.

In great reverence and respect, the monkey peed on the statue.

Monkey, pillar, monkey, pillar…
Jason also bribed this one with a banana.
Regal monkey is a roof ornament.

The littlest monkey was SO CUTE!
The shrine at the end of the creek.

12-22: Up, Up and Away!

Our students came to see us off at the airport.
We left Vanuatu on Friday, December 20th. I tried to use up the credit on my phone as we sat on the runway and got down to 30 vatu before they made me turn my phone off. Jason did better, he was down to 2 vatu.
We spent Friday night with friends in Brisbane. Did you know there is this magical box that you put dirty clothes in and they come back clean and halfway dried? That thing is full of black magic and miracles. Our friends let us use their washing machine and drier, though half the clothes ended up on the line anyway because the dried was too small to dry all the clothes.
Saturday morning, we flew to Darwin. We are now off on our grand adventure! We’ll be traveling for the next few months. The general plan is to spend about 2 weeks in different Southeast Asian countries. We leave for Bali, Indonesia on the 23rd where we have a room booked until the 26th. On the 5th, we fly from Jakarta, Indonesia to Singapore. We leave Singapore three days later by bus and head into Malaysia. That’s as far as we have planned.
Red rocks along the road in Darwin

Leaving has not been easy. First of all, we both worked up until the end. I spent all day Monday and Tuesday at work, then stopped by on Thursday for a last review with my counterpart. Jason worked Tuesday and part of Wednesday and stopped by Thursday for an exit interview with his principal. So, we’ve been cleaning out the house, packing up and saying our goodbyes around a more-or-less 40-hour a week schedule. Insanity.

Smol spel from wandering the streets.

The emotional part of leaving is a combination of unreal and bittersweet. I don’t real believe that I won’t be returning to Vila in a few weeks. Jason hasn’t realized that he won’t be drinking fresh kava again for a very long time. The moments that have made it real are odd. My mother’s worries about contacting us was one. Usually, we call about once a week and I sit outside the Peace Corps office and tell her about all the insanity that made up my life. Now, we will be reliant on skype and email. (We may have a phone while traveling but it will vary country by country, depending on the price of phones plans and SIM cards.) Jason closing his bank account was final for him. They let him keep his cards, though. (They took mine, but I didn’t ask for them back.)

In many ways, the “big” things really didn’t feel big to me. Wan SmolBag did a very nice little goodbye. There was awesome cake. They gave me a t-shirt and set of Love Patrol as well as a tablecloth and napkin set in Vanuatu style. I got calicoed but not baby powdered. (Traditionally, gifts of calico are wrapped around people’s shoulders at these things, then they get baby powder dumped on their heads.) We did our last kava with staff and volunteers on Thursday evening. A bunch of people came out, but it just felt like a nice evening for a shell. I’ve been to so many last kavas, I don’t think my heart recognized that one as my own. 

I think it will set in more strongly in a few days. Once we are really going and it is clear we really aren’t going back, then it will be real. Right now, I’m just on vacation. 

The view from Shefa Kava Bar where we did our last kava with staff and many, many other kavas over the last three years.

12-22 Happy Solstice, Darwin!

Bromeliad at the Botanical gardens.  Red for the sun, going or coming.

We celebrated the Summer Solstice by sleeping in and then going sightseeing at the Darwin Botanical Gardens.

The gardens are beautiful. They are full of plants, as Botanical Gardens should be, but it wasn’t all cultivated and tidy. The well-groomed paths ran between bushes, through green houses and under giant trees. In places, the jungle was growing and doing its thing with only a few plaques to show that we were in a garden at all. In other places, fountains shot jets of water in the air and a lilypad pond had 2 different colored flowers. Jason and I both got distracted by the spinny toys on the playground. I couldn’t figure out how to get off mine once I got it spinning. The gardens were a perfect blend between botanical garden, state park and city park.
Lilypads and pretty flowers at the Botanical Gardens.

It is fitting to me that I spent my Summer Solstice playing in the sun.

It is even more fitting that I left Vanuatu 2 days before the Winter Solstice. My family has celebrated Winter Solstice for years by inviting over family and friends and making merry in the darkness of the longest night. We celebrate the change in the year and make ready for the new year by thinking about things we have or want to leave behind. I’ve left a lot behind, but I am taking more with me.

Hanging on by a thread
Or by many threads.

10-14 Saying Goodbye to Pentecost, Again

 We went to Pentecost for five days. We went to say goodbye to the people who are important to us and to lukluk ples one last time. I’m glad we went. We told Jason’s papa, my counterpart, the PCV still in Melsisi and my kava buddy we were coming. We thought they’d spread the news around, but I guess that message got lost on the road.

Surprises are fun. Especially when I am the surprise. One of the oldfalaeven teared up a little bit. He recently had a stroke and could no longer speak, but the look on his face was better than anything he could have said. Really, the looks on everyone’s faces were wonderful. Every place we went, we had people who wanted to shake hands and story.
Jason and Jason
As always, transport is interesting. We had called the old school truck driver to pick us up at the airport. Jason even asked if he still drove a truck. He said yes and that’d he’d be there. We arrived and saw the school truck waiting. It was the only truck. We got off the plane and looked for the driver. He wasn’t there. I asked my uncle who drove the school truck down to the airport. Turns out, my uncle drove the school truck and had no idea whatsoever that we were coming. He gave us a lift to the village anyway. Upon further discussion, we found out that the old driver now alternates months with another guy driving a different truck but that the truck broke that morning. Figures.
We spent two nights in Vansemakul. Our house is still there and in good shape, but we didn’t bring supplies to stay there. Instead, we stayed with one of my friends who has a 3-month-old baby. It wasn’t as bad as it sounds. The baby was super mellow and hardly ever cried. And I got to play with her baby.
My co-conspirator didn’t want her picture taken
On Thursday, we walked to Ranwadi and said hi to the volunteers there. We got to play with Sheila, the adorable half-caste child of our friend. We stopped by Vanwooki and saw Jason’s namesake. He is BIG! And walking and doing some basic words. He didn’t cry at Jason at all and even when Jason picked him up. His mom said they show him pictures of us and tell stories, so maybe that helps.
We were planning on walking all over Vanmelang, the district, to see everyone. As it happened, we did walk all over, but we saw even more people than we otherwise would have. On Thursday morning, there was a death Leguru, the village furthest up the hill. We went on Thursday afternoon to pay our respects. The man who died was popular because he was helpful and kind, so everyone who could possibly make it was there. We shook hands with a lot of people and got a lot of surprised looks. Aside from the funeral part, it was pretty great.
Ke was very happy to see Jason
Friday morning, we walked over to Melsisi. We went to the school where the students were entirely shocked to see us. Jason caused a storm of giggles by chasing the primary school students he used to play with. At the office, the teachers were nearly as surprised as the folks in the village. Jason told the headmaster, but the headmaster didn’t tell anyone else. I told my kava buddy, but she didn’t tell anyone else.
More kava
There is a certain poetry in spending the last two days in Melsisi in the convent. We started our time on Pentecost there, it fits that we should finish there as well. We spent the weekend lazing about in the convent with Alexandra. Sunday was church, which we were late to. I guess we were continuing that tradition as well. After church we walked back to the village and met up with Jason’s family. We ate with them and hung out all afternoon.
Every night we were on Pentecost we drank kava. We didn’t drink a shell here or there either, we drank like we were going to drown ourselves. Jason says its the last time he’ll get good kava. He also told me it would be sweet. The first might or might not be true but the second was definitely false. (Though, I’ll agree that it tastes better on the island than in Vila.)
Airport goodbyes
This trip was great. It gave me closure to my time on Pentecost, especially since I didn’t feel like I had that closure when I left last year. The competitive part of me enjoyed being on the positive side of some comparisons to other volunteers and it was nice to be complimented. It was nice to feel loved and missed by our community there. I know if we ever manage to return, doors will be open to us.

9-21 Photos from Australia!

Big fishy!  (I’ll color correct this at some point.)

Can anyone tell me what this guy is?

I was having fun with the light and the pattern on the rope.

BABY KOALA!  Mama’s head is buried behind the baby’s but the baby was SO cute.
This is supposed to be vertical.  I can’t get it rotated, so I guess you get to tip your head sideways.