Dec 12, 2012

Dabble Babble

Look at that. It's after midnight. 12.12.12. As has just been pointed out to me on Facebook, the last repetitive date any of us will see in our lifetime (unless you have a secret plan to make it to 01.01.3001 and the planet decides to stick around for you). It might not be the end of the world (Mayans were notoriously unreliable, I hear) but it is one of those times when the hour gets late and the night gets cold and you start thinking about life and Purpose. With a capital P.

I've been reading a lot about Purpose lately. Purpose and transformation. As this blog's title suggests, transformation is a bit of a theme for me, and here I am, once again, transforming. But what am I transforming into? Ideally, especially if I wanted to start writing self-help books or star in a Hallmark card, I would be transforming into "The Real Me". With three capitals. But who the heck is that? Haven't I always been The Real Me? Look, there I am, six years back, The Real Me pretending to be a lawyer. Then there's The Real Me pretending to be a consultant, The Real Me pretending to be a writer, The Real Me pretending to be someone's boss. I'm fairly certain I was always me, no body snatchers were involved. But who should The Real Me be now? And why should this new variation provide any more Purpose than the others?

I read on Twitter the other day (Facebook and Twitter, these are the sources of profound thought for me these days) that Meaning and Purpose require Devotion. And I get that, I really do. People with passion for something, be it saving starving children, sailing around the globe, painting wild canvasses, whatever - those people inspire me. There, I think, now that is Purpose. And The Real Them for sure.

Only problem is, I can't relate. I have no passion for anything. I could never devote myself to anything. I am simply incapable of that kind of single-minded obsession.

Instead, there are hundreds of things I'm pretty keen on. I find the law quite interesting. I rather fancy writing. And running is jolly nice. To tell you the truth, I suspect I was born with a mutating gene of Britishness, circa Downton Abbey.

Because I am a dabbler. I love to dabble. Pick anything you can think of. Really. As long as it doesn't involve insects or ladders, I'm probably interested in it. And if I'm not, I'll happily add it to the list of things I would like to become more interested in.

Aye, there's the rub. I'm interested in everything, but devoted to nothing. Except dabbling. I am a devoted dabbler. A Devoted Dabbler, even. Because maybe that's a thing?

Oct 17, 2012

There's no place like home

There's something that has been gnawing at me recently. No, not the fact that I haven't managed to post to the blog with any consistency since I don't know when (although it's somewhat related to that). Nor the fact that everyone who hears my story thinks I'm insane or, put more kindly, "certainly not boring" (although it's somewhat related to that as well).

No, what's been nibbling at my insides and clogging up my brain stem is all down to one troublesome HBR post by the Justin Bieber of INSEAD academia, and my idol, the one and only GP.

If you're an INSEADer who follows such things, or otherwise a GP fan (and who can blame you, really) you'll have probably seen his most recent offering on the blog affiliated with that Other Business School, in which (and I hope he'll forgive me for paraphrasing and grossly simplifying his prose) he argues that leaders cannot lead unless they have some connection to a local, geographically determined "home". Now, that home may be where you were born, where you grew up, where you live now, no matter. But there has to be one that you can point to and say "There! That place out yonder with the red brick chimney and white picket fence is mine. I belong there."

Well, now that puts me in a bit of a pickle.

There is no place I can think of that is "mine", no place that answers to the epitath of "home". Wherever I go, I am a foreigner, and that is true of Paris as well as New York (and anywhere else I or my family members have lived). It doesn't make me love either of those places any less, but neither one is my "home" (or they are both equally so, which I think defeats the point). I am the one who can never answer the question, "Where are you from?"

But there are two ways to look at this. Sure, on the one hand, you could describe me as an outcast, a "stranger" (to quote GP) who does not belong and so will never lead. You could also point out that I have stubbornly refused to choose a home (is that even a choice you can make?), refused to commit to one place over another. Again, as GP has once said to me personally, if you don't commit, you don't belong.

That's a fair point. In fact, it's such a fair point that it's bugging the crap out of me (if I may put things bluntly). And then I start wondering whether perhaps the writing has dried up and died because, lacking not just a "room of my own" but a "home of my own", Virginia Woolf herself has given up hope that I will ever be able to pull myself together and create anything of value, even if it's just on this meager blog.

So I can't commit, I don't belong, I'm homeless and will never be either a writer or a leader. (Although, to be fair, I'm not sure "leader" was ever on my wish list - still, it's the principle of the thing.)

But... (and here the grammarians among you will be pleased because I'm finally getting to my "other hand")... on the other hand... doesn't my rootlessness mean I can empathise with more than one perspective at once? Feel attachment to more than one place at once? Break free of arbitrary biases and preferences that would otherwise tie me to "the way we do things back home" for no good reason other than the fact that life's circumstances once whisked me up and dumped me there like Dorothy in the Land of Oz? In fact, if Dorothy hadn't been so bloody obsessed with getting back "home" to Kansas, who knows what she might have achieved in that magical land of yellow brick roads and talking tin men?

But I digress.

The sad fact is I don't have an answer for my conundrum. Am I doomed to wander the flight paths of the earth for all eternity, never realising that all I needed was a place my ruby slippers could take me back to? Or am I all the richer for being able to embrace the contradictions and ambiguities of the truly homeless? Or both?

All I know is this. In New York City, hardly anyone ever asks me where I'm from. And that makes everything simpler.

Sep 15, 2012

Live, from New York...

... it's Saturday morning!

Hmmm. Doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it?

But here I am, finally, in New York. At least for now. For the first week, I spent all my days in a giddy-happy delirium. I'm not sure you would know the kind I mean, as I had certainly never experienced anything quite like it before, but there I was, constantly grinning. Get in the elevator. Grin. Buy groceries. Grin. Wait for the little red hand to turn into a little white man so you can cross the street. Grin. I grinned in the sun, I grinned in the rain, I grinned when it got so windy that tornadoes hit Brooklyn. Honestly, if I hadn't been so damn happy I would have found myself insufferable.

Fortunately for all, except maybe me, the giddy-happy had to pass. I suppose it was too good to be true. Reality had to hit me eventually. So now, while reasonably pleased with the part of my situation that involves being in New York, I am also stressed. Stressed that I will have to leave New York because no one will have me. Stressed that I am not entirely sure which of my Plans A or B would actually be better for me in the long run (more on the various Plans in future posts, I promise). Stressed that I am running out of money. Stressed that I have some kind of brain-eating fungus that has resulted in me leaving the house once without my wallet and once without my keys in the same week.

And because stress is always accompanied by pints of ice cream and the inability to say no to hamburgers, it has also come with a side of extra weight and the consequent additional stress of not being able to fit into my clothes.

That being said, well, stress schmess, I say. I'm in New York! In the past three days, I have seen stand-up comedy, Molly Ringwald and Siri Hustvedt. Tonight, I'm going to the theatre to experience Ibsen on Broadway. Tomorrow, I have yoga class. Some of my closest friends in the world are but a subway ride away. The sun is shining over the West Village outside my window.

Oh, here we go. Giddy happy is making a comeback!

Aug 31, 2012

Who ate all the pies?

I know, I know, I'm unforgivable. I wouldn't blame you if you're fed up to there with my nonsense, or more precisely my failure to write about said nonsense in a punctual and reliable manner. I'm such a disappointment to you.

Trust me, I know just how you feel. I'm very often similarly disappointed with myself. When will I ever just get my shit together and move on, you and I may both, on occasion, wonder? Why do I always seem to get stuck on one thing, and then another? Why can't I just be one of the women that glides? You know the ones I mean. The gliders. Smooth. Elegant. Eternally in a state of not-stuck-ness. They just move right along, right past you, like they're on goddam ice-skates.

Me, I just hop from one pot-hole to the next and sprain my ankle in the process.

I have never been a glider. I am a serial pot-hole monogamist, in all aspects of my life. I can only truly care about one thing at a time... and that time is usually rather short. (This is starting to explain a few things, isn't it?) Relationships, jobs, geographic locations, hobbies, you name it, I've gotten hopelessly stuck in one and suddenly moved right along.

It's time to make a change. From this day forth, I vow to be a serial pot-hole polygamist. (What, you thought I was going to get up and start to glide all over the place? Let's be serious. Rome wasn't built in a day and all that...) Or, put in a slightly less unusual visual metaphor, I will have many fingers in many pies. I will find a way to be passionate about a plethora of wildly inconsistent things, in order to avoid becoming a boring one-apple-pie kind of girl or overly crushed when said apple pie falls apart before I'm ready to move on to the rhubarb.

Okay, now things have gotten so weirdly metaphorical that I'm both very confused and rather peckish, as I assume you are. So let's just leave it there. Things they are a-changin', that's all I'm saying. Details to follow.

Aug 3, 2012

Before the turn

The "part one" reference below would seem to preempt a "part two." But part two is not in me right now. Part two has gone awol. On a hiatus from the here and now.

Much like me.

So we're back to "part... zero." Or, in more accurate scientific terms, "part n-1." What "n" turns out to be is anybody's guess right now. Less than 10 days ago, "n" was an almost-certainty, but that's science for you. Everything seems so nice and definite and logical and then all of a sudden Pluto's not a planet and maybe some things actually travel faster than the speed of light (or maybe the calculator's just broken).

So we're back at the cross-roads. I've been here before, it seems. Like a child in Dedaleus' labyrinth, I turn a corner only to reach another (or is it the same?) fork in the road. And not a Minotaur in sight. But the deluded optimist in me tells me this time, the turn will be the right one, whether the path is more or less traveled by, it will be the path for me. My path. N-th time's the charm.

But before the turn, I take a moment to stand still. Collect my thoughts. Accept the blank slate before me. Or not so much a blank slate but a letter, that has been started over and over again, crumpled up and tossed in the trash, then pulled out and pressed more or less smooth again. (Remember those? Before the advent of the deceptive "delete" button?) But you can still write beautiful words on crumpled paper, surely. Can't you?

So wrinkled and smudged, but hopeful. This is how I start out today. At n-1, once more.

Jul 8, 2012

Goodbye Helvetica - part one

Still getting on with it (in fact, I will use the extent to which I've been "getting on with it" as an excuse for my absence from these virtual pages. Because I can). Still nothing to report though. "It" remains undefined for the time being, so you'll have to bear with me. I promise you'll know as soon as I do.

In the meantime, ready or not, my departure from Switzerland approaches at the speed of an oncoming tram. Which means it's time to reflect on what I have learned (or stubbornly refused to learn) during my almost-two years in this quirky version of a country.

Warning: I'll probably end up offending someone. I usually do. Whatever I may have said or am about to say, it should not be taken as an indictment of Switzerland as a whole, or the Swiss in general. I have lots of lovely Swiss friends. Well, actually, I have one Swiss friend. She is very lovely though. And in her honour, I will start by counting down the top 5 things I will miss about Switzerland (other than the friends I've made here). I wanted to do a top 10, of course, à la David L., but I couldn't think of ten. Damn, I've gone and offended someone already, haven't I...

5: How every single bus, tram, and train is connected and freakishly on time. So that you can cross the country and schlep up to a high-altitude village in the middle of nowhere, employing five different modes of transportation, and arrive exactly when the SBB website said you would, without having waited more than a couple minutes at any stop along the way. There's some kind of evil mathematical genius behind all this, I'm certain of it.

4: Hiking in the mountains to the constant sound of cowbells. If you only do it a couple times a year, the ringing doesn't get too annoying. And those cows are pretty great-looking. As are the mountains. Breaking out into song à la Julie Andrews is not unheard of (and yes, I know that was Austria, but you know what I mean).

3: Chocolate. Oh heavenly goodness. The Swiss do know their chocolate. Sprüngli and Läderach, how I will miss you (my waistline, however, will not).

2: Trams (yes, there's a bit of a public transportation theme, here). God, I love the trams. Every city in the world should have trams (and I applaud those that already do). Trams are far superior to subways. They're clean and bright and allow you to look out the window and daydream (ironically, in my case, most of my daydreams involve being on the A train...)

1: Drinking Aperol Spritz by a lake, or a river, or whatever body of water is closest (there is bound to be one, wherever you are in Switzerland). There's something about bright orange bubbly alcoholic drinks that just screams summertime. I plan on exporting a cartload of Aperol on my way out of here. Now, granted, Aperol Spritz is also available in Italy. Plus, if you drink it there, well, then, you're in Italy. But it will always mean Switzerland to me...

So there you go. I'm not entirely biased against Switzerland. Give me a ringing cow, some chocolate, a glass of something orange and plonk me on a tram by a lake and I'm a happy girl.

In my next post, I will explore the many mysteries of Switzerland that, try as I may, I have never been able to figure out.

Jun 10, 2012

Outsourced introspection

Let me take advantage of this brief, 20-minute respite in the Crazy Summer of Sport (Roland Garros final rained out and in the break between two football matches) to pop in and say hello to my blog.

Hello blog.

I've been feeling a bit rain delayed myself, lately. The drops keep falling on this, my last "summer" in Switzerland, and I'm in the locker room, waiting. Have I done enough to set myself up to succeed? Will this be a relatively painless three-setter or will I have to slog through 5 sets, not knowing if it will all end in the sweet embrace of victory or in pieces, broken and covered in clay and pretending like I don't want to shatter that silver platter over someone's head.

Clearly, I've been watching too much tennis.

Anyhoo... as I wait to see if the "interviews" work out (and yes, they have as much chance of being interviews than the summer in Zurich has chances of actually being a summer, hence the ironic written air-quotes), I've continued on the path to self-enlightenment by letting my nearest and dearest have a go at enlightening me, for a change. (If there's one thing this management malarkey has taught me, it's how to delegate).

And oh! the responses! They came from the four corners of the world, from friends who have known me since I was fresh out of diapers, from family who knew me before then, from professors who fielded my angst-ridden questions and from all the wonderful people I've met in between (almost all of them women - which says something about something but let's not get into that). I am now surrounded by dozens of shining mirrors, and basking in their soft reflective glow, flaws and all.

Each of the mirrors were asked to answer four questions, identifying in turn my skills, what motivates me, my long-term goals and the myriad of ways in which I'm likely to get in my own way and screw things up (and really, only the people who have known you since before you learned how to lie your way into adulthood have the ability to oh-so-accurately pinpoint exactly what makes you such a mess).

The results were at once flattering, thought-provoking, embarrassing and entertaining. Almost everyone agreed on my skills (I guess I don't have that many). Most commentators had similar things to say regarding my motivations and goals (and those two categories overlapped to a large extent). But everyone had a unique perspective on my flaws - and of course I think they're all spot on.

So there we are then: a few skills, some relatively clear (albeit contradictory) motivations and goals, and a host of really bad habits it's high time I did something about (because who would want to hire - much less date - an impatient, emotionally fragile, intolerant perfectionist?; that chick sounds like a total drag).

But being the analytical, creative, action-oriented kind of gal I am, who is moreover unfazed by complexity, I have turned my mirrors' answers into the nifty graphic below so we can all have a good chuckle and I can feel better about the whole thing.

There it is. You are now blessed with the collective intelligence of everyone I've ever met, in one slide. Lucky you.

Enlightenment: check.

Up next: getting on with it.

May 15, 2012


Do you have any idea how hard it is to give yourself a spiritual makeover? You would think a snip here, a tuck there, a trip to Bali, a few exercises in positive thinking and... drum roll please! Out comes a fantastic new you.

I wish. Have you ever seen a snake molt? No? Well, me neither, but somehow I have the image buried deep in the recesses of my mind where all my 5th grade science lessons live that when that old, flaky skin peels right off the snake, he has all the same spots and stripes and snazzy colors that he did before. I suppose there's a lesson in that.

I'm currently on Day 9 of a 21-day positive psychology experiment that requires me to exercise, meditate, perform an act of kindness, note down something positive that happened and feel grateful about three things... every single day. Seriously. Every day. That's 21 acts of kindness. 21 days of something positive happening in between going to work, spilling coffee on yourself and eating too many of those chocolate nougat candies that have been sitting on your desk since the Christmas party. And 63 distinct and unique things to be grateful for. I mean come on. Can anybody actually do that? For 21 days in a row? Really. Really?

But I have learned something very important about myself in the process. Something you, dear reader, probably already knew. That's right. As it turns out, I like complaining. I'm a complainer. I'm just more Avenue Q than Sesame Street. And while I recognise the importance of positive thinking as a concept and a great facilitator for world peace, it just isn't very realistic to expect it from someone like me every single day.

And that's alright. I believe it's healthy and terribly grown up to own up to one's shortcomings. It's the soul's equivalent of professional development and 360° feedback. It's cleansing. Like this tidbit from a certain professor a few weeks ago (and a bit of a mentor of mine), who looked me straight in the eye and said "Sure, I get it. You want to feel like you belong. But first you're going to have to commit to something." Touché.

Can't commit. Loves to have a good grumble. God, I sound like the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. And green is so not my color...

May 14, 2012

Of control freaks and artists

A couple weeks ago I was in New York, gorging on sushi, egg-white omelets, affordable Starbucks coffee and INSEAD reunion madness. (And yes, there were a "few" job hunting expeditions as well). Every year (since last year), the INSEADers of "the Americas" (so very Chris Columbus) have a little shindig with exciting panelists and high-brow debate followed by a fancy dress party in true Fonty fashion (this year's theme: Mad Men - without all the Lucky Strikes).

The panelists were CEOs and professors, all of a duly impressive caliber (and mostly male, but hey, it's business school after all), debating the question of what makes a leader - as an individual, as a company, as a political bigwig. Most of it sounded very sensible and I'm sure the speakers know better than me, but there were a couple points I took issue with.

The first was when a CEO of a rather large company involved in real estate stated with conviction that being a leader is the bee's knees because you get to control everything. Wow, really? You mean, like God? Now I'm sure that leadership attracts a lot of control freaks. Like yours truly. The vision of that blessed state where you get to tell everyone what to do and make them to it your way or else - heck, it's what us anally retentive neurotics have been salivating over since we reached kindergarten.

But in my experience, becoming a leader means learning to let go. Because you won't be able to control everything. There's always going to be someone making you do something you don't want to do (another department, your competition, your clients, the government, your priest, your significant other, whatever - there's always someone). And all those people you shout orders to from up high? Well, chances are they're not going to do things exactly the way you would have done it. Because they're people, not robots. Not clones. Not you. To avoid popping an aneurism you will just have to learn to relax and work on your tolerance levels (as my friends and family keep reminding me).

So I don't know what kind of leader this panelist is (a male one, by the by), but leadership to me is the most out of control situation there is.

The second point had to do with the welfare state, which got quite a bashing. Fair enough, the European welfare state model hasn't performed very well of late. So I understand why the unanimous position on the panel was that the State should get out of the way and let individuals (i.e. entrepreneurs) take over and kick-start the economy. But one of my favourite INSEAD professors had noted earlier on in the day that leaders are like artists. And if that is true, I think it may be worth remembering that, historically, art has blossomed when the State has gotten involved and supported the arts, and shrivelled without that support. So is it so outrageous to suggest that, in a time of crisis, the State should become more, not less implicated by supporting budding leaders (through education, small business loans, what have you)? Long live the welfare state and government involvement, I say - it's just a question of definining what welfare and involvement we need for leadership to blossom like a Titien.

Well, that's enough attempt at seriousness from me. Next up, I will do my best satisfy W's request and go back to some spiritual introspection and what not. In the meantime, please go forth, enjoy the sunshine, lose control and support a local artist.

May 13, 2012

Start spreading the news...

I have finally updated all of the Bali postings with photographic evidence that a) I wasn't kidding around when I said Bali was beautiful and b) I really did get up on that surfboard. If you would like to take a moment to go back and have a peak, please feel free.

Good, you're back? Lovely. Now that that's been taken care of, I really should update you on what's been happening in my life since then. Because there's been some news. If you know me even a little bit, this news will not come as much of a shock. Let's face it, I tend to pull this kind of stunt pretty regularly, every couple of years or so. That's me. I like to be predictable. So I've gone and done it again. I've quit my job.

And believe me, it feels fantastic. Does it concern me that I don't have another method of gainful employment lined up? Of course it does. I'm eccentric, not idiotic. But I'm carrying the very optimistic, positive vibes of Bali in my newly-recovered soul so I'm feeling pretty confident. I also have a small army of friends and unbelievably helpful strangers dragging, heaving and pushing my backside up the mountain towards something brilliant (my God, had anyone realized just how helpful people can be if you just ask? there goes Res the cynic). Hopefully, if all goes well, that something brilliant will be in New York. Because in fact, as much as I do love Bali, and with all due respect to the high priestess Balinese healer, I actually think my soul belongs somewhere within spitting distance of the Statue of Liberty.

So that's where I'm headed.

Well, in a few months anyway. And in the meantime, I'm determined to squeeze every little lemon drop out of Switzerland, mix it into some iced tea and call it a party.

That's a very small NY state around my neck for luck, from a very good friend.

Apr 17, 2012

Memory fragments

If you haven't noticed yet, I've started uploading photos to my different Bali posts so you can see some of the beauty and magic I found there. It's a slow and painful process, though, so the full beauty and magic show may take a while for me to update.

In the meantime, I thought I would list (in no particular order), some of the mental images that I will take with me into the office and the grey Swiss winter (yes, it's still winter here) to keep my heart warm (mental images take much less time to upload than photographic ones...):

- trying to figure out how to place a lotus flower in the back of my heart during yoga (or how to breathe into my knees, or let my body be soft and juicy, or ...)
- the old man with a sling shot aiming at the monkeys in Uluwatu temple

- Puspa, my cooking teacher, joking about getting "married by accident"
- the feel of Gado Gado when you're mixing it with your hands
- the Balinese healer telling me (with a burp, to release evil spirits) that my soul belongs in Bali
- high-fiving Gaday, my surf instructor, after finally standing up on the surf board
- indulging on banana pancakes every single morning (at least when I wasn't sick)
- being carried first, by a very delightful man (swoon), then by two of the girls, all the way from the restaurant back to my bed after my sprained ankle started acting up
- eating fish with my hands at the Jimbaran beach barbecue on my last night

- getting distracted by the beautiful scenery and falling right into a very muddy rice paddy (if you are the owner of that rice paddy and were wondering what happened to that particular plant in the north-west corner, I apologise)
- sharing sad stories with eight strangers and ending up with eight friends

- nursing a coconut water for an entire evening, watching Ubud go by
- getting giddy at the giant ceramics store (even when I get spiritual, I can still shop)
- eavesdropping on hippies comparing and contrasting squatting laws around the world
- the Millionaire Martini at Potato Head (that's a martini with a champagne chaser, in case you were wondering)

- fighting off a small but deceptively strong monkey who decided to hitch a ride on my pocket to see if he could get his hands on my camera (I eventually won)
- developing a passion for the strange and wonderfully expressive stone carvings that populate every corner of the island
- the smell of incense, everywhere

- ... and so many more...

Oh how I wish I could place a small offering by my door, and recapture some of that Balinese happiness...

Apr 13, 2012

Seminyak, day 12

It's amazing how yoga can build me back up again. The swelling on my ankle had gone down a bit this morning so I managed to follow the entire 90 minute yoga and meditation session before breakfast, and I felt great. Centered. Energized. Ready to face the world, make some difficult decisions, and confident enough to believe things will fall into place. Somehow. Some day. The question is, will I be able to maintain this positive energy when I'm back in an environment that seems to surround and fill me with anger and self-loathing and hopelessness? Simply thinking about it now makes me want to cry. But I have a plan, a nugget of an idea to get me to a happy place. It will need nurturing, courage and a bit of crazy, but it's time to move forward. Like the Balinese healer said, I've lost my soul and it's high time I got it back.

Apr 12, 2012

Seminyak, day 11

I'm tired today. Tired of my swollen and sore ankle keeping me from joining in the activities (mostly I'm disappointed that it's preventing me from fully participating in yoga class; I don't mind as much about the surfing). I'm tired of hobbling ten metres behind everyone whenever we go somewhere. I'm tired of all the thoughts in my mind about what I should do with my life when I get back to Switzerland and figuring out what I need to make me happy. I'm tired of listening to well-intentioned advice about dropping everything and finding my soul. I'm tired of facing the prospect that I will have to leave in two days. I know I owe you a post about the Balinese healer (who did a pretty good job on my ankle until I decided to walk on it all day today and ruin all her good work). There are also so many other things I should tell you about Bali, about the food, the temples, family structures, deep-tissue traditional massages, art and dance, the hordes of Australians and the million other things I have discovered. But I'm just too tired. And the ice-pack on my ankle is melting and needs to be changed.

Injured surfer girl - ice pack in sarong

Apr 10, 2012

Seminyak, day 9

Strangely enough, today was a great day. I'll explain why I say "strangely enough" in a minute. We started out with the third yoga lesson of the week, an hour and a half of breathing and twisting into funny shapes and then having an excuse to lie down for a bit. It was fantastic. And all without a slip and slide show thanks to a nice pair of socks. This was followed by a massive breakfast (pancakes, muesli, poached egg, odd looking but yummy brown juice drinks, ginger tea), then some pool time and a one hour massage to top off the morning.

Then came the part I was dreading, the surfing. All the girls were so convinced I was going to stand up on the board today, while I was quite convinced of the opposite and worried about disappointing them (or worse, getting pity looks for being the only loser in the group). But I did it! It took a while, and the waves were bigger today so I was absolutely terrified. But with one very patient instructor holding on to my board and shouting "don't stress" repeatedly, mixed in with a healthy dose of pride, I got up there. And the photos look pretty good too, if I do say so myself (and I do).

So I was feeling pretty pleased with myself this afternoon; it's a good thing the girls here are so fantastic and supportive, because I'm fairly certain I was bordering on unduly smug. Which is when the gods decided to strike me down (as gods are wont to do). When you surf, turns out the most dangerous part (for beginners) is getting off the board. We surf in very shallow water so when you land you're going to hit the sand pretty hard. Most times I landed on my amply padded backside (which will turn out nice and bruised in a few days). But once I landed on my right ankle. It hurt, but not for long, so I thought nothing more of it.

Three hours later, I was in agony. Right in the middle of our girls' night out at Ku De Ta. I somehow managed to grin and bear it through a couple of drinks and a starter, but then it was too much to handle and I had to go. Two of the girls actually carried me out of the restaurant, into a cab, and all the way onto my bed (I can't even put a toe down). And I barely know these women. So despite the pain (slightly numbed now by cocktails, ibuprofen and a very large bundle of ice), this was a good day, and I'm happy to be here with these new friends. And tomorrow I'm seeing a traditional Balinese healer (a rather fortuitous appointment) so hopefully I won't miss out on the whole rest of the week.

Apr 9, 2012

Seminyak, day 8

This second week of my Balinese adventure is a huge contrast to the first. So much so, that I feel like I've started a second, distinct holiday. Which is great, cause I love a two for one as much as the next girl! This entire week I will be staying in Seminyak, the St Tropez of Bali on the southern coast, where all the fancy hotels and shops and restaurants are. I am in an absolutely gorgeous villa, which I share with eight other girls during a one-week surf and yoga retreat. Like I said, a very different experience from my time in Amed and Ubud.
The first yoga class was last night out on the lawn; and remember how I said there were no offerings here? Well scratch that, because at the end, when we opened our eyes, there were offerings at our feet and a Balinese priest and priestess blessing us with holy coconut water. It may sound a bit silly but I was actually quite moved by the experience.

Yoga studio
I was feeling a lot less moved this morning, when the whole class was executing perfect warrior poses except little Res who got sweaty feet and started slipping all over the floor of the studio trying not to break down into a full split. Great way to make a first impression. In fact, I looked just about as elegant and coordinated as I did this afternoon on the surf board, or rather, behind, beside, or underneath the surf board. Basically anywhere but on it. The whole group managed but me, but what would you except from the girl who fell into a rice paddy? (Oh yes, did I forget to mention that?!) The women are great, though. And the whole spiritual thing? Well, it's starting to grow on me.

Apr 8, 2012

Ubud to Seminyak, day 7

The first thing you learn about Bali is that offerings are everywhere. Tourists or no tourists makes little difference to the Balinese, they will put their daily offerings wherever they find space. Not just at temples but in front of their homes, their shops, your hotel room, at restaurants and petrol stations and markets, at the end of a bridge or by the side of the road, even on the dash of their car. Needless to say, offerings are constantly getting stepped on, driven over, pecked at by chickens and dogs or stolen by monkeys. Never mind, it's the act of offering that counts to the Balinese, and they'll be making another one soon enough anyways (apparently most Balinese make an offering once a day, although many do it twice a day, and more on special ceremonial days).

The base of your typical daily offering can be purchased at the market and consist of a small square or flower shape made from what I assume are banana or palm leaves, covered in flowers. The whole thing just about fits in the palm of your hand (ceremonial offerings, like when my hotel got purified, are much bigger and more elaborate). Then the offeror adds a personal touch, like a few grains of rice or a mentos candy (I'm not kidding). Maybe a fruit and a small glass of water will be squeezed in there. Then in goes the burning incense and, voila! You've got yourself a Balinese offering.

Gunung Kawi - 11th century
Tirta Empul tempul - cleansing ceremony

The first thing I noticed about the villa in Seminyak where I will be staying this week (well, after ooh-ing at how pretty it is) is that there are no offerings anywhere. I almost feel like I'm not in Bali anymore. In fact, driving through Seminyak it really does seem like I've entered a different world. Everything is so modern and Western here, such a shock coming from anywhere else on the island. This is Bali Miami beach style. But hey, I've just had the best massage of my life and am about to begin one week of yoga and surfing bliss with eight other women, so you won't hear any complaining from me!
Surf Haven villa

Apr 7, 2012

Ubud, day 6

After my lovely lunch yesterday I went for a nice long walk on the outskirts of Ubud, through rice paddies and over rivers and... right onto a narrow mountain road. You would have thought Lonely Planet would have mentioned the whole near-death part of the experience. It worked out well in the end, though, because my daredevil walk took me right past the Neka art museum, which I had been meaning to see but thought I wouldn't have time for. When life gives you lemons and all that.

Today was cycling day, although it started off with quite a bit of driving and a commercial stop at a coffee plantation that frankly could have been avoided. As for the cycling itself, I have mixed feelings. Overall, it was great, and an incredible way to see the Balinese countryside with people going about their daily business as they would whether you were there or not (although perhaps with more waving and grinning as you career down the mountainside). But I was pretty stressed by the whole things. My bike appeared to have few functioning gears, the roads were often little more than giant craters with a bit of tarmac in between, and cycling on them involved a lot of weaving between oncoming cars, motorbikes, chickens and dogs. As well as people drying their rice on the road. But really, seeing Bali this way was pretty special so no regrets!

Tonight is my last night in Ubud, and I'm debating what to do. Fit in another dance performance? Or simply continue to sit here on my cafe terrace, with the hippies (who I am sure disapprove of the iPad), and watch life go by?

Apr 6, 2012

Ubud, day 5

I'm back to being blissed out and in love with Bali again. Although things did not get off to such an auspicious start this morning. Or so I thought.

Having decided to sleep in, I was brutally jerked awake at 8 in the morning by a gong, various cymbals and men chanting. Have you ever been woken by a gong? No, I hadn't either, and I can assure you I have no intention of repeating the experience.  Stumbling down the stairs into the courtyard of the hotel, I was met by a ten-piece gamelan (Balinese orchestra), a priest with a bell, a tower of offerings and incense everywhere. Turns out it was a purification ceremony for the construction site that was causing me such grief yesterday. I was quickly offered a seat, an apology for the noise, tea and some Balinese ceremonial cake. And it was all done with such genuine smiles and generosity I was completely charmed by the whole thing and instantly forgot to be angry.

So off to the Monkey Forest I went, bright and early and with a spring in my step. I'll admit, I was a bit scared of the monkeys (especially when one of them tried to grab my camera out of my pocket) but the forest was so beautiful, filled with old temples and crazy statues and, well... monkeys. Mostly it's the mad tourists you need the worry about, the ones who try to provoke the animals, but since I had so luckily gotten an early start to the day there weren't too many of them about.

The rest of the morning was spent exploring the center of Ubud, with its insane drivers and  quiet back streets and little cafes that make you want to stay an extra month just so you can try them all. It is so difficult to describe this town in a way, that will do it justice. It is so difficult to simply wrap your head around it in the first place. A moment ago, I was sidestepping a giant pile of dirt and dodging on-coming traffic in the process; now, I am having lunch in a quiet garden with ponds and wild flowers everywhere, in bare feet and sitting on a cushion. And the two spots are probably 20 meters from each other. Yesterday I drove five minutes out of town to my cooking class, into Wayan and Puspa's outdoor family kitchen in the middle of the rice paddies. This morning, I had an iced latte at a cafe that wouldn't have looked out of place in New York (except it would cost much more than $2 and the two people behind me would not have been comparing national squatting laws.) I have to see how the yoga classes turn out next week but I would certainly not rule out coming back for a month-long yoga retreat some day (armed with plenty of tummy pills).


Apr 5, 2012

Ubud day 4

I am feeling very sorry for myself right now. Which in itself is not so surprising, because when am I not feeling sorry for myself. But today is particularly bad, because I have wasted a whole afternoon (and will waste a whole evening) holed up in my hotel room listening to construction workers due to a nasty spell of Bali Belly. (These are the same construction workers I was told only operated between 10am and 5pm, although they were well under way by 8.30 this morning and are still at it now, 11 hours later. No 35 hour week for these guys. Damn them.) Anyways, here I am, grumpy and ill and all my plans in a jumble. Boo.

Fortunately, I managed to keep it together long enough to make it through my Balinese cooking class, which provided me with a lovely opportunity to demonstrate to perfect strangers that I really can't chop anything properly, and to partake is some much-needed socialising. I love traveling by myself but when you're a chatterbox like me, sometimes it gets hard (especially when you're sick).

Ubud market - women selling offerings
Ubud market
Puspa, cooking teacher extraordinaire, demonstrating the Balinese blender
Me mixing up some Gado Gado
Look Mommy! I made it all by myself! (well, sort of...)
 As always, pictures to come when I get back, blah blah stupid iPad blah... Tomorrow my plan is not to be sick anymore and have a wander through a sacred forest of monkeys (as opposed to a forest of sacred monkeys, which would be very disturbing. But first I will have a beer, because somehow I have it in my head that beer is good for your tummy. Like Coke. If I'm wrong at least I'll have pretended to have a good evening.