Thursday, March 28, 2013

I'M NICKNAME GUY. If I like you, I'll create a moniker, often involving extra E's, mashing a few words together, or truncating your first or last name into a sliver of its former self. I constantly Brangelina couple's names to save time and sometimes just call people by their first initial. My friend Sandi is usually just "S" and she has been since high school. It's rare that I use your given name. Jeff and I do not call each other by our names, and if we do, we might be sore with each other, or we're avoiding the embarrassment of shouting "Sweetie!" in the hardware store

Names in Bali are an interesting topic. In the Balinese Hindu culture there is a very clear naming convention that goes like this:

The first born is named one of the following: Wayan, Putu, Gede, or (for girls only) Ni Luh
Second: Made, Kadek, or Nengah
Third: Nyoman or Komang
Fourth: Ketut, often shortened to Tut.

If there's a fifth child in the family, they start again, except they add "Balik" (ie. Wayan Balik) which means again. As in, Oh shit, here's Wayan again. And forget about a sixth and seventh - That just gets mad-confusing.

Now, at first blush, this seems kind of cruel and impersonal, to name your beloved children this way. But there's more to it. Nicknames! Jeff got into a long chat with a very sweet young man the other day while we swam at the Cold Springs. He explained, as first born in his family, he was Putu Cerah Berawan. His nickname translates to "Sunny and Cloudy". While the language barrier was thick, I understood that, as a baby, he was very happy or very, very sad, which he'd be reminded of for the rest of his life. I had to wonder if bipolar disorder could be triggered by a nickname. Another man we met was named Kadek Bottle, because he's tall and skinny, like a bottle.

I suppose some nicknames are more poetic than others, but the same can be said for the ones I give the most important people in my life, too.

This is Ni Luh Balik. Again. But if it were up to me, her nickname would be Shirley Temple.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

I'M NOT A GREAT SWIMMER. Despite growing up with a pool in our yard, I never managed to really learn how to do it. I cannot dive, much to Jeff's bemusement, and I'm not comfortable in the ocean when it's deeper than I am tall. Boats make me nervous when I do not know the Captain and I am not okay with opaque bodies of water. I am most comfortable in pools and wouldn't dream of swimming in the open ocean at night. Generally speaking, I am afraid of water.

That being said, this trip was designed around it. With each new location, our Googling begins at the shore; we cannot be in a place without water.

You might, then, be as surprised as we were to discover that many parts of Bali have terrible, terrible beaches. Litter-strewn, filthy, and narrow, with sharp sand underfoot.  To our disappointment, the island is not encircled by picture-perfect white sand beaches as we were lead to believe. In planning, we avoided the tourist epicentres of Kuta Beach and Seminyak, where the beaches apparently shape-up, but didn't want to search for a patch of sand amongst hundreds of bulés (white Western tourists); I want the kind of beach that's gorgeous and empty. Is that too much to ask?

And so we've added a stop to our Indonesian experience: Three days on the Gili Islands, located 35km east, just off the coast of Lombok, the next large island in the archipelago. These three islands are in fact wrapped in white sand beaches and, this time of year (at the tail-end of Monsoon Season), they'll be nice and quiet. We're excited to hop on a high-speed boat for the one-hour trip and can't wait to finally have a bit of quality beach time in paradise.

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But, that said, we have managed to discover some truly spectacular places. The Git Git Waterfalls near Bali's old capital, Singaraja, are a 20-minute hike into the jungle, up ancient steps and moss-covered ledges. While you can hear the water for some time, it takes a while until you see it, cascading drops and smooth pools connecting the stacked waterfalls. Jeff is afraid of nothing and wasted no time sliding into the water at the base of the first fall, though I did not. I was too nervous. I regretted it the moment we climbed out of the gorge.

A few days later, our Lovina Beach hosts took us on a roadtrip into the mountains where they showed us another river perfect for swimming. I can't imagine another bulé has ever been there; it felt like a secret. Though it took a bit of coaxing, I soon jumped into the fast-flowing water, careful to keep my feet off the surely-terrifying riverbed. It was icy-cold (which alleviated fears of creepy river monsters and flesh-eating bacteria) and I dunked my head under. It was amazing. Jeff convinced me to stand up, and I discovered the bottom was flat and coated in smooth pebbles, nothing to be afraid of at all.

I didn't have a single regret that day.

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Yesterday we took a walk along the (shabby, dirty, inexplicably litter-covered) beach here in Lovina. It was indescribably hot and all I wanted was to throw myself in the water, but was dissuaded by plastic bottles and old clothing floating there. Verging on grouchy, we walked out onto the modest pier and noticed a tiny figure jump off a longboat about 300m offshore. The little body swam and kicked his way toward us before disappearing under the dock. After a few minutes we heard a tiny voice say "Hello? ... Hello? ... Hello?" We searched the perimeter of the jetty and soon found him staring up at us from the low tide line; he couldn't reach the cement staircase leading out of the water and needed our help. He reached with his tiny, sun-soaked arm and Jeff reached down, pulling the 7-year old up out of the sea, no more than 40 pounds (literally) soaking wet.

No sooner than he was safely on the dock, he ran and jumped, headlong, back into the water, showing off for us; not an ounce of fear lived in this little boy. He swam and dove out of sight, as deep as he could, his snorkel disappearing for a few seconds. Kicking his little legs in the water, he demonstrated indisputably better swimming skills than my own. We watched for a few minutes before waving good bye and leaving him there, unsupervised in the wide open ocean.

It was a special moment in a beautiful place, white sand beaches the furthest thing from my mind. I'll remember that little guy when I'm scared to jump in the water.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

I FOUND MYSELF THINKING A LOT ABOUT LIFE IN TORONTO WHILE WE WERE IN AUSTRALIA. Culturally, we aren't so different, both fussy members of the British Commonwealth and quaint cousins to America, with our funny-accents and aggressive politeness. This leg of our trip was, by and large, spent in urban areas. It was easier to compare life at home to this part of the trip, as it looked more familiar. Spending a month in these new cities, I was reminded of something I've known to be true for a while: I'm not sure cities are where I thrive.

I'm prone to anxiety, swept-up into chaos, and cities are where those things find footing and where deep breaths are laced with smog and doubt. After a rather rural New Zealand experience, the return to metro-life was nerve-wracking. A couple of things came immediately (and neurotically) to mind: I had shorn off my hair and I hadn't packed "city-appropriate" clothing. In a flash of mental muscle memory, my urban-dwelling vanity-insanity rushed back. Driving through the hills and valleys of New Zealand was easy and lacked the panic of living an impressive life; it didn't matter what my job was or what I was wearing or what I was doing this weekend. Cities demand a base-level glamour and engender competition, and so I was unexpectedly and suddenly distressed.

In the last year and a half, while full-time freelancing in Toronto, this urban anxiety has become more palpable, the city thick with apprehension, wondering about jobs or payments or what success should feel like, and how to measure it within the wide bounds of creativity. Our weekends at the cottage or jaunts to Florida lifted the worry of keeping the pace of big city life. Leaving altogether made it almost disappear.

This trip will take us to many corners of the world, those that are loud and very quiet. I will return home able to decide what I want my life to feel like. This trip has reminded me that I can choose.

After a few days, the uneasiness subsided and I realized Australian cities weren't quite like Toronto at all. There's an imperturbable quality to the people who live there. I could live in Melbourne or Sydney in a heartbeat; they're friendly and sunsoaked, walkable and easygoing, and they certainly seem to balance work and leisure in a way that North American cities do not. For every urban experience, there are fifty activities outside the hustle. There's a natural inclination to relax. I don't think I had one discussion with a local person about their job and even the bustling city centres came with a healthy tan and a pair of short-shorts.

With a cock-eyed smile and an affable accent, Australia reminded me to take it easy, and a little less seriously.

Sailing in Newcastle. Jeff was in his glory until he sliced his foot open on a stanchion. We spent 3 hours in the emergency room and 2 weeks nursing his wound and staving off infection.

Water, water everywhere. The Bondi Icebergs, left, and Newcastle's Bogey Hole on the right. Incredible saltwater pools are common.

A Sydney highlight. Bondi Beach and the Bondi Icebergs. Beautiful.

One of the world's great buildings. The Sydney Opera House. Did you know it's covered in over 1 million tiles? We saw La Boheme

No shortage of gorgeous men in Australia. It's nearly overwhelming.

The Tasman Sea.

Surf watch on the single sunny day in Gold Coast.

Beautiful Brighton Beach, a suburb of Melbourne. The Brighton Bathing Boxes are just about the quaintest things I've ever seen. They sell for over 200K when they rarely become available.

Another of Jeff in the Bogey Hole. It was carved out of the coastal rocks by inmates in the 1700s. It's quite small and rarely very busy.

The lovely and varied architecture of Melbourne. From Brutalist government buildings to the most ornate neo-Gothic mansions. It's a spectacular place.

1) We spent many days in Melbourne lounging in the beautiful parks reading our books. I blew through Nigel Slater's Toast while Jeff read Benjamin Law's Gaysian, a pop-sociological study of gay culture in Asia. Both excellent, I can attest, as I'm now reading the latter.

2) Gold Coast was battered by epic storms during our stay. The beaches were closed, which is certainly rare. In a matter of hours one night, the beach receded by many, many meters and left a ragged scarp which we had to scramble down just so we could walk along the rough shoreline.

3) We stayed with my Dad's cousin Brenda in Newcastle, which is a small city just north of Sydney. We had a terrific time and I'm still digesting the wonderful talks I shared with Brenda. I had never met her kids or her husband, though I had a wonderful relationship with her parents throughout my childhood. It's incredible how genetics make us so similar yet we've never really spent any time together.

4) Our customs officer at Sydney's airport was named Jeff Hudson. We found this to be entirely crazy and he was very sweet. He showed me his pinky ring, which was the Hudson crest, before thrusting our passports at me, "You should look after these. The Hudsons are the responsible ones."

5) The Oscars® air live in Australia at 11:30am on Monday morning. We watched, shuttered indoors by the aforementioned Gold Coast weather, though I wasn't really upset; I haven't missed an Academy Awards telecast in at least 20 years.

6) We ate a kilogram of prawns on the rocky coastline of Newcastle, tearing off the heads and removing their bowels. It was way outside my box and delicious.

7) A group of kangaroos is called a "gang". We saw a wild one in the Hunter Valley wine region.

8) Jeff cut his foot open on Brenda's sailboat on Lake MacQuarie. We had to sit in the emergency room for 3 hours and paid $90 for the pleasure. Because the deep wound was between his toes, they opted to wrap it rather than stitch, as the natural resting position caused the wound to close over itself. It has finally healed and we are no longer terrified of a Balinese staph infection. This injury, however, meant Jeff couldn't really walk very much in Sydney, and couldn't get his foot wet. To those who know him, this was devastating when we visited the Bondi Icebergs.

9) We stumbled upon and fell in love with a sitcom called Please Like Me written by comic, Josh Thomas. It's about a newly-gay 20-something and his circle of misfit friends. It's the most heart-filled and charming (and hysterically funny) show we've seen in a long time. Watch episodes here. The 6th and final airs this Thursday.

10) The Sydney Opera House is even more magical in person. Like Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum, it's garish and probably ugly to some, but to me it's spectacular. It's covered in over a million tiles!

LOCATION: Lovina, Bali, Indonesia
DATE AND TIME: Tuesday, March 26, 2013 9:50PM Central Indonesian Time/Tuesday, March 26, 2013 9:50AM EST

Again, please keep up with my Instagram feed for daily bits and bobs. I try to tell stories as they happen, as it's hard to distill 30 days in these places into a single blog entry.

Location: Surfer's Paradise, Queensland, Australia
Accommodation: Emerald Sands Holiday Apartments 
A great location. While the owners were extremely nice and welcoming, the building and apartment were a little dated and dingy. We're not particularly fussy travelers, but we certainly found it to be a bit ... stale. We were upgraded to a two bedroom suite, which had 1½ bathrooms and two levels. This was a great surprise. The pool was small and a bit cold, and one particular family of 15 kind of hogged the whole area most of the time which was disappointing.
Food: We prepared most meals at the apartment and were pleased to find grocery prices were much more reasonable in Australia than New Zealand. The kitchen was fully-equipped, though home to many, many ants.

Location: St. Kilda Beach, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Accommodation: St. Kilda Beach Apartment 
The apartment (through AirBnB) couldn't be in a better location, near the beach and both main arteries, Fitzroy and Acland. St. Kilda is a very walkable town but major transit lines run right through as well. We used the trams and trains a lot to get into the city centre and to venture out to Brighton Beach. The apartment didn't have air conditioning and with western exposure and evening temperatures lingering around 25ºC, it was a teensy bit warm. A fan helped, though we found ourselves uncomfortable. Jamie, the owner, was super nice and attentive.
Food: This was the first apartment with a BBQ so we were able to mix up our menu a bit. Melbourne is a Food City, with a terrific-looking restaurant on every corner. Budget-wise, we opted to have a couple of lunches rather than more-expensive dinners and The Pelican offered really tasty tapas. We were also happy to stumble upon the South Melbourne Market which is huge and has everything you could ever want for fresh, local meat, seafood, and produce. We stocked-up for the week and saved a ton of money. The food was great quality. Notably: Tasmanian salmon from South Melbourne Seafood and fresh pasta and bolognese sauce from Market Fresh Pasta. The tricky part about trying to cook on the road is being without a pantry full of supplies: herbs, spices, oils, etc. I appreciated being able to snag a well-seasoned, fresh sauce for a hearty pasta meal.

Location: Potts Point, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia  
Accommodation: Potts Point Studio 
A great little studio apartment in a terrific neighbourhood. Close to great parks, the water, terrific restaurants and really good transit lines. Well-designed and outfitted for rental. 
Food: We were only in Sydney for 4 days, so ate most meals out, including a great picnic. The Fish Shop offered the best fish and chips we've had on the trip so far and one of the best meals I've had ever was at Sean's in Bondi, generously "shouted" by the charming Tim

Thanks for reading!


In America (September 25, 2011)
This City (July 1, 2010)
Quiet Please (June 22, 2011)

Sunday, March 17, 2013

SEVERAL WEEKS AGO, WHILE WE WERE STILL IN FLORIDA, MY MOM CAME TO STAY WITH US FOR A FEW DAYS. The prospect was strange and nerve-wracking as I hadn't spent five straight days with her since our last family vacation as a pre-teen. Come to think of it, we were more the weekend warrior types, road-tripping or camping in quick, tumultuous spurts rather than jetting to some foreign place for two weeks at a time. So perhaps we hadn't spent five entire days together since I was a toddler, in those few, spare years before school would separate us for most of each day.

Skipping ahead, though, it was wonderful. I think she felt it, too, a sense of togetherness and focus we hadn't experienced in so long. Quiet enjoyment, and also a lot of talking. I asked to hear stories I'd heard before and others that were new. And she told them, gladly and openly. We talked about her father, who left them when she was 12, and her mom, who died when I was 6. She told me how my dad moved into their house shortly after they met (at 14 and 16 years old) and how he helped pay the household bills. She told me how he saved her family all those years ago. She talked about loyalty. She talked about marriage at 18 and two kids by 20 and how hard that was. She talked about the full-time job of guarding us from certain realities. These topics weren't hard or painful - just the facts. My mom is nothing if not to-the-point, rarely one to editorialize, but hearing these stories felt different this time.

I've written a lot about my dad over the years, but rarely my mom. I think, maybe, it was because I didn't really get her. The Hudson gene is strong and repetitive, so I have a good understanding of crazy, myself included. But my mom isn't crazy at all. She is, I've come to discover, the least crazy person I know. But when you're the quiet centre in a household of chaos and neurosis, you somehow seem the strangest of the lot.

With all this time behind us, I'm beginning to see who she was. Her pivotal role in our family unit was never in question, but through the lens of adulthood I have a better understanding. I wrote the bit below in 2005, but it took me all these years to understand what I actually meant by it.

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My mom existed as a series of noises. You wouldn't necessarily know she was there if it weren't for a teaspoon clinking the side of her coffee mug, or the way you could hear her ankles crack with every step. She existed only in noises. The thin, glossy newsprint pages of Women's World Weekly turning between sips of overly-sweetened Maxwell House. The way she breathed loudly though her mouth, sucking oxygen through a DuMaurier King Sized Ultra Light. 

She existed in noises. The sound of her flipping between the country music channel and Donahue. The sound of knitting needles clicking together, like a mouse nibbling on a piece of plastic-coated cheese. Her pen scratching out crossword puzzles, or tapping on the table as she thought through words. As technology advanced, she became a series of clicks and double-clicks when she discovered Solitaire before Tetris and Mahjongg replaced the mouse with even-quieter arrow keys. The computer was at the back of our family room where I'd sit watching the Home Shopping Channel, reminded of her presence through an occasional lung-congested cough or that soothing, muted tech-noise. In our 800 square foot bungalow, she was always nearby.

When she did talk, it was often frantic and explosive, as if a pressure-valve had given way. She'd arrive home from work on a summer afternoon to find my sister and I hadn't done the dishes or suitably stacked a pile of Star magazines on the end table. She'd wonder what we'd done with ourselves all day while she and our father had worked so hard to provide us with all the things we had. We'd listen, sometimes argue, and always steal glances at each other while she slammed something against the countertop. Perhaps, subconsciously, we neglected household chores so she'd speak to us. 

Then Mom would go back to her noises before shouting "Dinner!" and quiet again until our nightly viewing of Jeopardy! As a family, we'd sit together and watch her win every time. It was her most sociable time of day: one word every 8 seconds or so. I kept score. As I got older and more sophisticated, I paid very close attention, giving the same number of points the contestants were awarded on TV, and taking them away for a wrong answer, smugly striking 1000 points. Eventually my mom stopped winning; my sister and I started knowing the answers, and she couldn't get a word in edgewise. 

She wasn't a bad mother. Not even close. She loved us in practical, tangible ways. But she was lucky my sister and I were always sensitive enough to read smoke signals and auditory tea leaves. Had we been troubled, we would've needed more proof, more of her attention. As it was, she and I self-sufficient and tended to by one another, we didn't require much more. She was there if we needed help bedecking Barbie in one of her more-difficult, one-piece ensembles, or if the drawstring had become inextricably lost in the waistband of our pyjama pants. We had wordless communication, simply handing over a wrinkly shirt and getting it back later, ironed dutifully, though without a whisper of Mrs. Cleaver-customer service. But there was often butterscotch pudding for dessert and when I had an all-too-common nightmare, she'd toss back the covers and make space for me, without cluttering the air with reassurances, only offering the comfort of her warm breath on the back of my neck.

Perhaps it's the reason I loved crouching in the hall while she chatted on the phone with a girlfriend, absorbing every word and effervescent laughing fit. I wasn't quite sure who this person was, but I knew I liked it when she spoke this way. It might also be the reason my sister and I cannot seem to shut the fuck up at any given point, living an overly-communicated existence, prattling on ad nauseum while our partners roll their eyes. It was, and continues to be, our rebellion against a silent mother, her self-possessed duty to reduce the voices in a deafening home.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Jeff and I can sit for hours in front of a House Hunters International marathon. We stare, rapt and aghast, shocked by what so little can buy in various incredible locations. Some are humble abodes, charmingly rundown, others palatial and elaborate. There are pools and grounds, gates and outdoor showers. They are stumbling distance to the beach or high atop a rainforested mountain. They always have a name and almost without exception they are some ridiculous price, like $30000.

Stunned, we lock eyes as if to say, "Let's do this." Mouths agape with minds blown, we silently search for reasons why we shouldn't. I furiously crunch numbers wondering how much we'd need to live and if selling ice cream would cut it. My mind races, justifying the negatives and resting hard on the positives. Watching these expats tour the treehouses and beachhuts of Fiji and Bali and Costa Rica, we wonder if we could liquidate and just go. This trip has made me believe in our pipe dreams and I'm starting to think, "Why not?" I mean, we're doing this, so why not that?

Tomorrow we'll leave Sydney and head to a new place on another continent 4600 kilometres away. We'll say goodbye to the Commonwealth, to the societal familiarity of places like New Zealand and Australia. Neither of us has been to Asia so I expect a good dose of culture shock. And I'm excited about that.

This also marks the first time on our Eat, Gay, Love adventure that we'll fly into a place with no definite schedule for departure. Because of our decade-long obsession with Bali, we thought we'd leave it open-ended. So far we're set-up for a week in the south, followed by a week on the less-touristy north shore. Don't tell immigration, but we may never leave.


I'll round-up our adventures in Australia soon, from the comfort of our private pool near Sanur, Bali. 

LOCATION: Potts Point, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
DATE AND TIME: March 14, 2013 1:00PM Australian Eastern Standard Time/March 13, 2013 10:00PM EST

While checking-in for our flight from Sydney to Denpasar, an uninformed flight attendant told us we must book our outgoing flight, within 30 days, from Bali. As Canadians, we don't, but she refused to check us in until we could prove we had. (Canadians, if asked, must only be able to prove they have enough money to get out of the country. Australians, on the other hand, are likely trying to stay illegally in Bali all the time. Anyway, so under the duress of Virgin Australia, we had to hurriedly book our flight. So we committed to 30 days in Bali. Updates on Instagram, and more to follow soon.