Archive for October, 2007

We’ve just emerged from a 600 year-old village in Southern China, where we climbed countless hills and took a truly embarrassing number of pictures (over 400 in one day!; here’s a link to some of the best).  Called Ping’an, the small-but-ever-expanding locale where we happily passed two days is situated on the main ridge of an engineering feat known as the Dragon’s Backbone Rice Terraces.  Farmers apparently started constructing these terraces, which wrap around the steep Chinese hillside like never-ending ribbons, as early as 1271.  Over 700 years later, they’re just now starting to show up on tourists’ must-see lists.

Ping’an itself is an idyllic little place where wooden buildings hug the hillsides and horses and cows wander the narrow, stone alleyways with basket-toting locals in tow.  It’s expanding now to accommodate the vast number of tourists who will soon swell its population.  Indeed, the whole town smells like the freshly cut wood that’s being used to construct the hotels and restaurants that are springing up everywhere.  An army of Yao women in fluorescent pink native dress greets travelers as they arrive, hoping to coax them into purchasing some local handicrafts.  (Yaos are a Chinese minority whose women are famous for their incredibly long hair, which reaches nearly to their knees.  Signs everywhere proclaim that Guinness has recognized the area as the “long-hair village.” Research didn’t substantiate that claim in its entirety, but it did prove that record for the world’s longest hair belongs to a woman who lives in the area.  But I digress….)
While we didn’t take advantage of any of the bargains that the Yao women claimed they were offering us, we did enlist Leun, a pint-sized Yao women, to be our guide for a day.  She had to have been at least 70 years old, and she couldn’t have weighed more than 85 pounds, but she had no problem leading us on a hilly, five-hour hike to Dazhai, a nearby town that our guidebook assured us would allow us to escape even the few tourists staying in Ping’an during this, the beginning of the low season.
With Leun in the lead, we climbed up and down the countless terraces between Ping’An and Dazhai.  It seemed that each was more beautiful and other-worldy than the one that came before it.  Cows lazily watched from the sidelines as we stopped every few minutes to take pictures.  A group of Yao women tracked us down on the trail and, for a small fee, took down their long hair so we could marvel, first-hand, at its incredible length.  We encountered far more farmers than tourists, and we finished the hike pleasantly tired and ready to devour some dumplings and sleep soundly in our $8-a-night hotel (which, itself, smelled of freshly-cut wood).

Ping’an is one of the handful of places we’ve seen so far that we feel compelled to recommend to everyone we know before it changes beyond recognition.  Hopefully, the pictures alone will be enough to convince you to make the trip!

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Yangshuo Countryside
Wanting to see the karsts in their natural surroundings (i.e., not in the middle of a bustling city), we made our way to Yangshuo, an hour south of Guilin.  Our first order of business was to rent bikes and hire a guide who could show us the way off the beaten path.  We wound through the spectacular countryside, following dirt roads through rice paddies and small villages.  We climbed Moon Hill, one of the karsts in the area that has a hole near the top that is said to resemble various stages of the moon, depending on one’s vantage point.  We sailed down the Yulong River on a bamboo raft.
Yangshuo countryside
Yangshuo is a photographer’s dream.  Everywhere we looked, another National Geographic-worthy shot appeared.  We must have taken 300 pictures during the course of the day, and I’m pretty sure our guide developed a strong hatred for us and our cameras.  Here’s a link to some of our best shots.
Villager from Shitoucheng New Village
Prior to our arrival in Yangshuo, we read about a nearby village, Shitoucheng, that was only for “adventurous, independent travellers.”  Clearly, we had to prove our worthiness as backpackers by checking it out.  After a series of trips on local buses (which we navigated mainly by miming, as we’re desperately unable to retain all but the most basic Chinese words), we commandeered two local men on motorcycles to carry us up the karst peaks to Shitoucheng’s new village.  One of the men stayed on to lead us to the old village and the ancient walls that we had come to see.  An hour’s worth of steep, rocky stairs later, we were hiking between the walls (whose history seems relatively unknown) and through fields of rice and chili peppers.  We took a look around a family home, which had no modern amenities in sight, and then wound our way back down to the new town, whose satellite dishes (even though attached to wooden shacks) seemed futuristic in comparison.

Later, we joined thousands of Chinese tourists for Impressions Liu Sanjie, a light show that featured 600 locals–many of them fishermen–performing on (yes, on!) the Li River amongst 12 majestic karsts.  The show was directed by movie maker Zhang Yimou, who is also in charge of the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.  If what we saw was any indication, everyone watching the Olympics will be in for a treat.

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After having dim sum with Wensi (our new friend in Guangzhou) and her husband, Andy, and daughter, Sunny, we took a short flight to Guilin.  For centuries, poets and painters have celebrated the beauty of Guilin’s natural surroundings.  A famous inscription in the town explains that its scenery “excels all in China.”  As we drove from the airport, we soon noticed giant, cylindrical mountain peaks jutting up from the ground.  These limestone “karsts” were thrust up from the sea many,many years ago and carved to their present-day configurations by centuries of erosion.
We had read several reports about the harm that had come to Guilin as it became famous.  We soon found these reports to be correct.  Thousands of tourists have flocked here in recent years to view the scenery.  With their new-found wealth, the Chinese are touring their country in droves.  Tour buses are everywhere in Guilin, and we constantly feared being trampled by a stampede of Chinese tourists wearing matching hats or shirts and following their flag-holding guide.
Notwithstanding the mass tourism, there are a few sites worth visiting in Guilin.  After renting a couple of bikes and slurping down a noodle soup breakfast in a local dive, we rode to Seven Star Park.  The park was opened as a tourist destination around 600 AD!!!  That’s right, tourists were flocking here over a thousand years before America was even founded (sort of puts things in perspective…).
The park consists of seven peaks and includes several caves, including the gorgeous Seven Star Cave, which we had all to ourselves after we convinced the guard at the entrance to let us enter even though it was temporarily closed.  We also walked open a small zoo housing two giant pandas.  Despite some alarming heckling by a few of the visitors, the pandas were content to doze away the afternoon.
We also visited Solitary Beauty Peak, a karst in the center of town that, after requiring you to climb several hundred stairs, rewards you with a great view of the city.  All in all, Guilin offers tourists a great way to spend a couple of days.  If only so many of them didn’t take it up on its offer…

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If Derek and I weren’t going to be on the road for the next eleven months, I’d say there’s a fair chance that, sometime during the last four days, we would have adopted a Chinese daughter.  We’ve just returned to Guangzhou from the Social Welfare Institute of Yangxi, an orphanage in the southeastern part of China.  I’m not sure that we’ve digested everything that happened during our time there, but perhaps we never will.

We found the Institute through Mindy Sontag, a dear friend in Nashville whose niece Maggie was adopted from there four years ago.  When Mindy learned that we wanted to do some volunteer work during our time in China, she asked if we would be interested in stopping by.  We responded in the affirmative, and she and her family, along with Derek’s parents and the parents of another little girl – Carly – who was adopted from the same place, offered up a very generous amount of money for us to use to purchase whatever the orphanage needed.  (We’ve posted a picture of Maggie and Carly below).
We arrived in Yangxi on Wednesday with pockets full of Chinese yuan.  We literally showed up on the orphanage doorstep and–with much gesturing and thumbing through our very cursory Chinese phrasebook–announced “we’ve come bearing gifts…let’s go shopping.”  And so we piled into a minivan with a bunch of the Institute’s higher-ups.  In a prelude to the incredible hospitality that the staff would show us over the next few days, our first stop was a hotel, where the orphanage director negotiated a rate for us that was 1/5 of the one posted.   Then we were off to the market, where the staff selected a bouncy chair, a blender, 200 baby bottles and some plastic baskets.  Our next stop was an appliance store, where a washing machine and a bottle sterilizer were purchased in rapid measure.  Later, the director placed an order for 90 onesies (for those of you without kids, that’s a kind of baby clothing…), which should arrive next week.  We found ourselves wishing that Mindy and family were there to witness the shopping spree.

Having obtained permission to volunteer  atthe orphanage for a couple of days, we arrived on Thursday morning and spent a couple of hours folding what must have been thousands of cloth diapers.  And then we got to meet the babies.  Here’s the part we haven’t digested yet.
In our estimation, the Institute houses about 60 babies, 58 of whom are girls.  (The remaining two are boys who appeared to be mentally and physically challenged.)  This incredible gender disparity is a product of China’s one-child policy.  Adopted in 1979 with the goal of limiting population growth, this policy restricts all urban Chinese families to one child apiece.  Rural families are allotted two children, and the eight percent of the population who qualify as minorities are exempt from the policy altogether.  Traditional thought values boys over girls, and so families with a limited number of opportunities to try for a boy sometimes abandon newborn girls.  For obvious reasons, I really struggled with this.

Because I’m entirely unfamiliar with orphanages in general and Chinese methods of child-rearing in particular, I’m finding it very difficult to write an objective report of the babies’ living conditions.  It seems that their basic needs are being met.  The appear to be well-fed.  Their diapers and their clothes are changed on a regular basis.  The institute is clean.  I’m not sure how much more one could legitimately expect.
With that said, the babies spent the great bulk of their time in small cribs made of metal bars and rough, wooden planks.  (Yes, they sleep on wood.)  They often have only a towel for a blanket.  We saw a lot of open sores and runny noses.  We saw no mobiles, no stuffed animals, no books.  We saw neither soap nor baby wipes.  My heart ached every time I entered the rooms where the babies lived, and I found myself wanting to hold each one long enough to instill in her the memory of being touched.  It was not easy, and we left with heavy hearts.  We also left on a mission to purchases a mattress for each crib.
Wensi, a kind woman here in Guangzhou who works at this area’s umbrella adoption agency and speaks fluent English (hooray!) gave up her Saturday today to help us with this task.  All day today, our Chinese guardian angel helped us to navigate this city’s busy streets and its many baby supply stores.  She also helped us to understand a lot of what we’d seen at the orphanage.  For instance, she explained that many Chinese babies sleep on wooden boards because their parents believe that it promotes bone growth.  She also assured us that all of the orphanage’s healthy babies eventually get adopted (not so for the not-so-healthy ones; they often remain institutionalized).  Her agency processed 2,200 adoptions last year alone.  Wensi told us that most Chinese people endorse the one-child policy as a way to prevent food shortages and other pitfalls of over-population.  We left her with a better understanding of how the American lens through which we view the world perhaps made a difficult situation appear even more dire than it actually was.  The perspective she offered was invaluable.

We’re meeting Wensi and her daughter in the morning to discuss over a dim sum brunch the mechanics of procuring crib mattresses (not American-style thick, but with a Chinese-acceptable level of padding) from a nearby factory.  We can only hope that, someday, she’ll visit us in the US so that we can try to repay the incredible kindness that she’s shown us.

Around the world, there are many different styles of eating.  Due to our famed individualism, Americans are accustomed to ordering our own meal at a restaurant and rarely sharing with anyone else at the table, unless that person is our significant other (in which case we will sometimes share, but begrudgingly).  This style of eating is virtually unheard of in the East.  In Asian restaurants, a variety of dishes will be ordered (in many cases, the ordering is done by one person – sometimes with input from others) and the items will be brought out and placed in the middle of the table to be shared by all (for Southerners reading this, think “family-style”; for Nashvillians reading this, think “Monell’s).  To me, there is no better way to eat.  By ordering multiple dishes, you get to try lots of different flavors without envying the entree ordered by a fellow diner.
Dim Sum at Maxim's
One of my favorite types of “family-style” ordering is “dim sum.”  I first sampled dim sum when I was in Hong Kong in 1996 and, since then, I’ve sought it out in various places (especially at the Golden Unicorn in New York’s Chinatown).  For those who’ve never experienced dim sum, it is a style of eating famed in Hong Kong and the Canton area of China which takes place mostly on weekends during “brunch” time.  While Americans have their omelettes, eggs benedict and french toast, the Chinese sample steamed dumplings, “shumai”, pork buns, chicken feet! and hundreds of other small dishes.
Dim Sum at Maxim's
In many places, the various items on offer at a dim sum restaurant are wheeled around on a small cart.  As the cart goes by, the names of the dishes are yelled out by the cart-pusher (or if your Chinese is lacking, or in my case nonexistant, the cart-pusher will take the cover off the dishes to show you what’s underneath).  If you like what they have, you point to the item and it is placed on your table.  The cart-pusher marks a card on your table with what you ordered and heads off to the next table.  The food, which is served as small dishes (sort of like Spanish tapas), is generally amazing.  I’m especially fond of the shumai and the pork buns.

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While in Hong Kong, we sought out Maxim’s City Hall Palace – a restaurant that’s supposed to serve some of the best dim sum in the world (and, based on some awards on the wall, the best in Hong Kong).  The restaurant was packed, requiring a wait of about an hour.  Once we were seated, however, the foodcarts immediately made it our way where we ordered quite aggresively.  I was getting embarrassed with how much we had ordered until I looked around and saw that all the other Chinese diners where ordering even more than we were.  After finishing off several pots of jasmine tea and eating more dumplings than I care to admit, we left the restaurant and decided to take a long walk in downtown Hong Kong to help burn off the amazing feast.

We just spent a wonderful four days in Hong Kong.  Although I’ve loved nearly all of the places we’ve visited so far, this was the first one since Paris where I could actually picture myself living.  It felt to me a lot like an Asian Manhattan, and I have to say, the familiarity was kind of refreshing. 

Our time in this British-colony-turned-special-administrative-region-of-China was a delightful mix of regular-life activities and touristy ones.  We sat in the park.  I went running.  We saw a movie.  It was almost the stuff of an ordinary weekend at home. 

Of course, we also made sure to do some things that were unique to Hong Kong.  On Saturday night, we went out in a very popular, very cosmopolitan area that–to add some validity to my Manhattan comparison–is known as SoHo.  We stumbled upon a street fair full of revelers from all over the world where vendors were peddling everything from Russian food to tarot cards.  We happily let the crowd’s momentum carry us through the narrow streets and, when we got tired of all of the jostling, we paused for what turned out to be a great dinner of ribs (Derek) and crab legs (me). 
Hong Kong Harbor
The next day, after an amazing dim sum brunch that warrants its own post, we took a ferry to Kowloon, the part of Hong Kong that sits on mainland China.  (The rest of Hong Kong is dispersed over more than 230 islands (really!), although Hong Kong Island, where we stayed, is by far the most populated among them.)  Once the sun went down, we had an amazing view of Hong Kong Island’s technicolor skyline, which was itself enough to warrant toting our tripod all the way from Nashville! 
View from Victoria Peak
Yesterday, we took a tram to the top of Victoria Peak, a mountain that springs up right in the middle of Hong Kong Island’s urban chaos.   We hiked around the peak’s summit and, despite the smog that’s all too typical in Hong Kong, got some pretty good overhead views.  Our path back down the peak took us through lots of neighborhoods that seemed far removed from the normal tourist route.  It was rush hour on a Monday evening, and we paused for a moment to watch all of the harried commuters and to marvel at the great freedom that comes with a year of unemployment. 

As discussed in a prior post, Macau was a Portuguese colony for almost 450 years, only becoming a semi-autonomous part of China in 1999.  During this time, the Portuguese left an obvious mark on Macau.  We took a taxi from our hotel to Largo do Senado, a square in the heart of the historic district.  The Portuguese influence is immediately seen in the architecture of the beautiful buildings and churches surrounding the square.  We then meandered through the narrow streets of Macau passing many shops and restaurants. 
Main Square (Leal Senado) in Macau
We walked by several shops where employees were passing out free samples of some unknown meat product. I have an unblemished record spanning over 30 years of never saying no to a free sample (whether from a Chinese restaurant in the mall or some old lady at Kroger or Costco), and I definitely wasn’t going to end my potentially Guinness-breaking accomplishment simply because I had no clue what was being offered.
"Meat Sheets" - I had the pork.  Delicious!
I held out my hand and the young lady used her scissors to cut a piece of foreign meat from a rectangular “meat sheet”.  Within seconds of consuming my morsel, I was overwhelmed with the need to have more…NOW.  Without shame, I begged for another sample of the meat (which I believe was pork).  Realizing that 2 pieces was not enough, I broke down and bought a piece of the meat sheet.  The incredible taste is hard to describe; it’s most akin to jerky, but infinitely better.  I quickly swore that I would make it my lifelong mission to re-create the meat sheet in my own kitchen once we return to the States so Americans can share in the joy the meat sheet provides.
Church of St. Paul Ruins
After having my fill, we continued our walk until we reached the ruins of the church of St. Paul’s.  The church, which was built in 1602 by Japanese Christians who fled persecution in Japan, burned down in the mid-1800s.  All that remains is the facade of the cathedral and the crypt underneath (where bones of Japanese martyrs are displayed).  It is an eerie, yet beautiful reminder of the Christian religion that thrived here during the Portuguese era.  Some say it is the greatest monument to Christianity in all of Asia.
Awesome African Chicken at Restaurante Litoral
After getting lost and receiving directions from some very helpful Macanese locals, we found Restaurante Litoral – a well-known Macanese restaurant here in Macau.  We trusted our guidebook and ordered the African Chicken (chicken that is slowly cooked in a sauce that is a blend of chilies, garlic, coconut and other spices) and Baked Salted Codfish (a Portuguese speciality that is still loved in Macau).  If you’re a chef, try to find recipes for both of these dishes and put them on your menu.  They will both be bestsellers.  I can’t confirm this (but I’m fairly positive) that I saw a tear of joy in Shanna’s left eye as she tasted the salty goodness of the codfish.  I can usually trust her to share a good portion of her meal, but there was no chance today.  This was one of the best meals we’ve had on our trip.
Elderly Beggar at A'Ma Temple
Finally, we visited the A’Ma temple.  The temple was built on the site that A’Ma, a legendary woman who survived a terrible storm while on a ship, landed and then ascended into heaven.  The temple, which is built on the side of a hill, was filled with Chinese tourists offering money and incense to the shrines at the temple dedicated to various gods (including A’Ma, the goddess of seafarers).  It was an interesting site and a great way to end our visit to Macau.

Macau has an interesting history.  In the 16th century, the Portuguese began trading with the Chinese and, in 1557, were granted the small islands of Macau (located a few miles off the coast of China on the South China Sea) as a reward for driving away the pirates that inhabited the area.  It became a huge trading port of call for the West, but began a rapid decline when the British were granted the islands of Hong Kong (only an hour away by speedboat) in the mid-1800s.  Macau remained under Portuguese control until 1999 when it was handed over to China as a semi-autonomous region of China (similar to Hong Kong, which was handed over to China in 1997).  This semi-autonomous status allows the Macau government to control many of its own affairs without the supervision of mainland China (other than the areas of defense and foreign affairs).
One major act of the Macau government was to legalize gambling, an activity that is banned throughout China and Hong Kong.  The Chinese are notorious for their love of gambling.  Several Chinese-owned casinos have taken advantage of this in the past, including the historic Casino Lisboa.  It was only a matter of time before the West finally realized the opportunity in Macau, especially with the number of Chinese millionaires that have been produced by the incredible economic growth in China in recent years, earning Macau the nickname “Vegas of the East”.  In the past couple of years, the Sands Hotel and Casino and the Wynn Hotel and Casino (a huge name in Las Vegas) have opened their doors, and, in just the past two months, the Venetian Hotel and Casino opened as the largest casino in the world.  As you drive around Macau, you will notice many other hotels/casinos (including the Four Seasons, the MGM Grand and a Sheraton) under construction.  Macau is undergoing a major boom.
Casino Lisboa (old school casino in Macau)
As one of our wedding presents, some friends gave us a couple of nights at the Venetian Hotel (which was reasonably priced due to the grand opening).  When we checked in, we where overwhelmed by the size of the casino (much bigger than any casino I’ve seen in Las Vegas) and the size of our room (all the rooms are suites at the Venetian).  Our excitement was quickly squashed when the ATM we used ate my ATM card (ok, it was my own fault since I entered the wrong PIN number 3 times in a row, BUT I realized later – too late – that the way the numbers are arranged on Chinese ATM keypads are the exact opposite as in the US…you live and you learn).  The prospect of a few days (and maybe weeks) in China with no access to money was – to say the least – a little stress-inducing.  You’ll be happy to know that a few panicked phone calls and two visits to the local office of Banco Weng Hang the next day ultimately produced my ATM card, which I promptly kissed.
Venetian Hotel - Macau
The atmosphere of a Macau casino is dramatically different than one in Las Vegas.  First, it’s relatively quiet – they’ve turned off the sounds of the slot machines, and the Chinese (who are normally a very chatty people, from our limited exposure) are intense gamblers who don’t really talk or cheer while gambling (very different from the drunken outburts you witness at casinos on the Vegas strip).  We also noticed that the Chinese don’t drink (a notorious pastime in Las Vegas) while they gamble, creating a much different environment.  Finally, the games played in the casino are much different than in Las Vegas, with baccarat (which you’ve probably only seen in James Bond movies) and some game where you try and guess the sum of three dice that are rolled dominating the casino.  I can’t forget to mention how many tables the casino had of the game War (yep, the game you played as a kid where you simply draw a card and see if it’s higher than your opponent’s card).  It’s a 50/50 chance you’ll win, but – of course – the casino takes a huge percentage making the game a terrible bet.  Regardless, the War tables were packed with people lining up to grab an empty seat!

In my opinion, the real draw of Macau is not the casinos, but the historic colonial district of the Portuguese era and the great food.  I’ll talk about that later.

My negative encounter with one of the Eat, Pray, Love characters didn’t lessen my desire to track down the other.  Soon after we left Wayan’s, Derek and I set off by motorcycle in search of Ketut Liyer.  Given the morning I’d just had, I wasn’t expecting much.  Happily, Ketut proved me wrong.
Ketut Liyer

We arrived at Ketut’s house in time to see him dashing across his doorway in his skivvies.  A friendly man who turned out to be Ketut’s son instructed us to wait on the front porch.  Soon, a half-dressed Ketut emerged and, with a broad smile that showed off his few remaining teeth, warmly welcomed us to his house.  As he robed himself in the traditional clothing of a medicine man, he invited us to accompany him to a marriage ceremony at which he was to bless the offerings made to the love gods on behalf of the newlyweds.  Clearly, we accepted his invitation.

Ketut performing wedding ceremonyA short walk later, we arrived at an altar piled high with sweets and baskets of fruit.  The bride and groom, who were seated in front of it, smiled at us warmly.  Someone handed us plates of wedding cake and bottles of warm Coke.  This is not how we would have treated tourists who barged into our wedding and started madly taking pictures.  We were amazed at everyone’s hospitality and at our own good fortune.
Derek and Ketut Liyer
After Ketut had finished his ceremonial duties, which largely seemed to involve chanting melodic prayers and ringing a hand-held, gold bell, he invited us back to his porch, where he proceeded to read our palms, our faces, our legs, our necks and our backs.  After this thorough inspection, I’m happy to report that Derek and I are going to live to be 102 and 101, respectively, that we’re blessed with both intelligence and good luck and that, someday, we’ll be very wealthy.  (I wish that I hadn’t read that he says this to everyone, but I choose to believe him, anyway.  Who am I to question a medicine man who may himself already have reached age 102?)

We declined Ketut’s pleasant offer to buy one of his paintings for $200 US (surely Eat, Pray, Love has allowed him to boost his prices a bit) and left his house with our faith restored.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat, Pray, Love” at the beginning of our trip.  For those of you who haven’t read the book, it tells of the author’s year of travels through Italy, India and Bali.  Like us, she spent most of her time in Bali in the city of Ubud, where she befriended both a traditional Balinese healer named Wayan and an old medicine man named Ketut Liyer.  Both Wayan and Ketut seemed to me to be of a Bali from long ago–one that I very much wanted to learn more about.  I arrived in Ubud determined to track down both of them and was happy to see that Ms. Gilbert had made the task significantly easier by posting their addresses on her website.
Wayan's Place from Eat, Pray, Love
Happily, Wayan’s shop was walking distance from our hotel.  We dropped by on Saturday afternoon and, within a few minutes, we were sitting with her at her shop’s only table drinking tumeric juice with honey (“for strength,” she said).  As a sort of preview of her services, she gave us a quick once-over and then listed a few of the things that ailed us.  I should have been suspicious when, after looking at Derek’s fingernails, she pronounced that he needed to eat fewer sweet things (the man loves food more than anyone I know, but he’s definitely not a dessert eater), but I was breathlessly excited to have met the woman who, in the book, had cured an infection normally remedied by a week’s worth of antibiotics using only some herbal compresses.  I made an appointment to meet with her for two hours on Monday.  Derek, who was more skeptical, particularly when he heard the price (more than double what the other “healing shops” charged), passed.
When Monday morning came around, I arrived in Wayan’s tiny shop expecting to be amazed at her abilities and newly convinced of the healing powers of herbal remedies.  When I left three and one-half hours later, I had received only a sobering illustration of the destructive powers of the popularity that came to her after the book’s publication.  (I’m sure the same fate has befallen countless vendors who find themselves listed in the Lonely Planet or other guidebooks and, therefore, on most Westerners’ short list of acceptable places to frequent).
Wayan - the Balinese Healing Woman
For fifteen minutes, Wayan provided me with a list of my ailments that was quite similar to the one she had given me two days before.  It reminded me of a horoscope, in that it was vague enough to avoid being inaccurate (“you sometimes have a busy mind”) and general enough to apply to just about anyone (“you need to drink more water”).  She supplied me with a bag full of pills, potions and powders, one of which promised to address everything from diabetes to “new and old paralyzed” to “finishing the nasty smell of mouth and nose,” as well as a schedule of when to take what.  She then directed me to go upstairs.

Wayan had explained earlier that the book’s popularity had caused her business to boom and had necessitated the hiring of two assistants, a woman who looked to be about 18 and a man in his 20s.  These two met me upstairs and proceeded to rub me with betel leaves, rice mixed with galangal root, aloe vera and, at one point, pieces of a cucumber.  The treatments weren’t accompanied by any explanation.  While I found myself wondering both whether Wayan was coming back (I’d understood my appointment to be with HER) and why someone was rubbing cucumber in my eye, the experience was not altogether unpleasant.

The assistants then directed me to lie face-down on a massage table.  (What? Language barriers prevented me from pressing them for more information.  I definitely had not signed up for a massage, but ok….)  I did as instructed, and then things got confusing.  I was left alone with the male assistant, who, in a nutshell, began acting inappropiately.  (Don’t worry, Mom, nothing criminal or even very serious happened.)  I left Wayan’s shop as soon as I could and hurried back to the hotel with the events of the morning replaying in my mind.  

After reflecting more fully on the experience, I returned to Wayan’s shop a few hours later with Derek in tow and confronted Wayan about what had happened.  To her credit, Wayan appeared to be both appalled and surprised at her employee’s behavior.  What she said by way of an explanation gave me an important insight into both the depths of her beliefs and the corrupting powers of the fame that had come to her.  According to her, the man’s actions had been caused by evil spirits born of the jealousy of other Balinese people over her good fortune.  Her popularity meant that she had too many clients to handle so, when she saw me that morning, she had been too drained to provide any healing and had instead needed to relegate me to her assistants.  She was sorry; she would deal with her assistant; she was so, so sorry.  Both Derek and I noticed, incidentally, that she never offered to refund my money.  I had come to her shop in search of an “authentic, Balinese experience” (perhaps this fact alone reveals my naivete).  I left disillusioned.