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Comfort Food, Comfort Zone

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

I am now in Singapore after a week in Indonesia. Before I left Yogyakarta, I  got to thinking, over my last breakfast, about how my comfort zone is changing, and how much that can be illustrated by food.

I would not characterize myself as a foodie.  I’m neither fussy nor particularly adventurous. I don’t yearn for any particular food (well, except  frozen yogurt and popcorn), and I am usually happy to have other people choose the restaurant when we go out. I have been so overindulged  in my  recent life that not much on cruise menus really excites me any more.

Add to that the fact that the digestive system gets a little cranky when we travel, (and, unfortunately as we age), so I am always a bit worried that  unfamiliar food may get in the way of my best laid plans and force me to spend the day  in the bathroom rather than on a tour.

So one of the anxieties I carried with me as I went off on the Asian part of My Year of Living Travelly was the challenge of eating when I was off the ship traveling on my own.

I will use the buffet breakfast at my hotel in Yogyakarta as an example.  It was huge, and gave me a chance to see in one place the great diversity of Indonesian cuisine.  I am not a big breakfast eater to begin with, and the first morning my stomach churned at the idea of eating any of it.

On one table, there was a set-up with a mystery stew, at another a chicken porridge (photo above)  with copious condiments, which seemed very popular. At another, an array of dishes that might work for lunch—sweet and sour fish, chicken curry, fried rice and noodles,  and the like.  The condiments were equally mysterious,including  a variety of sambals ( salsas of various fire powers).

Gamely, I tried a little of a few things, and concluded that Indonesian breakfast was not my thing.  The next day I discovered the fruit bar and chowed down on brilliantly colored watermelon and other tropical fruits and ignored the rest.

However, the time I spent with my guides included meals at places  known only to locals, and a few open markets, where they encouraged me to try this and that, and little by little, I got more adventurous. Indonesia was so open to me, and I would be more open to it.

My third and final breakfast was an entirely different experience.  I still passed on chicken porridge (sorry, but to this westerner, chicken doesn’t go in cream of rice, ever), but  I looked around and said, “oh wow, that fish looks good,” and even “I bet that fried chicken is tasty,” (photo below) and  “I wonder what’s inside that banana leaf packet,” and proceeded to pig out on a good half of  what was there, along with tastes of every condiment I saw.

The  first morning, if there had been American comfort food like mac and cheese in the buffet, I would have gratefully  eaten it.  By the third morning I would be asking, “what the heck is that doing there?” while I reached for the nasi goreng, the sambals, and my new favorite, Indonesian salad (shown here)

I can do this.  More than that, I am doing it.  My comfort zone is expanding, welcoming me to more and more of the world.  Now to keep my waistline from expanding along with it!

Auspicious Signs

Friday, December 7th, 2018

It began with being welcomed to Bali by an earthquake, and continued with arriving during a Hindu religious festival whose purpose is to sweep away everything negative and invite in new, positive energy.  Overnight rainfall washed the air clean in a dramatic sound and light show. To add to that, tomorrow is my birthday (69), and I will be moving on to Yogyakarta to my next bucket list thing, Borobudur.  The universe could hardly be sending stronger signals that this journey I am on in this part of My Year of Living Travelly is exactly what I am supposed to be doing.

Yesterday I saw glimpses of the fabled Bali, including these rice terraces.

But  what I think I will remember more are glimpses of people on their own journeys, both those whose devotion to their faith was so on display at Holy Springs Temple, shown below, but also in the numerous villages I passed through,  each one with a specialty—wood carving, glass blowing— and each one full  of people simply going about their lives, holiday or not.

The best thing about being a traveler is seeing the ordinary as special. It’s hard to do that in the middle of one’s everyday life.  Maybe that is what far more evolved people than I have managed to do, traveling through every day with new wonder, even if it is on their own street in their own village.  I still have so much to learn about that, as I chase new experiences around the globe.

Sweeping away what holds me back and inviting in what propels me forward is a lot of it, but so is just sitting here at breakfast  on this hotel terrace, shown below,  as a cooler breeze wafts through and dark clouds hover.  Be here now, the world whispers.  I am trying for no more than that.

 

Day One

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

Well, Day Two, if you count getting to the airport hotel in Singapore around 2AM and not leaving the airport before my next flight to Bali. In my mind, this is my first real stop, and this chapter of My Year of Living Travelly is truly underway. Perhaps it is telling that there was a small earthquake this morning.  Perhaps it was Bali saying hello.

Last night I came after dark down a tiny road, to arrive at my hotel outside Denpasar.  The scene around the airport was so honky tonk, so clearly created for tourist revels, and so un-Balinese (except for the phalanxes of motorbikes) that I felt a little dejected by my first impression.

As a little aside, I read recently about how McDonald’s is so utterly predictable in the US, but abroad it actually reflects the culture. Indeed, so far so true.  I saw a billboard showing a burger with the only familiar topping being a fried egg.  There was also a platter of Mc Curry and McRice( no, it wasn’t really called that).

I was so glad to get away from there and escape to the sight of trees in the headlights, and to that last tiny road to someplace real.

And this morning, here I was.

 

Every space that wasn’t occupied by road plus motorbikes, houses, or shrines was cultivated as small rice paddies. Every  entryway to a home or business, even a driveway, and everyplace in between, was decorated with an offering to the gods. And everyone was busy, busy, busy with the new day.

 

This woman kindly allowed me to take her photograph as she laid down little offerings of flowers, crackers and other tidbits, while incense wafted from the platter she carried. Other people waded through muddy rice paddies, pounded hammers, hung out laundry, or cooked breakfast in cafes.

i am grinning ear to ear. There’s nothing better than being among the new and different, and learning about other places that have existed day in and day out before I came, and will continue to do so after I leave, although they will remain forever real as memories.  I am just passing through, and all I can say to the universe is thank you, and offer to it a photograph that  represents how grateful I feel: