Journey’s End, Beijing To Bali
Updated: Mar 24
Feeling very smug, because I just managed to get onto "banned in China" Facebook; the human will is an amazing thing, (it took me a good hour to figure out this VPN business though).
The Trans-Siberian/Mongolian journey has officially come to an end, and I'd turn around and do it again in a minute. It was relaxing, fun, rewarding and beautiful. I'm already plotting the next east to west trip, along the Silk Road route, through Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, etc, etc.
This last leg has been a markedly stark contrast. From Mongolia, a vast land of a mere 2 million souls, into China of a cool billion and a quarter, most of whom seemed to be crowded into the Beijing train station as we arrived in sweltering 99 degree weather.
I immediately noticed how many people made direct eye contact in China, and then smiled warmly. The Mongolians are a shyer, far more reserved people, very kind and incredibly intelligent, (they have a 98% literacy rate), they are the most genuinely and closely connected to nature of any people I have ever seen, (or even imagined). They may be be largely carnivorous, but they love and respect their animals deeply, and have highly humane ways of killing them, (it was described to me in precise detail), and they consider our factory farming methods to be very cruel. And it is no secret that the Chinese tend to be very unsentimental when it comes to the treatment of animals. The differences between these exactly neighbouring countries are ever fascinating, and I'm now even more curious than I was before to study their histories and evolvement.
From the vast and endless Gobi desert in Mongolia, we then entered China, the train had to be raised off the tracks, (very noisily at 1am), and put onto a different gage wheels, (the same happened between Poland and Belarus). After a protracted 7 hours of border crossing, (why so long, I have no clue), we then saw stretches of the Great Wall, and from herds of animals dotted over vast expanses, the landscape changed to having food growing on every single available speck of land. It was a really gorgeous leg of the trip, from the flat and desolate desert to deep canyons, dramatic mountains, and wide winding rivers.
Despite being impressed by the overt Chinese friendliness, on arriving in Beijing I had a taxi service try and charge me 380 yen to get to my hotel, when the actual rate is only 20 yen. I wasn't having it, and I did win, (after much gesticulating and my insisting on a metered car), but then the taxi driver punished me by dropping me about a half mile from my hotel, so I eventually arrived dragging my ridiculous broken suitcase in a very steamy, melting state. However after weeks of hostels and gers I have treated myself to a lovely traditional Chinese guesthouse, (The Double Happiness:). Red silk furnishings, beautiful carvings, and elegant flower arrangements everywhere... and a room with a hot shower all to myself. Bliss.
And I am within walking distance of Tiananmen Square, so since it is at last cooling down, I set off to find some Chinese food, (no challenge there), and with the intention of seeing the ever embalmed Mr Chairman Mao.
Beijing and I have a weird transportation thing. The underground has been just fine and easy to navigate, but as I was walking out of the far side of the Forbidden City, a bicycle rickshaw flagged me, and offered to take me to Tiananmen Square for 3 yen, (I took it out of my purse, the amount was clearly confirmed). This is only 50 cents so that seemed cheap, but it was literally a 2 minute trip... and another close to 100 degree day, so I succumbed. However Mr Rickshaw heads off down some obscure side alleys, telling me it was the "old city", but there was nothing old about it, it was just poor and ramshackle. He then pulls over and and the cheeky crook demands the equivalent of $50. I did not feel endangered, he was just trying it on, so even when he started to get belligerent and loud, my own indignation matched his all the way. I ended up giving him another couple of $$'s, and then marched my way out of the maze he'd left me in, and of course I was much further from my destination than when I started. I immediately stopped and bought a lovely calming blue image of fish and flowers, so the memory of the day would be about that instead of creepy rickshaw man.
It's sacrilege I know, but I found the Forbidden City underwhelming, just way too many people and killer heat. And even Tiananmen Square lacks any charm, (at least that I could detect), I couldn't even be bothered to line up to see old Mao. Red Square in Moscow has an intense history too, but it also has beauty, this place just felt cold, soul-less and oppressive. And everywhere you go is the equivalent of an airport check-in, to get on the subway or even go into the square your stuff gets x-rayed, and there are random body searches. I dread to think how it is at rush hour.
This city is, (obviously), quite the culture shock after a month in the wilds of the Mongolia. But happily tomorrow I'm heading out to a (recommended) section of the Great Wall, about a 3 hour drive. And from now on I'm only taking transportation arranged through my (super friendly) hotel.
I do hear those messages loud and clear, no more taking chances in this city of wannabe thieves.
I gave myself a day's amnesty to buy anything I wanted "Made in China". Actually had a really nice last day wandering the streets; change of attitude, change of world, works (almost) every time.
Now if I can just stay coherent and upright for that 2:15 am flight to Bali.
In Kuala Lumpur, boarding for Bali, even just hearing the language I feel her grace wash over me, and those familiar tears of happiness begin. It's always the same. I'm going home.
Today is Saraswati Day here in Bali... a traditional Balinese holiday to celebrate the day when knowledge is given by God through the beautiful goddess, Saraswati.
“It is held every six months (210 days), on Saturday of Watugunung, (the last week in the Balinese calendar system), and is celebrated all over Bali.
The day is celebrated by making offerings and praying at home, in temples, schools and offices. The Balinese also put offerings on their books and scriptures due to books and scriptures being classic sources of knowledge. Some people celebrate it by praying and singing holy songs and spells from Hindus Scriptures all night in the temple or in their house.
The word Saraswati is derived from the Sanskrit words sara and swaandthi; meaning the one who gave essence or meaning and the one who knows. Saraswati also means the one that flows as a river of knowledge which will give wealth and enlightenment to those who are willing to learn or study.
The Goddess Saraswati is the symbol of the knowledge that controls thoughts and words. She is illustrated as a very beautiful woman with four arms holding and playing a zither, scriptures and rosary beads; all representing the characteristics of knowledge.
The beautiful face represents how interesting knowledge can be; the zither represents art; the scriptures represent how knowledge can lead human into enlightenment, and the rosary beads means spirituality and dedication.
Goddess Saraswati is also figured sitting or standing on a lotus with two holy animals as her conveyance; a goose and a peacock. The lotus symbolizes the ability of knowledge to remain in any situation, the goose represents the ability of knowledge to filter good and bad habits or deeds, and the peacock represents beauty and along with the goose becomes a vehicle to deliver the knowledge given by God.”
(taken from an uncredited Internet source, thank you, whoever you are, for putting it so beautifully)
I like the crashing sound of coconuts falling from a great height to the ground while snug in my little bungalow. That's one less hammock lounging hazard.
Heaven and Earth Workshops... and something completely different. Jean, my best friend of 30+ years, has been hugely instrumental in the Bali/Mexico/India workshops - she designed and maintained my websites for years and has always been my number one cheerleader, both in business... and in life. So I'm thrilled to announce that a dream that we have shared and talked about for years is at last being actualised. Her talent and love of teaching, my experience in networking and organising, and our shared passion for travel are coming together for the first time in a beginner's Photography Workshop we will be holding in Mexico next April.
And this is just the beginning, then Bali, India and... as always I get ahead of myself.
It started 3 years ago, we wanted to retreat a little from the hustle and bustle of Ubud, (which is still a relatively small, beautiful, creative and fun little town). So we looked and looked and eventually found our own little piece of paradise, where we can live simply, as close to nature as we can, grow (hopefully all) our own food, and make a creative, beautiful space.
Our perfect neighbours "appeared”, (literally on our rice field step), and they moved full steam ahead and have now almost finished their part of "the plan," ... as I gallivanted around the planet.
Now our little part has begun: so I shall now bore everyone to death with the manifestation and creation of "Rahasia Manis", our very own "Sweet Secret".
Not quite such a secret any more.
Our chocolate forest... these plants live 100 years, have 2 meter tap-roots, the leaves go from vertical to horizontal to protect the fruit. Not a single one is being touched, we will build around them.
It's one of those Uranian full moon nights when her luna-ships voltage is so completely off the charts that she is positively sparking, making sleep an impossible dream.
A full solid, yet lilting, 9 hours of sleep. Rested and recharged and all the windows of this body and soul feeling scrubbed and sparkly clean. None of the stuff, money or outer frills of the worldly world can ever inspire such a great feeling.
Today in Bali it is Tumpek Landep - a day in which homage is paid to items made from steel, silver, bronze, copper and other metals.
Nature and God surrounds us all. On Tumpek Landep fruit, cakes and floral offerings together with strikingly beautiful peaces of woven palm leaf are placed on cars, motorbikes, machinery and sacred weapons.
Bali's roads were filled with cars festooned with multi-colored woven-palm panels affixed to bumpers and side mirrors. Small baskets containing flower petals, fruits, cakes and even money were prayerfully placed on dashboards and car hoods. And, reflecting life in a modern Bali, mechanised tractors, computers and televisions were also honoured among the tools that enrich our existence.
A foreign resident in Bali who once dismissed the tradition of a People who seeks God's blessing on the tools and implements of daily life as mere animism, was quickly reminded by a Balinese friend of how quickly the foreigner resorts to religious epithet whenever a piece of machinery 'misbehaves." Reminded the Balinese friend, "You, too, obviously believe the spirit world inhabits your tools and equipment."
No Balinese household or company ignores Tumpek Landep. Ceremonies, prayers and offerings are prepared or purchased before their presentation from morning to night on this day of the Balinese calendar when God's blessing is asked for the "weapons" of our daily life. While in the past the day was perhaps more focused on the weapons of war used by Bali's warrior class, the celebration today seeks grace for the tools of daily life with which we do battle in fields, offices and factories across the island.
Building in Bali: I have been working on our project for 3 weeks straight, so far without anything being put down on paper, not a plan, drawing, blueprint, not even a sketch on a napkin. And the building crew haven't required or even mentioned it. It's just these earthy, experienced, barefoot men, I feel enthusiastic, lots of evolving ideas, a trusty tape measure, and much pointing.
The 100% Organic School of Design and Building... only in Bali.
p.s. Okay, I have nicked some ideas from web, and today we did finally buy a sketchpad.
Every day my mind is pulled back to Mongolia... I shall return.
My rattan hula hoop lives in Bali, and when we're in the same location I never, ever have the, (not serious), lower back twinges I have elsewhere.
Just went on an idyllic Sag rising shopping spree, bought a multi stop ticket to Mexico next April (photography workshop), and on from there down to Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. Wonder if I'll get there before Julian Assange.
Deep in a (Virgo) Dark Moon exhaustion/slump, thankful for the reassurance of understanding these cycles... although I still find myself battling them at times. When exactly is that wise woman/crone phase supposed to kick in?
Mars square Saturn.
Build a wall, burn a bridge, or patiently face the heat and hammer out a sword and shield.
It's a clear as a bell, volcano regally visible through the coconut palms morning. Hearts really can skip.
In rice farmer builder mode.
p.s. I do neither, I just have ideas and point and smile, (oh, and sometimes scowl). What a splendid life is this.
Countdown to California. 8 days and I will be with the bestest friends a girl ever had. Chill those 'tini glasses (you know who you are).