This blue marble

– and yet it spins

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From SIN to HEL(L)


One last steamy noodle soup on Changi airport, followed by a lovely sticky choccie brownie in the Qantas First lounge. Seated between a lady with a huge Vuitton bag and immaculate tresses, and a gentleman executive of some global company, I felt quite the tramp with my dirty daypack, pink hoodie, and harem pants.

And then we were off, flying from SIN to HEL. Curled into my chair, with home-made woolen socks and a glass of champagne I thought of the past few weeks. For several reasons I don’t think I’ve ever cried as much on a holiday, but in many ways I have also been braver than ever before. It was a tough journey, but on these kinds of travels one meets many others who are or who have been on tough journeys. And it is especially those, who shine in spite of all adversities, that inspire to keep pushing the boundary between “can” and “can not”.

Now, laundry. Yes, I can.

(Above Russia; September 2016)

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Above the Andaman Sea

And so it is time to again say goodbye to the coconuts, the lovely mornings in the jungle, and my newfound love the snake fruit. As I switch Bali to Langkawi I will again miss a great festivity. This time it is the celebration of the victory of good against evil. Kids await it like ours do christmas, because they anticipate new clothes and dancing the Barong dance in the streets for 10 days.

How awesome it must be: a half-day ceremony at each temple, then food and celebration and dance, and more of the same, for days.
The core of Balinese belief is that evil is kept at bay by offerings. Thus, anything that affirms the power of good is important. And what could affirm it better than the positive energy created by celebrations and boundless joy and laughter? This is also why it is the children that dance the Barong: the instrument symbolizes good, and combined with the innocent joy of dancing children, the victory of good can be reaffirmed.

As I watched the sun set in the Andaman Sea, I wondered about how cultures celebrate the same things so differently. The Balinese celebrate with laughter and joy, whereas in many Western cultures the same days are loaded with solemnity and sadness. Independence Day on Bali is a party, whereas in my home country of Finland it is a serious affair, with candles, laurels on soldiers’ graves, and commemoration for those who died for our country. Easter should be a celebration, too, but instead of parties and parades and cake we focus more on the death and suffering of Jesus than the fact that he miraculously came back to (eternal) life again. This should be reason to party if there ever was one. And during christmas we are quiet and remember the birth of Jesus with some splashes of elegant joy around the dinner table and when the kids get their presents. But no celebration, even if nobody died and one enlightened being was born! Even cremation on Bali is a feast. Sure, people cry at the burial and when the bodies are retrieved. But, oh what joy erupts on cremation day, and in particular the following day, when the ashes are scattered to the five elements. This is party time, with food and dance and laughter. Why not, since after all the spirit of a loved one is finally free from worldly struggles, and ready to be reborn for a second chance? In my country all we usually do is dress in black and cry. Even if the person was 92 years old and it was her time to go.

It is an art of living to recognize and accept the things we cannot change. The Balinese know this art, and they throw in a flower offering for good balance, and a smile for good measure. How would our world be if we all knew what the Balinese know?(Above Bali and Malaysia; September 2016)

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Plastic vs. Green

Processed with Snapseed.One more snake fruit before I board a plane and fly off this little lovely island. Everybody in this premier lounge is nicely dressed and carrying suitcases – and I came stomping in with a backpack, an old plastic bag, harem pants, and sandals. I have the highest elite tier of my airline alliance but right now I think my appearance here is a good joke.

Speaking of plastic bags, and all jokes aside: Bali is changing so fast it is almost frightening. New villas pop up everywhere, people become wealthier, and Balinese nature and the ecosystem become poorer. The traffic is unsustainable. In Ubud there is a graffiti work of art on the wall of a house, depicting the elephant god Ganesha with a gas mask.

But fortunately some resorts and restaurants are jumping on the green bandwagon as they have realized that there is money in green thinking. Many people who come to Bali are health- and environmentally conscious. Several cafés now offer to refill water bottles for less than store-bought ones, and plastic shopping bags need to be purchased in the shops.

Plastic… like anywhere else, it is also the greatest nemesis over here. There is not that much of it compared to a Western country, but it is not properly disposed of and thus it is everywhere: by the road, in the rivers, on the beach. And perhaps you know that a plastic bag looks very much like a jellyfish, and great sea turtles eat jellyfish? A plastic bag in the intestines is possibly the most common non-illness related death of sea turtles.

Increasingly, people seem to care, though. Maya Ubud resort offers no plastic water bottles at all. Many resorts and cafés advertise their sustainability programs. It feels as if Bali is on a tipping point. Hopefully the driving force of environmentally conscious tourists is strong enough to mold the future of this island into something that will actually carry it far into the future.

(Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia; September 2016)

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Thoughts from a (beautiful) bubble

mayaspa-66 pm and the sun has disappeared into the jungle. The night cicadas have relieved their afternoon colleagues from the concert shift. While I sit in a luxurious open-air lounge, sipping on my sunset drink, I cannot help but feel something I can only describe as “colonial”. We arrived here from busy Ubud where we stayed at a little homestay B&B, rode around on motorbikes with locals, and ate simple food for about one quarter of the prices here. But “here” is a resort in the cool woods, where 4 bellboys fussed about our arrival and luggage, whisked us onto couches for welcome drinks and registration, and then showed us the way down to the spa – using an elevator in the jungle.

I cannot help but think of how far from reality this place is, and what kind of experience Bali is for those who only come to stay here. Most of the average Balinese could not afford a dinner here, not to mention a 3-night stay like ours. Laundry service costs 10-fold compared to our bungalows downtown. Water costs 12-fold (because there is no other way to obtain water without a drive down to Ubud). For day guests, access to the spa and a Balinese massage costs 4 times more than a very good Balinese massage in Ubud. Starters here cost more than mains in a very good, organic, Western-style café in Ubud. The prices for some menu items cost more here than back in my home country, Finland. Processed with Snapseed.I cannot help but wonder what the Balinese think of this ridiculous opulence. Indonesia gained its independence from the Netherlands in the 1940s, right after World War II. I understand that here it is difficult for a resident foreigner to own anything; everything has to be held in the name of a Balinese partner. It makes much sense. With the invasion of the Westerners who, like me, fall in love with Bali and want to stay, they would quickly outnumber the Balinese themselves and their capital, in practice reversing the sovereignty of the Balinese and their claim on their island and administration.

As I savored my drink amidst all the beauty (and before check-out and settling the balance!), I wondered if the Balinese silently resent us Western Bali lovers, or shake their heads at us, while offering us drinks with a smile? Do they think of the Dutch colonials and resent in particular Dutch tourists? I doubt I would love to constantly share my hometown and streets, and often my day, with tourists.

This lovely night, as the stars come out, I am grateful that the people who meet me here are openly proud of their island, and at least do their best to welcome me amidst them. I hope to be able to meet their expectations as a visitor and contribute my share so that we visitors are still welcome back in in the future.mayaspa-7(Maya Ubud resort, Bali, Indonesia; September 2016)

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Of sleeping and resting, and their difference

Processed with Snapseed.Ubud means green smoothie and light reading before an evening meditation class – every day if I like. And getting up with the sun. It took me 5 years’ worth of summer holidays and a Balinese ayurvedic doctor to understand that my natural tendency is to sleep too much. In today’s busy Western world, we tend to sleep late during the weekends when we can. I thought it was beneficial to catch up on sleep properly during weekends. But the dear doctor I consulted told me that with a pitta-kapha constitution I need to restrict my sleep to 8 hours, 9 hours maximum. And that the best sleep I can get is before midnight – to wake up at 6.30 am, right after dawn.

While our bodies need sleep, they also need waking rest. We cannot compensate the waking rest with sleep, living a life of extremes: stress until we sleep, sleep until we stress. Have you, like me, tried try to compensate rest with only sleep, until noon in dark winter weekend mornings, just to end up feeling sluggish and even more exhausted than the night before? After a pilot week I vow to myself to change my daily rhythm: going to sleep by 10.30 pm at the latest will give me almost a full night’s sleep even if I have an early morning flight and must rise by 4.30 am.

Our bodies sleep in cycles, my travel companion told me. And waking up from deep sleep is not constructive to our energy levels. She convinced me to try an app that tracks individual sleep cycles and awakes one with soft sounds at the moment when the sleep is not deep. This way one awakes more refreshed, instead of being dug out of a deep sleep by a relentless alarm clock. I am curious to see how it can help my sleep reprogramming.

For now I will enjoy my sunrise mornings with fresh frangipani flowers in the trees and birds singing as I make myself ready for yoga practice. Reality will only hit much later, thank goodness for that.
Processed with Snapseed.(Ubud, Bali, Indonesia; August 2016)


Like fish in the jungle

junglefish-1One hot day we decided enough is enough. Enough heat, enough dust, enough bustle. Two of us hopped into a taxi, and one of us dared a crazy scooter taxi ride out, all the way through the rice paddies and into the jungle. Because (and this is a secret), there is a little patch of heaven hidden in the jungle. Like this:junglefish-5We threw ourselves down into a hanging bed – and to our delight they had sparkling wine on the menu. What a rare treat on Bali! And so were the lovely superfood salads. And so was the stretching and pummeling also called a “Balinese massage”. junglefish-2The fish swam in their little pond. We swam in our bigger pond, where the water spilled down over the edge, and the jungle crept close.junglefish-4Not until sunset, when the lanterns in the trees were lit, did we get dressed and return to Ubud. And if you cannot muster the strength to leave this patch of heaven (we nearly didn’t), you can dine overlooking the jungle, and check into a room of your own. Yes please. Next time!
junglefish-3(Junglefish spa, Ubud, Bali, Indonesia; August 2016)