“We’re with the Princesses”

legong dancers gazing outUbud, Bali, August 2010

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Balinese dancers blow Disney princesses out of the water — and I’m not just talking about the Island of the God’s own Indian Ocean. It’s any body of water. No question. I didn’t even have to look at the reaction of my three-year-old daughter Kasey, who before the Legong dance performance began, was partial to the blonde contingency of Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel  and Cinderella.

dancers in unison

My own eyes confirmed that Balinese dancers reigned supreme as we watched them flex their fingers backward, snap their fans, jerk their heads to the side and slide their bare feet at 90 degree angles across the stage in slow-mo unison — not to mention, the Balinese “princesses” displayed more gold than the Magic Kingdom’s reserves. 

more gamelanThe striking sound of the gamelan, a collection of Indonesian percussion instruments, amped up the dramatic presentation. It sounded a bit like an ensemble consisting of a hard core heavy metal xylophone, steel drum and reedy flute. The xylophone, or metallophone, when struck by the musicians’ mallets, prompted the hairs to rise on the back of my neck.

Meanwhile, the dancers’ movements transfixed Kasey and my five-year-old son, Eddie, in addition to securing a second wind for them. Even Kurt, my husband who wasn’t always as exuberant about all the cultural activities I dragged him to see, sat ramrod straight with focus. At the very least, the dancers distracted us from the heinous humidity that still hovered in the stagnant August evening air.

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Priceless Products and Packaging: Truck Stop Treasures

Nebraska. This flatland is actually quite pretty.

Nebraska. This flatland is anything but plain.

Eastern Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Southern Minnesota, USA:  December 2014

One may think that driving through the flat land of Eastern Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa and Southern Minnesota could be a mind and butt numbing prospect, I’m not going to lie. There are some stretches that certainly induce a conscious coma. However, someone dreading this drive in a minivan with the family during winter around the holidays simply isn’t looking at the positives.

Positive One: Reading! Kurt, my husband, decided to drive the entire route on Day 1, so I caught up on my reading, Marco Polo Didn’t Go There by Rolf Potts. It was quite pleasant, actually, at least for me. Additionally, I tweaked my knee after falling while skiing two days before our road trip (more to come on that in another post), so I had no choice but to stay off it while in a car.

The snow blizzard ghosts can be quite hypnotic.

The snow blizzard ghosts can be quite hypnotic.

Positive Two: Ground Blizzard Ghosts.  Also, when driving through Nebraska, you can enjoy the swirling of mini ground blizzards. The light snow churns up in whirls and patterns, and as a nerdy English teacher, I can’t help but think of Henry David Thoreau and a passage from Walden:

For the first week, whenever I looked out on the pond it impressed me like a tarn high up on the side of a mountain, its bottom far above the surface of other lakes, and, as the sun arose, I saw it throwing off its nightly clothing of mist, and here and there, by degrees, its soft ripples or its smooth reflecting surface was revealed, while the mists, like ghosts, were stealthily withdrawing in every direction into the woods, as at the breaking up of some nocturnal conventicle.

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Hmongtown: Taking a Trip to Southeast Asia in St. Paul Minnesota

Yer and Young at Mr. Papaya in Hmongtown

Yer and Young at Mr. Papaya in Hmongtown

“Ua tsaug.”

Clunking through the Hmong phrase that sixteen-year-old Young Lee just taught me, I press my hands together and lean forward, doing a sort of semi-Geisha bow to thank her mother, Yer Xiong, for my delicious and cheap bowl of noodle soup. I nudge my eight-year-old son Eddie to do the same.

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© John Rawlinson

“I’m not quite sure why I just bowed,” I blurt out to Young, thinking perhaps that’s not the appropriate way you thank someone who is Hmong.

“Yeah. We’re not Japanese,” she says.

“But that’s okay,” she adds with a smile. Despite wearing a hair net, she looks sassy with her lip piercing and with her hair in a high somewhat unkempt trendy bun. She towers over her mom who, wearing a more hard core hair net resembling a shower cap, remains silent.

Over standard white button down shirts, they both wear matching black aprons with Southeast Asian style embroidered trim. Young has fashioned her white shirt into a ripped sleeveless look, and she wears a hot pink tank top underneath. It is the same hot pink as the smart phone she had been texting on earlier during her brief break.

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Travel Oops: Just Trespassin’ Through

Our unapproved tent behind the pergola on private property near Dominguez Canon, Colorado

Our unapproved tent behind the pergola on private property near Dominguez Canyon, Colorado

July 14, 2013 — near Dominguez Canyon, CO, USA

At seven in the morning, my husband Kurt unzips our tent door from the inside. Through the open flap and the a.m. mist, we see a balding man in shorts and a ragged T-shirt approach with a dog.

“I guess you didn’t see my no trespassing sign over there,” he states matter-of-factly.

Our raft secured to the pergola.

Our raft secured to the pergola.

The owner of the private land on which we had just tented without permission, Ewell, stands just outside our “illegal” nylon shelter. Kurt and I expected a scenario like this but we still aren’t ready for it.

“We are so sorry,” I begin to apologize and Kurt gets out the tent.

“We were trying to meet up with our friends in Dominguez Canyon,” Kurt explains. “And we misjudged how long it would take and we ended up rafting in the dark and we heard rapids, and we pulled over here.”

“We have kids,” I blurt out.

Eddie and Kasey being licked by Odie.

Eddie and Kasey being licked by Odie.

Ewell surveys the scene.

“So, basically, you guys were in trouble,” he says and then comes closer to the tent.

“Let me see these kids,” he moves the unzipped flap over and his labrador bounds through, tackling my son Eddie and licking him and my daughter Kasey all over.

“That’s Odie,” Ewell says. “And he won’t hurt you.”

Leave it kids and a dog to break the ice.

And we needed to break the ice since we were completely staked out on this guy’s property, which turned out to be an orchard next to the Gunnison River.

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Travel Ahh….Dads

Dad and mom in London cheesy pic

My dad cheeses it up in London with my mom, Judy.

This is my dad, Ed, and he, along with my mom, Judy, encouraged and supported travel for our family. My sister Suz and I were lucky to go on many memorable trips. I think I’ve always had the travel bug, but my parents certainly introduced it to me. This post is for you dad.

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Travel Oops: Supersize Me with Some Kim Chee, Please!

© Stephanie Glaser

© Stephanie Glaser

Wandering through Seoul Market’s seaweed section, which is just as expansive and visually overloading as the cereal aisle of any Wal-Mart, I’m overwhelmed. Seaweed comes in jars, plastic bags, foil bags, freeze-dried bags, individually wrapped snack packs and family sized jumbo bags.

Seaweed snack packs — notice how I stacked on upside down. Oops....

Seaweed snack packs — notice how I stacked on upside down. Oops….

Seaweed that looks like kelp looms large in a long baguette like bag, and then there’s red seaweed, green seaweed, roasted seaweed, rectangular seaweed and small square seaweed. Asian writing appears on every bag, and although I can’t read the characters, it’s clear from their differing shapes that they identify seaweeds from not only Korea, but probably from Japan and China, too.

Clearly I’m a complete amateur Asian market shopper even in the US. Maybe trying another aisle will be less intense. The noodle shelves are no different: udon, soba, somen, bean thread cellophane, rice, wheat, thick, curly, transparent. Really, what should I expect? Roaming through the noodle section of a standard American grocery store could be mind blowing for someone who is not familiar with Italian pasta.

© Travel Channel

© Travel Channel

I had been so confident before entering the Colorado Springs store. After all, I had seen Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” episode in Korea where he samples fermented kim chee from recently unearthed clay urns. I eat Asian food whenever I can, but I guess I’ve not seen it much in the pre-preparation phase.

“Mom, where’s the ice cream?” my son Eddie approaches me after having cased the somewhat cramped market out. He’s clearly not intimidated. Sensing my paralysis, he leaves and I hear him talk to the shop keeper behind the counter. I peek over and see the woman show him a refrigerated case. Ice cream, that’s definitely doable. I leave the noodle aisle.

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Travel Oops: Packing Weapons of Mass Distraction

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© Wikimedia Commons

Phoenix, Arizona, USA. 2011.

In a bulky badass stride, a muscular police officer with a military precision haircut approaches the security scene at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport. He wears a flak jacket while pepper spray, handcuffs and extra clips adorn his gun belt. Clearly, this guy is packing heat.

Moments earlier, a group of TSA agents had clustered around a confiscated item. Redirecting everybody but us, one agent shut down an entire row of security and called in the cop.

Travelers shoot withering looks our way while my husband Kurt and I, along with our kids Eddie and Kasey, stand at the end of the conveyor belt. Returning from Mexico, we need to make our connecting flight to Denver.

Although no one actually informs us, Kurt and I know exactly what is wrong. I look over at Kurt, who rolls his eyes. Then our six-year-old son Eddie asks the all-important question:

“Am I going to get my marshmallow gun back?”

© Stephanie Glaser

Eddie (left) and his friends armed with their marshmallow guns. © Stephanie Glaser

Months earlier, Kurt had made Eddie a marshmallow gun out of PVC piping after he had seen one at a carnival. You can actually fire marshmallow “bullets” from the toy by blowing them through any of the pipes’ openings. Like a veteran SWAT team member, Eddie assembles the entire thing, which sort of resembles a white sniper gun, in about 29 seconds.

So now we wait at the Phoenix Airport for the marshmallow gun to either be cleared or confiscated for good. Apparently, due to the Transportation Security Administration’s protocol, a professional must inspect the contraband — especially when it’s material that people use to make bombs.

“I don’t know, Bud.” Kurt answers.

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Travel Oops: The Outback or the Rainforest?

This isn't the actual road to Uluru, but this was common to see when we arrived in Alice Springs.

This isn’t the actual road to Uluru, but this was common to see when we arrived in Alice Springs.

It was pretty obvious a minivan could not plow through the goopy, sloppy red Outback route to Uluru. Essentially, the roads were open only to the burliest of vehicles. No matter how much the Honda Odyssey believed it was a Mad Maxian four-wheel drive, there was no way we would make it. No way. It was time to find another mode of transportation to take us to the most famous monolith in the world.

todd river raging

Uncharacteristically heavy rains had churned and upturned the soil of Australia’s red center. Water wrecked havoc on the town of Alice Springs, and the Todd River had overtaken some of the city’s streets.

Locals said if you saw the Todd River even flow at all at three times you were a local. Considering the river’s raging water, we definitely were one-third local.

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Travel Oops: Interrupting the Rapture — Roosters in Bali

© Stephanie Glaser 2010

© Stephanie Glaser 2010

While your chi may be in balance, your senses go ballistic in Bali. After all, you’ve got the sweet smell of incense and plumerias wafting while wooden chimes clonk together in the humid, tropical breeze.

© Stephanie Glaser

© Stephanie Glaser

And then, overworking your retina, Technicolor greens of jungle vegetation, rice paddies and terraces pop. Meanwhile, soothing golds of National Geographic sunsets and ornate costumes calm down the pupil palpitations.

You may experience the wet brush bristles that a Hindu priest gently dabs on your skin before he places rice grains on your forehead to deliver a blessing. At the end of the day, with a semi-warm Bintang, swallow down all of those sensory details along with the lingering taste of turmeric and chili peppers from Nasi Goreng, Indonesia’s national dish.

© Muhammad Mahdi Karim

© Muhammad Mahdi Karim

It’s enough to keep you completely zenned out for life. However, a specific sound on the Island of the Gods easily shatters that inner peace and jars your senses into consciousness. A rooster. At 4 a.m. Every morning. On the dot. (Aren’t they supposed to wait until sunrise?)

For centuries, roosters have strutted their stuff as part of the scene in Southeast Asia, where they were originally domesticated. In fact, today, these cocks are like scooters in Southeast Asia — persistent, aggressive often competing and always demanding attention. In Bali, cockfights are sacred and have always been part of “Tabuh Rah,” an important Balinese Hindu ritual.

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Travel Oops: Unfortunate Photos Complete with Unfortunate Fashion

© Edward Schuck

Feeling French in my pea coat, scarf and LeSportsac while my sister Suz looks fairly normal. © Edward Schuck 1985

This series of photos is unfortunate in so many ways. First there is the fact that my overexposed sister Suzanne and I, along with our bad 80’s perms, essentially block out and overshadow the Eiffel Tower. Then, we are wearing some pretty atrocious coats. Actually, I’m really the one who is wearing a rejected carpet remnant.

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