Wednesday, March 26, 2008

pondering on a pilgrimage

On our last night in Tokyo, we returned to the free observation deck on the 45th floor of the Municipal Government Building. Had a cup of tea. Journaled a bit. I thought I'd share some of my reflections from our "ascent".

Every now and then one must ascend to take in the view--to appreciate the reality of the surroundings and the promise of the horizon. I'm above it all, but not for long. The reality is that I'm in the thick of it, and the thickness is sweet. To descend now means to return to the deep river of addictive experience by which I've been carried away. The trouble is that rivers only flow in one direction, so to go back is an impossibility. No, I must navigate these waters, and sooner or later I must be swallowed into the sea. There are many directions in which to paddle out there. There may be fog to inhibit my sight. There may be storms and waves to rock and sway me. Alas, my Lord will bring peace, and even if my anchor is lost or my boat is flooded, I will rise to follow him as we walk on the water. Upon returning home, I will not, I cannot be the same.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

in the hub of humanity

Last I heard, Tokyo is the most populous metropolitan area in the world. Whether or not that's true, there are more than a handful of human beings here. The city's electric, both literally and figuratively. It's a land of effectiveness and efficiency. It's a contrast of big of small. Everything is shrunk down so as to squeeze in as much as possible--appetizers, appliances, apartments--then the critical mass explodes up and out in the form of sky high bills and buildings. From 45 floors up it's quiet, but one can be sure that, down below, there's no shortage of activity in the concrete jungle that stretches as far as the eye can see.

We're hooked up with more great, gracious Maneevone connections here in the western suburbs of Tokyo. No, we're not sleeping on the 45th floor, but every now and then one must ascend to take in the view--to appreciate the reality of the surroundings and the promise of the horizon.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

bagus bali

Yes, Bali is very bagus!! Bagus (bah-goose) means good, or great, or something like that. All we know is that we say bagus when we like something, and we like Bali. This wonderful place is worthy of more than just two blog posts, but we’ve been out and about doing everything under the sun—literally. Our faces have been lit up by a week and a half of mostly sunshine and a couple of Maneevone family friends who have treated us to more than we bargained for. Also, we admit it, we just indulged ourselves (for the first time) in an American Idol rerun of the top twelve performers that we stumbled across on tv.

About Bali, though, some highlights: We spent the first five nights here at Hotel Padma on Legian Beach, then did three nights on the north side of the island in Tulamben, and now we’re wrapping up our final three nights back at the Padma. Time to move on to Tokyo tomorrow night! The purpose of the Tulamben excursion was primarily to wrap up our open water scuba certification course. Yes, we succeeded, we can breathe underwater. In fact, Wanida has the ability to make the air in her tank last much longer than I do; having to return to the surface is always my fault. I hear it’s a gender thing though. Really, it is. Females take shallower breaths and their muscles don’t use as much oxygen. Is that true about the muscles because they’re smaller? Now I’m in trouble. Anyway, we saw a warm underwater world full of coral, big clams, lion fish, scorpion fish, eels, barracuda, and maybe a small shark. By the way, coral is not merciful, even if you scrape it by accident. My hand is only now getting over it. We’ve been to the beach many times, the pool many times, and we’ve had many food adventures—I ate a pigeon heart, for example, among other innards. We also wandered among monkeys and held a certain flying nocturnal creature. Pics? Of course!!

Many humble thanks to Yanto, Mie Khie, and their families for being the kindest of hosts to us. Very undeserved. As far as we’re concerned, bring your travel dollars to Bali—they’ll go far, and the experience is worth the mileage. Today we mark one month since we departed. Missing you all, but savoring the moments.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

they walked all over us

Today, Joey and I were victims of the Adian Hotel and Spa. Side by side, the pranced and danced down our bodies. Balinese toes are really quite remarkable. With a fierce prodding, their toes almost brought us to tears! Over and over, they tenderized our backs, our arms, and legs (down to each individual toe). If there were only cameras to capture our hidden faces! We were dying! Our survival method was to laugh through the pain, and we laughed a lot! Today the Maertzs were weaksauce. In the end, our Shiatsu toes masters asked us how we liked it? Our response came with a big grin, "It was intense, amazing and intense." Joey and I are walking a little more gingerly, and enjoying life at a slightly slower pace. Life is slower in Bali, and we love it. The massage was simply a fun story, honestly we really can't share enough wonderful things about this beautiful little island, and all the people in it. We ended our day, sharing drinks and a cherished conversation with a old family friend MieKhie. He and his family have showered us with kindness. Every time we express our gratitude to him, he says "I have many friends, but only one spiritual father, your dad." That statement meant a lot to me tonight. My mom and dad have made wonderful relationships with many international students, and here we are in Bali, reaping the benefits of my parent's kindness. It all feels very undeserved. Reminds me a bit of grace, and the grace that we have already seen throughout this adventure, all completely undeserved. Joe and I have been gifted with so much. That's just a little of how I'm feeling tonight... grateful, really grateful.

Monday, March 10, 2008

little joeys everywhere

Baby kangaroos, that is, but no, we didn't see any. Actually, you can't see much of Australia in 48 hours, but we did our best in Sydney. The city is beautiful, cosmopolitan, and surprisingly diverse. We arrived on Thursday evening with enough daylight to locate a hostel downtown (didn't sleep on the streets after all), then walk farther and faster than expected to be at the Opera House by dusk--wanted a landmark and a panorama with which to breathe in the moment and say, "Ah, we're here."

On Friday we picked up our Daytrippers ($16 passes that allow you unlimited travel on all of Sydney's buses, subways, and ferries for a day). First stop was the famous Bondi Beach. Bondi's a nice beach for sure, but nothing to write home about (just blog home about), and we had just enough time to eat lunch and twinkle our toes in the water before the clouds caught up with us again. We packed up, cursed the weather, and moved on. Next we bussed and subwayed ourselves to the north side of the Harbour Bridge, then strolled back across it. Very nice. Ferried ourselves to the Manly Beach area for the evening, and wished for sunshine and more time there. For dinner we ate the best, tastiest, most authentic and reasonably priced Thai food right at the Manly wharf. It's one of those places that you don't think could possibly produce the meal that you're eating for the price that you paid for it. Good stuff. Riding the ferry back, rain started. Friday night in Sydney, Australia and it was raining. Don't cry for us, though, we've had enough precipitation.

Redemption: Saturday was splendid. In the morning we did the Starbucks thing (for Wanida's sake), read and wrote for a little while. We walked miles and miles that day, enjoyed the city (and weather), took plenty of pics, and just chatted.

What in the world are the subjects of our conversations these days? Well, we remind each other how blessed we are to be able to do this, to savor it and to be thankful. We replay stories and memories that we've already left behind, and get excited about the many things to come. We get serious and ask each other about ways in which we want to be "better" when we get home, the point being that we want this trip to transform us. Acknowledging God as the true transformer of all things, we talk about how we can be used to transform the world around us. So many places and people are passing before us, and by these creations and through these experiences we seek to refine our God given vision and mission.

Getting back to our adventures and exploits, we got stuck--due to flight unavailability--with an overnight layover in Perth on the way to Bali. How unfortunate. Really. We knew it was coming, but to make matters worse we always approached it with a budget mentality and a plan to persevere through one night at the airport. Some of you are already grinning at the thought of splurging on bungy jumping, but pinching pennies on much needed accommodations. I know, because we're talking about an almost sleepless night of pushing chairs together, flopping around on the ground, flies and mosquitoes, bright lights, and enough random noise to remind you that you're always awake. The morning brought swollen eyes for Wanida, but we celebrated the fact that Bali and the beach were only hours away.

Yes, we're here now--Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia. It's incredible. We've been very much looking forward to moving on from western culture and, although we're well taken care of here, it's still foreign and exotic and wonderful. Check back for a Bali post in the near future, but we had to share about Australia.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

a toast to a happy ending

Hanmer Springs showed us the sun, and we showed them our shine! All smiles. The sun came out for an afternoon and we soaked it up! Joe and I spent our final New Zealand day in a mountain village paradise. We left our jackets and hats in the camper, and charted some gorgeous new territory in our bathing suits and sunscreen. We basked in God's hot springs and sunshine, the waters were perfect in color, warmth and garden surroundings! Of course the clouds rolled in in the later afternoon, but that didn't bother us, we had our moment in New Zealand's sun once again! Our final stretch back to Christchurch was lively and full of noisy campervan campers (one particularly happy camper)! Happy to be all done with the camping (all done joe, all done)!

We're leaving this fantastic country today. Heading to Sydney! Trusting we will find accommodations upon arrival. We'll just tell our taxi man... "Take us to the Opera House!" And we'll go from there! No worries mate.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

running from the rain

We find ourselves way up north in Nelson and the Abel Tasman region, but we've been unable to escape the overcastness. Summer in New Zealand has the potential to not be very summery. Through five days of barely seeing the sun, we're thankful for hot beverages, good books, and adventurous spirits. Speaking of adventurous spirits, Wanida is worthy of recognition for surviving and thriving as a campervan camper (almost done, Noodle)! Also, speaking of good books, today I finished The Alchemist--very timely for the start of this journey. Read it if you're a dreamer with a "Personal Legend" to live out.

On Friday night we were relieved to realize that we can still be social; we hooked up with a few friends-of-a-friend in Wanaka, then also met up with a good friend of mine from college who happened to be traveling through Wanaka on the same day! Thanks to Amy and the crew for hosting us and reminding us what it's like to be in the company of friends.

Wanaka to Franz Josef was the drive for Saturday as we intended to crampon our way over the Franz Josef glacier for an all day guided adventure on Sunday. Instead, enough rain dumped to freeze into an entirely new glacier, so we decided to save the money and our extremities by canceling. Bummer, though, as we were left with the rainy day blues and only our imagination to picture the ice castles and ice caves.

Welcome to Nelson, then, the sunshine capital of the South Island. Show me the sun and I'll show you the shine! One highlight that still remains before we depart for Sydney on Thursday is soaking in the thermal pools at Hamner Springs. Join us, won't you, for a drink and a dip in one of God's jacuzzis?