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Mantis Exchange in Manila

On the second and third day in Manila, Arnold had a couple of students take me around Manila to see some of the sights. The first day, we went to Intramuros, the old Spanish colonial area of town. Intra means inside, and so this area is surrounded by a huge stone wall, built by the Spanish to protect themselves from uprisings or invaders. There are a few cobbled streets and many old houses and churches in this area. It is much quieter than the rest of Manila, and so is relaxing to walk around. We visited Fort Santiago, as well as a renovated Spanish house and a museum about Chinese-Filipinos.

Later that evening we went to Mall of Asia, the largest shopping mall in Asia, for a buffet and some drinks. Arnold and the students were celebrating their victory in the Macau lion dance tournament.

The third day I spent exploring Chinatown and more of Intramuros, before heading to Quaipo Cathedral and the large market behind it. The market is a haven for pickpockets, and it only took five minutes of being there before I had an old lady following me, constantly trying to stuff her hands in my pockets! She wasn’t even discreet about it! They have this idea that all white people are rich; but comparatively we are, as the level of poverty here is high. The market sells all kinds of things from amulets and charms, to folk medicine and fake DVDs. I didn’t buy anything though, I think I may go back another day to look at the amulets, and explore the Muslim district nearby.

Later we went over to Arnold’s school. The school is sponsored by the KMT, the government of Taiwan, so there are a lot of pictures of Chiang Kai Shek and Taiwanese flags up. Out of nowhere, Arnold asked me to teach the class. Without any preparation, I stuck together and warm up, did some stretching, then took the students through the basic stances of Taiji Mantis, showing them how to check their structure. I then introduced them to some basic partner exercises as well, arm conditioning, and Jie Hai Chui, and then adding some basic applications in. The students demonstrated some forms for me, and I showed a few Taiji Mantis forms to them as well.

For me, this was just day 3 in Manila, but was the last chance to hang out with them, as in the morning they left for Sinagpore, to take part in a lion dance competition. They really treated me well as a guest and I had a great time with them. I hope I can visit again, or they can come and visit me too.

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The Undiscovered North of Bali (and why hiring your own driver is awesome)

temple in the north of bali

Bali is one of Asia’s most popular destinations, and for good reason: the culture, the people, the natural beauty; however a lot of the island has suffered from over-development. When I visited with my family, I didn’t even bother with Kuta or Seminyak, instead I spent most of my time in the north of Bali, an area called Lovina.

temple in the north of bali

The northern area of Bali is much less visited, the only foreigners tending to be here either for the diving or dolphin watching, as well as a handful of retired Australians who have huge villas hidden away in the hills. In fact, this areas largest weakpoint also turns out to be its strongpoint: transport is very limited. The best thing you can do is either hire a car or hire a driver. We chose to hire a driver for two reasons: firstly, I don’t really want to drive on the windy roads with the crazy traffic, and two, a driver also acts somewhat as a tour guide. They can recommend sites, restaurants, and help you negotiate lower prices when shopping.

The driver we hired, a man called Agus, really made the trip for me. Balinese people are stereotyped to be really laidback, super friendly, and constantly happy. For Agus, this was definitely true. He organised some really cool trips, stuff I never would have found just relying on a Lonely Planet guide. For example, we decided we wanted to go to see the dolphins at sunrise, followed by snorkelling on the reef. Agus got us a boat that took us well away from the typical crowded snorkelling spots and we had a reef all to ourselves. Granted, seeing the dolphins, there were a lot of other boats, but there were hundreds of dolphins, and they only feed in one area.

The northern area also had some beautiful temples, some perched on rocks overlooking the sea, some in the jungle clad hills more inland. Hinduism in Bali is much more laidback than what I’d seen in India; there is no discrimination of caste, and no ill-treatment of women. It was a common site in Bali to see colourful parades and ceremonies, in fact my mum was joking that she was surprised Balinese ever get anything done with all the praying and rituals they do! For those interested in the more spiritual aspects of Balinese culture, the classic Eat Pray Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia is a must read.

If you are visiting the northern area of Bali, I would highly recommend the services of Agus. You can contact him at +6281805699660 or a.widiada@gmail.com.