Old churches, temples, and other religious sites

One thing Carolyn and I really enjoy doing when we go places is exploring sights that are a) old, b) free, and c) of a religious nature. Neither of us is very religious, but it’s pretty amazing how good humans are at architecture and engineering when they’re divinely inspired. We’ve wound up exploring the churches of New York City in the midst of a shopping trip. Our day trip to Macau turned into a trail of Catholic churches left by the Portuguese explorers half a millennium ago. I fully expect every stop we make in Europe to include at least one church, and probably more than a few classical era temples, too. For today’s post, I thought it would be cool to compile some pictures of old churches, temples, and other religious sites that we’ve visited over the years.

Mission San Jose - San Antonio, Texas

Mission San Jose, one of Spain’s old missionary outposts from the conquistador days.

The interior of St. Augustine's Church.

The interior of St. Augustine’s Church.

The beautiful interior of St. Laurence's Church

The beautiful interior of St. Laurence’s Church

A golden Buddha statue inside the temple building.

A golden Buddha statue inside the temple building.

Wong Tai Sin Temple, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Wong Tai Sin temple,


St. John the Divine - New York

St. John the Divine – New York


Macau - St. Dominic's Church

St. Dominic’s Church, smack dab in the middle of the historical district.

Macau - St Laurence Church exterior

The exterior of St. Laurence’s Church.

Macau - Ruins of St Paul's

The Ruins of St. Paul’s Church are Macau’s most iconic site (other than the Grand Lisboa, perhaps).

Macau - Igreja da Se

Inside Igreja da Se

Macau - Inside St Dominics Church

Inside St. Dominic’s.

Wat Chalong Complex

Wat Chalong Complex

Wat Karon, a new temple in Karon.

Wat Karon, a new temple in Karon.

Wat Chalong is a stunningly beautiful temple complex

Wat Chalong is a stunningly beautiful temple complex

Sensoji Temple pagoda

The temple and pagoda at Sensoji are beautiful old structures in a super modern city.

Incense smoke filling the air in Wong Tai Sin temple.

Incense smoke filling the air in Wong Tai Sin temple.

Wong Tai Sin Temple with apartments, Kowloon, Hong Kong

Inside Wong Tai Sin temple.

Kinkakuji Temple - The Golden Pavilion

Why do they call it the Golden Pavilion?

Ginkakuji - The Silver Pavilion

Ginkakuji Temple – the silver pavilion.

Gwanam Temple

One of the oldest temples in Korea, on Mt. Gaya

One of the oldest temples in Korea, on Mt. Gaya


Pura Batur - Bali

Pura Batur – Bali


The surprising reason I haven’t tried durian

Long live the King

Durian: the most difficult to try the king of fruits

Durian is an interesting fruit. It’s a fruit that conjures up a few different images: the business end of a medieval mace perhaps, Andrew Zimmern vomiting on cable television, a beautiful muslim woman in Southern Thailand wielding a machete with surgeon-like skill at a fruit stand, and a million other scenarios those of us who like to watch television about food could pull from our brain vaults at a moment’s notice.

When it comes to durian, though, it’s not the images that matter. The one thing that everyone talks about is the smell. Anthony Bourdain describes it as the smell of a rotting dumpster, but claims the fruit is delicious. I’m pretty sure Andrew Zimmern, who will eat anything including uncooked testicles and other offal bits used the word “putrid” before vomiting up his serving of this majestic beast of a fruit. One of my Korean coworkers tells the students (in Korean) something that includes “hwa-jang-shil” which translates to “toilet” in English, so I can only imagine it’s not something nice.

I don’t find the smell all that terrible, and neither does Carolyn. I think the smell of durian could be described like this. You know your grandmother’s oldsmobile that she owned from 1980 until 1998? The one with the pleather seats that was always kept clean but smelled of granny’s car specifically because it was rarely used and the interior baked in the hot Texas sun all day every day? Now, if you can imagine what that car would smell like if you spilled about ten gallons of that canned Hawaiian Punch (yeah, the red one) in the car and let it sit in the hot Texas sun for a whole summer. You’d get a concentrated mix of granny’s car and Hawaiian punch delivered to your nostrils upon opening the door that could probably be smelled from space. Yes I realize that there are no smells in the vacuum of space. That’s what it smells like. From like a hundred yards away.

I wanted to try durian really bad when we visited Thailand this summer. I had a year’s worth of regret built up inside me for not trying it in Bali last year. I had a chance to buy it, but the gal at the fruit stand was expertly slicing a pineapple for too long and it was late and we just wanted to lay down in bed. I should have waited, because I had no idea how difficult it would be to try this fruit and that those difficulties would keep me once again from experiencing the stench of durian in my own gullet.

No durian for you!

The truth about why I haven’t tried durian

  1. Durian are really big. They have a hard shell. We did carry a knife for one night after we bought it to cut fruit, but we didn’t see any durian on that outing. Dammit. Why not take the durian back to your room with you? Well that’s point number two.
  2. You can’t take a durian into your hotel room to cut it with the knife you bought and kept in your room. Yeah, you left your fruit knife in the room because you don’t want to walk around with a shiv all night. Dumb mistake, n00b. No durian for you.
  3. Taking a durian into your hotel room, public transportation, or just about anywhere enclosed is a no-no. One of our guesthouses in Phuket made it clear that there would be a 2,000 baht adjustment made if durian was taken into the room. I guess that smell really sticks. Don’t leave that fruit knife in your room if you want to take on the king of fruits.
  4. There’s no trash cans, and I can’t stand to litter.
  5. If you try to order a sexy durian dessert, expect it to be sold out. I tried to order one the last night we were in Phuket, and I’ll be damned if there wasn’t any available.

So I’m a disappointment to adventurous food nerds everywhere. I missed my opportunity to try durian. Hopefully, one day soon, we’ll be back in Southeast Asia, I’ll have a damned machete or something in my back pocket, and the gal at the fruit stand won’t be spiral slicing a pineapple at a late hour at night when I’m ready for bed. C’est la vie, I guess.

So, where’s my favorite beach?

Beaches are pretty much my favorite places to be when it’s warm, and I’m lucky enough to have been to a few of them. I love clear, blue water, gentle surf, and plenty of people to watch. I haven’t been to all of these beaches with Carolyn, but the best ones always involved her on a towel next to mine reading a book. Let’s have a look at my favorite 10 beaches in the world and wish we were at one (or all) of them instead of in a cold office in Korea.

Haeundae Beach, South Korea

Haeundae Beach, Busan, South Korea

This might be my favorite beach for cold weather, because there’s no shortage of places to get a nice hot coffee. The water is a beautiful blue green. On a clear day you can see Tsushima Island, Japan. Unfortunately, Haeundae beach is nuts in the summer, with about a bajillion people crowding up shoulder to shoulder under umbrellas to avoid the sun. Why anyone would avoid the sun on a beautiful beach defies my logic, but what the hell? When in Rome Busan, right?

Magic Sands Beach, Hawaii

Magic Sands Beach, Big Island, Hawaii

Magic Sands beach on Hawaii’s Big Island was the only beach I visited very often when I lived on the island. The beach is beautiful in the summer with it’s white sand and surf ranging from lapping waves to big rollers. Its also situated next to one of the best shore diving spots on the island. You gotta bring your own snacks, though, and parking is okay if you get there early, but you gotta be careful or else your car could get broken into. It’s a good beach, but not the perfect beach.

Daecheon Beach, South Korea

Daecheon Beach, Boryeong, South Korea

Daecheon Beach is definitely worth visiting during the Boryeong Mudfest in July. It’s a beautiful beach nestled next to the East China Sea with nice, shell laced sand, and a plethora of convenience stores nearby for snacks. During the mudfest there’s also great people watching and festival food.

Jeongdongjin, South Korea

Jeongdongjin, South Korea

The last beach in Korea on this list is Jeongdongjin. Jeongdongjin is just about as far north as you can go in the Republic of Korea before you enter the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. So close that there are guard towers, barbed wire, and machine gun nests on the cliffs. For real. The population density here is pretty low though, especially for this country, and the ocean is clear, blue, and beautiful. There’s not a hell of a lot to eat though. Be ready for a weekend of supermarket food and the same variety of fish at every restaurant at this one.

Waikiki by kimubert, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  kimubert 

Waikiki Beach, O’ahu, Hawaii

Waikiki is probably the perfect urban beach. There is no shortage of snacks, restaurants, drinks, or people watching on Waikiki. The water is clear, beautiful, and filled with decent snorkeling if you’re into that kind of thing. Want to eat a stereotypical Hawaiian meal (in the tourist way, meaning pineapple and macadamia nuts) while being serenaded by some ukulele wielding locals? You can do that on Waikiki. It’s an easy beach. You don’t have to pack beforehand, think about things like sunscreen or lunch, or anything. It’s all easily purchased right there on the beach (at a premium, of course.)

Double-Six Beach, Bali, Indonesia

Double-Six Beach, Bali, Indonesia

Double-Six Beach is what I imagine Waikiki was like 50 years ago or more. None of the buildings rise above the tree-line, the easy to access shops and restaurants are hidden behind a beautiful row of trees and sea wall, and there’s a lot of people to watch. There’s really not a whole lot of downside to this beach. It’s not great for swimming, but that means you get to watch the surfers. There’s a lot of hawkers, but you can chalk that up to local color. It’s Bali, dude. It’s beautiful, good food is everywhere, and once you’re there it’s all pretty cheap.

Hawaii, Big Island483 by J. Stephen Conn, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License  by  J. Stephen Conn 

Honokohau Beach, Big Island, Hawaii

Right next to Keahole International Airport is a little national historical site with a great beach. This beach features a reconstructed traditional style Hawaiian hut, a temple, fish pond, and I’m pretty sure an outrigger living in the hut. The water is blue and calm, and I’m pretty sure you could swim out to some great dive sites if you like. Additionally, it’s a short trek (maybe 100m or so) across a lava floe to get here, so it’s not going to be chock full of people at any given time. Sometimes you want quiet, right? Bring your snacks and drinks with you, because there’s nowhere to grab one once you’re here.

West Railay Beach, Thailand

West Railay Beach, Railay, Thailand

The Railay peninsula in Krabi Province, Thailand is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been in my life. There. I said it. Nestled in beautiful Phang Nga Bay (Ao Phang Nga), the Railay Peninsula is an otherworldly landscape dominated by towering limestone cliffs topped with lush jungle, a beautiful turquoise-blue sea dotted with limestone karsts called Mr. Hong’s Secret Kung Fu Island “hongs.” West Railay Beach is cordoned off at the north and south by tall limestone cliffs with low lying hotels, shops, and restaurants scattered along a dirt road behind the beach. It’s beautiful. There’s a ton of people to watch, and it’s easy to get a kayak and head straight out into the bay to really feel like you’re away from everything.

Kata Beach, Phuket, Thailand

Kata Beach, Phuket, Thailand

Kata Beach is beautiful. It’s not as chaotic as nearby Patong Beach, the water is clear and blue, and there’s a nice little island just offshore that makes a great counterpoint to a wonderful sunset. The Andaman Sea stretches out in front of you, and behind you a great enclave of restaurants, bars, and shops. While some might prefer the night life of Patong, it’s pretty nice to be able to get a cheap place to stay where you can stretch out and not be bothered by bedbugs or other critters. Kata is a great, great beach that really showcases Thailand’s natural beauty while also allowing you every modern convenience you might need.

Phra Nang Beach, Railay, Thailand

Phra Nang Beach, Railay, Thailand

Phra Nang Beach is certainly the most beautiful place I’ve ever laid eyes on. The water is a beautiful turquoise blue, the beach is framed by a gorgeous limestone cave, monkeys come out of the woods to feast on garbage and people’s bags of chips and unattended items at dusk, and the sea is dotted with those beautiful green little hongs as far as you can see. In the morning before the boats of tourists arrive, this beach is absolutely 100%, perfect.

My daily commute to Java


For whatever reason, my taste buds changed at some point this year. Up until I flew back to Korea for our second year here (Carolyn was already back. Our vacation dates didn’t line up perfectly, and for that matter she was visiting family in New York and I was visiting family in Texas anyhow…it was a lonely vacation.) I enjoyed a diet coke every morning when I woke up. After I got back, I don’t know what did it, the cold ass winter here in Korea, the major lifestyle changes we started making to lose weight, get fit, and increase our health, or what, but I stopped enjoying my diet coke in the morning and started enjoying a nice cup of coffee. What happens when that hot, dark, earthy goodness touches my lips is magic.


When I have my first sip, I’m back on an Air Asia flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia bound for Bali, Indonesia. Looking out the window I can see the tops of the mountains that crown the islands of Indonesia poking through the clouds. It’s actually pretty similar to Bali Hai from South Pacific what with the islands’ heads poking out from low lying clouds and all. Another sip or two and I’m back in the cafe at the Island Hotel in Legian Beach, enjoying a fresh cup of Java, grown on the neighboring island of you guessed it, Java. It’s the cup of coffee at the top of the page here, and it’s good.


So yeah, the ordinary, everyday cup of coffee I have after I wake up and dust the crap out of my eyes takes me on a magical mystery tour. It’s ridiculous, every time I stand at the grocery store staring at the bags of coffee from Kenya, Colombia, and Java I remember sitting on a creaky wooden longtail boat with Carolyn after some amazing diving staring at the big shadow of Java on the horizon. How lucky am I to have been the places I’ve been with Carolyn over the past couple of years? A few years ago I would have boasted about it not being luck at all but rather constant positioning…but that’s a load of crap. I’m blessed all around with a wonderful lady, some great memories, and a cool flashback to a magical, beautiful place every time I brew a cup of coffee…and I do that every freaking day.

Favorite Photos: Bali

I’m writing this post a little bit early, as school classes have been cancelled all day thanks to Typhoon Sanba. In a move that makes complete sense, the school system here told all students to stay home because of the “tae-poong” but teachers had to go to school anyway. More on that tomorrow.

Sitting here at my desk while the wind howls by outside has made me want to do a post that is a bit more image-heavy than normal. I’ve been sitting here in this crap weather thinking about some of the beautiful places that I’ve been with Carolyn, and thought it might be a good time to post a picture or two ten.

I took all of these photos last summer on our trip to Bali. It was a pretty special trip for a bunch of reasons. The biggest reason is that we got engaged on the trip, but it was also our first time traveling to a developing nation, our first time in the Southern Hemisphere, our first time in Southeast Asia, and our first time traveling on a real vacation together. This trip will be a huge special memory for both of us forever. Now, on to the photos.

1. Pawprint, Double-six Beach (Kuta)

double six beach pawprint

A pawprint in the sand

If you’ve been to Southeast Asia or read my post about Bali Dogs, then this might not seem like a very surprising image. If you’re a travel weary tourist fresh off the plane from Korea who has just laid down flat for the first time in 24 hours on the beach in Bali, you might find it a bit more surprising.

2. Pura Bedji, Singaraja

Pura Bedji

Pura Bedji, a temple to the goddess of irrigated agriculture.

Pura Bedji was the first temple that we visited in Bali. It was absolutely beautiful. We were astounded to be standing in an active temple dedicated to a goddess with a specific capacity. The locals must keep the offerings pumping through really well at this temple, because their irrigated agriculture is stunningly beautiful.

3. Offering, Pura Bedji, Singaraja

colorful offering in Bali

These colorful offerings were everywhere in Bali.

The Balinese leave offerings to the gods strung up in the air, and offerings to the demons on the ground, if I understand correctly. I think it’s interesting that color erupts in small, brilliant pops like these offerings set on the black-grey stone of the temple in Bali, whereas color is everywhere in Thailand.

4. Pura Batur, Kintamani

Pura Batur, Bali

High atop Bali’s second tallest mountain is Pura Batur.

The tiny town of Kintamani straddles the rim of the Gunung Batur volcano. The central structure in the town seems to be Pura Batur, a temple dedicated to the god of the volcano. We arrived just in time for a ceremony that was filled with music, offerings, and traditional dances.

5. Ceremonial Dancers, Pura Batur, Kintamani

ceremonial dancers at Pura Batur

We arrived during a ceremony of some sort, and were thrilled to see this dance.

It was hot in the temple, and we considered leaving to get back down from the altitude that I suspected was causing us headaches. That all changed when we saw these dancers forming up to do their part of the ritual during the ceremony at Pura Batur. We stayed and watched, captivated by their movements.

6. Crater, Gunung Batur, Bali

crater, Gunung Batur, Bali

That’s not a mountain, that’s a cone inside the crater of Gunung Batur.

Upon leaving the temple we had lunch at a restaurant hanging over the rim of the volcano. We had a sweeping view of the entire crater, and the mountain sized cinder cone in the center. It wouldn’t take much imagination at all to imagine yourself smelling the sulfur and feeling the ground rumble.

7. Twilight, Lovina

Lovina, Bali waterfront

Twilight at Lovina, a quiet little town on Bali’s north shore.

Hugging the coast in the center of Bali’s north shore is Lovina, a quiet little town with a muddy beach. Although the beach wasn’t exactly made for swimming, it certainly made for beautiful sunsets and twilights. It’s the kind of place that you imagine Bali would be like before you arrive.

8. Hungry baby macaque, Ubud

hungry baby macaque

A baby macaque eats a tourist banana in Ubud’s sacred monkey forest.

Ubud is the navel of culture and arts on Bali, but one of its biggest attractions is the Sacred Monkey Forest. For a few thousand rupiah you can buy a bunch of bananas and quickly find yourself surrounded by razor toothed primates that don’t understand what “I’m all out of bananas” means.  You also get a chance to get up and close with some of our primate-cousins, and they always let you take their pictures.

9. Terraced Rice Field, Ubud

Ubud is famous for terraced rice fields

These terraced fields are the greenest thing I’ve ever seen. Beauty is everywhere on Bali.

Bali’s rice fields are quite famous and there’s no wondering why. These fields of green are layered, folded, and planted with rows of rice so straight that geometric patterns change like a kaleidoscope as you walk by. The sound of the water running through the irrigation ditches is pretty calming, too. Even the roosters shut the hell up.

10. Legong Telek Dancer, Ubud

Legong-Telek Dancer

A dancer in the ARMA museum’s Legong-Telek dance.

Balinese dance is pretty interesting. The strange motions of the head and hands, and the bugging out of the eyes makes the stories they’re trying to tell really come to life in a big way. We attended two dances during our stay in Ubud, and they were both excellent. The costumes were colorful, the dances were interesting, and we really felt as if we had experienced the culture a bit. Just remember to eat dinner before your dance in Ubud, because everything closes down early.

Bali Dogs

Last year on our vacation in Bali we were pleased to find domestic dogs running around happy and free all over the island. When we returned to Korea from our trip to Bali one of my first ideas was to make note of all of the photos I had taken of dogs roaming the streets in Bali. It didn’t even seem like they were just roaming around, scavenging for scraps, they were doing pretty well and seemed pretty satisfied with their station in life.

Who doesn’t like a walk on the beach right?

You see, in Bali there are offerings left for gods and demons all over the place. It’s not uncommon to accidentally step on a packet of rice, fruit, vegetables, or meat, in fact, these offerings are supposed to be destroyed over the course of the day as they are consumed by the gods or demons. Of course the details of Balinese Hinduism are pretty murky to me, and I have no idea if what any of what I am saying is actual fact, but one of the coolest things I remember about Bali was feeling like I was always on the cusp of witnessing something mystical and magical that I wouldn’t understand anyhow, so I’m just going to go with it.

Just making the rounds. I love his outfit.
Now, Carolyn and I are dog lovers, so if anything makes a vacation cooler than it already should be, it’s dogs. We were both pretty thrilled to see how these happy little pups had seemed to form a sort of underground society. It seemed like you would find dogs waiting on the corner for one another, chatting it up, and running their daily errands together. You’d even see the same behavioral patterns day after day, if you happened to walk the same route at roughly the same time each day.
Old friends hanging out together.
Humans aren’t the only one interested in a sunset on Double Six Beach.
Let me be clear though. Dogs were running around doing their dog-thing all over the island, not just on the beaches. When we traveled to the north shore of the island we visited a small temple near Singaraja, and guess what we found?
Temple dog takes a break.

The arts and culture capital of Bali is Ubud, and guess what wasn’t missing? Dogs! The Ubud pups seemed to be slightly better at speaking English and catering to tourists.

Ubud pup has a runway walk.

This diversity loving pup lives in Ubud’s sacred monkey forest.

Everybody should soak in some rays on Bali.

Who says being a doorman isn’t hard work?

Temple pup considers asking for alms.

This pup is holding the door for his family.

Crossing guard pup keeps you safe from traffic.

Warung pup hopes you drop your nasi goreng.

Spa treatment pup is trying to bring in some male customers.

He doesn’t want to sell you a postcard for a dollar, he just wants a couple pats on the head.

Crossing guard pup has an easy day at work.

Waiting for the family to come home.

Old man dog watches the world go by.
So here you go, almost a year later I’ve finally gotten around to writing about the dogs of Bali. Now, the pictures I posted are mostly of dogs that I think had a home. There’s plenty of pups on the island that could use a little help, and a google search will show you that they don’t all look as good as the ones in this post. If you want to help, I think you can direct yourself over to this website http://www.balistreetdogs.org.au/ for more information. I really enjoy projecting humanity onto animals, so I probably viewed all the dogs I saw in Bali through some seriously rose colored glasses, and of course I had a bit of fun putting this post together, but like I say, a lot of the little mutts could use some help.

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2011: IT’S OVER!!!

2011 was a great year. It was also a pretty tumultuous year, I mean, hell, we moved HALF WAY AROUND THE WORLD. While there’s plenty to be thoughtful and write about for this year…and I’m sure I will…I think the best obligatory year end blog type for this year is a list. The top 11 awesome things that happened in 2011.

1. I got engaged to the most beautiful and awesome lady on the planet…in the solar system…the universe…and any parallel universes.

Right there, on that couch, in that lounge, at the Incheon International Airport. On the way to Bali. Perfect way to start an awesome vacay.
2. We went to Bali.
Bali is all at once the most beautiful and mysterious place that I’ve ever been, and I got to go with a really special lady right after a really special occasion. Not a lot of Americans go there because it’s expensive and in a country that we fear for one reason or another, but I’m sure glad we did.

3. I’ve lived as an expat and worked in another country

I’ve always wanted to, now I’ve done it. And we’re doing it again next year!

4. I spent a week in New York

Another thing I always wanted to do. It was a great week and a great way to see one of the coolest places in the homeland before moving off to Korea for a year (or two).

5. Cherry Blossoms

Cherry blossom trees are one of the most iconic springtime images you can conjure up when you imagine what Asia might be like.

6. Seoul

It takes less than 2 hours by high speed rail to get to Seoul, and it’s awesome every time we go. It’s the 2nd largest metro area in the world, or something like that, and it’s got a frenetic energy that keeps pumping. I’m happy to have been here in 2011.

7. Chicago

After our trip to New York, we stopped in Chicago to visit with some friends and see the sites. It was a great visit. It’s always good to reconnect with good people, and it’s also always great to visit a wonderful city with a lot to offer. Also…omg food.
8. Art, Art, Art

2011 has been the year of the art museum for us. We have visited: The Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute in Chicago, and the ARMA museum in Bali. We’ve seen more brush strokes in 2011 than I’ve seen in my entire life…and it’s great.
9. Books, books, books

I’ve read a bunch of books in 2011. A good reason is the advent of the Kindle app for iPod Touch…I have a whole library with me every time I get on the subway…plus books in English are a welcome respite from living in a world where you don’t speak the language. I think my favorite of the year is the entire Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.
10. Mud

The Boryeong Mudfest was a fun, dirty time on the beach in July. Daecheon Beach is a surprisingly nice beach (honestly, when you think of Korea beaches aren’t the first thing that come to mind, right?) and it was fun to get slathered with mud and act like a moron for a day.
11. The Ocean

The irrational anger I felt at the entire ocean after my diving career went from exciting to crap got swallowed up in somewhere in the Java Sea when Carolyn and I rolled over the edge of a tiny wooden boat. It was more beautiful than I ever imagined it would be, and it was so much fun to be underwater with my lady watching the reef drift by. I’m looking forward to diving on our next vacation to a tropical locale.
So those are what I can think of right now, as the coolest 11 things about 2011. I’m looking forward to 2012 and all the years that will follow. Things are good right now. 2009 was hard, 2010 was hard, but 2011 was really kind and nice.