Con Report: 2015 Shanghai Comic Con

shanghaicomiccon

The man on the mic does his best to work the crowd: “Something something something, something something Avengers something.” Then riotous applause and rapturous “Aahs.” This is what it is like sometimes when you visit a comic convention in Shanghai. If I knew better Chinese, I’d try for a more direct translation; as it is I can only report “something something,” just a snapshot of one of my experiences during my brief time visiting the 2015 Shanghai Comic Con.

Billed as the “first ever official Shanghai Comic Con,” SHCC was brought to you by the folks of ReedPOP (New York Comic Con, Emerald City Comic Con) and who seem to be branching out for international venues, including Vienna and upcoming shows in Paris and Hyderabad and Delhi. There was no way I was going to miss this, despite a very busy weekend with some other commitments. As a regular attender to San Diego’s Comic Con and a Marvel junkie (I prefer the more specific term Jarvis-Head) it was just a given.

Part of the excitement comes from not knowing exactly what to expect. Superheroes are just as big of business in China as anywhere, and both Marvel and DC movies are met with equal aplomb. While not officially released through state media, most tech savvy young people are up to date on the latest episodes of The Flash, and this was also the same weekend as Avengers 2: Age of Ultron enjoyed its China release. Fevers were high, and this was exotic new territory. Anything could happen! (Even this really boring promo poster!)

And yet I was still running late on Saturday morning. I finally managed to get my act together and traverse the town to arrive by taxi at 11:30ish. Knowing the floor opened at 11am, and that presale tickets were long ago sold out, I was fearing for the worst, flashing back to San Diego, of course. Seeing the number of cars backed up along the entrance made me want to hop out of the taxi a block early, but no, it was just a red light up ahead. I got dropped off right in front of the gated queue!

But this wasn’t right. The only signs (bilingual, thankfully) indicated it was for presale/Internet sales. I asked the white guy hanging around in front but he had no clue either, and was waiting for his friend anyway. Okay, then, better try my bilingual skills on the attendant in front of the barricades.

He escorted me through the queue to a small tent where I bought my tickets directly and exited straight into the turnstile. I jumped all those suckers paying for presale! What followed was an X-ray and metal detector that’s a shade more intense than your average rock concert but typical for what you’d find at every subway entrance here, and I was inside a very spacious, and new, convention center in the western part of the city.

I had time to walk the vendor floor, which took up the entire first level. (Well, maybe 90%. There’s not *that* many vendors.) The emphasis here was on merchandise and hero-related products. Some entertainment options were there, such as a film school with live movie-makeup demos and Chinese TV branding, but most were toys and figures and apparel. There was one very popular booth for a League of Legends-style multi-player, and an X-Box One/Kinect demo with gleeful players flinging their arms in order to be Fruit Ninjas.

I wanted to be on time to see some of the guests, one of the firsts being David Finch, and made my way up to the third level for the conference rooms. I estimate over 300 people came to see Mr. Finch, making it standing room only. Via an interpreter of course, Finch talked about his own work and asked for fledging artists in the audience, giving some advice and encouragement. Something about initiative and self-discipline. I wonder how certain aspects of his talk meshed with the clash of cultures, but it wasn’t merely locals; there were significant numbers of expats in the audience. During the Q&A, the audience came up with only a few softball questions, like if he uses reference material, who’s his favorite writers, and so on, but there were a few pretty good ones, too, often with surprising results. Asked how does it feel to both write and draw your story, Finch said he prefers a close relationship with a writer rather than do both, and he got applause after the answer was interpreted. What did that mean, exactly? At one point, a questioner took the mic and went for so long the audience started booing, hissing until he wrapped it up. I’d like to have seen that happen at some previous panels I’ve attended, I assure you.

The real weirdness was from being in a situation I was so familiar with from before, attending a convention panel, and yet to have it so completely re-contexted, having it be in Shanghai. Certain things I take for granted, like suffering through weird questions, waiting for the presentation to begin etc., came crashing into other things I take for granted, like theater etiquette culture-clash. Surreal.

Continuing to wander the levels, I noticed a few more bugs that surprised me for a big event like this. There were technically only two food stalls, plus a coffee stall and a juice stall, and only two banks of restrooms on each level. On one end of the hall, the escalators was out of commission, and on the other side, one bank was out of commission at least twice. In/out privileges were regulated, and the exit was at the rear of the hall, separate from the entrance entirely.

The second level had more space, this one for meet and greets/artist alleys. The main stage separated the seating area (about 500 seats, VIP only) from the rest of the crowd, even though the seats were never filled close to 50%, even with the headliners. I caught the interview with Robin Lord Taylor (Penguin/Oswald from the Gotham TV series) which was almost entirely softball questions, but both Taylor and the crowd were enjoying themselves enormously. Anytime the crowd recognized a name, even “Flash” or “Avengers,” they would holler in delight.

Overall, though, there was so much space on this level it was almost creepy. Echoes that made it difficult to hear the microphone, one line stretching for an hour to visit one table while others have no one. The official meet-and-greets with autographs demanded a special queue, and official price. Taking a photo with a celebrity could cost you over $125 US, and autographs started around $50.

The real stars, though, were the cosplayers. Whole flows of traffic would be disrupted once someone agreed to pause for pictures, and it would not be strange to see more than a dozen photographers becoming paparazzi for several minutes or more, or as long as the cosplayer would put up with it. Multiply that excitement exponentially whenever two related characters happened to cross paths.

I’ve also lived in Japan, and as expert as that place is with cosplay, I saw so many here that could give the best of Tokyo a run for their money. Part of it might be the lack of precedent— I doubt many people would let a Green Arrow in, one that has an actual bow and real arrows, but there was some real attention to detail, including a girl dressed as Captain America in padded armor like the movies and a large shield that was near perfect, and a Winter Soldier who could have stepped out of the movie reel. There were even characters I wouldn’t have expected, like a Lady Deadpool and a female Loki.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t spend the whole day there, and had to end up leaving long before I could see the Gail Simone panel, which was at the top of my list.

Ah, well. You never know when I’ll end up in New York or San Diego again. Or maybe people will want to return to Shanghai. Judging from the response last weekend, we all will be waiting with open arms, and ready cameras.

Cinco de Mayo Rice Salad

There are two big American holidays I make a point to celebrate during the year. And I’m not talking about Christmas and Easter, which are GREAT of course and obviously celebrated, but these aren’t exactly American holidays since they are worldwide celebrations centering around the Christian calendar. And I’m not talking about Independance Day, as fun and important as that one is, because that’s during the summer and as a teacher I’m always referring to an *academic* year whenever I say “during the year.”

No, in fact, the two big American holidays I’m talking about are Thanksgiving … and Cinco de Mayo. You know, Cinco de Mayo? The day that Americans get together to celebrate Mexican food.

OK, I’m being snarky, but growing up in Southern California I always assumed certain facts about Cinco de Mayo– I assumed that everyone celebrated it, and I assumed that it was a Mexican Independence Day. As it turns out, it is celebrated more in Southern California than even in Mexico, and it has about as much to do with Mexican independence from Spain as St. Patrick’s Day does with Irish independence from the U.K. But also like St. Patrick’s Day, these facts have not stopped anyone ever from finding a new excuse for a party and a beer.

No matter what part of the world I happen to be in during the year, I will try to make Thanksgiving and Cinco happen, one dinner party for the fall, one outdoor barbecue in the spring.

Cinco de Mayo Rice Salad

Cinco de Mayo Rice Salad

6 cups cooked rice, cooled to room temperature or chilled
1 large yellow bell pepper, diced
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1 small red onion, diced
1/2 cucumber, diced
3-4 sprigs cilantro (about 2-3 tbsp. chopped)
Zest from 1 lime
Juice from 1 lime
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/8 tsp. pimentón (smoked paprika)

Step one: Prepare the rice as directed, then cool in the refrigerator for 2-3 hours or even overnight.

Step two: Dice all the vegetables, finely chop the cilantro. Zest and juice the lime.

Step three: Toss it all together with the olive oil and lime juice.

Step four: Fold in some freshly cracked sea salt and the pimentón.

Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.

The pimentón gives the rice a spicy, smokey flavor kind of like a chipotle, while the rice and cucumber gives you a cooling taste. The combination is wonderful, and complements the main dish of your barbecue which is likely spicy and fiery and hot.

The pimentón itself, however, is a new addition for this year. Last year, I tried dicing some hot red chili peppers to add the heat (discarding the seeds of course) and the year before that I had some leftover chipotles that I pat dry to remove any excess adobo sauce and added to the rice salad. The pimentón was a nice in-between of the two, but as a spice it colored all of the rice a bit orange, and I like salad just as much for its visuals — white, red, green, and yellow — as its taste.

Feel free to make it as spicy or as cooling as you need for your table, and give it a try!

Easter, Lost in Translation

It can be difficult at times to communicate aspects of your life to another culture (and, to be fair, it’s vice versa!) We take for granted certain assumptions about our language, beliefs, and other things that are so deeply ingrained that we assume everyone else assumes the way. Of course, I’m talking about how In-N-Out is the best hamburger joint in the world. Also? Easter.

Here’s David Sedaris’ essay “Jesus Shaves” about his experiences being an expat in France.

 

 

Once Upon a Sydney: Featherdale

Welcome to Featherdale

Featherdale Wildlife Park, Sydney, Australia http://www.featherdale.com.au/

Observed at the Featherdale Wildlife Park, April 2014

This gaggle of girls have all come from the nearby girls’ school.
An annual migration.
They hold papers to fill out when traveling from site to site but
instead
they are very concerned with the shiny trinkets held in their
palms.
Chattering all at once
It takes specialized study to understand their unique language
J’yaknowwhatimean
So basically
Yeah! (pronounced in three syllables)
Anywayz (pronounced with a zed)
I know-oooooh
It all seems to center around discussion of their opposite gender
The only thing I can make out is that Ian is so cute
And Straight Hair is the queen bee, able to bring the rippling laughter to a crescendo
or a pause.
Pause.
Whatever, Frizzled Hair.
That was Not Funny.

And here’s a family unit,
from Hong Kong, judging by their sounds.
The two appear a couple, with the eldest the female’s mom.
Let’s call her ‘Grandma.’
Grandma moves slowly, in a shuffle, her arms at her sides,
but her face is wide and bright, taking in the wonders of her environment
with a pursed smile and twinkled wrinkled eyes
Notice her body jump as much as it is able when allowed to touch
the koala.
Has she ever experienced anything like this in 87 years?

Another trio, all female. The largest is quite tall for her species.
And overweight.
She is the matron, she speaks with authority about all they
encounter
Whether it is right or not, her voice declares she has seen it all
before.
The same voice directs her daughter from afar,
Instructing her in the best way to feed the wallabies
from a stale ice cream cone of alfalfa purchased from a vending
machine.
Homo Americanus.

Over there, that’s Molly.
Notice her long red hair but vacant eyes.
Her colors are the typical green polo and khaki of Featherdale
staff.
She carries an armload of eucalyptus branches, obviously meant
for the Koala exhibit.
Behind that tired expression is the drudging patience of daily
routine.
She likes animals, she does.
It pays for university.
If only there weren’t so many other humans in her territory

Travel Tips: The Number One Mindset You Must Be In When You Travel

from: Google Images Time Life Archive; Long Island, NY, US (1939) Photographer: David E. Scherman

from: Google Images Time Life Archive; Long Island, NY, US (1939) Photographer: David E. Scherman

Before I tell you my secret that will help you stop worrying and enjoy the travel experience, I have to ask: How do you travel?

Are you like, say, Herman and Wanda? The ones who have a list of things on his agenda, and they angrily hush the youngest of the family because no, it’s not time to eat yet, and yes, they still have to go through the free museum tour and, besides, the restaurants outside the museum are too expensive anyway?

Or maybe you’re like, perhaps, a Chason and Abby? Holding each other tight, they pose for a two-person selfie while trying to get the museum facade in the frame at the same time? They’re holding the ice cream they bought from the cart a few feet away, not because they were hungry, but it’s hot and that gelato looked really good, didn’t it?

The truth is that we’re all somewhere in the middle, right? But regardless of where you are in the spectrum, there is one thing I guarantee you will ALL fall victim of. It’s unavoidable. It happens whenever you travel, but if you can get your head around it, and accept it, you will be able to find joy in any travel situation.

The thing is, EVERYONE will have to pay a Stupid Tax.

A Stupid Tax is, obviously, any extra money that you will have to pay because you are stupid. And you must humble yourself– you WILL be doing stupid things when you travel. You are not smart about that area, because you just traveled there. There is no way you can be 100% smart about the area, and any percentage you fall short will be your Stupid Tax.

You tipped the taxi driver too much? 5% Stupid Tax.

Didn’t realize you had to pay for bread at the table? 3% Stupid Tax.

You tried bargaining in the market, and still feel like you paid too much? Heck, that could be upwards of 25-30% Stupid Tax.

Chason and Abby (remember them?) paid extra for the gelato at the cart when they could have walked a bit more and found a convenience store, if they really wanted the ice cream at all. It’s all just Stupid Tax, automatically added to your bill.

There are non-monetary ways the Stupid Tax will affect you, too. If you fail to take the direct line with Bus 310 and instead take Bus 278 with transfers to 51 and 32, that could be a problem with some extra Stupid Tax fare, but it might be felt more acutely because of the tax on your time and patience. Herman and Wanda, above, are finding their Stupid Tax in the form of frustration and family tension.

So, if Stupid Tax is unavoidable, how can you have a pleasant travel experience?

The key is to develop this mindset: Do your best to avoid unnecessary Stupid Tax, but be ready to accept it when it comes.

Look at those examples I listed above. These are not bad things, necessarily. Tipping, bread, any sort of bargain at the market, ice cream…

If you are too much like Chason and Abby, then you’ll end up losing a lot more money than you’d prepared, and that will actually end up limiting your options. But if you try to overcompensate, you are too much like Herman and Wanda, and then you’ll end up being paranoid and miss out on opportunities when they come.

For my own example, in my recent trip to Sydney, I researched the kinds of public transport options I would need ahead of time. I was sure that what I would need would be a MyMulti One ticket. On arrival, I asked the subway attendant about the options, and confirmed my decision. After all, I reasoned, I would not be using the ferries very much, and that was what made the difference between a MyMulti 1 and 2. However, as the week went on, I did find myself using the ferries more than I had planned, and so I would have saved money with a MyMulti 2 in the first place. The difference wasn’t terribly significant, but it was definitely a Stupid Tax that I could have spend on something else. I could either stress about it and regret that I didn’t do my homework good enough, or I could accept the loss of a bit of money as “Stupid Tax happens” and continue to enjoy my trip.

I definitely recommend the latter option.

Australian Fairy Bread for Grown-Ups

Quick, name one staple of authentic Australian cuisine!

I’m sure that for most people, it might be things like Vegemite, barbeque steak or prawns, pavlova, or, heck, even meat pies. For me, however, I’ll name something that, if you are not a Down Underling, you won’t recognize. But if you ARE a fair dinkum Aussie, hearing its name will produce an unconscious smile and a wistful expression… In case you couldn’t tell from the title of this article, I’m talking of course about Fairy Bread.

australian fairy bread

The name of which, of course, makes me laugh. The food is really so simple, the recipe as simple as you can get — sliced white bread with butter covered in rainbow sprinkles (a.k.a. “hundreds and thousands.”) That this ultra-simple dessert could be universally recognized and beloved throughout an entire continent is funny to me. So why do Aussies everywhere respond to the words “fairy bread” with smiles and a chuckle? Because fairy bread is pretty much a feature on any kid’s table for his or her birthday party. And why not? Starch, fat, and sugar– your basic food groups for young kids! It’s caught up in the same Edenic memories of running in the yard with friends, batting at balloons, and opening brightly-wrapped presents.

But as always, I want to mix and play with recipes to see how basic recipes mix and match with new things and new ideas. Is there a Fairy Bread for grown ups? I apologize in advance for the Fairy Bread purists out there. I know, I know– nothing can beat that bland starchy goodness of plain white bread smothered in greasy blobs of margarine and dotted with crunchy sugar. But the world is a bit more complex nowadays, with a lot of new experiences that take our initial understanding and build onto it for new and exciting, richer and more complex thoughts. Isn’t that what growing up is all about?

Here’s my attempt at Fairy Bread For Grown-Ups. You may not have a birthday party with donkey tails being pinned, but you may have an afternoon tea or coffee soon with a new chapter of that novel you’ve been reading, and this side will go great with that.


 

Fairy Bread for Grown-Ups

Ingredients:

Cracked-wheat bread (or other complex, nutty bread)
Honey Butter
… 3/4 cup butter, unsalted and softened
… 1/4 cup honey
… 1 1/2 teaspoon rose syrup
Rainbow sprinkles (“Hundreds and Thousands”)
Sea salt
Nutmeg

Step One: Honey Butter

1) Soften the butter to room temperature. Whip the butter until it’s creamy with a hand mixer.
2) Mix in honey and rose syrup.

Step Two: Toast

Slice the bread into thick slices. Toast until brown, but allow to cool a bit or you’ll lose the nice pillows of yellow when buttering them. Scones are good, too!

Step Three: Top it off!

Butter the toast, then crack the sea salt over them. Sprinkle with nutmeg and, of course, the hundreds-and-thousands (just a pinch! These are more for show because the sweetness of the honey butter.)


 

My thoughts have turned to Australia, since this past week I had the opportunity to return to Sydney for my Spring Break. It was actually my third time there and each time I think I find some new way to love the city. Must be something about my love of metropolises (metropoli?). As with my trip to London last summer, I tried to explore some of the farmer-ish markets about town, but my timing was a bit off as they are likely more on the weekends and that turned out to be a bit inconvenient. You gotta hand it to the Rocks, though. There, I did find some nice specialized tea and some natural honey.

With honey in hand and memories of fairy bread in my head, I wondered if the honey held the clue to making my grown-up recipe. Obviously, some bakery-fresh bread was called for, but there was something else that I wanted to help make it a bit more ethereal, a bit more fairy-like, more nature-y. That’s when the rose water came to mind, and I picked up a bottle of Monin’s brand syrup.

I really loved the end result. And why not– it’s still starch, fat, and sugar, right? Obviously, you will have a lot of left over honey butter with this one, so adjust accordingly if you wish. Also, I love the crunch of the sea salt when it’s sprinkled on top, the way it mixes with the sugar and blends in your mouth, but you might like to use salted butter or to add the salt when creaming the ingredients together, instead.

I hope you get a chance to try the grown-up version, but if you’re in a pinch, why not try the basic version? In my imaginings, I’m picturing some stressed-out mom nearly collapsing on the kitchen counter while the children at the party are yelling and banging pans in the next room. With an exasperated sigh, she just grabs the bread and butter that’s always on hand, and some rainbow sprinkles that have been in the cupboard since last Easter– the last-ditch effort to appease the li’l beasts. Surprisingly, it works, and all the other moms are so impressed with the simplicity and ingenuity that it becomes part of the Australian cookbook lexicon.

Trust me, if you have an Australian in your midst, bring some fairy bread to your next potluck and you will bring the kinship to a whole new level.

Once Upon a Bali

Coffee & Cocoa & Civets? Oh, my!

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

“Do we have enough time for the waterfall?”

I asked but no one in the car seemed really into it. Not even the driver, who responded with a “Mmm yes–” one of those Asian yesses, not the more definitive yes of the West.

But this was typical of the way we traveled, and now we were driving away from the Pura Besakih temple in Bali. All of our excursions thus far were more or less random, and this one started by picking one of the “top visited” places from whatever brochure the front desk had at the time and cruising the beach to find a reasonably-priced driver to escort us at the last moment. Now we were continuing our adventure … or not. But I suppose true randomness would stop excursions just as easily as it could start them.

The driver did his best to explain what we already knew, that the waterfall was not exactly on the way back to the hotel, but only “more or less so.” Still, to only visit the temple on our whirlwind trip seemed less than epic. It was a pleasant enough day, despite the patchy gray of general rainclouds and high humidity of tropical heat, and driving down the jungle mountain made me determined to not give up on the nature-filled interior of Indonesia just yet. “Do you have any suggestions? What would recommend on the way back? A different waterfall? A rice paddy terrace? Something with … nature.” I made small swooping circles with my hands, if that would help clarify the word “nature” by indicating the palms and trees we were passing by.

“Do you want to go to coffee farm?” the driver asked. It was nearly apologetic. The whole conversation was taking about twelve minutes by this point.

In the back seat, one friend shrugged to say yes, the other voicing “Mmm sure.” Yeah, I said. Actually, I was happy to do so. Coffee is, after all, the ambrosia that fills my veins.

The timing was conveniently good. After a few short minutes, we had pulled into a shoulder of the road facing a wall of trees and bushes. The road continued along the wall of vegetation for some distance, in either direction, and you’d be hard pressed to notice the small wooden building somewhere beyond the berm. We were greeted by Balinese smiles of the women emerging to the road and the driver explained this was the family of his friend and this was their farm. Of course it was.

The path into the farm emerged from somewhere among the berm, and we began a slow descent down lazy, packed-dirt switchbacks. The head lady was proud to point out several of the trees and plants along the way– between her heavy accent, the driver’s also-heavily-accented explanations of her heavy accent, and the water-stained hand-printed signs, we understood we were under a canopy of coffee, cocoa, as well as coconut, figs, cashew, sandalwood, teak, and more.

We were brought to the end of the trail after a mere 50 feet. Although I was expected a vast acre or so of trees carefully lined to be efficiently cultivated, in fact, the “farm” was built into the side of the mountain, which blended in with the rest of the valley wall. There were other farms, of sorts, nearby, as families tilled up and down the valley as best they could. It was all clearly as “mom and pop” as you could get. Suddenly, we realized we were in a tourist trap, but not of the heavily commercialized variety, with a constant stream of tour busses. Here was one driver, with a connection to a family that supplemented their income by raising a variety of herbs, fruits and nuts. It was less a coffee farm per se, but I suppose telling tourists you would be visiting a “coffee garden” does not hold the same excitement.

Obviously, we as tourists were, in general, expected despite the fact we, specifically, arrived unexpectedly. Carefully-wrapped containers were now opened to reveal samples of seeds and berries that were collected and used by the farm as our tour hastily continued. We even were given a chance to pick a cocoa bean from the fruit and eat it directly. Another family member started to roast some raw coffee beans for our benefit to demonstrate the line of production.

Roasting coffee, Balinese style

 

And, of course, they proudly displayed their prized sample– dried animal poop that was dotted with coffee beans.

It’s part of the process of making “Kopi Lowak,” or coffee made from beans that pass through the Asian palm civet, a catlike, weasel-like … uhm, civet. As the coffee digests in the animal’s stomach, the claim is that it enhances/ferments the bean to create a richer tasting coffee. The scarcity, and sensationalism, of Kopi Lowak makes it exceedingly expensive but also a popular souvenir. This farm had two cages with one each, as I could see, and our hosts took pains to point out the process was safe and healthy. (It’s a consistently economic and ethical (“econethical?”) dilemma as many accuse Indonesian farms of force-feeding civets under inhumane conditions in order to produce essentially an overpriced novelty.)

Finally, we were taken upstairs of a bamboo and thatched building. The terrace offered a spectacular view of the valley, and you’d forget there were supposed to be family farm-gardens throughout. Having lived and traveled extensively through Asia, we were perhaps more nonplussed about all this “exotic” environment and products, which did not deter the hosts from trying to explain what was assumed to be unfamiliar to us. For example, when samples of coffee and tea were served to us, it was repeated pointedly that there was no sugar or milk in them but we could add them if we wanted. No problem for us. Really. It’s OK.

The same assurances and pointed questions were used when asking if we would sample the Lowak coffee, even though the tasters in this case would not be free, perhaps about a US$1.00. We looked at each other with the same open expressions. Of course. We hope to. Really. Let’s try it.

Tasting Kopi Lowak

The coffee was dark and rich, deeply flavored and astringently bitter. There was an undertone of earth and plant. After the sharp bitterness passed after the first sip, the aftertaste mellowed into a vaguely startchy sweetness. At the risk of too much pretension, perhaps, the Kopi was in between the thick richness I found in the Turkish coffee I had in London and the bold deepness of the siphon brew I had in Taipei. Now, was this due to the digestive process of a vaguely weasel-like animal, the pour-over process of over-roasted beans? That would require a lot more testing (and purchase power) than I am able to provide. All of that to say, it was surprisingly good, but maybe not US$100/kilogram kind of good. If you have a chance to taste it, though, go for for it.

With our tasters sampled at a leisurely and appreciative pace, we dutifully exited through the gift shop, making a few purchases, as appropriate. As tempting as it would be to arrive home with a package of Kopi Lowak to display on my shelf, I instead opted for the more sensible and practical package of cocoa powder.

With gracious smiles and gratuitous thank yous, we made our way back to the hired car. The sun never managed to shine directly behind the grey sky, but you could tell it was ready to meet the horizon soon. Most of the way back was ridden in silence, each of us confident that we could check off the cultural and nature-y bullet points on our list and be ready for the remainder of our Bali trip. We continued our drive out of the natural Ubud area and into the sprawl of Kota … a more urban kind of jungle with “wild” life more appropriate for a story at another time.