Bali’s day of silence

It’s a familiar scene to most of us: high noon in a deserted town, the streets empty of people and vehicles, with only the low buzz of insects and faint birdsong breaking the silence. If this were a John Wayne movie, the hero would turn to his companions and quip “It’s quiet—too quiet,” suggesting that the unnatural absence of noise and activity may bode ill for him and his posse.

While my introverted nature takes exception to the thought of a situation being “too quiet,” it is unusual to actually find myself in the middle of such an environment. However, there is one place, on one day, where it is perfectly normal for everyone to experience this absence of noise and activity. Known as Nyepi, the celebration of the new year in Bali, Indonesia is a day during which the entire island shuts down, retreats indoors, and maintains almost absolute silence.

Saka to Me

Nyepi is the first day of the Saka calendar, a twelve-month lunar cycle that usually begins in March or April, around the time of the vernal equinox. (In 2007, Nyepi falls on March 19.) The Saka calendar originated in South India in 78 CE, and was brought to Indonesia around 465 CE; it is therefore offset by roughly 78 years from the Gregorian calendar (2007 marks the beginning of Saka year 1929). Bali also uses the Gregorian calendar for business and government purposes, as well as the Pawukon calendar, a 210-day system introduced from the island of Java in the 14th century, which determines the proper days for religious rituals to take place.

Whenever the new year is celebrated, most cultures see the changing of the year as a chance to let go of the past and to move forward with renewed energy and optimism, as is the case with making New Year’s resolutions. (For more examples of New Year’s rituals, see Eight New Year’s Rituals from Around the World on SenseList.) It is no different in Bali, where the Hindu symbolism of Nyepi lies in the act of spiritual cleansing, both of the self and of the outer world. As part of this, in the three days leading up to Nyepi, the Balinese observe Melasti, a time when sacred objects and effigies are brought to local rivers to be ritually cleansed. The day immediately before Nyepi, known as Tawur Kesanga, has more of a Mardi Gras-like atmosphere, with revelry sometimes lasting well into the night. However, all revelry stops before sunrise, when Nyepi begins.

Bali Hide

Observed from 6 a.m. until 6 a.m. the next morning, Nyepi is a day reserved for self-reflection and as such, anything that might interfere with that purpose is restricted. The main restrictions are: no lighting fires (and lights must be kept low); no working; no entertainment or pleasure; no traveling; and for some, no talking or eating at all. The effect of these prohibitions is that Bali’s usually bustling streets and roads are empty, there is little or no noise from TVs and radios, and few signs of activity are seen even inside homes. The only people to be seen outdoors are the Pecalangs, traditional security men who patrol the streets to ensure the prohibitions are being followed.

Although Nyepi is primarily a Hindu holiday, non-Hindu residents of Bali observe the day of silence as well, out of respect for their fellow citizens. Even tourists are not exempt; although free to do as they wish inside their hotels, no one is allowed onto the beaches or streets, and the only airport in Bali remains closed for the entire day. The only exceptions granted are for emergency vehicles carrying those with life-threatening conditions and women about to give birth.

On the day after Nyepi, known as Ngembak Geni, social activity picks up again quickly, as families and friends gather to ask forgiveness from one another, and to perform certain religious rituals together.

Quiet Riot

Although we do have celebratory gatherings with friends and family to mark the New Year in North America, in every other way Nyepi stands in stark contrast to our own rituals. Instead of silence and inactivity, the sounds of loud music, cheering, horns blowing, and friendly chatter more closely describe our typical New Year’s Eve experience. Being interested in quieter pursuits, I am drawn to the type of New Year’s celebration that involves more periods of silence and reflection, and fewer moments of drunken gaiety.

I’m sure there are others out there like me, people who would rather sit and talk quietly, perhaps over a glass of wine, with other like-minded individuals. And when midnight rolls around, you’ll know who we are; we’ll be the ones off to the side, standing perfectly still and observing a celebratory moment of silence.

Note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on Interesting Thing of the Day on March 14, 2007.


For more details about how Nyepi is celebrated in Bali, go to Bali & Indonesia On the Net, the Bali Discovery Tours website, or balifriend.

Thomas Hogue’s article in the International Herald Tribune, “In Bali, a holiday for the ears” is an entertaining description of his experience of Nyepi.

Source: Interesting Thing of the Day


I realize it’s not quite summer yet, but nevertheless it’s time for me to take a bit of a hiatus from posting new articles here. In fact, this has nothing to do with traditional summer events like going on vacation. The boring reality is that I have a ginormous deadline coming up in my day job, I’m way behind, and I need every extra hour to keep my business from turning into a pumpkin. So that’s where I’ll be putting all my attention for a bit.

In theory, I’ll meet my deadline by the end of June and be able to resume articles here in July. In practice, things never work out as neatly as I expect them to, so rather than commit to an exact date when new content will resume, I’ll simply say: we’ll be back as soon as possible!

In the meantime, please enjoy the hundreds of articles in our archive.

Source: Interesting Thing of the Day

Take Control of Your Digital Photos cover

Are you drowning in a sea of digital photos? Unable to find the shots you’re looking for, or to stay on top of managing all the photos you’re taking? Digital photography expert Jeff Carlson gives you a plan for tackling this problem, starting with preparing your camera ahead of time, then choosing the right app to manage your photos, judging and organizing your photos, and backing up your photos for safekeeping.

In Take Control of Your Digital Photos, Jeff shows both Mac and Windows users how to deal with photo overload using any of the following apps: Apple’s Photos; Adobe’s Lightroom Classic CC, Lightroom CC, or Photoshop Elements; or Mylio.

This book, like all Take Control titles, comes as an ebook, and you can download any combination of formats—PDF, EPUB, and/or Kindle’s Mobipocket format—so you can read it on pretty much any computer, smartphone, tablet, or ebook reader. The cover price is $14.99, but as an Interesting Thing of the Day reader, you can buy it for 30% off, or just $10.49.

Source: Interesting Thing of the Day

A Textile cone snail

And you thought they were just garden pests or a French delicacy

One of my kids is really into both trivia and nature, and we’re routinely subjected to recitations of unusual facts about the animal kingdom. So we were reading through one of the innumerable lists of the world’s deadliest animals. And of course we saw all the usual suspects—venomous snakes, hippos, mosquitos (you know, because malaria), box jellyfish, and so on. Animals that are widely known to be deadly for fairly obvious reasons. (Humans rank high in some of these lists too, but that’s another whole story.) But one entry on this list made me do a serious double-take: a snail.

Depending on which list you look at, the cone snail is either the fourth-and-a-half, fifth, ninth, or twenty-second deadliest animal on Earth. But anyway: super crazy deadly. And that’s not even the world’s only deadly snail. The freshwater snail also makes a bunch of the deadliest animal lists, coming in at fourth on one list, seventh on a second, and sixteenth on another.

So I’m thinking, wait, what? Seriously? Snails? Those little guys that blaze along at speeds approaching one furlong per fortnight? How are they deadly? Do people step on them after a rain storm, slip, and break their necks? Do they choke on them because they weren’t cooked with quite enough garlic and butter?

Well, no. Here’s the scoop.

The cone snail is not merely venomous; various species can produce hundreds of different venoms. A sting with the snail’s harpoon-like “teeth” can cause paralysis followed by death—sometimes within minutes—and there’s no antivenin. These lovely creatures are found in warm coastal waters, in places like the Caribbean, Hawaii, and Indonesia. Yowch.

Freshwater snails are not harmful themselves, but they carry a type of parasitic worm called a blood fluke. If a freshwater snail—or even the water it was hanging out in—comes into contact with your skin, the parasite can get into your body through the skin. It can then lay eggs inside you and cause a truly gross disease called schistosomiasis. This condition is treatable, at least, but it still kills way more people each year (think: hundreds of thousands) than the cone snail (think: single digits).

So let’s be careful about there. There may be no good way to die, but I’m pretty sure you don’t want “snail” listed in your obituary as the cause of death.

Source: Interesting Thing of the Day

MS The World cruise ship

Making your home on the high seas

Back in 2006, my wife and I were living in San Francisco and bristling at the rapidly increasing rents (yes, even that long ago). We noticed the prices for homes in our neighborhood (much like the one we were renting) and couldn’t fathom ever being able to afford a mortgage for a tiny house in an unfashionable neighborhood of the city. Needless to say, that situation has gotten far, far worse in the intervening years. We do own a house now, but it’s a very small one, and nowhere near San Francisco. When looking for a home, we toyed with the idea of buying a condo instead, but even though they might cost a bit less, you pay monthly fees for maintenance of the building and common areas; yet you get less privacy and have less flexibility in how you can use or modify the space.

On the other hand, we love to travel, so I was intrigued by a notion that was all the rage in the mid-2000s: selling cruise ship cabins as condos. Roughly speaking, the sales pitch was that for just a bit more money than you’d pay for a luxury condo, you could travel the world in style without leaving home—or spending extra on airfare and hotel accommodations. In other words, if you were thinking about buying a condo anyway, if you like to travel, and if your work and lifestyle didn’t tie you to a particular location, you could have your cake and eat it too.

I speak about this in the past tense even though it’s technically still possible. But as I’ll explain in a moment, changing market conditions have largely taken the wind out of this idea’s sails.

Liquid Assets

Living full-time in a cabin on a cruise ship isn’t quite as simple as buying an expensive condo. For one thing, your average working middle-class couple—an ideal target market for a conventional condo—might run into difficulties living on a ship beyond merely paying for it. Most jobs require employees to show up at a particular location, for instance, and a ship could be highly problematic if you’ve got school-aged children, as we do. So retirees and the excessively rich are among those most likely to purchase a condo on a ship. On the other hand, living aboard a ship for a month or two at a time is well within the means of many ordinary, working citizens, and in some cases one can buy fractional ownership of a cabin—very much like a timeshare. Even those who purchase a cabin outright generally maintain land-based homes as well, and spend only a few months of the year on the ship.

When I say “cabin,” by the way, don’t think I’m talking about an ordinary ship’s cabin—as in a smaller and less comfortable hotel room. On the contrary, the homes you can buy on a ship range from simple studios to expansive suites with three bedrooms, sweeping verandahs, and every conceivable amenity. Most units have kitchens, though of course you’ll be somewhat limited in where you can shop for groceries. But naturally each ship has numerous restaurants as well, so you needn’t do your own cooking at all.

As just one of 200 or so owners, you’ll have little if any influence over the ship’s itinerary. But you can be assured that, over the course of two or three years, your home will visit nearly every major port on the planet. Some residential ships make a point of being in Cannes for the annual film festival, in Rio for Carnivale, or in other seasonally appropriate locations. But between ports, tenants may find the range of activities onboard a bit limiting; these ships have fewer shops, shows, and other diversions than vessels of similar size that cater to vacationing tourists. In addition, you’re bound to miss certain conveniences of home, such as a choice of medical and dental facilities, your favorite local businesses, and the proximity of friends and family. On the other hand, you won’t need a car, and you can hardly offer a more attractive vacation getaway for visiting guests.

A Titanic Investment

The first residential cruise ship to set said is called The World, and it launched from Norway in 2002. Although no prices are currently listed—the cabins are presumably all sold, though occasional turnover is inevitable—the last time I checked, prices ranged from US$825,000 to $7 million, plus a 6% annual fee to cover maintenance, utilities, landing privileges on the ship’s helipad, and so forth. Some units could also be rented for anywhere from $1,200 to $4,200 per night. The ship features the usual luxuries, such as a casino, a theater, upscale restaurants, and a spa. Unlike ordinary cruise ships, The World typically spends two to five days in each port, giving tenants plenty of time to explore the world off the ship. The itinerary changes each year.

Another cruise vessel currently selling units (though it isn’t scheduled to launch until mid-2020) is the MV Narrative, which advertises prices “from only $352,235.” That’s for a 172-square-foot (16 m2) cabin on a lower deck—not including the $70-per-person-per-day maintenance fee. If you want a large cabin on an upper deck, you’ll be looking at spending upwards of $3 million dollars, plus $200 or more per day, per person. This ship seems to offer everything, including t’ai chi classes. Hmmmm. I wonder if they’ve lined up an instructor yet. I know a guy.

At least two more such cruise ships are also reportedly in the works—The Utopia (still at least a couple of years out) and The Marquette, which is unique in being a river cruise ship rather than an ocean liner; the plan is for it to travel the inland waterways of the eastern United States.

However, I have to wonder how safe an investment something like this is. When I first wrote here about cruise ship condos in 2006, at least three other major vessels were in various stages of preparation, and all those projects were apparently cancelled—the websites have been taken down, and I’ve found no evidence that they ever set sail. Those were The Four Seasons (a ship owned by and named after the hotel chain), which was supposed to launch in the fall of 2007; The Orphalese, which was supposed to set sail in 2008; and The Magellan (which hadn’t even begun construction at the time but was already selling condos)—that one appealed to me especially because it promised an observatory with an astronomer on staff. Maybe they would have succeeded had enough people gotten on board with the idea, early enough, but…I guess that ship has sailed.

Because I’ll probably never have the sort of money that would make owning a cruise ship condo even a remote possibility, I can’t say whether it would be worth the expense. In some respects, you undoubtedly get what you pay for, but then, I don’t really want or need to be surrounded with luxury all the time. If someone came up with a middle-class condo ship that a mere mortal such as myself could afford, though, I’d certainly consider taking my home with me as I travel the globe.

Note: This is an updated version of an article that originally appeared on Interesting Thing of the Day on June 30, 2006.

Source: Interesting Thing of the Day