Category Archives: Indonesia

Barbers Three

As a boy, one of life’s rituals included the trip to John the Barber in Corte Madera, California. Like many young lads, I was never a fan of the haircut but my mother certainly was. For the record, my mom is beautiful – a fashion runway model that also made TV commercials and dresses impeccably well – she was justified in her obsession with my hair! Around that time, school sent us to our first opera called the Barber of Seville; isn’t that sweet vengeance for a sports obsessed boy?!?! Back to the story, mom would consult, critique, and have John correct any blemish on my scalp. John, meanwhile, raved about my thick hair and how wonderful it was to cut; something I still don’t understand to this day other than that thickness has nothing to do with hair loss – apologies to my sweet pea daughter and any future grandchildren! 

Flash forward to the present and my hair loss has multiplied abundantly. I’m blessed with a receding hairline and common balding on top. Super califreakadocious I say but I don’t have to look at it and thus, I don’t fret. Leticia has become my new John except that she uses one of those big razors to shave it off every 4-6 weeks; easy peasy and quite cost effective.

We brought a razor on this trip around the world specifically so I can continue my free cuts on the road. Well, it literally burned up  and nearly scalped me in Christ Church, New Zealand thanks to the wattage that razors don’t comply to! In Australia we started anew buying a cheap unreliable one that worked for our two month stay and then self-combusted in Indonesia. Finally, I consulted with my barber (Leticia) and we concluded that we might as well return to the traditional shop for my future cuts in Southeast Asia and that, my friends, is where the fun began.

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Rico suave!

I’ve tried cuts in nearly every country since. It usually starts with me walking around the town that we are residing searching for something close to barber status. Upon discovery, I enter with caution, evaluating the place to decide whether it really is a barber or a front for drug smugglers; I have this slight fear about barbers ever since I saw a gangster movie (I forget which one) where the barber slices the aorta of his mobster client and blood spurts all over the place. Anyway, I have yet to turn tail and run but some of the places have been questionable in nature.

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Sri Lankan goatee with fans in the background!

One of the early adventures was in Bangkok. Sebastian needed a cut too and we searched for a cheap spot which was tough since there are so many fashionistas prancing around that you can hardly tell the men from the women. We finally found one near our budget ($5 a head). The women took one look at us and you could tell they were excited to cut some western doo! We walk down this dark empty corridor, get separated into two rooms, and I cross my fingers that it’s all cool. It felt like we were in a western movie waiting for the evil Jesse James to come blasting in. My Bangkok lady – and no, this is not going where you may be thinking – starts cutting in this room with mirrors on all sides and a huge antique barber chair. Speaking no English, I worked on my pantomime to show her where and how much to cut which worked…and neither of us were kidnapped which is another bonus! The best cut was in Vientiane, Laos by a gay guy in a fashion stylist store; one of the benefits of Laos is that it is cheap and that guy gave the best head massage (no pun intended).

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And then I remember the two not so good but memorable cuts. The dump in Bali, Indonesia was packed with men sitting around their barber and smoking. Too tempting for me not to inquire, I immediately found myself in the chair ahead of everyone else as the center piece for the next 10 minutes. I fell victim to my first dry straight edge cut. Let’s just say that I got the cut but my skin felt a wee bit roughed up! Last and certainly not least is Kerala, India which was the worst and best if that makes sense. I scouted out this guy and told him I’d return with my son. Another complete dump shop but the price was right at $3 for both Sebastian and myself; note, this is where my mother cringes while reading back home in California! Anyway, me being the brave soul that I am, I have Sebastian go first – ha ha! No, really, and I do my best to act like my mom by critiquing as our barber, Saneesh, chats and cuts. Sebastian gets his cut, a nice head massage, and he looks ok to me. I jump into the semi-broken chair and am the recipient of not just a cut, but also a hair massage, chiropractic back straightening, and shave with full blown shaving cream and straight edge! Ok, so the cuts themselves were far from the best and our barber’s entertaining buddy asked me for a tip (for simply sitting there) but the perks of everything else was more than worth the $5 total. Thankfully, Leticia performed some manual corrections on both of us and we were happy campers in India.

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All clean in London

Let me close with the multi-national joke of the trip. Have you ever traveled with a near-expired passport? Mine is set to go next year and it shows me of prior life (10 years ago) with full hair. It caught me by surprise the first time in New Zealand but every country since then, I get the double-take stare, followed by a knowing smile and laughter (I like to entertain passport control dudes) at the photo comparison on my passport and balding reality today which is more of the wimpy skinhead look! Never ceases to ease my entry and put a smile on a boring job’s face! Now, time for me to go get my next cut…Cheers!

Are we sick in traveling?!

You can imagine correctly that moving around a great deal in different climates via planes, trains, and buses will bring its fair share of sickness. No Gammill has been immune! We’ve had colds, stomach issues, headaches, infections, and limb problems. Fortunately, nothing serious and most of it passes quickly (ha ha).

I, however, feel like the guru for worst experiences. Thanks to some bad food, Indonesia and  Burma left me feeling like the 2nd & 3rd doses of a colonoscopy exam! In Australia, I jammed my finger tackling Sebastian in the waves and did not bother to address it until Indonesia. By the time we got to Malaysia my pinky was a bent experience! I did visit 3 different doctors and am happy to report that the final doctor – a friend of Onn’s in Penang -determined that it was not broken and needs a long time to heal (ligaments). My left shoulder has had the same problem my right had a few years back and I’ve been slowly trying to recover from that using otc anti-inflammatory pills; it has finally started to feel better after 2-3 months of pains that have driven everyone crazy.

The bottom line is that colds and illnesses inevitably happen during travels. The good news is that medical care is excellent when we have needed it. In case of emergency, we do have a health plan (with high deductible) for our travels and I recommend that as a precautionary measure for any long-term traveler. On top of that, we carry around a small pharmacy of medicine that would put a smile on my father-in-law’s face. Considering all the fun things we’ve done: jumping 40+ meters off bridges, racing speed boats in rock gully, zip lines in 3 countries, river rafting and caving, not to mention taking red eye buses on 2 lane highways….well, we’re doing pretty darn well! Here’s to your health!

Happy Easter everyone!

Caving & Zip lines in Lao

Full safety caving & zip line in Lao!!

The Other Fellow First

If you don’t know me, it’s simple. I have a life saying, The Other Fellow First, which has been preached to both of my children since day 1. The motto comes from Camp Dudley. Sebastian & Louisa will be going for their 4th season this summer and are the 3G of Gammills.

So why mention a camp motto now? Let me explain. When you put yourself out there in the world, in places that you have never been, have no idea about the language, and are basically in a vulnerable position, you find that many people from many cultures have the same life motto simply by experience.

For example:

  • A friend of my cousin’s welcomes us (strangers) into their home in Wanaka, New Zealand, serves us a delicious steak with plenty of wine, and then says we are welcome to stay as long as we want.
  • Air BnB host takes her day off to drive us around Sydney and then to share a secret beach to swim.
  • Another Air BnB host uses her day off to drive us to the Barossa wine country and takes us to exclusive wineries that she has access. Cool!
  • Australian volunteer in Nusa Penida, Indonesia, notices that Sebastian really likes fireworks on New Year’s Eve (shocker!) and gives him an armful to take on our journey to Bali.
  • The sister of a friend not only hosts us in her apartment but takes us out to dinners and arranges our sightseeing in Malaysia.
  • An elderly Thai woman with her adult daughter are sitting next to us at a food stall in Bangkok. Daughter hands my wife a local drink and says, “Here, this is for you and what Thai like to drink.” Then her mother turns around and hands us a grilled banana. Yum!
  • I’d like to close with yet one more example of why I feel strongly about education through experience for my children. Onn is a longtime high school buddy and I am glad that we’ve stayed in touch over the years. To put it simply (and I will be sharing a separate blog on our Penang experience), Onn took us into his home with his family and provided a place to stay. More than that, he showed my children the meaning of The Other Fellow First. He embraced them, taught them some martial arts, fed them amazing foods, and played with them on ziplines and ropes. I could go on and on but the moral of this story is that both Sebastian and Louisa saw how happy Onn was to share his life and talents. How he truly practiced and lived The Other Fellow First.

My perspective is quite one-dimensional when it comes to teaching my children (just as many parents, we want the best for them). It’s a wonderful feeling to experience and share similar values with both friends and strangers from all walks of life. And even better when those people impact your children in a positive way, much like that teacher you always loved!

The Other Fellow First – a darn good reason to get outside, meet others, and share your values! Thank you to Onn, Wai Fung, Sue, Mel, the Turner Family and everyone of you that practices The Other Fellow First!

P.S. Just off the press are these two articles for you to enjoy and they apply to this blog: Timeless Appeal and NYT Solo Traveler