Friday, February 26, 2016

Jakarta, Indonesia

Friday February 26, 2016

What a day! After a long day touring yesterday it was another long day of touring today. Mercifully, we did not leave quite as early today as we did yesterday but we were still on the road before nine a.m. Our destination was something called "Little Indonesia" which is an open air museum focusing on the various cultures of the Indonesian nation. There are 17,000 islands in Indonesia and something like eight hundred different ethnic groups. So this park was, I think, a pet project of former President Suaharto (sp?) and a way for him to make money (his family used to own the park) while strengthening the Indonesian nation by celebrating its diverse elements. The park consists mostly of buildings that represent the typical architecture of specific areas of Indonesia. Inside the buildings are exhibits on traditional dress, ceremonies/rituals, or activities of that particular group/region. It was well done but there were a few things working against it as far as I was concerned: 1.) the exhibits and infrastructure seemed dated (it would seem that there isn't enough money available to update/maintain the park's exhibits properly) 2.) it was exceedingly humid this morning as I suspect it is on most mornings because you could almost feel the mold growing in the shady areas while in the sunny areas it was hard to drink water, fan vigorously and listen to the guide all at the same time!

Traditional Indonesian building
Interesting roof line

In fact, listening to the guide seemed to be a bit of a problem for both Russell and me (myself? I? I don't know -- just pick one)  today. Not sure if it was just because we were tired or because we didn't bond with our tour guide (or maybe both) but we spent most of the day wandering away from the group and generally doing our own thing. There was also another person on the tour who I suspect has a mental issue or dementia or something but he is fond of frequently saying out loud negative and inappropriate comments. It's very disruptive and tends to annoy any group member within hearing range. I feel sorry for the guy especially because at other times he can behave perfectly normally but that doesn't mean I want to tour with him.

Digging holes and carrying water
More road work

We visited only a couple of the areas in "Little Indonesia" and when I had had too much I went outside and watched these road construction workers move two completely full five gallon containers of water using a piece of wood balanced on their shoulders. In their bare feet. Now let me tell you, I hauled a lot of water when I was young on family camping trips so I was just awed that these guys were moving this amount of water on such a hot and uncomfortable day in their bare feet. There were other workers who were digging ditches with shovels and some that were down in the bottom of the ditches digging deeper, completely covered with sweat and dirt. Yikes!

Giant map displaying ethnic groups of Indonesia
National Museum
Interesting hat
Beautiful batik

There definitely is some serious, industrial-strength poverty here in Jakarta. We caught throughout the day glimpses of illegal shanty towns that were as bad as you can imagine. And I said to Russell that Jakarta definitely wins the award for "Most Unappealing Riverways" of any city I've visited. Not that there was a lot of trash in them, it's just that there didn't seem to be any life left in them either. They were just dark, contained, abandoned and abused.

Industrial strength poverty
Care for a swim?

Of course there are plenty of parts of Jakarta that are modern and fancy even. I saw a Jaguar dealership and a Louis Vuitton store so it would seem that somebody has money. And we drove along plenty of avenues that were lined by modern office buildings, hotels and shopping centers. But if you looked carefully these streets seemed to be only one building deep and the side streets intersecting with these grand boulevards were what I think of as "tropical-ramshackle". There just didn't seem to be a lot of extra money floating around for trash removal, beautification projects or maintenance. But then again there were highways (jammed with mostly new cars) and roads with impressive overpasses and interchanges. The port was huge and relatively modern. So, I don't know maybe there is money, maybe there isn't.

White House of Indonesia
Giant "candle and dish" monument

Back to our day of touring though. So after "Little Indonesia" we headed to the National Museum where we saw some impressive displays on the ethnographic diversity of Indonesia (again) before heading for a photo op of the White House and a gigantic monument that looked to me like a mamoth candle in a an equally large dish. Lunch was at a modern hotel and the surroundings were clean and the food good. After lunch we headed to Old Jakarta where we visited a puppet museum. It was an excellent but threadbare museum. I have to say those were some seriously scary puppets! Nobody does "weird and scary" like the Indonesians.

Weird and scary puppet head
Sorry this is blurry but you get the idea -- also weird and scary
Old Jakarta
Colorful bikes
Street food

Our last stop for the day was the "Old Port". Here we saw dozens of old fashioned schooners being loaded and off loaded with cargo. Apparently Jakarta is the only place on earth that still uses wooden sailing ships to deliver cargo. Mostly the ship's go to other spots in Indonesia but apparently they are still building these boats as they remain profitable. Amazing. (You know it's funny because I am so far removed from basic functions like loading a sailboat with cargo that I was able to stand there and watch like it was the most interesting thing in the world and I am sure the dock workers were thinking "What are these idiots looking at?" and "Why are they here?").

All wooden construction and sail-powered
There were a lot of them
Loading cargo the old fashioned way

So we have now concluded our visit to Indonesia which I found to be very interesting. I was surprised by some things (the number of motorbikes, the Hinduism and devotion I saw in Bali, the fact that they drive on the wrong side of the road, the politeness and friendliness of the people) and I wasn't surprised by other things (the poverty, the number of people) but what I was most surprised by was the combination of poverty and population -- that is, the sheer number of people leading lives that are materially so different from our own. One really comes to appreciate the fact that this -- Indonesia -- is how the majority of the world lives today and how it is we -- in the west -- who are the weird or different ones. And you know our wealth in the west didn't just happen. The people of the world didn't just voluntarily give up what they had. They were conquered and their wealth was taken. Our success was, to a very large extent, built on violence. I am not saying that we didn't do anything to earn what we have in the West. Of course, we did. And I might even go so far as to say that we are more than fifty percent responsible for the way things are in the West today verses the rest of the world. I might go that far. But I think it's important to also acknowledge the role that colonialism and racism have played in creating the huge disparity between the "first" and "third" worlds today. But I will get off my soap box.

Need a water jug?
Traffic was ever-present
That's a modified motorbike carrying approximately ten people

And I will conclude by saying that although I have enjoyed my time in Indonesia I am not sure I would have the strength to return here and explore on my own. I could, of course, return via cruise ship but how hard is that? I saw a woman from the ship today who was in one of the other tour groups and she had on her "convertible pants" (you know those pants made from "quick-drying" fabric where the lower leg can be zipped off thus "converting" the pants into shorts) and she had on a photo-journalist type vest as well as a safari hat and her whole get-up just screamed "World Traveler" and I thought to myself: "Come on lady, get a grip. We are on a cruise ship here. This isn't a fight for survival." But it's true of me too. I mean I fancy myself some world traveler but guess what? I don't know the first thing about real, honest-to-goodness travel. You know, the kind of travel that you read about in books. All I know is that I am damn lucky and having visited Indonesia only proves it to me a thousand times over and I say this with absolutely no disrespect for Indonesia intended.

Your intrepid duo
At the sail-away from Indonesia 

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Semarang, Indonesia

Thursday February 25, 2016

Today we had a very early start -- 5:30 a.m. to be precise. We ordered room service and Russell bought me a coffee so by 6:15 a.m. I was ready to go which was fortunate because that was the meeting time for our tour -- "Borobudur by Coach and Train". Ours was the first tour called so we hit the road running and with a police escort no less! We had been warned about the Indonesian traffic and because this port was a considerable distance from the temple (2 hours) I guess they figured a police escort was worth the expense to insure everything flowed smoothly and on schedule.

Quite a greeting!

Our first stop was the train. But let me back up first. Getting off the boat was a trip because there was a big high school type band and color guard there to greet us and we walked through two lines of saluting military academy (?) students to get to the buses. This was followed by Indonesian folk dancers in the cruise ship terminal. Too much. Definitely the most enthusiastic welcome we've had on this trip so far.

All aboard!
Note mountain in distance
Rice paddy

Back to our first stop. I didn't know what to expect from "Borobudur by coach and train". Would we be taking a train to the temple and a bus back? Perhaps vice versa? Turns out the train ride was really pretty much a gimmick -- 7 km of narrow gauge track in a renovated 1911 3rd class (didn't know there was such thing) coach car. Think bench seats and open windows. Still it was an enjoyable though brief ride through rice fields with mountains in the distance and waving children in the foreground. How else I said to Russell are you going to get in the middle of a rice field without a.) trespassing or b.) getting your feet wet?

It's hard, dirty work

There was also a train museum but I didn't pay too much attention to that since trains are one subject that holds little appeal for me (though I don't mind riding in them). I preferred the air conditioning in the bus as it was an excessively sticky day.

It's very big
Once again with the sarongs! Never knew knees were so offensive!
More than one hundred statues of Buddah

We arrived at Borobudur around ten a.m. and talk about sticky! Yikes was it hot and humid there. But what a monument. The largest Buddhist temple in the world we were told. Constructed in the ninth century and including dozens of statues of Buddha. The place was restored in the early eighties but suffered a terrorist attack in the mid eighties. Fortunately not much damage was done. The volcanic (?) stone is carved with scenes from Buddha's life and the top level which is supposed to represent nirvana includes these giant bell jars called stupas. Inside each of the stupas is a statue of Buddha. Most of the statues of Buddha have suffered some sort of damage. The view from the top of the temple is quite spectacular but once again I need to reiterate how hot and uncomfortable it was. Now, you all know me -- I am a sweat-er (as in a person who sweats excessively). So, it goes without saying that I was hot and sweaty but when Russell complains as he did of being drenched in sweat then you know it's bad. 

Lots of carvings
I spy -- another Buddha!

Funny story -- some of the guests from our group were getting highly annoyed with the fact that they could not take a photo of the temple without people in it. Well, duh! I mean people this is a major tourist attraction not to mention a massively large monument to boot. To think you are going to get a photograph without any people is not only idiotic it is also downright deceitful if you ask me. Which no one did. I have to give Russell props here because he saw the whole situation including the part where they were shouting up to people walking around the top of the monument to "get out of the way" and he choose not to say anything. Impressive. I am afraid that I can't say the same for myself as I might have said something about the person "not being the center of the universe" to a fellow member of our group.

Did I mention it was hot?

Lunch was at a hotel on the park grounds and it was perfectly adequate. Served outdoors but under a roof and complete with -- what else -- but some  traditional dancers. After lunch we had some time for shopping. Russell had already given me a hard time in Bali because I got hijacked by this women who put a vice grip on my elbow and literally dragged me into her shop after I had mistakenly said "Maybe later"  to her pleading for me to visit her shop on the way into the temple. Well, needless to say, I won't be using that line again because she didn't forget and she hunted me down when I left the temple reminded me that I had "promised" to visit her shop before she placed the aforementioned vice grip on my elbow in order to assist me in fulfilling my "obligation" to her.

Stupa with its top off exposing the Buddha statue inside

The venders at our luncheon spot were no less aggressive but I didn't mind so much. I bargained with them and got the prices down though I am quite sure that I payed more than some others might have and none of the stuff that I ended up with was particularly desirable to me (or Russell) but I had fun and it didn't cost me a lot. Russell however was appalled at my behavior and said that after all these years he had no idea that I was such a sucker. I am glad I can still surprise him!

I did mention that it was hot, didn't I?

Speaking of surprises -- our next stop was a "shopping opportunity" -- no surprise there. The real surprise is what we bought -- two silver necklaces. For me! Can you imagine? What was funny is that I was already wearing a necklace -- for the first time in my life, I think. It was just a cheap "tiki" necklace that I had picked up in Polynesia and re-discovered last night while looking for something else. So I thought I would wear it in Indonesia. I mean who do I know here, right? And the weather is hot enough for a tiki necklace or so was my train of convoluted logic. And now here I am the proud owner of two more necklaces.

Hey -- you with the umbrella, get out of my picture!

You must understand that I come from a highly phobic background regarding jewelry for men. I can hear my mother's voice saying, "Men don't wear jewelry". Or was it my grandfather? I am not sure which one but it's a truism that I have adhered to until this day. I mean I have a nice watch (that's not jewelry) and I have a nice "wedding" ring (also not jewelry) but a necklace? Definitely jewelry. But hey sometimes I like to get outside my preppy box and loosen up. Or be a "little bit sleazy" as Russell tells me when I wear my Robert Graham shirts with or without my white pants. Not to mention my white shoes, lime sherbet pants or black velvet shirt. And it's true. My taste can vere toward the ... uhm ... unusual. But isn't that what it's all about? I am not saying I am going to wear a necklace from now on (heaven forbid) but isn't it nice to surprise yourself (and others) after fifty one years on this planet?!

You never know when you might need an extra cab -- or two!
Do you think they are all paying the toll?

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Bali, Indonesia

Tuesday February 23, 2016

Well, it's been a couple of days since we visited Bali. Usually I try to write these entries pronto, right after we visit but I guess I was tired. And forgetful. Anyhow, I now have two days perspective and maybe that's a good thing. Of course maybe not since Russell tells me I have very poor short term memory!

Coming in to port

Coming in to the port was quite an experience. Lots of exotic sights not the least of which was fishermen standing and fishing yards away from the channel in which the ship was traveling. Our tour was billed as an "All-Day Safari by Volkswagen Bug". Fortunately for us the vehicles were not actually Volkswagen Bugs but rather Volkswagen Things. You may not be familiar with the Volkswagen Thing; it wasn't very popular. The important thing is that it has four doors which meant that it was easier for us to get into and out of than a Bug would have been (which is not to say that it was easy to get into and out of because it was not). But it had windows in the back providing air flow for passengers (more about this later).

Our car for the day
Our tour guide, Wardi

After meeting our guide (Wardi), our driver (whose name I never quite got) took us into the maelstrom that is Indonesian traffic. Most notable was the number of mopeds/small motorcycles. This was truly remarkable. Also of interest was the ingenuity of drivers (both of cars and motorbikes) in finding ways to continue to advance despite the presence of stopped traffic. Wardi told us that the law was pretty much "if you can do it, then it's legal" so up the side we would go, driving on the sidewalk or on what little shoulder there was to get in front of one more car while motorbikes wove their way around and between the drivers with less, shall we say, creativity. What a madhouse but honestly the driver was pretty good though I am sure some others would have been put off by his, uhm, ingenuity.

Lots of motorbikes
Creative driving capital!
And more traffic

Our first stop was a small manufacturing facility which was producing traditional Indonesian musical instruments. As you may have guessed this process is done largely by hand. We watched as the craftsmen put together a bamboo pipe instrument and a different instrument reminiscent of a xylophone. We were able to play some of the finished pieces. Wardi said that a full set consists of something like thirty pieces (almost an orchestra really) and costs upwards of twelve thousand dollars (or about thirteen billion rupees -- only kidding but seriously the exchange rate is 13,000 rupees to one dollar!)

Creating instruments the old-fashioned way

Our next stop was a large temple. Bali, I did not realize, is not Muslim but rather majority Hindu. So, this was a Hindu temple we were visiting. We had to wear sarongs to cover our bare knees because we were wearing shorts. The temple was arranged on a hillside, in levels, with many small "alters" or mini-shrines on each level. Each of the individual structures represented a different divine function or God. You can see that my understanding of what we were seeing was rather sketchy which I tend to accept as inevitable when visiting another culture that is so different and with only a brief period of time in which to do so.

When in Rome ...
That's eleven roofs in case you were wondering
I am getting a strong impression that it rains here -- a lot!

Stop number three was a wonderful traditional Balinese village, the name of which now escapes me (perhaps Russell is right about my short term memory -- hah). Anyhow, the village has banned cars and motorized vehicles of any sort so it was mercifully peaceful and quiet. Each of the homes has to look like the others and be constructed in the traditional style and layout which I understand means several separate buildings (one for the kitchen, one for the family temple, one space for family rituals and another space for living/sleeping). We were able to walk right in to one of the homes and take pictures so I am not sure how that works with the people who live there but they didn't seem upset (and we did buy a couple of drinks) so there you have it. Speaking of photos, there was a young couple posing for wedding pictures while dressed in traditional costumes. That was fun (even if he did look really more like a she to me -- "not that there is anything wrong with that")

Balinese village
Bride and groom to be
Volkswagen Things -- ready to roll!

On our way to lunch it started to pour. This was especially unfortunate given that the Thing either has windows or it does not (that is to say, they are windows one puts in place or lifts out; what one definitely can not do is roll the window up or down). Since it had been quite hot and humid obviously we had left the windows out but now as we headed into the hills and with the rain coming down windows began to seem a much better idea! We soldiered on, hoping -- I suppose -- for the weather to abate (which it did not) as Russell and I scrunched together in the middle of the backseat and tried to avoid (and then to accept) the errant streaks of rain now rushing in on a rather a cold breeze. 

And then the rain came!

Fortunately, the weather broke briefly when we arrived at our luncheon spot. This was especially fortuitous given that the restaurant had a sensational view of a lake and a volcano (active). We also were served a large and thoughtfully prepared platter of vegan food -- a nice surprise. People who arrived later at the luncheon spot saw nothing but fog since the weather rolled back in and the rain began again. 
Luncheon spot
Quick before the clouds return!

After a quick (but painful) visit to a painting studio where we were followed from room to room by our very own salesperson who tried to convince us that we wanted one hideous painting after another (see previous entry from summer trip re. the downside of cruising), we experienced yet another hairy ride through the streets of Bali before gratefully returning to the ship's air conditioning. We were somewhat delayed in our departure from Bali owing to the late arrival of some guests (caught in traffic I presume) which prompted a further delay because the tide was then too low for the ship to leave but leave we did (eventually). On to the next port of call!

On the way back to the ship
Need a broom? How about a bucket? Or a jug? Or? Or? Or?
It can't be that heavy -- can it?