Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Reconn

Apparently, I am State's forward operating team. Undersec for PD McHale is coming out to Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore (terimah kasih, JB). Unfortunately, no Philippines in the mix. Too bad. This all comes as State is set to open the @America center in Jakarta. Very nice. If only the U.S. Pavilion in Shanghai was this cool...

I do hope Madam Undersec McHale gets out of the hermetically-sealed diplo bubble to see the street-level musical culture that I blogged about in Java, and how State could really take advantage of cultural diplomacy outreach to Indonesia's rock youth.

Holy Latke!

It's Hanukkah tomorrow? WTF? Where did that come from? Anyone know any Jews in Malaysia to spin dreidels with?

Tradewinds Chapter the Last- Malaysia

I spent the better part of the last day in Bukittinggi just killing time and working on projects.  I was budgeted down to the last rupiah, so I was having a fun time scrimping and saving for the day.  I had a total of 20,000 rupiah that wasn't tied up in possible ferry and exit tax money so I had to make the rupiah last.  I did deliciously, with rice congee for breakfast (8K rupiah).  Lunch was Indonesian ramen noodles, that comes with three different sauces (sambal, chili and kecup manis-Indonesia's version of soy, but thicker and sweeter) and some other and freeze-dried onions (1K rupiah).  Dinner was my favorite Indonesian cheap dish: nasi tellor (The rice, boiled egg in curry, eggplant and this time unripe jackfruit dish) (7k rupiah).  Enough that I had a little leftover rupiah.

I spent the evening waiting for the bus chatting with the fascinating owner of the hostel, Ule.  If ever there was a German Lord Jim.  He started traveling to the region when he was 20 to work on oil projects.  He told me of ships that left from his home in Bremen that, since the Suez was closed at the time, would pass all the way down the coast and around the Cape and back up in the ports of call along East Africa, Aden and on to Indonesia.  He told me of how the would dynamite to find oil.  He also told me stories of the pogroms he saw against the Chinese in Indonesia, when harbors were filled with bodies.  He mentioned that the Chinese in Indonesia still always keep a bag packed and ready to go just in case. We were joined in the wait for the bus by another guest, a German named Martin.  He had been biking around China for the last year, just going back and forth across the Middle Kingdom.

My minibus came, err..van, and I climbed into the front row, which I semi-uncomfortably shared with a nice but rotund fellow.  We sped off into the black night, and through hairpin mountain passes and potholes that could swallow a VW beetle.  Sleep in a moving vehicle is never good, and this was no exception.  The fellow next to me took his half out of my space as well, and there were a few times I had to give him a good, sleepy shove.  Thankfully, I think that 12 hour ride will be my last long journey for a good, long while.

I arrived into the port city of Dumai early in the morning.  I made arrangements through the company to get my ferry ticket, and in the end, even had enough for breakfast.  My final meal in Indonesia was a beaut.  Lontoc, which is spicy coconut milk soup with boiled egg, glutinous rice cubes, noodles and other assorted crunchies and chewies.  Washed down with a cup of kopi susu- coffee with condensed milk.  Breakfast of Indonesian champions.

The ferry was nice if uneventful.  I was always more interested in the symbolic value of crossing the Strait of Malacca- one of the most important straits in the world, then for its scenery.  The thing I thought was funny was when I was in the line for customs, I was in the middle line for foreigners.  The line to my left was for Malaysians, and the line to my right was for Indonesians, and they look identical.

I found an ok place to stay with wifi, although I chose a dungeon of a place with wifi over a really nice guest house with gardens without wifi and a charge for internet usage, and I am debating switching.  I am also finding the diversity of Malaysia, which combines the Malay population with both Chinese and South Indians.  Malaysia already feels vastly more diverse than Indonesia (although Indonesia has its own kind of tribal diversity).  The two heavyweights of the region also contribute heavily to Malaysian cuisine.  It is nice finding old Chinese favorites like Peking Duck (lunch) and old South Indian favorites like dhal and okra with fluffy rice (dinner) on top of the Indo-Malay fair.  The Indian waiter smiled from ear-to-ear as I scoffed at the spoon and fork he brought me as I was already sifting through the rice with my hand.

Visiting Malaysia feels like it is also closing chapter that was begun ten years on a visit out to the region with my grandparents.  That trip, literally ten years ago right now, sparked my interest in Southeast Asia and has brought me back again and again.  I visited Malaysia ten years ago, but only on a brief stop from Singapore in Johor Bahru for some ikan bakar (barbecued chili fish).  I remember being so surprised to see a Starbucks in the Muslim world, and to see Malaysian girls in head-scarves sipping frappuchinos.  Perhaps that moment had some caffeinated effect on making me feel comfortable enough with the Muslim world to study in Morocco- a decision that vastly opened my horizons.  Otherwise, I'm enjoying swimming through memories of that trip, it is nice to spend time again with my grandmother even if only in my supple subconscious.

Fascinating articles on: "the new world order"; death penality; A Wedding in the Caucuses

Great piece in FP on how the world became multipolar.

Great piece by Bob Herbert on why the death penalty needs to be abolished.

Great piece by Dana Milbank on the best cable to come out of Wikileaks, "A Caucus Wedding"

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What the World Costs- Indonesia

500 rupiah ($.06): a single mentos candy; one piece of deep-fried tempe
1,000 rupiah ($.11): student ticket to Jakarta museum; ten minutes internet in Bali; a bag of tofu and chillies
1,500 rupiah ($.17): cup of green tea in Bandung
2,000 rupiah ($.22): cup of cafe bali on the street; slice of watermelon or papaya from street vendors
3,000 rupiah ($.33): 1.5 liters of water; transyogya bus service
3,500 rupiah ($.39): transjakarta bus service; elevator to the top of Manas tower
4,500 rupaih ($.50): deep-fried tofu; student ticket to the Indonesian National Museum
5,000 rupiah ($.56): nasi goreng (fried rice) in Jakarta; sweet rice breakfast in Ubud; 3in1 nescafe
6,000 rupiah ($.69): babak ayam (chicken soup) in Jakarta
7,000 rupiah ($.78): fresh-squeezed oj; mango smoothie
8,00 rupiah ($.89): a shave at a barber shop
9,000 rupiah ($1.00): udap udap (Balinese noodles); 1 hr train from Solo to Yogja
10,000 rupiah ($1.11): the best chicken soup with rice in Jakarta; entrance to Kebun Raya botanical garden
11,000 rupiah ($1.22): martabak in Yogya
12,000 rupiah ($1.33): chicken sate with thick peanut sauce and rice; stupidity tax for 2hr bus from Probolingo to Malang
15,000 rupiah ($1.67): mie goreng (fried noodles) in Kuta
16,400 rupiah ($1.83): 250ml bottle of listerine
17,000 rupiah ($1.89): fish in yellow curry, spinach and rice in Jakarta
20,000 rupiah ($2.23): matinée movie ticket; ticket to see monkey sanctuary in Ubud; 1 hr bemo (minibus) to Ubud
22,000 rupiah ($2.45): banana split in Jakarta
25,000 rupiah ($2.79): large bottle of Bintang beer in a corner store; arak and pineapple in Kuta (2 for 1 happy hour)
27,000 rupiah ($3.01): large bottle of Bintang beer in a restaurant
32,000 rupiah ($3.57): tenderloin steak, potato wedges and veggies for thanksgiving dinner
34,000 rupiah ($3.79): halal Big mac, fries and a coke
35,000 rupiah ($3.90): half a double room with breakfast in Yogya; dorm in Jakarta
40,000 rupiah ($4.46): per person for a double room at Nick's hostel in Jakarta; 3 hr bus Bogor to Bandung
50,000 rupiah ($5.57): 2 for 1 vodka tonics in Kuta; single room w/ bathroom and cold shower in Ubud
55,000 rupiah ($6.13): room with fan in Solo
60,000 rupiah ($6.69): single room in Jakarta, no bathroom
70,000 rupiah ($7.80): single room w/ bathroom in Kuta (Bali)
75,000 rupiah ($8.36): capirinhas at nice bar in Jakarta; room in Bogor, no bathroom
105,000 rupiah ($11.70): new copy of "A Prayer for Owen Meany" by John Irving in Bandung
120,000 rupiah ($13.37): 12 hour bus from Denpasar to Probolingo
130,000 rupiah ($14.49): 10 hr "bisnis" train from Yogya to Jakarta
150,000 rupiah ($16.72): cup of kopi luwak (civet shit coffee); 16 hr bus Bandung to Surabaya; 12 hr bus Surabaya to Denpasar
230,000 rupiah ($25.63): 54 hr bus from Jakarta to Bukittinggi
270,000 rupiah ($30.09): fast ferry from Dumai to Malacca, Malaysia
373,000 rupiah ($41.57): flight from Medan to Penang, Malaysia (Aka possible stupidity tax)

Ending the Indonesia Chapter

The trip to Bukittinggi took a bit out of me and I have been doing preciously little these last few days, save looking for fellowships and jobbies (what a concept!).  I have been holed up in the lovely Turret Cafe, drinking masala chai as the plumes of smoke of spiced clove swirl about.  The friendly German owner of my guesthouse, Hotel Rajawali recommended that rather than travel during the day to the port of Dumai, I should take a night bus and spend the day in the market.  I took his advice and got a shave, snapped pics of the locals and chatted with the market vendors.

I leave tonight on a 12 hour bus to the port of Dumai to catch a fast ferry across the Straits of Malacca.  This was how I had wanted to leave Indonesia originally, but their requirement for an onward flight has me possibly paying a stupidity tax on a flight out from Medan in the north of Sumatra.  I didn't have the time or strength to take another 2 day bus to catch a flight I didn't want in the first place. And also have to pay a $15 airport tax (Indonesia hits you coming and going).  Hopefully the travel insurance will work out.

So I am closing the second chapter of the tradewinds tale.  I can't that I fully loved Indonesia, but I did really like it.  Indonesia got off to a rocky start on account of me being sick, then being in the horrendous Kuta in Bali (Bali Haters Club!).  But I will admit, I have come to appreciate this place.  The Indonesian people are warm, friendly and engaging.  I don't know what it was like to travel here during the Bush years, but Obama has been a godsend for American public diplomacy in Indonesia.  I can't count all the smiles I received for answering the question of where I am from with the simple answer: Obama.  And unlike the Philippines, where people speak English, teens were always coming up to practice their English, which was a lot of fun for the banter that ensued.

The easy-going Indonesian brand of Islam is refreshing, and I felt no worries when telling people that I am "Bani Yacub."  Since the vast majority of Indonesians have never met a Jew, they were always so curious about who we are and what we believe.  I feel I did a good job representing my tribe around these parts- a bit of Jewish public diplomacy in the Muslim world is my specialty. Especially because I speak more Arabic than most Indonesians and can sprinkle my vocab with Muslim phraseology.

In the end, I also saw only three islands (Java, Bali and Sumatra), which leaves another 1,697 left to visit.  As for now, on to Malacca.  Journey on.

Il respona de Don Pablo

To respond to those who took issue with my post comparing Americans to North Koreans, the point was not to chide Americans struggling to get by to drop their busy lives and start gallivanting abroad, nor as it was ridiculously labeled some form of “class warfare.”  The point was to say that because Americans don’t get out, they have no idea how far behind we have fallen.  

There isn’t a city in America that could compete with the infrastructure of Taipei or Singapore.  There is no high-speed rail that so many other countries now take for granted.  Nowhere in America can you find elite broadband service that is ubiquitous in so many other places. 

And if the American social welfare and education systems are keeping Americans back rather than letting them live more productive and fulfilling lives, then maybe it’s time we stop resorting to the same old bromides that we are “the greatest,” and start looking and listening to what the rest of the world is doing right.  Blindly and blandly harping that we are “the greatest” doesn’t move the ball forward.

PS: I see that I tripped over a larger fight over American exceptionalism that is apparently raging.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The digital family

How the modern family celebrates the holidays...

God is great; your singing sucks

I'm usually not one to wake by the 4:30am call to prayer. I have lived next to mosques, and didn't even stir. But last night, a mosque down the hill from my guest house started blaring the call to prayer extra loud at the pre-dawn prayer time. Fine, it should pass. No, they decided to continue with a prayer rock-around-the-clock, blasting monotone prayers and tone deaf songs. I finally had the sense to put some headphones on and fell back to sleep. I was reawakened at 7am by the continual songs and prayers, this time by the sunday school kiddie class. Warbly tone deaf kiddies screaming their songs and prayers into the loudspeaker. God is indeed great, but your singing is atrocious. I was so annoyed. I have a deep, abiding respect for Islam and can appreciate the early call to prayer, but it is supremely disrespectful to the neighborhood to carry on in such a manner. Thankfully, this is the only time I have ever encountered anything like this.

Of Blessed Memory

A teacher and friend I made in Prague recently passed away. Jan Weiner was an amazing man, he escaped from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and flew planes in the British Air Force. Rather than receiving a hero's welcome on return, the communists that took over Czechoslovakia saw him as a threat and imprisoned him for five years. Read a little bit about his life here.

New pics up: Prambanan; the ride through Java; Bukittinggi

From Prambanan (Yogya)

From Ride from Yogya to Jakarta

From Bukittinggi

Friday, November 26, 2010

Afterglow

Afterglow by Borges from Poems of the Night:

The sunset is always moving
however gaudy or impoverished it is,
but even more moving
is the last, desperate glow
turning the plain rust colored
once the sun has at last gone down.
It hurts us to bear that strange, expanded light,
that hallucination infusing space
with unanimous fear of the dark,
which suddenly ends
when we realize it is an illusion,
as dreams end
when it dawns on us we're dreaming.

Food for thought

A great oped by my friend and Brandeisian arch-nemesis Jocelyn on why we are what we eat.

KLAX Fly-in

I heard from my friend Jaime that the airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia has a movie theater in it.  He said he had heard it but couldn't confirm if it is true.  Anyone is welcome to confirm or deny.  Whether or not it really has one doesn't matter, it is an absolutely brilliant idea.  Put a cinema (a "fly-in"?) in the airport to let those who have ungodly layovers watch a flick to pass the time.  What he could confirm is that the KL airport offers is a free city tour offered to anyone with a layover of 8 hours or more.  Another brilliant idea.

Bukittinggi

In recovering from my unenviable journey, I have been doing preciously little in Bukittinggi. This is a nice and pleasant town with cool weather and an easygoing style. I met my neighbor in my guesthouse, an Irishman named Jamie and we quickly bonded over stories of the road. He is an engaging fellow who has been on the road for nearly a year and is headed on to Australia to do some work.  Such thoughts have been looming large in my own head.

We grabbed some nasi goreng in the market then headed up to the main attraction in Bukittinggi, an old Dutch fort on a hilltop called Fort DeKock. At least there used to be a fort up on top of the hill that the Dutch built in 1825 to keep an eye from above on the locals. Today, it was just a hill with some benches and a large empty building whose fire escape we climbed up to get a blocked view of the valley below. We crossed the foot bridge over to a meager zoo with some baby kangaroos and elephants and headed into a little museum. The museum had little to see, save for some mutant goats. They had a collection of two-headed, eight-legged goats that had since been stuffed. Freakishly awesome creatures, well worth the 1,000 rupiah (11 cents) price of admission.

That proved to be enough tourist activity for the day and we retreated back to our garden patio on the roof of the guesthouse for an afternoon of Bintang beers.  We were later joined by new arrivals, Phil from England and Francesca from Italy.  Seems that everyone arrives to Bukittinggi a bit bleary eyed and shell-shocked from the road.  Bukittinggi is the seemingly most common stopping point in the massive isle of Sumatra and the usual conversation begins "so how many hours did it take for you to get here."  Phil and Francesca had also been working in Australia, picking broccoli and potatoes.  When discussing the prospects of working in Australia, I imperiously said that "I have a Masters degree, I don't want to pick potatoes."  To which Phil responded that he had a Masters degree as well, in Math, and proceeded to discuss the Fibonacci sequence he found in the eyes of the potatoes he was picking.  That gave my vanity a nice and well-deserved shot to the face.  I laughed at the prospect of him staring intently at a potato, working out the integer of eyes, while some Aussie in a tractor was telling him to get back to picking.  We then started laughing about how we could make money marketing "Fibonacci Potatoes" as "nature's most perfect potato."

Another traveler, a Frenchwoman named Jackie joined us on the roof a bit.  She had also just come in, and was in a similar state.  She wasn't staying at our hovel, but rather the nice hotel across the street; she happened to peer out her balcony and spied white faces, which were the first she had seen since arriving to Indonesia, and she was desperate to chat.

The rest of the day and night passed tranquilly and I have decided to spend another day doing bless-fully little in Bukittinggi, which in reality translates to actually doing real work at my computer all day rather than be on the move.  Plus, I need to spend at least 54 hours here to make the cost-benefit even out.

On getting out

Most Americans think their country is the greatest in the world; most North Koreans feel the same way about their country. Like most North Koreans, most Americans never leave their own country.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Turkey Day

With no turkey to be found, I opted for a steak and potato wedges; with no pumpkin pie to be found, I opted for durian.

Visa Ammends

With 54 hours to ponder, I came up with a solution to the visa racket that the US Embassies are running.  As it stands, visa applicants have to pay over $100 to simply apply for the visa, and the money is not returned if they are turned down.  I can attest that a hundred bucks is no small sum in most of the world.  It would feel like less of a shakedown if the US Embassies returned at least half of the unsuccessful applicant's visa application costs.  Smart consular PD that will help those unsuccessful not feel like they have have their lunch money stolen.

On Indonesia and Pakistan

Traveling through Indonesia, I can't but help think of Pakistan. Indonesia, I feel, is closer to what Jinnah had in mind for Pakistan. A country of Muslims with Islam as the core fabric of society but not an Islamic state. Jinnah stated in his 1947 policy speech on the character of Pakistan:
Now, if we want to make this great State of Pakistan happy and prosperous, we should wholly and solely concentrate on the well-being of the people, and especially of the masses and the poor. If you will work in co-operation, forgetting the past, burying the hatchet, you are bound to succeed. If you change your past and work together in a spirit that everyone of you, no matter to what community he belongs, no matter what relations he had with you in the past, no matter what is his colour, caste or creed, is first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights, privileges, and obligations, there will be no end to the progress you will make. I cannot emphasize it too much. We should begin to work in that spirit and in course of time all these angularities of the majority and minority communities, the Hindu community and the Muslim community, because even as regards Muslims you have Pathans, Punjabis, Shias, Sunnis and so on, and among the Hindus you have Brahmins, Vashnavas, Khatris, also Bengalis, Madrasis and so on, will vanish. Indeed if you ask me, this has been the biggest hindrance in the way of India to attain the freedom and independence and but for this we would have been free people long long ago. No power can hold another nation, and specially a nation of 400 million souls in subjection; nobody could have conquered you, and even if it had happened, nobody could have continued its hold on you for any length of time, but for this. Therefore, we must learn a lesson from this. You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State.
Jinnah would be shocked at what his Pakistan has become. If ever there was a Frankenstein and his monster discussion that I would like to see.

There are plenty of similarities between the two states. Both went through various periods of martial law, with fragile returns to democracy. Both fashioned themselves as bulwarks against communism in their regions. Both have had to deal with powerful separatist movements (See: Pakistan, See: Aceh, South Moluccas, Papua), both have brutally crushed the insurgencies.  Both have held tacit, albeit quiet, ties with Israel (See: my article on Pakistan-Israel ties; see Israel-Indonesia ties).

I feel some similarities here. The secular nature of vast portions of society and the warmth of the populace.  I feel like Indonesia is quite similar to the Pakistan I got to see firsthand, the Pakistan that doesn't make the news.  I find it sad that Pakistan is toxic in public diplomacy terms while the majority of its society is closer to that of Indonesia.  I feel like Pakistan could do some wonderful cultural diplomacy with Junoon concerts and events here in supermusical Indonesia; Pakistanis would probably like Indonesia's inel music that mixes subcontinent and middle east with its own easy Southeast Asian style.  Both would probably dig each other's gastrodiplomacy, and they could swap cloves for bidis when done with the meal.

There are also some major differences.  Indonesia never has had to deal with existential identity ideas like Pakistan.  And while Indonesia had issues with its neighbor Malaysia, it has had enough sense to let things cool over the years.  Pakistan has also stoked its Islamist elements in ways that Indonesia has never dared; as such, Pakistan find itself repeatedly burned by such fires that Indonesia has stayed away from.  Also, Indonesia's security services are nowhere near as omnipresent or ominous as Pakistan's ISI.  There was also an undercurrent of unrest I found in Pakistan (Bedsheet Diplomacy, The Atif Riots, my run-ins with the security service in Multan) that just aren't here in Indonesia.

For now, I will keep examining.

Karma Sumatra

The title can mean many things in the context of recent days.  It could be in reference to the way Sumatra screwed me, as I will explain.  Or it can mean the way karma helped smooth my unenviable journey.  I began my long journey on tuesday morning, rising early and heading on a public bus to the bus station across town.  Life is kinda like a Jakarta public bus: crowded, dirty and full of people filling it with noxious smoke; it barely slows down for you to get on or off, yet you keep on trucking.  On the bus, I chatted with a few nice fellows- one of whom was a religious Muslim, who blessed me for my journey after I played him some Yusuf Islam-nee Cat Stevens.

In a grey and miserable Jakarta day that was overcast and outcast, I got to the bus station and found my way over to the Sumatra area.  I could hardly call it a terminal but there were at least a few buses headed north.  I made sure to buy my ticket on the bus, from the company and not a tout or ticket agent as that will increase the price a lot.   I hadn't planned to go that far cause I had considered going to Bandarlampung to try to see Krakatoa, but it seemed rather expensive to visit so I decided to head on further.  I spoke with the woman on the bus, who told me there was no bus to Bukittinggi or Padang, where I wanted to go, but the bus went to Solok nearby.  She said it would arrive the following morning.  That was in-line with what my guide book said, so I bargained a bit and plunked down my rupiah for a ticket to ride.  It was my last rupiah save about 25,000 rupiah (a little less than $3), but I figured enough to get me some meals along the way until the following afternoon.  We left not too much after 11am on an "executif" bus, if ever there was a misnomer.
"But your thoughts will soon be wandering
The way they always do
When you're ridin' sixteen hours
And there's nothin' much to do
And you don't feel much like ridin',
You just wish the trip was through

Here I am
On the road again
There I am
Up on the stage
Here I go
Playin' star again
There I go
Turn the page"
-Bob Seeger, Turn the Page
We proceeded to drive all around Jakarta, picking up parcels and packages.  Fine, I was in no rush.  Then we got stuck in Jakarta traffic.  Seeing the lines of flags for the Golkar Party, I was reminded of the power that Suaharto held, and the sway his party still hold.  It took us 3 hours in total to get out of Jakarta, and almost 9 hours to get to the Java port heading across the Sumatran Straits. It was around the time we were crossing the straits and I was chatting with the driver when i found out that the bus didn't really go to Solok as my ticket said.  I also found out that it wouldn't be a day but far longer. 

"You may ask yourself
Where does that highway lead to?
You may ask yourself
Am I right?... Am I wrong?
You may say to yourself
My God!... what have I done?

Letting the days go by/let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/water flowing underground
Into the blue again/after the money's gone
Once in a lifetime/water flowing underground

Into the blue again/into the silent water
Under the rocks and stones/there is water underground
Letting the days go by/into the silent water
Once in a lifetime/water flowing underground

Same as it ever was... Same as it ever was..."
-Talking Heads, "Once in a Lifetime"
I sat out on the deck of the ferry  The moon was hanging low and full over Java as we puttered away.  People were friendly, and a nice family adopted me and let me sleep on their mat on the deck of the ship.  A kid tossed a bottle over the side, and I threatened him that he would be next if he did it again. 

We continued on in the bus, driving through the long night.  I awoke to the vastness of Sumatra.  I hadn't realized that Sumatra is 4 times bigger than Java, and is the 6th largest island in the world.  Sumatra is lush, vast and empty.  We drove on, down the trans-Sumatran highway, which is also a misnomer, as it was barely a two-lane road with an occasional pothole big enough to swallow a goat.  I was a little worried as I had no money to eat for the coming day, but as always, trusty Sancho Harranza was there in a pinch.  I raided the money I had stashed away for Harry and was flush with another 12,000 rupiah ($1.33), which seemed just enough to keep my hydrated and eating.  Meanwhile, the executive airconditioned bus was filled with smoke from people puffing away in the closed air cabin.  Grand. 

Everytime I have been ready to write Indonesia off, it redeems itself.  The bus crew knew I was broke as they had seen me trying to find an ATM to no avail.  We stopped for dinner on the road and they were kind enough to invite me over for a free meal.  I ate fried chicken, grilled eggplants in chili and lots of rice, and sipped a super-sweet strawberry fanta in condensed milk.  I was extremely touched by the gesture and thanked them profusely.  They were touched as I blessed them in Arabic to show my gratitude.

And the ride continued on.  At about 3am, they woke me to switch buses to another bus that was going to Bukittinggi, where I wanted to head.  I slept about as comfortably as I could on the bus and woke up the next morning to blaring Indonesian music.  I scrapped my last rupiah together for a filling brunch of nasi tellor, a boiled egg covered in curry with curry rice and some kind of leafy green that resembles spinach but isn't.  The bus continued on as I felt more and more gross as the time continued on.  I passed my second day on the bus, breaking a record for me.  We continued on until I finally arrived at my destination.  An ungodly 54 hours on the bus, breaking my old record of 40 hours.  This came on top of a ten-hour train journey from Yogya to Jakarta the previous day, amounting to 64 of the last 72 hours in transit.  I have earned a thanksgiving break from travel.  I can tell you, no place in the world is worth traveling 54 hours on a bus, and Bukittinggi is surely no exception; however, I would gladly sit on a bus for 54 hours if it meant I could be home with my family for thanksgiving tonight.  Alas, all I can offer is my thanksgiving benediction:

To all those who have blessed me and kept me, fed me and guided me,
To those through whose kindness I have seen God's countenance upon me,
To those who have been gracious on to me and have granted me peace,
I offer my heartfelt thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Owen Meany on the Future

"IS THIS COUNTRY JUST SO HUGE THAT IT NEEDS TO OVERSIMPLIFY EVERYTHING? LOOK AT THE WAR: EITHER WE HAVE A STRATEGY TO ‘WIN IT,’ WHICH MAKES US—IN THE WORLD’S VIEW—MURDERERS; OR ELSE WE ARE DYING, WITHOUT FIGHTING TO WIN. LOOK AT WHAT WE CALL ‘FOREIGN POLICY’: OUR ‘FOREIGN POLICY’ IS A EUPHAMISM FOR PUBLIC RELATIONS, AND OUT PUBLIC RELATIONS GETS WORSE AND WORSE. WE’RE BEING DEFEATED AND WE ARE NOT GOOD LOSERS.
“AND LOOK AT WHAT WE CALL ‘RELIGION’; TURN ON ANY TELEVISION ON SUNDAY MORNING! SEE THE CHOIRS OF THE POOR AND UNEDUCATED—AND THESE TERRIBLE PREACHERS, SELLING OLD JESUS-STORIES LIKE JUNK FOOD. SOON THERE’LL BE AN EVANGELIST IN THE WHITE HOUSE; SOON THERE’LL BE A CARDINAL ON THE SUPREME COURT. ONE DAY THERE WILL COME AN EPIDEMIC-I’LL BET ON SOME HUMDINGER OF A SEXUAL DISEASE. AND WHAT WHILL OUR PEERLESS LEADERS, OUR HEADS OF CHURCH AND STATE…WHAT WILL THEY SAY TO US? HOW WILL THEY HELP US? YOU CAN BE SURE THEY WON’T CURE US—BUT HOW WILL THEY COMFORT US? JUST TURN ON THE TV—AND HERE’S WHAT OUR PEERLESS LEADERS, OUR HEADS OF CHURCH AND STATE WIILL SAY: THEY’LL SAY ‘I TOLD YOU SO!’ THEY’LL SAY, ‘THAT’S WHAT YOU GET FOR FUCKING AROUND—I TOLD YOU NOT TO DO IT UNTIL YOU GOT MARRIED.’ DOESN’T ANYONE SEE WHAT THESE SIMPLETONS ARE UP TO? THESE SELF-RIGHTEOUS FANATICS ARE NOT ‘RELIGIOUS’—THEIR HOMELY WISDOM IS NOT ‘MORALITY.’
‘THAT IS WHERE THIS COUNTRY IS HEADED—IT IS HEADED TOWARD OVERSIMPLIFICATION. YOU WANT TO SEE A PRESIDENT OF THE FUTURE? TURN ON ANY TELEVISION ON ANY SUNDAY MORNING—FIND ONE OF THOSE HOLY ROLLERS: THAT’S HIM, THAT’S THE NEW MISTER PRESIDENT! AND DO YOU WANT TO SEE THE FUTURE OF ALL THOSE KIDS WHO ARE GOING TO FALL IN THE CRACKS OF THIS GREAT SOCIETY OF OUTS? I JUST MET HIM; HE’S A TALL, SKINNY, FIFTEEN-YEAR-OLD BOY NAMED ‘DICK.’ HE’S PRETTY SCARY. WHAT’S WRONG WITH HIM IS NOT UNLIKE WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE TV EVANGELIST—OUR FUTURE PRESIDENT. WHAT’S WRONG WITH BOTH OF THEM IS THAT THEY’RE SO SURE THEY’RE RIGHT! THAT’S PRETTY SCARY—THE FUTURE, I THINK, IS PRETTY SCARY.”
-John Irving, "A Prayer for Owen Meany"

Monday, November 22, 2010

Indonesian tolerance

As I sit in a cafe in Jakarta, speaking with an Indonesian Christian and Muslim about how we are all children of God, I find an article on a Jewish community in Indonesia.

Prambanan; No Country for Old Men

I went with Jess to the other major temple in Yogya, a hindu complex called Prambanan. We hopped the transYogya bus down to the complex, which was 17km from the city center. Before heading over, we wandered through the market, passing piles of fiery chili peppers and other assorted greens. I already wrote about the deep-fried tofu we found, which was delicious. There was also a strange case of yellow, green, orange and pink chicks. Not sure how they dyed the little birds to be such vibrant colors, but they looked like peeps.

The entry to Prambanan was $13US or $7 with a student. Jess didn't have her student card, so she passed on the temple complex. I went on to see the giant old Hindu temple. The structure was rather interesting. It was built in the 9th century, only to be abandoned shortly thereafter. It lay lost and forgotten until Raffles reign. The temples were rather beautiful. Dark and forebodding.  I wandered through the complex and in and out of temples, taking in the old statues of the Hindu deities.  I wandered around the complex and was joined by an adorable 18 year old Indonesian girl named Ananta, who sheepishly approached me to practice her English.  We chatted as I climbed through a temple dedicated to Shiva.

On my transYogya bus back, I met a fellow named Daniel. Daniel is a Christian Indonesian who had studied English in the UK.  He had been trying to get a visa to study in the US, but in the infinite wisdom of the US Embassy, they kept denying him a visa.  Dumb.  Just cause people are from Indonesia doesn't make them threats.  And the annoying thing is that when you apply for a visa, you have to pay, irregardless of whether you get the visa.  It is a terrible measure of public diplomacy to shake down visa seekers for money and not offer anything.  It is a sad racket that the US is running.

Anywho, I bumped back into Jess on the bus back in and we headed back to the hostel.  We met some other Americans traveling, and sat out for sate and beers as we discussed why there are so few of us Americans abroad.  On the streets, music concerts continued as a means of raising money for those affected by Merapi.  It was quite heartening to see the way people came together on a local level to support those affected.  Every night there were various concerts in the streets to raise money for those displaced by the volcano.

Jess and I hopped the morning train back to Jakarta.  The 8 hour "bisnis" class train that was a joke to be labeled as such.    Rice paddies stretching on in little plots, reflecting the the world above. The vendors on the train melodiously announced their wares: nasi, nasi, nasi (rice), kopi, kopi, kopi (coffee); I mimicked on my route up the aisle: obama, obama, obama. I also giggled at the vendors selling "pop mie," noodle soup, because Thomas told me that in German that means "f-ck me."  I read No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy as we hunkered past endless fields of green verdance.  I had hated the movie, but after reading The Road, I figured it would be better than the film.  It was.  The redemption of No Country.  A very dark but engaging story.  I read the whole thing on the journey while the 8 hour train turned 10 hours as we stopped at endless ports of call.

We returned to Jakarta, and hopped a superfull transJakarta bus to the Gambir station, where Jess caught a bus to the airport and I bade farewell to my first platonic female traveling compatriot.  I settled into Jakarta for a night's sojourn and found some wonderful Lebanese food.  A welcome bit of chickpea decadence.  Now, I head on to Sumatra on more endless transit.

E-Bar Mitzvah

Brilliant piece on brilliant tutoring for Bar Mitzvahs online. Toda Harry. Reminds me of my recommendations to Taiwan to offer mandarin tutoring and classes online, rather than try to compete with the Confucius Institutes.

Owen Meany on Americans paying attention

“THE ONLY WAY YOU CAN GET AMERICANS TO NOTICE ANYTHING IS TO TAX THEM OR DRAFT THEM OR KILL THEM,” Owen said. He said that once— when Hester proposed abolishing the draft. “IF YOU ABOLISH THE DRAFT,” said Owen Meany, “MOST AMERICANS WILL SIMPLY STOP CARING ABOUT WHAT WE’RE DOING IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD.”
-John Irving, "A Prayer for Owen Meany"

Drifters Quote IV

Men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty billows of the sea, the long course of rivers, the vast compass of the ocean, and the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass themselves by. -St. Augustine from James Michener's The Drifters

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Valhalla

"The world is a ghetto."
-K-os, "Valhalla"

New Pics up: Bromo, Solo/Yogya, Glimpses of Borobudur

From Valley of the Moon (Mt. Bromo)

From Mt Bromo at sunrise

From Solo/Yogya

From Glimpses of Borobudur

On Memory

"Your memory is a monster; you forget—it doesn’t. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you—and summons them to your recall with a will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you!"
-John Irving, "A Prayer for Owen Meany"

what we carry, what we take

‎"For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain that we can carry nothing out."
-1 Timothy 6:7

KFT

Favorite food of the day: deep-fried tofu. Think tofu fried like chicken. Crispy on the outside, tofu squishy on the inside. Served with a little chili sauce, KFT could be a Indo gastrodiplo hit.

Drifters Quote III

A man who leaves home to mend himself and others is a philosopher; but he who goes from country to country guided by blind impulses of curiosity is only a vagabond. -Oliver Goldsmith, from James Michener's The Drifters

Saturday, November 20, 2010

A prayer for humanity

"I will tell you my overriding perception of the last twenty years: that we are a civilization careening toward a succession of anticlimaxes- toward an infinity of unsatisfying and disagreeable endings." John Irving, "A Prayer for Owen Meany", written 23 years prior.

Kraton Barrel; A world gone grey; Borabudur

I went with my friend Jess through Yogya to see the kraton (palace) of the sultanate.  It was even more mediocre than the one in Solo, which didn't seem possible.  We also wandered through Taman Sari water castle, which a sultan had built as his pleasure palace.  It was a series of canals and pools that the sultan had built for his concubines.  The grateful sultan then had the Portuguese architect killed for his handiwork to protect the secret passage ways.  Job well done, thanks. There was a main pool for the concubines to bathe and a tower above for the sultan to watch.  From the tower, he would drop a flower down to the concubine he wanted.  She would then join him in the private pool.  Such water fun led to 83 children for the potentate.  The water palace was also less than stellar.

Nothing much more for the day, other than frustrations with Air Asia, which has the least customer-friendly policy toward flight changes.  You can't, and they suck.  We met up with our friends Thomas and Caro (thebestworldtrip) for dinner on the side of the road.  There are a lot of interesting places to eat in Yogya.  Restaurants on the sidewalk that consist of wall tarps and tables on the ground with carpets to sit on.  I had the local specialty nasi gudeg, which is chicken soaked in coconut milk then barbecued, served with rice, unripe jackfruit stew and a preserved egg (hopefully no horse pee). While we were having dinner, an itinerant guitarista came by and started playing "Country Roads" by John Denver.  Country roads, take me home, to the place I belong, I sang.  Almost heaven.  I gave a nice tip and a huge smile.

We meandered about and I had a fantastic dessert of a talun barag, basically a round fluffy pancake slathered in butter and folded in half after filled with drizzled chocolate sauce, ground peanuts and chocolate sprinkles.  Yum.  After, we found an awesome rock concert in the street for Merapi relief.  The band rocked, with a cool singer, personable guitarist and an electric violin.  Kind of a light punk rock, and the concert was literally in traffic.

Thomas and Caro had been to the government tourist office, which told them that Borabudur was basically re-opened, but you simply couldn't go to the top of the of the temple as it was still being cleaned of volcanic ash.  We hopped a transYogya bus to a bus station, then another bus to Borabudur.

The bus ride out was eerie, through a world gone grey with volcanic ash.  All along the road were piles of black sooty ash or grey powder.  It looked like a grey winter wonderland of volcanic ash.  All the palm trees around were dead, and hanging low like green folded umbrellas.

We arrived to the Borobudur area, and walked through the powdered streets to the site.  We walked to the ticket office.  The ticket seller said we could see the temple, but we could go up.  Fine, we finagled some discounts on the tickets and walked through the park to the temple gate below the complex.

Except when we got there, security wouldn't even let us up to see it.  We pointed out that we had bought tickets, and if we weren't allowed to see it, why were the tickets sold?  The security said that the ticket sellers were a private company, while the temple was government property, and that the tickets were only good for the park around.  As we were standing there, we saw younger people walking around the complex, and asked why they were allowed up.  Security replied that they were volunteer who were cleaning it.  These were just kids walking about, and so we offered to go clean.  Still no dice.  Then a camera crew walked down.  I asked if they were cleaning the site with their tripod.  Ah, but that it is the media.  It was a lot of BS, we could see the "volunteer clean up crew" sitting around smoking cloves.  We asked to speak to the security boss.  He came down and we tried to reason some more, pointing out what the government tourist office had told us, as well as the ticket office.  We just asked to walk up and see it from outside, since we hadn't been able to really see it.  I kept negotiating but we were not getting anywhere.  The security boss was chatting on his walkie-talkie, and told us to go back to the ticket office to get our money back.

We walked back to the ticket office and explained that they wouldn't let us up.  The office tried to say that they only sold tickets to the park and not the site.  We were having nothing to do with it.  I kept negotiating, explaining that we hadn't seen anything and that the security said to come back to get our money back.  They were stonewalling us, so we started warning all the incoming tourists about the crock that it was.  I continued playing ambassador and finally got the head of the ticket office to come with me to talk to the security boss.  We got up to the security office and I explained what the security boss had said.  He promptly tried to backtrack and say that he said to go to the office to complain and ask for a refund.  I balked at this and said "Your exact words were 'go to the office and you can have a refund'"  I pointed out that this took place after he was on the walkie-talkie, so we only left the first time because of his words and we thought he had fixed the issue.  He tried to say he didn't say we could get a refund, to which I replied "these were your exact words, if I am lying, then say so."  He wouldn't and finally after much calm negotiating, I got them to fork back our refund.  Lots of BS, but I cut through it patiently and calmly and with a lot of PD (I understand your problem, I am listening to you; I am asking you to listen to me and understand our problem) until I got back what was ours.

In the end, if they had just dealt with us straight-up, they would have lost less business because not only did they refund out tickets but they also lost out on all the others we warned in the process.  I ultimately ended up on top because a worker cleaning the place wanted my foakley sunglasses I bought in Boracay.  I offered to trade for his hat, which he did, so now I have a cool blue and white Fiat-Yamaha racing team hat and a great souvenir from the day.

We took sweaty buses back to Yogya, and as we waited for the transYogya bus, I danced for a good cause to some inel music at a concert in the bus station for Merapi.  Inel music is a combination of Arabic, Indian and Javanese music.  I caused a bit of a scene dancing with the lady singer (I wasn't the only one doing it, just the only farang), the Indonesians in the station  laughed and loved it.  Inel could be great indo cultural diplo for India and the Middle East.  It has a familiar sound but a different, lighter and more island take on the classical Arabic and Indian sounds.

The afternoon ended with some comfort food at McDonalds.  A halal big mac, fries and a coke, with chili sauce for the fries.  I'm lovin' it.  Sometimes you just need to know that you will get exactly what you expect for what you pay for.

Drifters quotes II

When I’m lonely, dear white heart,
Black the night or wild the sea,
By love’s light my foot finds
The old pathway to thee.
-"Eriskay love lilt" from James Michener's The Drifters

Friday, November 19, 2010

On Indonesians

I am finding the people in Indonesia to be quite interesting.  I am speaking in broad generalities here as there are hundreds of different types of people here.  The people are a little more short and squat than the Filipinos.  The facial structure is a little more round and with protruding cheekbones.  Eyes more often oval than almond asiatic.  Some have really interesting round ears that come very far out in and away from their heads.

Many women wear veils of pastel color (pink and green seem to be most popular) with decorative embroideries or decorative clips and often with a more rigid brim on the front of the veil; I have seen very few in the full death-out-on-a-stroll motif.  I had heard the girls were really beautiful, someone had mentioned he considered Indonesian girls to be some of the hottest on the planet.  I haven't been overly impressed, but still some are rather beautiful.

There is a very musical culture here- more of the guitar strumming and singing variety than the Filipino crooning and karoke.  More of a rock variety and less cheesy pop.  People are friendly and pretty warm- not as much as the Philippines but still on the higher end.  Also, I like how no one calls me "Sir" but rather "Mista" or "Boss".  English is far less commonly spoken here compared to the Philippines, but it isn't an accurate comparison given that English was a colonial language and remains a national language.

Indonesia seems to be a slightly more affluent society than the Philippines.  Still rather poor, but much more actual houses in Java than bamboo huts like which I saw in the Philippines.  Jakarta didn't have the Dante's Inferno feel of Manila and no place has had the grimy side like parts of Manila or Cebu.

Step up, India

Timothy Garton Ash has a great piece in the LA Times on the need for India to change its Burma policy.

Michener on Exile

"Political exile has been the last refuge of many noble minds. In exile, Dante Alighieri wrote his finest poetry and Vladimir Illyich Ulyanov forged the ideas that were to paralyze the world." from James Michener's The Drifters

Thursday, November 18, 2010

So long Solo; Yogya; Indo gastrodiplo

Like the awful movie by Mario Van Peebles bearing the same name, Solo was underwhelming.  However, it began a day of Indonesia gastrodiplomacy.  Jess and I found a street of food stalls.  Nothing too remarkable to report from lunch, but we had something called serut that is a Solo specialty.  Found at a little fruit stand with various fruits on ice, serut is shredded mango, papaya, pineapple, cucumber and jicima mixed with chili and red sugar sauce (thin molasses).  It was tangy, sweet and a tad spicy.  Yum.  It also got me thinking about the LA fruit stands and this being a new variety of fruit truck in LA.  Indonesia could do a little fruit stand gastrodiplo to a place that already has a fruit stand culture.  This made for a great variation on the fruit stand treat.

As for the rest of Solo, little to report.  Jess and I went to a kraton- an old palace and museum that was pretty lackluster.  And confusing with different tickets we had to buy, of which nothing really made sense.  We had to buy a ticket for them to open the gate leading to the museum.  Dumb.  The museum was not much better, just some traditional artifacts with no English description.  Some of the kris (swords) were kinda cool, with their wavy, undulating blades.  Anyway, the kraton and a walk through the mediocre market said it was time to go, so we hopped a train to Yogjakarta.

Yogya (pronounced "jogja") is a great cultural center in the middle of Java.  It is close to Borabadur, the great Buddhist monument site that is unfortunately closed due to the Merapi volcano that spewed ash all over the site.  Anyway, Yogya is a cool, calm city.  We wandered around a bit through the batik markets and I found an amazing street food called "martabak."  It was a roti dough filled with a mix of scrambled egg, ground beef, shallots and red onions.  The mix was stuffed into a square folded pocket and then fried in oil.  Literally bathed in oil, as the shoveled the oil on the pocket.  It was then cut into squared and served with pickled carrots and cucumbers and green chilies.  F'ing phenomenal.  Oozing with grease and goodness.  Another dish that could be great Indo gastrodiplo, it would be great at food trucks or at county fairs or the rodea.  I could easily see it as a hit at the Houston rodeo.  I am planning on writing an Indo gastrodiplo article.

Obama

Ah, the beauty of Obama as a public diplomacy symbol.  Here in Indonesia when asked where I am from, I simply respond: Obama. Sometimes that is my line to try to get a discount too.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Valley of the Moon; a smoking hole

I woke up early in Probolingo and made my way on to the van station to get a bus up to Mt. Bromo. I was the only one waiting for the bus, and I sat waiting for other passengers for an hour and a half. I passed the time chatting with the guys hanging out, and showing them pics from my travels. It is wonderful that every single time I say I am an American, I get a big smile, thumbs-up and "Obama!" Eventually some other people came, enough that we could negotiate them to go up for a little extra rather than wait for more people. On the way, I met an American girl named Jess from Vermont who was working in Italy as a nanny and was on vacation backpacking.

We made our way up a fog-covered mountain and to Cemoro Lawang overlooking Mt. Bromo. We found a cheap place to split in a little one-horse town. After some lunch, we headed down into the other-worldly valley next to the smoking Mt. Bromo. The place looked like a moonscape. We took off our shoes and walked on cool black volcanic sand amid the fog and sulfurous smog filled canyon. The black sand was alternately crunchy under foot or soft. Parts had a crispness from white sulfur caked on top of the sand. We sat in the empty valley, with an occasional motorcycle passing by, and watched Mt. Bromo emit grey sulfur that expanded like grey ink in the sky. It was quite cool and very otherworldly. There was an eerie, empty feeling in the valley as if this was what life is like in a world gone dark.

We made our way back up and wondered WTF we would do with the rest of the day in this empty village, but we met a German couple named Thomas and Caro who were traveling the world for a year. We sat out chatting and drinking coffee as we wrapped ourselves in blankets in possibly the coldest place in Southeast Asia. The temperature dropped literally 40 degrees from our starting point at the bottom of the mountain.

We all got up at 4am to hike to the high vantage point. Thankfully the previous day's fog had passed and we had an immaculate view of the crater bellowing grey smoke into the sky. We climbed up to the vista point as the sun rose golden in the morning sky. The smoke radiated different white to grey as the morning sun's lit hit it. From there, we hiked back down and through the moonscape valley to the lip of the crater and watched the sulfurous smoke come rolling out. Quite amazing to see the smoke pour in of the mouth of the volcano and expand in circular fashion then trail off into the sky.

We made our way out, and talked our way back down for cheap. We were dropped at the Probolingo bus terminal, but the annoyance of touts and falsehoods prompted us to get out ASAP. Jess and I made a minor mistake, heading on a 2 hour bus to Malang, where we hoped to get a bus to Solo. Unfortunately, while Malang was only 6 hours from Solo, there were no buses save a 12 hour night bus. It was the middle of the afternoon and we didn't want to wait around, so we headed back to the city of Sharks and Crocodiles to get a bus to Solo. Minor stupidity tax of 12,000 rupiah and 2 hours for our mistake. We backtracked 2 hours to Surabaya then caught a 6 turned 7.5 hour bus to Solo amid bus breakdowns. Ah, life on the road.

The American-Kurdish Information Network

I have a new blog up on CPD on the American-Kurdish Information Network and Kurdish public diplomacy.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Back to 'Jafa'

I awoke early and poached the internet outside a coffee shop, sitting in a temple complex. I made my way out of town, stopping first for some traditional balinese breakfast. Sweet black rice covered in grated coconut, banana mash and other indescribable undecipherables drizzled in a thick, sweet molasses. I sat in the market, polishing off my rice goo with my hand and drinking thick kopi bali- balinese coffee that is like the turkish variety only a lil' softer. I hopped a bemo (van) back to Denpasar, then another to the Ubung bus station. Usual chaos of touts at the bus station. It's kind of amazing how you even bargain for bus tickets. A little hustle and I was off.

I sat in a hot, sweaty bus as we rode through Bali's bounty. We drove winding roads past lush green circular rice terraces. The rice steppes shone a more brilliant with the reflective pools echoing the emeraldness; on the other side, the brilliant blue sea crashed its white surf. Where do you go when you have nowhere to go and nowhere to be? You keep moving on. On that note, I pondered why it is that I can sit 12 hours on a moving bus when I can't sit 12 minutes in my own apartment.

We crossed Bali to take the ferry back to Java ("jafa" in local speak). I met a French and Belgian girl on my bus and we chatted about the road as we puttered between the Straits of Bali. The girls informed me that the bus I thought to be 16 hours was only 9 hours, and I thought I had a reprieve. We got back on the bus and I made friends with the bus driver and bus manager, and they had me sitting in the front seat smoking cloves to pass the time. We pushed on as daylight faded into empty night. The time I thought I gained was lost amid bus breakdowns but eventually I reached my destination in Parabolingo, and now I go to Mt. Bromo. Bromo is an active volcano, but passively not spewing. Last time I was at a volcano, I melted marshmallows and my shoes. This time I am going to have a sate feast in the lava.

PS: Mazal tov to Heidi and Rob. The Wardbergs got hitched.

Banchofi Diplomacy

I thought I had a reprieve when a bus from Bali to Mt. Bromo I thought to be 16hrs was only supposed to be 9hrs. Except the bus broke down twice and lasted 12 hrs. Now I am chasing little froggies out of my palace of a room. Ah, life on the road. I will write more about the ride later, for now a cute anecdote from the journey.

We were stopped at a rest stop for a little break. It was a gas station, and one would think that the bus might have filled up during the half hour we were stopped. But no, after the thirty minute break, it went five minutes down the road and then filled up for twenty minutes. Ah, but I am digressing.

As I got off the bus, I started chatting with a middle-aged Indonesian fellow. The usual banter: "I am from America," I said. "Ah, Obama!" He replied with a big thumbs up. Then he said with a huge smile: "Banchofi!" Puzzled, I asked what is that. He then started singing, "Shot through the heart!" Ah, Bon Jovi! We sat there laughing and singing the refrain together.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Tolstoy on Life

"There was no solution but the universal solution that life gives to all questions, even the most complex and insoluble.  That answer is: one must live in the needs of the day- that is forget oneself."
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

A Prayer for Americans

"Every American should be forced to live outside the United States for a year or two. Americans should be forced to see how ridiculous they appear to the rest of the world!"
-John Irving, "A Prayer for Owen Meany"

I used the first half of that quote in my first photo exhibit at Brandeis.  My friend Sarah Gurfein gave it to me to use.  I passed it recently while reading the book.

Drained

I was watching the water go spiraling down the sink, and wondering why it looked funny.  Then I got a map and realized I was below the equator.

What if the largest countries had the biggest populations


Arrigato Hosang!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

New Pics: Ubud and Monkeys!

From Ubud
From Monkeying around

A Prayer for Paul Rockower

So I escaped from Kuta and its overwhelming touristy scene.  I took a bemo (minivan) to Denpasar, then another two across town to Batubulan- the site of bemos to Ubud, a little artist village in the center of Bali.  All the bemos ended up costing me only a little less than if I had just taken the touristy shuttles.  Ubud is the cultural center of Bali, and is a lovely if touristy town of little Hindu temples.  I am staying in a guest house with a temple in the courtyard.  I have done little of substance here, save play with monkeys, visit a Balinese art museum and try to figure out wtf I do until I find out about my Fulbright application.

The monkey sanctuary was great.  All these little grey monkeys climbing all over the place.  Such little rogues they are, stealing bananas and causing mischief.  I messed with the monkeys and snapped their pictures.  Cute little rascals. The sanctuary was pretty amazing as it was also an old temple.

Otherwise, just eating cheap Balinese food such as sweet black rice with grated coconut and banana mashings for breakfast, or various veggies and tempe with rice for lunch.  I splurged a few times like for the previously mentioned civet-poo coffee.  As anyone knows who has talked to me recently, I am just a bit burned out with travel so I took my usual advice to other burned-out travelers and I stopped moving for a few days to recoop.  Spending my time reading A Prayer for Owen Meany and being productive with myself.

Cat Shit Coffee

I just paid 150,000 rupiah ($16) to sip coffee that was shit out of a civet. Kopi Luwak, Pretty good coffee, I must admit. No acidity to it, very smooth.  Something to try once, because I am not sure if it is exactly worth the price but I at least had to try it.

Rhinos in Congress too

Related to my previous post about the clown who was elected to Congress in Brazil, Prof. Marco pointed out that in 1959, a rhino named Cacereco was elected to Sao Paulo city council. She did so by a wide margin, no pun intended, as the rhino won by a landslide. All of this is infinitely better than the multiple elections of Adhemer de Barros, who was mayor of Sao Paulo and governor of the state of Sao Paulo; his unofficial campaign was "He steals, but he gets things done."

Perspectives

-There are an estimated 18 million Muslims in China (1.5 percent of the population), which means China has more Muslims than Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia combined.

-There are an estimated 21 million Christians in Indonesia (8.5 percent of the population), which means Indonesia has more Christians than its Dutch colonial masters, plus Belgium and Denmark thrown in for good measure.

-There are an estimated 25,000 Jews in Iran, making it the second-largest Jewish community in the Middle East.

-Portuguese is the 5th most spoken language in the world. More people speak Portuguese than French and Italian combined.

New photos from Indonesia

From Jakarta

From Friday Prayers at Masjid Istiqlal

From Bogor and Bandung

From Bali sunsets

Obama's cunning linguistics and other untranslatable words

A good article on Obama's deft use of Bahasa (Indonesian) during his brief stopover. Terima Kasih JB.

An interesting article on the best untranslatable words. Dankon Nomi.

And why I respect the Canucks (in all seriousness). This article strikes me as great Canadian PD and nation-branding of Canadian tolerance.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Clowns in Congress

And I am not even referring to the Tea Party. The biggest vote-getter in the Brazilian elections was a clown.

Random Things Found

-A bar in Manila called Hobbit House, where all the waiters are "wee people." I walked in through a door straight out of the shire.

-A strange fruit in Indonesia that looks like a crocodile eye. It is round, with a brown leathery cover. Inside it has a tangy, fleshy white fruit. Anyone who knows what it is, please feel free to chime in.

-That I liked and respected Australians a lot more before I ever went to Kuta.

-That I imagine Owen Meany to be like Stewie Griffin, only with a higher pitched voice.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

On Bali; Kuta Kinte

Beyond the Cancun side of things, Bali is actually rather interesting in that it is overwhelmingly Hindu in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. It is the last holdout from a period of Hindu rule, and there are Hindu temples throughout the island. Interestingly, there are little alms offerings all over the place. Little thatched boxes filled with flowers, fruit, candies and burning incense. I find myself dodging stepping on these holy little boxes.

Meanwhile, I am getting out of Kuta and heading to Ubud. Ubud is supposed to be a nice, bohemian artist city in the middle of Bali with lots of monkeys.

We are Balinese if you please

First bout with Balinese food. Fiery red chili chicken, jackfruit stewed green and some heaping white rice. My lips went numb about midway through the meal, and my poor mouth smoldered for 10 minutes after I finished. No chance the melon soda would save me. Respect.

A Public Service Announcement not approved by AJWS

Balihoo

So Bali has been interesting.  I would be disingenuous to suggest I didn't have some idea of what I was getting myself into.  I was ready to write it off as an Aussie Cancun with too many touts and crass capitalism, but there is some soul here. I found it yesterday a day walking on the beach and dipping my toes in the warm surf.  I found a group of fellow playing some soulful music on the beach.  A fellow beat out the beat on a bintang beer bottle, and guitars strummed and bongos bounced percussively.  Voices carried on the sea winds and filled the palm tree canopies with Sumatran songs and Bali ballads.  Kind of an indo-hawaiin sound, it was lovely.

I ran into a friend Roz from jolly ol' who I met in Jakarta.  We watched a magnificent sun set on the beach.  Perfect orange oblivion of the fiery orb as it set into the seas.  We met up with a Persian friend of hers named Max and did it up in town.  We started at a reggae bar and ended up in a place called the Sky Lounge, where some Aussies with VIP passes fed us drinks.  I found an old Texan favorite, a bloody beer (beer and bloody mary).  Everyone was repulsed by it; I loved it.

Today, I walked along the beach and admired the reflections in the receding surf.  Reflections of the giant clouds in the sky and through the looking glass to find flags fluttering in the sea breeze.  The sand twinkled like stars in the sky.

I will probably not stick around Bali much longer because it isn't really my style.  Either I will find a more tranquil island like Lomboc or head back if Mt. Merapi has sufficiently calmed down.

Speaking of calm, the beast that is LA is found to be the most stressed city.  I could have told you that, the place seethes stress (TY Nomi)

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Into the looking glass

"The world is a looking glass.  It gives back to everyone a true reflection of his own thoughts.  Rule your mind or it will rule you."
-Buddha

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

America's short term memory

Sitting on a bus for 29 hours gives you a lot of time to think.  One thought that was reoccurring in light of the recent election and Obama's trip to Indonesia: how short the collective American memory can be.  Bush was seriously f'ing up for 8 years, but the big, bad tea party was complicit and supportive as he expanded the fed deficit, launched expensive wars and tanked the economy.  Where was the anger then?

Shark-Crocodile; Paradise Lost

I headed out in the rain from Bandung. Luckily I found a little book store and was able to find a copy of John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany.  I had been without a good book, and found it quite difficult to be without anything to read. I boarded my bus and was off.  The rain and weariness had me a little melancholy.  But amid the vendors boarding the bus, a guitar player got on.  He strummed a song that was sad and sweet, and so beautiful it almost brought a tear to my eye.  He sang into the curves of his guitar, and his voice and chords conveyed something undefinable that exists between joy and sadness.  I will never know the name of the song or what the words meant, but that doesn't matter- sometimes there are languages that are more powerful not understood.  I gave him 10,000 rupiah, a little more than a dollar.  It doesn't sound like much, but when everyone else gives 500 or 1,000 rupiah, it means a bit more.  He stopped, cast a giant smile  and then was gone.

The bus was long but relatively comfortable.  No one sat next to me so I was able to spread out over the 16 hour ride.  I arrived into the crowded East Java city of Surabaya (Shark-Crocodile) in the morning.  I had planned on staying a day, but as I arrived to the bus stop a bit of confusion sent me back on a bus to the main terminal some 10 km outside the city.  Based on what I saw passing briefly in and out of the city, I took this as a sign to move on and got right back on the bus to Bali.

Gotta a ticket to ride and I then passed another 13 hours on the bus, including an hour on the ferry crossing the Straits of Bali.  Parts of it were torture, given the bus was playing awful Indonesian karoke music.  Far worse than waterboarding.  But the time passed slowly, and nicely as I sat in the very front of the bus, chatting with the bus owner named Wawen and driver, smoking cloves in the front seat and drinking strong, sweet coffee jafne, and got along with it all.

I finally arrived to Bali around midnight after some 29 hours on the bus.  I split a cab with some Italians that I met on the bus to Kuta.  I arrived to what appears to be an Australian Cancun.  Not exactly my idea of paradise (thanks for the title, Harry), with drunken baby 'roos and too many touts.  Grump, grump, grump.  But I'm sure I will find a little quiet corner of heaven in this paradise that is Bali.

Monday, November 08, 2010

symbiosis; The Bandung Conference

I went yesterday with Michael the hostel owner and his family on a little drive hrough the area and up to some tea plantations.  Strange to see tea on a bush, it just looks like a shrub.  Michael dropped me to go up the Tangkuban Perahu volcano area with his 82 year old father-in-law, but first negotiating bike rides for the two of us up the mountain.  I got a fun ride to the top, albeit frustratingly having to pay for a foreigner ticket at the entrance that was 3 times the price.  I got a little knocked off with a student discount.

The bikes left us at the top, and I wondered how i would be to hike around with an octogenarian.  It actually turned out quite well.  The fellow was in great shape, and bounded around as we walked past a giant sulfur crater.  He had been to India a few years prior and did yoga.  We actually made a good team.  I offered him some balance and support; he helped me navigate a foreign world.  We climbed past the sulfur and through the forest canopy to an area known for its sacred water.  People came to the area to bathe.  I opted just to rinse in the cold water, figuring that anything so ice cold can't be that holy.  We sat at the cafe on top, drinking bandrek, a traditional sundanese hot drink made from ginger, cinnamon, star anise, cloves and other spices.  It is served like coffee and warms the body nicely.

We hiked back down, and caught a minibus as it started to pour down.  We sat in the minibus for close to an hour as we waited for it to get full enough to leave.  We took the cramped minibus to Lembang, stopped for a late lunch of padang cuisine.  I had a piece of beef in red curry, bamboo in yellow cylurry and some spinach-like plant along with rice in yellow curry.  We then took another cramped minibus back to Bandung.   Probably about 2 hours of cramped lurching in the minibuses, not the most fun in the world but so it goes.  I got back and spent the evening chatting with Michael over beers.  For dinner, a Yogyakarta-style of fried duck, it was the equivalent of Kentucky Fried Duck.  I have never had fried duck before, I wonder why that is rarely done.

Today, I wandered back downtown to the museum of the Asia-Africa Conference in Bandung.  The museum about the conference was quite interesting.  The conference was significant as it was the first real forum that the de-colonizing world came together to discuss their own interests and the need to work for further de-colonization.  The conference was organized by Indonesia, India, Burma, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and Pakistan, and brought together some 29 countries from Asia and Africa.  Such luminaries attending the conference were Zhou En Lai, Jawaharlal Neru, Gamal Abdel Nasser and others.  The US did not send official representation via State, but US Congressman Adam Clayton Powell attended as did later USIA chief Carl Rowan.  There was a moving clip of Powell's remarks, but unfortunately I can't find it.

The final communique had some pretty lofty goals, that were and were not followed in the years to come:

  1.  Respect for fundamental human rights and for the purposes and principles of the charter of the United Nations
  2. Respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all nations
  3. Recognition of the equality of all races and of the equality of all nations large and small
  4. Abstention from intervention or interference in the internal affairs of another country
  5. Respect for the right of each nation to defend itself, singly or collectively, in conformity with the charter of the United Nations
  6.  (a) Abstention from the use of arrangements of collective defence to serve any particular interests of the big powers 
          (b) Abstention by any country from exerting pressures on other countries
  1. Refraining from acts or threats of aggression or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any country
  2.  Settlement of all international disputes by peaceful means, such as negotiation, conciliation, arbitration or judicial settlement as well as other peaceful means of the parties own choice, in conformity with the charter of the united nations
  3. Promotion of mutual interests and cooperation
  4. Respect for justice and international obligations.

But the Bandung Conference was pretty momentous for laying the groundwork for the non-aligned movement, and marked a historical departure point for theose decolonized to further push for de-colonizing the rest of the world.  Bandung marked the first time the colonized and dispossessed of the world made their collective voices heard.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Zionesia

Walking through Bandung, I have Zion on my mind. Here in Indonesia, the largest Muslim country, I am reminded of the Jewish State. Indonesia is a Muslim country, but it is not an Islamic country. While the population is 88 percent Muslim, it strikes me more as part of the cultural and societal fabric rather than overtly Islamic. Kinda like the secular Jewishness of Israel.

While many have their hair covered in pastel veils with ornamental clips, many more do not. I have seen very few women wearing the niqab, and most women and girls are wearing jeans or other western attire with their veils. I have seen very few men in Muslim garb, most are wearing t-shirts and jeans, or perhaps a topi (think Indonesian Muslim yarmulke) with western gear.  Meanwhile, beer is widely available and I have even seen pork sold. Most people are worried about earning their daily rice, or shopping and texting friends on their cells then living under a shariah state. This is precisely the type of country Israel needs relations with.

On the anniversary of Rabin's assassination, Israel is more isolated than ever. It remains a failure of the Zionist enterprise that, as an American Jew, I can come to Indonesia, while Israelis are not allowed and Israel remains the Jew of the international community. Zionism was meant to remedy our isolation, not increase it.

It takes real friends to tell you when you are f-cking up.  Gideon Levy has a marvelous piece in Ha'aretz:

There is anti-Semitism in the world, but not to the extent they will tell you. Nor is there any "delegitimization of Israel." There is only delegitimization of Israel's policy of force and occupation.

That same "anti-Semitic" world knew how to embrace Israel when the latter chose the right path - during the Oslo era, for instance. What most of the world has become fed up with is only Israel's ongoing occupation and violent policy. And the responsibility (and blame ) for their existence lies with Israel, not the world. The world is hard on Israel, but it also grants it special rights that no other country enjoys.

If Israel is dear to you - and that is true of most of you - then be honest enough to criticize it as it deserves. Think about your personal friends. What would they value more: your blind, automatic support, or criticism born of love when it is warranted?

Your beloved Israel is addicted. It is addicted to occupation and aggression, and someone has to wean it from these addictions. Like any other junkie, it is incapable of helping itself. Thus the job falls to you.

Some of you know the truth. You want a strong Israel, but know that the settlements only weaken it. You dream about a larger Israel, but know that such an Israel cannot be a just one. You want to be proud of Israel, and you know that in recent years this has become almost impossible.
What I believe, and what I believe Rabin knew, is that Israel's strategic interests are found in ties with states like Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, Bangladesh, etc, as made possible with peace with a Palestinian state rather than clinging to a few hilltops with trailers and caravans and keeping the Palestininians under occupation.  Anyone who tells you that you can continue to build settlements or somehow maintain the occupation while working for peace is lying to you or is hopelessly misguided.

The Jews of Southeast Asia

The Chinese communities of Southeast Asia have been dubbed the "Jews" of the region for their small size yet, stature within the respective nations. Also because of the resentment this success has caused. Nearly 5 percent of Indonesia is Chinese, which is quite a bit given there are over 220 million people here. Many came after the rise of Communist China. Indonesia's Chinese community has a very interesting recent history.

Under Sukarno, Indonesia had good relations with China. But with the aborted communist coup in 1965, General Suharto came to power. Suharto was a fierce anti-communist Cold War ally, and promptly cooled ties with China. There was also a severe backlash against the Chinese community in Indonesia in the form of anti-Chinese pogroms. Tens of thousands were expelled and scores were killed in a bit of opportunistic looting and land siezure.

After, Chinese Communities were not allowed to teach Chinese, write in Chinese characters or use Chinese names. Chinese language was banned on Indonesian tv. Meanwhile, cultural celebrations like the Chinese New Year were forbidden. Chinese Indonesians were made to sign papers stating that they rejected Chinese citizenship, even those born in Indonesia. In a bit of irony, there were rumors that Suharto had advisors from Taiwan helping him implement his anti-Chinese communist measures because of their role in fighting communism in the region.

Since the fall of Suharto and the democratization of Indonesia, the situation has normalized. In 2003, Chinese New Year was even marked as a national holiday.

Reap what you sew

I luv the Onion, ever spot on: American Public Gets Exactly What It Deserves For 112th Straight Election:
WASHINGTON—Dismayed by the fact that over the past 24 months they have not experienced the immediate short-term personal gain they had hoped for, Americans went to the polls Tuesday and, for the 112th consecutive time, elected the candidates they deserve. "It's my duty," Reading, PA resident Bethany Albertson said as she cast her ballot and joined the staggering majority of citizens who, like every single previous generation of voters, will reap exactly what they have sown. "I haven't seen much difference in my paycheck, and we need a voice for change in our government." Exit polls indicated most voters will be content with what they've got coming to them as long as they see sharp reductions in taxes, health care costs, home foreclosures, economic regulation, unemployment, and the national debt by the time the 112th Congress is halfway through its first legislative session.

Sancho's reminder

Thanks Sancho Harranza:
"Ah!" said Sancho weeping, "don't die, master, but take my advice
and live many years; for the foolishest thing a man can do in this
life is to let himself die without rhyme or reason, without anybody
killing him, or any hands but melancholy's making an end of him. Come,
don't be lazy, but get up from your bed and let us take to the
fields in shepherd's trim as we agreed. Perhaps behind some bush we
shall find the lady Dulcinea disenchanted, as fine as fine can be.
If it be that you are dying of vexation at having been vanquished, lay
the blame on me, and say you were overthrown because I had girthed
Rocinante badly; besides you must have seen in your books of
chivalry that it is a common thing for knights to upset one another,
and for him who is conquered to-day to be conqueror tomorrow."

Saturday, November 06, 2010

When Indy met Indonesia

I usually write about winning hearts and minds through stomachs, but I am taking a detour and going through the ears. In Jakarta and Bandung, I have seen tons of Indonesian punk rock kids. Lots of little pierced, tatted teens rocking tiny guitars or ukeleles. There are a lot of kids busking on buses and in the streets, usually two or three-man bands including little prop drums. GlobalPost first brought my attention to it with a story they did on Indo-punk and its popularity.



So here is the public diplomacy/cultural diplomacy rub. State is trying to ramp up its cultural diplomacy efforts with "smART power" initiatives. It has also toured groups like Ozomatli around both Southeast Asia and the Middle East. It would not take much to do great cultural diplomacy with a little punk rock here in Indonesia. Send a band to do some guitar clinics and shows on a tour around Indonesia, especially focused on outreach to the punk street kids. The punk rock here is pretty light by traditional punk standards and a little more melodious, so it wouldn't be a stretch to send a rock band to tour and give some large-scale lessons. Meanwhile, send the band on to the equally-musical Philippines and you have a great pd tour.

The importance of reaching these kids strikes me as pretty clear. These are kids currently hustling to get by with their musical talents, but as Einstein said,"An empty stomach is not a good political adviser. (TY NOMI)" If these kids get lost, grow desperate, etc, there are plenty of social welfare networks that will offer help, but they are not always the ones we find so friendly.  Better to support these kids in their musical endeavors as a means to help them get by, then see them enticed by less open-minded support networks.

Raffles Retreat; The Paris of Java

I woke up early and headed over to the Kebun Raya botanical gardens in Bogor. The gardens were created by Sir Raffles of Singapore fame during the brief British rule over Indonesia during 1811-1816. The Dutch expanded it upon their return and it now covers some 80 hecatres. There are over 15,000 trees in the garden, providing some much needed fresh air after Jakarta's polluted state. I meandered passed the old governor-general's house- which Sukarno liked to stay in as his palace, the Astrid Lane and through the Orchid House, and sat reading the Iliad under a giant tree with whispy hanging chords near a rushing river. The air is also forever perfumed with the sweet smell of burning cloves- an ambrosiatic cigarette of spice variety.

After the gardens, I grabbed my stuff and ventured through town and on to the bus station to catch a bus to Bandung. The 3 hour bus was fine if uneventful. Interestingly, the bus had an enclosed smoking section in the back, separated by a glass door. I chatted with young soldier behind me to pass the time. I arrived in Bandung and caught a cramped local bus towards my accomodation at the Paskal Hyper Blok. In typical Pablo fashion, I arrived to a hostel not yet open. I found Hunny Hostel on the internet, but found out that it didn't open for another week. I used the opportunity of staying in an unfinished hostel, sleeping on a mattress on the floor to wrangle a great discount from the owners. Such a good price that I promised I wouldn't share the sum details of my negotiations.

I then went wandering through the "Paris of Java," through Bandung's old Dutch Art Deco district. Unfortunately, I arrived too late to visit the museum of the Bandung Conference, of which I knew the city's fame. I will write more about the Asia-Africa conference after I visit the museum.

The district had some lovely old art deco buildings like the Savoy Hotel (left).  I returned to the hostel and made a reservation for a 16 hour bus to Surabaya in a route to bypass the exploding Mt. Merapi, and then went out to dinner with the hostel owners at the open-air food court nearby. Michael and his wife were lovely, and we chatted about the ins-and-outs of hostels. I ate spicey Sundanese food- the local variety of people and cuisine. I had some barbecued chicken that was covered in a fire-red chili sauce. I chowed down in good local fashion, using my hand to scoop the rice and volcanic chili chicken. We also split some amazing fried frog legs- a local speciality that were deep-fried so lightly, it was almost tempura. We sat out drinking anker beer and listening to bands perform. I had planned to leave today, but Michael and his wife invited me to go to a volcano nearby- one not currently exploding, so I am going to stay another day.