A Travellerspoint blog

The Big Durian

Nasi nasi nasi... Nasi goreng...

semi-overcast 31 °C
View Asia '08 on Bwinky's travel map.

As I write this it is 4:22am, and I’m sitting on a train from Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, to Yogyakarta, its spiritual and artistic capital. The train is not exactly luxurious, but not too bad -- we have a reasonably comfortable padded seat, and while it is not air con, there are fans (which have not been running since we left Jakarta) and the breeze from the windows is nice. This train is “bisnis” class; there are much more comfortable “eksekutif” class trains, but they were full and I wasn’t about to pay a scalper 350,000 rupiahs (about $35) for a ticket that cost 200,000 and risk that it wasn’t valid.

But then, there are also the “ekonomi” class trains that are hard benches packed to the gills, so I’ll take the little bit of luxury we got -- anyway, an overnight train ride for only $10 isn’t too bad. We are the only Westerners on this train. There is a family of four in the seat ahead of us, with the mother sitting on the floor so her two little kids can lay down on the bench. A couple rows ahead, a girl in a Muslim headscarf is checking on her cage full of mice. The girl in the seat opposite us, who is dressed in a fashionable jean jacket with a black pattent leather handbag, is busily sending text messages.

The most annoying thing is the vendors who crowd aboard at every major stop. The aisle suddenly fills with people chanting their wares: “Ayam” (chicken), “Es” (crushed ice with coconut milk and syrup), “Dodol” (a caramel-like candy that will pull out fillings), and of course “Nasi Goreng” (fried rice). They make it really hard to sleep, and if they notice you even looking anywhere near them they stick what they’re selling in your face. One keeps chanting “Bap mie, bap mie, bap mie” and I want to say, “Yeah, c’mere and I’ll bop you one, alright...”

5787.jpg
Jakarta, the "Big Durian"

Dwight’s driver dropped us off in Jakarta where we intended to catch the train to Yogya yesterday, but as it was full we decided to spend the night at a hostel in the backpackers’ ghetto, a street called Jalan Jaksa. Every major tourist city in Asia has a street like this with cheap hotels, restaurants serving burgers and banana pancakes, travel agencies, and bars with cheap beer that attract a lot of scruffy, dreadlocked Western kids. They’re kind of fun, though the hostels aren’t very nice: our room at the Bloem Steen Homestay, which cost us a whopping $7, was just a bed and a table with a fan, and one tiny window.

5784.jpg
Bloem Steen -- good thing we brought mosquito netting!

The shower and toilet were shared with the whole floor and flip-flops are a must. I know that most people would find staying in a place like this totally revolting, and maybe someday we will too, but for now I still enjoy them as long as they don’t feature a bar. If there’s a bar, it always means loud music late into the night and that is where I draw my line.

Jakarta is not exactly an attractive place. It’s a massive city of shiny glass skyscrapers and barely-held-together hovels. It’s called “The Big Durian,” after the Southeast Asian fruit that looks like a spiky watermelon and stinks like rotting flesh. But inside, it has a custardy flesh that some people think is heavenly. I haven’t tried it yet so I have no opinion, but I can see the comparison. We spent the day wandering around Kota, the old Dutch colonial area, looking at colorful Indonesian schooners in the harbor, and sipping iced cappuccino under the ceiling fans at the Cafe Batavia, Jakarta’s original expat bar, feeling very Somerset Maugham-ish.

5793.jpg
Kota, the Dutch colonial area

5798.jpg
Sunda Kelapa harbor

5797.jpg
Sunda Kelapa harbor -- that orange thing is a bajaj, a noisy two-cylinder motor scooter taxi

We also spent some time exploring the tiny back alleys, being chased by laughing kids, and attempted to talk with a friendly woman named Nona who was washing her clothes in a tub under cages of birds. Smiles and “Hello Mister!”s everywhere.

5800.jpg
A back street in a kampung -- or neighborhood. Nona is sitting there with her friends.

But a day is about all you can squeeze out of Jakarta, really, and we are off to meet Ciluk and her family, who are hosting us in Yogya.

Posted by Bwinky 20:02 Archived in Indonesia Tagged train_travel Comments (2)

Yesus Kami Puja

Worshipping In Another Language

semi-overcast 29 °C
View Asia '08 on Bwinky's travel map.

Note: added pics to the last post, so go back and look at them for a laugh...

We had an amazing experience on Sunday. We went to church with my Uncle Dwight at El Shaddai, the Pentecostal church that he attends when he is here in Indonesia. It was fascinating to worship with other believers even though we don’t speak the language at all.

The church has about 50 members, and meets in an upstairs room at a shopping center. There were only about 20 of us this Sunday; one man played the keyboard while Pastor Frankie’s wife did the overhead with the words to the songs. When Pastor Frankie preached, he would read scripture passages in Indonesian first, and then would read them again in English for our benefit, which was very nice. However, he only preached in Indonesian, so we had to imagine what the sermon was about based on the Bible passages.

What we especially meaningful for us, though, was singing along with the words, even though we didn’t understand what we were singing -- we didn’t need to, it was OK to just know that we were worshipping in our spirits with other believers. Kind of reminded me of the passage in Romans where it says that the Spirit intercedes for us beyond words when we don’t know what to pray. I didn’t need to know what exactly I was singing to the Lord, I could just sing and praise him.

Several of the songs were familiar tunes, and I knew what we were singing. One in particular caught me: in Indonesian, the opening words are “Yesus, kami puja.” It is a simple song that we used to sing often at Eastbrook years ago:

YESUS KAMI PUJA, KAMI SEMBAH S'BAGAI RAJA
BERDIRI DI TENGAH KAMI, DITINGGIKAN DAN DIPUJI
SEMBAH DAN PUJI P'NUHI TAHTA-MU
SEMBAH DAN PUJI P'NUHI TAHTA-MU
SEMBAH DAN PUJI P'NUHI TAHTA-MU
YESUS TUHAN ADALAH RAJA

Jesus, we enthrone You, we proclaim you our king
Standing here in the midst of us, we lift you up with our praise
And as we worship, build a throne
And as we worship, build a throne
And as we worship, build a throne
Come, Lord Jesus, and take Your place

We spent three days in Bogor with Dwight, Sam, Alex, Miranda & Jess. Since we had not seen our cousins since they were very young, it was really nice to get to know them better. We were reminded again how important family is -- whether it is our personal family or the church family.

5764.jpg

5762.jpg

5766.jpg
Dwight and Jess, Miranda, and Alex

Posted by Bwinky 19:48 Archived in Indonesia Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Hello, How Are You, Where Are You From?

Come to Indonesia and become an instant rock star!

semi-overcast 29 °C
View Asia '08 on Bwinky's travel map.

Wow. We are in Asia. I can hardly believe it. Feels very odd to be in a continent we've never been to before.

We arrived yesterday in Jakarta after a really long couple of flights: 3 hrs to LA, 13 to Taipei, and 5 to Jakarta. (There will be a post about the Taipei airport coming, but I don't have the pictures here at the internet cafe.) But we made it, as did our bags, and were met at the airport by my cousin Sam, and my uncle Dwight arrived about 45 minutes later. We drove, through some of the hairiest traffic I've ever seen, out to their house in Bogor, in the mountains south of the city. Very nice place.

Sam, incidentally, is about to turn twenty and has stolen from me the honor of Most Successful Actor In The Winkler Family. He's an extremely good-looking young man and got "discovered" when he was asked to be on an Indonesian reality TV show by a friend. That wound up turning into a gig on an Indonesian soap opera in which he plays "Dodi," a rich kid who is the friend of a main character. So he is frequently off filming until 4am, but he was gracious enough to take a little vacation time to spend with his "wannabe" cousin. *snicker*

5771.jpg
Bogor Botanical Gardens

Today, after sleeping for about twelve hours straight, Lynn and I visited the very famous (President Bush came here on his last Asian trip) Bogor Botanical Gardens while Dwight took his daughters Alex and Miranda shopping for new clothes. The gardens are incredibly beautiful, but the most interesting thing was the attention that we drew as westerners. I read in my guidebook that the Indonesian people are extremely friendly and warm to visitors, but I wasn't quite prepared.

5770.jpg
Our Loyal Fans

Nearly every time we passed someone and smiled, they wanted to stop and talk to us. "Hello!!! How are you!!! Where are you from!!!" It was kind of infectious, and I found myself intentionally smiling at people as we passed just to see if they would talk to us. Sometimes the girls just giggled. We were pretty sure we heard one group taking pictures of us from behind as we walked up the trail. Lynn said, "I hope I don't have something on my butt..."

5774.jpg
Lynn the rock star

One young man who was leading a group of tourism industry students wanted to know, "McCain, or Obama?" We smiled and confessed "McCain," and he laughed as he said, "I like Obama! He is from Indonesia!" Another family came up to us as we looked at the lotus pond, and wanted to pose for pictures with us. Seems kind of funny; we can just imagine them showing them... "And here we are with some white people we saw at the botanical gardens!"

We're going to have to learn to deal with the papparrazzi, I guess...

Posted by Bwinky 03:01 Archived in Indonesia Tagged tourist_sites Comments (3)

This Post Does Not Have The Expected Title

Because the expected title bugs me. It just does.

semi-overcast -50 °C
View Asia '08 on Bwinky's travel map.

I went through a phase in junior high where I was really into John Denver. To this day, I really cannot account for this brief foray into the world of country music, but I suppose it probably has something to do with my guitar lessons at the time -- John Denver recorded songs that were easy to play for a beginning guitarist, and I think they probably fit well into my pubescent vocal range. I learned ‘em all... “Thank God I’m a Country Boy,” “Annie’s Song” (I fantasized about singing that schmaltzy song to the girl I had a major crush on -- blech!), “Take Me Home Country Roads.”

And, of course, “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”

I refuse to write a blog post entitled “Leaving on a Jet Plane,” despite the fact that almost everyone does (sorry April, no offense), because I passionately despise John Denver and I really hate that song. Never mind that I am in fact in the middle of leaving on a jet plane (a Continental Boeing 737, to be specific), currently somewhere between Houston and Los Angeles, though I can’t tell exactly where because we are currently enveloped in cottony clouds stained peach by the sunset, which is quite beautiful.

IMG_0227.jpg
(The above photo was taken after said clouds had dispersed...)

The experience of flying is really quite amazing and would be a lot of fun if it didn’t require you to deal with airport traffic, airports, airline employees (some of whom are of course very nice), airline seats, airline food, and other airline passengers.

So anyway, ignoring the paradoxical leaving on a jet plane without Leaving on a Jet Plane, we are now officially On Our Trip. And that’s sort of hard to believe, partially because when you spend so long planning something big and then it finally happens, it feels sort of surreal. It’s also partially because the past six months, and past ten days especially, have been so stressful. I had initially wanted to have the four days in Houston before we left to just leisurely prepare ourselves mentally. Of course, that didn’t happen because we were so busy scurrying around making our final trip preparations that didn’t happen last week because we were so busy rushing through packing up all our belongings, which didn’t happen earlier because of the play, with which I was behind because... *deep breath* ...of getting the house ready to sell, and blah blah blah.

Stress. It can really get to you after a while. So this morning, to de-stress and get in the mood for Asia, we went and got Thai-style massages down in the city. Houston has a huge population of nearly every variety of Asian, and it’s a great city for massages. So after an hour of being kneaded, elbowed, punched, wrenched and stretched in every direction in most excruciating fashion (Thai massage is very, shall we say, active), we are on our way and feeling wonderfully loosey-goosey.

But only physically. Mentally, I’m still as tight as my neck was before the massage. I have so many trips under my belt now that I don’t sweat travel at all, even to places that I have never been before. Normally. This trip, on the other hand, has me more nervous than I can ever remember being. It isn’t that I’m not excited about it, because I am, and I would be fine with visiting any of these countries individually. But going on the road for four-and-a-half months has logistical issues that the normal vacation of a week or so doesn’t present. We have planned very carefully, but I feel like a lot of the prep was rushed, and I just have the sneaking suspicion that something kind of got away from us.

In a way, I’m expecting Asia to stretch us just like the little Thai woman (and how can such small people be so incredibly strong?) who worked me over this morning. There are going to be bigger challenges than anything we’ve encountered in our previous travel experiences -- less familiar cultures and languages, more bizarre food and probably more intimate communion with the toilets of Asia. And just like my massage today, I figure we’ll probably come back sore for a while. But I expect we’ll come through it stronger and more flexible than before we left.

Posted by Bwinky 15:39 Archived in USA Tagged preparation Comments (4)

Stuff

What are we supposed to do with the pretty baubles this world lays before us?

sunny 30 °C
View Asia '08 on Bwinky's travel map.

Don't hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or -- worse! -- stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it's safe from moth and rust and burglars. It's obvious, isn't it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

There were moments that I honestly thought there was no way that we would survive the last week. We are now packed, loaded, moved out of the house, and officially "on the road." Strangely, though, I feel decidedly un-Jack-Kerouacish. Mostly, I just feel tired.

We arrived in Houston yesterday afternoon after leaving Milwaukee Friday night with a full car-load of our stuff and stopping to see Lynn's sister Jane (Hi, Jane!) in Stevens Point. Saturday, we drove as far as Arkansas and then finished the drive yesterday. In the preceding six days, we had the rather wrenching experiences of tearing apart the place that had been our home for the past fifteen years and saying "see you later" to all of our friends and family. Most of our stuff got loaded into a pod that will be shipped to Houston and stored for us, and a least one more car-load is waiting in Mom and Dad's attic.

The emotion of it all didn't really hit me until we were all loaded and ready to leave and we did our final walk-through, and then I really broke down. It wasn't so much from sadness about leaving our house, though there is an element of that because we have put so much of ourselves and our creativity into it. It was more from the accumulated stress of the week and the fear and uncertainty of leaving the house unsold while we are gone.

That fear was exacerbated by our garage being broken into on Tuesday night. We spent all day Tuesday loading the pod, and someone apparently noticed that we had some stuff waiting in the garage and came back, broke down the door, and stole it. We lost all our crystal, half of our china, and worst, my two guitars and amplifier.

We've been broken into twice before, and people often talk about the feeling of "being violated." I don't know that I have ever really felt that. More than violation, I feel anger that there are predators in this world who take advantage of others for their own gain; the idea of stealing someone else's stuff is so far out of my own psyche that I can't even imagine it. If I knew it was some modern-day Jean Valjean stealing a loaf of bread to feed his hungry family, I'd feel different, but knowing that it's probably going to feed a crack addiction or something makes it really tough to not take on David's mantle of righteous anger and cry to the heavens, "When wilt Thou slay the wicked, oh Lord?"

But laying aside that emotional response, it's really not that big a deal. OK, sure, it created a whole new hassle in a week that was filled enough with them. But apart from all that, it's just some stuff that we lost. How often do we use our china? Yes, there is an emotional attachment to the guitars, one of which was given to me for Christmas by my parents when I was 13, and the other by Lynn and our college friends for my birthday right before we got married. Losing them does hurt. But ultimately, they're just stuff. I'll buy a new guitar, and OK, maybe it won't be the same one, but that's just one more part of the story.

The whole congregation of believers was united as one -- one heart, one mind! They didn't even claim ownership of their own possessions. No one said, "That's mine; you can't have it." They shared everything. And so it turned out that not a person among them was needy.

Interestingly, this fits in very nicely with a big philosophical conversation that Lynn and I have been having over the course of the entire past two years that we have been planning the move. It relates to how we as Christians deal with material things, the "stuff" that life offers us. How much is enough, and how much is too much?

We are big fans of a show on HGTV called "Small Space, Big Style," and I love seeing how some people fit their entire life into a tiny apartment or something. We decided we really wanted to do that, and eliminate much of the most-useless stuff in our life. I mean, you would not believe the stuff we had accumulated through the years. In our basement, there were boxes of stuff that we had not unpacked from college, for crying out loud! What's the point of that?

We came to the realization some time ago that we had more house than we needed, even though our house was quite modest to begin with. One bedroom served absolutely no purpose whatsoever. It was literally empty, except for the closet. And did we really need that formal living room and dining room that we hardly ever sat in, even when we had guests? We decided that when we moved, we were really going to work on paring down our stuff and living more simply.

But as our conversation has continued, it has become become even more philosophical. What does "enough" mean? Is the concept of "enough" subjective, or objective? As long as God is more important to you than your stuff, is it OK to still keep a lot of stuff?

Jesus said, "There's only one thing left to do: Sell everything you own and give it away to the poor. You will have riches in heaven. Then come, follow me." This was the last thing the official expected to hear. He was very rich and became terribly sad. He was holding on tight to a lot of things and not about to let them go.

I am not an ascetic; I don't believe that God requires us to take a vow of poverty and literally give away everything we have in order to be His followers. But I also don't believe that Jesus was kidding when He said that, or using hyperbole to make a point, or only speaking to the rich young ruler specifically. I'm still trying to work this all out.

What about my TV (which we just sold -- enjoy, Jan and Diedre!), for example? It listed at $1000 when we bought it on clearance for $450. That's a pretty good deal and it made me feel better about spending the money on something as frivolous as a larger TV. It wasn't ostentatious or anything, but did we really need it? Couldn't we have just continued to get by with the older 23" model we had?

Stuff. It's seductive. Just one hit and you want more.

We're about to go to some of the poorest countries on the planet, and I fully expect to be hit hard by the poverty that I see. When I've seen really poor people before, like in Mexico, one thing I note is that lack of stuff and unhappiness do not automatically go hand-in-hand. And I know the opposite to be true as well.

I don't think it's an accident that this conversation is happening when we are going to be visting a lot of countries that are primarily Buddhist. I think that the Buddha was onto something with the whole idea about releasing your hold on the material world. Jesus and the Buddha probably could have had a nice chat over coffee on that subject -- if either of them had owned a coffee maker.

I don't know where the conversation is going. But I know I'm not going to be the same person I am now once it gets there.

Posted by Bwinky 07:24 Archived in USA Tagged preparation Comments (2)

(Entries 31 - 35 of 38) « Page .. 2 3 4 5 6 [7] 8 »