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Indonesia Archives

Despite not being particularly religious, I picked up the basics of Christianity as I made my way through the public schools, along with a bit of knowledge about Judaism and Islam. Similarly, I learned about Shinto, Buddhism and Confusionism--the three major Japanese religious influences--as part of my undergraduate studies. But despite having been part of a Hindu wedding ceremony (in which I swore vows in a language I don't understand, and to this day have no idea what I swore to do), it wasn't until we went on this trip that I managed to learn much at all about Hinduism. 

Making our way through Asia opened my eyes to the prodigious influence of the Hindu religion on cultures outside India. [1] By the time we set foot in Delhi, we had already visited Hindu religious sites in Indonesia, Cambodia, and Thailand. Thankfully, Pallavi had suggested that we go to the Ramayana Ballet in Yogyakarta, which gave me at least some grounding in one of the major works of the Hindu religion before we made our way further.

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Lord Rama and Leksmana comfort a fallen Jatayu

Faces that haunt our journey

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I recently received a request for a photograph of myself, and was left scratching my head. I actually do have an electronic album of my few decent photos, but that album is on a hard drive in storage somewhere in suburban New York. All I have with me are photos from this trip.

Instead of weeding through several thousand photographs looking for a presentable image, I decided to cheat by relying on Picasa's facial recognition technology. I left the program running overnight and returned the next morning, coffee in hand, to the somewhat tedious task of identifying four thousand or so faces that Picasa had picked out of our photos.

Most of these faces belonged to innocent bystanders, and could be set aside easily. There were a few photos of me, a few more of Pallavi, and several of friends and travel companions whom we've met along the road. In the end, I found a couple of pictures that didn't make me look like a deranged lunatic with a bad haircut. But Picasa also picked out the faces of two individuals who we'd photographed in several countries, and yet weren't friends or family.

It's not surprising that we have multiple pictures of President Obama, whether in a cafe in Ecuador;

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or on a campaign poster in Peru.

But while the President may get a bit of exposure, he's a virtual nonentity in comparison to the man who has followed our footsteps on every continent, in virtually every country: Che Guevara. 

One constant that we've noticed throughout our travel: wherever one is in the world, a young boy of about four to six in possession of both a similarly-aged boy and something to beat him with is going to thwack his companion. This was certainly true when we went to the Ramayana Ballet in Yogyakarta and sat in the same audience with a large school group. Audience members were handed an explanatory program the size of a paper placemat. Every audience member between six and ten in possession of an Y chromosome proceeded to roll the program up and use it as a cudgel. (The girls giggled and texted on their cell phones.)

This is as true for two young brothers on a small skiff being rowed by their older sister. Here is what it looks like in a brief intermission between thwackings:

Vietnam Chidren

And this is the not-so-tranquil moment:

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Recommended: Stop Having a Boring Life

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Search engine optimizers have made life difficult for those doing travel research. Often when I am looking for advice on places to stay or methods of travel, hundreds of similar hotel booking sites will fill the first three pages of results. Some of these are actually the same site using different URLs, and none of them meet my needs.

I really want to read personal experiences. TripAdvisor is good for this, but like any popular site, its recommendations are somewhat self-enforcing, in that the top-ten hotels will tend to get a lot of TripAdvisor visitors. Best of all, I find, are travel blogs.

Thus, I stumbled across Stop Having A Boring Life when we were trying to decide whether to take the night train from Yogyakarta to Jakarta. In the end we took a flight simply because we wanted to stay an extra day, but his travel stories were nonetheless useful and entertaining, and I keep returning to the site. Rob, the author, is a bit more of a backpacker/traveler than we are, and he posts more about why he is on his journey than we do. He's been through quite a few countries, however, including many that we will be visiting in the future, which makes it a good site to watch.

As you can see, I've added him to the blogroll.

Sufficiently Advanced Technology

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The process by which we generated Pallavi's last post left me briefly awed by the miracles, and apparent absurdity, of modern technology. Not that we did anything particularly special.

While she was drafting, Pallavi decided that it would be nice to post a picture along with her entry. She used my iPhone to snap the photo, and then the only question was how to get it to her computer so that she could add it to her entry.

Now that I give the matter considerably more thought than I did at the time, there were several ways we could have accomplished this: miniSD cards or a shared network, for example. But I chose the easiest and most thoughtless way, which actually involved a number of complex international transactions:

  • I transferred the image to my computer and attached it to an email. Because my SMTP server is based in England, this means that the image was probably uploaded to a machine outside Oxford.
  • It was then sent to Pallavi's Gmail address, to a server that may be located anywhere in the world. I'd guess that it was in the United States.
  • Pallavi then downloaded it from Gmail's far-flung servers to her machine, which I could have reached out and touched without stretching too hard.

In a real sense, the image had traveled much of the way across, if not around, the globe. In a practical sense, I had shifted it across the table.

I've done something like this hundreds of times. It only occurred to me now because I've been reading Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle. These sort-of-sci-fi novels are perfect for a round-the-world trip: first, because their sheer length and complexity demand a significant amount of time to complete them; and second, because their scope spans decades and the entire breadth of the world. [1] Much of the plot revolves around problems in communication, and how events on the other side of the globe will eventually affect the flow of money within Europe when they become known. I realized that one character spends much of the second book, and a decade of his life, to go a distance around the world that is actually somewhat shorter than Pallavi's photograph took this morning.

As I said, I've done something like this a hundred times, and it no longer seems magical. That alone is worth noting.

[1] It should also be noted that while these are historical novels, Stephenson does not always get his history precisely correct. For instance, there is a point where a Japanese character relates the story of how Dutch were allowed to trade in Nagasaki that gets certain historical events a bit out of order. Of course, it could simply be that the character relating these events had his history, handed down to him by his father, somewhat misremembered.

Island Paradise Update

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After a quick flight from Jakarta to Bali, we spent a couple days at The Island hostel, then took a slightly hair-raising boat ride to Gili Trawangan, one of three tiny islands off the coast of Lombok. Here we've been reading novels, giving Tony time to recover from his chest infection/cold, and contemplating the clear, warm waters as a good place for our next dive.

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The view from the bar at Hotel Vila Ombak, where we've gotten our first cocktails on this island that taste like they have alcohol. Well-suggested, John.

In New Zealand, we learned a new word for our kind of traveller: flashpacker . I'm not sure that it's an entirely complimentary term: "flash" can be somewhat derogatory in British slang. But the general idea seems to be that flashpackers are long-term travellers with a slightly higher budget (and often a few more grey hairs) than backpackers.

That describes us pretty well. We stay in budget hotels and hostels, but we try to find private rooms. If we can, we get a private bath. We could probably get by paying considerably less for accomodation, but our budget allows for some comfort. We have a few gadgets with us, and in a pinch I could muster together a decent interview outfit. (Here's an entertainingly written blog on flashpacking, though I don't endorse everything in it.)

Then again, occasionally we'll splurge and go for something more than comfort, especially when a new experience is on offer. For our first two days in Indonesia, which I suspect will otherwise be filled with budget hotels and hostels, we luxuriated (surprisingly affordably) at the Dharmawangsa.

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A bit more than a budget bed.

The three movies I watched in-flight from Sydney to Jakarta:

  • Inception: I had high expectations for this film given its reviews, but it just didn't live up. The concept was good, but it felt like the writer was making up things halfway through just to maintain suspense, without worrying about consistency. Adding the concept of "limbo" forty-five minutes in just crushed my ability to believe in the storyline. Great CGI, and decent acting, but sci-fi is all about the idea for me.
  • The Expendables: So full of action movie cliches that it somehow managed to invent new ones. That sentence doesn't make sense, but neither does the plot, dialogue, or characterization of this movie. Also, of all of these action film icons, how did they miss out Jessie Ventura (which would have made this the second film to have two American governors in it)? If you really want to punish yourself, watch it as part of a double-feature with the new A-Team.
  • Tomorrow, When the War Began: Based on the first in a series of children's books, this is apparently Australia's answer to Red Dawn. Much like the American popcorn classic, the invading aggressors are a tactical and logistical mess, although instead of an identified red menace, Australia is partially conquered by an unnamed Asian "coalition" force. It makes for a fun romp if you don't think too hard.

Scattershot of Thoughts on Leaving Sydney

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I'm writing this from the Dharmawangsa Hotel in Jakarta, where we arrived last night after a 6-hour Qantas flight from Sydney. Tony will be posting more on this hotel, with pictures, but let me just say that this is by far the nicest place we have stayed on this trip -- without being the most expensive. If you want to party like a rockstar while on a symphony-violinist budget, Indonesia seems to be the place to do it, so long as you're not a rockstar who requires bacon in his Old Fashioned.

  • The Magnum Temptation chocolate ice cream bar heavily promoted in Australia and New Zealand, including a commercial featuring Benecio del Toro, nearly lives up to the hype. They even figured out how to keep the brownie chunks from being too hard despite being in a frozen dessert. Go Unilever!

  • Speaking of Unilever ice cream, the one "foodie" experience we had in Sydney was at the Food & Wine festival, where you buy tickets that entitle you to try some of the offerings from various restaurants and producers. The only free items I spotted were Ben & Jerry's and Yellowtail wine. In the entire time we spent in this region, I never saw a single drinks menu that featured either Yellowtail wine or Forster's beer. I suspect that whole "Australian for beer" slogan is a hoax perpetrated on the rest of the planet.

Apartments in Jakarta?

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We're arriving in Jakarta on December 1, 2010, and we're thinking of renting an apartment for three weeks. If anyone has advice on good (or bad) apartment options, or any other advice on Indonesia, we're all ears!

Things We've Seen


Things We Like