South-East Asia on the Cheap
Going to Jakarta Today is May 2, 1998. My darling Marcy and I never saw the first of May, we skipped right over it. Our slightly delayed flight from LA could have been delayed further, since even before leaving LA they knew we’d arrive in Hong Kong one-half hour before the airport opened.
Our airborne vessel circles high above this busy city while we watch a television monitor. The screen is filled with a green cartograph of Hong Kong, and a blue cartoon icon, which is making dizzying circles above the cartoon airport, represents our airplane. We will be among the last regular international passengers to land at the old airport. The new one is scheduled to open after our return in June or July.
The flight on Cathay Pacific is pleasant with one inconvenience. It is a fifteen-hour flight! Although this is our delayed honeymoon, I am a little gruff with my bride when she explained that she let me sleep through a meal!
|April 30, 1998
|May 2, 1998
|May 2 - May 3
|May 3 - May 5
|May 5 - May 6
|May 6 - May 7
|May 7 - May 11
|May 11 - May 13
|May 14 - May 15
|May 16 - May 17
|May 17 - May 21
|May 21, 1998
May 2 HONG KONG We sat quietly, watching a departure monitor to find which gate to board for our Jakarta flight that leaves in four hours, after our 6:31 a.m. landing time.
While at the Hong Kong airport, I debated about whether or not I should start a journal for this trip. Despite the time and labor necessary to fulfill the task of journal maintenance, I decide to buy a one hundred page notebook. The notebook while in the Hong cost nine US dollars (about five times what it would cost in the U.S.)
Fortunately, before leaving Agoura my wife and I had visited our local market and bought a bag of salted cashews, two one-liter bottles of water, three red Fuji apples and a box of round, water crackers (the crackers taste exactly like matzoth.) If Marcy hadn’t bought these items it would have been fairly expensive to get the cheapest lunch available in any of the airport shops. While poor imitations of pizza and hamburgers were available, this is Asia, so naturally most small eateries offered Asian faire. The most frequently purchased item is a steaming light yellow broth with lots of noodles and highlighted with small bits of multicolored vegetable bits. No one can ever taste the vegetables, but the specks did add a colorful accent to an otherwise droll meal. Any of the first five items posted on the rear wall menu seemed to get the patron the same bowl of noodles.
I’ve noticed some very pronounced differences between how Hong Kong was as an independent British colony during our last visit a year ago, and how it is now after its May ’97 return to ownership by mainland China. In stark contrast to our previous visits to this international hub, the cashiers now refuse to offer standard courtesies to English-speaking tourists, even to the point of not speaking English. It’s not their national language now, but, it was less than two years ago! No one tried to speak the language, instead all of the clerks in the little shop pretended not to understand at all. Two years ago this was a British protectorate. At that time EVERY employee spoke fluent English!
HONG KONG is fifteen hours ahead of L.A. Going to Hong Kong means we cross the international dateline, which is west of Hawaii. The flight to Jakarta is another four-and-a-half-hours in the air (about the time it takes from L.A. to NY), we’ll figure out what we are going to do once we are there. Right now on advice from the Internet, we’ve decided to opt for Yogyakarta, which is about nine hours by train east of Jakarta.
|It seems to be a
tourist Mecca for the adventurous according to the “Lonely Planet” guidebook we read. You can compare it to Ankgor Wat in Cambodia, which has within only the last few days been released from thirty years of murderous activity and threats from Pot Poi. This despot died on the Thai-Cambodian border, thus escaping punishment by world tribunals for his sporadic attacks. Often the victims were tourists, especially Americans because that makes even bigger world news. We don’t know anybody who’s been to the places we plan to visit, so we don’t know what to expect. There is nothing unusual about us using the information from people who share their adventures through the internet and the “Lonely Planet” travel guides. We usually rely on these sources for what decisions we must make prior to departure from L.A.
Marcy: Too hot to shop
Imelda Markus and Dr. Rizal
(her cat at the time)
Schmata w/ Gusti
A bagel in Bali
Marcy waited for me in Ubud
when I returned from temple services gut yuntif
Back in January of ’98, when we launched the first serious conversations about our vacation which we’d call “Our Honeymoon”, we looked in the travel section of the L.A. Times on Sunday. Frequently I’d find good deals on flight tickets in this newspaper. Several “around the world” offers attracted our attention. As I explored the Internet more thoroughly I found hidden specials that required time to dig out a really good bargain. I watched how the dollar stacked up to other currencies. The Indonesian rupiah was declining by the hour. All Asian currencies had really taken a beating, especially Indonesia, South Korea, and Thailand. I tried to find interesting places in South Korea but couldn’t see anything in the travel books that would draw me to Seoul or that area except the DMZ between North and South Korea. The Korean won was the only currency to decline more quickly. Sometimes that’s enough to draw us, but I think we will have to study Korea more before we travel there. Japan’s yen has weakened against the dollar again, but only in moderation. It’s nothing like the greased slide that Indonesia, Korea or the Philippines are experiencing.
After our experiences in Bangkok three years earlier, Marcy didn’t want to go to Angor Wat, in Cambodia or Chang Mai, north of Bangkok. So that took those two off the list of potentials. Jakarta didn’t have much but the thought of witnessing the political upheaval and supposed civil discontent would be a first for me. The danger attracts me like a moth to a flame. Outside of Jakarta is Yogyakarta, something that should be wonderful.
We added the Philippines to our list; it is another financially troubled country. The political scene is on full boil with the election to occur the day we leave. Yesterday, Ramos (the current President of the Philippines) called on the communist rebels to lay down their guns and come in to town and vote. That didn’t sound too sincere to me, as an outside observer. I doubt the rebels will come out of the hills of Quezon except to fulfill their promise to kill anyone tampering with a free election. Anything could happen! The political soup is getting hotter every day and I expect the cauldron to boil over soon! The Philippine Peso is racing downward in value against the dollar. The latest news is that Imelda Marcos has withdrawn from the race. My friend Menett and his wife Annette Afner have tried to arrange for a member of Annette’s family to meet us at the airport. It would be grand if they do but if not, it won’t be any big disappointment.
The final flight cost helped cement our decision. On the Internet I found that we could obtain a flight from Cathay-Pacific, a good airline, to bring us to any of seventeen destinations for $899 total per person, round trip! A phenomenal price! I brought the info to Marcy to hear her input. I was a bit worried when Marcy discussed the merits of the South Pacific and Fiji. No economic turmoil and flight costs were MUCH higher in Fiji. Whichever we are going to do, we must decide soon because there is a blackout period when travel is not allowed on the All-Asia Pass. Also, there much more rain later in the year. So we send everything off after enrolling through the Internet. I watched the vacillating currency rates and CNN was always on. By following these economically unstable countries it is as though I was taking the temperature of the world with a rectal thermometer. And now we are prepared to go in and take a look.
I had a lapse of manners just this moment. I forgot that the blowing of one’s nose in public is like wiping yourself in public, it is just not to be done! Although I wrote all that needed to be written, if I focus on this paper and my writing I can lose sight of the fact that people around me are waiting to see what I do with the napkin. I will carefully sneak it into my pocket that’s what!
We, actually Marcy, decided that at $150 a night let’s stay at a 5 star hotel. Le Meridien Hotel was one choice. I checked out two other 5 star places. This hotel looks the nicest and the manager gave me a mini suite for $150 instead of the regular rate of $350 plus tax. I checked the rooms. One overlooked the pool and a construction site and the other room had a nice view of the busy Jakarta streets below. I chose the latter. I went back down got Marcy and our luggage from the taksi paid the driver 4000 Rupiah, that’s about six dollars for a half hour or longer ride.
The hotel is great and the people’s attention to detail is astounding. Truly five star. We’ll eat here, at the Lemon Grass Restaurant. Since the restuarant doesn’t open until 6:30 PM, we have two hours to wait. If we are going to Yoger tomorrow we should get the 6 am train. The hotel concierge was unable to arrange tickets for us so we needed to get there with adequate time to board and buy the tickets. We pack most of our stuff, just taking the most essential stuff with us for the two-day journey. We go to the restaurant and eat dinner, carefully avoiding uncooked vegetables but forgetting to not drink the water served with our meal. I have several half dollar sized pieces of marinated and fried beef with a dense texture and black inside and out. It is served with a huge mound of yellow sticky rice. Tiny curls of green onion were piled along side a spicy peanut sauce. Delicious, and in LA this would cost about twenty-five dollars, here it cost five dollars. Marcy asked for Nasi Goring, which is fried rice with a fried egg on top served with prawns and a selection of sauces to choose from. Including a generous tip, it cost us $11.
Still rocked by the time change, we go up to our room on the 10th floor and fall asleep quickly. Both of us had awaken several times during the night. Marcy says she was having bad dreams. I woke at 2 am. I don’t know what time it really was in LA, but I slept from 7:30 pm to 2 am, that’s a little over six hours. I went downstairs to sit in the lobby and read the newspaper. I was especially alarmed that Suharto said yes to political reform, but not until he’s voted out in 2003. The groundwork is laid for mass rioting, and an overthrown government. All the elements are present. The economy is bad, the government is oppressive, and there are riotous students. Added elements of kindling are the high humidity and heat. It’s all here. Hopefully the current government can successfully control the uprising or else Marcy and I may be witness to a terrible explosion. We tossed and turned trying to sleep a few more minutes.
Monday May 3 -- Jakarta
Marcy woke slowly but in a clearly irritated mood. I had slept better so I was okay to go on. We receive our 4:30 AM wake-up call, but we were already moving. I called for a taksi and had the concierge take two pieces of our luggage to store until we return. The morning air is damp and although it was not yet 6 AM, the mercury has risen to ninety. The ten-minute ride to the train station is hot without air conditioning, but the taksi is kept spotlessly clean. 5000 Rupiahs to the taksi driver. As we exit several men try to escort us and carry our luggage. We adamantly refuse, holding each piece firmer than ever. With help from several police or other passengers, Marcy finds the correct line for us to buy the first class tickets at 55,000 one-way, per person. It is confusing to find the proper point of departure. Fortunately a rail station worker takes pity on us and guides us to the train and the right seats. Within five minutes the train pulls out of the station! We are amazed at how lucky our timing is, for we rushed at no point since we had no concrete knowledge of any time table, even the tickets were unintelligible to me.
Until we begin to move, the car holds heat like a tandori oven. The windows are permanently closed so there is nothing to do to cool us down. Once the train start to moves forward we get relief from the terrible heat.
The train traveled through a mixed area of big beautiful building, and many depressing slums. After a half-hour at 30 mph we were outside Jakarta passing through endless rice fields only occasionally broken by a small grove of various types of trees. Off to the distance on either side were verdant jungles. As we traveled further from Jakarta the rice fields became less frequent, replaced by hundreds of clove trees. Their fruit is picked then spread in large areas, usually on a cloth but not always. About every two hours during sunlight hours, the cloves are raked into a different position so that the tiny yellow fruit dries evenly.
During each of the seven stops the train makes on this nine or ten-hour journey, food peddlers boarded the train trying desperately to exchange whatever packaged food they’ve brought for cash. Sausages, fried pork rind were among the foods I recognized but such mundane foods as those were far outnumbered by pungent local snacks offered to us. I was tempted by the salted fish but only because I hadn’t had adequate sleep. Our arrival at about 3:30 pm was greeted by a mass of Yogyakatians swarming over us like flies on a decomposing meat. The cabbies, each with their own unique repertoire, all tried to lure us to their own taxi. As unerringly as trained mice through a maze we too were picked off by a pro. Anjeet was his name, a young man appearing to be in his mid twenties, blessed or cursed, depending upon his mood, we deduced future comments, with a wife and one son. Another child, he says, is due in three months. He feels the oppression of the current economical crunch, hardly able to continue payments on the car and certainly not enough to indulge regularly in a package of clove cigarettes.
He agreed to 10,000 rupiah for a trip to the airport to buy return tickets, and then to find a good hotel. I’ve noticed while we drive, that there are very few European looking people on the street.
At the airport I wanted Anjeet to go with me but airport security refused to allow him in. I went in and had no problem choosing from the two airlines there. In some way they appeared to work together, and yet they were totally separate. Maybe the airlines are nationalized too? I paid about $35 US dollars to catch the 9:30 am flight to Jakarta 270 miles away. It is so much smaller to measure distance in units of time needed to get to a particular destination. While a beautiful train ride, it was long and we were the only Europeans in our car. Many watched a movie that had played three times during the nine-hour ride. It was called Blood Soldiers. A movie made in the USA but unlike anything I’ve ever seen outside India.
Anjeet and Marcy were waiting out in the taksi in the heat. I gave Marcy the tickets, mentioning the date of departure, which is the 5th and the time to be at airport, about 8:30, for flight at 9:30 am. Anjest thinks we should stay at Hotel IBIS, a mundane pinkish square building so drab I immediately think of Russian architecture. And it’s squeezed onto a narrow lot on a narrow street. So we pass on this, this was a signal to me. Anjeet, in his daily struggle to survive, is prepared to pimp another tourist, in this case us, to make some extra commission.
Marcy used the guidebook to find a place that might be the right choice. We made a stop at a large white hotel with a long drive to the front reception. Natur Garuda is the name of the hotel, but that name wasn’t visible from the street. I went in, explained I was looking for a room and the chief came over to me and said, Here are our special rates, are you with Caltex? No, just my wife and I are here. He scrambled around briefly, looking for another chart or paper it seemed. He explained he has a room for us. We agreed on a price first, before I looked at the room. It translated to $35. While nice, it had separate beds and no view. I said no and was escorted to another room,where, although the price skyrocketed to $50 a night, was much larger, had one large bed, and a good view of the city from the balcony. I paid Anjeet 3 US Dollars which is about 22,000 rupiah instead of the 10,000 rupiah agreed upon.
This city is located midway between Jakarta and Bali. While the cab was air-conditioned it was still a comforting relief to get inside the hotel. Inside we saw a marble monument that indicated room 911 & 912 were used as national headquarters during W.W.II. I dismissed Anjeet and told him to meet us here tomorrow and he’ll take us around. He said he’ll work all day, as long as we want, for twenty US dollars. He was happy to get US currency during a time when the rupiah is so battered.
May 4th, 1998 B Monday, Yogya
The air during the night never went below ninety. I can see why so few visitors are here. Coupled with the heavy humidity it is not a pleasant experience over an extended period of time.
I was not as uncomfortable as Marcy. We woke several times during the night, and ordered room services because it was all so cheap. Both dinners, including shrimp cocktails, was 6 dollars total!
In the morning Marcy discovered she had forgotten all her cosmetics. For her this is a catastrophe. We followed the advice in the travel books and especially giving highest credence to information gathered from the Internet travel boards. As an extra plus, completely unexpected, the hotel clerk gave us coupons which were to be exchanged for a welcome glass of orange juice at the bar. We drank the refreshing, but small drink while waiting for our room to be made up. On our way up to the room yesterday, Marcy, without cosmetics, to delay her, was ready before I was despite the fact that I was up at 3 am and had much more time available to prepare for the day.
We brought camera gear and other stuff downstairs when we exchanged our breakfast coupon for food. It was a buffet style breakfast. Both Japanese and American foods were there for us to choose from. Marcy had gotten the wonderful tiny bananas like those I had in Africa, that were so wonderfully flavorful that they bring the ones, which LOOK beautiful in the USA, to shame. I tried the congee, a popular soup thickened with a base of rice paste then a golden liquid which was chicken flavored, but unfortunately it was oily. Next I was instructed to put scallions, bits of chicken and a brown stringy substance, which I could not ascertain whether it was meat or vegetable. Surprised, I enjoyed it, but I know it will never become one of my favorites.
As I sat back after finishing the soup, I could feel some of the ingredients were in a desperate struggle for survival in my stomach. I was not certain what the outcome of the battle was going to be. Hopefully I would win, but I could only sit back with the passive concentration of a general, far removed from the battle, guiding his troops to victory. I must add that ultimately, I prevailed.
We finished breakfast making certain to drink more than one cup each of the freshly brewed Java (since we are in central Java).
Anjeet was dutifully waiting for us outside the hotel. We met and I told him that first we want to see Borobudor, the ancient Buddhism temple and grounds. Then we’d see the ancient Hindu temple at Prombantan. Both were about thirty miles apart on different edges of the city but I’ll always remember these sites. As I expected, there were swarms of tourist, and vendors selling folding hats, shirts, and fish candy. I bought a well-made tee-shirt for 10000 rupiah, that’s about $1.50 US. It’s clean and cheap. I need it in this unforgiving heat which offers little shade. Marcy is suffering in the heat. Both of us are sweating terribly. Marcy waited at the base of each of the temples while I went into them accompanied by a guide. Both times it was a tremendous relief to arrive at the air-conditioned taxi and get in. To go to Indonesia without having seen these would have been a mistake. Despite the heat and discomfort I believe it was a working investment. Anjeet brought us back to the hotel. Marcy and I went to the room. I immediately took a cool shower to bring my cool down. Marcy threw up but I encouraged her to drink plenty of water and eat the crackers to eliminate the effects of the heat.
A couple of hours later I met Anjeet who brought me to a batik store where batiks are made made. There I bought a batik clock for 80,000 rupiah. He brought me to an area in back of the store where ten women sat among pots of heated paints. As he explained, they are the artists who make these things. I wanted to find a full sarong for Marcy but they did not make what I was looking for. I let Anjeet bring me back to the hotel. He was stressing out over gas problems for the taxi. Tonight prices of gas will increase 75% so there were very long lines at the government owned gas stations. His fuel meter didn’t work on the car but he knew how many kilometers he could travel before he was on empty. He didn’t understand that he could go further on long fast roads than in heavy city traffic, it made no sense to him.
I walked up to the room to check on Marcy, then walked across the street to examine what goods were for sale. I walked three miles and I was astounded that no vendor or storekeeper had extra large tee shirts. I was told over and over again that they only have one size. The same story goes for leather slippers. They had kids sizes but only one size for adults. I noticed, that with rare exceptions, the Indonesians are pretty much uniform in size so I suppose that’s why. My purchases were a buffalo leather mitation lexi black belt $1.00, ten postcards $1.00, postage stamps, $3.00, shorts, $1.50, earphones $1.50 and several hand painted rings at 500 rupiah each. While it hasn’t started to really cool down, Marcy has begun to feel better but not well enough to go out to eat. We had a huge assortment of food for dinner and our bill was $6 US. I washed my jeans and under clothes in the bathtub with scalding hot water then took advantage of the hot, scorching air, and left my clothes outside to hopefully dry quickly.
May 5, TuesdayCYogyakarta
Because we went to sleep early, I awoke early. I first checked to see that Marcy was comfortable, then Ichecked the clothes which unfortunately were not completely dry yet. I put on the shorts I bought last night and went downstairs. I startled many people, they were having some sort of political meeting as I walked by. I was not supposed to see this. The hotel manager escorted me quickly through the gathering which was spread out over a large area in the lobby at 3 am. There were thirty people, mostly young, present there. I felt most unwelcome and one hotel clerk explained it was a religious meeting but that was an obvious lie. It smelled of rebellion and politics. As each member quietly left I sensed that this was something important. We will be out of here tomorrow so we won’tt see it. After our taxi ride to the airport we waited for two hours until the flight was ready. This airport had four gates or doors each twenty feet from the next, all opening out to the tarmac where there was only sufficient room for one plane. Garuda Airlines provided the flight at $35 each person, we boarded by walking across the hot tarmac then climbed a amp to enter the plane. I found it small but comfortable and the stewardesses made all announcements in Indonesian and English. The flight was a little exciting as all passengers leaned forward to give a little more speed to get us airborne. An hour later we landed at Jakarta and disembarked with our luggage after the 3 hundred-mile journey. Marcy thought it was cute that they offered us a peppermint as a mid flight treat. We rode back to the hotel in a cab, a thirty-mile trek costing $6 US. As promised we meet down in JAK in an hour. I considered the short flight a bargain when I remembered how a whole day was used to get to Yogyakarta. Marcy and I had a cab to bring us back to Le Meriden Hotel. The exceptionally hot day was accompanied by equally uncomfortable humidity.
Both of us felt cool relief when we stopped into the cool marble lobby of the hotel. The cab was air-conditioned but it only felt slightly colder than a fan blowing air on us. I thought back to Yogyakarta and the one day we had to see those wonderful monuments. To me, that was enough to make the entire trip worthwhile. While Marcy shared my joy and marveled at this wonders in Yogya the heat took a higher toll on her body than mine. Our resistance to weather does a 180 when it comes to cold climates.
After going to the room, #1007, we washed then dressed as best we could for a nice dinner. With the Indonesian economy suffering as it was we could afford practically anything. I sincerely felt pangs of guilt over their dilemma. Or was that just hunger? The financial problems of these people are large and profound. I can understand why tourists might avoid this place. Also, there is really nothing to see here, it’s kinda like an Asian Calgary. Just a place for business, for the most part that’s all Jakarta is good for.
The Lemon Grass Restaurant was opened for dinner. Sitting in front of the open doorway, off to the side, was a very black man who said he’s Irian Jana, or so he told the manager of the hotel. He sat on the floor wearing white facial stripes which strongly contrasted with his black skin. He had several pieces of art which he may have carved recently, each with a reasonable price posted on it. Apparently, deduced from this singular observation, the penis is a very important part of Irian Jana art. I assumed this because out of the twenty pieces for sale, ten were penis protectors. I had wished my brother Steve were here because he sees a need for greater popularity of pocket protectors and the Irian Jana people seem to have no place on the clothing worn by the Indigenous people BUT they did see a need of this protector. And just for your information, dear readers, the horn shaped device could be purchased in varying lengths from one foot to two feet long. Marcy and I had a discussion over which of our friends could most benefit from such a gift. Several names entered the final round of discussions but not knowing anyone’s actual size we decided it was most prudent to not buy any of the small one footers. Nor did we wish to mock the less well endowed by a present of the two-foot model.
Several other pieces were there, including a fishing spear and a long drum, two items which didn’t have anything to do with penises. The rest of the stuff did! A fragile wooden man seated with his legs drawn up but his penis erect helped in no small part by the introduction of a small metal spring which allowed the penis much freer movement than it would have had otherwise. So you get the idea. I don’t think more writing to describe other pieces would serve any benefit other than make any reader of this suspicious of my fixation with these penises without offering words of adequate self-defense I’ll only say that one couldn’t comment on this art without multiple uses of the “p” word, or other such synonyms. Utterly unavoidable. So we left him working his carvings, holding the piece he was currently working on, with his toes and one hand while the other hand chiseled away.
The hostess graciously seated us. The round interior of the restaurant was painted as though we were on a small island. The base of the walls had white sand dotted with pieces of driftwood and other such common articles found at the beach. Off in the distance were several dhows, and one large sailboat pointed at us. We searched and evaluated each of the twenty unusual dinners offered to us in the very fancy menu. Our choices kept flitting from one item to another till the waitress revisited our table and we made our selection. While we avoided the uncooked vegetables we drank the water in our glass when the young server told us it was bottled water. We were soon served our food, and both of us remarked about the intricate blend of spices used.
After the meal, although we had discussed going through the town at dusk, we were tired and we went to our room and soon fell asleep. I had tried to play some of our video but the plug did not fit well.
May 6th, WednesdayCJakarta
We both woke several times before daybreak. When it came we were up and ready to go downstairs for breakfast. We had put some of our stuff away but not everything was packed. Breakfast was served in another hotel restaurant adjacent to the Lemon Grass. T the food was expensive by Indonesian standards of course but the food was well presented and the fresh fruits are so much more flavorful than what we have available in the US. They had accidentally tried to overcharge Marcy but she set them straight and the bill was revised. Our flight to Hong Kong leaves at 3:30 pm so we should be at the airport by 1:30 pm. With a few hours to spend Marcy says she’d like to go back to Patyonga to shop some more.
We each take a limit of $50 dollars to spend. I wanted to take a bemo or beca but we could not find one much to Marcy’s relief. A taksi brought us there. It would open in 5 minutes, at 9 am. We discussed the merits of the street venders versus the huge shopping store. Ultimately we decided to go separately, and then meet at 11:30 am at the store restaurant. I feared the potential of getting completely disorientated and lost, so I took great care to look back to retrace my steps. When the store was no longer visible I was deep within the world of street vendors and tiny shop owners. My first mission was to find a tailor who could shorten my jeans while I waited. Language was a problem here because I couldn’t communicate my need for their pants or shorts to wear while they did their work. I found the area where there were at least twenty tailors but I couldn’t arrange a temporary pants loan from anyone. The first tailor I tried to explain my request he told others about me being potentially pantless which caused wails of laughter spread from stall to stall. I retreated amidst distant chortles. That was my best attempt and I’d try no more today.
As I slowly walked toward the store where Marcy was to meet me I bought a watch for $3. I found the shop where Marcy was and sat in the small restaurant we had agreed to meet at. I was an hour early but I was so wet from my sweat outside in the heat, that sitting down, I ordered watermelon juice drink. Here it is just watermelon mixed with just the juice.
The cold drink was just what I needed to cool down even though the store itself, was well air-conditioned. At the agreed time, Marcy appeared foot sore and bedraggled from her shopping venture. We left the store to catch a cab and look at some of the vendors outside because Marcy thinks she’ll find good sunglasses cheaply, or a woman’s watch like the one I bought. The sunglasses were found and only cost $2.50 US. For the watch she couldn’t find one but I found another one. This time I only paid $2! It really looks great. Unfortunately, when I looked at it again, just a few minutes later, this had no stem with which to wind it and it just didn’t work! So that one made a quick trip to the trash. We trekked on through the stalls and various odors and aromas which often melded rather horribly with each other. Always they were vile and sickening. I’m certain that constant exposure to whatever pollutants filled the air would easily alter someone’s DNA
The ever-present moist heat worsened this moment. Finally, after reaching a street, I flagged down a taxi and we were back to the hotel.
May 6, 1998 Wednesday -- Jakarta to Hong Kong
Feeling the welcoming coolness of the hotel’s interior somehow revitalized me. Marcy was beyond help by an improved environment by that time. She needed surgery!
We went to our room and I listened while she told me of her misery. Since we were leaving anyway I needed to do nothing except be concerned and offer solace.
We both washed and changed clothing, brought the packed bags to the lobby, and then to the taxi. Soon we’d arrive at the airport and check in our luggage. The airport in Jakarta is nice and seems new. The grounds are beautifully planned and it seemed to have pleasant surroundings.
I bought three small bottles of water for less than $2 US but still a huge price here in Indonesia. Riots and other insurrection stuff will happen again today but we’ll be gone by the time they start.
We board the plane and get fairly good seats. Just the two of us for four seats in a row! Somebody tries to move over into our row but Marcy insists he return to his correct seat. The man is astounded but moves back to his assigned seat. He asked if Marcy’s from New York when she said no he then asked her where she got her accent. He sounded like he was from the South somewhere but who knows? Or cares? Soon Marcy apologized to the Southern fellow for being so protective of these seats but he didn’t try to come back over here. The sky is dark now and we’ve lost an hour from Jakarta time. We already have our hotel reservations so that should work just fine. If we wish, we might go to Stanley Market. After arrival we had to wait about forty minutes for the hotel bus. The air is hot and moist. We were really tired when the bus came. We were the only passengers for the fifteen-minute trip to the hotel. Marcy had already made reservations while we were still in the US. There was a group of ten Chinese men, each dressed in an outfit once owned by Jackie Chan, looking like either mobsters or movie extras. They hung tightly in a group with one very thin Susie Won-type girl lap dancing with one of the guys. Even without them, the lobby of the hotel was a bit on the Chinese ostentatious side. Large white paper orbs illuminated our way to the reception desk. We checked in, and were then escorted to our room without luggage. When we went inside I must say that the room ways very clean and well appointed. We were very tiered and we had to get up early in the morning at 5 to make our 7:30 am flight. Since it was now already 11pm we needed to sleep ASAP. Both of us kept waking and checking the time. I really enjoyed being able to keep saying to myself I could sleep longer.
May 7, 1998 ThursdayCHong Kong, Manila
The 5 am time came too soon, but we moved quickly, getting our stuff together and checking out. The drive to the hotel last night and again early this morning more deeply than ever impresses me with Hong Kong’s similarity to NY, when you take away the Asian angle.
The hired taxi drops us off at the airport, then the driver argues that 40 Hong Kong dollars (about 7 to a US dollar) isn’t enough although his meter said only 28. Yep, just like NY.
This is still the old airport although it looks pretty new to me. The new airport will be completed and in use in June or July of this year. Also the new one will be 40 miles outside of the city. This one is right in it. There is the tax we must pay of $100 Hong Kong per person. What to do? We pay it to get the stamp of approval on our ticket. The prices, even for a tee-shirt are insane in the airport. We buy only some water and crackers. It was announced that the flight to Manila will last 1 hour 55 minutes.
The day’s beginning started with the pleasant flight and we got a cab from a hotel bureau for 250 pesos. The taxi trip was long and hot. The air-conditioning didn’t really cool down the car. The ride was made longer by political campaigning and rush hour traffic.
The hotel looked very nice indeed. Manila Hotel has plenty of history around it. General MacArthur stayed here, and when the Japanese occupied this archipelago they used this opulent hotel as their headquarters. The Beatles and many other such people stayed here when in Manila. Marcy had shown me a long list of dignitaries who had stayed here. Almost the very last name was, drawn in script, was our name, which Marcy had added for the next reader of this list.
The day was still young so we prepared for a half-day city tour. The air-conditioned bus picked us up. The only other passenger was a thirty-year-old Belgian man. The guide’s name was Geraldine, a young Filipina. She spoke in that same staccato pattern that most Philippinos speak. But when one realizes that English is a unifying language over the ninety dialects of tagalog which include various levels of influence from Spanish, their mastery of different languages is really very remarkable. The bus was pleasantly cool. We exited it to view a historical complex of the last days of Dr. Rizal, which includes the famous fort used by the Spanish. The Japanese, Americans and the Philippinos themselves, all unsuccessfully claimed for themselves. You’d think that sooner or later somebody would get the message that either the fort offered poor defenses or it was just unlucky. It was such a string of unsuccessful defenses that it should have sent a message to somebody. That somebody was NOT Dr. Rizal. He has been deified to some level above national hero. Anyway, Geraldine led us through super heated shadeless parks following brass plated footsteps of Dr. Rizal! Because our group was so small, I think, she singled me out to speak directly to me! This left me little opportunity to wader as I generally do. She was watching me! I tried to look interested but the heat would not allow me to hide my disinterest. I hid often behind my camera for periods too long for her to dally. These brass footprints were everywhere I wonder how they did that. I mean, who was watching and how did they remember everywhere that Dr. Rizal ever stepped while at the complex? My money would be on a guesser or some such guy. Being a very Catholic country they are deeply religious usually such countries have those guys that see stuff in dreams or that can find stuff with a pointed stick. The month of May is a part of their summer and most flowers are in bloom, and many fruits and vegetables are harvested now. It also marks the month made holier for its numerous pageants and parades done for Mary the Virgin.
Geraldine brought us through the fort following the brass footsteps then the steps took us into a museum. To me this was absolutely amazing that Dr. Rizal could have figured this stuff out in the 1800’Cbut he did, Geraldine said. I had the full and unanimous support of our entire group when I approached Geraldine and stopped her, mid-sentence. I explained, as gently as I could, that I have gained a much deeper and more profound understanding of Dr. Rizal, but if there is more about him My wife & I would prefer to wait in the bus. The Belgian man sidled over to Marcy and me as if to say Amen, too! She explained that there was another floor on which we could see many of Dr. Rizal’s clothes and a piece of his backbone. I tried to be polite, but it was more important that I was firm! She offered explanations and apologies to the Filipinos who were ticket takers or guards as we left the building.
Together, the three passengers reminded her that this is to be a CITY tour!
Our next stop was to a government run gift shop. It is important we buy our gifts here because the government set it up so that we would see the finest that P.I. has to offer. Although Marcy and I hadn’t been to many shops we could easily see that this was the same crap. Just the same!
On putting one foot in the door each of us were draped with a necklace of white shells tied with a piece of blue ribbon. Rather than to mark us as stupid tourists Geraldine said it is to assure each of us of attention and we get a 50% discount off all unmarked goods. All goods were unmarked. In order to get a price the clerk had to check a small handbook, which I’m sure had the correct list price. I was the only one who ventured through this store. Occasionally I’d find something with a priced marked on it. Two items I was prepared to buy; some stamps for Steve and a tee-shirt for me. When I brought them forward to the cash register the clerk asked me for the full price based on the sticker price. I reminded her I was wearing the venerated white necklace and was entitled to 50% savings as a mark of respect. She said that I had picked sale items already marked down 50% when in fact there was nothing to have let me know I found sale items. It must have been noted in the little clerks handbook. I only bought the stamps. It was a blessed relief to get back to the air-conditioned bus. Once again aboard the bus, the red color began to leave Marcy’s face. The heat is tough on her.
Our next stop was the cemetery where soldiers both Filipino and Americans had died fighting the Japanese for this island. This Island has seen its share of liberators. First, of course, are the Philippino people. Their oppression was eventually lifted by the Spanish, who opened the door to the island so it could be freed from Spanish rule by the Americans. The American liberators were eventually beaten by the Japanese, who soon lost the island to the Americans again, who in turn lost it to the Philippinos. Each group left it’s mark here. Each group wrote itself into the incredible history of this place.
The ride to the cemetery was on a hill outside Manila so the city tour guide told us some information about the city. We passed the Philippinos, and several Ambassador’s homes. Well, we couldn’t actually see the homes because the cement fences that surrounded each estate were about eight to ten feet tall. But she told us about them. I remember thinking, nice fences, as we drove on.
The cemetery was huge. Maybe it was smaller than Arlington but it was still incredibly big. Marcy noted that there were only ten or twenty Jewish stars among all of the crosses. Furthermore, no other religious icon stood on these grounds. No Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic icons were visible. All the states of the US were represented here, and not without great reverence.
The Philippinos are a nation which looks to elevate its heroes to icons. Almost every street or park carries the name of some leader. Practically every stamp had some hero’s likeness on it. There were a few exceptions, but not many.
The bus brought us back to the hotel. We were glad that the city tour was over. If that’s the extent of it we can see why there are relatively few visitors here. I also have had some problem with their dialect of English.
Geraldine had mentioned that Rizal Park is where his arm is buried. We saw military guards protecting some such thing when we drove by. She mentioned that his back bone in the museum so I guess burying just his arm is not so far fetched but I did ask her, is his arm is buried there? Yes, she said, after his death he was cremated and they put his arm there. I had to ask one more question of explanation. Did you day his arm or his urn? She chuckled then said urn, das how it is, his urn.
We got out of the bus at the hotel, went to our room and lay on the bed, exhausted from the heat. Instead of going out for dinner we ordered room service. While expensive, room delivered meals seldom are as satisfying as a good meal in a restaurant. The only thing memorable was the caramel covered crepe which contained a slice of Mango. I watched the episode of Seinfeld “Soup Nazi.” Marcy fell asleep an hour ago.
May 8, 1998 Friday -- Manila
We woke at 7 am and prepared for a trip to the falls. When we appeared at the door at 8:30 am as requested, the transportation captain said the bus is on the way here. So Marcy and I had some coffee in the Coffee shop. When we finished we went back to the front door to find the other members of our group who were touring. Soon we were off. The weather was already very hot and the bus had its a/c up high working very well. I touched the window and I could feel the heat outside. The guide, a twenty-five-year old Filippina, was friendly and talkative. I guess those are characteristics you have to have for such a job as tour guide. We stopped after an hour at a shop that catered to the tourist trade, run by the Chinese. I bought some garlic-flavored peanuts. Last night Marcy opened a can labeled Mixed Nuts. In it were peanuts with dried beans and peas. She said she enjoyed the mix.
The bus started again after the eight of us had returned. The streets were crowded this Friday before elections. All campaigning is supposed to end tonight so everybody is getting in their last kicks.
The Jeepneys were heavily laden with decorations of their candidates. The newspaper says that over 100 people are running for office when the voting happens on Monday. People must go to the city/province where they are registered in order to vote. Surprisingly, the guide, the guide from yesterday and one hotel employee indicated no desire to vote. Voter apathy amidst this Philippino hubbub and hoopla is difficult to imagine. I thought the people would be more interested. I think they feel nothing will change for the election. The leading presidential candidate is a movie star who was a dark horse a little over a year ago. Now, it seems he’s the favored one. There is a rumor that the President, General Ramos, has a favorite candidate, Lim. Rumors fly that Lim is not a natural-born Philippino. Lim’s taken out huge ads to counteract the rumors but I think the damage has been done.
We arrive at the embarkation point in the canoe. Several in the group change clothing. Marcy and I do not. It becomes immediately apparent that there are two paddlers and two passengers assigned to each canoe. Myself, at over two hundred pounds, and Marcy, will prove to be a real test for the two paddlers assigned to get us upstream. The journey will last about an hour and go about three or four kilometers upstream. Often the two men exit the boat then drag the shallow bottomed boat over strategically placed metal pipes. The pipes allow the boatmen to employ basil laws of physics and let them use leverage to pull the boat upstream. Together the two boatmen could not have weighed more than 150 lbs. but using the principles of leverage they dragged the boat to the waterfall back in the mountain.
The wooden seat I sat on with my legs prostrated before me, Marcy sat in the narrow back of the canoe. I did permanent damage to my ass. Marcy chose not to get out of the canoe when we arrived at the waterfall. She said she wasn’t going to ride a raft under a waterfall. I did, and the German fellow on the tour with us offered to video film me while I carried the microphone with one. Screaming Chinese youths surrounded me. While I didn’t understand them, their excitement was so buoyant and animated I could sense each crescendo of their joy. The waterfall fell with such force it caused water to go into the microphone apparatus. I profusely thanked the German and made a point to reiterate my thanks after watching what he had taped. The journey down was needless to say, much easier. I found humor in listening to Marcy when she tried to ask the boatman if, as we were going upstream, it is all uphill. I needed to explain to Marcy that a river isn’t like a road, it only travels downhill. Finally we get back to where we started the canoe ride from and get out of the canoe. Marcy had felt an obligation to give her favorite boatman $5 plus. I gave the other $3 US. I’m sure that we were the biggest load they carried in a very long time.
Going in the bus we passed through an area which has been tapped as an area which they capture geothermal energy and convert it into electricity for the city. We got back to the city at 7 pm, tired, wet, and hungry. My ass still hurt from the canoe. That night we went for dinner at a hotel restaurant rather than going into the town (which our hotel is in the middle of). Our dinners were great. Marcy had chicken breasts with crab/lobster salad. I had shrimp/lobster/seafood soup with lemon & chili. Then chicken breast wrapped around lobster. I had a very tasty alcoholic drink in a pineapple with an umbrella on it. Because I ordered the $4 US drink I was entered into a raffle, but the clerk did not know the prize. I also got a pin because I bought the drink. Marcy and I shared the foods as lovers do. Of course, I ate much more of the meals than her. We went back to the room and feel asleep quickly. Both of us were exhausted.
May 9th B Saturday
I woke at 6 am and began writing, Marcy go up at 9 am and was soon ready. I went downstairs to try to eat something and bring some coffee to her but twice I was stopped.. There were a few minor language problems that I experienced in the hotel coffee shop. The first cup of coffee brought to my table was burnt. I asked for FRESH coffee. The waitress looked at me, open-mouthed, which is a sign that she did not understand me. I explained again please bring me a fresh, -- FRESH cup coffee. A normal look slowly crept over her face, as the gaping mouth slowly closed and the dim look of her eyes disappeared. She put the pot of brewed coffee down, then scurried into the kitchen and, somewhat scarily, reappeared holding a cup of dark brown liquid, which she placed before me. The cup had dirty brown foam around the inner edges of the cup. Nothing that I had just seen was enough to stop me from swallowing the luke warm liquid. It tasted like NESCAFE! I’d asked for fresh coffee. It was ridiculously difficult to try to get regular coffee so I had three cups of the bland brown liquid.
I asked for coffee to be brought to our room for Marcy. While I too waited in the room, no coffee was brought. We waited for an hour till we realized no coffee was coming for Marcy so we went to the coffee shop. She enjoyed the double espresso, which supplied her with a real electrical jolt that I didn’t get.
After a brief discussion with the concierge I made arrangements to visit Corregidor Island by boat tour for 880 pesos each (less 20% discount). We decided to do a little shopping so I hired a cab. We drove to the Robinsons Plaza. It was filled with American stores filled with Pizza, Starbucks, and McDonald’s. Actually American fast foods are everywhere in the city. They try to emulate McDonalds with their own version of that chain calling it Jollibee. The mall was a real American experience with goods and prices that were similar to what would be expected in L.A.
We bought a small container of popcorn, which was unimpressively like what could be bought in L.A. We met the taxi driver who, at our wish, brought us to a Philippine Flea Market area. Heat and vile odors filled the air that was already reverberation with intensely loud American rock music. The music emanated from four or more points of origin. The cacophony of the music was the final assault on our sense. Only the lack of fire kept us from thinking we were residents of Hell.
I bought some slippers and shorts. Marcy bought two small batik-type kerchiefs. All together they couldn’t have cost more than $4 US. We looked in a large craft store and I bought some stamps for Steve. We got back into the cab that was waiting for us, then the driver brought us to the seafood market. Although it received a fair write-up in the travel book it had very few patrons in the large dining area. Marcy felt that it was due to the fact that it was 2 pm. I chose several items that are difficult to find in the US. Namely, abalone and giant shrimp. There was a good selection of seafood. I asked that they be made into a soup. Marcy had her choice; large shrimp spiced with chili then barbecued. I should have done that also. The soup was good but I searched the liquid for pieces of seafood. Then left the gray water in the bowl. Marcy invited me to try a shrimp or two of hers. I joined in quickly.
Both of us were full from this meal and the heat had tired us quickly. We returned to the waiting taxi.
Back to the hotel. While on the return drive we tried to figure out how much the meal had cost us. 800 peso plus 220 pesos for cooking the food. I gave the driver three US dollars for a half day of driving. He was happy. Inside the lobby we bought a few postcards and stamps to mail them to the US. Since we haven’t mailed many we thought this would be a good time. We have to get to the boat, just behind the hotel, at 7 am tomorrow and Marcy wants to call Sarah on Mother’s day. In our room we write out the cards and put stamps & labels on each of them. After that’s done we turned on TV CNN--Asia has massive time spent on the upcoming elections in Manila on Monday, even though all campaigning was to cease yesterday, Friday. A lot of time is spent discussing the terrible financial problems in Indonesia with special focus on Jakarta where Suharto has departed for a meeting in Cairo. The soldiers are battling the students. Suharto’s nepotism has led to the complex problems they are experiencing now, especially his son who had control of the clove industry. Suharto had to cease that and released the stranglehold on cloves just before he was forced by the International Monetary Fund to stop subsidy’s of fuel causing gas to escalate 75%. Now the people are going crazy! Even in Indonesia Marcy and I could watch CNN but it isn’t available to most people. Before falling asleep we watched Seinfeld host Sat Night Live with Chris Farley. It was a repeat.
May 10, 1998 Sunday Mother’s DayCManila PI
The alarm went off on time we got dressed and I showered in cold water. Fortunately the cold water was about 70 degrees F so it was just cool. I called to the main desk where I was told that the plumbing was being worked on.
Marcy got dressed quickly to go down to call Sara. I closed up our luggage as much as I could, then I tried to find her downstairs. I saw her coming from the phone looking happy. I expected much less, but Marcy’s report was a very favorable one. Other than Sarah slipping down the stairs and hurting herself, that is. Sarah seems to being good spirits and she felt welcomed by the entire family especially Sue. We’re both very happy that things seem to be going well.
Outside the hotel, behind the large blue pool, several boats are docked. The Tennessee Walker, a refurbished tanker, will be our transportation to Corregidor. After a little skirmish over tickets we board and go to our reserved table on the higher level. Below the passengers are in an enclosed air-conditioned area. Above, where we are, is a table covered by a large canopy, but high enough to allow a cool ocean breeze flow through here. The journey is not too long, it takes 2.2 hours to do the 26 mile trip, going only one way. Immediately after cast-off they open for breakfast with thick sweet sausages, fired rice, omelets, Asian chicken in a thick gray gravy. I called it Asian because the size of the breasts and the way the chicken is cut is dissimilar to what we are used to in America. Marcy loves a tart lemony drink called Calamansi, the name of the local fruit. We land after the tree hour boat trip. All passengers disembark and board one of the four open-air jeepneys waiting to see us. Once the vehicle begins to move forward I can feel a cooling breeze, which is nice. The silver bus makes a one kilometer journey to its first stop a gift shop where you can buy tee shirts hats or keychains that say Corregidor on them. The jeepneys stopped by numerous places of interest. The hot sun beat down on us unfalteringly. Neither of us were hungry since we were fed on the huge buffet while shipboard. The tour wrapped up after the stories of the Japanese attack and the retaking of the Island by Philippino and American troops. A Japanese war veteran who explained that Japan was considered an aggressor, said that the US had said, around 1941, that the US would embargo supplies to all Aggressor Nations, enhanced the war story. Japan needed raw materials like rubber and oil, which came from South Seas Areas. If they bowed to international pressures they would loose grounds gained against the Chinese. It would have been perceived as dishonorable to most Japanese. So they attacked Pearl Harbor as their response to the stronghold of the embargo. Marcy usually sat in the shade of the open-air jeepney opting not to get out for many stops.
While on the jeepney we forged a friendship with Betsy and Art Fernandez of Cerritos who are living here while he, as a US engineer, assists in building military bases. We boarded the bus to take us to the Tennessee Walker, the ship we took over was waiting for us to reboard. The boat trip, including food both ways was $42 (only $21 apiece). This was a good deal. The only other expense on Correngidor was the $5 per person to walk through where the underground tunnel where the officers hid. This is where MacArthur’s office was before he ran away when he thought the Japanese were going to take over. He promised to return (when he would feel safe again). As I saw it, he was no hero, quite to the contrary of the Philippinos who deify their hero’s and probably saw the strength of American incarnated by MacArthur. In two places within the displays on this Island were signs that read as I paraphrase, The American and Philippino soldiers are memorialized here as men who knew how to die for loyalty and freedom in the Philippine Islands and the world. I reminisce back to my Army days when a staff sergeant asked the young soldiers standing before him if they were prepared to die for their country. Several men stepped out. He said that these men need special training because he wants us to live for our country.
So back on the boat we went. As soon as we pulled away from the dock the food trays were opened. Because of the heat, I insisted that Marcy sit below in the enclosed lower deck, which was nicely cooled with forceful gusts of cold air. Once we sat I got us some refrigerated water to drink and I took a plate of fresh mango, pineapple, and watermelon. The fruit throughout the PI has been exceptionally fresh and sweet. Quite better than the fine looking fruits at home. The buffet was complemented with chicken Asia in some iridescent brown gravy. There were hundreds of ‘peel & eat’ shrimp, and small pieces of pork to choose from. Marcy and I enjoyed this ocean voyage lunch. I fill up. Soon enough we get to the dock and after a drink in the hotel to Betsy and Art, we fight the crowd and get off. Today is being Mother’s day, and I want to do something special for Marcy. She wondered about the Cowrie Restaurant in the Manila Hotel because we did have a great meal here two days ago. Instead, anticipating the astronomically high cost of Japanese food we went to Ginza, a very nice and equally expensive restaurant in the hotel. I had some tempura dishes and Marcy had sushi. For dessert I enjoyed some green tea ice cream. It was better than the purple yam ice cream from yesterday. I still might try the mango or avocado ice cream that’s popular in these islands. The meal cost about $45 grand total. If it were in a fancy restaurant in a fancy hotel in LA this would have cost more than a hundred dollars. We went back to our room but as we walked we passed a large Philippino wedding most everything resembled a Mexican wedding except the men wore shirts that were so sheer that they hardly concealed anything. I could see every guy’s nipples. It was a wonderful site to see, right after a big dinner.
Once back in the room we packed because we had to get up very early for tomorrow’s trip to Hong Kong then Bali. As we watched the television we saw CNN reports about the Philippine election on Monday morning (that’s tomorrow), hopefully traffic will be light. The news report went into the situation in Indonesia. Suharto is going to Cairo and there’s rioting in Indonesia. The next destination, Bali, should be very interesting.
May 11, 1998 Monday -- Manila to Bali
We woke with help from the alarm at 5 am. Soon we were ready to go. I had already checked out of the hotel last night. Our room was prepaid, which Marcy previously arranged in LA at a cheap (comparatively) price. We prepaid for $120 a night, versus the rate being paid by the others there. They paid a price three times higher. The only thing I had to pay was for some meals and the tours. For the four days we were there the bill came to #320.00 US, that wasn’t exorbitant. For twenty pesos we made the thirty-minute drive to the airport. I paid fifty pesos for myself, and fifty more for Marcy as a departure tax. One hour brought us to Hong Kong, we then we continued on to Bali.
Ubud, Bali, Indonesia
After two hours of flight from Hong Kong we arrived at the airport in Denpassar and went through the Bali Customs office like everyone else. I got some more rupiah at the current inflated rate of 8600 for each US dollar. Marcy then paid for a cab to Ubud.
As we drove out of Denpassar we could see why everyone said get out of that town. It was very commercialized and looked nothing like what I had pictured in my mind’s eye of Bali. This town could have been in Europe somewhere, except for the equatorial heat and humidity. We checked out the Amondari, a very well known Bali resort. The grounds of the Amandari were beautiful. Just to get to the hotel complex the taxi had to traverse a three-kilometer white dirt road through verdant low rolling hills. The buildings were on the slope of a hill, which overlooked a river. Everything was green around the hotel except the terraced rice fields. The prices were posted in US dollars, not rupiah, so the hotel wouldn’t be so affected by the rupiah inflationary slide. The room was very simple. It had only one unique feature, an outdoor garden which was enclosed by four walls and no ceiling. It was about 12 ft by 12 ft and had an outdoor shower. The hotel clerk offered it at $400 US (two hundred cheaper than its regular “corporate rate”), still it was far from being a bargain. The next hotel Marcy had selected was Cheldi, which was in town. It was a little better and yet it was cheaper at $300 a night. Still, after inspecting the room, I thought that this too, was no special deal.
We traveled the country roads in search of the right hotel. Both sides of the one lane asphalt road were lined with homes and businesses. Each structure had Balinese religious icons in front of the main building, set apart from the rest of the building. We drove past a funeral procession of innumerable women, men and children carrying, with an impressive degree of balance, huge loads of stuff, often filling a five-foot long white sack upon their head. Most attractively, and seemingly worn as an adornment, several young women balanced high on their head an arrangement of various fruits on a plate. If I had been told that these platters were sent by Harry & David, it wouldn’t have been a surprise. We looked at another hotel in town (the town being Ubud). The taxi driver showed us his recommendation, the Bil Bukit Ubud. It looked nice. The room had good air conditioning and a tub also one king size bed. In these days of spiraling inflation, most negotiation is around issues of US dollar-posted prices. This hotel was not the exception. The “posted price” was $180 per night, but I accepted a negotiated price of $50 net (a 21% tax is applied to everything).
Again the heat and humidity of Indonesia was getting to Marcy but we checked in then got a cab for $1 to go into town (less than three miles to the shopping area of town).
The sidewalks were badly broken and uneven. Pieces of the walkway jutted skyward, or just were not there at all. So many different mediums were used to make the sidewalk one could only assume that each building owner chose whether the front way was to be paved or not. The main material seemed to be broken cement slabs. The Villa Bukit Ubud was a good place to stay. While it could never earn a rating of five stars, it may have deserved two. The room was very large and cold. That’s what is necessary to rebound from a long day filled with heat, humidity, and dirt.
We took our first careful look around the town. Everything was either closed or closing at 9 pm. We had a very late start for today. Very few shops were open. We looked at plenty of batik and plenty of carvings. A small but clean restaurant was open. The places offering food or drink tend to be the last to shut at night. I ordered Bebukteto, which is a specialty here. It is duck that is marinated and cooked underground overnight. It smelled good but it had so little meat and what meat there was, was like jerky. Marcy had a delicious meal starting with a spiced seafood soup. The bill was less than seven dollars. We returned to our hotel in the darkness after hiring a three-dollar ride from a taxi driver.
May 12, 1998 Tuesday B Bali
Soon, as Marcy and I would discover, this would be the most amazing of all days that we have had on this journey thus far. In the morning I called a man, Gusti, recommended by Zentravler@aol.com the cybername of Alex, a woman who traveled here several times. Advice of Bali was also given by the Kutakid@aol.com and email@example.com on the internet. I listened to all of the advice, sorted through what was pertinent, and then followed the tips that were consistent among these three good sources. I contacted Gusti, at Three Brothers Auto Rental on Monkey Forrest Road, a side road leading out of town lined with artisans selling their goods and numerous shops catering to the English speaking tourist, despite the fact that there are more Japanese, Germans, and even more Chinese (probably from Hong Kong) than anyone American/British is, but it is the second most commonly used language here, and throughout Indonesia.
From the room I called Three Brothers and asked for Gusti. After waiting ten minutes from the first call Gusti answered and was happy we asked for him. He was at our room in fifteen minutes. We liked him immediately. He stood about 5’7 with a very toothy grin. Every time he wanted to say thank you he would bow slightly with his hands clasped in front of his chest as if in prayer. He brought us to many sights, I cannot recall them all, but I’ve stated below what I can remeber. We drove through endless rice fields to get to a batik factory where prices were much higher than anywhere we had been before. The sarongs, according to Marcy, were the nicest she had seen. Before that we had driven to Lake Bature, an active volcano still steaming adjacent to a beautiful blue lake. At the top of a nearby mountain we stopped to eat lunch in a small restaurant large enough for twenty patrons, including the most scenic and unfenced panoramic view of the volcano and lake. Like most places on the island, the smell of incense permeated the interior of the restaurant but when I stood close to the buffet I could smell each item at the food bar. I had Nas Goring, a popular dish throughout Indonesia. It is fried rice with bits of vegetable and meat. The chicken, as everywhere, is cut quite differently than in the US, but it was boiling in a thick gray gravy that glistened in the sunlight. I passed by the chicken fried bananas and tough-skinned passion fruit which opened to reveal a brown-green mucous that tasted like pomegranate.
Gusti brought us back to the hotel. Both of us were exhausted. Gusti invited both of us to go to the funeral of an important citizen of Ubud tonight but only I was able to make the journey. He explained about this when Marcy and I had visited Besakih Temple in the afternoon. He couldn’t go with us. I bought a Sari, which is a wide piece of cloth wrapped around me like a dress. I bought it for one dollar. I could have rented one for 25 cents from the temple. From the base of the hill to the hilltop where the mother temple is situated is about one mile up hill. Shops manned by aggressive hawkers try to sell everything possible. No cars are allowed on the street. We tried to get to the top without being pestered constantly by motorcycle drivers trying to get passengers for one dollar to the top. Everything was one dollar. Tee shirts, statutes, even water or sarongs. Finally we go to the top. Like all of Ubud and Bali, statues of the three main icons decorated one of the three temples. Always, I was told, the three temples are always built close to each other.
That evening Gusti came back to the hotel and picked me up for the trip to the Hindu temple for the funeral and cremation. The street vendors were there for each of the people who had come to pay last respects, and the women came bearing upon their heads platters or baskets laden with fruits and other edibles, including fried chicken. The baskets were designed to somehow have one row of beautiful ripe bananas fastened neatly and symmetrically over a row of green apple,s or other similar appearing fruit. Conspicuously absent was the pineapple.
The quiet crowd waited outside a small gate while another group, similar to mine, of three or four hundred mourners, waited to go into the open air temple. I stayed close to Gusti, mimicking every gesture or motion he did. I removed, in a lumbering fashion, my boots. I sat as cross-legged as I could although I could feel the muscles in my hips stretch to their maximum, and was somewhat painful. I was pouring sweat and as the only Caucasian there I served as a poor model of my race.
After several rather long minutes, the ceremony concluded with the sprinkling of water on others and myself, followed by a series of small token drinks of water poured into my clasped hands. Rice was put in my hand, and following Gusti’s example I pasted it to my forehead. We stood. I was bathed in my sweat, hot and wet. We walked back to the car then I lifted my dress to get in. It was a wonderful experience to have witnessed this. When we returned to Villa Burkit Ubud we sat at a table in the hotel’s open-air restaurant. I dined upon shrimp, lobster, and squid soup. Gusti had a beer. I paid him the twenty dollars we had agreed upon before starting. Then I paid him another $20 for the great job he did. I showed Marcy the outfit I wore, as the outfit was what is necessary to be properly attired for such a ceremony. My attire included a white headband, a sash, and a cover sarong of nice cloth over my blue sarong. Marcy could hardly keep her eyes open at the time, even though it was only 9:30 pm. We both fell asleep quickly. Tomorrow we’ll buy a ticket for Lombok and stay a couple of days. We’ll either take the airplane, which takes thirty minutes and costs $25 for a round trip tickets, or the jet hydrofoil, which would take 2.2 hours and cost $12 roundtrip.
May 13, 1998 Wednesday B Ubud
Gusti picked us up at the hotel. We checked out, and we decided to go to the airport to buy a ticket. Marcy found out all flights were sold out so, we drove to the hydrofoil. The station seemed suspiciously quiet. Gusti asked a few questions then discovered that the boat wouldn’t be in service for two months. So, back to the airport we go. This time we will pay for 1st class passage fly standby or take any flight going there. Marcy went in and got us tickets for tomorrow morning at 9:30 am. So that fixed it, no flight today. Instead we’ll go tomorrow in the morning.
Then we went to the Bali Bird Park where they had a lot of colorful birds to see. I walked around for over an hour to see the birds. Marcy and I had fresh juices squeezed right then at about 30 cents a glass.
Gusti brought us to a hotel that was promised to Marcy that the air conditioning worked well. It didn’t. I went up to the office with Marcy and complained. They reduced the price by ten dollars to fifty US. We had gotten this room because the hotel is situated on Monkey Forrest Road in the midst of numerous artists and craftsmen. We walked along the street. I bought a Giney carved mask for twenty dollars and Marcy bought a batik dress. Before returning to the hotel we needed to exchange money for rupiah. When we first were here (in Indonesia, Jakarta) we could get about 7,600 rupiah to the dollar, now it is up to 9,600 to one dollar. It’s only been eleven days. The government of Suharto is very unsteady. Economists predict 1,500 to 1 before reversal. We converted 100 US this time. The best part of today was when Gusti brought us to a part of the beach, about fifteen minutes from the airport in Denpassar. Our flight was on Merpark, only airline here. So Gusti gets us to a restaurant. Marcy had spaghetti Bolonase (I ordered it for her after her weak objection) and we shared a mixed seafood platter with lobster, prawns, cuttlefish and squid. I liked it almost as much as Marcy did. The wonderful meal served in the shaded open-air at the edge of the beach made this one of the most memorable meals we had. And the lunch cost about eight dollars. Back at the room, just a short walk away, we prepared to leave tomorrow for Lombok. I washed some clothes in the outdoor bathroom’s bathrub, which I filled with super hot water. After wringing some water out I let it to dry overnight.
May 14, 1998 Thursday -- Ubud to Lombok
I woke early. I wrote for thirty minutes then checked the clothes. They were still wet. The breakfast area opens at seven am, and the sun was already bright and hot. I walked around the pool. Huge pools and lush tropical gardens where nothing seems to die are becoming so commonplace, and I am surprised how not stunned I am by the beauty. I woke my beautiful Marcy in the room. She ordered coffee brought to the room. I went to the restaurant and ate pineapple, nasi goring, and coffee for a filling breakfast. At 7:45 am Gusti was there. Marcy sent him to see me. Last night we bought a large bag to cart our gifts and such. We chose to leave Marcy’s luggage and the new bag with Gusti while we are gone. He accepts his duty willingly. Because I was not watching the clock I caused us to get a slow start, but eventually we were off to the airport. We arrive on time but Gusti was flying through heavy traffic (for Bali). It should have been no surprise to find our flight delayed from 9:20 am to 11:40 am, as this happens often. We wait patiently but Marcy and I meet another young couple with a baby who are going to Lombok too. She’s Indonesian so somehow gets an earlier flight. They tell Marcy the Sheraton at Sengigi Beach in Lombok is the best place to be. Since we have so much extra time Marcy figured out (1) how to buy a telephone card (2) how to use the public telephone (3) how to call Sheraton in Lombok (4) how to get a good room in the hotel. They will greet us at the airport and provide transportation to the hotel, about 20 miles from the airport.
Both of us are in awe. Not only is the hotel stunningly beautiful, but the white beach is wonderful. The service is top notch, and the swimming pool is the largest I’ve ever seen. Everything is perfect here, including our cold room. In the afternoon heat and after the not so cold room of yesterday, this chill is welcomed. We changed into lighter clothing, I put on my swim suit and beach shoes. Soon, just a short walk away we found a chair at the beach. I swam for a while, Marcy just got her feet wet. After awhile we went over to the pool area. I ordered a Lombok sunset, and Marcy had a Pina Colada. After the drinks were finished we went back to the beach. We ordered banana wine to drink with a clove cigarette. As the sun set we enjoyed the slight breeze. I bought some small items from a couple of merchants near the beach, mostly bands of cloth for several people at home. Within moments the weather changed, from dry weather to a light shower to a heavy rainstorm in five minutes. It rained heavily for thirty minutes and then stopped.
We stayed in the hotel tonight. Dinner in the main restaurant was very good. Indonesian food is one of our favorites. We walked around a little. Lizards were crawling everywhere, they can climb and hang quite easily from the ceiling. Back in our room we watch the news of Asia. The main focus is on the Jakarata rioting. Also the devaluation down to 12,462 and changing as we watch. It’s amazingly hard to believe!!
We reflect on the day. Other than the flight delay it’s been a good day for us. This hotel, the Sheraton Lombok, rates tops in our book.
May 15, 1998 Friday -- Lombok to Bali
This morning we wake to a beautiful sunrise. I opened the window at seven am to a warm sun over the waters of the seas. Slowly Marcy awakens, she’s adjusted better to the change of time than me. I’m still at LA time, but once I’m home it will all catch up to me. Since our only plan was to relax this certainly was the most perfect place. We dressed for the beach but went to the buffet breakfast of nasi goring (fried rice with bits of vegetable and meat), coffee, tea, and bountiful platters of fresh delicious fruit. A wonderful offering that would satisfy any palate. We met a family of young people. John, Miya (a first generation American, was from Indonesia), and their six month old son Harrison, whose tiny black hair stood, straight up. We ate breakfast with them. There were only forty rooms occupied of the beautiful hotel, which had 240 rooms. We had full attention of the staff who had little else to do. As we sat on the white crushed coral beach I couldn’t help to notice the legion of vendors who were carefully patrolled by the hotel police so that they did not annoy guests. A physical barrier, only visible to them, prevented all of them from buzzing around any hotel guest, that is unless the guest ventured beyond this barrier. I went out beyond this barrier. I bought and filmed several bands that the vendor sat and knit, once requested to do so. I bought a few nice Lombok tee shirts for $2 each (actually 20,000 rupiah). Our wonderful sunny morning was cut short because we had to get to our flight back to Den Passar where we expect Gusti will be waiting. Back in the room we packed and then carried the three bags downstairs slowly. Neither of us wanted to leave.
Marcy felt that they paid adequate attention to her and, like me, tried to think of a way to stay longer but nothing came to mind. The hotel staff acted as though they were sad to see us go, that’s all we could expect. They had a cab to take us the twenty miles to the airport where, without a problem, we boarded and returned. That is unless you consider leaving early a problem because the plane left ten minutes ahead of schedule. We arrived in Den Passar to a hearty and subservient greeting from Gusti who had his hands clasp in front of him, with a broad grin. He took our luggage and brought us to the ban, where our luggage that we left before Lombok, sat in the back of the van. We made plans to go to the Sacred Monkey Forrest of Sangeh. This was about an hour away, but when we got there at 4 pm shopkeepers around this area were closing for the night. Before going to the Forrest Gusti brought us to the hotel we were advised to go to. Kartika Hotel in Kuta Beach. While the official rate, published in US dollars was $160 per night, John Miner had said they got it for $75. I was able to, too, but I couldn’t get them to include breakfast buffet like John did. We left our luggage in our room and went back to the van to go to the Monkey Forrest. On our way Gusti stopped by plumes of black smoke, rising, swirling, just off the roadside hidden by a narrow strip of tall trees. I was permitted to film this occasion, which I was told, is for members of the clan a happy moment because the spirit is free to seek the next level of spirituality. At the Monkey Forrest Gusti and I made the one-mile round-trip walk, while the bearded monkeys climbed on me. They were only bold, but not angry at my presence. They did look around for food and their black wrinkled hands probed my head as they climbed onto my shoulder. One young monkey sat comfortably on my shoulder as I slowly walked forward. Immediately, I recognized the warm wet liquid streaming down my back was monkey piss. That signaled my return to the car. Marcy had elected to stay within the car so that she was protected from these gentle creatures. They were only exhibiting violence with their own to retain certain social stature. The heat, as always, was ever present. Gusti and I walked out of this religious area and he got back into the van. I had to buy a tee shirt since the one I wore was sopping wet with what was quickly becoming monkey ammonia. Marcy thought the shirt should be discarded but I could see years of wear in it still. Another $2 tee shirt. The trip to the hotel in Kuta took longer because of traffic as people were leaving work. Soldiers sat quietly aboard their assigned transport. Gusti drove with the skill of a professional driver weaving this way and that among other trucks and a myriad of motorcycles. Sometimes a heavily laden bicycle, pedaled slowly along the roadside would interfere with our passage, to the detriment of our speed. The level of determination was equal in all drivers. Gusti explained about an article of clothing surrounding many of the religious icons. There are three gods who co-exist, but their struggle alters the fate of each and every man. They are the god of creation, the god of destruction, and the god of protection. each of these three had their temple adjacent to the other two. Other things commonly found nearby are a cemetery, and a sanctuary for monkeys.
Surrounding the icons, each with human and animal characteristics, was a sarong of black and white checkered cloth. The colors and pattern was to the Balinese the epitome of the struggle of good and evil, and how they both must be present in the daily lives of earthly beings. Other colors had clear meanings: yellow-happiness, red-power, black-death, and white-holiness.
When we returned to the hotel we took a moment to reflect on Den Passar as I had read before we left the US, a dirty unattractive business town. And Kuta Beach, a place for tourists only. Some high prices and some very low prices. Competition was very tough here. Most of the street vendors seemed to belong to the same guild, or be employed by the same business for they had a light blue tee shirt that set them apart from the others, and there were hordes of them, each trying to sell their goods no matter that they each had the same stuff as the next street vendor. Marcy found the pressure of these guys so oppressive we had to stop shopping. We went to Kuta Beach Seafood Restaurant and Market. It was really just a restaurant with high prices for everything. It was an okay, but expensive meal. We walked back to the hotel and went to sleep quickly.
May 16, 1998 Saturday B Bali to Hong Kong
Before the sun rose I had dressed and went over to have coffee and some food. Some fruit coupons, a croissant, and nasi goreng cost me two dollars and a few cents. I had enjoyed a long shower this morning, having neglected to take one last night and suffering the consequence of monkey piss on my back. At 8 am Marcy was ready so off we went into the nearby shopping district. Gusti was instructed to stay with and protect Marcy. As Marcy noted I am a street hawker magnet. They hang on to me and touch me, probably checking my pockets for valuables. I have nothing of value in my pockets, everything dangles around my neck, much more difficult to abscond with. We walk along separated so that Marcy won’t feel the pressure from these guys. They hang on me instead. Bottles of perfume, watches, hats, key chains, back massagers, so many different things are for sale on the street. The shops have their own brands of goods, usually superior in quality and, often as not, with fixed prices that were seldom deviated from. I hated the stores that offered goods in dollars but paid the employees the rapidly falling rupiah. Often Marcy and I left such places because of such unequal and unfairness. Back at the hotel we considered this a great shopping day, having bought so many things at so little cost. We packed everything as best we could then back into the van, and then drove three miles to the airport. Somebody got our luggage, which isn’t so light anymore, and we watched the melee of people scrambling for a seat to get out, we had our confirmation so we were fine, but the 757 was filled to capacity because of the Indonesian unrest. The university was planning a riot or demonstration for the day but military and policy knew about the well-publicized event and they set up camp first. Bali had no real fire in this unrest, they are very passive. From what we saw, it was business as usual. The newspapers were filled with stories of the Jakarta Riots. It pretty clear that Suharto will be removed soon. I can’t believe it won’t happen. He even lacks the support of the military.
At the airport we have about forty dollars in rupiah left. Marcy goes on a shopping spree. Where prices are posted in rupiah it usually means a great price too. We had to pay an exit price of 30,000 rupiah about $3. The 4 2 hour flight boards on time but the plane keeps taking on more passengers for getting out of Indonesia. All embassies are calling back most of their personnel and requesting all citizens to leave Indonesia now. Flights out of Bali/Den Passar are filled for the next two days. We have confirmed seats. Throngs of people are in the waiting room holding stand-by passes.
Book 2: Asia 98
May 16 to Hong Kong
May 17 from Hong Kong to Kyoto
May 18 Kyoto tour
In Hong Kong our room was prepaid, and it was much cheaper to have done so in the US. The Royal Plaza Hotel in the Kowloon district sent a bus to the airport to pick us up. Fifteen minutes later we were at the hotel and on our way to the room.
Tonight we ate a hotel buffet for $78 Hong Kong each that translates to about $11 US. Pizza, hot dogs, and a bunch of Chinese foods. Most were with skin or fat and I ignored such dishes. Spring rolls were popular with me. Back in our room later we packed and got ready to travel to Kyoto.
We woke with a wakeup call but my travel alarm went off a couple minutes later. We got dressed, and then I called for somebody to carry our luggage down. We have been very careful about drinking the water or eating uncooked fruits or vegetables. Except for back in Yogyakarta when the heat affected Marcy for a few hours, we haven’t gotten sick yet. The bill was prepared and I paid our extra charges, which were only about forty Hong Kong dollars (seven Hong Kong$ = 1 US$). Marcy had given me a card, which she had written some very nice things to me in it. Accompanying the card was a shirt, shorts, and chocolate (Cadbury). How she pulls this off in the midst of a trip like this is another marvel. She’s a wonderful woman. Once packed, we went with the idea of leaving several bags behind and traveling as lightly as possible. Once we arrive at the Osaka Airport we are not clear as to how we will get to Osaka. Our guidebooks offer some information, but it is not entirely clear as to how it is done. We finish packing and wait in the hotel lobby for the airport bus. We've accumulated two extra bags we hadn’t carried when starting this trip. All the buying that we did while in Bali loaded us down. The airport in Hong Kong was very busy. I could see why a new one was built and will open in a month. This one is in the city. The new one will be forty miles outside Hong Kong. We paid our $15 US departure tax (per person) then pushed through throngs of people coming or going somewhere themselves. Everyone was trying to fulfill some sort of purpose. Even the waiters, the watchers, were not idle. Everyone was in a state of flux. Everyone, despite the early morning hour was charged and focused for a future went on the very edge of happening.
Popular breakfast items include rice congee (rice porridge), sausage, which tastes like hot dog steamed buns with barbecued pork.
Everything is so very expensive in Hong Kong. A very modest breakfast of two coffees, two bread rolls & two steamed pork buns cost us about $15 US! We finished and proceeded toward gate 7. The line was already so very long, it may have been the longest I’ve seen. At least two hundred people stood waiting for the moment they were permitted to board. Since we’d departed from our standard procedure of bringing as much with us as possible it was a treat not to have to be first so we could find adequate storage space.
The airplane was huge. It had an upstairs and a downstairs. Since we were flying economy-class, we were on the lower level. The Cathay Pacific flights were uniformly pleasant. We had enough space to sit, in part because Marcy had insisted on bulkhead seats, but otherwise they were spaced far enough apart. Marcy had erred in specifying her meals to be all vegetarian. While my meals had been chosen for Asian tastes, so had Marcy’s. Most of the food served to her were not things I would want to eat, nor did she. Many items served were totally unidentifiable to me, but I tasted them anyway. If I could, I ate it. The flight from Hong Kong to Osaka was three minutes shy of three hours, a tolerable amount of time for us to fly.
We landed in Osaka International. They have another older airport, but the new one gave us a great impression. Organized, spacious, orderly, well mannered, even peaceful, and I can’t imagine having ever used that word to describe an airport. It was amazingly different, with an air about it that set it above any other I’ve ever seen before.
We retrieved our luggage. There was damage to Marcy’s suitcase and its handle was missing. While extremely apologetic and concerned the CP representative only could provide a form for Marcy to complete. Somehow her frustration and anger dissipated, probably because the rep was upset too. For $40 US we could and did store four bags, all unlocked, in an area for storing. We’d be back to claim them in four days.
Marcy found the proper bus for us to take, buying tickets from a vending machine. The bus was due to leave at six pm and it left exactly on time. Our first impression of Japan made it a distinctly different country, above all others, with greater order and respect than other countries I’ve ever visited before.
Marcy and I had listened to comedy audiotapes that were titled Dave Barry Does Japan. So far it seemed he was correct about everything he spoke of. It provided us with an accurate preview of what to expect.
The bus pulled into the parking area by Kyoto Main Rail Station and we procured our luggage. Marcy and I began our walk, which was described as a three-minute walk but was for us, much longer due to our burden of luggage, and not knowing if we were headed in the right direction. A passerby confirmed that we were headed correctly toward the New Miyako Hotel. It was much larger than anticipated and was, as we’d find out, a landmark. We checked in, exhausted, and went right to sleep. All of the people we had seen this day were diligent in their jobs, taking pride in whatever they were doing. It was a wonderful pleasure to see the people happy to work.
Since we hadn’t eaten dinner we went downstairs to the cheapest restaurant in the hotel, a Chinese place. I had fried rice with shrimp and Marcy had fried rice Schezwan style. Then we shared a chicken dish. This tiny meal cost thirty-five dollars US.
We slept late, but I had asked the hotel clerk to move us to a better room, one that was bigger. Marcy and I couldn’t pass each other without me climbing across the bed. The new room, on the same floor, was at the distant other end. I t had a better view and much more room. Like the first room we noticed that there were numerous controls for the toilet. A panel of knobs sat apart from the flushing level. A pictograph was inscribed next to each know so anyone should be able to interpret the use and value of just such an adjustment. One know was for a bidet the next knob said shower above it and it had a drawing of a wet butt. I’m not totally certain I understood that one. Another knob was to adjust intensity and flow. The last knob had a dash above it, I swore to never touch that one. God only knows what purpose it might fulfill. I just wasn’t prepared to take such a risk.
We went downstairs, riding the talking elevator to eat breakfast, buffet-style. At the buffet they had omelets, super thin bacon, sausage that tasted like hotdigs, canned fruits and fresh citrus fruits. Yogurt, cornflakes, and the juices offered were tomato, grapefruit, and orange. Other things offered were fried fish, rice gruce, cabbage rolls, and a clear broth.
There were many people that gathered here at this hotel for the afternoon tour of Kyoto. We saw the Heian Shrine, then Sanjusangendo Hall, which is a long wooden hallway with 100 statues of Buddha each, with our self-proclaimed English speaking guide. The third attraction of historical note was Kiyomizu Temple, which had some good views of Kyoto but its architecture was typical. Rebuilt after fires, but not exactly as before. Still, the buildings are pretty, especially because Kyoto was one of the few cities spared from total leveling during W.W.II. The bus returned us to our hotel. The city is big and sprawling with certain areas or districts used for commerce and certain ones for residential use. Most people who live in Kyoto live in a condo or apartments, and pay richly to do so. Apartments in good neighborhoods are small, for example I read what I believe to be a typical ad offering a small apartment (600 sq. ft) for $1200 US. The exchange rate for yen is good for us 135 yen ‘ $1 US, when it is usually around 130 for the past few years. Marcy wished she had brought her Handicapped Identification. The Japanese take special care of those who are disabled. In the city, crossing lights chirp to indicate safe crossing for the blind. Back at the hotel we watched CNN on television. Often the English was muted so it could be translated in Japanese for us. Many times I put my ear so close to the speaker of the TV to hear the softly spoken English that I was unable to watch the program at the same time.
It was dinnertime for us. Rather than go to the hotel restaurant of which we had three choices, two French and one Japanese. We chose to walk across the street to examine the foods in a food mall. Each of the thirty little restaurants had clear examples of what they would be serving neatly arranged in the window, the food on display, however was a very real looking plastic imitations. So if there was something Marcy or I wanted we’d just have to get the attention of someone who worked there and point to it.
We enjoyed some very good and fresh sushi. I had some tempura shrimp too. We paid by getting our ticket, then you must bring that to the person by the cash register. Never just leave the money on the table.
We walked further out and downstairs (actually, it was an escalator), then with a great deal of befuddlement we were eventually able to get the least expensive adduct ticket for 200 yen each. Like New York, you stick the ticket in the slot on the turnstile then it stamps the ticket and opens a small gate. We went deeper down, to where the subways were busy filling and disgorging passengers from a different train every two minutes. We boarded one car, which was only one-fourth of the way full. We counted the number of stops for we’d have to count them again on the way back if we wanted to get to where we started. Surprisingly the use of English characters accompanying the Chinese or Japanese ones is becoming more commonplace so we might have been able to find our destination without having to make a count of the stops.
We exited and wandered upstairs. We found ourselves inside the largest mall I have ever seen. It was huge, and I have come to enjoy Japanese architecture. They construct malls and buildings to incorporate natural elements. High open ceilings give such spaciousness to it all. Marcy loved this shopping even though prices were at least 30% higher than what an item would cost in the US. Marcy saw a purse she’d really like but was unwilling to pay the asking price. While walking away she debated with herself the merits of such a purchase. Once were we far out of sight of that shop she just said no and that was it. The enormity of this mall contributed to my disorientation. We were lost and I knew we hadn’t walked far from our hotel however Marcy’s feet were hurting so we took a cab back to our hotel which (we discovered) was on the opposite side of the mall and rail station.
We made our plans for tomorrow when we bought tickets for tomorrow’s morning tour of Kyoto. The tour is supposed to include Nijo Castle, a place where Shoguns met those they governed. The Golden Pavilion was a very pretty Japanese garden, often called the most beautiful in the world. While pretty there was a sea of the little people. Occasionally I’d get caught in an undertow and Marcy and I would be separated for a while. Marcy plodded through the schoolchildren with a single-minded determination that had the uniformed children on the watch-out. The Kyoto Imperial Palace was next. The police stood guard to assure no stragglers of the group. We had to stay together.
Our last stop before returning to the hotel was the very touristy Kyoto Handicraft Center. We looked around and found a nearby coffee shop. We sat and had a refreshing iced coffee and a dish of ice cream. Nothing spectacular, except the bill was $8. Then we went to a market where we bought some fully cooked shrimp tempura and sushi, all made in the market. We bought a number of miscellaneous snacks and two small bags of groceries that cost $29 US, but the stuff was good and lasted a while. So the tour took about three and half hours and cost 5200 yen each, that’s about $40 US dollars.
We caught another bus provided by the tour company to take us back to the hotel.
It was further than we had guessed based on the city map we looked at. When we got back to our room we sorted through the food we’d eat now. We had a great Japanese meal for about eight dollars. Because we hope to walk the Philosopher’s Trail tomorrow and do some shopping we try to go to sleep early. On television we watch news of the heightening discontent in Indonesia, especially Jakarta. Sometimes we flip channels to watch endless Sumo wrestling matches. News that the rupiah has gone to 1500 per 1 US $ stuns us. The highest we saw it was around 1100. We fall asleep around 10 pm.
May 20, 1998 Wednesday B Kyoto
I woke early to catch up on the journal. Marcy slept till six am then got dressed. Our plan for this day was decided yesterday. We’d walk Kyoto’s famous Philosopher’s Trail, which passes many temples shrines and grand residences. Then, our plan continues, we will shop in a very well known shopping district of Kyoto. The final issue is that Marcy, in charge of transportation, arranges for a journey by Shink or Bullet train to Osaka in the morning. Tomorrow we conclude the day with our flight home so it is important we can use the public transportation well or be prepared for a massive taxi bill. Our money is doing well but there is little reason to waste it.
I meet Marcy and we use our coupons for an interesting breakfast as the Japanese do it. There was no menu. A tray of food was served to us one for me one for Marcy. On it there was a bowl of soup, a bowl of rice, tow one inch squares of fish fillet, grilled. Several different miniscule bowls holding some shredded vegetable or other. The contents of one bowl was purple another was speckled light & dark green, yet another had a tangerine colored substance. I tried each, searching for items palatable to my western tastes. I surprised myself to note I could enjoy one or two of these condiments best in my soup. I ate or drank what I could. Marcy did the same. While our hunger was not satisfied, we had a true Japanese breakfast. We walked upstairs to the other restaurant in the hotel. Here the buffet offered European and Japanese breakfast foods. Eggs and omelets are a big thing around Japan but that’s not my pleasure. The sausages tasted like hotdogs. The bacon was paper thin and undercooked, the fruits were fresh and sweet, especially the oranges which came from Australia. Several different styles of bread or muffins were available but bagels weren’t among the choices. A slight problem of food choices and preparation was not enough to keep us from eating our fill. The breakfast was included with the price of the room I read that the price for the buffet was about $14 US each person. A fair price in Japan, well overpriced for anywhere else in the world. After we ate, Marcy’s plan of transportation dictated that we be in front of the hotel for the free shuttle bus which goes through he shopping district to stop at the Miyako Hotel (we are at the New Miyako Hotel).
The bus was there, and we boarded it. From the Miyako Hotel we took a cab, which brought us (for $6) to the far end of the Philosopher’s Trail about 1.2 mile so when we walked, we’d be close to the hotel at the finish. Each temple or attraction along the route was impeccably manicured, however that was funded by an admission charge to each structure. The price for an adult is usually 300 yen. I paid it for one temple. Then, while nobody was watching, I took photos where they said no photos. I felt that they shouldn’t charge me to look at a building.
Most laborers and blue-collar people who deal with the public wear white linen gloves. Bus drivers, taxi drivers, merchants, and hotel workers always wore gloves.
Not only are all the people short with only rare exceptions, but many of the young women vainly try to compensate for a lack of European height by buying shoes that are often more than one inch thick.
Marcy and I walked along the shaded relaxed road that connected these structures. Huge darkened brass bells suspended by a rope and a thick section of log hanging horizontally across enough so that when it is swayed in a pendulum motion it will strike the brass below which contains no clapper. When struck the bell reverberates with deep resonant vibrations that can be felt in my teeth if I’m with in sight of the bell. At the end of the trail was the Miyako Hotel from where we took the shuttle bus to the shopping district.
No trash, bottles or cigarette butts. No trash container. People don’t walk and eat or drink. Every purchase gets a good wrapping. The people are very courteous, more than any other country I’ve been to previously. Buses and trains are always exactly on time and leave exactly on time. There are few television stations to watch in Kyoto other than Pay-Per-View. I saw 9, and one was English and one was French.
We looked around but Japan was, at once, too expensive, too cosmopolitan (at least in Kyoto), and too much, it has accepted the influence of European designers but they love the American culture.
It is found in the record stores and malls, look at the tee shirts and what is printed on it. Everywhere it is omnipresent, even in the elevator music. Listen to singing and, quite often, like some other Asian nations, they will carry a tune and I can recognize the song but the sounds are only American syllables not American words. I often listened closely to someone singing a song and recognized this time after time.
We shopped for a couple of hours, then had a drink in a small pub and Marcy had orange sherbet poured into the shell of an orange that was frozen too. The shuttle appeared, right on schedule, not a moment before or after, then we plopped down in our room. It was an usually hot day. Although most of Japan has had rain this last week, we’ve had nothing but sun. The temperature was in the high seventies. That’s a little warmer than the last few days. There seem to be more periods of time that Marcy’s feet are painful and prevent her from moving fast enough to do something. We would have caught an earlier bus back to the hotel but Marcy couldn’t make it. I let the driver go because he was very nervous about being thirty seconds late to leave this stop. The next bus arrived soon enough, and then we left everything in our room and sat for twenty minutes.
Our plan for tomorrow required that we clarify where we buy tickets and where to board to go to Osaka. Marcy gets the credit for this, she did a fine job of navigating. It was our last night in Kyoto, our last night in Japan, and our last night on this trip so we went in search of tempura and kobah beef. That wasn’t Kobe. I had been corrected when I said it like an American. It’s KOBAH. While it was offered in several places it was either prepared raw or submersed in brown gravy. Neither appealed to me. Marcy found a place offering about seven different vegetables and shrimp for 1000 yen, that’s a great price for this part of the world. I had miso soup and noodles with two fried shrimp. It was a good meal. Back to the hotel we repacked for leaving early to do our trip to Osaka and look around.
Again, while watching the news Indonesia was presented as a continually prominent news item. The president, Suharto, has promised to step down soon, but the demonstrations continue. He’s fallen and he can’t get up. The students are continuing to apply pressure, and they don’t intend to leave the Parliament until some real action happens.
4 pm 5/20
8 am 5/21
Kyoto, Japan (30 minutes train)
6 pm 5/20
10 am 5/21
5:30 am 5/21
8:30 pm 5/21
Flight time actual time 3:55 HONG KONG arrival
Leave HONG KONG-LAX
May 21, 1998 Kyoto-Osaka-Hong Kong-LAX-Agoura
Today may be, in actuality, the longest day of my life. The time change from Kyoto to LA adds sixteen hours to this one singular day. We woke at six am and we put everything together, paid the 500 yen, then we walked across the street, went into the train station bought the tickets and started the long day journey home. I followed Marcy. She did the research, she asked the questions and without fail, we wandered to the right train or subway car. The bullet train took about twenty minutes, then the subway took another twenty. I dragged the backpack and Marcy’s broken luggage, which was missing its handle since we arrived in Osaka four days ago. We were surprised to find a Cathay Pacific station with some other airlines situated in this building. But they were here. That meant we could actually check in, get our seat assignments and leave our luggage here. And that’s just what we did. Freed from having to lock away luggage that looked like it was too big for a locker was great. We just wandered outside the train station to continue with a specific mission we had when we decided to see Osaka. Marcy wanted some plastic food. Yep, plastic . . . food!?! With written directions provided through the kindness of the Japanese Airlines stewardess who checked us in, we hired a taxi to take us there. Now this wasn’t the first time we took a Japanese taxi but I should take a moment to describe it. First off, over eighty percent are black and usually have some identifying object illuminated and attached to the roof of the otherwise nondescript vehicle. The car is, in appearance, very clean both inside and out. The driver is wearing white gloves and has no personal items in view, except a chart on which he writes his driving log. When he finds potential passengers he can, without moving from his seat, click the rear doors of the four door vehicle open. Once we sat he jiggled something else and the door electronically closed. Now that was magic! In about three miles we were efficiently taken to a open-air market where many items for restaurant or kitchen use could be bought. Marcy had zoned in on the plastic food so she had a clear mission. I meandered here and there, looking for the inane and the bizarre. This country hides that kind of stuff. The strip joints were only one block away. A tout might stand in front of the door inviting even the most unlikely passerby to become a patron. Large posters with full color photos of nude torsos of pretty Japanese young women. I could only suspect that they were women but I never bothered to bridge the language barrier to confirm my belief. Some could have been guys but I think that would have gone far beyond what’s permitted within strict rules of this society. I also noticed that the manhole covers were enameled with beautiful colors. Meanwhile, Marcy is picking through piles of plastic scoops of ice cream plastic fish or crustacean parts. There are lots of rice and noodles, sushi, and a variety of drinks, all in plastic, and all looking very real. Marcy wanted more than anything to find a good copy of spaghetti Bolonase. It wasn’t easy, but she was eventually successful. We now own six or seven pieces of plastic sushi on a plastic leaf of lettuce. And we also own a bowl of spaghetti with meat sauce and a smattering of peas. The hunt now over, we walked out to where the taxi’s pass this street. We waved one down, and then drove back to the station.
On the third floor of a four-story building, the buses going or coming from the Kansai Airport just outside Osaka would stop. Marcy paid for the tickets, and we were off to the airport. The bus driver wore white linen gloves, but spoke to no one, just looking out the front window like some sort of android. Exactly on time, 1:00 pm, the bus pulled out of the station. Looking around the bus, it was eerily evident that there was absolutely no graffiti. Not even marks from where some was and now its covered over, nope, there just has never been any.
The driver was on the roll road to the artificial island created for this fairly new airport. Once he hit eighty kilometers an hour he stuck there. Not altering his speed for any obstacle he could avoid. During the 45-minute trip it was unavoidable that he’d meet something to prevent a perfect trip. A truck tried to pass a car in a section of the road where it narrowed to two lanes, thus blocking this bus. Finally the bus driver could accelerate to get around the truck, and as the bus did so, the driver glared angrily at the truck driver. I could see the road rage going on right before my eyes!. The driver, in striving for the perfect routine, wanted to take exactly forty-five minutes.
When we arrived at the airport, which did take exactly forty-five minutes traveling at exactly 80 kph for most of the very measured distance. This is our return trip to the Kansa Airport and I am still stunned by its orderliness and civilness. No dirt or refuse is visible, although I am looking specifically for it. I should note that English is shown as a second language and often, contrary to what I had expected, we could read and remember some street names. They were only useful if we would try, and I can only speak for myself when I say that the syllables just got jangled up in my head. I never really remembered one of them.
So we walked into the very large airport with four levels (on which transitory passengers might travel). Some luggage was stored in a locker here so our first job was to retrieve it. Job two was to pay for the duty tax, then check the balance of our bags in and wait for our flight to leave. After everything was finished we still had a couple of hours. Because we still had almost forty dollars in yen Marcy wanted to spend it for gifts even though these prices were the highest. Some Japanese candies, a bottle of water, a 50 cent hamburger and a 50 cent hot dog (just these two things were eight dollars here) Then when she had spent most of it she could relax. Now came the first call for boarding. Marcy didn’t like it that the crippled folks could board before us. She could pick out the fakes, she thought, even though one of her guesses labeled as a fake passed out and lay in a heap tended by her husband.
The wait seemed terribly long at gate seven. For the final flight of our trip we waited for three hours for this flight to begin boarding. Everyone sitting near the gate, my wife an I included, rushed to join the rapidly growing line as soon as we could. Marcy had a particular grievance with the lady who purchased three rather plain sticks in Bombay. She became known to us as the stick lady. Now, her action which perturbed us both was her very oriental demeanor she exhibited as she slid into the line to board. Well, actually we were both upset by the number of Indian Ticketholders who were wheelchair-bound. Sadly, it seemed that they were together since they were all from India, all were women about fifty-five to sixty-five years old. Something very fishy was happening here. I thought that maybe they belonged to a travel club but watching them en masse not talking to each other ruled out friendship. My only other guess was that they were part of a test years ago involving contagious diseases. They did look like TB victims and what sent Marcy into a broiling tizzy was that each and every one of the disabled people had at least one person to accompany them. It was all too planned. The only good thing was that I knew they wouldn’t need our bulkhead seats. They would be seen as real frauds if they said they needed bulkhead so they could get up and stretch every once in a while.
15 hour difference between LA-HONG KONG.
Marcy arranged for us to have bulkhead seats and it certainly makes a world of difference. The flight to LA was long. About twelve and a half hour traveling at 37,000 feet at a speed of 627 miles an hour. The speed may have been substantially improved by a strong tail wind. It’s strange that we left Hong Kong at 11:30 pm and arrive in LA at 7:40 pm the same day.
Marcy turned out to be a great travel companion. Besides the fact that I love her she tried to keep up with me as best she could even through the intense heat that we had to face in many places. She was also a great navigator. I don’t know how many times I would have gotten lost without her. She’s a wonderful woman and I’m glad she was able to share this adventure with me.
Bali is not like the rest of Indonesia. Together with Lombok, an island 25 minutes away by flight are distinctly different. The people are similar in appearance, languages, & currency, but that’s it.
Jakarta is a business town with little to offer other than schools and commerce. It’s not a place one needs to visit or if they do just put it on the list right below Calgary, Canada.
Heat affects different people in various ways. It can make you ill especially if there is high humidity. I seem to bear conditions of extreme heat better than extreme cold.
By being careful with water, vegetables and fruit that are not washed, we avoided illness. It’s important to keep hydrated by drinking lots of bottled water.
Indonesian people and the Philippino people are warm and willing to accept a person from another culture.
Japan is the greatest wonder. I have always had enormous respect for Japan, while, at the same time, I knew of their historical shortcomings like using China as a basis of learning an alphabet, architecture, social structure and other stuff, even cooking.
The Japanese are as a group, not innovators and creators. Their talents lie in taking ideas and products from elsewhere and improving them to the Nth level. Social structure is the fabric of this nation. I am more impressed than ever with the fashion in which people do their job, ungrudgingly with an interest that is unique to the workers in this country.
The cities, even the slums, are kept absolutely clean. Marcy pointed out to me two employees in our hotel who were working to clean a natural crack in the polished marble tile floor. They were not maintenance workers as we know them, instead one worked as a clerk and the other as a bell hop. America could learn a lot from Japan but I think our cultural diversity is our blessing and our curse. Because of such diversity we get an infusion of the best ideas from all countries brought by people who are willing to accept change and meet a new challenge. This is America’s greatest strength. Yet tied deeply within that is the worst too. The immigrants bring their foibles and prejudices, some of which are broken down, others are stiffened and beset our nation with problems. Each of the countries we visited are homogenous one people, one culture, etc. So to act in one manner is easier for them. Even Hong Kong, now within China, is losing its prior identity and absorbing the nature of Chinese . I see such distinct differences between China and Japan. The differences are vaster than I had previously supposed. Japan is the only Asian nation that is technologically superior (overall) to ours. They are an orderly nation of rule followers and as such are like the Chinese, somewhat xenophobic. They accept us as visitors but I can, even from such a short visit, confirm that tit might be more difficult to become Japanese than to become American.
The Philippines surprised me. I had never actually realized how deeply Catholic they are. Like Mexico, it permeates everything. They imitate America in that they see their real history begin with the European invasion. That’s weird. In Bali and Lombok, they are Hindu and have icons everywhere, the routine is a will accepted by one: three gods and each with its small temple or shrine. Most homes had an area with a small shrine in front of the home. Yogyakarta strove to emulate Jakarta and so in a fashion there were some similarities. Religion stood in the background. In these cities the major religion was Islam. Not to the degree of Arab countries but the Arab influence was always felt, just not always seen or heard. Only in Yogyakarta did we hear the haunting songs of the Imam walking the city, and calling to Allah.
Japan is both, and at the same time, Buddhist and Shintoist. Shinto is looking more for the supreme wisdom in all things of nature. Because, like the Chinese, they actively seek, LUCK, the people won’t say no to either religion. I was told by a Japanese that most family homes have representations form both religions.