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    Indonesian Travel Journal: Disappearing Acts and Reflections on a Year-Long Adventure


    Daggers keep dropping hints that I should give a Southeast Asian expat perspective on what’s happening in Egypt. By dropping hints, I mean that they keep emailing me and telling me to write a Southeast Asian expat perspective on what’s happening in Egypt. I’ll think about that some more and get back to you.

    But first, let me apologize for disappearing right in the middle of a blog series.  I’d like to finish the Blowing Smoke book group discussion in the coming weeks. I hope that you’ve all read the outstanding TPM version in the meantime! 

    I have lots of reasons for blowing off Dagblog for the last couple months, but I doubt you’d find any of them compelling! Instead, I’ll just fill you in on some reflections I have after a year abroad.
    Indonesia is a crazy, beautiful, exciting, and, at times, frustrating place. I loved it from day one and even after the starry-eyed newness wore off, I had an absolutely fabulous year. A big part of that has been the opportunity to travel. I was able to explore parts of Java, and to visit the islands of Sumatra, Bali, Lombok, and Sulawesi, as well as three other countries in Southeast Asia. What’s my favorite? I have absolutely no idea. I went whitewater rafting for the first time. I trekked through the Sumatran jungle where I saw a mother orangutan watch from a safe distance as her baby practiced climbing trees on his own. I worked on overcoming my fear of the ocean by snorkeling over one of the most beautiful reefs in the world. Then, I overcame it some more by diving at a WWII shipwreck. I walked on the beaches of Bali and Lombok. I hiked through a forest and saw a tarsir. I had a pedicure performed by little fish eating the dead skin from my heels and under my toes. I saw many sunsets and a couple of sunrises, including one over the undeniably awesome temple of Angkor Wat.

    And, most importantly, I got to teach. Teaching was a creative and energizing endeavor that I wish I’d embarked on twenty years ago. I wasted a lot of time trying to do things to make the world better or to trying to make my mark. Finally, I’ve found something I truly enjoy and I’ve found the general sense of contentment that goes along with it.



    Nice recap O.  I may have mentioned this before, and if so forgive me, but have you read "Shooting the Boh", a reminescence about a middle aged woman's first descent of a class V whitewater stream in Borneo and a lot more?  If not, I think you might enjoy it.

    You haven't mentioned it and I will definitely look it up. Class five might be a little much for me. I'm not the thrill-seeking type. But Borneo is definitely on my list--or at least Kelimantan is, which is what they call the Indonesian side of that particular island (Borneo is Malaysian).

    She didn't set out to do class V.  It was a maiden voyage by Sobek expeditions to scout out the river as a possible adventure tour and knowing someone with the company, she was invited to come along for the ride.  During the trip it started raining. And raining.  Raising the river level by 30  feet in a matter of hours.  They were in a very difficult position, but continued on, and she had a bad swim.  It's a great read and witty study of the personalities on the river trip as well as cultural archetypes/stereotypes.

    Now that's a revolutionary perspective if I ever read one! You need any foot soldiers?

    I've got plenty of little fish for my feet soldiers. But I'd highly recommend a trip to Indonesia. It's a strange and magical place!

    Wish I could afford such a trip. If I ever did, I'd probably round off my visit by getting flogged for stealing coffee beans. The beans roasted and brewed from there are truely a cup of gold...a national treasure.

    Orlando, yours is a voice I could listen to for hours without ever having to take a chocolate break.  I'm so glad you're back among us.  Can't wait to hear more about your experiences. 

    Or, really, just anything you want to talk about.

    Not even a chocolate break? That's high praise! Thanks!

    Welcome back to Dag, Orlando.  You've been missed.  I gotta say, from one who's "known" you for quite a few years now, that it's a real pleasure seeing you so happy, and enjoying life to its fullest.  And I'm looking forward to the continuation of your Blowing Smoke series.  I had a chance to read most of the Book Club pieces at TPM but I like reading your take on the book immensely, so I can't wait to see you start that up again.


    A delightful, charming and even therapeutic little note.  I hope you will find the time to pen some vignettes with the details about these happy little moments.  You have been gone over a year but I think you can imagine how much we who still live in this Fritz Lang movie set of a nation need to hear things like this.  Thanks and have more good times and then tell us about them.

    Great to hear from you, O. I had to check to see if it was really a year since you took flight. How time flies when someone else is having fun.

    Orlando, great blog, and a great read. TY.  I love SE Asia and am here right now, visiting  my parents. I was raised here, I wrote my first thesis  because of the impact Asia had on my life.

    I took this picture when I landed in Manila Feb 1st. I love coming home.

    Manila from the air, 2-1-11

    All right, McCarthy!  Can we look forward to some writing of your own about your experiences?  I hope so.  But in the meantime, enjoy your time there in that beautiful country.

    She just ran out of envelopes again.


    Errrmmmm..... Translated = Glad you're happy!

    How 'bout a word or two about what's going on in Indonesia on the "blasphemy" front? It's totally understandable to me, despite nudges,  why you might not be that interested in writing on Egypt: you're enjoying imbibing Indonesia. Wink

    But any possible interest in helping us understand what's going on right now in Indonesia? Whether it's seen there as just a local thing or is of interest to the whole nation (i.e., "everyone's talking about it)" or "it's far away for most people")?

    Indonesia Muslims attack court, churches; mob kills Ahmadis
    Feb 8, 2011 15:13 EST

    Hundreds of Muslim radicals set two churches ablaze and attacked a court in Indonesia’s central Java on Tuesday, calling for harsh punishment for a Christian on trial for blasphemy, police said.

    The attacks come two days after a mob beat to death three followers of a minority Islamic sect considered heretical by mainstream Muslims, and at the start of so-called “Inter-faith week”, when the country is supposed to celebrate its pluralistic heritage.

    Rights groups and some analysts say a decree passed in 2008 by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s cabinet as he sought the support of influential Muslim groups has actually weakened inter-faith harmony because the law is ambiguous....


    Video: Wild mob beats 3 people to death with machetes, sticks & rocks in Indonesia


    Fears rise over Indonesian religious freedom

    By Anthony Deutsch in Jakarta

    Published: February 8 2011

    The beating to death of three followers of a minority Islamic sect and the burning of churches have raised concerns about escalating religious intolerance in Indonesia.

    Human rights groups are accusing Indonesia’s president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, of failing to defend one of the six constitutionally recognised religions after a mob killed three Ahmadiyah members at the weekend....



    Wow. Honestly, aa, at the moment I'm in a month-long training course for about 12 hours of the day and I haven't heard of the incidents this week. There have been a few similar incidents over the year, but they have been smaller and less severe. I do have some thoughts about religious diversity in Indonesia and I'd be happy to write about them at more length in a blog post. But for now, my two cents is that the majority of the country is happy to live in "harmony" with one major religion and lots of others at the margins. But as fundamentalism is on the rise in other parts of the Muslim world, so it is also on the rise in Indonesia. I don't have a lot of faith in Indonesia's leaders to respond to these sorts of things, but I'm not sure, short of a major exploitable local crisis (like the Asian economy in 1997), that a fundamentalist uprising is sustainable here. It doesn't seem in character, culturally. But, I'm far from an expert. I've been paying more attention to beaches and volcanoes and less attention to politics this year.

    Thanks for the reply, and for just one paragraph it's plenty interesting and says a lot.

    Since you say you haven't been able to keep up with the news, the blasphemy thing has been a major problem in Pakistan recently, and I got the impression from a lot of what I read on that, some of which I posted here on this thread, that there it might be more mixed up with nationalist/cultural feelings and pride than some might like to admit, rather than strictly religious ones. Like it's an important part of their culture, to distinguish themselves as an Islamic state and "god fearing," but not really the same thing as what we think of as "Islamist" or Islamic fundamentalist. Because a lot of relatively moderate people there seem to be very shockingly supportive of lhe blasphemy law. That's not to say I think it's fine and dandy, as I think it is also a sign of nationalism that is used to oppress minorities, i.e., "Christians aren't 'real'' Pakistanis and should know their place," along the lines of Jim Crow, one culture of not so happy campers making themselves feel superior to the another oppressed group, get what I mean? It's for this reason that I was interested to see it flare up in Indonesia, where tolerance supposedly rules more. At the same time, if we are to judge from the Danish cartoon brouhaha, blasphemy is a big deal for a whole lot of Muslims worldwide, a very serious insult.....

    My daughter was asking about Komodo dragons last night. Have you been anywhere near their habitat?

    Not yet, unfortunately. It's been high on my list since I got here, but it's not as easy to travel to where they are as to the places that I've been so far. I'm hoping to get there this year. I did see one at a zoo. It was HUGE!! Just sitting there, checking out the people. I understand they can run as fast as dogs and have been known to bite people occasionally. 

    And, most importantly, I got to teach. Teaching was a creative and energizing endeavor that I wish I’d embarked on twenty years ago. I wasted a lot of time trying to do things to make the world better or to trying to make my mark. Finally, I’ve found something I truly enjoy and I’ve found the general sense of contentment that goes along with it.

    I love the following quote, have for a long time.  It is on my wall at work:

    Few will have the greatness to bend history; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation ... It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is thus shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.

    --Robert F. Kennedy, University of Cape Town, South Africa, N.U.S.A.S. "Day of Affirmation" Speech, June 6, 1966

    For most of us our ability to 'make the world a better place' takes place one conversation, one action at a time.  Probably we usually don't have much impact in our own eyes if we make it our measure of success to bring about an immediate change in another person's point of view or attitudes.  Especially doing overtly political work.  Less is often more. 

    As a teacher interacting with students who are influenced by your values and actions, I don't think you would be able to avoid making the world a better place, even and maybe especially if you don't think about it that way.  The opportunities for meaningful human exchange seem so much more promising than going door-to-door to talk to people one has never met before in a campaign for Obama or any political candidate.  As the late Christa McAuliffe, who died in the 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion, said: "I touch the future.  I teach."  So true. 

    The teacher-bashers are out there in full force in the US these days, just so you know.  They relentlessly focus their efforts are hunting down and firing the bad teachers.  It is necessary to try to help those who are unproven and burned out or on the cusp to do their jobs well.  If that cannot be done, then, yes, they need to find another line of work.  Counseling out is something the teachers' unions do a fair amount of, although they don't talk about that a lot in public.      

    The teacher-bashers usually are folks who have never lifted a finger to advocate long-term investment in supporting and developing teachers throughout their careers.  No, can't get a useful campaign message or published op-ed piece out of that.  I wonder how many of these people--yes I could name names--before they speak, stop and think about whether what they say may have an effect on the decisions some people make about whether to become teachers or not?  Hmmm...might be something worth thinking about when half our teachers will be retiring over the next 10 years.

    The lack of respect from some students and parents, the under-valuation of the profession by society, the silence politically aware teachers impose on themselves when they listen to, usually, white males now occupying privileged positions who would not have lasted 5 minutes in their classroom, force them through the adoption of misguided policies to do things they know are educationally wrong for kids...really, sometimes I wonder why as many people go into teaching as do.  And stay in, once they know all of the above. 

    I think it speaks to a deep and resilient belief in the potential and power of education in our country.  When was the last time you saw some Sunday AM talking head acknowledge that that potential is ever even partially realized in our schools? 

    But I digress.

    Does the banner headline mean you really are coming back to dag, to write much more often?  That would be great.  If so, welcome back (kind of).

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