13 May 2009


Doshisha Days is Dead... Long Live Doshisha Days...

For the past year or so, Doshisha Nights was a more fertile breeding ground for my thoughts and whims, and as of today, Doshisha Days the blog has entered the Pantheon of blogs that never quite lived up to their original aims. Which is not to say that I have given up on the whole online bloviating businiess...

Enter Pan-asian Vision, which if anything will at least attract more people who come by my site by mistake....

17 April 2008


We interrupt this blog to bring you an important message

This guy, a confidant of mine, has entered the fray. Read his blog; it'll change your life or at least make you happy you have one...

15 April 2008


Month of Living Dangerously Part Empat

19 March

We are now at Ocean Star, a resort on the eastern coast of Pulau Bunaken. It is about 45 minutes away from Manado by boat. We missed, or rather could not find, the ferry, and so we opted to take a private boat to the island. The boat was tiny, our captain shifted between steering the boat and using a bucket to empty the water that was slowly filling the hull, casually smoking his cheroot right above two tanks of gasoline that provided fuel to the engines.

For 35 Euros – too bad for us, but this place had the astute financial sense to change from dollars – we dive twice a day, in the morning and have the afternoon off to enjoy the island. The best part about this place so far is the food, the barbequed fish we feasted on last evening was some of the best we’ve had this entire trip.

20 March

Another day of morning dives and some of the best diving yet! We went down to almost 30 meters in a sea of red-toothed trigger fish. I saw 2 green turtles, some giant trevalley, 2 barracuda and scores of other fish. I was about 1 meter away from the green turtle when it decided to leave its resting place and descend to the surface to breath, effortlessly rising away from us.

After running out of air, both Dries and I noticed a school of dolphins not far away from the boat and so we grabbed our snorkels and swam after them in hot pursuit. A few meters below us, they glided by us, a dozen or more. Sadly, despite our fins and – in Dries’ case a streamlined hair style – we were unable to keep up and they headed out to sea.

The highlight of the day’s second dive was a pygmy sea-horse, about the size of my pinky toe. It was so well camouflaged by the sea plant that it was nigh impossible to see it. The rest of the dive was basically a drift dive, the current just carrying us along at a leisurely clip. Not too many big fish, we hope to see them tomorrow.

That evening, we checked out the main town in Bunaken, having a beer at a local bar before heading back to our resort for dinner.

22 March

Back in Bali, this being the final stint of our trip, and what a trip it has been. Our last day of diving in Bunaken was as good as the first 2. We were on another enormous coral wall, almost 30 meters below the surface. We saw another green turtle, hunting giant trevalley, and a huge Napoleon Wrasse just a few meters below the surface, which really revealed its full colors. The second dive was nice and long, almost an hour. My air consumption is steadily improving. Unfortunately, I am done with diving for a while, and will need to look into diving in Japan.

After eating lunch at the resort, we were given a lift back to Manado where we returned to Pizza Hut after eating there for lunch the day we left for the island. I ate a large veggie pizza by myself, proving to Dries that I could eat a ton and then not bemoan how I had in fact over-eaten afterwards. We then freshened up in the hotel and then headed out with some Indonesian girls from Manado that we had met at Bunaken – getting chauffeured around in one of the girls kitted out SUV. After trying unsuccessfully to find a place to sing karaoke – it was Good Friday after all – we ended up at a night warung by the sea where they had the typical Indonesian version of karaoke (at least when you are not in a brothel) a list of songs and a one-man-band. Not for amateurs. Dries did alright but the biggest hit of the night came from Carlito who brought down the house with a rendition of “Proud Mary” that would have made Ike slap himself for screwing things up with Tina. By midnight we were back at our hotel, exhausted and dreading waking up before 5 am to catch our plane. We bid farewell to our Indonesian and Austrian companions.

Our flights the next day went by without incident and we were back in Kuta by midday. We requested a few alterations for our suits which came our spectacularly and then made our way to Seminyak for a few drinks at Ku De Ta and another brilliant meal. We slept soundly, oblivious to the busy streets below us full of revelers on Saturday night.

24 March

We are now only a few hours from Japanese soil. I will write a coda after we touch down and I have some time to reflect on what it all “meant”, but the final hours in Indonesia were interesting and warrant mentioning on their own accord.

A lackluster breakfast was the only downside to our final day in Bali. We hired a driver to take us inland to Ubud, another major center of Balinese culture and tourism, filled with gardens and architecture, surrounded by mountains and terraced rice fields. We ambled among these temples and palaces, popping in shops and cafes to avoid the rain that inundated the island on our last day. Our final stop was the monkey forest where a bunch of grey-haired macaques ran around, harassing tourists, particularly those with bananas. According to instructions printed everywhere, we were supposed to either toss bananas to the monkeys from afar or else defer to the authority of the so-called monkey “experts” who wore green and were wandering around rendering their expert service. Unfortunately, the monkeys got to me before I could get assistance, and the rules went out the window, my bananas went faster than Beijing Olympic tickets. Out of bananas, my distant relatives became a lot less interested in me, instead climbing on and over those stilling carrying, clamoring as if they had never seen the yellow phalli in their entire life. While fierce and perhaps a bit chauvinist (one male monkey mounted a female, had his way with her and then stole her banana stash), they were much cuter than the monkeys I had seen in Japan and were much more comfortable interacting with humans as well.

We made our way back to Kuta in the rain, picked up our adjusted suits and then made our way to Seminyak for one last indulgence: a Balinese massage at the Mutiara hotel, which I would heartily recommend to anyone who wants to stay in luxury in Bali. Alex had stayed there before and partook in a massage before. It was hands down the best massage I have ever had, besting both Chinese and Thai with ease. First we changed out of our clothes into diaper-like paper briefs and robes. The masseuses then washed our feet and then we laid face down while they lathered our bodies with oil and massaged it in. At one point, they even pulled down our pantaloons and massaged our bare asses, and I suddenly realized how such a sensual massage could so easily cross the line into a less ethical profession. Fortunately, our ladies were chaste and pure professionals, and so this massage was the perfect relaxing ending our month long holiday.

We had little time to enjoy our time after the massage, the rain slowed everything down, we grabbed some vegetarian food at a café, gathered our gear back in Kuta and then grabbed a taxi to the airport. I just got a few hours of sleep and am trying to eat this mediocre breakfast, Garuda Indonesia is not going to win any air service awards like their Singaporean or Malaysian counterparts any time soon.

09 April 2008


Month of Living Dangerously Part Tiga

12 March

We are half-way through our second full day at Kadidiri Paradise, the dive resort we are staying on in Togean Islands. We arrived at the main port Wakai around 3 pm on Monday and we were immediately met by reps from the dive shop who ferried us over to the island. The island is absolutely gorgeous, a narrow stretch of sand – our own private hideaway and a bunch of bungalows a stones through from the beach.

Yesterday was our first day on our open water course, Dan, Dries and I were the only students. We had to read a 250 page textbook, replete with quizzes and a final exam, which we all scored well on (Dries caught a stomach bug and fell behind by a day). We also did our first confined water dive yesterday in which we had to demonstrate a variety skills that we had read about - totally screwed up the mask clearing exercise when I opened my mask from the top instead of the bottom and totally started gagging on brine – fortunately I was only in 3 meters of water and could abort to the surface, but I still became the class idiot of the day. Still need to sort out my mask issues before I go back in the water today.

This place is amazing. Completely isolated, with no vehicles or even roads, electricity only in the evening for 5 hours, the food is prepared and served communally. This place is pure paradise, no need to try and state it more clearly than that.

14 March

It’s official: I am now a certified diver with 5 open water dives under my belt. My Acehenese instructor Salim, Alex, Daniel and Dries were all a great help in this undertaking. Dan, sadly, leaves tomorrow and I will miss him dearly as my dive partner.. I began feeling sick yesterday evening and today am fully under the weather., so it may be a few days before I go into greater detail, but I will try and do so before all the details fade into obscurity.

15 March

Rested and recovered, still sunburned and sore, but I am otherwise okay. I am up early as I fell asleep around 8 pm last night. It was just as well because Dan was woken up and told that despite yesterday being informed that his boat would leave at 9 am, he was rushed off at 7:30. He’s gone now and only the 3 of us remain. We’ll stay one more night here before heading northward and to Manado.

On the 13th Dan and I completed open water dives 3 and 4 in which we demonstrated the final skills we needed to complete our course. We practiced a controlled emergency ascent from 6 meters, took off our mask underwater and replaced it and demonstrated our compass navigational skills among others. These dives were all done in the reef off-shore.

Yesterday we went out to Pulau Una Una, about 2 hours northwest. Apparently, as I read after I had gotten back, Una Una was a volcanic island that had exploded in 1983 blanketing the entire island in ash. It’s a shame we had no time to explore the island, we had come to dive off its shores and check out some bigger fish. We anchored off-shore by the pinnacle, a giant underwater island that supported thousands of coral and fish. We saw but a fraction of this, which was still plenty. A bluefin trevalley, hunting for prey, came right up to us but then backed away when the half-meter fish realized that we weren’t food. We saw teeming schools of many different fish, some of the most colorful and oddly shaped fish, Moorish idols, titan triggerfish, bigeyed trevalley and more. We went down to 18 meters and marveled in our colorful surroundings.

I skipped the afternoon dive since I was not feeling so great and rested up for the following day, and I hope today we can head out and see the B-24 bomber…

16 March

T-minus one week to go on this fantastic trip across Sulawesi. This is our final day in the Togeans, our final dive this morning. Yesterday we dove on the B-24 Liberator, my first wreck dive. The bomber went down during World War II due to engine failure. The crew stayed with the ship until it crashed into the water and then they escaped and swam to shore, sinking important top-secret documents down into Davey Jones’ Locker, and evading capture by the Japanese. The entire plane was in quite good condition, Alex and Salim even swam through the windows of the hull. There were thousands of fish surrounding the wreck, including about a dozen or so Lionfish, beautiful yet highly venomous. Visibility was quite bad, although only 21 meters to the sea floor, we could only see about 5 meters ahead. It was quite eerie, dropping down into the abyss, the plane slowly fading into view before our eyes. It was a short dive for us, only 25 minutes, I need to get better at using my air. Still, I made it to 21 meters, almost 70 feet below the surface! I am very much looking forward to diving in Bunaken.

18 March

Paradise lost! But hopefully soon to be regained after leaving the teeming and unkempt city of Manado for the tranquil waters off Bunaken island. We arrived in Manado last night after another marathon 24 hour travel session that was once again not without the requisite dose of tragic-comedy (depending on your perspective, which in this case is quite easy to tell whose was tragic). Our trip started off quite easy, we dove one last time in the morning at Kadidiri, although it was a bit more difficult than normal thanks to some murky conditions and some errant jellyfish. . We were fortunate enough to see a spotted eagle ray at least. Still working on my air consumption, my running lungs need to relax.

After a delicious final lunch we tried once again to search for the famed coconut crabs that live in the Togeans – the largest arthropods in the world (I had gone in search the day before and could only find smaller specimens). Although we did find a few, none were the size that I had hoped for. Upon showering and settling our bill, we boarded the speedboat for Wakai to await the ferry north to Gorontalo.

We left our gear at the home of an Irish expat – his beer belly protruding proudly over his sarong as he watched rugby on the television (why someone would choose to settle in Wakai, the least attractive settlement on the islands must have confounded greater minds than my own).

Our ferry came and we promptly bought our tickets and got our places in the executive class – for an extra $2 with plush reclining seats. In our group were myself, Alex, Dries, Burgit and Carlito, two Austrians and Teemu, a young Fin. We spent the first half of the boat ride watching the islands float by as the sky darkened, revealing a pockmarked star-scape. Eventually we retired to our cabin, where after suffering both bad Indonesian and American programming, the lights were dimmed and we all soon fell asleep. I awoke, the sky had started to lighten at the periphery, and the cabin lights were once again on. I man was ranting in Indonesian for over a half-hour, and his diatribe was hard to ignore. It sounded as if he were recounting a story from his past. I don’t know why I think that as I can only guess as to what the hell he was saying, but that is what I would have guessed.

We finally arrived in Gorontalo not long after dawn, a 12 hour journey in total. Burgit and Carlito had already arranged transport. And so we followed them to our driver who was an associate of the driver that they had used when they were in Gorontalo before. Unfortunately, our driver was incompetent and impatient to the point of danger. We quickly redressed the situation temporarily by accepting his demands for more money when he got mad for making him wait while we logged on at an internet café for the first time in weeks.

Eventually we were on the move which was things got worse with this guy. Driving like a banshee on tortuous, narrow roads; a mother duck and her ducklings waddled onto the road, our lane, and instead of slowing, instead of using his horn, he simply drove over them, quacktracide, the only thing to show for it was a “what me worry” smirk. I was both incredulous and irate at the cruelty of the whole affair. A few hours later, the moron careened into a goat that ran out in front of the car. Poor kid, his owner’s children saw the whole drama unfold. This hit and run was a little less avoidable, but the guy sort of gave a “my bad” look to the children and kept going. I forget to mention that the guy kept on chucking rubbish out the window and into the street the entire time he was driving, and after being repeatedly told to slow down, he continued to drive like a man possessed.

Fortunately, we made it to Manado in one piece, checked into our hotel, got beer, washed up and hit the town – in that precise order. After a pleasant meal at a Chinese-Indonesian establishment, we ended up at this enormous disco, on top of the Mega mall. There was literally no one there, but it was fun for a while at least. I was quite exhausted by the end of the night. We retuned to our hotel at 3 and rested up despite some pretty noisy streets adjacent to the hotel. Teemu took off for Jakarta this morning and the remaining 5 of us head to Bunaken this afternoon.

02 April 2008


Month of Living Dangerously Part Dua

6 March
This morning we were awoken from our slumber by our erstwhile companion – the 4th man- Dries. It was around 6:30 in the morning and we were definitely a sight for his sore eyes after going many days on little sleep (due to his self-inflicted behavior) and a long bus ride up to Rantepao, and searching all around town for us. Fortunately, he found us with little problem. After an easy breakfast, we made our way to the rental shop where we rented 4 motorbikes for the day. Keep in mind that neither Dries nor I had ever driven a motorized two-wheel vehicle in our lives. Hell, Dries had never even driven a car. As such, I had a slight feeling of trepidation at learning how do such a thing on the wild and rough roads of rural Central Sulawesi. After taking the bikes for a spin around the block and proving (sort of) to the renter and to ourselves that we could handle it, we raced out of town like bats out of hell. Or something like that.
Our first stop was a market a bit south of town where animals were sold. Not that we got to see that much, as a bunch of guys tried to extort an entrance fee from us to see the water buffalo auction, and so we decided to wander and peruse the other markets instead. It really reminded me of the Russian Market in Phnom Penh, with the cloth-roofed stalls and the amount of copy and possibly purloined wares.
We grabbed lunch while the sky opened up and poured down. We then rode down a side road which terminated at a cluster of some traditional Torajan houses arranged in a row. We stopped for some photos there and Anya – she served as our interpreter at the market – planned to trek through the hills from there. And so Dan and I made our way back to the main road and then waited for our companions. And waited. Finally, Dan went back and after another few minutes of boredom, I turned round as well, fearing that Dries had had a mishap with the bike – the assumption was that either he or I were most likely to get maimed that day. Instead it was Alex, having wrecked his bike trying to avoid a chicken that had bolted out into the lane. He was a bit out of it, but by the time I had gotten there he had already fastened bandages from his tattered shirt to his arms to arrest the bleeding coming from cuts he had sustained. The most alarming problem, however, was at best a bruised rib and at worst a broken rib that could potentially puncture a lung. He laid down and Dan elevated his legs while we took stock the situation and made sure that he was alright. Once convinced that he was okay, we slowly made our way back to Rantepao where we returned the bikes as if nothing had happened. Alex patched himself up with his crazy first-aid kit and then we sat outside and watched the rain pour down with fury once again.

7 March
The oblong blade glistened in the sunlight as the man pulled it above his head to strike. The bodies, of 3 water buffalo already, lay on the ground already, some still writhing around in the blood-stained mud. Scores had gathered around to watch the final sacrifice. In one swift deft blow, the buffalo’s throat was cleft open and the its next heart beat shot our a geyser of blood, raining down on those who chose to stand a little too close to the action. This was the start of a Torajan funeral, or at least the beginning of the end of one.

The four of us had taken a van that morning and followed Anya on her motorbike about an hour north of Rantepao where we walked on foot down a rocky and muddy path, through the terraced rice fields to the house of the deceased.
We arrived in time for the final sacrifice, which was a gruesome affair to witness. The man, whose funeral we were witnessing, had died 4 months before, remained in the house as preparations were made, buildings erected, the animals purchased and prepared. The body was embalmed and treated like a member of the family, a living member. He was in a coffin at this point, but we were still asked to treat him with the same respect that we afford the living.
As soon as the final buffalo was felled, the men immediately skinned it and started hacking at the limbs and removed the organs as flies swarmed around the carcasses. We were given snacks, coffee, and tea and climaxed in being served the buffalo meat itself, which I scrumptiously declined to eat. Our pictures were taken repeatedly and the kindness of the people was reflected in their generosity and sincerity. We returned to town in the afternoon and relaxed outside as the rains returned.

10 March
After a day of organizing our trip to the Togean Islands and a full 24 plus hour day making our way to the ferry, we are finally on our boat, awaiting our departure for paradise.
We spent Saturday wandering around Rantepao, avoiding the rain and packing up for our trip to the north. We ate traditional Torajan food at a restaurant on the north of town, the food was excellent: fish baked in bamboo with red rice. On our way back to our hotel – we were aiming for an early night – we ran into a wedding reception that spilled over into the street, replete with karaoke band, singing and dancing. They, like all Indonesians before them, welcomed us warmly and encouraged us to join in. For over an hour, we danced and joined in karaoke with the joyous families. Daniel stole the show, dancing the prettiest girl as only he could. It was an unconventional end to a fairly conventional day. We stopped by a talent show as well on our way back, but I was eager to get back since we left the next day at dawn.We awoke on schedule, ate our breakfast and were on the road by 7 am. What should have been a straight-forward 15 hour car-ride, devolved into a 24 hour one. We travelled over tortuous and worn-down roads, through valleys and mountains. Our tires went flat 4 times, delaying us even more as we slowly made our way from Rantepao northeast to Ampana. The 4th flat tire was the straw that broke the camels back; it occurred after midnight and was beyond repairing and the breaks of the car had worn all the way to the metal – I was concerned they were gonna lock up on us at any moment. Alex and Daniel had both taken ill, particularly Alex, who was also still reeling from his bike accident. Dries was exhausted from being unable to sleep. At dawn, an ambulance – station-wagon ambulance that is – offered to take us the final 50 km to Amapana and so we crammed in the back on the stretcher, and I had to convince the driver that none of us needed to actually go to the hospital. They took us finally to the ferry, which we are now on and with luck, we will be on the islands in a few hours.

28 March 2008


Month of Living Dangerously Part One

Below is the first entries from my journal recounting my trip to Bali and Sulawesi.

26 February

I’m sitting on the deck outside my room in Kuta Beach, Bali, Indonesia, Planet Earth. I’ve traded on volcanic archipelago for another. The buildings before me are brick with clay tiled roofs, palm trees are everywhere. My room has a fan and only cold water, which is fine as it is hot and humid but not unbearable. Below my third floor vantage point there is an assortment of rust-colored roofs, but all comprised of different materials – metal and clay- and of different heights.

Alex and I arrived at five and made our way to Kuta, one of the more touristy communities in Bali. It’s like Thanon Khao San with less people (this place has an off-season) and more sand (due to the adjacent beach). We checked into some guesthouse that Alex had stayed at before and we headed out to check out the main drag. I dined on gado-gado, which is basically boiled vegetables with peanut sauce. It was tasty, but I look forward to sampling other dishes. Stuff here is cheap, damn cheap and this should be even truer when we go further afield.

… Ok if these flights [to and from Sulawesi] are gonna be paid in cash, I will have to be pretty frugal with my money from here on out…

…I think any doubts that Alex is anything less than what he says he is has been put to rest…

27 February

Our first full day was not much different than the first evening. Wandering around Kuta, getting a feel for things. Indonesia is cheap, cheaper than either Thailand or Cambodia. Today we are still working out logistics, flights to Makassar, etc. Should buy some postcards today.

28 February

I’m on my own for most of today, which is fine as I can use the time to write postcards, write about the trip and handle some of the remaining logistical questions about Sulawesi at a much more efficient clip than I would have otherwise. On the main agenda are doxycycline [malaria prophylactics] and air tickets…

…tasks complete…

I truly find sitting on the beach to be boring. Unless I am with someone and wrapped up in books, it seems like some sort of time-warping activity, as in time just drags. Makes me look forward to getting the hell off Bali for some weeks. It’ll make a nice bookend for this trip, that’s all it really should be…

… I think Bali is like going to the Epcot Center version of Indonesia, controlled and fabricated…

…I feel that I haven’t written a profound thing for a long time in this diary. Gonna take a breather until I do.

29 February

Alex’s brother Daniel arrived this evening. We had just come from Ku De Ta, a really swank bar in Seminyak, which is the more upscale settlement north of Kuta. We had intended to get massages, but Alex went diving and got back later than anticipated and so we opted to grab a drink and some Indian before meeting Dan, who had been stranded in Singapore for 2 weeks. He apparently read a lot, and is now something of a SAS expert. Interesting guy…

…Happy Leap Year! Absolute madness. It’s the only phrase that can describe today. I’ve never been anywhere like this ever. Rampant problems yet the people are noble and kind. It’s like a totally screwed up version of America. But I’m drunk and tired, and rambling to boot so more tomorrow.

2 March

The madness continues. Last night we arrived in the Mamasa Valley after a 12 hour drive up-country into the interior of South Sulawesi. The night before we spent drinking on the only expat bar in town, recounting the day in Makassar. After accidently going for a beer in a brothel where we were accosted by some of the most vile whores ever, who even worse than being hags, had the gall to drink our beer, we escaped and proceeded down to the pier where we reunited with a couple that we had met before our iniquitous side trip at Fort Rotterdam. Our reunion was short-lived however because we were mobbed by street orphans and others who wanted to talk with us. A group of Muslim school girls interviewed us in English; one asked me my opinion on Islam and Christianity, which left a strong impression on me that they were so willing to speak with us. They seemed thrilled to have had the chance to speak with us. We continued for over an hour, conversing with dozens of random people who approached us on the pier, before heading to dinner where we again ran into the head madam of the brothel, whose cackle was either sinister or deranged if not both.

The next day we left early and took a pete-pete or bemo, the ubiquitous blue van that serves as an Indonesia tuk-tuk, to the bus station to arrange our transport to Mamasa. We jammed ourselves along with 8 other people into a mini-van, 3-5-3, 6 hours to Polemass, where we switched to an all terrain vehicle, 3 in the front and 4 in the back. which we took through a series of switchbacks on a dirt/mud road that wound through the valleys below. It took well over 5 hours to go 100km – probably less – to Mamasa, a rather large settlement considering its location. The windshield wipers on the SUV died a few hours in and so we were effectively driving blind the last hours which was slightly disconcerting considering the road condition and the long way down to the bottom of the ravines that the roads tortuously wound through.

We finally made it to this town after dusk and were anxious to explore - as we were to leave on a 3 day hike the next morn - and hopefully drink some beers after the long, sore ride. We wandered around the city center, and upon approaching a building on a hill that looked promising, but what turned out to be city hall, we met two men, one of whom introduced himself as the chief of police. Smoking a (quite potent) Indonesian cigarette, he recommended a place down the road just outside of town for drinking. He also mentioned that it was a good place to buy the company of women, and before we could graciously thank him and find a non-brothel for once, he offered to give us a lift there. Trapped. And so one by one we got on his motorcycle and he drove us down out of town, dropping us off at this ramshackle building that looked like a small barn, with another building (for the more iniquitous side of the business) behind it. We walked in the barn, which was replete with disco ball and a bunch of karaoke machines - we offered to sing a song, but the English songs were few and unheard of by all. We sat down with a few girls and got our long-coveted Bintangs. The only other thing that really stood out about the place was that it was dark. Very very dark. After taking a few pictures, I realized why. All the girls had - in Cockney rhyming slang - very moody boats. In normal English - they were quite hideous. Not the Pretty Woman type. And so we drank. About 10 minutes later, a guy got up, had some sort of paroxysm, picked up a plastic chair and brought it slamming down on a table, shattering the chair and making a huge commotion. The guy was dragged out of the place by his friends, and normalcy - by rural Indonesian standards - resumed. This was once again interrupted (which may actually be normal in these parts), by the arrival of a few new patrons, whom the women around us said were police. A few minutes pass and then the more noticeable police show up - the kind that wears military-type uniforms and carries assault rifles. They start yelling, stomping on the ground and haranguing some of the people there, for what, I have not the slightest idea. The guys at the place all lift up their shirts, as to show that they are not packing heat. A bunch are rounded up and taken outside and away. The police with the big guns don't even look in our direction. One of the non-uniformed officers assuaged our concerns, telling us that all is fine. They all leave. Queue up the Saturday Night Fever, the place turns into a disco. We do the logical, get another beer. Turn down some drunken bike rides back to our guesthouse and walk back instead, under the moonlight, recounting the bizarre experience to each other.

It was a bit strange, looking back. A guy acts up and the SWAT team gets called in – or at least that was what it appeared to be – it seemed a bit like overkill to me. Still an interesting night. Looking forward to what’s coming next.

5 March

It’s been a few days since I’ve been able to write down what’s transpired. We left Mamasa a little after midday on 2 March. We stocked up food and water, got pointed in the right direction, and headed off towards the east and Rantepao, our final destination. About 3 km in, we stopped at one of the traditional Tana Torajan houses, wooden with an ornate elongated roof, for tea and coffee. While the people were sincere and friendly, we signed their guest book and gave them some money; in the end this had the feeling of a financial transaction. Fortunately for us, it began to rain as we entered their house and as we finished the rain had ebbed, and we continued on through village after village. Around 4 the rain resumed and we made the final push toward the peak of Tadokalua where we hoped there would be a place to rest our heads. The clouds came and the sky darkened and the sky opened up in a maelstrom, so we didn’t exactly pause to take it all in. I finally arrived at the top where shelter did indeed exist, and was long into my coffee when the Jenners arrived 20 minutes later. We met a very nice family, who gave us both dinner and beds. We spent the evening trading Indonesian and English phrases and laughing, happy to be in from the storm. Most of gear was wet and we were not too successful in drying it off by the time we left the next morning just after dawn.

We planned to get an early start and boy did we. The rooster began to crow before 5 am, and I did not go back to sleep. Since we had only done 15km the day before, we had some distance to make up, and so we trekked 27 km to make it to where we needed to go. Alex and Dan destroyed their feet, covering them in blisters. We finally made it to Paku, broken men, drenched from yet another downpour in which the entire trail was completely deluged with water. After a brief respite at a family’s house shield us from the rain, we forded a river on foot and had to avoid some rowdy water buffalos. After eating some less-than-mediocre food that tasted like the Chez Panisse, and cleaning our wounds, we slept like the dead.

The next day, we decided to forgo trekking the final 16 km to Bittuang and so I arranged transport, a Toyota land cruiser that slowly ground itself up and down the boulder-strewn path, bouncing me around in the back bench as I held on for dear life. After 90 minutes, we arrived in Bittuang, where we negotiated transport to Rantepao. We were royally ripped off, paying far more than we should have for both rides. Finally we arrived in Rantepao, ate lunch, were shown a few places to stay by Sri, a 50-ish woman who was quite awkward. In the end, we found nice lodgings; a nice German girl named Anya, and are now awaiting the arrival of Dries, who hopefully will be able to find us despite the utter lack of internet in this place.

The food in Indonesia has been quite good, albeit not as good as Thailand or Cambodia. I’ve eaten a lot of gado-gado and tempeh, both of which have been quite tasty. The food in Bali was fantastic, with some excellent Italian and Indian food. So far the food in Sulawesi has been serviceable, but not always great. On our hike it was good enough but then again it could have been anything and we would have enjoyed it fully. We had an excellent lunch today at our hotel with the owner and Anya.

A bunch of high school students have followed us around, one told me that America was his favorite country, much to the chagrin of my companions from across the pond. We are treated like full celebrities in this town, everyone knows us, I’ve not experienced anything quite like it, even when I was on JET in Kochi. Rantepao is nice except for the crazy amount of tour guides who are a constant source of harassment, even when we eat out. Luckily, our hotel is not too friendly to them and they stay away.

21 January 2008


Enter the 合コン(Goukon)

This Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending a Goukon, an arranged gathering of male and female intended to precipitate some sort of courtship scenario. My friend coordinated the entire event, whereby myself and four Japanese friends of mine went out to dinner with a like-numbered group of Japanese girls. Needless to say, it was a very Japanese experience.

I met my friends and we proceeded to the rendezvous with the ladies, and my companions exuded confidence that this was going to be a successful night, perhaps even culminating in a full evening's companionship. I was unconvinced, not of my own skills are parley with the fairer sex, but with the whole charade. When we met our four counterparts, my first impression was that they were all quite attractive, that their sense of fashion was purely Japanese (read: bewildering) and that this was going to end with everyone going home alone. How right I was.

We walked to the nearby restaurant where we were the sole patrons. We sat comfortably at a corner table and were arranged in a, in retrospect, completely unremarkable boy-girl seating arrangement. I was sitting in the middle and could easily converse to all four of the ladies. We had an endless supply of drinks - perhaps Japan's greatest contribution to its foreign guests, and a full course of food which was about as vegetarian friendly as Hannibal Lecter's House of Ribs. Our discourse was equally quotidian and I knew my friends and I were in dire straits when the girls started to saunter over to the bar to refill their drinks and then sat down to banter with the bar staff for extended periods of time. Still, the drinks flowed freely and at the end of our evening, I considered the experience as a whole, a positive one.

And so we returned to the station where we had greeted our female companions, bowed respectfully and went on our way. No one seemed to be disappointed by the result, and I was in no way mystified by the outcome. The night was still young, however, and so I left my compatriots and headed downtown and the night truly began with a night out with the usual suspects...

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