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
15 April 2008
Month of Living Dangerously Part Empat
We are now at Ocean Star, a resort on the eastern coast of
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.
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.
After eating lunch at the resort, we were given a lift back to
Our flights the next day went by without incident and we were back in Kuta by . 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.
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
A lackluster breakfast was the only downside to our final day in
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
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
We are half-way through our second full day at Kadidiri Paradise, the dive resort we are staying on in
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.
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.
Rested and recovered, still sunburned and sore, but I am otherwise okay. I am up early as I fell asleep around 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 , he was rushed off at . He’s gone now and only the 3 of us remain. We’ll stay one more night here before heading northward and to
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…
T-minus one week to go on this fantastic trip across
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
02 April 2008
Month of Living Dangerously Part Dua
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.
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.
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
I’m sitting on the deck outside my room in
Alex and I arrived at five and made our way to Kuta, one of the more touristy communities in
… Ok if these flights [to and from
…I think any doubts that Alex is anything less than what he says he is has been put to rest…
Our first full day was not much different than the first evening. Wandering around Kuta, getting a feel for things.
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
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
… I think
…I feel that I haven’t written a profound thing for a long time in this diary. Gonna take a breather until I do.
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
…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
The madness continues. Last night we arrived in the
The next day we left early and took a pete-pete or bemo, the ubiquitous blue van that serves as an
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.
It’s been a few days since I’ve been able to write down what’s transpired. We left Mamasa a little after 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
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
The food in
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
21 January 2008
Enter the 合コン(Goukon)
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...