Archive for December, 2004

Auld Lang Syne

December 28, 2004

A one hundred degree drop from Jakarta to Colorado Springs for Christmas. Enroute, spaghetti in Hong Kong with one of my favorite people and oldest friends in the world, Carla Weiss-Jeffries and her family…

She’s started a blog, too,, having just taken her daughter Kate to Hong Kong in November while husband Peter works for the Asian Wall Street Journal. We’d last met in Brooklyn, and moving halfway around the world before we met again gave us quite a kick. She’s one of my favorite people to read.

So let’s see — for those who haven’t had the pleasure of taking two red-eye flights on the same night, I cannot begin to describe the experience. But for the record: first, I took the red-eye from Hong Kong to LA on Monday night. Then, I took the red-eye from LA to Charlotte … on Monday night. Both flights departed at 11:30 PM, Monday, Dec. 20. Simply excruciating. And yes, my insides still think so. That trans-Pacific, trans-Continental trip is going to take some getting used to, and maybe some Benadryl…

Meanwhile, I’ve been doing some digesting of my experience, just before we start some actual honest-to-God classes in January in Jakarta. Seems to not go down well with Christmas dinner, cookies, nieces, moms, and cousins… the richness of it all keeps me on the pills I’ve described elsewhere. However, it’s been fun bringing a little of Indonesia to my nieces Danielle and Elisabeth.

As I write this, the dead are still being counted, the corpses still being piled on beaches. I wonder if I’ll see any evidence of the tragedy when I return to Jakarta. It is interesting that the tsunami hit, among other places, three hotbeds of revolution: Aceh in Indonesia, southern Thailand, and Tamil Nadu. My gold-mining colleague Syahrul is from Aceh and has distant family there, but has apparently escaped much tragey, if that can be said of anyone in the region. Apparently after-shock “tremors” were still being felt Monday AM, a full day after the quake hit. Children were the hardest hit, apparently accounting for nearly half the fatalities, and are now the most vulnerable to disease and hardship. Whole island villages and cultures, complete with their vanishing languages, have disappeared forever.

Still, there is only one thing we can say. The Chinese and Moslem New Years fall at different times from mine, but it doesn’t matter. I can only wish that people everywhere have loving, constructive years, that we treat everyone the way we’d like to be treated (or try to), and that we meet here again next year with faith unbroken, courage undaunted, and wisdom ever-growing…


Where Everybody Knows Your Name (Sometimes you wanna go)

December 15, 2004

D’s Kemang, a few minutes’ walk from home. Treated like royalty, the best dart board for miles around, happy smiling people, lotsa oldtimers…

That’s me with Paul the Manager, Simon the British Ace, his wife on my right and Putri our chalker on his left…


December 7, 2004

Sun. December 5. Evening.

I read in an online newsletter today that tomorrow night a US Vs. Britain darts tournament is to be held at a bar ten minutes’ walk down my street. I’ve never been in the bar, and it’s a gorgeous night, and I figure “hey – if there’s a darts tournament, there must be a board or two down there. So, this morning I dug out my darts (haven’t used them here yet) and set them on the entry table… and used the prospect of an evening at a dart board to hunker down over the budget and the database I’m building for the school…

A day’s work behind me, stomach gurgling as always these days, and I head down the road to this bar, called D’s. It’s 6:30. I get there, and in another wondrous conversation of virtually no words with a couple of workers seated over some long planks of wood in the parking lot (like all parking lots here it’s a fenced-off bit of the sidewalk, which yes, means that us pedestrians used the street to get here), I learn that the bar is closed tonight. Don’t be thinking this is Sunday and I live in a kinda backwards traditional country. I do, but it’s an Islamic country, and Sunday has little meaning… oh well. Guess I’ll check out the tournament tomorrow night…

Instead I’ve come back home, sent off some work emails to beat the clock tomorrow morning, fixed a cocktail, and hauled it and my laptop up to the wonderfully breezy pool-deck (see pics in the archives here) and resolved to break my silence…

I started writing again about a week ago, and I’ve just re-read it and decided to let it stand. There’s a pretty long political rant towards the end I invite you to gloss over, but it’s there for the record and in case you don’t, let’s start this rich feast with dessert and work backwards… In keeping with the pop-culture plagiarism of this Blog, I shall call this photo- journal “Baby you can drive my car”.

There are pics-a-plenty in the archives of the streets from my balcony… so this one is here in contrast. After a Saturday night a few weeks ago spent listening to this Islamic world celebrate the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the New Year, which was quite a cacophony considering the ban on celebrations that was in force the whole previous month, I awoke, after an ear-plug assisted rest, to the following scene below (click to enlarge) this paragraph. It was a possibility that was no longer in my consciousness here in Jakarta, but something which wouldn’t change for the next four days. The city simply emptied. No signs on the windows. Just nothing, anywhere. Nobody. What a joy! – no traffic, no fumes. Getting places was easy. Except there were precious few drivers, fewer taxis, and still fewer places to go. Just sit and read… like Burgess Meredith in that Twilight Zone episode where he’s the last man on Earth and it’s just him and all the books and time in the world… and he breaks his glasses and can’t see to read… Next year I’m planning ahead and getting outta here, too, for otherways insanity lies for those of us with nothing but the working life here…

Still, this pic is here to contrast with what follows. What follows is a series of pics and exam questions developed mostly while to- and fro-ing work to relieve my boredom when reading in the backseat anymore would risk fouling the taxi…


December 7, 2004


Lay Down Your Burden

December 6, 2004

Any evening on my roof… at sunset, about 6:00 every day of the year, something roughly this spectacular happens while the Imams and Mullahs are chanting all around… click on the pic… not too shabby…


December 6, 2004

There’s a kind of (loud) hush…

Baby, You Can Drive My Car!

December 6, 2004

Let’s start with an innocuous shot I call “4 flavors”. Given my diatribes earlier this season on traffic and motorcycles, I simply invite you here to look through the windshield with me and identify how many vehicles you see, and how many categories of vehicles you see. Oh, all right, and which one of them, according to our well-conditioned views of life, are heading in the wrong direction…

The answer in the first two cases should be “four”. We’ve got the “I can barely move anyway” truck, the three-wheeled orange cheap taxi thing I can’t spell or pronounce yet, the modern “I’m rich and comfortable in this hellhole and you’re not” SUV, and the “Ah yes, but I never have to stop” motorbike. And of course, the last answer should be “None of the above”.

Now let’s add one more vehicle class to our list, note the increase in motorbikes, and ask ourselves how many lanes of traffic are allowed on this thoroughfare.

Did you identify the new vehicle class as “I can stop anywhere and everywhere I damn well please ‘cause I’m bigger than you, older than you, and publicly under-funded” autobus? Did you get the extra credit for observing the SIX “I never have to stop” motorbikes right behind it? Did you correctly answer “as many as we can fit” to the traffic lanes question? SUPER! I thought you did!

Now let’s begin our Driving Lesson. Out of sight up ahead, “I can stop anywhere” has. “I can barely move anyway” isn’t. And IS about three feet from the so-called curb. This allows five “I never have to stops” not to. You’re behind the truck. A. Do you wave the motorbikes forward and smile beneficently? B. Do you test physics by blocking those three feet? C. Do you listen for the Mullahs and Imams to call you (and everyone else) at roughly 6:00 PM (it IS roughly 6 PM) and invite you to break your fast, stopping everyone from moving anywhere and bringing swarms of sidewalk cart-vendors to your window (ALL your windows)?

Correct. B. And if at first you don’t succeed…

Look how much good you’ve accomplished!!! You’ve inched closer to “I can’t move anyway”, proven Einstein’s theory of “I never have to stop, and if you try I’ll produce more of me”, and increased the number of legal lanes (note the euphemistic ‘sidewalk)’. The wonders of a community effort! It does take a village after all.

Aw forget it. Let’s just sit here and wait for the Imams to tell us we can eat. If that “I never have to stop” did, so can we.

A little later, let’s look to the right. Now, THOSE animals have the right idea… and so does that guy in there.

Or maybe those animals are waiting for a chance to cross the street and get to this wondrous feast on my left…

That’s not MY DDs bag! Oops. We’re moving again. Here’s the question: in the pic below of the dueling “I never have to stops” and adolescent bipeds… where does the road end and the sidewalk begin?

Did you say “It doesn’t”? CORRECT! SUUUUUUper!

The questions get tougher here. You come to a traffic light. Examine the intersection. It’s hard to see across because of the “I never have to stops”, but… 1. If you want to go straight, how do you do it? Better start planning now… 2. Observe the traffic turning right (British system) at the same time as the left-lane oncoming traffic oncomes… is this legal?

Answers 1: all of the above. 2. Of course it is! Any taxi driver will tell you that “laws in Indonesia exist to be bought.” Next question. Still at the intersection (note the red light), how many right turn lanes are there? And what is the “I never have to stop” in front of you doing?

Correct! “As many as you want there to be,” and “not stopping”! You’re getting the hang of this. Oh, forget about it. Let’s just all go now. Who says we can’t! Red light schmed light!

Ahh! Look at that! Now we can go straight. (Question: how did THAT happen????)

Answer: “That’s Indonesia”. Now. The man standing in the door of the moving “I can stop anywhere” is deciding where he wants it to. He has approximately 3 lanes of “I never have to stops” and “I’m rich and comfortable in this hellholes” to his left,

And approximately 4 lanes of all and sundry in front of him.

Which option do you think he chose? And what was the result?

Correct, but sadly, there is no photo record of his decision. Well, that’s it for the quiz! It’s clear you’ve passed, but do you wish to choose your own vehicle now, or would you rather join me in a chorus of “Baby you can drive my car!”??? And for those of you who really know me and are snickering that I should feel right at home here, I have a wish just for you involving the fleas of a thousand camels…

A Pirate Looks at Forty

December 5, 2004

Sun. Nov. 28

The last time I took myself to a part of the globe where literally nobody knew me, I was 22 years old. This time, I’m 40. Other than the age difference, I’m noticing more similarities, many of which feel profound, and they prompt me to wonder whether I, or anyone perhaps (assuming I’m not really that different from most other human beings), ever learns from history, personal or public.

Some of the mundane similarities: 1. I made both moves in September. 2. Great music is my favored outlet (big difference: I brought 30 cassettes to Poland, but 10,000 songs on one cassette-sized MP3 player to Indonesia). 3. Had a pre-planned return to loved ones for Christmas.

More profound similarities: 1. Writing is a needed processing tool (hand-written journal at 22; weblog at 40). 2. Need of a support group somehow (theatre company of strangers at 22; family and friends by email, VOIP, and IM at 40). 3. Initial exhilaration and wonder, and lots of writing in September and October. 4. a form of collapse and silence around Thanksgiving. 5. Following the collapse, the realization that despite everyone’s best efforts, when it comes right down to it you’re on your own.

In Poland, I (with the help of the young couple managing the hunting lodge where we were ensconced) organized a Thanksgiving celebration for the whole town of Gadkowice after tracking down a couple of sacrificial geese (turkey substitutes) on a nearby farm In the midst of the party we threw for ourselves and the town that was hosting the theatre company, we were told that night our future was at risk due to a strike against our director within the theatre’s head office. That strike was one of the factors leading to the death of the director a little over a month later, throwing young Tom (and many in the company) into a long, deep reevaluation of choices made and to be made.

This time around, it was the (from my perspective) surreal day in Singapore ten days ago (see limerick-rant below or in the archive) that brought everything crashing down, leaving me defenseless when Montezuma struck for the third time in nine weeks last weekend.

Looking back on both these adventures, I see them beginning with a typically intense and excited period of pushing by me, in the months (perhaps years in the first case) leading up to the journey, followed by an adrenaline-fuelled start to the actual time on the ground. Inevitably, without a change in attitude, collapse will come when the energy required to deal with current circumstances exceeds the amount of stored “fuel”. “Thank you, Mr. Spock.”

I guess you could say that on both occasions a reboot was required.

5. Preceding the reboots, a sustained period of silence and introspection. Avoidance, perhaps? Did I know both times that something was coming that I didn’t want to deal with? I suspect yes.

Something in the Air

December 5, 2004

Sat. Nov 27
I’m about to eat something I can’t believe I’m gonna eat that smells stranger and more off-putting than anything save for soured milk, rotten meat, and no-go shellfish… and speaking of no-go shellfish, that’s another reason I can’t believe I’m gonna do this. A week ago today I was still sleeping off my cathartic experience in Singapore of two days before, recorded for all time with lyric grace below. A week ago tomorrow I was in a fancy restaurant for brunch with a friend attempting to climb out of my exhaustion-stupor, but still evidently pissed as hell at something… when I took a grilled, half-shelled something into my mouth. It didn’t smell, but my tongue knew instantly… back into the shell it goes, away it goes with the waiter… and within 30 minutes my stomach tells me it’s too late and there’s far worse still to come.

24 hours later and round three of this assault approaching full bore (I hope it’s full bore ‘cause it’s hard to imagine worse) and this time I’m convinced I’m a direct descendant of Cortez, such is Montezuma’s wrath so far from his burial urn or sarcophagus… My housekeepers show up, returning from their week-long holiday, and I grunt at them. I show them the medicine I have (which has worked well before), tell them I hope to be better by evening… the next day, sweating in the A/C and getting the sympathy of blood-starved vampires in my dreams, with a meeting I HAVE to get to postponed from the day before, I beg my housekeepers to get me something that will work. One of them comes back with Immodium (why bother with the Latin? Call it what it is: “Immobilizer”) and a rehydration powder to stir into water… by the next day I’m wondering if I’ll ever take a dump again (they told me to take two and another in an hour… apparently informed wisdom differs from Old Wives Tales here, too: 1 per 24 hours is the recommended dosage, I now know).

Yesterday evening, Friday, the plumbing and my spirits finally felt fully repaired… so today here I go into this fish that smells like something I never would have allowed myself to eat before I learned that you eat what you have when you have to, and learn to love it all, because you never know where your next meal is gonna come from.

The thing is, I was having a business meeting here yesterday with a colleague while Murni was preparing it, and the “alien presence” got so bad he and I had to open the windows, Murni took out the trash… Don’t know if it’s a spice or the skin of this thing… it’s there on my plate, but gone when it’s under my nose, and all I taste is great curried fish… still, what AM I eating?

For What It’s Worth (What’s that sound?)

December 5, 2004

Fri. Nov. 26
I can’t help it. In the last week that feels like a year I’ve collapsed following four months of non-stop intensity, job change, world change, culture shock, etc. Slept for days, woke up and purged everything inside me for three more days (not my own choice, believe me), and feel refreshed, relaxed, and rejuvenated now… with an awful lot on my mind… I remember a painting, a caricature hanging in our house in Dallas when a child. A souvenir, I assume, painted of my dad while he was working in Pakistan just before my sister was born. He was big, and in the (Indian) ocean, and yelling “Tsunami!” I’ve only been in the water once since I got here two months ago, and I’ve only seen it two other times, both from the air on trips to renew tourist visas. Culture shock…Typhhons in Taiwan, massive floods in the Phillipines and here…

(big political rant follows)
I sit here on my couch late on what for many is Thanksgiving Friday. Steven Stills is singing “Almost Cut My Hair” 30 years ago on my stereo right now. For the last seven years on this night I’ve been chatting in the dark basement with my cousin Mike, or up in the kitchen in Danbury with Meme and mom and sometimes Claude, and it’s often gotten political… in lieu of that chat here goes… It was thirty years ago that we finally got out of Vietnam. Both the 30 years and my dad revisited me via BBC World news today. The dollar hit 1.89 to the pound today. I don’t believe it’s been that high since my family moved to London when I was eleven, and the Nixon-Ford-Carter combo was doing its damage. It topped two dollars at that point, and my dad was very concerned. That was my first lesson in exchange rates, and I remember learning to be very happy that my allowance was in Sterling, and not pegged to the less and less valuable dollar, like my Dad’s salary apparently was. So now it’s today, and MY salary,and Mason’s investment in this school, are pegged to the dollar, the trade deficit’s huge, and the Federal deficit, we all know, doesn’t seem to be within the current regime’s realm of concern. Greenspan’s been worried for years now (and don’t we know by now that he’s the guy we have to listen to?).

Officially, the White House thinks the weakening dollar will provoke what it always provokes: repairs in the trade deficit because our exports will be cheaper… thus curbing the threat of inflation and raised interest rates… but most of our debt is financed by China and Japan, which, like everything else in the world is an act of self-interest on everybody’s part… but for how long will it be in China’s self-interest?… and China’s finally started dumping its US bonds, which means they’ve finally decided they don’t trust the US to get its house in order anytime soon. And speaking of China, there’s the IBM thing… Over here in Jakarta, the news is ALL China replacing the US as the dominant force in the region. Cultural and educational funding no longer comes into the regional US diplomatic missions here, and the void is easily filled by booming China. Add that to reports of Chinese influence spreading throughout Latin America, and Latin American leaders seeing better likenesses of themselves in the China mirror than the US one. And let me tell ya, maybe a higher percentage of US kids go to college, but even if only two per cent of Chinese kids go to college, that’s a huge brain trust being developed, and I don’t think I’ve met a single Chinese college student who didn’t have a sharply trained mind and a disciplined work ethic. These are good thinkers…

While on the subject of my worries about the US in the world today, just what is this Congress? On the one hand, in the two weeks since the election, the White House has dramatically reduced Pell Grant funding (read: far fewer poor kids doing college) and attached some Pro-Choice hospital arm-twisting legislation to an unrelated bill heading through Congress. Meanwhile the House might as well be owned by the Pentagon if it can’t withstand the dissent of two of its most conservative and entrenched GOP committee chairs on something like the 9/11 Commission bill. But on the other hand… Congress deep-sixes Bush’s hopes of building new-age strategic nukes… BRAVO. I’m sincerely thrilled that at least there’s a block on that isolationist impulse. The Senate spokespeople say, rightly, that they can’t let the US appear hypocritical as we try to keep the rest of the world adhering to non-proliferation principles. Next step: the environment and the International Court thing…

Now, anyone who isn’t in the Pentagon or White House and is reading this knows just by watching TV that as a nation, we’re getting dummer every year. And we all (including ex-pat me) still believe we live in the best country in the world. But I doubt we all think we live in the smartest country in the world. And we certainly know that conventional military wisdom hasn’t brought most of us the sense of security, the prosperity, or global understanding we might have wished for from the Korean conflict onward to the modern day (with the possible exception of Desert Storm). And yet here we are… reducing education funding yet again, our children forced to endure the Government’s complete disregard of Educational science with both No Child Left Behind and Bi-lingualism policy, cutting taxes while increasing the deficit and forcing Congress to spend billions on the Iraq nightmare…

Call me Son of Nostradamus (and Cortez, I guess). This is it, folks. This is the twilight of the American Empire. 15 years after the other superpower forfeited, we shoot ourselves in both feet while the successor makes love to the regions of the world we shun. Here in Indonesia (4th largest country, 3rd largest democracy, most bio-diverse), China’s just committed to investing billions over the next five years in infrastructure. I assume they’re trying to make it cheaper for themselves to get to the minerals and employees who spend so many man-hours in traffic and in hospitals sick from the fumes and water. We’re saying goodbye to the world… a world many Americans were only vaguely aware of anyway, I guess… When we wake up from our deficit crises (which we can’t blame China for exacerbating by dumping increasingly worthless bonds), we’ll feel like England did when India finally forced them out… only worse. At least the Brits were relatively friendly to their colonies, built universities and cultural centers, exchanged traditions and blood and diseases and all that… India’s not far behind China, either, and Asia’s just had a major political pow-wow pledging to all work together over here… Goodnight Meme, Mike, Mom, Claude…
(end of political rant)