Saturday, November 27, 2004

“Blissfully Ignorant Dive Guy” Sulawesi Travels #2

Image: Diving In Sulawesi; Volcanic Island "Manado Tua" - Old Manado

Andrew geared up and ready to dive.
I went diving yesterday which was an interesting venture on a variety of levels. The reef wall was not far off shore winding its way between the fresh water challenged island of Bunaken and Manado Tua, a perfectly cone shaped volcanic island. All the dives I have done in the past have been on the cautious side as far as mandatory gear checks, safety rules and regulations, certification documentation and the like. And rightly so as the risks of diving, most notably drowning in a wide array of interesting ways, are quite extreme. Our dive guy said he would check our certification later – and this was only after we asked if he needed them for insurance purposes or whatever. He said he would check them when we returned – which he never did. As we were pulling away from shore to go to the reef we noticed that the dive guy had not included a tank for himself. We had to do our own pre-dive checks – unprompted. And it was a good thing we bothered because when I went to inflate my BCD the air flow valve was stuck open and the vest inflated obscenely. I felt like I was a character in some ultra violent kids cartoon show about to explode only to rematerialize in some other even more grizzly scene involving our Key Stone Copesque dive crew. One of the characters came over and fiddled about with the valve and “fixed” the problem. No big deal except that I had lost a good bit of the air in my tank. A simple backward flop over the side and I was in the bath like waters of the Celebes Sea.

My descent was not without a bit of drama. I was attempting to adjust the pressure in my head while trying to remember all the things I was supposed to remember and trying to keep up with the instructor who was speeding off towards the reef like Tom Hanks in hot pursuit of Daryl Hannah in a mermaid suit. All this while trying to staunch the steady flow of water that was seeping into my mask - I always seem to select a faulty mask, or maybe my face is the problem. Eventually things began to settle down and we began to casually drift with the current along the brilliantly vibrant corral wall ... peace and tranquility ... until part of my mouthpiece broke and I desperately tried to reposition the respirator so I could continue to breath without holding the thing in my mouth. This happened just as our dive guy began gesticulating wildly the symbol for what I vaguely remembered was to indicate a shark. I peered in the direction he gestured towards and caught a glimpse of its silver body slinking along the sand at the bottom of the reef thinking bad ass shark stuff. Then the show really began as I managed to clear my mask, get a good grip on the mouthpiece with my teeth and relaxed a bit more. Rico the dive guy made the turtle sign as a giant cruised by only meters off the reef. I had only seen a few turtles on dives in the passed and none this large or this close so was quite excited. After the turtle siting, I took a peek at my depth and air supply gauges; 30 meters and already half of my air gone after about ten minutes due to the BCD inflating cartoon episode. I did not gesticulate this fact to Rico and he never did gesticulate to inquire.

Things settled down again and we began to peruse the reef wall. Again, Rico began clanging his tank and shaking his attention getting shaker device (usually a dive guy or girl will bang their tank with some sort of metal object – a SCUBA knife usually makes a good clanker and looks cool – some opt for a large heavy duty rubber band that has a plastic ball in the middle of it placed around their tank – when they “poing” the rubber band the plastic ball makes a very audible sound as it bangs against the tank. But I have noticed that many dive people come up with their own signature attention getting method, and it’s cool if you can come up with a good one. Rico’s shaker thing was pretty cool). He did the turtle sign as another giant cruised by. I kicked towards the turtle to get a close up look. She turned and came in my direction, veered off just a few feet from me and cruised on down the wall. We saw six turtles in all, hawksbill turtles. I touched one who was hanging out in a particularly vibrant patch of corral – something about coming in close contact with a wild creature in its own environment that is neat. Sounds rather Ranger Rickish or perhaps Jacque Cousteauish is more appropriate. She was just hanging out and did not skitter away as I approached. I reached out and touched her fin which she flapped. As she began to move away I ran my hand down the back of her shell – a nice diving memory. They were big, maybe 5 or 6 feet around. We saw lots of other things but the turtles definitely stole the show.

My air gauge was deep into the red zone by the end of the dive but Rico didn’t seem too concerned. He probably realized I had lost a lot of air in the BCD debacle and he did make sure we spent the last 10 minutes of our dive at about 10 ft. A remarkable time.

"Blissfully Ignorant in Sulawesi" Sulawesi Travels #1

Began the trip in Manado, the northern most big city on the K shaped island of Sulawesi.

Posing in Manado with a volcano for a back drop.

Image: Sulawesi, Manado - at the ground of our Soviet style hotel

Several hour drive (about 9 with a stop here and there) from Monado down to Tana Toraja (Land of the Torajans) where the buffalo is king ... and its hilly so lots of terraced fields.

Posing, yes purposely posing,  in Tana Toraja overlooking the rice fields. Not quite sure what the posing was all about - but certainly was a reality.

Image: Sulawesi, Tana Toraja Terraced Rice Fields

Sulawesi Travel Journal #1

I had my first A & W root beer float about an hour ago at the Jakarta airport “Everything All American” A & W restaurant. My “its vacation time and I can eat whatever I want” clause has officially kicked in. The All American curly fries were a nice accompaniment to the float. Presently I have a McChicken Meal in a bag at my feet under the plane seat in front of me. I would normally never subject people to the smell of a Mc anything meal to be recycled through the air conditioning unit on the plane BUT we are going to Manado ..... so I’m doing it. Not sure why going to Manado justifies an assault on the olfactory system of my fellow plane people but such are certain things in life.

Image: Sulawesi, Tana Toraja Houses - supposedly to represent the style of a boat, as the Torajan people were originally from the coast. But this being buffalo country, I think the buffalo horn theory is more relevant.

I’m going into this trip blind. My traveling companions have prepared everything ahead of time. I have a vague idea of where we are going but no details. It should be a new experience and I’m actually looking forward to it. I have been rather busy lately and thus not involved in the preliminary planning. But as the days passed and it got closer to our embarkation date I purposely ignored investigating the details of the trip. I thought it would be fun to venture into the unknown unknowing.

Image: Sulawesi, Tana Toraja Buffalo Mud Bath

Now I am on the plane. It is that very unpleasant time when they shut off all the air before the plane gets its engines fired up and begins its pre take off taxi. My face is glistening.

Pool side at the Santika hotel. The hotel is advertised as “the” resort hotel in Manado and it is quite nice. But it is a tad bit rough around the edges – but interestingly not in a third world way – more in a Soviet bloc country sort of way. Perhaps it is in deference to the Soekarno era when the Indonesian government dabbled with the option of becoming communist until the Western powers offered up Papua at the bargaining table to ensure that the largest archipelago in the world and all the good stuff that comes along with such a geographic feature, was safely in the hands of the “good guys”.... the guys who really know how to make money off of a countries resources. A children’s playground rusting away, paint chipping here and there, a bit too much mold and moss in various nooks and crannies, overgrown patches of grass popping up in random places – just looks like it needs a god scrub down and white wash to bring it up to its top resort billing – rather amusing that I am making such observations considering the fact that I once lived in an apartment with no working shower, a pistol target range in the bedroom closet and impressed my friend visiting from Japan so much by its starkness and dilapidation that he said it was the most interesting thing he saw while he was on holiday in the states, a trip which included several days in Chicago and NYC. Anyway I am simply recording my observations and subsequent thoughts as they come and trying not to drip sweat on this page, which is becoming near impossible as I am wet now from sweat as I was ten minutes ago after just emerging from the pool.

It is hot. Blue sky, blazing sun, tropical hot. So I am going diving and taking my giant poofy head of hair with me.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Golf In Jakarta

Golf in Jakarta is great. There are plenty of courses, they are relatively cheap and the caddies are usually pretty helpful. It is also fun to read about golf while living in Jakarta.

Recently I have been following the controversy surrounding comments made by English golfer Paul Casey about golf fans in the US and "Americans" (I am pretty certain he meant people living in the US and not Hondurans, Canadians, Argentineans and all the other Americans living in the Americas) in general. This entire situation and the unsavory behavior of the USA fans Casey referred to pales in comparison to recent events involving some of Casey's compatriots’ behavior this past weekend at a Premiership match between Blackburn and Birmingham City. Casey recently remarked that "Americans" were insular and naive and generally "have a tendency to wind people up". He even managed to involve his "American" girlfriend stating that she considers many of her compatriots to be "uncivilized idiots". Very thoughtful of him to drag her into this mess. I am sure she is enjoying the damage control. This coming from a guy who considers Scottsdale, Arizona an oasis in the otherwise culturally barren wasteland of the US. Casey, a resident of the primarily white, upper middle class, scrubbed, coifed and manicured residential suburb says this about his adopted home: "In Scottsdale, it's not so bad, because the people there have traveled and you can have civilized conversations with them, but the vast majority of Americans simply don't know what is going on." Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Scottsdale.... right on.

This weekend a Mr. David Ashcroft and a Mr. Jason Perryman, both sporting fans from Casey's homeland of apparent civility, were recently arrested for making racial gestures towards Dwight Yorke of the Birmingham City football club. Apparently they directed monkey gestures toward him from the front row of seats in direct view of several very visible TV cameras. Bloody brilliant! Well done lads! Perhaps we can borrow a few words from Casey's "most likely not very popular in Scottsdale right now" girlfriend and deem these fellows "uncivilized idiots". And isn't England known for some other bit of spectator behavior..... Oh yes, the football hooligans, the most infamous fans in the world of sports.

But all this bickering is wearisome. It is time to mend. I encourage Americans wherever you are to find an English person, or anyone who speaks English, or knows someone English, or even knows someone who speaks English - or just grab anyone - take them to a professional basketball game, buy a super size American beer and a jumbo hotdog and fries - make that cheese fries - combo option, eat the giant dog and pile of fries and then throw the beer at the player of your choice. Enjoy the show as lots of people join in and begin behaving like "uncivilized idiots".

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

"Melon!" "Pasta Bowl!" and Stuff

"What doz dese 'mel-on’! ‘mel-on’! wordz mean? I do not understand dis 'mel-on'" (it helps if you imagine you favorite stereotypical French guy speaking these words). This question was posed by Frederique (I am pretty certain it is spelled Frederick but Frederique looks a bit more “French” – no?) after our soccer game on Saturday.

Frederique is from France via Reunion. Reunion is a small island off the coast of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean that still has the abbreviation “Fr” in parenthesis under its name on a map. This indicates that Reunion is part of France (check out “Gibraltar” in the south of Spain – a curious one). It is pretty amazing how thoroughly Europe (and by extension the Neo-Europes) gobbled up the world back in the “hay days” (hey days?) of European exploration and expansion. Most of the world has been returned to their “rightful” owners in the last 50 years or so. The majority of these new countries now face the daunting task of stuffing a variety of people groups, representing a myriad of languages, traditions, economic lifestyles, body modification techniques, cosmetic preferences, fashion do’s and don’ts, shave or not to shave, McDonalds or Kentucky Fried, rice or noodles, Coke? Pepsi? and such, into the boundaries of a modern “nation state” of European design. Not an easy task, which explains why various people sharing a common culture and tradition (nations) are beating the hell out of other people who share a different common culture and tradition in the name of Life, Liberty and the right to pursue what makes them happy as a distinct group. But for some reason – the Europeans (and Neo Europeans) did not relinquish their hold on the islands littering the world’s oceans – especially those between about 23*N and 23*S of the equator – the ones with balmy breezes and white sandy beaches, coconut trees and lazy lagoons, surreal sunsets and bayside bungalows, Club Meds and Hiltons, golf resorts and spa retreats - reasons most likely involving holidays and vacation time shares.

French via Reunion Frederique could not wrap his brain around the implications of the word “mel-on” in context of his situation on the soccer pitch. He realized that “mel-on” was yelled when he was approached by a member of the opposing team who had the intent of dispossessing his control of the ball. But what baffled Frederique, and rightly so, was why we used the name of a fruit to indicate such a situation. We were yelling “man on”. Frederique was hearing “melon” as in cantaloupe and honeydew. So the next time an Italian asks you to “pasta bowl” during a match you’ll know where they’re coming from.