Friday, October 21, 2016

Hinthada Here I Come!

In a few days, I'm off to the town of Hinthada, Ayerwaddy Region to take on a challenging short-term teaching gig. Our client is the United Nations Development Program, who employ or help fund a sizeable group of Myanmar all over the country. Starting next week, they're bringing 60 or so of them together and another teacher and I will be delivering an intensive, two and a half week, English course. 

I say it's going to be challenging due the hours of instruction. Six and a half hours a day, six days a week. Now, most of us are used to working 8 hours a day, and so 6.5 hours may not sound like a big deal. Teaching is a bit of a different type of work, however. I like to have at least half an hour of prep time for each hour I teach, so it's not like I just show up and work. Then of course there's the difficulty for the students. Sitting in a classroom for that amount of time learning the same subject is going to be tough on them. Point being, it's not an ideal situation pedagogically. 

An 1855 watercolor of Hinthada
Hinthada itself I know very little about. It's sort of an odd place to bring together all these people. It's a small city of about 200,000 people along the banks of the mighty Irrawaddy river. There's a university there, two hotels and lots of river traffic. How it got chosen as the venue for this assignment is unknown to me.
Still, it looks like a pretty town, and of course, it's nice to get out and experience a new place on occasion. Badger will be staying where he stayed when I was Indonesia. 

Videos to come!

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Joko's Java Journey 11: The Final Episode

This blog is dedicated to the  memory of Pak Soebali. He and his family hosted me when I was a foreign exchange student in Jakarta, Indonesia in 1986. They weren’t paid for having my hungry mouth to feed. They were just interested in being exposed to someone from another culture. These were my Indonesian “parents”. 

I repaid them by being a bad teenager. I stayed out way too late. Oftentimes, I’d come home to find the front gate locked, and I had no key. 11:30 was my curfew; not so early I couldn’t be home as  a 16 year old. I never
Mama Nia, Ira and I, 1986, American
embassy, Jakarta.
apologized for my bad behavior, but I do so now. 

Pak Soebali joined his beloved wife, Mama Nia, 15 October, 2016.  Without this family, I wouldn’t have had the Indonesian experience I did thirty years ago, I wouldn’t have gotten interested in world travel, and I wouldn’t be where I am today. 

Inna-lilahi wa inna elayhi raje’ooun

Back to the Java Journey. My last post.
When we last touched base, I was in Bandung (BTW, if you couldn’t watch the video for that, I’ve edited out the offending copyrighted music, so it’s available worldwide). My host dragged me to a concert attended by Bandung’s robust community of “Stoners”.

Now, I had a definition of what a stoner was in my head. Been using the term since I was a teenager. Turns out, Stoner has another definition: fervent fans of The Rolling Stones. I was being taken to a concert of nothing but Rolling Stones cover bands. It was awesome. Even though they’re still touring (they’ve even got a new album coming out soon), I doubt I’ll ever see the actual Rolling Stones play live. This was as close as one could come. I was amazed by the talent, enthusiasm and energy of all these bands. 

In the morning, it was time for one last leg of the journey, Bandung to Jakarta. I found somewhat of a backdoor into the megaplex that is Southeast Asia’s largest city. One last glimpse of the scenic hills and valleys of West Java. I made good time too. Except for having to pass the slowdowns caused by trucks going uphill, the traffic wasn’t bad at all.

Then I hit Jakarta. My friend who’d lent me the motorcycle lived on the far west side of town, and his place was my final destination. I got to the outskirts of Jakarta at about 11 AM.
I reached my friend’s house at 6 PM.  Seven freaking hours to get from one side of the city to the other.    

After returning the motorcycle, my last night in Indonesia was spent in the same place as my first night there, 30 years ago, at the home Pak Soebali.

All in all, like all my previous motorcycle journeys, this trip has left me thirsty for more. In my head, I’ve already penciled in two additional loops to be traveled in Indonesia in the future.  

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Joko's Java Journey 10: Bandung

Bandung is the 3rd largest city in the world's 4th largest country. As you can see by the map, it's surrounded by hills, and since it's at elevation, it's a bit cooler than the steamy equatorial lowland parts of Java around it. Through an online expat forum in which I participate, I met a British gal who invited me to come stay with her and her husband at their place in Bandung. I was grateful to be hosted by a local and gladly accepted. 

After making my way through Bandung's constantly insane traffic (I've never seen more motorcycles in one place in my life), I found myself winding my way up a narrow road leading up to the highlands around Bandung. There, my host's modest villa hosted me, three dogs and a cute nephew. 

My new friend took me on a tour which I'll never forget. First, we went to a restaurant at the top of a hill and got to look down on the valley below. From there, we got to see the rain clouds start to make their way in. I could have spent hours there; they had decent food, but unfortunately, had run out of beer. At 2 PM. 

Then, it was off to a very unusual tourist attraction. A hilltop Chinese cemetery. If you've never been to a Chinese cemetery, they're quite remarkable. Each family has it's own compound, each covering thousands of square feet and complete with shrines and monuments. I don't know the proportion of Bandung's population of Chinese descent, but I was amazed by the size of the place. Again, the cemetery wasn't a site, it was a neighborhood. It went on and on. 

Getting there wasn't easy. The main road to the place was closed for repair, forcing my host and I to try to make our way through the back alleyways. That was intense. Imagine zooming down a thoroughfare barely wide enough to allow two motorcycles to pass one another. No street signs. Google maps on the phone not very accurate. As you might imagine, we got lost. Navigating our way to our destination proved impossible.
Fortunately, we both spoke Indonesian, and the locals are more than just helpful when it comes giving directions. This random guy we met, pictured right, guided us all the way to where we wanted to go. 

After some time driving around the place, enjoying the scenery, lamenting about the rampant graffiti and finding ourselves on roads that led nowhere, it was time to head back. I thought it'd be easy. Just head downhill. That said, we hadn't left any breadcrumbs. We didn't know how to get back. With the road closure, it wasn't such an easy task to get back to Bandung. 

We were heading down what turned out to be the wrong road when we were stopped by a very helpful local. An old guy sitting at the cemetery, nothing to do, but happy to help a couple lost foreigners. What I really loved was how he phrased his advice to us. 

"You can go that way," he told us, "but if you do, you will only end up turning around and coming back here." 

"You can turn right, but if you do, you will only end up coming back this way" 

We made our way back. Enjoy the video.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

JJJ9: Purwokerto to Bandung

Java is an island of tremendous power. Whether one looks at it from a geographic point of view, in that it's one of the most actively volcanic islands in the world, or from a spiritual perspective, i.e., Java's highlands are the home of many mystics and shaman. A hundred or so kilometers south of the island of Java, the Indian Ocean tectonic plate subsumes to the Indonesian plate. The Java Trench resulting from this tectonic action is one of the deepest in the world. In basic terms, all that stuff from the Indian plates eventually comes up to the surface. Java emanates energy. I felt it. It inspired me. The whole way.

Purwokerto, a city I got to know from a hotel not letting me check in when  I got there, has been called the crossroads of Java. It certainly lies at the central point of the various bus and railway lines that crisscross the most populous island on Earth. Here's the vid from me going from Dieng to Purwokertp.

I was continued to be surprised by the quality of roads in Java. For most of this ride, I was on what could truly be called 'backroads'. Two lane highways, but really WIDE two lane roads. That said, there's plenty of interesting backcountry roads to be seen in the next video, Purwokerto to Bandung.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Joko's Java Journey 8: Dieng Sunrise

Sunset at Dieng

As much as I do this motorcycle touring and international travel thing, I'm still not very good at it. It's not from lack of planning time. In the weeks leading up to my trip, I spent hour after hour online, researching my route, considering accommodations and activities. Despite the planning, there's always little details that you can't anticipate and perhaps it's better you don't. Spontaneity and all that.

It's in the details that mistakes can occur, and whereas I really enjoyed my time up on the Dieng Plateau (that zipline was incredible), I missed an opportunity to see something that is reported to be one of the greatest sights on our planet - sunrise at Cikunir. A simple error caused this failure. 

I ended up here---> 

<-----When I wanted to be there. 

Enjoy the video. 

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Joko's Java Journey 7: Pangandaran to Dieng

Let me step back from my narrative for a moment and make a general point about the trip as a whole. One thing impressed me more than anything else over the course of my 10 days tootling around Java on a motorbike: the road conditions. Indonesia is not a rich country. The part I was in is most certainly overpopulated, and I was expecting the roads to be rough and clogged. My experience getting out of Jakarta certainly reinforced that preconception. On the whole, however, I have to say I was much impressed by the quality of the roads there in Java. Better than Thailand. Far better than Myanmar, and as a motorcyclist, having thoroughfares on which you don't have to be constantly on alert for potholes, which are wide enough to pass slower traffic safely and are well marked is a luxury that I do not take for granted. Kudos to the Indonesian highway department for having good back country roads and stellar main highways.

After a day of rest in Pangandaran, I had a decision to make. See, my original itinerary had me going next to Yogyakarta, the cultural heart of Java and a place I lived for a year back in the early 90's, I was much looking forward to seeing my old haunts and finding out how much the place had changed in 25 years. Thing is, I was already looking forward to the next Indonesian journey. Yogya deserves more than one day. Just as I did in Jakarta, I want to take a couple to days to reconnect with old friends in the place. So, I decided to skip Yogya altogether. Save it for the next trip.  Instead, I would get a day ahead of my original plan and go to the Dieng Plateau. 

210 kilometers from Pangandaran to Dieng, and back up into the more populous central parts of the island. The day didn't start very auspiciously, as I found myself with a flat tire. This was the only problem I had with the bike during the entire journey, so I took it in stride. 

At one point, I found myself in a medium sized town by the name of Wangon... I'm from Yangon! Wangon and Yangon are neighbors alphabetically. 

Another town I went through was called Wonosobo. I absolutely loved the local noodle dish, noodles in peanut sauce. I think my taste for peanut sauce is part of why I love Indonesia... It's so good. By the end of the trip, I think my blood peanut sauce concentration would be to the point of me being illegal to drive. 

I got to Dieng. I checked out the famous ancient Hindu temples. I ate corn. 

By chance, I ended up at the Dieng Mountain Theatre, and if you're ever in that part of Indonesia, do not skip their "Flying Fox" ride. In the USA, we would call it a Zip Line, and it's something I had never experienced before. I kinda forgot in my excitement that I can sometimes be afraid of heights...

Enjoy the video...


Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Joko's Java Journey 6: The Longest Ride of my Life

There's been a bit of a delay here in the recounting of my recent trip around Java, Indonesia. See, I ran into some technical problems. Namely, my 4-year-old Toshiba laptop got fried. It died in what I see as a very SE Asian way to go. I have strategically located my in-home work station directly under my apartment's air-conditioner. This is the most efficient set up here in the steamy cauldron of far flung Burma. As they sometimes do, my aircon began leaking water to what was below it, my good old Toshiba. Since it happened while I was sleeping, I awoke to my computer no longer able to run on the AC cord, not charging and sending an electrical shock through me whenever I touched it. My local repair guy said he couldn't fix it, so I'm coming to you now from my brand new Dell (I hate it; it's slower than my old computer and it's brand new).

So where were we? Ah yes, day three of my actual traveling, and I was faced with the longest single bit of driving since I've taken up this pastime of touring Asia on very small motorcycles. 337 kilometers or 210 miles. Now, that's nothing in a car or RV in the West. On any decent highway, that would take a few hours, tops. Ah, my friend, these are rural SE Asian highways. Check out my estimated actual travel time on the map! 8 hours 39 minutes! I drive pretty fast, but I make a lot of stops, so that balanced out in terms of travel time and the drive did take about 9 hours.

Enjoy the video.

Now, after that video ended, I got to explore Pangandaran after dark. I ate some amazingly delicious food. I shopped for some souvenirs. Basically just chilling in a relaxed beach town surrounded by local tourists. Before retiring for the evening, exhausted after my long ride, I decided to go down to the beach for one more look at the water. I was met by an imposing beast.

Deer God, what was this animal on the beach?

 It was a deer. Not just a deer, but an imposing stag with a huge rack of antlers. This creature was bigger than any deer I'd seen in North America or Myanmar. It was huge. Elk sized. With those pointy bits coming out of top of its head, it could mess me up pretty bad if it chose to.

Immediately I thought of the peninsular national park just south of town. There would be no way for overcrowded deer to escape from their near-island habitat except through the beaches and town of Pangandaran. Maybe it was hungry. Maybe it was mean. I gave it a wide berth as it stared at me intently.

Eventually, it wandered up to a beach side restaurant and started poking around. I went and sat at one of the tables of the restaurant, which prompted its owner to come out and serve. I asked if it was normal for the deer to be so casual with humans. She reported that it most definitely was. In fact, if the restaurant owners don't well secure their places at night, the deer will break into the kitchens are wreak havoc. She brought out some wilted cabbage to feed the mighty stag.

So, as it turned out, the deer are part of daily life in Pangandaran, which I think is pretty cool.

Pangandaran has a lot of other really cool things going for it. You can watch the sun rise and set over the ocean from beaches just a few blocks from each other. There's a beach from which you can snorkel out and observe tropical coral reef fishes. There's HUGE lizards. And the countryside outside of town isn't overcrowded and you can see the lives of regular Sundanese people.

All of that in the second video...