A Sound In My Head

[Written in Bau-Bau, February 17th]

Could I get an, “Oof”?

Imagine a land in which both Avocados and Durian are in season?! That land is Sulawesi, Indonesia. That season is now. Truthfully, the Durian are rather overpriced – the quality is decent, but the flesh-to-seed ratio quite small – while the Avos are very underpriced for the quality/quantity (it’s not quite on the level of Kathmandu’s Avo situation, but it’s pretty damned close). So, I’ve been eating more of the latter that the former. Either way you slice it, I’m growing more rotund by the moment – and also taking to wondering how many notches I need to inch Avocadoes nearer the top of my list of favourite fruits…

Bau-Bau, as noted, is scary gorgeous. Here’re a few more shots to go along with those already sent around to my Facebook (see posts here, here, here, and here) and Flickr pages.

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You can see: I’ve totally lost myself down the Rabbit Hole when it comes to post-processing photographic effects. I resisted for the longest time, but am now all-in (for better or worse).

Apart from gogging the natural beauty from the shore, one can also hike up to check out the ruins of an old fortress. The fortress itself is kind of neat; but the views from up there are outstanding as well, and there are tonnes of cool traditional-style homes.

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The townspeople here are more friendly than in any place I’ve yet visited – with million-megawatt smiles to boot. Sometimes, it’s a little much, to be honest – just to walk  down the street for five minutes’ time is to field scores of cries of, “Hey mister!” and dozens of solicitations from Ojek (moto-taxi) drivers. And in the tourist areas, like the fortress, forget about it: One’ll spend more time standing for photos than in doing anything else. Rarely have I even had a chance to turn the cameras ‘round and get some shots of my own. But, once a while it’s possible to do so…

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Hand-in-hand with the friendliness is hospitality. My friend back Makassar contacted an old schoolchum of his who lives here in Bau-Bau; the latter showed up at my hotel, and took me on a nice night-time tour of the joint…and then invited me to attend his sister’s wedding, to be held the following morning!

A very small affair located at the family house, I wasn’t permitted to view the actual ceremony, instead hanging out with the neighbours in a little open shack on a hill overlooking the water. Despite the language barrier, I had a good fun time, and the family were very supernice to me – though I think Indonesians are more freaked out than any other country’s people by my diet.

Ray, my host, had the most difficult time even wrapping his head around the concept. As we walked around town, he’d, every ten minutes or so, ask whether I partake of such and such concoction. “No, only fruit!” I’d respond to each new query. But, sure enough, ten minutes later, it’d be, “What about noodles?” or “What about soft drinks?” or “Do you eat rice?” or “How about fish?”

We sat down at a stall to enjoy some Avocado “juice” – actually a smoothie – about which I’d heard, and had demurred for its inclusion of sugar. He promised I could get it with only Avocado, water, and ice, so I agreed to give it a try. No sooner did it show up with chocolate milk inside, that Ray lost his shit big style when I gave mine to some people at the next table: “You don’t eat chocolate????”

Just another day in the life of a fruitarian wandering the streets of Southeast Asia…

That said, the fruit here is quite good, and the scenery so spectacular and the sea-breeze so comfortable that it could be close to being a tropical paradise of legend and lore. (There’re some small islands nearby which Jacques Cousteau apparently considered to be the World’s best diving location – but my budget doesn’t permit for to attend World-Class diving tours.)

So, what’s not to love? Well, I’m sure you remember the famous PSA with the tear-shedding Indian gentleman…

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Except for my brief interlude in KL (where the streets are so clean you’d swear you were in Canada), that crying gentleman has been me almost every single day since entering into India. I’ve noted in this space before now that I’m very well aware that Americans, accounting for 5% of the World’s population, produce 50% of the World’s waste. So my house is not only made of glass, but wafer-thin glass at that.

Acknowledging this, it’s incredibly depressing to see the mountains of waste piled up any- and every- where. One can sit on the seawall here, and as the afternoon progresses, watch the water slowly but surely fill up with the detritus of the Night Market’s food vendors’ patrons: Wooden satay skewers, plastic bags, cigarette butts, plastic water bottles, and the like – all casually tossed over the edge even though there are plenty of trash bins located throughout the promenade (not that depositing there would be any better in the grand scheme of things – but if people can’t even be bothered to get up and walk ten feet to a garbage can, it shows what we’re up against).

By morning, all the trash has been washed out to sea, and one can almost go back to thinking it’s paradise again – except that the water is so clear here as to reveal the crap which has sunk to the floor instead.

Not gonna lie: The casual disregard with which we humans despoil our very Mother Earth has me on the edge of despair most of the time. Not that it’ll make even the slightest ounce of difference when it’s all said and done, but if anybody chancing to read these words could please do his or her part to think very long and very hard before purchasing anything sold in a package or wrapped in plastic, then, well, let’s just say that if you believe in karma or similar…

Fucking plastic. Disposable fucking plastic fucking packaging. The worst, man. The absolute fucking worst thing humans have ever dreamed up.

Beyond that, the motorcycles here are even more numerous and more ear-splitting than in George Town or Chiang Mai. It’s truly horrific. What’s more, everybody chain-smokes –including, so I’ve read, on buses and in trains; and there appear to be no regulations whatever against noxious fumes spewing from vehicles’ tailpipes. Granted, this is true to least some extent in almost all of the places I’ve visited – but it seems to be more true in Indonesia than anywhere else.

[Written in Makassar, February 19th]

Back in Makassar for a brief stopover before heading on to Java, I’ve discovered that while staying with my friend here, previously, I was quite sheltered. Having now returned and taken the opportunity to spend a day walking around downtown, I’m sorry to report that the pollution here is truly shocking – it’s worse even, I think, than in India. The passageways of Pasar Sentral, the open-air market located near the harbor, are nothing less than a vision of Hell – much more sobering and frightening, in fact, than the absurd and frankly hilarious netherworld scare-mongerings proffered by the major religions. (And having now spent time in predominantly Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist lands, I can attest that they all permit that wanton fouling of the nest — presumably because Earthly life is just a temporary gig, so, who cares if we wreck the place entire?)

Yes, of course: Hanford, right in my own back yard, is the most polluted site in the Western Hemisphere – I didn’t need to travel half-way around the World to be shocked by humans’ ecological depredations. Nevertheless, I am here now, and I am horrified. Honestly, my reaction is that I hope the human race will be extinguished as soon as is possible.

Having said this, if one chooses to stand at the shore and look out to sea, Makassar offers natural beauty in spades, especially come sunset.

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After gogging this sunset, I was approached by, and entered a good, long conversation with four youth (early-twenties) wanting to practice their English learnings. They told me of all the places in Sulawesi and throughout Indonesia that my life’s journey would be incomplete without having visited – and also of Makassar’s seedier side. “If you believe that all Indonesian people are friendly, you are wrong,” one of them gravely warned me. Their English was so good that I was sure they’d been studying for a couple of years at a minimum, and could scarcely believe it when they promised me they’d only been at it for three months’ time.

I blew their minds pretty good one as well on a few occasions. Firstly, when I informed them that California is a state, and not a separate country from the U.S. of A.. Secondly, when they were attempting to gauge my knowledge of U.S. pop culture, wanting to know whether I’d heard of some actor (Jason something, I think), which I had not. So, they took a few moments to settle on the most famous-to-them Americans they could possibly think of: Michael Jordan and Bryan Adams.

Yes, I’d heard of them both, I told them, while adding that Bryan Adams is, factually, of Canadian heritage. They wouldn’t believe it possible. “Bryan Adams the singer?” I kept asking.

“Yes!” they kept responding.

“Yeah, he’s from Canada,” I  kept reassuring them. Finally, I began to speculate, “Unless there are two Bryan Adamses…”

“No!” they were adamant, “There can only be one Bryan Adams!!” They tell me he’s very popular here in Indonesia. While on one hand I’m happy to have helped to set the record straight; on the other, I now want to live in the alternate universe in which those kids play out their entire lives’ stories believing Bryan Adams to have been of American heritage – what a terrible and beautiful universe that one already must have become!

A few stray shots from time spent hanging out in the village about an hour’s drive from Makassar…

First, here are Iqbal, my host, on the right and Daeng Lallo (whom I also met in Bangkok three years ago) on the left, along with, in the middle, a man (nick)-named Zoro!

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The musical artistry of the village people here was rather jaw-droppingly good. Here, Daeng Naba (one of three so named) grooves it with Daeng Ja (the best whistler I’ve ever encountered, and blessed with a beautiful singing voice as well) while Daeng Rambo looks on. (Yep, the small circle of friends includes both a Zoro and a Rambo…)

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Finally, Iqbal’s brother, Ewan, and another villager (unsuccessfully, it turned out) fishing for their dinner…

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If you’re ever out Sulawesi way, stop by and give ‘em a visit – they’ll treat you just like Royalty Incarnate. Make sure tell ‘em Daeng Bella (that’s me – see here in case you didn’t catch the story before) says Hi.

So, anyhow, I’m kind of obsessed with the Pelni. Indonesia’s state-run inter-island transport system, the vessels are essentially cruise ships…

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…with the cabins, and the kafeteria, and the teater film, an onboard mosque, and cetera – though neither shuffleboard nor swimming pool abound. Check it out, though: They even provide, in each locker, hooks from which to hang one’s water bottle. Now, how fuckin’ thoughtful is that? Very fuckin’ thoughtful, I’ll wager.

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Rows and rows of beds in the Ekonomi class, but it’s still not enough: The class is overbooked, so when the gates are thrown open, there’s a mad scramble by porters and ticket-holders to rush in – the former are allowed to sprint onboard even while people are trying to exit! – and secure a bed, so as not to have to sleep on the floor (those unlucky enough to score a bed end up camping out all over the ship). Some daring individuals even take to scaling up the ropes and into the ship before the gates have been opened:

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Luckily, First- and Second-class tickets are being offered at a steep discount during February and March, so I’m (barely) able to afford to bunk out in a room. They’re small, but they’re cozy and offer a much-needed respite from the motorcycles and mosquitoes back in the city. And, so far, my cabin-mates have for the most part done their smoking outside the room – a huge relief for yours truly.

Life in the cabin is pretty good, but the real prize is, natch, spending the daylight hours out on the sundeck, taking in the scenery. Indonesia’s waters may just be the most beautiful place god made…

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Man, if it were possible to get an unlimited-travel pass for the Pelni, believe you me, I’d spring for that action in a goddam heartbeat.

Almost three weeks since I left there, but as I never did get around to sharing any pics from my little stay in KL, here are a few. Though I’d lain over in the airport a few times, this was my first visit to the city itself. It’s kind of a boring town, truth be told, but there are some very nice green spaces, and pretty buildings – including, here, the tallest twin-towers in the World.

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A few characters about, too. Could’ve watched this guy (gal?) all the day long, for example. My filming seemed to be attracting some attention, however, so I reluctantly opted to keep the footage to a minimum.

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Saw this dude on multiple days, always wearing that homemade tiara. Not sure, but he seemed to have taken it upon himself to make sure things were proceeding smoothly in the neighbourhood – just, like, keeping an eye open, making sure nothing was getting out of whack (or what).

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And, at the hostel, this Polish team – en route to a stint WWOOFing in New Zealand – are very probably the most entertaining people I’ve met during my entire travels. They had me in stitches for days straight with their antics and stories, and also their interactions with each other.

All their meals were either Kentucky Chicken (as they called it) or canned pork they’d been lugging around with them since Poland (I was actually present when they finished off what had been, when they initially set out, a ten-pound cache). Marcin is constantly taking notes, planning to write a book about their journey. I’d say that I can’t wait to read it, but, alas, it will be written in Polish.

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My final day in town happened to coincide with a huge festival at the Hindu shrine up at Batu Caves. Huge throngs gathered to process up and down the stairs, paying their respects to a Hindu deity whose name I’ve already forgotten  — many of them, as we can see here, shaving and then painting their heads and/or inserting sharp objects into their own selves.

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Best of all, though, was the music. The music, the crush of bodies, the food stalls, and, especially, all the litter strewn all over the grounds: it felt just like being back in India again…if only for a few hours.

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