Monday, October 17, 2016



Streets full of cars and other motorbikes, so many gas-powered and pedal rickshaws cutting closer than imaginable. The smell of gas and warmth and the wind whipped up by our movement. Weaving through the trucks stopped at lights. Illogical patterns and left-side driving. Passages through tunnels in the walls around the palace area. Families of two, three, four and a dog on one scooter. Food vendors on the sides of the road and narrow and uneven or absent sidewalks. Chaos and control.

Rural outskirts:

Long flat runs through the rice fields. Greens brighter, greener than anything I have ever seen. Chickens in the road, roosters. Bicycles packed high in the front and back with long strands of something- sugarcane? Their riders shaded under wide cone woven caps while my hair mats down under a motorcycle helmet. Up into the mountains, smaller roads, steeper and rocky. Open homes and people spilling slowly and occasionally out. Getting lost. Help from a group of young men, one who leads us back to the main road, too much construction here. Too steep, I get off and walk sometimes just to make sure. Higher the greens are darker, the trees thick. Caught in a downpour of huge drops of warm rain, we stop up at a cafĂ© that is someone’s house, are offered shelter, water, fried tofu in the simplest living room. On the way back, clearer views of tiered fields for cultivation, more palm trees, more rain.
A hand on Katie’s waist and one on the phone, pulled in tightly to track directions. Amazing to me that Google Maps works out here. Bright colors between palms and banana trees, Hindu gods at the end of the street and shrines and offerings from the sidewalks and tall bamboo Penjor poles curve into the open sky and dangle flowers and coco leaves above our heads headed towards Ubud. Dogs in the streets too, so many more here on Java that she points them out. They are unafraid. The sun is hot and my toes burn, but my upturned helmet fills with rain when we rest and drink fruit things in town. The roads to the temple are similar to outside Yogja, but better travelled. More advertisements. More people, so many more people in the smaller shop-lined streets up to the monkey forest that getting back on the road is a relief. Sunset over the rice fields and through the outline of residential homes. Taillights stretching and dancing.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Indonesian Otherness

My travels had brought me in the past to a fair amount of places where I did not speak the language and a few places where I couldn’t read the street signs, but Indonesia is the first place that I have ever been where my difference is immediately apparent. It feels embarrassing to say it, but I have been traveling exclusively in alien places populated by other white people.

It is one of the first things my gracious hostess mentioned, as we wandered the inner grounds of the Water Palace in Jogjakarta. She warned me that people would approach us and ask to take our pictures. She told me this with the weary voice of someone who had been living in and studying the country for some time, someone who speaks Indonesian and lives the culture and has devoted a good portion of her life to studying aspects of its evolution. She also told me this as a redheaded white girl in a city people who are decidedly not.

At first I shrugged it off, how annoying could it be? But as the days progressed it did become trying. Being called out on your otherness was uncomfortable for me, and surprising, and her response seems not only natural but assertive. Why would you want to take my picture?

I visited the temple at Borobudur, a gorgeous 9th century pilgrimage site. I went at sunrise when the changing sky mixed with the sounds of Islamic call to prayer and the whole scene was watched over on high by hundreds of Buddhas. Some of these had lost their heads to (mostly Western) museums, clamoring for a piece of this ancient spirituality that continues to be relevant.

Amid all of this overlay of religion, time, worship and tourism, people of all types hiked up and down the temple site, some armed with selfie sticks. I had a few hours before the bus would bring me back, so I spent a fair amount of time sitting and looking out. I was approached by dozens of people, families, and schoolchildren. Some asked, some didn’t, some pretended and some simply focused and snapped as many pictures of me as they could. I watched other Americans and Europeans get cycled through all the members of huge groups for individual portraits.

I suppose I was surprised because I just didn’t think seeing someone who looks like me would be exotic to anyone. I knew I would be immediately identified as a tourist, someone who could afford to pay for services. I was a millionaire in rupias, after all. But this was different. I had known the privilege of being a part of the everywhere-culture that invented the internet and dominates the global media. I had naively thought that this type of experience of otherness was out of date, belonged to a different time. I thought it was limited to the imperialism and orientalism I studied in my cozy forward-thinking California university. I was wrong.

An important reminder to people like me, who speak liberally without really understanding, and who remain, through it all, in a place of privilege. Were I Asian American, African American, or any other color American this would be an entirely different feeling. Art, music, new culture and new places are eye-opening in reference to what we know, but I hope this human experience can better inform my perspective at home.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Soundscape, Indonesia

There is a constant rolling wave of sound in Jogjakarta that is like nothing I have ever heard.

It is not the hum of machines, that varying Bb of refrigerators and idling cars. It is not the vague or imagined buzz of wifi hotspots and cell phones and data shooting through the air. It isn’t even the uniform honking of city traffic or background music or people talking, laughing, living.

There is a baseline that isn’t sound at all, but the thickness of equatorial air and the wingsounds of insects. To breathe is to walk in water even without rain, and the this slight heaviness touches your lungs, your heartbeat, the sound and mass of the liquid moving through your ears to keep you steady.

Above this is a rolling, non-percussive overlay of a singing language, motorbikes that have never imagined mufflers, middle-ringing rickshaw bells and the echo of all of this through unimaginable mazes of walled residential roads between main two-lane thoroughfares.

The first night I spent in here was the first night I spent in Indonesia. After over 26+ hours of travel and the crossing of multiple time zones, I didn’t sleep deeply. I drifted in and out, in the heat, with the insects and my confused body. I finally woke up for good at 4:30, when a few buildings away in the inner sanctum of the neighborhood of my guesthouse, men were being called to prayer.

While I had heard Muslim call to prayer before, it had never been so pervasive. In the week I spent in Indonesia I would become almost used to it, and I imagine it becomes like a reminder of passage of time, but lying in my bed beneath a single cool sheet, the room entirely dark, and the waves of amplified and acoustic call and organic response transported me from my hazy no-place state to right where I was. Prayer continues for quite some time, and I lay and listened to it coming from nearby and then farther away, mixed in with the sounds of roosters crowing and of water falling somewhere, before the motorbikes started to carry people away.

Every city, every country and culture, has a soundscape. Indonesia and Jogja’s are natural, effortless, in my experience singularly unaffected by extra-developed sound of background music and advertisement. The music I heard in the country was acoustic, the call to sale in the market like the call to prayer. No absence of sound, but rather a unified roll of it, held together by warmth and patient air.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Travel time

There is something funny about the time we take to travel. Not the destination part, but time taken to get there, to move about, to go from point A to B. This time is difficult to count, moving across and over international zones, leaving us to live in the moment and away from the tick tick of a minutehand. Outside of our agendas. Not quite in our plans.

I love getting lost in time.

This lady gets things done in an airport A&W
Mostly, on-the-plane time is for secret asides. Watching as many idiotic movies as possible. Drinking altitude-reinforced whiskey or bloody marys. Sometimes it is for writing. On some sordid occasions it has been time for working, but let’s forget those. Because this time should be sacred. It doesn’t count and so is a bonus, a privilege of extra, at least for someone from a culture of too much.

Because there are no real rules in travel time, habits and traditions are ours to invent. I almost never eat Dunkin Donuts outside of an airport, but I’ve now done it in a dozen states and countries and over three continents. My secret Dunkin travel addiction. In Indonesia, they have red bean and green tea donuts. Who am I to turn that down? It would be a cultural affront.

In Tokyo a day ago on a stopover, I walked the insides of the airport, an extra-time traveler in her own particular non-space. I’ll be in Tokyo proper in not too long, but this was already a sense overload. The amount of duty-free chaos in Narita is overwhelming. So many colors, so many smiling Japanese characters peering from every adspace, so many samurai boutiques. And the cleanest toilets- with and without bidets- I have every seen. All with the overarching neutrality of in-between. The line for McDonalds wrapped around the corridor. The line for ramen decidedly did not. Everything expressed in dollars and yen, translations and generics. An over-cartoonish group of fake traditional musicians walked around and played, posing for pictures. Why? Why advertise their local performance to the detached dwellers of the airport food court? It was amazingly surreal.
Narita airport performers.
If you are keeping track of the places you have visited, stopovers accrued during travel don’t count. You aren’t really there, you don’t really exist. I can’t really say I’ve been to Jakarta, though I’m typing now waiting in a Jakarta terminal. I slept last night in a hotel inside the Jakarta airport. I walked the outside drop-off area this morning and sat at a Jakarta fountain overlooking the Jakarta parking lot and a lawn of forbidden Jakarta grass and palm trees.

Jakarta 1am shuttle-bus view.
It doesn’t count because for me and my fellow travelers- unlike the airport itself, its workers, its amenities and its plantlife- real life doesn’t happen at any of these places. I am in Jakarta but I am not. This is in-between for me and so I am also in-between. Quintessentially, I took a shuttle bus last night from my arrival terminal to the terminal my hotel was in. I mentioned my destination to the driver, who told me to get in. I found, after a period of time that could as easily have been ten or thirty minutes, that I had been brought to the same place I had been originally. A round trip in non-space and outside of time. It’s such an appealing wormhole, assuming you’re not really that worried about actually getting anywhere.

Someone told me once that jetlag is your soul catching up with your body. I really like this idea. That there is a part of you that just can’t travel as fast as a tin can hurtling through space and that you have to live like a partial zombie for a bit while it finds you. If this is the case with jet lag, I like to think of this extra secret lost time as recuperation for the mind, slowing down after too much mundane regular action and buzzing activity. Your mind catching up with your body after too much everyday, and before or after the stimulation and expectation upon arrival.

Perhaps getting lost in time is another built-in catch-up with yourself, your everyday self catching up with the moment.

In any case, it is delicious.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016


It has been two and a half years since my last post, with time taken up by life and a heavy job.
I'm back now, traveling the world and thinking about things again. Apologies for the long silence. Here we go again.

Sunday, February 9, 2014


Banana. Bane of my existence.

I have long fought the good fight against the banana. It’s a slick fruit, just too large in size to be ignored. Pungent-smelling, invasive-tasting, terrible-joke-inducing banana.

It really has no business hanging around, anyway, getting in my way in fruit salads and smoothies. It is political, and probably perfectly enjoyable in its natural habitat. This habitat is, incidentally, far, far away from me.

In any case, the banana is unavoidable.

In working at the French school, I try to turn a blind nostril to the revolting specimens I have to unpeel for children in the lunchroom. I try to remain professional when they spit and cry over some kind of dispute on the playground, their mouths full of that horrifically textured fruit. I look the other way when they bring out those obscene plastic banana cases, which I originally thought to be some kind of crass adult joke but apparently actually serve to protect the insufficiently-wrapped-by-nature growths.

These last couple of weeks I proctored extended-time exams for 4th and 5th grade. These are the first few years of introduction to the lifelong skill of bubble-filling, and so the little French natives and the attention-challenged and the variously blocked got to hang out in a little room with me and all the time in the world.

There was, in my room, a wooden fruit basket.

This fruit basket was the inexplicable source of mirth and hilarity for the boys I was testing. The bananas came out. They fake-ate them and fake shot each other with them and sneaked them when my back was turned, placing them in their desks or on their answer sheets. They bee-lined towards them during breaks, refusing to take a short walk or draw or play hangman in favor of peals of wooden-banana fueled laughter that disrupted the surrounding classrooms and shamed me in front of my colleagues. “Get a hold of your students, woman! They're just bananas!” Just bananas indeed.

I got through that week. And the next, when one of the girls brought in specimen after specimen to reek up my tiny classroom, only to be broken on the final day when she brought in… banana bread. I persisted though, I refused to be broken. I continued my shift and eventually went down into the playground to watch over the kidlings and extract as many jokes as possible in exchange for drawing-paper.

Knock Knock.
Who’s there
Banana who?
Knock Knock…

Why do bananas wear suntan lotion?
Because they peel.

Why are bananas never lonely?
Because they hang out in bunches.

What was Beethoven’s favorite fruit?

One day, banana, one day I will best you.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Pocket Contents after...

Someone Else's Christmas Party 2012 (Black Wool Winter Coat)
- photobooth pictures
- one empty cigarette packet
- keys (not mine)
- half a cookie
- a bolt

Someone Else's Christmas Parties* 2013 (brown leather jacket)
- two Lindt truffles: dark chocolate and peanut butter
- one business card
- three bobby pins
- one small composition book, last page scrawl: "Vincent, bass. looking for soul singer (number)" 

Christmas Eve 2013 (brown leather jacket)
- three paper towels, folded
- one new telephone
- one pair athletic socks
- one recipe for phylo dough-blue cheese-mushroom tart
- one receipt for phylo dough, blue cheese, mushrooms

New Year's Eve 2013/4 (blue bathrobe from Santa on Christmas Day costume for All-Holiday costume party)
- one champagne cork
- one pair sunglasses, found in street on walk from 26th and South Van Ness to Page and Haight.
- keys (mine)
- two halves of yellow plastic easter egg
- one red Hershey's Kiss wrapper

Tonight (beige wool and leather jacket)
- one bobby pin
- one tab from grocery store flyer "I'll bring two friends $10 yoga · Sunday@8:30pm 350 Divis@Oak"
- candy cane wrapper
- lint

*three, in fact. Also of interest: arrived at house arms full of tiny potted poinsettias, exact details of procurement unknown, later used as Christmas gifts.