August 24, 2011

Independence Day!

Wednesday, August 17 was Indonesia's 66th Independence Day.  

They declared independence from the Japanese at the end of WWII but the Dutch held on for a while longer.  The U.N. finally intervened and Indonesia became an independent state. 

All over Jakarta there are banners, bunting and flags along with signs that say "Dirgahayu RI" which means "Long Live the Republic of Indonesia".

The flag is simple but pretty, and we have one that we bought from a roadside vendor- but when we went to hang it from our front gate (since we don't have a pole for it), our guard patiently explained to us that the flag was meant to be hung horizontally.  

Ah, cultural diversity.  He had no way of knowing or caring if we had flags where we come from, and if there was a correct way to fly it if we did.  All he knew is that we were stupid.  

Even though we had seen many official buildings with the flag displayed hanging vertically, we opted not to try to explain the esoterica with our limited language skills (we can converse with the people we meet every day, but "discussions" are still out of the question), so we just smiled and thanked him. 

On our way up the driveway he stopped us to say, in English, 

"It okay.  You no hap to do... because you American."  

He was worried that we felt obligated to display our respect.  Sigh.  We really wish we could convey more than first grade ideas.  Maybe some day. 

Anyway, we thought it would be a good day to go to the National Monument, so we did, and here are the pictures we took.  The park area all around the monument was loaded with families enjoying the holiday, but the Monument itself was closed.

Because it was a holiday. 

Oh, the irony. 

For your trivia pleasure, Ted says the flame is layered with 50 kilos of gold leaf.  I'll save you the dollar calculations and just tell you it's the equivalent of "Holy Cow".  

Kind of a flowery way of saying "Independence Park" and giving credit to the politicians who okayed it.  Your vocabulary word for the day is 'khusus' (koo-soos) and it means 'special'.  You can have khusus parking or khusus children or khusus reasons.  In this case, they have a politician for special projects. 

There was not a lot going on, generally speaking.  Plenty of people enjoying the day all over- not just on the grounds of the monument.  

Strangely, for a firecracker happy country, there was not a single one set off all day or night this year, at least in our neighborhood.  

It may have to do with Ramadhan (in effect for a few more days) or it may be that only Americans need to blow stuff up for Independence Day.  

Idul Fitre is set to begin next week though, and a month of abstinence will give way to a week of abandon.  Like Catholic school girls at 3pm.  

Next time we'll explore the whole Holy Month thing here...

August 10, 2011

Thailand Islands

And peninsulas.  

Whatever the geographical configuration, it all spells v-a-c-a-t-i-o-n (and if you are now humming a song, you are old).  

We just returned from a week on the Andaman coast of Thailand, which is a mere 3 hours from here by plane.  

We flew directly to the Phuket airport, bypassing Bangkok- so when I say I have been to Thailand I mean it the same way Aussies do when they go to L.A. and say they have been to the United States.  

Point being, I have seen a tiny bit of Thailand, and the touristy bit at that, but the important thing is that the Thai people are as kind and helpful as advertised, which goes a long way toward making one's vacation successful. 

This was another of those vacations where not only do we not speak the language, we can't read the alphabet!  Witness a typical license plate...

So anyway, we only had a week and we all wanted some time to just sit and watch the ocean, so we didn't plan to absorb much culture or diversity- we'll do that when we go to Bangkok.  :-)

What we did plan was some snorkeling (us) and some diving (Coop) and some elephants and some destruction of nature with All Terrain Vehicles.

Missions accomplished.

The islands part came into play when we went out to explore the underwater part of Thailand.

Big boat.  Which was a good thing, because it was 90 minutes to Racha Yai from the pier and in the off season (now) the seas can be... interesting.

It was a pretty wild ride in both directions, and we visited five different sites on two islands.  But it was good stuff...

Really bad picture, but he's so cute!

My favorite diver, headed down...

Ashy feeding them bananas.

Great picture, completely by accident.

This one is not shopped.  It's a blue starfish, something I didn't even know existed.  It's fairly deep (about 18 feet) so it's a little blurry and the coral is sucking up all the light, but there it is, pretty much just as I saw it.

My favorite snorkeler.

There's a fish in this picture.

Five sets of clam lips (embedded in coral).

We were out for two full days snorkeling and diving, but you get the idea.

Now, on to the elephants.  These are different from our African elephants- they have smaller ears and are generally smaller all over, but they are still elephants which are probably my favorite land animals.

Thai elephants have fallen on hard times because it became illegal to log elephant habitats about twenty years ago, and the main logging tool for doing that was... elephants.  So their habitat is saved, but the elephants are out of work.

With a little research, we were able to find a place that uses unemployed elephants and the mahouts that have been with them usually their whole lives.  Asian elephants can live almost as long as people, so there can be a huge bond between a mahout and the elephants they care for.

We were able to feed them fruit by hand, and touch them and just generally interact with them after our one hour elephant back ride through the jungle.  It was excellent.

This was our elephant...

...and this is what the kids looked like on theirs....

And to make a really good day better, one of the elephants we got to interact with is an artist.  He painted us a picture on canvas and we brought it home.  It's at the framer's right now, so if you want to see it you will have to come visit.

How's that for incentive? 

 All that nature was swell, but it was time to tear up some real estate, so we joined an ATV company to zip around a rubber tree plantation on some four wheelers.

We weren't too noisy, and we didn't harm the plantation- just followed the trails for a couple of hours and got muddy and sore and happy.  We stopped in the middle to have our picture taken.  Don't we look happy?

This was before we got to the muddy part.  We looked a lot less tidy after that, but we have no photos from then...

Of course, nature and redneck hobbies take a lot of energy, so we tried to relax and enjoy the scenery every couple of days.

We did that from our oceanfront porch...

I know, right?

Thailand is really good value for money.  We have had much less hotel room for much more money many times in the past, so we were thrilled. 

Here's my scale model showing you how to use our little pool (which is neck deep on most Thai people)

And this is the view back toward our bungalow...

Overall, an excellent place to relax and enjoy.  So we did.

We even had a local lizard to entertain us.  

The first day he was on our wall, later in the week he moved to the pool.

His tongue was blue.

 And finally, I'll offer up two sunsets (they were so good, every single night) taken by my scale model.

                  and that's our week in Thailand.   :-)