Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Bali-April '07

The trip to Bali is extremely tiring even flying business class and having an overnight in Singapore in a first class hotel. Your sleep pattern is thrown completely in reverse due to a 13 hour time difference, which turns day into night. You are in a plane for a total of 23 ½ hours and the temperature is usually slightly uncomfortably cold and lacking adequate humidity.


Once you arrive, everything else makes it all worthwhile. You are surrounded by warm friendly Balinese people. It is not just the hotel staff that is friendly, but also the taxi drivers, restaurant staff (who don’t expect a tip because you are charged a service charge), and shop keepers. After all, it is a tropical paradise. It’s always warm to hot there.


But first, an impression of Singapore. The city country of Singapore is above all else, clean. Their public toilets are spotless. Its transportation system is superior, beginning with Changi airport. It has two terminals with a monorail between them. All kinds of shops and restaurants abound within, more like a mall than any airport I have ever been in. It is kind of a hybrid as far as government is concerned. I would call it an autocratic democracy. It is very corruption free but is the great decider of moral behavior. Right now it is trying to get its citizens to stop smoking, not an easy task in Asia, and people complained that the government’s TV campaign messages on the subject were upsetting children, so they now show them only late at night. Too bad they don’t recognize that fear is a poor motivator, but there is always someone whose parents used fear on them and it is the only thing they know. Amnesty International complains that Singapore imposes the death penalty at a higher rate per capita than any other country in the world. Merely possessing illegal drugs has a death penalty. There have been some cases where someone was asked to drop off a package as a favor, not knowing the package contained drugs, were arrested and given the death sentence. It is justified to keep the country free of drugs and politicians gave the quote, “If you want to get the monkey’s attention, you kill the chicken”. I am not making this up. I don’t know how they handle legal drug abuse.

The revue show “Crazy Horse”, popular in Paris, opened for one night in Singapore only to have to close because of losing money. Police harassment of various sorts were able to discourage attendance and keep the crowds below that necessary to make a profit. “Playboy” magazine is prohibited. Men arrested for a variety of misdemeanors, including spitting, are given the punishment of caning. Women are spared from caning as are men who have already been sentenced to death. I suppose this is the humane thing to do. Protesters can be caned and any groups of more than 4 people are required to get a permit to gather. Caning is done on bare buttocks using a bamboo switch that has been soaked overnight to prevent it from fraying in order to impose the maximum pain.

Homosexuality is a crime punishable up to life imprisonment. However, it is relatively easy to get an abortion. So Singapore is not completely a right wing Republican paradise. I am not sure how repressive other countries in this region are compared to Singapore but the fact that Singapore is so small, limits diversity. Uniformity can almost be felt.

The specter of Big Brother hangs heavily in my mind when traveling in this perfect, sterile society. I like to think that I am sneaking in and out of the country as fast as possible, which we do. If you like to shop, this is the place to do it, so you might want to stay longer.

In spite of all the negativity, when compared to China for instance, Singapore looks good.

We spend the night and next morning at the Shangri-la Hotel and are given a complimentary upgrade and stay in the wing where “President Bush stays when he comes here”. We are given a suite which comes in handy when one of us can’t sleep. I can’t, so I move into the next room and get on the Internet until I want to sleep.

This is the lobby of the Shangri-la, Singapore.


The official reason for our trip was for Judith to come and review her student Made’s (pronounced Ma’day) dissertation so that it can be revised before a committee reviews it and decides whether Made can be awarded a Ph.D. He has studied the AIDS risk behavior of small boat fishermen in Bali. Most of these young men are Javanese and not Balinese and are therefore, Muslims. He went out on three different boats. On one of the boats, the captain was strict about his men following their religious upbringing, and together with peer pressure, the men followed their restrictions on alcohol and sex and did not engage in risk behavior.

On the other two boats, however, the captains’ concern was only to bring in the fish and may even encouraged risk behavior to foster camaraderie among the crew. So when the men came back to port, they headed straight to the brothels and condom use was not followed.

Made took us through the brothel neighborhood which looked like most neighborhoods, and told us men seeking women used to come to houses and ask if they have any women available. If you were a normal household, this became a source of irritation. So the brothels added an “X” to their address painted on the outside of their houses. Sure enough, there was a 77X and an 88X, etc. to be seen. Never underestimate the power of providing sex to a willing customer.

Before Judith meets with Made, we taxi our way to the Ritz Carlton in the Jimbaron area of Denpasar. This is a new hotel for us. We arrive late at night so we can’t really tell much about the hotel or grounds but are pleasantly surprised by views, the staff, and the grounds. The grounds are built near the edge of a cliff and there are stairs to walk down to the very small beach which is seldom used. There is a sea water pool close to the beach and a bar and restaurant at hand. The climb is steep and long so after our initial exploration, we spend time at the pool above.

Lobby of the Ritz Carlton, Bali.Climbing down several steps brings us to a rather unique pool filled with salt water. You can see there is not much of a beach and it seldom is safe to swim there because of the undertow. You can have dinner and musicians out on the end of this pier if you like. I was afraid to find out the cost. This is the main pool In previous trips we were taken to seafood restaurant Jimbaron beach to watch the sunsets, so we went on our own. This evening however, nature provided another view. The rain did come and we stayed on a roofed porch and only occasionally did the wind blow rain on us. We have a guide take us to a fishing village, the nearby fish market, then, to a regular market where the local people come to purchase their daily needs. There are lots of seafood and fish and vegetables and clothing for sale and we enjoy looking around and smiling a lot. The Balinese are naturally friendly people and return the showing of teeth.

Jimbaron Beach and the red roofed restaurants can be seen in the distance. On the third morning we travel to Ubud (oo’bood) an hour and a half away. We have stayed here before, but we stay in a different place this time, but a place that has individual villas like we had before. The place is called Kupu Kupu Barong. Try saying it three times in a row. Ubud is near the mountains for we get cooler temperatures (still warm) and more rain. Our villa overlooks a gorge and river where rafters occasionally are seen bobbing along. The vegetation is lush and the views from glassed-in villas are spectacular.

Made lives fairly close to Ubud so the first 2 days, Made and Judith are working hard, while yours truly read and did cross word puzzles. At Kupu Kupu you can have a romantic dinner for two in the middle of their infinity pool overlooking the valley below.Once in a while I take a picture, I really like. This was taken before the morning fog burned off.

One evening we ate in a local French restaurant called Mosaic, or I should say we dined. We have about 8 courses served to us and it took us over 2 hours but each course although small in portion was superb and the total quantity of food added up and we skipped the petit fours. We cried "uncle".

The third day Made took us to the village of his
ancestors, Tenganan. His oldest son, Samu came with us. This village is home of the original Aga Balinese. The Bali Aga have probably been around for a couple of thousand years or more, and after the Hindu religion spread through Bali from Java in 1343 they sheltered themselves in their villages adhering to traditional ways. They are allotted special privileges by the government. People that now live there live off the land which is protected, AND sell crafts. One of the most unusual craft the women make is called Ikat. Ikat is a form of weaving where the strands of cloth are pre-dyed to fit the pattern before weaving starts. There is double Ikat and single Ikat. The single Ikat uses one strand of clothe and it is weaved in both a vertical and horizontal direction. The double Ikat weaves in the horizontal direction with the vertical strands already in place. It takes a weaver one month, working 5-6 hours a day to complete one scarf. Needless to say these works of art are not cheap. Double Ikat is made in only three places in the world, and only about 100 women are estimated to know how to do it. See the link--

All the money made from tourists buying anything in the village goes into a common pool so the village is very rich. However, they choose to live the same they always have and there is no sign of wealth save for a moped or two.
Close to Tenganan, is the ocean and this out of the way hotel with a good restaurant. The beach used to extend out to the black thingies sticking out of the water. Local people destroyed the reef in front of the beach by using arsenic to fish. Once the reef was gone, the beaches eroded. There are some places in Indonesia where artificial reefs are being generated in an attempt to replace what has been lost.
This is Made' oldest son, Samu.
We stop at Made’s home, which he built, where he, his English wife Jane, and their two boys live. It is a very nice house and they have Internet connection through the phone lines. The boys are 7 and 2 ½ years old and they are very handsome lads and very bright.
Made tells us many things about life on Bali.

From one of our taxi drivers, who always ask us where we are from and have we been to Bali before--It is a special treat for the average Balinese to be able to go to McDonald’s with their families for a delicious meal and at a reasonable price. I remember when McDonald’s first came on the scene in America, and the same sentiment could be heard back then.

We leave Ubud and return to our old haunt at Nusa Dua Beach, only this time we check into the Bali Grand Hyatt. This beach is great and the sunrises are inspiring. This hotel is huge but very nice.

We spend two nights and leave for Singapore and stay in another new, for us, hotel, the Oriental. They also give us a complimentary upgrade. Our 17th floor room overlooks a harbor and the tall buildings of the financial district. It is all lit up at night and it is a beautiful and romantic setting.

Our wake up call is for 4:30 for our 7AM flight to Tokyo where we change planes for Chicago. Due to the 13 hour time different we will arrive at 2:30 PM Chicago time the same day we left. That figures out to be 20 ½ hours time from when we leave Singapore. Another 75 minutes to collect pass immigration, get our luggage and taxi home, and plop in front of the TV and fire up the TiVo, hoping we can stay awake until normal bed time.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Ethnic Diversity in China-Oct'06

This trip showed us the extreme diversity within China more than ever before. Not only does China have an extreme range within the economic compendium, but the also the range of ethnicity, religion, geography, and culture are enormous. I suppose this is to be expected because it is a very large country and perhaps the same thing could be said of Russia. As gentle readers may know by now, every country has different problems is combating the AIDS epidemic. In China, the major problems are drugs and blood transfusions. They are getting a handle on the blood transfusions. However, there are people out there who are infected with HIV from drug use or from transfusions and these people have sex.
Our trip was to two places where drugs are a major problem. Both places were places where there are several ethnic minorities.

Kun Ming

Kunming, in Yunnan province is in the south central part of China near Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar, and Thailand. Laos, Myanmar, and Thailand come together at their northern boarders with China and this area is called the Golden Triangle. The origin of the name is not clear, but it is clear that large quantities of opium have traditionally been raised in this area. Reportedly, Thailand has eradicated most of their poppy fields, but the Shan United army in Myanmar (Burma) continues to be a major player, using the proceeds for the sales to support their army and their ongoing war against the central Myanmar government. Anyway, with drugs so nearby and easy to obtain, Kunming’s drug problem is certainly more prevalent here than in other parts of China.
Prison officials from all Provinces of China have gathered here to listen and learn about drug treatment and how HIV spreads among drug users. The climate is warm in Kunming temperatures are in the 70’s during our visit. The main tourist sites in and around the city are the Stone Forest, the minority village, and several caves.
Traffic in China is truly insane. I suppose it is because there are way too many cars, a lot of bicycles, mixed together with pedestrians who pay little attention to traffic lights. The good old united States have the most courteous traffic system in the world and one of the safest. I read where there have been 42,000 traffic deaths in the first six months of the year in China. Once out of the city, the road can be down to one lane because someone has parked partially in the road or there is a horse driven cart right around the bend. People pull out in front of you from the side of the road or if they want to turn left in front of you causing you to have to stop or greatly slow down. However, most of the drivers are young people with good reflexes and I don’t believe we have had any serious close calls yet. But I have to turn away from looking where we are going and occupy my mind with something besides traffic.

Kunming has a population of about 3.5 million and sits near a beautiful Dian lake, one of the largest in China. However, it has been badly polluted by industry, limiting its use as a recreation facility or a source of water. Sitting near the shores of the lake is the Yunnan Nationalities Village. This was built for tourist, but it was worth a visit.

These beautiful young women, dressed in the ceremonial costumes, represent their different ethnic minorities.
This is a tea room in one of the minority villages. Western hats appear to be native to several minorities. I am wondering which country had them first.
Guess who is on the rope line? The weather was perfect and we had a great lunch in an outdoor restaurant on the grounds.
We took a tram across Lake Dian up the mountain on the other side.
We visited the Jiuxiang area and went through a really neat cave where prehistoric 15,000 year old bones were found around 1990. This is the entrance.
At various places lights were used to highlight some of the stalagmites and stalactites.
At one point the rocks divide the river into two streams.
Next we went to the Stone Forest. This is a limestone karst outcrop. The ashen stone pillars were abandoned by the sea as it receded hundreds of millions of years ago.

See the elephant?

From one end of China to another. Urumqi (Chinese pronounce it ou-loo-mu’-chi but the English spelling must have been changed or the city renamed) is near Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia in the far northwest corner of China. The Silk Road ancient trade route went through this country. The Silk Road started in Xian and once it reached Kashgar (Kashi), it branched off to Persia, India, Afghanistan, Turkey, etc. It is arid country surrounded by deserts and mountain ranges. The Taklimakan Desert is a “searing griddle” according to the guide books.
Our Chinese travelers noted that the country did not feel like China, with so much Middle Eastern influences, although about 50% of the population is Han. The city itself has a population of about 1.3 million. There is not much to see in Urumqi itself but we ventured out about 75 miles to the oasis town of Turpan. On the way, we actually saw a small camel caravan of 2 camels. This is high sunny country. Fortunately we visited in October when the temperature was in the mid 80’s.
Turpan is an old city with a long history. Traces have been found of humans living there, dating as far back as 6,000 years ago. Turpan means 'the lowest place' in the Uygur language and 'the fertile land' in Turki. Lying in the Turpan Basin, the elevation of most of the places in the area is below 500 meters (1,640 feet). Turpan is the city with the lowest elevation in China. Turpan has a population of 250,000, made up of 21 different nationalities. Among these the Uygurs account for over 70% of the total number.

The city, which is also known as Huo Zhou (a place as hot as fire), is the hottest place in China. The annual average temperature is 14C (57.2F). It is reckoned that there are 152 summer days on average, and 28 really broiling days with the temperature above 40C (104F). Although the high temperature can be oppressive people can also get some benefits from it. The abundant sunshine gives the melons and grapes ideal conditions to grow. The fruit here is widely known for its high sugar content, especially the grapes. Turpan is praised as the 'Hometown of Grapes' and the Grape Valley is a good place to enjoy the grapes of hundreds of varieties. Apart from that, the locals are quite fond of sand therapy which has a history of hundreds of years in Turpan. People lie or sit under sheds, burying their bodies in hot sand about 50C (122F) to 60C (140F). It is said to be a good way to treat rheumatism and skin ailments. There is a Sand Therapy Center in the northwest of the city which is popular among visitors.

One of the world's architectural wonders hides in Yarnaz Valley, 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) west of Turpan. The ancient city of Jiaohe (Yarkhoto) with a history of 2300 years lies between two rivers on a loess plateau atop a cliff of over 30 meters (98.4feet). It is the largest, oldest and best-preserved earthen city in the world. Jiaohe was the capital of the former Cheshi State. An Indian proverb says, 'Intelligence is bound to exist where two rivers meet'. Jiaohe, meaning in Chinese where two rivers meet, is such a place. According to historical records it was home to 700 households, 6500 residents plus 865 soldiers.
At the end of the 8th Century, the city was tossed into the reigns of the Turpan, Hui, and Mongols. Residents fled from the destroyed city continuously until in the beginning of the 14 Century, the city was abandoned, as was its glory and prosperity of over 2000 years. Owing to the arid climate and remote location, the ancient city of Jiaohe remains intact.
For a few coins, you could have your picture taken with a couple of young women in their native costumes.
We had lunch at this hotel. Notice the Middle-Eastern influence.
We visited the Karez Museum showing the elaborate Karez Irrigation system in the region that brings water from the ground. The melting snow from the mountains is the main source of the water that seeps into the porous soil forming aquifers. These kids were walking through the parking lot.
Emin Minaret is the largest extant old tower in Xinjiang; it is the only Islamic tower among the hundred famous towers in China.
Standing 2 km (1.24 miles) east of Turpan, Emin Minaret was built in 1777 in honor of the heroic Turpan general, Emin Khoja. He was an outstanding patriot who defended the unification of China throughout his life.
Right beside the minaret stands Su Gong Ta Mosque, one of the largest mosques in Xinjiang. The grand mosque can accommodate 1000 people.
We stopped at a vineyard and later were entertained with some dancing. There were several different kinds of grapes offered for sale.
Back in Urumqi, the camel was on display in front of a very large shopping area.
Our hosts took us to a show that night. We had a private room overlooking the stage.

We were given these ethnic hats. We really had a good time here. The Chinese started drinking and toasting as they like to do. The big lazy susan is the typical way a large table is served and there is always food left over.
I shot this from the plane as we were leaving Urumqi toward Beijing, just before we disappeared into the clouds.
We went back to Beijing for a night before returning home the next day. Lo and behold, it was a clear day.

This was a really interesting trip. We arrived home to catch most of the trees changing color.