Saturday, November 24, 2012

Our Latest Trip to Indonesia

Our latest trip to Indonesia began with the required overnight stay in Singapore.  To try something new, we booked a night at the Marina Bay Sands hotel which has one of the world’s most distinctive profiles.  It looks like joined towers that support a big boat on top.  I think it looks gauche and architecturally a disaster. 

However, it has an infinity pool at the top and this was the reason we wanted to stay there.  We check in at 1 AM and are given an upgrade to a huge two room suite with awesome views of the city’s buildings, lights, and water surrounding this city nation.  We had 3 flat-screen TV’s, one for the bath room near the bath tub, a pool table and several over-stuffed chairs and couches and a wall of glass for the view.

 In general, I think Singapore is a bit sterile and this hotel seems to match this soul less aspect.  Because the hotel consists of three towers, the main lobby extends lengthwise to the third tower with the ceiling extending upwards, a good 10 floors with various works of arts hanging down.  Two breakfast areas are also there and we picked one after checking both out.  A wide variety of breakfast food was available and we mixed both western and Asian choices.

After breakfast we went to the boat on top and took some photos of the infinity pool and city views showing a bit of early morning sea mist that had yet to be burned away.  It was impressive.
  We left at noon for the Changi airport and caught an afternoon flight to Jakarta and then transferred to a flight to Denpasar, Bali arriving at the domestic terminal and avoiding the need to visit passport control that was accomplished in Jakarta. 
Again, seeking something new, we splurged and booked at the St. Regis.  I say we, but this is really Judith’s doing and of course I am happy to go along.  We are met at the airport by a driver who shepherds us to a van travelling to the Nusa Dua area and 30 minutes later we are checking in.
The St. Regis is 5 stars all the way and for the next 4 days we enjoy our room, the beach, the Mai Tais, and the food.

We travel twice to our favorite massage place where we are picked up and returned to the hotel.  And no trip to Nusa Dua is complete for us with going to Jimbaran where the sunset beach there is filled with sea food restaurants.  We had a wonderful seafood meal there and watched the sun disappear amid all the people activity.  This is always a treat for us. The beach is close to the airport and as the darkness descends, the airplanes are landing every 5 minutes.


Bali seems to be gaining more and more tourists although few Americans. Many more Japanese, Chinese, Russians, and Aussies can be seen and restaurants are printing menus with these languages added.
Upon checking out we are driven by the hotel to the airport and a hotel employee meets us, takes our bags and guides us to Garuda Airline check in.  As I say, the St. Regis is 5 stars all the way. Of interest is to see the airport at Denpasar is greatly expanding with construction of a new terminal, parking garage, and new roads in and out which are greatly needed.  
After a two hour flight back to Jakarta, we go immediately after landing to the Silver Bird taxi place to avoid the long wait in line.  The Blue Bird taxis are never a bad option as they are metered and both the Silver and Blue Birds are owned by the same company. But the Silver Bird usually provides a van with much more leg room  The typical time to our hotel,  the Grand Hyatt, is about 45 minutes but as with most large Asian cities, the traffic can be beyond belief at times. 
Motorcycles take up about one half of the vehicles and they dart in and out of traffic lanes.  The first few times I was subjected to this kind of traffic, I was constantly watching the traffic as if I was driving and knew that constant vigilance is required and I was tired after an hour or so.  But now, I just relax and rely on the driver to safely bring us to our destination. 
The Grand Hyatt is a hotel we stay at most of the time in Jakarta.  It is right in the heart of the city overlooking the Selamat Datang (which means welcome) traffic circle and fountain.  The hotel is connected with a huge shopping mall and across the street is another even larger mall that one can easily get lost in. 

But the main feature we like is the spa and open air swimming pool area.  Complete with palm trees and small waterfalls and a serpentine swimming area, one may think this area could easily be moved to a beach but its vista is a circle of high buildings including the hotel itself.  When Judith is off working somewhere, this is where I hang out, soaking up the sun, cooling off with a dip or two and at noon time sundering over to the restaurant of a light lunch and a drink.  I usually book a massage every other day coupled with some time spent in the exercise room.  
The massages are not all that expensive and I have always enjoyed this form of being pampered.
Another feature is the club room which we always book to have access to.  Due to the time difference, we watched the third U.S. presidential debate where having breakfast.  The cocktail hour starts about 5 o’clock and there are free drinks, wine, and snacks to enjoy.  A copy of the Jakarta Post and the Herald Tribune are available and provide up to date news in the this area of the world, which always different than reading the Chicago Tribune or catching the news on TV.  This alone provides me with a more balanced view of the world.
In a country that is heavily Muslim, I have been surprised that very few of the women wear the head scarf, especially the younger women. This is less true outside of Jakarta where women in burkas can be seen on occasion.  It is rarely seen in Bali of course because Bali is Hindu.  Urban living always seems to provide more diversity and acceptance of new things.  I am glad to see this because I like texture.  It is hard to think of a place that has more texture than Chicago and somehow I feel more alive in an atmosphere that provides it. My first trip to Jakarta did not leave me with a good impression, but I have come to enjoy it very much.  Great food and friendly people always have that effect on me.  

Monday, November 19, 2012

My Religious Journey-Part II

With our new born son, 3 months old, my wife and I loaded all our possessions into a small U-Haul trailer attached to our 1950 Mercury, and headed east to Dayton, Ohio immediately after the graduation ceremony where I was given my B.S.diploma in Ceramic Engineering.  The ceremony ended early afternoon, so I had previously called ahead to ask my father if we could stop along the way for an overnight in Peoria, Illinois.
My father’s new family by this time included one son from his new wife’s previous marriage, their toddler son, and twin infant girls.  So the nine of us occupied a small apartment for a night and after a short visit and breakfast off we went in time to arrive in Dayton before dark. We travelled around Indianapolis in order to avoid the Indianapolis 500 traffic and found a cheap motel before dark near the Frigidaire plant where I would soon be employed.

Our primary objective was to secure an apartment as soon as possible which we found in Kettering, a middle class suburb just south of Dayton. For the next two years we lived in Dayton Victory Apartments on the second floor.  We had a garage and 4 rooms with the rent at $95/mo. 
Being conditioned that Sunday morning was the time a family spent at church, I looked around for a church in the vicinity.  As luck would have it, there was a Unitarian Fellowship very close by and I remembered the article I had read on the English department’s bulletin board about Unitarianism.  So I went alone to check it out.

I soon learned that the Unitarian Fellowship was called a fellowship because there was no pastor who presided every Sunday and each Sunday service was organized by a committee of members who planned each service.  This feature alone gave much texture and variety which I came to enjoy.  The congregation was normally about 40-50 people and within such a small community, I stood out as a new comer and was warmly greeted at the social gathering which followed the main events, or service, if you will.  I remember being impressed immediately with the quality of the people there.  They were stimulating, attractive, and professional people, something I aspired to be.  
Unitarians are not beholden to any religious dogma, creed or tenet and everyone is free to decide for themselves what they establish as their religious beliefs.  And, as I found out, no one I ever talked to there, believed Jesus was part of a trinity, which is implied in the word Unitarian.  So most people I talked to labeled themselves as deists, agnostics, or atheists.  Jesus was treated as an historical figure that had some good things to say about how to conduct oneself.  The Old Testament was viewed as more of a history book of folk lore and attempts to explain the world and provide some laws and morality to a tribe of ancient people, most of which most certainly were not anything to be followed in today’s world. 

All this at first was quite a cultural shock to me.  I gradually let go of my childhood indoctrination to try to look at things objectively and not rely on a faith based thought process.  I threw off my Christian beliefs without much trouble.  I remember at one point however, that I knew what I no longer believed, but I could not define what I did believe.  I felt I was in a void and had some apprehension about my state of mind. 
What I learned from my state of mind then was to learn to be comfortable not knowing.  No matter how much anxiety of not knowing is caused, it is the human condition.  No one has proof there is a god or there isn’t, it’s unknown, just as it is unknown how or why life started.  Maybe, even, there is no why.

My life with the Unitarians went very well.  I became part of the community and participated in some programs.  One Sunday, the governor of Ohio, Michael DeSalle came to speak about his opposition to the death penalty. We frequently had a rabbi from the liberal Jewish wing come up from Cincinnati to speak to us.  His background was Judaism and most Unitarians had a Christian background, and yet we seemed to agree on most things spiritual.  We experimented with couple of Quaker services where we sat in silence, until someone felt the urge to say something.  Having never attended an actual Quaker service, I am not sure how close we became being more spiritual but I suspect Unitarians talked a lot more.  We had actors, professors, dancers, and occasional community leaders speak on Sunday.  
There were also about 12 of us about the same age that formed a friendship clique and held parties lasting into the wee hours followed by an afternoon pool party, weather permitting, to watch our kids, sun ourselves and to recover our bodies from any alcohol abuse experienced the night before.

All this stimulation and friendships came to an end when I became bored with my job and without any advancement in sight; I took a new job in a small conservative, slightly backward town in Indiana to work for the Picture Tube Division of RCA.  Gone was Unitarianism. The closest Unitarian church was about 45 miles away in Muncie, IN.

After a few years, my children came to me one day and express an interest in knowing more about religion. Our town had a huge community Easter Ceremony every year and most of their friends some kind of Christian church.  So I drove them to Muncie every Sunday for 2-3 months where they attended Sunday school, while I attended services in the main auditorium (to describe it as the sanctuary would not be accurate because there was nothing sacred going on).  We would talk about what they learned on the way home.  They seemed to gain some perspective they were seeking and their interest waned and we stopped going.
Since then, the only time I have been in a church was to attend a marriage or funeral service.  And even though I live reasonable close to a Unitarian Church, I have no interest in giving up my Sunday mornings, though I did attend the one in Oak Park, but only because it was built by Frank Lloyd Wright and I was curious to see inside.

My religious evolution did not stop however.  I proudly answer to being an atheist in spite of the social stigma that still exists.  No one ever asks me which is fine.  But I will speak up when someone tries to impose their beliefs on me.  Usually they falsely assume that I am one of them and therefore it’s okay.  I remain silent when in a group and someone calls for a prayer.  I might stand but I would never bow my head, instead I look around at the people who do. I learned to say the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag without the words, “under god” so I skip that part. I hate “God Bless America” because it basically is a prayer and promotes the idea that we Americans have God on our side.
What I am certain about is that the monotheistic personified god described in various holy books is the work of man trying to explain a world thought to be flat, where causes of disease were unknown, and the invention of a wheel barrel would have been astounding. I look at some of the passages in the Bible and Koran as outright immoral and note that most religious leaders are wont to mention them, preferring to remind us about the noble tales of conduct instead.

If we are completely honest intellectually, all of us are agnostics with no proof either way about the god question.     
I don’t see faith as a virtue and observe that religion seems to poison everything.  People use their religious beliefs to interfere with our sex lives, deny civil rights for everyone, threaten and sometimes kill those that disagree with a particular brand of religion, and even punishing free speech. 

I call myself a non-theist now, as were many of our founding fathers, but also answer to atheism without a care what others may think.  Faith is not a primer for being able to live a moral life; in fact it can be a hindrance.
Faith is an underlying belief that the process that produced this world and human life is best unveiled not by the scientific method but by the musings of iron age herdsmen or science fiction writers, or con artists whose theories are best judged by examining only assertions that cannot be falsified.

My loss of faith brought about discovering of myself.  There is peace in understanding that I only have one life, here and now, and I am responsible.



Sunday, November 18, 2012

My Religious Upbringing

We became Presbyterians because the Grace Presbyterian church was only one block away from our house on 122 Grace Street.  My mother attended the Broadway Methodist church as a child which was only three blocks further away but she became disappointed in the pastor or the Sunday school experience for her children, I am not sure.  Later on, we changed to the Methodist church for a couple of years after we moved away from Grace Street.  Then we returned again to the Presbyterians.  I am under the opinion, that we changed depending on the pastor and whether my mother liked him or not.   

I remember one incidence during the first Presbyterian experience.  My sister, Jane, four years younger than me came home after Sunday school in tears, with a piece of paper which showed two hearts, one white and one black.  The white heart was the heart of Jesus and the black heart was hers.  My sister was in tears, both my parents were upset and even at my young age, I knew this was way out of line.  This incident has stayed with me, representing the evil done to the development of children in the name of religious indoctrination.

Still, this incident, while not forgotten, was ignored in terms of my being Christianized.  I attended church quite often with my mother getting absorbed into the rituals that helped people feel togetherness within the security of blue eyed Jesus watching us from the huge stain glass window that dominated the sanctuary.

 After my parents were divorced, mother embraced the social aspects of the church more and dragged my sister and me along with her.  I went to Sunday school for a while with 3 of my buddies and we tormented the poor man trying to instruct us about how Jesus would take care of us if we were good Christians and prayed and worshiped as we should.  When we tired of that we stopped going to Sunday school and instead when to a restaurant a block away and ordered soft drinks with our money given to us for the offering.  When Sunday school time was up I would leave and join my mother for service.  As far as I know, she never knew about my “sinful” conduct. 

Later on, the 4 of us when to church youth retreat for a week.  I am not sure how all four of our parents managed to make this happen.  This included a lot of group activities and praying.  What I hated the most was the 15 minutes after breakfast where we supposed to go off by ourselves and communicate with god, a connection I failed to make.  I could never get past the feeling that I was trying to fool myself into believing god and I were making a connection.  And I felt inadequate for failing to do so.  So eventually, the four of us would find each other and shoot the breeze until time was up.  It felt so much better than trying to manufacture a sacred cone filled with pure thoughts and deeds.  Not that I ever expected god to talk to me because that would have caused a new level on concern about my sanity.

Looking back at these moments, I think I realized even then, that I was talking to myself and wishing for things that defied the laws of physics or things that I had not earned.  My Midwestern upbringing honored hard work as the pathway to success and I accepted the adage that one can pray all you want but if you want something, get off your knees and make it happen. 

The only thing I disliked about church camp was religion.  I had a good time playing sports, joining in the group activities, and oh yes, there were girls there.  

The next time I remember religion in my life was during high school football.  One member of our team was quite religious and he gave a prayer as we gathered in a huddle before the game started.  I always wondered why this was necessary, but as a team member I kept quiet because did seem to bring us together as a unit, which is paramount for a team.  We had a good team so we won most of our games, but somehow we got ignored when we lost.  Maybe the other team had a better connection with the man in the sky.

In college I would occasionally attend church, but I really never felt I gained anything out of it and did nothing to ease the stresses of trying to attend to my grades, work for money, and participate in the track team. 

Outside the English Dept. was a bulletin board and I also stopped to see the New Yorker cartoons posted there along with other articles of interest.  I remember reading an article on the Unitarianism.  What I remember was that Unitarians had no creed and people were free to make their own decisions.  There were many things I was never exposed to due to where I grew up and this was certainly an eye opener. 

My last encounter with traditional religion was when I prayed out of desperation during a 2 ½ day period when my wife was labor with our first child.  This was after a full night and day in the waiting room listening to women announce their labor pains with loud and long screams.  I remember praying to keep my wife safe and have our child alive and normal.  I wanted to do something to help and this seemed to be the only option available.  After living a few years now, I have come to realize this is probably the main reason people pray, they are faced with something beyond their control and praying allows them to do something they hope with help.