Saturday, November 7, 2009

Will This Never End?

Later Friday

The wheelie arrived just as MA started to get nervous. Boarding was to commence at 11:45 and the wheelie didn’t show up until after that. As a result, we sailed through security and onto the plane. Singapore’s airport is unusual in that each gate has its own security scanners. There is no security check point per se when one enters the departure area, just a passport/boarding pass verification.

We were unprepared for what we saw when we entered the airplane. First and foremost, there was an ethereal air to the cabin because there were misters in operation which made it look foggy. Then there was seat configuration – the entire plane is Business Class. On EVA, the seats in Business Class had been set in a 2-2-2 format with quite spacious seats which became almost-flat beds [that we slide out of]. On SQ022, the seats were 1-2-1, seriously wide seats which are supposed to convert to flat beds for sleep. Service was excellent and attentive. We were given printed menus which listed all of our dining options as well as all of the never-ending drink choices. Naturally, we chose sodas again.

Soon we had slippers, eyeshades and earphones. We navigated the 50-page booklet of entertainment selections from first-run movies to books-on-CD to television programs to music CDs in every possible genre and language. D selected a Dave Brubeck CD for background listening while he updated and MA chose the movie Cheri. Unfortunately, her movie would not play properly despite her best efforts and those of two crew members. Shortly after the last attempt, the entire system was shut down while someone tried to fix it. It could be a long flight for some people if there is no entertainment system. Ninety minutes down; fourteen-and-a-half hours to go.

About two hours into the flight, we were served lunch: lobster and mesclun salad; beef fillet with parsnip puree and roasted vegetables; ice cream; and candy. Because we had the two center seats, we were served by different attendants and D was finished his entrée before MA was even served. The entertainment system never did work properly for MA and one of the lead stewards [how decadent a word now], offered her S$100 toward any item[s] in the in-flight sales brochure, certainly less than the round-trip ticket we asked for but generous nonetheless. A little more than four hours into the flight, with almost thirteen-and-a-half to go, the lights were lowered so people could sleep.

We each slept for about an hour but discovered that the flat beds on Singapore Air were actually less comfortable than the multi-position seats on EVA. True, we tend to slide off the end of the EVA seats if we extend them fully, but they are otherwise more ergonomic. At 8:45 p.m. Singapore time a flight attendant saw that we were awake and [1] closed MA’s bed before D had a chance to break it and [2] brought her a voucher for $100 US to use in their on-board catalog. We had assumed that their penance was in Singapore dollars since all of the prices were listed in that currency. MA had decided on her choices but now had to force herself to spend another S$50 or so. [She actually overspent, we discovered, and we will have to pay SIA about $10, a small price for all of the stuff we got.]

We are now approximately nine-and-a-half hours out of Newark and switching to EST for time references; thus, it is 7:55 a.m. on the east coast and we expect to land around 5:30 p.m. The Longest Day continues with more food being served within the hour. By 10:30, we had finished what little we were going to eat and the trays had been cleared. We had an appetizer of chicken and lamb satay; a duck liver mouse with salmon; and our entrees – rosemary infused chicken with mushroom timbale [mousse], coarse mustard basted potatoes and peas. The chicken was tough but MA liked the mushroom timbale. D was not hungry and ate very little of any course, even skipping dessert! MA had a peach crumble which she said was wonderful. As we have noted before, on a trip like this, we really eat our way around the world. To top it off, there will be "breakfast" before we land in Newark in seven hours [even though it will be 5:30 in the afternoon]. We’re hoping Continental does not offer any food s we can attempt to sleep on the way to PBI.

D used some of the time today when he could not sleep to draft a letter to EVA praising Daniel Fau for his efforts. Once we find a mailing address, we will send that off to EVA. Daniel deserves recognition for all he did for us [and probably many other passengers] yesterday. We may also send a letter to the management at Changi about the SATS lounge staff who were so kind to us. We spent so much time in the lounge that we felt like family.

Things continued in that twilight that is an airplane with all of the shades drawn. We tried unsuccessfully to sleep and were bleary-eyed when the lights went on as we approached Newark. For some reason, we decided to double-check our boarding passes for the next flight which we was to depart about two hours after we landed. We had plenty of time because the Singapore Air clerk had routed our bags to PBI and printed out the boarding passes.

Wrong! The boarding passes were for flight 745, not flight 345. CO745 was supposed to take off at 4:45 and we discovered this while airborne at 5 o’clock. We could not find our luggage claim checks to see if at least the bags were right, but that didn’t matter. We immediately told one of the cabin attendants about our problem; she couldn’t do anything, of course, but we felt better sharing our angst. Apparently, the flight attendant told somebody because when we deplaned just around 6:45, we were met by our wheelie, Mrs. Patel, as well as a member of SIA’s ground support team who was aware of our situation and assured us that things would be fine. She told Mrs. Patel to do what D had told MA we would do – clear Immigration; collect the luggage; clear Customs and go to the Continental counter which re-directs in-transit baggage. The race was on! Mrs. Patel, who soon became our new best friend, dashed through the Newark terminal as fast as her 63-year-old legs would carry her. She took every shortcut she knew, pushed ahead in lines and created her own lines. As soon as we exited the baggage and bureaucracy area, the SIA rep was there to guide us through the re-tagging of the bags and the reassigning of seats on the correct flight. Luckily, we still had Daniel’s handwritten order showing the re-assignment to this itinerary, so Continental couldn’t even charge us for checking the bags.

Mrs. Patel must have thought we were in a hurry because she rushed us through security and to the gate. At the security check point, she tried to tell the screeners that MA could not stand or walk, but that ploy did not work. MA was almost finished with her wanding by the time D got through the metal detector the fifth time [Cell phone? In the carry on. Belt? Take it off and hold your pants up. Cell phone case? Yep, it has metal and a magnet. Watch? Can’t be too sure.] Mrs. Patel left us at the gate and we tipped her royally – we might have made it in plenty of time, but she took us as her personal mission tonight and she was sure she recognized us from October because she sometimes does security at EVA.

The Continental flight left on time, arrived early and was cramped. There was no snack this time other than pretzels and sodas, but we had done nothing but eat for the past 18+ hours anyway and had, in fact, skipped the "breakfast" snack before landing in Newark.

Almost home now. D had called Tony, our driver, from Singapore to explain the change of plans. With the time difference, we are sure D woke him up, but he remembered us and was waiting in the cell phone lot for our call. Our bags were among the first on the carousel, so off we went, out the door, into the car and home to our own beds.

Medical Update: D’s intestinal difficulties had not improved even by Saturday morning; in some ways, they were worse because he is tired of them. At MA’s urging, he called the family doctor and got the answering service who had the on-call doctor call back. He was pleasant and seemed to know what he was doing [but so did Dr. Isabela]. He had doubts about a fungal infections but could not rule out salmonella or a parasite. Since pro-biotics and Cipro had not helped, he prescribed something else, suggested D stay close to home and call the regular physician on Monday. Let’s hope this is the last entry about this subject!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Longest Day, part 93

Friday, November 06, 2009

We spent the night at the Traders Hotel in Singapore. EVA picked up the cost of a taxi, the room and the return taxi this morning. We could have eaten dinner and/or breakfast in the hotel dining room but opted not to. The room was tiny compared to the Marriott and smelled of stale cigarette smoke. Hotel staff told D that they had run out of non-smoking rooms when the influx of EVA passengers filled the hotel yesterday; most of those passengers “checked out” in time to catch the rescheduled flight to Taipei which Daniel said was supposed to depart at 11:30.

Prior to leaving for the hotel, we spent even more time with Daniel. He escorted us through the terminal to the Immigration check point where some officious clerk ran him through circles because we were not with the rest of the EVA group; we had already cleared Customs when we entered the airport earlier in the day and now we were trying to enter Singapore without having gone anywhere. Daniel sent the wheelie to do the running around and he sat with us and chatted about his wife and children. When we were finally allowed to enter Singapore, Daniel and the wheelie took us to taxi stand, bypassed the queue and sent us on our way.

The driver wasted no time getting us to the hotel where he was paid by front desk personnel. We were shown every courtesy even though we weren’t paying and soon we were in our room [smaller than an inside cabin] and our bags delivered. We were asleep by 10 o’clock having spent a long time getting nowhere.
We were up by 7 this morning thanks to internal alarms and no heavy curtains on the window. After doing morning ablutions, we were ready to go 8:30. D had reconnoitered the breakfast buffet but was not enticed into eating anything. MA decided to play it safe and ate a cereal bar from our collection. [D had bought these and leb kuchen on a shopping trip to the grocery at Paragon 2 days ago.] We checked out of the hotel with no problem and the clerk handed us $25 in Singapore currency for the taxi ride back to Changi. The ride in last night had cost $19.60 and D was a little concerned that the $25 would not be enough with morning rush hour ERP fees and fees . It was close, with the taxi ride totaling $24.35 on the meter. D congratulated the driver, Mr. Heng, on a job well done and gave him the $25 after he loaded our bags on a trolley. Note: Baggage trolleys seem to be free in every airport in the world except in the US. It’s a minor expense but it is so anti-tourist that one wonders if it is worth it in the long run.
Mr. Heng had dropped us at Door 5 which was marked Singapore Airlines Business Class. Sure enough, just inside the door was Counter 6, the one Daniel had told us to find. Score another point for Daniel. The counter was not busy and we right up to a clerk who handled us smoothly. All we had was a hand-written form showing the re-routing from EVA flight 226, but Singapore had us in the computer with our seats already assigned; Daniel said he could not promise that they would be together, but they are. The clerk also checked our bags through to PBI and issued our boarding passes for the Continental flight from Newark.
While waiting for the wheelie, we checked e-mail messages and discovered that Jon is not due in Singapore on his way to Mali until 7 p.m. We had hoped that it was 7 a.m. so we could see him one last time. The wheelie took us to the Silver Kris Lounge, a far cry from yesterday’s surroundings. This lounge is tremendous, quiet and well-appointed. We found a spot overlooking the entry hall to T3 and dropped our bags before exploring our breakfast options. We found breads and pastries as well as 4 kinds of flavored butter; quiches; Asian selections; chicken wings; fruit; and cheese. There were sodas, of course, as well as Tiger beer on tap; a wide assortment of teas; and a coffee/cappuccino machine. We ate at a dedicated counter rather than having to balance plates on little tables. Altogether, it was quite satisfactory, as Henry would have said.
Once we were finished, we returned to our seats and MA read newspapers while D did the daily update. Lounge staff members found us while we were getting sodas to bring back to our seats and confirmed the wheelchair. The apparent norm here is for the wheelies to keep the passenger’s boarding pass so they won’t be forgotten, so MA was relieved when the lounge staff returned her boarding pass; she worried all day yesterday that she would not have it if/when we were ready to board the plane.
The flight should begin boarding in a half-hour or so. With any luck, we will have 16 hours of smooth air, and lots of sleep, before landing in Newark this afternoon.
The Longest Day Continues.

Read this second!!

Thursday, continued

It is now 6:15 p.m. and we are still at the airport.

When it became obvious that our flight to Taipei was not leaving at 3:15, we were told that passengers would be taken to a transit hotel until the plane was ready. We realized that the EVA staff had been spending its time and efforts with the mostly-economy class passengers who were in the waiting area; like good Do Bees we had returned to the Business Class lounge and appeared to have been forgotten. Time dragged on. The lounge staff, who are not EVA employees, passed on the information that the flight had been rescheduled to 11:00 tonight. Even with the supposed 3:14 departure we would have missed our connection. An 11 p.m. liftoff meant a night and a day in Taipei in order to catch the flight tomorrow if there was room. It was a mess. We [the collective] wanted to see an EVA rep but that wasn’t working out because the reps were busy getting passengers into taxis for the ride to the hotel. Eventually, all of the other lounge lizards went off to the hotel on the chance that they could get some answers or satisfaction or at least vent a little.

We, on the other hand, remained calm but resolute: we would not leave to lounge until an EVA rep came to talk to us. Having MA in a wheelchair probably helped our cause, too. Finally, “Daniel” came to greet us. D explained that we did not care about getting to Taipei; our concern was getting to New York and then West Palm. He also told Daniel that JAL, ANA and Singapore all had flights from here to JFK tonight. Daniel hurried off to see if he could rebook us on one of the other carriers [We thought it would be funny if somehow we ended up on the Singapore Air flight to Paris with Jon, but it was not to be]. In the meantime, we were each given a $5 phone card which we couldn’t really use and Daniel personally escorted us to the food court to get dinner while he finalized everything. His plan was to send us on JAL to Narita [Tokyo] and then on to JFK with a Continental flight from JFK to PBI.

We went to dinner where MA had Indian and D had something that wasn’t. We weren’t really hungry. When we were back in the lounge we discovered that things tend to fall apart and the wheels had fallen off of Daniel’s little red wagon. The JAL flight was full – at least Business Class – and there were problems with the domestic flight as well, although that was a little garbled in the conversation. Regardless, his latest offer has us leaving Singapore tomorrow at 12:15 in the afternoon and flying directly to Newark on Singapore Airlines, reputedly the best in the world. We will be in Business or First Class, of course. We are scheduled to get to Newark at 5:15 and leave 2 hours later for West Palm, arriving at 11 p.m. It’s not ideal because we will not get home until after 11:30 and our decompressing night in a hotel will come before the long flight, not after it. Still, it is one less plane change and we don’t have to leave at 11:30 p.m. as we would have with JAL.

We are beginning to feel like Tom Hanks – we have spent so much time in the lounge that the staff feels like family and calls us by name. At one point one of the attendants took our baggage trolley and hid it so no other passenger would abscond with it. And they like Grandpa’s monkey tattoo. Daniel has been such a gem that we asked him for a comment card so we could let his superiors know how impressed we were.

With any luck, this will be the last entry until after we get home and sleep for a few days.
It’s been quite an adventure!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Emerald City

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Our last full day in Jakarta started slowly with brunch at Koi, the same place we had brunch 3 weeks ago. Friends of Jon and Briton met us there with their infant and we had a very enjoyable time. MA had the French toast with caramelized banana and D had scrambled eggs, hash browns and spinach. It was the biggest meal he had had in a long time.

Back at the house, we had a leisurely day. We napped a bit in the afternoon and then packed for the trip home. Carter helped so the packing only took twice as long as it did when we left WPB. Finally, everything was done. Jon grilled hot dogs and veggies for dinner. The kids went to bed late after watching Blue’s Clues with Grandma and Grandpa until almost 8 pm. We talked with Jon and Briton before heading to bed around 9:30.

Monday, November 2, 2009

We were up really early this morning [4:30!] after a night of intestinal difficulties, so it was already going to be a long day. We saw Jon off to work and Carter off to school before Caiden was even up. Because Kusnadi had to take us to the airport, Caiden and Ati went to school in a taxi which Ati had to hail by walking out to the main street. Caiden was happy about the taxi but suddenly had a little breakdown when we said we were going to America this morning. He wanted to go to the airport with us; he loves flying and hotels. He went sobbing with Ati to the taxi and we loaded our stuff in the minivan [well, Kusnadi loaded the van].

We left the house just after 8 a.m. The drive through Jakarta and to the airport took almost an hour and a half. We still had plenty of time to kill before our 11:40 flight to Singapore. The Singapore Airlines counter was deserted when we arrived and we waltzed through check-in and security. There are several layers of security at the Jakarta airport, each repeating the steps from before. We spent some time at Starbucks where MA had her favorite, passion fruit iced tea, and a chocolate chunk scone. D was still not too anxious to eat, so he chose not to have anything.

Boarding was supposed to start at 10:40, a full hour before departure, so we headed for the gate. When we got there, there were lots of passengers waiting in the hallway but no one actually going down the ramp to the waiting area. We weren’t sure if it was open yet but decided to see. Sure enough, we were the first ones to appear there. Of course, we had to pass our carry-on bags over for another x-ray screening and then found seats for the wait. After we got comfortable, staffers came to ask us to bring our bags back to the screening area so they could hand search them. We don’t know what they were looking for, but they found nothing of interest and we went back to our seats.

The flight actually left pretty much on time. Although the flight to Singapore takes only 80 minutes, Singapore Airlines managed to serve lunch to 300-plus passengers. We had a macaroni & sausage kugel with a jello chiffon dessert. It wasn’t bad and we were hungry.

MA’s wheelchair was waiting in Singapore, of course, and we sped through the airport to collect our bags. Our wheelie wouldn’t let D handle the bags. As he identified the bags on the belt, she hauled then off and onto a trolley. We glided through customs and immigration and emerged into the waiting room to look for Albert Tan, our cabbie. As it turned out, Albert was with another client and had sent someone else to cover for him. The replacement drove like a maniac, weaving in his own lane throughout the ride to the Marriott. At one point, D thought he was going to hit a Jersey wall; later he almost rear-ended a stopped car before slamming on the brakes on the rain-soaked street.

Once we arrived at the hotel, we settled in and took the requisite nap. With the threat of rain, we didn’t want to try Clark Quay, the outdoor dining and entertainment venue, so we marched down Orchard Road to the Paragon shopping plaza and had dinner at a dim sum restaurant – won ton soup [with spinach-filled dumplings] and steamed pork dumplings along with hot tea and cold drinks. It wasn’t exotic but it was just what the doctor ordered, so to speak. After settling the bill, we walked across the mall to our favorite Starbucks to try the wi-fi.

Normally, wi-fi service is free at Starbucks, but try as he might, D could not get a connection. Last year, there had been no problem; at first we stole the signal from a nearby mobile phone store, then got the password from the Starbucks’ staff. This year, though, the system had changed. Although free service was available “for tourists,” we discovered that it required a local [i.e., Singapore] telephone number. Several staffers tried to help. One even offered the use of his cell phone number because the needed password was sent via SMS. That didn’t work either. Finally, they called in their “tech expert,” a former employee who gave us his logon and password from the store. Bingo! We had web service. We sent a message to the assorted children and started for “home.”

The city was still alive with pedestrians shopping, eating and socializing. Added to the mix of people was a street display of Christmas lights running the length of Orchard Road and the intersecting arteries. The intersection in front of the hotel, one of the city’s major hubs was also decorated with reindeer and lights. Many of the stores have their decorations up already, too. We are going to try to get photos tomorrow night.

We watched CNN for a bit before turning off the lights around 9:30. It’s not home, but we are that much closer to our own bed.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

We stayed in bed until 9 o’clock! How decadent! How wonderful! By the time we were both showered and conscious, it was 11 o’clock, so breakfast was sort of out of the question. Naturally, we went to Starbucks but didn’t bother dragging the laptop because we didn’t plan on returning to the hotel after muffins and drinks. Instead, we picked up a taxi in front of Lucky Plaza [between the hotel and Paragon] and asked the driver to take us to Singapore Gems. We had learned about this jewelry store from Mary Molina, our dinner companion on the Grand Med. MA had e-mailed her for the particulars because she had raved about for the place one night. So off we went, not. The driver had no idea where it was despite our providing the address; he could not find it in the Singapore street guide either. However, MA had saved all of the information Mary had given her including the telephone number. D suggested to the driver that he use his mobile to call the store which he did. Then we were on our way.

It turned out that this was no hole-in-the-wall jewelry secret. When we eventually pulled in, there were 2 tours buses already in the driveway. Helloooo, Holland America. When we reached the second floor sales area, we asked for “Miss Fun,” Mary Molina’s sales assistant. The greeter/manager was impressed that we asked for a salesperson by name and assumed we had been there before. Miss Fun had no idea who Mary was, but she played along. She and MA spent a lot of time picking over pendants for MA’s necklace and finally found one that everyone liked. Sale completed, Miss Fun walked us outside and hailed a taxi for us; “Next time you are in Singapore,” she said, “call me and I will pick you up.” It must have been a bigger sale than we thought. Maybe we should have bargained more.

We returned to the Marriott to stow our purchase and went back out into the heat and humidity – we’re talking low 90s for both heat and humidity. It’s like Cambodia all over again. We had decided to visit the Botanical Garden, a 10 minute taxi ride from the hotel. The Botanical Garden is so big that the suggested time to walk it all is 4 hours. We were interested in the Orchid Garden, a separate section within the complex. We started with a 10 – 15 minute walk through the park. Despite the oppressive weather, it was a pleasant walk. We came to the Orchid Square which fronted the garden as well as the Ginger Plaza. We ate lunch at Halia which is known for incorporating ginger into many of its recipes. MA had a Tandoori chicken sandwich which she said had hints of ginger accompanied by the Halia special tea, also replete with ginger. D’s minute steak sandwich had no ginger but was delicious nonetheless; he had an iced mocha to drink. We shared French fries but ate only half of them.

The orchids were magnificent. We spent almost an hour wandering through the display. We recognize some of the orchid types – we have vandas and phalanopses growing in our one tree in West Palm. We saw vandas so tall that they had been staked in the ground to keep them from falling over. There were banks of orchids of every color and style not to mention the large display of bromileads; it was like being home. Throughout our walk we also found fountains and benches, quiet places for tired travelers. It was a wonderful way to spend an afternoon. On the other hand, we were relieved to find the air conditioning turned on “high” when we got in a taxi for the ride home.

It was 4 o’clock when we got back to the room. D called Albert, the phantom taxi driver. Albert had already made plans for the evening which took the pressure off canceling our evening’s plans. And then we took our nap. D got up around 6 to get a shooter glass from Hard Rock for Uncle Tim. He got disoriented in the underpass by the hotel and spent an hour finding the Hard Rock and purchasing the glass. He arrived back at the room soaked through for the second time today and took a shower to cool off. It was almost 7:30 and we didn’t want a big dinner, so we went to the lobby lounge and got a tower of nachos, quesadilla and pastry. Only one of the three pastries was worth eating but the Tex-Mex was pretty good. MA had a mojito to keep the theme going and D had his usual diet Coke.

For some reason, the Christmas lights were not lit when D went to take pix, so we are hoping they are lit tomorrow, our last night in Singapore. Back in the room, we watched So You Think You Can Dance tryouts from last season before turning off the lights at 10:15.
Only one more day in the Emerald City.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Today was Guest Appreciation Day at Marriott worldwide and customers were offered free muffins and juice from 7:30 until 9 o’clock. We made it to the lobby by 8:30 and were promptly and courteously handed bakery bags, each with a fresh muffin, and a choice of orange or apple juice. We ended up with a chocolate chip and a raisin almond muffin. MA wasn’t thrilled with the raisins, but D’s chocolate chocolate chip muffin was yummy.

We had decided to take the Singapore Airlines HOHO bus today. With our boarding passes, we got a 50 per cent price reduction and the right to ride all day. First, though, we went to Starbucks to check e-mail and Facebook. This was our first attempt to sign in since we had help the other day, so we were concerned that we might have problems, but the system and our borrowed password worked flawlessly. The pity was that there was nothing worth reading after all we went through. Still, we’ll make a note of the log-in and password on the off chance we are in Singapore again. Considering that the Marriott charges over S$50 for unlimited service for 24 hours [over $40US], it’s worth the walk to Paragon to use the wi-fi and get a coffee.

Our plan was to ride a complete circuit of the HOHO and then stay on for 2 repeat stops and alight at Little India. We planned to look around and get lunch. We picked up the bus almost at the Marriott’s front door and were lucky enough to be standing in right where the bus stopped. As a result, we were among the first passengers to board at our stop, a good thing since the bus was crowded. MA led the way to the back of the bus and was able to find two seats. Most of the others who had been in the ragged queue were not so lucky.

The crowd waxed and waned as we meandered around and through Singapore. We were disappointed that this bus did not offer earphones and a running commentary of the route; we had expected this based on experiences in Barcelona and Cadiz last spring. There were announcements made over a public address system, but they were hard to hear and generally named hotels and shopping venues near the bus stops. Nonetheless, we were able to identify a surprising number of places we had seen last year including the Singapore Flyer, the world’s largest Ferris wheel; Raffles Hotel and the Long Bar, home of the Singapore sling; the marina and, of course, Orchard Road. We also retraced yesterday’s trip with a stop at the Botanical Garden.

We were fortunate that we went to the Garden yesterday because today it was raining hard when we pulled up to the stop. Eager tourists still got off to see the beauty of the park, but we fear that they were drenched by the time they finished their visit. The heavy rain forced us to change our plans – we were not eager to wander through Little India in a downpour – so we went back to the hotel with the idea of exploring the underground and the adjacent shopping plazas for somewhere to get a light lunch. D took the camera and laptop to the room and returned to find MA looking wan. Cancel lunch. MA went for a nap in the hope that her cold would abate and D went to the lobby in search of free wi-fi. The wi-fi was just as expensive in the lobby, but he stayed to write today’s journal entry.

The weather finally cleared before we went out for supper, and the temperature dropped, so the evening was almost comfortable. Because we hadn’t eaten much breakfast, and had had no lunch, we got a taxi and headed to Clarke Quay arriving just before 6:00 p.m.; we practically opened the place up. Clarke Quay is the restaurant, bar and entertainment venue for the young and the hip. We’re no longer young but we have hips, so we were fine. We ate at Clarke Quay several times last year and, after wandering through the complex, decided to return to a tapas restaurant we had enjoyed then. Our table overlooked the Singapore River and we watched tour boats of tourists travel back and forth. We especially remembered the roasted red pepper with soft cheese that we had eaten last year. To that, we added cheese croquettes which sounded better than they were; they were like any other fried cheese and were served with an aioli which actually detracted from the flavor of the cheese. We also shared an order of garlic bread and a pitcher of sangria. Woo hoo!

We didn’t leave until 8 o’clock, just as Clarke Quay was beginning to come alive. Night had fallen and the low lights of the bars had come on as business picked up. We had no trouble getting a taxi home. Our driver decided to avoid the ERP toll road and took a roundabout path [that ended up costing just as much, we think]. Rather than spend additional time fighting his way around the major intersection that is our temporary home, he dropped us off at the new Ion Orchard shopping mall across the road leaving us to find our way through the mall and the underground crossover. Ion Orchard makes Paragon look like Wal-Mart. It is the high end of the high end mixed with the more mundane in the basement levels. We took escalators to the basement and followed signs to the MRT station and then to the Marriott. A piece of cake compared to D’s adventure just the day before. D went back outside to take pictures of the Christmas decorations because they had reminded us of Mexico City’s decorations forty years ago. We watched a Monk rerun and went to bed.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Once again, we face The Day That Would Not End. We were up at 8 o’clock this morning for the start of the 40-hour day. We were scheduled to leave the hotel at 10:30 with the elusive Albert Tan driving us to Changi airport. We anticipated arriving at the airport at 11 for a 1:10 flight to Taipei and eastward throughout the ensuing day and a half.

Albert was early getting to the hotel, so he gave us a little tour of Singapore’s neighborhoods, both the expensive and the government-subsidized. We talked about the economy, assisted-living, health care and many other topics common to all people in this age of globalization. It was an interesting half hour and we regretted even more that we had not made connections with him sooner. At Changi, D made sure to get his card in case we are in Singapore again.

And now the adventure began. We remembered that last year we were directed to a special check-in area because we were flying in the front of the plane. D recognized the area as we were looking for the regular EVA line and made a bee line for it. Sure enough, we were in the right place. The special check-in area includes seated check-in and someone else to drag the bags onto the scales [which weren’t even checked]. The clerk was able to check our luggage through to PBI, so we won’t have to drag it all to the hotel in Newark and then re-check it [for a fee] with Continental on Friday. Once all of that was done and airline lounge passes issued, we waited for MA’s wheelchair to arrive. The clerk even got us Cokes while we waited.

The wheelie arrived and got us through immigration/passport control without mishap. From there we went to the VAT refund desk where D presented paperwork for MA’s new jewelry. Once the paperwork was in order and stamped, he put one copy in a pre-addressed envelope and sent by mail to the company which will refund the 7% tax directly to our credit card. We made our way to the combined business/First Class lounge to await boarding; we assumed we had about an hour and a half until the wheelie returned. The 12:20 boarding time came and went and we started to get a wee bit nervous. The lounge staff assured us that we had not been forgotten but that the inbound plane was late, so there was no reason to go to the gate too early.

Eventually, even the wheelie got into the spirit of fear, so we went down to the gate. Even though it was now 1 o’clock, there was no airplane at the gate. We were told that there had been an unspecified mechanical problem and that we could return to the business class lounge or go to the cafeteria [with a voucher] to await further word. We were encouraged to return to the lounge which we did. The food options weren’t good [and the local cuisine smelled a little] but we were able to find chips and snack mix along with sodas.

The lounge staff informed us that the plane had been rescheduled to depart at 3:15 [maybe] with an ETA of 7:40 p.m. This did not strike us as good news since our flight to Newark is supposed to take off at 7:00. We were assured that EVA ground staff would meet us and explain what was going to be done to get us home. We are presuming that we will have to overnight in Taipei and take Friday’s flight to Newark if there is one. In that case, EVA will have to put us up in Newark as well as rebooking us into PBI; we will ask them to send us first class. There is also the possibility that some other airline flies from Taipei to New York/Newark and we will be rebooked with them, with the same perks, of course. At this point, it is 2:30, just 45 minutes until our alleged departure.

Saturday, October 31, 2009


We spent a quiet day today as our visit winds down. The boys, naturally, are excited by Halloween without really understanding it. Carter has worn his Darth Vader costume all day. MA’s cold is abating, but D’s intestinal difficulties returned, so we’re 1 for 2.

Briton and Jon hosted a Halloween party for some of the neighborhood children and their supervising adults. Several of the mothers came along with one father and several nannies. It’s a very colonial atmosphere. The kids ran around the house and the immediate neighborhood before almost settling down to dinner – chicken nuggets, corn, salad, French fries and candy corn. As the saying goes, getting them to do anything simultaneously was like herd cats. When the children were finished eating, the parents tried to get them to pose for a group picture. Once this was sort of accomplished, they began marauding in their search for candy. MA joined Jon and Briton while D stayed home to distribute candy to the trick-or-treaters. MA returned around 6:30 because Carter told her she should leave.
One of the neighbors hosted the adults after the kids were in bed, but we opted not to go. Jon said later that he got home at midnight and Briton came sometime after. By midnight, we had been in bed for hours and back up a couple of times. Ahh! The joys of middle age.

a pre-Halloween group hug

Caiden at the party

Carter and the boys eat chicken nuggets

Caiden being goofy

the cats, herded

Friday, October 30, 2009

'Twas the Day Before Halloween

Shooting bubble stuff from their new bubble guns.

Carter with "his" pumpkin, ready for tomorrow.

Caiden is ready, too!

Grandma and Caiden playing this afternoon.

Grandpa and The Boys on a cable car ride on today's outing.

A sweaty Caiden on the cable car ride.

Carter, his hair flying in every direction, on the cable car ride.

Carter and Caiden playing before we left this morning.

Yesterday was sort of a forgotten day. We were going to go to the convention Center for a crafts show and sale, but MA’s cold was so bad that she spent the best part of the day in bed. The boys were both in school and D did not want to leave MA by herself much less abandon her for a craft show, so Briton went by herself. Carter had a half-day of school and was home before Briton arrived with Caiden.

Jon and Briton had a parent-teacher conference at Carter’s school, so we were in charge of the boys. Not. Carter went off after lunch to play with friends in the complex and we played with Caiden after his nap when he would let us. Jon and Briton were both home by 4. Jon is still fighting the amoebic infection and the side effects of the cure. Thursday was his last day one the first medication and he felt like he would rather die than be cured.

No school for the boys today [Friday], so Briton planned an outing to Sea World Indonesia. We finally left at 9:30, half an hour later than planned, sans MA who still feels like death warmed over. We drove for an hour to Ancol on the ocean and in the area near Mangga Dua. Kusnadi dropped us off in front of Sea World which is just one component of an entertainment complex which also includes pools, boating, an amusement park and hotels. Sea World, it turns out, is really an aquarium with exhibits of primarily local aquatic life from rays to sharks to lobsters. The boys were able to pet baby sharks and turtles although the both like walking through the fish tank best. They especially liked the big turtles swimming there, dude.

Of course, the aquarium was too dark for normal pictures and, once again, the rechargeable batteries died after about 20 pictures [including ones taken at home this morning]. D was able to take a few pictures before admitting defeat and buying some AA batteries. From Sea World we walked to the Gondola, a cable car which flies over the park and gives a bird’s-eye view of the complex. It was crowded with children and adults, especially the pool area. Obviously, this is a popular area for locals. In fact, foreigners must be rare because not one but two different women asked to have their pictures taken with D. We didn’t know if it was because of his hat, his beard or his skin color. The same thing happened to him in Tiananman Square in 2006.

Once safely off the cable car, we went to Pizza Hut, also on the park grounds. The boys were boisterous, but no one died. Of course, there was the flying shoe incident; again, there were no injuries and the victim declined to press charges. We staggered home at 2:45, almost 2 hours late for Caiden’s nap. He fought taking it for about 2 seconds, then was gone for the next 90 minutes. Briton and D rested and Carter begged MA to stay awake and play with him. She was thrilled.
After Caiden’s nap, the boys went outside to play with the new bubble-stuff guns Briton had bought at the park. Carter went off with friends; Briton went next door to carve pumpkins; and Caiden played with Ati before coming in and playing with Grandma. This was really her best day ever!

Dinner at 6, followed by roughhousing with Jon and then bed for the boys. Journal updating and other computer stuff for D and Briton respectively. FB wouldn’t load pictures tonight, so they are the lead in tonight’s blog. Enjoy!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Soccer and Swimming

Carter protects the goal, sort of.

Playing a warm-up game of duck-duck-goose.

Look at me!

Splish! Splash! I won't need a bath!

Or a shower.

A Day filled with Grandsons

Our day was not a nightmare but was filled with grandsons. This morning we went with Briton and Caiden to a local playground which includes a small water park. We watched Caiden splash around and then play on the “dry’ equipment. When he was bored with that, we went to Gourmet Garage again for lunch.[Briton=sushi; MA=the chicken burger again; D=fish and chips] Hey, we like the place and Caiden was kept occupied coloring with Grandma. We got him home late for his nap and immediately turned around and went [without Briton] to Carter’s school to watch his soccer practice. The high point here was the duck-duck-goose competition. These kids are the Bad News Bears of soccer, but they seemed to have a good time and to enjoy each other’s company. Socialization trumps athleticism any day.

Carter’s tooth started bothering him on the way home. First he wailed and moaned; then he fell asleep. He keeps getting food caught in one particular spot and won’t be able to see the dentist until next week. Caiden was cranky when we got home and they seemed to take turns until bedtime. Jon, too, is still under the weather. He says that he feels different on his medication but not necessarily better. Briton researched his condition [after all, she has an MA in public health] and told him that such infections are common but only a tiny percentage become as serious as his is. Comforting. MA is still fighting her normal vacation cold, so things are normal.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Pushcart Wars

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Yesterday’s shopping expedition to upscale Pasaraya mall was followed by the movies at Senayen Plaza, maybe. There are two huge shopping malls side by side and they both have Senayen in their names. The one we were in had not only the luxurious movie theater but also a bowling alley and even more upscale shopping. Where Pasaraya was a merchandise-by-floor experience, Senayen was a Western-style indoor mall which included two department stores one of which was Marks and Spencer, the British company. We also saw Prada, Gucci and the usual gamut of expensive stores. Despite the high-end shopping available, the movie was a bargain: although there were no children’s or senior discounts, our four tickets totaled 10,000 rupiah, about $10. Carter’s medium pop corn and soda [shared with Briton] cost about $2.50. Dinner at the dim sum restaurant was about $45 for 5 of us including drinks, another bargain.

Jakarta is a mixed bag, so to speak, in its retail businesses because, in addition to the malls catering to the middle class and wealthy, there are places like Mangga Dua which aim at the lowest of common denominators. Restaurants show the same dichotomy. We have eaten in mid-range establishments in pleasant surroundings and good food and service [Gourmet Garage, Toscana, Koi], but we are surrounded on every street corner [and mid-block, too] with tiny warungs. These are the local greasy spoons, little 10-foot wide hovels selling local food to local people. If the average Mukti-on-the street wants rice or noodles, he can duck into any of 10,000 warungs; they all appear to sell the same food. There are also storefronts offering masakan padang, the local food from the Padang region of Java. The masakan padang is like a buffet because, according to Briton, the food sits out awaiting customers; she says the smart way to pick one of these places is to pick a busy one so there is a better chance that the food is fresh. Even smarter, of course, is to avoid both the masakan padang stalls and the warungs.

There is a third alternative for the hungry Indonesian. There are thousands of pushcarts offering the same cooked-to-order rice and/or noodles as well as other local delicacies. These carts are rather uniform, approximately 2 feet wide, five feet long and equipped with two large wheels and a handlebar. Each has a little propane cooker powered by a tiny gas canister which appears to be less than half the size of the tanks Americans use on their outdoor grills. It never ceases to amaze the casual observer how all of these vendors stay in business or how customers decide which to patronize. We don’t know if there is any customer loyalty or if it would make a difference. In addition to the food vendors, every other square foot of sidewalk is taken up by sellers of notions – cigarettes, soda, phone cards and snacks. Again, each is selling the same products [probably bought from the same suppliers] for the same price.
Interspersed with all of these stalls and pushcarts are “real” stores and restaurants, but there is no order to it. It is a city planner’s nightmare.

Overcast and Amoebic

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Yesterday was a quiet day. In the morning, we and Briton went for coffee and pastry before doing a wee bit of grocery shopping at Gourmet Garage. Following that, we picked Caiden up from Day Care School, as we call it, and went home for lunch. The rest of the afternoon was spent working hard at nothing. Jon and Carter had doctor’s appointments in the afternoon, so Jon was home from work early. We found out today that he has an amoebic infection which, unlike D’s fungus, will require him to take a 10-day course of ‘real’ medicine. In the meantime, he can’t have alcohol and will probably be careful about his diet although the latter may be a matter of interest, not necessity. To round out the medical report, MA is now taking antibiotics for her cold, so things are normal.

Today, we let Jon and Carter have a ‘normal’ morning and left them alone during the breakfast/getting off to school routine. We were up with Caiden and kissed him off to school before we went shopping. Today’s foray was to the Pasaraya mall, a gigantic indoor shopping center in which, in the Asian style, each floor is dedicated to a different type of merchandise. Naturally, we started at Starbuck’s but took our drinks with us as we shopped.

Our first destination was the crafts floor which is exactly what it says – an entire floor given over to alleged handicrafts. We bought a mask here two years ago and saw plenty just like it today. By now, however, so many masks look the same that we were careful not to get something that we would discover was already hanging on “the wall.” First, however, MA spent time with Briton looking for gifts for an assortment of people. While they browsed, and purchased, D wandered around looking at masks in the vain hope of finding something unique. We had seen some wooden carvings last week when we were shopping and decided to concentrate on something carved other than a mask. We finally found one we liked: it is a likeness of a woman who, we thought, was part of the Ramayana story we saw in Yogyakarta; however, the clerk told d that it was simply a carving of a woman with a hand mirror. Regardless, we liked it and it is different from everything else in our collection and was only 290,000 rupiah [$30].

D also saw a carving he liked, but it was priced at 725,000 rupiah, about $75 at the current exchange rate. The lowest price we could get for a credit transaction was 580,000 rupiah, so we left for more shopping. Briton was looking for Cars toys to replace one which has apparently disappeared. She was unsuccessful in her search but was able to find Halloween goody bags for the boys to carry when they go trick-or-treating this weekend. From there we went to Rotiboy, home of Briton’s favorite pastry. Since we had to wait 10 minutes for the buns to bake, D went off in search of an ATM and then, armed with plenty of rupiah, he returned for the carving he wanted. The price was now 500,000 for cash, about $50, the most he can remember ever paying for a piece of woodwork. Still, it was 1/3 off the list price, so he was happy. When we got it home, we found a sticker on the back of the piece which priced it at 1,250,000 [approx. $125], so we don’t know if the clerk made a mistake or the tag was wrong; either way, we like the piece.

By the time we got home, Caiden was already down for his nap. We had leftover pizza and Rotiboys for lunch. If we had known how good the Rotiboys were, we would have skipped the pizza.

Once Carter got home, around 2:30, we piled into Greenie, the family van, and headed to the movies to see Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs. Jon joined us for dinner afterwards; we let him pick the restaurant since it’s his stomach which is currently in distress. As a result, we ate dim sum, small plates, at a restaurant in the shopping center next to the theater. We each had some kind of soup and shared steamed dumplings. We were home by 7:30 – 7:45. Carter went to bed promptly; Briton went off to her book club; and Jon managed to stay awake until 9:45 when he started out for bed.

Tomorrow, we may take Caiden to a playground while Briton is at the gym before taking him out to lunch. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

By the Sea, the Beautiful Sea

Thursday, October 22, 2009

We spent a very quiet day around the house today. Briton and the boys, as well as Ati, have gone to the beach and Jon went to Surabaya in east Java on business, so we had nothing to do and nowhere to go. Although Kusnadi drove back from the beach this morning, arriving here around 1:00 p.m., we stayed in and read all day. The highlight was D’s telling Mariati how to make tuna salad for lunch. We did go out for dinner around 6. Kusnadi drove us to Toscana, an Italian restaurant where we ate 2 years ago. We had a very relaxed dinner and were home by 7:30. [FOOD NOTES: We split an order of bruschetta; MA had meat-stuffed ravioli and D ordered spaghetti Bolognese [meat sauce] for entrees; and we finished with apple strudel and cappuccino for MA and chocolate mousse for D. It was a nice change from Mariati’s Indo/Thai/Pan-asian cuisine].

Jon did not get home until 8:30, a full hour later than he expected, because of traffic. He wasn’t hungry, so we sat and talked while he relaxed with a beer or two. Suddenly it was 10:30, time for everyone to go to bed. D stayed up to read for another hour, then couldn’t get to sleep, so he came into the living room and read until he finished the book around 2 a.m.

Friday, October 23, 2009

With no one to get off to work, we slept in this morning, if you can call 8 o’clock sleeping in. We goofed off, packed for our weekend at the beach and read until 11:30. Kusnadi drove us to Gourmet Garage, a combination grocery store and restaurant. We had lunch a little earlier than usual because we had to leave to get Jon at work at 1:25. MA had a chicken burger which she said was scrumptious and D had a chili dog because they were out of bratwurst. The entire second floor of the building is given over to the restaurant side of the business and there is a lengthy menu which includes sushi as well as Western food and noodle and rice dishes. It is an attractive setting complemented by good food and good service.

After finishing lunch, we went downstairs to pick up some last minute items for the weekend: red peppers, baby carrots, brown [whole wheat] bread and a case of Bin Tang, the local beer. We added 8 cans of “real” Coke for ourselves, not knowing that Briton had already taken some Coke Zero. Kusnadi was waiting for us and we were home before 1 o’clock.

We left the house promptly at 1:25 but ran into terrible traffic, so we were almost 10 minutes late fetching Jon in front of his office. The ensuing 3-1/2 hour drive actually stretched past the four hour mark and we didn’t arrive at the beach until almost 6:30. Jon has developed his own version of the crud; it’s not exactly the same as D’s from last week, but it’s close enough. He felt crappy when we got him and he felt worse when we arrived. He didn’t eat dinner and went to bed very early.

The resort consists of private villas – ours has 4 Spartan bedrooms – and houseboy services. Tonight, the houseboy lit a fire in the adjacent barbecue and cooked steaks Briton had brought from Jakarta while she boiled some fresh corn. Later, the houseboy returned and did the dishes and took out the trash.

We went for a short walk on the beach in the dark. It wasn’t as romantic as it sounds because just as D said, “Be careful, there may be a,” MA fell on her butt. “Drop-off,” he finished. It was about a two foot drop, but luckily, MA fell straight down and ended up sitting on the ledge. It was our last evening foray. We were in bed early although Briton and Ati both went out to visit friends who were staying at the ocean Queen. Briton’s friends are parents of Carter’s friends and others she has met; Ati’s were the other servants. We could do an entire treatise on the social structure of the weekend, but we won’t.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Ocean Queen resort consists of a collection of villas with half of them almost on the beach. In addition to our four bedrooms [D & MA; Jon & Briton; Carter & Caiden; and Ati], there was a large L-shaped area which made a kitchen--dining room—living room area as well as two full bathrooms [with showers but no tubs] and a nice front porch. It was not lovely to look at. “Resort” conjures up images of luxury; the Ocean Queen was more like a summer camp. All of the lights, indoor and out, were CFLs which cast a blue pall over everything.

It was not without its charms, however. In addition to a very nice pool, we were able to see a variety of wildlife. For example, there was a small herd of sheep penned just behind our cottage. The surrounding fence was somewhat portable and it appeared that the sheep were moved in order to equalize their natural grass-cutting. We also had a family of birds which spent its days bring bits and pieces of the lawn to a secret place under the roof of the porch where they were building their own retirement home.

No description of the wildlife would be complete with Vlad, our own little impaler. No one else had a personal bat. Vlad spent parts of each day and evening hanging upside down over the front door. He didn’t bother us and we didn’t bother him. We watched him stretch and groom himself but never saw him fly in or out. Carter was leery of the bat, but Caiden would go look for him. We would all check on him occasionally; after all, he was the only pet we had. Some of the other guests had brought their dogs, but we had a bat. [We discovered Sunday morning, we also had toads or frogs [we were not sure which, but that’s a story for the next entry.]

Jon spent most of the weekend in bed, but the boys had a ball with their friends, especially Carter. We all, minus Jon, went to the pool in the afternoon. D played with Carter in the pool while MA watched from the shade. There were three or four other couples in the group which meant that there was plenty of company for the boy as well as Briton. Later in the afternoon, Jon, Briton, MA, D and Caiden went exploring while Carter played with his friends. All things considered, there were not as many tears or fights as there could have been, and the boys did nothing but eat whenever they got the chance.

For dinner Saturday night, we had giant prawns and red snapper grilled by the in-house restaurant. Jon was still off his feed, so there was enough left for Ati to share with her friends. Everyone was stuffed and happy. It was another early night; all of that fresh air and sunshine can take its toll.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

We had another lazy morning even though we were up at 7 with the boys and Ati. We played; they played; they fought; they watched videos, etc., etc., etc. Briton and the boys went swimming around 9:15 and by 9:30 they were both eating ice cream. Carter demonstrated his progress swimming without floats and then played with his friends. Caiden played with Briton before losing interest in the whole business and returning to the cottage with Ati. D and MA returned, too, to see if Jon needed/wanted any help packing up. He didn’t.

At some this morning, Carter discovered three frogs [toads?] in a water cut-off box next to the cottage. He and we went to watch them for a while but he grew tired of that and went to play with his peeps. After lunch, one of the boys came by before we left and the two boys found one of the frogs in the grass and spent the rest of their time together chasing and tormenting, but not really injuring, the frog. It was such a Tom Sawyer moment.

Okay, we were ready to leave but had so much stuff that Jon had to arrange for a second car to help ferry us back to Jakarta. The second driver was a little old man who seemed to be in a bit of a fog, but who knew what to expect?

The trip out on Friday ended in the dark, so we didn’t get a good view of the road although we could feel all of the twists and turns as Kusnadi brought us safely to the Ocean Queen. Today, we did the trip in reverse. For the first hour, it was like riding the Wild Mouse, an old roller coaster-type of ride known for its sudden tight turns and precipitous drops. If the first rule of the road is don’t pass on a curve and the second is don’t pass on a hill, then the third is that it’s okay to pass on a curve on a hill. We went straight up; we went straight down; we zigged; we zagged. We damn near died a couple of times when we had to yell at Ralph the Driver that there were cars/trucks barreling down on us. Even when the grades were not as steep and the curves not as sharp, we wondered if we would survive the trip.

We stopped twice along the way. Our first stop was to get ice for the cooler; Ralph found a fish market as a source for the ice. The market was fascinating but, of course, smelly, so we couldn’t open the windows for photos. Then Ralph discovered that he didn’t know where he was so Jon called Kusnadi who knew exactly where we were. We turned around and let Kusnadi be line leader since he knew where he was going. At the second stop, for water for Jon and Briton, MA asked D if he wanted anything to drink. “No, I’d rather die with dry underwear,” was his response. We eventually worked our way to the main road which consisted of bumper-to-bumper traffic for about 20 miles. Once again, Indo drivers proved that lines are for sissies as they created 2 and 3 lanes on a one-lane roadway and continued to pass under the most hazardous of conditions. Even when we moved onto the toll road, traffic and mayhem continued. Ralph was changing lanes will-nilly and almost rear-ended several vehicles because he wasn’t paying attention. Through it all, Kusnadi drove in his usual dependable, conservative style and still got ahead of us. When Jon called about which exit to take, he discovered that we were right behind Kusnadi in the exit lane. Slow and steady wins the race…

Although we had left the Ocean Queen at 1:00, it was 6 o’clock when we got home. Pizza for dinner was all we could manage, so Jon called from the car and the pizza arrived at the house only a few moments after we did. We were finished unpacking and eating by 6:30 and the boys were in bed around 7. We checked e-mail and obituaries and read until around 8. MA went to bed and D updated the journal until 10 p.m. Jon and Briton watched a little TV but the upstairs was dark by 9:30. Carter and Caiden have school tomorrow and Jon, of course, has work even though he ought to take it easy for one more day. As for us, only time will tell what’s in our future.

And so to bed.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Domestic Day

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Today continued the trend toward domesticity. Carter is still on holiday from school and Caiden stayed home because Briton is taking them to the beach for 4 or 5 days. Well, Kusnadi is taking them, really. The hours after breakfast for us were filled with grandsons – watching them play sort of together; playing with them; collecting boogers – while Briton finished packing. It’s probably a good thing we decided to join them Friday with Jon because there was no way 2 more adults and even a little suitcase were going to fit in the van. It was a cross between Toys-R-Us and a grocery store.

We all had an early lunch [leftover soup for the adults and chicken nuggets for the boys] and then, suddenly, it was deathly quiet. We spent the afternoon reading, checking the computer and maybe napping, but just a little. At our request, Mariati prepared an omelet with onions and grated cheese. It came out as more of a frittata, but it was just what we wanted. We scrounged for something for dessert after cleaning up. We spent the rest of the evening reading. Life in the fast lane.

D’s “sit”-uation has improved a little but he is going to call the doctor in the morning to see if she is satisfied with his progress or wants to switch to antibiotics; since we always carry Cipro with us, that won’t be a problem. We continue to ponder where this fungus came from and have isolated 2 meals where we did not all eat the same food. The speculation is pointless since we will never know.

Tomorrow we may do a little shopping or visit the doctor. Kusnadi will be back and on call in the early afternoon. Jon is away tonight in Surabaya, the country’s second largest city, and will be home around 7:30 tomorrow night. It’s so quiet now that I may fall asleep at the keybbbbbbbbbbbbbbb

Monday, October 19, 2009

More thoughts on the Lost Weekend

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

More thoughts on The Lost Weekend:

The Indonesians seem to be a peaceful, calm people. Ati is a marvel at maintaining her equanimity with the boys, always smiling and enjoying them. The airline and hotel staffers all smiled, too, and offered a hands-together bow as a gesture of peace and humility. We found the same thing at the Marriott in Bangkok and all over Bali during our visits. We thought it might be specific to one religion, but the Balinese are Hindus; the area around Yogyakarta is probably heavily Buddhist; and Indo as a whole is the world’s largest Muslim country. So here we have this generally peaceful nation, where road rage is almost unheard of and drivers actually yield to allow others to enter intersections. And what did Garuda Airlines give the boys as gifts? Not pilot’s wings [how 1950’s], but small scale models of Abrams tanks and Bradley Fighting Vehicles!

Not only are the people beautiful – in both appearance and spirit – but the land itself is spectacular when seen from 30,000 feet. Two years ago we flew the entire length of Java to get to Bali but didn’t really notice, perhaps because of our seats at the bulkhead. On the flight to Yogya, we were over the wing and had obstructed views. [If this were a cruise ship, we would have seen the lifeboats] On the trip home yesterday, though, we were in front of the wings, opposite the engine, so we could see pretty well. When you fly over the countryside, you expect to see a quilt of fields as you soar over the farms and villages. But Indo’s fields were mostly in shades of brown as we head toward the end of the dry season; in a month or so, the fields will as green as anywhere on Earth. The most remarkable feature, though, is the presence of volcanoes everywhere we looked.

Fortunately, the ones we saw were dormant, but their dotting the countryside is unlike other places where an observer can see the land rise a little, then yield to foothills and later to “real” mountains. The volcanoes of Indonesia do not form a traditional range like the Alps, Rockies or Adirondacks. They just sort of pop up. Indonesia has more volcanoes than any other country and forms a large part of the Ring of Fire. Most of Indonesia’s islands, perhaps all of them, were formed by volcanic action. We know this intellectually, but seeing the cones spread out across the horizon brought the message home.

Medical Update: The doctor called and D has a fungal infection [that sounds so much better than saying fungus]. He’ll start medication today and if his ‘symptoms’ improve, we will go to the beach with Jon on Friday. If he still feels like dirt, we’ll stay in Jakarta and read while they are running around on the beach. Mariati will take good care of us; she and Ati are the chicken soup of the house. In the meantime, we are bracing ourselves for Portobello jokes when Jon gets home.

Jon left at 6:15 this morning, carrying D’s hazardous waste as inconspicuously as he could; all he needed was a hazmat suit. Carter watched TV after Caiden trudged off to school; Briton went to the gym to work out; and we read. When the doctor finally called, Ati thought she wanted Briton and said she was at the gym; Dr. Isabela assumed she was referring to me and called Briton’s cell; she called the house a second time and was put through. We all laughed about it later. After Briton’s return from the gym, D had Kusnadi take him to Global Doctor where he picked up pro-biotic medication. If this does not cure the problem, then we will move on to something stronger and more expensive.

We abandoned Caiden to Ati for his lunch and nap and sallied forth into a new [for us] section of Jakarta. For the first time, we turned right, not left, at the compound entrance and were at a shopping center within minutes, a nice change from the usual lengthy, congested drives. We ate lunch at a Vietnamese sandwich shop, sort of a Subway meets lemon grass. Briton and MA got chicken/lemon grass baguettes. D ordered the chicken/mushroom soup served in a bread bowl; and Carter was guided to the smoked turkey baguette. Carter baled a little when his arrived but decided that de-constructing it made it acceptable. The adults did everything but lick the table and Carter did a creditable job.

The next stop for Briton was the neighboring grocery store. She had to stock the house, which was running on “E” at lunch time, and buy supplies for the trip to the beach. She was amazed at how much she had spent, thinking she may have set a personal record. Since she doesn’t usually do the shopping, she had to guess on some of the staples Mariati usually buys like plastic bags. Putting the groceries away was another adventure in creativity since Mariati and Ati have no known system for placing jars and cans on the shelves. While Briton did the shopping, we waited at the Starbuck’s upstairs [next to the Ace Hardware store]. Carter won the hide-and-Seek prize for the day.

We read and then played with the boys after Caiden’s nap; then they decided they preferred Ati’s company and went outside to play with sidewalk chalk. Altogether, it was a very good day.

All caught up and no place to go

Friday, October 16, 2009

The good news about today is that we had no plans. The bad news is that D is sick with fever, sweats, chills and explosive intestinal distress. After Carter left for school, Briton went back to bed and we played with Caiden [who doesn’t attend school on Wednesday or Friday] when he got up around 7:30. We were supposed to go to dinner with Jon and Briton but canceled early in the day, but they went out anyway since they had already arranged for Mariati to stay late. D spent most of the day in bed and skipped dinner completely. MA came to bed after Mariati got the boys settled.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Today held the promise of more activity, but D continued to ail. We were up early, again, to finish packing for our trip to Yog Yakarta or Jog Jakarta or Yogyakarta [pronounced with a long “o” so it rhymes with rogue]. Yogya, as it is abbreviated on signs, is in south-central Java. We flew on Indonesia’s pre-eminent airline, Garuda. Two years ago when we flew to Bali, Jon had to race across the tarmac to claim seats for us. This time, we had reserved seats but we had to move anyway because we had been assigned an exit row, a no-no for small children. Caiden could probably have handled to 42 lb. emergency door, but we didn’t argue. The flight was only an hour.

The Phoenix hotel sent a van for us and we moved swiftly from the airport to downtown Jogja. Interestingly, we paid a departure tax in Jakarta before boarding and will do the same when we return Monday. Call it a service fee, it’s still just a way to get more money for the government. In the States, we blame the TSA.

The hotel was well-appointed with native-inspired or perhaps even authentic art work done in the style of 13th Century Indonesia. More on that shortly. There was a large dining room, half under cover and half semi-exposed; a wonderful fish display where giant koi swam under Plexiglas panels that formed a walkway; native musicians playing the ancient gongs; and a top-notch staff. We decided to eat in the hotel, but D let the table before ordering and went to the room where MA found him asleep an hour later.

While Jon and Briton took the boys swimming after nap time, we both slept. There were plans to meet a friend of Jon’s for dinner and for her to return with us so she could babysit the boys while we experienced one of the cultural highlights of the area. Jon’s friend Karen picked an Indian restaurant which our 2 cabbies had trouble finding. We were still there ahead of her, but that started a cascade of continuing time difficulties. The food was, by all accounts, good, but D was able to eat only a little naan and a banana smoothie. MA said he vegetable korma was quite good and Jon, Briton and Karen were pleased with their selections. Naturally, we were late leaving the restaurant and did not get to the hotel until 7:20, well past our appointed pickup time; the shuttle has left without us, so we were forced to get our own taxi.

Now, a little about the Jogja area and its cultural importance: Jogja is the home to the Borodurbur Temple, apparently the largest Buddhist temple in the world. Who were we to argue? The temple dates to the Eighth or Ninth Century, making it about the same age as the temples we saw in Cambodia last year. The show we were to see was a stylized dance depicting the story of the Ramayana, central to Buddhist beliefs. Boy meets world; boy falls in love with world, defeats evil god to save world. The end. The production is staged in front of the Temple itself which is lit just enough to be impressive.

Borobudur was built in layers in concentric squares; at one point the squares become a trio of circles each of which contains 72[?] stupas and a giant stupa in the center. A stupa is a bell-shaped structure also seen in Thai and Cambodian architecture. Each of the stupas houses Buddhas.

Well, we were late for the show, of course, but only by a few minutes. D was very uncomfortable and left at one point to explore facilities; it was necessary but godawful. We left at the intermission: In addition to D’s distress, Jon was uncomfortable on the bench where we sat and it had started to rain. Back we went and to bed early.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

D spent the day in bed. There is no way to sugarcoat that, so anything said from here on is speculation. MA and the rest did indeed go to Borobudur this morning. The temple is apparently completely outdoors, meaning the path is from one level to the next until has reached the summit or turned back. Unlike Angkor Wat, with it’s libraries and swimming pools, there are no accessible interior corridors. MA spent most of the time waiting for the younger generations to see what they could. At one point, she answered a survey for some students and was given a wooden model of Borobudur as a thank you. It will look perfect on our table of boxes and wooden things.

They came home; they had lunch; they napped. D never left the bed except out of necessity. They went with Karen to a hamburger restaurant for dinner. D stayed in bed. Jon bought bananas and GatorAde to help fight dehydration, so D had 2 bananas more from fear of the family than of medical consequences. Of course with all of this time in bed, we didn’t sleep well. Every time D stirred, MA was all over him about where he was going and why. Jeez! It wasn’t that large a room; there was no place to hide. Somewhere in there, Jon and company went shopping and bought us a batik showing masks; we will have it framed and will add it to our mask wall at home. Before he gave it to us, though, he said it was a batik picturing the toilets of Indonesia.

Monday, October 19, 2009

So here we are, ready to return to Jakarta from Yogyakarta after sort of seeing the cultural dance and the Borobudur Temple. We are all exhausted but still have a full day ahead of us. MA and D were up at 5:45 [did we ever really go to sleep?] and went down to breakfast which is included in the room. D had a roll with butter, apple juice and part of an omelet before he returned to his little hideaway. MA returned later and we waited until 9:45 to meet our shuttle to the airport. Briton arranged a visit to their family doctor for D this afternoon and D gave in sort of gracefully. The journey itself was unremarkable and the flight smooth; we landed just an hour after takeoff. Once we collected the luggage, Kusnadi was there to lead the way to the car. We dropped Jon off at work and drove home.

Around 2:30 we left for the doctor’s office. Dr. Isabel works for/with Global Doctor about 10 minutes from the house. D filled in paperwork and then was whisked in to meet the doctor. Dr. Isabel is an attractive woman in her thirties who speaks impeccable English and has a sense of humor. She asked questions, she poked and prodded, she listened to body noises [110/70, no rumblings]. THEN she asked for a stool sample. He was given a little jar and a rubber glove so he asked if this came with an instructional video. He was serious but she just laughed about it. Well, D had performance anxiety and could not produce a sample. Upon hearing this, the doctor turned to her nurse and said, “I told you not to make noises in the hall. You scared him.”

The three of us – D, MA and The Jar – returned home and goofed off with the kids until supper time. They were bed just after 7 and MA made it until almost 7:30. Our only plan for tomorrow is to deliver a sample to Dr. Isabel even if we have to highjack one of Caiden’s diapers. Briton, Ati and the boys are going to the beach Wednesday and we have to decide if we will go with the, with Jon on Friday or not at all. Transportation decisions need to be made tomorrow.

And so to bed.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Thursday, October 15, 2009

We were up early again. D was turning on fans at 5:57 when Carter appeared. MA was going to sleep in but joined us at 6:15. The sun rises early here, one of the reasons we seem to awaken so early.

After both boys were packed off to their respective schools, and Jon to his office, we and Briton piled into the car for a trip to Mangga Dua. As near as we could determine, Mangga Dua is both the name of an area off the road to the airport and a shopping complex there. Actually, there seemed to be several shopping areas with similar names. The one we went to was the polar opposite of our previous shopping experiences in Jakarta: it was a flea market like the one we go to on Sample Road in Coconut Creek with more stalls and shoppers and cheaper merchandise.

We were dropped off by Kusnadi at a hotel entrance and found our way into the shopping area adjacent to it via a one-way door. We could exit the hotel for the arcade but could only re-enter if we were hotel guests. This area, several stories tall, held electronics and camera stores. There are entire shopping towers made of shops like these; we visited one two years ago. Pirated DVDs were also available for about 70 cents per disc, but we were not concerned with any of this today. We found our way across a bridge to the flea market itself. It was an up-and-down process with escalators up and steep stairs down [the same was true on the reverse trip when we left]. We found ourselves at one end of the third of seven floors. Almost as soon as we started through this indoor arcade, the power for the entire complex failed and we were in almost complete darkness. Within five minutes, however, the lights started to come on and we continued.

The walkways between the permanent stalls were crowded and close together, making progress difficult. We tried several floors and ended up on the bottom level of the seven [no Dante jokes, please] where Briton was able to find a suitable rolling back pack for Carter whose had suffered mortal injuries during their trip to the US last summer. She also found a Prada knock-off purse she liked and was able to bargain almost twenty dollars off the price. The assumption in bargaining is that if both parties are happy, the customer paid too much; if both parties are a little dissatisfied, the price was probably about right. MA and D got exercise.

The ride out to Mangga Dua took an hour or more because of traffic. As has been noted elsewhere, Jakarta’s traffic is unbelievable. Between the scooters and motorcycles, trucks, cars and vans and the general disregard for lane markers, it is surprising that there aren’t many accidents or incidents of road rage. An added wrinkle, at least in the city, is the presence of bajajs. These are tiny three-wheeled vehicles built around scooter motors, we think, and containing a compartment which holds the driver in front and up to two passengers in the rear. They are all painted orange and serve as a dirt-cheap alternative to taxis for many of the economic underclass. They are neither as powerful not as spacious as the tuk-tuks we found elsewhere in Asia last year, but they tend to make a similar putt-putt [or tuk-tuk] noise. Mercifully, they are physically unable to travel the highways.

We have noticed a lot of off-road work as we have been chauffeured around. Whether sidewalks are being installed or sewer lines, we can’t tell. What we have seen is men in trenches, digging. Nowhere have we seen any heavy equipment, trenchers or back hoes. In this, we are reminded of China, especially, where we saw massive road projects being carried out by legions of hand laborers. Labor in Indonesia is cheap, as Jon has pointed out, and plentiful. Many Indonesians come to Jakarta [and probably other urban areas] looking for work and leave their families behind. Ati has children aged 10 and 7 who are living with their grandmother so she can work in Jakarta; Briton says she sees her children 4 or 5 times each year. This is similar to the men who work on the cruise ships being away for 11 months at a time so they can provide for their families. It is sad but, from their perspective, necessary.

We explored the possibility of eating at the deli housed in the hotel building, but the smell of stale cigarette smoke drove us out the door before we had gone even five feet. Briton called Kusnadi to retrieve us and we headed downtown for lunch at Potato Head in the Ritz-Carlton Hotel building across the street from Jon’s office. He joined us for a few minutes but had a meeting to attend in fifteen minutes, so his visit was short.

[Warning! Food notes to follow] Briton and MA shared an order of escargot as an appetizer but allowed D to soak some bread in the garlic butter. MmMmmmm! For her main course, Briton had a Philly cheese steak which she loved. She told us it is the best item on the menu, but we ordered other things anyway. MA had a roasted vegetable quesadilla and sweet-potato fries and D ordered one of the “monthly specials,” described as “Crispy soft shell crab sandwich served with crab salad Louis and pickled paprika.” Served on dark multi-grain bread, it contained arugula, Louis dressing [a sort of Russian dressing] and the crab. The pickled paprika was not visible but added a lot of spice to the sandwich. Not altogether what a Marylander would want in a soft crab, but for eight bucks, it was a good choice. Briton had tiramisu and cappuccino for desert. By the time we finished, met Kusnadi and got home, it was almost 3:30.

Both boys were waiting for us, of course, when we got home and begged to go swimming. Both offered kisses and hugs, so how cold we refuse. The five of us played in the pool for an hour or so with nary a squabble or tantrum, so it was a good afternoon for everyone. Dinner at 6 even though Jon didn’t get home until 6:15. Mariati fixed a curried beef served with the ever-present rice and a mixture of carrots, brussell sprouts and baby corn.

After dinner, the boys and Jon played “Hop on Pop” which is exactly what it sounds like. When he could take no more punishment, he halted the game and the boys brushed their teeth, gave their grandparents hugs and kisses and prepared for bed. MA read until 8 o’clock and then turned in since she again missed her nap. D played catch-up with the journal and then posted it. It will be an early night for him, too.