Being a Californian, I’m accustomed to an infestation of laws. So when I visited Indonesia it was shocking to witness the nearly complete lack of adherence to law in that country. Especially as they pertain to driving. The roads are a plethora of cars and scooters zipping along seemingly without regard to what’s around them, rules of the road, or the acknowledgement of speed limits. It was like the Mad Tea Party ride at Disneyland had merged with the twister scene from Wizard of Oz.
Not only were drivers reckless, but I couldn’t believe the creativity in utilizing the various vehicles. Who knew that a family of FIVE could fit on one scooter? Who knew that school children on a field trip could be stuffed into the back of a truck, with standing room only. Or that you CAN pass on either side of the vehicle in front of you on a two-lane road despite the size of your vehicle, the lack of space on the non-road side, or the fact that by doing so, you would force oncoming traffic to pull off the road. Crazy.
And yet, in my ten days touring the country I did not see one accident. Not even a fender-bender. The only police I saw were jogging in the road for a fundraiser.
I wondered how freeing it would be to not live life riddled with rules. If everyone just did as they pleased and took things in stride. The aesthetics probably wouldn’t be as nice, but perhaps we’ve law-ed ourselves into a civilized prison where individuality and creativity have been somewhat stifled.
I remember the day vividly. It was the Fourth of July and we were sitting in the bleachers waiting for the fireworks show to begin. Next to me sat a group of teenagers. The one closest was absently turning a silver bracelet on his wrist around and around. The skin was pale where the bracelet naturally laid compared to the dark summer tan on the rest of his arm. When he stopped turning it I was able to see that it had the name of a person and a date.
When I went to buy a drink at the concession stand I saw a table with the same bracelets. The lady at the table explained that each bracelet had the rank, name and date of capture for a Prisoner of War (POW) from the Viet Nam war. The cost was $3.00 and if I bought one, I had to promise to not take it off my wrist until that serviceman was brought home. I selected the bracelet with ‘LCDR Theodore F. Kopfman USN 15 Jun 66’ engraved on it. I placed it on my wrist and kept my word.
On February 12, 1973 I sat with my parents watching the first released POW’s deplane in what was called ‘Operation Homecoming.’ As each serviceman stepped out, his name was announced. I waited anxiously as I turned the bracelet around and around on my wrist, a habit I developed the day I decided to wear it. We didn’t know if he was coming home at all, we were just hoping. My heart was pounding, and I had butterflies in my stomach. He wasn’t on the first or second plane. The doors opened on the third plane and I heard the announcer say ‘Lieutenant Commander Theodore F. Kopfman.’ My parents clapped, and I began to cry. The bracelet came off and my meager mission was accomplished.
Decades later I asked my Uncle, who has a vast network of military veterans, if he could find the Lieutenant Commander for me. I wanted to tell him that I had thought about him every day that I wore his bracelet and thank him for his service. It took my Uncle just days. He had been promoted to Commander and at the age of 82 had recently passed away - less than 30 miles from my home.
I learned he had been given the Silver Star with this Citation:
The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Silver Star to Commander [then Lieutenant Commander] Theodore Frank Kopfman (NSN: 0-597544), United States Navy, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action on 15 June 1966, while serving as a pilot of a light jet attack aircraft with Attack Squadron FIFTY-FIVE (VA-55, embarked in the U.S.S. RANGER (CVA-61), during aerial combat operations in Southeast Asia. As leader of a flight of four aircraft, Commander Kopfman planned, led and executed a highly successful attack against a Surface-to-Air Missile site. Although the flight was fired upon approaching the target area, Commander Kopfman avoided the missiles by evasive maneuvering, and visually acquired the target. In the face of intense and accurate heavy and medium gunfire which blanketed the sky, he spearheaded the assault, placing his air-to-ground missiles among the enemy missile launchers as he pulled up and directed the remainder of the flight in acquisition of the target. Commander Kopfman's superb leadership and exceptional weapons delivery resulted in the destruction of a highly dangerous enemy missile complex. His gallant and courageous performance was in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.
I don’t know why I thought about him so soon after he had passed away. Despite never meeting him, I wonder if we had a connection somehow. Perhaps I’ll be able to meet him on the flip side.
When fax machines first landed on the scene, I thought ‘oh my gosh, this is amazing. Instant communication. It was the absolute best time to be alive.
Then, cell phones. Yes. Same thoughts. I can literally talk to my mother, thousands of miles away, as I’m driving to work.
THEN, I waited in line for an iPhone. I’m one of the very first to get one and happily waited in line for hours to purchase it. The next day I went to Burger King with the device in my hand and was surrounded by tweens who wanted to see it. The VERY best time to be alive, I thought.
One night, I’m startled by the sound of an unfamiliar man in our living room talking to my son. I race in to discover that he’s a gamer who’s probably sitting in his own living room playing online with my son. I noticed shortly thereafter that both my boys are interacting more online with their friends than in person.
When texting really took off, I could communicate and get answers while IN A MEETING. OMG are you kidding me? Real time information. There was no longer a need for a fax machine or land line phones in my house. I no longer wear a wristwatch (sadly because I had a watch for every outfit), I no longer need a flashlight. There are many things I no longer need.
When Facebook caught on it was an adrenaline rush. I no longer see the need to go to class reunions because we’re all connected on Facebook. Everyone from that era knows what I’m doing and vice versa.
I’m noticing people are apologizing for calling me. Just the other day, “I’m sorry for calling you but…” Isn’t that funny? Sorry for calling me? It seems verbal communication is waning from our culture.
Over these few decades there has been a dizzying onslaught of new communication which has affected us dramatically. Having instant access to just about anyone and instant access to information should place us in a virtual nirvana and yet it seems to have the opposite effect.
Does anyone else find it strange that with faster and better communication has become more depersonalized? And that with lightening access to information has come a blur between opinion, facts and outright lies? In many aspects of our culture there are paradoxes that make no sense whatsoever. There are so many voices saying so many things that it requires herculean effort to sort it all. The easiest way to avoid getting caught up in this murk is to simply unplug.
An example of viral misinformation: It’s all over the internet that Albert Einstein said, “I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots.” Which he did not say. Instead, he wrote this to a friend, “I believe that the abominable deterioration of ethical standards stems primarily from the mechanization and depersonalization of our lives, a disastrous byproduct of science and technology. Nostra culpa!”
In a relatively short amount of time, the way we communicate has changed dramatically. I don’t have a great enough imagination to see what’s next, however, a potent solar flare just might set us back to a simpler time, at least for a while.
I’m Calling You
When traveling from place to place in Indonesia we ran into other travelers at various venues. We seemed to run into one Frenchman more often than was usual. Because we were two females in a country where we didn’t know the language, we appreciated this man’s willingness to accompany us on some of our adventures. With his very presence, our jousting with representatives of the tourist industry was reduced.
On one day, the three of us travelled by van, bus, ferry, then bus again and finally with Uber from Java to Bali. The day’s journey, which included hiking in and out of Mt. Ijen beginning at 1:00 am, took over twelve hours. His hotel was a few miles away from ours so the Uber driver dropped him off first. We paid for the Uber so he asked if he could repay us by buying dinner. We said sure and went on our way.
Bali was a decadent improvement from Java. Our hotel provided chilled juice upon our arrival. Our room had a bathroom with hot water showers and toilet paper and the sheets were clean! Going without these things for days made the things taken for granted seem like divine gifts from Heaven. We freshened up and headed to the beach. We watched the tranquility of the ocean while sipping wine and sitting in beanbag chairs at a restaurant that was actually in the sand. Being able to order wine was even a change as there weren’t many places in Java that sold alcohol.
On our way back to the hotel, we ran into the Frenchman. Since his hotel was miles away and had its own beach, we were surprised to see him. He said he wanted to check out our hotel since he had family coming and wanted a nicer place for them. He reminded us about dinner the following evening.
The next day, we explored the streets near our hotel, taking our time and enjoying having no schedule. As we came out of one of the shops, we ran into the Frenchman again. My blood turned cold. This was too much of a coincidence.
Like assembling a puzzle, my mind sometimes puts pieces of information together to realize a previously unknown fact. This process was triggered when we saw the Frenchman again. There was no reason for him to be in the area. There were so many people, the coincidence in running into him again on these streets had to be astronomical. Then I remembered on our Uber ride I asked him what he did for a living. He said he was a butcher. A butcher. As I’m piecing this together, my vital signs hit the accelerator. He reminded us about dinner and said he looked forward to it.
When we got out of earshot, I told my friend what I had pieced together: He has to be a serial killer. To say you’re a butcher must have been his personal joke. He travels the world for about one month each year. That’s how he doesn’t get caught. He latches on to unsuspecting females and then kills them. No one has any idea what happened to them. Then, returns to work for another eleven months of butchering non-humans. Because we are old enough to be his mother, he probably has mommy-issues that he’s acting out.
My friend thought my mind was a little too imaginative. She felt he was too nice to be a killer. I explained to her that that is what all surviving serial killer victims say. To placate me, she agreed we would not have dinner with him. He was supposed to call us later in the afternoon to determine where we would meet. He never called. My friend thought it was because he found more interesting dining partners. I believe his spidey-sense kicked in and he knew I was onto him. Thankfully, we’ll never know if I was right, but I fully expect to see him on the news one day, a French national suspected of killing many middle-aged women all over the world before being captured during his latest annual spree.
While recently dining at Outback Steakhouse, I was vaguely annoyed by the tabletop kiosk placed in the middle of the table. We were already crammed into the booth and the kiosk made the table equally tight. I understand that they can be useful, however, at a nice restaurant I prefer to have a person wait on me. The ambiance of dining-out is somewhat diminished when you can order and pay with a small device. At one point, our waiter actually picked up the kiosk and ordered our appetizer from it. He explained that he’s doing this because Outback wants to get a return on their investment. A $200 meal where they’re trying to reduce the wait-staff seems a bit misguided.
Pondering this kiosk thing brought me to my next thought. The X-Files episode ‘When Tech Attacks.’ Season 11 Episode 7 is one of my favorite of all time. The X-Files’ Agents Mulder and Scully find themselves in a similar situation at a sushi restaurant. Because they won’t leave a tip (probably with the same reasoning that I had), all their personal electronic devices retaliate. The driverless Uber car, home security system, even the Rumba all coordinate efforts to punish them. The show ends when Mulder grudgingly tips the sushi restaurant from his iPhone for the meal they consumed hours earlier. The electronic harassment wore him out. I loved the episode because all these devices exist now and can very possibly interact that way. There was a chilling plausibility to the episode.
You might think this is a first-world problem. But maybe it’s a world-wide problem. While in Indonesia, of all places, we ordered sushi from a mini kiosk on our table and it was delivered via a miniature train to our table. We could also pay from this device. The funniest part of the actual experience is that you could leave a tip for your server. A tip. To who and for what?
Brace yourself. It’s coming.
On our tour of Indonesia, we eventually arrived to the town of Ubud. The city is located in the center of Bali and therefore has no beachfront. However, the hotel would turn out to be our favorite of the entire trip. Stepping into Ketut’s Place was like stepping into a secret garden. The grounds were lush and well-manicured. There were two and three-story buildings. Each had a different view of the surroundings. It’s one of those places that just gives off a feeling of joy and tranquility for simply being itself.
Once settled, we walked to The Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary. It’s both a monkey forest and the location of a Hindu temple. The monkeys are known as the Balinese long-tailed monkey, scientifically called Macaca fascicularis. In English they’re called macaque. The forest in located in the middle of town. As we got closer, we saw a few monkeys scattered among the store fronts, sidewalks and parking lots. One was by himself and I wondered if he had been ostracized by his clan, and if so, what had he done to be a bad monkey?
Entering the sanctuary is like being transported to another world. At the entrance is the heart of Ubud with its shrill and never-ending motorized vehicle sounds. But stepping inside the sanctuary, it is peaceful, lush and beautiful. We can see large trees with thick vines being used by the monkeys to travel. We can hear the water from the waterfall and river just ahead. There’s a temple and cemetery off in the distance. I remembered someone telling me that a monkey had stolen his sunglasses and so I quickly stored everything I’m carrying in my purse and zipped it up.
There are about 600 monkeys living in this area. They are divided into 5 groups. They’re territorial and skirmishes develop when one group treads into another’s turf. At first, it’s exciting. There are monkeys everywhere and they’re adorable to watch. My inclination was to hold and pet them as if they are puppies. I walked up to a mama and her baby and she hissed at me with her lips pulled back for emphasis on impressive teeth. I then recalled a story about a woman in Connecticut who got her face ripped off by a pet chimpanzee. That was enough for me. Look, don’t touch, and as the pamphlet warned, don’t establish eye contact as they will consider it an act of aggression. I was once again astounded by all of the dangerous things you can do in Indonesia with little or no effort given toward safety.
Despite the setback in my wonder of this place, I bought small bananas inside the forest and was told to hide them in my purse. It was exciting and a little bit intimidating to see hundreds of monkeys wild and free within the park. I pulled out a banana to feed one and it climbed up my purse to get it. I reacted by throwing the banana away from my body. With the rest of my bananas, I quickly pulled out one at a time and threw them toward the monkeys so that they wouldn’t get close to me. I didn’t want another one climbing on me, even though I saw other people enjoying this.
As we walked on the trails, we came across a group of monkeys who were laying along the path. They were in the middle of the path, on the sides, and just everywhere. They were sunning, preening, nursing and seemingly enjoying themselves. We stopped in our tracks and turned back around. It strangely felt like we would be ambushed if we went deeper into their territory.
Later, another monkey jumped on my purse, grabbed my water bottle, which was in a side-pocket and jumped away. He unscrewed the top and drank the contents. We were shocked. I ran through my options and decided the safest thing to do was let him have the bottle. I felt bad about the litter, but hey, I wasn’t the one leaving it in the dirt. Someone called him a rude, cheeky monkey – which he was. I did, however, use other words to describe him and his ill-mannered ways. I was surprised to see such an aggressive animal have no boundaries in a public place. It was quite the experience and while memorable and I thoroughly enjoyed it, it’s unlikely I would do it again.
Our driver came for us at 1:00 am for departure to Mount Ijen to see the blue sulfur fire. It is only visible in the dark and only in two places in the world, here and in Ethiopia. This volcano erupted a mere 66 years ago and is still active.
With our guide, we hiked three miles up to the rim of the crater and then three miles down to the sulfur lake. This is done in the dark. As we make your decent inside the crater on a crowded, narrow, rocky and slippery path, we can see the blue fire. It seems to have a pulse as it expands and contracts at the bottom of the crater. Technically, it’s the spontaneous combustion of subterranean gasses as they are exposed to air. The fire’s temperature can reach over 750 degrees Fahrenheit. At the bottom, we can catch glimpses of the miners. They use long poles to break off chunks of the yellow sulfur.
Sulfur clouds are in a constant state of movement. When the clouds arrive where we are standing, we must wear gas masks to protect our lungs from the fumes. Our guide provided these masks to us as we made the ascent. Goggles would have been nice as the clouds made my eyes water. This is Indonesia where the hygienic laws we’re used to in the West don’t apply. My watering eyes trigger a runny nose. The inside of my mask now included unpleasant body fluids. It’s at this moment that I realized these masks have probably never been cleansed. I had to push this thought out of my head before it became the focal point of my thoughts and rob me of enjoying the wonders that I’m seeing.
When we were descending down into the crater, we had to make way for the miners who were bringing sulfur up. It looked like a very difficult job. Each person carries over 175 pounds of sulfur in baskets affixed to a stick along his back. They carry the sulfur for miles to a rudimentary factory in the middle of the jungle where the sulfur is melted down into a liquid. Once processed, the sulfur is used to purify sugar and to make skin products and explosives. Once the sulfur has been delivered, they hike back up the exterior of the volcano and back down for another load. They are paid $12 per day to do this. I’m surprised that in addition to their heavy load, they have to maneuver around all of the tourists and their guides making the same trek. Oh yes, and this is all in the dark. I’m also surprised that somehow the miners don’t use masks or goggles. Their bodies must be used to the putrid air. When the sun rose, we could see the large sulfur lake at the bottom of the crater.
As with many places in Indonesia, there is little organization or safety measures on Mount Ijen.
As we hiked out, the sun began to rise and we were able to better see the sulfur clouds. They’re very ethereal as they sway in one direction and then another as if an invisible hand is guiding them. The lake itself has many shades of green and blue. It looks so inviting, especially after hiking all these miles, but to even touch this lake would cause skin to burn.
As we once again reached the top, the sunlight revealed the lush jungle that surrounds the crater. Amazing that just a few decades ago, this land must have been completely desolate from the volcanic activity.
Because of the strenuousness of the experience, there are many ‘taxis’ offering to take you up or down the outside of the crater via cart. Fortunately, we didn’t need one as the price for this service is expensive, even by U.S. standards. I believe the taxi drivers had an easier job than the miners and most likely, received more pay for doing so. There appeared to be a brotherhood among the taxi drivers and the guides. There is no doubt some sort of social hierarchy, I’m sure.
A fabulous and ultra-unique adventure.
I’m hoping you can help me. When I wrote the Twenty-Seven adventure series, I knew that I wanted to create the story around a fountain-of-youth discovery. It took several months to figure out how such a discovery would plausibly come to pass. One day, I was reading The Epic of Gilgamesh and there it was near the end of the story; “There is a plant that grows under the water, it has a prickle like a thorn, like a rose; it will wound your hands, but if you succeed in taking it, then your hands will hold that which restores his lost youth to a man.” Boom. There it was. Just a few days later, I had the bones of the book worked out in my head.
Here’s where you come in. There is a passage in the Apostle’s Creed regarding Jesus; “He descended into hell. The third day he ascended to heaven.” That passage got me wondering what hell would have been like the three days that Jesus visited. According to various passages in the Bible, hell is described as dark and lonely with the gnashing of teeth, etc. Jesus is often referred to as the light. So that gives me somewhat of a backdrop. I’m encumbered with where to go from there. Any suggestions?
When Bob Yano prepared to be deployed to serve in World War II, a woman living in the same internment camp took it upon herself to coordinate the creation of a senninbari for him. Traditionally, his mother would have taken on this task, but she was in Japan, unable to return to her home in the United States until after the war.
According to Wikipedia: The custom of producing senninbari originated during the first Sino-Japanese war of 1894-1895. senninbari were pieces of material in the shape of a belt or sash containing 1000 knots applied to it in order to impart strength to the material. The implication of this was that as an amulet, or good luck piece, compounded strength or luck was to be passed along to the man carrying it. In general, senninbari were believed to confer courage, good luck and immunity from injury (especially bullets) upon their wearers.
A senninbari could be made by a man's mother, sister, or wife if married. She would stand near their local temple, train station, or department store and ask any female passerby to sew in a French knot stitch. During the most hectic days of the war in order to meet demand, women's patriotic organizations would gather to make senninbari en masse.
For Bob Yano, the women at the Gila River Incarceration Camp made his senninbari. He never removed it from his body for the duration of the war. He returned home and has it placed with his most treasured possessions.
I found this story, and the history behind it to be heartwarming. What an amazing tradition that appears to be lost today. I can only imagine what it must have been like to create such a sash for a loved one going to war. What it would be like to ask 999 women to sew a small knot on the garment for him. What love must have gone into the process. No wonder Mr. Yano didn’t remove it during the war. Such a touching tradition and story.
I heard someone talking about pride and envy and it has haunted me ever since. A little too close to home, I think. These are two thoughts that I use to compare myself to others. I did so unknowingly, until I heard someone talk about it. It was one of those aha moments where I realized I was doing something unconsciously.
Now that I’ve identified this tendency, I’m working super hard on eradicating it from my thought process. That is not easy. It still pops up now and then. I have to whack it out with the hope that some day it will be banished forever.
Part of my eradication process is to remind myself that we’re all on different paths. None are better or worse. All paths are simply different. Many times, my perception of someone is completely wrong anyway. There’s that person I thought had a perfect life and turns out they have a difficult one. Or, someone who I thought had a horrific life but is actually very content.
Embracing the ‘no one has it easy, no one has it hard’ philosophy is a tough one. I wrote the book Seven Bridges with that thought in mind. We’re all on different paths at different times for different reasons. I don’t believe that this is all random. In fact, I would say it’s nearly impossible that our paths would be random. I do believe that pride and envy are unnecessary reactions that only serve to muddle up our own unique journeys.
Thoughts that are alien to any of my other projects can be found here.