The two day passage from Kumai to Belitung was once again outrageously HOT! Lots of motoring, although we did have a few hours of nearly ideal sailing conditions. For me there was a little thrill en route when we passed longitude 110 East, as this is 180 degrees from my home in Maine — truly half way around the world.
I have mixed feelings about East Belitung. On the one hand, the Tourism Board once again provided fabulous guides. Delightful people willing to go out of their way to help us. And they provided both a welcome and a farewell dinner, gifts (including nice shirts and a commemorative plaque), local entertainment and an air conditioned bus. All greatly appreciated. But it is hard for me to envision East Belitung as a tourist destination. The number one tourist attraction seems to be an abandoned open pit tin mine! Our guide described how much she likes going there. The color of the water in the pit is beautiful, and changes with the light and cloud cover, she says. And it is a nice walk through the woods to get there — she almost feels like she is no longer in Belitung. I’m still not sure how to take the last statement. Is it that the place is different and away from the city bustle and thus a pleasant getaway? Or that it provides an escape from a place that she would like to escape from?
The #2 attraction was a visit to a batik factory. This I was looking forward to, but I found it underwhelming. Yes, there were a few awesomely beautiful fabrics available for not-so-cheap. And then there was a display case with a somewhat disappointing selection of run-of-the-mill fabrics. I had intended to buy some fabric, but once there I was not inspired to do so.
Tim and Jesse did, though. They bought fabric and took it to a tailor and had basketball shirts made! That made for an interesting quest, and the results look pretty good. Certainly unusual!
Tiwi, our guide, took us to a local place for lunch. On the street front they display 8 or 10 dishes. You choose what you want, you are served immediately, and you can sit at tables in the back. The food was delicious, and the cost was about $1 each. Way better than American “fast food.” In fact, the food in East Belitung was excellent at every meal.
Tourist attraction #3 was billed as a Buddhist monastery. I believe this was incorrect. It was a Chinese temple, but if it was Buddhist or a monastery it was not apparent to me. We learned almost nothing there, which was a shame. We did get our “fortunes told” or “question answered” by shaking a numbered stick from a container of a hundred or more, having the process validated by dropping two stones and seeing how they turned up (sorta heads or tails like), and if the stones didn’t say that the original question was too vague, then the number on the stick was mapped to a printed fortune/answer.
At the temple they put on a performance for us, of dancing/leaping acrobats in lion/dragon costumes. This was a highlight, though I still don’t know the significance of the costumes and dance.
We got to witness two local “games.” The first was a man wrestling with a “ghost,” made by wrapping a fish trap in a cloth shroud and giving it a coconut head. There was a little ceremony first which invites the ghost to enter the device. Then a battle ensues between the man and the ghost, until the man has torn the device apart and thus wins the battle.
The second game was a battle between individuals with rattan sticks, in which each tries to hit the other on the back. A referee keeps the fight orderly, stops it at some point, then inspects the contestants backs for welts, and the one with fewer is pronounced the winner. After a couple demonstrations they asked if one of us would accept the challenge, and Jesse stepped forward. He battled fiercely and valiantly, and came away with a serious “caning” that he is still recovering from two days later. I guess the Tourist Board didn’t impress upon the locals that they should not beat up on the visitors! But Jesse came away a hero for his bravery and style, if not technique.
So…our three days in Belitung were interesting, but it doesn’t rank high on my list of places to come back to. Our time was colored somewhat by our freezer getting accidentally turned off, and we had to throw out a couple hundred dollars worth of good foods. And there were mosquitoes, which can carry malaria and dengue fever. Amazingly, the total number of biting bugs we’ve seen on this entire trip is less than we’d see on a quick walk across the beach on a summer evening in Maine, but that thought doesn’t help much when the bugs are present.
So now we are en route to our final port in Indonesia. Motoring. Almost no wind, with the little there is being directly against us. I hope we have enough fuel — I really didn’t think we would have to motor non-stop for three days, but now that seems likely.
One thing I have enjoyed of late is talking with Jesse about world events and what role we can play in them. Both of us (but he more than I) have been reading books that trigger these topics. We both read a book about how/why the aboriginal people of Australia are suffering (still, in spite of many well-meaning efforts by the government and others to atone for past wrongs). The book is called “Why Warriors Lie Down and Die.” It shows that most “help” provided by the dominant culture is provided within a context (language, laws, knowledge base, world view) of the dominant culture, and often it has unintended consequences that make conditions worse. We’ve also both been reading Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States.” The latter, while not necessarily new information, is pretty upsetting — to understand how rich capitalists have controlled our own history, at the expense of most people. We have visited some places where I think it is safe to say that, unlike in the USA, money is not King; where people don’t own much, but they are happy and healthy. What to make of this contrast…?
What should we do about the Syrian refugees? Jesse reads his “friends” posts on Facebook, and many seem to say we should not help the refugees, because they are Muslim (and therefore potentially terrorists…?) or because we have to look after our own (as though we didn’t have a hand in making the mess…?) or probably lots of other poorly-reasoned reasons. I am amazed at the lack of empathy in that crowd. But then again, while I am more sympathetic, I also tend to be frozen, not knowing what I might do that would make any difference. I have a hard time thinking beyond the issues I see first-hand, as contemplating what we hear about in the news is so overwhelming. Jesse and I talk about this, and also talk about trying to improve world conditions through engineering. Jesse says in the past he always thought of engineering projects in terms of technical contributions, but now he sees the importance of the social/political aspects that are part of any development project, and maybe he would want to apply his efforts there.
People ask how we spend our time on the boat. Trying to make sense of our world is one answer that I’ve probably never mentioned.