East Belitung

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.

A pilot boat leads our little fleet over the bar and into the river, where we anchor off of the town of Manggar.
A pilot boat leads our little fleet over the bar and into the river, where we anchor off of the town of Manggar.
Throughout Indonesia, lots of fishing boats!
Throughout Indonesia, lots of fishing boats!
"Hey Mister -- photo photo!"
“Hey Mister — photo photo!”
At anchor in a busy river
At anchor in a busy river
Jesse connects with the local crew
Jesse connects with the local crew
With Tiwi's help, Tim and Jesse explain to the tailor that they want basketball jerseys made of the batik material they bought.
With Tiwi’s help, Tim and Jesse explain to the tailor that they want basketball jerseys made of the batik material they bought.
The shirts came out looking good!
The shirts came out looking good!
We were treated to dinner, followed by music and dancing
We were treated to dinner, followed by music and dancing
Jesse strikes the fancy of yet another beauty
Jesse strikes the fancy of yet another beauty
Next day we tour the abandoned open pit tin mine
Next day we tour the abandoned open pit tin mine
An odd tourist attraction, but we had fun
An odd tourist attraction, but we had fun
Next stop: the 300 year old Chinese temple
Next stop: the 300 year old Chinese temple
Where your question may be answered; the woman on the right is shaking the container of numbered sticks.
Where your question may be answered; the woman on the right is shaking the container of numbered sticks.
Here is the answer to my question...
Here is the answer to my question…
I didn't know what to make of these guys at first
I didn’t know what to make of these guys at first
Drums started beating, and a show was on
Drums started beating, and a show was on
With impressive acrobatic lifts!
With impressive acrobatic lifts!
And suggestive poses
And suggestive poses

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Tiwi's daughter shows her bravery, putting her hand in the dragon's mouth
Tiwi’s daughter shows her bravery, putting her hand in the dragon’s mouth

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Back to our cool (literally) bus
Back to our cool (literally) bus
More dancing at lunch
More dancing at lunch

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Then across the street to the beach, where we meet the shapes that are soon to be inhabited by ghosts
Then across the street to the beach, where we meet the shapes that are soon to be inhabited by ghosts
The ghost now in, the battle is about to begin
The ghost now in, the battle is about to begin

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The battle is long, but the man will win
The battle is long, but the man will win
We here the familiar sound of the ice cream truck, except here it is the ice cream "moto." Enough for everyone.
We here the familiar sound of the ice cream truck, except here it is the ice cream “moto.” Enough for everyone.
With our guide Tiwi
With our guide Tiwi
At our farewell dinner the local dignitary presents each crew with commemorative goodies.
At our farewell dinner the local dignitary presents each crew with commemorative goodies.
Then more music
Then more music
And the preparation for the fighting with rattan sticks
And the preparation for the fighting with rattan sticks
The fight is on!
The fight is on!
And representing the white tourists...
And representing the white tourists…
You have to admire the lad's spirit, even as he gets pummeled...
You have to admire the lad’s spirit, even as he gets pummeled…
Later... As the joke goes, the flogging will continue until morale improves.
Later… As the joke goes, the flogging will continue until morale improves.
More dancing after the games
More dancing after the games

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And a little live-on-stage karaoke
And a little live-on-stage karaoke
East Belitung put on quite a show for us
East Belitung put on quite a show for us
In the morning we leave Belitung for our next/last destination in Indonesia
In the morning we leave Belitung for our next/last destination in Indonesia

3 thoughts on “East Belitung”

  1. Whether on a small boat 180 degrees from Maine or sitting in our houses in the US, discussions about world events and the questions of “what can I (or we) do about it” seems to be ever-present. Fortunately, among my friends and “friends” the refrain of helping the refugees is the primary thought. However with what seems to be the sole exception of Pres. Obama and Bernie Sanders speaking out loudly, many of those so-called leaders in governments (of all levels) appear to want to keep all Muslim refugees far, far away from these shores. Sad.

    I’ll bet Jesse will remember this rattan fight for a very long time…

    It will be good to once again see you soon around the ‘hood, Zeke.

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  2. I really appreciate the issues you brought up in this post about the huge challenges we are facing in the world and thinking about what we can do about them. I just came back from seeing the movie “This Changes Everything” and am part way through the book of the same name by Naomi Klein. I heartily agree with the premise that in order to really take on climate change and create a world that is truly sustainable and nurturing for all, we need to change our economic system. Unbridled growth is killing people and the planet. There are hundreds of amazing grass roots projects around the globe where people are joining together and making changes. Read the book… watch the movie.

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