Monday, December 17, 2018

Paul Theroux's Deep South (2015)

I'm reading Paul Theroux's Deep South (2015) and though only halfway through, I'm already convinced Theroux has written the first Great American Novel. The scope of the work is incredible. Theroux quotes older Americans who've lived through Jim Crow and sharecropping, the illegitimate daughter of a prominent politician, and ordinary people with incredible stories, all while sharing his prodigious knowledge of other American writers. I've always said everyone has one amazing book, song, movie, or poem inside them, but I never thought much of Theroux's international writing. I suppose in some cases, it takes 75 years to midwife your great work. 

I'll leave you with one paragraph where Theroux indirectly predicts the outcome of the 2016 presidential election: "The whites felt like a despised minority--different, defeated, misunderstood, muddled with, pushed around, cheated. Blood mattered, so did history and old grievances and perceived injustices..." 
My only quibble is Theroux's repeated comparison between (inadequate) federal government funding for rural development vs. international aid. The two are not comparable. America spends less than 1% of its annual budget on foreign aid, much of it to employ American overseas workers; to gain footholds in countries that would otherwise be inclined to grant infrastructure projects to China or Japan; to keep the peace (Kosovo, Jordan, etc.); or--let's be honest--indirect bribery to gain the trust of foreign leaders who might otherwise be hostile to American interests. Though it's true the federal government funded the development of national highways, which benefitted rural communities, such domestic aid was done in the national, not local, interest. Regardless of this flaw, Theroux's Deep South (2015) should be required reading in every American history college class, and its chapter on Faulkner required reading in every 12th grade English course. 

Bonus

"That seemed to be the theme in the Deep South: kindness, generosity, a welcome... I found so much of it here that I kept going, because the goodwill was like an embrace." 

“America is accessible, but Americans in general are not; they are harder to know than any people I’ve traveled among.”

“We [Americans] tolerate difference only when we don’t have to look at it or listen to it, as long as it doesn’t impact our lives. Our great gift as a country is its size and its relative emptiness, its elbow room. That space allows for difference and is often mistaken for tolerance.”

“All air travel today involves interrogation, often by someone in uniform who is your inferior.” 

Bonus II: "When will we learn that the white man can no longer afford, he simply does not dare to commit acts that the other 3/4s of the human race can challenge him for, not because the acts themselves are criminal, but simply because the challengers and accusers of the acts are not white in pigment... Have we, the white Americans who can commit or condone such acts, forgotten already how only fifteen years ago what only the Japanese, a mere 8 million inhabitants of an island already insolvent and bankrupt, did to us? How can we hope to survive the next Pearl Harbor, if there should be one, with not only all peoples who are not white but peoples whose political ideologies are different from ours arrayed against us after we have taught them, as we are now doing, that when we talk about freedom and liberty, we not only mean neither, we don't even mean security and justice and even the preservation of life for peoples whose pigmentation is not the same as ours... Because if we in America have reached that point in our disparate culture when we must murder children, no matter for what or what color, then we do not deserve to survive and probably won't." -- William Faulkner, September 6, 1955 

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Book Review: Peter Mayle's My 25 Years in Provence

If you're looking for a casual, simple read about life in a small French town, you might enjoy Pete Mayle's book (2018). It's not very funny or very insightful, but it's adequate "vacation beach reading." 

Only three items stood out: 1) an introduction to pastis, a unique drink, and condiment grenobloise, "an inspired mixture of brown butter, capers, croutons, parsley, and lemon"; 2) a delightful and unexpected account of Guide Dogs for the Blind for children (look up Quebec's MIRA); and 3) the following paragraph: 

The cafe is much more than just a place to get a quick cup of coffee or drink. In fact, it's a most useful and civilized compromise. More comfortable than perching on a barstool, less formal than sitting at a restaurant table, it is also a most welcoming destination for customers, who, for one reason or another, are on their own. Sitting by yourself in a restaurant goes against human nature; man does not live by eating alone. But sitting by yourself in a busy cafe, you will usually find yourself in the company of several others who, for various reasons, prefer the companionable solitude offered by a table for one.

Otherwise, expect the same tropes about small town living being slower-paced (quelle surprise!) and stores closing at 1:00pm. 

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Madakaripura Waterfall in Java, Indonesia

Madakaripura waterfall on the island of Java competes with Sipiso-piso waterfall on the island of Sumatra for title of Indonesia's #1 waterfall. I loved them both. 

Madakaripura is 3 hours' drive from Surabaya. Many visitors combine a Mt. Bromo visit with the waterfall, but you'll need an overnight stay to do this, and I didn't have the patience for such a long trip. (I'm also not sure the sulfur at the mountain is good for anyone's health.) For Madakaripura, you'll need an experienced driver who knows how to use the new toll roads/highways. Tolls *roundtrip* will total about 64,500 rupiah (about 5 USD). Parking will cost about 8,000 rupiah (less than 1 USD), and park entrance fee will be 26,000 rupiah (about 2 USD). (All numbers accurate as of December 2018.) 

I found my driver through my hotel and paid 1 million rupiah (about 70 USD, *including* gas) for up to 8 hours, with each additional hour charged at 100,000 rupiah. My roundtrip totaled about 7 and a half hours from Surabaya's city center. 

Once at the parking lot, you can hire a motorbike for between 10,000 or 15,00 rupiah (about 1 USD) to get closer to the waterfall, but I enjoyed the 4 km hike. You can hire a guide at the park entrance. My guide and I didn't agree on a price beforehand, but 100,000 rupiah was the going rate for foreigners/bules. I tipped him an additional 50,000 rupiah because he was incredible. He carried my backpack and also put my shoes under his parka to keep them dry. You don't really need a guide until the very end, when you reach the waterfall, but unless you're an expert climber, it's worth it. It's very difficult for anyone not used to climbing to get to the final (and most spectacular) waterfall on his/her own, but I saw most Indonesian teenagers able to make it. I brought my own sandals, but I also saw several touts selling them along the way. Obviously, you'll get wet, so if you bring hiking or athletic shoes, you'll need a plastic bag to protect them when you switch to sandals at the waterfall. 





Travel and Language

I love watching English-subtitled foreign films for many reasons, but specifically, it is a godsend for language acquisition. 

I just learned my favorite Bahasa Indonesian insult: goblek! (which means a fool) 

I also learned an Indonesian phrase originating from Persia: "buru buru" is borrowed from the Iranian "boroh boroh." (Hurry! vs. go, go!) 

[The movie I recently saw was a well-made comedy, Sesua Aplikasi (2018).] 

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Jepara, Indonesia

Jepara, Indonesia is known for its exquisite woodwork but not enough is written about its natural scenery. Equally suitable for raising a family and adventure tourism, Jepara has thus far managed to be a hidden gem on the island of Java/Jawa. After Medan, it is my favorite city in Indonesia. 

If you visit, you can fly into Semarang's airport (I prefer Garuda or Scoot airlines) then take a shuttle or Grab/GoJEK to Jepara. I suggest staying one night in Semarang, where you can purchase a Telkomsel SIM card (I find the app useful but also frustrating) and see the city's outdoor food markets. 
Mini-Aquarium at Pantai Kartini 
Raden Adjeng Kartini, teacher, feminist, heroine.
Died shortly after giving birth to her child.
Air Terjun Songgo Langit;
Not an impressive experience but the easiest waterfall to get to.


A small example of Jepara's woodwork. In a restaurant.
Niagara Gorge Manten aka Air Terjun Jurang Manten.
Impressive waterfall and experience. Intermediate difficulty to reach but avoid if recent rain. 
Niagara Gorge Manten aka Air Terjun Jurang Manten

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Politics, Summarized

Most political debates can be condensed into variations of a single question: 

Would you rather live in a town with 10 police officers, 3 lawyers, 20 citizens and 10 immigrants, or 3 police officers, 10 lawyers, 28 citizens and 2 immigrants? 

Few people realize the mix is less important than integrity of each group--and whether the immigrants have a reasonable path towards citizenship. 

Bonus: if American police culture protects its worst offenders by collaborating with police union lawyers, how can dispersed individuals create a culture of accountability or integrity within their communities? 

Bonus II: an advanced student of governance would insist on offering all but one lawyer for at least one good journalist

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Capitalism's Fatal Flaw: the Need for Numbers, at Any Cost

In Martin Mayer's The Bankers (1997), we learn that 
Is modern-day capitalism one giant pyramid scheme with many different sub-variations? Even before MLM, organizations focused more on membership growth than morality. After all, one can leverage membership into profit much more readily than principles.