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bogor, indonesia

so what's it really like being here in west java amidst thousands of brown-skinned, ramadhan-celebrating indonesian muslims - deep in the thick of “kebun raya”, the incredible jungle botanical gardens of bogor? where i'm the only white skinned "boulay" (honkie) for miles and acres of picnic-loving, holiday humanity whose denizens call out "hello" and "hey mister", practicing their pidgin english on the only local strolling monkey in the park - moi? well, it's -- strange. sort of like - maybe - being the only black sitting in the front of the all white alabama freedom bus – way back when in the fifties.

strange. as is the round a clock 5 times a day, call to prayer of the muslim muezzin which feels so different than it did in the desert mideast, where the mosques were grand and the dress was caftany and exotic. whereas here the mosques look more poor mexican than oil rich arabic and the people couldn't recognize a jew if he were wearing scruffy pais from his ashkenazi ears or full orthodox black wardrobe from robertson and pico or crown heights in brooklyn. where jeans are the omnipresent garb of the day and the kids flock to the dirty and/or neon-lit immaculate malls to worship bargain sales and coca cola, nike and US army surplus. where madonna sings her insipid remake of "bye bye miss american pie" on mtv indonesia and the poor (financially-challenged) brown skins are hypnotized and marketed pervasively enough to actually think american pop culture shit is -- any fucking good. where the same kids ignore the century old traditions of wayang kulit and wayang golek, the incredible puppet carving and shadow plays with 40 piece gamelon and gong ensembles - which hardly even attract the tourists anymore - who instead, equally flock to the pizza serving, coca cola guzzling homestays and cheap hotels to soak up/exploit one of the only places left on the planet not completely converted to corporate chain-smoking greed, globalization, and homogeneity.

yeah, yeah, there i go again, soap boxing about the american capitalization and corruption of the planet. but c'mon over, and take a look yourself. it's obscene. where every head is turned to mtv's material girl, the original teenage pornographer and sex-selling vandal - rather than to the non-electronic view out the open air balcony where flocks of tiny white kites are fluttering like miniature postage stamps over the sprawling red tiled city carved into the rugged green mountainside between the two converging muddy brown rivers -- like in trendy tuscany, or providential provence or even in authentic lyon france - except this is indonesia, deep in the heart of the third world and the still-felt asian economic crash of '97, where the mists of buddhism and hinduism and allah shroud these same mountaintops in a white hazy mystery and tradition that can at least still be felt if no longer seen.

four in the morning and i lie awake listening to the tonalities of howling ramadhan, a month of fasting, self discipline and denial rewarded with a clean conscience and a fresh start for the new year. a little like yom kippur or any good catholic christmas mass. but the voices!! the beautiful whine and howl to allah. lying in my sometimes moldy, sometimes toney, series of hotel rooms - enjoying thousands of symphonizing geckos syllabalizing "geck-o, geck-o, geck-o" six times, then over and over again. listening to minivans rumbling by, noxious motorbikes buzzing incessantly... sleep? what's that? i'm soaked in a sweet sweat, maybe 10 pounds svelter and richer than i left. though i pour out thousands of rupia a day, i ultimately remind myself that my last dinner at chaya venice cost me a ridiculously over-priced hundred and twenty five bucks, and no matter how much i economically pour out, it still takes me a week to spend here what i digested and shit out in LA -- overnight.

escaped all this culture conflict for a moment – one morning – as my sleepy indonesian princess slept in, surrounded by the high-air tea plantations and padi (rice) fields of the puncak pass – between bandung and bogor – and i slipped out with my little auto-focus point and shoot camera – and went adventuring. found a friendly teenage, indonesian-speaking guide, or he found me, walking deep into the padi fields down the steep, not-open-to-boulay path below the hotel off the main drag. me, following my barefoot guide thru sign language and smiles - over the winding narrow dirt paths, just mounded above the water level of the surrounding lake-like, life-giving padi fields. poking my head into every nook and cranny – shooting front yards full of shucked rice drying in the early morning sun, rustic wooden homes with children poking their heads out to waive hello to the camera clicking stranger, fields of vegetables – beans, pumpkins, squash, strange leafy greens i’ve never seen before, the local mosque/school room with the hand carved, call-to-worship drums on the shoe-filled front porch (you have to take your shoes off to enter homes and buildings in the east). my guide shooting me sitting on top of mounds of discarded, straw-yellow agricultural waste, looking like a subject for a vincent van gogh painting, but of course here in sweltering indonesia. two hours off the conveyor belt of modern civilization. into another time, another world. simple. village. “primitive”. before the above-mentioned material invasion.

tomorrow back on the civilized big bird - garuda airlines - jakarta to denpasar -- bali -- for my last week and the happy 2001 space odyssey new year. hope yours is more soulful and enjoyable than kubrick's hal...


your culture bashing geckologist,

sayang trulong