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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Collections: A Tuesday List

Thoughts, both bidden and un-
slips and sheets of paper with jots of things I intend to write
sermon notes, songs that moved me
commemorative postage stamps
phone numbers
letters, affirmative cards and momentoes from friends
varieties of art
paper in striking colors
piano music
mom's 40's tapes
mending projects
children's books
lists of library books, both read and intending to read
recipes I'm just going to try
mail to answer tomorrow
handy rubber bands
nifty bags
family photos
memorable verses
gifts, 'just in case'
greeting cards, both blank and all-occasion
notes of things intending to write
trip journals

Hope, a haiku

on a bamboo flute, breathes
new life into ancient forms.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Indonesian Interlude I

Silk Air, Singapore Airlines' regional carrier, though smaller, proves just as pleasant.  The flight is full, and efficiently loaded in a  minimum of time.  Slim stewardesses, in simple, sculpted dresses of light, lime green, move gracefully among the passengers, black haired lilies on lithe stems. Every one of them is totally focused, graciously greeting passengers, securing luggage compartments, checking seat belts, and serving soft drinks as soon as the passengers are in place. One of them mimes the brief safety talk shown on tv screens above the seats. That awkward Asian game show where contestants attempt impossible obstacle courses before falling into a water tank is followed by a candid camera type show, accompanied by hot towels, and a full meal featuring fish or chicken.  The pilot points out the landscape below as we draw within sight of the Indonesian archipelago.  Frankly, our pilot is arguably the clearest, most cordial and articulate ever as he welcomes and informs us of flight time and distance, brief turbulence and views along our way. His landing, too, is whisper soft.

Solo Airport is immaculate and well attended. We are ushered via a short hallway and escalator to ground level where I pay $25 (in crisp new bills, as my hostess has advised) for a short visit/transit visa before exiting to the luggage area, where a porter finds my checked bag, and another attendant conveys the bags and me the short way to the portico where my hosts are waiting and waving.

Rosie, a St. Olaf grad and one of us "I-3's" recruited by the LCA to teach English for three years in India in the 60's, continued on with the ELCA as a university lecturer and librarian, and settled here with her Indonesian husband, Dani.  We've met seldom, over the years, but keep up a fast correspondence comparing notes on family life and  our shared interest in words and writing, so the renewal of friendship, laughter, and conversation flow freely. We drive the hour-plus from Solo to their home in Salatiga, which Dani says is in the geographical center of Indonesia as well as the island of Java.  Small businesses line the road the whole way, but I can see the landscape beyond the road is green and lush. 

From Salatiga, Mount Merapu, the most active volcano in the archipelago, looks soft, shrouded in mist much of the time, in the distance.
The family home is atop a hill among other hills, with a view of the town and mountains all around.  
Fruit and flowering trees almost hide the house, with a large portico and generous porch at the entrance.  

Much of the downstairs is a square of spacious rooms surrounding an atrium filled with trees and greens ranging from palm and Norway Pine to elephant ear plants and money plant vines, and a koi pond into which three jets splash water day and night. More plants in large pots surround screen doors to adjacent rooms, along with waist high, clay folk figures in welcoming postures, flanking the sliding, dining room door, and comfortable seating and a magazine table in one corner. I suspect the sound of splashing so close at hand might keep me awake at night, but it's hardly audible when I close the teak wood bedroom door.

It starts to rain as we arrive, and the rain develops into a downpour lasting most of the night, leaving every-thing even lusher and greener than the day before.  I sleep frequently and deeply, which, Rosie reminds me, is what she expects me to do after my days and the time-change of travelling.  I am surprised to find that their diet is not necessarily spicy.  We have rice and vegetables, tasty but not 'hot', every day.    A diminutive cook, Mbak Mina, pays close attention to my eating, and makes me chicken soup and gruel to counteract a cold and traveller's tummy.

We are joined for meals and forays into town by Dani's sister, Vera, pronounced Fairah, who has lived with them since 1981. She helps them to host  frequent visitors and relatives who drop in or come to stay with more or less notice, and is a person whose presence I am tempted to envy, because of the time she frees for Rosie to write.  (Rosie published her first book, LIGHT FOR THE JOURNEY, reflecting and inviting discussion on intercultural experiences, last year.)  Everyone I meet seems to enjoy an easy camaraderie, as do other Indonesians we meet on a walk through a local bazaar...but more about the Indonesia in the next blog....

These and all the Indonesia pictures are courtesy of R. and D. Kameo...manga tak, from me!

Last Tuesday's List, this week's revision

Okay, Lynn F. forwards Artsyville's Tuesday challenge to list deco changes I'd like for every room in the house.  Is this writing practice or motivation to action?  Let's see how it goes, either way!

OK, some of you have seen the list, others need not:  Short version is, there's lots to do, but what is really needed is a major sort/throw/downsize blitz, and then, lordwilling, move to a not-too-old, one level rambler with three bedrooms, laundry, and garage all on one level near, hubby hopes, our church and a lake.  Referrals welcome!

Funny, (the list, which I reserve as a personal 'to do' list!) was easier to write than the descriptions of travel experiences I've been working on for the last couple weeks?!  Done and 'posted' in half an hour, while the latter languish in the draft folder...hmmm.

Charmed by Changi

January 2, I leave Minneapolis, but the date is January 4 by the time I reach Singapore. My initial reaction is chagrin.  Because it is hours shorter than others, I've opted for Delta's flight from Minneapolis to Singapore,on my way to visit a friend in Indonesia:  I need to spend 30 hours and 23 hours in Singapore's Changi Airport this week and next, because my Delta flight does not connect with Singapore Airlines' semi-weekly flights serving  Indonesia, which in turn do not connect with semi-weekly flights to my next destination in India.

However, my friend has assured me that Changi is safe and user-friendly. She said to use the train to explore the three connected terminals, but I find more than enough to do in Terminal 2. And it's not long before the many ways to enjoy time in Changi win me over. There are plenty of the usual high end shops like Tiffany, Bulgari, and Gucci, for travellers for whom money is no object, more modest ones including kiosks, duty free and book shops, pharmacies, and a 7-Eleven, and plenty of freebies (Orchid and Sunflower gardens, hundreds of computers, movies, art activities, entertainment (this month's theme is 'Angry Birds'), a children's play area, foot massagers, convenient luggage carts, even a free two hour bus tour of the city) for the rest of us.

You can reserve and stay in a transit hotel (room with TV and bath, about US$13/hr in six hour blocks, or budget rooms at about $10/hour with bathrooms just steps away, but I notice people sleeping on several sofas circling palm trees in Singapore Airlines' transit area, and opt to stretch out there for awhile. I find a space near a group of young Americans travelling to an overseas English teaching assignment.  I sleep fitfully for an hour, but the area is all atwitter without letup as their number (seventy) and enthusiasm (they are meeting here for the first time) crescendoing until I wake again. A quieter, earnest latecomer who has already volunteered for several years introduces himself, and we compare my experience and travels while teaching and studying  in India years ago and since, with his, in more recent years.  A theater major, he is pensive about the direction which his future might take, but we agree that meeting people in their own milieu is one of the joys of travel.

I explore the terminal's central mall along with dozens of other transit passengers, pause to gaze at length upon the dozens of orchid varieties surrounding a large koi pond, and relax for awhile on the cool, polished granite platform surrounding the garden.

                                            Photos courtesy of the Changi Airport Group.
I take a photo for a bright eyed young couple who smile in front of the display, and head for what I am told is an excellent variety of restaurants upstairs.  I breakfast on masala dosai at one of the many ethnic restaurants--including MacDonald's--upstairs, but am less than charmed by the sea of common food court tables, indifferent housekeeping, and random service at this very early morning hour.

Having made a reservation for the transit hotel one week hence, I decide to check it out.  When I find out the price, and check out the transit lounge nearby, I cancel the reservation in favor of using the latter's a la carte services on my second time through Changi.  For tonight, I pay $8 for a shower, towel and spa soaps provided in a private shower-cum-changing room, thoroughly and quickly cleaned after each use. Too late, I notice that I haven't been given the towel, and am thankful I had the foresight to pack a hand towel in my carry-on luggage!  I brush my teeth along with others at a common sink area; several hand held hair driers await at a counter under another mirror.

Now it's time for another breakfast, brunch, or whatever-the-time-is-I'm-hungry meal.  I examine eateries near the children's play area on the mall level:  a Sushi buffet, Robin's Eggs, Sumo Salads, a mini French bakery, a regular restaurant allowing smoking, which is banned in most of the airport, and several others offering soups, noodles, sandwiches, all along a wall of glass overlooking the runway, a sports bar, and, beyond that, a smoker's room, Starbucks.  The latter two eateries appear to be where most 'westerners' congregate.  Noodle soup at Robin's is bland,  mostly noodles, but their 'egg tart'  in a puff pastry is food for the gods.  How anyone could match that delicacy of taste and contrast of textures is beyond me.

I watch the dawn as I eat two egg tarts, slowing down to relish the unusually  delicate combination of soft and crispy flavors and textures, and freshness....I am tempted to eat three.  Outside, an intermittent wind blows the top edges of a bank of clouds into tail-wing-shapes, then pair of giant 'cat's eyes'; the 'pupils' of which seem to move toward a plane waiting on the runway...a brief, subtle cloud show during breakfast.

Trying out other free activities, I watch big-screen National Geographic channel while folks nearby watch big screen sports.  I make a souvenir booklet of Singapore and Changi Airport icons by taking crayon rubbings of several raised wood-block-forms, using oversized paper from multi-ream piles nearby. I take a rather flattering picture of myself on equipment promising to send it as an email postcard, but my hubby tells me later it did not come through on his end.  Later on in the day, I sample one of Sumo Salads.  Sample is too modest a word for the generous portion, as I point out and tell the server which ingredients to add, til the container, set upon a small scale, reaches the salad's prescribed weight. Once again, I have to congratulate the vendor for a job well done...'never had such a great salad!  He smiles.

Still somewhat tipsy from the time difference between Minnesota and Singapore, I check my watch, and head for the  transit desk. The wheelchair assistant I requested has not appeared, and one summoned by the airline transit desk does not respond, so the agent kindly suggests that my gate is not too far to walk via the moving walkway.  I eye a motorized cart nearby, but am told it is only for airline personnel.  As I make my way to the gate, with plenty of time, but little energy, to spare, the cart passes with pilot and stewardesses on board.

The gate area even has a free computer, and there are more eateries nearby.  A sign next to the immaculate toilet room proclaims the amount of time it might take to walk to the next one. Except for the airlines' missing wheelchair service, most everything and everyone at the airport has been very efficient.  As I wait to board my flight to Indonesia, the sun is trying to shine through hazy clouds scudding over the tarmac. Rows of bamboo and pine line a road on the other side of the tarmac, make a pretty setting. I find myself actually looking forward to spending more time in Changi Airport at the end of the coming week.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Transiting Through Tokyo

January 2, 2013

My trip begins pleasantly, mid-morning, in an uncrowded Minneapolis airport.  A cheerful agent wishes me happy new year while checking my three-pounds-overweight suitcase through to Indonesia, where friends are to meet me three calendar days hence. Security is quick and courteous, and I have a comfortable amount of time to reach the newly remodelled G-concourse, resplendent with free, individual i pads at every single seat, bar and restaurant place, before my plane begins to load.

The plane is almost full when my seat-mate arrives, a woman of about my age, wearing a shawl in jewel tone colors so like my own, one might think we had conspired. She is an entrepreneurial spirit, on a trip to buy things for her catalog business, a trip unfortunately prolonged by a flight cancellation necessitating a diversion from the west coast to Minneapolis to join our flight. Nonplussed, she does not waste a minute of our trip, alternately reading on her kindle, watching a movie, conversing or chatting about her many travels, and sleeping.  My in flight video system does not work and I am in need of sleep so, after introductions, I spend the time dozing, walking the aisles, or chatting over what we agree are rather uninspired meals.

The flight from Minneapolis to Singapore involves a change of planes in Narita Airpot, Tokyo.  Availing myself of airline special services, I have requested wheelchair assistance to negotiate limited but potentially tiring transfer time. The stewardess is vague about whether and where a wheelchair attendant will meet me, as I exit the plane. But, right at the door, a diminutive, elderly Japanese gentleman brightens with a smile as he sees me recognize my name on the placard he holds.  He is solicitous to a fault as he guides me onto the diminutive wheelchair, lifting my feet into place next to the carry-on bag which I hug between my knees.

Though hardly an hour passes between my flights, I can observe that Japanese airline and airport personnel are compulsively anxious to be courteous and to please.  They hurry gracefully, bowing and conferring in subdued voices. The terminal lighting and ambience are similarly subdued as befits the middle of the night. My attendant makes polite conversation as he quickly yet calmly negotiates halls, doors and elevators. He  asks whether I have ever visited Japan.  I say no, but that I hope to do so some day, especially because my son-in-law is an American of Japanese descent.

A:  Your son-in-law is Japanese?
Me:  Yes.
A:  How is he?
Me:  Hm??
A: (repeats, clarifies) How is he?  Is he good?     
Me:  Oh yes, he's very good.  We like him.
A: (exclaims) Better than Chinese??

I chuckle.  Perhaps aware that he has exposed a cultural anxiety, the gentleman pauses, then adds an  afterthought, that he has worked in China for seventeen years.  We fall silent as he wheels me to a seat near my gate, saying something I do not catch before bowing and disappearing into the airport crowd.  A long line of laughing, chattering, young people in a veritable fashion show of high style clothing, bags, and shoes, stretches along the corridor toward another gate.  I can't be sure whether they are Japanese or Chinese, but their vivacity challenges the airport's more subdued atmosphere.

After awhile, rested and ready to board my ongoing flight on my own, I get up to join the line already clustering around the gate agent.  But then my attending gentleman suddenly reappears through the crowd, insists on loading me and my carry-on back onto his wheelchair, waves my boarding pass at the gate agent, and wheels me efficiently to the door of the plane where, with a smile and a bow, he wishes me a good trip.  And leaves me smiling at the possibility of returning to experience more of Japan.