Thursday, January 10, 2008


I spent some time around people,
but fidelity I neither saw nor smelled in them.
It’s better to conceal ourselves
from the eyes of the people,
like water in iron and fire in stone.
Rumi, Rubiyat #1082

The original plan was for me to spend some time with the Franciscan novices, perhaps even doing some yoga and meditation with them. But John Wong, ofm, who I had met last year and who had been the novice master, has just been relieved of his duties and the new novices are living at another house. John himself, having just seen his charges make simple vows not even a week ago, had this week free before beginning his new assignment in the parish here. That worked out to my advantage because he invited me to come along on a little getaway that he had planned for himself. So Wednesday morning we boarded a ferry boat and crossed the busiest shipping lane in the world across the South China Sea to the Indonesian island of Bintan, where he has booked a room at an inexpensive resort known as Nirwana (sic) Gardens. I got an Indonesian visa on arrival (VOA) for $10 US. When the little shuttle from the ferry dropped us at the hotel we were greeted by a troupe of young beautiful Indonesian musicians in what I assume to be native costume, playing accordions, drums and tambourines, and dancing. It reminded me of our stay last year in Mahaballipuram, but a little fancier yet and more crowded.

We had a couple of walks and talks on the beach together, and even walked out to a small island at low tide. I am still adjusting to the time difference so I woke up early the next day (actually, come to think of it, not that much different form my home schedule) and I wandered around the darkened resort looking for a cup of tea and a lighted place to do my morning lectio. A worker setting up for breakfast kindly got me the tea, but no such luck with the well-lighted place to sit and read, so I contented myself sitting our near the water and for a time over in the outdoor breezeway near our room waiting for John to get up. One of the workers approached me suspiciously––“Hello? Sir?”––some guy sitting in the dark at 4:30 in the morning; but as soon as he ascertained that I was a bona fide guest he asked me, “Why are you not sleeping?” and sat talking with me for quite a time in his broken English.

Later that morning––John and I gave each other lots of space this second day––I found an isolated spot of beach to spend a few hours and did some yoga. Suddenly at one point I thought to myself, “Am I really doing yoga on an isolated beach on an island in Indonesia? How the heck did I get here?”

While throughout our trip John, who speaks Indonesian among three or four other languages, was able to regale me with stories about Bali and Jakarta and Java, guests at the resort are prevented from experiencing much of the real Indonesia. The place is kind of a plastic bubble for Singaporean, Japanese, Chinese and Korean tourists. Even the so-called village to which the shuttle bus took us at lunch time was nothing more than Disney-esque shops full of oleh-oleh (souvenirs) many of which were plastic thingies which had nothing to do with Indonesia. The only saving grace of the village was that at the edge there was one little––empty––restaurant that actually served local Indonesian food. John, who is also vegetarian, ordered up a selection of vegetables and rice and feasted on jack-fruit with a kaffir lemon leaf sauce, bitter tapioca leaves (which, if not cooked properly, so John tells me, could give one cyanide poisoning; we hope for the best), potato croquettes and chilis. Then a few more leisurely hours before catching the ferry home, reading the wonderful Kiran Desai novel, “An Inheritance of Loss,” reading Rumi in solidarity with the Sangha, even wrote some poetry, and watched the Japanese tourists vie with the Chinese tire manufacturers vie for championship leisure.

We met up with Leonard Ong, just returning from Hanoi on business, with his wife Claire and their kids afterward, and for here on out I am his as he is the organizer of all my work here. By the way, the compilation album that Leonard and I have worked on all these for MedioMedia, Echo of Your Peace, is printed, and there were five copies waiting for me when I arrived the other night. For those of you who don’t know, it is a sort of greatest hits collection drawn from previous albums with the addition of some of the brand new Indian material. It is mainly meant for distribution in Asia since it is cost preventative to bring albums from the States to sell here. I am so happy with it, and so is Leonard, and we are both determined to do worldwide distribution with it if we can figure out all the contractual issues. Certainly I will take it with me to Italy next year.

One thing I forgot to mention, they were pumping gamelan music over the sound system throughout the hotel. I kept asking people if there were any instruments around I could see of recordings I could by (thinking of John Pennington), but the closest I got was one guy telling me the IT department would burn me a copy of what they were playing and a young porter named Steve who didn’t play gamelan but did play bass in a punk band. An Indonesian punk band? Leonard is still determined for me to come back to this region next year and do some work for WCCM in Indonesia and he and John were plotting as to how I could spend some time on Bali to get experience gamelan up close.

Work starts up tomorrow. One more day of rest, though I day planned by Leonard is anything but restful! We’re on our way to hot yoga in a half an hour.