Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Book Review: Introducing Indonesia

October 7, 2021

Introducing Indonesia – 3rd edition, published by the American Women’s Association, 1975

This was a short and fascinating read. Short mostly because at least half the book is a phone directory of services and businesses in Indonesia – particularly the island of Java and the city of Jakarta – that might be of use to an American moving to Indonesia. Fascinating because, published by the American Women’s Association, it’s clearly oriented to the wife/mother/homemaker who will be setting up house in a new place.

The book provides a brief bit of history but mostly to give an exceptionally broad overview of the many cultures and influences present in Jakartan society. It is the purpose of the book to inform, not to analyze or comment on that history. A similar broad treatment of culture, religion, and arts are also included. It’s clear the emphasis is on Jakarta and the island of Java – not surprising since it’s the capitol and the most likely destination of either government or industry-based relocation. There are a fair number of black and white photos to help provide context for the commentary and to give the reader a basic impression of their new home.

Perhaps the most fascinating section was the brief treatment of the issue of household workers. Like most of Southeast Asia it is assumed that at a certain economic level you will employ one or more household workers. This is an important source of income to a large section of the population. The book lists various roles household workers might have, including driver, maintenance person, cook, maid, nanny, and several others. Advice is also given as to how to best manage a household staff, clearly intended for the American unfamiliar with this situation. Advice on how to find qualified staff, how to vet them and when necessary terminate them is all very curious and undoubtedly much of it is still applicable today.

Published in 1975 this clearly is not an up-to-date snapshot of Indonesia but is interesting for what it is – a snapshot of American perspectives on life in Indonesia nearly 50 years ago.

Book Review – A Brief History of Indonesia

September 17, 2021

A Brief History of Indonesia: Sultans, Spices & Tsunamis: The Incredible Story of Southeast Asia’s Largest Nation by Tim Hannigan

How many colons are you allowed to have in a book title? I feel like Hannigan has exceeded his limit but, then again, he’s published a book and I haven’t. So I’ll just be quiet.

This is an engaging overview of Indonesia’s history going back to its earliest speculative and archaeological roots. Hannigan writes in a very readable fashion and his style is not dry or boring. It’s history – and a lot of it! But it’s also an interesting read.

One of the things I most enjoyed about this book is along the way he makes mention of key concepts that form important aspects of Indonesia’s past and current cultural identity and self-conceptions. By bookmarking these as I notice them, I hope to have good guidance on areas for future study. Ideas such as Majapahit (p.57) help me understand how past empires are called upon as current and future inspiration, similar to the semi-mythical Wali Songo, remembered as Muslim saints who helped bring Islam to Indonesia. Great food for future study and contemplation.

Because of the books’ broad scope Hannigan doesn’t spend too long in any one area. This helps the book move along quickly. I found the names of people and places to be difficult to keep track of and didn’t try overly hard. That will come in time and once we’re living there and better able to find and even visit some of these places. But the scope of the book helps me get a handle on how much history these islands hold, and how many different forces have attempted to shape, exploit or otherwise engage with these peoples.

Clocking in at just about 260 pages, and with a bibliography of sources to be used as a launch for further reading, this is a great and manageable history for those who enjoy history and are interested in the island nation of Indonesia.

Pool Hall – BCA World Pool Tournament ~ Las Vegas, NV

September 8, 2021

Since we’re planning to head overseas in the near future, it may not be possible for me to play in the BCA Pool League World Championships. I’ve been blessed to shoot in this tournament most of the last six years or so. Playing for a local BCA bar pool league qualified me, and I’ve enjoyed shooting both as part of a team as well as individually. Over the years I’ve competed in both 8-ball and 9-ball team events as well as individual 8-ball events. I decided early on that if we weren’t deployed yet, I would attend this event for perhaps the last time.

This year I didn’t have a team to play with. The one I’ve played with for the past decade has largely dissolved. One of the three core members moved to Las Vegas in early 2019. Then I moved this year. Our remaining core teammate has assembled another team to continue playing in the local league but there wasn’t enough interest in coming to Vegas to compete. So the two of us decided to head to Vegas separately and meet up with our buddy there.

All three of us competed in the individual 8-ball event. Dave and I played in the silver division – so named because of the skill level not because of our hair. Our buddy James played in the Bronze division – which he placed third in last year, completing his play just hours before Las Vegas was shut down by Covid.

We met up Friday night to watch a little of the professional player matches. The one we watched featured a young guy who is really an up-and-comer in the competitive pocket billiards world. Chris Robinson came out of Ventura, California, where I had the opportunity to play against him several years ago when he was still a minor and on the cusp of becoming old enough to start competing seriously. We shot at the only pool hall in Ventura – Stixx. At the time a former teammate of ours was giving Chris some tips on shooting. I seem to remember beating Chris, but most likely he wasn’t trying very hard and I got lucky! Now he’s in the spotlight playing with the big names in billiards.

Chris Robinson competing in Las Vegas, NV.

Saturday was a light day of play for me – just a couple of matches through the day. To my surprise, I won both matches, though they were nail-biter, come-from-behind-and-win-by-the-skin-of-my-teeth victories. That kept me in the winner’s bracket of the double-elimination tournament. My buddy Dave was bumped to the loser bracket and was out of the tournament by the end of Saturday. James stayed in the winners’ bracket in his division through Saturday as well, though he had to play several more matches than I did.

The main tournament room at the Rio, Las Vegas. 110 tables plus close to 30 vendors.

Sunday started bright and early. Matches start as early as 9 am, which is really an extremely unpleasant hour for most pool players. I’ve argued for years the matches should start much later – noon at the earliest – and then play into the early morning hours if necessary. That would be a lot more natural and comfortable for the vast majority of the players! However nobody listens and we continue to start early. Of course, the 9am start is really not the beginning. I was up at 6am to get showered and start waking up. Then it was a drive to get a bite to eat and some hot tea on my way to the Rio, the casino just off the strip where the tournament has been held at least as long as I’ve been going. Arrive by 8am, finish breakfast and tea in the car before masking up and heading in to start warming up.

This is a huge event. Thousands of competitors from around the country and North America show up for it every year. The main tournament has 110 bar-sized (7’x3.5′) Diamond tables with Simonis felt. Around the perimeter of this room the vendors set up shop, selling all sorts of billiard related merchandise from cues to apparel and everything in between. Deals are usually good and over the years I’ve picked up a case as well as a variety of tools to keep my cue tips in good condition and shape.

Additionally there is another room for tournament play with another 70 or more tables in it. And another room with about the same number of tables set up for side tournaments. This is one of the big attractions of the event – mini-tournaments. For $10 or $20 or more you can enter a small tournament pretty much from 9am to midnight. You play against 3-4 other people and if you win you win money. Quick and easy and more than a few folks show up just to play in the minis rather than the main event!

I lost this early morning match and was bumped to the losers’ bracket. In some ways, this was a relief. I don’t consider myself to be as good a player as I ought to be and playing in the losers’ bracket took some pressure off. That’s good, because I proceeded to shoot pretty much non-stop until about 10pm that evening. Win after win after win. My first one was commanding and pretty. Most of the others weren’t as pretty or commanding, but a win’s a win.

My last match started about 9pm. By this point, I knew that I was in the money. That meant that even if I lost this match and was out of the tournament, I would still get some money from the tournament. And this was the first player I’d encountered who was close to being a buzzsaw – a term for a player who’s just orders of magnitude better than you are, and therefore cuts through you pretty easily. I made several stupid mistakes and handed him the win in three of the games. I managed to win one game, and he finished up the final two.

I was out. I was also exhausted. But I had made back my entry fee money for the event, which was a lot better than I expected to do. I also am now able to claim I’ve won money in tournament competition in Las Vegas in both teams as well as individual events. Out of the 350+ competitors in my division, I placed 33. That’s not a bad feeling!

Pool Hall – Break & Run Billiards ~ Racine, WI

July 28, 2021

It was a beautiful afternoon and evening. We had some time to kill and decided to go for a nice drive. And of course, while wandering down the Wisconsin coast of Lake Michigan it’s good to have a goal in mind. And with me, goals often coincide with pocket billiards when no other weightier or more enjoyable options present themselves.

There were two pool halls to the south of us about 30 minutes I wanted to check out. The first was Outbreak Billiards in Racine. Had I been alone, I probably would have gone in and checked it out. No website, but their photos on Google maps indicate a place with some semblance of family friendliness. Besides, it was still light outside – hardly anybody gets killed in pool halls until after dark, right? But, she felt a little uncomfortable going in and I felt a little uncomfortable leaving her out in the car to go in and shoot a couple of games just to say I’ve played there.

So we moved on, and wound up at Break & Run Billiards on the south side of Racine. Located in a shabby strip mall off of 21st Street and Lathrop Avenue it’s not much to look at from the outside. On the inside, however, I was pleasantly surprised. A few Diamond tables with the felt in good condition. Both 9-foot tables as well as a few bar boxes. The bartender was congenial and helped round up a t-shirt for me, though unfortunately it was only big enough for my wife.

As a side note, my wife now has a budding collection of pool hall t-shirts from places that don’t have my size. I don’t really feel like I’m buying her gifts when she ends up with them, because I really wanted them for myself. But she doesn’t seem to mind wearing them around the house and as long as she doesn’t throw them out I suppose it’s fine. Frustrating, but fine.

I shot for about an hour. Very quiet before the after-dark crowd showed up, but a nice spot to shoot. Definitely worth stopping by if you’re in the area. It looks like the kind of place where shooters are likely to hang out, especially given the dearth of other options in the area as a whole.

Pool Hall – Cue Club of Wisconsin

July 27, 2021

With a name like the Cue Club of Wisconsin, I have big expectations.

Not named after a person. Or even a city. This place claims to be the place to shoot pool for an entire state. That’s a lot to shoulder for a pool hall. I had to check it out.

Their web site heavily features their food, which is pretty decent by bar standards. I had to try their Friday fish lunch and it was definitely acceptable as far as fried fish goes. Their website next highlights their indoor bocce ball courts, and true enough, there are two long strips of artificial turf down the center of the main room where they apparently play bocce ball. There are only a few pictures of the actual pool tables. You know. Because it’s the Cue Club of Wisconsin, after all. They do have a few tables.

The place is a little tricky to find initially as it’s behind a couple of other strip malls off of Grandview Boulevard just south of I-94. If you keep an eye out for the sign and follow the small road back you’ll find it though.

Olhausens, primarily. A few nice 9-foot Diamonds. There aren’t many pictures of the tables on the web site and some of them seem to be outdated, from before the installation of the bocce courts.

But don’t misunderstand. There are also dartboards. A shuffleboard. Cornhole accoutrements. There is far more to this place than billiards. I’ll leave it to you to decide if that’s a good thing or not.

I was able to stop in twice – once on a Friday afternoon when there wasn’t much of anyone there except the lunch rush, which was fair. I tried to get a game going with one guy but he was on his way out. C’est la vie. I stopped again Sunday night and there were even fewer people there. In fact, they closed early, and in consideration of this, gifted me with a free drink coupon for the next time I stop by. Not sure when that will be – probably a couple of years from now at the least. But the thought was nice. I was also able to purchase a t-shirt that’s very nice looking.

This is definitely a worthwhile place to shoot. I’m not sure what it’s like when they have darts and cornhole and bocce ball all going at the same time. I assume they have pool leagues as well. But it’s definitely the only real pool hall in the area and worth checking out if you have the time.

Christmas Revisited

January 19, 2021

Yes, I know. Wrong time of the year. Whatever. These days if you can find something beneficial and good, go with it even if it’s not seasonal.

This is a succinct article summarizing research into the holy sites in Israel – sites associated with the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus of Nazareth the Son of God. Having been blessed to visit Israel in 2012, I’ve seen many of the sites listed in this article. And as someone with some historical knowledge, I viewed and experienced them from two perspectives. The first is as a pilgrim, someone following centuries of footsteps to places revered by followers of Jesus the Christ, trusting in their footprints to lead me to the right place and grateful for a bit of contextualization and familiarization with places formerly just words in a book and pictures on the Internet.

The other perspective was more as a historian who knows that sometimes things aren’t what they seem, even if they were well-intentioned. Knowing the turbulence of this particular area of the world in just the last 2000 years (or even 1400 years!), I had to realize there was a possibility the venerated sites our guides took us to were not, in fact, the actual place of Jesus’ birth or death or burial.

I reconciled these two perspectives with the knowledge that even if these sites weren’t the sites, there actually were (and therefore are) sites – perhaps ignored or forgotten or erased by the transient irritations of vying potentates. The incarnation of the Son of God in creation, including geography and time, means that Jesus was here. Actually and really and remarkably well-documented, historically. I could relax and enjoy the experience not as a skeptic but as someone of faith who recognizes it is just our human nature and attachment to physical things and places that make such pilgrimages necessary and useful. I could experience these places knowing that, even if they weren’t the places, they were close. In the ballpark, so to speak.

But I have to also admit, as the article noted above supports, that some of these traditional sites have been traditional for a long time. Prior to the 300’s AD and the sudden interest of a converted Roman emperor. As such, it is not unreasonable to presume that the location – if not necessarily the particular walls and accoutrements over and around it – is actually the right spot. While we can be suspect of sinful (even when well-intentioned) human nature looking to make a quick buck off of tourists, there are certain places that have been venerated for a long time. Not because the site itself is divine but because the act of veneration, of being in the same area where the Son of God walked or cried or bled is one particular aspect of a life of faith. Not a necessary one, but a special one. And it can – and should – be enjoyed as such for what it is.

A Bit of Joy

July 13, 2020

In the midst of a constant barrage of bad news, if you’re looking for an online escape, you might want to check out https://window-swap.com/

You can get a glimpse of what people in other parts of the world see out their window at the moment. Sometimes it’s a pretty urban landscape, and sometimes it’s a stunning landscape. Not a bad way to while away a few of those lockdown moments!

Bucket List!

July 4, 2020

I was today years old when I discovered it was possible to travel by train from Portugal to Vietnam.

It’s not necessarily easy. Or cheap. Or perhaps even possible right now due to COVID-19 restrictions. But you can take a series of trains from Portugal Vietnam over the course of 327 hours, depending on schedules. You’ll travel more than 10,000 miles in the process. One way.

I’m not a big fan of the bucket list concept, but if I were, this just might be at the top of it!

Staying Sane

April 1, 2020

As people deal with shelter-in-place orders and social distancing, here are some interesting options for staying sane both individually and as a family.

Here’s a list of movies suitable for watching among multiple generations of adults.  I can vouch for The Two Popes as a worthwhile watch.  Our family has also (previously) watched The Hundred Foot Journey, and were not as thrilled with the overall quality of the movie despite a few good moments.  The Shawshank Redemption is one I only recently watched and found to be deserving of the accolades it has collected over the years.  Likewise Raiders of the Lost Ark is a great family classic.  Romancing the Stone isn’t nearly as good in the adventure category, and goes for some more sexual humor than Raiders does (although sequels to Raiders up the sexual innuendo substantially).  While it might sound boring, The King’s Speech is a phenomenal movie from an acting perspective.  As I remember, A Fish Called Wanda also has some sexual innuendo but also some stellar performances.  The Usual Suspects is one of my all time favorite films.

Perhaps you’d rather do some explorations in the real world?  Maybe a virtual trip to Disneyland would be a fun diversion?  Or if you’d rather wander farther afield, here is a collection of walks through various places in the world.

Acts 16:6-10 and Change

July 23, 2019

By all  accounts it was a successful trip so far.  Wonderful reunions with congregations Paul founded on his first mission trip.  Congregations in Derbe.  Lystra.  Iconium.  Psidian Antioch.  How the Holy Spirit was at work!  How much more might be accomplished!  Plans were made to build on these successes by further mission work in the area to the north.  But such plans came to nothing.

What does it mean to be forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia (v.6) ?  Was it clear to Paul and his associates that this was the case?  Did the Holy Spirit reveal the divine will in this matter?  It would seem not.  They attempted to go to Bithynia and were unable to.  Confusion.  Frustration.  They had the will and the ability, why couldn’t they make good on their plans?  Why did they reach nothing but dead ends despite all the good work accomplished thus far?

More time should probably be given to considering verses six and seven, to the simple statements that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus prevented Paul and his companions from sharing the Gospel in certain areas.  What a strange thought to us today, who are so certain that we control evangelism, we make our plans, we execute them!  Confident that the Holy Spirit desires all to hear and be saved, how can we make sense of the possibility that for the purposes of God, and without conflicting with the reality of a good God who desires that all would be saved, God the Holy Spirit might for his unrevealed reasons frustrate the plans of faithful Christians to share the Gospel with certain others?  I’d argue we can’t, and we don’t even try any more.  But that’s a secondary consideration for me right now.

In the midst of confusion and frustration comes a vision.  More than a dream, perhaps.  Something visible, and something with supernatural overtones.  Paul can see this man.  Perhaps he can hear him as well.  He understands him despite an accent perhaps.  He sees the different clothing.  Somehow Paul understands where this man is from, where this man represents.

Morning comes.  Paul reports his experience to his associates.  Silas.  Timothy.  And based on the sudden change of pronouns in v.10, many presume also Luke himself was there, the author  of the book of Acts.

What to make of it.  The message is clear – an appeal for help in Macedonia.  Moving from the Asian continent to the European continent.  An entirely different arena for sharing the Gospel.  The vision was clear, but what to do about it?

I imagine that the men were hesitant at first.  After all, they’d had such success in the area of what we call Turkey today.  Thriving congregations!  Certainly, they hadn’t been able to travel north as they intended, but surely that would resolve itself in short order and they could continue with their plans.  Surely there were other opportunities closer to hand.  They weren’t doing anything wrong, but what they were doing wasn’t working the way it had previously.  Was it clear to them this vision came from God?  I presume not necessarily, as we’re told in v.10 they concluded it was.  There was some level of analysis, consideration, prayer.  And the result of all those things was a determination that God was behind this and it was time to follow.

Change is hard.  It isn’t what is expected.  It isn’t what is familiar.  Yet small changes can yield incredible results.  A diversion from Asia to Europe – such a small matter in the moment and yet the history of the world is changed no doubt as part of that change.  Would the Holy Spirit still have worked through Paul and his associates if they came to the conclusion that while the vision was interesting, they really were better suited and preferred to stay in Asia?  Of course.  They might have been mistaken, but that certainly wouldn’t have made them bad or evil.  Perhaps the Holy Spirit would have sent a clearer indication of the proper path.  Perhaps He would have worked with them where they were.

It’s good to remember ultimately that the Church claims that God the Holy Spirit is behind everything we do.  That doesn’t mean we aren’t prone to error, it doesn’t mean we don’t interfere.  It doesn’t mean that things are always clear and simple and easy.  But we have to trust the Holy Spirit to work in and through and at times despite us.  And this should foster a level of humility, a willingness to acknowledge our limitations and brokenness and therefore the very real possibility that we might be mistaken.  And it should drive us to hear in others the possible voice of the Holy Spirit, even if we don’t like or agree with what they say.

Change is difficult.  So is staying the course.  Such forks in the road are an opportunity for faith to work itself out in surprising ways.  Not necessarily pleasant ones, but surprising ones, with the trust and confidence that the Holy Spirit is working things out to the glory of God regardless of what is motivating us and our decisions.

Humbling indeed.  But comforting as well.  Sola dei gloria.  Always and in all situations.