Archive for September, 2017

Borneo Day 2: Saturday, July 22, 2017

Southern cross

The Southern Cross and Coalsack Nebula, the smallest of all 88 constellations. Seeing it for the first time was a bucket list item of mine.

Yesterday was too cloudy to see the stars clearly, as was every day in Jakarta since we arrived. But today the sky was mostly clear at sunset, so I used my Stellarium software to look up the southern nighttime skies.

Southern Cross and Rigel Kent

Star chart from Stellarium. I used this software to chart out where Alpha Centauri and the Southern Cross were in the sky, south of Scorpio (or Maui’s Fishhook).

Overall the southern skies are less interesting than the north, with fewer bright stars. One of these bright stars is Rigel Kentaurus, or the Foot of the Centaur. It can be found to the southwest of Scorpio next to another bright star called Hadar. We know them more often by their Bayer designations: Alpha and Beta Centauri.

If you follow the line from Alpha through Beta Centauri and continue further you come to three medium bright stars with a fourth somewhat dimmer star that form a kite or cross shape. We call these the Southern Cross.

Scorpio and Centaruus

The general area of the sky, with Scorpio and Centaurus, which surrounds Crux, the Southern Cross.

With the stars’ positions fixed in my mind, I walked outside to the hotel’s parking lot and found a spot with fewer overhead lights. I found Scorpio, and at this latitude (and the latitude of the Polynesian islands) it hung down in the sky like a giant fishhook – Maui’s fishhook. I could see two bright stars to the south, one a yellowish color and the second a brighter bluish color. Alpha and Beta Centauri.

Beyond was the four stars in a cross shape, although the fourth is hard to see with the lights of the city and haze of the tropics. By brightness, the southern tip is Acrux, then the left star is Mimosa or Beta Cruxis, then the top star is Gacrux or Gamma Cruxis. The fourth star (on the right) is known as Delta Cruxis.

I was seeing these stars for the first time in my life. There is a song about this – written and performed by Crosby, Stills, and Nash in their 1982 album. It is called Southern Cross, and the second verse starts out:


Cover for the 45 rpm single of Southern Cross, by Crosby, Stills, and Nash.

When you see the Southern Cross for the first time,
You understand now why you came this way.

It has been a long-standing bucket list item for me to see Alpha Centauri and the Southern Cross. I stood there alone, amazed for this opportunity, and understanding that Alpha Centauri is actually a triple star, including the closest known star to us: Proxima Centauri, which is now known to have a planet orbiting in the habitable zone. Although it is tidally locked, life could exist there. And I was looking at it, or at least in its general direction.

Picture saved with settings applied.

The Coalsack Nebula, a dark nebula (non-emitting cloud of gas) near Cruxis. It figures prominently in one of my favorite novels, The Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle.

I felt a bit sorry for the many people walking about in this city and elsewhere in the southern hemisphere who know nothing about this, which I have traveled halfway around the world to see.


The Jewel Box, a small open cluster in Crux, the Southern Cross.

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Borneo Day 2: Saturday, July 22, 2017

Colorful jewelry

Colorful jewelry in the souvenir shops of Martapura, a center for jewelry manufacture and diamond polishing.

After visiting the diamond pits of Cempaka, we were all hungry. We dropped off Nazar’s friend at the Indomaret store and drove further along the road to Martapura. Nazar pulled off at a roadside open-air restaurant specializing in soto lambongan, a type of soup that has various types of meat, boiled eggs, rice, noodles, and other ingredients in a tasty broth. It was interesting that they only had one food item on the menu with two choices – a large bowl or a medium bowl of soto, and then 15 drink choices. Each area of the country has its own variety of soto, as we were to find out the next day.

Soto lamongan

The sign of the Soto Lamongan restaurant we stopped at for lunch. Soto is an Indonesian soup that is made differently in each province. Soto Lamongan was the only food menu item, but there were 15 different drink choices. It was very good!

We drove on to Martapura, which is the diamond cutting, polishing, and jewelry-making center near the diamond mines. We stopped at a central plaza and walked through a market where they were making jewelry. Since there aren’t very many large diamonds coming out of the mines, this jewelry uses various types of semi-precious gemstones and colored glass to make rings, necklaces, bracelets, and other forms. It was interesting to watch them making the settings.

Colored stones

Semi-precious stones and glass beads for mounting into jewelry.

We then walked downstairs where there is an open-air bazaar with cross streets and stalls and shops selling all kinds of souvenirs and other items. There were more jewelry stores with many types of colored beads hanging up. There were stores selling sasirangan clothing, the Borneo style tie dye cloth, stores selling hats and T-shirts, stores with electronics, wood carvings, and even Banjarnese style miniature boats.


Beadwork and brooches in the Martapura jewelry district.

I found several woven reed hats that actually fit my big head (figuratively and literally), which were inexpensive and in the style that devout Muslim men wear. There were some bark hats that were very cheap, but they didn’t fit. I also found a beaded Dayak style hat for my son, Jonathan. They had Dayak breadfruit bark hats, but I didn’t buy one because none were big enough to fit my head.

Bark hats

Hats made from the inner bark of the breadfruit tree, I couldn’t find one that fit, or I would have bought one.

As it was Saturday, and Nazar and his family had missed Friday prayers to pick us up at the airport, we stopped next door at the largest mosque in Martapura, the Masjid Agung Al Karomah, brightly colored with yellow walls and blue domes. Nazar and his wife went inside for prayers as Craig, I, and his daughter waited outside and took photos.

Beads and jewelry store

Beadwork and jewelry at a shop in the Martapura souvenir district.

As I had expressed interest in buying a Javanese black hat similar to the one President Widodo wears (and most officials in the government), Nazar asked around and found a stall at the open-air bazaar next door (next to the souvenir market and bling bling stores). With a little trial and error, we found one that fit my large head for a good price. My hat collection is continuing to improve. Some people collect spoons or stamps or thimbles of a country. I collect hats that symbolize the culture of the places I visit, and I have them hanging up in my den at home.

Borneo batik

Sasirangan hanging up in a store in Martapura’s open air bazaar.

My hat collection started when I was 13 and bought a large black ten-gallon hat at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. I have hats from around the world including some my sister has bought for me on her own travels. They include a Tyrolean cap from Bavaria, a Palestinian kafia that I bought in Nazareth, a fez from Jerusalem, banana hats from Taiwan, a cowboy hat from Phoenix, a sombrero from Chichen Itza, a huaso hat from Chile, an embroidered hat from Istanbul, a tri-corn hat from Colonial Williamsburg, a wizard’s hat from the Shakespeare festival in Cedar City, a Greek fisherman’s cap from San Francisco, a goat skin cap from Ghana, and various hats from JPL and other NASA facilities. One of my favorite hats is a dark blue leather cap I bought in a gift shop near Disneyland on a band trip when I was a senior in high school. I wore this frequently as a freshman in college, along with a brown leather jacket, tan pants, and a black turtle neck shirt. Yep, I was stylin’.

Stone beads

More stones and beads for jewelry making.

On our way out of town, we stopped at a roadside stall to get a snack that is famous here, consisting of small lumps of fried dough with a coconut and sugar coating. They were a bit sweet for my taste and the texture was interesting, but I enjoyed the flavor. It had been a long day and I dozed off as we drove back to Banjarmasin. Nazar dropped us off at the Swiss Belhotel and I took a shower and a nap in my room.

David by Martapura mosque

David Black by the main mosque in Martapura, called the Masjid Agung Al Karomah.

I was running short of clothes and attempted to launder some underwear, shirts, and pants in my room’s sink using some Tide liquid detergent I had brought, but despite lots of scrubbing I couldn’t entirely get the smell of sweat out of my clothes. I hung them up to dry around the bathroom. I will have to bite the bullet and send out my clothes to be laundered by the hotel, despite the high cost.

Martapura mosque

The Masjid Agung Al Karomah in Martapura, South Kalimantan.

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Borneo Day 2: Saturday, July 22, 2017

Panning for diamonds

Panning for diamonds at the Cempaka diamond mine. The pans are very similar to panning for gold in California, but instead of flat bottoms they have conical bottoms.

After visiting the haunted house on the hill, we drove further toward Martapura on the Trans Kalimantan Highway. We needed to meet up with a colleague of Nazar’s, whose father works in the diamond mines, so we stopped at a convenience store called Indomaret. There are many of these throughout the country. I was getting hungry and thirsty, so I bought some Minute Maid Pulpy tropical punch and a Hungry Cow ice cream bar, which was really good.

Trisakti monument

A monument to the famous (and lost) Trisakti Diamond, found near this location.

Nazar’s friend arrived and he climbed into the car with us. We traveled a short distance further on the road, then turned off onto a smaller road leading into an open area with rice fields and swampy ground. On one side of the road was a monument in the shape of a large diamond: the famous Trisakti diamond discovered near here. Its whereabouts is not known.

Digging mud

Digging in the mud. The first step is to dig out the mud and stones at the proper level where the diamonds are located, about 30 feet down from the mean ground level. This area has been reworked so many times that it has all been mixed up.

Spraying mud

The first step is to dig mud and rocks from the side of the hill and shovel down to the bottom of the pit, where water is pumped and sprayed to remove the larger stones. The smaller stones and mud are sucked up a pipe to a sluice box above.

We parked by the side of the road and I took a few moments to spray myself with insect repellent, figuring I would need it here if anywhere. We walked along a narrow path through small hillocks to where the ground opened up into a large pit. Like everywhere in Indonesia, bright green vegetation grows everywhere, but underneath the soil is an orangish tan color. A group of men were working at the edge of this depression in a freshly dug pit. One man at the top was shoveling muddy soil down to the bottom and two men at the bottom were spraying the soil with water to wash out the larger rocks, then sucking it all up into a pipe under pressure. This pipe delivered the mud and gravel to a large wooden sluice box, where a man removes medium sized pieces.

Leaky sluices

Sluice boxes. The mud slurry is pumped from the pit and washing down the rills where the larger stones are separated.

The smaller stuff and mud is carried by hand in a conical washing pan (just like the gold pans in California except with a pointed instead of flat bottom) to a walled-in area filled with water. Several men inside the water pit were sloshing the water around in the pans, gradually separating out the small gravel from the mud and searching through it for any diamonds.


A sluice box. Larger stones are separated out by hand in the sluice and the mud and smallest stones are dropped into a filter box.

An older gentleman showed us a plastic bag with several small diamonds in it, about 1/10 carat each. He said they find quite a few of these each day, but larger diamonds are much more rare.

Looking for diamonds in pan

Searching for diamonds in the pan. The small stones, still with some mud mixed in, are carried to this walled pit filled with water where the slurry is swished around with water and the smaller stones settle to the bottom. The panner searches for a glint of light that indicates a diamond. The remaining pebbles are placed to the side and eventually worked again to look for gold and platinum.

In my research on this area, I found out that it has been worked and reworked for almost a thousand years; certainly the pits and hummocks look like they have been dug through many times. In years past, the pits had to be dug about 30 feet down to reach the diamond bearing gravels, and they would flood because this is a swamp, so wood was used to barricade the pits, tamped with grass to prevent the water from oozing in. Even so, they would often collapse. Now they have created a dam to wall off the swamp water so that the large pit doesn’t flood, but the soil is still very muddy.

Small diamonds

A bag with small diamonds found at the Cempaka mine. Although very small, at bout 1/10 carat, these diamonds are discovered fairly frequently here. Most of the larger stones have been discovered after a thousand years of digging.

It took some jumping over streams and hoses and climbing around to get to the panning pit. I was worried about getting mud on my new camera, but I did manage to get good photos and video of the whole process. Nazar’s friend told us that the miners are superstitious and that we should avoid doing certain things, or we would scare away the diamonds. One was to swear or use bad language. Another was to stand with our hands on our hips like a boss. I was trying not to do this, but in the photos taken of me, there I am with my hands on my hips. I hope I didn’t scare away the diamonds.

David at diamond mine

David Black standing like a boss at the Cempaka diamond mine. This is supposed to be bad luck to stand like this, with hands on hips, and will scare the diamonds away. Oops!

Before coming to Indonesia I researched this mine and discovered that the diamonds came from kimberlite deposits in the Meratus Mountains. They were washed here in rivers during the Cretaceous Period, when sea levels were higher. This area was at sea level and formed a delta into the ocean. In the over 66 million years since then, there hasn’t been much tectonic change in Borneo (unlike Java and Sumatra) and this area has remained largely intact, except that as sea levels dropped during the ice ages, the delta was subsequently buried under further sediment washed from the mountains. So now the miners have to dig down through 30 feet of mud. The gravel layer also has small deposits of gold and platinum in it. We could see the foothills of the Meratus Mountains in the distance. I wondered if there were any diamonds still in them thar hills. I don’t think the mother lode was ever found, just as the mother lode in California was never found.

Diamond geology-Kalimantan

The source of the Cempaka diamonds is the Bobaris Ophiolite, which contains kimberlite deposits. Kimberlite is a volcanic vent that lifts the diamonds from deep in the earth (where pressure and heat are great enough to form them) to the surface. The diamonds were then eroded out of the kimberlite and deposited in a Cretaceous delta in what is now the Barito River basin.

There were several groups of men digging in separate locations along the walls in the larger pit, using diesel powered pumps belching smoke to pump the water and mud from the holes onto the wooden sluices. Other than diesel power, their techniques have remained largely unchanged over a thousand years. This mine may be the second oldest diamond mine in the world, after the famous Golconda mines in India. It hasn’t produced as many famous stones, but from time to time larger stones are still found. About ten years ago, a rare three-carat blue diamond was discovered here. This is just one pit of many in the general area, and they still find small diamonds. I know some commercial groups have studied areas near here and say there is quite a bit of potential even now.

Diamond and kimberlite diagram

The geology of Borneo during the Cretaceous Period was just right for diamond formation and uplift. Subduction along the proto-Indonesian margins carried graphite deep, where it formed into diamond. The volcanic activity produced large cratons and calderas with mantle plumes that lifted the diamonds toward the surface. Now Borneo is stable without volcanoes, compared with the rest of Indonesia.

From here the diamonds are sold to buyers in Martapura who polish and set the stones into jewelry. We were to visit that part of the process next.

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Borneo Day 2: Saturday, July 22, 2017

House on the hill

The house on the hill. Construction workers were cutting off the top of this hill to make room for more houses and tried to blow up this house. Each time they tried, something went wrong or the workers got sick. They decided the house was haunted and just left it while digging all the other dirt away. Now it’s become a tourist destination.

On our way to the diamond mines we stopped at a recent local landmark of sorts: the haunted house on the hill.

Near Banjarbaru a new subdivision of houses is being built, and they are leveling out a hillside to make more. As they cut into the hill, they had to tear down some existing shacks and buildings. Once such house was set to be destroyed by dynamite but the dynamite never went off. The construction workers, being somewhat superstitious, felt this meant the house was haunted and the ghosts didn’t want the house blown up. Another story is that every time a construction worker tried to tear it down, the worker got sick.


Hmmm . . . something’s not right here . . .

So they left the house there, sitting on the hill, and dug the hill out from around it. It now sits on a pillar of dirt and rocks about 20 feet high and just wide enough for the house. It is a bizarre sight that Nazar thought we would enjoy. It has become a popular new attraction and is being called Rumah Jomblo, or the Single House.

We drove in through the new houses and parked at the foot of the hill at the base of the pillar upon which the house sits. We walked around and climbed up to the top level and took photos. Craig created and posted a Google 360 image of the house, which I haven’t been able to find or I would provide the link. Craig took some photos of me in front of the house as well.

This is a very temporary attraction, as the pillar of soil will erode away after a few rainy seasons and the house will inevitably fall, ghosts or no ghosts. They canna’ change the laws o’ physics.

At house on hill

At the haunted house that sits on a pillar of dirt near Banjarbaru.

From a geology standpoint, I was interested in the muddy orange soil that seems ubiquitous throughout this part of Kalimantan. It has a lot of iron-rich clay with rounded gravel, a delta deposit if I ever saw one. These deposits were laid down when sea levels were higher during the Cretaceous Period, and are now the hills around Banjarbaru. From our view on the hill we could see the new provincial administration building a few miles away as well as the Meratus Mountains.

We were close to the diamond mines, our next stop.

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Borneo Day 2: Saturday, July 22, 2017

Bark hats

Hats made from the inner bark of the breadfruit tree, I couldn’t find one that fit, or I would have bought one.

Our first full day in Borneo was a Saturday, so we were going sightseeing. Craig and I met for breakfast in the buffet downstairs from the lobby. The food was pretty good, but not as extensive as the Le Meridién. The orange juice (jus jeruk) was delicious, and they had fresh pineapple and the small Indonesian bananas that are sweeter than what we get in America. They have an omelet bar where we could get scrambled eggs, and small waffles with honey. There were also some Indonesian and Italian foods, such as penne pasta, that were good but not exactly what I wanted for breakfast.

Nazar picked us up at 8:15 along with his wife and oldest daughter. We drove out of town on the Jalan A. Yani back toward the airport. The road was busy with early morning traffic – people heading to work or to market. We passed motorcycles laden with ducks and chickens, bundles of noodles, or other items to sell. The morning markets were obvious as there would be hundreds of parked motorcycles and many stalls by the roadway. We traveled on through the roundabout by the airport and continued on past it toward the city of Banjarbaru.

Bark britches

A bark shirt and britches, made from the inner bark of the breadfruit tree.

Our first stop was the Lambung Mangkurat Museum, about 36 km from Banjarmasin. This is a museum of Banjarese and South Kalimantan history and culture, built for the Ministry of Education in the 1970s. The central building is shaped like a stylized Banjarese house with a red roof. We first went into a side building that showed Banjarese art, including weaving and the sasirangan that is Kalimantan’s equivalent to batik. It is more like tie-dye and doesn’t use a wax resist process. It also displayed clothing such as loincloths, trousers, shirts, and hats made from the inner bark of the breadfruit tree, which is pounded until soft and formed into clothing.

Bark clothing

Clothing made from breadfruit bark at the Kalminantan culture museum. This type of clothing is still made for ceremonial purposes by the Dayak people of Kalimantan.

Sasirangan patterns

Here is a description of the different types of patterns produced by sasirangan techniques.

Next door was a display of pottery, including some local wares and jars that dated back quite a long time to the Buddhist and Hindu kingdoms of the 8th Century and from the Dutch colonies in the 17th through 19th Centuries. Some of the pieces shown were brought here from China from the Sung and Ming Dynasties. Quite valuable! Who knew I would see them here?

Sasirangan red stripes

Sasirangan is Borneo’s answer to batik and is more like tie dye (actually, I believe tie dye probably started as sasirangan). Here is a nice shirt with a wavy pattern.

The main building housed a variety of historic displays, including bones from the indigenous pygmy elephants that used to live here. A subspecies of Asian elephants still lives in a small area of northern Kalimantan. There were tools from primitive cultures going back to Java man. They had royal costumes and Dutch cannons, gamelon orchestra instruments and recreations of thrones and other artifacts. They had displays about Pengaran Antasari, a hero who led a revolt against the Dutch.

Sung dynasty bowls

Bowls and vases traded to Banjar rulers by Chinese merchants. These pieces are of Sung Dynasty age and origin.

Outside the main building in a shaded area under the stairs was a model of Borobudur. It is a giant Buddhist temple shaped like a mandala near Yogyakarta. I will be visiting there on my five-day extension trip in two weeks.

Kalimantan pottery

Native pottery from Kalimantan.

We got back in the car and continued on.

Piring bowl

A large Ming Dynasty bowl, or piring.

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Borneo Day 1: Friday, July 21, 2017

Wong Solo delivers

Wong Solo delivers. And it is guaranteed to be halal.

We rested for about an hour as Nazar went and picked up his two daughters and son, then came back for us at the hotel. The two oldest sat in the very back of the car, Craig and I in the middle seats, and Nazar and his wife holding the youngest on her lap up front. I am still trying to get used to drivers sitting on the right side of the car and driving on the left side of the roads, but at least the traffic here is nowhere are bad as Jakarta.

We drove back toward the Sabilal Muhtadin mosque and stopped at – you guessed it – a Wong Solo restaurant nearby. Since I was showing so much interest in taking photos, Nazar thought we ought to try one out. They are a kind of Indonesian fast food place, and are about as representative of Indonesian food as McDonalds is representative of American food. The menu has a number of pan-Indonesian dishes such as nasi goreng (fried rice) and ayam goreng (fried chicken), which is what I ordered.

While we were waiting for our food, we went over our schedules for the coming week. Nazar told us on the way from the airport that he had a surprise for us, and the surprise was that he was working out a trip to Loksado on Friday where we could go rafting on a river in the rain forest in the Meratus Mountains and see the Dayak people. It would be a long day, and he had to work out the price with our driver and guide, but Craig and I agreed to pay for all of us whatever the cost would be. I knew it would be much cheaper than anything I could negotiate on TripAdvisor or Viator or other online service, and that we would get a better guide. He had seen the sign about the free trips to Lok Baintan in the hotel lobby and had worked out a trip for the four of us on Sunday morning. Tomorrow we would be going to see the Cempaka diamond mines. This left us four days to be at the school and teach classes. He also wanted to be sure we didn’t over do it and had worked out to get us back to the hotel by about 5:00 each day, given we aren’t used to the heat or humidity.

Hidden Wong Solo

A sign for Wong Solo. This must be Han’s long lost brother. The sign also advertises  ayam bakar (grilled chicken) and ayam penyet (some other type of chicken). And of course, they have ayam goreng (fried chicken).

The food was good. My fried chicken was tasty, served with steamed rice and sambal sauce. I also had a strawberry drink that was kind of like an Italian soda. We tried to talk with his children in English and the few phrases of Indonesian we know. The youngest daughter is about five and not in school yet. The middle child is a daughter of about 14, a bit shy at first and not too sure of her English. Nazar’s son is the oldest at 17 and has pretty good English skills. He won’t be able to join us for many of our adventures because he has been chosen to represent his school in the citywide Indonesian Independence Day celebrations on Aug. 17, and has practices every day. This is quite an honor.

After the meal we got back in the car and drove back to the hotel. I spent the balance of the evening settling in and uploading and cleaning up photos.

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Borneo Day 1: Friday, July 21, 2017

Central mosque with bougainvillea

Sabilal Muhtadin mosque with Bougainvillea

After we had rested for an hour or so, we walked to the lobby and met Nazar and his wife, who wanted to show us parts of the city. We drove over the Martapura River on the bridge by the hotel, then traveled a short distance to a large mosque on the opposite bank of the river. This is the Sabilal Muhtadin Grand Mosque, built in the 1980s and having a more modern style than many other mosques I’ve seen. It is the largest mosque in the city. We parked in the lot behind and walked around. Afternoon prayers were taking place, and as this is Friday, many people were in the mosque and the lot was almost full.

David by central mosque

David Black in front of the Sabilal Muhtadin Mosque in Banjarmasin.

There is a nice park surrounding the mosque with beautiful trees and planters with multicolored bougainvillea. We walked to the river and continued north along it for a hundred yards to a large sign labeled as the 0 Km location – the center of the city. We took some photos by the sign. Across the river was the Siring Watch Tower, an iconic landmark next to an ironwood house that was once one of the oldest in the city, although it has been rebuilt. Along the walkway were beds of white rocks cemented into the sidewalk with their rounded ends pointing up. It is supposed to provide a massage for the feet. I didn’t try it, as I am the proverbial tenderfoot, but Craig gave it a try in his stockings but couldn’t stay on it longer than a few seconds.

Banjarmasin trees

Trees in the park near the Sabilal Muhtadin Mosque in Banjarmasin. Everything was brilliantly green.

We turned around and walked back to the main bridge and across it. There were quite a few bicycles, pedicabs, food and other hand carts, and other non-motorized vehicles. As we crossed the bridge I could see what appeared to be a large Chinese temple on the other side; there is an appreciable China town in Banjarmasin.

We walked back north on the opposite bank past the docks where all the water taxis were pulled up. We climbed onto the dock and Nazar negotiated with one of the boat owners to take us on a trip down the river.

Bougainvillea colors

I love bougainvillea, especially its ability to have multiple colors on one plant, as seen here.

These boats are long and narrow, with an inner open compartment with rugs where people can sit and look out, covered by a tin roof. At the very back next to the motor are some seats that are open to the sky. Instead of crawling through the interior, Nazar, Craig, and I walked across the roof (it is built to handle this and people do it all the time) to the back seats. Nazar’s wife climbed through under the roof. It was just the four of us, no other passengers; the driver cast off and we headed down the river.

Foot massage 1

Craig tries out the foot massage. It doesn’t look very comfortable!

I was hoping to travel on the river at some point, but didn’t expect to do so on our first day here. We passed under the main bridge and headed around a bend. On the left side was a large statue of a proboscis monkey (bekantan) that was shooting a spout of water out of its mouth as children played in the stream. Nazar said it was the mascot of the city.

0 km Siring Park sign

David Black, Craig Hendrick, and Muhammad Nazaruddin at the 0 km marker along the Martapura River in Banjarmasin, South Kalminantan.

We passed under another bridge and then the bridge by our hotel and could see it on our left. There were small mosques by the river, as well as wharfs and businesses and houses. A lot of small boats like ours were traveling up and down, but no large barges. We went down the river about two kilometers before turning around and heading back.

Crossing bridge

Walking across the bridge over the Martapura River. A Chinese temple lies on the other side.

All the houses along the river have their back porches as docks, and children were out playing on the docks and swimming in the river. One lady was doing laundry while her children swam nearby. The Banjar are river people, and this river is a major artery of travel, commerce, and livelihood.

Clouds had been gathering as we traveled, and it began to drizzle. It had been a very humid and hot day, and the warm rain felt good. As we passed back under the bridges past the giant spitting monkey statue, the rain began to intensify. It actually was refreshing, and we stayed out in it. I was mostly concerned with keeping my camera dry. We traveled further north past the taxi docks up to the bridge north of the Siring tower, then turned around and came back to the docks. It was about a 40-minute ride altogether, and a lot of fun.

Water taxis close up

Water taxis and the Martapura RIver bridge near Siring Watchtower in Banjarmasin.

We clambered back over the water taxi’s roof and tfdsanked the boatman. The rain was getting worse and we took shelter under a pavilion next to the river near the boat docks to wait it out while a group of men played a card game. The sun was about to set beyond the Sabilal Muhtadin mosque and the entire sky and river turned golden as the rain fell. I took some nice photos.

Giant spitting monkey

A statue of a proboscis monkey, or bekantan. It spits a fountain of water out of its mouth. This is the mascot of Banjarmasin.

The rain let up after about 30 minutes and we walked back across the bridge, past the mosque, to the parking lot and the car as the sun set. The air was very humid but the rain had cooled it down a bit; it was rather refreshing. It was only about 6:00, but sunset and dusk come early in the tropics. In Banjarmasin, I was only 3° south of the equator.

Nazar-Craig-wife on river

Nazar, his wife, and Craig on board a water taxi on the Martapura River in Banjarmasin.

Nazar drove us over the main bridge past the Chinese temple (the Klenteng Soetji Nurani) and we took a side road that brought us back to Jalan Pangeran Antasari, where our hotel is located.

Tall tree

A beautiful pine tree as seen from the Martapura River.

Mosque on the river

A small mosque on the Martapura RIver.

Swiss Belhotel from river

The Swiss Belhotel as seen from the Martapura RIver. This is the hotel we were staying at. Notice the wings at the corners of the traditional Banjarese roof.

Swimming in the river

Children swimming in the Martapura River while parents shop and work along its banks.

Wharves on the river

Wharves along the Martapura River in Banjarmasin. A great deal of shipping and commerce occurs on this river.

Siring tower and oldest house

Siring watchtower and the oldest house in Banjarmasin, made from ironwood.

On the Barito River

On the Martapura RIver in central Banjarmasin. This river is the lifeblood of the Banjar people, who live along it, drink and wash from it, fish, and transport on it.

Water taxi driver

Our water taxi driver. It is beginning to rain as we exit the boat.

Craig and Nazar

Nazar and Criag waiting out the rain storm.


Playing dominos in a pavilion while waiting out the rain.

Rain on the river

Rain falling on water taxis, the Grand Mosque, and the Martapura River in Banjarmasin.

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Borneo Day 1: Friday, July 21, 2017

Jakarta airport terminal 3

Terminal 3 at the Soeharto Hatta International Airport, waiting for our flight to Banjarmasin.

Our flight to Borneo was about 9:20, so we had time to eat breakfast at the hotel and meet our taxi to the airport. Other teams had already left. Most were flying, one team was driving for eight hours, and one team was staying here in Jakarta but moving to a hotel closer to their school (MAN 4 Jakarta that we had visited on Tuesday).

Waiting in Jakarta airport

Craig Hendrick waiting in the Soeharto Hatta airport.

The taxi delivered Craig and I to the Soeharta Hatta airport at the upper deck of Terminal 3 and we unloaded the trunk. I found a baggage cart and we rolled up to the front door to go through the first security check. Once inside, we walked to the Garuda Indonesia counter and waited in line. Once my two bags were weighed, I found that they were about ten kilograms over the allotted 20 kg total, so had to pay about $35 to check my second bag. They gave me a payment form to take to the service desk, then with the receipt I was able to get my boarding pass.

Garuda flight

Preparing to board our airplane to Banjarmasin.

We passed through the final security check. With my two bags checked I only had my carry-on computer bag and camera, but it was still a long walk to our gate. We had over an hour to wait for our flight, so Craig found a place to plug in his phone while I wrote up blog posts.

Jakarta Garuda plane

A Garuda Indonesia airplane at the Jakarta airport.

We boarded the airport sat on row 21 on the right side behind the first bulkhead. We had to wait a few minutes, then taxied out to the runway and took off. We flew out of Jakarta over the ocean and headed northeast toward Borneo. I listened to the best of Bread on the music channels and dozed a bit.

Thousand Rivers

View of Kalimantan from the air. You can see why this is called the land of a thousand rivers, all of which is the estuary of the Barito River, the largest river in Kalimantan.

As we descended toward the Banjarmasin airport, we crossed over the coast of Borneo. We could see yellow and green rice paddies below with frequent rivers winding and joining into larger rivers, lined with green trees. There were a few roads, lined with buildings, stretching through the countryside. I took some photos as we dropped toward the airport.

Borneo rice fields

Rice fields as we approach Banjarmasin from the air. Notice how houses and businesses cluster around the roads, with the fields beyond.

We landed and deplaned, walking off a mobile stairway the way we used to before jetways and boarded a bus to the terminal. We walked into the terminal, grabbed a baggage cart, and waited for the bags to arrive from the airplane. A music group collected their instruments, and our bags came through.

About to land

Approaching the Banjarmasin airport.

As we walked out of the terminal, we were met by our host teacher, Muhammad Nazaruddin and his wife. I had seen his photograph from the e-mails he had sent, and of course, we were fairly obvious. He likes to be called Nazar, and was an ILEP alumnus at Kent State in 2010. He teaches English at SMAN 1 Mandastana, our host school, which is about ten miles north of Banjarmasin in a country area with rice fields.

We loaded our bags into the trunk of his car and drove out of the small parking lot onto a the road leading to the airport. After a short distance we turned around a traffic circle with an airplane on a stick and headed onto the main road to Banjarmasin.

Landing approach

Final approach to the airport near Banjarbaru.

The airport is located about 26 km from the city, nearer to Martapura and Banjarbaru, and the main road is called Jalan Ahmad Yani or the Trans Kalimantan Highway. As we drove toward the city, I looked at the businesses, houses, and mosques that lined the road. There was only one fairly tall building, the Aston Hotel, which at ten stories is the tallest in southern Kalimantan. That is because the ground here is swampy and won’t support tall buildings without extensive piles being driven into the ground. The Aston is on one of the more solid areas. I took some photos of the many Wong Solo places along the way, including a Wong Solo delivery truck, so that I could put them in the shared group folder because of the running joke we had the other day.

Welcome to Banjarmasin

Welcome to Banjarmasin (selemat datang di Banjarmasin). Craig Hendrick about to enter the Banjarmasin airport terminal building.

Nazar wondered why I was taking these photos. His English is excellent, as he had gotten his masters degree in Australia and spent six months in the U.S. with ILEP at Kent State. His wife (he said her name but I didn’t quite catch it) is also a teacher at the same school, and they are both from families with parents who are teachers or college professors, so a well-educated family.

Wong Solo delivers

Wong Solo delivers. And he is guaranteed to be discrete, or at least halal.

Along the road I could see that houses and buildings have a different style of architecture than Java. Roofs are steep in the center with a high ridgeline, but then change slope and become more shallow at the bottom. The closest equivalent in America is the style of roofs for Pizza Hut restaurants. In fact, the Pizza Hut logo looks a lot like a Barjarese house. The corners of the roofs are adorned with symbolic wings that stretch up further.

Provincial school

A provincial school built in a traditional Banjarese style. The corners of the steep part of the roof often have crossing timbers decorated as wings.

Our first choices of hotels had been the Hotel Mercure Banjarmasin or the Golden Tulip Galaxy near the Duta Mall, but Mercure requires walking through the mall itself to get to the entrance, and the Golden Tulip didn’t have rooms for the nine days that we will be here, so we booked rooms at the Swiss Belhotel Banjarmasin instead. This wound up being an excellent choice, as it is located in a good position next to a bridge along the Martapura River in the heart of the city. It even has a dock onto the river and free trips to the Lok Baintan floating market.

Green-yellow mosque

Large yellow and green mosque on the road to Banjarmasin.

Nazar dropped us off at the hotel and we checked in at the main desk. They have us in adjoining rooms in the newer section of the hotel, where the air conditioning is better. The concierge put our bags on a standard hotel luggage cart and walked with us to our rooms, which are through a long hallway in the older section, around a corner and up a small ramp. I am in Room 243.

The room is set up so that one must insert the room key into an electronic receptacle in order to turn on the lights or air conditioning in the room. It will be tricky not to walk out without the key card. The room was muggy, so I cranked up the AC and turned down the thermostat as I laid out my bags. My room has a nice view down to the pool, but the drapes are a bit hard to open. Overall it is pretty nice, and one of the better hotels in the city. This will be my home for the next nine days.

I took off my shoes, socks, and the concealed leg holder for my passport and credit cards that my sister had loaned me. I laid down on the bed for awhile to rest.

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Jakarta Day 6: Thursday, July 20, 2017

Aqua mosque

Mosques (masjid) come in a variety of designs and colors. Some commonalities are the domed tops and tall minarets, used for broadcasting the call to prayers by the muezzin.

On our way back to the hotel, we passed along the expressway and I noticed the wide variety of mosques (masjid) throughout the city. No two are alike, and they are often brightly colored with ornate metallic domes or minarets. I’m used to the frequent LDS chapels all over Utah Valley, which are very similar to each other in appearance because they are built on common master plans. These mosques vary in interestingly different ways. Some neighborhoods have large mosques in good repair, others were smaller or older, their paint more faded or their metal domes a bit tarnished or tilted. I don’t know why one mosque would be in good repair and another not; perhaps some become more popular depending on the imam or muezzin. These get more donations and can build better-maintained mosques. Maybe there are other reasons.

Blue dome mosque

Mosque with blue dome and golden domed minaret.

I saw that some mosques were small, attached to individual businesses. Even smaller businesses that can’t afford a mosque dome will have a musholla, or prayer room. I saw these as I was at restaurants and had to visit a bathroom – I would look into the musholla. They have a padded floor for kneeling; believers take off their shoes at the door and kneel down to pray with hats or hijabs on their head, the men in front and the women in back. The attitude is one of submission to Allah, acknowledgement that He is the One God and Muhammad is his prophet.

Green mosque

Green and gold mosque.

Although attendance at mosque during prayers is encouraged, the only mandatory time is the Friday afternoon prayer, when the entire community is required to attend. In many Islamic countries, this is the start of the holy day, from Friday noon to Saturday noon. In Indonesia they don’t practice the holy day observance, based on the saying in the Quran that the people should pray on Friday and then “disperse.”

Observatory dome mall

This isn’t a mosque, but is a very unique building that is part of a shopping mall. It looks like some sort of hydraulic observatory.

At other times, people can pray wherever they are at. Even hotel rooms will often have arrow decals stuck on the ceiling, pointing toward Mecca so that guests can know which direction to kneel to pray.

Taj Mahal mosque

These photos were snapped out the window of our bus on the way back to the hotel. This particular mosque looks similar to the Taj Mahal in styling even if the color scheme is simple.

We arrived back at the hotel, ate lunch at the buffet, and had a brief meeting in the conference room to prepare for our flights to our host cities the next day. I spent the balance of the evening eating snacks in my room and uploading photos. I have been using Photoshop to clean up the best photos as I take them so I won’t have a huge backlog upon returning home. I’ve been sending them to Becca attached to e-mails, and she’s been posting them on her Facebook account, which reaches over 700 friends. Once I get these blog posts written and edited, I will have all the photos ready. Then creating the actual posts will proceed rapidly. I have also been uploading my cleaned photos to the group Google Drive account so others can share them. I also packed up my bags and arranged for the hotel to keep some of my carry on things at the Concierge desk (such as my travel pillow), as I would not need them in Kalimantan.

White mosque

A simple, modern style white mosque.

Tower mosque

A smaller mosque with interesting minaret tower.

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Jakarta Day 6: Thursday, July 20, 2017

City haze

Traffic circle and hazy morning in Jakarta. There is no “downtown” area as the skyscrapers are spread out in various clumps.

This morning we traveled to the Public University of Jakarta (Universiti Negeri Jakarta) to visit their laboratory elementary school, used for training primary teachers.

We traveled in a different direction than before, taking a short cut through a wealthy area with nicer houses with a Catholic school and cathedral. We then joined a larger road, got onto an expressway, and passed the University before exiting and spiraling back. The bus parked just inside the entrance to the University and we walked further in to the school.

St Theresa church window

The rosary window of St. Theresa’s Church and school in Jakarta. We drove through a more affluent area this morning to get to our destination.

Since it was Thursday, the teachers and students were wearing their batik uniforms. We met the assistant headmaster and school leaders, then toured the school, dividing up to see the various floors and grades. Sarah Sever did a fun activity teaching English to a sixth grade class through a series of phrases with gestures and actions, which I recorded. The students really got into it.

Candle experiment 2

Conducting the Priestley Experiment.

The assistant headmaster did a science experiment in one class that was very familiar to me. It was the Joseph Priestley experiment, where you place a lighted candle in a bowl surrounded by water, then place a jar over the candle and into the water. As the oxygen in the jar is used up, a partial vacuum is created that pulls up the water into the jar about 1/5 of its height. This shows that the atmosphere is about 20% oxygen. I’ve done this lab many times, and I was surprised that many of my fellow American teachers had never seen it before. I’ve actually seen one of Priestley’s original pneumatic troughs, made from ceramic, and associated equipment in the museum at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia.

Candles lit

Assistant headmaster leads the Priestley experiment to determine the percentage of oxygen in the air.

The students were very excited to see us, and although we tried to not disrupt their education, we couldn’t avoid it and made quite a stir. Students kept coming out to have us sign autographs. This is the first time I’ve ever had this happen, where I was treated as a celebrity. It became a bit much for me after awhile, with all the students crowding me against the walls that rim the central courtyard on each floor of the school. Every few minutes I had to retreat from the autograph signing to hide behind my camera and take photos; no one would ask me if I appeared busy.

Excited girls

Excited students at the elementary school we visited.

Until today I never understood why celebrities have this love/hate relationship with the paparazzi. It seems to me that they asked for it; if you want to be loved and admired by all and become popular, then the price of that fame is to always be on camera. Isn’t that what they wanted? But now I see. The constant demands of being famous 24/7 are draining, and eventually you just need some time by yourself, to get away from the public eye. And the paparazzi won’t let you. They just keep coming, they snoop through your private life and climb your fences and flash cameras in your face without your permission. It was draining for me for just an hour just to sign autographs, and I didn’t have many cameras shoved in my face. I couldn’t take it day after day. Neither can anyone. No one would ask for that.

Playing sports

Students playing sports at elementary school at Universitas Negeri Jakarta.

I suppose this is all part and parcel of our culture of narcissism, the desire people have to worship at the altar of celebrity: to be famous, to live the glamorous life, to be admired by all. I’ve never understood it. I’ve met some famous people, including those who sought it and found it as actors and singers, based on good looks or some small amount of talent. I find many of these to be insufferable, too caught up in believing their own public persona that they think their opinions on everything really matter. And I’ve met some people who are truly great because they deserve it for the quality and influence of the work they’ve done. They have changed the world in a positive way, or made incredible discoveries, or explored the universe, or shown real determination or skill or talent. Most of this latter group are too modest to admit what they’ve accomplished. Even some actors and celebrities fit into this second category; they use their fame to do good things and haven’t forgotten the fans who made them who they are.

Mariya signing autographs

Mariya signing autographs at the elementary school at the Universitas Negeri Jakarta.

Once at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory we had an evening reception in a conference room off of the main cafeteria. Charley Kohlhase, one of the lead designers on the Voyager space probes and Cassini mission (and someone who deserves to be a household name), came to speak to us and brought in a few friends. One was Robert Picardo, a veteran actor and extremely talented person. He does a great deal of work for the Planetary Society as a spokesperson and member of the board of directors. He spoke to us about acting as The Doctor in Star Trek: Voyager. He’s also been in Star Gate: SG-1 and Star Gate: Atlantis as Richard Woolsey, and in many other series (China Beach, the Wonder Years, Smallville, etc.).

I asked him if he did his own singing for Voyager, and he answered that he did, except for the one episode (Virtuoso, in Season Six) where they discover a planet that doesn’t know about music, so he teaches them and becomes famous, which goes to the Doctor’s head. Then the people of the planet create a new version of him that can sing a greater range, and he is forgotten, a has-been. He did not sing the part of the virtuoso at the end – it was voiced over. After telling us that story, he sang us a song of his own making about how Sony owns the rights to his action figure. It was very funny.

Bob Picardo double image

Robert Picardo playing two roles: The Doctor of Voyager (right) and his creator, Dr. Louis Zimmerman, from the episode Lifeline in Star Trek: Voyager. Next time you see him, ask him to sing his song about how Sony owns the rights to his action figure . . .

I have had great respect for Robert Picardo ever since – that he would take the time to just hang out with a bunch of space junkies like us and swap stories. Contrast that with vapid would be celebrities who have nothing going for them but good looks, but somehow think the world revolves around them.

Sixth grade class

Sixth grade class at the UNJ model elementary school. Notice that they are wearing matching batik uniforms. It must be Thursday.

But even if I don’t agree with the lifestyle or opinions of many self-styled celebrities, I can still empathize that they never have down time and must always face the public, that they have no privacy at all. Not even the Kardashians deserve that.

Nikki-Matt-Ursula-Kate with kids

Nikki, Matt, Ursula, and Kate signing autographs with the students.

Saying goodbye at UNJ school

Getting thronged by students as we say goodbye.

Walking to bus 2

Walking to the bus after our visit to the elementary school.

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