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The previous 80 or so posts have focused on global education and my extraordinary adventure teaching and traveling in Indonesia. I wrote those blogs as one document while I was on the exchange program itself, filling in the details when I returned home so that I could post everything in chronological order and keep a coherent story thread throughout.

 I am doing that again with stories and adventures that have happened to me since. And much has happened, but since I don’t really know what the end of the story is yet, I won’t actually post these tales until I have a definite conclusion. I apologize for the gap in posting this will cause, but it will be better thought out this way.

David Black with fall colors

David Black enjoying the fall leaves behind Squaw Peak in late September 2017. Then the floor caved in . . .

Returning to American Academy of Innovation:

I had only two days at home to recover from jet lag before I had to report back to American Academy of Innovation for our teacher preparation and training days for Fall Semester 2017. Our school had grown over the summer, from about 220 students at the end of our first year to over 300 by the start of our second year, with the addition and replacement of a number of teachers. We would be re-working our project structure by separating out projects for middle school versus high school students. The middle school students would be in separate classes by gender. And we were adding to our Dell laptops and chrome books with all new Apple laptops, desktops, and iPads with new software, including the entire Adobe Creative Cloud and Autodesk Maya for 3D. I was extremely excited to hear of this, as it would turn my dreams of an innovative media design program into a reality. Much of what I had wanted to do the previous year was frustrated by inadequate computers and software.

Scott Jones eclipse

Scott Jones, Director of AAI, with students watching the Sept. 21, 2017 solar eclipse.

It took a couple of weeks into the school year to get the software installed and operational, but I then immediately set to work teaching the students Adobe Photoshop in two completely full classes. I wasn’t teaching middle school classes this year, but chemistry, earth systems, astronomy, and two sections of media design. We were planning on a school-wide project to host a digital citizenship conference workshop at AAI, and student teams were preparing demonstrations and sessions for the workshop. I was mentoring a team creating a racing course for UAVs and starting up a robotics club. All was looking good, and our new students were coming along nicely. I even received the long overdue chemistry lab tables that had been on order for almost a year.

Watching the eclipse

AAI students watching the 2017 solar eclipse. Little did I know that my teaching at AAI was about to be eclipsed.

For the solar eclipse on Sept. 21, we had glasses for most students and let the whole school out to watch. At our location in Salt Lake Valley, the eclipse was about 90%, and I got some good photos of it with my camera. A few days later, Shannon McConnell, the director of the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope Project (GAVRT) at JPL, stopped by my classroom and addressed interested students. She had been to Idaho to see the totality and had contacted me to see if I wanted her to stop in my school on her way back to southern California. I said yes, of course. She made a great presentation and we had a good group of students attend. It appeared that the school year was off to a great start.

Solar eclipse 2017

A photo of the solar eclipse. At our location in Salt Lake Valley, we reached about 90% of totality.

Then the floor caved in on me. We had projected having about 380 students for the year to justify the budget, teachers, computers, and other costs we were spending. At the first of October each year, the state of Utah sends auditors into the schools to get an accurate count of average daily attendance for final budgeting purposes. Due to a few families dropping out in September, instead of 380 students, we had 314. Suddenly, our budget had to be cut drastically. They couldn’t send back the new computers, so they decided to balance the budget by laying off teachers and staff and consolidating classes. I was called in on Thursday, Oct. 5 and told I would be one of the ones laid off. It was quite a shock!

Shannon McConnell in my class

Shannon McConnell, director of the GAVRT program at JPL, addressing my class.

Given all that I had done to lead the Project Based Learning program at the school, and all that I was contributing with global education and media design skills training, laying me off did not make sense from a strategic viewpoint. It did, however, make sense from a financial viewpoint – I was one of the most experienced teachers at the school and therefore one of the most expensive to employ. They could save more money getting rid of me than someone else. Since I was teaching higher-level classes, my class sizes were smaller and it would cause less disruption to students than if they laid off someone else. They needed to make a quick financial decision and they made it.

Shannon addressing class

Shannon McConnell talking to my students about NASA opportunities.

The school director agreed to write positive letters of recommendation, including for my application to the Albert Einstein fellowship program in Washington, D.C. which he did that night (as I was still employed for one more day). I had two days to pack up all my stuff and take it home. I didn’t even have the chance to say goodbye to many of my students; they found out on Monday when their classes were changed around and I was already gone.

Drone Races group

My group for the Digital Citizenship summit project. We were planning a UAV drone race event.

Staying Positive:

As with my blog posts about Indonesia, I am trying to stay positive in the stories that I tell and in my attitude toward my life in general. I looked at this as a chance to find something even better, but it was slow coming. I was 57 years old when they laid me off (and yes, there are legal issues about that) so it wasn’t easy finding a new job that would meet my salary requirements in the middle of a school year. I immediately set up accounts with many job search engines, the Department of Workforce Services, Indeed.com, and everywhere else I could think of.

Cameron Brown with drone

Cameron, the leader of the drone race group, with his quadcopter drone. The plan was to build a series of obstacles on our playing field, then have participants race drones through the course. We were well into the planning and building phase when I left AAI.

At first it was nice to have some time off to re-organize my life and my house, write my Indonesia blog posts, and work on some long-term bucket list items. I will write at more length about some of the silver linings my time of unemployment provided, but it was still a difficult time for me. You start questioning your worth, your competence, and your accomplishments when no one seems to care.

In between applying for jobs, I took the opportunity to enjoy the fall season. The colors in the mountains this year were incredible, the best I’d seen in many years. I took my youngest son on a trip up Hobble Creek Canyon to photograph the fall colors. As a whole family, we drove up to Squaw Peak overlooking the whole valley and the colors and view were amazing. I took walks with my wife, and I finally got the summer vacation I hadn’t had because of my trip to Indonesia.

Road to Squaw Peak-fall 2017

The road to Squaw Peak overlook with fall colors.

As the weeks dragged on and turned into months, I started looking at alternatives. My original plan was that this would be my last year of classroom teaching before I fulfilled an Einstein Fellowship or started a PhD program. I looked at starting my own business; I even took a class each Thursday night and got advice from the Small Business Development Center at Utah Valley University. I began to work on various science fact and lesson plan book projects again, and created a detailed plan of how to complete them to bring in some income. I even signed up for the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) program to complete 50,000 words of a novel. It would be the first of my Trinum Magicum books, which I have been planning since my time in Philadelphia at the Chemical Heritage Foundation nine years ago. And I did it – I wrote 50,380 words in 30 days. I am about half way through the novel and just getting to the good part.

Provo Temple from Squaw Peak-fall

Utah Valley with a view toward Mt. Nebo from the Squaw Peak overlook: Fall 2017.

One surprising opportunity dropped in my lap in October. I walked onto a musical production of Miracle on 34th Street at the SCERA Playhouse here in Orem and was given four parts. We performed for two weeks in December and there is no way I could have done this if I had continued at AAI.

Goodbye to AAI:

Despite my ultimate success in the job hunt, I still miss American Academy of Innovation. It was (and is) a school with tremendous potential, if they can only get their financial act together. This wasn’t the first time they laid off teachers due to budget problems. Once is a stopgap emergency measure, but twice becomes a habit. Ultimately such a habit will undermine morale and any progress the school hopes to make. I miss many of the students, who were among the best I’ve ever taught. I miss the project-based learning environment and the chance to teach my STEAM it Up, 3D animation, and media design classes. I miss working with the teachers there, but my new colleagues are fantastic too. Some things I don’t miss – the long commute, the high percentage of disrespectful and overly entitled students, and the uncertain budget with its unfulfilled promises.

Fall colors back of Squaw Peak

Fall colors on the back of Squaw Peak.

I am getting almost the same rate of pay, and my commute is one half what it was before and in the opposite direction of traffic. I leave at the same time as before and get home by 3:30 each afternoon when I was just getting out of my last period class at AAI and not getting home until 6:00 or even 7:00. I have my homework all graded by the end of each day, so there is not much take-home work for me now. I have time to work on other projects in the evenings or do fun things with my children. So there are silver linings galore to my being laid off. It was a hard but valuable experience.

Hobble Creek golden trees-2017

Golden cottonwoods in Hobble Creek Canyon

I am a firm believer that when a door closes, one should start looking for windows to open up. They truly have. Onward and upward!

Fall colors on Timp

Fall colors on Mt. Timpanogas: Fall 2017

Hobble Creek-fall 2017

Maples and oaks in Hobble Creek Canyon

Return Flight Part 4: Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Fremont-Oakland hills

A view out my window of the hills east of Fremont and Oakland, California.

We landed on time at San Francisco, circling around the south Bay Area to come into SFO from the south across the Bay. This is a big plane, and it took some room to slow down and pull into the gate at the International Terminal.

I had been told by the Korea Air Lines lady in Jakarta that my luggage was checked all the way to Salt Lake City but that I would have to come out of security, go through customs, and check back in at the Delta Counter for my domestic flight’s boarding pass. The customs process was automated – you go to a kiosk and fill out the electronic form, then it prints a summary. I didn’t have any currency over about $5 worth of rupiah (yes, there were 1000 and 2000 rupiah coins and bills, but it was still less than $5). I had bought less than $200 worth of souvenirs, so nothing much to declare.

Sierra foothills

The foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We passed just south of Lake Tahoe, so this view takes in the area I first started teaching at, in Groveland, CA just south of Sonora. You can just make out the smoke from a grass fire near Mariposa. Sorry about the smudges on the windows.

The people at customs glanced at the form and waved me through, pointing vaguely to the security checkpoint without a word. They were almost rude in their bored lack of concern. I found a baggage cart for my carry-ons (boy, wheels are highly underrated) and took the elevator upstairs to a monorail that carried me over to the domestic terminal and the Delta counter.

I wasn’t able to get the electronic check-in kiosk to work – it wouldn’t find the ticket for my flight. So I went to the counter (the line was short) and the lady there couldn’t find it, either. One last gasp of poor customer service from United! Thankfully, the Delta lady was able to see that I had had a ticket before United canceled it and was able to fix the problem and get me a boarding pass.

Sierras

Looking down on the Sierra Nevada Mountains as we traveled east to the south of Lake Tahoe.

I found my flight’s gate and walked through Security. It was the same concourse and security checkpoint that Martin Horejsi and I went through after the 2011 NSTA conference in San Francisco, when we ran into each other in the airport and changed our seats to sit next to each other on the flight back to Salt Lake. He then flew from Salt Lake on to Missoula, where he runs the Teacher Preparation program at Montana State. I’ve known Martin since the old days of the Solar System Educator Program in 2000-2004. This time there was no one I knew in the line.

I ate lunch at a bar and grill place – a very nice hamburger. My intestines are finally coming back on line after backing up so badly in Indonesia. I sat at the bar and talked with the guy next to me, who used to be a physics teacher in Texas but is now back in industry.

High Sierras

A view down on the high Sierras. Yosemite National Park is to the south in this photo.

I had about two hours to kill, so I snoozed, charged up my computer, and wrote more of these blogs while trying to keep my right leg elevated, which is hard to do on those uncomfortable benches. Both my legs were aching fiercely after wearing the compression socks for two days. I changed my shirt into the fresh one I carried in my computer bag, and we finally boarded the plane after my seat was re-assigned to an exit row. That’s great – I have more leg room and a better view this way.

On our flight to Salt Lake I took some photos of the Sierras on our way over. We flew just south of Lake Tahoe, and out the right side of the plane I could just make out the smoke from the fire near Mariposa and what I think was Lake Don Pedro and Moccasin, where I first started teaching in 1990. I could see the High Sierras still had patches of snow, although I couldn’t make out Yosemite specifically.

Salt Lake City

Downtown Salt Lake City, Utah as I land after having been in Indonesia for four weeks.

I fell asleep once the Sierras were past us, and only woke up again as we were making our final approach to Salt Lake City. I took a few excellent photos of downtown as we flew over I-80 and landed. I packed my carry-ons off the plane. You have to pay for all the baggage carts in Salt Lake airport, so I lugged my carry-ons up the concourse and into the baggage claim area. There weren’t many people waiting by the time I got there (I had a restroom stop on the way) and my two bags did not show up.

When I checked at the baggage claim counter, the man was able to use my claim tickets to track them. Apparently, I misunderstood the lady in Jarkarta; when she said my bags were checked through to Salt Lake City and that I would have to go through customs, she meant I would have to take the bags off the luggage carousel in SFO and take them through customs with me before re-checking them onto my final airplane. Or the Curse of United and the problem with my missing flight reached out from the grave to haunt me one last time. Regardless, my luggage full of smelly laundry and souvenirs did not make it to Salt Lake with me.

Salt Lake City landing

Landing at Salt Lake City International Airport after my trip as an education ambassador in Indonesia.

I got my phone working again and called Becca, who was waiting outside the terminal with Jonathan and William. I walked to the curb with my carry-ons and she picked me up in the Dodge minivan. It was great to see them again. I hugged them all, got in the front seat and took my shoes and compression socks off before my legs fell off, and we traveled home.

My luggage took several days to arrive, the red bag on Thursday and the blue bag (which somehow made it to Seattle) on Friday. With its arrival, I was finally home. It took a couple of days to readjust to Mountain Standard Time – I was jet lagged in reverse – but by the time I reported back to school on Friday, July 11, I had pretty much recovered.


 

And now I am home after four incredible weeks in Indonesia, learning about their education system, teaching, and exploring. I saw the Southern Cross for the first time, as well as Alpha Centauri. I visited religious shrines, World Heritage Sites, went bamboo rafting in the rainforest, explored a diamond mine, saw silver jewelry made, learned batik, and did so very many things. I’ve written over 80 blog posts about the Teachers for Global Classrooms program and this journey.

Hat sampler

A sampler of hats that I bought in Indonesia. The large rice farmer’s hat was a challenge. I put it in a large plastic bag and ties the ends of the bag to the outside of one of my carry-on bags. In addition to these, I also bought a Yogyakarta cap and a Borneo prince hat for my son. The black hat in the front right is the same as worn by Javanese officials such as President Widodo.

As part of the requirements for the TGC program, I had to create a summary of what I learned from my experiences; a series of reflections that tie in to the guiding questions I decided on before coming to Indonesia. I had one overarching question with several sub-questions, so I made a separate reflection post for each one. Since they had to be done before September 5, I created them on a separate page so they wouldn’t be out of order. You can find them here:

https://elementsunearthed.com/reflect/

The page includes the following four parts:


Reflection 1: Finding Common Ground

Reflection 2: The Need for Self-Expression Through Art

Reflection 3: The Mysteries of Life

Reflections 4: The Extraordinary Adventures of an Ordinary Educator

As for what I did myself after returning home, I spent the remainder of August writing up these posts, in between starting school again. I had written as much as I could while in Indonesia, but decided to write the whole experience as one large document so that I could be internally consistent and chronological. I managed to stay up on editing the best photos as I went along, but my last few days needed work.

By September 5 the writing and photos were done and I began the process of posting the parts, creating a record 36 posts in September including the reflections posts. The TGC reviewers said I had made a good start but needed more required pieces, so I did edits and re-arranged the site, adding more pages for links to TGC materials and online resources by the end of September. You can check them out here:

Resources and Links:

https://elementsunearthed.com/assignments/

Global Education materials:

https://elementsunearthed.com/global-teaching/

In October, November, and December I worked hard to get all of these posts done by the end of the year. I still want to create a large Adobe InDesign book document with this text and photos and print it all out in a binder for posterity and my students. I’ll work on that in January.

As for this blog site, now that my TGC experiences are done and I am an official alumnus of the program, I can return to the central purpose of this site: to tell the stories of the chemical elements and important materials. I did do some of that through my Indonesia experiences (diamond mines, coal, batik, rubber, silver jewelry, rice farming, cinnamon, luwak coffee, Mt. Batur and Mt. Merapi, etc.) but it will now be my majority focus.

David by Lake Batur

David Black overlooking Lake Batur with the composite volcano cone in the distance.

It’s been almost five months since I returned from Indonesia, yet because I took the time and effort to write all of this down and share it with you, my memories of the experience remain fresh and detailed and hopefully always will. I thank the people at the U.S. State Department and IREX for supporting this amazing program, and I will do all I can to promote it and share it with other teachers and students. I hope my writings here will promote bridges of understanding in a world that needs more global citizens.

Thank you for staying with me. Please read on!

 

Return Flight Part 3: Still Tuesday, August 8, 2017

This is the KAL 747 that I flew on from Seoul/Incheon to San Francisco. As a Delta Airlines partner, KAL still runs a few 747s, but they are being replaced by new, more efficient Airbus models. These 747s will be retired by the end of the year, and so this will be my last flight on one. It is the end of an era.

I’m on a 747 Korean Air Lines jet between Incheon, Korea and San Francisco. The sun has come back up after a short night, but it’s still Tuesday, August 8th. I will be landing in San Francisco before I left Korea. I don’t know what time it is; my computer says it’s 2:23 a.m. We crossed the International Date Line heading east, so weird things happen to geographical versus personal time.

I got a little bit of sleep on the flight after watching five episodes of Season 2 of The Flash, which I’ve already seen. I watched Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 on the flight from Jakarta to Incheon, which I never saw in theaters, but there’s not much else on the in-flight system that I want to see. At least they have these systems now. I remember watching 9 to 5 on the 747 Japan Air Lines plane coming home from Taiwan, the last time I crossed the Pacific on this route. In order to see the movie, they had to set up a screen at the front of each cabin section and project the movie onto it. Now each seat has its own interactive computer screen allowing personal choices of many options. Just not the ones I want. I did listen to the Best of Carpenters, before pulling out my iPad and listening to my own music.

Yes, I am so spoiled by unlimited personal choices. And I don’t even have a smart phone, so I could only use the Internet at my hotels and in some of the airports. That’s one thing I came away with in this trip: I need a smart phone. It limited me to not be able to communicate with others in the group through WhatsApp. My dumb phone didn’t have a network in Asia, so I had to turn it off. It was useless. I am definitely not an early adopter of new technology, despite being a technology teacher. I pick the technology I use based on a careful evaluation of needs, costs, and benefits. But has this made me obsolete? Have I missed out on a useful technology simply because I am too set in my ways? A question I have to grapple with.

There are many questions I need to answer still about Indonesia, even after four weeks of studying that country from the inside. As I fly above the clouds just south of the Aleutian Islands, I am beginning to reflect on all that I have learned and all that I still need to learn.

This is another moment that reminds me of a song. This one is a bit more obscure, from the City to City album by Jerry Rafferty (the same album as Baker Street). It’s called Home and Dry:

 

This silver bird takes me ‘cross the sky,
Just one more hour and I’ll be home and dry.
Across the ocean way above the clouds,
I come sailing.

 

I feel tired, but I feel good,
‘Cause I did everything I said I would.
I think of you and I know how
You’ll be feeling.

 

This bird isn’t all silver, it’s mostly a bluish green aqua color. Otherwise the song is apropos. I do feel tired – even though we spun in and out of nighttime, it’s still the same day, and I didn’t get much sleep. But I do feel good – I have done everything I said I would, and more. I haven’t wasted any time in the four weeks I’ve been gone. When I had down time, I rested as needed, downloaded and cleaned up photos, wrote this account, and e-mailed my family. Soon I’ll be home and dry indeed, in the low humidity of Utah. I will miss Indonesia, but it’s definitely time to go home.

The question now is how I will make use of the experiences I’ve had. Whenever I’ve been to a conference, traveled to an amazing place, led a workshop at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, or done anything that has expanded my consciousness or enlarged my horizons, I’ve found the hardest part isn’t going there and doing it, it’s coming home and trying to pour myself back into my little life. It’s trying to explain the numinous experience I’ve had to people who are only listening to be polite and hardly noticed I was gone. It’s getting apathetic students to care about something they haven’t seen or done directly. It’s the challenge I face every day in every class: how to translate my personal passions into a lesson that will engage their interest and curiosity; to ensure my teaching is enriched and made meaningful through the extraordinary experiences I’ve had.

The monorail system between terminals at the San Francisco International Airport (SFO).

Let me think on this some more. I’ll address this in the final section of posts as I reflect on my Indonesian adventures. But for now, this plane is descending toward San Francisco and my final flight home.

Stopover in Korea

Return Flight Part 2: Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Incheon airport interior

The interior of the Incheon airport, one of the largest in the world. Since I was to laid over for almost eight hours, I booked a free tour into the city for something to do and to put my “feet on the ground” so I can say I’ve visited Korea.

We flew directly over Borneo, the Philippines, and Taiwan (including Kaohsiung, Chiayi, and other places I’ve lived before). We seemed to be following land as much as possible, based on the in-flight pathfinder app. Then we crossed the East China Sea and headed for Korea.

Across mud flat

The mudflat of Incheon Harbor. The Incheon airport is built on an artificial island in the harbor, which is one of the shallowest harbors in the world. Tides change the height of the water by as much as 14 feet, and when the tide is out, it leaves a large mud flat with channels for the receding tide.

We landed at Incheon, a city on the western coast of Korea not far from the DMZ. Incheon is most famous as the site of a major battle of the Korean War, which I’ll talk about shortly. The airport was built on an artificial island built up in a tidal flat in the harbor.

Stranded boat

A small fishing boat stranded in the mudflat at Incheon Harbor, left by the receding tide.

I deplaned and walked through terminal. It was about 7:00 in the morning, local time. At least this flight stayed mostly to a south to north trajectory, so that I was only two hours ahead of Jakarta. But I had left the southern hemisphere behind. No more Southern Cross. My carry-on items were getting heavy, dragging on my arms and shoulders.

Hovercraft

A hovercraft and transport ship heading under the bridge to Incheon Harbor.

I saw the desk I was looking for, advertising free transit tours of the local area. I had read about this when I researched what to do in the Incheon airport when I found I would have an eight-hour layover here. I looked through the offerings, and the man at the desk looked at my next boarding pass and suggesting taking a 10:00 one-hour tour or a five-hour tour. I’m glad they didn’t have any three-hour tours. That could have been disastrous. And if you get that reference, you are a child of the 1960s and/or 1970 reruns. So sit right back . . . He gave me an immigration card filled out for the one-hour tour to a local temple.

Bridge pylons

Pylons to the new bridge across Incheon Harbor to the airport. This bridge and the airport itself are considered to be among the engineering marvels of the world.

Taking this tour would mean leaving the sanctum of the inner airport. I waited in the queue to get through immigration, and took my items downstairs and finally found a trolley. The lady at the tour desk at Door 8 said she would try to get me in the 9:00 two-hour tour, because that one was better. I ate some doughnuts at Krispy Kreme and waited.

New City

Once we crossed the bridge and approached Incheon City itself, we saw this New City which has been built to house over one million people.

At 9:00 my tour group assembled at the desk and we were led at a brisk walk across the terminal to the far end by our guide, Nikki. We met up with two German men, both with walking braces, and we boarded a small tour bus. We drove out of the airport and onto a toll road, which led along a roadway built on top of mud flats. The tide was out, and here it can change up to 14 m between high and low tides. I could see small streamlets leading throughout the flats where the water runs back and forth in the tides. Then the roadway arched up and turned across the main bay entrance onto a long, high bridge with amazing architecture. Huge pylons supported a modern suspension structure. I had seen documentaries about this bridge as one of the modern architectural marvels of the world.

Blue bridge to new city

A bridge from the airport freeway across to the New City near Incheon, Korea. It was nice to be driving on the right side of the road again.

It was foggy in the early morning, and on the other side of the bridge a large group of new buildings, some very tall, emerged from the mist, an entire new city built for South Korea’s growing 50 million population.

Incheon tour bus

Our tour bus from the airport to the sites in Incheon, Korea.

We did a U-turn back to the main city on the left of the highway. Nikki told us that Incheon is now a city of 3 million people. We turned toward hills and wound up to the base of a hill with a beautiful set of Buddhist temples at the top. This was the Heungryunsa Temple complex. She said that there were 108 stairs leading to the top and that local people would kneel and bow down at the top 108 times to bring a blessing to their families.

Streets of Incheon

From the main highway we turned into Incheon city itself and wound through the streets to the hilltop above the city.

This was very similar to Buddhist temples and monasteries in Taiwan. Different landings on the steps had statues of the Buddhas, including the Amitah Buddha (Amita Fwo or Maitreya, the Buddha of Enlightment symbolizing the achievement of Nirvana by the original Buddha, Gautama Siddhartha), Mi Lwo Fwo (the fat, laughing Buddha of prosperity), and others. All the statues were painted gold or coated with gold foil, and decorated with smaller Buddha statues. The landscaping and rocks were beautifully manicured and peaceful. At the top landing were a series of temples and a large golden bell with log striker. It was tempting to ring that bell, but Nikki forbade us on pain of expulsion.

Nikki and group

Our tour group at the Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea. Our guide, Nikki, is the in the center with dark pants and a white blouse.

This temple complex has been here for many years. It was destroyed by the Japanese in the 1300s and rebuilt. It has weathered many storms of time and ideology. Nikki called out that we needed to move on to our second stop – this was a short tour, after all. She made the last person who returned to the bus sing a song.

David at Incheon temple

David Black at the Heungryunsa Temple complex in Incheon, Korea.

We drove a short distance to the Battle of Incheon Memorial. In 1951 at the height of the Korean War things were going badly for the South Korean forces trying to prevent the northern invasion. They were driven back to the southern tip of the peninsula and Seoul had fallen when the United Nations stepped in, led largely by the United States military. Under General Douglas Macarthur’s command, the combined UN forces planned a counteroffensive. First, the North Korean advance was stopped. Then, in a strategic move, the forces attacked at Incheon behind the enemy lines. They planned many “excursions in force” at other spots to look like they were the real landing site. Incheon’s geography wasn’t good for an invasion – all those mud flats to cross with landing craft. But that was why they chose here – it wasn’t expected. Landing craft carrying U.S. Marines and other forces came ashore at three places and the attack was successful, cutting of the North Korean supply lines and forcing them to pull back.

Fat Buddha 2

A statue of Mi Lwo Fwo, the laughing Buddha of prosperity, at the Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea.

Then Macarthur made his greatest blunder. The North Koreans had tried to reunify Korean under their communist leadership. Now Macarthur saw the opportunity to do the same under United Nations control and he drove on the advantage, pushing the demoralized North Koreans back past the original border between the two halves of the country.

Main temple

The main temple at the Heungryunsa Temple complex in Incheon, Korea. The entire series of temples sits at the top of a long stairway overlooking the city and is a very peaceful place.

Mao Tse Dung warned the United Nations forces that they should not approach the 38th parallel, the traditional border between Korea and China. When UN forces got close, the Chinese army poured across and reinforced the North Korean line, making it a whole new war. The UN forces were pushed back to the original border, and after two years of stalemate, the two sides signed an armistice that stopped the fighting but not the war and established the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) that separates the two countries now. Technically, the Korean War never ended. No side lost, no one surrendered.

Golden gong

A golden gong/bell in a pagoda at Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea. Nikki, our tour guide, repeatedly threatened us to not ring the gong. But it was very tempting. I wonder what it sounds like?

My wife’s brother, Dan Bateman, was in the Colorado Air National Guard for years and served two tours of duty in South Korea at the DMZ. He’s shown me books and photos of the area and I would love to visit sometime because this kind of history fascinates me. The North Korean government wants us to think that everything is fine there, with happy and productive people. They have built an entire city within view of guards on the south side of the DMZ with people living there to prove how progressive and modern North Korea is.

Stairs to memorial

The stairs to the Battle of Incheon Memorial. The Allied forces stages a successful surprise attach behind the North Korean lines by landing at the shallow Incheon Harbor where they weren’t expected.

Except it’s all a fake. The buildings are like Hollywood sets with fake fronts. Lights are turned off and on at random to appear as if people live there, but no one does except a few random “citizens” who are walking about but are trucked in and out every day. We have binoculars and other surveillance equipment that can see the pretense easily, but they keep it up. The leadership of North Korea appears to be as hollow as the buildings of this town. Dictator Kim, son of the original Kim who attacked in 1951, is spending millions of dollars on rocket systems and nuclear research that his people desperately need for food and basic services in an attempt to join the “big league” of nuclear nations where he can set his own terms.

Scaling the sea wall

A statue of Allied forces scaling the seawall during the Battle of Incheon in the Korean War.

Nikki spoke of her hope to one day see a reunified Korea where she can visit the north and perhaps even travel to Europe by train. Much would have to change before that could happen, but then we never thought the Soviet Union would break apart as quickly as it did. Much has changed in twenty years.

Landing craft

A landing craft for the Battle of Incheon. This acts as both boat and tank, able to cross both water and mud while carrying soldiers to attach the beaches and seawalls at Incheon Harbor. The attack was successful and turned the tide of the war, cutting off the North Korean supply lines.

I didn’t have time to read all the displays and dioramas. As the son of a World War II veteran and a student of history, war battles and strategy fascinate me. I was the last one on the bus (barely) and had to sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”

Incheon memorial gate

Gateway to the Incheon War Memorial.

We drove back to the airport and I got my bags out from behind the tour desk where I had stowed them, worked my way upstairs and through the queue at security. I didn’t even have to take off my belt or shoes. I asked at the information desk where my gate was. It was Gate 12, so I walked that direction, past a procession of traditionally dressed Koreans.

Korean war items

Artifacts from the Korean War, on display at the Incheon War Memorial.

This airport is supposed to be one of the best in the world, with cultural events like this procession and the tours I had just been on. But I wasn’t terribly impressed with the layout. Just another big space full of people waiting in lines and overpriced duty free shops. There has got to be a better way to manage travel without all this waiting in lines and waiting around at gates. Security should be more automated; putting in people as guards only slows down the process. I even had to wait in line again for another set of guards to recheck my passport and boarding pass for the third time after I had already gotten through the security check.

Silver building at airport

Part of the Incheon Airport in Korea.

I had three hours still before my flight. I ate lunch at Taco Bell upstairs, then waited at the gate and waited some more. I sent photos of my Friday activities in Yogyakarta to Becca and the boys and tried to sleep some, with my aching right leg elevated on the luggage cart, but it wasn’t very good sleep. The benches here are hard. There’s got to be a better way to design a waiting area. We’ve gotten better at designing airplanes (at least the First Class sections – the Economy Class cattle car sections haven’t changed much in 40 years). Why can’t we redesign airports to facilitate transportation instead of waiting, which is the opposite of transportation? Even the waiting is poorly designed. I read an article a few days back about how airports will use smart technology to transport luggage and people and become destinations in their own right, with retail shopping and entertainment. Not big cavernous spaces full of bored, waiting people. I’ve seen enough of these in the last two days.

Pink flowers

Pink blossoms and manicured gardens at the Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea.

Waterfall

A waterfall at the Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea. The entire complex and gardens had a very Zen, peaceful vibe to it, and it was well worth my time to take this free tour from the airport. If you get a chance, go for it.

Standing Buddhas

Standing golden Buddhas behind the main temple at the Heungryunsa Temple complex in Incheon, Korea.

Tour group at fat Buddha

Our tour group in Incheon, Korea at the Heungryunsa Temple. We were a mixture of Americans, Europeans, Australians, and Indians.

Zen stairway

A very Zen style stairway up the hillside behind the Golden Gong pagoda at the Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea.

Confucious altar

The altar to Confucius in the Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea. All the writing and characters here were Chines, not Korean. This temple dates back almost a thousand years when Chinese culture (as the Central Kingdom) heavily influenced Korea.

Golden altar

Golden altar inside the main temple at the Heungryunsa Temple complex. The layout and decor of these temples was very reminiscent of the temples I’ve visited in Taiwan, except with more of a Zen feeling – perhaps representing Korean Buddhism as a mixture of Japanese and Chinese influences.

Across temple roof

The gardens and temples at the Heungryunsa Temple complex are beautifully designed and maintained. It was very peaceful here.

Gray buddha

A gray Buddha statue at the entrance to the Heungryunsa Temple in Incheon, Korea.

Looking down on fat Buddha

Looking down on the Mi Lwo Fwo statue and across to the New City at Incheon. The Heungryunsa Temple is set on a hillside above the city with an amazing view down. All the levels are interconnected with stairways and the whole complex has a very Zen feel to it

Flowers and double Buddha

Orange blossoms and a double facing golden Buddha at the Heungryunsa Temple overlooking Incheon, Korea.

Airport procession

A mock wedding procession a the Incheon Airport. This airport tries to be a cultural center and does provide excursions around the city for passengers who have layovers, but in the end it is still a big cavernous space for waiting around, not really a place that accommodates transportation.

On My Way Home

Return Flight Part 1: Monday, August 7, 2017

Giant goddess

On our way from Ubud to Denpasar, we passed this gigantic statue in a round about. I don’t know what it is supposed to be about.

After my visit to the Prapen silver factory, my host drove me out of Ubud and south to the airport at Denpasar. I paid him for the ride (400,000 rupiah) and the two days’ room (800,000 rupiah) I was down to about 175,000 rupiah. I had no trouble going through the first security checkpoint, then checked in at the Garuda desk. I had to pay 270,000 rupiah by credit card (about $20) for my 10 kg extra weight (I had redistributed some things to try to carry on as much weight as possible – hard on my shoulders, easier on my pocketbook). After checking my bags, paying the extra, and getting my boarding passes I went through internal security and walked to Gate 2.

Bali coastline from air

The coastline of Bali near Denpasar. I never did get to the beach, but that wasn’t why I came. The large mountain looming in the distance is either Gunung Agung in eastern Bali or Gunung Rinjani on nearby Lombok. It’s hard to tell with the cloud deck.

I had plenty of time – I could have seen or done one other thing before coming to the airport, but I am tired and ready to go home and I was ready to head to the airport. I’ve seen and done many things in the last 3 ½ weeks, as much as I can possibly expect from myself. I knew that I couldn’t do everything I wanted to do in Bali with only two days; the traffic, winding roads, and my own age prevented me from seeing everything on my bucket list. I am satisfied that I did as much as I could do and saw the very best things. I can’t ask for more.

Bali coastline with boat

The reefs and beaches of Bali below.

I was getting hungry again. My appetite has been iffy these four weeks, mostly because I have been backed up. Of all the medicines I brought, I didn’t think constipation would be my biggest problem. So I knew if I was hungry, I should eat. I found a place called Beard Papas that served one thing only: cream puffs. That sounded good, and I had enough money left. I got one and a Pulpy Orange drink, and it was really good – the best cream puff I’ve ever had. So I stood in line again and had another. But that still wasn’t enough, so I had fish and chips at a place near Gate 2. The fries were good, the fish a bit different.

Towns and rice from air

Rice fields and towns from the air (approaching Jakarta). Some areas are clear (brownish) because they are between crops for a few weeks. Indonesian farmers can harvest two crops per year.

Note: Two weeks after returning home, someone tried to use my credit card information to get cash advances in Denpasar. The company flagged the purchases as suspicious and we cancelled the card. The only legitimate charge I have on the card in Denpasar is the restaurant I ate the fish and chips at (Hari’s) in the airport. I still have the card; it wasn’t stolen, so the card’s information must have been copied. The techniques for doing this have become quite sophisticated. But just in case, be careful dining here or anywhere you use a credit card. Pay cash if you can. Use a mylar reflective shield in your wallet with your credit card on the inside so that people can’t scan your card as you walk by.

Rice fields approaching Jakarta

Rice fields and villages approaching the airport at Jakarta on my last day in (or over) Indonesia.

I waited at the gate and worked on cleaning up photos from Friday’s excursions. I was able to e-mail Becca and tell her I was at the airport and ask her to look into the Booking.com problem. Then I thought I heard them call to board the plane, even though we were a good 30 minutes before the specified boarding time. The lady at the gate confirmed it was time, so I walked down the jetway and boarded the plane. I was in row 31, which is an emergency exit row, which I had entirely to myself. It was great.

Astronaut hydrant painting

Red fire hydrants are mounted at intervals along the white walls of the Jakarta airport concourse. Someone has painted whimsical murals that incorporate the hydrants, such as this Apollo astronaut on the Moon.

The flight itself was peaceful. I’m getting used to flying Garuda Indonesia. They may be a bit more expensive than some, but still cheap at about $100 for each of these intra-Indonesian flights. I saw Mt. Bromo again, then we turned more north and away from the volcanoes, out over the ocean, and back toward Jakarta. I listened to the Best of Bad Company. Somehow it seemed appropriate while flying.

Monster hydrant

A luggage monster eating a fire hydrant.

I got some nice views of rice fields in the late afternoon as we turned into Jakarta and landed. It was a bit of a hike from our entry gate to the baggage claim area, and I noticed some fun murals painted around each of the fire extinguishers, incorporating them into the design, such as using it as the tip of a lipstick or a scuba tank or the backpack of an astronaut or the body of a spaceship. I took photos, of course.

Spaceship hydrant

A fire hydrant turned into a space ship. This is my favorite of the murals in the Jakarta airport.

Lipstick hydrant

A fire hydrant turned into red lipstick for Marilyn Monroe’s lips (I know because of the mole . . . )

I walked out of the departure area, then took an elevator upstairs to the drop off zone and went through security again. I am on a Delta flight through Korean Air Lines to Seoul, a seven-hour flight that won’t take off until 10:05 pm. The KAL check-in desk wasn’t even open yet, so I sat in an area near the international check-in and plugged in my computer while working on the photos from Friday. I can’t get onto the Internet, so Becca will have to wait to hear from me until Korea. When the desk opened at 7:00, I checked in – my flights were listed. Yay! After the United fiasco, I was worried. I was happy to drop off my two bags – I even added some extra weight to them – and I’ll see them again in Salt Lake in two days. I have 21 hours of flying altogether and another 17 hours of layover time. It will be a long two days.

Balloons hydrant

A fire hydrant as helium tank for filling balloons. These murals were made in the Jakarta airport in order to dress up the mundane fire hydrants placed along the concourse of Terminal 3.

I don’t know if I will ever return to Indonesia. It will be dark when I take off tonight, so I won’t see anything. Those rice fields were my last view. I will miss this place, but it is definitely time to go home. Over the next few posts, I’ll try to summarize and synthesize what I’ve learned from this experience. I hope I have the chance to come back here, and bring my wife and children with me. But coming here at all was the slimmest of crazy chances, and there are other places I’ve never been that I want to see first. I think of what was new and exciting when I landed four weeks ago, and how I’ve grown accustomed to many things. I hardly notice mosques or hijabs any more, until I didn’t see them in Bali. I’m very glad I had the chance to extend and see more of Indonesian culture, because what I’ve seen and done in Jogja and Bali will enrich my life and my teaching forever. There is still much to learn here, and much to experience.

Silver Jewelry, Revisited

Bali Day 3: Monday, August 7, 2017

Making pendant -silver glue

On my way to the airport, my host stopped at the Prapen silver jewelry workshop near Ubud, where I got to see more silver filigree jewelry being made. This lady is using a yellow glue made from red piling-piling seeds to glue small curls of wire into a silver pendant the same as the one shown.

I slept in a little and it took some time to get showered and to repack all my things. I put the rice farmer’s hat into a large red plastic bag and figured out how to tie it to the back of my TGC bag. I had already dumped some clothes in Jogja, so I dumped a few toiletries I wouldn’t be needing and consolidated things the best I could so that I was packing the most weight I could handle in my carry on bags. I didn’t want to pay a lot for overweight bags on the flight to Jakarta; once I get there and have more weight allowance for the international flights, I can redistribute to save my aching shoulders.

The landlord served me breakfast of chicken bacon on scrambled eggs on toast, a fruit bowl again (pineapple, watermelon, dragon fruit, etc.) and a papaya smoothie. It was good, but I missed the banana pancakes of the day before. I ate a couple of the oranges I’d bought yesterday, then packed my bags up to the top of the stairs by the landlord’s house. Come to find out, there is another road at the top of the hill through the passage beside their home, with several other bungalows tucked back there. I didn’t have to lug everything down the cement stairs.

Blowtorch soldering

Using a finely focused acetylene torch to weld pieces together.

I went to pay for the water I’d used from the mini-fridge and for today’s trip to Denpasar, but found out my payment for this stay hadn’t gone through, although I had the online receipt. My wife checked and found that indeed the payment had not shown up. So after loading up his car, we stopped on the main road of Ubud at an ATM because I had to get some more money out. I got just enough to tide me over so that I wouldn’t have a bunch of Indonesian money left. I had a few 2000 rp and 5000 rp bills and a bunch of smaller coins (1000, 500, and 100 rp) but altogether this amounts to maybe $5 U.S., and I do want some money to collect.

Making lockets

A lady at the Prapen workshop assembling lockets.

I had arranged with my landlord and owner of the Ubud Wins Bungalows to drive me to the airport this morning and perhaps see a few sites I’d missed the day before. Since I was a bit later getting started, we decided I only had time to visit one place, and it had to be on the way. So no Gunung Kawi or Monkey Forest Temple (he said it wasn’t a good idea to visit there in the morning, anyway, as the monkeys are hungry and aggressive).

Workers on silver

Workers at the Prapen silver smithing workshop near Ubud, Bali

We drove around some byways in Ubud that I had not been on before, a part of town given to art shops and crafts workshops. This would be a great place to explore when I return here, if I ever get the chance. We stopped at a small place called Prapen Jewelry, a family owned silver crafting workshop.

Casting silver bals

Preparing silver balls for casting and molding to become parts of jewelry.

I could tell by the coi fish in the pond and the upscale look of the showroom that this was a more exclusive shop than the one I’d visited in Kota Gede. They would not allow me to photograph the jewelry (exclusive designs, apparently) but I was allowed to photograph and video the craftsmen and women making the jewelry. One of the staff explained the process to me, and there were signs with English and Indonesian captions that also explained it.

Silver strip mill

This hand mill presses silver bars into strips. Wire of different gauges is made by pulling the strips through a die.

The silver is mixed with copper (7.5%) and drawn into wires, just like in Kota Gede. It is then cut into pieces, curled or shaped, and glued into designs using a yellowish paste made from red seeds called piling-piling. Once the piece is done, an acetylene torch is used to fuse the wires together and they are cleaned and polished to provide the brilliant white metal finish of sterling silver.

Amarinth seeds

Amarinth seeds, which are used in part of the processing of the silver (polishing?). I find it fascinating that native plants and seeds are used, such as the piling-piling seeds for glue.

One lady was using a tapering round rod to make silver wire hoops of exactly the right size to fit inside earrings. Another was assembling square wire shapes and pieces to build lockets. One lady was creating small curls of varying lengths to place inside a necklace pendant, a very exacting process. When I asked how long it took to build one pendant, they said about five days. Obviously, even if she has made hundreds of these exact pendants, and they assembly line them, with all of this handwork the final price must be much higher than what I could pay.

Silver plate and wire

Silver plates, strips, and wire. The die at the left allows different gauges of wire to be created.

I looked through the showroom and the pieces were amazing; truly works of art. I wasn’t allowed to photograph them, but they did let me photograph a silver Ganesha figurine in the center of the showroom.

Silver pellets

Silver beads of different sizes for use in making jewelry pieces.

This visit has added much more detail to what I saw in Kota Gede, and between the two places, my students will have enough photographs and video footage to put together a nice video on how silver filigree jewelry is made. I can add that to my extensive videos of silver mining and have that element pretty much locked down.

REsizing rings

This lady is creating precisely sized loops of silver to glue and weld into the final earrings. To make the loop just the right size, it is pushed onto the tapered tool she is holding until it reaches the right spot for the circumference she is after.

The original purpose of this site, the Elements Unearthed, has not been forgotten. My own greater purposes now encompass so much more that I originally intended when I started this blog site, so the topics I write about have also expanded. But I still come back to my roots as often as I can; I will never lose interest in how the elements are mined, refined, and turned into finished products such as the beautiful jewelry I’ve seen in Indonesia.

Silver Ganesha

A silver Ganesha statue in the main showroom. I wasn’t allowed to photograph the jewelry itself, which was amazingly intricate and beautiful.

Bali Day 2: Sunday, August 6, 2017

David on side stairway

David Black on the side steps leading up to Besakih Temple in Bali, Indonesia.

Although I could have stayed on the edge of the caldera looking at Gunung Batur forever, we had one more place to visit on our tour: Besakih Temple, the Mother Temple of all Bali.

Snake fruit and oranges

A fruit stand selling oranges, snake fruit, and bananas on the way to Besakih Temple.

Gusti had done well answering my questions about the shrines and temples we passed this morning, and now we were going to visit my first major Hindu religious site on Bali. We got back into the car (after I bought a small bag of oranges to try) and drove down ridgelines through small towns, gradually rounding the mountain until we got to the bottom foothills. I had no idea exactly where on Bali we were, but had the feeling that not many tourists got this far. That suited me just fine.

David at Besakih steps

The main steps to Besakih Temple, which only believers are allowed to use. I had to climb up some side steps. Wearing a sarong is required to enter the temple grounds. Gusti had to show me how to tie it properly. This temple is the mother temple to the rest of Bali.

From a distance it is hard to see Besakih Temple because its pagodas and walls are so old and covered in vegetation that they blend into the basic mountainside. We stopped at one of many parking lots and were immediately besieged by people selling souvenirs and sarongs. All Hindu temples require a sarong on Bali, and I had already purchased one the day before. Gusti and a lady selling postcards helped me correctly tie my sarong on; it was a bright aqua colored batik print, and with my ice-dyed blue shirt, I must have stood out. Gusti walked with me up to the foot of the temple, walking along a pathway through fruit stands selling snake fruit, oranges, bananas, and durian (which I could smell from a distance). He told me that only Hindu believers are allowed to walk up the central staircase or go inside the temples, but that tourists could see inside through the gates and could reach the top via a side staircase. We took some photos at the bottom of the main stairs, then worked our way around to the side entrance.

11-step pagoda

The main temple pagodas have eleven levels representing the eight cardinal directions and top, middle, and bottom. From the side stairs we could see into the main temple courtyard.

Walking in the sarong was difficult. I kept tripping as I walked up the stairs, and finally had to hold up my skirt as I have seen ladies do. Since everyone was wearing one, I did not feel out of place. I’m sure the vendors around the temple were charging much higher prices than what I had paid the day before.

David before mother temple

On the lawn leading to the main stairway into Besakih Temple. This far up in the mountains, the air is fairly cool, and there are fewer tourists than at most Hindu sites around Kuta or Ubud.

The temple complex was huge, with walled compounds that Gusti said were family clan temples. They surrounded the main courtyard and largest temples of the central complex. There were large pagodas with eleven stories, which Gusti explained represented the eight points of the compass plus top, center, and bottom. Believers in white shirts and gold hats and sarongs were placing offerings and praying inside the main courtyard, and everywhere the dark stone walls were green with mosses and grass.

Besakih temple from above

The temple complex as seen from above.

Gusti showed me large photos of one of the biggest ceremonies held here. Each year, the people of the local town dress in the white and gold clothing and take out the shrines of the Hindu gods, carrying them on their shoulders all the way to the ocean, where they go through a purification rite before being carried back up to the temple. The photos showed a huge procession winding its way to the sea. Other ceremonies are held only once per generation, going back hundreds of years.

Pagoda and flowers

Temple pagoda and bougainvillea flowers. The entire complex is divided into separate areas and temples for each of the major families of Bali. Gusti said his family has a temple here, too.

We walked up the side stairway and peaked into the various courtyards. This complex has some 32 clan temples and a number of larger temples, and is truly a huge area. Yet it doesn’t seem huge, because it blends in so well with its surroundings. Everywhere I pointed my camera, the photos were gorgeous.

Gusti told me that this was the central and highest level of temple in Bali. It was at the foot of the sacred mountain. At the next level down were the four regional temples at the four primary directions, with Tanah Lot in the south. These temples were under the administration of Besakih. Then each city or town had at least three community temples that were under the regional temples. Finally, each household had its own family temple or shrine.

Green temple vista

The lush green grass and plants at Besakih Temple in Bali, Indonesia.

Gusti was great at taking many photos of me and at explaining the ceremonies of these temples. I was surprised that a place so sacred was also open to tourists. There were restrictions, but I got to see inside all of the areas. I didn’t see many westerners, but there were some Indonesians walking up the stairs with me. Most of the people here were believers and came up the middle stairs; the central courtyard was pretty busy. So although it was mildly crowded, most of the people here weren’t tourists. That made my experience that much more pleasant.

Worshippers in courtyard

A view into the main courtyard, where worshippers kneel before the main pagodas.

It was humid but nicely cool this far up the mountain and very refreshing. Even though I had climbed a large number of stairs, I wasn’t tired. But it had been a long day, and by the time I got back to the car I was ready to head back to Ubud. I took off my sarong and climbed into the car and we started down the mountain.

Shrines to the sea

Portable shrines in the Besakih Temple. Once per year, they are carried by hand from here all the way to the beach to perform a purification rite. The local villagers dress in white and make quite the procession.

I dozed off, but we came to a winding road down a cliff with incredible views. I wasn’t able to get a good photo through the trees along the road, and could only catch glimpses. Once we reached the valley floor it was late afternoon and the hills and mountains glowed in the sunlight with a breathtaking green beyond the rice fields. Some of my photos through this area turned out very well.

David above temple in sarong

David Black at the top of Besakih Temple in Bali, Indonesia.

The towns became larger and more numerous. We passed groups of school children marching, practicing for Indonesian Independence Day. We came into Ubud from the south and passed the Monkey Forest Temple on our way to the center of town. We drove down Jalan Kajeng to my bungalow. I had already paid Gusti and the driver when we started out, a total of $155 U.S., but I gave them a decent tip as this had been an extraordinary day, well worth the money.

Temples and flowers above

Flowers and pagodas at Besakih Temple.

I was getting hungry again but was too tired to walk into town, so I ate the last of my snacks and some of the oranges. I tried to get on Google Hangout with Becca and the boys, but our timing was off and I fell asleep. Once I woke up again, I spent the remainder of the evening uploading photos. I had taken hundreds and lots of video just today. I also started to repack my things in anticipation of leaving Indonesia tomorrow.

Bali Hai scene

A perfect photo of the Balinese countryside on my way back to Ubud.

I will be sad to go, with so many thing left to see and do. But I’ve been here for nearly four weeks and I miss my family. It’s time to go home.

Bali Day 2: Sunday, August 6, 2017

Batur caldera panorama-s

A panoramic view of the Mt. Batur caldera as seen from my restaurant in Kintamani. The darker areas of the cone are lava flows from the 2006 eruption.

We left the coffee plantation and continued our journey up the side of Mount Batur. At higher elevations, there were orange groves and stands selling oranges, small towns in valleys as we ascending the ridge lines, and ever more clouds. I tried taking photos of the oranges but the car was moving too fast to get a clear shot. Up ahead the clouds seemed to engulf the roadway, but as we reached it I saw that we had crested the edge of the caldera. We had arrived at the heart of Gunung Batur, which is the beating heart of Bali itself.

Batur details

A close-up view of Mt. Batur on Bali. You can see smoke rising from fumeroles about 1/3 of the way down from the top; this is the active site of the 2006 eruptions, marked by the black lava flows that are only just beginning to be colonized by plants.

I had been afraid that I would face the same problem as at Mount Merapi three days before, especially since it had rained this morning, but luck was with me this time. The clouds were higher up than the central mountain and there were patches of sunlight shining on the peak. We drove a short distance along the edge of the crater and stopped at a white restaurant in Kintamani that hung out over the edge. Gusti said this would be where I would eat lunch. It was an Indonesian buffet. I felt guilty being the only one of us eating; Gusti and the driver were staying with the car, waiting for me to get done. I’m not used to being an exclusive guest, but I did pay 50% more for this tour because I was by myself.

Reataurant at Batur

The restaurant in Kintamani where I ate lunch, hanging over the caldera’s edge. You can see the ridges in the background right that are formed by the double ring of the caldera.

I was assigned a seat overlooking the caldera and parked my camera bag while I got lunch. The buffet dishes were pretty good, but the vegan soup was the best. There were banana fritters, fried rice and fried noodles, chicken satay (on a skewer), and other dishes. I sat my food down and took photos of it with the mountain in the background. Before eating, I took advantage of the sunlight and took a series of photos of the entire caldera in a panoramic view as well as close-ups of the mountain itself. Misty clouds kept trying to blow in, and I could tell the mountain would be covered later on, but for now the view was excellent.

Gonna plug that mountain

Something tells me my finger won’t be enough to plug this mountain if it decides to blow . . .

Gunung Batur is an active volcano, a composite peak growing inside a double-walled caldera. Gusti had told me that it last erupted in 2006, only 11 years ago. I could see smoke rising from fumeroles on an area about 1/3 down from the top of the peak directly in front of my position, with fresh lava flows spreading from that position down into the bottom of the caldera. The town of Kintamani was threatened and eventually moved (mostly) up to the top of the caldera rim.

3D model of Batur

A 3D model of Mt. Batur on Bali. My restaurant was at the 7:00 position on the south rim of the caldera. You can see that it is a double ring – this mountain has blown up and collapsed at least twice, then the composite cone has formed again. The flat area to the right is the surface of the lake. This data comes from the USGS Earth Explorer website and is modeled in Daz3D Bryce.

It was hard to tell from this side, but my 3D models of the mountain show a definite double wall with the central peak growing inside both rims. The eruptions that made these walls were violent indeed, blowing the top off the mountain many years ago and collapsing the magma chamber to form the caldera that I was eating on top of. To my left I could see the double ridge of the rims. To my right was a large ridge and beyond that, a beautiful blue lake, the largest on Bali. The far wall of the caldera rose beyond the lake. Various ages of lava flows could be determined by their degree of coverage in brilliant green foliage; the 11-year-old flows were just beginning to succumb to the plants’ encroachment.

Gusti with Gunung Batur

My tour guide, Gusti, at the rim of the Mt. Batur caldera. He is an excellent guide, with a great amount of knowledge about all things Bali as well as good English skills. I highly recommend looking him up for tours of Bali.

This was an incredible sight and my first good look at an Andesitic or composite volcano up close. When I took my two oldest children to Washington in 2000, we visited Mt. St. Helens but the mountain was shrouded in clouds, just at Merapi had been. I had been 0 for 2 until today. But now I’m 1 for 3, and the wait was worth it. This will be very useful for my earth science classes this year, as well as my fly-overs of Mt. Bromo and the other volcanoes.

Active volcanoes in Indonesia

A USGS map of active volcanoes in Indonesia. Bali has both Mt. Batur and Mt. Agung, with Mt. Rinjani on a the nearby island of Lombok. There are 125 active volcanoes in Indonesia, the most of any country. They from a series of arcs where ocean crustal plates are colliding.

The Indonesian island arc of Sumatra, Java, Bali, and so on to the east sits at the edge of a very active subduction zone, where the Philippines Plate is being pushed into the Indian Plate. The Indian Plate is being pushed below, and materials eroded off the islands are caught in the subduction zone, along with water. These light materials are heated and rise to the surface as large plutons of magma, high in volatiles, that explode when they reach the surface. Repeated pyroclastic ash and andesite eruptions create the composite cones. When a magma chamber explodes and then collapses, a caldera forms. Here at Mt. Batur, one can see both, a testament to the long-term violence of Earth’s tectonic plates.

Lake Batur panorama-s

A panoramic view of Lake Batur, the crater lake inside the caldera. We drove east along the caldera’s edge until we found this overlook.

After lunch we took some photos at the wall in the parking lot, then I convinced Gusti to drive me around the rim further to get a better look at the lake and to see the mountain from a different angle. The view kept shifting as we traveled, and we found roads to take us even though we left the main highway. Gusti seemed to know every road on Bali. We stopped eventually at a pull out with a great view over the lake and back to the mountain. I took further photos, which I have pieced together into the panorama you see here. I was reluctant to leave such a view, but our next stop awaited us.

Batur from other angle 2

Gunung Batur seen from a different angle as we traversed the caldera’s rim.

Lunch with Mt. Batur

My lunch overlooking an active volcano. Some people take early morning hiking tours of the mountain and each a lunch of eggs roasted in the fumeroles of Mt. Batur.

Appease the mountain god

A local shrine to appease the mountain gods.

David by Lake Batur

David Black overlooking Lake Batur with the composite volcano cone in the distance.

Bali Day 2: Sunday, August 6, 2017

Luwak poop

A basket full of luwak poop. The semi-fermented coffee beans contained in the poop are considered to be the best tasting coffee in the world.

As drove higher up on the central mountain slope above Ubud, Bali, the rice fields gave way to orange groves and other highland agriculture. Our next stop was at a coffee plantation, one of several in the region. Coffee grows on mountain slopes in wet highland areas. It originated in the Ethiopian highlands in Africa and was exported to Yemen and southern Saudi Arabia, but the conditions there are not very good for coffee. Its third location was Indonesia many hundred years ago. It wasn’t until the Spanish conquest of the Americas that coffee emigrated there, where it is now grown in the highlands of central and south America.

Coffee beans

Coffee beans growing at the plantation.

Although it is not native to Bali, coffee has become well established, with plantations staying in families for generations. Gusti knew the people at this plantation and showed me around as we walked along paths to a back area where their store was located overlooking the coffee plants on a steep slope. Along the path itself he pointed out cacao trees (the first I’ve seen, although the season isn’t right for them), Indonesian passion fruit growing on trellises, pineapple plants, ginseng, and a curious vine growing in zig zags up the trunks of other trees. These were vanilla plants, and the stems are dried and ground up for vanilla flavoring, as well as the beans and seeds.

Cacao pods

Cacao pods growing at the coffee plantation. They had a little bit of everything growing here on the high slopes of Bali.

We passed a cage with a rock wall inside and two small animals about the size and shape of a mongoose. They had the large eyes and long tails of nocturnal arboreal creatures, and they were trying to sleep. Gusti told me that these were luwak, which live wild in the coffee plantations. They eat fruit and the occasional live chicken head, and have a taste for coffee beans. They are very good at picking out only the best, ripe beans and eating them. But since coffee is not native here, the luwak don’t digest them very well. The beans will ferment a bit in their stomachs, then get pooped out mostly intact. People go out into the forest each morning to look for the droppings and are very happy to find one cup’s worth. The droppings are bought by the plantations, cleaned off, roasted by hand, ground up, and sold as the most expensive coffee in the world.

Luwak climbing

A luwak in a cage at the plantation. These animals are similar to a mongoose and eat eggs, small birds, fruit, and whatever they can find. They have the large eyes of nocturnal animals, and are especially fond of the best coffee beans, which they only partially digest. People go through the jungles each morning around here looking for luwak droppings, which are collected, washed, roasted, and sold as a premier coffee.

I’m not a coffee drinker, so I wouldn’t know luwak coffee from the cheapest instant blend. I can’t help but think of the unfortunate person who was driven to try out Luwak coffee beans for the first time.

Indonesian passion fruit

Indonesian passion fruit growing as vines on a trellis at the coffee plantation.

We went to the back area of the plantation where a lady was roasting coffee beans over a small fire by hand. Gusti showed me the large mortar and pestle used for grinding up the roasted beans and the final powder. They don’t use automation or machinery here, it is all done by hand and sold in small batches. They also had containers with tumeric, ginger, cacao beans, peppercorns, and cinnamon bark (all grown here) and a large basket full of Luwak droppings.

 

They brought out samples of coffee and herbal teas and hot chocolate. I didn’t try the coffee, as that is against my own religion. I would not normally drink tea either if it was made from tea leaves, but I did sip the herbal teas. I liked the lemon tea, but wasn’t so big on the dragon fruit tea. The chocolate was pretty good. They did not offer any Luwak coffee – that is too expensive to give away. I wouldn’t have tried it, anyway.

Ginseng

Ginseng plants growing along the walkway at the coffee plantation. They had many different types of food plants here.

I took some photos overlooking the deep valley where the main coffee plants are located. They showed me through their store, and they had coffee, cocoa, and spices for sale, including nutmeg and saffron.

Saffron

Balinese saffron for sale at the plantation gift shop.

“Saffron! A little saffron would make this!”

Roasting coffee

The coffee beans are roasted by hand on this small stove, then ground, sifted, and sold.

There’s my obscure movie quote for the day, and this time it’s not from Star Trek. As much as I wanted to buy some saffron just to have some, it was a bit expensive and I wouldn’t know what to do with it. I think they were a bit disappointed that I didn’t buy anything, but I’m sure part of my tour fee went to this excursion in a coffee plantation, so I certainly paid for the samples I tried.

Coffee mortar and pestle

A large mortar and pestle for grinding the roasted coffee beans.

We walked back along the path and climbed back into the car. My most anticipated part of this trip was next.

Yellow cacao pod

A yellow cacao pod. Notice that cacao flowers and fruit grow out of the trunks of the trees, not from the branches.

Pineapple

Pineapple plant. The ones we eat grow from the ground like this. If allowed to grow into a full-sized bush, then pineapples grow suspended from the branches but are too sour to eat.

Roasted beans

Roasted coffee beans at the plantation.

Taste test

A taste test – they bring out free samples of different herbal teas and coffees made and flavored here. I don’t drink coffee, but I tried the herbal teas and liked the lemon tea the best. The purple dragon fruit tea was unusual. The hot chocolate was good.

Spices grown at coffee farm

Other spices grown at the coffee plantation on Bali. The front left and middle left are ginger root, the front right is tumeric root (similar to ginger but more orange). The middle right is cinnamon bark. The back left is cacao beans, and the back right is peppercorns. Indonesia was known as the Spice Islands in antiquity for good reason.

Cacao beans

Cacao beans after fermentation at the coffee plantation on Bali.

Vanilla plant

A vanilla vine zigzagging it’s way up a tree at the coffee plantation.

Vanilla vine

The large vine growing on the tree is vanilla. The seed pods are harvested as vanilla beans, but the stems are ground up for the flavoring itself.

David at coffee plantation

David Black overlooking the slopes of the coffee plantation above Ubud, Bali.

Baby Elephant Walk

Bali Day 2: Sunday, August 6, 2017

Elephant hug

David Black hugging a rare sumatran elephant at the elephant safari park near Desa Taro, Bali, Indonesia.

On my second day in Bali, Indonesia I took the opportunity to hire a driver and tour guide (Gusti) to show me some parts of the island that are a bit off the beaten tourist path. We started in Ubud, and  after our ride through the rice fields, past temples and small towns, the rain finally let up and the clouds broke up. By the time we reached the Elephant Safari Park near the village of Desa Taro, the weather was nice and cooler now that we were higher up the mountain.

Rajah elephant

A sculpture of a Rajah riding an Indian elephant.

The Elephant Safari Park was established in 2010 as a preserve for endangered Sumatran elephants. A sub-species of the Asian elephant, about 80% of the population has been destroyed over only three generations (75 years) due to poaching and habitat loss or fragmentation. Almost 70% of the large areas of forest on Sumatra have been broken up for farming and the remaining pieces are too small to support viable wild elephant populations. Much of the poaching has been because the wild elephants trample crops, and bull elephants in heat are extremely dangerous. There have been many deaths of humans, too. In 1985, as many as 4800 elephants ranged through eight provinces in 44 populations. By 2003, 23 of those populations had disappeared or were no longer viable. Now, only 2400-2800 elephants remain in about 25 fragmented groups not including camps and zoos.

Elephant safari park

Riding elephants in the Elephant Safari Park. Paying to ride them helps to keep them fed (they eat 250 kg of food each day) and provides them with needed exercise. Four baby elephants have been successfully bred here in the seven years the park has been open.

The Safari Park holds 31 Sumatran elephants: 7 males and 24 females. Four of these are children and were born here, the youngest is about four years old. These elephants have been rescued from captivity or distress elsewhere and are treated with great care here and a island of preservation. It is also designed to be a sustainable preserve, and to this end the elephants interact with humans through having visitors feed them fruit and bamboo, watch them put on acts, wash them down, or even ride them. I had chosen this tour specifically to have the experience of riding an elephant, and especially to help support the feeding and care of the elephants.

Feeding elephant

Elephants eat many plants, including bamboo. They love fruit. I am feeding bamboo to a young elephant here, and was surprised at how dextrous the trunk is – it stored several pieces in its trunk before eating them.

Sumatran elephants require 250 kg of food per day, which is quite costly. The visitor attractions pay for these expenses. I know it sounds strange (and several of the other teachers had a strong negative reaction when I told them I was going to do this) to be riding around on a critically endangered species. But what an opportunity! And at least my money is helping to preserve the species. Asian elephants have had a long relationship of working with humans. Perhaps they have been mistreated and exploited in the past, but I could see that these elephants are well cared for.

 

Loading the elephants

The drivers sit behind the elephant’s neck, while the riders sit on chairs attached to the elephants’ backs. They come in to the feeding area and riders climb on and off at the level of the elephants’ backs. In the enclosure behind, I saw several elephants do a show – I took lots of video but no still photos.

When I arrived Gusti worked out my ticket (included in my tour price) and I walked to the feeding area. You can feed the elephants chopped up bamboo sticks or pay a bit extra to feed them fruit. They come up to a fence and reach over with their trunks, and I was surprised how dexterous the trunks were. Asian elephants have a single prehensile tip at the end of the trunk, and they can stack and manipulate quite a few pieces of bamboo. They were friendly and playful. One elephant had been trained to place a flowered wreath over people’s heads, then place his trunk on top of their heads. They seemed to enjoy interacting with us. I had Gusti take photos of me feeding the elephants and even giving one a hug.

Elephant ride

David Black riding Ardila, a female Sumatran elephant.

I stood in line for my ride and talked with a lady named Patricia who was originally from Wales but now living in Perth, Australia. She had come up to Ubud on a holiday. My name was called and I was asked if I would be willing wait until after the show to do my ride and I said yes, as I didn’t want to miss the show.

Traffic jam

An elephant traffic jam. They even have bungalows that people can stay at where the elephants come up to the balconies to be fed and then carry you to breakfast. For a price, of course.

They had three elephants who were trained to some fun tricks, such as kick a soccer ball (quite accurate really given how thick their legs are), shoot a basketball through a hoop with their trunks, do simple math problems, draw with chalk on a chalkboard (elephant art, anyone?), and spray the crowd with water. Perhaps I am putting human emotions int elephant expressions, but they really seemed to like spraying us.

Thumbs up

Thumbs up. I handed my camera down to Gusti, who took these photos of me riding Ardila the Sumatran Elephant.

As soon as the show was over they called my name for a ride and I hurried over to take my place at the head of the line. The elephant walked up to the fence so that I only had to step across onto the seat mounted to her back. Her name was Ardila and her driver sat on her neck behind her ears while I rode on her back. Sumatran elephants have a more dome shaped back than African elephants, so mounting the seat is tricky. As she walked, I swayed side to side in a rolling motion.

Elephant crossing sign

An elephant crossing sign at the Elephant Safari Park in Bali.

We followed a trail up and around the elephant paddocks and onto a trail system through a small patch of jungle. We had a continuous procession. The elephant ahead of me was obviously male and stopped to urinate part way along the pass. There was frequent elephant dung, and the elephants were trying to grab whatever bamboo they could reach as we walked along. They have to eat almost constantly.

Arpila showing off

Ardila showing off. At the end of our ride, the elephants walk into a wading pond and spray everyone with water. They seem to enjoy getting people wet, their idea of a practical joke.

Since I was by myself, I felt like quite the rajah riding on my elephant. We climbed up a small hill, then looped around and back toward the starting point. We passed a series of bungalow rooms with back porches. The people who stay here get to feed the elephants from the back porches, then ride the elephants to their own breakfast each morning.

Spraying water

Ardila enjoyed spraying bystanders with water.

At the end of the ride I handed my camera down to Gusti so he could take some photos of me riding. I had taken quite a bit of video on my way. They had the elephants circle back through a pool of water at the end and pose for the cameras. Gusti took some nice photos of me on Ardila.

Look, Ma, no hands

Look, Ma – no hands! The ride was a bit jarring on the spine as the elephant sways back and forth as it walks, but you do get used to it. But you can walk faster. Still, it was a great deal of fun.

I climbed off and we walked back to the car, which the driver brought up for us. We traveled back to the village of Desa Taro and continued on our way.

Flowers at safari park

Flowers at the Elephant Safari Park. The grounds and facilities were nicely maintained and beautiful.