Fretwell's Travel Journal: Chapter 4 -- Winding up our tour of Indonesia.

March 23rd -- Today is our second day in Bali, and we have elected to stay aboard ship. We effectively saw what we wanted to yesterday, and the 92 degree temperature with 95 percent humidity makes trekking around an exercise in extreme perspiration. I can generate my own rainstorm just by shaking my head. It is much nicer to set on deck with a cooling breeze off the water, and enjoy the scenery.

I have been trying to understand more about the history of Indonesia, in particular the history leading up to the attempted Communist coup in the 1960s, and its subsequent suppression. I had the uneasy feeling that what we learned from our guides was a sanitized version for us tourists. As with all world history, one must be very careful with what one believes, but in this part of the world even more so. The Indonesian (and Hindu) belief that good and bad are closely intertwined seems particularly relevant here. From what I am gathering, Sukarno started out seemingly very much a supporter of the rights of his people, and he promised repeatedly to make their lives better. He had been imprisoned in 1929 for trying to achieve political independence for Indonesia. The people almost worshipped him. But something went badly awry. Maybe he just could not make his vision come to fruition; or maybe he enjoyed the benefits of power more than he enjoyed trying to help his people; or maybe he lied from the start? For whatever reason, the plight of the poor became worse and worse, and was utterly terrible, with starvation common, and any chance for betterment way too elusive for them. Inflation reached over 600 percent annually, evaporating any savings they'd tried to store, and their earnings utterly did not keep pace with inflation. What had been barely adequate wages for sustaining life became wholly insufficient. Insufficient is not an academic word; starvation was common. It bred great discontent amongst the populace.

Many of the poor people who were attracted to the Communist uprising were simply wanting their government to pass some of its huge oil and mineral wealth downwards to them, so that their children didn't starve. They saw the rich getting filthy rich and themselves getting poorer and poorer. They were desperate, and they saw great inequality, which made them easy pawns in the hands of Communist organizers. History shows us clearly that no Communist coup has ever bettered the plight of the poor; but it was the Communists who were telling the poor that they could and would give them a better life, and they believed, in desperation. Be very careful whom you believe.

Now, here is the twisty, tricky part. Sukarno came into power proclaiming his hatred and disdain for the "Imperialist British, Dutch, and Americans" because of these countries' control of Indonesia's abundant natural resources. He himself was one of the lead speakers at Communist PKI (Partai Komunis Indonesia) meetings, and leaned strongly towards the Communist philosophy of government owning all property -- presumably so that the wealth of the nation could go back to the peoples of the nation. As you might guess, after nationalization, it didn't work out that way. After foreign mining and oil interests were nationalized, the poor citizenry saw almost nothing from it. No surprises there, to anyone who has studied how Communism works out.

Once the poor started uprising, they were uprising for three major reasons: their terrible and worsening poverty; Sukarno's duplicity in promising them his support but never giving it, and against the British and Americans whom they still saw as Imperialist governments supporting Sukarno; even though this was not true, especially in the case of the Americans. As is so often the case, the poor had legitimate gripes, but they chose the wrong "savior," Communism.

Once the Communist rebels started obtaining arms from foreign sources the threat of civil war became huge. On September 30, 1965, and October 1, 1965, six of Indonesia's army generals were abducted, killed and dropped down a well. The sole remaining general was General Suharto, who put down the rebellion the next day, October 2, 1965. Some speculate that it was he and not the PKI who had the other generals killed. Historians say we'll never really know. In any case, he outmaneuvered Sukarno politically and became Indonesia's leader in 1968.

After the attempted coup, Suharto began a purge of the PKI, their sympathizers, many who were even slightly suspected of any such leanings, and some whom their neighbors simply disliked. Numbers are hard to come by but the best estimate is that some 500,000 were slaughtered, although some sources claim 1,000,000. Another 1,000,000 or so were imprisoned. Here is what "Time" magazine had to say in their account on 17 December 1966:

"Communists, red sympathizers and their families are being massacred by the thousands. Backlands army units are reported to have executed thousands of communists after interrogation in remote jails. Armed with wide-bladed knives called parangs, Moslem bands crept at night into the homes of communists, killing entire families and burying their bodies in shallow graves.

The murder campaign became so brazen in parts of rural East Java, that Moslem bands placed the heads of victims on poles and paraded them through villages. The killings have been on such a scale that the disposal of the corpses has created a serious sanitation problem in East Java and Northern Sumatra where the humid air bears the reek of decaying flesh. Travelers from those areas tell of small rivers and streams that have been literally clogged with bodies."

The Times account failed completely to indicate that many who were killed were innocents or perhaps slightly suspected by their neighbors. Many deaths were opportunistic, simply to exterminate old rivals and settle old scores.

Bali was a particular stronghold of the PKI, and its purging there was not carried out by Muslims (of which there were very few in Bali), but rather by Hindus (the majority religion in Bali). It was the only island where the local army intervened in any way to lessen the slaughter. I find this particularly suggestive; suggestive that underlying the Indonesian government's constant reinforcement of the ideas of religious tolerance there was a dark current of sublimated intolerance just waiting for an excuse to erupt; perhaps driven by the runaway inflation and the desperation of the people to blame someone, anyone? I can, of course, be absolutely wrong, but the pogrom in Bali was carried out by the people, not the Indonesian army. If it was a show of extreme nationalism, it would have expressed itself as support for Sukarno, but it didn't, so it most likely wasn't nationalism.

Anyway, it has been an interesting exploration of a part of recent world history that I knew too little about. If I hadn't become intrigued by our guides' comments about their 1965 uprising, I'd have been another tourist, seeing but not seeing, hearing but not hearing. I'm sure a huge element of ignorance still remains with me. Nonetheless, I can see and feel the same forces still at work. Consider that I traded $100 US for $1,000,000 Rupiah! You can be a millionaire in Rupiah for only $100 US! The modern Rupiah didn't get to the absurd devaluation of 10,000 to a dollar without continuing inflation. The hardworking peoples of Indonesia are still struggling for the good life, which remains outside the grasp of many. The average wage in Indonesia is equivalent to $4,200 US per year (42 Million Rupiah).

March 24th -- Today is another sea day; we're en-route to Surabaya The Java Sea is dead flat, and utterly gorgeous. It is easy to see land 75 miles away. Days like this at sea are some of my favorite times. We set on the open deck, listening to an especially mellow voiced male singer, singing popular songs from the 50s and 60s, while reading our books, eating too much, drifting off to sleep for a bit, and just enjoying the breeze and the fresh salt air. In some ways sea days are better than shore days. They're certainly more relaxing.

March 25th -- We spent a beautiful day in Surabaya. Sura means "shark" and baya means "crocodile," but we saw neither. Surabaya is the second largest city in Java, after Jakarta, but it seems to have a much greater seaport "presence." From our berth we counted 77 ships at anchor, and many more at berth. In the evening when we departed it became apparent that our 77 ships was a tiny fraction of those in the harbor. There are literally hundreds and hundreds of ships here. They are not the huge super container ships of Hong Kong and Singapore. They are the "island hopper" or tramp steamer ships so common in the Islands.

For our evening departure we were treated to several miles of slow cruising out of the greater Surabaya harbor, and it was a real treat for a harbor tramp like me. I don't think I've ever seen such an extensive seaport anywhere. I know it doesn't handle the tonnage that Hong Kong and Singapore do, but it seems to be the tramp steamer center of shipping; much more interesting to see.

The air temperature today is 92 degrees, and the humidity feels about the same. Mesa certainly is a milder climate at this time of year. We're gradually acclimating. The natives, however, must think we're in a cold spell, because while we were standing on deck 8 watching a crew of six natives demolishing a brick building (by hand), we observed that all had on long-sleeve sweatshirts and one of them was wearing a coat, not a light jacket! I was perspiring just standing on deck watching them.

The ms Rotterdam crewmembers were required to do a fire drill on deck 3 today, with a "simulated/pretend" fire there. Ardie and I went down to watch the drill. It was instructive to us. God help us if our ship ever has a fire, 'cause the crew sure won't! I'd characterize it as a drill to fulfill legal requirements and nothing more. It certainly was not anything like fire drills the U.S. Navy conducts on their ships!

Following the fire drill there was a practice launch of one of the 25-person, inflatable life rafts. The crew was not required to attend this practice, but were "strongly encouraged" to. About 40 did attend, mostly the cook's crew. They knew almost nothing about how to launch a raft before they started, and scarcely more when they finished. The officer doing the so-called training did okay, and I know I could help launch one now that I have watched, but he was dealing with Indonesian cooks, many who had considerable language barriers, and it was not a repetitive drill -- just once through, and many, many steps to do it right. The majority of the crew didn't "get it."

I asked Ardie if the practice launch inspired confidence for her? She said "We better be able to help ourselves!" From deck 3, the life rafts are supposed to be filled with passengers before launch, and are supposed to be lowered to the water by means of extensible hoists located on deck 4. The raft canister has to be affixed to the hoist pulley, and raised over the railing while still in the canister. The canister has several ropes leading out of it, which then have to be firmly tied to the deck 3 railing, so that when the raft is inflated, it is held tightly against the rail for loading. Then, the rope that goes to the air tank is pulled sharply, and the raft inflates. (If the rope is pulled before the raft is over the railing, there is no way to ever get the inflated raft up and over the railing to launch, because it won't fit, and it is thusly rendered useless.) The raft has two major air tubes, one atop the other, to form the raft. It is octagonal in shape, and has a storm cover built in, including three big air tubes that hold the storm cover up, tent-like. Once the raft is inflated, passengers are supposed to climb over the railing and tumble into the doorway of the big raft. Once loaded, with 23 passengers and two crew members, the ropes attaching the raft to the railing are to be cut -- not untied -- with a special knife that is designed for rope cutting; a knife without any sharp "point' on it; and then the crew manning the hoist are supposed to lower the raft 30 feet to the water. I can just imagine the chaos that will ensue if there is ever a real need to deploy these rafts. The training needs to be done so many times that the crew can do it blindfolded and almost asleep. It ain't!

I did get several great pictures of the training, including a video of the life raft inflating. I'll post them if we ever find fast internet.

We have been gone from Mesa for 2 weeks now, and have not received a single email from our MagicJack telephone voice mail indicating anyone has left a voice message on our home phone in Mesa. It has worked perfectly on all our other trips, but for some reason it is not working this trip, and I have not been able to ascertain the reason why. I can log into the MagicJack website and can see that my settings to receive voicemail by email are active and have the proper email address, but it isn't working. So-o-o, if anyone needs to contact us, email works well. Don't depend on a voicemail message on our telephones.

March 26th -- Today was another glorious day at sea. We're done with our stops in Indonesia and are steaming towards Singapore again. The Java Sea is again flat as a pancake, and just glorious to watch. We passed by Borneo, but cloud cover hid it from our view. We sat outside on deck 3 for several hours, reading, snoozing, and just watching the water.

I finished an old book, given to me by my SVE friend, Don Clark, titled "On Faceplate Turning" by the editors of Fine Woodworking Magazine. It is, of course, about woodturning with a lathe. I'd never have taken time to read it at home (too busy), but here on the high seas it was a perfect diversion, and very, very satisfying. I can hardly wait to try some of the old, but new to me, techniques I just learned.

Yesterday we got to watch a fire drill. Today we had a real fire alarm at about 5:45 pm. The electronic smoke detectors in the engine room "went off," causing the fire alarm. We heard it, and waited for an announcement as to whether it was a drill or a real alarm; as per prior instructions. The intercom stayed silent. We waited about 3 minutes before the Captain came breathlessly onto the intercom and affirmed that it was a real alarm, not a drill. But he gave us no further directions. While the intercom was still keyed up we heard someone on the bridge with the Captain say the "F" word. They were taking it seriously, and it didn't sound like they were calm.

About 45 seconds later, the Activities Director came on and announced the same thing in Dutch, for the Dutch passengers aboard, because the Captain had forgotten to do his bilingual thing. We were not directed to go to our emergency stations nor were we directed to "sit tight and await further directions." We got no instructions. In our deck 2 hallway everyone was standing, either with their life jacket or without, to see what the other passengers were doing. Lacking directions, I told Ardie the wisest course of action for us was to go outside on deck 3 to await further directions. Once outside, we couldn't be trapped inside by smoke or flames.

I'd guess we were on deck 3 about 4 minutes when the Captain came back on the intercom and said that the fire alarm was not a false alarm, the engine room had been examined, and there was smoke but no flames. He was quite breathless, as we could well imagine. He finally advised everyone to just "set tight and await further instructions." We finally had some directions from him -- after at least 7 to 10 minutes.

Based on the Captain's assessment, we didn't feel that there was any serious nor eminent threat, so we decided to return to our stateroom. As we passed by the windowed doors to the staff's work area, I glanced through the window, and there were all our cabin stewards, with their life jackets ON. My first impression was one of dismay, that the crew would be in lifejackets while the passengers had not been told to do the same. But I quickly came to the realization that this was as it should be. At least the crew were ready to take immediate positive action if the conditions warranted it, and keeping the passengers calm until an emergency was confirmed was probably a good thing.

After another 10 minutes we got the all clear notice, and the Captain said that there was no fire in the engine room, and the engine room had been thoroughly examined for safety. He did reaffirm that the smoke alarm had been correct; there was dense smoke. But no one could at that time identify its origin. Later, at 8 pm, our Activities Director announced at the evening show that there had been an "oil" leak on a hot engine part, which generated the smoke. Knowing what I do about marine engines and how they're cooled, I thought the "oil" was more likely to be the much more dangerous fuel "oil" than lubricating oil, because an injector leak would put fuel oil right onto the hottest part of the cylinder head, whereas a lubricating oil leak would be very unlikely to be able to reach any part of the engine hot enough to vaporize it. We much later learned that one of the engine pistons was starting to seize up from lack of lubrication, and overheated a cylinder heat, causing separation between the engine head and the cylinder, thus generating -- you guessed it -- fuel vapor escape at the head gasket. Anyway, thank goodness for good smoke detectors.

We have no idea how the ship has maintained full speed with a largely disabled engine. I suspect they have two or even three diesel engines driving generators that drive electric motors to the propellers, so loss of one diesel engine wouldn't disable the ship, nor even slow it.

Neither Ardie nor I were fearful, but we did reaffirm our belief that if any real emergency were to happen, we'd rely more on our own judgment and plans, than on the crew's readiness and ability to competently direct us.

Soon we went to dinner, had a great meal and forgot all about the alarm. Did I say that the food has been far better than we have experienced on some past cruises? It is. We are very pleased with the food. The evening shows have been mostly really good too -- which is much improved over some prior cruises. All the cruise lines now have their own semi-permanent bands, singers, and dancers who fill large portions of the show schedule, because it is far less expensive than flying in the big name entertainers. We generally don't care for these groups, and the ones on the Rotterdam are no exception, but the fly-in entertainers have been exceptional.

March 27th -- This morning I exchanged our left over Indonesian Rupiahs for Singapore dollars at the ship's Front Office. I had a number in my mind as to about what to expect back. What I got back was substantially less, so I quizzed the clerk. She explained that the ship first converts the Rupiahs to U.S. dollars and charges their fee for that; then they convert the U.S. dollars to Singapore dollars and charge another exchange rate for that! So, when I went back to our stateroom I got on the (slow) Internet and looked up the real exchange rate for Rupiahs to Singapore dollars. The ship got me for almost 30 percent on this dual exchange! Guess what? I won't ever again exchange currencies aboard a Holland America ship. As Abraham Lincoln fondly said (on the Internet), "You can shear a sheep many times, but you can only skin him once." A three to four percent fee, one way, is reasonable. Ten times that is not.

The ms Rotterdam docked in Singapore at 4:30 pm, and at 5:30 pm we left the ship for an evening tour of Singapore's relatively new and already famous "Gardens by the Bay." These extensive and beautiful gardens are next to the famous Marine Bay Sands Hotel -- the twin tower hotel with a deck bridging between the two towers which looks like a cruise ship with a tropical garden atop it. My son-in-law, Craig Steele, worked for the architectural firm commissioned to design the hotel, and he worked on the "ship" bridge deck atop the hotel, helping design the pools, gardens, and relaxation areas there.

We had time to walk through one of the two huge domed greenhouses, called conservatories, before it became to dark to enjoy. We chose the Flower Dome instead of the Cloud Forest, and we were very glad we did. It is very special. Singapore spared no expense in importing trees and plants from all over the world, and setting them in representative gardens. The flowers are beautiful, but I was personally most taken with the trees.

They imported and transplanted ancient olive trees (up to 1000 years old) from the Mediterranean and from California, to show the different varieties and shapes of these mature trees. The olive trees I usually see are spindly little things; these, however, have trunks that are 40 inches in diameter and better, and are gnarled into amazing shapes. As a woodturner, I was drooling! If you have ever seen the incredible figure of an old olive tree, it is very special, and commands an incredible price. But just to see these fabulous old trees was enough.

I've seen pictures of the Australian Baobab trees, but never have seen them up close and personal. Nor did I realize that the African Baobab tree exists and is quite different than the Australian one. There are huge, mature ones of each here in the Gardens by the Bay, and I took many pictures of them. The Australian ones were about 45 inches in diameter at the base, and tapered to about 12 inches at the top, but they are bulbous at the base, very vase shaped.

I also got a good picture of a Singapore Baobab tree -- it is a big circular concrete pillar of about the same dimensions as the Baobab trees, nestled amongst the Australian and African ones, and serving no apparent purpose. It didn't support the greenhouse dome. It didn't appear to have any function, so I took it as a statement by the garden designers (grin).

March 28th -- Today is a debarkation and embarkation day in Singapore, and we only went ashore to exchange money. The rest of the day was spend on shipboard, enjoying the news and good books.

-- Marvin O. Fretwell, 3/28/2014

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