Here Thar Be Monsters!

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The Animating Contest of Freedom

Well you walk into the room like a camel and then you frown
You put your eyes in your pocket and your nose on the ground
There ought to be a law against you coming around
You should be made to wear earphones
Cause something is happening and you don't know what it is
do you, Mr. Jones?
-Bob Dylan, Ballad of a Thin Man

I recently went back to Singapore. It was the first time I have left Indonesia in two years. And baby, something is happening here, but I don't know what it is.

Seems after you live here for a while, something happens to you. You change. Your perspective warps just a bit. You get used to things that just a while back were wildly outside of your comfort zone.

I have gotten so used to the just-left-of-reality called Indonesia that returning to the 'real world' is a shock. Now granted, Singapore is a techno-fascist state that has brought compliance and lock-step to the point of micromanagement. It is a city-state run by Chinese, which is to say, Vulcans. On top of that, they have spent years recruiting and investing in high-tech brain-power and businesses to the point where the entire nation has become a macro-chip, if you will. It is impossible to describe Singapore without resorting to a truck-load of hyphenated nouns, because there are no normal words for it.

After two straight years in Indonesia, stepping into Singapore assaulted me with clean efficiency. Everyone was following the rules. There were all kinds of modern conveniences, like moving sidewalks that actually moved (Indo joke), restrooms fitted with all sorts of sensors to tell when you've finished so that they can flush or dispense water or soap or warm air, and signage that is both copious and actually leads you somewhere (Indo joke). Everything spacious and people respect personal space. Everything is painfully clean, in a way that would make even Germans wince. It all looks like it was torn from a 1930s Future-ama film short at the Saturday matinée.

It is truly the mirrow image of Indonesia, and I was Alice just stepping through.

With cold efficiency, the airport itself led me through the gate, down the impossibly long corridor and into the dazzling arcade of duty free shopping, with genuine products whose counterfeits I have passed a million times in Indonesian shopping malls. Here was cheap booze and expensive baubles, the diametric opposite of my adopted home.

Once through the endless temptations to participate in consummeristic orgies, I was summarily disgorged into the cavernous entry hall. The ceiling soared overhead and there seemed to be enough room for half the world's population here, so unlike the cramped and crowded stockyards full of shoving people back home. A huge tote board listed the great cities of the world, which airline was going there next, and precisely which line to get in for your boarding pass. If this wasn't enough information for you, helpful little men in red vests would quickly glide up to you and offer help, and the best part was they didn't expect a tip. It was, after all, their job.

I stepped into the tropical heat and blinked at the sun. I was not accosted by 47 men offering taxis, watches and perfume. Instead, there was an orderly row of taxis patiently waiting for the next passenger. The air was fresh and clean. The noise level was significantly below 80 decibels.

the taxi was very efficient. No chatter and useless effort, just took the address and whisked me away in smooth comfort down broad rectilinear streets that looked as if the maid had just left. The driver took the most direct and fastest route without being told. Back home, they take the longest and/or most congested route, unless otherwise guided, in order to run up the fare.

Throughout the remainder of my stay, I was ever-so-efficiently scooped up and delivered quickly, quietly and with cold calculation. Even friendly folks seemed as if they were reading from a script, and there were the sonstant reminders not to litter or spit or forget to flush, all of which will get you a S$1,000 fine. Everyone and everything looks as if it were placed exactly were it needed to be for maximum efficiency. There were no free-roaming animals or smoldering trash fires or vendors strewn down the sides of every street. Even the architecture looks like a Disney version of Vienna with a dash of Portuguese for flavor. Overall, the city is a poster-child for handicap friendly. I was able to navigate easily and never once stumbled over broken concrete or oddly placed doodads that served no purpose but to keep someone busy installing and removing them. If, God forbid, there was a hazard, it was barricaded and marked heavily with orange cones.

The trees all looked as if they were pruned every morning and the parks had manicured grass. Even the birds seemed just a little happier...hey! Wait a minute! There are birds here!

Yes, Singapore is the wet dream of every efficiency expert and obcessive/compulsive on the planet. You could eat off the sidewalk, if you could without being arrested and flogged for doing so. Even the curio and souvenir shops are meticulously organized so that you can easily find the cheap piece of crap you want to bring back to your family and friends. I always get refrigerator magnets. At least they are useful. Worse case scenario, you can put them in your transmission pan to collect metal filings.

By the time I got back to the airport, I felt as if I had been sanitized. The only thing missing was the paper band that said so, and I kept moving so the guy giving those out couldn't catch me. I bolted through the main cavern and wended my way to the SkyTrain to take me to Terminal 1. The highly efficient system came along and everyone queued up and boarded in an orderly and safe manner. We were likewise barfed out the other end. The model of efficiency.

Having checked in three hours early (being efficient and all), I planted myself at Harry's Bar to enjoy a libation while passing the time. I met a young Aussie guy named Brad who was going to Greece to meet his girl for a couple weeks' R&R. I made the usual jokes about joining the riots and shopping for islands while he was there.

In all my efficiency, I had forgotten to set my watch ahead one hour. When Brad pointed this out, I had ten minutes to get to my gate, which was at the other end of the Universe from Harry's, of course. I dashed through the terminal, being the only person whose lack of personal efficiency had made me short on time. I slipped through the security check, but...OOPS! Was that a bottle of booze in my pack?

The woman, an Indonesian, pulled out the massive container of Absolut nectar. It was not in a sealed bag and didn't have a tax stamp. Sorry, but we have to confiscate.


The chief of the check point was a stern Chinese woman, the very definition of cold, hard efficiency. She was unmoving and unmoved. Even having this middle-aged man sitting in a heap on the floor crying hardly budged her inhuman countenance. I could see that my begging and pleading had some effect. The tempurature of her soul had risen to 3 degrees above Absolute Zero, so that she matched the background radiation of the Big Bang. But even offers to relive the Big Bang could not stir her interest.

To her credit, the Indonesian woman was sympathetic, and she kept looking around for some opportunity to bend the rules for me. I offered dates and promises of painting the town when she came to Jakarta. She wanted to, God bless her, but gainful employment was a major hurdle. I slinked off to board without my ill-gotten booty. My Viking soul screamed for loot and plunder, but my rational mind keot control.

I was back in the Indonesian world now. I should have known. It was an Indonesian airline going to Indonesia, which meant the flight wasn't even boarding at the scheduled time of wheels-up. I fumed. I groused. I grumbled. I could see my plunder sitting there, knowing that it would end up on the shelf in the home of some customs apparatchik. It made me angry. I longed for home where a well-placed 50 would have waived the rules.

And that's when I realized...I was homesick. No, not for the police state which shall remain nameless (but whose initials are US), but for my adopted home. I wanted to go back to the place where officials could be bribed, rules could be broken, people shoved and cut in line. I wanted to go back to where it took five people to do one job at seven different windows. I missed my dirty, noisy, crowded, lawless home.

When I deplaned (whatever the hell that is) in Jakarta, there were no directional signs, or the ones that did exist were wrong. The corridors were dark and close, and reeked of clove cigarettes. In fact, over in the corner there was a man standing under a no-smoking sign, enjoying his cigarette. I was beginning to feel better now. I finally found the visa-on-arrival lane, surrounded by a maze of stanchions with no one in line. I went to the first window to pay, the second window to get a receipt, the third window to get my stamp, the fourth window to check that the first three had done it right. Then I wandered down the long, low hall to immigration, where I was informed that needed a form, and that the form was way back where I started. When I got there, I checked. Nope, no signs to let me know that I needed any forms in that area. I filled it out and got through immigration.

I asked a gentleman in a uniform which way to the exit. He asked if I had luggage and I said no. He said I could go in any of a couple of directions, of course. He looked as if he were ready to accept my money for the information. I ignored the look. I randomly chose the most difficult, of course.

An hour after landing, I spilled out into the dark, dirty Jakarta night and was accosted by a dozen men offering off-meter rides to the city. I'm not stupid, just a little dumb. After a particularly long and circuitous route, I was able to ditch them and dive into one of the taxis I trusted more than most. I gave him explicit directions on which route to take back to the house.

As I sat back in the seat for the ride, I realized that I was happy to be home. I preferred the loony, lawless cat-herding of Indonesia to cold, fascist efficiency. I preferred the pushing and shoving in line to marching lock-step in jack-boots. Life just feels organic here, like living in the wild versus a wildlife preserve. The law of the jungle prevails. There is something visceral about this land that appeals to real people who want to live raw, unfettered lives. I would choose this to a petri dish under a microscope any day

For all its clean, efficient modernization, I was no safer in Singapore than in Jakarta, but all the trappings made it appear that way. Like other "modern" countries, Singapore has created a coddling society where people are enticed to give up being alert because everything looks so safe, and lulled into a stupor they foolishly let their guard down...and that's when the danger slips in. In Indonesia, life is still the way it used to be. You are on your own. You must be responsible for you own well-being because certainly no one else will be. Every face you see wants to take something from you, so your guard is always up. Yes! This is real life. This is the way we are meant to be as organic humans.

As I sat there in the taxi, watching every turn, checking the meter to be sure it was properly calculating my trip, locking the doors, I realized that I was happy here. Not having yellow-shirted thugs watching to be sure I don't step out of line for my own good feels right to me. Not having mandatory health insurance and Social Security and welfare and social services and jack-booted herd masters feels like life to me. Those other things are just veils we pull over our eyes so we don't have to look at misery and suffering in other people, and so that we can feel like we are safe like in mommy's arms. But we forget that when we have mommy's comfort, she can also go through our things and come into our room any time she wants, because she owns the place and feeds us.

I laugh when I read the term "advanced nations." How is it advanced when the populace is never required to mature and gain independence? How is advanced when no one advances past the childhood phase of life? It used to be we measured advanced by how well someone could fend for themselves, not by how much they had delegated personal responsibility.

As the road whizzed under the tires, I thought, "Give me liberty or give me death." What a great line, to bad so few actually live it. Is it better to have one shot of top quality, 25-year-old single malt, or gallons of rot-gut? I'll take the shot, thanks. A little quality trumps a lot of bunk any time. So it is with the life I have been given.

I got down from the taxi in from of the walled and gated kampung. As I passed through the gate, I waved to the night watchman. He's my neighbor. He knows me, I know him. I could pass unfettered. It felt good to be home again.

The secret to herding cats is to lead them, not push them.


Requiem In Pacem

Farewell, Old Man. Though I never knew your name, you were a friendly face in an anonymous land.

I have lived in this neighborhood, in west Jakarta, for six months now. I have gotten to know a good number or people here, some who cart me around town, others who sell me things at the store and still others just because. The Old Man was one of the latter. We never formally introduced ourselves, just used the honorific Bapak (sir) when talking to each other. We would pass in the neighborhood and pause to exchange niceties and maybe a little news. We discussed the weather, girls (he had two wives) and other pressing topics. At 4 a.m., as I smoked at the gate and tried to pry open my brain for the day, he would pass on his morning walk, stop and smile, and say good morning to me.

The Old Man moved very slowly. He suffered from diabetes and appeared to have had a stroke at some point, as his left arm just hung by his side. He walked ever so slowly with a shuffling gait and always had a look on his face as if he were thinking of a really good joke just then. He was of Chinese decent, but had converted to Islam when he marries his first wife, a "local." Between his two wives, he had eight children. The youngest still only 10 or 11, the oldest already a middle-aged man. He was about as big as my thumb and looked as if a stiff breeze would carry him away. I don't know his actual age, but looking at him, I'd guess nine years older than God.

When I moved here, he was one of the first people I met. We passed in the street and exchanged pleasantries. He asked me where I was from and what I did. I gathered he was retired from the restaurant business and spent his days wandering the neighborhood in order to stay moving. Our relationship was like that, a chance meeting in the street or on the lane, a warm hello and a smile, a wave at a distance, a wink and a nod in a mildly bawdy conversation about girls. He always wore batik and his black muslim hat indicating that he was a pilgrim who had completed the Five Pillar of Faith. Despite his age and infirmity, he eyes were always bright, his smile easy and his greetings warm and genuine.

This morning he had sever stomache pains from gas. His first wife had taken him to the hospital, but apparently the stress of it all was more than he could bear and he gave up the ghost. It's often hard to get a clear handle on what was ailing someone since in Indonesia it is deeply entangled with mysticism and such. From the looks of things, though, he was just ready. His wife said he had spent the past few days cleaning and repairing many things in the house, putting things in order and taking care of some nagging projects. I assume that it was an unusual state of affairs as she felt compelled to mention it. He had spent yesterday with his youngest children working at the fish tanks on the front porch, where he earned extra money by raising catfish, called lele, for local restaurants.

After he died, his body was carried back to the house and placed in state. A low bench was placed diagonally in the sitting room and his body was laid on top. The family then bathed his body and began a ritual using linen strips to bind various parts of his body together, and to fill his orifae. The hands are bound across the chest, the feet together, both ends of the digestive tract are plugged. The eyes are covered and then the whole body is draped with an elaborate cloth. A small hand-written sign displays the entire name of the deceased. In Indonesia, this is usually the only time in one's life that the entire name is used. The women and children sit on the floor behind the body, while mourners and well-wishers enter on the other side. The men typically gather outside to sit and talk. A canopy is rented along with chairs and extra lighting, so the outdoor space is protected from the rain.

When one enters a muslim home, it is customary to say, "ala-salaam alaikum." The mourner approaches the widow and gives the customary greeting of holding the heels of the hands together with the fingers opened and lightly touching the hand of the woman. A gift is typically offered in the form of cash in an envelope. The usual amount is 50,000 or 100,000 rupiah, or about US$5-10. After a brief discussion involving the story of the passing and fond memories of the deceased, the mourners will leave the house and either join the gathering outside or go home.

According to tradition, once you return home, you must change clothes and wash the hands, face and feet. Nothing elaborate, just a good rinsing. You cannot enter the living space of the hosue until this is done, so before you leave, you have placed a change of clothes in easy access.

In muslim tradition, the deceased must be buried within 24 hours, so tomorrow morning, the body will be carried to the cemetery by family and friends, and buried, the head pointing to Mecca.

From what I knew of the Old Man, he was a calm and gentle soul; in a swirling sea of hectic city life, he was an eddy of quiet happiness. The relationship we had was not profound but it had a closeness of its own. Our brief meetings and conversations lightened my load a bit, and maybe gave him the same. I will certainly miss the morning wave and smile, or the excuse, no matter how brief, to slow down during the day. In dying, he also taught me something about culture and ritual that I had not experienced before, and now I have shared it with you.

Even in death, his smile and his wave are rippling into the world, and into the Universe.

We should all be so lucky.

Dengan kesedihan, tuan.

To Jump or Not to Jump

Thanks to my colleague George Ure of UrbanSurvival promoting my blog in one of his columns recently, I have been receiving some excellent and thoughtful letters from new readers, including folks here in Indonesia.

One in particular, from B.H. in The Panhandle State, got me to thinking, which is frequently a dangerous thing to do. What followed was my characteristically long-winded response, which seemed to lend itself to a post of my own. I don’t know how helpful I was, but perhaps I added some perspective that will help with his dilemma, to whit:

Dear Mr. Grover;

I am living in Oklahoma on a small ranch with the wife and 4 kids. We departed CA. 3.5 yrs. ago, knowing what was coming and now have a small but practical eco-farm. We have zero debt. being 63. getting SS for who knows how long (kids get checks too as long as they are under 18....

I was born in the Philipphines, my dad being american and I have lived there on the island of CEBU before as recent as 2005. Kids are 4, 3, 11,13......

Question is this:

should I even consider living abroad with a large family like this.? I know full well just how you describe life there in Indonesia as being ditto in Cebu for example, w/0 the ramadan factor....

Just give me an "if I were you".......answer. Being here is great, nice piece of property, productive but still with all the changes going on here and the proximity to the Gulf (not as close as Ure though) I think changing locations (going north) is only a partial fix..........Living abroad is very different, simple and the lack of trauma (that's going on here) is not benign but different in many ways.

Thanks for your reply, I just put your blogsite in my favorites.

First of all, thank you for your thoughtful letter. I have taken a little time to consider my reply, so please pardon the delay. I deeply appreciate your support in adding my blog to your favorites. i will endeavor to keep it interesting and entertaining for you.

With regards to your question, first let me say that what I tell you cannot possibly fit all people and all times, but perhaps I can offer a little insight with my own experiences that will help you along in your decision.

As far as living abroad with a family (one or ten doesn't really matter, I think), I have always been of the opinion that a day's worth of travel is worth weeks in the classroom. So just from a purely educational standpoint, I would think living overseas would offer your family a unique and valuable educational experience that can never be had from a textbook. My father moved us (six children and wife) to Dublin in 79-80, and for me it was the eye-opening experience of a lifetime. Even now, 30 years on, my siblings and I reminisce fondly about the experience. Some of us still speak a little Gaelic, others have friendships that we have maintained there, and for me, it launched a year and a half backpacking tour of the world that was my coming of age experience. The value of the experience to your children is incalculable in terms of the opportunities and memories they will receive.

In terms of the reasons you gave for ex-patriating, that very reasoning figured heavily into my own decision to leave. As you say, you left California because you saw the writing on the wall, and I felt much the same when i left to take up residence here. I have very deep misgivings about the direction and leadership of the country, and I felt that staying was tacit complicity with all of it. Furthermore, my work horizons were quickly narrowing and leaving has proved to be a great way to expand once again and try new things that would not be available to me at home. I have gotten into businesses that would have been closed to me in the US, as well as met people in both casual and formal situations that most likely would not have been in my social circle otherwise. This fact alone has made the move more than worth it for me.

Not that it has all been a bed of roses. There have been both real and spiritual crises that would not have existed in more familiar surroundings. Certainly, going blind and nearly going bust a couple of times has made for some serious situations. However, being so far from home has also given me the motivation to push ahead where I might have given up otherwise. Having no reverse forces you to figure out how to go forward. Or put another way, that which doesn't kill us makes us stronger.

In the end, my choice to come to Indonesia was based on one primary factor. You see, when America dies, it will leave a vacuum that will suck the whole world in. No part of the world will be unaffected when such a large hole is left in the balance of power. I chose a place where most people are survivors. They know how to survive because they must do it every day. They are used to hardship and doing without. Americans are spoiled and lazy, and when they don't get what they want, there will be major trouble. So many people I know will devolve into a chaotic state if the electricity goes out, or the water doesn't come out of the tap, or the shelves are empty at the store. They will panic because in their entire lives they have never faced such a thing.

On the other hand, most Indonesians have a month of food in the house and tanks of water everywhere for both drinking and washing. They are used to not getting things easily and having blackouts regularly. They do everything with nothing. People still have skills and on my block alone, there are women who make clothes (and I mean starting with making the cloth), men who build things and an attitude of neighborly assistance that has long since died in America. When TSHTF, I want to be surrounded by people who know how to cope. Additionally, Indonesians are practical and realistic, unlike many Americans who refuse to see the obvious simply because it is too terrible to contemplate (it can’t happen here!).

So I guess all of this is to say that I cannot make your decision. I can tell you my reasons and my experience, and I can assure you that, for me, it was the very best decision I have made in a while. I can tell you that on the worst days, the schools here are better than American public schools on their best days. Yes, there is a steep learning curve when entering a new culture, but if taken as a challenge rather than a hindrance it becomes an exercise for your mind and keeps you alert and fresh. You will make mistakes and wrong decisions, but for me it is another reason I came: to learn. In three years, I have learned three languages, the customs and cultures of a dozen different peoples, and had amazing experiences that I could never have found in the safety of my homeland. For every bad experience, I have had a dozen good ones. And in so many ways, I am more free here than in the Land of the Free.

Do the classic test. Make a list. On one side, label it Pros, and the other label Cons. Start thinking of every reason you can to do and not do something. If you find your Pros getting longer, then maybe you should seriously consider it. If you decide to jump, have a Plan A, B and C. You WILL get to Plan C, so having one means success. In some areas, I am already on Plan G. You can cover many variables, but never all of them, so at some point you will have to take a leap of faith. That part gets easier with every leap. Certainly, the bird in hand is worth two in the bush. But if you have one scrawny bird and there's an entire flock in the bush, it might just be worth it to go for the gold.

I have offered you what I can. It's not much, some platitudes and experiences, and there's no magic bullet here, but to paraphrase Thomas Paine, I prefer the animating contest of freedom to the shackles of illusory safety. The one thing that finally kicked me in the seat of the pants was the thought that I will die, of that there is no doubt. So, do i die with my boots on or pass quietly with tubes in every orifice and regrets on my mind? Many years ago, I read a book called The Journeyer, a fictionalized tale of Marco Polo's adventures, which left me with something of a lifelong motto: I don't want to die with the regret that I didn’t go there or do that. Fear of the unknown is a killer, and from the other point of view, something is only unknown until it is known. There is really only one way to know if you can do something, and that is to do it.

One test I learned a long time ago that has seemed to serve me well is this: if you want to choose a path and all the doors swing open in that direction, then it is the right path. If on the other hand there seems to be nothing but obstacles, then Universe is giving you sign posts. When I made my choice, everything fell together like a thousand-piece puzzle. If you find yourself being drawn in a certain direction, then it may be the one you are supposed to take. Listen to your gut.

I hope my lengthy rant has helped some small amount. i wish I could offer you The Ultimate Answer, but really that lies within you. As the leader of your family, you must choose what is right and good for your family and you. The kids will gripe a little at first, but the adventure will grab them eventually. Your wife may worry about having food and shelter, but you know you can provide that. So, what else is there? Air conditioning? A car? A mortgage? Friends and family? Everyone will think you are crazy until you succeed, but they do that already. How many reasons not to go are real, and how many have you built around yourself like a fence? The thing about fences is that they keep things out, but they also keep things in.

My prayers go with you in your choice. If I can help with connections or information, please let me know. I will give whatever help I can. If you decide to leap, you will find many of us out here that form sort of a support group. We offer each other information, advice and connections to people and services. We all know what it’s like and why we are here, and we all stick together. Believe me, no matter where you go, you will find ex-pats already ensconced. You won’t be alone.

One reason I didn't choose the Philippines, is they are a magnet for typhoons. So, I chose an island in an earthquake zone surrounded by volcanoes instead. LOL!

Sampai jumpa!

PS-I have attached an article you may find helpful. Also, with your kind permission, I would like to post your letter and this response. Maybe it will help others, as well. Thanks!


An Article of Faith

It finally happened. But first, a little background.

I have spent my entire life entranced and bewitched by the Cosmos. I have absorbed volumes of books, spent hours at the telescope and chose Astrophysics as my science elective at university (got As). I have followed the spece programs of various nations with intense interest. I can tell you the average orbital distances of all the planets in our Solar System, and give you the running count of extra-solar planets, as well as descriptions of the more unusual ones. I can name most of the moons by planet and give you the orbital period for many of the objects that float around in our cosmic neighborhood.

So when it happened, one might say I was ready.

Of particular interest to me has always been extraterrestrial life. Certainly, as Carl Sagan and the Drake Equation have noted, the likelihood of other civilizations existing at some point in history is quite high. As Sagan aptly noted, if there wasn't, it would be a colossal waste of space. And so, I have spent hours pouring over fuzzy photos and shaky videos, trying to formulate an opinion on the subject of UFOs. Why was it no one could get a clear shot of one, or if they did, it looked faked to me. Having spent 35 years creating video, film and photos, as well as being pretty darned good with PhotoShop, I think I can spot most fakes, no matter how good they are.

So when it happened, I was mentally prepared.

I had spent hours thinking about what I would do if I ever saw a UFO. I had read many witness accounts and was familiar with what they lacked, primarily due to the excitement and/or fear of the witness. I had thought about various ways to tell size, distance and elevation using an assortment of imaginary scenarios. I had planned in my head a series of tests that I would perform if the opportunity ever came, so that I could report accurately and scientifically, without hysterical interjections.

So when it happened, I simply began checking off the mental list.

Now, Indonesia, and especially Jakarta, does not have a lot of air traffic. Being the capital, the airspace is jealously guarded, and being a relatively poor country, there aren't a lot of private aircraft around. In the three years I have been here, I could list on one hand the number of helicopters I have seen, and even living fairly close to the international airport, there isn't a lot of commercial traffic, either. When I hear or see aircraft, it is a notable event, given that at home, I would probably see a year's worth of Indonesian traffic in a day or two. Additionally, the airport is in far west Jakarta and at the time it happened, I was in far east Jakarta, well away from any commercial interference. Furthermore, having spent a great number of hours in private and commercial craft, including many hours in helicopters, I am quite familiar with their capabilities. Thanks to some former Vietnam pilots, I have been given especially deep insights into helicopters, not always enjoyable.

This was not a private craft, commercial jet or helicopter.

My sightline was particularly clear. I was on the fourth-floor roof of an office with an unobstructed view 270 degrees around. There were no nimbus or cumulus clouds, and some high cirrus clouds, but they did not obscure the view. The time was 7 p.m. sharp on Friday, July 9, 2010. The sun had set about one hour before and the air quality was fair with no heat distortions. Jupiter was about 30 degrees above the western horizon, giving me a clear directional indication and elevation guide. It was a new moon, so there were no other particularly bright lights in the night sky. There are no tall buildings but one radio tower in the immediate area, but instead of being a hinderance, the tower came in handy.

When it happened, I had a clear view with known objects that gave me direction, distance and elevation.

I was between classes and had a minute to go up to the roof and take a short break to clear my head. As was my habit, I walked to the edge and leaned on the parapet while looking out over the landscape. I looked at Jupiter for a moment. As I scanned the horizon, a movement caught my eye to the north-northwest. I didn't pay particular attention to it until it made a rather abrupt move, rising straight up a significant distance, halting and then slowly drifting towards the north before stopping again.

I looked closely at it. I could perceive a dark object with a row of lights down the side that looked like car headlights, but they were changing brightness and color. They would change all together, with various ones getting bright, others dimming and colors shifting. After a moment or two, they would change again. They were shining directly out, not down, up or in any particular direction, as far as I could tell from my perspective. It moved again, this time sharply to the west, stopping, then drifting down and to the west again. It was not a jet of any kind. Helicopters cannot make moves as sharp and fast as this object was making, and it was also remaining perfectly level in the process. There was no swaying or swerving.

As I watched it, I grew aware of what I was seeing. I began to make measurements. Within a minute or so, it moved behind the radio tower, so I knew it was more than one kilometer away. That meant, but the angular size, that it was about 20 meters long and at least 2 meters thick. The black on black made it difficult to see the exact dimentions, but the lights gave me a clue to the length. At this point, it was approximately 20 degrees off the horizon, comparing with Jupiter further west.

At this point, it made another jump diagonally south and up, a span of about 10 degrees, in less than a second and stopped again. There was no sound from the object, as of engines whining or laboring. Even at the estimated distance, I should have heard something to make a move like that possible. As far as I could tell, it moved only across my field of view. I didn't detect any motion toward or away from me. I started to watch the light patterns, trying to detect any rhythm or correspondence with motion, but there didn't seem to be any connection, and the pattern seemed fairly random.

It was slowly drifting around, staying within a confined part of the sky. Judging by nearby objects, it was either about a kilometer away, or immense to appear the size that it did at greater distances. I continued to watch it for five minutes or so. It lazily drifted around, interrupting with incredibly fast jumps up, down and diagonally across the field of view. In order to get more information, I moved from one spot on the roof to another about six meters south. Using parallax and triangulation, I estimate that the object was about one and a half kilometers away, thus giving me approximate dimensions. I also got a pretty good idea over what landmarks it was hovering, so later I could check to see if there was anything in that area that would account for this thing.

It was getting close to time for me to leave, but I was having a hard time pulling myself away. I was slowly moving toward the door when the object simply vanished. It's hard to say whether I took my eyes off of it or not. As I think back on it, I have tried to determine if it moved incredibly fast directly away from me, folded into another dimension or just turned off the lights. The latter seems the most reasonable. At no time did I ever hear a sound from the direction of the object. When I got to my class, I related the story and two students mentioned a series of recent sightings in central and south Jakarta, including multiple objects at the same time and, as one student said, a 'mother ship.'

The next day, and several times since then, in both daylight and nighttime, I have looked at that the area closely from the same vantage point. Other than the radio tower, there are no tall buildings, no power lines, no objects at all over three stories tall. There are no tall objects in the background or mountains that could be mistaken for closer objects. Asking around the area, there were no promotions, fairs or other events that might have had some kind of areal display. There is one building about ten stories tall with a construction crane that is significantly further west of the radio tower, and so is well removed from the area of the sighting and could not explain what I saw.

I have listened to the tales of old sea-dogs, who on a long night at sea are sitting on deck and watching the amazing display of stars in a part of Earth where there is no pollution or lights or other interference. They have told me tales of watching the lights dance, the craft flying around the ship, sitting at the radar and tracking them. They have related tales of not one or two, but dozens of objects doing what I saw, for hours. They have used words like, "playful," "sinister" and "curious" to describe them. With a conspiratorial twinkle in their eyes, they say there's no way those are from around here.

I have read Filer's Files, watched breathless Fox specials, seen episodes of In Search Of…, and looked at endless photos and videos from around the world. I have heard very serious folks relate tales of abductions, injections and implants. I have patiently read Whitley Streiber and Erich von Daniken. I have reasoned and debated. Pondered and hypothesized. I have wished, hoped and wondered.

What happened that night a couple of weeks ago is similar in every aspect to hundreds of reports. The rapid and impossible maneuvers, the blinking lights and the surmised dimensions match dozens of accounts.

So the obvious question at this point is, "So do you believe now?" As if this issue could be reduced to some faith-based mysticism.

Do I believe in UFOs? Of course! Anyone who has spent more than a couple of hours reading up on the topic would have to believe in them. It's not a matter of faith, but of fact. There are sightings of aerial phenomena that cannot be explained.

Do I believe in aliens? Can't answer that one. Not enough evidence, or as Data might say on Star Trek, "Insufficient data, sir."

Do I think UFOs come from other planets? Well, what I saw certainly looked like a device, not swamp gas reflecting Venus. I could even anthropomorphize and say that it seemed to move with purpose, but I am only speculating. If it was a craft or device, it certainly moved like none I am familiar with in reading Jane's.

What I am prepared to stipulate is that what I saw was real, to me. I had no co-witnesses, so I cannot speak to its objective existence. If it was a craft or device, it moved like no other I have every heard of, nor did it make any sound that I could hear. It's origin and fate are unknown and I can only speculate. One thing I am sure of is that the characteristics of my sighting match the details of many others I have read or heard about.

Do I believe?

I believe I'll have another round and ponder some more.

[I would like to thank my colleague George Ure over at UrbanSurvival for his kind endorsement and glowing praise. A special welcome to any readers who have joined up thanks to George. Sampai jumpa!]


BurP- A Case of Gas

In the history of bad ideas, this one is probably the single worst idea ever.

To appreciate what's going on here, you need to understand the situation. First of all, the geology. There is a vast lake of oil in the Gulf of Mexico (GOM) that has been tapped for decades by the myriad wells that are currently in place. However, those wells have only been hitting small pockets at relatively shallow levels. Think of a lava lamp with small blobs of oil rising up off the mother lode at the bottom. Until now, it has been impossible to tap the larger source because the technology to reach depths of 10,000 feet of water did not exist. There was no way to build a platform, for one thing, no way to get divers to the well-head, and the pressures are beyond imagination at those depths. The Deepwater Horizon was a unique and cutting-edge vessel that used powerful thrusters to maintain its position and robots (ROVs) to remotely service the well-head. All the equipment involved was at the bleeding edge of technology. So when BP cut costs on blow-out preventers and well-bore constuction, they slit their own throats.

Now, this vast lake of oil sits on top of a balloon of methane that was kept in check by the pressure of the oil and geology on top of it. The amount of methane is not precisely known, but it is under very high pressure and only the weight bearing down on it has kept it from spewing out. As a consequence, the oil is also under tremendous pressure and when BP tapped the mother lode, it essentially put a small crack in the dam. Because they did not take maximum precautions, the pressure blew out the well-bore and ultimately sank the vessel. In the process, the well casing was damaged, allowing high-pressure oil and gas to escape the well-bore and seep into the surrounding rock. By itself, that has caused damage to the surrounding geology, allowing the oil and gas to erode the rock and thus making the well uncontrollable. Any attempts to stop the flow have only caused more oil and gas to invade the surrounding rock and further erode it making a dangerous situation into an emergency of the highest order.

As the rock around the well-bore erodes, more and more pressure is released and the flow rate increases over time. Ultimately, enough pressure will be relieved that the methane will no longer be kept in check and will release explosively through the overlying strata in a cataclysm the likes of which have never been witnessed. The water will lose buoyancy causing all vessels to sink instantly. The resulting gas cloud would be highly toxic and kill pretty much everything it touches for hundreds of miles around. The oil that is released will poison most of the Earth's oceans for a minimum of several decades. The coastal areas will be uninhabitable and the GOM will be unusable for food or recreation.

Using a nuke to try and seal the well-head will most likely have the opposite effect. It will further erode the geology and cause multiple fractures to form, which in turn will allow more oil and gas to escape through a far wider area, thus hastening the inevitable explosive release. Given the worst-case scenario, the current situation, as bad as it is, if far more preferable until a fully reasoned and carefully crafted response can be assembled. There is a tremdous amount of pressure politically to "do something," but because neither BP nor the Feds are being forthright about the situation, most people do not understand what is going on. Cauterizing the well might seem like a really good idea, until you consider all of the consequences. It's a choice between the worst oil spill in history, or an extinction-level event.

It's a classic case of the devil you know versus the devil you don't.