An hour Southeast of Jakarta by air lies Yogyakarta, which to hear it told is confusing as hell because it sounds a lot like some alternate version of “Jakarta,” and to see it spelled looks nothing like “Jo-jee-karta,” which is they way it’s pronounced. Then there’s the truncated everyday nickname “Jojee.”

All that aside, we found it to be a place with distinctions well-beyond its (for us) nonexistent reputation. It’s got a lot of the usual  tropical stuff going for it–banana trees, palms, sarongs, sandals, batik, mynahs. What’s not usual, (except for the batik fabrics, about which more in another chapter) are the recovering ruins of two ninth century temples within virtual shouting distance of one another. And they’re not even of the same religion.

Borobudur_TempleIMG_2032First off, Borobudur, world’s largest Buddhist Temple. It sits high up, hence one version of its name as “temple on a hill.”

If you walk around its various levels clockwise and are learned enough to know what you’re looking at, you can read in the thousands of fascinating reliefs every imaginable version of every imaginable event in the life of Buddha. For those of us not quite IMG_2050so scholarly it’s still an impressive artistic display. And it’s 1100 years old. And here we all are happy to be there.








From Borobudur, it’s only a few miles down the IMG_2171road to Prambanan, the largest Hindu Temple in Central Java. Still ninth century–lot of religion going  on in those days. The name means “many priests,” and apparently there were Buddhists in residence also at some point. However, the main dedication of the site is to the three main Hindu dieties, Dharma, Shiva, and Vishnu. We know from our Indian travels that the temple was once brightly painted. What’s as impressive here as all the artistic magnificence is that it was once buried in lava, this area being located in one of the hottest spots in the ring of fire. How it is begin recovered and reconstructed we can’t imagine, but so glad that it is.

A surprise bonus of the kind that makes you glad to travel was this group of girls who approached us obviously as part of a school English-learning project. IMG_2229

The leader (Cute, isn’t she? They all are.) asked some basic questions like name, place of origin and copied the answers in a notebook. Then came the cherry on top–“Do you like music?” “Of course.” “We will sing you a song.”

Their opening number was “If You’re Happy And You Know It, Clap Your Hands.” They went on to “The More We Get Together, The Happier We’ll Be.” I was willing to let them exhaust their entire repertoire, whatever it was. But I was overruled. The video is too long to include here. Pity. But wonderful that at it happened.

And that wasn’t even the whole day, but more than enough for now.




IMG_1949For a theater guy, the other day had it all. We headed for Batavia, what the Dutch East Indies Corporation called this (now Jakarta) Javanese port in honor of an IMG_1950ancient name for Holland. There’s a big plaza, 18th-19th century European buildings (very white) under restoration. By pure chance, our first stop was Wayang–puppet theater–museum. We’d barely had a chance to look at a couple of displays when a guy whose name turned out to be Aldy approached and began explaining the history, construction, and current state of shadow puppets and their theater.

I knew we were being hustled a bit, but did I mind? Not a whit. We followed him all the way down the hall, outside and around the building to the resident theater where a performance was imminent, with Aldy playing all the roles and manipulating the “actors”.

The show was a brief excerpt from that millennia-old epic the Ramayana, wherein Rama’s wife, Sita, is kidnapped for the zillionth time by the demon king and must be rescued. It lasted fifteen minutes, but could have lasted nine hours if Aldy had given us everything he had. Fortunately he was willing to let the audience off easy except for the sales pitch at the end, a sales pitch which was quite successful for yours truly.

IMG_1951At the top appears on the left, the tree of life on the leaf-shaped fan, the pattern of which is punched out of buffalo hide by hand, hammer blow by hammer blow, using punches of various sizes, then painted. On the right, on the other side of the fan, is a hell-mouth. That demon figure is self-explanatory. The tree of life, whose details are regrettably hard to see, consists of a trunk and branches guarded by a pair of lions, with ascending figures of importance topped by monkeys, symbols of wisdom.

Lastly, in the larger image, we see our epic hero and his true love facing one another on opposite sides of the tree of life. We bought a tree of life/hellmouth, and a Rama/Sita couple. They are shown here in front of the screen, but in the true show, they stay behind the screen and their shadows are cast from behind. Very, very good stuff.

And there was more to come. . .




Tough to read. Apologies. Islands near bottom of map are Indonesia with Papua poking up from below. Big mass in center is Malaysia. Peninsula at top also Malaysia with Thailand above that.

This is, we think, the fifth state department posting to which we’ve followed my USAID-employed niece Erin, her husband Sean and daughter Caitlin. Bolivia, Peru, Kazakhstan and  (yes, we’re counting the in-country  posting as well.) Washington D.C. came before.

Though we were pretty much ignorant about the whole area before we decided to visit, it turns out that ignorance (as usual) is a mistake. Here we are in the fourth largest nation in the world (laid out across the U.S., it would cover from Alaska to tip of Florida), with the 16th largest GDP. Not incidentally, it is home to the largest number of Muslims in the known world and, to violate a stereotype, is not a habitual exporter of terrorism.

We’re here for fun and adventure, but it’s always good, we think, to travel with a little bit of history at our side. Apologies for any inaccuracies, but I think we’ve got the general shape of things right. Importantly from a western perspective, these are the spice islands. They were the only source of such tasty items as cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, et al. Europe came to depend on and love this stuff. Then the Ottoman empire cut it all off when they took Constantinople in 1453, renamed it Istanbul, and made it difficult to impossible to maintain that east-to-west trade route over the silk road.

Thus, Europe (including Columbus, of course) came searching for ways to exploit them by water. The firstest with the mostest were the Dutch, who arrived at  pre-nation Indonesia complete with a corporate stock organization you’ve undoubtedly heard of–The Dutch East India Company. They essentially colonized the whole area and held control for centuries.

Sukarno–Indonesian dictator 1950-1967
Suharto–Indonesian dictator 1967-1998

As in all these tales, their control eventually crumbled, but their colonial legacy lives on in the architecture and institutions. By fits and starts and regressions, this string of independent islands and tribes that stretches from the tip of Thailand almost to Australia inched toward nationhood. They endured a couple of 20th century dictators–Sukarno, in office 1950-1967 and Suharto, in office 1967-1998–then became an official democracy in 1998. Not long to have the vote, but they seem to be holding on to it proudly and solidly.

Jakarta, our home away from home on the island of Java, is the seat of government, but with all the islands spread hither and yon, the task of centralization is enormous and a work in progress. However, progressing it is, and we in the USA and rest of the world will do well to pay heed to what goes on here and in the rest of the 11-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).


As for us, we are quickly recovering from the flood (see post Indonesia welcome #1) and jet lag and will go forth to explore yet one more exciting and different place on this planet we share.






It was the middle of the night. The festivities began with thunder and lightning, as all good tropical storms do down here on the equator. The world shook and reeled, earth and buildings reeling under fists of pounding roars. The ghost of our lost dog, Blue, galloped through my dreams, headed for our bed, which he always did, shivering and whining,  at the slightest thunderclap. Of course, the sound that terrified him in Oakland was a hint of a whisper compared to this. We noted it and snuggled down safely. Or so we thought. Then came the voices.

The embassy personnel who guard Erin and Sean’s residence were splashing and yelling around the grounds. Erin’s the mission director for Indonesia USAID (more about that later) holds the rank of Minister-Counsellor in the diplomatic service, roughly the civilian equivalent of a 2-star general, so the residence is under guard. Not the secret service or armed military, but still 24/7 watchful eyes.

The downpour that accompanied the noise and flashes had inundated the compound. Our guest quarters are on the second floor overlooking  the yard and pool to the main house, and we could see that water had poured through the sliding glass doors into the ground floor room, which houses the main kitchen and family room, as well as the housekeeper’s small apartment.

She  lives in several days per week, and her rooms on that level. The water lapping around her bed had awakened her.  She called for action, and act we did.

We waded around in shin deep water,  lifting furniture out of harm’s way, unplugging electronics, and generally doing what we could to minimize the damage.

By early morning, the rain had lessened, though not stopped, and the waters receded. A dove with an olive branch lighted on the wrought iron fence, so we think life can go on.





51q8rf09vul-_sx331_bo1204203200_In the opening pages of Guarding Charon  we meet Grace Adams, who is one miserable girl. She’s trapped in a town and a family that have her future mapped out for her. A future she can’t bear to imagine.  She’s meant to marry the rich, brutal, and controlling Bruce Davis, whose family makes the rules for just about everyone and everything in town. Grace can’t keep a job because the Davis’s pressure employers to fire her, then spread the rumor that she quit. Bruce figures if he makes it impossible for Grace to become independent, she will eventually see him as her only alternative. Her family is enthusiastic about the prospect of their daughter marrying into money. Complicating factor: Bruce is a cop, so he’s got a badge and gun to back up his efforts. Thus, if Grace tries to leave town, he, and his father, the chief, can use police resources to track her down.

searchThus, Kate Marie Collins in a few pages has placed her protagonist in as ugly a situation as one can imagine, and we readers feel Grace’s despair. Then, Mr. Dixon drops in with news.

Dixon delivers the news that Grace has a long lost great aunt in Maine. Lost because she and her mother are estranged (to put it mildly), and her name has not been mentioned  in the house ever before. The aunt’s name is Amanda Cross. She is getting on in years and is ready to drop her legacy in a place where it will be treated properly. That somewhere is in the care of Grace Adams.

I’m not quite sure how Collins pulls it off, but she makes it completely believable that Grace would  step out the door of her childhood home and fly away with a total stranger on his word that great things await her. I guess it’s the fact we can’t conceive of anything but torture for her if she stays put.

I won’t go too far into the rest of the plot of Guarding Charon because I don’t want to mar the delicious experience of discovery that Collins has created when we land in Cavendish, Maine, meet Amanda, and see Grace build a new life with a new name to keep Bruce from following. It is enough, I think, to say that Amanda is a practicing Wiccan, and Grace becomes immersed in the religion as she gets acquainted with the estate she is to inherit. The paranormal elements of the novel are not here merely to shock or amaze, but are so grounded in the plot that we become as convinced of the appearance of Charon and the River Styx and other supernatural phenomena as Grace herself.

With Guarding Charon Collins has made an exciting and admirable addition to her canon of such triumphs as Daughter of Hauk and the rest of the Raven Chronicles. I know we can look forward to more that’s wonderful from her.

sitting up clapping