The Monk, my Neighbor, and a Celebrity O.D.

So the other night I pulled into my neighborhood. Driving down the palm lined street, I came to an intersection loaded with people, media vans, and police. I had no idea what was going on, but living in Jakarta for half a decade has taught me to hide my white-ass when I come upon such a scenario. I put up the heavily tinted windows of my Honda, and after I arriving home forgot the entire thing.

The next night, I pull in to my street, and the same thing is going on. This time it clicked – I had forgotten that there’s some Indonesian celebrity that lives down my street. (forgot his name or why he’s famous). I figured he must have been in the media for some reason, hence the crowds.

Turning on the TV, Novita informed me of the real reason. A (singer?) / celebrity, named Alda Risma had turned up dead in a hotel room. Apparently it was an overdose, but the truth has a way of shape-shifting here – foul play has been discussed. In the story I gathered, an unidentified (at the time) man had dropped her off at a hospital, left for dead.

Where does my neighbor come in? Well, it seems that the unidentified man is a monk, whose brother-in-law is my neighbor. Apparently he used my neighbor’s car to drive the woman to the hospital – seems a bit shady.

If anyone has further insight, please share. I do find it morbid that they’ve been showing her body on the news. In a country where the local grocery store plays songs declaring, “Lick my p*ssy” from rap artists over the loudspeakers unknowingly while you’re strolling the cereal isle (Sogo MKG), and sensors huge chunks of nude scenes from R-rated blockbusters, you’d think they’d be less intent on showing death and carnage in its full visceral nature to the 5 year olds at home.

Never a dull moment here, that’s for sure.

Bali Bomb Cleric Freed From Jail

Nice to know this f***’er is only a few kilometers from me. Absurd decision-making. Absolutely absurd.

From the BBC:

“A Muslim cleric convicted over the 2002 nightclub bombings on Indonesian island Bali, which killed 202 people, has been released from prison in Jakarta.

Abu Bakar Ba’asyir was found guilty in March 2005 of conspiracy in connection with the bomb plot, but he was cleared of more serious charges.

Security experts say the cleric is a founding member of a regional Islamic militant group Jemaah Islamiah (JI).

Supporters gathered outside the prison, cheering as he left the building.”

Yogyakarta (Jogja) Earthquake

Middle Earth

I appreciate everyone’s concern in regards to the Yogyakarta earthquake. Fortunately, we’re all safe and sound, but thousands have perished in this terrible crisis.

Due to the earthquake occurring in the early morning, many more people were still indoors than would have been later in the day – causing many more deaths.

I feel as if Indonesia simply cannot get a rest from crisis these past few years. In only the 4 years I’ve been here the country has been hit with the tsunami, two major Bali bombing, landslides, Mount Merapi’s threat, Avian (bird) flu, Aceh unrest, numerous bombings in Jakarta, and untold stories of violence which never reach the major news networks – and now the Yogyakarta earthquake. It’s a volatile land which never fully seems to enjoy peace. The longer I stay here, the harder these issues hit.
My heart goes out to those impacted by this latest disaster.


My brother just arrived from the States two days ago. He’ll be staying for about a month. One of our planned trips was Yogya and Borobudur – not sure if that’s feasible or even morally decent at this point.
Photo above: Tangkuban Perahu volcano, 3 hours from my home. Near Lembang above Bandung (central Java). 10-22mm.

Indonesia Quake Death Toll Soars

JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) — Relief and rescue crews and medical teams on Saturday raced to help the victims of the strong earthquake that rocked the Indonesian city of Yogyakarta and adjacent areas along the southern coast of Indonesia’s Java island.

The 6.2 magnitude quake that struck just before 6 a.m. (7 p.m. ET, 11 p.m. GMT Friday) shook and rippled through a heavily populated region, killing at least 271 people, injuring hundreds, and leveling and damaging many structures. (Updata: Reuters now says, “Indonesia quake toll exceeds 1,000 – official“)
There are fears that many people are trapped in the rubble of collapsed buildings.

The epicenter was 25 kilometers (16 miles) southwest of the city and near the erupting volcano Mount Merapi. Scientists believe the quake could affect volcanic activity.

The quake was felt across central and eastern Java, with aftershocks reported.

The city of Yogyakarta — a popular tourist destination and a historic royal metropolis that sits near the Indian Ocean — appeared to endure the brunt of the damage.

“People here reported that this was the largest earthquake they had ever felt in their lives in this area,” Brook Weisman-Ross, disaster coordinator for Plan International, told CNN from Yogyakarta.

Hospitals overwhelmed

Health care providers and hospitals have been overwhelmed, and the casualty figures are expected to rise. More injured people were pouring into Yogyakarta’s main hospital, many of them in buses and trucks, a hospital spokesman said.

Many people — fearing aftershocks, a tsunami and more structural damage — have left their dwellings and have raced to higher ground. But an Indonesian meteorologist said the shallow quake did not cause a tsunami.

Search-and-rescue teams in Yogyakarta said they saw extensive damage to buildings and homes and that some communications were down.

Weisman-Ross said he was “shaken rather violently from my bed with furniture flying and chunks of concrete falling from the walls of my hotel room.”

Outside, Weisman-Ross said he saw large cracks in the walls of the hotel and other buildings in the area. As he rushed across town to check on his staff, he saw small, older buildings with collapsed roofs or walls.

Government officials said plans are in place to bring in relief supplies and rescue teams, and non-governmental organizations have geared up to provide help. Citizens in the region need medicine, tents and blankets.

Latifur Rahman is the disaster management coordinator of International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. Speaking from Jakarta, he confirmed reports of flattened and damaged structures, including a collapsed local hospital. He said medical teams are mobilizing and preparing to set up a field hospital in the region.

Relief flights had to be diverted from Yogyakarta because of damage to that city’s airport runway.

Because of fears over the volcano, evacuation centers and emergency personnel are in place.

Personnel deployed to respond to the volcano can conceivably be used to help out with search, rescue and relief in the aftermath of the earthquake.

Mount Merapi


Villagers burned incense and floated offerings to the spirits, hoping to ward off an eruption of Mount Merapi, but activity at the volcano intensified on Monday with one blast sending ash, rock and gases more than two miles down the slope.

A scientist warned on Sunday that a growing lava dome could collapse. On Monday, as activity increased, villagers who had not left were told to stand by for possible evacuation and waited in groups by the side of the road on the slopes of the volcano.

One of the eruptions was the most powerful yet, sending ash, rock fragments and volcanic gas almost 2 1/2 miles down the mountain’s western flank, said Ratdomopurbo, the region’s chief vulcanologist.

Despite a government evacuation order, many farmers were in the fields to tend animals and crops on the volcano’s fertile slopes, ignoring black clouds billowing into the sky and fresh scars scorched by lava flows on the mountain’s western flank.

“I cannot force them,” said Widi Sutikno, the official coordinating the government’s emergency operation. “All I can do is tell them to keep looking up at the mountain and have a motorbike ready.”

More than 4,500 people living in villages closest to the crater or next to rivers that could provide paths for hot lava had been evacuated by Sunday, a day after scientists raised the alert status for Merapi to the highest warning after weeks of volcanic activity.

Sutikno said 18,000 others who live lower down the slopes were not considered in immediate danger and had not been ordered to leave their homes on the 9,800-foot mountain that rises from the plains of Indonesia’s densely populated Java Island.

In one of the villages in the shadow of Merapi, holy men and hundreds of people lit incense and set rice, fruit and vegetables floating down a river in a ceremony they believed would appease the spirits and prevent an eruption.

“It’s bound to help,” Parsi, a villager who like many Indonesians using only one name, said after the ceremony. “Everyone around here believes in this. It is in our blood.”

Although most Indonesians are Muslim, many also worship ancient spirits, especially in Central Java province.

“All the things we are doing here are to try to make us safe,” said Assize Asyhori, an Islamic preacher who took part in the ceremony. “Only Allah knows if Merapi will explode.”

Police at roadblocks prevented vehicles from getting within five miles of the volcano’s crater, but allowed evacuated villagers to walk in, advising them to leave again by nightfall.

“My feeling is it will not blow at this time,” a 30-year-old farmer, Budi, said as he returned to cut grass to feed his cows.

Scientists, however, feared an eruption could be imminent for Merapi, which is about 250 miles east of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta.

The mountain, which is one of 129 active volcanoes in Indonesia, sent out a searing cloud of gas that burned 60 people to death when it last erupted in 1994. About 1,300 people died in a 1930 eruption.

The deadly clouds, which contain a mix of hot ash, rock fragments and volcanic gas, are a big worry, said Sugiono, one of the scientists on a team monitoring the volcano 24 hours a day.

He said a glowing dome of lava being formed by magma forced to the surface was poised to collapse and could send searing clouds down the mountain at several hundred miles an hour.

“Hot clouds keep appearing all the time,” Sugiono said. “If you get stuck in them, then you have no chance.”

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Tsunami Survivors Tell Tales

I forgot about this article in the Guardian following the Asian tsunami of 2004. I guess in the pandemonium, I never thought of passing it on at the time, even though this blog was mentioned.

But perhaps the saddest site I’ve visited today is javajive, written by another expat who has been waiting on news of friends in Phuket. At the time of writing this post he’s still waiting, although a commenter on his blog tells of their heartbreak at losing a number of their family to the disaster.

Perhaps the most heart-rending aspect of the site is the pictures of playing children he’s posted, taken only a couple of days before disaster struck. The question one is left asking after seeing them is barely worth repeating. An image grabbed from local TV further down his front page (with caution – it may upset some readers) tempts you to fear the very worst.

I truly hope the tragedy will not be forgotten. Perhaps 100 times as many people perished when compared to September 11, and yet I don’t feel its impact reached the Western world even a fraction as much. Many people I spoke with in the States seemed disconcertingly uninformed, despite their best intentions.

My heart goes out to those who lost loved ones.

U.S. Embassy Warns of Volcanic Eruption in Indonesia

This just arrived in my inbox – not exactly the kind of message I see on a daily basis. I guess there’s never a dull moment in Indonesia.

U.S. Embassy Jakarta
U.S. Consulate General Surabaya
Warden Message
April 13, 2006

The U.S. Embassy informs Americans in Indonesia that the Indonesian Center for Vulcanology and Geological Hazard Mitigation raised the alert status for Mt. Merapi Volcano in Central Java to Level 3 on April 12, 2006. Level 3 means that volcanic activity has increased and that an eruption might be imminent. Authorities have forbidden climbing on Mt. Merapi until further notice, and advised miners and local residents to avoid coming within an 8-kilometer radius of Merapi’s summit.

Updated information on volcanoes in Indonesia is available on the websites listed below. The Embassy encourages all Americans residing in or visiting areas near volcanoes to consult these websites frequently and to adhere to all safety instructions from Indonesian authorities.