Next Stop, Australia

Dear Jan:

The last couple of weeks have been non-stop — many short trips mixed in with preparations for our departure from Bali. We are all leaving at different times for different destinations. Alec and I head off for Australia in less than a week, next, William returns to Boulder in mid-July, and finally Maya flies to New York to meet me in August for a college road trip. Whew! And meanwhile, we will be moving into a new home in Boulder and getting Alec started in a new school. Ambitious or crazy? You decide.

The next chapter for me and Alec promises to be an adventure: we will land first in Darwin and depart immediately for a three-day camping tour of Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks, famous for their natural beauty and aboriginal rock art. Next, we fly to Cairns and head to the outer regions of the Great Barrier Reef on a live-aboard dive boat. Alec will get to do 11 dives in 3 days and I will get to snorkel to my heart’s delight. Finally, we’ll head to Brisbane to visit my cousin Alan and his family. Alan works in a marine laboratory studying some of the sea creatures Alec is most enthusiastic about, so it is a great opportunity for Alec to learn more about one of his passions.

While we are in Australia, Maya will be studying Balinese dance in a summer program in Ubud. The program, called Cudamani, is sponsored by UCLA and has on its faculty some of Bali’s most respected dancers and choreographers. William definitely gets the short end of the stick in all of this; he has to go right back to work when he gets back to Boulder in mid-July. He does, however, have a work trip to China scheduled for early July that he is looking forward to.

I am in Jakarta right now, and am overwhelmed by how much this city has changed since I lived here as a child. Back then, Jakarta was a city of a few million, easy to get around, filled with colorful becak, relaxed and friendly. Today, the city has ballooned to nearly 15 million — it is really a “mega-city” — and it contains all the ills of overcrowding and unbridled growth. The skies are so polluted that the sun is just a watery disk obscured by an ever-present brown haze. The traffic is so bad that one can spend an hour reaching a destination just a few kilometers away. Sometimes the gridlock is so severe that traffic simply comes to a standstill.

It is hard for me to imagine dealing with these conditions on a daily basis, yet the city is still a vibrant place — the streets are filled with constant activity, a huge beehive of transactions and interactions. This is a place of dreams and striving and rampant materialism, where extreme poverty coexists with glittering skyscrapers and designer shopping malls.

Yesterday, I went in search of my old home in an area called Kebayoran Baru. As a child, this neighborhood was essentially a sleepy suburb; today it is completely urban and constitutes a central area of the ever-expanding city. As we neared my old address, I could make out a few familiar sights, but mostly what greeted me was unrecognizable. When we reached the place, a tall row of shops stood where my house had once been. Feeling dispirited, I sought out another familiar landmark, a shopping district close to my old house called Blok M. Now dominated by a large mall, I was nonetheless happy to see that many of the old shops and stalls still clung to the perimeter. Jakarta is a crazy patchwork of the old and new, the modern and dilapidated, the spectacular and grotesque. Last night, we ate in a tiny, open-air food stall, down amidst the anthill of everyday street life. This is the Jakarta I know and remember, and am glad to have reconnected with it.

Later today, I head back to Bali to do my last-minute packing and say my final goodbyes. I have mixed feelings about leaving; a part of me is ready to get home to Boulder, another part is not yet ready to let go of this time. One of the things I will miss is writing these letters and sharing my experiences with you. I probably won’t have time to write again for a while, but I will take lots of pictures of Australia and hopefully tell you all about that trip in the not-too-distant future. Until then, I am sending you and the family much love, Katherine

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About theartoftwo

2 friends in 2 countries, exploring their lives as artists.
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