Travel Notes


End of 2022 – Chiaroscuro of Thoughts

The end of every year is always eventful. There is a cauldron of the good, the bad and the ugly being churned different ways in all parts of the world. The change of seasons heralds the oncoming of quakes and snow, eruptions and avalanches, and sometimes, fires and tsunamis.

The tectonic plates and volcanoes get active this time around globally, especially in Indonesia. I still remember watching the inundated parts of Aceh and elsewhere in December 2004, lying on my bed in a hotel in Bahrain. That was probably the first time I got the word tsunami etched in my thoughts and printed in my mind’s dictionary. The TV visuals gave me impressions of a flood, but the thick-fonted tsunami word caught my attention as it did with everyone’s. More tsunamis were to follow in Decembers in the coming years, including the 2018 one triggered by the Krakatao eruption, killing a few Indonesian singers among others.

I have felt several quakes while at home and at workplace in Indonesia. The latest one was last month, in November, when a 10-15 seconds jolt scared everyone out of their busy realms. I was on a skyscraper the first time I felt a quake, but that was back in 2009. I didn’t go back to my 28th floor apartment for more than an hour, being petrified by the swaying experience. The latest one and the way I reacted to it showed my Indonesian ignorance of such events. I am used to it in a way that the locals are. Jakarta and its satellite cities always feel tremors when the epicentre is nearby. So far, no one has been affected by these in any manner (except for the terrifying tremors). To the outside world, an earthquake in Indonesia means a serious disaster of high proportions. Few take care to read the details and find out who is affected or who is not. What kind of buildings are damaged and what still stand intact. So, I get flooded with messages just like aftershocks. Some have even asked me to leave the country. Ring of Fire that we are in!

The quake in Cianjur was followed by another one within a week or so, again jolting me at workplace. There were other quakes, elsewhere in the world as well as volcanic eruptions between 21 November and now.


After the death of some unlucky souls in the Cianjur quake, news of tragedy with details ad social media clamour started pouring in. My 7 year-old son has not quite grasped the concept of death yet. I have already shown him dead ants and roaches several times to explain the word ‘dead’ and that the dead do not come back to life again. The lifeless insects helped him understand the situation better, but human death still took its time to get into his deeper senses. During a pre-pandemic trip to India, I had asked him to pay respects to my late father (his grandfather) in front of his photo hung on the wall. He was 4 then, and was far from making sense of the idea. I never cared to mention the word ‘death’ to him that time.

A few days after the Cianjur quake, his IT teacher, a gentleman well-liked by all children including my son, passed away unexpectedly. His class teacher arranged for a prayer session when some of his classmates cried. Back home, I told him that his teacher is ‘dead’ and will not come back anymore. I stayed away from beating around the bushes and circumnavigating around the islands of vocabulary and expressions as this might even confuse him. His face looked a bit glum, and he kind of seemed to coat himself with reality. He didn’t want to talk about it anymore so I remained silent on it. He never talked about the deceased teacher after that. Can I take that for confirmation of an important part of life’s education being achieved?


December is always home-coming season. It is also a brief escape from Indonesia’s lousy weather. South India is definitely one of the best places to be at this time of the year. It does not carry the heaviness of the snow-cold central-north Indian air, but is rather cool in the morning and night and mildly hot during day time. This time, I decided to spend a day in Singapore before taking the connecting flight to Kochi (India, not Japan).

The sojourn in Singapore was partly washed out with the city-state receiving more rains than Jakarta these days. The idea was to take my son to the Zoo which is one of the most well-maintained ones in the world. Holding umbrellas, we managed to say hi to some occupants like cheetahs, rhinos and zebras. Having the zoo visit forcibly cut short, we found refuge in a rather posh location called The Jewel, which is a mall attached to the Changi International Airport. Changi itself is a tourist destination as it is more than an airport. Entertainment areas are so plenty that a layover of hours will not leave you bored and stressed. The Jewel is the latest addition to the attractions. The world’s ‘tallest indoor waterfall’ steals the limelight here. People spend plenty of time at this spot to take pictures.


From the Butterfly Garden in T3, Changi International Airport


The Jewel, Changi

Singapore has always been a 1-2 day destination, and it will most probably remain the same for some years to come. It will only be my young son’s needs to get into theme parks and educational centres that may extend the number of days of stay. I have always been enamoured of the clean streets, well-organised facilities and efficient ways of handling things. However, the city is a bit too mechanical for people coming from bigger nations where life is not so fast-paced. The sound of strictness can at times be harsh than welcoming for tourists. The orderliness of a country is best followed by long-established culture and tradition rather than by imposed rules and regulations. This is where Japan and Singapore differ. In Japan, you mingle with the locals in being silent, being careful in public without being asked to. You do not eat on the road, you do not throw plastic here and there, you do realise that there are not enough public dust bins so you have to dispose of waste at home sometimes. In Singapore, that spontaneity is often missing. The metro trains are crowded in both Tokyo and Singapore. Where one is silent even with a crowd, the other can be cacophonous.


Another flight over the Bay of Bengal completed and we were in Kochi. It takes about two hours’ car ride to reach my home in Palakkad, central Kerala. There was unusual rain for two days forced by depression over the Bay of Bengal, but things got back to sunny and clear skies soon. The mornings in December are lovely, carrying cool air and mild breeze in southern India as opposed to the misty cold weather up in the north. This is the time birds criss-cross in the sky with their plumes showered with golden rays.


Indian pond heron in flight

Urban wildlife in India is one of the best of its kind. Staying within the compound of my house, I was ale to spot several different species of birds looking for their breakfast. The crows are the most ubiquitous of birds in the country. They can be seen anywhere, any time. Their unity is seen when they are seated in rows on electric wires or on tree branches. They often fight with kites for space and food.


Crows on electric wire


A Brahminy Kite in flight

Peafowls have been roaming around urban areas in India for quite some time. It was around 2015-16 that I came to be aware of their presence in my neighbourhood. What was once a feast to the eyes during wildlife safaris is now a farmers’ nightmare as the birds eat and destroy crops. Needless to say, these beautiful creatures are forced into concreted terrains after habitat loss and food scarcity. I spotted some of them the other morning, perched on billboards and on rooftops of nearby restaurants. The ones that do the foraging and scavenging are usually females. The blue-bodied, artistic-feathered males only make selective appearances.


A peahen on a billboard


A peahen on a billboard