Sunday, April 30, 2006

dining room

The great thing about the apartment is, there isn't much difference between inside and outside. The windows are really big, and they have little iron balconies off them. If you notice it looks nice outside, you just step right through the window and you're there.

The tile floors are common here - cooler than carpeting, and easy to keep clean. The rooms are light green. As you can see, we're kind of lacking in furniture at the moment. There are AC units in the two bedrooms but I think with all the windows we'll mostly just use fans to keep the place cool.

More pics later as the place becomes a little more lived-in. Plus, we should be getting cable internet at home soon, which will make it easier to upload images.


This is our little kitchen with its two-burner gas stovetop. There's no oven, which I think is pretty typical. Coffee and condensed milk on the shelf. We bought that goofy lime-green thing to keep utensils in, because even when everything is sparkly-clean, there are always tiny little ants wandering around looking for a meal.

The fridge, which you can't see here, has a small lock on the door. They all seem to. Maybe a reflection of the fact that people have to share fridges with extended family and roommates. Or maybe people just lock them when they leave town.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Beautiful Merapi, Fiery Merapi

Well, our new neighborhood wartel is absolutely refusing to upload apartment pictures. I think Chad has succeded in posting a picture of the rooftop on his blog, so you should check that out (Indo Stories, on the right hand side of this page). Instead I'll talk about our trip to Mt. Merapi, near Yogyakarta.

As you may have heard, Merapi is fixing to erupt sometime soon. People who live on the mountain - and there are thousands of them, mostly scattered in farming villages - have a whole set of traditional beliefs centered around the existence of a spiritual kingdom atop the volcano. When the volcano erupts, it's because the spirits are having a big party or ceremony. Villagers believe if they take good care of the mountain and are respectful toward its god, they'll be okay.

That makes some sense to me - I've always thought mountains were spiritual places, especially New Hampshire's White Mountains. Plus the belief system seems to encourage an attitude of conservation.

We talked to one guy named Christian, who's been taking hikers up to the summit for more than 20 years. He described going up there with a villager who claimed to see the magical kingdom. "He'd say, look, horses! carriages! soldiers! houses! It's just like a town," Christian told us. Then he added with a little smile, "I can't see it. But I do believe it."

Volcanologists have the place on second-highest alert, which means "be ready to evacuate, but you don't have to evacuate yet." People are definitely nervous, but they're growing rice and selling fried tempeh and doing all the stuff they usually do. They're also performing sacrifices and ceremonies to try to mitigate the damage when it does blow. This volcano has erupted 5 times since 1990, so while the situation is urgent, it's also familiar. In 1994 more than 60 people died. Everyone's hoping this time the god is a little kinder.

Chad got to stay an extra day and actually go to a ceremony, so he will likely have some cool stuff on his page soon about it.

A home of our own

We have finally, FINALLY moved into our apartment. What a relief! It feels like forever since we've actually lived someplace. We love the apartment, too. It's breezy and bright, and since it's on the fourth floor it has a great view. Plus, we have access to the roof, which so far may be my favorite place in Jakarta. We'll post pictures soon!

If you have a map, you can find our place - it's on Jalan Danau Tondano, in the Pejompongan/Bendungan Hilir area, southwest of downtown.

I think the low point of our hotel existence came a few days ago when I got trapped in our room at the Karya. It was one of those locks where you have use the key on both sides. I was all set to go out in the morning, stuck the key in the lock - and it jammed. I had to call down to the desk to be rescued. When I suggested this was a bit of a safety issue, the guy just shrugged. Aggh! Jalan Jaksa! It's where hotels are sentenced to be reborn if they've been very bad in a past life.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Otters on a mission

We saw these otters at the Singapore Zoo. I'm not sure whether they live with the orangutans, or were just visiting. They seemed like they really wanted to walk along that little rock wall in front of the orangutan, but they were nervous about it. They'd scuttle forward and then get spooked and turn around and run back. Then they'd slip-slide down the log until they encountered the turtle, which freaked them out all over again. They looked like they were really trying to do something, but it was impossible to tell what. I suspect we look that way sometimes in Jakarta, when we can't quite bring ourselves to step off the curb into traffic, or when we're trying to look at a food cart without LOOKING at a food cart, so the vendor won't try to sell us something.

It still intrigues me. Where were they going?


I had a four day weekend, so we took a quick trip to Yogyakarta (usually pronounced Jogjakarta). It was an eight-hour train ride. We didn't see anything on the way down because we left too late in the day, but the morning train back from Jogja was amazing.

At first the train justs flirt with the mountains. You can see them in the distance, behind endless, flat rice paddies, some dry, some wet, tended by farmers in conical hats. You're not sure the train is really going there; you wonder if it's going to skirt them somehow. But then the engine starts to whine and the train begins to shake a little. You begin climbing into jungly-looking forests of palm trees and other deep-green foliage, bisected by little river valleys. Every now and then there's a small farming village. The paddies keep reappearing, terraced into the mountainsides, along with fields of what looked like corn, and other things I didn't recognize. It's beautiful.

It was so nice to see mountains again, like seeing old friends.

We were afraid we'd get hungry on the train, but the first two rules of life in Jakarta held sway:

1. Food is rarely more than a hundred yards away.
2. If you're too tired to walk a hundred yards, the food will come to you.

Which is to say, in addition to the presence of a dining car, there were waiters constantly coming down the aisle with rice, fried eggs, fried chicken, spicy vegetables stewed in coconut milk, coffee, etc. Also, people got on at some of the longer stops, hawking local specialties. We got sold some regrettably stale and bland cookies. Otherwise, I'd say it was pretty much the perfect way to travel.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Sad news from home

We were stunned and so sad to hear that a former WFIU colleague died in a plane crash in Indiana. I really admired Robert Samels' creative energy - this is a guy who, at age 24, composed an opera about Pontius Pilate partly during the few minutes he had in between doing the local announcements on "Morning Edition." Chad and I went to see the opera, and were really impressed - it was funny, sad, deeply human, and beautifully musical. Robert was typically low-key when I complimented him, and gave a lot of credit to his co-writer. I know his loss is really being felt at WFIU, and it's a loss to the future of classical music as well.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Indonesian Toothpaste II

Mmmmmmm, Flavalicious Luscious Lychee! As you can see from the photo on the box, it gives people a kind of toothpaste bliss!

Actually, I do find it rather tasty.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


This is Jalan Thamrin (Thamrin Street), the main downtown thoroughfare, on a typical, kinda cloudy/smoggy day. Note the killer motorbikes (there's actually relatively few in this pic, by Jakarta standards).

Note also the ads with the very white-skinned people. There's definitely a bias toward pale faces in the advertising here. There's also all kinds of products to allegedly make you paler, including a bar of soap called "Skin White." I don't know how that's supposed to work. Does it have bleach in it? Or maybe white paint?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Ibu Trish Answers Your Touristic Inquiries: Bathrooms

I know you probably have questions you’d like answered before you come to visit us in Jakarta. So to simplify your planning, I’m launching this occasional column. If you have any questions, feel free to post or e-mail them!

Ibu is a commonly used title for women of a certain age. It means “Mother.”

Dear Ibu Trish: Will I have to use a squat toilet when I come to Jakarta?
Signed, Nervous and Shaky

Surprisingly (to me, anyway), we haven’t encountered very many squat toilets here. You’ll generally find Western-style toilets in malls, offices, restaurants, and hotels – even cheap hotels. Curiously, most of the squat toilets I’ve seen have been in super-glitzy hotels and malls, where they’re offered alongside Western ones. I suspect we’ll find more of the squat variety in people’s houses, and in areas outside Jakarta.

Restrooms here are generally pretty clean and decent, other than the occasional bar bathroom. In other words, it's a lot like Bloomington. Toilet paper is almost always offered, as well as a bidet or a bucket of water and a scoop.

The picture here is almost entirely gratuitous, since it isn’t from Jakarta at all. I took it in Shanghai last year, and I love it, because it’s a picture of a squat toilet with a laser-activated automatic flush system. Talk about ancient-meets-modern!

Friday, April 14, 2006


It's hard to see Singapore for itself. First of all, given the American fixation on individual freedoms, you're always aware of it as a police state. You can't help studying everything for signs of authoritarianism. Then there's the additional layer of weirdness imposed by a month in Jakarta. Getting out of the airport taxi, you look around in bewilderment. If this is a city, where's the grime? the rickety roadside vendors? the potholes? where are all the poor people?

Singapore is clean, that's for sure, and the air smells pretty good, and traffic actually stops for you when you're in a crosswalk. In that sense it was a massive relief. We went to the zoo and walked all around just breathing in the smell of vegetation and enjoying the fact that there weren't any motorbikes trying to kill us.

But despite its charms, you can't help looking around and thinking, is this place a little dull? Or is it just that everybody's told me Singapore is dull?

Then you notice the government notices and public-service announcements murmuring in your ear. It doesn't feel like a police state so much as a nanny state - there's this constant drumbeat of posters urging you to treat service workers nicely, and billboards encouraging you to speak good English, and placards forbidding you to take durian-fruit on the bus (durians smell really bad). After a while they blend in with the advertisements. Keep Your Engine Caltex Clean: is that an order?

So I enjoyed Singapore, and I'll be perfectly happy to go back again, but it's not the kind of city you can cozy up to right away. It's not like Paris, which swept me off my feet in half an hour. I can imagine getting friendly with Singapore. But love? It's just not that kind of town.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Flood traffic

Tuesday we went to Singapore to renew our visas. We had a few hours to kill before getting on the plane, so I figured we should go hang out at a wi-fi cafe we'd heard about. This was a thoroughtly brilliant plan, except for two small details: 1) their internet connection wasn't working and 2) we got caught in a flash flood.

I didn't think much about the rain when it started. There's sometimes a period of heavy rain in the afternoon, but it always ends quickly. Except this time. It poured. And poured. And poured. Pretty soon I abandoned my magazine and joined the crowd staring from the balcony of the second-floor cafe at the scene down on the street. Taxis were driving in water as high as their hoods. A food vendor went past, pushing an almost totally-immersed cart. (I made a quick mental note to lay off the food carts for a few days.) Kids started swimming in the street. Adults who wanted to get anywhere had to take their shoes off, roll up their pants and wade.

Even tap water here is full of icky stuff. I don't want to think about what's in the gutter water. I just watched in amazement.

Finally it stopped raining and the waters began to recede. We carefully walked down the street and hailed a cab. The driver got out, shaking his head and laughing.

"Banjir," I said, which means "flood." Stating the obvious in a jovial tone - that's as close as I can get to a witticism right now in Indonesian.

We set out and immediately became embroiled in a full-blown Jakarta traffic jam. It was block after block of gridlock, with motorcycles weaving in and out, bajajs trying to squeeze through, and everybody honking at each other.

"Banjir macet," (bahn-jeer mah-chet) the driver laughed. "Flood traffic." And so it was - flood traffic all the way to the toll road, turning a 1-hour drive into more than two.

And Singapore? Well that's a whole other story - and a blog entry for later.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Leper nation

Tuesday we visited a leprosy hospital, the biggest, and one of the last, in Indonesia. Twenty years ago they had 500 patients here; now they have 100, and the staff actually outnumber the patients.

Still, even though leprosy (aka Hansen’s disease) is now curable, it keeps claiming new victims. We met one 21 year old guy whose right leg was paralyzed, who will walk with a lurching gait for the rest of his life. We met a 30-year old who has a wife and three kids, who used to sell noodles on the street for a living. The idea of trying to support a family on that income is mind-boggling in the first place, but now it’s very unlikely he’ll be able to do even that job. Nobody wants to buy food from a leper.

The doctor told us some of the patients use makeup, fake bandages, etc. to make their condition look worse. That way they can make more money begging in the street.

It wasn’t a completely unhappy visit, though. We met a very lively 65-year old woman who’s been living in a little compound at the hospital for eight years. She loves it. “I have food to eat, and lots of friends, and a TV, and doctors and nurses,” she said. “It’s like a leper nation here.” Her voice was so expressive, I almost felt like I could put her on the air without a translation.

The story is for a show called the World Vision Report. I’ll try to post a link when it’s done. It’s strange doing stories with tape in a foreign language. Feeling like you’re in control of your tape is a big issue for a radio reporter. I remember when I started, years ago, I often felt like the tape was pushing me around – taking the story in different directions than I wanted it to go. When I got more experienced I figured out how to turn the tables on it and make it work for me. Now the tape and I literally don’t speak the same language. I feel like I’m trying to build a house with jello – I can’t really get my hands around it. I’m meeting with the interpreter soon to get more precise translations of the cuts I’m using, and hopefully that will help dispel this uneasy feeling.

Sunday, April 02, 2006


After experiencing movie theatres in the USSR, where the seats were always made of hard wood and your rear end was numb by the third hour of the movie (they all seemed to last three hours), I am a little suspicious of foreign theatres. But the ones in Jakarta are fabulous. The seats are plushy and comfortable and they're made for people my size (the seats in the US always seem to be designed for people who are 7 feet tall). You can get hot dogs with melted cheese and a generous smear of delicious hot chili paste, and french fries delivered hot to your seat. The seating is assigned, so you don't have to stake out your territory and guard it like a dog.

All this for only $2 to $2.50 a ticket! Except at really fancy malls, where it's more like $5 or $6.

There's censorship here, of course, and that's the downside. We went to see Brokeback Mountain, which I had seen in the States, and I found the editing choices puzzling. They seemed to leave in most or all of the gay scenes, including the first, pivotal one. But they cut out part of a scene between Heath Ledger and his wife. Chad's theory is it's all about protecting women, which seems to make sense. In which case I would say, hey guys, don't cut anything, I can handle it, no problem. I imagine the actress involved would say the same thing. But as so often happens, those who are being protected are not consulted about the terms of their protection.

The photo above is a still from the making of Janji Joni, a movie about the love of movies, by a cool director named Joko Anwar. You can link to his blog on the right side of my page.


Expat life in Jakarta is focused on text-messaging. SMSing is a lot cheaper than making a phone call, so if you’re going to a bar or a movie, or you want to find out if anyone else is going to a bar or a movie, you whip out the cellphone (or “handphone” as they’re called here) and start tapping.

Last night we went to see a new Indonesian movie called “Berbagi Suami,” or “Sharing Husbands.” The photo here is a scene from the movie. It was playing with English subtitles at a particularly glittery mall on the south end of town. Chad went to get a bite to eat at the food court. (I had gotten a bowl of beef, rice and vegetables at a Japanese fast food place for about $2 – very tasty.) I was waiting in front of the theatre with our new friend Angie, and it was getting closer and closer to 7:30. I sent him a message. No response. I was starting to write a second one when Angie said, “Why don’t you call?”

I stared at my handphone in confusion. I had forgotten it was a phone. “Wow,” I thought, “what value. What versatility. I can actually make calls on this thing.” Just then Chad showed up, saving me a few hundred rupiahs.

The movie was excellent, by the way. We’re going to try and find out whether it’s ever scheduled to play in the States, because we’d like to write about it. It’s about polygamy, which is apparently more common here than I realized. It’s also a great slice-of-life movie about the various social strata of Jakarta. It’s by one of a band of young Indonesian filmmakers trying to revive the film industry after it essentially died out under Suharto. Definitely worth a look if it ever plays near you.