Monday, May 29, 2006


Just a quick note to say we're fine! I got down to Yogya tonight. Chad has been filing great stuff for VOA all day and is doing a brief for NPR right now before we get some sleep. More tomorrow. Thanks for all your kind thoughts and inquiries!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Earthquake II

Indonesian TV news is more raw than the American variety. They charge right into people's hospital rooms. Last night at work, the TV to my left was set on a local channel, and there were protracted periods of screaming and chaos pouring into my left ear while I edited stories of screaming and chaos on my computer screen. CNN, on another TV straight ahead of me, was somewhat more decorous but still chilling.

I can't claim any close ties to Yokyakarta. I was only there for three or four days. But it was so recent, and Yogya is such a charming little city, it's terrible to see the images and think of the people and the place I remember.

In newsrooms, as in baseball, there's no crying. It would have been especially inappropriate for me to cry, when surely there are people at the Post who have family or close friends in Yogya. On the other hand tears would clearly have been the only sensible response.

Chad is on his way there. He'll be updating on his Merapi blog. I may head down tomorrow for a couple of days. One irony is that everyone in Yogyakarta has been focused on the danger from the Merapi volcano just to the north. Nobody expected this terrible blow from the south.

If you want to donate, a couple of organizations helping are Relief International and of course the Red Cross/Red Crescent.

Saturday, May 27, 2006


As you may have heard, there's been a big earthquake in Yogya. Chad and I are both in Jakarta so we are fine. Just wanted to let you know. More later.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A feathered visitor

"There's a bird on the second floor, did you hear?" says Ari, our landlord. We are very spoiled, because Ari speaks excellent English.

"No, what kind?" I say, expecting a sparrow or a pigeon.

"It eats mice. You know. It says hoo, hoo."

"An OWL? There are owls in Jakarta? How can an owl live in Jakarta? We want an owl!" I blurbled.

Ari took me down to the parking area under the building. We climbed up onto the back wall. Sure enough, craning my neck, I could see an owl tucked up under the roof of the balcony, dozing.

"Do you think we could train him to eat ants?" I asked. An owl could raise a large extended family on ants in our apartment.

Ari shook his head. "I called the zoo to come get him."

But the zoo never arrived. Our avian guest departed sometime toward evening. I'm thinking of putting some plastic mice on the balcony, just in case he comes around again.

Perhaps my famous bird-artist brother John, who's in The New Yorker Magazine this week, would care to make a long (very long) distance ID? Based on my almost useless photo?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

How to bathe

This is a mandi, the traditional Indonesian way to get clean. It's based on the even more traditional Indonesian way to get clean - bathing in the river.

A mandi has a tap at the top, and a plug at the bottom so you can drain it when necessary. You usually leave it half-full so the water is at room temperature. You use the scoop to pour water all over yourself, then you soap up, and then you scoop some more water to rinse off. There's a drain in the bathroom floor so you can fling the water around with abandon.

As I understand it, it's considered good form to leave the scoop sitting on the edge of the mandi rather than floating in the mandi. It's definitely bad form to climb into the mandi! One hears stories of confused foreigners trying the immersion method, but I've never met anyone who confessed to actually doing it themselves.

Mandis are kind of nice, because you can just step in for a quick rinse. That's what I do after walking to work (this is actually the one at the Post). They do make the floor wet, though, so it's inadvisable to walk into any bathroom with just your socks on.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Mary Krueger is a smart cookie

My friend Mary is graduating from law school in New Hampshire this weekend. She got a full public-interest scholarship because she's not only smart, she's got her heart in the right place. Now she is going to go out and do the impossible every day: she's going to make NH's state and local governments provide the social services they're legally obligated to provide.

She's also going to ski really well, because that's what she does. But that's beside the point.

Congratulations Mary!!! Go get 'em!

OK, we now return to our regularly scheduled Jakarta blog.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Wardrobe enhancement

It's been a momentous week: I finally acquired a second pair of pants!

I had worn my pair of basic black Old Navies for 67 straight days.* I had to conserve on clothes when I packed so I could bring 53,000 audio/video cables of every description that I'll probably never need. Say what you want about Old Navy, including that they have really annoying commercials, but those pants wore like iron (and are still going strong).

I had to take my new pants to a tailor to be shortened. This guy has a little shop in the Palmerah marketplace, right by work. He whipped out the tape measure, started cutting, and was done in 15 minutes, for the massive sum of 65 cents. Plus he put up with my bad Indonesian and let me take his picture. Now that's a deal.

I'm gonna get my next pair of pants, someday, from one of the bicycling jeans guys. They ride around on bikes with sewing machines mounted on them, and a little sign that says "Levi's." A moving copyright violation! They make them to order, which is the only way I'll ever get Levi's to fit my butt.

*Yes I've been washing them. Everything dries overnight here ....

Thursday, May 18, 2006

More on rain, plus garbage!

It sounds like half the US is about to float away, but here in Jakarta we could use some rain. It's been muggy and cloudy for the last few days, and I feel like I'm walking around in Cambpell's Cream of Pollution Soup ("Now with Extra Grit!").

Whoever's burning this little pile of trash around the corner from our apartment isn't helping. The little kaki lima in the background is selling fruit (buah). Mmm! Garbage-smoked mangoes!

There seem to be two ways of dealing with garbage here. Well, three really. One is just to throw it wherever you like. The second is to put it in these little areas on the sidewalk delineated by low concrete walls. People seem to let the trash pile up till it's stinky, and then set it on fire. I'm not really sure if that's how it's supposed to work. Perhaps a more experienced Jakarta hand can explain?

The third option is garbage service. We pay $5 a month to have ours picked up. At least we assume it gets picked up ... otherwise someone is playing a trick on the gullible foreigners. But even garbage pickup is not a real solution. I just edited a little item in the Post that said the city of Bandung, about two hours from here, is literally drowning in trash. The dumps are full, so garbage is piling up on the streets and filling about a third of the central marketplace. One dump was closed in 2004 after a "garbage slide" killed more than a hundred people.

Most of the world is facing a garbage crisis, of course. It's just that here, the problems are more stark. Nobody has the time, resources, and organization to gloss over them. I don't know if that's better or worse. It's worse, of course, if you live on a garbage heap.

My seat of power

So here's a shot from just behind my desk at the Jakarta Post. My former colleagues in NH and Indiana will note that the Post is every bit as lush and well-appointed as your average public radio station. Those machines you see on our desks are on special loan from the Museum of Very Old Computers. We do get free tea and coffee, at least.

The job has worked out as I hoped - it's not too taxing, but not too dull. Basically we have a bunch of clipboards representing different sections of the paper - Leisure, National, City, etc. The editors log each story as it's finished, and then we copy editors claim and edit them.

Some stories are beautifully written. It's fun to tweak them to get their language to really flow. A few, on the other hand, are like wading through cement - especially some of the opinion pieces we get from government and NGO types. Usually in the second paragraph they'll say something like: "In order to fully comprehend this very important issue, we need to understand the past. So let us examine the history of Indonesia-Australia relations beginning in 1887."

"Oh, let's NOT," I beg silently, but unfortunately it isn't up to me. If the prose is really ponderous and bureaucratic, there's only so much I can do. I just break up the long, long sentences into shorter ones, and try to replace stuffy words like "comprise" and "utilize" with more human ones.

Occasionally we get some amusing sentences, like the one about the face cream with "an advanced ingredient that strongly appeases wrinkles." On the other hand, if I could write an article half as well in Indonesian as these guys do in English, I would be very impressed with myself.

My fellow copyeditors are a nice bunch and I'm sure some of them will become outside-of-work friends. Getting to know the Indonesian editors has been a slower process, but I'm hopeful it will happen in time.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

An erupting story

Chad is back in Yogyakarta, covering the Merapi volcano. He's got a new blog devoted to the story. Drop by and have a look!

Monday, May 15, 2006

Demos, rainmakers, and unnatural phenomena

There have been a bunch of demonstrations in Jakarta lately against some proposed changes to the labor laws. At first the demos were kind of fun, because they shut down the megahighway near our house and I got to walk around on it. But the protesters quickly strained my patience by leaving trash everywhere, mindlessly damaging trees, and worst of all, burning tires! In a city where the air contains quite enough petroleum byproducts!

The best part of the story, though, is the rain. One of the biggest demos was on a blistering hot day. Then in the afternoon a really intense thunderstorm came through. Afterwards the city felt really cool and fresh. Everyone was talking about how clean the air was. "Magic rain," said our landlord.

Magic, indeed. The next day, The Jakarta Post quoted an anonymous source in the Vice President's office saying the government had hired about 60 spiritualists to bring down the rain and stop the demo. The VP later had to deny it at a press conference. They allegedly paid these rainmakers about $120 each. If so, they got their money's worth.

As I recall, the Soviet Union tried something like this in the 80's, except they used airplanes to try to seed the clouds. Maybe they should have called in some old Javanese guys with special powers.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Where to go in Jakarta when you're rich and bored

Go to the absurdly-named Entertainment X'nter! Which is basically some cafes, high-end shops, and a movie theatre, attached to a larger mall with even more stuff in it.

For some it's a shopping town ...

for others, not so much. This is a big new shopping plaza that's being built across the street from the Entertainment X'nter. I think these people are waiting for a bus. Or maybe just waiting.

Ibu Trish: Fast Food

Dear Ibu Trish: Can I get Dunkin Donuts in Jakarta? Signed, Boston Creme Junkie

Why, yes! You can! Dunkin's hasn't achieved quite the market penetration here that it has in, say, Somerville, Mass. But there are quite a few of them. Plus, they sell ... brace yourself, Jason Sylvis ... durian jelly donuts! Also lychee-orange, which is rather tasty. Try ordering those in Davis Square!

There's also McDonald's, Long John Silver's, Pizza Hut, and KFC. McD's sells the usual burgers, but their real stock in trade seems to be a combo meal featuring fried chicken, scrambled eggs, plain white rice, and soup. This is weird, not just because it's weird, but because I've never seen that combination of foods anywhere else. I guess it works for them. The McD's near our old hotel had Coke but no Diet Coke, which is clearly a travesty.

McD's is not that expensive here - the fried chicken meal is about 2 dollars, or what you'd pay for a sit-down meal at a fairly cheap restaurant. Street food, of course, is cheaper. If you don't want to spring for McDonald's, you can get a burger from some guys who walk the streets selling them from carts.

McDonald's in Singapore is hyping these new burger-y things that they sell on wedges of compressed rice, instead of buns. They looked ... weird.

Monday, May 08, 2006

So where are we anyway?

Our video-wiz friend Jason has combined Google World and some editing magic to make a little 30-second sequence showing where our apartment is in Jakarta. Check it out at You may have to scroll down a little because, unlike me, he updates his blog faithfully. I think the entry is called Where in the world are Chad and Trish?

The big green area you can see in the video with the oval building in the middle is a recreation complex and one of Jakarta's rare grassy, tree-y spaces. At the top of the green area is the police training center I walk through to get to work. The reddish things all around us are the tile roofs of all the buildings in our neighborhood.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Home Sweet Gecko

No Indonesian decorating scheme is complete without a gecko or two scampering across the wall. So I was happy to see this one by the back window in the office. I wasn't sure they'd make it all the way up to the fourth floor.

How I got 80's hair (again)

I've been putting off getting a haircut almost since the day we arrived. I dread them even in the States. I seem to lack the gene that enables one to talk about hair. When stylists ask "How much should I take off? Do you want it chunked or layered?" I want to say "I don't know! Just fix it so I don't look stupid!" Sadly, we often fall short of even that modest goal.

So I was really scared to get a cut in Jakarta, but a week or two ago my I just couldn't stand my limp, shapeless hair anymore. I went to the salon on the first floor of our old hotel because it was close and cheap.

Before the cut, we had to get through a lengthy negotiation over Reza-the-stylist's proposal that Chad and I buy a hotel down the street. I knew it wouldn't work to explain that we aren't rich, or that we would probably be the worst hotel owners in history.

"Foreigners can't own property in Indonesia!" I finally pointed out, with an air of triumph.

"Oh, you can put it in my name," he said, right on cue.

Anyway, when we got to the actual cut, things seemed to start off well - Reza was snipping along in a way that suggested competence, and he didn't scrape the comb painfully across my ears (another reason I hate haircuts). At one point my hair looked really looked great. But maybe he was waiting for a signal to stop, because he just kept going till the style was somewhere between Early Annie Lennox and Contemporary Drill Sergeant. It's only a little longer than the buzzcuts I used to get as a summer-camp counselor in 1988, when I lived in a tent and washed my hair at the water pump every morning.

It was a bit of a jolt, going that short. But actually I kind of like it now. I don't spike it out the way Reza's doing here (he's trying to earn his extra $2 "styling" charge). I just wear it a little messy. The sides look all bald in the picture, but Chad assures me they're not in real life.

Anyway, it'll certainly be a cooler style for this hot, sticky clime. And now I won't face the horror of another haircut for a really long time!

p.s. - Dan Gorenstein, if you happen to be reading this, I will brook no Flock of Seagulls jokes at this time. No.