Monday, October 30, 2006

The Sultan and the magical egg

The pre-hike briefing was at 2:30 a.m. We would not go all the way to the cone of the volcano, since it's still active. Instead we'd stop at a couple of different viewing points to see the lava and smoke from a relatively safe distance. Christian gave us our emergency instructions, which boiled down to: "If somebody says run, run!"

Marching orders

Then he told us his brother-in-law would be leading the hike. That was disappointing, because Christian is a great storyteller. On the plus side, he said Ilu, the dog, would be coming with us. Ilu is a funny-looking mutt with stumpy legs and an extravagant plume of tail. He has a piece of skin stuck haphazardly on his head, the memento of a long-ago fight. "A nice dog, but quite smelly," Christian said in his precise way.

Ilu: A nice dog, but quite smelly

Isa, the brother-in law, showed up, and we headed out through the dark town to the woods. We hiked for about an hour up an easy trail to a viewpoint. There we stood looking across a canyon at the peak of Merapi, barely visible in the dark. Nothing happened for a while. Then we saw a finger of red tracing down from the cone. Lava! Then another red thread, and another. The sun began to rise, and the peak became visible. The call to prayer sounded, along with the bellow of the loudest cow I have ever heard. And while all this was happening, Isa told us a story.

A long time ago, he said, the first sultan of Yogyakarta came into power. Since he was the first, he wasn't quite sure how to rule the kingdom. The kingdom was very small. He wanted to make its people more numerous. He wanted them to be safe and prosperous. He decided to medidate in pursuit of wisdom. After a few days, the Queen of the South Sea, who rules the water along Yogya's coast, came to him in a vision.

The Queen of the South Sea

"Hey Sultan!" said the Queen. "I notice you've been sitting around for quite a while."

"I'm meditating on how to make my kingdom grow," said the Sultan.

"Well that's all well and good," the queen barked, "but leaders have to act. So get up and get moving! Since you seem to need a little help, here's what we'll do. If you marry me, I'll align my kingdom with yours, and I will enhance your power."

That sounded good to the Sultan, so he agreed. He married the Queen, and she tutored him in the ways of love -- and power.

One day the Queen gave her husband an egg. This was not the egg of a chicken or a duck, but a mystical egg, the egg of the Earth itself. "There is only one egg like this in the whole world," the Queen said. "If you eat it, you will never be hungry."

A magical egg

The sultan accepted the egg. He had his royal chef cook it up for breakfast. But as he pondered the Queen's words, he began to worry.

"What sort of person never gets hungry?" he reasoned. "A dead one, that's who!" He began to wonder if the Queen was plotting against him.

So he called to his gardener. "Hey gardener. Come eat this!"

The gardener dutifully ate the egg. Then he began to grow. He grew taller, taller, taller! "What will I do?" the gardener cried. "I can't go home! I'm too big for my house!"

The sultan thought quickly. "There's a wild mountain near here," he said to the gardener. "You shall be the king of that mountain, and use your newfound power to protect all of Yogyakarta."

So it was, and so it has been to this day. As each sultan of Yogyakarta passes away, he leaves an heir by his earthly wife. Each new sultan enters into a mystical union with the Queen of the South Seas. And the king of Merapi (for that was the name of the wild mountain) rules with the sultan and the Queen to protect Yogyakarta and its surroundings.

The tenth, and current, Sultan of Yogyakarta,
Hamengkubuwono X

And that is why, to this day, the sultan and the people of Yogyakarta make regular offerings to the sea Queen and the mountain King to maintain peace and prosperity.

When the story ended, the sun had risen, and Isa had proved himself no slouch as a storyteller. Ilu, who had fallen asleep (he's probably heard the story a hundred times) gave himself a shake, and we set off for a closer look at the peak.

(This is one of many legends about Yogya, Merapi and the Queen of the South Sea, and I make no claim to it being the authoritative version. It's a good story, though, eh?)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Merapi Revisited

Mt. Merapi from Kaliurang

When we were doing stories about the eruption of Mount Merapi, we met a great guy named Christian who runs a hostel and leads hikes up the volcano. We decided we'd come back for a hike as soon as the volcanic activity cooled down a little. Recently Chad had some interviews to do in Yogyakarta, so we figured we'd seize the opportunity to go to Merapi.

We flew to Yogya and then took a taxi to a pedicab to a minivan to a bus. Downtown Yogya is pretty urban, so it was a relief to see crowded streets give way to green fields, and to feel the road steepen as the bus began to climb toward Merapi.

Our hike wouldn't start until early the next morning, so we checked into Christian's place in Kaliurang and went for a walk. Kaliurang is a great little tourism and farming town. There seemed to be some kind of sculpture contest going on; there were statues all over town made out of commonly found materials, each labeled with the number of a different neighborhood.

We really liked this statue of a woman.

Then I got caught in a huge spiderweb. You have to be really careful about stuff like that around here. Fortunately I was able to gnaw off my own arm and escape. (If you look closely, you'll see that the spider's abdomen is made out of one of the conical hats rice farmers wear.)

To be continued ...

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Junk food of the week: Flying saucers

I forget what these are called in Indonesian because I always think of them as flying saucers or little hats. You don't need to remember their name anyway, because they're always sold from a cart, and the cart doesn't offer anything else. The vendor makes them on the spot using a rounded pan over a little gas burner.

These are very tasty. The outside edge is thin and crunchy-chewy. The bump in the middle is soft and moist, similar to that famed biological curiosity, Bika Ambon. This particular one has chocolate sprinkles on it. I think there's some coconut milk involved, and there's definitely some pandan leaf, the most common dessert flavoring here. I can't really describe pandan except to say that it's not very much like vanilla. It's mellow like vanilla, but it tastes more plant-y. Does that help? I didn't think so.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Ten kids and a minivan

Monday night we hooked up with John and his Indonesian friend Ardi, who has become our friend too, to check out the Idul Fitri celebrations.

The holiday marking the end of Ramadhan traditionally includes beating on big drums and chanting. In engine-obsessed Jakarta this has been expanded to include riding around in, and especially ON, vehicles, while beating drums, chanting, honking horns, setting off firecrackers, singing, etc.

Ardi brought along a rented public minivan, three ear-bustingly loud horns, two drums made from pieces of old tires stretched over the ends of PVC tubes, and ten kids from his old neighborhood, so we were well equipped.

Chad and John hopped right up on the roof of the van, but I opted for an inside seat.

The streets were jammed. We were trying to get to Monas, the National Monument, for some kind of gathering, but the police kept turning us away because they were supposed to be discouraging people from riding on roofs.

Ardi yelled for everybody to get inside, so the kids all came crawling in through the windows and diving through the door, tripping over each other and the box of bottled water on the floor and blowing horns and laughing.

The cops were not fooled by our newly innocent appearance, and they still wouldn't let us in. We took some wrong turns and wandered through tiny back streets. Then we got a flat tire.

Fixing a flat. I'm not sure what the "!" sign means, but it seemed to fit the occasion.

While we were waiting, I took my camera out. Jakarta is a great place for photography, because everybody wants to have their picture taken. Suddenly all the guys in uniform were our buddies.

Ardi with one of our new friends

We never did get to Monas. After changing the tire we decided to head up to the Idul Fitri celebration at Ancol, where there's a little bit of beach, an amusement park, and some other attractions. There was much singing, cheering and honking along the way.

We passed big trucks with twenty or more people on top, waving Indonesian flags and homemade banners. We saw more than one flag bearing the logo of Slank, a rock band with a huge following.

At Ancol we sat looking out at the dark ocean for a long time. Our gang, who ranged in age from maybe 10 to teens, seemed remarkably well-behaved. They didn't run off or demand treats or complain that they were bored. We chatted and watched boats sail around. Finally, a little after midnight, John and Chad and I caught a taxi home. Ardi and the kids were planning to stay out until 3. We said goodbye on the dark beach, with firecrackers going off, vendors peddling fishcakes, and prayers sounding intermittently from nearby mosques.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Ten Kitties: Black hole cat

Don't worry, this cat isn't about to slide into an abyss; I took the picture on a slant (maybe I've been watching too much MTV at the gym).

The sidewalks here tend to be concrete slabs over gutters, and sometimes the slabs go missing. Right now there's just a trickle of water in these gutters, along with various kinds of plants and molds and the usual urban detritus such as plastic shopping bags. I suspect during the upcoming rainy season they'll be overflowing.

I do get the feeling we're building toward a change of seasons. It seems to get hotter every day; in the afternoon it gets really windy. I can't remember the last time we got rain in Jakarta. On the one hand, I can't wait, because the rain will clear the air and make it cooler; on the other hand, I have some doubts about the soundness of our roof. Maybe we should lay in a good supply of buckets before the price goes up ...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Ramadhan market

Our local market, Pasar BenHil, is not particularly famous - in fact, it didn't even make it onto the Heritage Society's list of notable Jakarta markets, which hurts my hometown pride a bit. But during the fasting month, our sleepy little collection of fruit stands and noodle vendors gets transformed into a jam-packed Ramadhan market that draws people from as far away as Bandung (three hours from here).

All the local restaurants bring out big platters of their specialties, and some local people just put out little tables of home cooking. Some of the foods are ordinary things you see year-round, like roasted fish with chili sauce and beef rendang. Others are apparently special Ramadhan foods. The only one I know of for sure is Opor Ayam, a delicious kind of coconut curried chicken, which is traditional for the end-of-Ramadhan celebration, Idul Fitri.

There's no Opor Ayam in the picture above, but there's chicken in what looks like a sweet or spicy red sauce, and next to it some chopped tempe with dried anchovies and peanuts. To the right are some spinachy greens, which are often cooked up with coconut milk and spices, and the very last bowl in the back is piled with tasty cubed potatoes in chili sauce.

Everybody buys little cookies and cakes and especially the sweet, brightly-colored drinks people use to break the fast.

One function of the Ramadhan market is to serve people stuck in rush-hour traffic on Jalan Sudirman, a major north-south street that's always a parking lot at the end of the workday. That way you can break your fast, and maybe pick up something special for dinner.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Ice in Jakarta?

No, it's not a symptom of massive global climate change - although we have those too. It is, in fact, Jakarta's only ice skating rink!

The Sky Rink is located in a fancy shopping mall. It's open-air so shoppers can hang out in front of the A&W, the KFC, the American Grill, etc., and watch you skate. There's a big emphasis on lessons, and some of the kids do very fancy moves, including jumps and spins and stuff. Others just fulfill the traditional role of small children on skates - they wobble around crashing into everything.

The little girls all have fancy bows in their hair and these enormous red, woolly gloves that you can rent for 70 cents.

Sky Rink costs about $4 for two hours of skating, pretty affordable for us but not so much for the 100 million or so Indonesians living on less than $2 a day.

Skating here is kind of thrilling because it's one of the few ways you can go fast without a vehicle. We don't bike, run or rollerskate outdoors in the city, there's no skiing to be had, and surfing requires travel, so skating satisfies that need to work up a good head of steam ... to blur the landscape ... to fly.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Cramming room only

The Post had this great picture today of a woman being passed into a train through the window, because it was too packed to get in through the door.

Idul Fitri, the end-of-Ramadhan celebration, is early next week, and there's a rising energy in the city. The stores are mobbed with people buying gifts for their relatives, new clothes for themselves, and enough food for an army. The mass exodus from Jakarta to people's home villages has begun. Traffic, need I mention, is crazier than ever.

I recently discovered I'm going to have a four-day weekend over Idul Fitri. It would be great to go somewhere, but every single form of transportation is going to be insanely overbooked. I'm thinking we could probably land a small helicopter on our roof (just a small one ... nothing ostentatious). Anybody have a lead on a rental?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Ten kitties: Old Ginger

I'm going to guess this cat is seven or eight years old, because I think they age faster here. S/he had a nice spot staked out on a busy corner and was snoozing through early-morning motorbikes, strolling vendors, and an intrusive photographer.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A taxi game

Here's a fun thing to do in Jakarta: Jump into a taxi and ask for our neighborhood, Pejompongan.

The driver will say, "OOOOHhhhh, Pejompongan!" as if his mom lives there, as if the mere thought of the place fills him with joy. He'll drive about ten feet. Then he'll say nonchalantly, almost inaudibly: "Where's Pejompongan?"

Works every time!

Well, actually, maybe fifty percent of the time. Some drivers are really good and know all kinds of shortcuts through tiny back streets. Others are clueless. If you're going someplace you've never been before, it's wise to look up the route beforehand and bring the map. Also, bring small bills if you've got 'em, because the drivers don't carry a lot of change.

I can't really blame the drivers, because Jakarta is a spaghetti of freeways punctuated by hellish cloverleafs. If you leave Plaza Semanggi to go to our apartment, for example, you will often spend what feels like ten minutes circling up, down and around various highway ramps, only to look up and see, through your nausea -- Plaza Semanggi! Only then, having managed the impossible task of changing directions, can you begin the actual journey home.

The local neighborhoods, on the other hand, are mazes of little streets, some growing narrower and narrower until a taxi can't get down them at all.

We had some epic, lost taxi rides at first, with the driver jumping out periodically to ask directions from random passersby. Now that we know our way around, and can give directions, taxis hold no fear -- unless we spend too much time pondering why the driver has a skeleton hanging from his rear view mirror.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Cooking with Ibu Trish: Kelepon

Nicole suggested posting a Kelepon recipe for those who wish to experience the phenomenon themselves, so, go crazy, folks! These are easy to make and really only require one unusual ingredient, glutinous rice flour, which you should be able to get at any Asian store. While you're there, look around for a lump of dark-brown Javanese palm sugar. It's often about the size and shape of a hockey puck. You can substitute brown sugar, but palm sugar has more flavor.

If you really want to get authentic, you can look for pandan flavoring. That's what makes them green. I never found it in Bloomington, despite some good Asian stores that catered to the fairly large Indonesian student population.

These will turn out to be quite similar to the ones you can get right here in the BenHil market ... which is not always the case with Indonesian food you cook at home.

Picture: a kelepon smiley-face, stolen from somebody's website somewhere

Sweet Coconut Rice Balls

1½ cups glutinous rice flour
¾ cup lukewarm water
2-3 drops green food coloring or pandan essence (or just skip it. I don't see the point of food coloring.)
8 tsp. grated palm sugar or regular brown sugar
1 cup fresh-grated or dried coconut, mixed with ½ tsp. salt

Mix the rice powder with the lukewarm water and green food coloring into a firm but flexible dough.
Pull off one full teaspoon of the dough and shape it into a ball approximately 1-inch in diameter.
Push a finger into the center of the ball to make a hole, and put in approximately ½ tsp. of the grated sugar. Seal, and roll it back into the ball shape with the palms of your hands. Prepare all the balls and set them aside.

Prepare a pot half filled with water and bring it to a boil.
Drop the balls into the boiling water. Remove the balls with a spoon once they float to the water surface and then roll the balls in the grated coconut.

Serve at room temperature. Makes 30 rice balls.

Friday, October 13, 2006

A fasting diary

I'm one of those people who probably would jump off the Brooklyn bridge, if everyone else was doing it. Not because I have to fit in, but because I really want to understand what other people are experiencing. At least, that's what I tell myself.

So I had to try fasting for Ramadan. Just to see what it was like.

Temptation: our home water dispenser

Ramadan fasting means no food or drink from dawn to dusk. I wasn't worried about the food part. But not drinking all day, during the dry season, with the sun beating down, when I get dehydrated just walking to work? I'm used to drinking a lot here, so that was going to be a challenge.

I prepared carefully, choosing a day when I didn't have any Indonesian classes or other activities, and I didn't have to work too late. I laid in a good supply of Indonesian teen-girl novels, my latest obsession (they're fun, easy to read, and conversational, so that someday I'll be able to talk like a normal person instead of a phrasebook). Most important, I would have sole command of the remote control, because Chad was doing some reporting in Yogya.

A good supply of teen-girl novels

Here's how it went:

3 a.m. Alarm goes off. I drag myself out of bed. 3 o'clock is well before dawn, but that's when people get up in order to complete breakfast and prayers in time. As I stagger to the kitchen I hear a booming voice from the nearest mosque, rousting the lazy and sleepy from their beds.

3:10 My meal is all planned out: a bowl of oats with milk and dates, a hard-boiled egg, papaya juice, and plenty of water.

3:30 Back to bed. I turn on a Ramadan TV variety show. These are a subset of the usual evening variety shows, done before a live audience and generally featuring some combination of skits, clowns, people in traditional Javanese garb, men dressed as women, contests, shouting, fart jokes, and music. I can't imagine watching something this hyperactive at this hour of the day. I flip around. More variety shows. A woman in heavy-duty Muslim garb giving a little lecture to an audience of women in headscarves. Then I hit the jackpot: a Ramadan soap opera!

Pintu Hidayah (The Door to God's Wisdom), one of my favorites

This one was about an evil man who sells his own daughter so he can buy a particularly ugly SUV. He gets killed in the end, which we all knew was going to happen. Unfortunately he doesn't get run over by his own SUV, which is how I would have written it.

5 a.m. Set alarm for 8 and drift off to sleep.

8 a.m. Getting woken up by an alarm twice in one morning stinks, but I have just a fraction of a doubt that maybe I have Indonesian class at 9 after all (the teachers come to our apartment so it's just a matter of waiting around to see). I'm already thirsty. Too late now! Get up, take a shower, start reading My Cousin is Gay.

9:47 No Indonesian class, which is a good thing because I'm sleepy and cranky and my brain is beginning to demand its morning cup of coffee.

11:08 Lips dry. Throat irritated. Jakarta smog amplifies thirst. The city is also a "heat island"; the concentration of buildings and paucity of greenery make it measurably hotter here than in the surrounding areas. Whose idea of a joke was it to make the conditions hardest in the place where the highest number of people live?

1:15 p.m. After drifting in and out of sleep, watching a lot of bad TV, and not making much progress on my book, I mobilize for work.

1:30 Catch a taxi to Palmerah Market, near my office. I only have 10,000 rupiah (about a dollar) so I have to take a cheapo Taksi Express, not a swanky Blue Bird. The key thing is, it has air conditioning so I can avoid losing fluids.

1:50 Buy a papaya at the market and walk down the alley to the Jakarta Post, trying not to sweat.

The alley behind the Post - a good place to see street vendors, cats, rats, garbage, laundry, and motorbikes

2:00 It's a relief to get to work, where I will be distracted. I feel pretty awake but headache-y. I sit down at my desk, get organized, log onto the computer, and promptly delete a bunch of stories I'm supposed to edit. I have to go to the Opinion desk with an apologetic face and ask them to re-send everything. Maybe I'm not feeling so awake after all.

4:43 I'm arguing with all our Opinion pieces in my head and counting the minutes until sunset. I know I'm thirsty but I don't really feel it anymore. I just feel really tired. Luckily I can still work effectively, or I'd feel honor-bound to cave in and break my fast early.

5:50 The call to prayer sounds from the nearby mosque. I look up and see a couple of people go quietly to the water coolers. I wait for a minute and go get a glass of water myself. Relief!

6:15 Eat some dates at my desk, followed by a peanut butter sandwich. Surprisingly, I'm not all that hungry.

7:52 Still feeling really tired, no doubt a result of the long thirst, the lack of coffee, and the disrupted sleep schedule all rolled into one.

At 9:00 I'm glad to go home. I try to read a little but I can't concentrate, so I go to bed early.

So that's a day of Ramadan fasting. And that's under exceedingly cushy conditions, of course; I was mostly lying around in my air-conditioned bedroom, not out doing road work in the sun or cooking in a hot kitchen or anything. On the other hand, I also didn't have the family, cultural and religious rewards people get from Ramadan. It wasn't terrible or anything; I could imagine doing it for a month if I had reason to. But since I don't, I'm going back to drinking water so I can walk to work, go to the gym, and keep my strength up for another day in the hot city.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Ten kitties: flower cat

This is right around the corner from our apartment. A lot of people in our neighborhood put potted plants out in front of their houses, which is great -- it definitely makes the neighborhood feel more green. We have some nice shade trees, too, as you can see in the background.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Sleepy feet

If I were designing a flag for Jakarta, I'd put feet sticking out a taxi or bajaj window on it. Not in a mocking way; just because it's such an iconic Jakarta sight. No doubt the drivers work long hours and take naps during the slow periods. (Rush hour can start as early as 5 a.m. here, because everybody's trying to get to work before the roads are completely jammed.)

People who run food stalls also snooze during the day, and they can sleep in what look like incredibly uncomfortable positions - lying on a wooden bench that's too short for them, or leaning up against a cement wall.

The napping intensifies during Ramadan, when everybody's schedule is messed up by getting up for breakfast at 3 a.m. It's kind of nice, because the taxi and ojek drivers are too sleepy to yell "Taxi, mister! Ojek-ojek-ojek!" at me when I'm walking to work. I always feel a little bad turning them down, because they need the fares, but on the other hand, I need the exercise!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Junk food of the week: Kelepon

I actually made some of these back in Indiana, before we left for Jakarta. When our boss, Will, popped one in his mouth, he promptly burst out laughing. I don't think I've ever gotten quite that kind of reaction to something I cooked.

Kelepon are about the size of a ping-pong ball and consist mostly of a dough made of rice starch with a little water and oil. They're really, really chewy so trying to eat one whole can be a little alarming - like trying to chew 20 pieces of gum at once. You don't want to bite it in half, on the other hand, because it has a surprise inside: a little ball of liquidized palm sugar that squirts out.

Kelepon are covered in coconut and the green color of the dough comes from pandan leaf flavoring, commonly used in desserts here. I found them bizarre at first but they're kind of growing on me.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Ten Kitties: Cool pavement

Unfortunately everybody drives big SUVs here, just like in the States. At least they provide good shade.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Teh Botol

Dead soldiers in the lunchroom at work

Teh Botol, or bottled jasmine tea, is to Jakarta as Coke is to the U.S. At home or work, I don't have to walk more than two minutes from the front door to get one from a street vendor or warung.

Teh Botol is sweet, of course, because everybody loves sweet drinks here, but the tea gives it enough of a bitter edge to make it thirst-quenching. (I hate sweet drinks that make you thirsty.)

According to legend, Teh Botol came on the market in the 70's when a tea company was trying to expand its market. The company, Sosro, was sending vendors out into the field to brew hot tea as samples. But potential customers wouldn't stick around long enough for the water to boil, so the company started brewing tea at its factory and sending it out on trucks in big containers. It sloshed all over, so they started putting it in bottles. Then they realized they could sell it right in the bottles. And a marketing phenomenon was born!

Lots of companies, including Coke and Pepsi, have tried to knock Teh Botol off its pedestal with other bottled tea products. As Fairy Mahzdan notes on the quirky Jakarta fan site, true Teh Botol lovers accept no substitutes.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The magical dagger

A keris is born- slowly and painstakingly

A long time ago, in a rare bout of self-improvement, we went to an exhibit at the cultural center right down the street from the Jakarta Post. It was about the keris, or kris (pronounced "kreess" whichever way you spell it), which is a traditional dagger from Indonesia and Malaysia that's said to possess special powers.

Kerises are first of all quite lethal-looking weapons; they often have a curvy blade to inflict maximal damage, and they have a channel down the middle that leads to a little point at the base of the blade so that the blood drips off and doesn't make the hilt all slippery (I hate when that happens). The hilts are often quite ornate, taking the form of snakes, tigers, etc.

Guys don't routinely walk around wearing daggers these days, like they used to, but kerises still seem to retain a lot of symbolic power. Jakarta bar owner Bartele Santema writes about one of his older employees using a keris to focus his spiritual energy when doing incantations to forestall rain. Filmmaker Joko Anwar blogs about seeing his father take his keris out of the closet and talk to it from time to time. Legends abound of kerises leaping out of their sheaths to attack evil people, or rattling to warn their owners of impending danger. They're really lovely to look at, and it was somewhat hypnotic to watch them being meticuously crafted by hand -- but I wouldn't want to meet one in a dark alley.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Ten kitties: Invisible cat

The houses in Jakarta all have big metal gates, and the neighborhood cats seem to spend about a quarter of their time squeezing under or through them -- going inside for safety and coming back out to forage, fight or roam. Most of the time they have to wriggle under the gate, and they really have an impressive ability to flatten themselves and get through. Sometimes when they emerge they'll give an irritated shake of the hind leg as if to say, Stupid gate! Who put that thing there anyway?

Sidewalks paved with gold

Melon juice is another traditional fast-breaker, so as soon as Ramadhan started, all these piles of luminous yellow melons appeared around the city as if by magic. They're very festive. They must embody the season for people, the way poinsettias represent Christmas back in the States. But melons are delicious and don't pose a danger to pets, so I'm with Islam on this one.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Dates and fireworks

Adults buy dates during Ramadhan because that's what Muhammad ate to break his fast. Kids buy firecrackers during Ramadhan because they make a hell of a racket.

This woman has a convenient, one-stop kiosk near Palmerah Market.

We were warned that the firecrackers are used to wake up the neighborhood for the pre-dawn meal, but in our area they seem to get set off randomly anytime after dark.

Those are surely two reasons why kids get excited about the fasting month - the thrill of amateur explosives and the privilege of being up during the wee hours. When I was eight, there was nothing as cool as being awake during those mysterious, grownup times of the night.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Ten kitties: Waterlilies

This cat was drinking from a bowl of waterlilies outside somebody's house, but stopped and feigned innocence when I raised the camera.