Saturday, December 30, 2006

Goats on the soccer field

There are goats on the soccer field.

Goats on the street.

Goats on the sidewalk.

And most especially, goats at the mosque.

It's kind of fun having all this livestock around in super-urban Jakarta. But the fun has an expiration date, as do the goats.

Dec. 31 is Idul Adha, which commemorates Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son (Isaac, according to Jews and Christians, but Ismail according to Muslims). You may recall that in the end he sacrifices a sheep instead. So for Idul Adha, people who can afford a goat, sheep or cow are supposed to buy one, have it slaughtered, and share the meat with friends, family, and the poor.

An estimated 73,000 animals will meet their end on Idul Adha. The city has called for them to be killed at slaughterhouses rather than mosques. But some clerics have said there aren't enough slaughterhouses to do the work. Since so many goats are gathered at the mosque on our street, I assume they'll be dispatched there ... so I guess I'll avoid that end of the street tomorrow.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Office improvement and a vibrating belt

I have a few days off in honor of Christmas, New Year's, and Idul Adha (more on that later), so today we got a dangerous notion to use all that free time to organize the office. Off we went to Carrefour to buy files, file boxes, reading lamps, scotch tape, etc.

Carrefour is a Walmartish sort of place, only, in Jakarta style, it's a bit louder and more chaotic. Today they had a Surf laundry detergent demonstration with loud music and some guy talking up the glories of Surf, and they had employees wandering around with hot dog samples and soda pop samples and best of all, ice cream samples.

They also had a vibrating belt, modeled by the woman on the right. She seemed pretty cheerful even though she had to wear a vibrating belt in public, and even though nobody was asking her about her vibrating belt. That's Chad in the background, by the way.

Carrefour's slogan is "Ke Carrefour aja, ahhhh!" or roughly, "Let's just go to Carrefour, ahhhh!" I think it's meant to imply a sense of relief that instead of running around to lots of stores, you can go to Carrefour and find everything you need. Which is sort of true. For example, we found scotch tape. The files, file boxes, and reading lamps, however, were a different story. Carrefour seems to specialize in having a lot of stuff that's kind of like what you want, but isn't really what you want. Which is why, in my mind, the slogan reads, "Ke Carrefour aja, aggggh!"

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Toilet instructions

This was in the bathroom at our homestay in Yogya. It was clearly affixed to the toilet by the manufacturer. The top says "Correct use of the closet (i.e. water closet)." And the large pictures are labeled "Men" and "Men and Women."

At first I couldn't figure out why there was a need for instructions. But then I remembered the "do not squat on the toilet" signs you sometimes see in Jakarta. People are replacing their squat toilets with Western-style ones, and they don't want their houseguests leaving footprints on the seat.

I'm still a little unclear about the pictures on the side, under Maintenance (Perawatan). The top one must mean "do not scrub," but why can't you scrub? "No chemicals," on the bottom, I can applaud from a water-quality point of view, but if you can't scrub or use chemicals, how are you supposed to clean this thing?

As to the middle one, my first guess was "Do not make tea." But it must be "Do not add boiling water." Is that something people do? It never occurred to me to pour boiling water into a toilet ... until now.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

If labrador retrievers could testify

The moose, the whole moose, and nothing but the moose:
BearDog and favorite toy

A while back I read in the Jakarta Post that the bloodhound is the only dog whose testimony is accepted in U.S. courts. It got me thinking: what would trials be like if Labrador retrievers could testify?

1. “I knew beyond the SHADOW OF A DOUBT that somebody was at the front door. So I ran over and barked my head off, but somehow, it turned out there was nobody there.”

2. “My nose tells me that in this distinguished court, right at this moment, there’s a ham sandwich. I request a recess to conduct further inquiries, your honor.”

3. “Well, Ms. Bigshot District Attorney – if you think I’m lying you can RUB MY BELLY!”

4. “What? Sorry, I kind of fell asleep for a second. I have this little narcolepsy thing. I don’t let it stop me from living my life. Where were we?”

5. “May it please the court – I present EXHIBIT A – a dead skunk! With your permission, I’d like to roll in the evidence, your honor.”

6. “I am now absolutely certain that the defendant is NOT the woman I saw holding the gun that night. And I’d like to add that my testimony has nothing to do with the fact that she scritched my ears for ten minutes during the lunch recess.”

7. “My apologies, your honor. I thought someone had planted something suspicious in your crotch.”

Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas in Jakarta

... is crazy mall decorations ....

... and unlucky mall employees dressed as Santa Claus in the tropical heat.

And of course it's many more things to the nine percent or so of Indonesians who are Christian, who are celebrating in the usual ways.

Merry Christmas to all! I understand there's a War on Christmas in the US, so stay clear of the crossfire, all you guys back home ...

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Secret Buddhas

Photo: Wikitravel

As I've mentioned, we only had half an hour at the Buddhist temple at Borobudur, which was a little crazy. We only had time to capture the feeling of the place, which to me was a happy feeling. Even the lions looked cheerful -- especially the ones with the raised paws, who reminded me of the little gold waving-cat statuettes you see in Chinese restaurants.

The top of the temple is ringed with bells, and inside the bells are Buddha statues.

Some are missing their heads, so you have to peer into a few to find a Buddha smiling serenely to himself.

One of the Buddhas is considered especially lucky, because a terrorist put a bomb inside his bell, but the bomb was a dud and didn't go off. People reach in and touch the Buddha for good luck. It's hard to imagine how anybody's understanding of religion could compel them to put a bomb in a place like this.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Beautiful mold

I think I was waiting for Chad to finish checking e-mail at Realia when I decided to take about 37 pictures of this cool yellow stuff growing on a concrete wall in a partially-roofed outer room.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Unintentional offering

The first thing we noticed at Parangtritis beach was the SUV in the water. It was hard to miss. It was stuck in the sand and the rising tide was rocking it a little harder with each incoming wave.

Someone had made a poorly-planned effort to go offroading. But that wasn't the real reason they'd gotten stuck. Everybody knew the real reason: the truck was green, or at least greeny-blue, and green is the favorite color of the Queen of the South Sea. People always warn you not to swim at Parangtritis in a green bathing suit, or the Queen will grab you in her strong watery embrace and you'll never be seen in this world again.

Furthermore, a Protestant minister on the beach informed us, this particular Monday was a very spiritual day on the Javanese calendar, so our offroader was really asking for trouble.

People hung around watching. The minister said later, when the tide started going down, they'd get a bunch of guys together to push the truck out. We didn't want to wait, so we strolled off down the beach.

We had dashed out to Parangtritis after school that afternoon, just for a little getaway. We were glad we did. There weren't many people. It was quiet. The air smelled like ocean and the sand felt like ocean. It's crazy how rarely we see the ocean, given that we live in an archipelago.

We had a good walk and then bought an ear of roasted corn spiced with sugar and chili. It was so good we bought another. We watched the sun set.

Later we got some fish at a little strip of restaurants back near the parking lot. Everything had that offseason feeling. The restaurants were all lit up, but they were empty. Our taxi was the only car in the parking lot.

On the way back the driver told us he'd watched them get the truck out of the sea. The guys had waited for each incoming wave and then pushed, letting the ocean help them. As we sped home in the dark, often straddling the white line in the middle of the road, we passed the green truck being towed to the repair shop, still dripping. Maybe the Queen of the South Sea decided she didn't like SUVs.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Rewarded for good behavior

We felt pretty sorry for ourselves when we had to leave Jakarta in the middle of the film festival last week, but it was the only time we could both get away, and language school seemed more important. So it felt like validation when we stumbled onto a documentary film fest inYogya after our classes on Friday.

Left: Larry Weinstein tries to wrap it all up

We saw most of Beethoven's Hair and all of Mozartballs, and director Larry Weinstein was even on hand to take questions. One audience member asked, "I didn't really understand the movie. What was it about?" That seemed to leave him at a bit of a loss.

We went back the next day to catch some movies at a cafe, and struck up a conversation with a bunch of students. They turned out to be members of a group blog called Cah Andong, named after a traditional horse cart used in Yogyakarta. The blog is about "exploring the exoticism of Yogya," and part of its mission is to help draw visitors back to the city after the earthquake of late May.

Alex discusses the philosophical underpinnings of "Smallville"

After watching a bunch of docs, we went to a nearby EsTeler 77 and got some noodles and of course es teler, a syrupy concoction of ice, coconut milk, jackfruit and avocado. Everybody talked in a mixture of English and Indonesian about Yogya, movies, TV, and the relative merits of various Indonesian sci-fi soap operas.

Alma tackles a plate of dumplings

They were an impressive bunch. I sat across from Alma, who's studying engineering. Next to her was Alex, who majors in Informatics, a discipline so new that Indiana University recently established an entire department just to figure out what the heck Informatics means. But they were cool and didn't try to explain any math to us, which would have been hopeless in any language. We parted with promises to keep up with each other's blogs and try to get together again.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Our triumphant return

We're back from Yogya! with me- and -kan verbs coming out our ears -- and sometimes our mouths, even.

One of the unusual things about the school, Realia, is that all the teachers are trained to write upside-down. That way they don't have to slow down the class by turning the paper around all the time.

Here's Bu Etik, who taught our often raucous afternoon class. (We had individual instruction for the first two sessions of the day and then Chad and I had class together after lunch.)

This method really does save time but at first it's hard to concentrate, because you're so busy ogling their writing technique.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Borobudur, briefly

So, we're still here in Yogya doing battle with passive construction and other thorny linguistic issues. We took a little time off yesterday to go to this place, Borobudur, a Buddhist temple outside Yogya. It was one of those funny trips where we seemed to spend about 8 times longer getter there and back than we actually did at the site. I liked the temple a lot because even though it's huge, it's very human -- the artwork is all at eye-level and not huge or intimidating. Anyway, more later on that. We're going back to Jakarta tomorrow, where our slowww internet connection will seem speedy by comparison to the ones here at the school.

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Chad and I are off at language school in Yogyakarta for the week, so I may not be able to post too much. It's great being able to focus on that for a few days -- it's a lot of listening and talking, which is what I need, and some grammar, which I also need even if I don't like it. More later!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Junk food of the week: Nose cereal

Chad gave me this because I had to miss a documentary yesterday about nose jobs in Iran, which apparently has the highest per capita (or per nasum, if you will) rate of nose jobs in the world.

It was part of a double feature at JifFest, and I only had time to see one film because I had to get to work. I was really hoping they'd screw up and show the movies out of order, but they got it right this time, so instead of nose jobs I saw a film about the famed female Palestinian hijacker of the late '60s, Leila Khaled.

I can still feel the disappointment as I type. But nose cereal is an excellent consolation prize. As you can see, there are other versions including heart cereal and intestine cereal. Most disturbingly, in certain ways, there's also toenail cereal. All that plus sugar and artificial coloring, brought to you by Nestle with its usual sensitivity to child nutrition.

The hijacker movie was pretty good, by the way. I wonder what the consolation prize would have been for missing that one?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Promised paradise

below: JIFFest logo
The Jakarta International Film Festival began yesterday, which is like Christmas, New Year's and the Brattle Theatre all rolled into one. German short films! Iranian documentaries! Indonesian dangdut teen flicks with English subtitles! In a movie theatre world dominated by the lousiest Hollywood products, it's a mini-revolution.

Like all revolutions, it has its bumpy moments. Last night we went to see a documentary about an elephant rescue in Sumatra. It turned out to be a double feature with a doc about the Bali bombings, which was all well and good. But there were no tickets or assigned seats so everybody had to line up at the door. For an hour. And more. The start time came and went. "15 more minutes," said a nice guy with big crazy aspiring-filmmaker hair. It got hot and stuffy. Finally crazy-hair propped the door open, took the first guy's ticket, ripped it halfway ... but then changed his mind and handed it back. He handed it back! Despair swept over the crowd.

Given the circumstances, the movie title seemed ironic

At last they let us in. They showed the Bali movie, which was pretty decent, and then they began the elephant flick. See some elephants on a boat. See the elephants get unloaded at a sanctuary. Their heavy shackles are removed in a moment of deep symbolism. The elephants bathe in the river. And then .... closing credits? Ten minutes into the movie? What kind of experimental doc is this? But wait! It's the end of the film! They only showed us the last ten minutes of an hour-long movie! We keep sitting there for a while, expecting it to start over from the beginning. Instead, another volunteer with less-crazy hair comes in, apologizes, and shows us the exit. We walk down three flights of emergency stairs and emerge, confused, lost and grieving, in an underground parking lot.

Well, that was opening night. We'll have to go to matinees for the rest of the week because I'm working evenings, so the crowds should be smaller. We're going to miss the last half of the festival to go to language school in Yogya anyway. It's all okay. It's a movie festival! Right here in Jakarta! We just can't be unhappy about that.

Saturday, December 09, 2006


Our plants develop the strangest problems here. First our beloved jasmine got infested with tiny ants and had to be banished to the balcony.

Then one day we were working in the office when we heard a strange noise from the living room. We came out to find Mbak (pronounced "Ba") Ati, the woman who cleans three times a week, leaning over a viney plant with an expression of mixed horror and amazement. There were all these little worms jumping out of the pot and springing around on the floor. I mean, they weren't just lying there and wriggling; they were getting up on one end and jumping around like kids in a sack race.

Mbak Ati assured us the worms would decamp if we put the plant out in direct sunlight for a couple of days. We tried it, but they wouldn't budge, so now the viney plant lives on the balcony too.

Then again, Mbak Ati also told me the critters who come into the kitchen at night and nibble on our bananas might be cats ... so I'm beginning to question her authority in matters of flora and fauna.

Friday, December 08, 2006


As I've mentioned, people here have this amazing ability to sleep anywhere. This construction worker was napping on some kind of rolled-up building material and a big spool of cable, right next to Jl. Thamrin, one of Jakarta's main drags.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

New wives tales

Everybody raced to the TVs

I'm kicking myself for not having a better grasp of spoken Indonesian, because it's limiting my ability to follow a rare, juicy scandal in the national legislature. It seems a lawmaker was caught dallying with a naked dangdut singer in a video she shot on her cellphone. The video got out, and now the politician is in a world of trouble. He's even had to resign from his role as his party's religious chair.

The singer made the rounds of the news programs the other day, and everyone at work raced to the TVs to watch. Apparently she said that the politician had wanted to marry her, but she refused because he already has a wife.

By coincidence, in the middle of all this, a popular Muslim radio preacher caused a ruckus by announcing that HE's taken a second wife. His first wife went on the air saying she was totally on board with the concept. But a lot of the guy's followers, especially women, aren't buying it. They liked him because he presented the perfect image of a happy family life. Now they're ready to give him the Jim Bakker treatment and kick him across town.

Things have gotten so stirred up that the President is threatening to broaden a ban on polygamy within the government to cover not just civil servants but politicians, soldiers, and the Cabinet.

I'm a little mystified by what the administration chooses to care about - for instance, there wasn't much fuss when Tommy Suharto, the infamous son of the former dictator, strolled out of jail recently after serving less than five years for having a Supreme Court justice murdered. And little was done to prevent another bout of massive forest fires on Borneo this summer, which are both an environmental and a health disaster.

But, I suppose you can't have everything. A gesture against polygamy would be good. If it materializes, I'll be happy.

Second photo: Preacher Abdullah Gymnastiar

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Junk food of the week: Bapao

These tasty little guys must surely have come to Indonesia by way of China. There, they're generally stuffed with sweet red bean paste or barbecued pork. Here the classic versions contain mung bean paste (called "green bean" or "kacang hijau"), or the inevitable bits of chicken. Some places sell a chocolate version but I haven't gotten my hands on one yet.

Good steamed buns have a sticky, aggressively bland dough. There's a kind of spongey mushiness to them that I love. They are sold everywhere in Jakarta from little carts like these.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The league of large bules

I find gyms boring, and despite my best (well, semi-best) efforts to stay in shape, I've been increasingly engulfed by a sense of flabbiness. Figuring I needed a team sport for inspiration, I went out for Touch Rugby on Sunday.

I got a little nervous when I looked around and saw a lot of strapping Australians who looked like they'd grown up teething on rubgy balls. But everybody was perfectly friendly so I went out and did my best to figure out what was going on.

I had a blast despite being offsides about 97 percent of the time. There were constant shouts of "Come back five, Trish!" and "stay on the line, Trish!" and, most mystifyingly, "Dummy half!" Certain things surprised me, such as the fact that you seem to spend as much time running backwards as forwards, and that just putting the ball down on the ground is trickier than you'd think. But I started getting the hang of it, and best of all I ran so much I could barely hobble around the next day. That's hard to do on a treadmill in front of yet another CSI rerun.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Fish tent

This guy is not a fish bandit - he's just trying to protect himself from barbecue smoke and traffic fumes

Saturday night we walked down to this pretty famous open-air seafood place across from our local market, under a big tent. When you order, they bring your fish over for you to inspect, and then they put some kind of amazing secret paste on it containing lemongrass and I don't know what else, and throw it over hot coals.

The firing line

They also serve vegetables, rice and noodles, so it's quite a big operation. I especially like the kailan, which is kind of like kale, fried up in a big wok with chopped garlic.

It's a no-frills environment, with long tables, plastic tablecloths, plastic stools, and jars full of napkins and utensils. Waiters are constantly flying past with plates of rice stacked all the way up each arm. There's at least three kinds of chili sauce on the table, but the fish is so good it doesn't need chili -- which is a radical statement, coming from me.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


Rainy season is finally getting going, a month later than usual. So far the roof is holding up, which is good news.

Before it rains, the sky gets kind of greeny-grey, almost like tornado weather. Then big drops come straight down, heavy and drenching, like the storms we used to get on the coast of North Carolina during family vacations when I was a kid. Unfortunately most of the rain has nowhere to go, so the city floods easily. There's very little unpaved land, and the drains in the street are clogged with trash. Ah Jakarta; so much of its suffering is self-inflicted!

It does clean the air, which is really nice. We walked almost all the way to BenHill market last night, which is a real smogfest without regular rain.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Cat on a hot corrugated roof

How'd this cat get in here? I thought we were done with cats?!

Anyway, the kitties in our neighborhood like to hang out on the roof of the kindergarten across from us, where they can sleep, fight, etc. away from the constant threat of motorbikes and cars.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Hot hot hot!

Our ultimate destination was the hot springs, about an hour and a half further up the mountain. The trail got much narrower and less populous after the waterfalls, perhaps because of steep sections like this that left me gasping for breath. I was berating myself for not going to my ridiculous gym more often, when I realized we were probably feeling the effects of altitude as well. After all, 40 percent of Jakarta is actually below sea level, which accounts for its swampy charm.

This observation seemed to be confirmed by our Roller Coaster potato snax, which were bulging in an ominous manner. We managed to disarm and devour them before they could cause injury.

Chad is either calculating the explosive properties of these chips, or picking up a radio signal from outer space

We had visions of soaking luxuriously in the hot springs, but we must have overlooked the small print in the guidebook that mentioned they can get up to 75 degrees celsius (that's almost 170 Fahrenheit, my fellow Americans!).

The water cut its way down a steep hillside, sending up billows of steam to mark its path. The mist looked pretty in the sunlight. I thought of just soaking my feet, but I had to pull them out again with a yelp. There were some pools nearby, but they were tepid - just barely above the air temperature. So we hung out in the steam bath for a while and then headed back down.