Sunday, April 29, 2007

Junk food of the week: Es Mr. Baso

I tried to go to a museum last weekend, but it was closed, and somehow I ended up at a mall. How do these things happen? Maybe fate, maybe supernatural forces; there's plenty of both to go around in Central Java. Anyway, once there I was struck by the need for an Es Teler. But Es Teler was jammed so I went directly to their competitor, Mr. Baso (Mr. Meatball). I brought along a teen novel for company.

Es Mr. Baso is topped with passionfruit, which always looks like something that crawled onto your drink and died. The seeds add a nice crunch, though.

Underneath were jackfruit, red beans, squares of red gelatin and long wormy pieces of green gelatine, slathered with a generous pour of coconut milk. Mighty tasty, especially if you can suspend the notion that red beans belong in a pot of chili.

The book was a little disappointing, though. I think I may finally be ready to graduate from "teen lit" to full-blown "chick lit" ...

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Copacabana at the Happy Puppy

The last two Fridays, I've gone down to the Happy Puppy karaoke palace after school with some of the teachers and fellow students. Happy Puppy is sort of a karaoke house-of-ill-repute: you rent private rooms by the hour to indulge your basest singing desires. In our case these range from Barry Manilow to Bon Jovi. There's a big screen that shows sometimes-mangled versions of the lyrics superimposed on random videos of New Zealand beaches, women romping in fields of flowers, people jumping on trampolines, and so forth.

It's fun because, unlike a typical karaoke bar, everybody sings together. That makes it a more communal experience, plus you don't have to worry about whether you actually have a good voice or not. Singing by myself in front of a crowd is too much like my third-grade music class, where the teacher would force you to solo in front of everybody and then mock you if you were off key. (Why did anyone ever let that guy teach music, anyway?!)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Mystery theatre

I went to see some traditional theatre last night, and by "traditional" I mean I had no idea what it was about, because it was mostly in Javanese. It was an all-woman comedy in honor of Kartini Day, which is Indonesia's version of a Women's Day.

It was fun: the costumes and music were cool, and I liked the actors. You figure somebody is a pretty good comic actress when she's amusing to watch even if you can't understand what she's saying.

I don't know much about kethoprak, which is what this sort of theatre is called, but I think it's generally about court life in the days of the old Mataram kingdom. I suspect there are standard plots and themes the playwright can riff on. The scene changes and some of the action were accompanied by live gamelan music.

I'm still down in Yogya and haven't been able to post pictures till now because the internet is so slow. Hopefully, today's good luck will continue.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Have microphone, will travel

So I left my copy-editing job at the Jakarta Post a couple of weeks ago. It's back to the fat life of the freelance journalist for me! (after I sort out a visa.)

I went out with some of my JP colleagues to celebrate my last night the way I celebrated my first: with cheap beers on Jalan Jaksa.

A Bintang for the road at Bar Fans Club

Now I'm down in Yogya getting more language classes in, so posts may be infrequent for a couple of weeks. It's fun to be back at Realia doing battle with causative and benefactive verbs (don't ask!) and speaking the language six hours a day. Whets the appetite for gudeg, too ... more on that later.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Papaya flowers

Today I made a key discovery at a humble-looking warung around the corner from us: papaya flowers.

Papaya flowers are a specialty of Manado, on the northern tip of Sulawesi island. They have a rich dark-green flavor like spinach, but more bitter. They're often cooked up with a bit of smoked tuna and some spicy chilis, which cut the bitterness. On the side is one of the many kinds of hard-boiled egg in spicy sauce. It was a very tasty lunch for 62 cents, which explains why we don't bother cooking much.

We've become big fans of Manadonese food; someday we hope to come up with a work-related excuse to go to there and eat.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

More toilet instructions

.... this time from Singapore, home of the World Toilet Organization.

I recall reading about a major campaign in Singapore to ensure that people flushed public toilets after using them, during which the authorities not only imposed heavy fines, but stalked restrooms and published photos in the newspaper of people who were caught in the act of flush negligence.

There are also fines for urinating in elevators. As to why anybody would pee in an elevator, I don't know, although someone described it to me as an act of protest.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Video killed the audio store

Five floors of crack for the gadget junkie: Sim Lim

The nice thing about the Sim Lim electronics supermall in Singapore is that the salespeople don't hassle me. The annoying thing is that the salespeople don't hassle me because I'm a woman; they assume I'm just killing time while my boyfriend/husband shops for a Playstation or whatever. They only try to sell me stuff like foot massagers and pretty little bags for my cellphone.

Grrr. Sexism annoys me even when it benefits me. (I don't know if this is an American thing, but I hate being "helped" the second I walk in; I want to poke around and figure things out on my own.)

I was hoping to buy a new broadcast-quality digital audio recorder, but they didn't have any. I wasn't surprised. With internet shopping, and the boom in all kinds of digital stuff, it's harder and harder to find actual stores that sell serious audio recording gear. Even the stores labeled "audio" were hawking ... video.

No big deal. I ordered one online. But it's always a little scary buying a deck without touching it first. It's going to be your closest non-human collaborator. You want to heft it in your hand and ask, How heavy are you going to feel after two hours of interviewing rice farmers under the blazing sun? Are your buttons and jogwheels friendly or confusing? Will you smash into a million pieces if I drop you at a press conference?

In the end you can't really predict these things. The questions linger in my mind, though, and maybe that's why I've managed to drop every deck I've ever owned at one time or another: I just need to know!

Friday, April 13, 2007

Junk food of the week: BK Taro pie

OK, here's one cross-cultural experiment I don't think you'll find in the U.S. anytime soon: The Burger King Hot Taro Pie.

Taro root
is pretty bland, so they've helpfully added a lot of sugar. The result is a pile of creamy-mushy stuff in a fried shell. It's good if you like that kind of thing, which I do. What's off-putting is the purply-gray color of the filling; it looks like some kind of industrial material.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Street of good smells

After a year in Jakarta, it's pretty delightful to walk around Singapore's Little India. For one thing, you don't have to choke on air pollution or fear falling through a hole in the sidewalk. Even better, everything smells good and looks good.

Like the garlands of flowers hanging in front of shops ... and the smells of cumin, cardamom, and chili wafting from restaurants ... and these fancy little boxes in rows.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Travel these days

is just so weird. Every time you go, there's a new security obsession. At least they didn't make me take off my shoes.

I made a quick trip to Singapore today ... more later.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Junk food of the week: Seaweed chips

Lay's is clearly battling for the Asian market with a line of potato chips including Salmon Teriyaki (not as strange as you might think) and Seaweed. The latter is a natural for chips because it's good with salt. These are tasty. I wouldn't be surprised if they sold them in the States.

The truly odd thing about Indonesian chips is they often have loads of sugar - sometimes as much sugar as salt. Very disconcerting when you've bought them to go with onion dip.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Street kitty for Emily

My niece has a standing order for more cats. Admittedly, this is a rather distant one ...

I shot him/her early in the morning, which is pretty much the only time a cat can lounge in the middle of the street around here!

Friday, April 06, 2007

Sorry, praying

... says the sign on a momentarily-closed phone-card kiosk, sometime around sholat ashar (afternoon prayers).

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Books: Commercial Girl

Another in the long line of teen books I've been reading.

Theme: Girl meets boys

Plot: Juwita is smart and beautiful, but she faces a major obstacle to success: she has no money. Guys keep falling for her, though, and is it her fault if they want to give her cash? She gets through medical school pretty much by taking donations from men. Now she's graduating and ready to start her own life. Whom among her benefactors will she choose to start it with?

Discussion: Indonesia teenlit has problems when it comes to "loose" women, because there seems to be a rule that you can't have physical contact. I read this book a while ago, and as far as I can recall it doesn't have a single kiss in it. So it's a little hard to figure out why these guys are falling all over themselves to give Juwita money for a platonic relationship. She makes no bones about asking, either - when an older man wants to buy her a fancy gown, she says "A person like me needs money more than an expensive dress."

The book walks an interesting and rather brave moral line, however. Juwita faces danger a couple of times in her interactions with men. But she's never really punished, and the book doesn't seem to take a disapproving tone toward her. She knows her own worth and doesn't angle for cash; she always waits for the man to offer. In the end she marries the one guy who hasn't tried to purchase her affections. So she emerges 'clean' in spite of it all.

To me, this seems similar to the way people tolerate noodle vendors pushing carts down the middle of the highway or hawkers selling newspapers at stoplights. Poor people do whatever they can to survive, and Indonesians generally seem pretty willing to let them do it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

When will I learn?

"The rainy season is over" I said to Chad when we walked out the front door yesterday. It felt like someone had turned on the giant oven that is Jakarta, and it was going to slowly heat up to the melting point from now until August.

Wet graffiti, wet plant

Then I went Menteng Dalam to do some man-on-the-street interviews. As soon as I stepped out of the cab, the skies opened. It rained with great force for over an hour. I had to take refuge in a little noodles, eggs, photocopies, detergent, softdrinks and medicine store. The woman there was nice and gave me water but wouldn't let me take her picture.

Your one-stop everything store

The rain totally snarled the roads and the 4-mile trip home took an hour and a half. The taxi guy even drove over the concrete dividers into the busway lane - KATHUNK KATHUNK KATHUNK KATHUNK, with an extra, ominous bang on the undercarriage - to escape total gridlock.

My new rule: never say "The rainy season is over" unless you have an umbrella handy.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Cooking with Ibu Trish: Sambal kecap

Sweet soy sauce or kecap manis (KEH-chahp MAH-neece) is a key Indonesian flavoring. It tastes a bit like a cross between soy sauce and molasses - both sweet and salty, with a thick consistency like maple syrup. If Indonesian TV commercials are to be believed, your reputation as a woman and the happiness of your family life depend on the brand of kecap manis you use. I'm obviously taking a big risk by buying generic.

Sweet soy sauce lends its darkness and sweetness to Indonesian fried rice (nasi goreng) and various noodle dishes. If you happen to find some in an Asian store - we used to buy it in Bloomington - you can mix up a quick dipping sauce called sambal kecap as follows:

  • 5 red chilies, such as bird's-eye, sliced
  • 4 small shallots, peeled and sliced
  • 4 Tbs. sweet soy sauce
  • 1 tsp. lime juice
Deep fry some cubes of tofu and go wild! Or serve with satay, alongside the peanut sauce.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

A tyrant falls?

As I mentioned early on, we really like Jakarta movie theatres. The movie theatre company, however, is a different matter. There's only one, Cinema 21, and they're perfect in every way except that I don't think they really like movies. They seem to view them only as money-making units, so they pick three or four lousy Hollywood blockbusters and show them on every screen in town.

Now, however, they have what they so richly deserve: a competitor.

Blitz Megaplex is going for a cool artsy look. They have 11 screens and so far they're playing a pretty fun mix of small, big, and regional movies. This weekend we saw a Korean movie called THE HOST which you must go see right now, unless you're my sister Cathy, in which case it might give you nightmares and shouldn't you be studying for a test anyway?

The other good thing about Blitz, besides their movie selection, is that they jam cellphone signals. There's a significant percentage of Indonesian moviegoers who love nothing better than a nice long chat on their cellphone in the middle of a movie. Have American audiences gotten this bad?