Tuesday, June 19, 2007

A big pile of junk ... coming soon to your town!

So we're off to the US tomorrow to catch up with family and friends. With less than 24 hours to go, the apartment is a mess, I've only just started to pack, and I've somehow acquired a mountain of trivialities to distribute around New England: Chiki Balls, Seaweed Cheetos, Kopi Susu candy, silly video clips, and notebooks with strange sayings on the front ("You and a friend are pleased at measure. Can you make a good friend with me?")

Of course, I do think nothing says "I've really missed you for the last year and a half" like a Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Beng-Beng. But if you're expecting to see me within the next 30 days or so, consider yourself warned. As for the blog, I probably won't be writing much for a bit. See you later!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Pop Quiz

A trash-picker makes his rounds shortly after the Jakarta flood in February

1. Is it immoral to eat three times a day if some people only eat once?

2. Is it immoral to pay $40 a month for a fancy gym if, from the window of said gym, you can see people living in a garbage dump?

3. When Marie Antoinette said "Let them eat cake," did she tell herself: "I'm doing my part. I'm promoting the local cake industry. A rising tide lifts all boats"?

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Moon over Singapore

Here's another from the archives. I like this picture even though nothing in it is properly focused. I guess that's what happens when you try to photograph something 238,855 miles away with a cameraphone.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Men at work

Here are some photos from the vast Kopi Susu archives, taken a few months ago on our first language-school trip to Yogya.

I'm always fascinated by construction sites. This one used a lot of bamboo, which is cheap and very strong.

Not everybody was happy to get their picture taken, though.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007


This guy struts around our end of the street like he owns it. Which he does, in a feline sense. I usually see him scavenging in the trash bins or menacing other cats, so I was surprised to find him sprawled in front of our gate the other day, snoozing in a way that said: "I have nothing to worry about. There are no cats tougher than me within at least a two-block radius."

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


I was trying to shoot an enormous Spiderman cellphone ad on the building in the middle here, but a public minivan (mikrolet) and a motorbike snuck in. Then I decided I kind of liked the picture this way.

We are at the tail end of a Spiderman blitz. Spiderman on multiple screens at the movie theatres; Spiderman in ads; Spiderman blowup dolls and posters being hawked on the streets. But then Ocean's 13 and Pirates of the Caribbean arrived, and suddenly Spidey was yesterday's news.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Cruising the Ciliwung

On Saturday, Chad and I and a friend went to check out the city's new water taxi. Having a water taxi in Jakarta may seem like a bad joke, given how polluted the canals and rivers are. But I love the idea of getting around the city in boats, and I love the idea that maybe water taxis will inspire people to stop throwing trash in the canals.

Maybe others agree, because there was a pretty long line to get on board.

This first route is clearly just a touristy thing. It only runs on Saturdays and Sundays, for a few hours a day, along a brief, 1.7 kilometer stretch of the Ciliwung River.

Yes, the water was dirty and yes, the engines clogged with garbage. Twice, actually. But it really wasn't very smelly.

People seemed to have a good time, especially the kids.

It looks almost romantic in the sunset, doesn't it?

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Book mob

The recreational reading rate is supposed to be low in Indonesia, so it was nice to see a big crowd turn out for Jakarta's annual book fair. Nice, that is, until I had to fight my way through them to get the book I wanted.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Huge waves

For the last part of Laura's visit, we went to the beach at Pelabuhan Ratu with a group of friends. Pelabuhan Ratu is known for its rough surf, but we could tell as soon as we set eyes on the ocean that something unusual was going on.

The waves were huge. That first night, they tore out our rental cottage's bamboo fence, busted up the front of a stone staircase and tossed it around, and grabbed most of the tires that buffered our little beachside gazebo.

We were banned from the gazebo anyway, because a lot of other houses had lost theirs.

The ocean was hypnotically powerful. We couldn't help staring at it.

We didn't swim much; you could see the rip tides racing across the beach. But we played board games and frisbee, and read, and bought the makings of a great dinner from the fish market. I'm not very beachy anyway, so I had a great time.

It was sobering to see damage to people's houses and fields, though. Later we read there'd been big waves all up and down the coast, from Aceh in the north down to Bali in the south. It was nothing on the order of the 2004 tsunami, of course, but it sparked unpleasant memories for some and served as a reminder of what the ocean can do.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Junk food of the week: Garuda Katom

Garuda Katom (short for "Atomic Peanuts) are one of your quintessential Indonesian processed foods.

They're peanuts covered with a thick, crunchy tapioca-flour coating that's slightly sweet and slightly salty, and flavored with a ton of garlic extract to give you killer breath.

Garuda started in the tapioca business, then branched into roasted peanuts. When the son of the founder joined the company in the mid-90s, he started experimenting with ways to combine the two products. Eureka! A junk food was born!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Sausage campaigns

A restaurant near our gym is advertising a Sausage Campaign. I'm not sure what that means. Bangers vs. blood sausage? Hot dogs vs. the exceedingly tasty Catalonian butifarra? And is this to be a straight-up, single vote, or will there be a runoff if people deadlock between breakfast patties and bratwurst?

It won't be the first sausage campaign in the world. My sister tells me when McDonald's tried to open in Barcelona, people marched in the streets chanting "Butifarras yes, hamburgers no!" Which leads me to belive Barcelona is my kind of town.

I'm not sure if the Sausage Campaign is somehow related to the Jakarta gubernatorial campaign, which is also underway. After all, it's laws and sausages you don't want to see being made, right?

Two Jakartas: A Fauzi banner hangs between gleaming high-rises and ancient three-wheeled public transit vehicles in Benhill Market

One of the lead contenders for governor is Fauzi Bowo. I don't know anything about Fauzi firsthand. He may be a man of Solomonic wisdom, and as honest as the day is long. He is, however, the current Vice-Governor, which makes him part of an administration that:

a. Presided over the most catastrophic flooding in Jakarta's history, and

b. Tried to blame it on anybody and everybody else.

So when I eye the Fauzi posters and banners that have sprung up around town, I can't help musing, as I might about a sausage: I think I know what you're made of, my friend ... and it's not an appetizing picture.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Bridge to disaster

These pedestrian overpasses are the only way to get across Jakarta's biggest streets. Blind people, who have few job opportunities, often beg on them. But woe betide the sight-impaired person who isn't careful about checking for holes.

Even for those who can see, it's a bit of a challenge.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Prambanan caged

After being taken around by lots of tour guides in Bali, it was nice to get up to Yogyakarta, where I've been many times, and start roaming around on our own. Our first day there, we hopped on a public minibus to Prambanan Temple.

Unfortunately I didn't know the minibus was going to drive up and down every street in Yogya first, as a steady stream of students in uniforms, shopworkers in headscarves, and old guys in sarongs got on and off.

Nor did I know we were going to run out of gas just short of a gas station. Fortunately the driver was able to fiddle around with some stuff under the passenger compartment and get us going long enough to refuel.

It was quite an entertaining ride, but we were glad to get out and stretch our legs afterwards.

Prambanan, a Hindu temple complex dating back to 850 A.D. (or C.E.), was hit pretty hard by the Yogya quake last year. The three main shrines are still closed to the public, which was a bit of a bummer because those were the only shrines we had information about in our guidebook. The guards would have let us in for a small bribe, but I figured if the archaeologists didn't want me to be in there, then I didn't want me to be in there either.

It was still beautiful to look at, and the damage itself was kind of fascinating. You could see piles of stones everywhere, like puzzle pieces slowly being fitted back together.

Some of the support mechanisms seemed a little crude, but I guess they're doing the trick.

We ended up spending most of our time chatting with this teenager and his friend. Their English was very good - the first thing they asked about was the proper use of the phrase "let bygones be bygones" - and they talked about hoping to get jobs in the tourism industry. Things are pretty slow in Yogya these days; people aren't flocking to a place that's had a huge earthquake, a volcanic eruption and a deadly plane crash in the last year. That's too bad, because Yogya is a great town, and it's probably due for a stretch of good luck now, right?

Friday, June 01, 2007