Friday, August 31, 2007

Pale pits

OK, I know there's a skin-whitening craze going on here ... but do people really need whiter underarms?

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Loaded becaks

Bicycle taxis aren't just used to transport humans -- they also carry goods, as seen this morning near the hotel where I'm staying in Surabaya (East Java). I'm pretty sure two out of these three becak peddlers couldn't see where they were going. Which was all the more exciting because I myself was riding in a becak, going the wrong way on a four-lane highway.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Fly is Cheap

It's too bad Lion Air has gobbled up Wings Air, because Wings had one of the greatest airline slogans ever: Fly is Cheap. Luckily they haven't gotten around to repainting all the planes yet.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Hungry for cyberspace?

This is a typical warung: a roofed metal frame with sheets hung on the outside. The fabric serves the double purpose of advertising the menu and giving diners a modicum of privacy.

This place lists "Internet" at the top of its menu, along with roasted bananas, boiled noodles, fried noodles, and soft-boiled eggs. I initially wrote that there must be a computer place behind the warung, but in fact, as Treespotter astutely points out in the comment section, this is actually an abbreviation for noodles with an egg and corned beef (Indomie, Telur, Kornet). They also offer an assortment of juices, from avocado to guava, and other drinks including milk with raw egg, honey and ginger (Susu Telur Madu Jahe, abbreviated STMJ).

Last but not least, there's kopi susu, probably made with half as much coffee and twice as much condensed milk as I use at home.

Warungs are where most people eat most of the time, since they're fast and cheap. You can also get food from the carts that make the rounds of all the streets, but there's only a few kinds of carts: they'll usually offer fried rice or meatballs-and-noodles or chicken-and-noodles. In Jakarta they'll also have ketoprak, which is tofu and bean sprouts with peanut sauce, especially in the morning. But if you want more variety you go to a warung.

Monday, August 27, 2007


Kemang is one of the most expat-y, and also one of the funkiest, parts of Jakarta. I'm usually too lazy to go there because the traffic is a nightmare -- everything's crammed onto one long narrow winding road, and the taxi always slows to a crawl. But the other night a friend had her birthday party at a bar there, so we roused ourselves to go, and I have to admit it was pretty fun.

There was Indian food for $5 a plate and a band playing Donna Summer and Metallica. The dance floor was packed and the beer was free. I don't think you're even allowed to give away beer in the US anymore. I remembered why when I saw a guy throw up on his shoes. At least he went outside first.

I tried to take a picture of Chad but he wouldn't stay still.

Around midnight we went out to catch a taxi home. All these children in headscarves kept walking by asking us for money. I was surprised, because it was awfully late for proper little Muslim girls to be out on the street. Then Chad pointed out that most of them were boys. I suppose they get more donations that way.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Truth in Advertising award, 2007

It's difficult to make out due to the white-on-white design, but this sign at the Albert Food Court in Singapore reads "Say Seng Pig's Organ Soup."

Friday, August 24, 2007

Saved by the bus

We were so happy when we discovered that the airport bus goes right by our neighborhood. Not only is it fast and cheap (about $1.50), but it means we can avoid the voracious cab drivers that hang out in front of the terminal. If you show the slightest interest, they surround you, badgering you with offers and lies ("it's cheaper if we don't use the meter"; "there's a $5 surcharge"; "there aren't any buses"). Airport cab drivers seem to be specially selected for their dishonesty. It's a shame that the few tourists who defy the odds and come to Jakarta get browbeaten and cheated the moment they stumble out of the terminal.

Anyway, the bus is like garlic to vampires -- utter the word to taxi drivers, and they fade back into the night with a look of horror and vexation.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Junk food of the week: Biskuit Kelapa

Biskuit Kelapa are crunchy little coconut-flavored cookies. They are comfort food: uncomplicated, pleasant, but not so addictive that you're in danger of eating the whole box. They taste a bit like Sea 'n Ski suntan lotion, but in a good way.

Bintang mug shown for size comparison

As you may have noticed on the package, Biskuit Kelapa are fortified with vitamins. A lot of cookies are marketed as a nutrition supplement here, especially for kids. There are TV ads showing kids eating cookies and then leaping impossible distances or facing down tigers or whatever. I wouldn't mind, as long as the cookie companies were required to buy an equal number of ads showing kids doing miraculous feats after eating broccoli or spinach. Unfortunately, my Equal Time for Vegetables bill has not yet been passed by any legislature in the world.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


I took a lot of pictures of becak (BEH-chahk) drivers last time I was in Yogyakarta. (Becaks are banned in most of Jakarta now because they allegedly mess up the traffic.)

These are pretty tough guys, and a lot of them aren't so young. Often they'll come into Yogya from the surrounding villages and stay for a few days at a time. They'll sleep in their becaks to save money.

Becaks face a lot of competition from ojeks (motorcycle taxis) these days. The drivers say sometimes they go all day without getting a passenger. On a good day they make four or five dollars.

Even though they're all vying for passengers, they seem to get along pretty well. They play chess, chat, and bum the inevitable cigarettes off each other while they're waiting.

Some have their vehicles painted up with pretty scenes of mountains and rivers. They name them after characters from the Ramayana (the Hindu epic that the shadow puppet plays are based on), or after their wives or kids. Some have expressions of appreciation or happiness on them, like "Sumber Rejeki" (Source of Livelihood) or this one: "Satisfied" (Puas).

Monday, August 20, 2007

Square pigs

My Hello Kitty showdown with Michele (see the comments on Inspirational notebook for the day to catch every exciting moment) got me thinking about Square Pigs. Well, that's what I call them. Apparently their proper name is Monokoro Boo or Monokuro Boo. They are described on YouTube as "a couple of monochromatic pigs who appear on everything here in Japan."

I first got acquainted with Square Pigs in Singapore. I had to rent a shared room because there weren't any singles left at the hostel, and I didn't have a proper nightgown, so I went out and bought this ovesized t-shirt thing with big pigs on it for $3. As you can see, it's quite an attractive bit of sleepwear.

My favorite part is the thought bubbles that don't connect to anything, that say "Happy?" They seem kind of wistful, as if to remind us that happiness can't be taken for granted; you have to fight for it, with Square Pigs or any other weapon that comes to hand. Or as the official website puts it, "The pose arts of "PIG" are a symbol of happiness and is worshiped as methods of achieving happiness."

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Grease and gravity

I like Independence Day, which is August 17. It's very community-oriented; every neighborhood gets together to play games. Greased-pole climbing is one of the signature events.

The strongest guys on the block form teams and try to build a human ladder to the prizes at the top.

Typically things go okay until the fourth or fifth climber.

Then the combined weight of people gets too high, and everybody slides down in a heap.

The pole is greased with motor oil, which can't feel too good when it gets all over you!

Kiddie cart

These guys show up for kids' birthday parties and neighborhood celebrations. Some of the carts are painted up to look like dragons, with a big dragon-head on the front, and they wheel the kids around the neighborhood playing perky music through tinny speakers.

This one is a little more technologically advanced: the cart stays in one place, but the seats move up and down, like those rides they used to have in front of supermarkets in the U.S. Either way it's pretty humble entertainment, and pretty cute, too.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sister (and brother-in-law) city

Lima, Peru is far from Jakarta, but they have a lot in common: noise, heat, corruption, crazy traffic, exotic fruit, tasty local cuisine, extreme wealth, extreme poverty, street vendors, people from small towns who've come to make their fortune (they don't, mostly), guys hanging out of buses shouting destinations, taxis that honk at you whenever you walk down the street, rampant black-marketeering, etc. In fact, I think I was more prepared for Jakarta because I'd traveled to Lima to visit my beloved brother-in-law Jose.

So it's eerie to have a quake hit Lima just a week after one struck here. Theirs, of course, was much more severe. Fortunately Jose's family is OK (he and Cathy live in the States now). Let's hope the tectonic plates have worked out their differences for a while.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Spinach, but red

Red spinach is so pretty, I don't know whether to eat it or use it as a centerpiece. Like a beet, it turns the water bright pink when you cook it. It has a strong, leafy flavor like kale or collards. In other words, it is just about perfect. If I could train it to jump in the frying pan and cook itself up with some olive oil, garlic and chopped onions, it really would be perfect.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Blackie vs. the world

You may remember that our landlord's family, on the first floor, had a dog named Snoopy. He was a funny, cranky old guy who used to howl at the milk vendors in the morning, with the happy result that they started turning off their loud electronic jingles when they came down our street.

Sadly, Snoopy died several months ago, possibly of some kind of virus. Now there's a new puppy: Blackie.

My first thought on meeting Blackie was that she must have been a pity pup: the kind you adopt because they're cringing in their cage and seem like they need someone to love them. Blackie is exceedingly skittish. It took many tries before she would accept treats from my hand; even now, it's a dicey proposition, and if I twitch a muscle while she's eating she'll jump away with a look of terror.

Blackie's major function is to bark at anyone who comes in the front gate. She'll follow you up the stairs, but she trails one floor behind, like a ghost puppy. Lately she's also branched out into shoe transport. She doesn't chew on the shoes; she just redistributes them from one floor to another. Maybe it's a strange little cry for help?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Bu plate special

"Know what I miss?" said Chad about halfway through our U.S. trip.

"Breakfast at Bu Dena's!" I said without hesitation, because I was missing it too.

Bu Dena runs the little warung across the street. I'm hooked on her various sorts of hard-boiled eggs in sauce. I think I detect some nutmeg in this one, among other earthy flavors. Here you also have some carrots and a vegetable similar to zucchini, boiled in chicken stock, and some delicious little bits of tempeh fried with chopped chilis. There's also a generous dollop of fresh chili sauce hiding somewhere. Mmmmm.....

Friday, August 10, 2007

Boy in a Box

Fear not -- the House of Evil (our neighbors who keep too-large mammals in too-small cages) has not acquired a new pet. This toddler was sporting a button for Jakarta gubernatorial candidate Adang Daradjatun at a recent campaign rally. I don't know what he was doing in a box, and he does look a bit young to vote, but that's his business.

The governor's race ended two days ago and it looks like, as expected, incumbent vice-governor Fauzi Bowo won. This pretty much makes me want to jump off a bridge, to the extent that it rewards the current feckless and corrupt administration. But one of my editors said back when she was working in Jakarta, Fauzi was considered to be better and brighter than the outgoing governor, Sutiyoso. One can only hope.

The election was preceded by many big rallies that were pretty fun: thumping dangdut music, kids getting sprayed with water hoses, rented buses with a jillion people on top waving banners. Luckily I haven't had to travel much lately because the roads have been totally jammed by campaign rallies. People have been calling the election offices to complain. It reminds me of New Hampshire in 2002, when would-be senator Jeanne Shaheen's phone bank kept calling people ten times a day until her own supporters threatened not to vote for her anymore.

A lot of the excitment was manufactured. The campaigns were giving people small amounts of money to wave flags and yell, which is a lot more fun than making a small amount of money driving a motorcycle taxi all day or selling cigarettes at stoplights. I suppose, if all goes as it should, the new administration will really buckle down and improve the economy so some of these people won't have to be cigarette-sellers and ojek drivers anymore. It's a nice thought, anyway, eh?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

We felt it

Yep. We sure did. It was just after midnight. I was asleep and Chad was awake. I slowly became conscious with a feeling that something was wrong, and realized that it was the sensation of the bed moving under me. Chad said something like "Sweetie" and I said "I know." (Isn't it annoying how I always say "I know"?)

Our building was gently swaying from side to side. Gentle swaying is generally nice, unless it's happening to a structure you're on an upper floor of. I couldn't decide whether to stand under a doorway (old advice) or in a corner (new advice) so I wandered into the living room. We were both wrapped in random blankets. A long minute later, as the quake subsided, I stepped out the front door to check on the rest of the neighborhood. Everything seemed fine. A few neighbors were in the street but I couldn't tell who they were because I didn't have my glasses on.

We went down to the third floor to check on our friends there. Then we came back upstairs to monitor the news. When we heard magnitude 7.4 or 7.5, I started making a list of things to pack. We were braced for the worst, but as far as we can tell (knock on wood) everyone has gotten a reprieve this time. No flattened buildings, no screaming people on TV, no hectic and ill-planned reporting trip to a disaster zone. Even as I type I'm breathing a long sigh of relief.

Now, if I could just get back to sleep, seeing as it's 2:30 am and all.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Shop cat

Judging by the comments of friends and family, I should rename this blog Jakarta Kitties and Junk Food, with contents to match. I won't ... but I will post more pictures of cats from time to time.

I saw this kitty early this morning when I went out to buy some emergency dish soap at the everything-you-need stand on the corner. 'Ba Ati was coming to clean, and I was afraid she'd use floor soap or bug spray or something on the dishes ... she's a little too resourceful sometimes when we run out of things.

The blue things on the shelf are not actual sweat, by the way; they're Pocari Sweat, the Japanese answer to Gatorade.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Crouching tiger, hidden fruit

Dragonfruit is one of the more whimsical-looking things one can get at the market here.

Inside, it's kind of like a kiwi fruit, but a bit lighter and grainier in texture. It's sweet but can have an element of sourness too, perhaps depending on how ripe it is. Apparently most of the commercial ones are picked too early, so they don't reach full flavor. They're good, but maybe to get a knock-your-socks-off kind of dragonfruit you have to go to Vietnam, Mexico, or Central/South America, where they're grown, and get a tree-ripened one.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Back online, with bemos

We've replaced our slow and unreliable cable internet line with a DSL connection that offers same-day service (i.e. if you enter a web address, the page actually loads and opens on the same day. Imagine!).

I've been taking a lot of pictures of these little bemos lately. They run a fixed route around our neighborhood, taking you down to the market for Rp 2000 (about twenty cents).

Our landlord says they're left over from the 1962 Asian Games. Some, like the one above, definitely look the part.

Others are either of more recent vintage or have had major body work. They might have snazzy paint jobs and fanciful names like "Flower" (Bunga). If you've ever inhaled what comes out of a bemo's tailpipe, you know it doesn't smell like a flower.

Bemos seat six people comfortably, or eight people during rush hour, on two padded benches facing each other. You can also sit next to the driver, unless he has a friend or child with him for company.

The Number One Rule of taking a bemo is: do not get in one that's stopped and idling somewhere. The drivers like to accumulate a few passengers before taking off, which means you could be sitting in there for ten minutes while blue smoke fills the passenger cabin. In accordance with Newtonian law, once in motion, a bemo tends to stay in motion, so if you flag one down en route instead, your lungs will thank you.