Friday, November 30, 2007


Main Street flies flat and straight through the heart of Malinau, lined with food stalls, snack shops, drugstores, and more places selling handbags than it seems like the town could possibly support. The main form of mass transit is public minivans, which run up and down all day long.

I disproved my own theory about the handbag stores by stopping to get a bag for my recording kit. This little kid kept staring hypnotically at me. Then he tried to take my camera. That's his mom laughing hysterically in the background.

Most of the side streets are narrow alleys that lead down to the river. For some reason the market is stuffed into one of these alleys. It's a constant people-jam in there. I was interviewing a dried-fish seller when she startled me by grabbing my arm and yelling "cart! cart!" That was my cue to jump up on a little curb that runs the length of the alley, so a boy pushing a cart of coconuts could squeeze through.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Window shopping

To get to Malinau, which was our base of operations in East Kalimantan, you fly to Tarakan and then catch a ferry up the Malinau River for three hours.

Window stickers to the contrary, the Malinau Express is not air-conditioned. Once it's zipping along, though, a breeze comes through and makes the cabin relatively comfortable.

There's only one quick stop along the way. There's no time to get out of the boat, but young guys line the dock to sell nasi bungkus (packaged meals complete with rice, vegetables and meat/seafood), or fruit or chips, through the windows.

We bought a big bag of snakefruit. It was mighty tasty.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Along came a spider ... and a lizard

We're back from Kalimantan with a heap of toxic-smelling laundry and a heap of tape to translate!

This lovely creature was hanging out at the hut where we stayed in the Tane Olen forest in Setulang, four to six hours upstream from Tarakan (depending on how well the river is flowing). Tane Olen is a really beautiful piece of rainforest that's been protected by the village that owns it. They've built one hut and plan to build three more, with the hope of becoming an adventure destination. We want to go back and do the complete circuit when it's ready.

This little spotted guy decided to trek across my unused water glass.

Friday, November 23, 2007


In my volcano reverie, I forgot to mention we were going to Kalimanta aka Borneo for 10 days ... hence the lack of posts lately. It's been a great trip; I'll update tomorrow when we get back to Jakarta.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Volcano videos

Here's lava flying out of the crater just before dawn. You have to photograph lava while the sky is still somewhat dark -- you can't see it in full light. The video is kinda shaky because we were on a boat.

During the day, you get nice billows of smoke. You can hear the boom of the explosion here. We could feel the vibrations and hear rocks and debris showering down on the mountain. At one point we got hit with some volcanic ash, which was a little nasty.

It was the coolest natural phenomenon I've ever seen. I'm still kind of giddy.

Friday, November 09, 2007


The aquarium in Singapore has one of those cool walk-through tanks where you can get friendly with sharks.

But the best part was Gracie, the dugong. Dugongs are big underwater mammals like manatees. Supposedly they're the inspiration for the mermaid myth, but they don't look like a cross between a beautiful woman and a fish to me -- they look more like the front end of a pig welded to the back end of a whale. Here's a picture I swiped from the Australian Humane Society.

We kept getting on and off the moving sidewalk so we could ride by the dugong again. There was something captivating about her face, with its squashed nose, and the way her big bulbous body moved so gracefully through the water. Finally one of the keepers put a mat of seagrass in the tank. The dugong raced over and, before devouring it, did this funny cat-like thing of rubbing her face in it ecstatically. You could see the cartoon bubble over her head: Food! I love you, food!

Dugongs are endangered, of course. Sigh. We're going snorkeling this weekend, and it would be really cool to see one.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Tank of jelly

Last time we went to Singapore, we checked out the aquarium, which was small but cool. The jellyfish were especially pretty.

Monday, November 05, 2007

More ghosts

John, our neighbor on the third floor, came up with this rather awesome pocong (POH-chong) costume for a Halloween party. He was wearing some kind of traditional wooden mask but I don't think that part lasted long, because he could only see out the mouth.

Pocongs are wrapped in death shrouds, so they have a big bow on top of their heads. Their feet are bound so they have to hop everywhere, which undercuts the scariness for me but apparently not for people who've grown up with pocong stories.

According to wikipedia, pocongs arise from the belief that souls remain on the earth for 40 days after death. Some souls get trapped in their shrouds, so after the forty days they start hopping around looking for somebody to untie them. I'm guessing they have a hard time finding volunteers.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Junk food of the week: Romeo and Juliet

There is definitely a campaign underway in Indonesia to link chocolate and romance. First, there's a whole line of ice creams called things like "Choculuv" and "Tira-Miss-You," accompanied by TV ads showing people Meeting Cute with the help of ice cream.

A 2006 movie called "Brownies" used the baked treats as a metaphor for love. And there are also Romeo and Juliet candy bars.

The Juliet bar is a fairly typical combo of light, crunchy wafer and layers of caramel, similar to the vaunted Beng-Beng. I detected a frightening hint of marshmallow flavor but couldn't see any actual marshmallow. (I feel marshmallow should be clearly labeled on all foods, preferably next to a skull-and-crossbones.)

I was nice and gave Romeo to Chad, but as far as I could tell it was identical. What message does that send about love, I wonder?

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Ghosts of Carbohydrates Past

Halloween is mostly a do-it-yourself affair in Jakarta. Luckily for us, there are plenty of haunted houses to choose from. Last year we went to the famous House in Pondok Indah, where a fried rice seller is supposed to have disappeared under mysterious circumstances. This time we decided to find the Potato House, where a small child allegedly tumbled into a pot of boiling potatoes. (I wonder if these stories are just elaborate warnings against eating too many carbohydrates? If so, they are falling on deaf ears in Jakarta.)

When the ghost is present, you're supposed to be able to smell boiled potatoes, and hear a child crying.

We planned to go in late afternoon but were delayed by a thunderstorm, so we arrived on the cusp of the evening. We had a street name, but no house number. As soon as we started asking around, though, nearly everybody knew right away what we were talking about.

This guy, who has a kiosk on a nearby corner, seemed reluctant to tell me the story but confirmed the broad outlines when I told it to him. While I was talking to him, Chad was talking to the kiosk owner next to him, who said he'd heard the story but didn't believe in ghosts.

Finally we hit the jackpot. A local guy said he not only believed the story, but he had seen the ghost. And it wasn't just one ghost, it was several. He pointed to the area where they appear.

"You can see them around 1 a.m.," he said, "especially on Fridays. But you have to have a sixth sense. I'm not afaid; I'm used to seeing them."

The ghosts are from times past, he said, not the contemporary era. They are men, women and children. "They don't shout or speak; they don't approach me; they don't bother me." We were welcome to come back and look for them, he added, but "if you get scared, don't run." We assured him we were not the sort of people to do that.

By then it was almost too dark for pictures, but I eked out this last one with my cellphone. I like the way it came out, with its grainy texture and weirdly red fence. It makes the place look a lot creepier than it actually was. When we go back to see the ghosts, I'm sure it will look creepier still. But don't worry - we won't run.