Sunday, December 27, 2009

Street bingo in Manila

While wandering around Manila back in October, I ran across this bingo game in a little side street of a scruffy neighborhood. It was sponsored by a local politician. They were still in the early stages with relatively small prizes -- 5 or 10 dollars, I think. But there were going to be some big things later, like a TV.

People were playing several cards at a time and really getting into the game, shouting and clapping. If Manila really is like Jakarta, this is probably one of the few things they'll ever get out of that politician.

Friday, December 25, 2009

The hamsterballs of Mekarsari

I had never before seen a giant floating hamsterball for humans. But as soon as I saw one, I knew I'd been looking for it my whole life.

As my lovely assistant (and housemate) Melanie demonstrates, you get into the hamsterball and have it blown up around you with the help of a big air hose. Then you get closed in with a surprisingly robust zipper-and-velcro affair.

You can't stand up for very long on the water, but it's fun to run like a hamster on a wheel until it gets unbearably hot and suffocating, which takes about two minutes. Unfortunately the ball is tethered to the shore so you can't hamster your way to the middle of the lake and then pass out in a dramatic heap and require rescuing.

The hamsterballs are at Mekarsari, a big recreational park outside Jakarta. Mekarsari seems to specialize in strange floaty things, including these big colorful rolls.

There were also bicycle boats. My lovely assistant (and housemate) Drew stood gazing at them longingly until someone came along and let us rent them. They were good exercise and the access to oxygen meant we could ride them around a lot longer.

After that, everybody needed some coconut water. It was served the traditional way, right in the coconuts, with a spoon so you can scrape curls of flesh off the inside walls.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Cinderella and the Flying Horse

Here's a classic bit of mystical soap opera (sinetron mistis) -- the same genre as the amazing Snakelady Sinetron I posted a long while back.

This one is about your typical evil-stepmother situation. The pretty girl is forced to wait hand and foot on her stepmom and obnoxious stepsisters. As the scene opens, she's just been ordered to sell her necklace, one of her few connections to her lost family, in order to buy them food. But she has a magical helper: the White Fairy, who appears in the form of a dove, a small lizard, or in this case, a flying horse.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Naughty or nice?

One of the little shops in the basement of the mall where I work has this novel take on holiday party attire.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Ronaldo: The rest of the story

Our rehab cat with the broken leg acquired the name Ronaldo. (I was planning to have him neutered, so I figured he should have an extra-manly name to boost his self-image, and who is more manly than Cristiano Ronaldo?)

Ron, as he came to be called, faced a tough recovery. His leg needed surgery and the time lapse between the injury and the operation made the repair more difficult. He went crazy whenever I tried to change his bandage, so I had to take him on the long, hated car ride to the vet's place in Pondok Labu every 2 or 3 days. Finally I wised up and arranged to board him there for a while, which I think was easier on both of us.

Still, Ron is an intensely cheerful type, and he never lost his sunny personality. Even when he was groggy from anesthesia and obviously in pain, he would limp over and rub up against anyone who came to visit him.

Finally his incision healed and he came home.

It didn't take Ron long to get comfortable. Soon he was mooching around the kitchen trying to steal food, and snoozing just as flamboyantly as Susu. (I promise we didn't give him beer, though.)

I can't say Ron and Susu became fast friends, but from a growling and hissing start they came to a point of mutual tolerance. I think they would have been pals if we'd kept him. Their fights, which were never very convincing in the first place, were clearly turning into games by the end. And they trusted each other enough to doze in the same room.

But it's pretty silly for us to have one cat, nevermind two, so I put the word out on Facebook and e-mail. I was thrilled when my good friend Pinta said she wanted him.

Pinta took him to her mom's place on the southern end of town. Ron has a real house now on a quiet street. He eats a lot, sleeps on Pinta's old bed and generally seems to live like a king.

I think Susu missed him for a while. She used to sleep in his old cage. Besides the Ron factor, I think she liked having all those walls to lean up against.

Now we've moved, and the cage has gone into storage. It's already hard to remember what being a two-cat household was like.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Carma strikes again ... and again

Only in Indonesia would the hero and heroine of a sappy love song get run over by cars -- not once but THREE times.

Some enterprising scholar could definitely earn his or her Visual Anthropology PhD by writing about the Indonesian pop culture obsession with vehicle-versus-pedestrian accidents. They are such a staple of soap operas and teen movies, Chad and I will sometimes play the 'who's going to get hit by a car' game when we're flipping around the TV channels. It's not too difficult, because there are generally two kinds of people it happens to: the very good, and the very bad.

If you're bad, you drink alcohol, slobber and stagger around as if you have a serious neurological condition, beat people up, steal, gamble and curse like a sailor. When you are finally struck down, everyone understands it's the Hand of God.

If you're good, you're a cute teenager -- usually a girl, but it can happen to boys too. You could be troubled or impoverished or a bit of an outsider; you could be the idol of all your friends. When you get run over, everyone knows it's Fate, but they're left to puzzle out What It All Means. Possibly your donated organs save someone else's life; possibly you come back to haunt your friends and remind them to Make Every Moment Count.

Why cars? I'm not sure, except that of course Indonesian traffic is crazy and there are no concessions to pedestrian safety, so we all find ourselves wading out into busy roads on a daily basis. I don't find Indonesians particularly reckless behind the wheel; in fact, they're more attentive than American drivers. But there's a certain leap of faith involved in crossing the street. You're flowing around the traffic, and trusting the traffic to flow around you, and at that moment you're painfully aware of how large and dangerous cars are.

The lyrics of the song are so simplistic they're hardly worth translating, but here they are:

Betapa hati rindu pada dirimu, duhai kekasihku
Segeralah kembali pada diriku, duhai kekasihku

Aku juga rindu lincah manja sikapmu
Aku sudah rindu kasih sayang darimu

Semoga kita dapat bertemu lagi seperti dahulu
Supaya kita dapat bercinta lagi seperti dahulu

Gelisah, hati gelisah, sejak kepergianmu
Tak sabar, hati tak sabar, menanti kedatanganmu

Tenangkanlah hatimu, jangan gelisah
Aku tahu kau menanti
Sabarkanlah hatimu, sabarlah sayang
Aku segera kembali

How my heart longs for you, my darling
Come back to me now, my darling

I miss your naughty attitude
I miss your sweet love

I hope we'll meet again like before
So we can love again like before

Anxious, my heart is anxious since you left
Impatient, my heart is impatient, awaiting your return

Calm your heart, don't be nervous
I know you're waiting
Make your heart patient, be patient my darling
I'm coming back now

The note on the pad of paper is kind of interesting: "Opportunity doesn't come just once." This is a clear contradiction of the American "opportunity doesn't knock twice." But it still leads back to the same conclusion: Make Every Moment Count.

Nothing says it better than a speeding automobile!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

New look!

I'm mentioning the blog on some grad school applications these days, and when I opened it up I noticed:

1. There weren't very many entries lately and

2. The old design was looking a tad dumpy.

So I upgraded to the New Blogger where I was promptly underwhelmed by the template offerings. But after finding a layout I can live with and spending a ridiculous amount of time wavering between CC8844 and CC9955 for the Page Header Corners Color, I'm relatively satisfied. (Of course, I'll probably change it to CC9933 tomorrow).

I'd like to get back into posting again, partly to save myself from the madness in my head. The first year of a new job always gives me a bad case of tunnel vision. Now that it's been a year and a half, it's time to start thinking about something else for a change. And time to reconnect with some old interests, such as amateur toiletology.

I went back to the US last month to visit some of the aforementioned grad schools, and it only took a brief stop in Japan to remind me who is producing the really cutting-edge toilets these days. (Hmm, perhaps cutting-edge isn't really the term I'm looking for, but whatever.)

This one has variable bidet water pressure and an adjustable-volume flushing sound you can turn on for as long as you want, to provide sonic privacy. There wasn't any air dryer but I've heard those are available on some models.

What I want to know is: when will the US close the Toilet Gap? And what is the Obama administration doing about it?

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Manila. It's not Jakarta.

I got sent to Manila for a conference last week. It was my first 'new' country in almost two years, and it filled me with the kind of exploratory thrill that inspires blogging.

"Manila is just like Jakarta," people will tell you. But to me everything seemed different. For example, would a conference in Jakarta start with a 2 minute video praising Jesus and asking for His guidance in understanding Search Engine Marketing? No! No, it would not! And would a Jakarta hotel room have a Fold-Out Gospel Card? I rest my case.

The conference was in Makati, an upscale neighborhood plunked on top of a former swamp by the Ayalas, one of Manila's leading families. It has parks and outdoor cafes and enclosed pedestrian walkways.

Another thing people will tell you is that Makati is yuppie and fake. But I loved it. The air was breathable (they must have emissions laws). People didn't smoke in the restaurants. There were sidewalks and bookstores and little Vietnamese noodle shops. Everything looked clean and bright and cheery. After you've stewed in Jakarta's aggressively unvarnished reality for a few years, a little yuppie fakiness feels like paradise.

There was this one little hitch: the SuperTyphoon of the Century was bearing down on Manila, which was still soggy and exhausted from a devastating storm the week before. I had Saturday free to wander around, but I didn't stray very far because everyone was waiting for the storm to hit. Instead I just walked around Makati, ate interesting food, and took pictures of the rain.

Magically, Saturday night, the typhoon weakened and veered off, sparing Manila. It still did some damage, but far less than feared. On Sunday the sun even made some tentative appearances over the city. Maybe the Almighty decided to take an interest in storms instead of search engines after all.

Monday, July 20, 2009

When the bombs went off

Police riot shields at the bomb site. By Chad.

It was a strange week even before the bombs went off.

It seems like ever since President Yudhoyono got re-elected in a landslide a couple of weeks ago, little creepie-crawlies have been coming out of the woodwork. For instance, there was a string of shootings in Papua near the enormous Freeport gold mine ... shootings the police blamed on indigenous separatists, but that a lot of analysts blamed on turf battles between the police and army over who should get paid to guard the mine.

Then there was the assault on the Anti-Corruption Commission. Rumors were flying around that top officials there would be arrested on various charges, thus decapitating the commission and leaving it to bleed while the legislature fails to get around to approving a new anti-corruption law. Even the president, who ran on his reputation as a reformer, was making worrisome noises about the anti-corruption people having too much power. Reporters were camped out at the commission offices every day, waiting for the police to show up, and it felt like watching a murder in slow motion.

It felt like there were tectonic undersea power shifts happening after the election, and I couldn't see the movements themselves, but only the ripples they caused on the surface of the water. It felt like there were rats in the kitchen at midnght, grabbing all they could while the lights were out.

So I was pretty unnerved even before the bombs went off.

I got the message on my phone just after 8 a.m. while I was having my morning bowl of muesli. As a newspaper web editor, I had to get to work right away. I tried to organize myself to take a quick shower but I was so discombobulated I just stared at my face in the bathroom mirror and left.

I went straight to the office and stayed there for 17 hours. Chad went to the bomb site, though, and took some pictures

of the blown-out windows

and the police

and a man who looked sad or maybe just tired.

The bombing felt like another tectonic shift. But it felt weirdly old-school. Before the bombs went off, Jemaah Islamiyah was on the run, terrorism wasn't in the news, and the country seemed to have moved on to a new set of challenges. Financial analysts were calling Indonesia the new China. People -- even Westerners -- suddenly seemed to be able to find the place on a map. Now those guys in the Arab-wannabe clothes were back to drag everyone through the muck again.

I was almost despondent that first day, thinking all the progress of the last few years had been undone. But now I'm feeling better. The death toll is low, so the bombings will fall out of the headlines soon. India had Mumbai, which was much worse, and people are still calling India the new China. It was tragic and pointless, but maybe the impact won't be too catastrophic.

So maybe everyone can get back to the real problems soon, like corruption, and Papua, and climate change, and poverty, and lack of education, and all the other rats in the kitchen.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ooops, we did it again

Getting sleepy at the vet's office as the anesthesia kicks in.

We were on our way to the movies on a lazy, go-to-the-mall kind of weekend, when we stopped to look at a litter of kittens across the street. Just as we were leaving, an adult cat limped past with an open wound on an obviously broken leg.

"Poor cat," said the woman on the corner who runs a bottled-water store. "He got hit by a car. I feel so bad for him."

We did too, but I confess we didn't stop and do anything right then. The cat slunk away to a hiding place and we walked off with heavy hearts. We got dinner and saw a movie. But we couldn't get the image out of our heads. By bedtime, we knew we had to do something.

We got up the next morning ready for battle, figuring this was a streetwise cat who wouldn't take kindly to being shoved in a basket. But when we went down to the Posko (security post) on the corner, where the cat hangs out, we found him asleep and utterly pliable. The bottled-water seller picked him up and put him right in Susu's cat carrier, where he settled down and started munching treats.

After a traumatic, howling taxi ride (sorry, mr. Express taxi driver!), I got him to the vet's. She put him on the table and gave him a shot of anesthesia, and it quickly became clear that this was a former housecat. For one thing, he was sweet as pie. He kept rubbing against my hand and purring even after the evil vet jabbed him with needles and poked around in his wounds. For another, he's fat -- 4 kilograms, or about 9 pounds, which is enormous for a Jakarta cat!

As the shot took effect, the cat got wobbly and his eyelids started to droop. Then he threw up all his kitty treats, poor guy, as well as some fried rice he'd stolen that morning and a long, wiggly, very-much-alive worm. Our agenda promptly expanded to include de-worming. The vet also checked out a wound on his side, which I figured was associated with the car accident. Not so, she said -- it was a burn, probably caused by somebody tossing boiling water on him.

As the vet bandaged him up, my treat-and-release plan dissolved in front of my eyes. The cat needs to stay clean and out of danger for another couple of weeks. He really can't be limping around in traffic and dumpster-diving for his meals. So, inevitably, I brought him home.

And that's where he is now, gradually coming out of the anesthesia. I got him a cage to protect him from Susu and keep him out of trouble when we're not around. He's going to live in our home office while he's recuperating.

We're taking care of him till he's better but we're NOT keeping him forever. I know you don't believe me -- I can see you shaking your head with a knowing smirk -- but we're not. We are going to find him a home.

So ... one sweet, cuddly, box-trained, down-on-his-luck Jakarta kitty is looking for an angel. Could it be you?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The many snoozes of Susu

Susu has such long legs, sometimes she has a hard time figuring out where to put them.

The Overhang

The Brick House (letting it all hang out)

Yoga Kitty

The Bear

Cold Nose

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Death comes to the Mini Market

I couldn't resist this juxtaposition of the Grim Reaper and a Marlboro sign.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Demon toes: a study

Green demons have black toenails.

Red demons have white toenails.

Purple demons have long, lavender toenails -- with hair!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Monster bash

As I mentioned, I went down to Bali at the end of March for the Nyepi holiday, which I've always wanted to do.

The idea behind Nyepi is to scare evil spirits away from the island by having a huge street party and making a hell of a racket. Then, the next day, on Nyepi itself, everyone stays absolutely silent so the monsters will think the island is empty and won't come back.

Seriously, has a better holiday ever been invented?

The party is focused around a parade of demons. For weeks in advance, teams of people in the villages make effigies of monsters.

On the afternoon before Nyepi, these are carried out into the streets so everyone can admire them.

Some are quite frightening and gory.

But my favorites were the smaller ones made by children. Ghost on a Vespa, for example, was awesome.

The Vespa ghost also carried a message of harmony, which was a nice touch.

After the public admiration session comes a parade and a contest to choose the best monsters -- followed by the actual day of silence. More on those later!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Pizza Hut's war on pizza

Even before I moved here, I suspected Pizza Hut had been bought by some shadowy person or persons intent on destroying Italian-American cuisine from within. Now I know this is true. After all, how else can one explain Corn and Mayonnaise Pizza (with slices of chicken hotdog)?

Not convinced? Check out the FishChips Pizza, with chunks of fried fish and a little pile of potato chips in the middle. For those who are concerned about getting their Recommended Daily Allowance of mayonnaise, it comes with artful drizzles of mayo crosshatched with drizzles of sweet, artificially-flavored and -colored chili sauce from a 50-gallon drum they keep out back.

Having gotten a good start against pizza, they're now tackling pasta. What exactly is Corn Salsa Sauce, and how did it turn out green?! Never mind, don't answer that -- I'd rather be able to sleep tonight.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The 44 turns

Maninjau is two hours from the aiport in Padang. About one hour of this is spent doing hairpin turns.

Well, that's how it feels, anyway. The lake is in a volcanic crater so the journey up or down is, shall we say, rather steep. The road is famous for its 44 turns. You do switchback after switchback until everyone in the car is turning green and queasy.

Just when you've almost convinced yourself there can only be three or four turns left, you realize some cigarette company has put up a numbered sign at every switchback. And you realize you actually have fifteen to go. Thanks, cigarette company! No wonder everybody loves you guys!

The views of the lake do offer some consolation, though.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Victorious water buffalo

West Sumatra is the home of the Minangkabau people. Their traditional houses have distinctive, peaked roofs that draw up the heat and pull in fresh air.

The pointy roofs also mimic water-buffalo horns, and that is no accident. The word Minangkabau comes from an old legend having to do with water buffalo.

Centuries ago, the story goes, a Javanese army attacked Sumatra. Somehow the local people convinced them to gamble the outcome of the battle on a buffalo fight. The Javanese brought in the biggest, meanest water buffalo they could find.

But the Sumatrans chose a baby water buffalo. They kept it from its mother for a few days until it was quite hungry, and then sharpened its horns so they were like razors. When the two animals met on the field of battle, the hungry juvenile ran under the adult and tried to suckle, stabbing the larger animal to death.

(Oh cute, clever little Sumatra! Oh big, stupid, bullying Java! is undoubtedly the subtext of the story, reflecting the age-old resentment many smaller tribes feel toward Indonesia's most populous and powerful ethnicity.)

The area became known as Alam Minangkabau, or World of the Victorious Water Buffalo. And so it remains today.

Biking the Lake

We rented bikes and went out for a ride late in the day, following the afternoon rain. The air felt very clean and the light was amazing -- even my little cellphone camera could tell.

There was a big hill at the beginning of the ride and I had to stand on the pedals and pump with all my might to get up it. Some women sitting on a porch yelled and cheered and laughed at me in a friendly way. Sadly, I couldn't take their picture, or I would have fallen off the bike.

I did capture some other people, though ... like this farmer returning from the fields for the day.

And this man in a sarong and boy wearing pajamas, standing in front of a nice little house. I wonder if it's a vacation home.

This house is not so upscale. There were a bunch of children playing, but they all yelled and laughed and ran inside when I tried to take their picture. Then they kept peeking out at us from behind the safety of Mom.

It was a great ride. Even the trip back to the bike shop, down the narrow main road crowded with tourist buses, worked out fine. I was amazed that the drivers of big cargo trucks would stop and wait patiently while I slowly pedaled my way around a parked car and back to the side of the road.

We got back just before dark, and sat down to a meal of "tako," which turned out to be a big savory stuffed pastry, plus some deliriously tasty fried eggplant.

The star of the meal was a large wedge of fried mashed potatoes studded with chopped vegetables and local herbs. Here, inside the restaurant and with darkness falling fast, the cameraphone failed to do justice to the subject. So you'll just have to believe me when I say it was extremely tasty.