Thursday, December 17, 2009

10+ years of cello lessons...

and i'm rocking out journey in a basement.

Monday, December 14, 2009

and it's goodbye DC

8 years summed up with a few photos

Sunday, November 15, 2009

tallyho! the 1st semi-annual DC Tweed Ride

'twas a delectable perfectly orchestrated fall data for the first DC Tweed Ride, a sensational day of bi-wheeled fun, hosted by the ever polite and organized dandies and Quaintrelles. Dapper weather indeed and graceful attire of wheelmen and women, adequately documented here.
three cheers to our many humble fans and agreeable quadracycle combustibles who gracefully let us through. my pal april shaded me with her parasol, which made my shade simply sublime. my sound system was as tested and true, but provided some delightful gangsta rap for times of silence.

they say it's semi-annual, i forget if that means every two years or once every six months? i hope it's the latter!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

well, i got my story

i went out for a drink on friday with a guy i met recently, i guess you could call it a 'date.' that's what everyone else was calling it when i was at a happy hour beforehand, and dreading said meeting. one friend said "worst case scenario is you'll have a funny story to tell."
it just so happens that 2 hours of listening to him talk about how he hasn't called his mom in 3 weeks and how many movies and music he illegally downloads was a date, and i found this out only because he texted his recap of the evening -including "she paid for drinks! :) she's moving to germany :(" - to a friend, and as it turns out, inadvertently to me. it was quickly followed up with "oops, wrong person. want to meet up again?"
how do you spell a-w-k-w-a-r-d?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

octogenarian racquetball revenge

we don't play racquetball in the mornings anymore. all because of the octogenarians.
the octogenarians are a rough bunch of knee brace wearing, coke bottle prescription goggle sporting beer-bellied old guys. the octogenarians have declared that pre 9am, the racquetball courts at the Y are, [despite the clearly marked rules on the sign-in sheets] "first come first served." try showing up earlier than some old timer who eats dinner at 5 and is in bed by 7. once the octos are in their sealed room, there's no amount of noise that will get their near-deaf attention. so, we don't play racquetball in the mornings anymore.
which is fine, because nothing makes a hangover instantly worse and persistent than being hit with a blue bouncy ball. so we started playing at lunch. lunch times are quiet [when the rest of the courts aren't being used by Y youth camp dodgeball or duck duck goose]. only problem there is you can only block off two and half hours in your schedule for so long until the boss notices you keep coming back from the "opthalmalogist" thrice a week with flushed cheeks and wet hair. some might even go so far as to think you're being someone's mistress and meeting at the Mayflower.
so that leaves evenings, which are indoor sport rush hour. to get a court in the prime time 5:30-8pm range you need to sign up for a tuesday a month from now and hope nothing comes up for you or the person you want to play with between now and then. something most often does. so when my partner and i finally managed to be free for a pre-planned no other engagements 5:15 court time you can imagine we were pretty stoked.
game 1 was close, implemented the win-by-two rule to end at 18-16. we come out for a drink at the water fountain and typical chit-chat preparing for game 2 when i notice two octogenarians stalking our door. out of the corner of my eye one of them sneaks in and the other is about to when my partner, a more imposing muscular man than myself politely intervenes.
"excuse me, but i believe we have that court reserved until 6:30"
and the octo replies, with his eyes amplified 20x by his patented googles "no you don't, WE have court 6 reserved until 6:30"
"no, i'm fairly certain WE reserved court 6 weeks ago"
"no, WE have court 6 reserved."
this goes on and on, with the volume of this altercation rising considerably, partly because of the tangible tension, but also the hearing impairment of one of the parties.
finally, both men's noses are inches apart, like a baseball coach questioning an umpire, though my teammate is clearly towering over the shrinking hunchy old guy, until finally my partner, a lawyer, pokes the geezer gently in the sternum uttering the clincher "oh yeah? well is YOUR name Shapiro??"
the man replies almost instantly "well as a matter of fact it IS!" and slams the door to court 6, locking us out of his abyss of silence.
this is an impasse, someone MUST be lying. because my name is Shapiro and I clearly wrote it inside the two boxes (it's actually against Y by-laws to sign back-to-back but I'll admit i do it anyway) from 5:15-6:45. i even put it in my phone. and my partner even verified it before coming up the stairs to play.
the attourney utters under his breath, "i am not beneath evicting those old farts" and we storm down to the main floor with a score to settle. here lies the clipboard with the day's list of reservations for racquetball and squash. and right there, next to my lefty pencil-ed Shapiro/Butler (who actually isn't a member anymore but i like to think i still play her) is a scraggly handed, wobbly arthiritic lettered all-caps SHAPIRO under court 6. sonofabitch! i guess we're on court 8.
on our way back up the stairs we declare that all court reservations be made under a pseudonym to avoid these types of conflicts in the future. so unless your name just happens to be Gretta Schmelmelstein, you better watch out!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

the D.C. countdown

*insert Europe's the final countdown laser introduction here*
after 9+ years in this wonderous capitol city, i am off to greener, nay, more sausage-y pastures in Berlin, Deutschland. for years and years and years, everyone has come and left, and me, like the horsey statue at connecticut and columbia, i just stayed.
now, German classes are underway, along with the slow pawning off of my material belongings, extra special quality time with my cat and, of course, all the things i've been meaning to do in DC but for whatever reason haven't.
so, with my few remaining months, here comes the D.C. countdown! because, in 9 years, i've never been to the newseum, haven't eaten at CityZen and i've only been to downtown alexandria...thrice?
what have you been hiding from me, DC?

the well-dressed burrito, for starters.
i was invited to lunch by a guy on the 5th floor, works in development, wears a suit. i saw him sneaking around with a brightyellow plastic bag one day and asked "what's that?" it's a well-dressed burrito.
it's in an alley. the same alley, to be exact, where the says there's a post office, but there isn't, there's just a bunch of mail trucks with surly mailmen who won't take your stamped mail no matter how nicely you ask. it's somewhere between 19th and 20th, M and N, the only noticeable markings is a mexican penguin sign and a black door. no windows. there's a counter, and half the space is someone's office.
for $6 i had tacos that were more like burritos, a full 2 pounds of food which will provide lunch for days to come. it's no super tasty taco or anything (this is more tex-mex) but i felt like i found my own little alley slice of heaven.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hilton protest

so if you've been walking down connecticut ave in the morning in front of the Hinckley Hilton there have been some protesters. i'm usually on the other side of the street but today i walked by and...they have a giant (we're talking 25 foot tall) inflatable rat on an oldsmobile. i got a flyer that reads "low wages have put this economy where it is today!" and they are mostly irritated by the "largely hispanic" cement employees. i don't really know anything about the details of their plight (nor their spelling error ridden flyer) but i dig the rat.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

oh, i hate so many people...

this is just one of them.

craigslist ad: three month old male kitty. (woodbridge)

hello, i have a three month old lil male kitten. i've had him for about two weeks and i bought him from the humane society, he's had two shots and has been dewormed, he's not nuetered or declawed because my vet wouldn't do it until he was at least six months old. he loves to cuddle and meows at you when you get home. my son likes to throw stuff at him and tries to pull his tail, it's not fair to the kitten so i think it's best if i find him a new home. he comes with cat box, litter, cat food, toy, canned food, cat scratcher, poop scooper, food dish & cat nip. there is a small fee for him so if you are interested please let me know.

so i wrote to them, offering to declaw their kid, or if they want to, keep the kitten and give the little bastard away, i'll take him. and i'll even pay the fee.

the response was not as hilarious as 'emails from an asshole' but people like this shouldn't reproduce. and if do and raise kids who torture animals, well that's when you send in the experts:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

stupidity and ignorance speaks for itself

i'm not sure if they had to search out all these crazy people to interview...because they are everywhere. i mean, it's all "government is evil we can't trust it!" but might i remind those that the gov is now a major shareholder in our banks..because we can't trust private companies to not be greedy! i could find a metaphor with our health care...and can we just wikpedia socialism, fascism, and czar? i mean, if wikipedia is not a communist website...

Monday, August 31, 2009

capitol skyline pool party

i caught the next to last weekend of the spike'd pool party at the crapitol skyline pool...i have to admit the place has a miami ambiance that's quite lovely. michael jackson could be heard blaring all the way from the navy yard metro station.
my bro found something which might have been a tendon in his cheeseburger (included with entrance. good brunchin').
the speedos were plenty, the old ladies wrinkled into raisins were impressibly tan, drinks amazingly cheap and the pool unexpectedly deep!
for reals, it says 5 1/2 feet. i slipped in, with my sunglasses on trying to be classy and not to get my hair all wet and i quickly fell into the murky depths, got kicked by a guy on a dragon raft and clawed some girl's thigh when i thought i was going to drown. i wonder if they ever find anyone being sucked into the filter at the bottom of this endless abyss.
oh and then there's this article in the citypaper..couldn't they publish this in the beginning of summer? makes you wonder why there wasn't much of a line for the bathrooms...
all in all a good time, not that i would go every weekend or anything. though i'll probably bring a few baby ruths to toss in, just for fun.

Friday, August 28, 2009

i only need one reason to move to europe

and here it is! a wonderful thoughtful comment by the edumacated american who i don't think is part of a lunatic fringe, sadly these people are sadly the majority. what is it about our country that fosters such selfish, competitive, i'm better than you mentality?

"so you wonder why the most successful country in the world doesn't offer health care to all. Because America was doing it differently, we used to have to go to work everyday to earn an honest days pay for honest days work and we used to be able to afford to live. No we are giving away the farm and no one has to go to work or is motivated to go to work because the harder we work the more the government gives to social programs. Why should I work hard anymore there is no benefit to working hard. No I am going to sit back and let the government provide for me. I want to declare myself and Illegal immigrant from the great nation of Long Island, I want my welfare check, my insurance, my housing subsidies, my families education, and I want it all for sitting on my butt. Now you want to follow the rest of the world, but I thought we were the richest most successful country, why would we want to copy other countries that are obviously not as successful if we are the most successful, if we are on top, why change what works. Just cause some dude who ran for president realized that lazy americans had more time to vote. Take away my ability to strive for more and better than the next guy and I will lay down with the rest of the welfare recipients."

commenter celectric, on

Monday, August 24, 2009

cultural sunday

last sunday, after drinking some champers and eating weenie tots in kalorama park i went to see this.
cool huge reflective ants, trippy photo-realism, some multi-media, silk creations and other stuff, like my friend who took me up to the rooftop.
the meridian center is cool, random, i can't believe i've never been before. wicked little patio and grand ornate inside, i'm a little surprised the place was so empty. then again, they may have wandered in circles like me looking for the entrance in the vortex of 17th and meridian.
anyway, one of the chinese paintings has some sort of predator creature in it, which was a fine interlude to see district 9. low budget, really? with its nano-second human bodies exploding into nothingness and a splatter of blood on the camera lens, a banal statement on segragation and tentacled creatures with hearts of gold. that's real culture for ya.

Monday, August 3, 2009


i rode a 13 hour nightbus from San Cristobal to Merida. i felt surprisingly well rested, and show up to my friend's bonnie's house. the first thing she says is "you look like shit!" gracias.
i enter their fabulously cool (did i mention it's f-ing HOT in Mierda?), 50 foot ceiling casa which has an open kitchen in a patio with a swimming fountain thing. a lion head spits lukewarm water into a shallow pool. classy!
bonnie's roommate and i head to this suburban mall to meet bonnie and another friend after their spanish class. this is a mall with a sears, a walmart, movie theater. it's very much like an american mall but all the stores have hilariously weird names like: Bizarro is the fancy jewelry store, Smoogus is the smoothie joint, LizManelli for old lady clothes, Suburbia is the hip urban outfitters like thing. we go to the food court and i get a really good taco al pastor. with pineapple. bonnie practices her new spanish at the chinese place. very odd.
we hop in the rental car and head to Celestun, which has a huge flamingo population. 4 gringas in a nissan. we stop for gas, which begins our day of inappropriate phrases like "wow, it feels just like home, a mexican guy is cleaning the windshield." or, bonnie's thoughtful description of the interesting landscape dotted with hennequin "that's the plant they use to make shit with." the radio blasts Bon Jovi. we notice a lot of really young kids behind the wheel of cars, but it's just that all mayans look like they're 12 years old, but they're actually 40. 
we arrive in celestun and find a boat guy to take us to see the flamingos. he promises 5 stops and a very long tour, just the four of us. special. we all get in the boat which has cool swivelly seats, like airport chairs attached to a series of boards so we can spin around and face eachother . all jorge can do besides drive the boat is is stare at bonnie's bouncing bosom, in unison with the waves. he's in a trance. 
stop 1: the petrified forest, which jorge tells us is 60 years old. um, ok. we get attacked by mosquitos and sink into some 3 feet deep mud up to our waists and cry out "atreyu!" and decide to move on to stop 2.
here we see our flamingos. wow, they are really ugly! and sortof pink. turns out flamingos are pink in zoos because they feed them a special diet or something. they twist their heads in ways that make us uncomfortable. like, ow. 
next we go to a sinkhole in the middle of some mangroves, which we get to via a very rickety boardwalk. the water is blue green, dotted with colorful fish. verrry beautiful. jorge tells us the water is just a little fresca and we jump in. it's fantastic, refreshing. this is the first time i've felt comfortable, temperature wise in yucatan. jorge is staring at us 4 chicks in bikinis like he's having a vision of the virgin mary or something. i tell him to stop being a wuss and jump in, at least i think that's what i told him in spanish..he dives in and proceeds to pinch each of our asses. like ooh! that was my ass! ooh! mine too! and mine! um, kinda awkward jorge. 
we take some silly pictures and head to the next stop, a creepy mangrove tunnel, then some more flamingos, flamingos and it's now 2 1/2 hours later, the sun is setting, we are flying along the coast at full speed, wind in our knotted hair, content with our tour and jorge says "la marea esta muy baja." it sure is jorge, thumbs up! and he's all, no, really, the tide is super low. you betcha jorge! and that's when i notice we've run aground, about a mile from shore, we're on this huge sandbar with patches of seagrass. ok, it's now a three hour tour... 
"all the fatties out of the boat!" thankfully, the boat floats at this point, but let's just say that we spent the next hour empuje-ing este pinche barca. we are stepping in goo, crushing crabs and feeling dead fish with our toes. jorge holds up a sea cucumber to the norwegian girl "hola guapaaa" and makes it squirt rather pornographically, she blushes. 
we finally free ourselves into the open sea and make it back to the beach in time for a chelada (beer-garita) at sunset. we give jorge a tip despite his creepiness, and enjoy a nighttime swim in the bright hot water. muy excellente my first day in yucatan.    

Sunday, August 2, 2009

gracias, san juan chamula

so i was in San Cristobal de las Casas for two days, not doing much besides freezing my butt off (in July, seriously!) and sitting in a hammock all day drinking cervesa. my friend told me that i should really go see something, like a Mayan village or whatnot. ok fine.
so i go over by the crazy food market and find a collectivo (minivan bus thing) to take me to San Juan Chamula. I noticed that this lady was selling bags and bags and bags of pine needles? huh?
so the collectivo doesn't leave until there are at least 12 people in his 6 passenger van, of course. so i squeeeeeze in next to this guy with a dorky sombrero and my pelvis is literally stuck between the door and his thigh. turns out he's a swiss opera composer, and we start chatting and i meet the rest of his friends, this bus is actually full of frenchies. 
we get to san juan chamula and it's basically a giant market. the mayans are quite serious about their vending. i eyed some of those big ears of corn that they bbq and slather in mayonnaise (yum), some textiles and a number of things which i told myself not to buy, but bought anyway.
the center of town is all about the church, naturally, and it doesn't look too fancy but we decide to go in. 15 pesos for gringos, and you have to pay over there, at the tourist office. ok fine. i would have given up except swiss guy decided to offer us all a round 'o church visits. 
so we enter and i was not all prepared for the total weirdness inside. first of all, the entire floor is covered in pine needles, ah, the pine needles, and amidst all of this dry, flammable vegetation: a bajillion candles. the place was smoky, eerie. 
along the side walls all these small statues of saints with creepy looks on their faces, and plastic mirrors around their necks, the kind you put in your locker and plaster with stickers of zach ephron.
at the front of the church where normally you would see jesus on his cross in all his glory, well he was there but kind of tossed to the side, in a box leaning against the wall with some other saints of lower importance. the real deal was on this san juan baptista guy with his awesome hat.
so all around the church you had the mayans sitting on the ground and chanting loudly in their dialect, lighting candles and giving offerings. eggs, cans of coca cola, tang, and live chickens. yes, live chickens. most of the chickens were chillin', like, wow, i'm being lovingly held by my mamasita, but i think once they got a glimpse of their cousins in a pool of bloody newspaper, that's when they would try to get loose. and so every once in a while, the chanting was interrupted by a ba-GAWK! totally worth the 15 pesos. 
back outside i was hounded by some girls who literally robbed me of my earrings. they kept asking me for pesos, pesos! or your earrings? ok here you- woahhey! and in a second, my ears were naked. they would have taken my necklace if they could have figured out the clasp. they demanded more. how about a thank you? they tried to force me to buy their bracelets by tying them onto my wrists with double and triple knots...but i have more slender hands than they thought, and off they came. they felt cheated. i gave you my earrings, what else do you want? 
 a little boy kept grabbing my arm so fine, i bought him a horchata and he wandered away, gloomily sipping his free drink and i was all, pardoneme but that is a tasty and nutritious rice-based beverage there, how about a little gracias? 
i quickly got the idea that we weren't welcome in this town if we weren't dispensing pesos, and so we hopped back in our collectivo, all collectively a little depressed. 
gracias san juan chamula. 

Saturday, August 1, 2009

hey you! over here! no, over here!

so "orale" pronounced ora-lay is spanish for "hey you!" which sounds a lot like my name. i'm just not used to hearing it so much, maybe in france, but here my head nearly spins off its axis every time i wander through a market and hear orale! orale! in every direction. the taxi drivers say it all the time too, in their cellphones and i'm the idiot in the backseat asking are you talking to me? allo?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

fiesta del mezcal : best 15 pesos spent ever

during la guelagetza in oaxaca, you are treated to non-stop fanfares, parades with giant costumes and heads, fireworks, fireworks lit from the giant heads and pretty much all around FIESTA. one thing i noticed though is that no one drinks in the street or is rambunctiously drunk. this is really a family thing. and so that's why you see 1 year olds running around unaccompanied in the street at 2am, chasing balloons and such.
so in the evening, you basically wander the streets and hope to cross paths with one of these pageants, either synchronized dances, little kids with giant sombreros or a 100 foot long dancing fish. a few guys had big papier mache turkeys and cows on their heads with round wheels on them. when you least expect it, someone runs up and lights a fuse and then, in the middle of an eager crowd you get those whiny fireworks and roman candles that make the wheels on the headpiece spin around and create fire spirals. (someone needs to explain to me how papier mache and fireworks are a good combination on someone's head). the guy continues to dance around and little firey ashes rain down on the crowd, it's madness. i think this is my favorite part of the guelagetza.
well, after the mezcal. the reason why no one is drunk on the street is because they're all around the corner at the mezcal festival. it's 15 pesos to get in and there is a live 20 person horn band playing to some of the dancing heads and costumed peoples who must have wandered in from a nearby parade. you make the rounds of the mezcal booths tasting everything from the bottom of the worm barrel to tasty reposado out of little plastic shot glasses. all for free. so it gets kinda rowdy. i thought i was hallucinating when i saw a guy in a tie and mexican wrestler mask dance with a dude with a giant bull head both holding up a large flag with a marijuana leaf on it that read something like "weed is the future." i danced with a goat. we were about to leave when we saw the oro de oaxaca booth which is known as a good mezcal. i bought a mini bottle which came with a free big mezcal sombrero. as if i don't stand out already. so rafa got one too. we were already content with our purchases and leaving but for some reason they rrrrreally wanted us to try all 37 varieties of flavored mezcal. non stop. in a row. one after the other. i felt like i was in a fraternity reality show but as a crowd gathered around it just seemed normal to down shot after shot after shot after shot after shot. kiwi flavored! yum! throw the shot glass on the ground. handed another. vanilla creme! yum! throw the shot glass on the ground. now try mango! this went on for a good 15 minutes when i realized my world was spinning while all these varieties were fighting themselves in my stomach and i just might vomit right now. i high fived a bunch of mexicans and zig zagged towards the exit. it took us 25 minutes to find our hotel which was only a block away as we took more of a spiral route, honed in by our instincts. the sad part was that at this time, it was only 9:45 pm. we hadn't even had dinner yet.
you can imagine how painful the consequent hangover is when there are 1/4 sticks of dynamite being set off outside your hotel room all night, and the drunk tuba and trumpet players that drank mezcal on my stoop and played a boozy version of la cucaracha until dawn. make it stop!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

beware of the mariachi!

so in plaza garibaldi in mexico city you can cruise by in the evening and see what the mariachi market has to offer. here, the mariachis from all over gather around, and kind of like the home depot parking lot is to day laborers, here they offer their music services. you can also drink there, unlike anywhere else in the city, which is a major plus. so if you hear what you like, you can take them, or give them an address or whatever. i can imagine the poor fool "dammit! my wedding band just canceled!" and then you go to plaza garibaldi, problem solved.
i imagine some sort of violent musical feud between rival mariachi gangs. smashed bloody instruments, would make a good movie. in reality though, it's more of a horror genre that quickly turns ugly. the mariachi can be aggressive, and as they can also be expensive (mariachi is actually a luxury good) so you can get yourself into trouble if you're not careful.
and if you happen to be driving by, roll up your windows! they actually swarm vehicles like in a zombie movie and will try to play to you inside your car. it's el mariachi! step on it! don't worry if a mandolin guy rolls over the hood, we've got to get out of here!

Monday, July 27, 2009

now that's street service

one of the wonderful things about mexico is the sheer variety and multitude of street vendors. if you are sitting on a patio, you're guaranteed to have a delightful choice of sweaters, rugs, limes, batteries, novelty sunglasses and lighters and a number of weird services offered to you. most people might find this annoying, but some of the things people offer is pure gold.
first of all, a mariachi band, now that's a great service. i unfortunately found out the hard way that you can't just give them what you want, but you actually ask what a song costs, then negotiate, then let them play. i happened to invite a $35/song mariachi band to our table and they nearly spat in my face when i offered 10 pesos. what? que? we barely even listened to the song and we probably would have to get our money's worth. and the last thing you want is an angry mariachi.
we've seen the lighters in the form of louis vuitton purses, a watch with el demon azul on it that to this day i regret turning away and an 8 year old selling those eyeglasses with eyes painted on the lenses, so you can pretend to not be sleeping in a meeting. i found my pair far more valuable to have to put on when anyone starts telling a boring story. vincente is telling us about his hacienda. glasses on, yawn.
then there was the bearded lady who comes up to us, clicking two metal sticks together, holding a home-made box full of D batteries connected to these two metal sticks by a long wire...the mexicans couldn't believe i've never willingly paid for an electric shock before. "it's awesome!" to which i respond, no wonder why your GDP is so low, eh? i don't want to perpetuate stereotypes, but in this case i'm quite happy to.
so we try it together. 10 pesos paid, i hold one anode, rafa the other, and we hold hands. before she even turns the dial to 1 i imagine myself going into cardiac arrest and start jumping around uncomfortably. a 1.5 i feel a static, this is not enjoyable. a 2, 3, a twitch is running up my forearms and i can't take it anymore, i let it go. the he-woman is all "this level is for children! "you do this to kids?? rafa takes it to 8, and walks away, content. what a macho.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


i had the pleasure of starting my vacation by stopping in the nice new airport in Guadelajara. (i dare you to look that city up in Google Earth, holey moley) within minutes of entering the terminal the duty free muchacho was offering me generous tastes of all the top shelf tequila. my newfound buzz made the sleazy old lebanese guy who kept inviting me to Cancun with him much more bearable.
arriving in D.F. i was met by my host's driver who spoke fast spanish as he took me along a fantastic route through the city. i recognized when we were passing through sexytown even before he muttered something about that 'gente fea.' you can say that again. fattie mexican ladies with skirts so short and see-through they surpass the definition of one.
next, we stop outside el dr. rafa's place of work, the ministry of education. my friend rafa gets mad respect for his phD from Cambridge, hence the title "el doctor." he'll often say "listen, por favor, please don't call me el doctor" and the reponse with a bowed head. "si, doctor."
ironically, just outside the ministry of education there's a guy hawking totally passable diplomas from esteemed universities. you can get a phD in physics from Harvard for $20! i'm going to see if there's a degree in partying from Tiajuana University. or maybe fastrack a master's in Botany from SUNY Buffalo?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

rode an elephant. butt hurts.

that's the sound of an elephant walking in a swamp. rama was down to his knees in the muck. he didn't want to move. the mahout gave him a few bare foot kicks to the ears. a tap with his creepy hook tool. rama let out a deep growl in irritation. the whole thing jostled, i grabbed the little rope until my knuckles were white. i almost dropped my sunglasses but caught them at the last second. it's f-ing hot and the huge nasty black flies are alternating between rough hairy elephant skin and my feet.

here we are with the flying squad elephants of Tesso Nilo national park in Sumatra. these trained elephants are indonesia's way of trying to control the roving wild elephants who raid crops and kill people. the elephants and their mahouts patrol and get called in when there's a conflict with local communities. it's also potentially an eco-tourism thing but they haven't gotten that far yet. but i'm not sure they're ready for that - these elephants don't exactly listen that well. when they really want to eat a branch, they do. if they want to roll around at a river crossing and spray water with their trunks, it's their call. and i think they forget that my little feet are dangling off their sides when they rub up against a prickly tree. but they do pick flowers if you ask them nicely (like this variety of ginger) or clear a giant fallen tree from the trail. (i imagine having an elephant in long island, clearing branches after a hurricane, it would be perfect).

and there are the two babies, Tesso and Nila who have the personality of puppies. imagine a baby elephant wanting to jump on you and lick your face. cute, and terrifiying. the babies manage to rile up the adults once too, they'll get tangled in the legs of their mama who then gets all pissy and screams. that's quite a hairy little situation.

but it's still amazing. this huge beast lies down so you can crawl up onto him, and you kinda amble along, feel this huge warm animal below you. sometimes i would pat him and it would erupt with this enormous grumble. and the ears flap against my feet, making a sortof wet leather sound.
i wonder how someone decides to become a mahout. i would totally do it.
from on top of the elephant you can see over the flat landscape, beyond the forest, we are on an insland in a sea of oil palm plantations encroaching from all sides. fires in the distance, the ones that in the month of february and march obscure the sun. trucks lugging harvested acacia trees for the pulp and paper industry. when you look at a map you figure it's probably too late, there's nothing left. but then karmila, the 25 year old tiger expert tells me she catches tons of pictures of tigers in camera traps. so i stop being depressed for a moment and see little Nila rushing off into a miniature forest of ferns and grabbing all sorts of stuff with her trunk and i forget everything, especially that my ass is totally killing me.

Monday, May 25, 2009

goodbye banda aceh

after our final day on the aceh project we went to one of the local coffee shops as was promised to me all week - the best coffee! what differentiates a coffee shop from a restaurant (they serve exactly the same thing) is that the coffee shop has loooooww reclining plastic chairs, whereas restaurants have normal upright ones.
we walked through a wonderful wafting smell of coffee, past the guy in the grinding room, to sit out back under a tent near a bunch of young boys fighting over a plug to charge their cell phones that didn't work anyway. the waiter comes out and puts a bunch of food our table, like 10 plates, like our acinese lunches - i thought we had ordered it so i felt compelled to eat it all: fried stuff, sweet stuff, coconut empanadas and black sweet rice with flan, egg and coconut sandwiches, sticky rice inside little banana leaves and weird stuff liked striped chocolate colored jell-o. then i realized they just put it out there - here's the honor system help-yourself again. i like the whole eat what you want thing, what i don't like is that if you don't eat it they take it and put it on someone else's table. so how many people have touched this tofu cube (stuffed with meat)? who sneezed on my flan? how many people have picked at this jell-o like thing? it has fingerprints.ahmad sent his coffee back because it wasn't strong enough. mine was opaque, suger on the bottom and seared through the lining of my stomach, but in a good way. i bought 1KG to bring home (i'm hoping the smell will hide all the crazy illegal fruit i'm smuggling).
mahmud sat kinda silent, looking around. he says his coffee shop is way cooler. fewer old people, and super secret special coffee (i think i understood it was weed or something?). so he asked me if i wanted to go. pak tri really wanted to karaoke at the hermes palace, but i guess no one else wanted to go and you sorta need a lot of people (but i practiced my bon jovi!), so mahmud picked me up at 8pm with his scooter to hang with the kool kids. even brought me a helmet.
we went past the big mosque and stupid me forgot my scarf to cover my head so we couldn't really check it out - people were staring. i also forgot my tripod for the hundredth time so i couldn't take any cool nightime pictures.
we get to the chez yukee hangout on the river and people are smoking, drinking, and here come the fried snacks. i know better this time and stay away. well, except for the tempeh sheet. people are smoking over home made mini-donuts and corn dogs with little green chiles sticking out of them. mahmud keeps asking me if i'm hungry. they make me eat 5 meals a day here, i need a break from the food! no! i've already had my two dinners! also, the coffee from before is leaving quite a trail of fire.
mahmud's friends start joining us and i realize they're all photo geeks, just like me, it's awesome! (mahmud took amazing pictures on our trip that makes me want to upgrade from my rebel xti). so there are the nikonians on one side, the canonians on another. one girl has a fancy tripod, another guy shows off his cool bag. it's great because they all think i live here - where's your cello, want to jam tomorrow? where do you play frisbee in Banda? one guy just got back from yogjakarta with these cool keychains and they give me one with a skinny lady with a long pointy nose and curly hair. i get it, looks like me. but she is Srikandi, the hero woman. ok, i like that.
they announce they want to go 'hunting.' it's their word for finding subjects, places to shoot pictures. so we head to this park and start taking all these posed shots, (why do they always pose so normally and formal)? we're competing to see who can take the nicest pictures with my camera in really low light. mahmud wins by using green auto mode when everyone else tries to mess with the all manual settings but it's too dark or blurry, which is funny if you know about photography. such nerds. finally we do some cool long exposure shots and this is my attempt to graffiti banda aceh with my cell phone. on the way home mahmud asks me a hundred times if i'm hungry, as we pass a million little warungs (streetside food stands), the pizza hut that is an oasis of light in a dark street. mahmud really wants me to taste crab noodles, the local specialty before i leave, but i can't. my stomach is in the winter of its discontent! we get to my hotel and mahmud shakes my hand - okbye!thanksmahmud!cometoDCsometime!yeahbye! and i run into the relative safety of the kuala radja and their total lack of toilet paper. tomorrow morning i leave for a 12 hour trip to Tesso Nilo and the flying squad trained elephants. goodbye banda!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

the shortcut

i was so excited to head back to banda aceh, where i finally have a hotel room with a sink! yes, until now, i've been spitting out my toothpaste onto the drain on the floor, trying not to splash on my pyjamas. only problem is this sink isn't attached to a drain or anything, so i'm still spitting out my toothpaste onto my toes. it's progress.
our trek back to town was much shorter than the way there, our convoy of two vans was able to take the direct route back, although with a few modifications due to broken bridges and landslides. this route, called the USAID road after it's funding source has "Aid from the American people" written the whole way from Calang to Banda Aceh. everytime we were reminded of this, i would be reminded in a rather cynical way that this is alee's road! obama's road! it wasn't perfect, pretty bumpy at times, spectacular at others.

sometimes it was paved and smooth, sometimes dirt and rocks and mud. we would often come to a fork in said road and there's no way of knowing which is the actual road, and which is a sneaky road that leads you to a distant village someone wants you to unknowingly visit. then, there's the guy with the homemade sign, standing out in the blisering sun waving you towards him. the sign has a bunch of painted scribble with the words quick, banda aceh and other stuff. the driver lowers the window and i ask, "what does the sign say? he says "shortcut!" with a huge toothless enterprising grin. my horror movie trained instints say no, don't trust the guy pointing you down a scary muddy road, but i'm not driving. we pay him his little fee and scramble down a path. we pass a lady who is drying octopus on hangers and selling baby hammerhead sharks for 30 cents each (sigh). they STINK. and finally we come to the rafts, the infamous river crossing rafts the Red Cross lady warned me about. you're not allowed to take official vehicles on these rafts, but ours are rentals. she specifically told me: take your important things with you, your passport, your plane ticket and make sure you ride on a different boat than your vehicle, take the motorbike boat. it was all very eerie. so i'm rifling through my bag looking for my most important things and everyone is laughing - if we sink you'll get eaten by the crocodiles in a second, why are you worried about your passport?
so i content myself with just my camera. the rafts are three small boats tied together, a sort of pontoon with a nifty shade, and tiny outboard motor on one of the boats. to get on the raft you roll your car over two rickety planks, and there are guys to help you measure and proceed juuuuust right. a few inches and splash. on another side is the scooter boat, yes, this one seems more stable, it consists of three full size canoe things. and scooters aren't as heavy and don't make the raft sway and list as it does with the car. we all jump on and off we go.
i have no idea how the boat driver sees what he's doing, he's looking under the car for the other side of the river and they are all smiling "no problem!" the raft exit is just as tricky, i can't watch. but there is a little hut to distract me, a little girl eating mango like things with a huge knife. they taste like mango, but i'm told they're not mango. we buy all they have, and our car smells like rotting mangos. we get back into the car and we meet shortcut exit guy, and we have to pay him too. only we soon realize he's fake shortcut exit guy, as the real guy who attracts the cars on the other side of the USAID road with his homemade sign is actually a little further. clever indonesians.
the next raft crossing is more fun. this pontoon takes 6 cars, with even ricketier planks and they squeeze the cars so tight it's crazy. the raft is very unstable, and no engine, these guys push us across with big bamboo poles. my favorite is this old guy with a homemade indonesian basket hat (water bottle caps holding the thing together). we take pictures. he tells me he is a proud grandpa and i should be proud of having my picture taken with him.
we stop at a cliff and have coffee in front of a spectacular vista. i have selected the island i will live on. we listen to the gibbons call, as we scoop the coffee grounds out with a spoon. i kinda like them, they taste like chocolate. and once again, i usually take my coffee with milk and sugar, but this stuff, i'll drink it straight.

we're entering into the sorta districts where not many whiteys are seen so in this little port town i'm the main attraction, especially because i'm with this ragtag group of indonesians. i tell you, when the day comes where i'm in a town like this and i DON'T have 5 guys screaming "hey miss! you are my girlfriend!" i will finally reach the pinnacle moment where i realize that i'm an an old, ugly, undesirable bule. and i will be very, very sad, unless i'm living on my island right there.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

free flip flops!

every hotel in indonesia has little complimentary slippers with the name of the hotel on them, probably because of the whole bathroom situation, it's always a puddle in there.
so the park lane hotel in jakarta as you can imagine had nice fuzzy slippers. the maharani had the ones you get at a chinese pedicure place, passable. where we're staying in calang, they're like paper flip flops, you'd probably give them out at an airport security checkpoint. literally disposable.
azhar wears them everywhere.
we're walking through a ravine to get to a makeshift gold mine and there's azhar with his little white paper slippers and i'm wondering if it's a bragging thing, like, hey i'm checked in at the pantai barat, where are you staying?
um, the pantai barat isn't exactly finished yet. this whole spot was pretty much erased by the tsunami so i won't hold it against them. they're missing most of the second floor (i went up there and it's a great place to dry your laundry) and pretty much all of the major walls and finishings, like door numbers. there's a random table and some chairs out in a courtyard that we use to work and hold meetings, it's very rustic.
i'm in a room that faces the clunky old generator. i thought about asking them to shut it off at night, but then that means no A/C so it comes down to hot and quiet vs. cold and loud? what do you think?

Friday, May 22, 2009

the acinese are funny

so during our trip, any meal basically goes like this:
we all pile out of the car - i usually forget to let poor mahmoud out of the back back and he's all aleeeeee!!! [that's what they all call me] until i'm all, where is mamoud? and then remember to free him. by this time, azhar has already high-fived the staff, shouted out his order and sat down and is being served his meal. when the waiter comes back, azhar commandeers him with his crazy drink request, something like, 30% tomato juice, 20% milk and 50% grapefruit, which means blender guy is busy for the next half hour making this napolitano looking thing and i have smoke coming out of my ears from the spicy noodles and have nothing to wash it down with. by the time i slurp my mango juice (the ice doesn't even have time to melt and make me sick!) and try to order another, azhar has eaten all the tasty crisps and cucumber slices off my plate (i save them for last!), realizes he is out of cigarettes and announces it's time to go.
he got what was coming tonight though when he wandered off into a ditch one night after eating and then frantically phoned joel asking to get a ride back to the hotel IMMEDIATELY.
for lunch one day we go to a place i pick out, why? i don't know, i saw a bunch of scooters parked outside this place and thought, it must be good! they serve bakso - meatballs! at all these places they have tupperware of little snack foods that you eat and pay with an honor system. sometimes you have little peanut butter sandwiches, or cake, this time it was those tasty crisps, the seafood puff things that are served everywhere. so i'm gobbling these down, nom nom nom. my meatball soup gets served waaaaay too quickly to be fresh but i eat it anyway, and wash it all down with a tasty guava juice.
the next day we are at the shop getting snacks for the road and i point out the crispy treats from the night before. should we get some?!
oki says "alee, do you know what these are made of?"
deliciousness! i say
oki: "the other day, when you were eating these, pak tri made me promise never to tell you what they are made of, but i would like to tell you. would you like to know?"
not sure...
"buffalo skin! fried in buffalo fat!" ew, these are like those pork skin puffs you see at the 7-11! nasty. and off he goes, laughing, pointing to a buffalo with crooked horns in the distance.
i no longer want to buy any and am plotting my subtle revenge.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

welcome to aceh!

so here i am in Sumatra. the morning we were to leave for Calang (pronounced chalong) there were heavy rains that washed out a bridge and much of the road we were to take to get there. we're going to calang to meet with a watershed forum who aims to prevent exactly these sorts of problems from happening. so, we had to take a 6 hour detour and pretty much cover the entire province of Aceh. i didn't mind, i got to eat salak (snakeskin fruit) and stick my head out the window and take lots of pictures. it's amazing how you'll fly by someone at 80km/hr and they'll look you right in the eyes and go heeeeeyyyyy! and cheer and holler. "you have so many boyfriends!" says our driver.
there were 5 of us in the car, me and a bunch of guys. oki and mahmoud from the training i gave in jakarta, the driver joel (who has the whitest most perfect teeth for someone who chain smokes) and azhar, your sortof indonesian john goodman, a sloppy joe in a big loveable huggable bear sortof way. he's all "can you believe they stopped me at the canadian border for three hours?" i do actually, and don't blame them....he curses, he smokes, he sweats, he drinks, he burps, he's always late, he talks about cannabis, which isn't saying much for his muslim traditions, but every time he opens his mouth (which is just about all the time) everyone is laughing, in tears. i don't need to understand what he's saying, it's hilarious.
so, we have this huge long trip ahead of us, but that doesn't prevent us from driving 5km/hour because we have to get the music juuuuuust right. the driver has this mp3 flash disk thing and he has to skip through thirty songs to the right one before we can start moving at a normal pace, and that song might be "more than words" by mr. big, or a bon jovi techno remix. we also stop just about every 45 minutes to pee, smoke, pray, or eat noodles. it's funny how they say it too, "aurelgrooves, we have to stop and take a pray" which is about as common and nonchalant as needing a poo break. so they do their thing, take their shoes off and wander into one of the 5 mosques each little town has, and i get to walk around, get oggled by the locals, drink some taaaaaaaaasty coffee! buy some more snakeskin fruit because azhar keeps eating them all, and maybe i'll find a bathroom, a ghastly horrid hole in the ground that makes me want to stop eating and drinking, so i'll never have to visit one of those things again.
i still can't for the life of me understand how the whole loo setup is supposed to work. there's a hole, and there's a bucket of water with a small ladle like thing in it. that's IT. these people eat with their hands! somehow you're supposed to come out of this bathroom clean and dry. ummm...? did some guy with pee hands touch that same ladle?
in my hotel room the first night i went to the front desk laughing, hahaha you forgot to give me toilet paper! and they're like, no we didn't. and so oki was about to explain how it works, "so you have the bucket..." and then he just mumbled something to hotel guy, who ran out and bought me a roll. i like the part where you can pee in the shower, because the toilet IS the shower but still...ok, so really, don't these people ever poop?*

*my colleagues must have been reading my facebook status because when we were at the American Red Cross office they found me a little education sheet on hygeine, it has pictures of how to clean your butt with the bucket thing. thanks guys!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

eight things

my last few days in Jakarta before I go to Sumatra for the rest of my stay.
1. i have a new ojek (scooter taxi). his name is mr. minh, and it was the scooter pimp who picked him specially for me. the way it works is you can't just walk up to a scooter guy and ask him to take you somewhere, you have to go to the pimp guy who runs the scene.

you tell scooter pimp where you want to go and he scans his team, usually a bunch of guys asleep against a wall or something, yet he is a lieutenant with his police force. he'll call out the destination, like it's an honor.
scooter pimp points to... mr. minh! you'e the man for the job!
mr. minh is bad assss. he has an old school leather helmet, matching vest with rivets and chaps, which he wears with...plastic flip flops (of course). he suped up his suzuki so it makes tons of noise, like a hog, everyone hears him coming. he has one of those really loud clown horns instead of the whiny factory installed beeeeep. he is the chinese easy rider.
mr. minh has no mercy, and he is a man of opportunity. when that space is closing between two vehicles, mr. minh goes for it, like indiana jones we make it just in time.
mr. minh is a super fast scooter walker. when the going gets tight and you have to walk your scooter between the cars, he scoots around everyone else, maybe even via the sidewalk and takes us to the front of the line, mr. minh is the leader of the pack.
and mr. minh doesn't talk. i hate these guys who blab and gab when you want them to shut up and pay attention to the dangers of the road. mr. minh just listens. mr. minh is my new scooter man.
2. i finally started getting some exercise. i got kicked out of the gym, because my only footwear are flip flops. whatever, i don't enjoy working out in a nightclub atmosphere anyway (blaring techno music, blinking lights, what?). well they they can't keep me from the pool! with the turtle fountain in the middle of a figure 8 thing, it's an endless lap. and they certainly can't keep me from peeing in it. ha. and a jacuzzi? in 98 degree weather? heat stroke? why not?
3. a swiss intern needed new photos for a travel visa to papua. her pictures were on blue background, and she needed red background. go figure. instead of getting a new picture taken, there's a guy who can scan and photoshop them onto a new background, cheaper and quicker. so this indonesian intern, puteri takes us to a place over lunch. we're trying to cross the road, and traffic is nuts, puteri says, you have to just go! indonesian style! and she walks confidently right out into traffic, with her hand out - but no one stops. poor girl! she is in the middle of 4 lanes and we're terrified and she is all, come on! you have to just go! i got a nice picture of her.

4. i bought something called "beef floss" at the bread king. ummmm. there's chicken floss too. 5. i have a good scam going with the hotel where i get free dry cleaning. the key is to call late at night, like 10:30 and ask for an iron. they're usually out of them at that time and so you make a stink like, i have a big meeting! i'm important! i can't wear wrinkled clothes! and they give you free dry cleaning for 2 pieces of clothing. since i only have a total of 4 shirts anyway, i only need to do this twice a week. perfect!
6. I had a nightmare about orangutans last night. they were sortof like zombies, slowing climbing inside open windows, forcing open doors and yearning for brains, with their glowing yellow laser eyes. a japanese woman i work with here had the antedote. i haven't seen any orangutans yet, but the indonesian word for person is 'orang' so i'm reminded of them pretty often. and i call my students my little orangutans. maybe this is their revenge.
7. our office is very thin and small, but very vertical. there are actually 6 1/2 floors (dutch guy works in a storage room under the roof). there are days when i think i do the equivelent of a hundred floors, up down up down as the elevator takes too long and i need the exercise. i'm terrified i'm going to slip and smash my face on the while tile. sometimes we use the phone, but people move around a lot, so we end us sending text messages. right before lunch, my phone will start buzzing with messages. messages like "want to come for gado gado to makanan jajanan with us?" loveit!

8. there's a guy nearby who has a small monkey as a pet, and treats it horribly. it was a tight chain around its neck and he sortof swings it around, the chain is so short the monkey's feet barely touch the ground. so the swiss girl and i think we should pool our money together and buy it off him and set it free somewhere. the indonesians think we're nuts.

oki says "silly girls, that guy will never sell his monkey to a bule!"

so we say, congratulations oki, you have just volunteered to buy a monkey for us!

papua guy sitting next to us overhears the last sentence "what on earth are you guys talking about?"

we ignore him. i think we should steal the monkey, because if we buy it, it will give him an inventive to get another one to sell it.

oki becomes sad. "someone in my village keeps stealing my cats, probably to sell them. they are very beautiful cats. i still have 10 left though!"

operation monkey is currently on hold.

Monday, May 18, 2009

this one's for you, K-Lo

on friday night i went out on the town with the swiss intern. we made a miserable attempt at going to some neighborhood that someone had recommended is a "must see." whenever i said "i want to go to the roxy area tonight" anyone in jakarta would say
"oh, you want to buy a cell phone?"
well no, i want satay.
"you can get satay anywhere"
yeah, but it's supposed to be the best satay...oh nevermind. so it was just a nice hour-long taxi ride around the city and i got to see all the sights. jakarta, check.
when we realized the place we wanted to go was really a pit of abandoned buildings we sortof named neighborhoods off the top of our heads until it seemed to ring a bell with the taxi driver, who was just loving this meandering ride that was going to land him a nice 50,000 rupiah.
we found a nice outdoor area with all these carts lined up and we get satay that just instantly knots my stomach (swiss intern has been on the turlet ever since). i order a couple fantas to wash it down. we were constantly surrounded by weird guys buying us food, whatever, no, really, i don't want any more fried chicken, but thank this point i realize i have an extra 4 thousand rupiah on my hands so let's get these live musician skinny guys with oversized shoes over here.
"i want you to play bon jovi until i tell you to stop" and i put my bills into the guitar hole and they start a rockin'. it turned into an all out singalong with all our new boyfriends, it was great.

after the musicians were tired out they asked to choose the next song "never say goodbye." it was touching. then they ask us our names and one of them points to the swiss girl "blood diamond! blood diamond!" and after a good long think i realize they are saying she looks like jennifer connolly. oh right, she totally does. then they turn to me and i'm already smiling, i know, i know, sarah jessica parker sex in the city, yeah, i get it all the time.
"no no no! not her, someone else...she's a singer, actress...Barabara Streisand!"
and that's when i told them to take their guitars and SHOVE IT, we are no longer friends.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

the comedy club

i was invited to dinner the other night with a random group consisting of an indonesian, an austrian and a japanese. indonesian guy has canned english textbook phrases like "do you enjoy outdoor activities?" it was a long walk (my first walk!) down a busy street full of street vendors. people just sit on the sidewalk with a little plastic stool in front of them and eat boiled eggs in broth out of glass beer mugs, soup, and fried rice. it was all delectable smells and i wasn't really paying attention and stepped in a nasty puddle that made the smell of pee follow me all night.
we walk past all these great local places to enter...a comedy club.
the place is like buca di beppo during mardi gras, chile pepper lights and flair and sombreros and pictures of jay leno. it's run by these guys with spikey hair, mod bleached jeans, tight bright satin shirts, limp wrists and a swagger. anytime someone went through the door they would sing in unison "hiii-eeeeeeeeee!" or "bye-eeeeeeeeee!"
all the rice bowl dishes were named after comedians - i had the karl marx chicken coconut curry. everything came out one by one, as we figured they only had one wok in the kitchen. there was a stage with a mic, with a fake brick wall with the comedy club logo in the spotlight. i presume the entertainment was the fat guy in the campy straw hat who looked real nervous. i felt bad because either he would tell his jokes in indo-english i.e. with no verbs, or in indonesian to a bunch of foreigners who wouldn't understand a thing. poor guy.
meanwhile tvs everywhere were playing stand up - all in english, at ear piercing decibel volume, so we could barely talk and top of that, it was all *extremely* vulgar. it was sortof hard to follow conversation - so, aurelgrooves, how are you liking jarkar-[i had to edit here, my parents read this]
"so i'm [having intimite relations with] this [nice african-american lady] in the [rear end], right?" oh, i'm sorry were you talking to me? thankfully, detailed buttsex guy was followed by andrew dice clay. who doesn't like the diceman? ooh oooh ohhhhhhh!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

your wish is my command. food pictures

friday night dinner. peanut-y chicken (skinny chicken) satay with lontong vegetable. so i'm all lontong? and the guy is all yes! looooong! dooooong! long dong! and makes a hand motion of a long dong. hilarious. this is what makes their food so dang spicy! stomach NOT happyindonesians luuuuuv their meatballs. one whole aisle of meatballs at the Carrefour. this stuff will probably give me diahhrea (ice cubes big no-no), but it's totally worth sitting on the can for a day, so much i went back for seconds: coconut milk with praline-y flavor and gelatinous lime green stuff, made from rice i guess (as is everything). deeelish.

Friday, May 15, 2009

more stories about food

on my last night at the maharani i decided to eat at the hotel restaurant. i don't really think i'm ready for full-on street food yet. it's kinda scary out there at night, too.
maharani was fancy! fancy! nothing under $3! i pick something with peanut sauce - i've ordered peanut or coconut sauce every time we go out, but it always ends up just being some sort of broth with neither ingredient. so i order this skewer thing with rice and the waiter goes, with chicken, yes? and i say no, i'll try lamb.
"really? you want lamb? no, you want chicken."
why wouldn't i want lamb? (oh, i'll just skip to the punchline - why the hell am i ignoring the advice of the waiter anyway - because it's more like goat tendon).
so, i end up ordering the goat tendon, but not after he recommends everything else on the menu.
does this come with vegetables? i haven't eaten any vegetables in days.
he points to the salads - raw vegetables is generally the last thing you want to eat for hygeine...
he shows me something with vegetables and peanut dipping sauce.
yum, the elusive peanut sauce.
are the vegetables cooked?
"they are cold"
but are they cooked?
"they are cold"
they are probably not cooked, so i stick with my first choice.
well it wasn't peanut sauce, but it was a delicious tangy sweet and savory mixture, in a gravy boat. lots of little red onions! i poured it all over my rice. the meat was barely edible, for reasons stated above. i am surviving on rice and tasty mystery sauce. so it's the truth: my brother's rice diet is really the way to go.
for lunch the next day, i head back to the street with all the vendors. i can't tell what is appetizing so i go for something safe - the fruit guy. i pick some grapefruit, watermelon, 2 mystery fruits and i ask for manga - mango.
so i'm chatting up his friends, taking some pictures and he's cutting everything up and putting it in a bundle. i know i got ripped off when it was 3 times what i was expecting, but can you really haggle over 50 cents?* that is what i ended up paying. as i walk away i hear them all laugh. jerks
so i get back to my desk and open up the bag and there's a little dimebag of brownish salt and a little package of super spicy sauce that burns my eyes. weird. i munch through all the tasty fruit until i get to the mango. it's totally green, completely inedible. my dutch colleague comes in and i'm all can you believe these guys? first they rip me off then they give me a totally unripe mango. and he's all no, that's manga. did they give you the spicy sauce?
"well that's how you eat it, duh"
ummm, i don't think it will help.

so what happens when it rains? the cart people are nowhere to be found, yet the office is empty so people are eating somewhere...ha, i found them! in the basement, well actually, the parking garage. you take the elevator down to B1 and walk between all the scooters and cars and at the end, a teeny tiny shop. it's a million degrees, their air conditioner has been broken forever, only one measly fan. about 12 dishes are so are displayed inside a glass case (yes, keep telling yourself this stuff was made less than 20 minutes ago) and there's no line, you either creep around the back of the case and grab a lady directly, or wave your money in someone's face to get their attention. if it's to-go they'll fold up a brown paper bag into an amazingly leak-proof container, wrapped in a rubber band.

they start by give you a whopping volume of rice and then you point and choose. the things that i thought were dumplings were actually hard boiled, then fried eggs. yum! i had some tempeh with peanuty sauce and some super spicey vegetables (i'll be more vigilant about inspecting for peppers). i don't know how they come up with the price, but for over a pound of food, 6,000 rupiah (60 cents). i'm so full.

*i gave my 10 year old scooter taxi guy a 25 cent tip the other day for driving extra slow after he was driving like a madman and chit chatting away blah blah blah! i like obama! i eat fish! my mom has long hair! and i told him i would pay him to shut up and hug the curb. when i gave it to him he bowed and tried to kiss my feet. then he asked me for my phone number - ew, feet breath!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

light lunch, eh?

i tell you, here, these indonesians really put their nose to the grindstone. it's not like we have a meeting and we talk about all we're going to do, and we go back to our desks and think about it - we friggin' sit down and DO it. so, i end up spending a lot of my time working right next to someone, staring at the screen side by side, with no time to take a break, check email or whatever, it's pretty intense.
so i've been working with this dutch guy for hours and finally i'm all, let's go get lunch. and he says, i don't really eat lunch. uhhh, you mean we're just keep doing this all day? he says "no, i eat lunch, only just a little bit, like a few crackers, just to fill me up. otherwise i get sleepy, and fat." (dude is super skinny). so i can agree with that, these lunches have been pretty hefty.
when he said crackers, i'm thinking those puffy shrimp cracker things. no problemo, let's go get some. he takes me out the back way of the office, had no idea it was even there and this little courtyard opens up on an abandoned lot full of cart vendor guys. there's a bunch of them under some trees, and another down a little side street and some even have little tables.

it's all rice, fruit, noodles, coconuts, ice cream, packaged drinks, anything you want. so we go to the end where fry guy is. this guy has a big wok and piles of different colors, shapes, and sizes of fried stuff. there's sweet potato, tofu, bananas and a whole bunch of other things i don't recognize. so these are dutch guy's "crackers." um, ok. i can't pick what i want so we get one of each. it's 3 plates worth of food...for 80cents. it comes in a little homemade envelope - made out of documents they must find in office buildings. my 'bag' looks pretty official, there's an original signature, and an official looking stamp on it. i ask my colleague to translate.
oh, looks like mr. pirhata is traveling to singapore! this is his travel order, the list of the hotels he is staying in, the people he will be meeting with. i hope he made copies! and we have a good laugh.
so this is what you call a light lunch?? he says, "actually, it's all cooked in palm oil, which is quitehealthy." oh, you mean the palm oil from the plantations that pop up in forests faster than i can map them? palm oil as in the number one cause of forest fires and deforestation in Borneo, Sumatra and Papua??
i'd say that's all pretty heavy.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

first weekend in indo: not too shappy!

sooooo, my first weekend in Indonesia was pretty swell! watch out, this is a long one, it will soothe your eyes, and hurt your ears!
there was a friday night taxi fiasco that i don't even want to talk about (we passed the hotel office 3 times before i flicked the driver in the ear- hey, are you done making a fool of me yet??! then he started to cry. first day on the job, i guess. how was i supposed to know he didn't know how to make right turns, only left??)
i checked into my new fancy hotel. woowoo. a french rugby team is staying here and they didn't even make a dent in the insane breakfast 100 meter long buffet.
at 8 am saturday i boarded a high speed boat from Ancol marina, headed for the Thousand
Islands, Pulau Seribu, more specifically, Pulau Sepa. the boat was a torpedo shaped vessel, a
veritable people oven with little airholes for you to stick your nose out like a dog. less than 4 minutes in my seat and i started to hallucinate and so i went and sat out back with
the dive gear next to the thousand decibel engines and delightful motor oil fumes. we left jakarta towards the java sea in a meandering circuit to avoid all the floating
garbage. several times we had to halt from full speed as something was stuck in the propeller
- plastic bags, flip flops or tighty whiteys (or at this point, soggy brownies). the boat guy
would do whatever he could to avoid touching the toxic water, using a pole or piece of
floating garbage even to free the engines.
smog, floating garbage.
after a while a french guy came out to sit with me, named alex. he's your typical cynical
very talkative racist flamey frenchie (who would have a cigarette in his hand if it weren't
for all the gasoline around.) "oh les asiatiques ca va jusqu'a un point mais les gens qui me
fouent vraiment en rogne, c'est les africains de la gard du nord, putain ceux-la!" he yapped
the whole way long, pretty funny stories about living in malaysia and singapore, his favorite
place in the world "oh, it's the switzerland of asia!"
cool dubai-ish buildings.
we passed rickety fishing boats with sails made out of billboard material, all these little
islands with trees and white beaches, and after 90 minutes..welcome to Sepa!i elbowed through everyone in front of me and ran right to the desk to check in my bungalow -
flipper 3B! i'm relishing all the foliage, cute little rattan huts with front porches.
the inside of mine left a little to be desired, a sortof 70s marie antoinette thing happening, with a spooky calendar and a charcoal drawing of the canadiens hockey team (?!) and the bathroom....ewwwww.
but who cares, there's a shower outside, and i'm hitting the beach! i threw on my suit and ran out to the little spot with the wooden lounge chairs, spread out my towel...ahh.
i snorkeled, i drank out of a coconut, i read, i napped. at one point i decided to explore the island and made my way around in less than 10 minutes. then i turned around and tested out every little beach i found on the way. paradise.though not quite, even miles from jakarta, the places was covered in trash. light bulbs, cans, the ubiquitous flip flops. at one point one of the staff was sweeping up the beach - only he swept up all the leaves and branches and left all the trash. weird.
i found the pool table, the volleyball court, the weird ostrich-like thing, the staff
quarters and all these little hideouts for me to read and just relax. at one point i became
very courageous and told myself that i should actually do something to be proud of while
here, instead of just sitting around getting a sunburn. so i decided to jump off the pier and
snorkel around the edge of the reef to the boat launch, pretty far. i pictured being dragged
out to sea, shark attack and a number of other grizzly deaths but i did it anyway. and it was
spectacular. one would never imagine less than 20 feet from my bungalow, bright blue staghorn
corals, really huge fish that were coming right up in my face because i was on
their turf and they scared me so i swam faster and faster, and then fish that i thought were
barracuda but they weren't and i was swimming as fast as i could i did it all in 10 minutes,
but i was very happy with myself and went back to my chair.
this really hot old german guy asked me to put lotion on his back...happy to oblige! i thought of it as a good omen for my moving to berlin. later he asked me to take his picture, for his family (oh, the wedding ring, and he's like, old) still as i had him in the frame of his camera i thought, what if i just take a picture of his crotch, hehe. ok, inappropriate.
at lunch we met another french couple, and german guy joined us, as he speaks french too.
there was some obnonxiously loud cover band playing at every mealtime, which sorta ruined the whole relaxation vibe. so we sat as far away from possible. our french conversation continued
as we were all comparing our accomodations and it became abundantly clear that i was staying
in the utmost crappiest room on the island - and paying way more than everyone else. ripoff!
alex had the cheapest room and it was spotless, impeccable. the others all had cabins
like mine, but somehow they landed the ones that didn't have mold, leaky ceilings, ants, poop
smell. so that was the recurring joke of the weekend...
"i hear Kabul is pretty bad right now..."
"is it as bad as Flipper 3B?"
"ouais chez nous c'est plutot le 16eme, mais le flipper 3b, c'est meme pas gard du nord, encore plus loin que barbes, je dirais meme que c'est la cite!" jerks.
i watched the sunset from a little spot in front of my crappy hut. i heard rustling in the
bushes, the elusive 6 foot long lizard that everyone on the island has seen but me.
alex comes over to chat and this scratchy muslim prayer starts playing over the loud speakers. "oh la la ils vont pas commencer a nous faire chier avec ca! bordel si ca recommence a 4h30 du
matin je te jure que ca va mal se passer, oh, non mais!" and he storms off. after dinner german guy bought us all beers and asked us all blunt intrusive questions. so german.
the full moon was high above with distant lightning. some chinese guys were catching
crabs on the beach and alex says between puffs "ah ca alors, les chinois ils sont doues pour
manger n'importe quoi!" we went out to the pier to watch the lightning and feel the wind and
we finally come back to see what this annoying band is all music in indonesia is never just live music - it's live karaoke band. we go into the
restaurant hut and this brother sister team they're all, want to sing? want to sing? everyone
on this paradise island has gone to bed, or anywhere far away from this band, perhaps to listen
to the swaying palms and lapping waves but now we will now annoy the shit out them with our
karaoke. bring it.
i ask to see 'the book' which is a folder of random sheets of torn notebook paper with handwritten lyrics, song titles in high school girl bubble letters and so many typos, someone must have transcribed from the radio. they don't have any bonnie tyler (karaoke classic) or elton john but they have pretty much any phil collins or lionel richie you chould want, and radiohead. it's all a mess of papers and really hard to find a song, much less a song that both alex and i know, since apparently it's duet karaoke.
so we pick the shortest song we can find 'unforgettable.' it's like 8 lines, perfect. so we go up there, in front of the french couple, the german guy, and a couple of koreans, and this video team that had been on the island all day. this is our golden opportunity to make it onto the Sepa island resort promotional video!
the band starts up, there are blacklights and everything, but we can't figure out when to sing - this is for pros here, there's no little bouncing ball on a screen, you have to know what you're doing - and so alex is all stop stop stop! you're doing it all wrong! don't zou know unforgettable?! and continues to yell at the band in a mix of french and english. they're a bunch of indonesian guys they have no idea what he's saying and so they start over and i sing the first verse and alex storms off like a primadonna - i can't sing like zees! and sits down and pouts. hilarious.
so german guy comes up and asks me to sing 'my way' with him and we're absolutely terrible and we think, just hilarious, but the band, the 2 other people in the audience and the video team have these horrified speechless looks on their face.
well screw you guys i didn't grow up singing karaoke. so the koreans get up and that's when i yell "korea-oke!" [zing!]
and they sing some asian song, without lyrics, looking eachother in the eyes this is how it's done. alex retaliates with hotel california, but changed to hotel pulau sepa, complete with references to flipper 3b. at this point we feel we've tortured the islanders enough and call
it a night. i somehow slept through a fierce rainstorm and was the first at breakfast..mmmnoodles. when we all meet up again, we compare all the little areas we missed with sunscreen - i have a weird pattern on my chest and oh, crap, the german guy has my handprints on his back. woopsies! we also all have terrible back pain, as the lounge chairs aren't as much lounging apparatus as they are spine shattering devices.
i have the brilliant idea to put three of them together to make a bed and go back to sleep. i awake to some rain, a weird contrast happing in the sky where the water is really dark blue and the reefs around the islands are a dazzling turquoise. but it's time to go. people are milling around the boat area and the wind is picking up. really picking up. there are whitecaps in the distance.
we board the torpedo and set off, flying and crashing over waves, giving my breakfast a nice
ride, i get that free falling feeling in my chest. ugh, i'm trying not to lose my lunch on
german guy. i ask him to to openthe little window and as soon as he does we hit a wave and
water splashes all over his face. but it's too hot to keept the window shut, i tell him. he's
going straight to the airport and back to germany, isn't a salty face a good souvenir? we
play with the window the whole way home, trying to find the perfect amount of dry air. we
pass one of the smaller boats that alex is on, and three people are puking over the side. we
stop a few more times to free the propellers and soon enough we're back near jakarta and you
can smell the nasty. everyone in the boat is totally asleep, how do they do it? it's a
freaking roller coaster. i get german guy to open the window one more time because it's just.
so. hot. and as soon as he does we hit a big wave full of garbage, but this time the brown
smelly water doesn't hit him, or goes right by his head and all over a sleeping grandpa. his
glasses and shirt are soaked and he doesn't wake up. awesome. we arrive at port and i share a super sketchy cab with alex - the driver, a muslim and therefore usually the more trustworthy of the lot is somehow arguing that his meter is broken and he wants a lump fare, which is the first sign of a major ripoff. we're haggling between 4 and 5 dollars (which is the like the most expensive cab ride possible) and finally realize it's kind of ridiculous and so we just go. we drop alex off first, give the guy the cash and then i'm all, ok, now me and the guy is all park lane hotel? no problem and turns his meter on. mutherfucker.
after i shower i find a scooter taxi guy that has a spare helmet - yay!- even though it has a huge dent in it, no strap so it just sits on your head, and it smells like pee. i go to the ambassador mall which is an insane zoo of electronics and clothing stores and one lone skanky salon where i get a much deserved $1 pedicure that most likely came with shoe fungus but hey, when in rome.
i bought some noodles, got a ride back with a toothless scooter guy, and that weekend is a wrap, folks!