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


speak for themselves.

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 you...at 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 about.live 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 tenderly...so 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!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

the real jakarta

ummmmm what on earth was i thinking when i opted for the cheapest hotel option near the office? now that my colleagues are gone i can't mooch off the 5-star hotel anymore so i had to switch. ok, i admit it, i didn't want to come off as posh american lady who only stays at the fancy park lane hotel, ...this place had the nicest name of them all, the maharani! it may have been grand back in the day, but i tell you it is loooong past it's prime.
take for instance, the 5 clocks behind the front desk for new york, jakarta, bangkok, london, tokyo. 4 of them have the same time and tokyo is hanging by a thread of a wire. and i think it's kept there to hide a ghastly brown stain on the wall. the daily rates board is missing half the letters, and there's a day rate for my SUPER OR J NIOR ROOM. a DAY rate. who would want to be here other than under the cloak of darkness?
to pay my bill i had to walk 3 feet from the front desk and give the man in the plexiglass box my credit card. the bedsheets have dried blood stains yet the king mattress is actually pretty nice and new. i get 2 complimentary pairs of foam flip flops! but there are burn holes everywhere, on the couches and shower curtain, along with price tags on everything. and not in a "would you like to purchase this maharani ashtray as a souvenir" price tag, but in a "break it you buy it" kinda way. sheets are worth a buck, i might steal those to get new ones.
i do get animal planet (sea otters!!), and i did a thorough check for bedbugs and found nothing. there's a mosque outside my back window uhhhllllllllugullllluuuuuuuhhhhhhhuggggullluuuuullll and check out the night stand:
the scariest thing about it - is that the buttons actually work. this is how i change channels and turn off the lights. so uber modern...for the 60s.
it stopped being funny when i noticed the special button inside the room that switches a little light outside the door - do not disturb or make up the room. i know the types of places they have these....shudddder.

part II

ok, so i'm switching to the uber fancy hotel later this week, though the maharani actually isn't that bad. it's sort of grown on me. the staff calls me Obama-lady! and they're pretty nice. i sleep extremely well and there's a tv channel that shows nothing but steve guttenberg movies in bahasa (he's gotten buff in his later years!).

in the morning there's a tasty buffet with a make your own soup station - they supply the broth and you put in all the fixins. they have newspapers on those long wooden sticks like in a public library. the other day i was rummaging in the rack for the english paper, the jakarta post, and i couldn't find it and the hotel dude is like wait wait wait! and he goes off, and returns to hands me a paper on a stick. i bring it to my table and it's the Koran Times or something in arab. he was so proud of himself, he smiled and nodded at me the whole time i pretended to read it. this happens almost every morning now.

but the maharani is in this killer neighborhood with all these tiny side streets with cats and people who skin chickens on their bike stands. i walked around the other morning and tried to take pictures, but it was pretty dicey, they were definitely yelling bule! a lot (whitey!) and there was a lot of angry grunting.

the hotel i'm going to is top notch, and we get a ridiculous corporate rate so it's only $10 more a night, totally worth it. but it's where all the foreigners stay, and in an uber fancy embassy part of town. so, it's also sortof lame, but i need a gym or a pool or something or i'm going to go stir crazy, not to mention fat. i broke the news of the switch to pak tri who's staying across the street and he says, all sadly with this big frown, "you can stay there, but you'll have to take a taxi to get to the real jakarta."

Monday, May 11, 2009

if you want to know the true value of your life, ride a scooter taxi in jakarta.

sorry mom and dad you may not want to read this.
so i reserved a little cottage on an island in the thousand island chain. i really hope that's where the salad dressing comes from. i found a travel agent online because i couldn't be bothered to figure this out by myself and travel alone so i ordered a package deal that includes round trip boat, meals, drinks (non-alcoholic, did i mention i'm not drinking on this trip? feels good!) and my own little hut on the beach. royale.
so they tell me a courier is coming to the office to pick up the $100 bucks i owe and i sure hope this isn't some sort of scam where they take my money and i spend my long weekend at the pier. anyway, i need a million rupiah, stat. i was going to just stop somewhere on my way home but pak tri insisted on taking me right away. we walk to a few ATMs nearby and they are out of order. the ambassador mall is nearby, i'll stop in on my way home. no! he says, let's go now. we'll take a scooter! it's only 5,000 we'll be there and back in 10 minutes. so, now i know what all those guys what's 10 times cheaper, 5 times faster and a million times more scary than a regular taxi? a scooter taxi.
i'm all let's do it! pak tri takes off on his scooter, and it's like a race. i'm a total amateur and hop on before the guy even starts the thing or gets it off the kickstand and he's like, duh. i reach out to take the helmet he's holding and realize it's his, not mine. i get nothing.
i hold onto this smelly guy like we are bracing for war. i figured his intent really wasn't to kill us, but he sure tried. but then again, if i die he doesn't get paid so...let's just get there really fast so he can make his money! i don't think i saw his head turn once, even slighty, to look for oncoming traffic when we crossed four lanes of speeding traffic or were stuck in the middle of 3 merging cars. we leaned around curves (i'm real bad at this) and i would lift my arms and bring my bag in every time we almost clipped a rearview mirror.
pedestrians ran across the street and we would keep the same speed and just beeeeeeeeep and swerve. at one point he was walking the scooter with me on it between a stopped bus and truck and we just blindly zipped into a lane of traffic without even knowing what was coming. the motor was a loud wheeeeeeee as my life flashed before me, my parents, my brother, my cat and my softball team, all waving at me in some sort of dream. we caught up to pak tri who pointed at me and thought this was hilarious, probably because my skirt was flying everywhere.
we totally beat him to the mall, yet he made it there just in time to end my haggling with the driver who was trying to charge me triple. he kept saying more! more! no fucking way dude! my heart was beating a million times a minute. it was awesome!
we cross the messy snarled traffic to the mall. the jakarta traffic signals are like this: police officer with cool white helmet with long red pole (i found out they light up, like the toy light sabers) waves cars across, when he wants to let pedestrians go he walks out onto the street and holds out his arms and tries and stop the cars - many of them sneak through, especially the mopeds and as he screams at them, it's your chance to cross. you run quickly and when the cars start to get anxious and the mopeds start revving he screams loud and fast balbalalalbalala and shakes his red pole in the air. that's when you run or get run over.
after all this i must have looked a little stressed out when pak tri asked, do you want to take a taxi back? hell no!
i got an even smellier dude this time, and he had one of those cool old skool vietnam era bowl helmets and was smoking a cigarette. we were back in the office in 10 minutes, just like pak tri said. i thought of all the people who risk their life for the thrill of bungee jumping, sky diving, race car driving, and thought, suckers, that only cost me 50 cents!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

mmmmm dessert!

for lunch today we went to a mall nearby and ate at chowking. chowking is your totally awesome indonesian fast food, where everyone has red and black uniforms. your order at a counter with computers and the people upstairs make your food. pak tri gets served this crazy dish with what looks like ice cream, beans, corn, corn flakes, flan and red and green jelly. i'm like, is that an appetizer? it looks like dessert. quite quickly and surprisingly he responds with "is there a rule against eating dessert first? i don't see my mother here, do you? and besides, if i wait, my ice cream will melt." all good points.
then, and i realize i shouldn't have done this, i ask and point - are those beans and corn? and the ice cream flavor, that is..."avocado." wow. and corn flakes? the jell-o? "mint and fruit punch. and these candied mango, all on top of shaved vanilla ice" this is something a 6 year-old would come up with. he crunches away and then i get my wonton noodle soup and his second course, mie goreng. yums. we have a little nerd talk and pak tri disappears briefly and comes back with a smile on his face. 5 minutes later i get my own dessert. i have to say...it was exquisite. i plan on eating this for breakfast. every day.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

it's not jakarta without...the traffic

It's taken me a little while to actually ingest the Jakarta traffic (literally and figuratively) and figure out how to adequately describe it. i'm trying to recall what movie it is, when there are people driving and they get surrounded and overwhelmed by a swarm of loud motorbikes and freak out and swerve off the road? that's basically it, now just add buses, 3 wheeled scooter taxi things, trucks and a million other cars and multiply by 11 million people.
these scooter mobs are NUTS.
sometimes, there's a lady in a miniskirt, sitting sideways on the back, no helmet, maybe holding a baby or doing her makeup and not even hand around the driver as they meander and swerve and beeeeeep in between everything i don't know how i haven't seen someone get decapitated yet. i refuse to sit in the front seat anymore because i get too stressed out, like eeeeeeee! i'll bring my knees to my face when a truck bumper is within inches of the rearview mirror or my taxi driver runs a red light with 50 other cars in front of a dark mass of mopeds speeding towards us and you can't even differentiate them. i wonder if they do it on purpose to see my reaction.

then there are the buses, which are on the inside of 4 lanes (if you can call them that) of traffic, which are supposed to be some special busway HOV thing, but that's not really enforced and so there are mopeds and other stuff sneaking in there are the time so it defeats its purpose. when people get sick of being on a not moving bus they just hop out and frogger between everyone with a death wish. sometimes bus ticket guy will get out and wave people along with his wad of money, like yeah, that's helping 8 random lanes of cars smoosh into 2.
i've thought about walking but there are barely any sidewalks and you can just feeeeel the pollution. and i don't know how i would cross the street. until now i've glued myself to a local but still it's a terrifying experience. you just RUN.
on the quieter streets you have the bike people. this is outside the office. the sleeping guys on the sidewalks are scooter taxis, or Ojeks. some of them are like, 10 years old.

i love the bike people. they move pretty fast and i haven't been able to catch them with my camera yet. they all have homemade contraptions out of bicycles, either a big attachment to the back, something straddling the seat or a front thingie. there's the most common: mie goreng guy with a full indonesian kitchen with burners and woks, soup guy with two perfectly weighted pots on either side of the seat, and today i saw sewing machine guy, with a counter top and antique black and gold singer sewing machine on his handlebars that was somehow powered by the pedals (there's a special stand that mobilizes the bike, so no, you don't sew and ride, duh). i think he rides up to you and tailors your clothes while you wear a sarong or something. there was water bottle guy - you couldn't even see his head it was just a bunch of empty water cooler bottles. and best of all, goldfish guy: with a two-tiered rack with rows of colorful goldfish in plastic bags, pretty topheavy. now that's ballsy.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

food: day 1

today i ate breakfast at the expansive buffet at my hotel. there was omelette man, waffle man, fresh fruit guy...and fried rice, noodles beef curry and chicken porridge lady! i also had some chicken dumplings and an asparagus soup that was served to me even though i politely declined several times. white asparagus, egg, and it was not broth it was goo. clear, goo.
we spent the day at this corporate meeting place. the office is so cramped in jakarta, they rent out space in this building next door for meetings larger than 4 people. it's way better than the old storage room that has no windows and a barely working air conditioner.
so this meeting place was a posh high rise with uber modern architecture, glass, and fake wood like the house of sweden.
they served sweet and savory snacks on the same plate at the coffee break, you didn't know which was what, but the savory was like a fried macaroni and cheese muffin. with bacon! YUM. next to it, the dessert but the custard was not at all custard, i can't name any possible ingredients. so i ate more macaroni muffins. i need this recipe.at lunch there was a chicken (skin and all) soup with little seafood crunchies, hard boiled quail eggs. double yum. and those big cripsy shrimp cracker things, some indonesian style lasagna, fried chicken with waffle cut fries (?) and curry beef.

back at the hotel i sat and worked by the pool and traded in my free welcome drink voucher for avocado juice, mixed with chocolate. now this is a drink, people!
at night we had mall food, which i found is about the quality of food you'd expect at a place that sells Polexes at the watch store, next to the 50 cent pedicure joint. we strolled through all 5 food courts looking for the perfect noodle place. it's funny how quickly i've become accustomed to the cheapness. we looked at one place where a lady passed out the menu and i was like, 15,000 Rp for goreng?? no way! (that's like, $1.50). we settled for a fru-fru uber mod noodle cafe with fluffy red couches. total ripoff, my meal was $4 with starfruit juice. i'm going to keep it under 10,000 from now on.
starting tomorrow i will be solo here...my first few days were planned to overlap with some people from my office, so as to have a smooth transition, and follow up on some of their work. those colleagues consist of a kenyan, a sweet blonde british girl, and an indian guy named nirmal (cutest kitten in the world!) who has two PhDs and big cheeks you just want to pinch - so we make a pretty odd crew. i am trying to convince them to go to dinner at sizzler for their last night, followed by a karaoke bar, but they are resisting. not for long...