Thursday, October 28, 2004

Jakarta Surfing - Pelabuhan Ratu, South Java

Image: Pelabuhan Ratu - Sunset Beach

Surfing in Indonesia is fun although getting there can be quite an adventure – getting to the surf that is ... getting here, to Indonesia is easy, relatively, depending on the airline, and “the port of embarkation/disembarkation” (I never know which is which on those airline departure/arrival/custom cards) and whether or not you get an aisle, middle or window seat. I prefer the aisle seat for the long haul as it allows for easy roaming access – something that becomes very significant in hour 6 of a 12 hour flight. For shorter journeys I enjoy the privacy, view and headrest option that a window seat provides. Middle seats are stupid. And then of course if you end up sitting next to a screaming child forget about it. Crack open the tranquilizers or whatever other mind numbing devices are immediately available.

Image: Pelabuhan Ratu - Sunset Beach and Board on the lawn of the place we stay

On my last surf weekend to the Indian Oceanside town of Pelabuhanratu, my friends and I tried a few new spots that some locals told us about. It was suggested that we pay one of the scooter taxi guys to drive ahead of us and show us the turn off to the beach access “road”. He led us up some ridiculously steep hills and around some equally ridiculous curves until we reached the beach entrance “road”. We dealt with the guys who control access to the road, which involved a transaction of a few thousand rupiah and then peered over the ledge of the entrance way into the steepest incline of a “road” I have ever seen. I felt like an extreme skier on the edge of a lip peering down an almost vertical drop into oblivion. But the surf beckoned and Brandon and Scott encouraged so we dropped in. My brakes did well and we made it to the bottom only to come face to face with what made the hill I had just descended the second steepest road hill I had ever seen in my life. It began with a bridge upon which was a broken down four wheel drive Jeep with 4 guys lounging about and 2 more guys under the hood working on what we found out later was a “steep hill induced blown transmission”. So up we went hoping we would not tip over backwards – it actually had the look and feel like that was a definite possibility.

Image: Pelabuhan Ratu - Sunset Beach Sunset

Isn’t there some physical law that determines the limits of the steepness of a road? Some “angle of repose” or something where stuff collapses upon itself – like when you try and dig a whole in the sand at the beach and eventually it is so steep that the sand begins to slip into the whole faster than you can excavate it out? I know they had this difficulty when building the Panama Canal. The more they dug the faster the hole filled. It was one of the greatest challenges engineers faced when cutting through the highlands of the continental divide during the canal construction. Fascinating engineering fete is the Panama Canal. It took ten years to build, from 1904 to 1914. Actually it was begun about 20 years before by the French, a venture organized by the same guy who was the inspiration for the Suez Canal, but they did not yet have the technology to deal with the geography of Panama. During the creation of the canal, mosquitoes were recognized as the carriers of various tropical diseases and eradicated on the Isthmus. The water flow for the lock system operates entirely on gravity. Water from the huge man made Lake Gatun at the top of the lock system provides for the water elevators. Lake Gatun has its own “perpetual” source of water. The incredibly dense tropical rainforest surrounding the Canal Zone and evaporation from the lake itself are responsible for about 80 feet of rain annually which falls throughout the year consistently replenishing Gatun.

Image: Pelabuhan Ratu - Kids

The country of Panama was created for the purpose of the canal construction. The US realized the importance of naval superiority for world domination via the history lesson of an Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan. This explains the existence of the letters “US” in parenthesis under the names of various tiny islands sprinkled throughout the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. They were used as supply depots and bases for the US naval and mercantile fleets. The Panama Canal was essential to the quick movement of goods and troops from one coast of the US to the other and beyond. The US approached Colombia and asked for a zone in the Isthmus of Panama to build a canal. The Isthmus was part of Colombia. The government of Colombia had no interest in giving the US such a privileged position on their land. So the US took the Isthmus, by means of a US backed revolution carried out by wealthy Panamanians. Panama broke away from Colombia, became its own country and the US had its Canal Zone. The canal takes about 8000 miles off the trip from the Atlantic to the Pacific by way of rounding South America. Ships pay a hefty toll, up to 142,000 dollars for cruise ships. But it is worth the huge fee demonstrated by the fact that builders construct ships specific to the size constraints of the canal itself. Such ships are referred to as Panammax size. They still have to deal with that angle of repose thing as the land surrounding the canal continuously makes its way downhill but other than that the canal has seen very few modifications in its 90 years of operation.

Image: Pelabuhan Ratu - at the Ocean Queen - Pool Surfer Girl

Like the Canal Zone workers we dealt with the angles of incline and made it to the beach. It was strikingly beautiful; vibrant green hills, rocky cliffs cascading into aquamarine water, local fishermen baiting hooks in technicolor boats prepping for the all night shift, the sand burning the hell out of our soft, pink bule` feet ... The surf was mediocre but as is the case with many adventures, the journey was as remarkable as the final destination.

Image: Pelabuhan Ratu - Ocean Queen Beach

Image: Pelabuhan Ratu - Ocean Queen Surf

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Jakarta Soccer

Image: German + at the 5-Aside International Sports Club of Indonesia (ISCI) Tournament

Image: 5-Aside ISCI Tournament

Inst! This is what the Indo guys on my soccer team call me. It is not a nick name. They think my name is Inst. My name is Ian. They have heard my name said again and again from other players on the team. Early on I corrected them and told them my name is not Inst but Ian. They continued to call me Inst. Which is OK – it works. Considering the names on my team I am most likely, no I know I am – for sure - doing the same thing. But I am not sure if I am slaughtering names as thoroughly as they have done mine. We’ve got a Dongy, a Faddly, a Bhudi, a Doudu? and a Dani (which I am certain are all shortened and simplified for our convenience) representing the Indo contingent. The Germans are a bit easier to deal with but there are a few like Kolnya, Tsussi, and Malte that continue to give me some difficulty now and again. Then there are the Anglophones – Ian (me) and Glen. For some reason they have Glen under control but call me Inst. This name game adds an entire new element to a match as I have developed a style of play very dependent on communication. I am sure I sound every bit the lunatic to my teammates as I am spewing out my various interpretations of names.

But for all the difficulties here in Indo it does not compare to what I had to deal with on my team in Japan Japanese, being Japanese, take the name thing to a whole new level. When referring to someone by name in Japan you always use an “honorific”. I don’t know what the official term for such a word, but it is like “Mr.” in English. The problem is knowing what to call someone and understanding why they are calling you what they are calling you. The two most common honorifics in casual conversation are “san” and “chan”. San is typically a bit more formal and used among adults while chan is more likely attached to a child and used among children, but not exclusively. In Japan I was Ian San to most of the Japanese who worked in the office but my friends Dan and Scott were “chans”. I wanted to know why I was not a chan so asked several of the office workers and they said because Scott and Dan are “chans” and you are a “san”. Super, thanks for clearing that up. When I was trying out for and later practicing with my Japanese team I noticed the same phenomena. All of the players were adults yet some were “chan” to certain players and “san” to others and some were either “chan” or “san” to everyone. I didn’t know what to call anyone so usually would just end up yelling “hey” or “oy” or something to get their attention which usually sufficed but was not all that culturally cool and stuff. Eventually I figured out that it was more of a personality thing. Certain people who are childlike and immature such as my friends Scott and Dan are chan’s while more experienced and mature people like myself are sans – that’s what I am going with anyway.

Thus are the joys of playing the great sport of soccer here in Jakarta and beyond. Sayonara and sampai jumpa - Inst San.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Pixie the Roof Cat

Image: Whacked Out Roof Cat

My cat is a roof cat. She spends the day light hours outside on the various layers of roof that cover our facility and for the most part keep the critters out ... sort of. Pixie is a roof kitty by default. She would probably prefer to spend the day at street level but this is not a viable option at this point in time. This is getting rather complicated – as is the cat situation in Jakarta

The cat population of Jakarta is enormous. They are everywhere. There are of course the ordinary street cats but many tend to specialize. An ever expanding pride lives on our school campus. Another makes its home at the golf driving range. Just last week they welcomed a new litter to their community, born in a large clay decorative urn just off the tees. A few weeks ago I saw one hanging out at the mall. She was stalking about in the cascading flower garden that graces the escalator area. Cats are not only tolerated but accepted and often times encouraged by the humans, who routinely come in contact with them, to remain in a particular area. The cat community of our school is often treated to a random bowl of food deliberately placed in an out of the way corner – lest one of Miss Pahls first graders gets a hankering for kitty food, even though the official policy of the school as a “cat free zone” (which shows the degree of the cat situation here – that an institution actually has a set policy concerning cats). But having a cat free zone in Jakarta is about as practical as a establishing a horse fly free zone in North Creek, New York (random reference – for those at home reading along). One mother school cat had cataracts and babies which is not a good thing to have at the same time. Our admissions director treated the mom for a bit until her eyes cleared up and several of the work staff were commandeered into feeding the babies with an eye dropper until mom was fit to get on with her mom duties. But mind you NJIS is a cat free zone. So there are cats everywhere – certainly not tame but very much a part of the urban landscape of Jakarta.

Back to Pixie the roof cat. When we moved here to Indo, Pixie came along with the house we were to occupy. Little is known about Pixie’s background. She does not have a tail, is a couple years old, and is somewhere between a strait up street cat and a tame house cat (although the latter is winning out). She spent most of her time outside on the street while we lived in our house. When we arrived home from work she would come inside and hang out with us until nightfall. At night she would return to the streets until morning when she would make an appearance to see us off to work. She likes the street but is becoming more accustomed to the luxurious life of a house cat.

When we moved this year from our house to an apartment in a different area, I was concerned that Pixie would struggle with her new neighborhood and the cats that roamed its streets. I let her out a few times on a trial basis but followed behind a few steps like a worried nanny. I wanted to allow Pixie her independence and sense of being on her own but very ready to intervene if the need arose. It was fascinating to watch how Pixie went about her explorations. It was remarkably different than Oscar our stateside cat’s methodology. Pixie proceeded outside slowly and very aware of her surroundings. She was particularly methodical, making mental kitty notes as she slinked about just in case she needed to beat a hasty retreat back to the safe zone of our apartment. She paid special attention to the area around our door insuring that she cold recognize it upon return. Slowly she crept forward, crouched low, ears twitching like radar antennas. In the states, Oscar our Chicago city apartment cat, got out once and bolted strait away. He had no idea where he was going or how to get back. No agenda, completely unaware, definitely not a 3d world street/house cat. I found Oscar about 45 minutes after his bolt into oblivion terrified and crouched in a corner crawl space of our apartment building. He hadn’t a clue how to get home and was only about 50 feet from our apartment ... Back to Jakarta ... So I followed Pixie around, making sure to stay far enough behind as to not impose on her sense of freedom and allow her to look cool and independent and stuff just in case she came across one of the members of the school pride. Eventually the inevitable happened. Pixie slinked around a corner and came face to face with a juvenile of the school gang. The school kitty nonchalantly sat back on its haunches, cocked its head and stared curiously at Pixie. It looked like all she wanted to do was make friends and play – kind of had that anxious look that a kid gets when they meet another kid on the playground and all they want to do is play but need to get through the preliminaries of initial contact. Pixie did not want to play. She immediately went into street cat survival mode, got bristly, crouched even lower, offered forth some primordial guttural growl, turned and made a beeline directly for our apartment door and the safe zone.

So for the time being, until Pixie gets accustomed to the new surroundings, her daytime prowls are limited to the roof (actually it is a complex system of layers and nooks and crannies and cooling systems and all sorts of places to hide and peer out and do other cat stuff – minus the other cats). She seems content with this arrangement. In the morning she approaches the window meowing and we let her out. When we get home I open the window and whistle a bit and yell her name a few times and wait. The sound of her footsteps pattering on the noisy roof shingles always announce her arrival as she comes scurrying towards the window, meowing, excited about an evening meal and lounging about on soft cushions in air conditioned comfort. Such is the life of Pixie the Jakarta roof kitty.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Pembantus, Panic rooms and Creeping Carpets

We have a carpet running the length of our hallway in the *panic room that slowly migrates towards the wall. I usually take notice when its creeping causes it to bunch at the edges as it presses into the crook where the wall meets the floor. When it reaches this stage I simply move it back into the middle of the hallway, briefly ponder this peculiar behavior, and then get on with things. It is odd and here are some possible theories: it has something to do with the strange existence of the panic room itself; Wayan our *pembantu likes to move our carpet in small increments towards the wall; centrifugal, gravitiational or some other earth force is “pulling” our carpet due to our proximity to the bulging equator; Indonesian feng shui type of thing in combination with one or all of the above; or perhaps our cat Pixie just goes nuts in the house when we are gone. I have considered setting up a video camera but that would take effort of a degree I am not willing to expend. So for the time being the mystery of the moving carpet will remain one of many curiosities that make living in Indonesia such an intriguing venture.

*panic room We live in housing paid for by the school where we teach. It is adequate, actually quite nice, but it does have a few oddities. These peculiarities can be explained by the fact that the apartments used to be school offices or Rudi the school engineer responsible for the remodeling was a very creative fellow. Whatever the reason we have a narrow room/hallway connecting the dining, kitchen spare bedroom area to the living room, master bedroom area. But it is not your ordinary hallway. It once had very solid doors at each of its ends until the previous apartment dwellers removed them because they serve absolutely no purpose (unless indeed it is a panic room). The only furnishing originally in the room/hallway was a giant wall map of the city of Jakarta – the type you might expect to see in strategic planning room of Interpol Indonesia ... or in a panic room ... perhaps there was more to Rudi the “engineer” than met the eye.

*pembantu Indonesia is a “maid” culture. Most people of a certain economic level have a variety of hired help from maid (s) to nannies to drivers, guards, gardeners, household managers and such. More often than not you are responsible for the well being of your hired help and in the maid’s case this usually involves housing. A pembantu is a live in maid. We had one last year and it took some getting used to. First off, just having someone work for us in such a capacity was odd and having this person live in our house was exceptionally odd. But it is the norm; we actually did not really have a choice. The school provided the house and Nyoman, our pembantu, was part of the housing package. This year Wayan lives in a room between several of our apartments. She does not live with us and attends to the cooking, cleaning, and washing of our household and that of another couple, the Sheas, living in the campus apartments ... which explains why Mr. Shea is wearing my shirt to school today.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Happy Rainy Season

The rainy season made its debut this year with quite a bang, literally. I was playing soccer up near Bogor about 40 km or 20 some odd miles south of Jakarta when it started to sprinkle. I did not think much of it other than how my new soccer boots were going to fair in the wet grass. The shoes were purchased with dry season pitches in mind - packed hard dirt/grass - thus no studs. They are also a very unsightly blue color which I am still struggling with. They were bought "sight unseen" from a teammate - cheap and very blue.

Anyway I had a lot of time to do little practice moves and view my shoes from various angles where the blue color was not quite so disturbing, due to the fact that I was playing goalie. Our Indo players are on strike - or so it seems - not such a big deal except that both our goalies are Indos. Being one of the few players raised in a country where kids grow up throwing and catching I figured I had best get myself in goal before one of the hung over Germans volunteered as an opportunity to avoid running about. My shoes did fine and I performed well enough - we posted a 2 - 2 tie against a typically genki Japanese side.

I did not give the rain much thought until I was driving home and the show began. Huge amounts of water accompanied by tremendous thunder cracks (it is definitely a crack rather than a boom) and fractal style lightning flashes marked the beginning of this years rains. The rains followed me home to the city and soon the streets of Jakarta were flowing. I enjoy the rainy season. At least there exists each day the potential of a change in the weather. During the dry season it is hot with a chance of being hotter or perhaps a degree or two cooler. Thats about the extent of change. But now there is a very good chance that every afternoon around 3, the sky will darken, the wind will pick up and more often than not it will dump rain for a bit. This might occurr again later on in the evening which can be nice - drifting off while the rains make all sorts of sleep inducing sounds .... So now it will rain pretty much everyday until around May. And the city will seem a little cleaner and the air slightly fresher and the greenery a shade greener and the mosquitos a lot deader and the canals a bit more full, and more full, and more full until they crest their banks at which time the rainy season is no longer quite so pleasant ... but for the time being I welcome the change in seasons and enjoy the rain it brings.

World Traffic

Image: Bajaj Driver Jakarta, Indonesia

Image: Two Guys and Three Sheep on a Motor Skooter in West Java, Indonesia. Yes, the sheep were alive and quite frisky.

Image: Fish Drying On Kijang in West Java, Indonesia

Driving in Jakarta is fun.

Eating in Indo

Image: Birthday Prawns Pelabuhan Ratu, Indonesia

Image: Fresh Picked Passion Fruit Wamena, Papua, Indonesia

Eating in Jakarta is fun. I just drank the most bizarrely colored beverage of my life. It is a canned drink and is advertised as strawberry but tastes kind of fruit punchy and is rather nondescript. The color is a purplish, pinkish red and is actually very pretty - something I have never said before about a soft drink or any drink for that matter. It has coated the side of my glass with its brilliant hue and most likely my mouth as well.

Indonesia is quite well known for its cuisine, its incredible variety of fresh tropical fruits, chicken sate with spicy peanut sauce, fragrant rice, rich, coconutty curries, amazing seafood, which are all indeed nice. But it also offers a tremendous variety of equally diverse processed/pre-packaged foods - like beautifully colored strawberry drink. The snack aisle of any super market or street side warung is chock a bloc full of incredibly curious and tempting treats. Many of the offerings are recognizable brands but with an Indonesian flare. Doritos are sold but the logo and color of the package design are just not quite right ... and they are ridiculously inexpensive, tasty but again just not quite right - especially when compared to the quite costly can of Doritos with the right logo and color scheme sold at the import store .... and whats up with the new release DVD’s for 2$ and those Pumu, Adadis, Niike, Umbra soccer boots for 15$, and the Gacci, Pulo, Vuton stuff for really cheap – and why all the spelling mistakes in Indonesia .... Back to the treats. Other treats are strictly Indonesian – they don’t mess about with putting on “foreign brand airs” – but they do use cool sounding and looking English language words in the descriptions. Just like in the US when we use Chinese/Japanese kanji characters on t-shirts and stuff because it’s cool. Doesn’t matter if your walking around with a bad ass black t-shirt that says “kiss kiss the magic duckling” – its all about the kanji. I actually saw and purchased a greeting card from a local department store the other day that had written on a cloud speckled sky of a background “clear meat soup, and I love you so” really – it’s English, it’s cool.

Some of the snacks are quite tasty but make one wonder about the Indonesian counterpart of the FDA. Did the chemicals used to make that “Smashing Strawberry” drink such a lovely shade of purple pass some sort of quality control screening process? And what about that super bargain jumbo bag of “Snack Train Chips” for a 1$. How so cheap?? What type of ingredients they got going on in there??? But these are trivial concerns in light of the fun one can have perusing the snack aisle and now and then treating oneself to a taste of the less famous but certainly infamous side of Indonesian cuisine.

Image: Big Happy Pig - Market in Wamena, Papua, Indonesia

Kelapa What????

Living in a coconut garden.