Thursday, December 16, 2004

Jakarta Christmas

Bali, Indonesia Tropical Sunset: Merry Christmas

Pelabuhanratu, Indonesia Quiet Cove: Happy New Year

We live in a gated community here in Jakarta. Security guards check cars in and out of the development. The other day one of the guards was wearing a full on Santa suit complete with hat and beard. It is now being enthusiastically passed among the guards so every shift has one of the guys dressed as Santa. Great outfit for the tropics.

Yesterday as I was out and about in Jakarta traffic Christmas shopping I came across one of the toll road traffic vendors selling a curious item. At times, actually most of the time, actually all the time, certain parts of the toll road come to a standstill. Vendors wander through the lines of cars hawking various products - mostly food - but every once in a while other wares are available. Perhaps it is the Christmas season but yesterday there seemed to be an inordinate number of non food items making there way through the traffic. There was globe guy and music man but it was the fellow selling blow up animals that caught my attention. He had a giant inflated penguin with the word "dolphin" emblazoned across its side. If traffic had not started up again someone would have been getting a very cool Christmas present.

I am off to Malaysia and Singapore for holiday. Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

"Fun with Language"

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Somewhere in Sulawesi Menu

English sure is hard.

Like to see one of those exotic food hunter guys tackle one of these.

Anthony Bourdain - you out there??

Iron Chef - "and the secret ingredient is ...."

Thursday, December 09, 2004

"A House Warming Party"

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi "Proud Owner of a New House"
Matriarch of the Family Enjoying Tobacco and Betel Nut

“Well hello darling, so good of you to come.”

“Wonderful to see you. Such a lovely new house. And look at you! I love what you’ve done to your hair”.

“Oh you’re too kind. Thanks ever so much for the pig – she is so big and fat ...”

“That little thing ... it was the least I could do”.

“Well enough chit chat ... where are my manners. .... You must be exhausted from your trip. Why don’t you make yourself comfortable under the house and I’ll see about some refreshments”.

“Why thank you.”

“Well I do believe your pig is up” a horrific squeal reverberates around the compound. “Oh my but isn’t she a squealer. I’ll have your half brought around proper ... and just between you and me I’ll make sure they throw in the head because you are such a sweet thing!”

“You are such a dear.”

“OK then, ta, ta, enjoy!”

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi "House Warming" Party

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi "House Warming" Party

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi No More "Going to the Market" for this Gal

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Pork Rinds

When a new house is finished in Toraja the extended family all comes around for a proper house warming party. It does not have the same level of importance as a funeral so only one buffalo is typically involved. And from the looks of the severed parts we saw displayed in the central courtyard, it was a young one. House warming parties are a pig affair which makes them quite lively as pigs are a bit more ornery than the pampered, spoiled and thus rather content buffalo. Family members (of which there might be 100’s) bring pigs as gifts to the family hosting the soire`. The pig’s throats are stuck with a long knife and a bamboo flask is administered in such a way as to catch all the blood making sure the area remains relatively clean. It is then gutted and dragged off to one of the many hair removal fires where its coarse bristles are burnt off so the pork rinds aren’t all hairy. The charred carcass is returned to the killing field where guys with big really sharp knives make quick work of the pig creating spare ribs, ham hocks, pork heads and the like. The meat is then distributed among the participating guests. All this is done in the central courtyard of the family complex and definitely makes for quite a festive atmosphere.

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Fresh Pig (I'll keep this one small)

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Pig Head and Owner ... not me, the lucky other fellow.

Certain big fat pigs require a bit more ceremony. They are ornately decorated and carried in on one of those things they used to cart Roman Caesars around on and put on display in the central courtyard. This is as far as ceremony goes for pigs. After a while they are dumped off their Roman Caesar thing, stuck with the knife, gutted, burned, butchered and distribute. This goes on for quite some time.

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Fancy Pig

The tax collector sits in an honored seat on a platform extending from the new house and publicly declares the tax for each pig killed. We heard it was about 1.3 million rupiah (about 150$ US) a pig, not cheap. Again all of this plays an important role in Torajan economics.

There were no tall, white, sweaty people around other than our crew and we were made to feel very welcome. I was more often than not met with a curious look, a smile and simple chit chat. We probably just added a bit more to the event – “Visitors from wherever – right on! – Kill another pig!”

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi House Party with Matriarch Family and Friends

After getting an eye, ear and camera full we hunkered down with one of the matriarchs, had a chew of betel nut, chatted, gave our thanks for the festivities and said our goodbyes.

So if you are ever invited to a Torajan house warming party forget about tea and scones – think back yard barbecue on steroids .... Wonder what a Torajan baby shower is like?

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

"Pigs, Buffalo, and Banjos”

I have heard of “smellovision” referenced by various TV travel show jocks as a technology necessary to truly appreciate certain experiences such as the tasting of a ripe durian fruit or the assault on the olfactory system when shrimp paste hits a hot wok. But at the livestock mart in Toraja sound is the requisite stimuli. There is not much in nature that can match the squeal of an upset pig as far as having an unpleasant effect on the intricately wired human aural system – other than of course the scream of a three month old baby on a 13 hour trans Pacific airline flight when you are stuck in the middle seat between the baby and a really big guy asleep – on your shoulder. Mozart would have been puking his brains out. His aural system was super acute so bad sounds made him hurl. As the pigs howled and screamed I could not stop my mind from conjuring up the surreal image of a mustached, pre-toupee, furry chested Burt Reynolds mucking about the woods of some forgotten, Appalachian, hillbilly, hellhole accompanied by the ever so disturbing “Dueling Banjos” played really, really fast – shudder. If you have no idea what I am talking about, consider yourself fortunate that you did not grow up in the US and like many other unsuspecting bored high school boys, venture out on a random Saturday night in the 1980’s and make the fateful decision to rent the seemingly innocuous guy flick called “Deliverance” – shudder.

It is definitely better to be a kerbau (water buffalo) than a babi (squealing pig) here in Toraja land. Both eventually meet the same fate but arrive there – quite literally – in a very different manner. Large numbers of pigs are trussed up with twine to bamboo poles and carried, squealing madly, to various festivals where they are rather quickly dispatched, butchered and distributed to the attending guests. Buffalo on the other hand live a rather carefree existence, tended to by a doting keeper and reserved for the most important of Torajan ceremonies, the funeral. For a funeral, buffalo are elaborately dressed and paraded around the grounds with much pomp and circumstance until eventually they too are dispatched, butchered and distributed to the attending guests.

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Albino Buffalo - Market

House with decorative albino buff

Torajan economy is traditionally based on the buffalo. Its worth is determined by typical standards such as size, health, strength and also the Torajan fondness for huge horns and bovine albinism. Buffalo are a traditional investment option for Torajans. They are the primary commodity in a very interesting futures market. Here's how it works. You go to the buffalo market and purchases a cute little buffalo with good potential for lets say 3 million rupiah. The buffalo becomes yours but you do not ride home with the buffalo in tow. Your buffalo is left with a hired keeper who will tend to your investment. After lets say three years, you decide to make due on your investment. The keeper brings your buffalo to the market and you sell it for 11 million. You split the 6 million profits with the keeper and walk home with a cool 3 mill burning a hole in your sarong.

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Little Kid Little Buffalo

But there exists a bit of a cultural twist concerning when you sell a buffalo. Mature buffs are primarily only bought and sold for funeral services which, much like weddings in the States, can be quite a debilitating factor in Torajan family economics. Some families extend their credit to the max in order to acquire lots of mature buffs with big horns and bovine albinism to put on a good funeral show for their extended family (which often number in the 100’s) and friends. An average funeral typically consists of a couple buffs and heaps of trussed up squealing pigs and a wealthy family might have as many as 50 - 100 bedazzled buffs lumbering around the funeral grounds for several days. In addition to the animals, a funeral, which typically lasts for four days, includes singers, dancers, lots of treats, tuac (local palm wine), and an actual set built specifically for the funeral ceremony consisting of several buildings for the guests to lounge about in during the festivities. After several years of tender love and care, including daily mud baths and hand washings, the buffs are adorned in colorful outfits, paraded to the funeral grounds and sacrificed amidst plenty of ceremony and celebrations.

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Fancy Big Buffalo, Big Horns off to Funeral

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi House With Buffalo Horns

While the festivities progress over the days, trussed up swine at random times are carried into the funeral set and plopped down in the makeshift courtyard where they remain squealing wildly among the guests. Remarkably, the guests seem oblivious to the pigs desperate squeals – all except those few unfortunate visitors from afar with visions of slack jawed yocals playing “Dueling Banjos” wedged in their heads.

"The Day of a Thousand Pictures II" Sulawesi Travels #5

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Buffalo Market

Albino buffalo - less common, highly prized, more expensive.

Posing with a buffalo

Kid with "kids" - buffalo calves.

It is day three of the photo orgy and it shows no signs of slowing down. The buffalo market was wonderful. All sorts of buffalos proudly displayed by their keepers filled several acres. Trucks hustled here and there to drop off or pick up their quarry. Across the road things were not quite as genteel. The sound emanating from the area indicated that things were not all that nice over in pig land. Pigs are not laid back, content and regal like the water buffaloes but do make for a good barbecue. Due to their rather roguish personality and tastiness they were trussed up by the hundreds waiting to be bought and carried off to become dinner at a funeral feast. They did not like being trussed up or carried or haggled over and communicated this fact by making one of the more horrific sounds existing in the natural world. It was fascinating.

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Trussed Up Pigs

Finally I dragged myself away from the market and was whisked off to a funeral. Interestingly enough foreigners are welcome guests at Torajan funerals and are typically made to feel quite welcome by the host. In turn we bought a carton of smokes, a typical foreign person gift for the host. Several hours and huge amounts of photos later we left the funeral and one of the more interesting events I have ever experience.

Tana Toraja: Funeral Procession - the deceased is in the casket fashioned after the Toraja style of house. 

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Funeral Procession: They had to take off the decorative top of the casket to get it under the electric wires.

The following day we took a walk from the hillside hotel where we spent the night through several villages with houses built in the traditional Torajan architectural style. Our walk ended at another funeral celebration. This one was not in and around the family compound of the deceased like the previous days’ but was in a place set apart specifically for funerals. The seating pavilions surrounded a central area where a bunch of monoliths had been erected representing the dead who had funerals at this place. In the midst of the monoliths was a raised platform/tree house like structure. From its four corners were hanging the legs of a recently slaughtered buffalo. In the middle of the platform was the buffalo head. A guy with an axe went at it for several minutes hacking away the horns which would be added to the others displayed at the family house of the deceased. We hung out and were brought tea and treats and were given a bamboo container full of tuac or palm wine to pass around. Then the daughter of the deceased who was hosting the shindig came and hung out with us for a bit. We gave her the box of smokes and made small talk for a while until the guests of honor were ushered in. This part was premised by four guys lugging in an enormous pig all trussed up and squealing away.

The next day we ventured out to see the rock cliffs where the people are buried. Effigies in the likeness of the deceased are placed outside the tombs on little balconies high up on the cliffs. Many of the effigies were stolen and sold to Dutch tourists long ago. But some originals do remain. A bunch of pictures later we went to an old cave which once served as a burial chamber. It was chok - a - blok full of skulls and really old coffins. My vacation has so far revolved around people in Toraja who have died. That’s rather odd.

Anthropologists say that the Torajan houses are built in their unique shape because they originally came from across the sea. Thus they built their houses in the shape of boats. The Torajans say they have always been in Toraja land and that their houses resemble buffalo horns because they are cool. My Intro to Anthropology teacher in college gave me a B- on a project I worked my butt off on(and actually froze my butt off on - begging in the dead of winter in a commuter burb of Chicago). I'm going with the "because its cool" explanation.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

“The Day of a Thousand Pictures” Sulawesi Travel's #4

Modeling sarong at dawn overlooking terraced rice fields.

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Terraced Rice Fields

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Fancy Buffalo

Not quite a thousand and actually two days worth of digital capturing ended yesterday evening. We are in Toraja land and have experienced a variety of things that are truly remarkable. I started snapping with the water buffalo, entered “the zone” when we joined in the funeral festivities and stayed there for the remainder of the day and into the next morning and afternoon and evening... thus the “thousand” pictures. Everywhere you look in Toraja Land another “got to get a picture of that” is staring you in the face.

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Custom Trimming a Cows Head

We began our day at the pasar which was rather typical, if such a word can ever be used to adequately characterize a third world market. Old women with red stained mouths and sun wizened, life in the fields faces munch down the profit margin from their stash of betel nuts for sale. A mom and child casually watch as the butcher “chops to order” the recently peeled cow’s head to the specifications requested by the woman for some evening culinary concoction. All this among the more mundane sales of Cleveland Indian World Champion t- shirts, Levii jean jackets, eels writhing about in buckets, hockey puck shaped disks of tobacco, pungent fish oil balls ... Whatever you want (or don’t want or don’t even want to imagine someone else wanting) is available for a price. But the real action was going on across the street at the “live” market where stately water buffalo lazed about and trussed up, stressed out pigs squealed away while cool talking, clove smoking Torajan men negotiated their eventual fate.

Tana Toraja, Sulawesi Trussed Up Pigs

"Tana Toraja" Sulawesi Travels #3

We left Makasar for the area of Tana Toraja which is a relatively famous cultural area on the island of Sulawesi ... for those who pay attention to world cultural places. We piled into a van, stopped along the way at a well known outdoor recreation area, the main attraction being a waterfall and river flowing through vertical limestone cliffs replete with stalactites and mites dangling ominously overhead. The best thing about this place was the giant concrete monkey guarding the entrance way. It was about 50 feet tall, frozen in a garish dance pose and grimacing menacingly at all the people entering below.

Sweating on the stopover at the limestone cliff river recreation area on the drive from Makassar to Tana Toraja

I am presently sitting at breakfast in a town where we spent the night about half way to Toraja, drinking coffee and wondering if I can wear shorts today. We are in a particularly Muslim area and showing my sexy legs might cause a bit of a to do. The town we’re in has the largest mosque in east Indonesia ... it is small town and a super big mosque ... might just cover my arms as well ... and wrap Alicia up in a blanket.