Sunday, November 05, 2006

Jakarta to Bali

Six days into our trip I opted to press "OK" when the "erase all" command appeared on the digital camera. A little advice - if you want things to go smoothly while vacationing - DO NOT do this. So I won't be posting a "Monet-esque" series of beach sunsets. Also missing are heaps of photos with descriptions like; Emmerson digging on the beach with shovel, Emmerson digging with fingers, Emmerson smiling and digging, Emmerson digging and smiling and so on. We have taken previous trips to the Bali beaches and to Ubud (the part of the trip I erased)and the photos do get repetitive so it is actually not really so bad, that I erased the 100 + pictures - at least I freed up alot of disc space. The one photo I am very disappointed about losing was of an enormous pig riding in the back of a pickup truck. The following images are of our drive from Ubud to Tirta Gangga on the east coast and of the sites around this stunning part of Bali.

The Amandari hotel built overlooking a gorge on the outskirts of Ubud. I think it is in one of those "1000 Things You Should See During Your Lifetime" books. I was too busy trying to conjure up the photos I had just erased to fully enjoy the experience.

A huge volcanic crater in the highlands of Bali. It has a large lake, a town, and a large volcanic cone inside of the crater.

Not so tiny baby anymore at a restaurant overlooking the crater.

The Water Palace at Tirta Gangga. It is a beautifully maintained garden interspursed with various pools of water and surrounded by rice paddies. We stayed at a bungalow within the grounds.

Another volcano visible from the parking lot of the Water Palace.

From the Water Palace there are many walks that you can take into the rice paddies that dominate the landscape of this part of Bali.

We ventured into a village on one of our walks and came across this calf.

Not so tiny baby anymore in the rice fields of Bali.

Some ladies carrying their wares through the rice fields.

Jack fruit in a bag. This is done as the fruit is in its last stage of ripening to keep it free from hungry critters.

Roosters for sale on the side of the road - a commonsite in the villages of Bali.

Good use of empty Friskies cat food bags.

Sasquatch crossing. I first saw such a sign outside my hotel in Legian beach and thought it was to warn motorists of unaware tourists crossing the road - thus the lumbering size and shape of the individual on the sign. But I saw these same signs in non touristy areas so it must just be the Balinese style indicating any pedestrian crossing.

The ubiquitous baby in sunglasses shot. Emmerson says "cool dude" when she sees people wearing sunglasses.

This is how I looked at the end of the trip after the flight home. Nothing quite like traveling with a little one.

Emmerson as a bug, Alicia as a ManU fan and me as an exaggerated version of myself on vacation.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Jakarta Romance

I was looking for a card the other day in one of the local department stores and came across these touching sentiments. Good to know that romance is alive and well in Jakarta!

Friday, September 29, 2006

Jakarta to Bromo

The sun's first rays wash the lunaresque Tengger Caldera in a wave of orange light. Mount Bromo is the small smoking crater located in the left midground.

The island of Java is really crowded. Indonesia is the fourth most populated country but its population distribution is rather lopsided. Most Indonesians live on the island of Java. On those cool National Geographic type Earth at Night posters Java sparkles like a diamond while the rest of the archipelago appears as a black hole. Java is the most developed of the Indonesian islands but it’s shiny appearance at night is mostly because it is jam packed with people. Depending on the flavour of the month for determining population stuff, many demographers put the island at the top of the prestigious “most densely populated regions on earth” list and after this weekends jaunt to Mount Bromo in east Java I am inclined to agree with their decision.

In order to fully understand a densely populated place you need to get outside of the urban environment and into its rural setting. Jakarta, Java’s and Indonesia’s largest city is crazy crowded but such is the nature of most cities. But the majority of Java’s population is densely packed into its rural areas. It is difficult to go anywhere on the island without seeing people, lots and lots of people. This reality became glaringly apparent on a recent trip I made to the mountainous interior to see one of Indonesia’s famous natural sites, Mount Bromo.

The large volcano in the back welcomed the day by erupting just as the sunrise began.

Mt. Bromo is one of many active volcanoes on the island of Java. It sits in a giant bowl that contains several active, semi active and dormant volcanic cones. To get there the easy way, which I recommend if you have a small child who thinks that sitting still really sucks, you arrange ahead of time for your hotels and for a guide, car and driver all of which expedite travel time. It cost a bit extra but just subtract it from your kids college fund. Fly to Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city, and stay in a nice hotel, we recommend the Majapahit. After a short stay at this beautiful old hotel, you might be tempted to skip the Bromo excursion but resist this urge and carry on. The next day you embark on a leisurely drive through the Indonesian countryside until you reach the Lava Lodge which is perched on the rim of the enormous volcanic bowl which contains Bromo and the other volcanic cones. After dinner retire early because you will be woken up at 3:30 am, bustled into a Toyota Land cruiser jeep for the hour drive across the “Sea of Sand” and a busy morning of seeing some spectacular natural beauty and a lot of people.

Mount Bromo's ever present sulphur cloud.

There were many signs on this journey that made me stop and say to my self – “Java sure is crowded”. The crowd is not overwhelming but there are people everywhere. The first sign was pretty bizarre and involves a lot of stuff that I will not go into partly because it will take a long time but mostly because it entails engineering and geologic stuff that I simply don’t get. The toll way leading out from Surabaya towards Bromo is under threat of being buried in a mudslide, actually it’s more like a mud ooze than a slide. Evidently, due to human error and gross negligence an oil drill released water from an underground aquifer and as the pressurized water shot to the surface it picked up all sorts of earth which appeared on the surface as mud. The mud spill has turned into a sizeable lake and is wreaking havoc on the people surrounding the affected area. What does this have to do with crowds? The fact that there is large oil drilling operation smack dab in a residential area points to the reality that pretty much anywhere in Java where you put an oil rig is going to be in and around a bunch of people.

The next indicator of Java’s crowds became apparent as we snaked our way up into the mountains that make up the backbone of Java. These mountains reach almost 10,000 feet and many have extremely steep slopes. The majority of these ruggedly majestic mountains are deforested and crop cultivation is evident on all but the steepest slopes. People need food and fuel to cook the food and there are a whole lot of them meticulously cultivating the mountainous interior of Java.

Hanging out with some other bundled up travelers waiting for the sun to rise over the calderra.

The third sign of Java’s vigorous population appeared at the popular scenic overlook where people gather to watch the sunrise over the volcanic bowl which contains Bromo and other volcanic cones. We approached the lookout at five in the morning after driving for an hour across the “Sea of Sand”, the most desolate piece of land I have ever driven across, and inching up some of the steepest chunks of pavement I have ever inched up. Near the summit we were greeted by a sea of people, actually not a sea because a sea spreads out, there is not much spreading on top of a mountain, so it was actually a huge blob of people. We had to park our Landcruiser several hundred kilometres below the peek because there were so many other vehicles parked on the hill. Industrious youngsters on scooters were taking advantage of the situation to shuttle people from the beginning of the make shift parking lot to the top of the mountain and the lookout point. It was quite a crazy scene with motor scooters weaving in and out of parked jeeps and bleary eyed tourists all in the wee hours of the morning. At the lookout we jockeyed for position and kind of saw the sun appear – through a lot of wool capped heads (they sell Bromo toques for those unprepared for the ‘cold’) and woolly mitten covered hands holding up various photo taking devices above the crowd trying to get a lasting memory of the sunrise. After the sun came up the crowd dispersed a bit and I could finally take account of the teeming mass of humanity that had amassed on this mountain top. It was a long weekend and apparently this is one of the things that lots of people living on Java do for fun.

Peering into the crater of Mount Bromo.

The view from the top of Mount Bromo over the Sea of Sand. Below, the Hindu temple and throngs of people are visible.

After the sunrise we drove around the rim of the bowl that gave a commanding view into the “Sea of Sand”. The scene below was reminiscent of the original Mad Max movie as 100’s of vehicles made their way across the ash covered landscape raising huge clouds of dust into the air. We soon made our way into the bowl and joined in on the Mad Max dash. Greeting us at the foot of mount Bromo were hundreds of porters and their horses offering transport up to the base of Bromo for the blob of people who had migrated from the scenic overlook. Foregoing the horses we walked up the hill, which was tiring, and then up 250 steps to the top of the Bromo crater. From there you have a commanding view into the crater and the sulphur enriched cloud spewing from its innards. After this it was back down to the jeep, another mad dash across the Sea of Sand and up to the hotel for a nice breakfast. Then back in the car for a ride down to Surabaya which usually takes 3 hours. But due to the closing of the toll road because of the mud ooze it took about 5 hours as we joined the throngs of motorists forced from the toll onto a mediocre sized side road.

Not so tiny baby anymore at the foot of Mount Bromo.

The trip was not without its hassles but it was incredible in all of its bizarre facets. Going to Bromo is a must do in Java and when you do, take a moment to consider that you are indeed in one of the most crowded and yet stunning places on our planet.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Jakarta Curiosities

Recently I came across this write up in my files and realized I had never made it a post. It is dated and several of the principle characters have moved on. But the curiosities mentioned are still quite relevant to my life in Jakarta.

The other morning as we exited our car in the school parking lot we were greeted by Mr. Townley pulling up on a kids bicycle. I figured that his car was in the shop and he was making due with what he had but inquired anyway. The answer he gave was much unexpected. Apparently five of his students did not know how to ride a bike and he had to give them riding lessons after school. What's the big deal? Nice guy this Mr. Townley staying after teaching his little ones a valuable life skill. All good and well ... BUT Mr. Townley teaches ninth grade English! He is taking the ninth grade to Perth, Australia next week on their class trip part of which involves a bike ride. Last year he did not find out about this culturally bred phenomenon until they were actually on the bike ride. It was a bit of a harrowing experience for the novice riders and responsible teachers. This year when Mr. Townley proactively inquired about the student’s bike riding knowledge, five students said they did not know how to ride a bike. So every day for the last week Mr. Townley and students Shirley, Dimas, Kwan Young, Margaret and Alan made their way to the gymnasium to learn how to ride a bike. The thing that really struck me about this whole situation was that it was no big deal. The students were not embarrassed or made fun of by any classmates. Imagine this situation in the States?! I then thought about my own learning to ride a bike as a child experience - how many times I wiped out - how much of the road I needed to wobble about on and how I was unable to stop for a long time. Then I thought about those situations here in the city of Jakarta and it made a lot more sense why these kids never learned to ride a bike - self preservation.

A few more examples of the fascinating use and abuse of the English language - click here for more "Fun with Languages"

Alicia spotted a little boy the other day in the mall with a shirt that stated "Nazi Punks F... Off!". We guessed he was around seven years old and hoped he was oblivious. Maybe he has really angry parents or an English speaking maid with a peculiar sense of humor.

The other day I was at the bowling alley overseeing the afternoon activity period and noticed a fellow with the word "walrus" printed boldly on his shirt. That was it - a green shirt with "walrus" emblazed across his chest. No image, no quirky description just "walrus".

At the mall the other day Alicia noticed a young girl, probably in 5th grade or so sporting a shirt with (and I am going to use censors here because I am) "F....... U" as in "Harvard U" or "Stanford U".

Probably my all time favorite so far was the shirt of a young man - perhaps in college - with a shirt sporting a picture of that wacky cartoon character Woody Woodpecker accompanied by the description "Woody Wood Pecker" (perhaps for the benefit of those who did not actually recognize the image on the shirt).

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Jakarta Identity Crisis

Who’s your daddy?

One of Emmerson’s favourite words is “daddy”. She points to me and says daddy. Sometimes she even does a bit of a chant or draws out the word real long while pointing at me. It makes me feel good. But recently I have noticed that the word daddy isn’t just reserved for me. She also says daddy while pointing to various objects. What a smart girl! Already making associations! Or so I thought until today. All sorts of summer construction projects are taking place on campus. Alicia told me that yesterday she met up with Wayan walking Emmerson around the campus. Emmerson was pointing to all the workers saying “daddy”. Today at the supermarket she called a guy stocking the shelf “daddy”.



We went to Rangunan Zoo this morning and spent all of our time in the primate section. I recommend a trip if you are looking for something to do in Jakarta. The orang-utans definitely stole the show. I can’t speak for the rest of the zoo but the primate area was quite entertaining and interesting. Emmerson can now make animal noises. She’s got dog, cat, sheep, cow, horse, frog, and elephant down pat. Apparently she wasn’t quite prepared for what she would find at the zoo. But she gave it a shot. The big ones got the dog sound and the smaller the cat.

Nice puppies.

Another of Emmerson’s favourite words is ball. I wrote previously about the impact balls have on her life. It has not abated. In celebration of the World Cup, the Sport Mall has erected a 20 foot pyramid of soccer balls standing in the lobby. Emmerson almost had a conniption when she saw it for the first time. She proceeded to walk around the structure patting random soccer balls while keeping up a steady chant of “ball, ball”. Recently she began saying “ball” and pointing into space while in the street, while driving, in a clothing store – places where balls simply don’t exist. Apparently she has a rather broad definition of the word “ball” to include pretty much any somewhat spherical object: apple – “baaallll”; balloon – “baaaallll”; ornamental vase – “baaaallll”; black and white striped curb (soccer ball??) – “baaalll”.


So if you ever see a little blonde girl tugging on a random Indonesian guys pants saying daddy while pointing into space yelling ball - thats my girl!

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Jakarta Food

Its hard not to get excited about food. So this should be exciting. As I was perusing the fruit section of the supermarket the other day looking for something new to try, the idea of documenting fruit came to mind. Today while I was trying to entertain my brain while proctoring a final exam I realized that I had never written much about the food of Jakarta, Indo and southeast asia in general. So my fruit entry has grown, at least in my mind, to include various foods of Jakarta and Indonesia. I will also include some other interesting items from outside Indo if I feel like it but will certainly indicate its origins. This will be an ongoing process as I want to include my own pictures of the various culinary delights and I just found out this morning as I was about to take a photo of a large bowl of nangka Wayan was preparing for dinner that my camera might be on the fritz. I will also include some pictures posted previously if the photo depicts well a certain food. In viewing my previous entries I actually came across one of my first titled "Eating in Indo". It mentioned some of my experiences but I will try and make this entry a bit more informative. The descriptions I am going to include are from my experiences - so tastes, colors, smells, etc may vary from other sources.

Fruit in Indonesia is quite an experience. The variety is incredible, cheap and always fresh.

Passion Fruit. In Bahasa Indonesia it is called a markisa. It looks rather like a large orange colored egg and its "skin" is quite shell like. The inside is filled with a glutinous substance filled with crunchy little seeds. It can be a bit of a struggle to get over the texture - unless you are fond of mucous, and then the texture will not be a problem. It is sweet and has a taste unlike any other fruit I have experienced so is rather difficult to explain.

Dragon fruit. I only know it by this name. It has a crazy looking skin; bright pink with spiky, green leafy things growing off of it. The fruit itself is crisp and watery, similar to a watermelon but a bit denser. The seeds look rather ominous but are barely noticeable when you eat the fruit. I have eaten this fruit in Thailand and Vietnam but surprisingly not in Indo - it is not commonly available.

Jack fruit. In Bahasa Indonesia it is called nangka. Although this jackfruit is growing on a tree in Vietnam, the fruit is commonly eaten all over Southeast Asia and is quite popular in Indonesia. The fruit can grow rather large, has a thick skin with lots of tiny little non-sharp needles and contains many pods inside. Surrounding each seed is a yellow fleshy covering. It has a strong smell but the taste is pleasant. A friend of mine described it as tasting like bubble gum. This is interesting, because I recently read that perhaps the flavor of Juicy Fruit gum originated from the jack fruit. It is a dense fruit and is packed with carbohydrates. In its immature stage, it is often the main ingredient in savory dishes, most typically, curries. Indonesians cook it with coconut milk and a bunch of spices and it is incredibly tasty.

Thai Jeruk and Jambu
The Thai Jeruk are simply oranges from Thailand that are green when ripe. They will begin to turn a bit orangy green when the become more ripe but never turn totally orange. There are many different types of jambu. I am not sure which this is but all are similar in that they have a crisp and somewhat watery texture. The taste of this particular jambu was very unique. The best way to describe it is "spicy". It actually reminded me of a spiced Christmas cider, with cinnamon being the strongest spice evident. A very interesting flavor.

Persimonnes, Thai Jeruk, Star Fruit The persimonnes were an interesting experience. The only other time I have had them was in Japan where they are called kaki. They had a much tougher skin, more and harder seeds and a bit stronger taste. When I bought these persimmonnes they were coated in some sort of protective white covering. I just looked in the "Eat Smart in Indonesia" book to find out what they are called in Bahasa Indonesia and what do you know, they had an explanation for the coating. They are called kesemek and are coated in lime water if they are to be candied. The lime water coating keeps them from becoming mushy when cooking in syrup during the candying process. I did not know that if coated they were meant for the syrup pot. Instead, when I got home I gave them a good scrub which caused them to age prematurely. They began to shrivel and go soft. I cut open a few and they tasted fine, very seedy with a meaty texture and quite sweet. The Thai oranges, accompanying the star fruit and persimonnes, are ripe when green. They are quite ordinary except for their color. The star fruit is citrus tasting. The ones pictured are just barely ripe. In this stage they are somewhat tart. As they ripen the color becomes a darker orange and the flavor becomes sweeter.

Mangosteen and mangoes In Bahasa Indonesia they are manggis and mangga. The manggis have a segmented white sectons with a few pits. Often the pits are soft and edible. The fruit is very sweet with just a tad of citrus flavor. It can be a little tricky to pick ones that are good; the hard skin needs to give a little when pressed. If it is hard then the fruit inside is damaged. The tropics have a diverse variety of mangoes. Most of the ones we see in Indo are green when ripe. Some are extremely sweet and almost custard like while others are somewhat tart and more fibrous in texture. This particular mango was of the tart variety. The flesh is almost always a vivid orange. Its hard to beat a fresh mango.

Drinks Coffee, tea and cocoa are each grown as cash crops in Indonesia.

This is a what a cocoa pod looks like. Inside are the beans which will be used to make chocolate and cocoa drinks. The beans are quite bitter but certainly "chocolaty" - something like unsweetened baking chocolate. This particular cocoa tree was growing in a garden in central Sulawesi, Indonesia.

Coffee growing in Losario in the highlands of Java. The former Dutch plantation has incorporated a resort on its grounds but still produces and process its own coffee. When the beans turn a reddish color they are ripe. Inside are the "beans" that we would recognize as coffee. They are a greenish color and only turn brown after roasting. Emmerson and myself for a size perspective of the coffee plant.

Coffee at Losario served up with a plate of palm sugar. The sugar is made from the berry like fruit of a palm tree. Palm trees are an important resource in Indonesia and are used to make products such as oil, sugar, and alcohol. Palm sugar is a bit like brown sugar from the States but richer and creamier. It is the sweetener of choice throughout Indo.

Tea growing in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia. The crop is grown throughout the tropics in higher elevations where the temperatures are cooler than the lowlands. Tea plants are quite severely cultivated to maintain their bush like dimesnions. If left to grow naturally they reach heights of a small tree. I am standing on just such a tea plant in the first photo.

Drinking tuac in Tana Toraja, Sulawesi, Indo. Another gift of the palm tree, tuac, or palm wine, actually ferments in the tree itself. I am not sure of the details, but supposedly some sugary juice collects in pockets in the tree, ferments and voila - instant wine. It is rather sweet and sours over time so is best drunk fresh. They sell it in markets in recycled water bottles ciphoned out of large buckets.

It is impossible to summarize the cooked cuisine of Indo but these are a few of the more common dishes. Many dishes are strongly spiced and coconut milk is a common ingredient which combines very nicely with the spicy mixtures.

Kangkung, a spinachy type of vgetable, is one of the most common dishes in Indo. The green grows almost anywhere and is gathered along roadsides, in drainage ditches and the like by Indos looking for a cheap, simple side dish.

Ikan Bakar or grilled fish is a popular dish all over Indo.

Ikan bakar, kangkun and a bit of rice makes for a nice meal

The above two photos are of nangka. It is prepared using the immature fruit of the jackfruit. The fruit is separated into sections and cooked in cocnut milk with a variety of spices. Very nice.

Rendang is a very popular meat dish in Indo. It is meat mixed in a spicy paste and simmered in coconut milk for a long time. The coconut milk reduces to the point where only the oil from the milk is left. The meat, at this point is very tender and extremely flavourful.

Shrimp ready for the barbecue at the beach in Pelabuhanratu, South Java, Indo. Seafood is very common and served in a wonderful variety of ways across the archipelago.

Seafood on a stick. A vendor in Ko Phi Phi, Thailand displays a tempting spread of various grilled items on a stick. The whole squid was excellent- served with a spicy hot and sweet sauce. I hope he is back in operation. This stall was on the walkway that runs along the beach. Ko Phi Phi was desemated by the tsunami of 2004.

Cooking fresh fish over an open fire using bamboo splints to hold the fish. This is on one of the islands near the Krakatoa complex of islands. No one lives on these islands. The people who make a living fishing these waterways occassionally stop by to steady there sea legs and visitors to the Krakatoa volcano often camp on the islands.

These pigs are being prepped for a Sulawesi style funeral barbecue where large amounts of pig are cooked and consumed. Sites like this are not too common in Indo as the majority of the population is Muslim and thus avoid pork as a dietary taboo. But in areas that are not primarily Muslim pork is eaten. Parts of Sulawesi practice traditional animism and animism mixed with Christiantiy. West Papaua is probably the most "pig friendly" area as its traditional economy is actually based on pigs. The pigs here are having their very stiff hair burned off.

A blob of red curry paste from a market in Chang Mai, Thailand. Spice mixtures like this are popular all over Southeast Asia and can be purchased from large vats in many markets and grocery stores.

The ubiquitous Jakarta Kakilima. I am sure to any Jakartan abroad this image would conjure up some memories. Kakilima translates into five feet. I have heard various explanations as to why they are called five legs but the one that most makes sense to me is that the vendor is the fifth leg of the cart. Anyway, they are all over Jakarta and are very popular for a snack or quick meal. They sell all sorts of food but each kakilima will specialize in one type of dish such as nasi goreng (fried rice) or bakso (noodle soup). They might set up shop in one location or travel the streets selling their goods. They often come into neighborhoods and each has a certain "call" that alerts potential customers. The call might be vocal or a sound made by certain objects. Each is unique and people recognize what is available by the sound of the kakilima guy. Its a pleasant part of Jakartan street life and an integral part of the food scene here in the city