Blue sky day

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On Tuesday it was a blue sky day in Jakarta.  It's the first time I've seen blue sky since I moved here.  It made Jakarta seem so much nicer.  It had "Sydney sky"… that perfect blue that just makes colours pop and makes life seem so much more lovely. It's amazing how much difference it can make to a place…

Took this shot of the blue sky reflected on the facade of an office building while ferrying to the immigration office.

And here's Monas, blue-sky-shot-from-car style.

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Good morning, let me crap on your head

Stumble out of bed.  Stumble to bathroom.  Turn on bathroom light, which automatically turns on the exhaust fan as well.

Sit on toilet.

SPLAT.

The cover of the exhaust fan falls off, directly above the toilet, and it sprays a bucketload of brown watery gunk all over my head.

Good morning to you too, exhaust fan with diarrhea. 

So I shower to wash off the crap, stumble out of the bathroom, and find wedged under my door an internet bill with late fees that I paid weeks ago.  Sigh.  That's gonna be fun trying to clear that up.

It's going to be one of those Jakarta days then… one of the ones where you just want to drive to Soekarno-Hatta and catch a plane to a city that is functional…

Pergi ke kantor immigrasi (Going to the immigration office)

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I needed to go to the immigration office to get fingerprints and photos and things like that done.  The driver from work took me and two other lasses on Monday.  Because of Jakarta's insane macet (traffic), it took an hour and a half to get there.  We arrived, called our visa organising dude.  He came outside.

"I am sorry. The computer system has crashed. You will have to come back tomorrow.  We can't do it today."

We asked him why he hadn't perhaps called us before we had driven an hour and a half to get there.  Apparently, it had only "just crashed" and wouldn't be fixed today before the 3 pm closing time.  But it would definitely be fixed tomorrow, he said.

So today we had to repeat the same three hour round trip, this time with the added fun of waiting in the immigration office with only crazy Indonesian daytime TV to entertain us.

But the whole six-hour-and-two-day-ordeal was just so very Indonesia.

Took this sneaky shot on my lil point and shoot.  Don't think the security guards would have liked me taking photos in there.

Strung along for a buck

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The monkeys on strings in Jakarta that street buskers use to try and make a buck make me sad when I see them. They are always on chains, doing tricks for rupiah, and they always look so sickly and dirty. Almost like giant rats sometimes. This one was particularly freaky, because it was putting on the face of a toy doll to entertain people stuck in a traffic jam somewhere on the way to Kebayoran. I snapped it out of the taxi window on my little camera. Animal cruelty, anyone?

It makes me want to get all righteous about the people that exploit the monkeys.  But then, the people themselves aren't in a much better predicament… they are just trying to make enough money to get by.

Also, check out how close the bajaj is to the bus in front of it… that's the way Jakarta rolls… bumper to bumper isn't just an expression…

Bits from Pelabuhan Ratu…

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Greg chilling, as seen through one of the carved walls at crazy house.

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Beach soccer

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View from crazy house

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Ella chillin’, Ocean Queen style

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Road to the beach

Feelin’ beachy

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Local kids playing soccer on the beach at Pelabuhan Ratu.

I never would have considered myself “an outdoors type”.  But after two months in Jakarta, shuttling from one airconditioned space to the next in airconditioned taxis, trying to avoid breathing the polluted air outside, I was feeling a little crazy.

In Sydney, you escape the city or work stress by relaxing down by the harbour or at the beach or in one of the stunning parks that overlooks the water.  I actually spent quite a lot of time outdoors in Sydney, and even when driving I would have the windows down, gulping down that coastal air.

So it was absolute bliss to escape Jakarta this weekend to Pelabuhan Ratu, just a couple of hours out of Jakarta by car, to BREATHE and just be OUTSIDE all weekend!  I didn’t even care about the mosquitoes, I just wanted to feel alive! We hired a driver and escaped when the others had finished work at midnight on Friday… a night time dash down windy roads through little villages to our destination.

Dubbed the “crazy house” by some, the “Dr. Seuss” house by others, we were crashing a 10-bedroom-and-god-knows-how-many-bathrooms house set high on a clifftop overlooking the beaches and the jungle.  It was called Karang Aji Villa, and you can visit the website to see more pictures and to try and understand just how mad it was.

There were more people than beds, so I crashed on a sofa outside (yes, so desperate was I for the outdoors, I even slept outside despite not having a mosquito net).  The mozzies were annoying, it was pretty hot, and I didn’t have a good sleep, but the things that woke me besides the sqweetos didn’t disappoint.  The crowing of a rooster alerted me of the sunrise, and lying on my sofa I had a panoramic view of the sun coming up over the Indian Ocean, the water dotted with fisherman’s boats. And just like everywhere else in Indo, you can’t escape the loud loud loud morning prayers…

We didn’t get the full grasp of the crazy house until the morning.  It was a psychadelic mix of Balinese-style wood carvings, bright plastic panels, stained glass, statues, bamboo furniture and tiny spiral staircases, all the way up to a somewhat wobbly “viewing platform”.  I’ve never seen anything like it.  But the views were gorgeous.

We were sharing the house with friends of a friend of ours who were celebrating a birthday.  They were all Australians (except for one Austrian… she just needed a few more letters), and they were all doing interesting work here in Indonesia as part of the AusAid Youth Ambassador program.

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Partying at the “crazy house”.

So we spent most of the weekend swimming, chilling, eating (including fresh grilled fish, of course), playing a bit of beach soccer until we noticed all the glass and nails and stuff in the sand, drinking, wandering a bit, talking a lot, reading, being rained on and not caring.  And breathing lots and lots of relatively fresh air.

And I finally feel like I have seen some of the “real Indonesia”.  As in, not shopping malls.  Rice paddies, little villages, plantations, extreme dangerous driving, fishing boats etc etc.  I want to see so much more.

But it was nice.  Invigorating.  Much needed. I was so busy relaxing I didn’t even take that many photos.  I’ve been slack as lately.  I have more, but Flickr is being even slacker than me so I might have to post them later when it decides to stop being fickle.

Danger! Danger!

“Where you from miss?” my taxi driver hollered as we rode over a particularly pothole-riddled stretch of "road".

“Australia.”

“Oh. Australia. Why your government hate us? They tell people not to come here. We not all Bali bombers.”

“I’m not sure why, sir.  The government is a bit stupid.”

I hadn't actually looked at the updated travel warnings the Australian Government issued for Indonesia after the execution of the Bali bombers.

But I was watching some CNN "doco" about "The Face of Terrorism" (cue dramatic music and graphics and montages of Al Quaeda training camps mixed in with people doing DANGEROUS traditional dances in Bali) and it told me all about how TERRORISM is the BIGGEST PROBLEM EVA in Indonesia and all people are LIVING IN FEAR every day.

So, I thought maybe I should check out the travel warning so that I can start living with a reasonable level of FEAR.  Because Indonesia is apparently SCARY SCARY.

According to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs, the danger levels in Indonesia are ranked as "reconsider need to travel".  Not the worst level, only the second worst.  Worst is reserved for places with active combat troops.

Do you know what other countries you should "reconsider your need to travel" to?  See here.  Interesting that Indonesia is considered as dangerous as the Congo, where actual fighting is happening now, instead of just speculation.

The warning for Indonesia is LONG, about 5000 words.  If you want to read it yourself, go here.

Let me summarize it for you.

If you live or work or are thinking about going to Indonesia you probably won't ever return to the fair soils of Australia because EVIL TERRORISTS are lurking everywhere. You should probably stay here in Australia where everything is nice and white (on TV) and the only dangers are random acts of violence, probably alcohol fuelled.  Indonesians in general are Muslims and everyone knows that in general that means they are probably terrorists.  It's also a bit sus because they don't drink shitloads of beer.  And heaps of them are going to freak out because the Bali bombers got sent to their virgin-filled heaven so you should be extra careful eating at or visiting WHITE PEOPLE places because they don't like us and our democratic ideals.  But don't eat at street stalls either or you will get gastro and DIE. 

If you do decide to ignore our overblown warning, you should exercise EXTREME CAUTION.  EXTREME!  ARM YOURSELF WITH A MACHETE, BOMB DIFFUSER KIT AND DON'T SPEAK TO ANYONE.  UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES IDENTIFY YOURSELF AS AUSTRALIAN OR YOU WILL BE IMMEDIATELY KILLED.  TELL THE EMBASSY YOU ARE COMING SO WE CAN IDENTIFY YOUR REMAINS.

That's roughly what it says.

It begs the question… have the people who write this shit ever been to Indonesia?  If they have, have they actually mingled with any Indonesians or talked with them about these kinds of issues?

Why why why why why does Australia still have this massive fear of Asia?  This warning isn't about terrorism at all.  It's about the politics of fear, and I hoped now that Howard had gone and now Bush is practically out the door as well, that we would have gotten over that crap to some extent.  Sometimes it feels like we haven't progressed at all from the Hanson years.

No one can really anticipate if a terrorist attack is on its way or not, same as you can't pick if you will be struck by lightening.  Obviously the execution of the Bali bombers carried some additional risk, which any rational person could figure out.  And embassies etc have to put out travel advisories. But this kind of over the top crap coming out of our government only adds to this irrational fear that a certain section of Australian society has about Indonesia and Asia.

It's so strange how Indonesia as seen from Australia and Indonesia as actually seen from Indonesia are almost two different countries…  I've never experienced that with any other foreign country I have visited.  Maybe it's just cos I haven't been to Bali yet…

Newnewspaper

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I work for a published newspaper now (well, again). It was very exciting to see the Jakarta Globe launched, and frankly, I think it looks pretty awesome.

The website is still a work in progress, but it's still a pretty huge feat to go from nothing to having a great news product in such a short time.  Go team awesome!

Din Tai Fung. Food of the gods.

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The restaurant chain Din Tai Fung rocks my world.  It rocks a lot of people’s worlds, judging by the queue at some of its stores in Singapore.

We also have DTF here in Jakarta, and a branch opened in Sydney just before I left Oz, so this is a food rant that knows no geographical bounds.

The soup filled dumplings, or Xiao Long Bao, are amazing.  They are handmade, always have at least 10 delicate folds, and in lots of stores, you can see the hatted and face masked people making them in a glass windowed kitchen.

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They burst in your mouth, full of flavour.  The tastiest dumplings I have ever eaten in my life.  And I love them, so I have eaten a lot. Sadly, in Jakarta, we don’t have them with pork because pork isn’t very popular in this mostly Muslim nation, but they are still really good with chicken as a substitute.  But I had the pork and crab dumplings in Singapore though, and life, including dumplings, is better with pork… sorry Muslim friends.

Everything else is good there too.  The wantons.  The vegetables. The steamed buns.  The gyoza.  The neverending supply of tea, filled up so quickly, you can’t keep track of how many litres you may have consumed. I’ve been a couple of times, this wasn’t all in one sitting!

So if you have a Din Tai Fung in your city… GO!  I implore you.  It’s worth having to wait for a table.

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Singapore: Hawker Love

Hawker Center, Singapore

One of the best things about Singapore is the food.  The hawker centres offer such a great variety, the cultural fusion of Singapore’s inhabitants mean you can get some pretty special nosh for a pretty good price.  I was back in Singapore again for another visa run (hopefully the last for quite some time), and I spent the weekend gorging myself on Singaporean delights like Hainese Chicken Rice, Laksa, BBQ Pork Buns and more.

One of the things I tried that I didn’t get a chance to try last time was Fried Carrot Cake.  It comes in two varieties, white or black.  I went with the sweet black kind, which was all manner of wonderful. The main ingredient is white radish, which is known as white carrot in Singapore, hence the name. White radish is pretty awesome, I have had it before at a vegan restaurant in Sydney.  It has a reall robust taste, especially when fried.

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Some of the hawker food around is pretty crazy, especially some of the sweet stuff.  Because I am an adventurous sort, I was at a dessert stand at one of the hawker centers and decided to go for the weirdest dessert on the menu.

Peanut and Corn Sweet Ice.

All the other ices were fruit flavoured.  But no, that’s boring.

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Despite looking a bit like vomit on ice (some might argue that’s the same as Disney on Ice), it actually wasn’t bad at all.  It just tasted like sweet peanut, with chunks of corn, on ice.  A bit weird, but not unpleasant.  Down the bottom there were bits of jelly and sweet red kidney beans.

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One of the other hawker places I found myself at was satay street.  I didn’t eat any, because satay is pretty run of the mill in Indonesia so I was focusing more on the food you can’t get as readily here, but it was interesting.  The stalls along the street only sold satay, so of course, the competition was fierce.  Which meant the hawkers weren’t going to let you walk peacefully down the street.  And they didn’t stick with the polite Indonesian “hello misses” either.

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“Hello sexy, come here to eat, I will find you a beautiful boy to sit with you.”

“Where are you from?  I know exactly how to make satay that Australians will like.”

“You are walking away?  You are breaking my heart!” (complete with mime of heart being ripped from chest).

Intense but comical.

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Singapore: Wheels

My eye must have been wheely caught by the rickshaws on my trip to Singapore this time.  I just came back with heaps of photos of them and I don’t really know why.  Here’s a couple.

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This one isn’t really about the rickshaws.  I just thought it was an interesting contrast between those who wheel for leisure and those who wheel for life.

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At the Esplanade at sunset.

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In Chinatown.

All flavour, no fuss.

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Food at a little eatery in Little India, Singapore.  For SG $6, you got as much tasty curry and rice as your heart could ever desire.  Bliss.

Is it just me, or could a lot of the world’s dilemmas be solved if everyone just ate off banana leaves?  No washing up.  Biodegradable.  In tropical climes, a never ending supply.  Waterproof.  Greaseproof.  It’s the world’s perfect packaging.  And it looks kind of trendster too…

Ma’af the blog has been neglected.  Our newspaper has been launching, I was in Singapore for a while for visa reasons and I am trying to learn bahasa Indonesia (which involves remembering how exactly to do that thing they call “studying”).

I also have tons of photos to post but my home internet connection is waging a war on Flickr.  It will upload photos, and then won’t let me see them… it’s very weird.

Will post more soon.

But for now, just ponder the wondeful-ness of banana leaves.  What other problems could they solve?  So many possibilities….

Random pics around Jakarta

A couple of random pics from the weekend.  Who doesn't like a picture with no real context provided?  Woo!

These were taken from my taxi near Senayan (hence the blur).  There was a football (bola, my taxi driver said) match at the stadium there on the weekend, so there were lots of people wearing fluoro orange.

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This one was taken in a shopping mall… the Jakarta Broadway Singers were belting out some tunes from the Sound of Music, which I have a soft spot for despite spending five days in Salzberg in Austria (got stranded due to bus and train timetable stuff ups) where the film was played ON LOOP and there was a choral convention and I was sharing the place with three other backpackers and 300 American schoolchildren WHO WOULD NOT STOP SINGING and they got angry when we turned off the Sound of Music for two hours to watch a very important World Cup soccer match. It was scary. The hills were alive with the sounds of 15-year-old girls fighting over the power plug in the bathroom so they could straighten their hair. Anyway…

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The light at the end of the tunnel…

corridor

I find the corridors in my apartment block kinda spooky.  They all look identical and have absolutely no defining characteristics.  I always double check before sticking the key in the door to check it's my place, because it's all so much the same.

Each corridor has a big window down the end though, that kind of looks out into nothing when you are far away, because of all the pollution in the air.  It's pretty weird.  Especially really early in the morning when the lights in the corridor aren't switched on but it's still kinda dark.