Sunday, March 08, 2015

Sulawesi: The world's 11th largest island

In March I visited the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Despite its size, perhaps you've never heard of this heavenly place? You can definitely read more objectively about it on Wikipedia, but I'll give you a glance from my very subjective experience (and two-city sampling). The work week took me to both the southern city of Makassar and the most northern city on the tippy top, Manado. I visited with universities and teachers and ate some pretty amazing food. In sum, the place is different somehow. The same tropical island and forest feel but with another unique perspective and cultures. It sounds trite but Indonesia is so mind-blowingly diverse. Here are some of my selected highlights.

Sunset on the gorgeous boardwalk in Makassar
The Makassar boardwalk was a wonderful place to roam with families strolling, musicians playing along the way, and vendors selling aromatic foods... and this on a weeknight!

The most delicious crab that I have ever eaten at Makassar Surya Super Crab. Oh, my! Pictured here with a spicy ginger sauce of some sort. Worth visiting for this dish alone.

Manggustine and langsat were in season and vendors lined the major streets selling them at a bargain. I devoured 1/2 a kilo of langsat for dinner. YUM!

My hosts welcomed me to northern Sulawesi with lunch at "Big Fish" right on the water.

After some insistence, I tried the "special" iced drink - a strange combination for a North American: shaved ice, avocado, durian, and redbean all covered with sweet, condensed milk. I ate it, and, although the combination struck me as weird, it was actually pretty tasty.

A visit to the national university outside of Manado introduced me to the English faculty dogs sleeping guard in front of classrooms.

This view of the campus redefines academic jungle.

Yep. That's me with another poster. Please do giggle when you read this.

Quick picture of the highlands on the drive back to Manado.

This is a traditional Minihasa house built from local woods. They are so popular that rich foreigners order them from afar, have them broken down, shipped, and reassembled by the workers who are flown in with the structure.

Lunch at a floating restaurant on a lake in the highlands was a breezy and beautiful respite.

Now we depart from work... I took a day to travel out to Bunaken for some snorkeling. The most beautiful waters, fish, and corals. I even saw several large sea turtles and a manta ray! 

Ah! There is something therapeutic about being on the water.

Manado has its own porridge for breakfast made with pumpkin. YUM!
A view of the city and water from my hotel balcony in Manado. 

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Java on Java

Last weekend, we traveled to a magical place amidst volcanoes and coffee plants in Central Java. The Dutch colonial plantation turned spa was a restful respite from the traffic and pace of Jakarta. The weather was breezy and cool and we had access to coffee processed locally from vine to mug.

Our villa

The plantation was surrounded by volcanoes

Coffee tour

Lush, isn't it?

Traditional herbs and spices used in healthful drinks called "jamu"

This is where they process the coffee

Coffee and steamed bananas

Crunchy coffee beans for munching together with palm sugar

The organic garden

Look! It's the season for stinky fruit, durian!

Green gorgeous

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Dili Kids

Last week, I was in East Timor for work. East Timor is actually a funny place name. Timor means "east" in Indonesian, so the island is named Timor ("East") and the country is Timor Leste or East Timor or East East. It is one of the world's newest countries and, with a complicated and violent independence from Indonesia, it came into being in 2002. Linguistically it is pretty fascinating with Portuguese (the official and colonial language), Tetum (the local language spoken on the streets), Indonesian (the language many of those left in the older generation were educated in and the language of much available television and media), English (used by the large international community present in Dili), and hundreds and hundreds of local dialects (used at home). Makes my tongue feel tired just contemplating it.

Anyway. It is a beautiful and complex place. My work week was busy with school visits and meetings, but the one of the highlights simplest to share was the school goats. On a visit to 12th of November School, there were baby goats in the yard, seemingly unaware of the students passing through and visitors snapping photos. They munched on grass and took naps under motorcycles... and I'm not kidding around!

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Behind the Scenes

Do you want to know how batik is made? Follow along!

Someone with a vision stencils a design that is then made into a stamp using copper and metal. We saw a room with shelves to the ceiling full of such patterns, each one particular to a region or village. Many of the designs are symbolic and are easily recognizable to the batik-discerning eye.
For big pieces of cloth the stamps are dipped in hot wax and imprinted over and over and over again to create a large design.
We amateurs tried our hand at a small piece of fabric with smaller stamps.

Batik tulis is made by hand with a little wand carrying hot wax onto the fabric. It is a lot harder than it looks.
Some intricate designs and the more expensive batik fabrics are done entirely by hand by patient women working with the hot wax.
The fabrics are hand dyed, often many times to create multi-colored patterns or different shades of the same color. This can take days and days and days.

Here's a piece of fabric that has had its first dye and now is drying outside. Perhaps another layer of wax will be added for another color or shade of pink/red.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

The Sounds of Bamboo

It seems I haven't had much time for the ukulele lately so I decided to take up a more local instrument, the angklung. It's a Sundanese instrument from West Java made from bamboo and it sounds delightful when played well. During a trip to Bandung, I had the chance to visit Angklung Udjo, a sort of music and dance school that both preserves the tradition of music making and also innovates upon it, adding modern songs to the repertoire and modifying the instruments to accommodate new sounds.

Here's the instrument maker himself playing a modernized version of angklung with keys. Twenty dollars later, this instrument is now mine, although I don't sound half as good on it... yet.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Selamat Tahun Baru 2015!

Our tradition has been to send a New Year's Greeting rather than one over the holidays, and, as usual, we are a few days overdue in saying HAPPY NEW YEAR! The sentiment is no less genuine, even if we are a bit late.

2014 was a great year for many reasons, but I have high hopes for the next twelve months. We brought in the new year stylishly here in Jakarta this year from a rooftop where we could appreciate the skies ablaze with color and light. In the same spirit, we wish you much brightness and love in the next year.

Selamat tahun baru
С новым годом
Head uut aastat
An nou fericit
Glückliches neues Jahr 
Feliz año nuevo 
Šťastný nový rok
Happy new year

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Day 98: Worlds Collide in Jakarta

Independence Square is a short jaunt away from my workplace and the center of central Jakarta. However, it took 99 days and an out-of-town visitor to put our feet at Monas (Monumen Nasional). A Bandung native and friend from Astana was home to thaw over the winter break in Kazakhstan, and he paid us a short visit and humored us with the opportunity to be tourists in Jakarta.

The atmosphere was wonderful - kites flying every which way, vendors peddling Jakarta souvenirs, kids posing with cartoon figurines, families having picnics, enormous lines to get inside the monument, and rented tandem bicycles whizzing around the monument. I enjoyed being in the middle of activity to take part for a moment in Jakarta life.

Highlights of the afternoon were our Indonesia-German-American-Kazakh reunion and taking photos with Masha from the Russian cartoon Маша и Медведь (apparently also available in bahasa Indonesia and quite popular from the looks of it - there were at least four Mashas at Monas). 

Colleagues from Nazarbayev University reunited!


Let's Go Fly a Kite

With Masha!

Маша и Медведь with Monas t-shirt that unfortunately did not come in adult sizes