Monday, October 20, 2014

Day 38: Congratulations, President Jokowi

Today is a big day in Indonesia. BIG. So much hope and excitement. Aspiration. Inspiration. This country of 240 million people is having a moment and so is its newly inaugurated president. There are and will be enormous challenges, but today is for celebrations. Congratulations, Mr. President Joko Widodo. Congratulations, Indonesia. Today is your day.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Day 37: Kopi dan cokelat

Sunday delights in a land that supports two of my favorite habits - coffee and chocolate. After some searching, I've found a local roaster that has a great selection of local coffees and a sophisticated local dark chocolate. Life is good.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Day 36: A glimpse of Bandung

Another trip this week took me to the West Java town of Bandung, the verdant technology hub of Indonesia. I wish I had taken more pictures of the green hills surrounding the city and had enough time for a hike, but I guess I will just have to return again in the future.

One of my favorite moments was at the very end of my visit at the American Corner located inside the famous Institute of Techology Bandung (ITB).  I shared a presentation about Yellowstone park and shared perspectives from the American West about the park system. The invited guests were a group of ecology majors who grilled me (just a little bit) about geothermal features, petrified wood formation, conservation, and fire control. Smart kids! The lively conversation finished with a tempting invitation for a hike (something my Wyoming-native soul is craving here). 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Day 35: Dough NUTS

During a site visit in west Java, a colleague introduced me to J. Co (the caviar of donuts, according to the Manila times). My life may never be the same now that I know about these delectable and clever donuts. The chain started in Indonesia and has spread throughout the region with its quirky offerings of unusual donuts and coffee. My life here (and waistline) may never be the same!

My selection: A gigantic cappuccino and Mr. Green Tea donut   

Left: "Snow White" A donut for princess, topped with Vanilla filled by snowy cream, it wakes you up for its princess flavor; Middle: "Sugar Ice"; Right: "Alcapone" Recipe from Rome, almonds from California, White chocolate from Belgium Oh...mammamia!

Left: "Oreology" Biology = Lousy, Geology = Sleepy, Oreology = YUMMY!; Right: "Avocado di Caprio" The most eligible bachelor only at J.CO! My heart will go on and on after a bite of this delightful avocado and chocolate crunch.

Left: "Jacky Chunk" CHunky chunk donut topping with chocolate makes you go Haiiyahh!!!; Middle: "Strawberry Fondue" Indulge break time with a sweet treat of strawberry jam donut dipped in dark Belgium choclate. Yum! Right: "Crunchy Crunchy"

Left: "Berry Spears" Our pop princess with glittering taste of strawberry and cream cheese will make you sing "Hit Me Baby One More Time"; Right: "Blue Berrymore" Two thumbs up!!! Delicious act by blueberry and cream cheese. We're sure that Charlie's Angels will love u!

Left: "Mr. Green Tea" It's crispy almond chunk have won thousand hearts; Right: "Meisisipi" A river of melted choco stream and choco sprinkles ROCK my taste buds!

"Nothing is sweeter than the togetherness we share" With Love, J. Co

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Day 34: Missing in action

You may have noted my absence this week. I had a black out - the internet was down.

Funny how small life conveniences shut you down nowadays when they don't work. I have thought a bit about the frustration that is caused when connectivity drops or a service is not as quick as expected. I find myself getting worked up over something tiny that impacts my "luxury-added" modern quality of life. Phone service in my apartment (and in Indonesia) is spotty. Internet can be pretty fast, but, even when you pay a premium, the speed can also be slow or spotty. Calling a cab with a phone app (or even using Uber) is possible but not always reliable. Checking in for your flight online and choosing your seats is a great convenience, but sometimes you show up at the airport and do not get what you thought you selected. You sit down with your popcorn to stream a movie and the service is glitchy. A Skype date with your husband is sabotaged. All of these minuscule things cause me to break down a little bit and require a personal reset.

Perhaps it is the illusion of possibility that makes our heads steam. In some ways, it was easier when I lived abroad without Internet and without the convenience of constant access to information and communication. My expectations were that transactions would take a lot of time and involve traipsing from one office to another to stand in line. Now, nearly everyone has some connectivity, even in the most rural areas. It makes the small things seem more wrong because we know that they should and sometimes do work.

Me? I did steam about my internet, make phone calls to the company, and feel inconvenienced. But, ultimately, I just took a digital break and read my book before falling asleep. Patience and appreciation are good reminders in a world that is demanding and fast.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Day 33: On the left side

My blog may seem overly focused on food and transportation, which may seem a little bit odd. However, if you have ever visited Indonesia, you would understand why these aspects of daily life are a central focus. People in Jakarta spend a lot of time in gridlock, or "macet." It makes doing business rather difficult, especially when face-to-face meetings are required. It means that much of my work is done on a handheld device in the back of the car, which has some serious limitations. It means that you really enjoy food when you are out of the car finally.

Here is my car time in a run-down today:

35 min. (4.6 km=2.9 miles) home to work
20 min. (2.4 km=1.5 miles) my office to the embassy
15 min. (2.4 km=1.5 miles) embassy to my office
30 min. (3 km=1.9 miles) embassy to partner meeting
25 min. (4.1 km=2.5 miles) partner meeting to Fulbright office
45 min. (7.4 km=4.6 miles) back to the office
120 min. (8.8 km=5.5 miles) office to dinner party at 5pm, during rush hour
30 min. (7.9 km=4.9 miles) dinner party to home

Almost six hours in a car in a small radius of the most central parts of this city!

So, the congestion here is no joke, and, apparently, it only worsens during the rainy season.  There are simply too many cars on the road. While I am thankful that I do not have to drive myself through the chaotic traffic of bikes and cars, I do have a lot of time to ponder (and marvel) at city planning and transportation systems and urbanization.

Weaving in and out of traffic is made more interesting because Indonesians drive on the left side of the road. Intuitively, the turns are al wrong for me, and I imagine that if I were in the driver's seat I would make blunders turning us directly into oncoming traffic. The metaphor of driving on the left side is a good one though for being in a new culture and a new place. Much of what is around you is the same but yet different, just a little bit. Just at a moment when you think you should swing wide for a left turn, you find out you need to keep close and hug the curb. Watching this amazing city and its gracious inhabitants from the backseat of a car has forced me to slow down and reflect on my interactions here. The constant surprise of being on the left side is a physical reminder that all is not as similar as it might seem -- the same... but different.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Day 31-32: Two days in East Java

Early this week, I spent two days out east in Java visiting the second largest city of Surabaya.

It was good to see Indonesia from another angle.  I even got to drive out through the countryside to the nearby town of Bangkalan. For an emerging Jakarta urbanite, the two-hour drive felt like a drive into more rural Indonesia. However, looking up the site, I see that it is a mere 45 km (29 miles) from Surabaya, making the trek seem less dramatic.

Some observations:
  • The city is really clean, as advertised. The progressive mayor has several campaigns to green up her city -- and it shows. There is a kind of cash for trash program incentivizing green practices. I could see a demonstrable difference and enjoyed the city's lusher spaces during my short visit.
  • The "countryside" ride that I took looked a bit more wild. A highlight was standing in front of a school speaking with kids and noticing a tree ripe with small mangos hanging everywhere (you know you are in the tropics when...).
  • I tried the local speciality - soto surabaya. I enjoyed its spicy goodness (soup made with chicken). Yum! Sedap!
  • The workside part of my life there involved some fun meetings with teachers, Peace Corps Volunteers, and a discussion with students about the U.S. National Park System. I look forward to going back again soon.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Day 30: The spiciest chips known to man (and woman)

Indonesian food is supposed to be spicy. The fire-in-your-mouth, I-wish-I-hadn't-eaten-this spicy. I like spicy. I am excited about spicy after living in countries with blander palates. However, so far, I have only experienced food with spices. Perhaps this is on purpose. Just like Mexicans serve gringos a watered down, cheesier version of their cuisine, I think the Indonesians serve bules a spicy-light version of their favorite dishes.

Today, I made a supermarket trip and bought what I thought would be local potato chips (spicy). On earlier trips, I have bought peanuts (spicy) and have been somewhat disappointed. I got home and poured some into a dish and started munching. YOWSERS! My lips are still tingling and I couldn't make it through more than a few without rushing back to the kitchen for a drink. Seriously, these are sweat-on-the-brow spicy goodness. Perhaps this is what Indonesian spicy is when it is unleashed?

I admit that despite the spice level, I've reached into the bag for another taste of Keripik Singkong Karuhun.  YOWSERS!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Day 29: And there was dancing

Central Asian teachers' conferences invariably included dancing, but more of the teachers in a discotheque sort. If this conference experience is any indication of what follows, Indonesian teachers' conferences also include dancing, but the performance, cultural heritage artsy sort. 

I was treated to two performances in Solo and they both were exquisite. Young, beautiful women in costume telling a story through their slow, thoughtful movements. Because Indonesia is so diverse, I am sure that dance varies from place to place, so I do not want to draw any conclusions but rather simply appreciate these performances. During the dances (which I wish I had captured better on camera), these gorgeous women do a hypnotizing slow head bobbing. It reminded me a bit of belly dancing actually - the movement looks rather simple but when you try it yourself you discover both that it is difficult and you look ridiculous. Each move controlled and calculated, traditional dances will be one of the cultural artifacts of my continued admiration.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Day 28: Double-decker

There are so many interesting kinds of transportation in Indonesia (and I am collecting photos to save for a more elaborated future post - stay tuned, dear readers!). Today, the conference organizers took us on a short tour of Solo on a big, red double-decker bus. The trip was more about shopping than cultural sites, but we did see the mayor's house where the soon-to-be president Jokowi started his political career and the batik markets Solo is famous for.


Statue of General Gatot Subroto, a hero from the war for independence

The Solo Mayor's house