Monday, September 24, 2012

Jakarta Car Free Day: Ondel-Ondel and Bike Tricks

Tim and I headed out this past Sunday, yet again, for Jakarta's Car Free Day.  We were pleasantly surprised to stumble upon several fun sights while biking around, including the Jakarta marathon.  We were pretty incredulous that people could run a marathon while breathing Jakarta's thick and polluted dry season air, but they were doing it!

We also biked past this pretty fun sight: super tall, traditional Betawi ondel-ondel puppet performer guys:

Tim and I think the dance was staged for a tv commercial and thus not totally spontaneous, but it was pretty cool anyway.  Tim says he sees ondel-ondel like these wandering around near his office a lot, busking, so the traditional dance is still alive and well, even when the tv cameras are not rolling.

Their dance is traditionally performed to ward off evil spirits (or these days just to liven up a party or ceremony). 

I'm not 100% sure what type of dance the ladies are doing... perhaps topeng?  Maybe jaipongan?  Check out my video below and maybe you can help me figure it out.

After watching the dance show, we biked around a bit more and then stopped by this cool bike jump contest thing (I'm sure there's an official name for it, but we'll just call it "Guys in grey t-shirts and jeans doing bike tricks.") 

A pretty fun Car Free Day!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Grocery Games: 7-11 Donuts

After hitting up the local pub the other night, Tim and I stopped by 7-11 to pick up some more beers to bring home.  While waiting in the cash register queue I noticed the donut stand had some strange descriptions... what is a "black coat donut"?  How about "reddy slash donut"?  Google has failed me.

Englishman in NY

I think I may have expressed confusion over this strange fact in the past, but I continue to find it very odd that the number one go-to song for Indonesia cover bands (which are plentiful, particularly in Jakarta) is "Englishman in New York."  The song is a mildly popular Sting song from 1987, and yet literally every single bar band we have seen here in Indonesia has this song in their repertoire.  Tim and I stopped putting bets on whether it will be played or not, as it is inevitable.  Why is this somewhat obscure, 25-year-old song so popular?*  Why? 

This clip above is a band playing in a new Irish pub in our neighborhood.  And, yes, that is my thumb in the video.  I may or may not have had a few beers in me.

* Another song that is on every cover band set list here is Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours," but the popularity of that one with cover bands seems somewhat more straightforward because it is internationally ubiquitous ... it was a #1 radio hit for months and months.

Dry Season Sucks

Dry season in Jakarta is no fun.  It's been dry here in Jakarta for months now, probably since April.  I thought I would prefer dry season to rainy season with its sudden downpours and subsequent traffic jams, but I'll take rainy season over musim kering any day for the following reasons:

Looks like fall with leaves all over the side of the road, but it's just super dry.

1. It's hot.  Very hot.  Without the rain, there's no break in the heat.

2. The air quality is awful- the rain and wind seem to clear the air somewhat each day during rainy season.  Without it, the pollution just sits there and can be suffocating. 

3. The water in the canals and sewers is really low and thus really stinky.  Really stinky.  And full of trash, as evidenced below.  I think the rain usually washes the trash down to a choke point elsewhere in the city, which I realize is problematic for flooding, but without rain the trash just sits there, which also sucks.

4. Mosquitoes... so many mosquitoes!  Without the rain to wash away their eggs each day, the city is overrun with nyamuk right now.  Tim and I are plagued in our bedroom each night with mosquitoes buzzing in our ears and biting our faces and arms.  Also, many restaurants have been infiltrated, so the mozzies bite your legs under the table, even inside.  Luckily many restaurants keep little packets of anti-mosquito lotion for patrons.

5. I've heard that in other parts of the city, water pressure is down to nothing.  My Bahasa Indonesia teacher says she only has a dribble from the faucet at her house.  We haven't experienced problems yet... fingers crossed.

6. The dry season is wreaking havoc on farmers and their crops, much like it did in the U.S. this year.

7. Forest fires are a major issue on some of Indonesia's other islands, like Sumatra and Kalimantan (Borneo), and the dry season is not helping.  The fires are sending smoke throughout all of southeast Asia, affecting air quality in other cites, like Singapore.

I'm ready to bust out my umbrella again for rainy season.  Bring it on.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sounding the "Everything's OK" Alarm

I am officially sounding the "Everything's OK" alarm:

Not to make light of the situation (I hope all of our fellow Americans here in Jakarta are safe), but I just wanted to let you know that we are doing fine here in Jakarta despite recent violent anti-U.S. protests at the embassy.  Tim and I are steering clear of the embassy area (which is easy as it's not near where we work or live) and are paying close attention to the news in case things escalate, which hopefully they won't.

Thanks everyone for your concern- glad to hear news from Indonesia is making it to the U.S.!!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Baby Durians

Remember way back when I gave you a tour of our new, albeit empty, home and I showed you blurry photos of the big, spikey durians hanging off the tree behind our apartment?

Well, here is that same durian tree, flush with babies... aww, aren't they cute? 

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Bali Birthday: Amed

Tim treated me to a pretty kick-ass weekend in Bali for my birthday this past weekend...  we headed to a part of the island we hadn't yet been to, the coast on the far eastern tip of the island, a few hours from the airport and miles away from the beach party scene surrounding it.  We stayed in a cute little cliff-side, ocean-view villa in a fishing and salt-making village, Lipah, which is part of a group of villages collectively referred to as Amed (Amed is just the largest of those villages). 

The area is a stark contrast to the bright and flashy beach areas of south Bali.  On the dry side of the island in the foothills of the Mount Agung, Bali's revered volcano (gunung api, which literally means fire mountain), the area around Amed is much less lush than other parts of the island.  People have historically struggled to successfully grow very much there, so they rely on fishing, sea salt production, and now scuba diving tourists for their livelihoods.  The Amed area is visibly poorer than other parts of Bali, as evidenced by the tens of people Tim and I saw bathing and washing clothes in the stream on our way into the area.

The view from our villa was great... blue ocean peeking out through the fruit-heavy mango tree and bougainvillea:

In the early mornings and late evenings, you could see Amed's fleet of colorful, wooden, double-outrigger fishing boats (called jukung) with their brightly striped sails:

Our hotel was also home to these two ducks that waddled around the pool/restaurant area... I think they may have been the owners pets, but the staff was none too happy about it.  Each time the waiter came out with a beer for us, the ducks ran after him, quaking and biting his legs and feet.  Poor guy.

Unfortunately not pictured here is the main purpose for our visit to this area: diving the USAT Liberty wreck. The wreck is a U.S. military transport ship that was torpedoed by the Japanese in 1942 off the coast of Bali during WWII.  The ship was beached near Tulamben so that the cargo could be recovered and sat there until
1963 when Mt. Agung erupted, sending tremors through the island that shook the ship back into the water,  about 25 meters from the rocky shoreline.  Since then, the wreck, the top of which is about 5 meters deep and the bottom of which is 30 meters deep, has grown soft and hard coral and become home to tons of sea life, making it an awesome diving spot.

I wish we had an underwater camera to capture how cool this dive was, but in the meantime, I'll rely on the internet to link us to lots of Liberty wreck dive photos.  With the help of dive outfitter Eco-Dive, we suited up on the beach for the dive, waded into the water and swam out to the wreck.  The wreck is sorta split in half, so you're able to swim into it, and yet it's not confining, as you can see from this video.  Tons of fish were swimming all around us, not unlike this video (although our dive was not accompanied by weird porny sounding music)- schools of snapper and surgeonfish, moorish idols, sting rays, nudibranches, sweetlips, box fish...

Our next dive was a couple coves down from the wreck and was an awesome wall dive going to depths of 60-70 meters... Super cool coral, including giant barrel sponges, nudibranches, grouper, lots of trumpet fish, box fish, giant clams, skunk anemone fish (like Nemo, but with the stripe going down his back skunk style), puffer fish, anemone shrimp, and the coolest of all: the ghost pipe fish.  Pretty beautiful and relaxing dive.

After diving we took a dip in the hotel pool and had a beer, then headed out on one of the jukung for a little sunset boat ride with fisherman Wayan.  Apparently, when not fishing, the fishermen are happy to make an extra buck by toting bules around the bay.

The junkung is very narrow- just wide enough for my butt to fit comfortably, but surprisingly deep- my feet dangled when I was sitting on the boat's bench. 

I loved seeing all the boats lined up on the beach- they look at little bit like insects from afar:

From the boat you could see Mt. Agung in the distance:

You could also see some of the valleys in the foothills of Mt. Agung:

This photo give you a sense of how arid the area is- the hill tops are totally brown and dry:


These glamour shots are the result of me only bringing the new telephoto lens that Tim gave me.  Turns out it's hard to take a photo of yourself on a narrow wooden boat with a telephoto lens without falling out of the boat.  And yet somehow the photos turned out to be really cool:

The sunset over the volcano was really beautiful:

I love how colorful the sails are on the jukung, giving each on a personality... and each one has its legs painted different colors, too:

Obligatory chickens-on-the-side-of-the-road shot:

As I mentioned, the Amed area is known for its sea salt production, although I think they are phasing it out somewhat as the tourist industry develops and because it is backbreaking work.  Tim and I stopped by the salt production area on our way out of town, but weren't able to capture the production as it happened because it normally happens quite early in the morning before it gets too hot (well, too hot is relative, I guess).

Salt-making involves lugging buckets of sea water ashore to spread on the sand, let the water evaporate and then harvest the natural salts.  It's a multi-step process, documented at this website.  Kinda crazy to think about how much work goes into salt, huh?