The fixer

So here we were in Jakarta, fresh off the plane without a clue or a place to live, and then we met this guy Chris who set us up with a house and a job.

Well, not quite. The house is still a work in progress. But I do have a job! A real job with benefits and a work permit and, like, a salary! I’ll be editing at the Jakarta Post, basically smoothing out articles written in English by Indonesians. Their reporters are quite good, I think (having read the Post online for months now), and it should be fun to work with them.

Also, this takes the pressure off the freelancing: I’ll still have some time to do my own stuff, but I only have to do the stories I really want to do … without worrying about paying the rent.

Chris is a fellow reporter we met at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club. We went over to look at his rental house, which he and his wife and two kids are moving out of. Once we’d seen his place, Chris said “Let’s look at some other ones too!” so we jumped in his car and went all over his neighborhood, Pejompangan (which is fun to say – a major side benefit, in my opinion). He speaks Indonesian, so he just asked everybody where there were rental houses available. We saw quite a few, from the depressing to the fabulous, most of them within our desired range of 200-300 dollars a month.

On the way back, I asked whether he knew about any jobs, and that’s when he passed on the tip about the Post.

There are people around Jakarta known as Fixers. They’re the ones who set you up with a visa or get you permission to run a business or otherwise smooth the way for whatever you’re trying to do. Chris doesn’t list Fixer on his card, or Real Estate Agent for that matter, but I think he should consider adding them. Whatever his day job, he has certainly been our Fixer, and I am grateful.

(p.s. Pardon the 9/11-related pic – not trying to be melodramatic here, it’s just far and away the best picture I can find of the Post.)

Our dog

We don’t have a dog, of course. But we’ve developed a proprietary affection for this old guy on Jalan Jaksa, a battle-scarred cur of indeterminate age and breeding. We don’t pet him. He’s not that kind of dog. We admire him from afar.

The other night we could hear a dog yapping endlessly from somewhere near the hotel. Even in our fourth-floor room the sound had a piercing quality. “That can’t be our dog,” Chad said. “It sounds like a small one.”

“And our dog is too practical to waste all that energy,” I said. “He wouldn’t raise his head unless someone kicked him.” Which is true. That’s the beauty of our dog: he plunks down right in the middle of the sidewalk and snoozes, oblivious to the foot traffic, the noisy kids, the cars zooming by, and all the other sonic bombardments of Jakarta. Our dog has focus.

Dogs and cats both have it tough here, for sure, but somehow I feel a little worse for the dogs. The street cats look kind of wild, and they’re suspicious of humans. You can’t really imagine them curled up on your couch. The dogs on the street look like normal dogs to me, and it just seems like they should have a home. I guess it’s the only life they know, though. Until they start watching TV, they’ll probably feel okay about themselves.

very in a nightlife grasp

We went to see a reggae band last weekend, but unfortunately they didn’t materialize. In their place was a “classic rock” band, which plied a wide range of waters from Procol Harum to Radiohead, all sung in the original English. They weren’t a great band, but they had a decent guitarist, and the singer was really getting into it – rocking the mic stand backwards and forwards, waving his arms around.

It’s so much more poignant listening to your umpteen millionth cover of “Whole Lotta Love” when the singer has a foreign accent and you’re far away from home. It was cheezy, and it was cultural hegemony, and it was a band I probably wouldn’t have stuck around for in the States, but it worked.

It’s kinda tough to find out about music here because there’s no magazine or paper with listings, even in Indonesian. Everybody just SMSes each other when they happen to hear about a gig. Fortunately we’ve fallen in with a very nice Austrialian guy who’s plugged in to the system. I really would like to hear Indonesian reggae one of these days.

Chad blogs about another night of clubbing on his site, Indo Stories, which you can link to on the right.

A room with a view

So this is a view from our hotel window. Not bad, eh? The tile roofs are very typical, although they seem to be giving way to corrugated metal roofs that are not nearly so romantic.

We’re thinking of moving out in a couple of days to a place closer to our language class. That’ll reduce traveling time during these next two weeks, while we’re taking daily classes. Our hotel is beginning to wear on us, anyway. There’s the breakfast, which never varies: fried rice, white bread (which must be a legacy of the Dutch – I was surprised to see so much bread everywhere), margarine, cheap jam, weak tea and even weaker coffee. The cleaning, on the other hand, is never the same from one day to the next: they might give you new towels or mop the floor or change the sheets, but they won’t do all three on the same day. Today they took our towels and didn’t leave any new ones. Yesterday at 10 am they said “We’ll clean tomorrow. It’s too late to clean today.”

Anyway, maybe we’ll move over the weekend, and maybe we won’t. We might just hang out and enjoy the peace and quiet: it’s a Hindu holiday today and tomorrow so lots of people have gone away for the weekend. There’s hardly any traffic jams and the internet connection speed is much better.

The teenagers who frequent the wartel love to change the pictures on the desktops. Last week they all had pictures of fighter planes. Today it’s pictures of John Lennon, which seems a little less belligerent (no offense, Jim). A little snapshot, perhaps, of the Youth of Today in Jakarta.

Blok M

The salespeople here have an interesting technique: they stand right next to you and stare at you while you rifle through the garment racks. Sometimes I realize I’m directing more mental energy toward ignoring the shopworkers than I am toward looking at the actual goods.

Yesterday I encountered an even more dubious strategy. I stopped at a kiosk selling Indian shirts at Blok M. The woman running it immediately came over and said “We have XL!” Then she pulled a few really enormous shirts off the rack and held them up. They don’t teach you that one in your Gap training session!

The picture is of some t-shirt salesmen at Blok M. The sign over their heads says “Broken Price!”

Blok M is the biggest market in the city. It’s so central, it has its own bus station that all the bus lines go to. It’s sort of like a cross between a suburban mall and a tag sale. Basically, they took a whole bunch of street vendors and packed them into a big warehouse-like building. It’s a crazy stew of loud pop music, loud Arabic-sounding music, loud people, fried food, cheap clothes, and brightly colored toys from (where else?) China. I didn’t even feel much need to shop – just walking around was fascinating.

Of course I did shop, though. I bought a t-shirt with a view of the Manhattan skyline from across the river. The slogan says: “On other side very a nightlife grasp.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. I think Chad is going to put some other Chinglish (or the Indonesian equivalent) from Blok M on his blog, Indo Stories, which you can link to from the right side of this page.

Jalan Jaksa

We’re staying at a hotel on Jalan Jaksa, the stereotypical backpacker street. Jaksa has a good cheap Indian restaurant called Pappa’s. They play the same dippy pop song over and over (“and I say lalalalalala in the mooorning, lalalalalala in the moooorning ….), so you have to have a certain mental resilience to eat there. There’s also a somewhat upscale place called Ya-Udah that serves burgers, ham-and-egg sandwiches, and other treats for homesick expats.

And everywhere there is Bintang, the national beer, modeled on Dutch beer and very pleasant on a hot day (they are all hot days, of course).

You can get a bed in a dorm room around here for probably $5, but we’re paying a little more for a private room with our own bathroom and hot water.

Today I was sitting in Ya-Udah eating fried noodles when they started playing a Johnny Cash tune over the sound system. (One of his later, stripped-down, gospel-y songs.) Then the afternoon call to prayer started wailing from the speakers of the nearby mosque. It was a strange duet for a minute until one of the waitresses cut off the music.

Here’s Chad at the bottom of Jaksa in one of those rare quiet moments – no people, cars or motorbikes hurtling at him.

Kaki lima

I’m still trying to get more pictures up, but man, it’s painful sitting here in the wartel waiting for big files to upload. For now, here’s one of a fruit-and-vegetable stand out on Jalan Wahid Hasyim, around the corner from our hotel. There are far more stands than stores in our neighborhood; if you want something, you can probably find it at a stand, whether it’s new upholstery for your chair, shoe repair, a phone card, or what have you.

This kind is called a “kaki lima,” or “five legs”: that’s the three wheels on the cart plus the two legs on the cart’s owner.

Have you bathed?

Two days ago we woke to find we had no running water in our room at the Hotel Karya. When we turned on the faucet, we got a little dribble that quickly tapered off to nothing.

Our shower is a humble affair – just a hand-held nozzle on a short hose. You have to contort yourself a bit to wash your hair. Still, a lack of water is a serious problem. People in Jakarta bathe often. I have yet to run into anyone smelly. In fact, “have you bathed?” is supposed to be an ordinary bit of chit-chat, along the lines of “how are you?” or “what’s up?” Thus, when you’re unwashed, you not only feel icky, but you feel like a pariah. You feel you’re doing a poor job of representing your country … your hemisphere, even.

Because it’s so early in our stay, it seems emblematic of all the months ahead. “I’m going to be smelly for days,” I thought. “I will never be clean.”

We complained in the morning and again at noon. It’s no good getting annoyed or losing your temper, so we complained smilingly. We gritted our teeth and began making emergency plans in case it wasn’t fixed by nightfall.

Then, wondrously, the water came back on in the afternoon. I have never been so happy for a cold dribbly shower in my whole life. The next time I went out, I thanked the guy at the front desk.

“Ah, have you bathed?” he said with a little smile.

“I bathed,” I said blissfully, and walked out into the hot sun.