Puncak – the waterfalls

Before hitting the trail up to the hot springs on Mt. Pangrango, you have to make a ritual sacrifice to the Indonesian bureaucracy. Unfortunately I hadn’t brought the traditional offering, my passport, so we had to do a lot of waiting around in a small office before they issued our hiking permits.

Once we got going, though, everything was great. The foliage here is denser than on Merapi; it’s really jungley. This wooden walkway takes you over a long boggy stretch. The air smelled intensely green and planty.

Our first destination was this high rocky valley with three big waterfalls. It’s a pretty cool place, but since it’s an easy one-hour hike, it was really crammed with people. I kept looking around expecting to see guys selling fried tofu or Teh Botol, because it was just like a Saturday afternoon at the marketplace.

I couldn’t figure out whether these people in orange were a hiking group or a company out for a team-building exercise. Or maybe some Ukrainian protesters. They were really whooping it up for the photographer.

Talking to Widi on the Phone: A Poem

Talking to Widi on the phone: oh lord.
Talking to Widi on the phone: it hurts.
He says something really long in Indonesian and in the pause while I struggle to decipher it and formulate an answer he suddenly says
And all the words I’ve gathered in my head
fall away.
I don’t even like phones.
I don’t think Widi likes phones.
Who said phones were such a great idea anyway?

Talking to Widi on the phone.
It hurts. Oh lord.

Prepaid cellphone cards: What are these people so happy about?


Puncak is Jakarta’s weekend getaway, so the capital has exported a certain amount of urban sprawl here. The main road running through the Puncak Pass is clogged with buses and motorbikes, and all the little villages along the way are growing into one long strip of hotels, restaurants, noodle carts, mini-marts, etc.

You may be stuck in traffic for a while, but at least you can get your shopping done. We were offered sliced mangoes, cubes of deep-fried tofu, cigarettes, peanuts, candy, cold Strawberry Fanta, aluminum bowls, vinyl belts, and an elementary English-Arabic textbook.

We arrived in the afternoon and went straight to the lovely botanical garden, which is much bigger (and cleaner!) than the one in Bogor. It’s probably worth a weekend of its own. The air was clean and almost cool enough for a sweater, which was pretty exciting after the prolonged dry/hot season we’ve been having in Jakarta.

Thanksgiving subs

People keep asking us what we’re doing for Thanksgiving. In between, I keep forgetting it’s Thanksgiving. The calendar says November, but the weather here is still pure August: mid-90s during the day, sunny, and humid.

I had to work this afternoon anyway, so I went to spinning class at the gym, and then Chad and I got subs in the mall food court. Mine was a meatball sub. I was foolishly thinking Italian meatballs drenched in tomato sauce, but what I got was something like Swedish meatballs with a sprinkling of pickled carrots and fresh cilantro. It was actually quite tasty, so I had no complaints.

And it came with that traditional Thanksgiving side, chopped fresh chilis.

Grassman on Gatot Subroto

Passing, at last

You never know who you’ll see on the freeway here. The other night we wanted to go to a movie, but since the new 007 flick is hogging 3 out of every 4 screens near us, we had to take the nearby megahighway to a place south of Blok M to catch “The Prestige”. The highway, Gatot Subroto, was even more jammed than usual, and eventually we found out why: this man pulling a cart loaded with bundles of long grass was blocking a whole lane.

Some people honked, but most just drove around. I think there’s a lot of tolerance for things like this because everybody knows he’s poor and he’s just trying to make a living. But you have to wince, because he’s obviously putting himself in danger.

Indonesia is a drive-on-the-left country, so he was in the slow lane, at least.

Through the taxi’s back window. Note fake palm trees.

We really liked “The Prestige”, by the way.

Cooking with Ibu Trish: Terong Balado (Eggplant in Tomato-Chili Sauce)

We had a bunch of eggplants in the fridge the other morning, but only one tomato. I was looking idly out the window, wishing some tomatoes would materialize, when right on cue the vegetable cart came down the street. Voila! Terong balado!

The finished product

This is easy, doesn’t require any special ingredients, and is found all over Jakarta. Sabrina’s, the locally renowned warung down the street from the Post, makes a version that leaves me speechless (of course, that’s easier in Indonesian …).

This recipe is stolen and slightly modified from asiarecipe.com.

  • 1 lg Eggplant
  • 3 Garlic cloves, sliced or chopped
  • 4 tb Onion or Shallot, chopped
  • 1 1/2 c fresh Tomatoes, diced or just smushed into the bowl with your hands (the more fun method)
  • 1 t Sugar
  • 1 t Salt
  • 2 ts fresh minced hot chili peppers or hot chili sauce, to taste
  • 1/2 c Water
  • 2 tb Vegetable oil

If you have the kind of big eggplant one usually gets in the US, cut it into quarters or even eighths, and then cut those into segments 2 or 3 inches long. If you have skinny eggplants, just cut them in half, and then into segments. Bake them at 400 200 for 20-25 minutes, or until they are soft but not mushy. (Err on the side of overcooking, because undercooked eggplant is a crime.)

We don’t have an oven, so I steamed the eggplant and then fried it for better texture

Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix the onion, garlic, tomatoes, salt, sugar, peppers and water and mash with a wooden spoon until it forms a coarse paste.

Fry the tomato paste in the oil until the liquid is reduced (about 10 minutes). Pour the sauce over the eggplant and serve with rice. Eat voraciously.

Foibles lost and found

Two things have been true about me for the last several years: I sleep with a pillow over my head, and I can’t stand long sleeves.

The pillow is a legacy of my late cat, Jasper, who used to poke my face in the middle of the night. If you’ve ever caught a claw in the sensitive inner lining of the nostril at 3 a.m., you’ll understand my need for a defensive barrier.

Jasper: resting up for another night of assault and battery

As for long sleeves, they’re just so annoying. Always strangling your wrists or getting caught on things or finding their way into the hummus.

When we moved to Jakarta, both of these traits miraculously disappeared. I slept in planes and hotels and our new apartment without anything on my head. I bought long-sleeved shirts and wore them without pushing the sleeves up, even in this blast furnace of a city. It was a new me. I was impressed with myself, since I’ve observed that life is mostly a process of solidifying in your old habits, not shedding them.

But somehow, the habits have crept back. I’m not quite sure when or how. Did I become more ‘myself’ again after a few months? Are foibles like these the flags of our true personalities? I would have thought they’d actually get stronger in times of change. Has anybody else out there lost habits, only to regain them?

I’ll be interested to see whether they pull another disappearing act someday when we move back to the States. In many ways coming home is as disorienting as leaving, but somehow you always underestimate the difficulty. Maybe I’ll need two pillows on the head when we go back.

Pak Haji and the school fees

Chad and I got a very chatty cab driver the other day. Pak (Mr.) Haji told us he has 12 children and is poor. His title, Haji, implies that you have some money, because it signifies that you’ve done the Hajj pilgrimage. But he told us the only way he’d gotten to Mecca was by working in Saudi Arabia. Usually the people who join the work-abroad programs are pretty desperate, so that all made sense.

White hat worn by men who’ve done the Hajj

We chatted away in a perfectly friendly fashion until we got to our destination, when Pak Haji suddenly turned and said, “Can you help me? I’ve had to take one of my children out of school because I don’t have money. I can’t afford the school fees.”

I felt bad. We have money and he doesn’t. But I also felt mad. Why did you have twelve kids, I thought, if you can’t afford to send them to school? And your financial strategy is to hit up random foreigners for money? We don’t tote around enough cash to pay for a year of school fees, so how are we even supposed to help anyway?

We gave him a few thousand extra rupiah, which is a pittance, and got out as quickly as we could.

Chad and I talked about it quite a bit that afternoon. Chad is perhaps more of a revolutionary than I am, and he argued the guy was just confronting the obvious injustice conferred by our backgrounds and trying to solve it in the simplest way.

But I saw no reason for Pak Haji to have so many children, since birth control is easily obtainable here. Furthermore, the evidence suggested he had more than one wife, and I’m totally opposed to polygamy. (There are all sorts of complex socio-economic arguments against it, but my objection is simple: men are allowed to have multiple spouses here, but women aren’t. It’s pure sexism!)

Of course, on the other hand, the person who’s really at stake here is a child. We should probably pay the school fees, if only so that s/he ends up making better decisions than dear old dad!

There is no resolution to the Pak Haji debate. It’s one you have every day as someone from a wealthy country who’s living in a poor country. You have money and a lot of people don’t. On one extreme, you get paralyzed by guilt and just throw money at everybody you see. On the other, you get hardened enough to walk past the lowliest street beggar without surrendering even a 100-rupiah coin (worth about a penny). My attitude is a sliding scale that changes a hundred times a day.

I suppose a partial answer is to give money to charity, so I’m renewing my effort to do so. I’ve been slow to choose one because even in the case of nonprofits, you have to watch out for corruption. I’d feel better about saying no to someone like Pak Haji if I knew we were giving to a good organization to help kids with nutrition and school fees. And maybe I’ll donate to a population-control group, too!