Eggs are sold unrefrigerated here, which freaked me out a little at first. We put them in the fridge once we get home, and they seem fine. In fact, they’re quite good — firm shells, a very orange yolk, and really eggy, like free-range eggs in the States. Maybe they’re fresher, or maybe it’s just that more chickens here get to scratch around and lead chickeny lives, as opposed to the bizarre world of factory farms.

The floods aren’t over

Remember the Jakarta floods? They were three or four disasters ago. The other day our friend Ardi took me to see a school in notoriously flood-prone Kampung Melayu, one of the areas that got hit the hardest.

Packed in

School is back in session, but they have to crowd large numbers of students into the few usable rooms.

Blackboard and brownboard

The unusable ones are pretty messed up. The floodwaters were full of slime and garbage that got into every nook: every crack in the walls, every joint in the bookshelves, every chair and table that wasn’t swept away.

That’s Ardi in the back, and one of the teachers in front

A whole section of the school needs a new roof. That’s how high the water got. In fact, at one point people were escaping the neighborhood by walking on the roof.

In front of Ardi’s mother’s house

This is a horrible picture of me, but I wanted to show you Ardi’s mom (right) and, I believe, his aunt (left). They both live near the school. During the worst of the flooding, his aunt spent two days perched on the roof of her house. She looks a tad grim here, but in fact she’s a very smiley person.

“They dropped me food and water from a helicopter,” she said cheerfully, with the stoicism that gets tested all too often here.

It rained the night before my visit, and the neighborhood flooded again. The water had already receded by the time I got there, but his mom showed me the new waterline in her house, more than a foot high and still damp. “How many days has it flooded this year?” I asked. “Not days!” they laughed. “Two months!” Two months and counting, that is.

Junk food of the week: Kueku

Kueku (KWAY-koo) means “my pastry.” The remarkable sticky-chewiness of the outer layer can only come from glutinous rice flour, and I assume the violent pink is from food coloring. But what’s inside is a mystery to me. Anybody know? It’s like some kind of bean paste, but more crumbly. It’s pleasantly bland and mushy, and just a little sweet.

Kueku comes on a little piece of banana leaf to keep it from glomming onto everything in its path.

It’s sometimes for sale in the lunchroom at work, on the honor system. The jar lid says “Don’t forget to pay,” which seems awfully polite for a newsroom. I think the American version would be more like “Fork it over, lunkheads!”

Tiny ants

We believe the house lizards (see below) eat these tiny ants. If so, they’re going to become very fat lizards, because there seems to be an endless supply of ants.

Drop a little drip of condensed milk on the kitchen counter during the coffee-making routine, and ants will appear out of nowhere. Drop some tuna salad and they’ll really have a party. Sometimes we come out of our little home office to find an episode of Wild Kingdom in the living room — a tribe of ants carrying a dead moth or something across the floor.

Cold-blooded housemates

Our house lizards (cicak) like to hang out behind the dish rack or, more hazardously, underneath the burners of our little counter-top stove. They hold up their end of the housework by eating bugs, which is a highly valued function in our kitchen. They generally keep to themselves, but sometimes when you’re cooking dinner they’ll make little clicking noises as if to say, “Don’t overcook the pasta! You know you hate it when it gets all gummy!”


Our latest food fixation is mie tarik, Chinese pulled noodles, at the food court in the Senayan City mall.

They make the noodles by stretching the dough way out in midair, doubling it back on itself, and stretching it out again. After doubling it, they thwack it on the counter to separate the noodles, and sometimes they add a little oil to keep them from sticking together. Then they toss the dough into a waiting pot of water, and moments later dinner is ready.

It seems impossible that this process could yield actual noodles, but it does — such tasty ones.

Tall wall

Our friend John hooked us up with rock-climbing at this wall in the middle of town. It’s really high; a lot higher than the ones at the gym back in Bloomington. 20 meters, is what the guide told us: almost 66 feet

The wall is next to a shopping mall (of course), so one doesn’t lack for an audience, especially from the under-12 demographic.

The guy holding the rope is Panji, the climbing guide. For a very reasonable fee, he brings a bunch of gear and belays you for as long as you want. He also organizes outdoor trips, which we really want to do.

Panji is wearing an Asian X-Games shirt. A competitor’s shift. He’ll be competing in the next one too, in May in Kuala Lumpur.

Panji can make it up this wall in 12 seconds. When he speed-climbs it, he has to have two people belaying, just to take the rope in fast enough. I didn’t worry about safety at all, climbing with him — he’s ridiculously overqualified to be standing around holding a rope for me.

I didn’t make it to the top. The holds are all nice and chunky, but they were pretty reachy for me, with my short arms and short legs. That’s good. If I scampered right up the first time, I wouldn’t have much to work on next time. Chad will get bored sooner than me, but there’s a thoroughly evil overhanging wall just to the right (you can see a bit of it in the top pic) that should keep him in fits for a long time to come.

Junk food of the week: Dippin’ Dots

Dippin’ Dots originated in the good old American Midwest, so it’s strange that the only place I’ve ever encountered it is in certain malls in Jakarta. Basically it’s pebble-sized ice cream in various flavors (above is Candy Bar Crunch).

Their website describes the inventor of Dippin’ Dots, perhaps unwisely, as “a microbiologist with an intense interest in cryogenic freezing” and claims Dippin’ Dots is creamier than other ice creams because its lower freezing temperature creates less ice particles or air molecules or . . . well, whatever.

Dippin’ Dots uses high-quality flavorings so it’s pretty tasty, especially when it melts a little. It won’t make me forget Cherry Garcia, though.

Mud tourists

For those who are just catching up, there are several posts here from our recent trip to the mud volcano disaster that has flooded thousands of people out of their homes in Sidoarjo, East Java …

The main highway in Porong runs right next to the disaster site. You can climb the embankment and look out over the mud lake and the distant geyser. On weekends, it’s full of mud tourists.

Local vendors bombard you with offers of ojek (motorcycle-taxi) rides and DVDs, sometimes actually pulling you toward their motorcycles by the arm. It’s a pretty aggressive scene by Indonesian standards. Some of the men who’ve lost their houses have been officially licensed as ojek drivers for the disaster area. They’re clearly pretty anxious to make some money.

Here’s a license: “Embankment Ojek Association, Victim of Hot Mud Overflow.” It must be odd to wear a badge that says “Victim.”