A big pile of junk … coming soon to your town!

So we’re off to the US tomorrow to catch up with family and friends. With less than 24 hours to go, the apartment is a mess, I’ve only just started to pack, and I’ve somehow acquired a mountain of trivialities to distribute around New England: Chiki Balls, Seaweed Cheetos, Kopi Susu candy, silly video clips, and notebooks with strange sayings on the front (“You and a friend are pleased at measure. Can you make a good friend with me?”)

Of course, I do think nothing says “I’ve really missed you for the last year and a half” like a Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Beng-Beng. But if you’re expecting to see me within the next 30 days or so, consider yourself warned. As for the blog, I probably won’t be writing much for a bit. See you later!

Pop Quiz

A trash-picker makes his rounds shortly after the Jakarta flood in February

1. Is it immoral to eat three times a day if some people only eat once?

2. Is it immoral to pay $40 a month for a fancy gym if, from the window of said gym, you can see people living in a garbage dump?

3. When Marie Antoinette said “Let them eat cake,” did she tell herself: “I’m doing my part. I’m promoting the local cake industry. A rising tide lifts all boats”?


This guy struts around our end of the street like he owns it. Which he does, in a feline sense. I usually see him scavenging in the trash bins or menacing other cats, so I was surprised to find him sprawled in front of our gate the other day, snoozing in a way that said: “I have nothing to worry about. There are no cats tougher than me within at least a two-block radius.”


I was trying to shoot an enormous Spiderman cellphone ad on the building in the middle here, but a public minivan (mikrolet) and a motorbike snuck in. Then I decided I kind of liked the picture this way.

We are at the tail end of a Spiderman blitz. Spiderman on multiple screens at the movie theatres; Spiderman in ads; Spiderman blowup dolls and posters being hawked on the streets. But then Ocean’s 13 and Pirates of the Caribbean arrived, and suddenly Spidey was yesterday’s news.

Cruising the Ciliwung

On Saturday, Chad and I and a friend went to check out the city’s new water taxi. Having a water taxi in Jakarta may seem like a bad joke, given how polluted the canals and rivers are. But I love the idea of getting around the city in boats, and I love the idea that maybe water taxis will inspire people to stop throwing trash in the canals.

Maybe others agree, because there was a pretty long line to get on board.

This first route is clearly just a touristy thing. It only runs on Saturdays and Sundays, for a few hours a day, along a brief, 1.7 kilometer stretch of the Ciliwung River.

Yes, the water was dirty and yes, the engines clogged with garbage. Twice, actually. But it really wasn’t very smelly.

People seemed to have a good time, especially the kids.

It looks almost romantic in the sunset, doesn’t it?

Huge waves

For the last part of Laura’s visit, we went to the beach at Pelabuhan Ratu with a group of friends. Pelabuhan Ratu is known for its rough surf, but we could tell as soon as we set eyes on the ocean that something unusual was going on.

The waves were huge. That first night, they tore out our rental cottage’s bamboo fence, busted up the front of a stone staircase and tossed it around, and grabbed most of the tires that buffered our little beachside gazebo.

We were banned from the gazebo anyway, because a lot of other houses had lost theirs.

The ocean was hypnotically powerful. We couldn’t help staring at it.

We didn’t swim much; you could see the rip tides racing across the beach. But we played board games and frisbee, and read, and bought the makings of a great dinner from the fish market. I’m not very beachy anyway, so I had a great time.

It was sobering to see damage to people’s houses and fields, though. Later we read there’d been big waves all up and down the coast, from Aceh in the north down to Bali in the south. It was nothing on the order of the 2004 tsunami, of course, but it sparked unpleasant memories for some and served as a reminder of what the ocean can do.

Junk food of the week: Garuda Katom

Garuda Katom (short for “Atomic Peanuts) are one of your quintessential Indonesian processed foods.

They’re peanuts covered with a thick, crunchy tapioca-flour coating that’s slightly sweet and slightly salty, and flavored with a ton of garlic extract to give you killer breath.

Garuda started in the tapioca business, then branched into roasted peanuts. When the son of the founder joined the company in the mid-90s, he started experimenting with ways to combine the two products. Eureka! A junk food was born!