There aren’t that many bicycles in Jakarta so I was glad to see some in Chinatown.

Our friend Drew told us a sad story about bicycles. He decided to vacation in this one town in Lombok (an island kind of like Bali but with less people) because he had read that they had a lot of mountain bikes you could rent. When he arrived he looked everywhere and couldn’t find a single mountain bike. Finally he asked why. The answer came back: “Everyone had them until last year. Then you started being able to buy motorbikes with just a $50 down payment. So everybody sold their mountain bikes and bought motorbikes.”


Chinatown kitties

Glodok is full of cats; especially the more food-intensive areas, which were the focus of our recent trip. I’m not sure whether this mother cat intended to share her find with her kitten or not. You can never tell, with cats.

Junk food of the week: Kue Keranjang

Kue Keranjang (KWEH krrAHNjahng) is a Chinese New Year’s cake, known as nian gao in Mandarin (you’re on your own with Chinese pronunciations). It looked delicious sitting in tidy rows in a little market in Glodok, Jakarta’s Chinatown.

What I didn’t foresee was the problem of getting it out of its plastic wrap. Nian gao is made mostly of glutinous rice flour and sugar, steamed into an unbelievably dense and sticky glob. If I pulled with all my strength I could budge the plastic, but I couldn’t pull it off. I tried slicing through it, but the cake itself proved impenetrable.

Finally Chad and our friend Mike managed to wrestle some of the nian gao free from the wrapper, and we tossed it in a pan and fried it as recommended. It was good, in a sort of toffee-ish way, but I couldn’t help feeling we’d gotten something wrong. Most people don’t need biceps of steel just to eat their New Year’s cake, do they?

Lego imitates life

Jakarta’s glossy shopping malls go out all out with their Christmas displays. Senayan City’s takes the form of a gigantic Lego metropolis, with skyscrapers, a helipad, parks, and a working monorail (the latter two signaling that this is not meant to be a literal Jakarta).

The fascinating but somewhat appalling part is the Lego plane crash, complete with rescue boats pulling survivors from the water. This, almost exactly a year after an Adam Air plane went down in the sea off Sulawesi, killing everyone on board.

Is it a joke? A political commentary? A memorial? Can it be all three? Whatever the context, the plane crash draws the biggest crowds.

Junk food of the week: Lacy pancakes

We bought one of these on the street in Jakarta’s Chinatown, Glodok. They’re lacy pancakes that are rolled up, presumably to make them easier to carry. I asked the guy what they were called but I forgot the name about three seconds later.

I would assume they harken back to the Dutch. They’re cooked on this pretty cast-iron form.

Unfortunately, the pan is kind of the most exciting thing about them. They’re crispy, thin, and somewhat sweet — perfectly edible, but nothing I’ll dream about when we’re back in the States someday and I’m longing for Indonesian food.

Four on a motorbike

Motorbikes are family vehicles in Jakarta. Three on a motorbike (two adults and a child) is common. Four is a bit more unusual. I’ve only seen five a handful of times.

There are more motorbikes than cars on the road in Jakarta, and the number is growing by leaps and bounds. That’s partly because traffic rules, to the extent that they exist, are generally viewed as optional for bikes, so the drivers weave in and out of lanes and up onto the sidewalks to get around the city’s notorious traffic jams.

The goatification of Jakarta

Yep, it’s that time of year again — Idul Adha, the day of sacrifice. Everybody who can afford it is supposed to buy a goat or cow, slaughter it, give some of the meat to the poor and enjoy the rest with friends and family.

The week before Idul Adha, Jakarta is filled with barnyard-y sights and smells. Goats are tied to trees by the side of the road or corralled in temporary pens on the sidewalks. Yesterday I saw someone walking a cow down the street, and later on, two water buffaloes (I’m pretty sure they were water buffaloes) being led across the train tracks.

It’s nice having all these animals around; it softens the intense urban-ness of Jakarta. The fun ends today, though … especially for them.