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.”

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.


I’m back at the Jakarta Post for a few days, filling in on the check desk. It’s weird, because I haven’t worked there since April or so, and I’ve forgotten the little idiosyncracies of JP punctuation, as well as how the software works and everything.

On the plus side, it’s nice to catch up with friends there, and go back to some of my favorite street food spots. There’s a woman who runs a tasty gado-gado place just down the street from the office. Gado-gado means hodgepodge, and that’s what it is: a pile of vegetables, usually including water spinach or something similar, mung bean sprouts, green beans, potatoes, cucumbers, tofu, and hard-boiled eggs, all covered in a peanut sauce of variable spiciness. On the side are some crumbly, slightly bitter, addictive chips made from a kind of local nut. Tasty!

Stobrox’s Cat Motor

That’s the end of my Kalimantan posts, because it’s the end of my pictures. The Tane Olen forest is beautiful, and I’m hoping we get back there someday. They’re building four simple huts and improving their hiking trails in hopes of attracting hut-to-hut trekkers. We’d like to go back and hike the whole thing when they’re done.

Anyway … back to Jakarta, for the moment.

The word “cat ” is troublesome for English speakers because you can’t help reading it as … well, cat. But in Indonesian it’s pronounced “chaht” and means “paint.” So this is a motorcycle painting establishment.

People find the “Cat Oven” signs even more disturbing. Those are not places that serve Baked Fluffy … they’re giant ovens for baking paint onto cars.

Running rapids in reverse

The last leg of our trip took us even farther upriver, to the protected forest reserve of Tane Olen. The water is very shallow above Setulang so we had to use two light canoes instead of one big one.

The boats have longtail outboard motors that stick straight out in back. Even so, the pilots had to jump out several times to drag us over the rocky bottom.

This did not at all dampen their enthusiasm for fishing. They stopped several times at eddies along the way to cast nets. One guy dived repeatedly with a little spear-gun. At one especially productive spot, he caught a few fish with his bare hands.

We spent the night at a hut in the forest. They cooked up the fish Dayak-style, roasted inside a length of bamboo complete with their stomach contents and then mashed into a green, soupy liquid. The fish eat only vegetation that grows on the river rocks, so they tasted bitter but herby. On the side were some tiny, fierce chili peppers, ground up with salt. Based on that experience, plus a wild-pig stew we ate later featuring big chunks of pig fat, I concluded Dayak food is not for the faint of heart.