The trials of Susu

Well, I can’t say it’s been an easy first week. Susu continues to be afflicted with the runs, which means a host of other problems are not getting better. It also means she’s poopy and stinky a lot, so we’re forced to wash her a lot, which is not a happy experience for any of us. And out of anger or just because she’s sick, she’s started using things like the morning newspaper and Chad’s suitcase as substitute litterboxes.

The vet changed her diet today and we are REALLY hoping that vanquishes the diarrhea.

Still, she’s a pretty cute little bugger, especially when she’s getting all sleepy on the couch.

Junk food of the week: Silver Queen

I was surprised when my friend Michele told me she’d spotted Indonesia’s own Silver Queen chocolate on a list of Sauveur Magazine’s Top 100. Top 100 what? I’m not sure. I like Silver Queen — I’ve rarely met a chocolate bar I don’t like, really, other than the really cheap, waxy, grainy ones — but I never figured it was Top 100 Something or Other quality.

A Canadian chocolate bar named Big Turk also made the list. I find it sad that Silver Queen and Big Turk are separated by so many thousands of miles. I have a feeling they’d be perfect for each other.

A girl named Susu

Well, we tried. We bounced dozens of names off the kitten — names of friends, singers, movie stars and writers. We actually decided to call her Etti, after a medal-winning Indonesian speed climber (because our kitten has proved quite adept at climbing up the furniture). But sometimes names stick, and that’s what happened with Susu.

I like Susu because it has soft consonants and round vowels. It sounds like a cat — especially a small, vulnerable cat. It also reminds me of an Indonesian saying about how a drop of indigo, i.e. ink, spoils a whole barrel of milk. Her fur kind of has an ink-and-milk color scheme.

Chad always liked Susu, but for whatever reason he usually calls her something like Monkeyfish instead.

Anyway, it was clear that a visit to the vet was even more important than finding the right name. So I canvassed all my cat-owning friends, and everybody recommended a place called My Vets in South Jakarta. We set out by taxi on Saturday. We don’t have a cat carrier so I just punched some holes in a box. Susu was remarkably pragmatic about the car ride and, after crying for a few minutes, resigned herself to her fate and fell asleep.

The vet really was awesome. She scrubbed Susu from head to toe and even had the assistants blow-dry her. Our tiny cat turned out to have quite a mountain of afflictions: fleas, worms, mites, diarrhea, open sores and anal prolapse (I’ll spare you the details on that last one).

We have to wash her frequently to keep the sores clean, and put drops in her ears for the mites. Needless to say, these things do not go over well with the cat.

Still, with each passing day she gets a little more playful. The sores are healing, and she seems to be bent on eating her own weight in kibble. She’s still very people-oriented and likes to snuggle up to anyone who sits on the couch. We haven’t really seen her whole personality yet, but the early signs are promising.

A glass a day keeps the doctor away

We spent the last couple of weeks doing research on a project, which is why I haven’t been blogging. I’m not going to say much about the project, since it’s still in the developmental stage. Intriguing, eh?

What I can tell you is this: we went down to Central Java with a colleague, and we were going around to the villages to talk to people. This involves showing up at the village head’s house, introducing yourself, and asking who’s who and what’s what. At some point the village head’s wife or child will bring out some fruit and glasses of tea. By the end of the day we were always stuffed with fruit and tea.

Anyhow, at one such house we were chatting with the chief and a friend of his. Just as the tray of snacks came out, the friend informed us that, to improve his health, he drank a glass a day … of his own urine.

He assured us he’d learned about this practice from an American TV show. Oddly enough, some of the elderly Russians I worked with years ago in Boston also used to drink their urine, and they had also gotten this notion from TV, which just goes to show you television is even worse for you than you thought.

“I never catch colds,” the village chief’s friend said proudly. To which I say, I’d rather have a cold every day for the rest of my life than drink pee.

Needless to say, our glasses of tea didn’t look so tempting after that.

A kitty to be named later

I must have walked by dozens of sad, hungry street kittens in my nearly two years here. Perhaps it was inevitable that at some point I’d break.

Not just another pretty (?) face

A friend and I had just come out of a fairly useless interview with a legislator, and we were walking across the parliament grounds when we saw this little critter. She was all alone — no parents, food or shelter anywhere nearby.

I stopped to take her picture and she came up meowing loudly, wanting to be petted. As soon as we tried to walk away, she followed. I think it was that desire for affection that won me over. After playing with her for a few minutes I called Chad and asked, “Were you serious when you said we should get a cat?”

His yes was tentative, and I was feeling pretty torn myself. But this kitty needed someone, and she’d found us. So we put her in a canvas tote bag and carried her home, trying to look nonchalant when the bag writhed and meowed in front of the security guards.

She didn’t take long to settle in. Pretty soon she was wolfing down canned tuna and taking turns purring on everybody’s lap.

She’s about as big as a can of soda. She’s skinny and flea-bitten and has myriad health problems. She doesn’t even have a name yet. (Chad likes Susu, or milk, which is pretty cute, but I’m wavering because it also means “breast,” and I don’t want the other kitties to make fun of her on the playground.)

Whatever her challenges, though, it’s pretty clear that she’s home.

Gimme shelter

Every year thousands of poor people move to Jakarta from the countryside to look for work — only to discover that there IS none. So they invent work. Hence, the Umbrella Man.

Umbrella Men are usually just boys, really; more rarely they are girls or a grown man like this guy. They hang around popular destinations like shopping malls and offices during rainstorms, and as people approach or leave the building, the umbrella boys swoop in and majestically hold umbrellas over their heads. For this they generally get a thousand rupiah or about ten cents.

This guy was pretty dry but the boys always seem to get soaking wet, partly because they have to hold the umbrellas so high, and partly because they play in the puddles — even kids who work are just kids, after all.

Junk food of the week: Smoked beef n cheese pancake

As a former Dutch colony, Indonesia has been eating pancakes for a long time. But these days American-style pancakes are rather trendy too.

Of course, you can’t just have a plain old pancake; you have to make it a bit Indonesian. Hence, the smoked beef and cheese pancake.

In this pancake’s defense, I have to say my cell phone camera doesn’t do very well in indoor settings, so it looks worse than it was. This was actually Chad’s; I had the rendang pancake, rendang being a traditional Sumatran dish of beef simmered for hours in coconut milk and spices. They were both pretty good. After all, pancakes are usually served with meat in the States, too, so it didn’t induce the kind of cognitive dissonance I suffered with the smoked beef and cheese donut. And the cheese was of better quality.

I can’t remember whether there was syrup on the table, but syrup didn’t seem like a good idea.

Anyway, these were okay. I’m not in a hurry to have them again, but only because I’m not a big pancake fan. All that starch and sugar first thing in the morning makes me queasy. When somebody opens an Oatmeal House, though, I’ll be the first in line.

Sunday and Tuesday on Monday

Oddly enough, Super Bowl Sunday and the Super Tuesday primary fell on the same day here — Monday.

We got up early to catch the Super Bowl at an expat bar. Kickoff time, 6:17 a.m.! I don’t really care about football, but as a New Englander I’ve gotten used to watching the Pats win the Super Bowl every year. I was a little sad that they lost, but it didn’t exactly ruin my week. And the English Breakfast, with bacon (a rare treat) and baked beans, made up for a lot.

The really exciting part of the day came that evening, when we got our chance to vote in the presidential primary. This year the Democratic party is treating the group Democrats Abroad like a state; the group will elect 22 delegates to the convention based on votes by its chapters all over the world.

Jakarta’s chapter worked some kind of deal to go first by voting at midnight. The vote was at a local hotel, and they had a party leading up to it, with phone calls from the campaigns. It totally reminded me of primary night in a small town in New Hampshire — right down to the balloons, the red white and blue decorations, and the people waving signs for their candidates.

Even the technological problems felt like rural America. They had trouble getting a good phone line for Gen. Wesley Clark at the Clinton campaign. When they finally get him, there were bursts of distortion that wiped out whole sentences of his pro-Hillary remarks. Sometimes it verged on poetry — as when he said “The Republicans have spent the last 20 years trying to fssssqueakkkkssssssfffffffzzzzzbbbbbbttttttgrrrrrr Bill and Hillary Clinton.”

Voting was definitely the highlight. I love voting. I love the immediacy of it, and the festive atmosphere, and the sense of having your say. Placing a paper ballot in a box is so much more satisfying than mailing one in and never knowing if it even got counted. In fact, they counted them up right then and there. (Barack Obama won big, getting about 75% of the votes.) The global primary is open all week, so the official tally from all the different chapters won’t be known for a while.

We went home at 1 a.m., feeling sleepy but very American after participating in two sacred U.S. cultural rites.

Balloon over Bali

After getting my computer stolen on day 2 of the Bali conference back in December, I was pretty much in a horrible mood all the time, as Chad can attest. He decided to cheer us both up with a balloon ride.

It was a tethered balloon so it just went up and down in a straight line. Still, it was fun to be up above the palm trees, looking out over the big hotel complexes where you can got lost for hours just trying to walk from the tennis courts to the front desk.

And looking at the ocean is always a good idea. There’s nothing like the hugeness of the ocean to restore one’s sense of perspective.