Watchout: the Manly Man Soap

Hey guys! Are tired of using your girlfriend’s Pink Fluffy Rose Jasmine Bubbly Girly Soap? Then you need Watchout, the Soap for Men! Watchout comes in your choice of cool masculine names: Aircraft, Avionic and Cockpit.

This stuff isn’t pink or white or wimpy baby blue. It’s gray! The color of grime and old sweat! The color of guyness! It even has little nubbly bumps on it. We’re not quite sure what they’re for, but they’re cool.

As for the scent, imagine a musky aftershave you might have bought in a drugstore in about 1977 with a picture of a guy on the front who has a big bushy Burt Reynolds mustache.

We only have one word for that: awesome.

So remember, make sure you use Watchout … before you out!

Junk food of the week: Spicy Nuts and Sweet Fish

I went to Thailand a couple of weeks ago to hang out with my friend Laura, who is leaving China and going back home to the States, at least for now. We went up to Khao Yai National Park and spent the whole day hiking around. The park was amazing; I’ll write more about it soon.

At one point we stopped at a little snack shop to wait out a rainstorm. I grabbed up these spicy nuts because the Thais really know how to make spicy nuts. See the dried lime leaf on the left? And the big, whole dried chilis on the right? Yum.

I was surprised to find some chewy strips of dried banana mixed in. A few bites later, though, I could no longer keep up this convenient lie and had to admit that they were in fact sugary dried fish. They were actually kind of good, but my brain just couldn’t handle the clash of fishiness and sweetness. So I contented myself with eating the rest of the peanuts and little crunchy batter things while listening to the rain falling on the metal roof. It wasn’t a bad fate at all.

Riding with the King

“Reverse floor,” says the taxi driver.

“What’s that?” I say, leaning in closer so I can hear. Chad and Howie and Haviva are talking in the back seat as we fight our way through Friday night traffic.

Jalan Sudirman, photographed from a pedestrian bridge

“Reverse … reverse … floor,” he says, louder this time. “What mean?”

Now the back seat is listening too. “Reverse flow?” Chad suggests. Why would a taxi driver be asking about hydrology, though? “Reverse flu,” says someone else, but nobody can figure out what that means.

It all becomes clear when the driver begins to croon. “Like a reverse flooooor …. sholy to the seeee ….”

“River flows!” I say excitedly. “Like a river flows!” We all begin to sing:

Like a river flows
Surely to the sea

Darling so it goes
Some things were meant to be …

I translate the part about the river for him. When I look in the dictionary later, I’m surprised to discover I got it more or less right.

“Elvis,” I say. “Falling in Love — Jatuh Cinta.”

“Yes. Elvis.” The driver seems content. We go on to discuss John Lennon, Elton John, and Tom Jones: which of them are American? Which are British? He is so focused on old pop singers I worry that he’s forgotten about taking us to our destination, but miraculously, we wind up at the Vietnamese restaurant we were heading to.

“Reverse floor,” he says with a big smile as we get out of the cab, and I don’t have the heart to correct him. I hum right through dinner, from the banana flower salad all the way to the mung bean and tapioca pudding.

That old black magic

The first thing we saw at the witchcraft/gemstone market was a stall full of keris, the daggers traditionally believed to have mystical powers. According to a dubious book I read last year, for example, Soeharto had a keris that could make him invisible.

There were also lots of colored liquids in fancy little jars. Some were labeled as cleaning fluids for mystical objects. I asked about others and was told they were meant to be burned. Apparently they’re not a kind of incense, because they don’t smell good. When I asked why people burn them, the guy said: “Entertainment.”

Our favorite stall was the guy selling jewelry, twisted roots and cow’s teeth. He spent a lot of time answering our questions. He told us cow’s teeth, which he’s holding in the picture below, have a lot of spiritual power, but their properties are not well understood.

Twisted roots have a clear function, however: they protect your house from evil spirits, burglars, and so forth.

“Is that according to the old Javanese beliefs?” I asked. “Oh, according to everyone,” he answered. “It doesn’t matter what your religion is.” And maybe he has a point, because Chad tells me you can buy twisted roots for the same purpose at the farmer’s market he used to visit in North Carolina.

Naturally, we bought one. Whatever its properties, it’s kind of cool-looking.

The highlight of the market, though, were these creepy demons made out of mud, hair and bits of bone or wood. I think they, too, are meant to have protective properties. They live in fancy little velvet boxes so they won’t scare the hell out of you every time you walk into the room.

We bought one of them, too. Not this one, though — the seller wanted more than a hundred dollars for it, which seemed like a lot of money to pay for something that makes me feel kind of queasy.

Greased pole

More on the witchcraft market soon, but first …

August 17th is Indonesia’s Independence Day. I love the way it’s celebrated; basically everybody gets together in their neighborhood and plays games. There are cart-pulling races and balloon-between-the-knees races and lots of other contests, for adults and kids alike. But the highlight is always the greased pole.

The greased pole is sanded until it’s pretty smooth, and then covered in used motor oil. You climb in teams of four or five. The idea is to stand on each other’s shoulders until you get one guy high enough that he can just loop a towel around the pole and shimmy the rest of the way up to the prizes at the top.

The Ancol amusement park set up a hundred greased poles. Our friend John recruited Chad and our friends Michael and Howie to try and conquer one of them.

I kinda figured our guys would make one climb, fail to get to the top (as most teams do) and call it a day. But in fact, they kept at it. They made several attempts over the course of an hour, taking turns with an Indonesian team led by a friend. They got pretty close to making it.

In the process, they figured out all sorts of ways to climb each other.

And they made some pretty terrible faces.

In the end, they didn’t make it. After Chad and Howie were worn out, Michael and John got together with some of the Indonesian climbers and kept trying. When everyone was a mess of sweat, oil, dirt, bruises and scrapes, a lone Indonesian with a towel soloed the climb with impressive panache and claimed the prizes.

It was a grueling kind of fun, but I think everybody had a good time.

Gem market

Next to the Jatinegara train station in East Jakarta is a famous gemstone market. It’s one of those classic, sprawling places with row after row of stalls, and it was packed with customers on the Saturday when we went.

You can buy smooth, polished stones, and all kinds of rings and necklaces.

You can also watch the artisans cut and polish the stones and make the jewelry, often using these crazy contraptions that look like they were built from bicycle wheels and lawn-mower engines. This guy was using a little flamethrower operated by a foot pump.

We didn’t really go to Jatinegara for the bling, though. We were after something even more exciting. In addition to gems, this market does a substantial trade in mystical and magical objects. More on that in the next exciting installment of Kopi Susu 2!

Caught wet!

What do you mean, wallet and cell phone? I don’t know anything about a wallet and cell phone!

In Indonesia, you’re not caught red-handed, you’re ditangkap basah: caught wet. Thus it is with me and the blog: as you may have noticed, I haven’t posted in a while, heh.

I really like my new job with an English-language newspaper that’s set to launch in Indonesia soon. But it seems to suck all the brains out of my head, so I have nothing left to blog with when I get home. As I get settled in, though, I hope to get back into the blogging routine. There is much to write about, including the witchcraft market, a ladyboy show in Thailand, spicy coconut duck-egg pancakes, and of course, THE CAT.

More soon!