Junk food of the week: Melted Choco in your Fruity Mouth

This is a little booth at Plaza Semanggi, the mall my office is attached to. It has one of the greatest advertising slogans ever.

Unfortunately the product itself is a little less exciting: just three little strawberries dipped in average-quality chocolate and sprinkled with colored sugar.

The good thing is, they give it to you straight up, without any tin foil or waxed paper or anything. That’s a nice change from the wrapping frenzy that accompanies most mall food purchases. (At the trendy bakery downstairs, for example, even if you just buy a cheese roll, they put it in two — two! — plastic bags.)

Dayak lullaby

We spent our last night in the jungle sleeping on the floor of our guide’s friend’s house. The house had a large front room, and we slept in a little room off to the side. The only furniture in the front room was a piece of cloth hanging from the ceiling. It was for rocking the baby.

I was dead tired after a full day of hiking, and when I saw the baby being swayed gently in this soft tunnel of cloth, I wished I could climb in there too. Then the women of the house began singing lullabies. I took out my little video camera and persuaded them to sing for it.

I couldn’t see a thing, and I was trying to figure out how the camera worked, so the video is kind of jumpy and random. But I like the cute kid who keeps trying to get into the picture. And most of all I love the woman’s voice; it’s got a toughness and grit that remind me of 1930s folk recordings by grannies in coal-mining towns in Appalachia.

The woman singing is not the one in the video, by the way; it’s the older woman, who was sitting to her left.

I kept encouraging them both to sing more, but at the end you can hear her say “Cukup! (choo-koop): “Enough!”

Here’s how they looked in daylight, as we were saying goodbye the next day:

The river raft pilot

Back to our Idul Fitri trek in South Kalimantan: After two days of hiking through the jungle from village to village, we arrived at the Amandit River. There were two bamboo rafts waiting for the trip downstream.

The native Dayaks have used rafts for centuries to ferry people and cargo down the river. The raft is cargo, too; it takes just a few hours to build, and once it has reached its destination, it gets broken down and sold as bamboo poles.

The raft pilot steers with a long pole; when the raft gets stuck, which it often does, he jumps out and sets things right by hand.

The top half of the river was a bit tricky, but the bottom was calmer. The pilot let Chad take over the helm for the last hour, with some help during the tough spots. Check out the video below! The color commentary is provided by our hiking guide, Taila, who gets in the picture at the end.

All grown up

We think Susu has pretty much reached her full size. She’s only 2.2 kilos, or a little less than five pounds; perhaps because of her kittenhood malnutrition, she’s not going to be a really big cat. Her old crooked whiskers have fallen out and been replaced by straight ones, but she still has a scar on her forehead from the gash she had when we found her. Her most distinctive features are her long, straight tail (unusual for a Jakarta cat), and her long legs.

Susu has a number of hobbies and talents. For example, she believes in using the exercise machines every day.

She is a skilled climber. (Our landlord, who designed and installed all the custom woodwork, may be less impressed with this ability than we are.)

She knows how to get out of a tight spot.

And she knows how to keep her cool on a hot, muggy Jakarta afternoon.


Last weekend was Idul Fitri, the biggest holiday on the Indonesian calendar. Chad and I made plans very late, so we chose a place we could still get plane tickets to: Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan (aka Borneo).

Our friends Haviva and Howie actually made most of the arrangements. They found a guide to take us all on a 2-day trek through the jungle, including a night at a traditional longhouse.

Longhouses are the original dwelling places of the native Dayak. Whole villages lived in them, one family to a room. They are generally built on stilts to diminish the impact of floods. Livestock live underneath.

Where there’s a longhouse, there will be dogs. They prefer the porches and front steps.

The accommodations weren’t exactly posh. The four of us had our own room, where we slept on the floor on thin mats. The floor was cleverly constructed of bamboo slats, which made it softer and bouncier than wood.

On our guide’s instructions, we brought sparklers for the little kids in the village. They promptly did their level best to burn down the longhouse.

The next morning the kids were very curious to see what the foreigners were up to. Soon after dawn, a parade of little faces was peeking between the slats of our door.

The children were not what cost us our sleep, though. For that we had several roosters to blame, and, most especially, the Demon Pig from Hell. I can’t describe the bizarre range of grunts, squeals and belches the Demon Pig produced throughout the night, but it definitely woke all of us up and/or gave us creepy dreams.

The longhouse we stayed in only had a few villagers living in it. Nowadays most people build separate houses; the longhouse mostly seems to get used by guests, and by newlyweds who don’t have a place of their own yet. I can see why; I’m sure it’s annoying having everybody all up in your business all the time. But it still seems sad. These days it can be hard to find a sense of community; a whole cozy village under one roof sounds kind of nice.