Saturday, February 21, 2015

Java on Java

Last weekend, we traveled to a magical place amidst volcanoes and coffee plants in Central Java. The Dutch colonial plantation turned spa was a restful respite from the traffic and pace of Jakarta. The weather was breezy and cool and we had access to coffee processed locally from vine to mug.

Our villa

The plantation was surrounded by volcanoes

Coffee tour

Lush, isn't it?

Traditional herbs and spices used in healthful drinks called "jamu"

This is where they process the coffee

Coffee and steamed bananas

Crunchy coffee beans for munching together with palm sugar

The organic garden

Look! It's the season for stinky fruit, durian!

Green gorgeous

Saturday, February 14, 2015

The Dili Kids

Last week, I was in East Timor for work. East Timor is actually a funny place name. Timor means "east" in Indonesian, so the island is named Timor ("East") and the country is Timor Leste or East Timor or East East. It is one of the world's newest countries and, with a complicated and violent independence from Indonesia, it came into being in 2002. Linguistically it is pretty fascinating with Portuguese (the official and colonial language), Tetum (the local language spoken on the streets), Indonesian (the language many of those left in the older generation were educated in and the language of much available television and media), English (used by the large international community present in Dili), and hundreds and hundreds of local dialects (used at home). Makes my tongue feel tired just contemplating it.

Anyway. It is a beautiful and complex place. My work week was busy with school visits and meetings, but the one of the highlights simplest to share was the school goats. On a visit to 12th of November School, there were baby goats in the yard, seemingly unaware of the students passing through and visitors snapping photos. They munched on grass and took naps under motorcycles... and I'm not kidding around!

Thursday, February 05, 2015

Behind the Scenes

Do you want to know how batik is made? Follow along!

Someone with a vision stencils a design that is then made into a stamp using copper and metal. We saw a room with shelves to the ceiling full of such patterns, each one particular to a region or village. Many of the designs are symbolic and are easily recognizable to the batik-discerning eye.
For big pieces of cloth the stamps are dipped in hot wax and imprinted over and over and over again to create a large design.
We amateurs tried our hand at a small piece of fabric with smaller stamps.

Batik tulis is made by hand with a little wand carrying hot wax onto the fabric. It is a lot harder than it looks.
Some intricate designs and the more expensive batik fabrics are done entirely by hand by patient women working with the hot wax.
The fabrics are hand dyed, often many times to create multi-colored patterns or different shades of the same color. This can take days and days and days.

Here's a piece of fabric that has had its first dye and now is drying outside. Perhaps another layer of wax will be added for another color or shade of pink/red.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

The Sounds of Bamboo

It seems I haven't had much time for the ukulele lately so I decided to take up a more local instrument, the angklung. It's a Sundanese instrument from West Java made from bamboo and it sounds delightful when played well. During a trip to Bandung, I had the chance to visit Angklung Udjo, a sort of music and dance school that both preserves the tradition of music making and also innovates upon it, adding modern songs to the repertoire and modifying the instruments to accommodate new sounds.

Here's the instrument maker himself playing a modernized version of angklung with keys. Twenty dollars later, this instrument is now mine, although I don't sound half as good on it... yet.


Sunday, January 11, 2015

Selamat Tahun Baru 2015!

Our tradition has been to send a New Year's Greeting rather than one over the holidays, and, as usual, we are a few days overdue in saying HAPPY NEW YEAR! The sentiment is no less genuine, even if we are a bit late.

2014 was a great year for many reasons, but I have high hopes for the next twelve months. We brought in the new year stylishly here in Jakarta this year from a rooftop where we could appreciate the skies ablaze with color and light. In the same spirit, we wish you much brightness and love in the next year.

Selamat tahun baru
С новым годом
Head uut aastat
An nou fericit
Glückliches neues Jahr 
Feliz año nuevo 
Šťastný nový rok
Happy new year

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Day 100: The Thread that Binds

There are recurrent themes emerging from these first days in Indonesia. One pattern is that of batik. The fabric here is colorful and intricate, perhaps a good metaphor for the complicated layers of Indonesian life and the diversity of this archipelago. I'm attracted to the vibrant themes and love the discovery of new combinations of symbols rooted in the culture of each place.

There are ikats and batiks and songket in silk and cotton, hand painted, stamped, and threaded with gold to be made into shirts, sorongs, tapestries, and wraps. I find myself standing in front of exquisite pieces of art feeling simultaneously stimulated and overwhelmed by the complexity and beauty. The fabrics are reflections of the individual places and peoples that populate this group of islands that are completely the different and yet in spirit somehow the same (sama tapi berbeda). For me, so far on my journey here, I feel that these textiles reflect Indonesian cultures at large - kind of a literal and symbolic benang merah (literally meaning "red thread" but also a metaphorical expression, not exclusive to Indonesian, meaning a common theme woven throughout something) connecting and defining Indonesia (you can read Pisani's search for this red thread in her book Indonesia, Etc.).

These first 100 days in Indonesia have opened my eyes and humbled me. Although it is undoubted that there is much left to discover and to learn, I do feel a bit more settled in and comfortable with my new home place. I do not know why but 100 days seems like a threshold of time, after which my noticing is not as fresh or fine tuned. It is the time at which marvel has become familiar and Indonesia begins to feel like home, and I am prepared to get my batik on and continue the journey.

Textile museum in Jakarta
Gorgeous museum "batik" bedroom - my picture does not do it justiceme

A few pictures from the Jenn batik collection, acquired during first 100 day travels and recently tailored.

Pants with fabric from Kalimantan

Tunic with fabric from Java somewhere

Dress from batik purchased here in Jakarta

Dress made from the Jakarta secondary school teachers' association batik (yes, most companies and organizations have a themed work uniform kind of batik)

Skirt from batik from Kalimantan

Tunic from Jambi batik in Sumatra

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Day 98: Worlds Collide in Jakarta

Independence Square is a short jaunt away from my workplace and the center of central Jakarta. However, it took 99 days and an out-of-town visitor to put our feet at Monas (Monumen Nasional). A Bandung native and friend from Astana was home to thaw over the winter break in Kazakhstan, and he paid us a short visit and humored us with the opportunity to be tourists in Jakarta.

The atmosphere was wonderful - kites flying every which way, vendors peddling Jakarta souvenirs, kids posing with cartoon figurines, families having picnics, enormous lines to get inside the monument, and rented tandem bicycles whizzing around the monument. I enjoyed being in the middle of activity to take part for a moment in Jakarta life.

Highlights of the afternoon were our Indonesia-German-American-Kazakh reunion and taking photos with Masha from the Russian cartoon Маша и Медведь (apparently also available in bahasa Indonesia and quite popular from the looks of it - there were at least four Mashas at Monas). 

Colleagues from Nazarbayev University reunited!


Let's Go Fly a Kite

With Masha!

Маша и Медведь with Monas t-shirt that unfortunately did not come in adult sizes

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Day 84: So this is Christmas

I've mentioned the mall culture before. So much weekly routine takes place in a mall -- meeting friends for dinner, buying groceries, getting my hair cut... This weekend were my first visits to the mall during Christmas season - and Jakarta's glitziest malls did not disappoint, even if they did make me feel a bit displaced and bewildered in this religiously plural country (a predominate majority of whom are Muslims). I guess it is because I did not expect eggnog lattes, santas, trees, and carols blaring from every crevice here that it caught me so off guard.

On Friday, I met a colleague for dinner at a fancy mall and got lost amidst the Versace, Louis Vuitton, Christmas wreaths, shiny packages, chipper store attendants in stocking hats, and holiday marketing, and busy shoppers. I suddenly felt sucked through a vortex of space and time untied to place. I guess I feel like that in malls anyway, but the decor amplified my desperate lack of context.

On a Saturday mall excursion I witnessed an interpretive dance of the nutcracker to pop music with a backdrop of teddy-bear themed trees and a gigantic snow-covered cottage for Santa (really sorry I did not snap a photo). Today, I wandered upon a Christmas themed Elvis singing "The First Noel" with a back up choir in red santa hats. Indonesia seems to know how to dig in and amplify the whimsy and joy of a holiday -- 'Tis the season!

A rather "muted" tree in the lobby of my apartment complex

Said Elvis and his back up group cater to the crowds.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Day 83: Indonesia goes country @America

To celebrate the 4th Anniversary of @America (a programming space sponsored by the U.S. Embassy), Indonesian and American cowboys gathered to kick up their heels in a very hip surreal display of country western, Jakarta style.

The Honorable Ambassador Cowboy Blake kicked things off.

A former National Rodeo circuit roper from Arizona told us about growing up in the West, his family history with horses and ranching, and his past in the rodeo. The presentation was complete with a roping demonstration together with a young "sheriff" from the crowd.

The Indonesian country western group "Old Friends" rocked us out to classics while a local line dancing group worked on getting boots on the floor.

There are times abroad when the set up is so unbelievable - in a cool way. This event caught me off guard, made me tap my toes, and left me with a goofy, homesick grin. Happy anniversary, @atAmerica!