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!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Days 77-81: Papua

Perhaps you have been wondering where I've been this week? Where else but the farthest flung, largest, most sparsely-populated island of Papua in easternmost Indonesia. An overwhelming number of tribes, languages, religions, plants, and animals can be found there, including the symbol of Papua, the cendrawasih or bird of paradise. It's really far away from Jakarta - a trip long enough to feel as though going to another country (or continent). We began our travels at midnight to arrive in Manokwari (via Makassar and Sorong) the next day at 2:00 p.m. Although I did not get to stay long enough to explore much of Papua's diversity, it was a memorable and a privilege to have been able to visit.

Have you ever noticed that some of the best real-life moments do not end up well documented, even with digital devices in each pocket? I've often thought that I have the least pictures of those people closest to me or strong memories of certain places -- perhaps this is because the pictures I do have do not do them justice. In any case, I was not a good documenter during my Papua encounters, so you'll have to bear with some general impressions. 

My camera lens fogged up, but we were met with dancing and music (and a banner, of course) at the airport. The students, ornamented in traditional, feathered headdresses, presented us with beaded necklaces and danced to a lilting melody to drum and guitar.

Each of us took turns putting our feet on a Papuan platter, symbolizing our welcome as guests and future return visits.

Looking down towards the university campus - pretty mountains, sky, and green!
A blurry photo of UNIPA, the University of Papua
A view from Manokwari

Before heading back to Jakarta, we took a day to enjoy the scenery and visited nearby Mansinam island by boat (see it between the trees?). The water was warm and we did a bit of snorkelling in the surrounding reef. Unfortunately, no pictures of the vibrant little fish beneath the blue water.
Need a snack? Why not stop on Lemon Island for some "kelapa muda" or young coconut?
Thirst quenching!
Fresh catch of the day grilled up and served with six or seven different kinds of spicy sambal (chilli paste/sauce) So good that we went back a second time!

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Day 76: Monkeying around

At first glance, you might think this monkey is cute... until you realize that he has flown onto our boat, stolen our fruit, and is inviting his friends. Because where there is one monkey enjoying some fruit...

...there is sure to come a second.

On our boat tour, we traveled to an island inhabited by only wild monkeys. Hundreds of wild monkeys used to humans coming by to stare at them.

It got a bit dicey when one landed on our boat and started in on some fruit. A bit dicier with two. When third and fourth jumped in the water and started swimming our way, we panicked and pushed off our unwanted guests to finish their snacks on shore.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Day 75: Breakfast on a boat

You must get up pretty early in the morning in Banjarmasin if you want to catch its famed floating market, but you will not regret the 4:30 a.m. wake up call for an instant once you've experienced the cool breeze of the early morning in the jungle and engorged yourself on feasts of ripe, tropical fruits.

For those geographically curious, Banjarmasin is a "small" Indonesian city of about 3-4 million inhabitants on the island of Kalimantan.

Guided by four enthusiastic home town guides from the university, I enjoyed every minute and discovered another dimension of Indonesia. Take a look.

A new delicious fruit - Queenie (kind of like mango but not as sweet and a bit more pungent)

Fresh rambutan, although it is not quite yet their peak season

This Banjarmasin cake called "untuk" is basically a cousin of the fried donut hole and filled with coconut and sugar

Want to buy something to take home? Float on up and bargain away.

Did you know there are many kinds of bananas? These bunches (with jackfruit in the background) are a bit green, but we bought some really mild bananas called "pisang susu" or "milk bananas."

Along the river banks of the town you can see houses built on stilts and take a glimpse inside the lives of their dwellers, busy starting their day

*For those super-attentive, you may notice my daily accounting is a pinch off. I was out of country for a week and thought those days should not count towards my 100 first, so I am picking up where I left off at day 75.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Days 65-70: Experiencing Sumatra

The largest Indonesian island. 50 million people. 4th most populous island in the world. Home to over 52 indigenous languages. Sumatran tigers. Sumatran orangutans. Sumatran rhinos. Sumatran elephants. Located on the Pacific Ring of Fire - powerful earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and tsunamis, including the 2004 disaster in Aceh. Lake Toba, largest volcanic lake in the world. Flora and fauna seriously threatened by large-scale deforestation. Largest producer of Indonesian coffee and rich in natural resources like oil and gas.

Sumatra, complex and beautiful, where I spent last week traveling and working in Aceh, Medan, and Jambi.

It was a whirlwind week of early morning departures and long days of visits, and I spent plenty of time in airports, trains, and cars going to and fro. Obviously, I need to go back for more exploration (and to see some of Sumatra's natural wonders), but here are some highlights...
  • A strong cup of coffee (and subsequently purchased beans) from Banda Aceh's most famous cafe, Solong Coffee. I was so enraptured with my caffeinated beverage and local snacks, that I did not snap a photo. Clearly this local establishment is the place to meet with friends or to do business over a cup of coffee - it was bustling and busy the entire time I was there.

  • Acehnese food served in a local restaurant, full of flavor and spices. I was seated in an open-air restaurant and promptly brought 5-6 dishes full of scrumptiousness and surprises. Fried chicken pieces with fried greens, fried squid filled with egg and spices, mussels and vegetables in sauce, chicken and potatoes in curry, and, of course, rice. Spicy. Delicious. Wonderful.

  •  Nighttime festival in Jambi to which we had special, front-seat invitations from the governor to view the song and dance. My favorites were a fusion between modern music styles (rap) and traditional singing. All accompanied by hundreds of drummers.

  • Picture with the traditionally dressed Jambi beauties -  festival royalty.