Tis the season... Like the rest of my presents, this one requires no shopping, no lists, no wrapping, no returns and no calories. When I last left you, I was in Finland up to my butt in snow. Now, Iím in Indonesia with a few side trips to Jakarta, Indonesia but Iím getting ahead of myself.
Friends...an important note from your author. My former web host went bankrupt so I had to move. My old web site is cast in cyberstone or at least, until someone claims the server in bankruptcy court...if that ever happens. I cannot contact my former web host to take it down.
From the "Be careful for what you wish for, you just might get it" file. The day after Christmas, the weather man forecasted high temps in the above freezing category. The temps were in the single digits all day long. I thought it was just another botched forecast. That night, the temps rose above the freezing that night. The masses of snow started melting in droves. Sidewalks hadn't been fully cleaned. They turned to sheets of ice. They were treacherous...even for the Finns. Walking on the sidewalks required full attention. Adding to the danger was the freezing rain. The elder Finns who used ski poles for walking are genius. Any signs of slipping and theyíd jam the pole tips into the solid ice for balance. Driving didn't seem to be much of a problem for those with studded tires.
For the longest time, temps back home were much warmer. Then they started competing as to which place was lower and who had the most snow. I'd estimate about thirty inches of snow hit the ground before it started to melt. Helsinki still won the snow quantity contest before I left even with the snow melt.
The Finns actually give training for driving on icy roads. They spray a parking lot with oil and turn drivers loose. Driving instructors communicate with the students via radio. I learned by practical experience when I was young.
Christmas came early with the new assignment. As I've always written, I'm truly interested in working in Asia. Until now, my work has been confined to four assignments in China. I'm also interested in the warmth after all the snow in Helsinki. One of the crew warned me about Jakarta's heat and humidity. It was a new adventure. Years ago, someone said that the two best jobs are the one you came from and the one you'll be going to. This has become a mantra for me.
For the record, I like Jakarta. In January, when I was in Helsinki, one of the BLT readers asked me why I would go to Jakarta. My reply was two-fold; when a company asks you to go somewhere, itís a courtesy and you generally get one job location veto in your corporate career and the fact that I wanted to come to Indonesia.
At the time of my decision, I was aware of the reports in the news regarding Indonesia. As a general rule, unless the reports are current, I consider them to be the exception rather than the rule. Frankly, the reporters have to find something to report on. They do their best to be realistic but someone always blows the story out of proportion to create headlines that attract more audience attention. Most folks just want to go about their business in an orderly, day-to-day routine unless you go out of your way to be an ugly person. Even then, youíre given the benefit of the doubt.
I have no regrets about the decision to come to Indonesia. Given the limited daylight and the winter conditions on the ground in Helsinki, a warmer place was most welcome. I saw Jakarta as the crown jewel of the places the company could have sent me as I still do.
Funny though, the same BLT reader who questioned my choice of coming here left here for several months in Bagdad. I asked him the same question he asked me...why go there (Bagdad)? He replied that sometimes you donít have a choice.
The Indonesians are simple people living simple lives. Theyíre quick with a greeting and a smile..."Hello Meesta" or ďHello Suhh". Thereís a certain charm in that. I regret that my exposure is limited to the folks I meet through work and the smiles I see on the way to and from the office. Otherwise, I live a clustered life in my office and apartment. I know I should get out more but sixty-hour work weeks really suck the energy out of me.
I got a call from the landlord eight days before my departure from Finland. We had to break my lease a couple months early due to my departure. The landlord needed my place for another tenant so it was a friendly departure. Surprise! We're shutting off the water in your building for two days. Then they were going to do further renovations. So much for that other tenant. Timing couldn't have been more wrong; five days before I left. A hotel was cost prohibitive. Going home earlier than scheduled would have complicated my taxes and work as well. I moved to another apartment where I did minimal unpacking, lived for five days, and left for home.
For the record, I loathe crosstown moves but moving to another country is perfectly fine. Crosstown moves, in my opinion, are more complicated. I don't have the full explanation on this one.
The new place was a newer studio apartment in a better location...at a major tram stop. I could walk out the door and be on six different tram lines at one stop in less than a minute. I wouldn't have to change trams to go to Mass but I left before I could take advantage of this benefit. The gym was a bit further away but that was a tradeoff with more restaurants just around the corner...but it was only a five day stay.
Both Christmas 2012 and New Yearís 2013 were low key for me...home catching up on TV and doing things I needed to do. When you work six days a week, there's little time for anything but getting caught up on personal stuff and sleep. I did find myself longing for Hong Kong. My fridge and cupboards had enough food stocked just in case I couldn't find any restaurants open.
For the record, I had 26 NFL games I had to watch before my Christmas holiday. On January 5, 2013, I had none as I watched all the games I'd recorded.
Helsinki was a good gig but the snow and lack of sunlight did nothing to boost morale. At the winter solstice, we had about six hours of daylight.
There was a formal countdown blast at the town square in front of St. Nicolas' Cathedral. To the west of my apartment was a park bordering on the Gulf of Finland. Fireworks started when it turned dark around 1600 and continued long after midnight. I believe it was just a bunch of folks lighting off what they had in succession.
Helsinki convenience stores shut down 1800 on New Year's Eve to minimize alcohol abuse. I can't believe it worked. Me...the party animal...had one beer with dinner.
There's something about going home that puts me in the buying mode. I scoured the market for a Windows 8 computer. I never could configure one to my full satisfaction. I had to decide what my intended purpose was for this computer. The experts say there are two types of consumers for computers, the consumer and the producer. I'll toss in a third...the supporter...the technician who assists others to produce and consume. That's where I fit in. I learn the basics in order to help others be more productive. Isn't that what engineering is all about? There is a side benefit...when folks bring me their tech problems with their new toys, I can decide what I like and need to buy or leave alone.
I finally settled on the 64 GB Microsoft Surface RT with the touch keypad. I call any of the tablets "finger painters". You use your fingers to paint instead of a brush (keyboard and mouse). Of course, I couldn't leave it alone. I bought a memory card to carry my media. I hope to upgrade from the standard MS Office that comes with the Surface to something better...we'll see.
My other "new" computer, a Dell 14" Ultrabook took the most time to configure. It's heavier than expected but came in convenient when travelling.
With my work laptop, I lugged four computers to Indonesia...oh life's drawbacks! I put my Netbook in a container for shipping. Luckily, I don't have to pull my tablet out at airport security stops. I lugged my work laptop, the Dell, and the Surface through four flights, and 13 time zones to get to Laos. Even with a port replicator and a docking station, the reduction in bulk from my normal 17" was greatly appreciated.
Trips home and to the home office involve doctors, picking up stuff, and dropping stuff off (computers, tunes, toys, and clothes). Toss in plenty of friends and family along the way. I took Ma to visit her family in Des Moines. This trip was intentionally cut short for me to regain my 330 which was 'lost' when I went home in July...wish I could have stayed longer in spite of everything. My doctors keep extending my warranty so long as they get paid.
It should be noted that my company has a new office building...great digs but it's not my office...mine's the field.
Birmingham...several reunions with folks from my past. Most of the folks I started out with working internationally are now in the corner offices and I don't recognize most of the faces outside the corner offices.
First impressions of Laos:
By far, the most popular mode of transport is the scooter. It's the transporter of the common worker. Though there are bicycles, the scooter is the main form of transport.
For the modern world, most of us were taught to drive in school or by our parents. These folks had nobody to teach them. With the motor-scooters as populous as mosquitoes on a chunk of rotting meat, driving here is chaotic at best...a complete free-for-all. I've seen the effects of a few scooter accidents. I'm sure there are more. There is no age (heard that it may be 18) or licensing requirements for the scooter and they drive like it. Often wearing scarves over their mouths and coats on backward to protect themselves from road debris, they look more like bandits than riders. They have no concept of safe riding...no helmets...no road courtesy...to oneself, be true. I've seen up to four people riding on one. When I rode with my friend on the back of his motorcycle way back in high school, he told me to lean with him on the corners. Here, the female passenger rides side saddle. They drive like they're the owners of the road cutting off much larger trucks and cars to turn at just the right time. It's scary...even to the other drivers. Our drivers must have eyes on all sides of their heads, nerves of steel, and the patience of Job.
Other strange things witnessed from people riding scooters;
I did find the Catholic Church and went the first weekend. As it was only partially conducted in English, it wasn't in the format that I'm accustomed to. The Priest seemed to ad-lib and drift off into tangents. His time seemed to be unlimited while mine was not. I went home and watched Mass on my Slingbox. The second Sunday, I went to the earlier Mass where the three Priests were constrained by the later Mass. In and out in about an hour...just my style. The last Mass of the day is in English but I learned this too late. If itís the same priest as who rambled on and on, I doubt heíd have much inspiration to keep it short.
I stayed in a new studio apartment with all the amenities. Like anything new, we worked out the bugs. Three other folks from the office lived in the same building. We shared a driver who took us to work which is a half-hour drive in the morning and upwards to an hour at night.
After work, the driver dropped me off at the gym and picked me up before he got off to go home.
As I had time to sleep on the way to Laos, I didn't feel the jet lag I normally get when I travel. FYI, Vientiane is thirteen hours ahead of the clocks back home. My first Sunday off, I ventured out in the morning but nothing in the afternoon. I saved the touristy things for the following Sundays.
Like China, there are many temples to see. In China, we coined a term, "templed out" meaning an overabundance of viewing temples results in one looking like the next. The same applies to Laos.
Identifying the various denominations of the local currency is a major issue for the newcomers to Laos. One cashier told me he could identify how long a customer had been in country by how quickly they counted their money to pay their tab. When I received my expense reimbursement and my living allowance, I became an instant multi-millionaire. They call it the "Kip". One US Dollar equals around 7,900 Kips. It seems to be reasonably stable.
In Vientiane, the Monks in the state highway worker orange dresses are a frequent sight. I'd been trying to get a decent picture of the monks passing through the neighborhood collecting alms. My only opportunity was Sunday when we didn't work. I sat outside waiting. When the opportunity came, my camera battery was dead. I replaced it and got a few shots.
There were many monasteries in the neighborhood with the closest located at the end of my block. The monks passed by early each morning. The petitioner sits or kneels praying awaiting their arrival. Those with petitions, place their sacrifice in the bowls of each of the monks, and then they pray together.
Similar to a community joining together to build a church, on our way back from Thailand, we saw a big parade of folks dancing in the streets collecting money with the goal of building a monastery for the monks. The money was attached to wooden poles like a money tree.
We see lots of celebrations held at local restaurants. From the outsider's perspective, it's hard to tell what they're celebrating. A DJ blasts music over a massive sound system. A tent covers the outer street table area. The celebration lasts for days. We ask our driver and they can tell without stopping.
Note to self: in 2013, you crossed over the big 5-0...life is downhill from here.
There's an inexplicable excitement brewing in Vientiane, not unlike what I experienced when I was in China. New products; cars, tobacco, alcohol, scooters...all economic signs that the country is going to burst with an economic prosperity similar to what happened in China over the past couple of decades. It's a gut feeling you see after being here for a few weeks but probably wouldn't notice if you were a native Laotian.
Entrepreneurs attempting to exploit this upcoming prosperity are opening up new businesses...restaurants, shops...you name it. It's probably hard to recognize when you're living in it from day to day but it's recognized by outsiders. It's got to be exciting for the youth who are educated and easily adaptable to change. For the less-educated and elderly, it's not going to be an easy adaptation.
Garages are used for businesses (restaurants, stores...you name it). Some still use them as their garage or living room...an open air dining room. If you have an idea, a bit of cash, and a garage on a busy thoroughfare, you've got a business. Whether folks come is another story. Young entrepreneurs with makeshift offices of a table and chair sit on the edge of the roadway selling lottery tickets twice a week.
On our project, we have makeshift food carts and restaurants at the entrance of our project awaiting hungry construction workers. There's even one 'parking garage' for the scooters. All these folks have to hustle for their money but it's theirs. They found their niche and went about making it happen. Isn't that what free enterprise is all about?
Beerlao, the Lao brand of beer made here in Vientiane. I've had a couple of bottles...quite good though I'm told it has a high percentage of skunked (rotten) beers
Very much like home, the car of choice is the pickup. The most popular is the mini-truck, diesel, four door with four wheel drive model. I've seen a couple full-sized American trucks but mostly, it's the Japanese models. The side streets aren't paved so the extra traction comes in handy.
I did make a visa turnaround trip to Thailand. There were a few firsts for me. Since I hit the ground, it was warm and humid but this was cool with lots of mist/sprinkles. Other than my airport stay, I hadn't been to Thailand.
Our driver made most of our border process easy. We'd fill out the forms and pay the fees and he'd do the leg work...the only way to travel. We drove to Udan Thani which is about an hour away. This driver is one of the most aggressive of our drivers. I should note that his high speed / aggressive driving probably shaved a good fifteen minutes off of the journey...just close the eyes and pray a lot. I wanted to see the whole journey but there were no photo opportunities for this trip.
First stop was McDonald's. Note that I don't usually do the Golden Arches except when I'm overseas...brings back home. I've heard the same thing stated from others as well. It's also a safe bathroom stop in times of need. I stuck to the conventional egg mcmuffins, hash browns, and coke. For lunch, double cheeseburgers, fries, and coke. There was the unconventional such as the egg and ham pies, corn pies, and grilled chicken curry. They even sold fried chicken.
The main goal of our trip was a visa turnaround. You can get a thirty day tourist visa at the boarder by filling out the form and giving them thirty-five dollars. My thirty had almost expired.
The second purpose was shopping. Vientiane stores don't have consistent product selection...catch as catch can. Most of the stuff we saw on this trip was already on the shelves in Vientiane...just not in the same quantities. It's a logical conclusion that the majority of the Vientiane products originated in Thailand.
I couldn't buy much as I ate in restaurants and my bags were already at their weight limits. Our expats come for booze and meats which were a fraction of the cost of the Vientiane stores. Prices on electronics were great. I asked one clerk if the cell phones they sold were locked (only usable with one cellular provider) but that drew a 'duh' expression.
We hit the big shopping mall which included a large food court and all kinds of stores. At the top was a bowling alley / karaoke bar and a movie theater but we were too tired to do much of anything as we left early to be at the boarder opening at 0700 to beat the rush.
The return trip through the border, I had to go through all by myself...sucks when you can't get the driver to run through maze for you so it took me about forty-five minutes to get my visa but I was in again...didn't pack for this trip.
Yes, even our truck had to have a passport to make the border crossing. I imagine they had to have the name, place of birth, date of birth for the truck as well.
As I've written, it took a month before I started to get acclimated to where I felt comfortable walking without aid of my GPS. I started walking home from the gym. Like many countries, the pungent odor of sewer gas quickly distracts me from any thought or task at hand. Similarly, I'm ever vigilant for tripping and falling hazards. The streets are dark and dusty without many traffic lights to control traffic.
The electrical wiring hanging from power poles looks like it's been added one wire at a time. If the demand jumps during the daytime for the air conditioner load, as I suspect it does, the job of electrical lineman wouldn't seem to have much security...it's a scary sight.
The topic of conversation at work generally surrounds the local massages. Another associate said it best; generally when I go to those places, I end up feeling worse than I started so I don't go. Still, I was curious. One of my associates goes to a place where he didn't feel worse walking out than when he walked in. As a belated birthday present, I paid for both of our massages. He picked the Lao oil massage. I was still apprehensive as I've had oil massages in the past that got rubbed in to the point of burning the skin. I was given some bikini briefs that were primarily threads...a bit small for me and didn't leave much to the imagination. Still, for an hour, the masseuse labored away on each appendage and the back followed by the head...no pain...a first. If I was staying longer, I'd probably add it to my Sunday routine.
Interesting series on TLC...Finland. Personally, I'm surprised Anthony Bourdain hasn't been hung from a yardarm by someone who caught one of his adlib comments but he portrayed Helsinki very well. I recognized a few of the sites but I didn't drink as much as he did in the four months I was there...seemingly one day. My bet is that he was there the twenty-ninth of November...when the snow really started to fly. Zimmern went to some interesting spots in Finland as well...during the summer.
The next weekend on TLC featured Indonesia. There has to be a connection. I think, somehow, we're connected.
I left Vientiane on Saturday morning (March 30), though Bangkok, and finally ended up in Jakarta. It put me though some kind of time warp but I never lost a beat. The driver picked me up at the airport and dropped me off at my apartment where I hooked up with the new landlord who gave me the key and showed me where the Burger King was...all I needed. The boss had clued me into some of the details of my new surroundings before I left.
My new neighborhood borrows the old movie clichť, "if you build it, they will shop". I'm a five minute walk from shopping heaven...Indonesia's largest shopping center...and it's still growing. Unless it's food, I don't see many folks carrying shopping bags.
Years ago, while in Armenia, I wrote that if I built a Home Depot-like store, I'd be the richest man or the poorest man in the world. The stuff would disappear from the shelves in an instant...whether they paid for it or not would determine whether I was rich or poor...still debatable. Well, they have a huge Ace Hardware in the mall and it's quite popular. Half of the store is a toy store which is popular with the tykes.
The mall goes over and under, down and around...and sprawls out over quite a foot print. Like my apartment building, they have a thing about threes and fours so you really donít know what level youíre on.
Each and every entrance to the shopping mall has a security guard with a walk-through metal detector. They have a hand wand for purses and back packs. Generally, I hand the guard my bag and I walk through the metal detector setting it off with everything on my person and they don't look at my bag. The guard simply hands it to me bypassing the metal detector.
Cars may get a similar level of scrutiny...or they may not. Some get waived on by while others may have a visual inspection of the interior or trunk.
Though I'd done a bit of homework, the Vientiane boss gave me the full poop on Catholic Masses in Jakarta. My first Mass wasn't in English but the second one was...less crowded in the evening too.
Iíve been trying to visit the Jakarta Cathedral, The Church of Our Lady of Assumption ever since I moved here. When the boss announced a half-day off on Saturday, I was in. I went to Saturday night Mass so my photo opportunities were minimal so Iíll be back. Hereís a couple of photos. I was impressed by the Gothic architecture. There was a lot of planning and detail. Mass was in Bahasa so I followed along on my computer.
When you ask someone who's been there, the first thing they mention is that Jakarta's traffic is insane. It takes about fifteen minutes to get to the office via car in the morning. If the evening traffic is good, you can make home it in thirty minutes. If it's not raining, I can walk home in forty-five minutes. One evening, I walked, stopped for dinner and saw our driver pulling into the apartment complex at 730...an hour and a half...three times the usual duration. They got stuck in an alley traffic jam. Our guys generally link police shutdowns of roads in connection to political protests resulting in the Jakarta traffic jam. There is some sense here.
The guys are naturally curious about how long it takes me to walk. When I offer to let them walk with me, their curiosity wanes. I work in an office. I need to get out with the people, even if it's simply walking home. I doubt I'll get a bike. It's too dangerous to ride around here. While crossing the street, one of our crew got hit by a scooter going the wrong way down the road. The emergency ward gave him stitches in his arm. One of our crew whoís crazy enough to commute by bicycle says heís taken out two car mirrors with his handlebars.
The boss put it best. If these drivers would stop when the light turns red rather than six cars from each lane try and sneak across the intersection, there would be no traffic jams. That's wishful thinking and there's a jammed up intersection...all the way home. Frankly, riding the bus home at night is just plain grueling.
When I walk home, itís usually dark outside. I often see what I think is a man walking a dog on a leash wearing a fancy dog sweater. As I get close, I see that itís not a dog but a monkey...Iíve done this several times and I never catch on.
Well, I do manage to get soaked on average once a week by downpour rains in spite of using my umbrella. Mother Nature seems to save it up so the rains are longer but not as often. If it's raining as I'm leaving the office, I take the company bus home.
As a general rule, rain comes in the evening as Iím thinking about walking home. Iíve begun to walk to the office in the morning. If itís not raining in the evening, Iíll walk again or take the bus if Mother Nature is against me. I lose about a half-hour by walking in the morning.
In the evenings where it doesn't rain, the part that mystifies me is that when I arrive at home, I start dripping in perspiration looking like I just walked out of the shower. Still, I see locals walking around in heavy coats...go figure!
The motor scooter drivers in Laos got nothing on the ones in Jakarta. These folks are flat out insane. Aggressive is an understatement. The cars, tuk-tuks, and scooters put pedestrians on the endangered species list.
Like water rising to the highest level or a pinhole leak, if there's a slightest opening, a vehicle will pop out somehow, somewhere. There's no respect for stoplights and lane markers. A road wide enough for one car will handle a stream of scooters on each side of the car.
Walking defeats the traffic jams. There is public transit; busses and an elevated transit. Not many people use the elevated transit.
My complaint...Jakarta has to be the noisiest city I've ever been to. Those scooter drivers have removed their muffler innards so they're just pipes...and it sounds like a motocross race...everywhere!
The scooter is so popular in Indonesia. Theyíre the vehicle of the working class. I didnít make the connection with motorcycle racing until one evening at McDonaldís when I heard cheers erupt from a group of young males watching a race on TV. I swear that during the rush hour, you have a bunch of amateur motocross racers trying to get the best jump off the line.
Honda seems to be the most popular scooter brand here...or at least the decal is popular.
Taxis; car, scooter, and tuk-tuk are at your service. Yes, you can hitch a ride on a scooter or tuk-tuk but you need to negotiate the price in advance.
Though it was temporary, my first apartment was a hi-rise apartment on the 35th floor of a 41 floor tower...one floor above the 33rd floor. No, that's not a typo and you read it right. Indonesians have a thing about the numbers three and four in the ones column. My permanent apartment was two floors above my first apartment. One day, I started doing the math and figured that the five towers in my apartment compound hold the same or larger number of people than the town I was raised in. That boggles the mind.
Our complex has a pool, gym, tennis courts, restaurants, ATM machines, and convenience stores right in the middle of shopping mall heaven. It isn't exactly a slum.
This complex has a lot of expatriate folks. There are lots of older men running around with local companions that would seem to be too young to be their daughters. Having lived abroad over the past two decades, Iíve learned most local ladies have the ulterior motive of American passports or U$. When I go walking, young female eyes often follow me as if I were a piece of meat. Iím no sex symbol but ladies, I feel for you.
While my apartment is upscale, typical for most international buildings, the electrical in suspect. Itís less than comforting. The maintenance staff was beginning to recognize me...not a good sign. I've started carrying battery powered smoke detectors for those apartments that don't have smoke detectors. One cooking incident where I flooded my apartment with smoke made me realize the smoke detectors didnít work. A week passed before I set up my own smoke detector.
In the early months of Jakarta, I survived on restaurant food. I scouted out grocery stores for sources of food prior to the arrival of my stuff arriving via container and moving into my permanent apartment. When I got my shipment from the US, food consumption from restaurants was pretty much eliminated except for weekends. I even bring my lunch to work. My kitchen wouldn't pass the white glove test. It astounded me how much money I didnít spend on food. Granted, a bunch of my canned goods came in from the US. I brought more from home on my next trip.
One of the guys flew to Bali for a Saturday night. Sunday morn, I read the headline that an airplane split in two on landing in Bali. I went into panic mode and called...no answer. I read the article...not from Jakarta. Whew! FYI, all passengers and crew survived but with a few broken bones.
Jakarta is having a hi-rise explosion. Neighborhoods are being decimated for new developments. Unfortunately, this drives out the character of the neighborhood. Infrastructure hasn't kept up and here's no money to fix stuff that's been around for a while. Sound familiar?
I hadn't been in Jakarta for a month when the company asked when I wanted to fly to Singapore. Huh? I needed to fly out and get a yearlong visa instead of a thirty day visa. Left the apartment at 0400...let's just say I'm less than my bubbly self at this hour. Usually, I'm awake but I'm not out of the apartment until it's time to go to work at seven. Not many people on the flight...I should have been home sleeping too!
There were lots of folks doing visa turnarounds in Singapore. Everyone was hanging out killing time until the visa guy said to come back. I hit Orchard Street...about two miles of shopping malls. The thing about me and shopping, unless I NEED something, I don't care to shop. About the only thing I wanted to do was the Hard Rock Cafť. I did that. I wanted to write...did that. Like Jakarta, Singapore is hot, sticky, and rainy.
I got my visa and headed to the airport to catch an earlier flight out.
For the record, I don't give much creed to the forecasts anymore. Weather is usually hot and sticky with showers thrown in for variety. It's always raining somewhere in Jakarta. The forecast is always predicting rain. You simply look out the window and guess if you'll have enough time to make it to your destination.
Walking home, I compete with the scooter taxies and the food carts that line the way.
I've sampled the local cuisine. It's generally fried. The slightest nibble leaves a small pool of grease on the tip of my fingers. The larger shacks along the sidewalks and alleys aren't too keen on refrigeration.
Their cleaning techniques worry me. A half-gallon of dishwater is probably used for a hundred diners. I'm not a clean freak but I'm not too keen on local cuisine. I generally view one rat crossing the sidewalk on each trip home. Stray cats are everywhere. I have no doubt it's cheaper than the foods I eat but I don't think my system would adapt too quickly. FYI, the TLC show that featured Jakarta was about local eateries. No doubt, he did selective reporting.
Chili pepper sauce is probably more popular than ketchup here. They add it to your carryout order without asking. My system doesn't like it. I learned the hard way.
Iíve tried the Indonesian foods in low to upper level restaurants and its left me underwhelmed.
Local eateries have sinks for hand washing in the dining room...BK, McNasty's...just a few.
It blows my mind when I go into BK. Usually I get handed off to another employee who speaks better English as Bahasa is the most widely spoken language here. Nobody got the word back to the home office as the signs are all in English. Go figure.
Bread isn't big here. I haven't seen a butter knife on a table...steak knives...if a knife at all, forks, and tablespoons. My limited tableware in my apartment has no knives whatsoever...forks and spoons. The spoon is used as a scoop to push food on the fork. It's hard to find butter knives even in the grocery stores so I brought silverware from home.
Check out the photo...a local drink wagon. The packets are drinks; coffee, tea, fruit, cup of noodles...mix it with water and sell it to those who can't take a break from their jobs.
I've been working overseas for nineteen years. Back home, we call it "Diet Coke". The rest of the world calls it "Coke Lite"...except here. I drew blank stares using Coke Lite...hard to break the habit. Coke Zero is carried by most places but it gets a zero from me. Often times, the expensive stores, where DC is sold, run out of DC.
Dumpster diving, the act of raiding the trash bins in search of valuables, may not have been invented here but these folks don't take a back seat to anyone. I don't feel guilty about tossing a plastic bottle or aluminum can in the trash. I know it'll be rescued.
The local theater is top notch. I saw the latest Iron Man before it showed in the US. I saw Star Trek on the opening weekend. Both flicks ran just over six bucks each for the 3-D versions. Concessions are cheap too. Don't ask me about the first five minutes...my eyes were closed for both flicks. Old habits die hard. Both movies were in English with local subtitles. You pick your seat at the cashier. No fighting over the seats. It's your seat now! Package deals are available straight from the concession stand for food and tickets. Luxury seating is available through the movie selection is limited. I haven't tried this yet. Neither movie was crowded for a Sunday matinee.
President Obama canceled his trip to Bali when the government shut down. Theyíve named a bar in Jakarta after him called the ďObama Fans Club". I havenít seen any patrons in this bar.
Currency in Indonesia is the Rupiah. As a rule of thumb, we use 1 USD equal to 10,000 Rupiah...another relatively worthless currency. Give the money changer a hundred dollars...become an instant millionaire. As value of the dollar has been slowly increasing, it's getting cheaper to live here...but not much. The cost of living for expatriates is far from cheap. Currency continues to slide. When I arrived, the Rupiah was about 9,600 to the dollar. The US Fed was buying back debt and the Rupiah slide to over 11,000 to the dollar. Since the Fed stopped buying back debt, the Rupiah is expected to stabilize.
Jakarta has protestors for hire. Want a picket posted for a day, hire a protestor or a bunch. Your cause may make the evening news.
In the US, we know May 1 as May Basket Day...delivering baskets of goodies to friends and loved ones. For the majority of the world, it's Labor Day. It was a legal holiday in Indonesia. The police were in riot gear early around the regular location for protests. Those that did work found alternate routes...a normal routine to avoid the traffic jams that follow. Reporters were ready for the ensuing story. Rumor had it that the Indonesian government was withdrawing price support payments from gasoline and the people weren't happy. Mother Nature squelched the protest with a major downpour that came and stayed for several hours. The protestors went home. The police stayed. The riot gear went back on the shelf.
One day, I entered a building near the protestors favorite protest point to find the TV cameras on the lobby floor. Often in the morning as I'm heading to work, I spot a TV crew preparing for a live feed with the square in the background. Connecting the dots, the TV folks cut a deal with the owners of the building to leave their equipment in the lobby so they can be live in the morning on the daily protest.
While Indonesia is predominantly a Muslim country, it puzzled a lot of us outsiders to discover that the Feast of the Ascension, a Christian celebration, is a legal holiday. Indonesians exploit every religious holiday known to man...a great excuse for a holiday. Unfortunately, my employer does not share the same belief in holidays.
Our office shut down a week over the Eid...the celebration that follows Ramadan. I booked a really short trip home for my warranty extensions. Flying home, I left Saturday evening and arrived home Sunday afternoon. Five days later, Friday, I left in the afternoon and arrived Sunday night. I lost a day traveling westward. Each journey is around thirty-five hours in the air and airport. It took some time before my system adjusted to the shifting time zones. I figured when I was taking off in my return to Indonesia, my mind was somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean heading to the US.
Without knowing when Eid was on the calendar nor having any clue that we'd be taking it off, I booked my medical appointments back in February during my last scheduled appointments. When the memo was issued, I scrambled to rebook them one week earlier to coincide with the mandatory vacation. This meant using alternate doctors/specialists. The doctors gave me a clean slate...at least for another six months.
I made the trip home short for tax reasons. I got my 330 a week later and I couldn't spend many more days in the US as I spent three and a half weeks at home in January.
The August trip home completed another cycle of the world: Omaha, Chicago, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Vientiane, Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Amsterdam, Minneapolis, and Omaha...six months for this one.
I did get to see a few friends and most of the family.
I've written about I project I've been working on; taking photos of some of the past construction projects my father and family was involved in. Martha, my GPS, Ma, and I made another circuit of past projects. We've got another circuit to go. It brought back memories as I'd worked on most of these jobs as well. Ma came to the conclusion that Dad's impact was felt everywhere.
My one must-do while I was at home was a baseball game. It just so happened that the local baseball team opened up their home series the night before I left. With all the jet lag, I was dozing during the game. My friend and I left in the fifth inning. The winner and still champion by a knockout...the back of my eyelids.
Every time I go home, I ask those that have brought me something if they need something brought back from the US. The boss asked for ribeye steaks from Omaha Steaks...haven't done this one before but I was going to do it. Shopping list: cooler, steaks, and dried ice. I started asking everyone where to find dry ice...pay dirt...the local grocery store had it. Omaha Steaks had a special on ribeyes, three packs of four for fifty bucks per pack...I kept two. Omaha Steaks even had insulated coolers that look like a large handbag that women carry...the ones that want to have it all including a 17 inch laptop. Great...I was traveling 35 hours...I need all the protection I can get. I had this scouted out. On my last day, I picked up the steaks, cooler, and ice. At the airport, as a last minute idea, I told the folks at the airline counter about what was traveling in my luggage. Imagine the folks at TSA inspecting my unidentified luggage with dry ice that was emitting steam...if they got close enough to figure out it was dry ice. My mind imagined the page over the PA. Better yet..."live at five...bomb scare at local airport turned out to be steaks on ice". It was best to come clean now. I was limited to half of my purchased dry ice. I went outside to break my block in half. If my steaks didnít make it, I'd be out nearly two-hundred bucks. Luckily, the steaks made it. Some were still frozen but the ice was nowhere to be seen. Boss and his wife ate a couple steaks and enjoyed them immensely. One of my steaks died on Christmas Eve and the other died a week later. They were a suitable substitute to my Hong Kong trips to visit Ruthís Chris. Iíve been given a repeat order for my next trip home.
Iíve tried out the local taxis. During non-rush hours, the cost is incredibly cheap. I spoke to the driver in English. My home is a landmark location so directions aren't necessary until I get in visual distance.
You might call it a Facebook moment that never was. I tried and it just came out wrong so I killed it. I call it a Bluelou photo opp. We had a one day holiday and one of the locals set up a tour of a local zoo. They actually call it a safari. It was a zoo where you remained your car as you drove through the exhibits. My mind kept drifting back to my safari in Tanzania. One of my contact lenses was giving me fits so it wasnít a fun trip but I went to please the others who were counting on me. There were some pretty cool animal exhibits. If you click on the picture, itíll take you to some of the photos.
I skimmed the childrenís zoo where you could get your picture taken with the animals...they looked pretty drugged up. It was the end of the tour and I went looking for something cold to drink. All they had that was cold was beer...Iíd taken out my contacts before this but Iím sure that beer goggles would have numbed any eye pain I would have had.
As we approached the venue, folks along the road were selling bananas and carrots for feeding the animals. Iíve never seen so many carrots in my life...more than a grocery store. The animals would approach your car in search of carrots...scratch that for the tigers, lions, bears, and other carnivores or theyíd scratch you.
You could ride camels and elephants. I skipped this part too.
Weather was surprisingly good. The sun stayed for most of the tour. It went down as we were leaving and it started sprinkling.
FYI, the eye healed while I slept that night.
One of our crew returned to the same city as the zoo on the next Sunday. An hour away by car under normal traffic, he said the traffic was stopped for two hours by a wedding. There was some connection between the wedding parties and the police so they shut down the freeway for two hours for a wedding. The reception was held at a hotel near my apartment creating another traffic jam.
Check out the photo. These signs are common gifts for weddings, business openings, child births, etc. Note the sign dwarfing the cab of the pickup holding it up (blue to the right of the photo). Itís not uncommon to see entire blocks lined by these signs.
In December, I returned to Laos to work with the PM on a new job in Djibouti. He told me Iíd be making a work visit in January...about the time I wanted to go diving in Australia...a bucket list thing I had in the back of my mind...itís on the bucket list a bit longer though Djibouti in January probably wonít happen...more like February. One of the few positive things about Djibouti is everyone I spoke to say the scuba diving in Djibouti is top notch.
If youíre looking for tales of trips to the exotic isles of Indonesia, itís unlikely youíll find them here. My beach going days are behind me. I use my vacation time to go visit my doctors back home in response to my early beach time. There may be one to say that I made the trip.
I bought myself a Ďphabletí as a nice Christmas present to me. I know, my Nokiaís about a year old but I can blame it on my aging eyes needing a bigger screen/font so I can read. I wonít get it until I go home which is penciled in for February.
Itís bittersweet but Iíll soon be quitting Facebook and Linked-in. This web site will still be updated and functional. Email me for details. Keep me posted about your email addresses...thus Iím begging you to send me photos.
I bought my Slingbox back in 2006. It died when I was on my second visit to Laos. It took a day to replace it. Itís been a constant companion for me. No doubt, if Iíd get my butt off the couch and do a bit more exercising rather than watching my Slingbox, Iíd be a lot lighter than I am now.
2013...lots of travel and four new flags at the top of my web page indicating four new countries Iíve visited. Micheleís daughter, Daniele, had her first a couple of weeks before Christmas. My mother became a great-grandmother for the first time and I became a great-uncle for the first time. I think of myself as a Ďmarginal uncleí. The sisters are all doing well as is Ma.
I had no idea what would happen for me in 2013 and Iím equally clueless about 2014. Iím guessing a near-future move but thatís my little voice speaking to me. The one thing I do know is that youíll hear about it first right here at the Bluelou Times.
Happy Kwanza! Happy Chanukah! Merry Christmas! Happy New Year!