Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Human Doctor vs The Veterinarian

A few months ago, I decided to buy a dog. I don't want to get into the social implications of having a dog today, that's for another blog. What I do want to talk about is the professionalism and thoroughness dog's veterinarian displayed.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine had a baby. The father joked that they had taken their newborn son to the vet's for some injections in order to save money. This got me thinking of Homer Simpson in the freak show when his manager says: "Homer, nothing's more important to me than the health and well being of my freaks....I'm sending you to a vet." I mentioned this quote to the father and we started discussing how good vets were in this country (he has 2 dogs) and how our dogs got better treatment than we could ever dream of in Indonesia.

Anybody who has lived in Indonesia for any amount of time soon realizes that the medical system and doctors themselves here are a joke. Their main priority is to make money and to sell you as many drugs as possible. Personally, I try to avoid going to the doctor unless it is completely necessary. Otherwise, you end up with a handful of prescription medication (mostly useless), lighter in the wallet, and not cured of your ailment. In Indonesia, the best treatment available is to fly to Singapore and go to a hospital there.

The average trip to the doctor, even one in a good hospital, often results in getting a bag with 4 or 5 different kinds of pills. The doctor will spend 1 minute examining you and they don't bother to ask you any questions about how you feel or what your symptoms are. If you are not seriously ill, they will assume that you have the illness known as *INSERT NAME HERE*! They write you a prescription with 2 words on it which magically turns into 5 types of pills at the pharmacy counter. They will also advise you to come back if the medicine doesn't make you feel better so that they can sell you some more medicine.

Having such a large arsenal of pills reminds me of my grandparents having those pill containers with the days of the week helping them remember when to take which one of their numerous prescriptions. I usually look up the scientific names of the medication on the Internet and realize that most of them are useless in relation to my illness. One time, I went to a doctor because I couldn't hold food down. They prescribed me ulcer medication, a pain killer, anti-inflammatory pills, antibiotics and Mylanta tablets (which I could have bought for 5 times cheaper at the store next to my house). I ended up throwing out most of them and taking the Mylanta while waiting my illness out. I doubt the pharmacist even checked for any kind of drug interaction.

The veterinarian on the other hand asked me countless questions about my dog's eating habits, sleep patterns, bowel movements and general attitude. Without prompt, she advised what do if this or that were to happen. She then asked if I had any questions (which I did) and thoroughly answered every one of them. She also showed me how to clean my dog's ears and mentioned that my dog could have optional surgery to correct an eye problem. Note the word optional. She said that if I didn't want my dog to have the surgery, she could prescribe some eye drops (also optional).

The vet then gave the dog his scheduled round of injections, told us when we would have to return for more injections, and gave us a very reasonable bill. They gave me an emergency number to call and told me where to buy ear cleaner (if I wanted). She could have lied and said that she had given the dog 6 kinds of vaccinations and I would have been none the wiser and paid the bill.

I walked out of the office wondering why I had never received treatment even close to that good in Jakarta. This made me wonder if I should start visiting the vet when I feel unwell in order to get a sensible prognosis and accurate prescription. The next visit to the vet 3 weeks later further fueled my theory. The doctor remembered everything about my dog, inspected his ears to see how well I had been cleaning them and knew exactly much he had grown since last seeing him. Again, she gave me sound advice and answered my questions about taking my dog on a trip to the beach. I wonder if my puppy dog has any idea how good he has it. I fear that, despite my youngish age, my dog may outlive me if I ever have any serious medical problems and that he will be properly diagnosed way before I ever will.

Thinking about all of this is giving me a headache. So I am going to do what Indonesian people do when they feel ill: pakai obat (take medicine). Panadol, the Indonesian version of Advil is know to cure anything from acne to migraines to yellow fever.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The sign says you got to have a membership card to get inside

The other day, I had a vision of how to make more space in my home. This inspired me to make a trip to the local Makro. I guess you could call Makro the Indonesian version of Costco. They sell everything you can imagine and have discounts for buying large quantities. On this particular day, I was after furniture; more specifically a desk and bookshelf. They have a very large and confusing selection of furniture. It takes some serious investigation and pondering to find the right thing at the right price.

After an hour or so of sorting out the prices (items often have the wrong price) and the quality, I had selected the items I wanted to buy and put the boxes on my trolley. I chose a desk for Rp 130 000 which was larger and of better quality than the desk that cost Rp 250 000, go figure. I also bought a small bookshelf for Rp 85 000, a desk chair for Rp 170 000 and a folding table for a whopping Rp 500 000 (around $50).

Confident that I had made the right decisions, I proceeded to the checkout and gave them my Makro card. Despite the 3 or 4 VISA credit card logos that I could see, I decided to be prudent and ask if I could use my VISA card. The cashier apologized and informed me that only electronic items could be paid with VISA. I asked why they had a so many VISA signs posted around the store if they didn't accept it. She replied that they did accept it, only for electronic items. I couldn't resist so I asked (hypothetically) if I were to buy a fan if I could use my VISA? Yes! What if I bought a few light bulbs? NO! What if I bought a $50 table and a bunch of other furniture that was way more expensive than many electronic items? No, only for electronics. I found this shocking since Makro is the kind of place where it is not uncommon to see people with 2 or 3 carts full of items spending hundreds of dollars.

Dejected, I gave up and agreed to pay debit. The computer screen came up with payment options. There was an American Express, VISA, and Master Card option. I asked if American Express could be used for any item in the store? Yes! Master Card? Yes! Visa? Only electronics! The irony of this is that there are probably more American Citizens than American Express cards in Jakarta. VISA is the undisputed champion of credit card popularity in Jakarta.

I was then distracted by a checkout chair fiasco. When I selected the office chair, there were signs with prices but no tags on any of the hundreds of office chairs on the floor. The cashier sent a fellow employee on a quagmire of a mission to find the price of the chair. The guy came back to the register 3 times and not once did he listen to me telling him that NONE of the chairs have tags on them. Finally, the cashier asked me how much it costs. I replied that it was Rp 170 000 and she rang that price in. By this point, I had had enough of Makro and just wanted to go home.

Since I don't have a car, we had to get the items delivered to our house. This is one of those things that can go very smoothly or go very badly. I once had a friend who had to wait 3 weeks to get a refrigerator delivered from Carrefour. The driver was out on another delivery so we had to leave our trolley with the security guard and hope and pray that it would arrive that night. Luckily, the truck showed up at our house a couple of hours later. He brought the items in, thanked us and was on his way.

He didn't check the bill to make sure that all the items were there and it's a good thing that he didn't. I knew pretty much exactly what I had bought anyways. Upon further inspection of the bill after he had left, I realized that they had forgotten to charge me for the $50 table. Guess I got a free table I thought, there was no way I was going back there. I found it odd that they forgot to scan the largest and most expensive item on the trolley, especially after the whole chair incident.

My conscience was telling me that it was not good to get a $50 table for free but there was no way I was dragging the box back to the store. As karma would have it, (or even Steven for you Seinfeld fans) my refrigerator stopped running later that night. It appears that I need a new compressor, which is expensive. So the money I saved on the table went right into fixing my fridge. Luckily, I hadn't bought large quantities of frozen food when I was shopping at Makro.

One last note: I found out that a good sized chunk of ice costs Rp 500 (around 5 cents) so keeping things cold until the fridge gets fixed is not a problem.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Hot & Humid Humbug

One of the great things about living in Indonesia is that many different religions are recognized. This means that people get Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Catholic/Christian holidays off. The best of these are the non-Muslim holidays. Since close to 90% of the country is Muslim, these days are merely a day off work. Despite this, I find it almost impossible to get into the Christmas spirit. For most, Christmas is just another day off or as is the case this year: a long weekend.

Unless you are Australian, I think it is pretty much impossible to equate tropical hot weather with Christmas. For a hoser like me, it's not REALLY Christmas unless there is snow on the ground. I've given up hope that it will ever snow in Jakarta (one drunken night, I convinced myself that a volcanic eruption somewhere in Java could trigger a freak weather event causing it to snow) but every year I hold out the slim hope that this December will be more Christmas like. It never happens. With the exception of a few tacky mall displays, you'd never know that Santa Claus is coming to town.

The first year I was here, I stepped into the Kelapa Gading mall and asked a friend why they had Christmas displays up so early in the year. My friend gave me a strange look and informed me that it was December 15th. Aside from that, I didn't see a single festive Christmas decoration or festivity that year. I started asking around and realized that even the Christian/Catholic (there seems to be some kind of huge divide among them as if they are Muslims and Jews in the West Bank) people who do live in Jakarta had a Christmas dinner and went to church. There was no gift exchange, no decking the halls and worst of Santa! Sure, the kids and adults know who Santa is but he doesn't make it to Jakarta most years.

As of today, it is 2 weeks until Christmas. The calendar and my upcoming time off are the only indicator that the 'holiday season' is upon us. Somebody asked me if I would put up a tree. I thought about it and it just seemed depressing in the sense that it would remind me of what I was missing. One of my friends put up a small plastic tree and lights on the wall last year (he paid a lot of money for the tree). The lights ended up being a permanent fixture in his living room because they 'really tied the room together'. The plan for this year is to do the Christmas Eve dinner buffet with friends at a fancy hotel and then go home. Christmas day will probably resemble a Sunday more than anything as far as atmosphere and motivation. I'll go to sleep early and put out milk & martabak, but hope is fading that there will be any presents under the palm tree when I awake on Christmas morning.

Selemat Hari Natal

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Goat For Sale

Yesterday was the celebration Idul Adha for Muslims. It is the 2nd most important day on the Muslim calendar after the ending of Ramadan. Basically, people buy a goat (or a cow if they are rich) that is to be killed at the local mosque in the morning. The meat is then divided up and given out to people in the community who are less fortunate. This is to have empathy for those less fortunate than you. To the best of my knowledge, that is how it goes. The peculiar thing about this is the massive influx of goats.
About 2 weeks before Idul Adha, impromptu goat pens begin to appear on the streets. They are usually in empty lots or on a football field or at the mosque itself. It is quite a sight to behold, the whole city is suddenly filled with little goat farms. There's even the odd goat wandering the street. Aside from the occasional chicken, you NEVER see any farm animals in Jakarta. The only thing I've ever seen that even compares to this is when people start selling pumpkins in corners of parking lots or at gas stations back home before Halloween. This thought makes me wonder how much goat prices fluctuate. I assume they reach their peak the evening before (as would pumpkins) and then prices do a nosedive the next afternoon. This reminds me of Homer Simpson in March regretting not selling his pumpkin stocks in October.
The friends I asked said that a goat could be had for 1 million rupiah ($100) or less depending on the size and health of the goat. They advised me to let them buy the goat for me if I wanted one since I would be charged a higher price since I'm a foreigner. I started thinking that I could buy one and keep it as a pet and call it 'bing (kambing means goat in Indonesian). My lady quickly put an end to any thought of that happening. She said it would be rude. I never thought of it that way and quickly explained that I was only joking (or was I?). This got me wondering what would happen if people wanted to kill a bunch of goats back home. I'm sure that there would be legal and social problems what with all of the rights that animals have these days. I prefer no to dwell on it too much and instead look forward to having some goat kebabs or goat curry which people are giving to anybody who will take it.
For many years, I've meant to get up early in the morning to witness (and photograph) the animal sacrifices. Sadly, I always end up putting more value into sleeping in since the chanting from the mosques starts at 6 p.m the night before and doesn't stop until sunrise. I always end up missing it. By the time I stroll outside, the blood has been washed off the streets and there is a lot of cooking going on. Goat meat is always available in Jakarta but I only eat it a couple of times a year with the exception of Idul Adha when I end up eating way more than I should. I wonder how much laxative they sell the day after. This is one of the only times that people get backed up. Usually, with all of the spicy food and unsanitary conditions, the bowel problems are the opposite of needing a laxative. So have yourself a goat kebab if you can and enjoy the day off, I did.

Monday, November 23, 2009


When I first came to Jakarta, I felt as if I was living in some kind of Eden purely based on the abundant selection of tropical fruits. Mangoes, pineapples, bananas and papaya were readily available and cheap. Many of these fruits are my favorites but my heart truly belongs to the mango. Life couldn't get any better I thought. My diet at the time consisted of up to 4 mangoes a day. It didn't matter because they were so cheap. The price just seemed to keep dropping and dropping until it got as low as Rp. 5000 (50 cent;) for a Kilogram. It was pure bliss that was soon to be shattered.

I still recall that fateful day when I went to the local fruit stand near my house. The fruit seller was out of mangoes. No problem I thought, I will get some from the mango cart when it comes by. The mango cart never came. The next day, I returned to find the fruit seller still didn't have any mangoes. I asked how long until he would have more and he said never. A few things were lost in translation but the point was clear: mango season was finished. This was a hard pill to swallow.

Mango season? Surely this could not be so. This is a tropical country after all. They only have 2 kinds of weather: rain and no rain. I asked around only to find that my worst fears were true. I would not be able to eat mangoes to my heart's content every day. What made this news even worse was that mango season would not return until the following September. It was December at the time. My whole world came crashing down. Not only could I not eat mangoes every day but the time that they were available would be a little more than 1/3 of the year.

This had led me to have an even greater appreciation for mangoes. Throughout the years I have found out that pineapples, bananas and some other fruits are always available and don't have a season. Unfortunately, mangoes do have a season and it is short lived. Currently, we are in the Indian summer of mango season. All I can do is just keep enjoying them and hope the mango cart is still there the next time I run out.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Bag it

I get a good laugh every time I go shopping at any big box retail/grocery store such as Carrefour, Hero, Macro or Hypermart. They have a severely flawed bag check policy which I constantly dispute. Any outside bags are supposed to be checked at the entrance. If I have my laptop in my backpack, I refuse since I don't trust someone making $50 a month not to steal my $1000 laptop. Whenever they stop me and request that I check my backpack, I say that I don't want to. They reply that I HAVE to and I (without fail) point to one of the numerous women entering the store with a gigantic designer purse dangling off her shoulder. They explain to me that they are allowed to bring those bags in. I reply that if they aren't going to make them check their bags then I'm not going to check mine. They usually give up at that point and let me and my backpack in the store.

Usually, I play the oblivious expat card when entering the store. Earphones in, I walk in listening to music pretending not to hear the person at the entrance politely uttering "Mr, excuse, mister, hello...". Sometimes they follow me, sometimes they don't. On one recent trip to Macro (similar to Costco), one store employee in the light bulb section (light bulbs are often locked up in this country) insisted that I check my bag. I pointed to a couple of women with large purses and a maid carrying a very large diaper bag. She told me that those were allowed but backpacks must be checked. I couldn't resist so I proceeded to demonstrate to her that if I wanted to steal something, I would have to remove my backpack, kneel on the ground, unzip said backpack, insert the item to be stolen, re-zip the backpack, stand back up and put the backpack on again, all of which would be VERY obvious to one and all. I then (mime) demonstrated that if someone with a large purse wanted to steal something, all they had to do was slightly move the arm that was holding the purse and shove something inside. This would take but a second and would be very easy to get away with. This whole demonstration was lost on her but she gave up and agreed to open the light bulb safe and sell me a precious bulb.

The way that the bag check system works is pretty straightforward, you give them your bag, they give you a ticket with a number and a corresponding number is put in a cubby hole with your bag. One time, I went to claim my bag and they had lost their corresponding number. I kept insisting that the green bag on the bottom was mine but they wouldn't give it to me. I told them to look inside and that I could identify the contents. This was insufficient. They got the head bag department person and eventually the store manager to come speak to me. After refusing to fill out a 2 page form and pointing out that it was the store's incompetence and not mine that led to this problem, they gave me my bag. They never did ask me about the contents and I realized that I probably could have gotten any bag on the shelf I wanted with enough persistence. Sometimes, you have to put your trust in people but when it comes to the precious contents of my backpack, I will never trust the severely flawed Jakarta bag check system.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Half Assed

After spending a long time with very slow and sometimes nonexistent Internet from Indosat M2, I decided to make the big plunge and get Speedy home Internet. Upon arriving home from work, I was very pleasantly surprised to find out that the Internet was very fast by Indonesian standards. For once, things worked out just perfectly. A few friends told me that they had Speedy and that it was very slow. How well your Internet works seems to be geographic and there is no rhyme or reason to it. Lo and behold, things were not as perfect as they seemed.

The "technician" ran a wire from where the phone jack in the living room to the room that has the computer. He did a great job of neatly attaching a phone jack to the wire and plugging it into the modem. What he didn't do such a good job with was the placement of the wire. It is common practice here that wiring gets neatly attached to the wall/ceiling from it's source to where it is needed. This applies to telephone wires, cable or air conditioning wires. He decided that it was too much work and simply left it on the floor. It went from the phone jack, behind the fridge (source of heat and fire hazard), across the entrance to the kitchen, around the back of the television, under a couch, across the back door entrance, into the office (couldn't close the door without crushing the wire), and into the modem. In the initial excitement of trying out my new Internet connection, I failed to notice that I had almost tripped over the wire when entering the office. This really blew my mind, it set a new precedent for incompetence that would be hard to ever beat. I knew it was too good to be true.

When I asked the maid why the technician hadn't attached the wire properly to the wall. She said she asked him the same thing and that he said that it was "susah" (too difficult) and left. There isn't even an analogy that I can conjure up to put in perspective how ridiculous this is. Western standards of doing things are hardly ever met in this country but this was just plain stupid even by local standards.

I got on the phone with Speedy who told me I had to call Telekom (phone company). I called Telekom and they told me that I had to call Speedy. I refused and started throwing a fit on the phone (it was all an act to get something done). The operator then agreed to help me and said that all she could do was file a complaint with my local Telekom office. She said there was no promise of when (or if) they would come to fix it. I asked for the local Telekom office number so that I could call them directly and she told me that she didn't have it. I then went off on a tirade about how incompetent the whole Telekom company was and said that I was going to cancel all of my services with them. Once again she said there was no promise of what would happen. This country has taught me great patience but there are rare times when the only way to get something done is to yell. This, in my opinion, was one of those times.

After I got off the phone, my lady started giving me grief about how I had to be nice to people if I wanted them to help me . One hour later, 2 technicians appeared at my door. My lady didn't say a word but definitely saw the sinister grin on my face and knew I was right for once. These 2 guys were top notch, they couldn't believe that the other technician had left the wire as it was. They promptly fixed the problem by using a table with a chair on top as a makeshift ladder. It is not uncommon for somebody to show up at your house to let's say fix your roof and not have a ladder. Note to self: buy a ladder. Anyways, they flawlessly finished the whole job in 15 minutes and one of the guys even helped me with a computer problem that I thought was an Internet problem. To their pleasant surprise, I gave them both some "uang rokok" (cigarette money) and thanked them for doing such a great job.

Despite the incompetence, I must say that speedy Internet is great and that I highly recommend taking advantage of their current promotion if you happen to live in Jakarta. If a technician named Rizky shows up, tell him that I said that he is the laziest bastard on the planet. If you live on the other side of the world, screw you and your lightning fast Internet! I tested my connection today and it can download at 0.86 Mbps and I am absolutely thrilled with this speed.

P.S. Upon doing spell check, I learned that "Internet" is spelled with a capital I. I have no idea why, it's not a person's name or a country. Maybe it's just really important.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Rats have completely taken over my house. A few weeks ago, I noticed that there was a hole in the dirt section of one of the cinder blocks on the ground in the front of my house. I figured a rat had done it and put some metal screen material over it. Problem solved I thought. I didn't really pay attention much after that since I thought the rat had found a new place to lay it's head. Well, a few days ago I had a look and realized that there are now 10 or so holes and that rats have even chewed through the screen material!

I went to have a look because I started to notice rats coming in the back courtyard of my house and even saw 1 or 2 inside the house. Jakarta rats are humongous an
d not to be taken lightly. It is pretty terrifying to see one inside your home. I prefer to make lots of noise and try to scare them back outside. Having rats outside your gate eating garbage is a normal sight around here but I have to draw the line somewhere.

So I went outside one night
and watched the holes. I saw 2 baby
rats and 1 large rat enter the holes in less than 10 minutes. Time to take matters into my own hands I thought. Despite having a very large and healthy rat population, rat traps are pretty much impossible to find in Jakarta. There is poison and these sticky papers that the rats get stuck on. Poisoning them isn't such a great idea as you will have the stench of death in and around your home for a long time. The sticky paper works
to an extent if you manage to put it in a place where a rat happens to step on it. Once it does get stuck, you can either let it sit there dying for days on end or kill it yourself. I wouldn't have a problem with killing a rat or 2 if it came down to it but I'd rather not if given the choice.

A friend of mine recommended using a special kind of poison that dries out the bodies and eliminates the stink. I put out one packet in the back and one in the front of the house. They were both devoured within 30 minutes, must be some tasty poison. So I kept an eye out the next day for dead rats. I didn't see any but I didn't expect to since they go to hide when dying. Come that evening, there were even more rats entering the hole (I tried filling the hole with water but it just wouldn't fill up as the water was exiting somewhere else). I made a loud noise to try and scare them out and 3 other large rats hiding in the corner of the yard scurried away and scared me half to death. Later that night, rats were literally clawing at the front door of my house trying to get inside.

I'm now at the point where I don't know what to do. There are potentially countless rats living directly below where I lay my head to sleep and they will just keep multiplying. I'm mulling around with doing one massive Jim Jones style poisoning but I'm afraid that even "dry" poison will not mask that stench. Any ideas?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Got it Maid

So like many people in Jakarta, my maid left to "pulang kampung" for the Idul Fitri holiday. She left on the 15th of September and didn't return until yesterday. I feared that she would not return and that I would have to once again jump through flaming hoops in order to find a new maid. This coupled with a story I read that proclaimed that 25% of all domestic workers (maids, nannies, drivers) don't return after the end of Ramadan made me start to worry. They are often unable to come back because of family issues or lack of funds. Could you imagine me, a grown man, doing my own dishes and laundry? I did do many of these domestic chores while my maid was away without thinking about it. Laundry (especially ironing) is high on my list of things I don't like to do so there was quite a lot of ironing to do when she did return. She didn't reply to any of our text messages or calls and then suddenly appeared at our house 2 days ago profusely apologizing and hoping that her job was still available. I didn't let on how happy I was to see her and told her that she could indeed continue to work for us.

Even with my upbringing and years of doing chores for myself, I actually took my maid for granted for a little while. It is not uncommon to hear people complaining about their maids or drivers in this town. It sounds extremely arrogant but really it isn't much different than complaining about a bus driver or a bad waitress. I would love for one of my friends from back home to eavesdrop on one of these conversations and be appalled by the complaints of improperly cooked food, missing socks, poorly mopped floors or how she never cleans the toilet without being asked. I'm sure that they would have great empathy while walking around with baby puke stains on their shirts because they haven't had time to do the laundry and need to get dinner cooked first.

Despite having somebody do your dirty work for you, there are still moments of frustration. My most memorable was years ago when I bought an electronic coffee grinder only to have my maid diligently wash the whole thing after I had used it once. This pretty much destroyed the grinder and ended up being the first and last time I used it. Luckily, she unplugged it before washing it. I tried very hard to hide my disappointment and told her it was OK. She begged me not to fire her and I explained that I would not fire her for something like that. She was shocked and confused I think. Over the years, many people have told me that maids like working for expats because they do outlandish things such as give them national holidays off, increase their salaries and let them do whatever they want at night. I used to get very confused when I first moved here and my maid would ask me if she could go outside and hang out with her friends in front of the house. When I told her she didn't have to ask, she told me I was a very nice man.

The events of the last couple of weeks have been a real wake up call for me. I'm going to give my maid a big hug when I get home tonight and tell her I appreciate her. On second thought, maybe I won't do that because it could come across the wrong way. Going against the advice given to me, I gave her a Ramadan bonus (which is customary) and paid her whole month's salary despite her being gone for almost 3 weeks. People have warned me that if I am too nice that she will stop doing a good job with cleaning because she'll think I'm a pushover. I'm willing to take that risk if it means that I don't ever have to do ironing as long as I live.

Sorry it took me so long to write on here but I've been busy doing chores. I promise to write more often in the future.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Running on Fumes

Yes, Ramadan is here and it inevitably takes over daily life in Jakarta among other places. Yesterday was the first work day of Ramadan. Many people adjust their working hours or daily habits accordingly in order to make their lives easier. In case you don't know, Muslim people fast during daylight hours in Ramadan. They get up at 4 a.m. to eat breakfast before the sun rises and then don't eat or drink again until after sunset. I have great respect and empathy for the people who do this (ironically, Ramadan is all about feeling empathy of those who are less fortunate) and must accept it. The thing that I have been wondering over the last couple of days is how Ramadan effects the overall health and safety of Jakartans. I don't mean health as in starving themselves (there are special rules for pregnant women and the elderly etc) but more as in mishaps.

I couldn't help but notice that many of my co-workers who were fasting weren't really on the ball by the time the afternoon rolled around. Who can blame them? I wouldn't be on the ball if I didn't have a coffee or 2 within my first couple of hours at work. This got me wondering about people who have jobs that could be hazardous or require great attention. It is like the waiver for so many prescription drugs: DO NOT OPERATE HEAVY MACHINERY. Well, if one were fasting for an entire day, is it safe for that person to be driving a gigantic truck or a bus in the afternoon hours? As I was driving home in the afternoon, I had to swerve and pay attention more than normal (normal traffic in Jakarta is anything but) due to an increase in careless driving. After I got home, I wanted to immediately go run some errands since everything goes crazy in the late afternoon. I saw a woman driving a van on the wrong side of a street soon after leaving my house. She almost hit an oncoming motorbike until her passenger tapped on her shoulder. I don't think the motorbike even noticed. I saw many similar scenarios during the rest of my drive.

This got me wondering if there ends up being more workplace and/or vehicle accidents during Ramadan. Does anybody know of any such statistics? Obviously, a construction worker or a bus driver can't use fasting as an excuse not to do his job. This, in my mind, would create a dangerous situation. Taxi drivers already work 20 hour shifts. How safely can they drive without nourishment? Some jobs cater to this and allow their employees to adjust their working hours so that they can start and finish work earlier than normal. In most cases, these are office jobs which aren't very dangerous to begin with and probably do little more than avert the odd paper cut.

After I had finished my errands and was on my way home, traffic had reached the point of near insanity. It was close to 5 p.m. and everybody was frantically trying to get to where they wanted to be in order to break their fast at approximately 6 p.m. Nobody wants to be stuck in a traffic jam alone in their car when it is time to eat for the first time. This is usually a celebratory event where people get together and have a feast of sorts. Needless to say, my knuckles were pretty white when I did get home due to the increased urgency of exhausted drivers. I saw many opportunistic folks who had set up little table selling snacks for the fast break. The funniest opportunistic thing I saw had to be the Mc Donald's employees taking orders on the street. They were standing at an intersection (in Mc Donald's reflective vests for safety) and taking orders from cars. I assume that these people would get home and soon be greeted by the Mc Donald's delivery man with a combo of their choice ready to eat at sunset. Ronald Mc Donald and his pals are proud to be part of your religious culture.

I would like to close by saying MOHON MA'AF LAHIR BATIN to all of my Muslim friends and wish them a happy and peaceful Ramadan. That being said, I BEG you not to break your fast by eating Mc Donald's or KFC!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


This past weekend was unprecedented as there were so many reasons to celebrate......
1) It was a long weekend
2) It was a non-religious holiday on Monday
3) Monday was Indonesian Independence Day
4) It was the last weekend before the fasting month of Ramadan begins (on Friday)
Needless to say, there were many neighbourhood parties and lots of friends meeting up for barbecues or to have a drink in a pub or club before they close or become very quiet during Ramadan.
I had an interesting time going to a friend's house for a barbecue on Sunday. In the chaos of collecting all of the things I had brought with me in the taxi, I managed to leave my small camera in the taxi. It became apparent to me that I had lost my camera when Blue Bird Taxi called me to ask me if I had lost a camera. I told them that I did and the driver drove back to my friend's house and delivered the camera to me. It was EXACTLY like the Blue Bird commercial. I thanked the driver and insisted that he take some money even though he refused many times before taking it. The irony of this is that I had not given the driver a tip earlier because he didn't have change. He could have kept the camera and I would have just mourned it as being gone forever. I guess Blue Bird Taxis do have the upstanding reputation they claim to have. The only reason I use them is that they are the only semi-reliable taxi that actually shows up at your house in less than 45 minutes when you call them. Lately, they have been arriving at my house less than 5 minutes after I call them. The average is around 20 minutes I'd say.
The rest of the weekend was good. I had a little too much fun on Sunday and didn't really manage to make it outside on Independence Day. The whole reason I had my small camera with me in the first place was to catch some festive photos for my blog. By the obvious lack of photos in today's blog, you can figure out how many photos I managed to take.
In an update to my cat math blog (See July), 3 new kittens joined the flock last night. Their mother seemed to had left them sitting amongst the plants after giving birth. They whimpered literally all night. I was secretly hoping the rats would eat them just so I could get some sleep but I wasn't so lucky. I'm very tired today but that's the way it should be after such an epic weekend, isn't it?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Grave Diggers

The month of fasting known as Ramadan is fast (pardon the pun) approaching. One tradition here is for families to visit the cemetery and pay their respects to dead family members. They pour rose water and rose petals on the plot, say a little prayer and are on their way. This same process is repeated at the end of Ramadan. Any cemetery at this time of year is an odd site for anybody from a western nation. There are many advantageous people selling rose water and rose petals, too many food carts to count, not to mention people selling books and glow sticks right in the foot path of the cemetery. This is not the worst of it by any means.
I was shocked to find out that most Jakartan families do not actually own their burial plot, they rent them forever, literally. It is not uncommon for numerous family members to be buried in the same plot. This I believe is for cost and lack of space. Some cemeteries in Jakarta are the biggest chunk of green space around for days. Here is the screwed up part: Family members must pay $50 or more every year to the cemetery or they will lose their plot. I'm not sure if they dig up the old bodies or just throw a new one on top but that is the deal; pay or lose your "eternal" resting place. It is also customary to give the workers at the cemetery a little tip to make sure that they cut the grass around it and brush the leaves off every so often.
Sadly enough, this is the worst time of year to be forking out cash for constantly cash-strapped Jakartans. The end of Ramadan is not unlike Christmas (er um excuse me I mean the "Holiday Season"). People exchange gifts and whoever can afford to do so goes back home to their village. Obviously, this time of year is not cheap what with all of the festivities and train tickets etc.
This has nothing to do with me or living in Jakarta really but I just thought it was so weird that I needed to write about it. I do like the idea of being buried without a casket, I've always found that a bit over the top but I'd hate to be dug up and left on the side of the road just because my family didn't have a few extra bucks.
So much for "Rest in Peace"

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Dancin' in the Streets

Quite often, weddings or funerals are held in front of a person's home. People completely overtake the street by putting up a makeshift roof and filling the road with chairs or a stage. The front of any home can be transformed into a banquet hall virtually overnight. What is odd about this is that people block the road and set up these structures without any kind of permission. I guess the logic is that everyone will need to use the road for a party at some point so nobody really complains. Today, I woke up to see the house down the road from me setting up for one of these such events. In this instance, it means that I can only leave my house on foot. Anybody wishing to use their motorbike or car will simply have to wait. Today being Saturday, it is not much of an inconvenience. If it were a workday and I was forced to pay for transit to work, I'd probably say well....nothing. in true Javanese fashion, I'd probably just suck it up and pay for a taxi. Luckily, my street does not have much traffic. I have seen streets that have a lot of through traffic get blocked. This can be extremely chaotic and frustrating. Everybody seems to just go with the flow so I do the same.

There was one exception when I couldn't really go with the flow. A couple of years ago, I lived in a different area of town and a different house. The street this house was on had a pretty steady flow of traffic throughout the day. As I was getting ready to go to work, I realized that the house across from mine was setting up for one of these events. I managed to snake my bike through the maze of chairs and made my way to work. Upon returning from work, there was a blockade set up around the corner. An old man standing there told me that I was not allowed to enter. I told him that I lived there and HAD to enter. This man was enjoying playing the cop a little too much and started shouting insults and threatening me. He grabbed my jacket just as I hit the accelerator and he even held on for a few seconds before giving up. There was no way that I was going to leave my bike on the street all night long out in the open almost a kilometer from my house. That night , I managed to get my bike into my gate as there weren't too many chairs set up in the street.

The next day, I inadvertently caused a scene. I opened my gate to take my bike out but didn't realize that somebody had rested a giant floral sign on my gate. Since my gate opened outwards, it knocked over the sign and a few chairs as well. One of the people outside started giving me a hard time. When I pointed out that somebody had rested the sign on my gate and there was literally no exit from my house, somebody else apologized and promised me that it would not happen again. That night, there was no roadblock set up near my house. This saddened me a little as I had envisioned plowing straight through it (and maybe even the makeshift cop) during my drive home. As I got closer to my house a horrendous traffic jam started to reveal itself. There had never been a traffic jam in this spot the whole time I had lived there. Cars were rounding the corner only to hit a dead end of chairs and people on the street. Some of them were trying to turn around, others were trying to park. It was utter chaos. There were dozens of chairs and countless people in between where I was and the entrance to my house. I managed to get my bike parked at a friend's house who lived down the road. Even parking there meant moving some chairs and obnoxiously honking my horn. I know it sounds harsh but the alternative was basically leaving my bike on the street and never seeing it again as it would most likely get stolen. I had to nudge my way through the crowd and hit people with my gate door just to get into my house. As I entered, my roommate was sitting on the couch looking paler than usual. He asked me how I managed to get in and then proceeded to tell me his horrific story of getting home.

Later that night, we found out that it was a funeral for the old man who lived across the street. As it turns out, he was involved with the Indonesian Air Force in some capacity and was a relatively important man. The next day, I didn't even bother trying to get my bike. I simply walked to the road and took a taxi. That night, I once again had to claw and shove in order to get into my own house. 2 days later, the same scenario was still playing out. On returning home from work that night, I had pretty much had enough. The thought of saying something to the people about how "I'm sorry that some old man died but anything more than 5 days of blocking the street, (not to mention the traffic jams being caused on other streets) was pushing their luck" crossed my mind. Fortunately, the street was back to normal when I arrived. The next day, I got my bike from my friend's house and everything went back to normal. The thing that struck me as being the most odd about this whole scenario is that nobody bothered to knock on my door and say "excuse me but we are going to blockade the entrance to your house for the next 5 days or so". Turns out, nobody ever does.

The good thing about that particular funeral is that it makes tents like the one set up on my street today seem to be nothing more than a novelty. The other time when there was a stage in front of my house and people playing very bad and loud music from 10 a.m. until 11 p.m. helped brighten my mindset towards today as well. I can get out of my house and won't have to deal with any old men living out their cop fantasies. I may even go pretend I'm a guest and get a free dinner.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Can I Help You?

Upon entering any large retail chain store in Jakarta, one of the first things you will notice is that there are so many people working. Sometimes there are more employees than customers. One of my oldest and most vivid memories of this is from Gramedia (a large book store that also sells sporting goods, musical instruments, computers, and stationary). Having made my decision on which book I wanted to buy, I proceeded to the checkout counter. One girl scanned the book and (in an amazing display of multitasking) took my money. Another girl put my book into a plastic bag. A different girl took my receipt from the cash register and handed it to yet another new girl who stapled it to the bag and then handed it to me along with my change. I thanked all 4 (or was it 5?) of them and was on my way. This struck me as being strange, there was no lineup and the store was pretty much empty. As the years went by, this phenomenon has begun to seem normal to me.

Fast forward to last weekend. Against my better judgement, I decided to make a Sunday visit to that big box mega store that sells everything you can imagine known as Carrefour. It was not yet noon so I hoped that it wouldn't be too crowded. Luckily, it wasn't very busy with shoppers. The aisles were, however, very congested with sales reps and Carrefour staff stocking shelves. The times that people choose to do things around here always amazes me. When I was a younger man and worked in a supermarket, we used to stock shelves on Tuesday nights 30 minutes before closing when there was 1 shopper in the store, not on the weekend. All of these people and very large pallets can make some aisles very difficult to navigate. Throw over sized shopping carts and deal-drunk drivers and some aisles begin to resemble the traffic jams outside the store. What does amaze me is the sheer look of surprise on some shelf stockers' faces when they realize that they are blocking access to an entire aisle.

My favourite workers are the product reps. They market a certain product or line of products while stocking said product. I don't really know if they are employed by the store or if they are independent and go from store to store. These reps (almost always female) are usually clad in a blouse/skirt combo outfit that features the logo and colours of the product they are selling. One of the first ones I noticed on Sunday was a Pampers diapers rep. Her outfit made a 24 pack of pampers look like the perfect accessory as it was an exact match. As I turned the corner (don't ask why I was on the diaper aisle), she was busy giving her pitch to a very interested customer. This whole exchange is hilarious to me, no matter how many times I hear it. These reps seem to have no real insight into the products they are hawking, they just state the facts. The (translated) pitch on this particular day went something like this "here we have the 12 pack of ultra absorbent for Rp. 30 000. Next to that, we have the 24 pack of ultra absorbent for Rp. 55 000. On the shelf below this, we have the pull-ups 16 pack for Rp. 42 000....." The woman listening to her sales pitch was hanging on her every word. This absolutely blows my mind as they are reading exactly what it says on the package and pointing to the label with the price below the package. If you were to ask them which diaper would best suit a 2.5 year old male who is potty training, they'd most likely start reading the labels and pointing at the prices again. How could anybody possibly make an informed decision without the sales rep present?

A couple of aisles later, I noticed that 6 packs of You-C 1000 were on sale for Rp. 20 000. There were 3 gigantic signs written in marker that said "MAXIMUM 3 PER VISIT". As I was planning on buying some anyways, I proceeded to grab my 3 packs (savings of 1 dollar, yess!). Right after the first pack entered my cart, the You-C 1000 sales rep literally ran over to me and proceeded to explain to me that they were on sale for Rp. 20 000. I told her that I was sold and that I was going to buy 3 packs. She then pointed out that they come in lemon and orange flavour. This solved the mystery in my mind of why half of the packs are yellow and half of them are orange. I told her that I liked lemon and that was why I was filling my cart with 3 packs of lemon. Diligent in her work, she tried to persuade me to get 1 more pack of orange just to try it. I then pointed at one of the gigantic signs that said "MAXIMUM 3 PER VISIT" and told her that I already had 3 packs. When I did this, she looked genuinely stunned as if she had no idea that you weren't allowed to buy more than 3. After a few seconds of looking like a deer in headlights, she asked me if I wanted to buy some You-C lemon water. I politely declined at which point she pointed out that the water also came in orange flavour. Again I politely declined and made my way to the checkout.

Now let's say for example you wanted to buy something expensive like an air conditioning unit at Carrefour. You would most likely have to search for somebody to help you. If you are lucky enough to find somebody, they will have no knowledge of the appliance in question. If one asks a question about a specific model, they will tell you that that one is bagus (good). If you ask about a different one, you'll probably get the same answer. If you tell them that you would like to purchase a certain model, they may tell you that that model is out of stock without even going into the back to check because they don't feel like doing that. This has happened to me a few times. If you are lucky, you can ask another clerk who will promptly go to the stock room and get you what you have asked for. On one occasion, I wanted to buy a water dispenser. They had around a dozen demo models set up. Turned out that 7 of them were completely sold out and that they had not bothered to take down the floor model or put up any 'sold out' signs. When I asked which ones they did have in stock (after the guy had gone to the back 3 times), he told me that he wasn't sure. If any of the Carrefour brass read this blog, I have a suggestion: Switch the product reps with the clueless people who sell expensive appliances. I don't need assistance when choosing the right bug spray but I may need some from time to time when attempting to buy a washing machine or a refrigerator. The only problem is that I don't think that the guys from electronics and home appliances would look very good in those product rep skirts.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Meatstick Observations

I got sucked into watching The Wire last night. Be careful with that show, it will take over your life. After spending way too many consecutive hours on the couch, I realized that it was dinner time. Sate (bbq chicken skewers with peanut sauce) seemed pretty appealing to my lazy state and the sate man rolls by my door pretty much every night. After watching yet another episode of The Wire, I conceded that the sate guy was not coming. I could no longer avoid the grumble in my tummy, so I hopped on my bike and drove to the closest non-mobile sate spot. The best part about the sate cart coming to your house is that you don't have to sit and wait for it to finish being cooked. You can just go sit back on your couch and wait for the guy to yell that he has finished barbecuing your dinner in front of your house (love this country!).

So there I was patiently waiting on a plastic stool for my meat sticks. I lit a cigarette and had nothing better to do than look around. My boredom soon turned to amazement. This spot was complete sensory overload. I didn't care how long it was going to take to cook my meats, there was too much to see. In no particular order, here are some of my stool observations.

1) No less than 3 lady boys (transvestites, men who dress like women or whatever you call them) came into the sate tent. You can easily spot lady boys as they wear very revealing clothes. No self respecting Indonesian woman would ever dress that way in public. As usual, they were done up and wearing their shortest skirts. Each one had a speaker fixed on their chest (maybe to hide the absence of cleavage) playing very loud Indonesian dance music. They approached the tables one by one and had the very conservative looking family sitting there give them money. What a great concept. Somebody pays you money to go away.

2) At some point, I lost count of the number of motorbikes I saw with 4 or more people on them. The norm was dad driving with a kid in front of him resting his head on the handlebars. Mom is on the very back with her legs dangling and the younger child sandwiched between mom and dad. It also seems that the more people on a bike, the less likely they are to be wearing helmets. The main reason for wearing helmets in this country is to avoid trouble with the police, not to protect your skull from fracturing. As if that could happen driving a motorbike on the streets of Jakarta.

3) At different times, 5 people walked out of a warung next to the sate shop with a piece of watermelon in a plastic bag (this is dessert). As soon as they got outside, they pulled the plastic bag off and threw it on the ground. This upset me a little until I noticed that there were dozens of plastic bags and lots of other random garbage right in front of me. The logic is that the street is already dirty so what difference is more garbage going to make. A much better alternative is to throw all of those unnecessary plastic bags into the garbage and burn them.

4) A very important looking man came to the sate stand and made an order to be delivered. When ordering, he grabbed the man running the stand by the arm in a domineering kind of way and whispered instructions into his ear. The sate guy looked kind of nervous and agreed to whatever it was that the man said. At this point, paranoia set in and I thought they were on to me for sure. A few seconds later, I realized that I hadn't done anything and that watching The Wire was making me paranoid. I wonder if that man actually paid for his sate in the end.

5) I saw 7 or so people crossing the road to the busway entrance. None of them looked before crossing the street. I guess that they were absent the day they taught that in school. There is hope for the future generation though. I saw a mother (bag of sate in hand) making her young daughter look both ways a couple of times before crossing the street.

Finally, my sate was finished and I set off on my way home. Upon arriving, I decided that I had had enough excitement for one day and was going to lay off The Wire for the rest of the night. One hour after finishing the sate (which was excellent) I watched 3 episodes of The Wire and went to bed way too late.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Cat Math (1+1=6)

Despite the rampant pollution and lack of green space in Jakarta, there seems to be a lot of wildlife that lives in this city. That is if you can consider cats and dogs wildlife. Other animals one may encounter on a daily basis include rats (very very big ones), cockroaches, tiny lizards (known as cicak), musang (a possum like animal), birds and toads. There is also a plethora of insects including butterflies, flies, dragonflies, ants and mosquitoes. It often amazes me how so many critters can manage not to just live but to thrive in this smog filled concrete jungle.

There seems to be an unbreakable code as far as co-existing with animals is concerned. The one I find the strangest is cats. Nobody under any circumstance will harm or kill cats. This topic came up at my home close to 1 year ago. When I first moved into my house, I was pleasantly surprised to find a street cat or two had been using the space in front of my bedroom window as a litter box for a very long time. So one day I sucked it up, got a shovel and picked up the 100 or more encrusted cat turds and tried my best to sanitize the spot in order to prevent further bowel movements. The extreme cleaning and cat-proofing of the gate in front of my house ensured that they would no longer defecate inches from where I lay my head. Then the cats started using the street in front of my house as a toilet. This didn't bother me much as it was an improvement compared to smelling cat urine while in bed. Then I noticed that one of the 5 or so cats who appeared to live in front of my house or on my roof was pregnant. Sure enough, there were 4 kittens living in my garbage box a few weeks later. This was definitely cute. The idea of adopting one crossed my mind but having an indoor cat in Jakarta is next to impossible. They will inevitably get outside, forage in garbage boxes and rancid trenches only to return to nuzzle against their soon to be diseased owner. Then I started doing cat reproductive math in my head and had the realization that, at this rate, there would soon be dozens of cats living in front of or on my house. When I asked friends about this, they told me that it was very very wrong to kill or exterminate cats and that Jakartans live in harmony with them. I started to ask if somebody would take action if the dozens turned into a hundred and so on. Unsurprisingly, the answer was no. It amazed me that cats could totally take over an entire street or neighbourhood and that nobody would do anything about it (any PETA type disagreeing with me can suck it, go live in the wild for a while and see how "ethically" animals treat you and each other) even if the situation got out of control. Worst of all, the cats stand no chance against the oversize rats on the street, so they can't even act as rodent control.

It is worth pointing out that both stray dogs and cats seem to be very docile and non-threatening. If anything, they are timid. This is the polar opposite of the stray dogs and cats around where I grew up. Dogs don't get much love in this country. They are allowed to roam free as cats are but are considered to be disgusting creatures. I'm not sure if it is purely Muslim beliefs or a mix of traditional Indo and Muslim beliefs but the majority of people here are petrified of dogs. On one of my first excursions with my better half, we went to a friend's house who had a dog. Upon entering the home, my lady nearly had a panic attack at the sight of a small and very friendly dog. She spent most of the night eyeing the dog and jumping on her chair every time the dog got too close. Later she told me that she was brought up to never touch dogs because they are dirty. She also mentioned that she felt fortunate to make it through the night without the dog biting her. This story seems to be very common. A westerner who owns a dog will get some strange or frightened reactions by simply walking the dog down the street on a leash. I've even known friends who have had maids quit because they got a puppy.

My lady has come a long way since then. I have helped her to overcome her fear of dogs but she still worries that some dogs are just waiting for her to let her guard down so they can bite and (assumingly) eat her flesh. Many months after her initial dog reaction, I was at her parents' house when I noticed quite possibly the dirtiest and most foul smelling cat I've ever seen roaming around in their house minutes after scavenging garbage in the street. When I asked if it was worse to have a clean dog or a rank alley cat in one's house, they begged me to promise never to bring a dog anywhere near their house. I agreed as long as they promised to clean any spot where the cat touched in their house.

Fast forward to last night. There are now at least 12 cats that I can easily identify on my street, not to mention numerous kittens. Since the first time I saw kittens in my garbage box, there have been 3 other litters that I've known of. The fourth came late last night. I was awoken by cat howling which lasted for an hour or so and then suddenly stopped. Later I could hear the kittens moaning but was unable to visually locate them the next morning. With my exceptionally good cat reproductive math skills, I predict that there will be approximately 30 cats living in front of or on top of my house by the end of the year. At least the new breed have the decency not to poop in front of my bedroom. Time to get a dog I think.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Technical Difficulties

My cable remote control stopped working the other day. Getting up to change the channel manually wore off after about 10 minutes. After an attempt to change the batteries proved not to fix the problem, I decided to call the 24 hour call center. Dealing with people at call centers or help desks or whatever you call them can be very frustrating in this country. It was frustrating back in my home and native land but it is exponentially more difficult to get your problem fixed here. The worst part is that you cannot be upset with or fault the voice on the phone because they truly have no idea what is going on. I suspect that this is usually due to lack of training.

The first problem is the language barrier. I consider myself able to carry a conversation in Bahasa but people on phones tend to speak extremely fast. My requests they bicara pelan-pelan (speak slowly) usually either fall on deaf ears or prompt the operator to switch to English with a very limited vocabulary. This can have strange consequences as a bilingual conversation usually breaks out. I will ask a question in English and when they sputter to reply in English, I will re-phrase the question in Bahasa. Sometimes this works, other times it causes more confusion as they can't decipher whether they can't understand what I'm saying in English or if I am actually speaking Bahasa with a western accent. This is my fault as I am in Indonesia and must work to improve my bahasa. I have called help lines before which say "press 2 for English". Quite a few times, the operator has simply hung up on me when I ask if they can speak English as they most likely got stage fright or simply can't speak English.

On this particular day, the help desk was pretty helpful and told me that a technician would be sent to my house. Later that evening, the technician called to inform me that he would be coming after lunch the next day. The following day being Saturday, I was able to sit around and wait for him to show up. He called me again at 9 am to confirm that he would be around after lunch. He called again around 10:30 am to make sure he had the right address. At 4 pm, I called the technician to see if he was coming any time soon. He didn't answer his phone which made me wonder if perhaps he was in the middle of eating his lunch when I called. Once again, I called the help desk to ask whether the technician would be coming today or not. I did not want this question to be answered but rather for the help desk to remind the technician to come to my house. There is sometimes a serious lack of communication or an obliviousness as to what the left and right hand are doing in companies such as these. 10 minutes later, a different technician called and asked for directions to my house. 5 minutes later, he was at my house with another assistant technician and very quickly sorted out that the problem was the decoder box. He replaced the box and told us to make sure to unplug the decoder box every time there was a power failure. This is not really possible as power failures are a regular occurrence and often happen when nobody is home. Despite this, I agreed to do what he said.

With my remote working again, I was looking forward to some channel surfing. It went great for about 10 minutes at which time a blue screen appeared and the decoder box started to attempt to download new software. The download progress stayed at 0% until 5 minutes later, programming resumed. 15 minutes later, it again tried to download for 5 minutes and then resumed to 15 minutes of TV watching and then continued to repeat this cycle. I called the cable company and they advised me to disconnect and re-connect the wire into the converter box. After this failed, I once again called them and a different operator told me to do the same. When I explained that I had already called and tried that, she told me that I may need a new converter box. I told her that it was a new converter box delivered earlier that day. Then she told me to try disconnecting the wire. I told her again that I had already done that and then she hung up on me. Once again, I called and had a similar kind of dialogue. This time, I hung up. Finally, I called one more time and told them that my cable wasn't working and I didn't know what was wrong. They promised me that a technician would come the next day.

A few hours later, I was on my way out of my house when 2 guys on a motorbike asked me if I knew where a certain address was. I was surprised to hear them say my address and told them that this was the place. They informed me that they were from the cable company and were there to fix my problem. It must be my lucky day, they are a day early and managed to arrive before I left. I explained what had happened and they decided that I needed a new decoder box. Once installed they started putting their shoes back on and getting ready to leave. I asked them to stay for 10 minutes or so in case we had the same problem again. They assured me that this was a NEW box and that I wouldn't have the same problem again. I pleaded and even offered them coffee and snacks in a sad attempt to get them to stay (they must have thought I was lonely or something). They told me that they were very busy and had to go. They also pointed out that the cable was working just fine. There is a big problem with people using "it's OK now" as an excuse not to fix things properly. Sure enough, the technician's motorbike was just out of earshot when once again, the decoder box started to attempt to download software. I immediately called the cable company and demanded that they return since they still must have been close. The operator informed me that there were no available technicians until 2 days later and that I should attempt disconnecting the wire from the back of the box.

This morning, I had the Mrs. call the cable company and tell them that we are not going to pay our bill if they don't come to fix this problem. After asking if we had tried to unplug the cable from the converter box, they agreed that they will come later today some time after lunch. I gave specific instructions that they are not allowed to leave until 2o minutes of uninterrupted cable TV time has passed, even if that means locking them in and forcing tea and snacks down their throats. I'm hoping that this problem will sort itself out but I won't be the least bit surprised if takes another week to get this problem sorted out. I also fully expect to be forced to dispute the charges on my next cable bill that may or may not include payment for 3 converter boxes. All of this commotion is making me think that maybe I should find something better to do with my time than watch TV. Maybe I'll turn my television set into an aquarium. Hopefully, this will reduce the number of technical difficulties in my life.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

I am deeply saddened by the bombings in Jakarta this week and offer my condolences to anybody who was killed or injured. There's nothing much to say about this that hasn't already been said so I'll just leave you with a quote from a man named Michael Franti

"We can bomb the world to pieces but we can't bomb it into peace."

Friday, July 17, 2009

Yabba Dabba Doo

I saw a fire engine on the street for the first time yesterday. Didn't know if they existed in Indonesia. I thought maybe this town was like Bedrock from the Flintstones since most stable structures are comprised mostly of cement. The sad part of this is that the structures that are made of wood are in the kampungs (slums) and a fire truck wouldn't be able to access these areas due to narrow streets. The fire engine appeared to be back to it's station, wherever that may be. I couldn't help but wonder how this massive vehicle would weave it's way through traffic with it's sirens blaring and if people would even consider yielding. I was once stuck behind an ambulance in a traffic jam. All lanes were clogged and we were moving at a snails pace while the ambulance had it's sirens blaring. After moving less than 1 kilometer in 20 minutes, the ambulance turned it's sirens off. As I'm writing this, it has occurred to me that I should write 'buy a fire extinguisher' on my list of things to do this weekend.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Are You Trying to Cool Down All of Jakarta?

OK I admit that I am a little set in my ways but I am not an OCD person, that's for sure (1234 1234 1234). That being said, I have certain (let's call them) peeves. One of my biggest ones is closing doors. Keeping doors closed in Jakarta is not the norm for many. A lot of people don't even have doors or windows for that matter. Me, I like my doors closed for one of 2 reasons. The first one is that mosquitoes will enter. The second is that opening doors lets air conditioned air escape. I am definitely my Father's son as I can still hear him saying "Are you trying to heat the front yard?" when I'd leave doors open as a child. Well Dad, at least we had screen doors and windows. Screens appear to be a luxury in this country.

The correlation between having a door open (especially at night) and mosquitoes coming into one's house seems pretty straightforward to me. A hundred million or so people on this island don't seem to agree with me on that one. I've lost count of how many times I've closed the front door behind someone entering or exiting my house. When I've tried to explain that mosquitoes live outside and therefore leaving the door open entices mosquitoes to enter the house, I've met many a blank stare. Quite a few of the maids that have worked for me have been given the whole speech about not opening the doors and windows in my bedroom when they clean. They've often replied that the windows must be opened every day in order to allow "angin" (wind) into the bedroom. I've responded that I appreciate them cleaning my room but I'd prefer they not open the windows since I can't stand having mosquitoes in my bedroom when I'm trying to sleep at night. They usually nod and continue opening doors and windows every day since they figure that I don't know what I'm talking about. I'm not sure if you've ever had the pleasure of experiencing a mosquito attack in your bed but it is extremely unpleasant. It usually involves them flying so close to your ears that the buzzzzzzz pulls you out of a dead sleep. If it isn't that, it is sometimes as little as 1 mosquito jumping on your arm or leg biting your repeatedly. For me, this is about as enjoyable as eating glass. I'm sure that Indonesians hate it as much as me but many just don't seem to make the connection between open doors and mosquitoes. The last maid I had insisted on having the doors open all day long, especially while she cooked. Despite my pleading, she insisted that the doors must be open because the house needed to be aired out to prevent it from being "bau" (smelly) inside. She didn't seem to be worried about the extreme heat in the kitchen. Finally, I decided that I would give her good reason to close the doors. I showed her the 12 flies that I had killed the night before (with my electronic mosquito racquet, one of my favourite toys) and explained that these flies likely came from the pile of cat crap in front of the house or an unseen dead rat's carcass. Despite my pointing out how extremely unsanitary it was having flies in the house, (not to mention the annoyance of mosquitoes) she patronizingly told me that she sanitized the house every day and that my house would be dirty and smelly if she didn't open the doors. Luckily, her food was fantastic. I guess it's hard to break old habits, especially if one has lived their whole life in a dwelling with open doors and dozens of mosquitoes and flies inside at all times.

The whole air conditioning thing is a different story. Most A/C's in this country are the wall unit kinds. To the best of my knowledge, central A/C for homes doesn't exist in this corner of the world. These wall units always come with a remote control. The mastering of these remotes is a difficult task for some. I've tried in vein many times to clarify what the word "AUTO" means as far as climate control. These A/C units seem to be pretty good at maintaining a certain temperature. You simply choose a temperature (I like around 24 C) and put the fan on "AUTO". This means that when the room gets cool, the A/C reduces it's power an when it warms up, it cools a bit more. Many people (including the vast majority in my workplace) prefer to set the A/C at 16 C and the fan on full power. This inevitably creates an extremely cold room as the A/C unit will just keep pushing out more and more cold air without end. When it gets too cold, they will then turn the A/C off or start pushing random buttons without bothering to ask the eternal question:"What does this button do?". When it gets really hot 20 minutes later, they will turn the A/C back on at full power while fanning themselves with a paper and so on and so forth. I've given up any attempt to explain this further and instead prefer to laugh at people scrambling to find the A/C remote every 15 minutes.

What I persist with is trying to convince people to leave doors closed when the A/C is running. My workplace is semi-outdoor. This means that there are air conditioned rooms with open air hallways. Therefore, leaving doors open is like trying to cool down Jakarta. My dad would have a heart attack if he came here. I'm not talking about doors being left open for minutes but hours. When attempting to get people to close doors, my requests are usually understood and acknowledged. When they are not, I ask people if they open windows in cars while having the A/C running. The usual reply is "of course not!". This is when I point out that leaving a door open is the same concept only in a larger space. My main reason for keeping A/C air inside is not for the power bill (I'm not paying it at work) but instead an environmental one. It is also of note to point out that Jakarta is prone to the occasional afternoon blackout due to excessive power consumption. Does this encourage people to limit their power use? Of course not. The majority of my co-workers agree that it is a good idea to close doors of rooms with A/C running and try their best to remember to do so. Their best isn't very good. I'd say the average person remembers to close the door 40% of the time. When they see me closing the door for them, they apologize and promise to try harder to remember. Their intentions are sincere, especially as some are environmentally conscious but I do feel as if I am fighting a losing battle. I've already given up on the notions of recycling or composting in Jakarta so I don't want to be an energy waster as well. Maybe running air conditioners with doors and windows open could help reverse the effects of global warming, NOT.

The oddest part of all this in my mind is that I constantly have a fleece available at work for the instances where a room is too cold to deal with. I hope the irony of wearing a fleece in a tropical metropolis is not lost on you. What is even stranger is that the average Jakarta born Indonesian believes that Bandung is very cold at night when temperatures can fall to a bone chilling 20 C. I don't and never will understand how these same people can manage to sit in an air conditioned room who's temperature is at 14 C and dropping while wearing a short sleeved shirt and sandals, all the while looking content. Meanwhile, I'm shivering in the corner wishing that I'd brought my scarf and mittens to work.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Time for Bed

Running the simplest errand can be painful and time consuming in this town. I usually expect things to go wrong or not to go as planned. The beauty of this is that when things do occasionally get accomplished promptly, I am very pleasantly surprised. Today, I decided that I was going to get my new watch fixed. The watch was a way overpriced gift from an associate at a staff function. I'm not much of a watch person but it was a Swiss Army watch and I thought hey, they make good knives so the watch may be alright. Upon trying it on, it was obvious that it was sized for a man with a much larger and hairier forearm than mine. Recently, I had seen a Swiss Army booth in Pasa Raya so I decided to go and see what would happen. Astonishingly, the guy working at the booth was able to re-size the watch by removing a few links in approximately 3 minutes. When I asked how much it would cost (before he started so I wouldn't be surprised) he said "terselah" (up to you) which meant it was free of charge but I could tip him for his services. Tip him I did as he made my day. There I was with my new (and very expensive as it turns out) re-sized watch on my arm with lots of time to spare since I had planned on this errand taking up most of my afternoon. We had some nice lunch in the basement and enjoyed some people watching. Pasa Raya is the best place in Jakarta to see what I like to call mismatches. After finishing lunch, we went to get my bike which I had cleverly parked on Jl. Paletehan. If you've ever parked in the Pasa Raya bike parking lot, you'd understand why I parked where I did. If you think that I parked there for any other reason then shame on you!

As I got to the end of the street, there was a parked van blocking my view of traffic. I slowly rolled up to the van and to my surprise (not really) a 40 something year old man walked right out in front of me without looking. I honked to inform him that I was there and he looked up and started laughing hysterically at the fact that he hadn't looked before crossing the street and almost got hit by a vehicle. I did what I usually do in this instance (yes, it happens a lot, more to come about that in a future posting) and pointed my fingers at my eyes in a sign gesture to watch where you are going. As I'm writing this now, it seems kind of funny but at the time it was more infuriating than funny. I say that because I don't think I'd be laughing if I was responsible for injuring somebody with my motorbike. I continued on down the road and decided that I would use my bonus free time to go check out a mattress sale that I had seen on the way to the watch shrinkening. I know, I'm so cool.

I have been fantasizing about buying a new mattress for a few months now. Other expenses have put it on the back burner. My old mattress was fantastic for about 3 years and then it got horribly saggy and uncomfortable almost overnight. I decided that I'd learn from my past mattress experience and spend a lot on a new mattress. After all, you spend one third of your life in bed doing 2 of the things that I enjoy doing the most; sleeping and reading. Got ya, you thought I was going to say watching TV, didn't ya?

As I pulled into the mattress shop, the parking guy asked me and the Mrs. where we were going. I found this to be hilarious since the parking lot was solely for the mattress store. He didn't get the ironic humor when I explained while laughing that I wanted to maybe buy a bed and that this was why I wanted to park in the bed store parking lot. He directed me to the tiny bike area in the back and we proceeded to enter the store. I laughed even harder when I saw a sign that there was also a fertility clinic in the upstairs of the building. We entered and saw that there were only 2 girls working there. They were both preoccupied with sucking up to a "rich" lady at the front counter so we got to go and have a look around. This is the opposite of most retail stores in Indonesia, there are usually more people working in a store than people shopping. We looked around, sat on a few mattresses and looked at a few catalogues which didn't have bed statistics as I expected but instead was full of fabric samples for your mattress. I found this to be odd since the only time I've ever looked at the fabric on my mattress is when I was changing the sheets. One of the sales girls stuck her head around the corner and informed us that she'd be be with us in a moment. I didn't care since a mattress shop is probably the best place in the world to have "sit" and wait for service.

Eventually, she came over to talk to us and was very friendly. She first asked if we wanted a firm or medium mattress. Then she asked which brands interested us and offered to show us some fabric catalogues. It's a bed, not a couch! The fabric on the mattress could have My Little Pony on it for all I care as long as it is super comfortable and suitable for watching hours and hours of TV. I then politely told her that I would like to know the prices of mattresses. She asked if it was mattress only or mattress plus 12 accessories. I said mattress aja since I didn't feel like getting into a discussion about what material I'd like my pillows to be stuffed with before I'd actually picked out a mattress. I picked one random mattress and she went to get her price listing book. All I really wanted was to see that book for myself but I knew that wasn't going to happen. She said that the mattress I'd chosen was around 18 million (ouch). I then asked about another one and I was given another astonishing quote. I asked to make sure that it was the price for just the mattress and not the whole shebang and it was indeed just the mattress. I then had the Mrs. ask about which beds were on sale as the sign outside that had originally intrigued me stated. She told us that all Serta (I think) brands were 40% off, King Koils were 50% off and some Italian brand were 50% off. OK, I thought, now we are talking. I asked how much this Italian mattress was. She told me 22 million. I asked if that was after the 50% discount and she informed me that it was. I then asked how much a certain Serta mattress was after the 40% discount and she pulled out her calculator and pricing list. I tried to get a look at the pricing list in her hand as I was getting annoyed at this point. She did her best to hide the list and informed me that this Serta mattress (no box spring or frame or duvet or pillow or stuffed sheep or guling) was reduced to 27 million after the 40% discount. I laughed at her and told her that it would be cheaper to buy one of these mattresses in the US or Italy and have them shipped here since her prices were so high. She gave me her best fake smile and informed me that their beds cost the same as a store in a Western country. Just to be sure, I confirmed that the Serta mattress in front of me would be roughly 40 million were there not a 40% discount. She assured me that this was true while I once again tried in vain to get a peek at her pricing list. Then, she informed me that they did have some beds that were cheaper and they offered free delivery for all mattresses. I looked at her and said this is garbage (I said a bad word in Indonesian but I'm trying not to curse while writing, OK) and informed her that there was no chance that I'd ever be buying a bed from this store. She assured me that their prices are very competitive and I assured her that I didn't want to listen to her for one more second and was leaving. A friend of mine has a real nice mattress comparable to the one that I was looking at and I'm pretty sure he paid around 5 million for his.

We walked out and I sarcastically informed the parking guy that I wanted to go home. As we were walking to the bike compound, the Mrs. informed me that my behaviour was unacceptable and that she didn't want to shop with me if I was going to act like that. I informed her that there was no way that I was going to let someone disrespect me like that and then smile and thank them for treating me like a fool. I know how I should act in that situation and I often do act accordingly but there was no chance that was going to happen today. Then, I proceeded to tell the Mrs. that the girl inside was lucky that I didn't say what I was really thinking and that I told her off in the most polite way possible. The disapproving look on her face told me that it is not possible to politely tell someone off.

So now here I am again on my lumpy old mattress playing on the computer since the TV has been temporarily disconnected. It has occurred to me that these blogs are a bit arrogant since there are millions of people in this country who can barely afford to buy a foam mat to sleep on and some who don't even have a roof over their heads. I recently explained this to a friend by using the analogy that this blog is a bit like complaining that my gold watch hurts my arm or that my diamond shoes are giving me blisters. That being said, my new re-sized Swiss Army watch is hurting my arm because it's so heavy but I'm not complaining.
Sleep well y'all