Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Early Bird Gets The Ice Cream

Living with constant noise is something one must accept if they wish to live in a large Asian city. The sounds that penetrate and irritate the eardrum are wide and varied. They range from loud motorbikes with the exhaust removed to make them sound cool to street vendors promoting their different products. I like to live by the "When in Rome" model so I try my hardest to accept the noise as others do. That being said, I always have a pair of earplugs within reach.

The hardest thing to accept about the noises in Jakarta is when they start. There is actually a period of dead silence in Jakarta which lasts from around 2-4 a.m. There have been numerous occasions when I've been staggering home in this time frame and have been somewhat frightened by how eerily quiet the streets can be. It feels a little like being in the 'calm before the storm' part of a horror movie. This silence comes to an abrupt halt with the morning prayer call at approximately 4 am. At this moment, the chants begin to blare out of your local mosque's loudspeakers. It is literally a wake up call and the larger the mosque, the louder the call. If you are fortunate enough not to live near a mosque, this will not wake you up. If you do live near a mosque like I do, you just have to simply wait it out. I must admit that I find the chanting somewhat soothing and it is a rather friendly wake up call compared to an alarm clock or a rooster. Most mornings, I manage to sleep through it or to fall back asleep seconds after it finishes. For many, this is the start of their day, there is no going back to sleep as there is breakfast to prepare and work to be done. It is much easier to get work done in the early morning hours before it gets too hot. When I first came to Jakarta, I thought that nobody ever did any work and just sat around all day. I later realized that they often had finished their day's work before I had woken up.

After pre-dawn showering and praying, all hell breaks loose. For some reason, this seems to be the ideal time for street cats to fight or fornicate (they seem to make the same noises for both) on my roof. At around 5:00 - 5:30 a.m. the maid from the house across the road begins to sweep their portion of street. To do this, she uses what is known as a lidi which is basically a little broom made of straw like strands that are tied together. They make a strange whispy woosh sound which I personally find very irritating. This without a doubt wakes me up every morning and not in a good way. The sensation is similar to that of fingernails on a chalkboard. The most annoying part of this is that I usually get up at 5:45 a.m., so it ruins that beautiful sleep period just before waking up (this is when you usually have those epic dreams which seem to last for days but are only 10 minutes long in reality). Aside from her cleaning the road, there is complete silence on my street (my street is rare for Jakarta, most are loud by now). After weeks of waking up angrily, I finally decided to confront this situation and politely asked the maid if she could possibly clean the street later (as in 7:30 a.m.) since I was still sleeping. She seemed very confused by this request, stopped sweeping and went inside. The next day, I was again awoken by the woosh and again I asked her to stop. This time, she smugly replied "Tapi udah pagi, mister" (but it's already morning, mister). I tried my best to explain to her that it was still dark outside therefore it wasn't really morning yet. I also pointed out that all the other maids on the street sweep the road in front of their houses later in the morning. She didn't get my point at all but now she starts wooshing at around 6:15 every day. I didn't bother trying to explain to her that I don't get up at 4 a.m. nor did I try to make her understand that I wake up at a time which some westerners would consider shockingly early. The part that I don't understand is why it is so necessary to clean the patch of road in front of a house before sunrise. This same maid thinks I am a bule gila (crazy foreigner) since I've also asked her to stop talking so damn loud on her phone in front of my house/bedroom window at 6 a.m. on a Saturday. I've been told since by Indo friends that the way I dealt with this situation was very bold and rude. The polite thing would be to just deal with it. Luckily, I am not THAT polite and this makes life much easier on my co-workers and friends as a grumpy awakening takes me a few hours to shake and is detrimental to all

Around 7a.m., many of the street vendors start making their rounds. Some are on foot pulling a portable cart with a wheel and 2 legs known as a gerobak while others are on motor or push bikes. Every vendor has a distinct song or noise to indicate what they are selling. They basically sell anything you can think of. The bread guys are usually the first on the scene and you hear their familiar ROTI ROTI jingle more times than you care to that early in the morning. After that, it's usually the ice cream man. Every person who has spent any significant time in Indonesia knows the ice cream song (do do do....do do do....) and can hum the song note for note. I have great empathy for the ice cream vendor since he has to listen to that song every day for countless hours on end. I get a little restless after hearing it 3 or 4 times in a couple of hours. The thing that I can never fully comprehend about the ice cream man is that he starts making his rounds as early as 7:30a.m. I guess when you get up at 4 a.m., ice cream that early in the morning doesn't seem odd. The ice cream man is NEVER around in the late afternoon when I might actually be tempted to eat ice cream. After that, it's time for the vegetable carts who yell SAYUUUR. For the rest of the day, the vendors are pretty random.

Some of the funniest vendors I have seen and heard include the remote control man (who yells REMOTE REMOTE), the umbrella man who I mistakenly thought was selling umbrellas (turns out he was repairing them), the wicker furniture man, the tukang monyet (a man you pay in exchange for watching his monkey perform), the hamburger man, the man with a speaker on his chest playing really loud music (you pay him to go away), the broom man, the cotton candy man (who's bicycle transforms into a cotton candy spinner), and my favourite; the mobile tailor. My better half once had the tailor sewing in front of our house for what seemed like hours. Ended up setting me back Rp 20 000 to get 10 garments stitched or re-sized. Once, I made the mistake of giving the junk man some cardboard boxes for free. My neighbour later pointed out that those boxes were worth good money and he should have compensated me. I was just happy that someone came and took them away.

As the day wears on, more food vendors start appearing. My all time favourite is the Sate (BBQ chicken skewers with peanut sauce) guy who belts out a mighty SAAAAATAAAAY. Sate seems to be a strictly after dark food. Apparently, people like eating donuts at night too because the donut man seems to be one of the last guys to go home. His trademark call is the kind of horn you'd expect to hear a clown honking. As the evening wears on, the streets gradually get quieter as people who get up at 4 a.m. go to bed very early I suppose. That being said, it seems perfectly OK to honk your car horn repeatedly when you want your maid to open your gate at 1 a.m. or to stand in front of somebody' gate knocking and shouting their name for 20 minutes even if they are obviously not home.

It doesn't seem to be OK to play music at night or at least not for western people to do so. I was once at a friend's house party and there was music playing at a reasonable volume. The local security guards came by the house at around 8:30 p.m. and informed the owner that the music was disturbing an "old sick lady" next door and wanted to know if we would turn it off in order to help her get well faster. My friend (the owner) informed the security that he was not going to turn the music off. The security thanked him and left. One other evening, I had a few people at my house and the security showed up at around 10 p.m. to inform me that they were going to call the police if we didn't turn the music off. All of the Indonesians at the party got scared and left within 10 minutes. Oddly enough, the neighbours I suspect of notifying security have children who constantly cry or shriek in a painfully loud manner in front of their house almost all day every day. This is OK as they are not disturbing old sick people by making excessive noise at dawn. On that note, I once had a neighbour who listened to the same song literally 20 times in a row. Nobody complained in that instance.

There was one early morning wake up call which I don't think will ever be topped. It was the day before the end of Ramadan (Idul Fitri) and I was awoken by children shouting outside my gate. They kept banging on the gate and shouting for somebody to answer the door. Ignoring them as I had no interest in what they were selling at 6:30 a.m., I went back to sleep. I thought that they would give up soon enough but the banging and shouting persisted. After almost 20 minutes of the kids shouting, I decided it was time to go and tell these boys to get lost. As I opened the door, I managed to startle a chicken standing in my front yard. The chicken reacted by flapping it's wings and knocked down a ladder which in turn startled me. The kids saw me and (after they stopped laughing) begged me to let them in so they could retrieve their chicken. I unlocked the gate and one of the boys came in and swooped up the chicken in one quick motion. After assuring them that I had no interest in buying their chicken, the 3 young boys graciously thanked me and were on their way (presumably to sell their chicken). My nerves rattled by the falling ladder, I returned to the bedroom and attempted to go back to sleep. As my head hit the pillow, the Mrs. asked what all the commotion was. I calmly told her that a chicken had knocked over the ladder. I then closed my eyes and went back to sleep leaving the rest of the story to her imagination.

Despite the fact that these noises sometimes test my patience, it is good to know that if I am ever in need of a replacement remote control or have an early morning ice cream craving that I only need to step outside. Too bad there isn't a beer vendor.

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