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.