Saturday, August 21, 2010

Kepada Kepala Kelapa

In Jakarta, the best way to repair something is the cheapest way possible. This is not up for debate. Nowhere is this more evident than on the roads. It is not uncommon to see a newly filled in pothole revert back to its original pothole state within a week. This is caused by the repair men using the cheapest cement or tar/stone mixture that they can find in order to save money. A week later, they will repair the same pothole using the same material (in order to save money) yet again. This trend will sometimes repeat itself for weeks on end. Eventually, it will be filled in with a slightly more expensive material after the first 6 tries to save money (huh?) failed miserably.

Messed up roads are something that you just learn to live with in Jakarta. I never pay much attention to them except when it's raining and they turn into invisible land mines. Anyways, just a few days ago, I encountered a new groundbreaking, innovative and Eco-friendly solution to the pothole dilemma: fill them with COCONUT SHELLS.

To give you a little background, coconut shells in the tropics are always green on the outside, not brown like the ones you see in the supermarket as a child. There are stalls that sell a drink called es kelapa muda which literally translates to ice coconut young. They cut the top of the coconut off and put a straw and a spoon inside. You then drink the sweet young syrup and eat the white meat from the inside of your coconut glass. It is a refreshing drink, not to mention it looks like something they would drink on Gilligan's Island.

The es kelapa muda place around the corner from my place came up with a great way to kill 2 birds with one stone. They put their empty (young) coconut shells in the pothole directly in front of their establishment. Well, let me tell ya, that pothole has been filled and stayed filled for the last 2 weeks. The shells have defied the odds and have managed to outlast the average cement pothole repair. These people could be onto something huge. There are a LOT of empty coconut shells around town. Instead of tossing them in the ever growing garbage heaps, why not toss them in a nearby pothole? It is definitely better than having axle breaking holes in the road.

If you've never had an es kelapa muda, I highly recommend it. But make sure to have it in the coconut, not out of a plastic bag. After finishing your refreshing drink, have a look around for the closest pothole. If you are inclined to do so, throw it in and jump on it a a couple of times. You will be helping the environment and providing a civil service.

Use your kepala and reuse a kelapa...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Pimpin' Ain't Easy

For the last couple of years, there has been some controversy surrounding who has the rights to broadcast English Premier League football in Indonesia. This story is a bit long and complicated but I will try my best to explain it. If anything I say is incorrect, please clarify by leaving a comment. To the best of my knowledge, this is how the story goes...

Football is broadcast on the Singapore based ESPN/Star Sports and also occasionally on local Indonesian television stations. Many years ago when I first moved here, it seemed that virtually every EPL game was televised live on both cable and antenna TV. The beauty of this was that the large majority of Indonesians who couldn't afford the luxury of cable television could watch their favorite teams in their own homes or at the local food stall.

Starting in 2007, football rights were sold to the highest bidding cable company. The first cable company to win was ASTRO TV which is a Malaysian company. What this meant was that you could only watch EPL football if you had an ASTRO subscription. Anybody who had INDOVISION or FIRST MEDIA (called Kablevision back then) found out the hard way that football games were not televised and alternate programming was shown on ESPN and Star Sports during those times. The shows showcasing goals and highlights of the week were also blocked.

With their backs against the wall, many people subscribed to ASTRO just so they could watch football. My roommate at the time was British and insisted that we get ASTRO so I went along. Every weekend, we had the luxury of having live football on TV. At one point close to the end of the season, the Indonesian government stated that ASTRO had committed some kind of violation and had their cable license revoked pending the payment of a fine. Coincidentally, this happened 3 days before arguably the biggest match of the year between Chelsea and Manchester United. Everyone who had ASTRO was shocked to turn on their televisions to find black screens on every channel. A couple of bars around town had foreign satellite channels and were able to broadcast the game live. Apparently, they had lineups to get inside. By the next weekend, everything was back to normal. I assume that ASTRO paid their fine.

The next August, as the new EPL season was about to start, nobody had the rights to broadcast EPL football. If I recall correctly, only pubs with foreign satellite had games televised for the first couple of weeks. After that, an Indonesian minister was gracious enough to start his own cable company called AORA. They now became the new "it" cable subscription as they had landed the big prize. They also landed full coverage of the Beijing Olympic games. Needless to say, I didn't watch a single second of the Olympic games that year. The only thing wrong with AORA was that they only offered a total of 8 channels. This is a far cry from the 50 plus channels that most subscribers offer even for basic cable. What this meant was that if you wanted real cable TV and EPL football, you had to subscribe to 2 cable providers. A few hardcore fans did that, the rest did like I did and caught the odd game at a bar and neglected to watch most games that season.

To the Indonesian branch of ASTRO, this was a kill shot. Once EPL football was no longer available, many people simply stopped paying their bills despite having 1 year contracts. A sign of how desperate they were was that it took nearly 4 months of our household not paying the monthly bills before they shut our cable off for good. Nowadays, you still see the odd ASTRO satellite dish here and there. Mostly, they are forgotten relics of past supremacy.

Fast forward to the beginning of last season. I considered subscribing to AORA when I heard that they had expanded their channel line up. When I looked into it, I found out that they had expanded from 8 to 12 channels and decided not to subscribe.

I was expecting another year of living in relative football oblivion when a surprise email appeared on my screen one Friday night in August. The email stated that INDOVISION (hands down the most popular cable company in Indonesia and the one I subscribed to since no others were available in my area) had won the rights to broadcast EPL football for the upcoming season. It turned out to be a wonderful year of football watching for yours truly as they not only had every game broadcast live but all of the football highlight shows and match replays shown midweek on EPSN/Star Sports. A local television station called TV ONE also had some games televised live. The only downside to this was that Champions League games and highlights were not shown on ESPN/Star Sports version of Indovision. I didn't watch a single Champions League game that season since they are mostly broadcast live at 2 A.M. local time and were not replayed.

Lo and behold, here we are on the verge of the kickoff of yet another season of EPL football. The first game between Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur is tonight at 6:45 P.M. local time. As of yesterday, the Jakarta Globe reported that a deal had not yet been reached as to who would have the rights to broadcast EPL football on ESPN/Star Sports. Apparently, the price tag has doubled from last season and negotiations are still in progress. There is no better negotiating tool than a ticking clock. TV ONE has stated that they will not show EPL football as they cannot afford it. You can read more here

By now, you may be asking yourself why I keep unnecessarily adding ESPN/Star Sports to sentences or why I refer to 'Pimpin' in the title of this blog. Well, as I see it, here's the major problem with all of this.....

When one subscribes to a cable company (INDOVISION in my case), one is paying for the right to view certain channels. If a subscriber opts to get a movie package or a sports package, they are paying for the right to watch HBO or Cinemax or ESPN/Star Sports, not to be sold selective programming of those channels. They are NOT paying for the right to watch specific programs only available to specific cable providers (this is called PAY-PER-VIEW everywhere else in the world). What I mean by this is that if you subscribe to HBO, you are paying the cable company for the right to watch their programming, which they in turn have paid HBO for. In this case, people are paying for the right to have unlimited access to any program shown on ESPN/Star Sports, which is NOT based on the cable provider. The programming schedule and content for CNN (for example) is the exact same on any cable provider in Indonesia 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

I know that this is a little confusing as it took me time to wrap my head around all of this. Let me give you an example that may help to clarify what it is they are doing with EPL football:

If you subscribe to HBO, you are paying to view the content of that channel. To make an analogy, this would be similar to if somebody sold the rights to a single cable company to have the exclusive right to broadcast "The Wire" or "The Sorpanos" or "Band of Brothers" which are all HBO shows. So if you had INDOVISION, you would be able to watch these shows on HBO but any other cable provider would have these shows blocked out on HBO.

Or, this would be like if you could only watch "Spongebob Squarepants" on the INDOVISION version of Nickelodeon.

To me, this is like a middle man jumping in to re-sell (or pimp out) a service that you are already paying for in the first place. There are certain channels such as FX and FOX Channel which are only available on INDOVISION or ASN which is only available on FIRST MEDIA. In those cases, you are paying for exclusive access to those stations.

In this case, ESPN/Star Sports (which every cable provider in Indonesia has access to) is paying the EPL for the rights to broadcast their football matches. This means that you should be able to watch this content regardless of what cable provider you have as long as you subscribe to those channels.

I don't know if it is ESPN/Star Sports out of Singapore or some branch of the Indonesian government who is doing the middle manning but I know who I'd put my money on if I had to make a bet.

So as of now, I am keeping my fingers crossed and patiently waiting to see if I will get to watch football from the comfort of my own home later on this evening....

Thursday, August 12, 2010

We Don't Care

Recently, Carefour (the big box everything in 1 store store) inexplicably moved their hand held shopping baskets. This confused yours truly to no end. They used to be at the entrance right next to the shopping carts. I almost never get a cart because it makes it that much harder to navigate through the crowds and I can't fit a cart's worth of groceries on my motorbike. Anyways, there I was staring at hundreds of carts and not one single little red basket.

My first instinct was that they had run out so I wandered all the way around to the checkout counters (it's farther than you think) figuring that I could swipe one from there. When I got to the checkouts, there weren't any. I looked around for another couple of minutes before finally asking someone.

The friendly checkout girl told me that they should be at the entrance. Thinking that I maybe had had a few too many drinks the night before, I sauntered back towards the entrance (completing the loop). Once again, no baskets. I asked the employee closest to the entrance. He pointed towards the inside of the store. I walked until I reached the electronics section and still no red baskets.

Against my better judgement, I asked one of the guys standing by the televisions. I got the answer I expected "di depan" (at the front/entrance). Convinced that this could not be true, I asked the next guy I saw in the housewares section. He pointed towards the back of the store and uttered some word that I could not understand. The next guy I asked pointed and said the same word.

This trend continued with the next 3 employees pointing in the same direction and uttering the same word. Verification is good in a place such as Jakarta as misinformed answers occur way more often (I've been told that this is because it is more polite than saying "I don't know") than you might think. By the time I got to the last employee, I reasoned out that they were saying: fabric (same as English) as in the fabric section.

Finally, I spotted them! A big fat stack of red shopping baskets in the very back of the store in the very back of the fabric section. Maybe if I had been functioning on a higher level that day, I might have thought of looking in the fabric section without assistance.

A few days later, I visited a different Carefour with similar results. Luckily, I knew what to do when I saw that there were no baskets at the entrance. This particular branch seemed to be much more organized as they had placed the baskets halfway to the back of the store and only 50 meters from the entrance.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

First Media, we don't need it do we?

After a recent move, I decided that I would like to switch from Indovison cable television to First Media cable. The main difference is the channels that are available. Indovison has the rights to EPL football (which is a topic for another day) but First Media has a new channel that plays ice hockey.

Being a big hockey fan, I drooled at the chance to get to watch NHL hockey in the tropics. I called First Media and asked them when they could come to my house and install cable/internet. They asked for my name, address, postal code and where exactly I lived on my street. After a brief pause, they informed me that First Media is not yet available in my area. This was shocking to me since I live in a somewhat posh area (but not in a posh house).

They informed me that if someone else on my street got First Media, then I would be able to get First Media at my house. I asked how it would be possible for that person to get it since they would be told that it is not available on their street unless someone else on the street gets First Media first. Confused? So am I.

So now it looks like there will be no hockey at home for me this October. I don't quite know how a cable company can stay in business with a limited coverage area in the small hamlet of Jakarta. But what the hell do I know?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Ace in the Hole

If you've never been to an Ace Hardware store and happen to live in Southeast Asia, I highly recommend visiting one. It is quite the spectacle. The name, however, is misleading. Captain Obvious would say that "a hardware store sells hardware" but in this case, it just isn't so. They do have a small selection of hardware and a decent selection of tools. If you're looking for something like drywall plugs and screws or a piece of wood or an extension cord, you are in the wrong place.

I went there wanting to buy a pack of drywall plugs with matching size screws. After 30 minutes of searching (it is pointless to ask an employee, it will take them twice as long as you to find it), I finally found them next to the plumbing accessories (there's no point in asking why they were where they were). They did have a couple of packs, one was 3 mm and the other was 15 mm. Those are extremely small and large sizes in case you were wondering. They also had a couple of packs of screws but no plugs or packs of screws that come with matching size plugs. This got me thinking; maybe they should change their name.

I propose that Ace change their name to Ace Lifestyle store. During my screw search, I saw an ultrasonic cleaner (high frequency liquid cleaners that are of no use for 97% of the world's population), a popcorn cart, velvet ropes with poles, buffet trays and aquariums but not much in the way of hardware.

After a brief conversation with myself, I decided that I couldn't justify spending $500 on a popcorn cart and left the store. I wondered if they sold drywall plugs at the popcorn store but figured they didn't. I stopped at the supermarket to buy food (captain obvious!) and while wandering down a random aisle, I stumbled upon packs of screws WITH matching size drywall plugs in the same box.

So if you are ever in Jakarta and are in a situation where you need some kind of hardware, do the prudent thing and go to the supermarket. If you happen to be looking for a DJ mixing board, a hamburger shaped flash disk or a full sized popcorn cart, do what Captain Obvious would do and go to the hardware store.