Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Best Game You Can Name

As I've mentioned before, the thing I miss the most from back home is hockey. After numerous attempts (in vein) to get the cable company that carries hockey installed I finally gave up. Then, one day, out of nowhere, a glimmer of hope appeared. A new cable operator called Skynindo that had the channel I was desperately searching for (In HD as well!). I called them up and they informed me that they could indeed have it installed in my home by the end of the week. This filled me with excitement as I was FINALLY going to be able to watch the NHL playoffs in the comfort of my own home. After some back and forth discussion with the sales rep, we agreed that the technician(s) would come on Saturday.

I made it a point to be home on that day and not preoccupied as technicians often show up without hammers or ladders and require assistance. As promised, the technician(s) showed up at 2 P.M. after asking for directions a couple of times. To my surprise, they were ready to go, complete with their own tools. They chose a spot to install the satellite and went to work. I was impressed by the spot they chose since I've had lots of trouble with the location of my other cable satellite.
As they went to work, I informed them that I would be inside if they needed anything. That was at 2:15 P.M. Over the next couple of hours, I looked outside every 20 minutes or so to make sure that they were OK. They seemed to be taking a very long time as previous satellite installations had taken as little as 15 minutes. I decided to leave them be as they seemed to know what they were doing.

They eventually re-appeared at 4:45 P.M. asking if I had a television that they could use. Confused, I asked for clarification. They said that they wanted to take a television up to the roof to test if the satellite was working properly. The only television I have is my 32 inch flat screen and I told them that there was no way that they were taking it up to the roof and that they would just have to run the cable down (as they would eventually have to anyways) to the television. They begrudgingly agreed. I didn't bother asking them how they planned on plugging the television in up on the roof.

After I showed them where the cable had to come into the house, they ran t
he cable and plugged it into the converter box. Step 1
complete, success! The next step was to connect the converter box to the television; easy, right? Not so much. After the 2 of them spent 20 minutes fumbling around, I decided to step in and help. The converter to television connection was a component cable, like the one used to connect a dvd player. When I stepped in to help, they were basically guessing where to plug the wires in. I tried to explain to them (without being patronizing) that the blue wire goes in the blue holes and that the green wire goes in the green holes etc. Each time it wouldn't work, they would disconnect a wire and try it in a different hole. (for example: blue wire in red hole? No! How about blue wire in white hole?) They were convinced that they would eventually get it right. I shooed them out of the way and connected it properly. After it was all colour coded and ready to rock, it still wasn't working. I informed them that it had to be the converter box or the satellite. They didn't listen, they started randomly trying the wires in different slots again.

By this point, I was losing my patience. I asked a friend (there were 5 friends sitting on my couch being entertained this whole debacle, especially since one of my friends pointed out that the one technician looked just like Chris Rock) how to say 'guess' in Bahasa. Again, I explained to the technician that he couldn't just guess where the wire went, that the colours HAD to match and that he could NOT just randomly try different holes. They only work in the hole that has the matching colour. This time, I seemed to get through to him. He replied with "Ooooooh gitu" (oh, like THAT) and went back out to the satellite and managed to get a signal. He got a semi decent signal and, in order to make it better, he decided to switch the blue and green wires. This resulted in a black & white picture with a green-ish tinge. "Udah, Mister!" (done) he cried triumphantly. I had to disappoint him by pointing out that the picture is supposed to be in colour (not to mention HD) and not black & white with a green tinge. Again, I switched the wires back to where they were supposed to be, making him watch and sent them back to the satellite. After a good 30 minutes of playing around, they managed to get a clear picture.

Just as they did, a hockey game appeared on my television which was met by a boisterous applause by the peanut gallery on the couch. That's the end of this ordeal, or so I thought. Not so much, I still had to sort out the bill. They had attempted to charge me for transport and vastly over charged me for the length of cable used (you pay by the meter). Luckily, I had my tape measure sitting on the table and went about measuring the cable. After 2 minutes of this, they gave up and agreed that it was probably 10 meters less than the 25 meters they had written down. It was even less than that but I couldn't be bothered. They were refusing to budge on the transport fee as their office was "Jauh" (far away). After threatening to call the sales manager, they begrudgingly removed the transport fee. Nobody else who had ever installed anything in my house had ever tried to charge me for transport and I'd be dammed if they were going to be the first. Finally, everything was settled. Not so much.

They told me that the balance of the bill (including that satellite that I had to buy) had to be paid in cash to them. These guys were sketchy looking on their best day and there was no way I was handing them a big wad of cash. After 3 or 4 phone calls, I got their boss to agree to let me deposit the money into his account the next day on the condition that I provided them with a photocopy of my passport. I told him that I didn't have a photocopy of my passport on me and that it was not the easiest thing to obtain on 6:30 P.M. on a Saturday night. He said to give my passport to the technicians and have them go find a place. NOT GONNA HAPPEN! Finally, I "remembered" that I did have a photocopy of my passport laying around in my room. I quickly changed the passport number on the contract I had filled out and gave them a photocopy of my old passport that expired in June 2009. They didn't notice and were happily on their way after spending a mere 5 hours at my house.

Tired and sweaty, I went inside and cracked a well deserved beer and watched the good ol' hockey game. Since that day, I have been fortunate enough to watch playoff hockey on a nightly basis and have managed to even get some of my British friends interested in it. Life is good despite the Detroit Red Wings losing a 7th game heartbreaker. As Stopmin Tom Connors says, it is "The best game you can name, that good ol' hockey game"

GO CANUCKS! Bring the Cup back to Canada!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


Last week, a few expat friends and I were sitting around discussing which malls in Jakarta we prefer. The irony of this conversation was not lost on us as we all agreed that the concept of "liking" a certain mall back in our respective countries is ridiculous or even laughable. There is a very specific breed of adult human who frequents malls in western countries. The rest (majority) of the population view the mall as a place that is only visited when deemed absolutely necessary. These necessary visits are either for Christmas shopping OR to buy something that is only available at a certain store in a certain mall. In these situations, the mall visit is a commando style get-in-get-out-as-fast-as-possible mission. There is no window shopping, strolling or visits to the food court, just the task at hand.

In Jakarta, this is just not the case. The mall is the place to be for people of all ages. It is not simply the cool choice but the ONLY choice. You see, Jakarta has a severe shortage of sidewalks, parks and basically places that make it possible to walk. This makes a mall very appealing to people here as they can walk without being hit by a motorbike or getting black smoke in their face. The mall is an oasis of sorts, an escape from the filthy, hot, smoky, humid stench ball of a city that this place can be at times. Malls are air conditioned, clean and spacious. Perfect for a casual stroll. This is the main reason that most Indonesians go to malls. Most don't actually go to purchase goods or services but simply to move around and take in the sights.

This may leave you asking why a young expatriate man who does not enjoy shopping or walking in malls visit a mall so often. The answer is simple, it is an all in one place where you can eat, see and do things that are not otherwise possible. I am ashamed to admit that I have spent up to 8 hours in a mall in a single day. The mall is where I go to eat, work out, watch movies, buy groceries, buy household items (, meet friends for a coffee and even clubbing. Yes, all of these things and so much more in one convenient location.

Convenient is a word that would never be used to describe anything in Jakarta. Most simple chores involve fighting horrendous traffic, searching in vein and lack of parking. A mall, on the other hand, has almost everything you need under one roof. The convenience of having a nice meal followed by grabbing a few things at a supermarket is just so much easier than trying to do those things separately. Factor that in with the relative closeness to home and the avoidance of the outside world hassles and you have the perfect place.

What is my favorite mall you ask? Easy, it is Pondok Indah Mall (better known as PIM). To be more specific, it is PIM 2. You see, there is a PIM 1 and a PIM 2 that are on
opposite sides of the street and connected by sky bridges. This is my favorite mall for a multitude of reasons. First and foremost, it is a mere 5 minute casual drive from my house. This is an extremely short time/distance to go somewhere in Jakarta, it might as well be right next door! Secondly, the fitness club I belong to is located there. Third, they have an excellent selection of food that is varied in price and style. Other amenities there that I partake in include the supermarket, ace hardware, book store, reflexology massage shop and newly opened beer garden.

An average weekday visit to the mall would consist of me arriving, going to a yoga class, getting some food to make for dinner that night (or get some food from a restaurant to go), having a casual stroll trying to remember what the other that I wanted to not forget to buy was, peek inside the book store and then head home. I go through this routine at a minimum of 3 times a week. Other times, I may simply pop in to grab some food or to get whatever other item it is that I may need. Ironically, it is much easier to drive my motorbike there, park and get the thing I need as opposed to going elsewhere.

It is pointless to name names of other malls that I like or dislike. What is important to know is that the supply of malls in Jakarta far outweigh the demand. Malls vary in size and quality but there are quite a few boutique malls that cater to the filthy rich. I don't make it to these malls very often and when I do, it is usually strictly for eating or entertainment as many of these malls have great clubs that are open until the wee hours of the morning. Oddly enough, fewer than 5% of Jakartans can actually afford to shop in these monstrosities yet there are a good dozen of these malls.

Love it or hate it, the mall culture is alive and kicking in Jakarta. What amazes me is that they just keep building more and more of them and people keep packing them. A large number of visitors to the mall don't buy much besides an ice cream cone or refreshment which leaves me to wonder how some of these high end places manage to pay their rent. From what the locals tell me, this mall culture is a relatively new phenomenon as most of them are less than 10 years old.

So tell me, what is your favorite mall in Jakarta? By my personal bias, I think that Pondok Indah Mall is hard to beat with Grand Indonesia coming in at a close second. Anyone who leaves negatives comments towards PIM will see my mall-icious side.

Bonus Fact: I spent my last new year's eve at a restaurant/club inside a mall

Saturday, May 14, 2011

When the Lights Go Down in the City

Recently, my landlord informed me that they had to do some "repairs" to the house's electrical metering device thingy. To my astonishment, it turned out to be a new pay as you go type of meter. It's a simple device really, you basically buy credit and enter the numbers into the device. When you are nearly out of credit, the device starts beeping (like an alarm clock) every 20 minutes. When your credit runs out, the lights go out.

When this was first installed, the guy who installed it informed me that there was enough credit on there to last for the next couple of hours or so. This meant that I had to immediately go out and find an ATM machine and buy credit. This happened at a very inopportune time when it also happened to be raining. In the end, I managed to get credit and avoided a Saturday evening blackout.

This prevented me from having the pleasure of hearing the soothing sounds of "the lights are about to go out" alarm. This did eventually happen. Luckily, the meter is right outside my bedroom window. This worked out quite well as I was woken up at 3 A.M. by the alarm going off. It continued to go off in 20 minute intervals all night long. The only way to stop this is to buy more credit, which is not really an option in the middle of the night. I woke up to a hot stuffy room with no electricity. I managed to shower in the dark and immediately went searching for an ATM machine so I could top up my credit.

You would think that I would learn my lesson and not allow this to happen again. NO! A couple of days ago, I noticed that the level was getting low and that I should buy some credit soon. I forgot to do it that day. The next evening, I came home at 11 P.M. and heard the alarm going off. I realized that I had completely forgotten to buy credit. I decided to immediately go to the closest ATM and buy some credit as I didn't want to be kept up all night by the alarm, not to mention waking up to no electricity.

I went to the ATM, followed the steps of buying credit and was astonished to not have a receipt come out of the machine. The receipt is of the utmost importance as it contains the numbers you have to punch into the meter in order to top up your credit. Basically, this meant that I had just lost Rp. 500 000 ($50). I insisted that the guys at the convenience store (where the ATM was located) call the bank. They said not to worry but I insisted as I was not giving up my money without a fight. After answering a barrage of skill testing questions, the bank agreed to delete the purchase and put the money back in my account.

Relieved, I left the store only to soon realize that I hadn't managed to buy any credit. At this time of night, there was no other ATM machine within a reasonable driving distance. Dejected and tired from the 30 minutes I spent in the convenience store, I went home and prayed that the electricity would not go out. After a relatively sleepless night (guess why), I woke to a cool room that still had lights. I gave myself a high five and got into the shower. Halfway through my shower, lights out. I finished yet another shower in the dark and went searching for an ATM machine that had not run out of receipt paper. I found one and managed to get credit with relative ease, or so I thought.

Upon triumphantly returning with my receipt, I realized that the printing on the receipt was very blurry an spotty. The ink was about to run out on that ATM machine printer. This made it very difficult to decipher the 16 digit code. After 4 or 5 botched attempts (due to mistaking 8's for 3's etc) I managed to successfully enter the code and light and comfort once again returned to my humble home.

Hopefully I have learned my lesson and will manage to buy credit before it runs out next time. I would like to thank the PLN (Indonesian Electric company) as well as my landlord for putting me in this lovely predicament. I guess this is my reward for paying my bill on time for years on end.