Monday, April 20, 2009

It's Over!

My Indonesian adventure came to a close last night at about 9:00pm when I pulled in to my driveway after renting a car and driving the final leg from Chicago to Appleton. Mother Nature had the final laugh as she gave Chicago really bad weather that resulted in all of the Appleton flights being cancelled. It was only 3:30 pm in Chicago and the thought of getting this close to home and having to spend another night in a hotel with no guarantee of a seat this morning made me decide very quickly to call the Red Cross travel agent and rent a car. I wondered if I might be too tired to drive safely but a large coffee did the trick and it was an uneventful trip up the interstate.

The final week in Jakarta/Banda Aceh/Jakarta went by in a blur. I'll have time to reflect on everything over the coming weeks and will make one final post before I close this blog down. If you've been following along I hope it gave you a small sense of what I experienced. For friends and family that I'll be seeing in the next few days/weeks/months prepare be deluged with stories!!!! How long does it take to look at 1000+ photos anyway ...

I've Been Pocari'd

After I posted the entry on Pocari's wondering if anyone had ever seen one, a friend our's from Arizona issued a "challenge" daring me to try the Sweat of the Pocari. Here's evidence, un-PhotoShop'd, of me finally succumbing and trying the stuff... It's actually very good!!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Size of the Effort

In the Jakarta newspaper this morning there was an article reporting on the wrap-up of the Aceh-Nias Reconstruction and Rehabilitation agency commonly referred to as BRR. BRR was created as a four-year entity to oversee all of the 15,000+ projects that arose after the tsunami and subsequent earthquake on Nias. They coordinated all of the efforts of the Indonesian government, donating countries, UN agencies, and the NGO’s. NGO’s are “Non-Governmental Organizations” such as the many Red Cross National Societies, Habitat for Humanity, Feed the Children, etc.

The following numbers from the article give a dimension to the size of the undertaking here that we have been just a very small part of:

BRR had a US$3.25 billion budget.

Projects Overseen by BRR Built:
   • 140,304 Homes.
   • 13 Airports and Airstrips.
   • 23 Seaports.
   • 1,115 Medical Facilities.
   • 1,759 Schools.
   • 3,696 km of Roads.
   • 363 Bridges.
   • 996 Government Buildings.

BRR also:
   • Assisted 195,726 Small and Medium Sized Businesses.
   • Trained 155,182 Workers.
   • Trained 39,663 Teachers.
   • Rehabilitated 101,240 hectares of Farmland.

Numbers that boggle the mind …

The article made no mention of the 40 radios rehabilitated by the Red Cross recently.. but that's ok! :-)

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Day Off in Jakarta

On Saturday I had a day to myself so I did a little research and headed off by taxi to the Maritime Museum. First I should comment that Jakarta hasn’t really invested heavily in tourist sites so you have to take what you can find. My first clue was when the taxi driver first asked for directions from the hotel staff and then stopped again when we were close to get further directions. The areas we passed through from the hotel to the museum had declined from relatively modern, to old but nicely looked after, to derelict. The driver’s last request for directions had the comical result of the person pointing across the road at a long white building and saying in Indonesia “That’s it!”

I was a little nervous at the location and wasn’t sure what I should do when a very nice man, Catur (as in "chatter" - a good name for a tour guide), introduced himself in English, he asked where I was from, and told me he would take me on a tour. We walked through the Maritime Museum (it needs a lot of work) and he gave me the full history of Jakarta: Dutch rule, British influence, independence, Japanese occupation, etc. One of the main themes was foreigners profiteering from the natural wealth of Indonesia at the expense of the native population.

From the Maritime Museum Catur took me through some narrow back alleys full of small shops selling everything you can imagine.

We ended up down on the banks of the old harbor where the traditional wooden schooners that still carry goods to the other islands are all tied up. A boat tour in a boat resembling a dugout canoe into the harbor was offered but I gracefully declined.

We then backtracked to the museum where I thought my tour was over when Catur asked me if I liked motorcycles. When I replied “Yes” a helmet was quickly produced and we were off on a riding tour of the old city, including Chinatown.

Lots of small streets away from the main traffic and into parts of Jakarta most visitors wouldn’t get to see. Riding as a passenger on a motorcycle in Jakarta was an adventure all on its own. Along the way Catur stopped at a Chinese temple and was a little disappointed that I didn’t take more photos. I didn’t have the heart to tell him of our years in Beijing.

The tour ended up at another museum that occupies the old City Hall. It also needs more investment to bring it up to be a true tourist destination. It was good nonetheless. The main features Catur pointed out was the place where executions were performed (beheadings), the dungeon where the prisoners were kept prior to execution, the balcony where the Governor stood to watch to executions, and the sword used in the beheadings … Oh, and the stairs that someone had to climb to ring the bell announcing the executions. Have you got the main theme of the museum tour!!
This photo was taken from the balcony looking down at the place of execution.

I bade farewell to Catur and thanked him for an enjoyable couple of hours. He insisted in hailing a good taxi for me (blue taxis are good as are white ones – avoid the others) and instructing the driver where I needed to go. I have his number if anyone needs a guide.

I guess, thinking back, there was a certain element of risk involved in joining up with a complete stranger in a very poor part of Jakarta but my faith in basic human nature prevailed and it was a great way to pass a part of the day.

I'm now back in Banda Aceh for two days before starting my homeward trek through Jakarta - Singapore - Hong Kong - Chicago - Appleton. Home Sunday!!!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Getting Gas ... The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

In Aceh on the main coastal highways they have some of the best looking gas stations you could ask for. They match anything you can find in the US and even include “mushollas” or prayer rooms for the Moslems to use when they travel. Snack shops aren’t quite up to western standards, but maybe that’s a good thing. They all appear to have been built since the last tsunami.

In the cities, towns, and villages there are thousands of scooters on the roads that need only a small quantity of gas. There’s a good income to be made catering to them and you’ll see these “gas stations” everywhere. The gas is in small plastic bottles and you simply pull up, empty a bottle into your tank along with some oil, if it’s a two-stroke, and you’re on your way. Not the safest way to handle gas but it works.

On the island of Simeulue there’s not enough traffic to spend cash building a gas station so they handle it in bulk. The gas arrives in tankers, gets offloaded into storage tanks, is then piped into open top tubs, and then ladled into buckets where it’s poured through a funnel into your vehicle. I would not recommend smoking anywhere near this station!!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Adapting to Life in Indonesia.

Here are a few questions, that come to mind, as someone adapting to life in Indonesia ...

Question:  You have a breakfast buffet at the hotel to choose from including dishes from around the world. You choose:

  a. An egg omelet with bacon and toast
  b. Fresh fruit and yogurt
  c. Ham, cheese, and bread
  d. Rice, spicy chicken, and bok choy

Answer:  (d.) – The Indonesians eat very similar food for all three meals. There are some things specifically eaten at breakfast but the meal can often resemble lunch and dinner to Westerners.

Question:  You get back to your hotel room after a particularly hot and sweaty day. Your hotel room offers both a shower and cistern full of cold water and a ladle. You …

  a. Take a hot shower
  b. Take a cold shower
  c. Reach for the ladle and start pouring cold water over your head

Answer:  (c) – It’s unbelievable how good this feels …

Question:  On an airplane your meal is served and it’s spaghetti. You have a full complement of cutlery. You ...

  a. Take the fork in your left hand, knife in your right, 
      and eat with the fork.
  b. Take the spoon in your left hand, fork in your right, 
      and eat with the fork.
  c. Take the fork in your left hand, the spoon in your right hand, 
      and eat with the spoon.

Answer:  (c) – Most Indonesians use a dessert spoon for eating things like fried rice, noodles, etc. They will often, especially in Aceh, eat plain white rice with the fingers of their right hand. Eating with a spoon is easy to adapt to.

Question:  You’re dressing for work and know you may be visiting a Red Cross branch or Indonesian Office. You …

  a. Wear your work boots
  b. Wear your best pair of shoes
  c. Wear Crocs
  d. Wear flip-flops

Answer:  (c) or (d) – You’re probably going to be taking your shoes off when you enter the Red Cross branch or office and walking around in bare feet. Easy to remove footwear makes it much simpler.

Question:  Your meal is served and you immediately …

  a. Reach for the salt shaker and sprinkle some all over your food.
  b. Dig right in.
  c. Reach for the sambal bottle and squeeze a teaspoon size 
      dollup of sambal on the side of your plate – or all over your food. 
      Sambal is a hot spicy sauce with the consistency of ketchup.

Answer:  (c) – It's second nature!

Question:  After getting dressed and before leaving for work you …

  a. Liberally cover all exposed flesh with suntan lotion 
      and insect repellant.
  b. Grab a hat.
  c. Make sure your mobile phone is in your pocket.
  d. Make sure you’re carrying your passport.
  e. Make sure you have a pocket-pack of tissues with you.

Answer:  All of the above! And (e) refers to the fact that many Indonesian toilets do not provide tissue – bring your own.

Question:  You see an Indonesian man wearing a sarong and you think …

  a. Why would a man wear something akin to a skirt 
      (Scots are included here as well)
  b. It’s looks very comfortable for the environment but you’d 
      have to be Indonesian to wear one
  c. Damn that looks comfortable and I think I’d look good in one!

Answer:  Maybe (c) but (b) is the best answer!

Question:  You’re getting ready to go in for a swim at a local beach. You …

  a. Strip down to your swim suit and walk into the water.
  b. Remove the legs from your convertible shorts, 
      leave your shirt on, and wade in.
  c. Walk in to the water wearing long pants and a shirt.

Answer:  (c) is probably most correct but (b) is OK too. (a) is definitely out especially if you’re a woman. I’ve seen the men remove their shirts once in the water but put it back on to walk back to the beach.

Question:  You’re out on the street and need to find a ride to another location. A becak comes by and slows down. You …

  a. Wave the becak on by and wait for a taxi
  b. Wave the becak on by and start walking
  c. Hop in the becak, say a quick prayer, and head off
  d. Hop in the becak and don’t think about it

Answer:  (d) Note: If you read my comments about the becak you may be inclined to think that (a) is the right answer but, what the heck, go local!! You may be inclined to offer up a prayer mid-journey!!

Question:  You want a cup of coffee and go the kitchen area to find Indonesian coffee, Nescafe instant coffee, powdered creamer, and sugar. You …

  a. Make a cup of coffee with the Nescafe instant and powdered creamer
  b. Put a table spoon of finely ground Indonesian coffee in the mug, 
      add hot water and two teaspoons of sugar
  c. Opt for tea

Answer: (b) -- The Sumatran coffee is delicious if you don't mind a pile of grounds in your cup. And it does taste better sweet.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Top of Indonesia - The Final Chapter ...

I've just returned from a visit to an island off the northern tip of Sumatra call Pulau Weh.

Just outside Sabang, the principal town on the island, I visited my final Red Cross chapter in Aceh Province, the 22nd of 22 chapters. The radio work went well and they now have a fully functioning setup.

The town of Sabang is on the northern side of the island. When I went for a swim off this beach I was about as far north as you can get in Indonesia, not the furthest, but just about. In the foreground you can see a father teaching his small son how to fish off the beach. 

The island is very different from the others we've been to. It’s only a short 45 minute express passenger ferry ride from Banda Aceh and so it’s a major “get-away” spot for people needing a break from the city. The streets are all well maintained, lots of flower plantings, and all of the streets are tree-lined. It does offer some fine diving and snorkeling – I had to settle for a short swim! But don’t come here if you’re looking for a tourist center like those offered in Florida, the Caribbean, or the Mediterranean. The places I’ve visited on this trip are “un-touristed”. It’s life as the Indonesians live it. I love that so I’m in heaven but many people would go crazy looking for western-style restaurants and bars – there aren’t any outside the large cities!! One or two resorts on the island tucked away from the town of Sabang cater more to a western clientele but it’s still a very simple lifestyle.

Here's a photo of a street sign. If anyone has any idea what it’s meant to indicate I’d love to know. Strong winds maybe ...

As a follow on to the election coming up next Thursday, that I commented on earlier, I saw another poster recently which outlined 44 political parties registered. I guess 6 of those don’t have candidates in Jakarta as their poster only showed 38.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Have You Ever Seen a Pocari?

Neither have I ... and I don't want to. There are either a lot of these beasts or the ones they have farmed have a perspiration problem. Either way they sell this stuff by the can and people love it. Apparently it's a very refreshing drink. 

I think I'll add it to my list of things I've seen but have never tried ... like sea cucumbers!!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Simeulue Island

I’m running out of superlatives to describe the scenery one passes by as you travel around the coast of the islands. I’ll let the following take care of 6,000 words. The village ladies in the final photo are sweeping dead leaves off the grass and the bunker in the background is Japanese from WWII.

The Becak

One of the cheaper forms of transportation available throughout Indonesia is the becak (pronounced “beh-chack”). It’s essentially a small motorcycle with a two-seat sidecar bolted on the side. 

The number of people who can ride on a becak at one time is only limited by the size and flexibility of the passengers. One morning I saw four high school girls in the sidecar and two more behind the driver. They run the range from well-maintained to “take your life in your hands”. The photo is of a becak we rode back to the hotel after dinner on Simeulue. You can see it was badly in need of a wash. The headlamp put out all of one candle power. It was a good job that the roads on Simeulue are pretty much deserted after dark. I rode behind the driver on the motorcycle and my two travelling companions rode in the sidecar.