Saturday, January 18, 2014

Jakarta and mile marker "One Week"

After saying goodbye to everyone I know and love I was essentially numb to external forces. My only priority was finding and boarding my flights. Beyond that I slept and ate a lot. With a window to my left, a very quiet Japanese woman to my right, and a medicine bag full of tranquilizers at my feet I had the perfect formula for some overdue shut eye (didn't sleep at all the night before). I rose briefly every couple of hours to eat the various meals and snacks the stuardesses/ stuards brought. I reverted to a primordial state, like a baby, sleeping getting fed and occasionally making faces at curious passerby's. The next flight had free libations. Pretty hard for me to understand why people hate traveling so much.

When we arrived at Singapore airport my gears finally began turning again. The time was 2:00 am and the magnificently large and clean complex was nearly empty, save for the many guards armed with automatic weapons and segways. Perplexing crime fighting combination. Here's an example of the army man that stood guard as a squirrelly man with buck teeth asked for my passport and boarding pass as I enjoyed a cup of joe.

The space and time vacuum inside airports is strange and liminal. I won't go into the various characters I met in this liminal space along my journey. We all know airports are the best place for people watching. Flying in SE asia has also proven to be the best for scenery. I have flown many places around the world at many times of day - paris at night, the grand canyon at sunset - and flying over the many islands between Singapore and Indonesia as the sun came up was the easily the most beautiful birds eye view I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing. This picture is precisely 1/64 as magnificent as that experience.

So. I arrived. I was here. It was sunny, and really hot. As I walked out of that protected liminal space I had occupied for the last 24 hours I was admittedly wary of the outside world and all who lived in it. People could have sharp objects, they could possess liquids more than an ounce, they could leave their bags unattended. I had a difficult time finding Ceacelia my AMINEF (american indonesian bi national education exchange foundation) escort and I felt as if the wolves had descended. For around 20 minutes I had many men asking me who I was looking for, one even suggested I used the personal hotspot on his phone to get wifi and email her. Ridiculous scenarios ran through my head - indoctrinated american fear of the unknown no doubt - but my politically correct worldly self was in no position to haggle with my white bread self. I was close to hopping in an unmarked taksi when she found me.

Ceacelia, as I would find out later, previously worked for the Korean and British embassies. She has been with AMINEF about two years and strongly dislikes australians. Her and I get along incredibly well, thank my lucky stars, and we spent that entire day walking around Jakarta's largest mall and talking customs, politics, geography, culture, foreigners, family, etc. She was incredibly surprised that I was up for it. I didn't know what she was talking about. The sun was shining (rare in rainy season) I was in a new city and couldn't imagine barricading myself in another small dark clorox smelling hole until I did. They call it hitting a wall for a reason. The first night I felt like a dimensia patient. I couldn't sleep for more than 3 hours at a time and I never remembered falling asleep. Traffic was loud outside and I had my first "what the (insert series of curse words) am I doing here" moment. Things were better in the morning.

My hotel room had two channels that I could understand: HBO or Fox movies and animal planet. And when I say movies I mean pretty legit films, Zero Dark Thirty and the like. And when I say Animal Planet I don't mean that "surprisingly human" smut they run now. The programs are a bit behind here so I got old school Steve Irwin and legitimate nature shows. Its a miracle I went outside at all

Traffic is one of the defining characteristics of Jakarta. Its a bit like LA, in that it lacks underground transportation so the roads clog up with three types of vehicle; cars, motors, and becas. The roads reminded me of an alaskan river where the cars are the determined salmon trying to make it upstream. x10. Lanes are non-existent and there seems to be an established honking language that drivers understand. Accidents are rare according to residents. As are tickets. There is no road rage. Drivers seem relaxed and aware. Passengers are puckered and white knuckled.

Bluebird taksis are the best

Flexibility is one of the first things I noticed about the city. Jam karet or "rubber time" refers to the flexibility of Indonesian clocks. Its ironic that in order to really get anything done, to get real results, you have to have no real direction or straight purpose. The more you fight the flow, the less you will accomplish. Much different that the american montra. But true in both countries. You have to see the big picture, not the a to b to c but the "now I know my abc's" that reunites the song.

Living on rubber time is part attitude, part daily physical obstacles. Being late for work is ok because your neighborhood was flooded and there was no way out except the bus that was packed tighter than an ikea box. Environmental factors change at a moments notice so it forces people to be change plans. If you are type A and enjoy a strict schedule, best not come here. Atleast not with that attitude.

On Sunday, the day after I arrived, I met Krishna - the professor who sponsored my research - and a large portion of his large family. They picked me up from my hotel. Much to my dismay they were sharply dressed in suits complete with cufflinks and tie clips I was dressed like a yoga instructor. Shit. As I spoke with everyone in their very clean black car I was anticipating the very nice lunch that we would be having soon and how I looked as if I fell off the hippie bus. We got to their hotel, which was gorgeous, and I hung out on the 16th floor lounge while they went to grab some things from the room. Here's a few picks from the view!

And here, the first ice breaker: Krishna came down in jeans, a plaid shirt, a cowboy hat, and a man bag. The entire family had changed into citizen clothes and we headed to the food court at the mall. Turns out they had been to a relatives birthday brunch prior to picking me up. I'll go into more detail about this truly wonderfully welcoming family I live with in later posts. But even on the first encounter, and with a considerable language barrier between us, I could feel the laid back and loving family dynamic they share. And couldn't wait to become a part of it.

The rest of the day I spent with Ajie and his friends of friends that live in Jakarta. We went to another mall and got more dessert (very famous asain style dessert with green tea ice cream and gelatinous balls). Malls are incredibly popular in Jakarta. They are beautiful, huge, and numerous. At 5 we stopped in at the mosque in the basement of the mall for the boys to pray. Drove to North Jakarta in the old dutch quarters where the museum is located along with some other old dutch buildings. I hear it is a tourist trap but it was lovely nonetheless. The rest of Jakarta is comprised of contradictory architecture to these dutch monstrosities.

We ate there at a restaurant called cafe batavia. One of the biggest differences (and I really hate admitting this) was the drinking. Or lack there of. This may not be the norm, but "many" college students drink everywhere. We drink when we ski, on a plane, in a bus, on a train, at home, or in a bar, on the lake, even in a (parked) car. Surprisingly enough I did the most notoriously wasted activity while plum sober that night: I sang karaoke. Not one, but two songs - Desperado and Love Will Keep Us Alive (not my choices but you can never go wrong with the Eagles). Here's a little glimpse of my now sung talents. I know that I am going to regret this but I just can't help myself. Chomp on this musical snaaaaack and miss me less.

On the way home we drove passed a seemingly endless market selling an infinite number of foods and other items. There were people everywhere even though it was pouring rain. We were blaring music and sharing social media. Felt a lot like high school. But it was pleasant and refreshing and out of my box. By the end of that night the group I had met had morphed into talented unique individuals that I will no doubt being seeing again. Two of them because they live with me

Nice breakfast buffet at my hotel, the Grand Cemara, in the morning. Magical blueberry "yogurt" that was closer to the consistency of milk. It was a hodgepodge of foods: noodles good; omelets good; croissants good; tofu good; mystery meat soup meh. The second day I was eating alone, working on this blog actually, and as I was putting the finishing touches on my nutella toast as a portly white haired man touched my shoulder and asked (much too close to my face for 8 in the morning) if I was a fellow fulbrighter here. Norman, as he was revealed to be, is a retired professor from the virgin islands studying the effects of the tsunami on coral reefs - if it purges the death and decay as a wild fire can do in a forest or if it has lasting negative effects on coral structure and sea life. This breakfast meeting became a daily routine, as I have now eaten about 4 meals with Norman. The last day, right before I left, he expressed interest in Red Square, a riskay night/dance club. Full of endless surprises, people are. No doubt I'll be seeing him again this year.

That day I also visited the AMINEF offices and met the executive director Michael McCoy. We discussed much more than we had time for, beginning with safety and not riding motorbikes and ended at the recent controversy over the copper and gold mines in Papua - which are the top producers of copper and gold in the world - and revisions to recently passed laws that would exempt Freeport from sending the natural resources elsewhere to be turned to ore and turn a profit. I also went to various government offices with Ceacelia (thank goodness for her, without her I may still be at the offices), to obtain immigration letters and research permits. The real joy came when the younger staff invited me to lunch! Two people from the American program and two people from the Indonesian program (facilitate Indo going american or vice versa). I went home and passed out again - shocker. Seriously difficult time convincing myself to leave the hotel this night.

Nevertheless, I took a 30 minute taksi (only cost $5 USD) to Kemang and met up with recommended friends. Kemang has a completely different vibe from the business district where I was staying - cafes and restaurants and bars everywhere. Its a hipster neighborhood with more winding roads and vegetation that the cab driver called the "Bali of Jakarta". The first bar was full of young white kids and I was in culture shock. We ended up, thank god, with a solid group of international school alumni - also the elementary school that Obama attended. One guy was dutch, one american but had hardly lived in america, one pakistani, and an australian girl that had a potato named after her family. Genuinely intelligent, fun, great people. Vibrant people. Each of them had a long history of international travel and knew the city well. They are pictured below. It was very different than my previous night, and much more in line with how I am accustomed to socializing. But I guess overall, my take away message is this:

Magnificent way to get around the streets of Jakarta

Say yes. Unless you physically cannot get out of bed for lack of sleep, unless your body takes over and forces you down, always, always, say yes. Its not easy to speak only to strangers. You have no way of knowing who may benefit you in some way later on down the road. If you'll ever see them again. If they will return your interest or generosity. Say yes. The energy you spend is always worth it. The people you learn about are always worth it. They will touch you as much as you touch them (not in that way dirty minds). There were many times in those first couple days that I felt like saying no because I was too tired, because I thought it would be an awkward situation, because I couldn't speak their language, because it was too far away. And of course there were a few times that I was a true glutenous hermit and laid in bed and ate room service and watched tv. But if you can say yes 80% of the time, 70%, put yourself out there more times than you withdraw, then you will reap the rewards in all facets of your life. I met some of the most fabulous people in Jakarta thus far. So just do it. Just fucking do it. No excuses. You are only hurting yourself. Foreigners are always warned of the american tendency towards privacy, a large personal bubble, and independence from other people. These qualities can be beneficial and detrimental. And in the negative ways, prove them wrong. People here live with their parents until they are married, men and women, and often times after as well. They don't move into a one bedroom apartment get a cat buy a bunch of hot pockets and let the tv wash over them. Personal connections are cyclical. Kindness is cyclical. Help is cyclical. The more you put in the more you'll get out.

All in all, I had gotten pretty used to my comfy little life in Jakarta and a big part of me regretted having to leave so soon. But Bandung is another adventure, and Jakarta is a $6 train ride away
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