HUT RI KE 61! Viva Independence!!

The mosquitos, or nyamuk, seem to be of a hardier, craftier sort here in Depok, on the Southern end of the Jabotek metropolitan region. Perhaps it reflects that sink or swim mentality of Indonesia that has such an impact on me, a native of a land of easier living. Not that the Minnesotan mosquitos are second quality, believe me. But that fact doesn’t make the story of my weekend trip more exciting whatsoever, so I won’t go there.

As amazing as this adventure that I am on is, there are those quiet moments when, not bombarded with the overwhelming stimulation of new things and places and words, I remember how much I miss my home, family and friends. I really wish I could have been back in Perham, MN this past weekend for Emily’s wedding, for example. Check out the great website that my dad put together. http://www.grassrootsmnusa.com/paulsonwedding/

August 17, of course, is the day that the great nation of Indonesia celebrates its indepence, Hari Merdeka. I was in the capitol for HUT RI ke 61 itself, seeing the masses of government workers and students participating in their early morning ceremonies, muddy youths attempt to scale tall pinang trunks to claim the prizes at the top.

The holiday also gave me the opportunity to get away from Jakarta for a few days, taking advantage of the university holiday. I boarded the nice train from Jakarta to Purwoketo on Friday afternoon, and while the luxury may have given me negative points in the pursuit of solidarity with the masses, I will admit to appreciating the AC and the legroom to take a nap. Going out to a late dinner with Suroto in his town, we made our plans to catch the early bus to Jogyakarta the next morning. Of course, we both slept in, but that did not prevent us from making it to Suroto’s meeting more or less on time.

Suroto was a special guest speaker at a conference of the student cooperative movement in Jogya, having been an active participant in Indonesia’s important youth movements for a long time, and having established a successful cooperative near the University in Purwokerto.
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web jogya coopers.jpg Young activists like these are an important force in Indonesia, especially in this crucial period of transition for the harrowingly diverse and frighteningly fragile democracy.

After Suroto’s successful presentation and rousing call to arms, he commissioned two of his buddies with motorbikes to give us a lift out of town to his home town of Klaten. This small village, about an hour away, is built on the slopes of notorious Mt. Merapi, as I found out when we arrived, Suroto’s cousin pointing with pride to the occasional blast of lava from above.

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Suroto considers it his mission to make sure that this bule, this outsider, does not simply see the surface, Indonesia’s pemukaan. “Hanya tahu Indonesia saja, Ted!” Just to know Indonesia. He has been committed to bringing me into his family and into communities that I would never ever have access to, and I am so greatful to him.

The next morning we took the bikes as far as we could, then parked them on the edge of the cliff. It was about 20 minutes from his cousin’s house, though it could have been 20 meters away for all the winding round clusters of houses and small family clove and tobacco farms and up and down sharp ravines carved in the slope of the mountain. We scaled down the steep slope of this canyon,web gir pasang road.jpg

then up the other side to find that seven family kampung of Pingir Pasang, or Gir Pasang for short.

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We were advised to bring some candy for the children living there; and, as soon as they got over the initial fright of this tall white boy, we were warmly received.

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The town of Klaten has so many stories to tell. It is one of the things that always delights me and saddens me when I go to a new place like this, the fact that the layers of lives and experiences to be found on any square foot of the place of beyond measure. In one vein, it is an amazing reflection of much of Indonesia’s experience as it has interacted with foreign colonizers and multinational corporations. Clove and tobacco farms, which the farmers there were forced to plant during the years of Suharto’s tobacco monopoly, still dot the side of the volcano. For the past ten years, trucks have rumbled noisily up and down the paved road; to be honest, I’m not sure how long I could resist the impulse to firebomb them as they roar by every few minutes, kicking up clouds of volcanic ash and painting the fronts of houses and peoples faces with it, robbing the mountain of its peace and quiet while also hauling away the very trees that cover its surface and the minerals that are being torn from its heart.

I have this awefule thought that there is at least one American somewhere making a hell of a lot of money off Klaten and Gunung Merapi.

Depok, My Backyard and Beyond

Greetings, my good friends and beloved family

A week of BIPA classes have come and gone, a four hour daily dose of intensive Indonesian language. To tell the truth, it does not seem any more intensive than most of the rest of the day as I navigate through the spaces and places that are Depok, Indonesia. Unlike my experience in Malaysia, there are very few people here with whom to hold a conversation in English. I love it. There are the downsides, of course; while I really enjoy pushing my language skills and I get such pleasure out of interacting and seeing the world through a whole new lens, it is true that there are certain needs that are not met when one does not have the chance to have a conversation any deeper than my limited vocabulary allows me to go. There is a certain loneliness that creeps up on a quiet evening once in a while. It does make those occasional phone calls with family all the more rewarding. Those conversations can be a bit challenging, however, because I find myself out of practice and not very good at articulating complex ideas in spoken English…
I wanted to send a few pictures, maybe give a little flavor of the world that i am navigating on a daily basis. This hardly does justice to the place, however, just a few snapshots.
First of all, a little series of public transportation. We see here the grand road that is Jalan Margonda. This is the large road that parallels the railroad tracks, and is obviously the sight of some pretty rapid and ridiculously huge development recently. There are two large and very new shopping centers, and even a new Starbuck’s if you go down the street a little bit.

This road acts as one of the main arteries for bus travel for that wanting to get out of the town of Depok and to another district, or perhaps to Jakarta itself. The Angkot (maybe spelled correctly…) angkotis great for short distances, though not always the most comfortable for tall white boys with very long legs. The next picture is of one of the buses that runs into South Jakarta, North out of Depok. bus margonda.jpgI love riding these buses, there is always something interesting to watch. An area of employment that doesn’t seem to exist back in Minnesota is the guy that hangs out the door of the bus, doing his best to make sure everyone knows where the bus is going and trying to convince them that his bus is definitely the bus that they want to be on. He’s also the guy that asks for your fare once you’re either seated or squished into the crowd on the bus. Then, of course, you can also take the train. weekend train depok.jpgThis is the weekend, so it’s not all that busy, but usually there are bodies hanging out of the windows and the doors. Once I even saw people riding on the roof. My first time jumping into that fray was a bit intimidating, but I was quite proud of myself for getting where I needed to go. Plus, I think I earned extra “solidarity with the masses” points…
Another popular way of getting around, a bit more expensive but much more efficient, a little more dangerous and a little more fun, is to hire one of the many Ojek drivers hanging around every public place to give you a personal ride on the back of his motorcycle. friendly chaps ojek.jpgThese friendly chaps were hanging out, calling to people that looked like they might want a ride somewhere. The ojek drivers that hang out near my room don’t seem as happy to see me nowadays, ever since I bought my own bicycle…
Finally, fellow graduates from Perham High School will appreciate this last picture.ui yellowjackets.jpg I had no idea, but it turns out that the Universitas Indonesia is also the Yellow Jackets. Who would’ve thunk it? I bet we could waste ’em in basketball, though they might have an edge in the soccer department.

Indo Hand Phone # +62 81386389521

All for a phone call

My trusty laptop has, unfortunately, picked the island of Java to walk towards the light. Well, hopefully the good Kharma that I’ve been keeping in a jar under sink will guide it back to reality, but I suppose we won’t find that out until the good old boy can make its way into the hands of a trusty Dell repairman. Outside of my native Minnesota, I am finding out just how much i take for granted things like computer service, a phone call away.

Report from the field: we’ve located a Dell certafied service center, in South Jakarta, sir. Proceed to destination with caution. Over.

I got directions to Jalan Fatmawati from the nice people in the BIPA office at Universitas Indonesia, and hopped on the first bus on the itinerary after class today. After arriving at the transfer point, I asked, with too much confidence I guess, which way to Golden Plaza. How on earth would I know how similar that sounds to “Blok M Plaza,” which is consequently a much more well known shopping complex. And, unfortunately, much further away. Long story short, I got a glimpse of many new neighborhoods, gained a little better understanding of the insanity that is Kota Jakarta, strengthened my solidarity with the Indonesian masses by once again suffering through dirty and sweaty and noisy traffick jams with them. A good feeling. And, finally arriving at the correct shop, I learned about the beauty of calling ahead to make sure that the shop you want to go to is open…

A cool side note. There are many professions in Indonesia. Many of them, in the city anyway, involve going around in public places, offering services or goods to whoever might want to pay for them. One of the great things about the public bus is the guys that climb on at one stop, holler out some folk song while strumming an accoustic guitar, or beating a drum, trying not to stumble in the jerks of the bus, passing around a hat. At their best, they are awesome.

Jakarta Sushi

My first fellow “Bule” (foreigner) friends have turned out to be a couple folks from Japan. Very cool folks. Hitomi has quite the brain for language, I’m jealous; she is a University classmate of Kazuya, whose studying International Relations back in Tokyo and is also studying Bahasa for a year, on an exchange program. Hikita, however, just got a job working for a Japanese bank in Jakarta, and his company is paying him to study the language for six months before starting his job. This job also blesses him with his own personal driver to drive him around Jakarta, wherever he wants to go. Cool.

So after suffering through the placement exam together on Monday, he invited us strangers to jump in the minivan that magically pulled up, asking if we wanted to go do the tourist thing in Jakarta.

japanese monument jakarta.jpg This is from the top of the national monument, a huge obelisk building with a giant flame on top, and an elevator up the middle so that you can get an especially impressive and patriotic view of the Indonesian capitol.

Eating a state of mind

I am very much enjoying Indonesia, the culinary experience. I considered the possibility of an Indonesian restaurant back in Minneapolis/ St. Paul. The more I thought about it, the more I dripped sweat into my Soto Ayam, the more I realized that the idea just wouldn’t fly.

It’s not that the food is too incredibly different, though it’s very unique; Minnesotan hipsters are capable of moderate culinary adventures. It helps, also, when the cuisine has an exotic yet easy to pronounce name – anything to give the self proclaimed connesuir a feeling of cultural “in”-ness. It’s more than that.

Eating Indonesian, in Indonesia, like Indonesians, is less a different flavor as it is a different state of mind. It might be possible to export the experience, somehow, though I don’t know that any amount of imported furniture, expensive lighting schemes and carefully chosen background music would do the trick. And I’m sure there are some excellent Indonesian restaurants in Minnesota; I will not condemn them offhand. I will have to be convinced, however, that they can come close to selling to Minnesotans how it feels to eat Indonesian in Indonesia. And this has a great impact on the taste of the food, in my opinion.

I have yet to put my finger on it exactly, of course. It’s impossible to summarize the experience of any place in simple sentences, it’s always something complex and outside the realm of vocabulary. The aesthetic of Indonesia so permeates you, is an all-encompassing and self-contradicting thing. You will be eating the most amazing thing in the world, and part of the reason that it is so damned ‘enak’ is because it hurts so much. This pain/ pleasure sensuality is an important part of the Indonesian aesthetic, for me.

Another perhaps impossible to replicate feature is the fact that, quite often to even the locals, you can’t really be sure what you’re going to get. Take soto, for example, a signature dish of the country. On Jalan Margonda, Margonda Street itself, in front of the train station by Universitas Indonesia, there are four restaurants with this spicy soup in their name, each claiming to serve it in the style of a different region. The radical difference that these regions can offer is understandable, considering that Indonesia is a conglomeration of thousands of separate islands and ethnic groups, and comprises a still developing national identity that seems to bring together countless unique worlds.

Anyway, I’ll keep eating my way through Indonesia, and I’ll try not to add too much sambal next time (I’m still paying the price for enjoying that last bowl of soup too much – again, the pain/ pleasure thing).

Until next time.

A Quiet Chaos

I stood, watching the economy class train pull up to the Pondok Cina station. Ugg, my stomach dropped way down. Are ALL those people going to downtown Jakarta? Heads and limbs, entire bodies  hung out the windows and doors, people seemed to pop out onto the platform as many others pushed and shoved to get into the rolling box. Oi. I gulped, clutched my shoulder bag, and plunged in. The first thing I notice, as the train rocks forward again away from Depok, is how incredibly quiet it is. There is an air of eternal patience, and unspoken understanding that we are all crammed into this hot and stinky metal box,  and there is just no point in any of us getting pissed off because we’re all suffering through it to get where we need to go. There is an immense civility, yet just under the surface hangs a tension, a feeling that while everyone makes room for everyone, when it comes down to it, the only person that is going to give a damn about you is you. Of course this is simply a first impression. I look forward to delving deeper into the Indonesian psyche. Solidarity with the people, ya!

I made it to Jakarta, and my friend Suroto brought me around to several NGO offices. He is involved in the youth and cooperative movements. I had a long discussion with an 80 year old Javanese man, the founder of the largest organization of credit unions in Indon. What those eyes have seen through an incredibly turbulent century of political activism.