Jakarta, Indonesia. Had I been asked six months ago where I’d be typing this blog entry from, I’d have to admit that Jakarta was not on my radar, not even a blip. Not that coming here or any other part of Indonesia wasn’t on my list of “acceptable” places to visit list though that list is quite large and admittedly not very discerning, it’s just that I hadn’t anticipated this move. Needless to say, I am loving it here and able to make this statement with a complete understanding that I am most certainly in my “romance” stage of our year-long relationship with Jakarta. Not that some things haven’t already proven, shall we say, challenging with that flood and all? But I digress. First things first as I provide a somewhat chronological detailing of what our first ten days in Jakarta have been like.
In all actuality, simply arriving was somewhat challenging. Greg and I and our nine bags went to SeaTac about four hours early; we like to leave plenty of time for unanticipated surprises and to our surprise, we were told we couldn’t board the plane unless we had a round trip ticket. Ah, rookie mistake! We had forgotten that we were traveling without having already purchased an entry visa; the school’s visa expediter was unable to make such a fast turn-around for a work visa. So, it was either delay our trip or purchase a 30-day tourist visas upon arrival, no big deal. Of course, we knew that we’d shortly have a work visa which would allow us to stay in the country indefinitely but the nice ladies at the Korean Air counter did not know this…with a fourteen-hour time difference we ended-up purchasing two one-way changeable tickets just to get on the plane. An uneventful eleven-hour flight brought us to our 22 hours layover in Incheon, Korea my absolutely favorite airport in the world! The efficiency, fun Korean food, green tea Hagan Daaz ice cream…the list of amenities goes on. After a little bit of searching we found the courtesy bus to the Incheon Hyatt Regency, my second favorite hotel after the Shangri La in Bangkok. But, another rookie mistake found us scrambling once again. When we booked the hotel through our travel agent, we hadn’t made clear that we needed to be booked into the Incheon Hyatt rather than the Seoul Hyatt a difference of about a ninety-minute drive. We were much too tired to make the drive, so we coughed up the cost of a room and called it fair. We enjoyed a luxurious dinner followed by eight square hours of sleep; the breakfast buffet the next morning was gorgeous.
Back to the airport we went for our relatively quick and thankfully uneventful six-hour flight to Jakarta. When we arrived, we quickly located our customs/visa expediter who cheerily told us to call him “Superman”. As a perfect caricature of a middle-aged Asian man, man-of-steel was not exactly what came to mind, but he was quite engaging and highly efficient. I did feel pretty ridiculous, when the customs soldier asked where we were going, “Superman told us to wait over here”; I also noticed that Superman had a difficult time not staring at Greg. Actually, pretty much everyone here has difficulty with this as most people’s heads top out at about his sternum so it’s rather apparent when they give him the once (or thrice) over; it was especially noticeable in the airport as Greg easily one-armed our 50 pound bags off of the carousel and onto the luggage cart two at a time while lifting one bag nearly toppled our “man of steel” as he struggled and sweated. Once through customs with our bags Greg’s main counterpart at school as well as the Operations Manager, the IT Manager and about six drivers, met us. We drove into Kelapa Ganding, the district in North Jakarta where we’re living. We were brought up to our flat presented with burgers and fries from Carl’s Junior (my first and last time but I was starving!) and left to unpack with a promise of an 11:00 a.m. pick up the next day. It was about 9:00 pm so we ate and unpacked some essentials before crashing. I actually managed to sleep until 6:00 am; usually jet lag wakes me up at 3:00 but the over-night in Korea must have helped.
We’ve spent much of our time working ten-hour days at school and buying groceries and small appliances for the kitchen since. We’re in a steady routine of juicing a combination of oranges, pineapple and carrots each morning; I can’t think of anything much better to get me out of bed in the morning, truly ambrosia of the gods. At Greg’s insistence, we bought a rice cooker and I’m now a convert; ours even has a cool little veggie steamer on top and cooks our brown rice perfectly! I plan on trying our new blender tonight; I’m making a purified leek-potato soup for dinner. The fresh fruits and vegetables are abundant and cheap and we’re eating delicious tofu regularly, even Greg looks forward to their luscious bundles of soy delight. I bought some of the cutest little chickens yesterday, which I’m cooking down for chicken stock as I can’t seem to find it in the grocery stores. Really, the only huge diet-deficit is a lack of corn tortillas and we can’t even find Masa mix. I’ll probably just breakdown and make some flour tortillas. Our request of visitors will be a few packs thrown into the luggage in exchange for a room and local tour. Oh, and true to Asian-style kitchens we’re absent an oven so we bought a toaster oven. Once I can locate a miniature cake pan we’ll make brownies when we’re feeling the need for some Americana and I’ll make Greg some granola; everything here has walnuts and hazelnuts, which he’s allergic to.
Oh, and for the ladies I have three little words….silk…batik…dresses. Apparently, silk batik is the “little black dress” of Indonesia and I’m all for it. I’ve zeroed in on a little designer number that will be perfect for my “Director’s wife” social engagements. When we met with the Commercial Attaché from the US Embassy, he told us that we could have custom cotton batik shirts made for $25 or $30. Batik is considered “formal” wear, so who can argue with that? Jesse also recommended some fun dining experiences along the vein of Sunday brunch and authentic Italian or Thai food and is also sending us a list of 3-day weekend excursions that are easy to do from Jakarta. We’re looking forward to exploring our new environs but that will have to wait until after school starts on August 19, we’re just too swamped at this point.
We are finding time to relaxing despite the pressure to get the school ready. We’ve worked-out at the gym and we’ve gone lap swimming at the school’s swimming pool; we’re working hard at embracing a healthy lifestyle, pretty easy to do here.
Our apartment complex is comprised of five separate buildings in a self-contained area with lots of trees, plants and little stone walkways winding amongst benches and grassy areas. It’s a very convenient place to live; there are a couple swimming pools, a small gym, tennis courts and a couple restaurants and convenience store. There’s even a laundry and dry cleaners in the basement of an adjacent building. But, our new favorite spot is the reflexology clinic. For 50,0000 rupiah ($5 US) a 90-minute foot and leg, arm, and back and neck reflexology session can be had. Well, my reflexology lasted about 90 minutes, the poor guy working on Greg just could last that long; he lost steam after working on Greg’s feet and legs. By the time he got to his back, the poor man was literally pounding on Greg’s shoulder with all his might but really couldn’t make much headway; he tried elbows and fists to no avail. As he was pounding away, he commented to me (with a slightly wild look in his eye) “Strong. Big.” Then just gave up.
Some interesting things of note: there are men with small monkeys dressed is garish clothes and masks with chains around their neck hanging-out in the grassy median begging for money. Our driver, Udin (so incredibly nice), doesn’t speak a lick of English; we’ve both been given “Angris-Indonesian” dictionaries. We can’t run the microwave and hot-water-on-demand water station at the same time without tripping the breaker. Did I mention we don’t have an oven? When cars stop at a traffic light, the scooters merely slow down, filtering through like water through cracks. A small box of Western cereal costs about $11; I bought my first and final box last week. A very decent sushi dinner for three, all you can eat with non-alcoholic drinks costs about $25, a can of imported beer is about $12 or $15. There’s pretty much every kind of fast food joint you could possible think of, and all places we never eat; McDonald’s, Burger King, Carl’s Junior. There is a “Papa Ron’s” and we ate at “Sizzling’s” which is not high on my list of recommendations. We hear that for $100 you can have a police escort to the airport, this helps with traffic. The signs in the bathroom show the proper way to use a toilet; standing or squatting with feet on the rim is a no-no. We were supposed to get our clothes back from the laundry service (see paragraph below) on Saturday at 5:00 p.m.; it is 8:30 Sunday night and we haven’t see it yet…
A final story before I sign off. Laundry. While I am immensely grateful that we have a washing machine (I didn’t have one my first year and a half in Egypt so did laundry in the bath tub), it is only capable of holding the equivalent of a set of Greg’s sweats and perhaps a hand towel or two…this is why Lasmi will become our new “helper” twice a week so she can do laundry, iron and clean for what is considered a very generous salary of $60 per month. And really, the washing machine has been quite troublesome. The first time I tried to use it (never mind there were no instructions in English, just Indonesian) it tripped the breaker throughout the wash cycle. I finally resigned myself to just spin the water out but found I had to sit on top of it because it was shaking itself into the refrigerator all the while emitting a horrific noise. The school sent someone to fix it and discovered that the plugs were never removed, problem solved. I did another load and still had the breaker-tripping problem, but managed to get a full-cycle out of it so good enough. Late last night as we were lying in bed, we heard a noise. “What is that?” I asked. “Sounds like water” commented Greg, so I got up to investigate. Sure enough, about a third of our 850 square foot apartment was a half-inch deep in water. The loosely attached hose from the washer had spontaneously detached and water was pouring, and I mean pouring, out onto the floor. Luckily, Asian homes are not carpeted so it took about 15-20 minutes of sopping with our only clean towel (the others are with our wayward laundry) and mop to get all the water up. The big question that came to my mind after the excitement was over was what if we had been asleep or at work when this happened? I cannot even imagine how bad that would have been, but visions of our flat collapsing unto the unit below danced through my mind. It doesn’t seem to have flooded the apartment below (we’re on the 9th floor) because we haven’t heard anything today. Greg texted Lilies (she’s lovely), the Operations Manager that’s been helping us settle in and she will send someone over tomorrow to fix it. She was properly horrified.
So, yes, I’m still in my romance stage. I haven’t gotten sick (yet) but I expect that will happen at some inopportune time and I’m resigned to it. I have an ongoing battle with kitchen ants that I know I’ll never win but a girl has got to try. The traffic is horrific, it’s hot and steamy but we really love it here; it’s the easiest place we’ve lived overseas and suits our quirky sense of humor. When something ridiculous happens we just look at each other and laugh. Greg reads to me each night while I’m cooking (we’re halfway through The Hobbit) and we can watch CNN International, BBC, Animal Planet, National Geographic and movie stations; the sub titles are helping me learn some Indonesian (Tiger is sintah). Life is good but we miss our family, friends and especially our boat Journey, though living on a 44’ sailboat the last year has made our 850’ apartment feel incredibly spacious! I’m learning how to build a college preparatory school nearly from scratch and feel blessed that I can work next to and with my Love every day; I am fortunate that I have such an incredible partner to experience life with. With that, I’ll sign-off.