Archive for October, 2004

All By Myself … not quite… (P.Y.T.)

October 26, 2004

People always ask me if I live alone. Well, no. Without further ado, crediting Oliver Stone, Brian de Palma and of course Al Pacino,

“Say hello to my little friend!!!!”

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October 26, 2004


A little blurry — but check out the cammo skills…, and how do you know if you’re dealing with x or y chromosomes here… I ask because…

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October 26, 2004


I think this little fella had some high hopes hanging out by the bath…

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October 26, 2004


“Say hello to my littler friend!” — Tom

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October 25, 2004

The UPI version of last Friday’s “parade” described in pics below can be found at the following site:

http://washingtontimes.com/upi-breaking/20041024-070830-7165r.htm

Strange Fruit

October 25, 2004

As Academic Director of this new institution in Jakarta, it falls to me to produce or choose the essay topic for the composition portion of the placement test which goes a long way towards, well, placing incoming students in particular levels of classes. One of the more popular topics among my peers goes something like this:

“An overseas penpal has written to tell you he or she will be coming to visit your city, and would like to know what to expect. Write a letter to your friend welcoming him to your city, and advising him or her on up to three of its remarkable aspects.”

It also falls to me to do much of the marking of these compositions. Generally, a composition of one sentence, even if perfectly formed, doesn’t help the student place too far out of “Beginner” classes. Sadly, I landed today on a fine way to sum up all my observations preceding this post in just such a way:

Dear Friend,

What you should know about Indonesia: Here, oranges are green, but orange juice is orange juice.

Love (say the word… it’s all you need),

Tom
(note to grader: please place me in 001 — I’m just starting on this language)

Go Now!

October 23, 2004

And now complete with cinema verite pics… About Last Night (Friday).

Entertaining friends at home with curried prawn, barbecued chicken, (thanks, Murni) beer and tea… ending hell week with a first small but satisfying placement test for prospective students… music, laughter, a bad $2 movie with rather loud surround sound, especially with the distant air raid occupying a prominent spot high up on the decibel range at midnight.

But wait… volume dipped for a quiet scene and that distant air raid continued. A friend jumped to the window as if recognizing the footfalls of an unwanted guest coming up the steps, or perhaps, given the hour, like Cinderella knowing she’d missed her coach and it had already turned into a pumpkin. The guests all groaned.

It’s Ramadan, see. Midnight on a Friday, which made it national intimidating semi-violent parade day in neighborhoods with multiple nightspots. Out my window a river of SUVs moving down my street like an occupying army.

On the runners and back bumpers an infantry of immaculately white robed young men (peer through the tree).

Flanking the vehicles and filling the sidewalks a trotting foot cavalry of identically dressed vigilantes. On my side of the glass the exclamations of my guests (mostly Christian) revealed both fear and embarrassment. “Why do they do that?” “Those crazies.” “I can’t go home now.” “A taxi won’t come now.”

With this description and the grainy pics snatched with flash while trying to keep a low profile on my fourth floor balcony, free associating with the KKK and cowering slave and former slave family minorities in recent US history is a piece of cake.

Come to think of it, I guess this police-supported (not to be confused with -controlled) operation explains why I saw a group of a couple hundred male worshipers on their mats in the middle of the street yesterday. Friday is the day only men visit mosques. It was packs of men “encouraging” everyone still in restaurants and cafes at midnight last night to go home. It also reminded me of the view from my tenth-floor balcony in Poland in February, 1989 when the police broke up a massive protest at the nearby technical college before it had even begun.

While if I’d been down there on the ground it would have felt seriously freaky, women in particular were fearful, and all were angry with the small mob. I don’t recall any real shoving, but given all the professions of peace about the religion, the intimidation tactics used could only be described as psychological violence. The mass parked itself at my intersection, and sent waves of white down the T-crossing street for fifteen minutes, before starting up again. They had done their job: the streets were dark when they left. As the police cars with their flashing lights passed my complex, signaling an end to my experience, they left behind them a small stationary force of non-white clad young men.

This is apparently a regular occurrence at this time of year, and felt a little like the accounts of far-right anti-abortion intimidation outside clinics in the US sound in US papers. I want to make it clear I don’t think anyone was at risk, despite the aura of menace about the whole thing. I was myself perfectly safe throughout, as my complex like all others is gated, locked, and staffed with several security guards, and I was up on the 4th floor. My guests were reacting to this scene in the end as if they were being kept inside by particularly nasty mosquitoes.

Given all this and the current bit of culture shock, I think I’m going to take Rio’s advice. The city goes completely dead and no one works or takes classes the week after Ramadan… so he told me to go to Bali, the one non-Muslim spot in the country, where the restaurants and resorts will all be open, and no Muslims will be there. Good dream for now.

Down in the Dump with the Blues

October 23, 2004

The dump aside…
News item from my two weeks in the Grand Kemang Hotel:
Several dozen Jakarta residents were hospitalized with servere gastro-intestinal problems within a week or so of each other. I believe fatalities were involved. The complaints were traced to meat served from many of the city’s street vendors. It was rotten.

Among my first impressions of Jakarta were the flood of litter and garbage everywhere, the prevalent pungence of burning trash in the air, the mini-bonfires right by the side of insane city highways, and the fact that I hadn’t seen one obvious garbage truck.

Well, a few days ago I saw the common model garbage truck. Hadn’t noticed it before because it fit right in to the chaos of life systems everywhere here, but now that I’m looking, it’s everywhere. A skinny human, usually barefoot, about 1.2 meters, open shirt and deeply soiled long shorts, yolked with a rubber hose around his chest, and a security rope of some sort nearer his neck, leans into a big metal bar in front of him, strapped on both sides to the cart behind him. The cart’s longer than he is tall, and probably a little more than a meter deep, and it’s piled way past overflowing with trash. He moves very slowly, but steadily, and the image I get is of Roman slave rowers on galleons in those 1950’s Tony Curtis epics. Anyway I watched this guy haul his trash down the street past my apartment complex in this ritzy upscale shopping neighborhood, and I couldn’t imagine to where he was headed. However, the mystery of where the trash goes was partially solved.

Apparently there are a few garbage trucks. I’ll believe it when I see it, but for now I’ll trust Rio. And it’s these trucks that eventually unload the garbage at the dump, whereever that is. And the dump is forever smoldering, of course, but more than that… While Jakarta’s population is impossible to estimate, 12 million is supposedly a reasonable guesstimate. 40 years ago it was under three million, or something like that. which explains two things: 1. why there is zero organization to any of the streets and living areas in the city; 2. why lots of people live in dyi shanties at the dump and scrape their living off its embers.

These folks thought manna was finally theirs one day when one truck rumbled their shanties and tumbled a mountain of pre-packaged meats from a large foreign import company onto their mountain. This company was following the rules and directly sending to the dump a shipment that had arrived spoiled due to faulty refrigeration on the sea transport. Didn’t look too bad yet, though, so the dump-dwellers clambered around it, cleaned off the plastic wraps, and took the packages into the street vendors…

Now, I know what rotten (or even just nearly-rotten) meat smells like when cooked up, and I can’t be in the same room with it. So that tells you, I guess, about the strength of the smell of both the spices used at your average Indonesian hot dog stand, and … sadly… the air we breathe here, which I already hardly notice anymore, ‘cept when I’m in Singapore. Street vendors sold the stuff, people ate the stuff, nearly a hundred were hospitalized, and some died…
end of the dump aside

A Bug’s Life

October 23, 2004

Thursday night, Friday AM, October 21-22, 2005. After three days delivering sales pitches and attending curious meetings where mostly I continued an education in “Other perspectives on ‘yes’ and ‘no’,” by Wednesday evening I was wrung out, strung out, facing a business trip in the early AM, and as my boss wisely pointed out to me, right on schedule for a little culture shock. Passed a Dunkin’ Donuts on the way home, remembered mornings in Virginia, picked out a half-dozen assortment to make the rise for the trip a little easier, but was denied, not really to my surprise, a large iced decaf to go. The weather was right for it, but like I said before, occasionally it may look like it, but we’re not in Kansas anymore… Got home, set the carton by the microwave, slowly headed towards the above bed…. (fade to black)

A Day in the Life

(fade in) Woke up (at 5:00), got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head,

headed for the tea and donuts. Turned the oven on, opened the carton…

…were the donuts stirring ‘neath their covers (“what covers?!”to greet me?

Without my lenses in, looked kinda like the the heads of Hydra in there. Looked like the swirly portal to a hell dimenion in there. Looked like an Bones McCoy finally realizing his worst nightmare — an Enterprise transporter malfunctioning, caught in a materialization loop. Someone had (not) been sleeping in donuts last night. At least these little critters didn’t fly… Apparently they are Indonesian ants. 4th day of the 4th week of my time here, and I really wasn’t enjoying the place anymore. So all six of the donuts were covered in this psychedelic display, and I was having quite a trip. However, not one to go down without a fight, I washed these donuts like they were tomatoes. Can you imagine what the bottom of the box looked like? Thick with these sugar-high ants… talk about tripping…

Anyway, washed ’em off, threw ’em in the oven… and in DIE HARD mode, returned my attention to the box and sink with appropriate malice, no conscience, and a tall can of… well, dunno what it’s called but there’s a pic on it of a gross winged-monster asphyxiating in a thick grey cloud (why do they need a thick grey cloud in jakarta? … No guilt that I felt a tremendous satisfaction, after my week of ‘yes and no’ maneuvering, when a short burst of thick chemical smog at the box, sink and counter resulted in an instantaneous return to stillness of my
cozy home. Trash can.

Shower. Tea, donuts, music. Taxi. Airport. Offensive airport tax to leave the country. Good coffee. Airplane. Friendly women on Indonesian budget airline in elegant uniforms with excellent breakfast wrapped in banana leaf (pic).


Take that, apple-bearing Southwest!

End of DIE HARD mode.
Motherless Brooklyn by Lethem: so far finest reading experience since Lahari’s short stories. Out window before landing: green city brownie-cut into perfect squares.

Drizzle.
Sunglasses in shirt, umbrella in front hall at home.

Dratted cell phone pitches 2 Singapore money changers (how do they know!!!!!?????).

Torrents.

Outside
taxi stand luscious air. Actual moving traffic.

4 hours in Singapore: Singapore = shopping mall. Fine ale lunch :-).
New York big and tall; London orderly, clear pavements; new moon shiny.

Over time frightfully dull, sure. 4 hours mighty fine.

Home again, I draw up organizational plan for personnel in my company. Deep down, despite the culture shock, I’m mostly here for this cross-cultural experience. Time to do a little sharing of my own perspectives on ‘yes’ and ‘no’. This is how it’s gonna be.

That’s Entertainment!

October 23, 2004

Saturday, October 16. Finally gave in and ate something non-Asian tonight.Took a friend to a place called Amigos, nestled well back of the main streets I live on, in a little high-end strip mall where a “cafe latte” maker sell for $100, displayed on a $300 solid mahogany coffee table (from guess whose disappearing rainforest, I’m sure) plunked down in the middle of a mass of large private homes. Not a bad imitation of Mexican, but it was easily the least memorable repast of the trip. But there were two things worth commenting on. The first is that each table had at least one white guy at it. Most had a couple of ‘em, and all but one had a local lady, too. Several had cute kids. Not cute: nearly all the guys were heavily into their beers and practicing leers. Kinda gross. But, the families were fun to watch, especially when the dancing started.

That’s the second thing worth commenting on, why the dancing started. I’ve now seen two bands playing in my neighborhood, and both of have been professional cover bands. The r&b/jazz band ten days ago was rock solid and often moving. This band tonight also fabulous in its own way. 4 gals and a guy rotated lead singer duties covering everything from Abba and the Bee Gees to Eminem and Beyonce in front of a steady rhythm section, and they all had MTV-worthy lungs, fab soul, and language and diction were so realistic the whole picture was downright surreal… So surprised to find myself enjoying this stuff. They played for nearly two hours without a break, got Mothers and fathers and children, lonely leering white guys, a couple of “seniors” on to the dance floor, sold every minute of it, looked like they never wanted to do anything else. A friend I was with told me they don’t speak any English at all; the sounds and music and movement are muscle memorized. And I thought, “how many hundreds of times do they hit the “previous track” button in front of a mirror, making hips, lips, and elbows be not quite their own? How much sweat (especially in THIS part of the world) do you pay out to take such ownership of something so completely not your own? Then I realized, more or less, that once upon a time I had dedicated myself to precisely that line of work. That’s what got me hooked on the study of how we learn what we learn…in one way that’s what learning is, right? Taking ownership of knowledge that previously wasn’t owned by the learner? Nuff.