Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Beware! Europe shivers!!!!!

Well, that really have to make you giggle. Or actually laugh, really. Out loud. Holding your ribs. A teeny tiny minuscule little tremor that makes jelly jive a bit in England actually makes the headlines throughout the world. Bewaaare!!! The plates are dancing the tektonik! So strong it could actually induce ripples into Her Majesty's tea. Dear God.
There are, in average, 1400 something earthquakes stronger than 5 on the Richter scale every year throughout the world. The one in Kent was 5.2 and it made some bricks fall on cars. May I remind you, dear reader, that the Richter is based on a logarithmic scale, which means that a magnitude 5 quake shakes the ground 10 times less than a magnitude 6, and it releases 32 times less energy. There was a quake a couple days ago in Sumatra, 7.2; I talked to few guys who lived close to it, they barely noticed it. Business as usual. Since the 2004 one that triggered the tsunami, we had 27 in Indonesia, that were above 6 on the Richter scale. Maybe more, don't take this stat as gospel.
So, I know, the effect of a quake all depends on how deep it is, and what type of quake it is, but come on, western media! Just be a little less self-centered.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Bathroom surprise

You already had a previous post about the teeming life of an Indonesian household. Here is another one of our crawling guests. Cute, huh?

Monday, February 25, 2008

That's Third World, man...

Living in a developing country brings some surprises. One of them is these filthy rich people.

No joke, when you go to Kem Chicks, a high end supermarket that sells items for expats in Jakarta (big choices of peanut butter, whole turkeys come Thanksgiving...), you actually have the choice between several types of outfits for your large house staff. Sometimes when you go to the restaurant you can also see rich people's kids in the corner, tended by their nannies while Mum and Dad enjoy care-free time with their friends. Life's sweet. Not always for the nanny.

Jakarta hotel shows kids how to make their own beds

JAKARTA, Feb 24 (Reuters Life!) - In a country where the rich rely heavily on servants to perform the most mundane household chores, being able to make one's own bed is something of a novelty. About 20 small children, Indonesians and Westerners, escorted by their nannies, took part in a training session on Sunday at the Ritz-Carlton in Jakarta, where they were shown how to make a bed properly.

In Indonesia, it is common for wealthy and many middle-class families to employ several servants including housemaids, nannies, drivers, and gardeners. When the servants take their annual holiday after the fasting month, some families complain of being unable to cope without their cleaners and cooks, and move into hotels for the duration.

Several of the children at Sunday's event, who ranged in age from two-and-a-half years to seven years, watched with interest as they were shown how to tuck a sheet under the mattress and fold tidy corners. "It's to show children that making the bed is part of the house chores. And we try to show them from an early age how to do it in the hope that they will do it themselves," said Gloria Vera Kristie, the Ritz-Carlton spokeswoman.

Most of the kids seemed to enjoy the training. Some preferred to just lie down on the bed, while a couple were less enthusiastic. "I don't want it. Murni does it," said one four-year-old, referring to her housecleaner. (Ade Mardiyati)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Penises And Prayer Mats: It's Sexual Healing, Indonesia Style

A great story by S├ębastien Blanc, from the Agence France Presse. He's the best ;-)

CARINGIN, Indonesia, Feb 22 (AFP) -- Three large wooden penises lie on a colourful batik prayer mat in the house of Mak Erot, Indonesia's legendary lengthener of male members, inviting customers to pick their new look. Mak Erot, the undisputed national expert in solving the self-image problems of Indonesian men, seems to have disappeared a long time ago but many believe she is still working her magic, perhaps from beyond the grave.

The craggy, betel nut-chewing woman with a distinctive brown birthmark on her cheek has spawned legions of imitators, while her legitimate heirs are keen to keep up the facade that she's alive lest business die with her. And it is a booming business -- as a glance at the classified pages of any Indonesian tabloid newspaper will attest, packed as they are with ads for "penile paranormals" all claiming to have been trained by Mak Erot. Jakarta, the nation's capital, even has a Mak Erot "clinic". She has made it into popular culture too, with the film "Extra Large: Between Me, You and Mak Erot" currently playing in cinemas.

Mak Erot's village of Caringin is at the end of a road that winds along the Indian Ocean coast in southwestern Java. Her white house sits in a region where farmers from Indonesia's Sundanese culture still incorporate their ancient animistic beliefs with Islam. As expected, the disciples at Mak Erot's house say she's still alive. "Mak Erot went to open an office in Medan (North Sumatra)," says a young man wearing a traditional Muslim beanie. "She's in a good shape. She still can walk."

He introduces himself as Haji Baban, Mak Erot's grandson, an inheritor of the old woman's esoteric powers and expertise in rare plants. "People from all over the world come here, from Arab countries, from China, Singapore, Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan," he says. "They want solutions to impotence or premature ejaculation, they ask to have a longer penis or bigger glans." According to the Kompas daily, Mak Erot passed on her "science" to her five children and sixteen grandchildren who account for her 21 true heirs, a select order of masters of male enhancement.

A consultation with Haji Baban is an encounter with the arcane. Sitting cross-legged in semi-darkness, the patient is asked to detail his wishes with the visual aid of a selection of carved wooden phalluses. Then comes the diagnosis, delivered after a contemplative silence.

Solemnly, Haji Baban intones that the client's appendage is "fairly average," and offers to conjour up a six-centimetre (2.3-inch) extension. The prescription for such whopping growth is a 10-day course of eating and drinking mystery concoctions and secret potions, with the first dose of bitter berries to be taken immediately, washed down with dark brown liquid. An assistant then brings a phallus-shaped bamboo tube containing a roll of sticky coconut rice that has to be swallowed whole to avoid what Haji Baban describes ominously as "terrible genital consequences". Haji Baban ends the consultation with a vegetable oil that the client must promise to apply daily with a specific hand action from base to tip. And no eating green bananas or citronella, he orders.

The daily cost for treatment is between 700,000 and one million rupees (70-100 dollars), depending on the options selected. This is a hefty sum for many in Indonesia but the imposing mansions being built around Caringin seem to indicate that plenty of men are willing to pay. A local motorcycle taxi driver gestures to the newly-built homes and says: "They belong to Mak Erot."

Monday, February 18, 2008

Erratum modificatorum

They did it! They corrected their grammatical mistake! The "visit Indonesia 2008" campaign has now for a slogan "Celebrating 100 years of national awakening" (see previous post). Still amazingly sexy and that makes you want to come and visit, but at least now it does make sense. Kinda.
And if you're interested in this fascinating subject, here is a blog about it. Enjoy...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

An old boy's dream house

Isn't that funky? That's a villa we rented with friends for a 4 days week end (Happy Chinese New Year!) in a village around Pelabuhan Ratu.

Pelabuhan Ratu is a fishermen's town in the South coast of Java, well known for a late magical lady whose special power was to enlarge the manly attributes of any disgruntled macho. It is a mere 150 or so kilometers from the capital, which amounts to a 5 hours road trip when you have to face the week end traffic of Jakartans who want to escape the city, on a winding road dotted with local markets. Ah, life will be so sweet when Java will have toll roads everywhere...

Here's a view from the Pelabuhan Ratu bay. The currents and waves are very strong here, which makes for good surfing. Beware though; it is dangerous to wander around the beach wearing green. This is the color of Ratu Kidul, the mystical Queen of the South Sea, and if She sees you adorned with Her color She might want to take you into Her midst...

Monday, February 4, 2008

A whole other league

There are only two things you can politely complain in public about the country: corruption, and macet. Those are so engrained in Jakartan daily life that it is in lesson 2 of my book “Teach yourself bahasa indonesia” – just after the standard “Hello my name is” – that I learned how to say: Maaf saya terlambat. Saya terjebak macet (sorry to be late, I was stuck in traffic).

In Jakarta, we don’t have traffic jams. We have macet (pronounce “matchet”). It’s just not the same thing. When you’re stuck in traffic, your finger taps the wheel wondering if you’ll make it home on time for the opening of American Idol or if the potatoes will already be cold. When you’re stuck in macet, you don’t know if you’ll make it home for dinner or breakfast.

In my experience, there are several explanations to macet (below is definitely not an exhaustive list) :

- just because

- someone is trying to turn right (we drive on the left side here) so he’s blocking your lane for 20 minutes, the time necessary for him to find a moron on the opposite lane willing to let him pass. The moron is screwed because generally a long line had time to form behind our first man, so it’s Moron's time to be stuck, while they all to pass in front of him (and you, by the way). No wonder nobody in their right mind ever lets a car cut a line, which explains why, if you have to take a right, you'll block everyone trying to squeeze in

- there’s a flood

- you’re on the lane waiting to make a U-turn. Jakarta is a marvel of urbanization, you often must drive several kilometers in the wrong direction just so that you can U-turn somewhere ;

- you’re on a road plyed by buses that stop anywhere to pick up and drop their passengers ;

- there are too many cars, too few roads throughout the whole city ;

- there’s a cop who, for an unknown reason, is blocking your lane branching into a flowing lane, in order to gesture to the passing cars that they can go. Oh they know they can, as they’ve been laughing at you when flying by. More to come on the Terus Guy

- there’s a demo (demonstration. Jakarta easily stands its ground with my native France in terms of numbers of street protests).

God bless the Ipod, podcasts, mobile internet and cell phones.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Man, Forest, Man of the Forest

Orang outang: literally, that means “Man of the forest” (Orang Hutan). You can find them only in the island of Sumatra and Borneo, which is divided between Malaysia and Indonesia; the Indonesian part is called Kalimantan.

The local people of Kalimantan are called the Dayak. Solenn went to a Dayak village along a river. A wedding was in preparation, so food was served to the guest and a man was singing traditional songs.

We went there during the Lebaran, which is the holidays following the fasting month; pretty much the equivalent of Christmas. Solenn went first in order to report about deforestation there which is going at an amazing speed. Here is a little extract of a piece she wrote.

“You’re going to Borneo”. I immediately picture myself clinging onto a sweat-drenched machette, trying to hack a path through the thick jungle while ominous creatures (think: snakes) loom 30 meters above my head, just waiting to make their deadly drop. But last month I drove for 12 hours through Central Kalimantan province without seeing a single tree that could compare in mightiness to the old cherry tree that used to adorn the vegetable patch in my grand-mother’s garden. 30 years ago, the whole island of Borneo was covered by a dense tropical canopy but today its forest cover looks like the fur of a dog suffering from mange: half of its trees have already disappeared. Slashed, burnt, cut, hacked or transformed into the beautiful bed side table you noticed on page 42 of your favorite furniture shop’s catalogue.

Nature has taken over alright; it always does. But you’d have to be a very very small child with a very very big imagination to recall the Green Hell described by the first British adventurers who came out of it alive. Instead of the mighty trees, you can stand waist-deep in the middle of lush bushes that extend to the flat horizon. The monotony of the landscape is only broken by gloomy cadavers of burnt trees whose white carcasses all spell one word: GREED.

Let’s go back to 1985, when the World Bank pinned a medal on the chest of then-Indonesian president Suharto. He swelled with pride, with reason: in a mere 2 decades, he managed to lead his country through a Green Revolution that insured food self sufficiency. Ten years later, though, the rapid urbanization rate of the fertile volcanic island of Java had nibbled away a lot of agricultural land. Thus came what seemed a brilliant, albeit daring, idea: transform the useless forest of Kalimantan into the rice barn of Indonesia. For a year, the chainsaws roar throughout the province. One million hectares of virgin forest was opened. One million hectares: that’s the equivalent of the surface of a whole country like Lebanon. It’s been ten years. The first cup of rice is yet to be produced.

Jakarta’s bureaucrats overlooked one tiny complication: the area chosen for the so-called Mega-Rice project is way too acidic to be able to bear the brunt of a demanding crop like rice. “but I think they knew. The experts knew. I tell you: they were educated to be stupid” growls Yarden, a scientist in the university of Palangkaraya, the provincial capital. “So why they did it? Why?... They just wanted to take the wood. Money”.

Today, the main danger for the forests is palm oil. You know, the green fuel that is supposed to feed our SUVs when all the Arab oil has been drunk? Well, this is big business now, but plants require land in order to grow. Where do you find land? You cut down the forest. Now, this is the main danger for the orang-outang. You can find here the explanation from Lone Nielsen, a blonde Dane who manages a rehabilitation camp for the animal. Solenn went to visit her, and was taken in the back forest where baby apes are kept. (Note: the difficult thing is that orang outang are solitary animals, and the mother has to care about her baby until they are 7 years old, so their reproduction cycle is very slow). Wonderful experience, sometimes cut short when a curious baby would try to grab the microphone or just wanted some petting...

But the problem is not as simple as “these f… Indonesians are cutting down the lungs of the planet”. Because if you meet the local people, you change your perspective. Solenn went to a village that used to be in the forest and is now surrounded by palm oil plantations. However much you can think that the people are crying about their lost forest, you’re wrong. This village now has roads, cell phones, and in a few month will even count its first university graduate, a girl who will become a teacher. Better than to live naked in the jungle without so much as tubercolusis shots for your kids, don’t you think?

We went together on a trip to Tanjung Puting national park, where we took a three days boat trip in the jungle, stopping from time to time to meet with orang-outangs in feeding station (some of these animals are wild, some have been found in places where they were kept as pets and are now gradually put back in the wild). The females are 6 times stronger than a man, the males 8 times stronger… Impressive!

The best part was staying on the boat, though. We had the boat to ourselves, with a guide, a deckhand, and a cook. This is no luxury: we could only take one shower on the river in three days… but the reward is amazing: you wake up with the dawn at 5, hearing the gibbons’ song in the distance.

Bunaken (you have to go there!)

Some pics of our holidays in Bunaken, North Sulawesi.

Just a 3 hours flight from Jakarta, you find a Mecca (ha!) of diving. We are in the Coral Triangle, an area that spreads from the Northern Philippines to Bali on the West, up to Papua and the Solomon Islands in the East. Here, you find about 600 types of coral, which is 75% of all the known species on the planet. There is no other place with the biggest marine biodiversity, and Bunaken is just in the middle of it. Amazing!

Surprisingly, the island, albeit well known to divers from all over the world, is far from being a resort area. There is no road, therefore no cars (a couple years ago the people started purchasing motorbike that are used as taxis). At its maximum, the island can have 300 tourists, so it’s far from crowded.

The village is very small, with very friendly people – the type who would just gesture you to come inside their house to share a cup of coffee while you’re just strolling through; naked kids who play on the beach at sunset. There is one church right at the pier, a mosque just a short walk away, and all is nice.

How did it all go wrong?

Indonesia can sometimes be very frustrating. Another example recently is the new ad campaign “Visit Indonesia 2008”. Here we are in a 17,000 island archipelago blessed with the most amazing touristic potential anyone could ever dream of. You name it, they have it – save for skiing zones. Paradise beaches? Check: Maluku, white sand, crystal clear water and nothing but you and coconuts. Awesome natural sights? Check: Java volcanoes, full to the brim with mystical legends; the second largest rain forest after Brazil; Lombok rice terrasses. Fascinating local culture? Check: balinese rituals; World heritage Borobudur temples; sexy penis gourd people; crazy Toraja burial ceremonies. Once-in-a-lifetime experiences? Check: hanging out with wild orang-outang, poking Komodo dragons with a stick; sunrise on top of Kelimutu. Friendliest people on earth? Check: just about everywhere (more to come about that).

You’ve got it all. But less than 5 million people come every year to visit, when 30 million of them will be fooled to think Thailand is the place to go. Pfff… Several reasons: so many Westerners think Bali is an independent country, and most are afraid of the crazy Muslims and lack of infrastructures. Wrong on the first two assumption. The second is quite accurate though: the commoner’s idea of a paradise beach usually does not include squat toilets where if you forgot to bring your own toilet paper, you’re screwed.

So, there is a lot of work to do to attract people to the archipelago, and the genius Minister of Tourism decided he had to take the matter in his own hands – of course without wasting time hiring tourism and communication specialists to help him. He came up with a fantastic motto “celebrating 100 years of nation awakening” - yes, with the grammatical mistake now plastered on all Garuda Indonesia flights - and a pretty ridiculous ad campaign. ‘Cause you know, what is most important is to get back at the Malaysians, who last year celebrated their 50th anniversary of independence (in Indonesia, it is just compulsary to HATE Malaysia); so the officials decided they will have a 100th anniversary of some sort, that happened to be the creation of a nationalist party long gone that nobody has ever heard of. And that’s what is supposed to bring the crowds in the country? Sigh.

Rent to kill

He’s back. I heard him against last night : a dull “thump” just above my head as I was quietly reading in bed. That could have been a thief (Indonesians rarely come in football player size), but I knew this was just our free boarder, the luwak.

You could say luwak is a decently small animal, but the first time we heard about its existence we asked a waitress at our local pub what is its name in English. She had to consult some of her friends and came back with the answer : “That’s a wolf”. What??? A wolf living in our roof?????? Turns out, it is more like a racoon, and we find them everywhere in Jakarta.

Now we just have to find a way of getting rid of him. Again. We’ve tried though : hiring an exterminator company (“rent to kill”, how cute a name) that charged us a ridiculously high price to free our house of all its animals, from roaches to mosquitoes, ants and geckos. 700 000 rp for the fogging! Well, that translates as 70 dollars, but this is the type of price you never pay for anything here, save a plane ticket to Bali when you’ve been dumb enough not booking in advance to get a good price. Anyway.

The problem is, we live in the tropics. A place where during the rainy season, some plants can grow 5 inches within a month ; the papaya tree in the garden already tripled its height since we moved in, six months ago. So it is inevitable you will live with a lot of unwanted guests.

“Roaches you said? Buuuuurrrrck!”. You might assume that if Solenn is solely in charge of the cleaning, the place is just disgusting. You could have been right ; but as we were blessed by the amazing chance of being born in Western countries, here we can afford the services of Super Supi, who keeps the house so clean you are blinded by the reflection of the sun on the white floor/white ceiling/white walls. So you just have to live with a positive attitude, and think of the roaches and geckos as cat toys – those come free.

As for the luwak, this is another story. We have to contract another killer to assassinate him. If we’re lucky, we will soon post his picture on this blog.