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Jakarta Day 5: Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Sederhana restaurant exterior

Sederhana, a western Sumatra restaurant chain. We ate lunch there.

After our visit to SMAN 8 Jakarta, we boarded the bus and traveled to a western Sumatran restaurant. Along the way, we passed through several districts with businesses that seemed to specialize in one particular type of goods. There was the office supply district, selling office chairs and filing cabinets, among other things. There was the car repair district with shops and auto parts stores. And there was even a very small handicapped equipment district. I’m not sure what the advantage would be to congregate similar businesses in the same areas – perhaps it would be for customers, since if you know you need office supplies, then there is a particular area of the city where you go to find them. You don’t have to run around the whole city going from store to store. But I can’t figure out how this would be an advantage to the stores themselves. It would lead to increased competition and lower prices and less profits. Maybe concentrating customers more than makes up for increased competition.

Sumatran food

West Sumatran food is served in a series of small bowls and you only pay for what you eat. Any unused dishes go back in the warming oven for other customers.

We wound up back on the same loop we were this morning, wondering if we would be eating at Wong Solo after all. Instead, we stopped at an interestingly designed restaurant I had noticed this morning, called Sederhana. It had the steeply pitched roof corners of west Sumatran architecture, and Dewi explained this was the style of food of her native area.

We managed to find a place where the bus could pull over enough for us to get out and walk in. We sat at two long tables as the waiters brought out a large assortment of small dishes, all with different types of food. The style of eating here is somewhat like a buffet, but all the dishes are brought to your table and you pick the ones you want to eat and pay for only those. The ones not touched will be stacked back under the heat lamps for the next customers. So it was important that we not pick little bits from many dishes – we had to eat all of one dish before starting another of the same food.

West Sumatran dishes

Close up of Sumatran dishes, ranging from sliced cucumber to spicy chicken and curried fish.

It was pretty spicy stuff, but delicious. There was chicken in various sauces ranging from spicy roasted chicken with sambal to chicken in curry sauce. There was tasty beef rendang, grilled fish, vegetables cooked in coconut milk, and many more. I tried a variety, and liked some more than others. I’m not a big fan of curry, but can eat it if I need to. We had drinks such as Stroberi Fanta or bottled water, some dessert-like dishes such as flan or gelatin, and many more. We passed things around and tried to finish all the dishes we started.

Bailarung Hotel

The Bailarung Hotel in Jakarta. The top floor is designed with traditional western Sumatran architecture.

The bus managed to park by the restaurant, so we boarded again and headed toward the new downtown area and U.S. Consulate for our next stop.

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Jakarta Day 3: Monday, July 17, 2017

Leko restaurant

The restaurant we ate at in the Grand Mall.

In the evening on my third day in Jakarta, Indonesia, we traveled back to the Grand Mall of Jakarta to eat supper at an Indonesian restaurant called Léko. Dewi, our in-country representative, knew the owners (a former student of hers, I believe) and ordered a variety of Indonesian dishes and drinks for us to try. They ranged from savory beef ribs to extremely spicy chicken with a hot sambal sauce. One of my favorites was a grilled fish – it wasn’t too spicy and was very tasty, especially the skin.

Waiting for bus by hotel

Our group, waiting for the bus outside the hotel.

I asked Dewi if the durian fruit smoothie was good and she said I had to try it, as did two other teachers sitting with me. Durian is considered the “king of fruits” in southeast Asia, and grows up to 30 cm long and can weigh up to 3 kg. Its name derives from the spiky protuberances that grow on the husk.

Durian_in_black

Inside the durian fruit

What I didn’t know is that people have differing reactions to the smell and taste of the fruit. Some people find it has a pleasant aroma. Others find that it smells of rotten onions, body odor, or other worse things. It is known to attract flies. It is banned from some hotels and businesses. I tried it and found it interesting at first, then it got stronger and more unpleasant the further down I sipped. It tasted to me like three-week old unwashed repeatedly used gym socks. Not that I’ve ever tasted gym socks, but you know what I mean.

I tried another teacher’s cendol, which was OK – kind of a sweet green been mixed with coconut milk. The lychee smoothie (sometimes spelled litchie or lici in Bahasa Indonesia) was good but sweet. But I couldn’t finish the durian fruit smoothie, and after the meal, the taste lingered; every time I burped or hiccupped, there it was again.

Durian fruit

Es durian, or ice durian. Not something I’m going to try.  It even smells bad just to walk past it. Now, if it was passion fruit slush, I’d be all over it, sketchy ice or not.

I’m not here to eat only American foods and drink American drinks. I’m here to experience Indonesian culture and to learn. An adventure of this sort requires the willingness to try new things, knowing that sometimes the result can be unpleasant. I know I won’t like everything I try. But so far I’ve enjoyed the food and loved the drinks. Now I know I’m one of those people that have a bad reaction to durian fruit. Sometimes knowledge comes at a price.

After dinner we had an hour for shopping. I’m not much of a shopper, unless it’s for souvenirs or gifts, and all the shops I saw here were decidedly Western. Even the posters and mannequins were of Americans or Europeans and the prices expensive. So I watched the people, trying to see if I could understand why this mall was so popular. I noticed that not many Indonesians had bags for purchases – oh, some had smaller items they had bought, but nothing really big or expensive. The downstairs grocery stores selling western food items and the restaurants seemed busy, but there didn’t seem to be as much purchasing as one would see in an American mall.

Group at Leko

The group of us at the Leko restaurant.

So do the Indonesians come here to be seen and hang out? Certainly to an extent – they were dressed much more nicely than most Americans would be at a shopping mall. But to my eyes there was something more than merely hanging out. What could be the purpose of building such a monument to Western styles and products?

 

I asked Dewi and was expecting something profound, something that would give me insight into the Indonesian soul. But I found it was for the same reason many Americans go to a mall: they like to window shop. In other words, they like to see the products and imagine what it would be like to have them; they visualize a future time when they can afford them. They’re just like us in this respect. Although I’ve never understood the attraction of shopping without buying (since I’m of the “I came, I saw, I bought, I left” – mentality – a real Veni, Vidi, Vici type of person), it speaks to my central research question that there is fundamentally no difference between the types of aspirations Indonesians and Americans have, and how the shopping mall is an expression of an ideal of what our lives can be like. The Western dominated media seen around the world has imposed our vision of the good life on Indonesians as well as Americans. I just hope that Indonesia doesn’t lose what is uniquely good about itself in the quest to become like the rest of the world.

Ancient and modern

A western Sumatran style of architecture. Notice the many tangled electric lines. It’s like this throughout the city.

As a final note to the day, I thought about how some societies have built walls to keep others out, be they the Great Wall of China or the border patrols of the United States or the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea or unspoken rules that keep some types of people out of sight. Some walls, such as immigration restrictions and tariffs, are social instead of physical. Some are based on the fear of others and their “foreign ways.” This shopping mall represents the opposite; a kind of homogeneity of styles and cultures. There were many women dressed in western fashions, others wearing hijabs or even full burkhas, but all acting and shopping and laughing just like any crowd in a shopping mall in the United States. We can build walls of fashion or laws or customs and try to hide away from others, or hide others away from us, but we are more alike than not, more similar in beliefs and aspirations than we realize. I do not feel like a stranger or a foreigner here. I may not yet speak the language well, but I am learning and I feel a part of a common humanity in this city half way around the world.

Feed a man a fish

Feed a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.

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Jakarta Day 2: Sunday, July 16, 2017

Garuda pancasila

The Indonesian flag, with the golden Garuda holding the motto “Unity in Diversity” (old Javanese – Different but One). The five symbols in the shield are the Pancasila.

Now that we were all in Jakarta, we were ready to begin the final training for our field experiences at various schools across Indonesia. We spent the morning in a conference room at the Le Meridién Hotel learning about Indonesian customs and culture.

Dewi led our discussion. She began with a brief history of Indonesia, including the discoveries of Java Man, events leading up to Indonesian independence in 1945, and the governments of Sukarno and Soeharto. When the economy tanked in 1997, Soeharto was forced to step down and Indonesia has been a representative democracy ever since. She discussed the philosophy of Pancasila and the emblem of Indonesia, the Garuda bird with the shield divided into five sections representing the five principles of Pancasila: 1 – The Star, representing a unity of belief in one God (there are five recognized religions in Indonesia: Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism, and Protestant Christianity – of course, some of these five are polytheistic, such as Hinduism, so I’m not sure how the “one God” aspect works); 2 – The Gold Chain, representing a just and civilized humanity; 3 – The Banyan Tree, representing different roots growing into a common national unity; 4 – The Bull, representing a democracy based on the inherent wisdom of unanimity arising from deliberation among popular representatives; and 5 – The Rice and Cotton, representing social justice for all Indonesians.

We had a break with some tasty juices (pineapple and mango) and fried banana fritters and cookies.

Provinces-of-Indonesia-Map copy

The provinces (states) of Indonesia. They are divided into Regencies (counties) and Districts.

After the break, Dewi went on about some of the customs and the many diverse cultures around the islands. She is originally from western Sumatra but now teaches in Jambi, which is in eastern Sumatra. The major islands of Indonesia (Borneo, Java, and Sumatra) are called the Greater Sunda Islands and are large enough to have many cultures and dialects on the same island. Western Sumatra has unique food, architecture, and customs compared with eastern Sumatra or the more conservative Muslims of Aceh in northern Sumatra. Some ethnic groups or tribes live in the deep interior and have unique languages and customs.

A villager wearing traditional costume jumps over a stone

The tradition of jumping the stone on Nias Island. To prove one’s manhood, you get a running start and vault off of a foot stone and over the top. There is no soft bar that falls when you hit it. Just hard stone.

I checked out a video from our local library about traveling in Indonesia, which also covered some of these ethnic groups. One group on Nias Island off the west coast of Sumatra have a kind of high jump tradition to test one’s arriving at manhood – you get a running start, vault off of a standing stone, and must clear a hurdle about six feet high. Dewi and the video both spoke of other ethnic groups, such as the Toraja of Sulawesi who have houses shaped like the hulls of boats and don’t burry their dead for a year, the Betawi of Java with the traditional black “Soeharto” hat (I’ve got to get one of these) and who have the Ondel-ondel puppets, the saman dance of Aceh province, or the plate dance of West Sumatra, where they break the plates at the end and jump on them barefoot, the kecak dance of Bali, the wayang puppets of Yogyakarta, and other traditions.

There are perhaps 200 or more dialects throughout Indonesia, and Bahasa Indonesia has become the official language as a way of unifying all these cultures together. Most people speak and read it as well as their local dialect and some English or other international language. Teachers wear a khaki tan uniform on Mondays and Tuesdays, black pants and white shirts with ties on Wednesdays, local batik patterns on Thursdays, and more casual clothing on Fridays and Saturdays. School goes six days per week, although Saturdays are more for activities and clubs.

Dewi ended by talking about different Indonesian foods, such as beef rendang (a spicy beef dish from Sumatra), nasi goreng (fried rice), satay padang (rice cakes with sauce), soto (a noodle and rice stew), and bakso (meatball soup). She spoke of cendol, a drink made from sweet green beans and coconut, as well as other favorites. I expect to have the chance to try all of these over the next three weeks.

Beef rendang

Beef rendang, a spicy and savory dish from western Sumatra.

We would learn more particulars about the Indonesian education system tomorrow, but for now, our training was done for the day.

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Jakarta Day 2: Sunday, July 16, 2017

Trania

A mango-coconut-lime smoothie, or what I prefer to call “Tronia.” This is my obscure Star Trek reference for the day . . .

Now that I am in Jakarta my blog posts will be a bit different. I am actually writing up all of the posts as one document, which I will continue to edit throughout my journey before starting to post them. I am trying to write them as much “in the moment” as I can to retain how I feel about each experience, yet some days I am skipping over to get other moments of deeper feeling written before my memories fade. I want to retain as much of a chronological order as possible for these posts, so that you won’t be confused, so I am waiting to post them until they are all done. But although largely in order of what happened each day, they will become more topical as events reinforce each other. Some small details that aren’t enough to discuss on one day may add up to more important ideas later. So I’m not writing them in order, but will post them in order. Maybe it doesn’t make sense to you, but it will work for me.

So my first topic is the relationship between food and feeling “at home” in a country. I am all for trying out Indonesian dishes, within reason. I’m not about to eat something from a roadside stall where I can’t be sure of how hygienic it is, but if I’m reasonably sure it is safe, I’ll try it. But I also know that eating unfamiliar food for a long time can do more than test one’s intestinal fortitude. It can lead to major feelings of homesickness. On my LDS mission to southern Taiwan, my parents would send occasional care packages from home. I always requested foods such as buttermilk powder and maple flavoring that I couldn’t get in Taiwan, so that I could cook buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup. I really missed good pancakes, for some reason. All the other ingredients I could find, but not those two. Eating food from home from time to time helped me accept being a stranger in a strange land.

And of all meals, breakfast seems to be the one I missed the most. Yes, I enjoyed the occasional sou bing you tyau (long scones like churros wrapped in a sesame bun and dipped into sweetened soy bean milk) or mantou (steamed bread) or even syi fan (runny rice), yet I still came back to pancakes with maple syrup as often as I could get the ingredients. I became a great pancake cook, even though I had never really made them at home. It’s funny what you miss, and how a little home comfort food can help you feel better.

Breakfast

The breakfast buffet at the La Meridien Hotel. They have a little bit of everything, and it is all good. I especially liked the smoothies.

The Le Meridién Hotel has an excellent buffet for breakfast. On my first morning in Jakarta, after not sleeping as long as I had hoped (I woke up about 4:00 because my body thought it should be daytime), I wandered downstairs to the buffet at 6:30. It was good to shower and feel refreshed, but a good breakfast also helped with the psychological stresses of jet lag. I appreciated that the buffet included Indonesian and American foods (as well as some Chinese, Japanese, and other nationalities) so that I could try new things as I wanted but still have some comfort foods from home. There were pancakes and waffles (with maple syrup), an egg bar, pastries and donuts, and an array of more exotic choices. I tried many small samples to see what was good.

The mango-coconut-lime smoothie was excellent, and looked to me like Tronia from the Star Trek episode The Corbomite Maneuver. When I sent a picture of it to Becca, she posted it on Facebook and said anyone who could understand the reference deserved extra points. Terry Bruning, my old mission companion, said it looked like a drink a kid named Clint Howard might serve. Kudos to Terry for knowing it was Clint Howard who played Blayloc in the episode. He wins the obscure Star Trek reference prize for today!

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Jakarta Day 1: Saturday, July 15, 2017

Mie Yogya hot stuff

Mie Yogya, a very spicy dish of fried chicken, steamed rice, and vegetables. And I didn’t even add any sambal sauce.

We met in the lobby of the Le Meridién Hotel in Jakarta at 6:15 to board the bus to our welcome dinner. It was nice to see the other teachers, and they welcomed us and heard our tale of woe and our unexpected detour through Sydney. They arrived about 1:00 last night and at least had a good sleep all morning before heading to the National Monument this afternoon.

The restaurant was called Tjikini Lima, and we sat at a long table near the entrance and ordered various Indonesian dishes. I decided to try Mie Yogya, which turned out to be a very spicy chicken stew with steamed rice and carrots. It was delicious but my mouth was on fire. There is a good reason why they call these the Spice Islands. I was glad to have a water bottle, and I had also ordered a berry shake, which was more like an Italian soda in consistency but very good. It helped to cut the burn of the food. The flavor was amazing.

Welcome dinner

Some of the educators in the Teachers for Global Classrooms program at the Tjikini Lima restaurant in Jakarta, Indonesia.

I managed to stay awake enough through dinner, but found I was clumsy and very jetlagged – I dropped a bunch of utensils on the floor. Kate and Christie were kind enough to try to keep me talking and engaged, but I found I could not stop nodding off. I hope I can sleep well tonight.

Our in-country consultant is Dewi, a high school English teacher from Jambi on Sumatra. She is very funny and positive, the perfect host. We were also met by Novianti, the host teachers for Mike and Ursula, who will be staying in Jakarta for their host school experience.

Welcome dinner 2

Teachers at our welcome dinner for the Teachers for Global Classrooms program in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Once we got back to the hotel I headed for my room and fell asleep almost immediately. This has been a very, very long journey and my first time across the Pacific Ocean in over 36 years. I’m happy to finally be here in Indonesia. Except for some major jet lag, I am ready to go!

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