January 10, 2013

Jakarta and Away; The Next Two Years

Hola faithful readers. 

Blogger has been spectacularly uncooperative as I tried and failed, repeatedly, to post to you about our latest adventure. 

The pictures all broke, or posted bigger than this page, or not at all - and Blogger "help" provided truly mind bending tips like 'clear your cache' and 'try another browser'...



I have found a temporary home at Wordpress.  I don't know for how long, but if you are willing to follow here is the new blog address with the current post:


Hope to see you there!   

November 28, 2012

The Oven Chronicles

All Indonesians have staff unless they ARE staff, and expats consider having staff one of the main reasons to live here. 

Except we don't. 

There is an instant rise in my blood pressure whenever I'm speaking with an expat who wants to commiserate about trying to live life normally with an audience (sorry, can't relate- pathologically private, don't have staff) and who simultaneously whines about the calamity of not having staff for holiday periods or on Sundays. 

This love/hate relationship with staff is something I'm completely hate/hate about.

We need to be comfortable in our own home.  We need to fight and sweat and be amorous or unreasonable without witnesses.  We are private to an extreme about so many aspects of our lives and value time alone together without censoring ourselves or having to behave in a manner that would make our mothers proud. 

So no house staff.  Period.   

Household staff is such a common thing here that my security guards are the talk of the street because we have no staff and they are considered both lucky and underprivileged. 

They get to run their own space, but they also have to clean their own toilet and care for the floors and wet kitchen.  

They don't get treats and leftovers from our cook because I'm the cook.

They don't get to flirt with the pembantu (pem-bahn-too)- the maid, because I'm the only maid that works here, and I'm the Ibu!

But no bossy woman is telling them what to do in their work space.  They decide how to set things up and when to take care of their business.

Hardest of all for them, we inconveniently leave them to explain to tradesmen, service workers, and others that they will have to return when Pak and Ibu are home because there is no one to let them into the house or watch them while they work.

This sounds easier than it is because they are speaking with people completely unfamiliar with the idea of NO household staff. We imagine they often have to give us up as crazy people in sheer exasperation.

The landlord provides outdoor help as part of our lease (as much to protect his investment as for our convenience).  We have a pool man who comes three times a week and waves to me cheerfully through our wall of windows as he circles the pool. 

We have a gardener who is perhaps the laziest, least qualified employee on Java who spends his time listlessly sweeping leaves while checking his texts. 

And we have an army of repairmen who service the ACs, repair the leaks (a never ending stream of new ones each rainy season), and basically take care of the household tweaks. 

While it's nice not to have to mow the grass or sweep the pool, even having people outside the house is an invasion for us... especially in this house o' windows.

These are the guys with virtually no English language and when I speak Bahasa Indonesia to them they either act like I'm speaking Venusian or get all happy and start jabbering back to me at lightning speed while I helplessly repeat single words I've caught in their monologue. 

The best and worst example of this is The Day the Oven Repairman Came...

We have a monstrous stove/oven combo, the pride of our landlord who apparently buys them in bulk for his rental homes and considers them the SubZero equivalent of gourmet stoves. It has five burners and a glass cover and takes up way too much real estate for its purpose, but oh well.

We move in, I cook, all is well. Flash forward two years and a month.

Oven stops heating enough to even melt cheese. We go to Ace, get an oven thermometer, test oven.

Preheat one hour at 200º C; actual oven temperature: 100º C. 

Call landlord. Landlord sends regular appliance guy on landlord payroll. We do some binglish conversation and he realizes he is out of his depth, ovenwise.

Landlord sends repairman from oven manufacturer. Forget the binglish, he is all Bahasa Indonesia.

He and I sit on the floor in front of the stove. He lights the oven and the broiler at the same time. Leaves my thermometer in oven, adds his own.  Shuts door.  We wait.

45 minutes later, oven is 100º.  An hour later oven is 115º. 

I explain that for a casserole I will need 150º and for baked potatoes I would need more like 200º.  He shows me a drop down door at the bottom of the oven that I had never seen and which was never mentioned in the instruction book that came with the oven.  He tells me to open it for "macaroni" and close it for "daging" (dah-ging)- meat.

Whatever.  Not the problem.  115º after an hour is the problem. 

He looks at the thermometers again.  120º after 1 hour 15 minutes.

He nods his head, looks me right in the eye and says in his Bahasa, "You didn't understand how to use the oven. Now you do."

Because of the little door at the bottom.

I explain that I knew how to use the oven very well for two years, but now it's not working properly.

He explains that the oven is older now and will take longer to heat up.

I explain that 90 minutes to reach a lower temperature than I need is not acceptable.

He explains that I just need to open the little door for macaroni and close it for daging.

Tunggu.  (toon-goo)  Wait.

I call Ted's office and have him grab a bilingual speaker for me.  I explain the morning's activities and ask her to give him my side of the story.

They speak for 4 or 5 minutes.

He returns the phone to me and my translator says:

"He says you don't know how to use the oven."

Oh. Okay, thanks.

To credit the guy, even though he has no clue what is wrong and prefers to place the blame on me, he also figures I'm a moron because in his lifetime, he has never seen an expat cook. We don't know how, that's what people have staff for. Obviously if I'm too stupid to hire staff, I'm really too stupid to cook. 

Polite goodbyes all around. New call to landlord- technician come and gone, oven not working, technician an idiot, don't know what to do.

Landlord sends personal payroll guy back.  He and I sit on floor in front of oven and watch it not heat up.

He points to the timer dial and asks me what it is. 

I explain and try to keep the dismay off my face.

We go out to the garage and mess with the regulator hose from the propane tank to the house.

Oven heats up almost imperceptibly faster.  Hrmm. Regulator/tank problem?

Payroll guy jumps on this solution.  We agree to say it's the regulator.

Oven is still not working right, but I made meatballs last night.  Slow cooked, dessicated meatballs, but safely done to medium well.

I have no doubt that if I had a cook like I'm supposed to she would have harangued the technician until I had a working oven, even if it took 6 months and an endless parade of useless repair men, but in the big scheme of things I think I will just bone up on my grill skills and get better at microwaved baked potatoes.

November 7, 2012

Borobudur, An Indonesian Field Trip

Three day weekends are always a good time for road trips, and even though Indonesia celebrates their holidays on the holiday and not on Mondays like the U.S. we still manage to get some of them on a Friday or Monday.

This year Idul Adha was on Friday, so we headed out to Central Java and one of the world's largest Buddhist Temples therein...

This is Candi Borobudur (chahn-dee bore-oh-boo-dooer) or Borobudur Temple.

This sucker was built around the year 800.

Eight. Hundred.

And then when the Muslims moved down into Java, the Buddhists decamped for Bali and just left this giant temple behind to be swallowed up by the jungle.

And it was.

Then the Colonial Dutch tripped over it, said "Whoa, this is really old!" and proceeded to make gifts of bits and pieces of it to the King of Siam.

Anyway... fast forward to the 20th century and Indonesian Independence.  They recognized Borobudur for what it is and asked UNESCO to help them with it.  UNESCO agreed and spent 7 years restoring it so Ted, me, and thousands of our closest friends could visit.

About two months after we moved here in 2010, Mount Merapi, an active volcano, erupted all over the temple and surrounding areas killing more than 350 people and displacing 100 times that many.  The temple was covered in ash and recovery was a slow and expensive one, but now things are back to normal (if you ignore the dead trees on some of the surrounding hillsides and the abandoned villages in the new 'dead zone').

Merapi frequently spends its time shrouded in cloud cover, and this weekend was no exception, so while we hoped for a little thrill from a smoking burping volcano, we got nothin'.

But we were in a good position for Borobudur.  Our stupendously overpriced hotel placed us directly in the path of the temple...

...standing on the walkways between bungalows and looking out past the hotel property, there is a bump dead center between the walls.  That, my friends, is Borobudur.

Our plan was to get up before the roosters and join all the other dumbasses who trek to the temple in the dark so they can be in place, at the top of the temple, for the sunrise.

For this privilege(!) we paid extra, over and above the normal entrance fee.

My only comment here is to remind you of our friend P.T. Barnum and his famous quote.

To be fair to ourselves, though, there was a slight benefit to falling for the Dawn At Borobudur hype- the temperature was in the mid 70s and the crowds were never going to be thinner than they were at dawn, but still...

Suckers Unite and keep telling people how awesome it was so no one will find out that you have more money than brains.  :)

Since we were watching the sun from the temple, it was basically just another sunrise.  Not that I wasn't grateful to be around to see another sunrise, but witnessing it from the temple was just not a high point in my day, let alone my life.

But the temple itself... now that is worth the effort.

This is a side view of the temple.  The stairs go straight up the middle...

Standing closer and looking up at the temple...

 And a detail of the stairs...

Let me just point out that the stairs are neither uniform, nor OSHA approved.

While I was later able to appreciate the engineering and artistic accomplishments of the builders, on my intitial climb to the fifth level of the temple I was simply a blithering, swearing, bag of sweat, cursing the man who thought the two block high steps were a good idea.

Some of these steps were mid calf in height on me and I'm six feet tall! The people who built and worshipped here were substantially shorter than me.  They still are.  How on earth did they make this climb?

I think this must be some Buddhist test of enlightenment, and I failed miserably.  Ted had to reach behind himself more than once and offer his hand (attached to a strong arm and back) to help haul my sorry butt up these stairs (remember, these are just some of the stairs for ONE level and there are FIVE levels in total).

Once you reach the top, you are treated to "stupas" or as we called them "Buddhas in a Bell".

Each of these stupas contains a Buddha statue.

And looking out beyond the stupas is fairly rewarding also...

Here's some details of the Buddhas in a Bell...

Buddha toes...


Buddha-in-a-Bell (opened for us tourists)

Of course, as with any shrine/edifice/historic monument there is a need to place signs... in this case DILARANG MEMANJAT (dee-lah-rang mem-ahn-jaht) reminding people not to climb on the antiquities.

Does it have any better effect on Indonesians than it does on Americans or Germans or Africans?  Nope.

Thankfully, while we were there all the people who got yelled at for climbing were not pale faced tourists, but Indonesians.  It's somehow better when foreigners aren't the ones who are badly behaved...

The very tippy top of the temple is a larger stupa that is supposed to harbor an unfinished Buddha (symbolic of the unfinished trip down the path of enlightenment)...

...but which is empty.  No one is sure why it's empty or how long it's been empty because the first guy to trip over the temple didn't bother to write down anything he saw or found.  :(

Now. Aside from the B-in-Bs there are tons of Buddhas just hanging out on the temple in six different hand postures denoting everything from charity to courage to the turning of the wheel of dharma.

Some heads fall off. Some are given as presents by people to whom they didn't belong in the first place.  Some just disappear.

And lots of lions, who are supposed to fly you to Nirvana except wings are hard to carve so they don't have any...

So if you are Buddhist and are here to worship, you can walk clockwise around the five levels of the temple, keeping the temple wall on your right, and see the whole story of the Buddha's life in carved relief panels.

The first level contains four separate graphic novels, and requires four circuits of the path totalling 2 miles.

There is a serious amount of information contained in this 1200 year old structure.

And no trip would be complete without some engineering wonder for my own personal enginerd, so I present to you the method employed to keep these stones together through earthquakes, rain, volcanoes and subsidence:

They notch the stones and connect them with a butterfly stone, thus holding them tight together.

Uh uh uh.

I'm impressed, aren't you?

The final fascination at the temple was the "Hidden Foot".  This is the base of the temple, the foundation for the five levels of enlightenment, and the panels on this level all depict the many many ways that humans can screw up their path to Nirvana.

This level is supposedly lousy with pictures of all kinds of debauchery and pirate behavior- the level we are pretty sure we occupy on the path to enlightenment.

But we are not allowed to see the panels on this level because ages ago, the Head Guy of the Province the temple is located in apparently thought they would incite naughtiness or encourage us to try new things in a sort of historical JackAss prequel and had them covered up...

So on one tiny corner of the temple, they have uncovered some of the panels from the hidden foot (presumably not the naughtiest bits) to show a cutaway of the structure.

The stones in the center of the picture that look like stacked RR ties have been cut to show the Hidden Foot, but normally are continuous around the base of the temple, covering the panels from sight.

And there you have it!

Later that day we found some elephants to ride, and did.

Here's my scale model on his elephant "Eta",

Note his 1975 Ford seat belt.

Elephant back view of Borobudur.

And lest you think we spent all our time being culturally enlightened, never fear!

The hotel offered us the opportunity to knock back a few local Soursop martinis while lounging in the rice paddies (and yes, we know that isn't rice... it's out of season.  We didn't care.)

So as a farewell photo, I give you my Scale Model kicking back after the first of his three (3) martinis.

September 4, 2012

Eastern and Orient Express(ish)

Once again, we took advantage of our location to see Asia a different way...

A quick flight to Bangkok set us up to begin a train trip back down the Malaysian peninsula to Singapore on the Eastern and Orient Express.  

That name is just a guideline, the Express part means they don't stop at every station and take on passengers... but the trip itself lasts four days and three nights. 

That's less than two hours by jet up, 90 hours by train back.  

So Express is solely demonstrated in the number of stops, which is a good thing when you are ensconced on a turn of the century train full of really good food and endlessly entertaining scenery.  

We had a few days in the beginning in Bangkok to wander around and soak up the atmosphere, so of course we hopped on a boat (water taxi) and headed for the giant reclining Buddha at Wat Po ...

My scale model checking boat schedule...

Buddha head...

Buddha head closer...

Buddha body...

Buddha feet...

Bottom of Buddha feet...

Giant Reclining Buddha. Quite the little tourist attraction.

Here's a couple pics of the detail in some of the temple:

We got there pretty early in the day and it was starting to get really busy even then.  Our admission price of 100 Baht (about $3.50) got us entry to the temple, gardens, a free bottle of ice cold water and a frozen washcloth.

We put our spare change into an offering box that allowed us to take a bowl of token coins and walk down a line of bigger bowls, dropping coins into them a couple at a time.  We assume we were getting luck, or wisdom or some kind of Asian spiritual uplift.  We didn't really care because it was just fun to do.

Over the next couple of days, we wandered and dallied and rode boats and trains...

We were walking.  A little lost.  Still havin' fun...

Boats, temples, questionable water...

Three fun pics:

These guys are at one of the water taxi stops.  You can buy food to give them, but we didn't need to- everyone else did.  The fish just flop all over each other trying to get the food... it's bizarre.

These are flood stairs.  They are everywhere in Bangkok, at least near the river. Like urban 'stiles' to get you over little flood walls- in hotels, on walkways, on docks.

Usually about two feet high, sometimes higher in the hotels. Good idea, but as CNN shows us every year, not good enough. 

Train station on the "Sky Train" monorail in Bangkok.

If you are related to me by blood, you will probably find this worth a chuckle.

Everyone else can maturely scroll on...

So eventually, our Bangkok tour led us to the train station where we were pleased and amused to find this guy...

...surprising number of dogs hanging around a country that considers them dim sum ingredients.  We aren't sure what's up with that.  But this one was happy enough.

There was a trackside barber shop that we were also pleased and amused by...

"Late for your train but forgot to get your hair cut? No problem! Let us cut it for you trackside!"

And here is the Eastern and Orient Express Train itself waiting to whisk us away into the last century...

The observation car was at the end of the train and we were in carriage 'A' which was the next car up.  Yippee! It's like being on the last car of a roller coaster and way more fun.  :)

They kindly provided a map of our journey in the Library car, so I include the map and then the map being photo bombed by my scale model...

(click them to make them bigger, both for the route and to better see the Bomber)

Our compartment was standard train issue, but since they are so much fun, I am just going to include a buncha pictures of it...

Origami beds in daytime...

Stretched out with Ted as a backrest, watching the countryside go by at a rattling 40mph.

Munchkin sink...

Munchkin toilet (facing the shower which was actually pretty good sized)...

The hallway of our carriage...

This is the open air observation car.  My scale model is demonstrating proper use.

Improper use is when you stand at the open parts and stick your head out.

Which is what we usually did. 

This is the reading car.  Books provided.  There is a hallway outside so people aren't trooping through while you relax.

There was also a saloon car, a bar car, and three dining cars.  But you get the idea, right?

Here is the train looking back...

Or actually, the train looking forward.  In any case, it's the whole train.  

We got these cool Thai flowers when we boarded...

and we placed them on a pair of graves at the cemetery for the men who didn't survive the forced labor camps on the River Kwai.

The train stopped on the bridge on the River Kwai so we could get off and take a tour down the river and into the Thailand Burma museum for the WWII POWs there.  

The river isn't actually the River Kwai, and of course the bridge the prisoners built was blown up by the Allies, but despite the misnomer (Hollywood strikes again!) this was the actual location (and the Thai gov't got around the pesky problem by renaming a short section of the actual river "Kwai" since that is what people come looking for)... 

...and that's our actual train on the not actual Bridge Over the (not really) River Kwai.  :)

The museum was very interesting and very sobering.  The cemetery is just next to it, and thanks to meticulous records the Allied soldiers who died there are all identified and given individual graves.  Not so lucky the Asians- (Thai, Malaysian, Burmese) they were cremated and rest en masse in urns near the temple.  

Back on the train, some random shots as we clattered down the peninsula, eating way too much, drinking just enough, and banging into walls everywhere we walked.

And a nice shot of my scale model doing a commercial for the company...

It was a really interesting way to see the Malay Peninsula and it was fun to be on a sleeper train again.  We met some interesting people, and some people who were interesting simply for being kind of... oddly boring.  

It was a truly international mix of passengers, and one night we ate with a British couple doing time in Brunei... but that's a whole other blog.  

Fun times in Asia!