September 23, 2010

Local Transport

First rule: when in Indonesia, let the Indonesians drive you.  

We drove ourselves around Ghana a lot of the time, but even there we let Duke do the tricky parts.

Indonesia is an entirely different matter.  Plenty of expats drive themselves here, and a small number of them are actually able to do it well, but it's just not worth the frustration and risk.  

Four things complicate the driving experience here- right hand drive (left side of the road), massive, and I mean massive, traffic loads (including using the stripes as guidelines rather than lanes), the language barrier, and thousands of random, suicidal motorcyclists.

We have driven on the left (when we lived in Australia), we have driven in demolition derby traffic (when we lived in Africa), but we cannot speak enough Bahasa yet to read all the signs or talk our way out of an altercation, and the motorcycles... well, think of a video driving game where you not only have to drive like a stunt man, you have to avoid random motorcyclists who weave through traffic like crazed mosquitoes.   

Ted and I accepted the company provided car and driver with thanks, and now sit placidly in the back seat reading or having a conversation while Ivan expertly navigates us to our requested destination.  We are independent, but not stupid.  

Now, on workdays our driver has an eleven hour day (not including his personal commute) just ferrying Ted around, but we like to go out to dinner on Friday, and there's the rub.  

Our solution last Friday was to get a ride to dinner and then release our driver and take a taxi home.  It was a good plan and made our driver visibly happy so all was well.

We had a really nice dinner, and relaxed at an upstairs window table watching the world go by for a couple of hours, then found ourselves in the parking lot, on our own, in a hot humid country with no sidewalks and narrow streets, in the dark.  

We did not see any taxis around and as Ted checked his phone for the taxi number I spotted a long line of bajaj-mobiles. This picture is of a nice new shiny bajaj- at least compared to most, but you get the idea...

We were only about 1.5 miles from home and we quickly decided it was time to start living Indonesian.

The bajaj rank was on the street just outside the parking lot, and we walked up to the first one in line. Its driver hopped up to speak with us and we agreed on a price of 20,000 rupiah (about $2.25).  That's more than twice what a local would pay, and just a dollar or so less than a real taxi with doors and AC would cost, but he was there, he was willing, and we were fueled with beer courage.  

We climbed in, being careful not to make the tears in the plastic upholstery worse, and our driver slammed the little half door and jumped into his seat over the single front wheel.  He has a handle bar instead of a steering wheel, and as we waited breathlessly for our ride to begin he leaned down, grabbed the same kind of pull cord you see on outboard motors and gave it a yank.  Vrooooom!  Gentleman, start your engine.  

As we headed home, making go cart noises and belching blue smoke, we found it hard to believe we had just voluntarily climbed into this tiny spewing multi-passenger lawnmower.  We were out in traffic with all the cars and motorcycles,  imitating a rolling speed bump as we lurched down the left side of our neighborhood streets... 

There is a fairly good hill between our house and the restaurant, and I wasn't sure we were going to make it all the way up as we lost speed and the engine slowed, but, surprise!, our bajaj had a lower gear and we crested the hill with putt to spare.  

The street our house is on is very narrow and hard to point out, so we had him let us off at the corner and we walked the half block to our house with our butts still vibrating and stupid grins on our faces.  

September 20, 2010

Little Bits 1.0

Just a short note to share a chuckle.   

We have yet to visit a country outside the USA that didn't offer us the opportunity to purchase Pringles.  With the exception of Coca-Cola it's my opinion that Pringles is the single most exported food item from the USA.  

Asia is no exception to our experience, but what is unique about our current location is the newest in our collection of world flavors for Pringles. We have seen curry Pringles, chili Pringles, salt and vinegar Pringles... but yesterday at the store we found these:

Yep.  Those are seaweed Pringles.  

Now I'm actually not averse to seaweed as food;  I love it in sushi, and I've been known to creep out my kid with a seaweed and squid salad at the Japanese buffet,  but I'll probably give this new item a pass.  

Call me crazy.

September 14, 2010

Gulliver's Travels

We are officially on the other side of the world, and settling in as much as we can without our stuff.  The sea container left our house in Texas on September 1, so hopefully by Hallowe'en it will be here and things will be a little more normal and organized.  

This is always the annoying part of our moves... getting along (or 'camping' as Ted calls it) while we wait for the nuts and bolts of real life to catch up to us.  It's amazing how many things we take for granted until we don't have them.  Iced tea pitchers and clothes hampers, ironing board, files, reference books, tape, trash cans, hangers- all the minutiae of life that you don't notice until you don't have them.  

We resist the urge to re-buy things in the interim...

Meanwhile we are living with just the bare minimum of rented furniture and I'm cooking meals with two pans, two serving bowls and whatever utensils I could stuff in my checked duffel.  We will survive as we always do and this too will fade into memory like it always does.  

But why Gulliver you ask?  

Well.  As my nephew John is fond of pointing out, Indonesians are statistically a good deal shorter in stature than most people in the U.S..  Since I am about six inches taller than the 'average' American woman and Ted is about 4 inches taller than the 'average' American man, we now find ourselves giants in the land of Liliput.  

On the whole this isn't a problem, but a glaring exception is the kitchen.  My kitchen counters are 31 inches tall.  This is short for anyone in the U.S. (go ahead, measure yours, I'll wait...) but for tall people like Ted and me, this is laughably, unusably short.  

For your viewing pleasure, I include a picture of my scale model standing next to the kitchen sink.  


Please note that in order to sit on the counter Ted is not required to hitch his butt up onto it.  All he has to do is slide into place.  

And for laughs, you need to come visit and try to use our dishwasher... after living for three years without one in Africa, we decided the inconvenience coupled with the sink height would be a huge pain, and bought one for the landlord to install for us.  In order to make it fit, he had to dig four inches out of the kitchen floor.  Now to load it one must be able to arrange dishes while standing with one's head lower than one's belly button.

Thankfully, having noted the kitchen counter problem while househunting, I purchased a kitchen island in the U.S. and it will arrive with the rest of our things.  It will provide us with a few square feet of 36 inch high countertop on which to chop, dice, knead, and whatever else we like.  My back cannot wait.  

But lest you think Indonesians don't think big, I also include my scale model standing in one of the many doorways in our home...  

Once again I will say that Ted is taller than the average American male, and yet the door continues a good five feet past his head.  Like every door in this and almost every other house we looked at.  We have twelve foot ceilings with cupboards and cabinets that would be best reached with a library ladder.  

It's all very nice, if we could just levitate those kitchen counters.