Saturday, September 5, 2009

Week 1: Jakarta, Bandung, new faces, kupu kupu malam


The journey is over and the orientation begins. We arrived on Sunday and spent most of the week sheltered in our spacious hotel from the monster, Jakarta. Jakarta is disheveled and unwieldy. The slums stretch for miles and the canals are filled with trash. The streets are filled with trash too. The traffic is darwinian. The shroud of smog is ever present and suffocates the lungs and the eyes. If you listen carefully, you can hear the call to prayer throughout the day.

Nellie and her staff at AMINEF along with director Mike McCoy introduced us to various parts of Indonesian government and life. We spent each morning (with a long coffee break) in the hotel conference room. We heard more about Fulbright's goals for us and met another Fulbright group, the EFLs, a group of thirtysomething professional teachers who are going to be here teaching Indonesian teachers at Indonesian universities. Fun fun.

After 1:30 or so each day, we had time to gambol about the hotel and city. On Sunday I slept and ate in. Monday I went shopping at Mangga Dua square, an ENORMOUS mall (the first of many). This mall was sort of a microcosm of Jakarta; it meandered endlessly with more meager stores. It was the poor man's Grand Indonesia (see Wednesday). Tuesday I went out to Bats, an expatriate bar at the Shangrila hotel. The live band was awesome. The ETAs and ELFs were there in force, and we danced all night. The hookers and old white guys were really creepy. Wednesday we went to the Grand Indonesia, the biggest mall I've ever been in and ridiculously ostentatious. It was an upscale American mall in the middle of downtown Jakarta. I didn't want to, but I couldn't help feeling at home when I stepped in. American stores at American prices ($5 for Cold Stone ice cream). We walked around for a while and I even saw a $900 pair of jeans. That's 9,000,000 rupiah. Talk about stark contrast with miles after miles of abject poverty only blocks away - fully visible through the huge windows on the upper floor of the mall with the cinema. Thursday I rode public transportation, mostly buses, with Nina to the Fathony's house south of the hotel. We stopped at an ATM where I learned that Indonesians can refill their SIM cards (for their cell phones) as well as withdraw cash. The streets came alive with people as darkness signaled the breaking of the fast. The call to prayer sounded as Nina and I walked the final blocks to her house. This was when I first felt I was really in Indonesia. We had dinner and I got to hang out with Nina and her two brothers, Herul, Sabina, Nina's felt like home. I learned 1,000 words of bahasa Indonesia in my brief time before they drove me back to the hotel. Friday morning we departed for Bandung.


We all got cell phones (081 395 158246) and more information on the many maladies available here. If I get a fever and it lasts for 3 days, I should absolutely get a stool sample read. However, if I get a fever and I suspect malaria, I should get a stool sample after 2 days! And if I take Ammodium, it will mask the critical elements of the stool test. Great!

Bandung is cloudy after midmorning, surrounded by mountains. There are lots of shops here - I went to a secondhand store and found guitars for $30. I bought a good watch for $23. I'm holding off on the guitar until I can do some more comparison shopping. Had some delicious food upstairs at Riau Junction, and bought some snacks at the supermarket on the ground floor.

Crossing the street in this country is madness. Basically, you have to wait for a native to come along who also wants to cross the street and follow their lead. For some reason the traffic always seems to lighten up enough for pedestrians when Indonesians want to cross. Perhaps this is because they just step into the road and force cars and bikes to slow down. I feel like I'm in a real life game of Frogger on very hard.

I got to spend some time shopping Saturday on my own and making friends with Indonesians wherever I went. They are the friendliest people I have ever met. My poor attempts at bahasa Indonesia are always met with encouraging smiles.

A final note about the people: the ETAs are a very diverse and interesting group - 32 American college graduates from all over the US. We have been playing get-to-know-ya tag, spending time with each other and friendships slowly forming. I feel good about how our country will be represented here.

I will try to update this each week, and hopefully incorporate some pictures. Please feel free to send along the URL to anyone who you think might be interested in following my journey. I am not working for the government and what I say does not reflect the US Department of State.

1 comment:

  1. Great writing, Pete. I really enjoyed reading it. It also gives some new perspectives. Will be looking forward to new updates.