Saturday, April 29, 2006


So I’ve been asked by a few readers to log a single 24 hours here, and I thought it’d be fun to pick my 35th birthday. Not really a typical slice of life, but I’m afraid ‘typical’ doesn’t describe many of my days here.

I woke up disoriented, with only one earplug in. I was also groggy from an underfed slumber. Just as we nodded off around the midnight preceding, a guy with lots of luggage turned the latch to our room and swung it open wide. ‘HEY! HEY! HEY!” Trish screamed. The guy fumbled and trembled as he reached in to close the door. I think he was concerned Trish might chop his hand off, or maybe even bite it. We laughed through the ensuing adrenaline spike, but a party of Indonesians followed the first guy up the stairs in what seemed an epic parade of flips and flops. They were noisy all night, and I was forced to resort to earplugs. I had one in each ear when I fell asleep.

Groped down a can of kopi su su, and got to my feet. Ate an apple. Ate a half bag of sweet spicy crunchy soy thingies. Don’t know what they’re called. Started up my laptop and read through a tape log for a story we’ve been working on about Merapi. Pulled some quotes to work with, and started working on an outline and an introduction.
10:00 Went out to the Indomart to get water, another kopi su su, and some chicken flavored potato chips. Chitato. We love Chitato. Also had a fried tofu square with rice from a kaki lima. We love the name kaki lima, because it means five feet. The first three are on the cart, and the other two are on the people that push them. Went back to the hotel to write some more and take a mandi down the hall. That’s like a shower where your pour water over yourself with a scoop from a little cistern in the bathroom. Water goes everywhere, so we’ve gotten used to walking into a bathroom that’s wet all over. It’s best not to wear just socks when you’re going to the bathroom here.

Packed up a load of our belongings, and walked them to our new apartment. Our landlord Ari was there, and he helped me get the bags up to the fourth floor. Then he asked me what I was going to do next(that’s the kind of question Indonesians ask you all the time) so I said I was going to eat lunch. He wanted to join me, so we went across the street to a sate warung under a tarp. I had ten sticks of chicken sate grilled over burning coconut husk coals, and drenched in a spicy sweet peanut sauce. For the first time, I ordered a kind of rice that’s compressed and boiled in banana leaves. It comes in a cylinder that’s dyed green from the leaf. It sort of looks like a tamale, but it’s chopped into medallions like a cucumber into the sate sauce. So good. Ari paid for the meal in spite of my protest. Costs about a dollar.

Went back to the hotel to get the remaining bags, and trundled them down the street to our new place. Bules carrying their own bags are a bit of a spectacle here. No one understands it when you want to walk somewhere, but if you’re carrying something, it’s much worse. I got more than a dozen offers for a taxi or other transport on my way around the corner. It’s like that all the time here.

Moving into the new place released a blossom of satisfaction that I didn’t really expect. We’ve been living in hotels for almost two months, and had a full measure of frustration with their managers. It felt like taking control of my life again. Having a place to leave things behind is easy to take for granted. I walked the perimeter of our place and took deep breaths several times before I could start unpacking. It’s so great to be home.

Went down to the street to find an ojek (motorcycle taxi) to an internet café, but ran into a friendly guy who wanted to know all about this new neighbor. He introduced me to an older guy named Robi, who he later said was the leader of our neighborhood. We’ll let you know when we figure out what that means. For now, we’ve been calling him The King Of The Town. That’s a Home Star Runner reference, for those of you who love obscure internet animation references. The first guy gave me a ride to the internet place (called ”Snappy”), and refused to take my money when he dropped me off. Then he said I would have to talk to Robi later. To ”register”.

At the Snappy, I got a rejection for one of my story pitches. Bummer. Have to find another place to sell it. Trish was online at work, so we chatted about a few things, and she comforted me about the pitch. She lost her cell phone, so we talked about what to do about it. Answered the rest of my email and went back Home, but not before I drowned my sorrows in a kopi su su and a piece of skinny Indonesian fried chicken (ayam goring).

More writing, more logging of tape on the laptop.

Watched sunset from the roof of our building. It’s an amazing place up there. Everything looks green and the city looks quiet. The sun sets fast, and left me on my own in the dark to climb down the narrow ladder. The Indonesian word for the Sun, by the way, is Mata Hari. It means ”the eye of the day”.

Trish came home and cried a little about our new apartment. I knew how she felt.Ari was in the bathroom installing our toilet paper dispenser. I’m not sure he knew how we felt, but we thanked him anyway.

Took a cab to Plaza Senayan to celebrate my 35th. It’s an upscale mall, and we thought it might have a martini place. First we ate at the food court. It’s a crazy place, and nearly impossible to find a table. I once walked around for half an hour before I decided to set my tray on a trash can and eat standing up. A woman sitting with two kids at a table for ten told me the seats were reserved. I nearly wept. But this time we found a table. I had Fanta Su Su – strawberry soda with condensed milk in it. Yeah. It’s a crazy Indonesian phenomenon, with which I’ve formed a bit of a habit. I also had a two dollar ”pepper steak” from an Australian chain. I’m pretty sure it was pork. Tasted every bit as good as airline food though. Trish had a Japanese noodle bowl with duck and beef streamers. That was really good.

We searched for a new place called Red Square which advertises vodka specialties. We found it, but it had been booked for the evening by a private party. Music was thumpy and lights were a swanky shade of violet. Trish edited an annoying review of it last week, so it’s clearly an expat invention. Maybe we’ll go there the next time we want to feel affluent.

Then we found a Gelato Bar (world class ice cream with style!). Trish had a sweet green and red thing called a shady lady, and I had a Lycheetini. Weak, but excellent. Happy birthday to me.

Returned Home and settled in to bed. We watched an episode of ”Lost” on my computer. The one where the castaways find out a stranger who wasn’t on the plane has infiltrated the group.

And that's how I became 35.