Sunday, June 17, 2007

Climb On

Yes, I'm climbing again.

This was taken a couple of weeks ago at a spot near Bandung, about a three hour drive from the capital. The rock is a cool mix of limestone and marble. You can see on the right a cave feature which, if I'm not mistaken, was transformed into marble by intense pressure. It's really great rock to climb - I've never felt anything like it - but it's a bit slippery and tiring for the hands if you have to pinch. This route is called "Ani", and it's rated as a "5.10c". That's hard. None of us got to the top of the route, but we had a blast trying.

There's sort of a loose but growing group of foreign and Indonesian climbers in Jakarta, led by our guru Panji, pictured below on the far right.

From left to right: Troy, Chad, John (back), Christian (back), Dave, Panji. Taking the picture is Boi, who is the best climber of the group after Panji. Panji, by the way, is a professional climber and has competed in the X-games. He's really a rock celebrity and we all owe him a lot for giving us his time and expert coaching.

Here’s a good shot of the valley and John taking a big swing over it. I met John before coming to Indonesia because of a question we posted on the expat forum about climbing in Jakarta. It took us just about a year to actually start climbing, but in the meantime he’s become one of our best friends here. You can see that the marble in this area has attracted some industry. The factory below makes marble tiles, and you can see some excavation in the distance where a "v" notch has been cut into the mountain.

If you get a chance, you should also check out Mr. John's blog, linked on the right of this page.

Land of Cheese

Indonesians sometimes say white people smell like cheese.

I’ve asked around.

It’s true that I find Indonesians rarely have any detectable body odor. Every once in a while, I’ve observed, an unfortunate individual smells really, really bad. A good portion of that population have been in uniforms, and I think it might have to do with wearing the thick polyester sometimes used for official Busway costumes or similar positions. Leather jackets sometimes produce the same effect.

In any case, I can’t say I find foreigners smell particularly worse than Indonesians. I’ve had plenty of time standing elbow to elbow on crowded buses to collect data.

So I wonder of there’s something genetic at work here, or perhaps there’s a key dietary difference. Indonesians don’t eat much cheese. In fact, it’s pretty hard to get here. Maybe there are smell-producing hormones in the vegan-bane agent called renit?

Maybe we sweat more before we’ve acclimated to the heat?

I’ve had one Indonesia friend suggest that the PH level in our skin is more acidic.

Maybe they’re just being mean.

I’ve also heard that Japanese people say white people smell like rotting meat. At least here we smell like something palatable. I've dispatched a correspondent, Nick B., to investigate these claims. He'll be spending a month teaching English and polling Tokyo about his olfactory effect.

I’m wide open to suggestions and amateur research projects on this.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to the trip home. It’ll be nice to be in the land where everyone smells like cheese.

Errand Epics

Okay folks, I’m going to post a few entries before I head to Maine with one goal in mind: to head off any whinging about my lack of posts.

So I’d like to start with a short language misadventure story from last week. As luck would have it, my Indonesian visa ran out just five days before our flight to the US. So I had to schedule a quick round-trip to Singapore to extend my stay through next week. We have a favorite travel agency at Plaza Semanggi (or “Planggi” if you’re trying to conserve syllables) one of the more Indonesian-style malls. They’re pretty good, but they don’t speak English. Herein sets the stage for my language adventure.

After some clumsy negotiating, I find a flight for Friday, the last day of my valid visa. The young agent asks in slang-y Indonesian when I would like to return: “blah mau blah kembali blah kepan?” Oh, I say, return the same day; “Hari sama.” Ok, says she, blah blah blah blah Friday? Um, says I, yes. Hari sama. I want to come back in the evening of the same day if possible.

Well, it turns out that I had confirmed a return flight for the next Friday. Apparently “same day” only refers to a day with the same name, not necessarily the same place in time.

That itinerary would put me in Singapore for more than a week. In fact, it would mean that I’d have to miss my flight to Boston.

How does it end? Well I’m back in Jakarta and getting ready to leave on Wednesday. The travel agent changed my flight while I was on my way to Singapore for no extra charge. I had a nice Indian vegetarian lunch at my favorite Changi airport restaurant, and got back to Jakarta in the evening.

There have been so many little errand-gone bad adventures over the last year. It’s a funny class of travel story, because they’re sort of hard to tell. The best travel stories have some kind of real disaster or unintended hardship, but they’ve got to be big enough to bother mentioning. In Jakarta among other expat friends, the errand-gone-bad story has a big market. We swap them all the time. Scary motorcycle taxi rides, accidentally ordering food you don’t want, getting stuck in a traffic jam for four hours in the rain.

“Today I tried to go see a movie but there were no English subtitles. You should have seen the drama that ensued when we walked out and asked to see another movie instead.”

That’s a true story. Happened to our friends. The manager called a meeting and blamed the poor couple for failing to realize their error before the movie started. It ends as well as many such stories do. Instead of a French art film , they saw Spiderman III.

It’s not a Joseph Conrad narrative, but those moments can feel just as alienating and desperate and even exotic. They’re hard. Little punctuated moments in the story arc of our adjustment.

Sometime, I’ll tell you the one about my trip to the post office where I had to check in at seven different desks to mail a letter.