Saturday, October 25, 2014

I think I can, I think I can...

This week our little clan took a much needed break to Bali. We have been through a pretty intense year with our start up to the Foreign Service life style. 

If you count moving T to D.C. for training and our son F into his dorm room I have moved four times this year and still have one to go as we wait for our permanent housing.
T has been through training, moving, learning a new job and now lots of travel for said job. 
Z has been working on adjusting to a new school and just finished soccer season.
So, yeah, a week at the beach sounded pretty good.

Mostly we hung out at the beach, T and Z learned to surf. One was a little better than the other but I'll never tell who. We shopped at the cool boutiques, ate, napped.

Wednesday night however, at the suggestion of my friend J, who was in Bali with her kids, we made up for our slothful ways and decided to hike Mt. Batur. 

Now here are a few things you need to know about me before I tell you about our trip:

1) I cannot sleep in a car
2) I am not currently in the best shape I have ever been in. We will just leave it at that.

In order to hike this volcano and see sunrise, the point of the whole trip, we were to be picked up at 1 am on Wednesday night, or Thursday morning, you pick. So we ate an early dinner on Wednesday and tried to catch a few hours sleep before we had to meet the driver. I think I managed two hours.

Once our group was all together we were off into the darkness across the island. At this point only the driver and I were awake.

Our first stop was the meeting point for the tour company. A small coffee and fruit plantation. At 3 am they plied us with coffee, tea and banana pancakes while we waited for other groups to show up. Then they piled us into more cars for another 15 minute drive to the base of the mountain. 

It is still pitch black, about 3:30 in the morning and there were about 200 fellow crazy people wandering around in the parking lot. This was the time to use the toilet one more time, get a flashlight and rent your warm jacket or sweatshirt. The rental is a brilliant idea on the locals part since most people don't show up in Bali with warm weather gear and they keep telling you how cold it is on top of the mountain. I will say this though, if you do this and you are recently from northern climes, it's not that cold. The local guides are completely bundled up though and that's enough for you to shell out your $5 for the rental. I still think if they were really smart they would be selling sweatshirts that said "I climbed Mt. Batur"

Off we set off, in our individual groups and guides, into the darkness with only our flashlights and water. Our lead guide I believe is a natural long distance runner because the pace is set was very brisk to say the least. Also everyone in our little group is a reasonably conditioned athlete, except me, and we are headed up 5,633' at a nice little clip. I will also point out that I haven't slept except for the short little nap I had that evening. 

This is not my finest moment. My heart is quickly racing, and because they convinced me I needed a sweatshirt, I am over heating. God bless T who is willing to hang back with me while the rest of our group kept up their brisk pace but especially Komong, our 18 year old guide, who gently and patiently urged me up the mountain letting me take frequent rest breaks.

My critical moment came when we hit the half way point. Up to this point we had definitely been going up but as I looked ahead and saw the lights streaming in a decidedly vertical way I felt I just couldn't do it. My heart was already pounding so hard and I was finding it increasingly difficult to catch my breath, also I am exhausted since I didn't get any sleep in the car, so I promised them all I would be O.K. at the halfway stop and sent them on their way while I enjoyed the sunrise from a lower altitude. 

Streams of people passed me after that but eventually I felt like I was the only one one the mountain. I listened to the birds sing up the sun as well as the chants from the area Hindu temples. And then I watched the sunrise from my little perch.

This gave me plenty of time to think and I realized two things.

1) I shouldn't give up on myself.
2) If I was going to ever push my daughter in the future to work harder, I had to keep going up this mountain.

Since it was now daylight and I could see where I was going myself. Up I went. I took lots of breaks but I kept going and pretty soon I met up with some locals who make their business selling Cokes to climbers. They assured me I was only 10 minutes away from the top and this lovely, wizened man led me the rest of the way, all the time giving me encouragement and frequently trying to drag me till at last I put both feet over the top ledge and found both T and Komong who celebrated for me.

At the top I was able to see the volcanic crater, peer into the sacred cave where they still have Hindu ceremonies and enjoy an egg cooked in the volcano and a banana sandwich.

The hike down was much easier but I will say I was humbled watching locals as they worked their way up for the aforementioned Hindu ceremony, most in flip flops, at least one barefoot and all with large baskets of goods on their heads.

 Later on, back in Seminyak where we were staying, Z and I rewarded ourselves with Balinese foot baths/ massages/ pedicures, pretty amazing. But the best part of the day is when I put two feet on top of that mountain.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Too Many D@*% Zeros

I currently have 314,000 Rupiah in my wallet. Sounds like I'm rich! Frankly, by Indonesian standards you could say I do fall generally into that category. But really I am only carrying about $31.

I am still trying to get used to the local currency and the constant mathematical acrobatics  I am doing in my head. 

I have traveled rather extensively so I am reasonably used to the colorful cash that I am carrying around. The pinks, bright greens and blues don't really phase me. It's really all those zeros.

Most of the countries I have traveled to use something that is similar to a dollar type currency, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, The Euro all over Europe and the British Pound. 

Maybe it is because T is paid in U.S. dollars, but we are constantly thinking of what the cost is in our native currency and all those zeros make me think harder than I would like to and also attribute to potentially paying more than you think. 

An example from one of my neighbors:
Nina was shopping for gifts to send home to friends and family. She had selected a scarf for her mother with one of the beautiful local batik designs. The cost came up 4000000, please note there are never commas. She miscounted the zeros and thought it was about $40 and completely reasonable but by missing that last zero it turns out it was closer to $400!

The other catch. I keep using vague terms like "about" in figuring out the exchange. Currently 100000 IDR are worth $8.18 but most of us find it mentally easier to use the 100000 IDR = approximately $10...only better in our favor. 

I wish I could tell you I think it will get easier. It has some but I think given Nina's example I will always question myself during every transaction.

There is also the twist of the predominately cash economy. Many places don't take plastic so you need to have stacks of cash. Add to that the fact that most ATM's only spit out 100000 or 50000 IDR which is a lot of money for some transactions. 

Another example: 
I love fresh flowers and there are lots of local markets selling them, note we are not talking about the traditional florist you would see in the States but think more like permanent  farmer's markets. I have found that I can get 10 stems of my new favorite flower, tuber rose, for 40000 IDR ($3.27). The thing is you don't want to hand the guy 100000, he probably won't be able to make change. Also if you just negotiated him to that price you really don't want to now ask him to make change. 

Next week for an added bonus I am headed to Malaysia for a few days! Their exchange rate is closer to 10 MYR to $3 U.S. I hope all these acrobatics are making my brain stronger!

Current Cash on hand using the official conversion =$25.70

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Exploring Batavia

A picture is said to be worth a thousand words. With that in mind I will be sharing many with you today.

This week I had my fist official meeting of the Indonesian Heritage Society's study group for Historical Structures. The goal of the group is to meet twice a month while different members do presentations on different historical structures and the culture tying in to the building. These presentations can be at the actual location or, since Indonesia covers approximately the same area as the United States, by power point type presentations

We met at Cafe Batavia, a beautiful old cafe that is centered in a square in the area where the port city of Batavia that was to become Jakarta was founded in 1620.
After a brief history of the area over coffee we headed out to explore a few old buildings. 

Before I share the pictures here is an interesting fact: These are protected historical structures. They can't be torn down. However, because of Indonesian law, they can only be renovated back to their original use. For example a bank must be restored back into a bank. That means these beautiful old buildings are mostly crumbling down. The other catch, while they can't be torn down if they fall down they can be replaced by a new building, and Indonesia is located on the most active seismic area of the world. Given the cost of renovation, the size of these buildings and Jakarta's apparent love of gleaming sky scrapers my bet is on the eventual crumbling and replacement.

Another interesting historical note. This area was settled by local Indonesians, Europeans and Chinese. In the 17th century the life expectancy wasn't very long...but somehow the Chinese seemed more immune.  The Dutch figured that is was all the tea the Chinese consumed so they started eating tea leaves. What they didn't figure out is that is was because the Chinese were boiling the water to make their tea. So much for the scientific method.

Images from inside Cafe Batavia, built between 1805-1850.

Old house taken over by a tree

Old bank building, 1920's

Cloisters around the bank

Art Deco glass. This can only be seen from the inside.
Images are Tobacco, Rice, Sugar, Tea, Rubber

Toko Merah, old double house. Built for family on one side and mother-in-law on the other.
Built in 1730. One of the oldest buildings in Jakarta.

Current interior of Toko Merah. You are looking at the M-i-L's side with newer openings between the two houses. It's currently a "museum" and event space.

"Chicken Bridge" Oldest Bridge in Jakarta. Named because it's near the chicken market.

To learn more about the history of Jakarta click below:

Saturday, October 4, 2014

The Skin We're In.

This whole exchange started innocently enough. 

On Friday I met T at his office for a welcome lunch. It was to welcome the new nurse that had recently joined the staff. Because traffic in Jakarta is, as has been previously mentioned, bad I gave myself plenty of time to travel and ended up arriving thirty minutes early. Since there is a Starbucks in the lobby I decided to enjoy my new favorite flavor, Asian Dolce Latte before heading up. The young ladies behind the counter were happy and chatty, normal for Starbucks, and business at that hour was slow.

We established in our exchange that I didn't work in the building but was visiting my husband who did and they thought it was very sweet that I was coming in to join him for lunch. I then headed up to join the festivities.

It is pertinent to note here that my driver is a devout Muslim, and it is Friday. I note this because I feel it is the least I can do for the man who totes me around town that I make sure he is free to attend Friday prayers. This not a hardship on my part, it honors him as another human and it only takes a little co-ordination on my part. I mention this because we had scheduled for him to return to collect me at 1:30 and lunch was done at 12:45. Since T needed to get back to work I did what anyone else would do, I went back and parked myself in Starbucks with what was left of my coffee and a book.

At this point it is still pretty slow and one of the baristas came over to talk to me. 

We chatted about how my lunch was and she tried to figure out who my husband was. Since he had just been in the Starbucks with me I pointed out she had just missed him and proceeded to try and find a picture on my phone to show her. 

This is when it happened. 

As I am scrolling through the pictures looking for one of T I jokingly noted I had lots of pictures of my kids but was having trouble finding one of him. 

And then she said: " Your children must be beautiful because they are white"

I'm going to let that sink in.

It took me a few moments to catch it. In fact I was well past that point in the conversation when my brain did the..."Did she just say what I think she said!?!" Maybe because my children might pass for white, but generally don't, and are in fact biracial. Maybe because I was not expecting anything so sad to be said in such a matter of fact way.

I have discussed in earlier posts how I tend to draw attention when I am out. I have blond hair and fair skin and I am in South East Asia. I have never thought in any way that this made me more beautiful, just different.

Later that evening T came across something in a book he is reading about Jakarta discussing the perceived superiority of light skin in this region. It is interesting to note that the people of Java, where Jakarta is located are generally lighter skinned than many from some of the people native to the other islands. This is such a phenomenon that many people will try to lighten their skin with creams and powders. The article then discussed the irony of how whites come to these islands, typically Bali, and try to get darker through tanning. It seems no one is happy with the skin they are in.

I am not out to save the world with my blog but I would encourage you to appreciate the beauty in every shade humans come in. I am treating this as my own wake up call. 
A reminder that in the future that I will be able to do my part to correct this assumed bias.

I eventually found a picture of T and showed her. She knew just who he was, someone must be visiting Starbucks regularly. She then admired my lovely dark haired darker skinned children. 

She went off to make the next customer's coffee and I was left to ponder how such a lovely young woman could think she was any less lovely because the color of her skin.