Every now and again you encounter an elegant fruit that deserves to be photographed on mahogany. For me, that fruit is the mangosteen. This may seem odd, but I believe if the mangosteen was a city, it would be Paris. The dark purple color, the beautiful petal shape on the bottom, and the curving leaves lend an elegance and chicness to this fruit that I associate with Paris.
That said, I had no idea what to do with my mangosteen after I bought it. Do you bite into it? Cut into it? So, naturally, I googled “How to eat mangosteen.” The Internet truly is magically. Behold the perfect how-to article here. If that wasn’t enough, there are some big mangosteen lovers out there who created a website that is all about the fruit, here.
My extensive research led me to the conclusion that I should gently slice the mangosteen in half. Inside I found six white slivers (it really does look like a bunch of garlic). The number of slivers can be determined prior to opening the fruit by counting the number of petals on the bottom of the fruit. Neat! The Internet advised to be careful when slicing and opening the fruit because it can stain. My fingernails had a gentle shade of purple on them for about a day. When I was in Singapore, Shirin told me that some hotels there ban mangosteen, in addition to durians, because they don’t want their white sheets ruined. I used a spoon and scooped out the fruit.
Yes, that is a baby orangutan. Holding a baby orangutan was on my to-do list for Indonesia. So when I heard that in a suburb of Jakarta there was an animal park, I decided it was time for a day trip. Taman (means park) Safari is in the city of Bogor. Bogor is actually a large city and the president has a palace there. And for about $2.50, you can take photos with an orangutan (and white tigers but they looked drugged and sort of sad). It was the best $2.50 I have ever spent. The color of our hair sort of matches:
The baby orangutan was such a gentle and lovely animal. It just clung to whoever was holding it. Weight-wise, it felt like holding a young child. It was wonderful. A little girl was a bit nervous to hold the orangutan, and I think he sensed this because he wrapped his arms around her — it was adorable.
Getting to Taman Safari was a trek. We took the train from Jakarta to Bogor. In Bogor we found out we’d have to take three angkot. Angkots are vans with one door tied open so people can hop on and off. They are cheap to take but being on them for about two hours wasn’t the most comfortable thing in the world. As we started getting close to Taman Safari, there were many stands with carrots.
Although feeding animals in the park is not technically allowed, it is not enforced. The way Taman Safari is set-up is very Jakarta. It involves staying in your car and driving through the park. Taman Safari is a weird mix between nature park, amusement park, water park, and safari.
Since we didn’t have a car, we got to get on the rhinoceros to take a ride through the park:
Amidst all the traffic, pollution and skyscrapers it is easy to forget that Jakarta is a coastal city. So, a few weeks ago I headed up to the Ancol area of Jakarta. There the Sunda Kelapa area is like a step back in time: old wooden ships, sailors loading and unloading ships by hand and walking on wooden planks.
The water close to Jakarta, and in all the canals, is incredibly dirty. After going out to the Thousand Islands and seeing how clear and beautiful the water should be, it’s sad that it is so polluted. It really looks like the boats are going through black water.
Lonely Planet tells me that the ships at the port are Makassar schooners. I don’t know what that means, but they are beautiful old boats and it’s a shame that the area is not better preserved and kept up.
A funny thing happened on our walk to port. My friend Emily carries a nice big camera and I had mine out as well. There were plenty of little kids around and as usual they were interested in us, but instead of just saying “hello” they started demanding we take photos of them and then show the photos to them. The photos delighted them, but after a few they got bored and went back to playing their games. But, I must say, they were very serious and immediately arranged themselves and got into formations when we took their photos.
Another Ramadan has come and gone (ok, ok, I know this was my first). Jakarta was a different place during Ramadan: less traffic, different foods, and greater charity — I saw many more people dropping coins in the cups of beggars and street kids, the spirit of Ramadan. I learned a lot of new things during the month, especially about Islam and I actually wrote a Q&A for the paper about a new book on Islam, see it here.
One of the interesting things I learned during Ramdan came from a story we ran in the paper. It’s tradition for kids to receive some cash at the end of Ramadan and people love giving clean, crisp bills. So up near Kota there were plenty of people out with large stacks of new bills. Good thing I had read the article or I would have been very confused about why people were buying money with money.
Indonesian money is very bright and colorful. When I first saw it, it reminded me of Monopoly money. But now, I am used to all the colors and paying with bills as big as 100,000. Though getting a pay check in the millions still hasn’t gotten old.
Most street vendors went back to their hometowns during Ramadan. My fruit guy disappeared for over a month and most things near the office were closed. It’s nice that everything is back to normal — there are so many food choices now that it can be overwhelming.
A lot of squash-type vegetables appeared on the streets during Ramadan. This was a bit weird for me because I associate pumpkins and the like with fall.
One fruit/vegetable named blewah is put into sweet syrupy drinks — a Ramadan favorite. A lot of drinks here come with fruit bits and you get a spoon with your drink. Now blewah confuses me a bit. My friends told me it’s like pumpkin. Wikipedia tells me it’s cantaloupe. It may remain a mystery…a very tasty mystery.
She saw me as soon as I boarded the bus. I stick out here with my pale white skin. “I am glad to see you,” she said. The woman with a lavender colored jilbab secured with a sparkly white crystal pin sat down next to me and my friend. “Are you from Germany?” she asked. “No, we are from America,” we replied. I asked: “Why did you think we were from Germany?” She replied: “You are just so white.” All I could do was smile. She asked us why we are in Indonesia and if we like it. Everyone always asks those two questions. People are really curious and genuinely wonder why a young American would move to Jakarta. I always tell them that I like Indonesia. Then she said, “Islam in Indonesia is not terrorism.” She went on to tell us that Islam is peaceful but that Indonesian men can be very chauvinistic. Yet, she still suggested that we date Indonesian men. We reached our bus stop and said our good-byes.
One night I went to get some street food. I ordered bakso – a meatball soup – one of President Obama’s favorite Indonesian dishes. The woman across the table from me asked me where I was from and what I ordered. I said, “Bakso. I’ve been wanting to try it because Obama likes it so much.” She smiled, “Oh, Obama.” Indonesians are proud of the fact Obama spent several of his childhood years in Jakarta. She told me she was studying law and named some of her favorite American bands. After chatting a little bit she said, “You know, I am not a terrorist. You know that, right?” I told her I knew that all Indonesians aren’t terrorists and that in every society there is a minuscule segment that is very radical.