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Seeking Higher Elevation: Kawah Putih

Towards the end of October a restlessness usually hits, and it is time to take a break and be in nature. Last year at this time of year I enjoyed October break to the fullest taking in New England fall foliage on a lake in New Hampshire. I figured, why not stick with the “lake” theme? And after a week of stomach sickness (thanks Indonesia, you’re the best weight loss plan I’ve ever unvoluntarily been on) coupled with the office cold, it was time to escape the giant traffic jam that is Jakarta.

But, getting anywhere in Indonesia is always an adventure. So before I could take a deep breath of mountain air, there was pain, misery, rain, and thoughts of serious injury. Chloe and I left Jakarta early in the morning and caught a train to Bandung. In Bandung we had lunch at a great Western and French inspired cafe, Hummingbird. It is common for people to rent a car with driver in Bandung when heading for the hills, but Chloe and I are not your average tourists (read thrifty, young adventure-seekers). One of the cafe workers wrote down instructions for us to to take two angkots to the bus terminal. We got to the terminal and hopped on a bus to Ciwidey where, the night before, we had booked a bungalow at Kampoeng Strawberry Resort. We greatly amused the food vendors who came onto the bus while the driver waited for all the seats to fill. They joked with us — we took the road commonly traveled by the average Indonesian, not by foreigners. Two hours later we arrived in Ciwidey where we had been told we would be picked up by motorcycle. Well the thing is, it started raining, and not just raining, pouring. We waited tired, confused, hungry, needing a bathroom, and slightly damp, under the bus stop for an hour. We chatted with people, saw photos of monkeys from a man named Sigit who works at a monkey rehabilitation center, and then after many texts, calls to confused people at the front desk, one man showed up on a motorbike. It was pitch black and still raining. He said, “It started raining.” So in Indonesian logic that meant he would wait and therefore we would also wait. He called over two ojek to take us to the hotel. We asked for helmets and they laughed at us. And we said no helmet, no ride. Not only is not wearing a helmet means for being kicked off my fellowship, I grew up around ER doctors and their joke about motorcycle accidents was always drop a raw egg: good luck putting it back together. They thought we were worried about getting our hair wet so they said to cover our heads with their ponchos. When we still said no, they said “Oh, you are scared.” Fine, if that’s what it takes to get me a helmet, sure. So they took the helmets off of their heads and then Chloe and I were speeding up a wet road on motorcycles in the rain, in the dark. We both had thoughts about life, our futures, and if we would ever eat dinner on the over 8 kilometer ride up. But, thankfully, we both made it up the hill in one piece. We had a nice bungalow to ourselves and they lit the fireplace for us. The next morning we woke up and were really amazed by where we were and how beautiful it was (we had no idea where we were the night before):

They brought our breakfast to the bungalow and we enjoyed heart and flower shaped eggs and fried rice:

The resort had a nice pool area:

We decided it would be easiest to hire a driver to take us around the sites that day and back to the train station in Bandung. He dropped us at the entrance to Kawah Putih, because driving in is super expensive and foreigners have to pay a higher price (this is common at most sites I’ve visited so far in Indonesia). Our ticket, Rp 40,000 ($4.50), included a ride up to the crater lake and back down:

Kawah Putih (translates as white crater), to use a cliche phrase, took my breath away. The clouds and sunlight changed a lot during the 90 minutes we were there, so the color and brightness of the water changed. In this photo you can see the clouds starting to move over the lake:

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Indonesian Fruit Installment 5: Markisa — Passion Fruit

When I first saw a markisa, Indonesian passion fruit, I was perplexed. What was it? Is this a weird orange? But it is definitely not an orange. How do you eat it? Should I bite into it? I have to admit that my fruit adventures here have brought back a wonderful sense of discovery that brings me back to childhood. The oddly constructed, tasty, and colorful markisa had a lot to do with this sense of discovery.

Like all fruits, the markisa pictured is one of many varieties. Passion fruit comes from all over the world, so you may be familiar with the purple variety. According to Wikipedia, there are two varieties in Indonesia, and I chose the one meant for eating — lucky me. Chloe and I debated for some time how to eat markisa. When we held the orange outside and pressed down it bounced back in a rubbery way. It is one of the most bizarre feeling fruits I have so far encountered. We decided it would be wise to cut into the markisa and past the bouncy part.

The cut revealed a layer below the orange inside that was completely white. The white layer felt alien. It didn’t seem natural at all. The texture was a combination of some kind of stretchy yet soft rubber mixed with a little shag carpet. Cutting into the white layer revealed the fruit:

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The Indonesian Wedding

I think if you’re living abroad you should always try and go to a wedding. Jourdan, a friend from Wesleyan, mentioned that his cousin, Harries, was getting married and that it would be a classic West Sumatran wedding with Padang food. I am so grateful that Jourdan thought of including us and letting us see an Indonesian wedding.

The wedding was extremely colorful and bright — it made Western black tie affair weddings seem dull and drab. The bride and groom and their families entered the reception procession style with gorgeous umbrellas held above them. The religious ceremony and the couple’s actual first night together were the night before because, as it soon became clear, the reception is for everyone else and the couple gets exhausted after hours of hand shaking.

Following the procession, there were two beautiful dances. The video clip is of men dancing with plates on their hands (the plates are not glued or taped down) and the clinking noises are from the rings on their fingers. Must take hours to perfect this and not drop a plate.

The other dance was with both men and women and involved parasols. The couple was able to sit and relax a little while the dances were happening.

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Glodok Eats – Jakarta’s Chinatown

I’ve always been interested in the concept of “Americanized” cuisine — how a cuisine adapts to a pallet that is different from the one it was created for. This isn’t just limited to America, where our spice tolerance is fairly low overall, in Paris all the fried rice had nice cubes of ham in it. Because, naturally, doesn’t jambon go with soy sauce? So now that I am in closer proximity to China, it was time to see what Indonesian influence had done to Chinese cuisine.

But, since I haven’t been to China yet, it was rather hard to say if there was an Indonesian influence. All I can say is that the dumplings at Santong Kuo Tieh 68 on Jalan Pancoran were delicious. As we walked in, men were rolling out dumpling dough and their fingers nimbly danced back and forth perfectly sealing in the meat.

For about Rp 20,000 to 25,000 ($2.25 to $2.80) you can order a plate of 10 dumplings. We ordered the fried dumplings and the steamed ones, pork of course, as well as the bakso ikan isi – a fish ball stuffed with meat. I’m not a huge pork person, but once something is not readily available, here for religious reasons, you start to crave it.

The fish ball, was one of the most delicious things I have eaten recently. The meat on the inside was seasoned with cinnamon which added a great surprising flavor that was very tasty in a homey way. The standard dipping sauce was delicious; it was a combination of fresh garlic, vinegar, tomato sauce and some sort of chili sauce that I will now be trying to recreate.

After lunch we wandered the market in Chinatown.

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Jakarta, Mon Amour

Sometimes, you get caught in the middle of things and realize how alive a city is. And these are the moments when I realize why I like living in Jakarta.

I’d been craving Chinese food, so on Sunday Chloe, Sam and I ventured to Glodok — Jakarta’s Chinatown area. It was much different from what I had envisioned. It was bright and colorful, with more trees than I had expected, and wandering the streets was a real feast for the eyes (and stomach). I think I had expected a dim, crumbling area based on my historical knowledge of this area, which is limited to the horrible lootings and murders that took place here in 1998 during Suharto’s fall from power.

After lunch (food requires a separate post) we were walking to the main market area when a street vendor stopped us. He was asking us if we were going to see the dragon. We were very confused. He kept pointing in a direction and then we finally understood that a parade was happening. Then for about an hour we stood in awe of all the costumes, colors, dragons, and people running in the parade. The man with the metal pieces through his cheeks was the most shocking. He seemed to be in a trance-like state and women approached him and he twirled incenses over their heads. If anyone knows the history behind this tradition, please let me know.

After watching the parade we wandered to a Buddhist temple and sat by a koi pond. It was very peaceful. An escape from it all is never all that far away in Jakarta.

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