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The ‘Hangs’ of Hanoi

When I think back to the several days I spent in Hanoi, I remember the smell of lilies occasionally wafting through the air and the whir of motorcycle wheels speeding by. We spent hours wandering the Old Quarter of the city. Traditionally each street sold a specific ‘hang,’ merchandise, leading to names like Silk Street. Some streets are still like this today — overflowing with shoes, kitchen and hardware supplies, or even gravestones.

Hoan Kiem Lake creates a central point in Hanoi where people come to stroll, couples canoodle and kids beg their parents for ice cream. One thing I loved about Hanoi was how alive and young it seemed while at the same time being a city that is over a thousand years old.

In Hanoi, people are always stopping and sitting down on plastic stools to drink tea or beer and have some food. There seems to be an endless stream of motorcycles around every corner. This makes crossing the street an adventure or a terrifying experience, depending on your perspective (my mother chose to close her eyes and be guided across).

Ngoc Son Temple sits on an island in Hoan Kiem Lake. It’s a quiet and calm place to escape the motorcycles and stare at the lake, while always hoping you’ll catch a glimpse of the enormous turtle that lives in its depths (sadly, I didn’t, but the remains of his cousin are on display).

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A Day in Singapore

Most journeys begin in Singapore, at least if you live in Jakarta. I decided to give myself a full day to explore Singapore before meeting my parents and flying to Vietnam. It had been almost a year since I spent some quality time in Singapore and I always find it interesting because I think it may be as close as one can get to the direct opposite of Jakarta.

I’d heard that the Little India area of Singapore was an interesting place to walk around in and perhaps the closest Singapore ever can get to Jakarta. But even here, the organized roads and clean markets made me feel a world away from Jakarta, my home for the past 14 months.

Several years ago I took a summer course in London and I met two Singaporeans, Yan and Abigail. When they heard I was in Jakarta, they offered to show me around if I ever returned to Singapore (ah, the wonders of Facebook keeping people connected). Yan and I met in Little India. We walked through a large market that also had many food stalls. Yan explained how the government checks the cleanliness of the stalls and ranks them. I couldn’t help but smile and think how food carts block roads in Jakarta creating a parking hell while dirty dishes sit in buckets of unclean water.

Most Jakartans with the means have been to Singapore. Many come for weekend trips and shopping. I often wonder what they think to themselves when they return to the traffic congested, pollution filled, unorderly, city they call home. Do they want it to be more like Singapore, especially in terms of infrastructure? But Jakarta does have one thing that I always feel is missing in Singapore: it feels alive in every way possible, for better and for worse.

For lunch, Yan took me to The Banana Leaf Apolo (48 Serangoon Road, #01-32 Little India Arcade) an Indian restaurant recommended to her by an Indian colleague. I figured it was about time for me to finally try fish head curry.

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Until We Meet Again, Indonesia: Dramatic Exit and Lists

This morning I am sitting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia enjoying some roti canai for breakfast. Two nights ago I stood on a beach in Flores, Indonesia and watched an incredible sunset. That morning I had watched the sun rise on a boat on the way out to Komodo Island. As I stood alone on the beach watching the sun go down, the hotel nearby started playing some songs. Appropriately or coincidentally, they played “Home” by Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros followed by “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. I associate both of these songs with my original home, the United States.

Standing on the beach, I felt happy and sad at the same time. I have called Indonesia home for over a year now and everyday here has been an adventure. The past 14 months have been exhilarating, exciting, confusing, frustrating, hot (it’s the tropics), cold (so much A/C in the tropics), funny, sad, fascinating and fun. I’ve seen the most sunrises and sunsets in my life. I’ve eaten more rice than I thought was humanly possible (will need to cut back soon). And most importantly, I met amazing people from all around the world and all around Indonesia, from Iceland to Australia, from Sulawesi to Flores.

But before I could finally leave Indonesia, I had the most dramatic 48 hours I could imagine. Indonesian immigration is not winning any awards for service or transparency. My former employer sent an agent to immigration to go about canceling my work visa. To this day I don’t know what really happened. I was told a scanner wasn’t working and so my passport couldn’t be scanned and sent to airport immigration. I don’t know if a bigger bribe was needed or if something else went awry. Needless to say I missed a flight and was afraid I would miss my whole trip to Flores before finally leaving the country. But once one of my journalist colleagues heard about the situation, she decided to pull out her contact book. Within 30 minutes the national spokesman for immigration had made some calls on my behalf and everything had been sorted out. So yes, a national official had to get involved so I could leave the country. You really can’t make these things up.

Now the time has come for the next chapter. I’m heading home to California in mid-September (after some more travels) to study for the GREs and apply to graduate school and to be home for more than 2 weeks for the first time in five years. I’m so excited to spend time with my parents and catch up on a lot of blogging and writing. But enough of all these emotions. The best way to summarize anything after a year is with lists! So read on for my likes, dislikes and other opinions all neatly numbered.

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The Best of Jakarta: Food, Drinks, and Stores You Can’t Miss

After over a year of eating and drinking my way through Jakarta, as well as tons of exploring, I thought I would share some of my favorite places to eat and drink with all of you — because you never know when you might end up in Jakarta.

Chloe helped with this list, so many thanks to her for sharing many meals this year. I’ve provided website links where possible and any interesting stories as well. Jakarta may not have much in terms of sights for tourists, but it’s a wonderful place to share a meal with friends.

Best Cup of Coffee: Anomali Coffee (branches around Jakarta, including Jalan Senopati and the Setiabudi Mall). This is my favorite place to get a strong cup of Joe that isn’t the instant powered stuff that is so popular here. You can order by the cup, comes with a French press, based on Indonesian regions, Aceh, Sulawesi, Java, Papua, Flores, Toraja. I’m partial to Toraja. Also a great place to sit in A/C, use the WiFi and get some work done. A cup of coffee starts at Rp 23,000 ($2.40). Also for the more adventurous, you can order a cup of the famous luwak coffee, the beans pass through the digestive tract of civets!

Best Indonesian Lunch Place: Putri (corner of Jalan Cikajang and Jalan Cipaku II in Kebaroyan Baru). This place is great for lunch with wonderful plate varieties with lots of goodies. Try the juices, especially the mulberry. Chloe got me hooked on this place and almost every time I order the nasi opor ayam (coconut milk chicken curry) with nasi merah (red rice). For dessert try bubur manis (sweet porridge). This area is also fun to explore after you eat. Lunch will set you back around $3-4, but it is quality Indonesian fare.

Best Street Food: Menteng FTS (located immediately beside the Formule 1 Hotel on Jalan Cokramintio in Menteng) this spot features dozens of vendors and is one of the cleaner street food spots in Jakarta. You can order lots of Indonesian classics from sate to martabak. Bring some friends.

Best Street Seafood Stall: Santiga Seafood Stall (Jalan Bendungan Hilir, aka Ben Hil) is a great place to get some grilled fish or some spicy black pepper crabs. The place is always lively with musicians coming and going and people devouring mounds of seafood. Here’s a piece that we ran in the Jakarta Globe all about it.

Best Chinese Food: Liyen (Jalan Asemka Raya) around the corner from the Bank Mandiri Museum, this Chinese restaurant offers a good selection of dishes. Try the honey pork, you won’t be disappointed. Mandala Restaurant on Jalan Wolter Monginsidi is a close second, I love their asparagus crab soup.

Best Japanese Food: Izakaya Taichan (Jalan Melawai VI/5, Blok M) offers up delicious sushi and a mostly Japanese crowd. It’s located in Blok M’s slightly seedy “Little Tokyo,” so it makes for an interesting place to walk around at night.

Best Korean Food: Chung Gi Wa (Jalan Dharmawangsa III, No. 2, near Blok M). Delicious Korean food with a Korean countryside chic décor. The grilled meat and kimchi were tasty. Next door is a Korean grocery store. This was one of the more reasonably priced Korean meals I’ve had in Jakarta. Around $10 a person when splitting with friends.

Best Brunch: Koi (Jalan Kemang Raya No. 72) in Kemang has good burgers (OK, not a brunch food) and an amazing brunch menu. I love the poached eggs over spinach and smoked salmon. Pricer, brunch with drinks will set you back about $15 a person. But sometimes you just want a good Western brunch.

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