Skip to content

Posts tagged ‘Indonesia’

Dear Indonesia, Terima Kasih

Dear Indonesia,

You knew I was coming back, right? You must have. You must have known I needed to see you and that my soul needed to climb a volcano, see orangutans in the wild, get food poisoning in front of 50 people, think my boyfriend was proposing (read on for that one), see a few sunrises and sunsets, and snorkel the most amazing waters – you knew, you crazy, beautiful, chaotic, fascinating nation, you knew didn’t you?

So how does a girl get a two week vacation in Indonesia in late August and early September 2016? The simple answer is quit the job where you’ve been miserable for months (thanks rounds of layoffs) and convince your new boss that starting a job in financial journalism in August when everyone is on vacation is not a great idea. Then you get Victor to talk you into going to Indonesia (a country you’ve talked about incessantly for the past four years) instead of a new country. So in less than two weeks I planned a two week Indonesia trip that would take us to Java, Sumatra, Lombok, and the Gili Islands. Planning this meant I got to choose places I never made it to while I lived in Indonesia and also avoid the heavily touristed places (while still great, I’d much rather do off season).

After running through the Dubai airport (the most intense workout of my life) we caught our connecting flight and made it to Singapore. After traveling for 24 hours you deserve a cocktail or two and sometimes you get lucky and a truly fantastic place, Hopscotch, is right near your hotel (oh my god the Jewel of Maxwell cocktail with gin, lychee, yuzu, rose cordial, grapefruit, and fresh citrus I’m still thinking of you – don’t worry full restaurant, hotel, adventure list at the end of this post). We spent 24 hours running around Singapore exploring, eating, and catching up with friends.

Of course I would sit down next to Mr. Retra (whose business card says business manager) on the flight from Singapore to Jakarta. Within a few minutes we were chatting and he said I should call him if Victor and I needed a ride or just wanted to hang out while we were in Jakarta (Indonesian hospitality and kindness is always heartwarming). I was surprised how quickly my basic Indonesian came back to me. It’s true about things hiding in the back of your mind somewhere.

It had been four years since I set foot in Jakarta. My friend Niar was there to greet us in the morning and spend all day with us exploring Kota Tua, having lunch in Grand Indonesia, going to the spa, and eating a big Indonesian dinner. I still recognized Jakarta despite the continuing building boom. Traffic has gotten worse, but the city is actually looking a bit cleaner. A lot of that, in Niar’s opinion, is thanks to the governor Ahok. In late August sitting in a cab in Jakarta traffic talking politics with Niar neither of us could predict that in less than a year Donald Trump would be elected president in the U.S. and that Ahok would be charged with blasphemy and face two years in jail. It’s a crazy, unpredictable world these days and Indonesia’s echoes of 1998-1999 are really scary to me especially when it comes to mentions of Chinese Indonesians.

Read more

An Indonesian Short Story: Magical Burps

Before I continue writing about my travels in Ukraine, I wanted to go back to Indonesia. I’ve been thinking about Indonesia a lot this past week because an important presidential election was just held there and because I just went “back” to Indonesia after reading and reviewing Elizabeth Pisani’s book Indonesia, Etc. The presidential election isn’t quite over because both candidates claimed victory and the official counting won’t be finished for another 10 days. It’s a pivotal moment in Indonesia and all of that got me thinking about my first days there.

So here’s a short story I wrote some time ago about sambal and masuk angin. Enjoy.


Magical Burps

The burp caught me off guard. It was my second day in Indonesia and I was busy worrying about lunch, learning a new language and my own foolish decision to accept a yearlong job offer in a country I knew almost nothing about. “They had a dictator named Suharto. It’s the fourth largest country in the world and the most populous Muslim nation. Bali is there. And, it’s going to be hot,” I told my friends in a self-assured tone that was masking all of my deepest fears.

On my first day in one of the hottest countries I had ever allowed my pale, prone-to-burning body to enter, I had gone to lunch with teachers and students from my language school. “Sambal,” my teacher Asti said as she handed me a plastic bowl with a red substance inside. I had watched as everyone else at the table took two, three, four or even five spoonfuls of the red sauce and dumped it on top of their plates full of rice, vegetables and meat. Two spoonfuls later, I was a total wreck. My pale skin had turned bright red, I was sweating profusely and I was desperately trying to hold back tears. “You like spicy food? You like chili pepper sauce?” Asti asked. Why, oh why, hadn’t she asked this a minute earlier?

The loud, deep burp interrupted my painful recollection of lunch. I was startled. I looked over and saw a group of middle aged motorcycle taxi drivers sitting with their tank tops rolled up over their bellies while smoking clove cigarettes that created clouds of intoxicating smelling smoke. As soon as they noticed me, the shouts of “Hello, Mrs.! Where are you going?” and “Beautiful” started. And then, one of the drivers burped again.

Motorcycle Blur


Read more

Tropical Fruit Installment 19: An Ode to Mango

A friend in college, who had grown up in the Phillippines, had one thing to say to me before I moved to Asia: “You know nothing about mangoes.” She went on to tell me how the one, maybe two, easily found varieties we get in the US are sub-par. Needless to say, within about a week of being in Indonesia, I realized she was completely and totally right. Not only are there hundreds of varities of mangoes, they can taste like completely different fruits. Really I could write a Dr. Seuss rhyme here…

Mango Vendor

So in my effort to get to 20 tropical fruit posts, here’s my ode to a fruit most people know, but don’t really know. When mango season arrives across Asia, there’s an excitment among the vendors. And the fruit isn’t necessarily cheap. I would sometimes pay almost $2USD for a large, perfect mango in Jakarta. Often street vendores give you a spicy salt that you can dip the fruit into.

Piles of Mango

It seems that India wins on the mango craze. The Alphonso variety is considered the creme de la creme — here’s a NYTimes story on mangoes in India. And here is a CNNGo piece about the same area where the very expensive prized variety comes from. I have yet to try it.

Slices of Heaven


Read more

A Final Day in Indonesia

After over a year of living and working in Indonesia, it was only fair that on my final full day in country I would watch the sun rise and set (cue: awww). Leaving a place and not knowing when you will return is always tinged with a bit of melancholy and thoughts of regret: all the things you still want to do and the things you would have done differently. I still distinctly remember the balmy temperature and taste of the last chevre salad I had in Paris after almost 7 months of living there. I always distinctly remember my first day and last day in a place. And in all honesty, after 14 months, my final day in Indonesia was the best last day I could have ever wished for in a country that I grew to love and still follow very closely reading news and chatting with friends who live in Jakarta. The sunrise over Labuan Bajo heading out to Komodo Island:

Sunrise over Labuan Bajo

I sipped hot, oh-so-sugary Jasmine tea as our boat cut through the waters, passing other islands to reach the famed Komodo Island.

Villages Near Komodo

We met up with another ranger and began hiking in the early morning heat. We saw many deer on the island and I watched one get extremely close to a Komodo dragon — thankfully nothing happened.

Deer in the Wild

Bleeding Deer

Hiking Komodo Island

The ranger station was, as on Rinca Island, a popular hang out spot for my lizard friends:

Komodo Dragon

Read more

Komodo Dragons, Big Sticks and Menstruation

Komodo dragons. They are scary buggers. Just read this news story, or this one. Or this bizarre story involving Sharon Stone and a Komodo dragon. These prehistoric-like creatures draw crowds to the Western shores of Flores where boats depart from the town of Labuan Bajo and head out to sea to Rinca Island and Komodo Island where the lizards do dwell. Tourists from around the world come to visit the dragons, found nowhere else in the wild, and snorkel and dive in the amazingly clear waters. It was one of those places I knew I had to see while living in Indonesia.

Out to Sea

When I told friends and colleagues back in Jakarta I was going to visit Komodo National Park, several of the women I told paused and giggled. I knew they wanted to tell me something, so I prodded them. “Well just make sure you don’t have your period,” one woman finally told me. I was confused. “They can smell the blood and will attack you.” I left the office that day terrified that I would be attacked by dragons. So I did what any person would do and went home and Googled. I decided this was probably somewhat of an urban myth and that I would be fine.

Wooden Ship

On the day of my arrival in Labuan Bajo everything was fine in the lady department, but the journalist side got the better of me and I decided I would ask my new guide, an Indonesian male, all about this whole situation. I had even had a male friend in Jakarta mention it to me, so this was either one big urban legend or there was some truth to it.

Blue Seas

As we sailed away from Labuan Bajo, surrounded by beautiful blue seas, I said, “I have a question about the dragons and women.” I was afraid I was asking a delicate question that might embarrass my guide, but the opposite proved to be true. I had noticed many small huts along the shores of islands we passed on the way out to Rinca Island. My guide informed me that Komodo dragons have an amazing sense of smell and definitely pick up blood. The women who live on Rinca and Komodo must be very careful when they get their period. My guide told me women tend to stay inside for about a week and carefully burn all waste so the dragons don’t pick up a scent and come running. It is also the reason why no women can be park rangers on Rinca or Komodo Island.

Dried Land

When we landed on Rinca Island, we were immediately handed large sticks. If a dragon got too close, we were supposed to hit them in a sensitive spot: their nose.

Komodo on the Prowl

Big Stick

Lazying About

Read more