Wednesday, March 30, 2011

DVDs from Here to Infinity

Since I seem to be on a roll with the potential benefits of living in Jakarta lately, I'll continue. As an aside, I'm not sure why I have been touting Jakarta lately as living here generally drives me up a wall, but I shall push on all the same.

Another pro of life here is the "black market".  I use the air quotes (or they would be if I was talking) because I used to think of the black market as some scary, underground, underworld organized market.  That's where one can obtain heroin, rhinoceros horns or  blue whale semen.  If you are seeking help from a shaman whose traditional medicine needs parts of endangered animals, he'll go to the black market.  If you want to buy famous artwork that's been stolen for a reduced price with a suitcase full of cash, you'll go to the black market.  The woman who is hooked on opium definitely heads to the black market.  That was the picture in my head.  It was blockbuster movie worthy. I was expecting to find this:
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In Jakarta the black market is made up of counterfeit purses, wallets, sunglasses and DVDs. It's the stuff that you could get arrested for selling in the US, but is so commonplace here that there are five story malls dedicated just to these products.  If you want a real Gucci, go to Grand Indonesia Mall.  If, for the same price, you'd like to get a knock off of the same Gucci bag, some fake Jimmy Choos, a Prada wallet, a little Louis Vuitton accessory and some very believable imitation raybans, go to Mangga Dua Mall; large parts of which look like this:
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Any of you know me know I'm not big on hand bags/purses/wallets.  I have a bag I love and a wallet that is cute and functional.  I will probably use them both until they fall apart.  Since neither are bogus famous brands, that should be quite a while longer.  I do however take advantage of the copied DVDs.  I don't have cable as I find there is entirely too much reality TV for my taste.  There are few shows I can sit through, especially when StarWorld's commercial breaks are ten minutes at a time. The ones that are worth watching are worth buying cheaply.  Most shops sell DVDs for 7,000 Rp each, buy ten get one or two free.  Example, the season of Hawaii 5-0 that I recently acquired was three discs.  So I also bought two seasons of Californication and one season of Sea Patrol.  That took me over the ten mark.  Eleven discs for eight dollars US or 5.70 Euros is worth it every time.  Not to mention there are no commercials! There is the occasionally dodgy copy: one that gets stuck twelve and a half minutes in, or the audio is only in Russia and the subtitles in Thai. For what they cost, it's still a good gamble.

I have a drawer full of DVDs I've already seen.  I am not a person who re-watches many shows/movies. I'm thinking of reincarnating the book swap from Madrid as DVD swap in Jakarta. Should I feel bad that the  production companies and the like aren't getting their cut of the movies I buy illegally? Should is such a mushy word.  Do or do not. I do not. I just think it's in place of rentals, since I don't think I've seen a single rental shop, definitely not a Blockbuster or Hollywood like we'd have at home. So until I get home, bring on the popcorn, and dim the lights. 
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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Does the nook have a niche?

When I went home for Christmas, I was convinced by my wise and technically savvy younger sister that I should consider, and then buy, an e-reader. The biggest name among e-readers is the Kindle put out by Amazon.   Every e-reader (often inaccurately called e-books) is linked to a big company.  Sony makes one, Borders bookstore makes the Kobo and Barnes and Nobles bookstore makes the Nook. Many other devices, like blackberry and ipad, both have downloadable software that allows e-books (which are the downloadable books, not the device) to be read on them.

After lots of comparison and consideration, I went with the Nook.  There are black and white and color versions; I have the black and white which has a color touch menu screen. The biggest selling point for me is that my local (in South Puget Sound/Seattle) library has an adequate and growing selection of books that can be checked out for 21 days at a time for FREE.  Just like traditional library books, these books are for rental for a short time.  I check them out on line, download them on to my computer and, via Adobe Digital Publishing, transfer them on to my Nook. Barnes and Noble is also pretty good about offering free books on their website; a nice combination of classics, unwanted books and new authors. They also have specials, sales and regular price books.
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The battery lasts much longer than I expected. It was five days in Penang, reading Dracula non-stop, before I ran the battery dead. Even though the packging said it would be days worth of reading, I had been skeptical.  The touch screen menu took me a couple days to get accustomed to, but now I find it easy to use.  The wi-fi not a problem to connect and once connected, it automatically checks for new books from
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Jen is hands down responsible for my purchasing this new fangled gadget.  She pointed out that when I go back to The States I always stock up on books; that while I can find English books in the places I live, they tend to be quite expensive and finally but most importantly, that I'm a big reader and if the e-reader wasn't designed for someone like me (traveling, moving abroad, big reader) then who the heck was it designed for? So I was gifted it by my wonderful mother for Christmas.  At the adamant insistence of my sister, I also immediately bought a protective case and screen shield.
courtesy of  Mine is just plain black, but I think a slick case like this will be on this years Christmas list.

I was skeptical.  I had a PSP for several years.  I bought it thinking I would play games and watch DVDs on planes, trains and in automobiles.  I did very little of that.  The screen was too small for comfortable DVD viewing and I think I lack the typical Gen X / Gen Y gamer gene. The Nook has found a nook in my heart, and I hope it finds a niche audience to sell to.  I've read Dracula, Sh*t my Dad Says, part of Bill Bryson's A short History of Nearly Everything (I gave up after repeatedly falling asleep in the space section), a couple of puffy girly books and now I'm working on Blink. I've got a word morph game, chess and sudoku (that I never play) and a 25 language phrasebook. My library is up to 48 books just from the website freebies. Now my problem is which to read next!
           Fingers crossed it doesn't go the way of a lot of the technology I lay my hands on.

Monday, March 28, 2011

small world

Jakarta is the sixth largest city in the world based on population  (number are from 2009 - 6. Jakarta, Indonesia - 18,900,000 compare to 59. Madrid, Spain - 4,072,000  or 12. Los Angeles, USA - 15,250,000).  There was a census conducted last year in Indonesia. The actual population is probably significantly higher than those figures as its frustratingly impossible to correctly estimate the numbers of homeless and transients. Yet, for a huge city, my world here is small.
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The bule world that is.  Most foreigners here tend to travel in the same circles.  There are restaurants and bars that cater to them with food from home and alcohol. Often, knowing there are foreigners that hang out at a specific place is enough to draw more foreigners there.  It's nice to fall into a group of people and guess that you will see someone you know there even if you don't make plans with them.  Bule musts in Jakarta: Lowey's, EP, Trattoria, Pepenero, Dragonfly, X2, nearly all of Kemang, swaths of Kuningan, and to a lesser extent Pondok Indah and Citos. They are places that we all go regularly and as a result, we see the same people regularly.  There are people I recognize but have never met.  A few people that seem to turn up everywhere.
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One guy and his girlfriend are friends of my friend.  I have been at a couple of events sponsored by our mutual friend.  I don't remember his name and don't know him nearly well enough to say hello, but I recognize them.  I've seen him four times in the last two weeks alone.  Each spotting at a different place.  There are a couple of people here that I see everywhere!

When I was at the US Embassy in February I started talking to a guy named David who was also waiting.  After a few minutes of conversation we discovered that he used to work at my current school , JIKS, and knows and is friends with all the people I work with.  I met him totally randomly yet we had a group of people in common.

Yesterday, a coworker, Lincoln, told me he was at a friend's house looking through photos over the weekend.  This friend plays on a softball team and had a heap of photos from tournaments.  Lincoln stopped the slide show when he recognized me in several photos.  They were from a tournament I went to on a whim last April (four months before I started at JIKS), when I needed a hit of Americana.  I don't remember him specifically by name, but I remember the team he's on.  I haven't seen a game since but had been wondering if there was a spring tournament coming up.
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Its really remarkable that a huge city feels so small.  It's rare to meet someone who doesn't know someone that you know already.  It definitely means the dating options are limited by who you know that they know, or that they have dated. the "cross-contamination" is viral here.

so long salon

One of the best parts of Indonesian life is the salons. I realize salon services are cheap here because labor is cheap, and probably under paid. That aside,  I feel that I deserve it because I put up with plenty of other crap here in Jakarta.

The basics are manicure, pedicure, massages and cremebaths.  For a cremebath, the salonista puts an intensive conditioner in your hair. The choices are ginseng, aloe, vera, strawberry, avocado, egg, etc, etc ad nauseum. The kicker is they rub the conditioner in and you get a 20 minute head massage while they work it in. There is almost always some back/neck/arm rub included. Cremebaths usually last about an hour, finish with a blow dry and a feeling that you could be mistaken as a shampoo ad model.
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Massages range from an hour to two hours. A couple weeks ago I  got an Indian massage.  It was an hour, slightly painful but she got all the knots out.  The end was a little like a Thai massage; she pulled me about like I was Gumby. The reflexology is a massage over the clothes, the Thai massages make me feel like I should be taller as they stretch and pull your limbs about,  oil massages are great when they're good and bad when they're not.  I like them but they are a bit bruising and usually leave me sore and limping for at least a day.

When I was working up in Pluit (north of the city center) there was a salon in the same mall as the academy I was working in. I thought 65,000 Rp (about $7.50/5.30 Euros) for a creme bath was a good deal.  BUT THEN I was introduced to a training school for a chain of salons.  Last week a friend and I each for a creme bath - back massage included- and a pedicure for 30,000 Rp ($3.50/2.45 Euros)!!  It took three hours but I felt spoiled and wonderful after. In The States, a day like that would run three hundred bucks or more.

Sunday was a belated birthday day.  A massage and lunch from one friend.  A creme bath, pedicure and snacks from another friend.  It was brilliant. Considering I'm not planning on staying in Indonesia or Asia indefinitely, I figure I should take full advantage and make salon visits a near weekly occurrence. In all my trips to the salon I am still slightly unnerved by four year olds getting creme baths and massages.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

School Days? School Nights!!!

My usual rule is not to go out on school nights.  I would like to go out, but when the alarm goes off at 5:30 in the AM, going out is difficult. The problem is there has been so much fun stuff that I've been invited to on Tuesdays and Thursday lately that I can't always resist.

It's not that I don't want to.  I used to go to Mo bar for Tuesday Ladies Night.  They have free drinks after eight pm.  I got fed up with it for a while as the restrictions for drinks increased, the volume of drinks decreased and the service went to hell.  Then I started to realize that I got there at eight. Most of my friends wouldn't get there until nine-thirty or ten.  I was ready to leave by ten-thirty or eleven but that inevitably turned into calls to stay and have just one more drink.  By the time I left at eleven thirty, I was lucky to be home in bed by  twelve. Where I am now the commute would be even farther.
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I like my work schedule for the most part.  I get up at five-thirty because I have to be at school at seven am and can leave at three-thirty.  I can head straight home, read/cook/watch tv/unwind, and be in bed at ten or eleven. The catch is that many of my friends (nearly all my friends) start later and end later.  That means if we meet for dinner during the week it's at nine, not six which would be more convenient for me. We eat, chat, have a beer or two and I wander home to bed after twelve.  Good food and good company are often worth the lack of sleep, but lately it's slipped farther into the red.
courtesy of   Such an angel.

I've gotten over my stomach issues (mostly) only to be whacked with a head cold.  Combine that with short sleep Monday, Wednesday and yesterday and I might spend all previously unalloted time sleeping this weekend.  I do not regret quiz night last night, or the Team America viewing on Sunday, or dinner last Thursday,  but I did have a moment when my alarm went off today that I thought I couldn't possibly drag myself from my pillow and blankie. We'll see if I pay the price after a work dinner tonight and a concert tomorrow.  Saturday morning is definitely quality pillow time!
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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Future of Perhaps

The future is called "perhaps," which is the only possible thing to call the future.  And the only important thing is not to allow that to scare you.  ~Tennessee Williams, Orpheus Descending, 1957

Its March and my brain is already looking to December.  The lifestyle I've chosen to live these past several years lends itself to the unknown.  In Spain there was a reassessment about three times per year.  One before school started in August/September, one at the beginning of the calendar year and the third at the end of the school term/start of summer camp season.  Each time there were discussions of who would be staying, who was leaving, who was still looking for work and who would go where the wind blew.  There were usually quite a few people in each of those groups, but I knew many people that were sufficiently settled in Spain without any intent to leave.  I arrived in Spain and though I fell in love with the city (despite our regular spats and differing opinions), I knew I wouldn't stay.  My plan had been to go to Spain for "a while" and then live somewhere else outside the US.  Hence, my current location in Jakarta.  I miss Spain terribly and now realize I am more suited to a European life and mentality than an Asian one. 
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In characteristic fashion, I've started looking ahead to life after Jakarta.  I am not going to leave before the end of the year, and plan to enjoy friends and travel in the meanwhile. I do not speak of any future plans in concrete terms.  I realize something might change that inclines me to stay, but I see that as the one chance in a million. The next decision in the sequence then, is where to go. 

Option A: Join a teaching fellows or similar program.  The New Teachers Project/ Teaching Fellows program is particularly appealing.  There are nineteen states (Washington is currently considering joining) that offer this program.  It's a partnership between a city's school district and a local university.  An accepted applicant finds work in the school district in a high need subjects, i.e. math, science, special education, ESL programs. Most of the districts are tough areas with lots of teacher attrition and big populations in the low socio-economic realm. The focus of the teaching fellows program is to facilitate people who have had life experiences and though they didn't initially study to become teachers, they want to be now.  After a six week induction, new fellows are given a mentor, sent to work a full time schedule and enroll in Master's in Teaching classes.  Pluses: salary, benefits, hands on teaching, mentor, reduced tuition and a Master's degree.  Cons: highly competitive, difficult teaching situations and life in general for two or three years until graduation, requirement to be in one of the nineteen included locations (some of which are Philly, DC, NYC, Oakland, New Orleans, Chicago and Denver).
Option B: Look into the possibility of getting my degree outside The States.  I know a few people studying in Spain with American universities.  Canada and Australia are both tempting as well, though I doubt I could afford the international student rates for tuition. 

Option C: Continue pursuing a career with the Foreign Service/State Department.  I can do this while I'm working towards a Master's.  I will probably try the test once more; I'm currently 1-1. Pass or Fail, there will be some decisions to be made afterward.
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Option D: Teach in another foreign country.  Carry on as I have been, teaching English in schools and academies, but not in Asia. 
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Option E: Go back to The States and find work in the education realm but not as a certified teacher.  Or similarly, find work in EFL (English as a Foreign Language) book writing/camp counseling/administration type stuff, either in or out of The States.  I hear many schools in the US are desperate for EFL teachers, but I haven't looked into it enough to know.

Option F: ????

Thoughts? If you have advice, input, know of jobs or have suggestions please let me know. Any final decision will be delayed until at least July, but I doubt anything concrete will materialize before October.  In the meantime, eating, drinking, general merriness (when not sick with the freaking plague of Jakarta illness) to while away the months.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

When don't birthdays count?

I'm 29 today, which is nearly thirty.  30.  3-0. While I realize that thirty must be the new twenty since forty is the new thirty (and we can't have two thirties I'd assume),  I'm happier now than I was at twenty. There will probably be an age when I look back and say "I wish I were ## again", but that age isn't now.
courtesy of  The classic from when I was a kid.
While there are some things I would trade {namely my swimmers physique at seventeen for my lazy nearing middle aged sponginess now}, I wouldn't go back to being a teenager for anything. I escaped.  I don't use that word lightly, but I left high school early.  My last two years, grades 11 and 12/ages 16-18, were spent at a local community college choosing my classes and actually learning something.  I returned to high school for swim team and administrative details, that was it. I wasn't the prom queen (shocking, I know), I wasn't on student council and homecoming committee. I didn't hang around after classes to see the football/baseball/basketball game nor the wrestling/tennis match or even the track meets. High school wasn't my thing.  I don't look back and think "Man, that was a great time. I really miss being in high school".  I can't even fathom what that would feel like or who does that.
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After high school were some rocky years.  One was spent at the University of Kansas, one and a half at U of WA.  Following school were years of work, struggle and growing up.  I though we grew up from, say, age two until twenty when i was a kid.  One goes to school, learns things ranging from how to line up and share to quantum physics.  I'm more and more sure as time goes on that I became more the person I am now between the ages of maybe 18 and 28. That was when I moved away from home, moved back, then moved even farther away. I lived in foreign countries and with cheerleader-like enthusiasm and support of my mom, I became self reliant and resilient.  I got through the toughest times I've seen so far.  I climbed mountains and hiked valleys (literally and figuratively), I swam in far off oceans and spoke in foreign tongues.  I embraced the person I became, no the person I am still becoming, even though that person isn't who I used to think I would be. I did it alone, but with several pillars of support, namely my mom and sister, that allowed me to go alone.

If you'd asked me fifteen or six or even two years ago where I wanted to be, where I thought I might be, I can, with no doubt in my mind, tell you that I never estimated I'd be teaching Koreans in Indonesia.  That I would be single, uncertain if I ever want kids.  My assumption at this point is that I'll be heading back to The States at some point in the not to distant future with plans to get my Masters in Education or Teaching. More on that in another blog, but I have mixed feeling about going back "home".
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A last note on birthdays. Mine is on a Wednesday this year.  Wednesday is the longest work day of the week for me.  I'm up at 6 am. Other than a stop at home to change clothes and bags, I'm rarely home before 10. I teach a business class that night.  It was suggested that I move the class to a different night, maybe Tuesday or Thursday, so I could celebrate. Why?  I can't really go celebrate on a Wednesday night anyway.  The weekend following my birthday is filling up rapidly which leaves me to celebrate a week and a half after.  What will the celebration that commemorates the day of my expulsion from the womb (if you don't watch Community, you'll never get that reference) consist of?  Probably dinner and drinks, like any other weekend here in the Big Durian. At nearly thirty, when my birthday is in the middle of a busy week, at the end of the month when everyone is anxiously awaiting payday, what's the point to celebrate? Why is it that we continue to count?  Does it really matter if you are 42 or 31 or 55?  As children we use age as a classifier for grades and levels at school or sports teams.  As adults?  What bloody difference does it make, its just another Wednesday in March.
courtesy of  If I'm not counting years, I'm definitely not counting calories!

It's MY day

That's what birthdays were as a kid.  It was your day. My family would go over to grandma and grandpa's house on the weekend before or after our birthday.  The dinner menu was your choice, grandma cooked.  Mine was always scalloped potatoes (i think they may have been closer to potatoes au gratin really, but we always called them scalloped). I never cared what went with the potatoes.  It was usually pork tenderloin or some kind of pork or beef, salad and bread.  It was the potatoes that made it.  I could eat myself sick on grandma's potatoes. They were never the same twice as she never measured anything.  The taste and the pan was always the same though. She once made a batch while I was visiting.  We put the leftovers in an old cool whip container, frozen them solid and I carried them on the plane home.  I was more devastated that you can imagine when I opened the container, salivating with expectation, only to find I've gotten the wrong container and instead had the chicken noodle soup grandma also had in the freezer.
courtesy of  Grandma's didn't have meat in them.  My favorite part was on the top and at the edge where the cheese bubbles and got a crispy skin on it.  My sister always liked the softer slightly soupy stuff in the middle. I can make them, but it's never the same as when grandma did.  Mom's are within a hair of grandma's and rising though.
Ice cream cake was the dessert of choice. I miss Dairy Queen ice cream cakes.  The trick is to take them out to soften just slightly before eating.  I used to love the icy fudge and cookie crumble layer.  I think most people fall into one of three categories : cake person, icing person, or not either.  I am definitely a frosting person, and that holds for ice cream cakes. I liked how the white frosting blended in with the vanilla ice cream.   As we had monthly sequential birthdays in my family from February to July, we starting splitting cakes.  We would have one for grandma's birthday in February and eat half.  The other half went back into the freezer until my birthday in March.  This was only when my sister and I were teenagers. I'm sure as kids we would have been put of by half a cake with someone else's name on it.
courtesy of  I know I have eaten slices that look exactly like this, yellow rose and all.
I can't say I remember many of the gifts I got. I can remember certain toys and gifts I received as a kid but the birthday ones blend in with Christmas. I don't have a very specific memory for most things and especially times when I was young.  I do remember a few birthdays though.  First on the list is when I was turning eleven or twelve, grade five or so.  I'd invited several friends over and mom prepared a taco bar.  I can picture who was there and gathering in the kitchen to make the tacos.  I might have crystallized this in my mind because there are a few photos of us making the tacos.  I can't accurately recall much else of the party other than two or three of my best friends sleeping over after the festivities. I can even remember some of the things we talked about. I can remember a couple of parties where the piñata was a stand out. I can remember smashing them in the garage, the dad holding the string that was run up and over part of the garage door frame.  Everyone used a dowel to beat the snot out of it until the candy poured out.  Taco bar,  piñatas. . . my trip to Guatemala and time in Spain is starting to make sense.
courtesy of  I swear we smashed one just like this little guy.
courtesy of Like this, but indoors or on the patio. I can also remember a year or two with pin the tail on the donkeys on the sliding class door. 

These days, as I look down the barrel at thirty, birthdays are different.  There are no toys, few gifts and only from the closest of close friends.  Money is more easily given from countries far away.  The games, if there are any, are usually drinking games.  Birthdays at work aren't like birthdays at school.  In junior high the cool thing was to get mylar balloons or flowers.  You could get them in person from a friend or if your mom sent them to you, the office would deliver them.  It would be a little scene and you got to carry them around all day. I can't remember the last time I received flowers or what the occasion was, it must have been a while ago. How times change.
courtesy of  After several days, the balloon would sink to my bedroom floor.  I'd carefully let the last of the air out, flatten it and tack it to my bedroom ceiling.  I must have had twenty or more up there at one point.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Updates related to recent blogs

The white diet seems to be working.  My stomach is finally settling down and I tried some pasta with tomatoes last night.  Keep your fingers crossed that the worst is behind me.  If it goes back to being really painful I think I'll finally give in and see a doctor.  There are too many parasites, amoebas, worms, etc that can easily be picked up in Indonesia to ignore it much longer.
courtesy of  These are exactly the ideal lodgers.
I saw three other white, foreigners on busway this week.  None of them were on my bus, but the were on the gangways that are required to get on a bus.  I think we stared at each other with an equal level of disbelief.  It wasn't quite as severe as the astonished stare I have when I hit the Seattle Airport and I am no longer in Asia, surrounded by Asians. A second note about busway; No one thought I was pregnant on the bus this week.  I was able to get a seat last night simple because it was after rush hour and I was going opposite the tide.
courtesy of  Just like on the bus: nearly the same but not.
I think I might maybe possibly be rising on the next wave.  After spending the better part of the last month or so withdrawn from friends and social life, I feel the shadows lifting and the urge to begin to muster the energy to go out.  As that sentence implies,  I'm not there yet, but looking at the distinct possibility.
courtesy of That split seems about right for now.
I'm wrenching myself away from the Japan coverage.  As tragic as it is, I don't think watching the minute by minute feed on is healthy for anyone after a week.  I did find this site that is the best thing going. is a site like groupon, they offer discount vouchers for restaurants and services.  Today they are offering a $5 donation to the Red Cross to help those affected in Japan.  The kicker is that they will match your five bucks with another five smackers for a total donation of ten United States greenbacks. I don't care how broke you are, if you have a computer and can read this blog, you are in a position to give five samolians.  That's less than two lattes at Starbucks!
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Instead of Japan, I shake my head in amazement that people are paying of 65,000 British Pounds for a dress worn in 2002 by Kate Middleton, that all Prince William can do is offer condolence in New Zealand and Japan.  No actual, quantifiable help.  Sure, the UK has send aid and rescue teams but wouldn't Diana have done more than say "oh, so sad, so sorry"?  I am shaking my head in worry about the newly minted no fly zone over Libya and hoping that it won't plunge the world into another decade long Middle East conflict which costs numerous lives and countless dollars. 
My final shake of the head is from a forwarded email of Walmartians.  I'll let the photo speak for itself.

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Walking with the Egyptians

Figuratively anyway.  It might seem late to be writing about Egypt now.  It was so quickly swept from our consciousness and the international press and I still feel that it's an pending issue.

The protests and subsequent riots in Egypt had the world riveted.  It's difficult to imagine now that one issue alone could hold our attention when there are so many that have popped up simultaneously. I  missed the Tunisia protests entirely.  I was still traveling and as such I was not tied to a computer and checking news all day as I have been today. The rumblings began in December 2010 and it came to a head in January 2011. I missed it entirely.  The president of 23 years was ousted and only days later the Egyptian protests began.

Egypt has managed to expel Mubarak from power but the future of Egypt and all Egyptians is still very much any ones guess.  The road to freedom was not an easy one, but is starting to appear so in comparison to Libya and Bahrain where the powers that be are fighting protests and rebel groups with deadly force. Could you continue to fight for what you believe when you are seeing friends and allies dying on either side?  What if there were hired professional assassins brought in to take out your rudimentary forces? And the bombs that are dropped on you by your own government?  Could you muster the strength, the fortitude to continue?

I mentioned in the last post that I watch Al-Jazeera.  My only two English language channels are that and Channel News Asia, based out of Singapore.  If the TV is on, I'm getting Middle East and Asia centric news.  Very different from news stations in the United States that don't cover anything international short of a war or celebrity event. Now I struggle to get news on the US! On a sem-iregular basis, Al-Jazeera news goes fuzzy.  it gets pixelated, or the picture is clear but there's no sound.  I am trying to find the pattern as I think when situations in the Middle East worsen, so does their broadcast.  It seemed the days fraught with the most violence and highest levels of tension were the ones I couldn't get anything on TV. 

I followed every death, every protest, saw numerous interviews from people in Egypt, authorities on the region and politicians of all makes and models.  I have never been to Egypt but know several people who have lived or visited.  I closely follow an amazing blog of someone living there.  I thrilled right along with the populace at every triumph and ached with every defeat.  Seeing a revolution committed successfully in Tunisia inspired those in Egypt who now seem to have passed the spirit along to the people of Libya and Bahrain. As a species, we look to each other for support, for affirmation, for assistance and encouragement.  A spark or motivation, or simple possibility can travel farther than one might ever imagine.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Standing together while it falls apart

World wide solidarity. With the recent world events, from random natural disasters to consciously initiated uprisings, there are more reasons to know your cause and stand with those who fight for the same standards.

As I am a liberal/progressive bordering on socialist American, I have lately been keeping an eye on the protests centered in Wisconsin that have also spread to Ohio, Indiana and several other states. The protests against union stripping measure are the most extreme in decades and have the ability to unify and mobilize the democratic party and liberals.  What Scott Walker is trying to do to unions in general pales in audacity only to what he has announced he will do to education in Wisconsin. "Walker also is proposing a nearly $1 billion cut in aid to schools in his two-year budget plan that would take effect in July. He argued that for that reason, districts need to get more money from their employees to help mitigate the loss in aid. Walker also wants to limit the ability of schools and local governments to pay for the cuts through local property tax increases."
courtesy of  Yep, this is the jackass who was elected in January and has since caused more political uproar over individual rights than I've known in my lifetime.
It's sickening as an American, and as a teacher.  My new bone to pick is going to be with the Deomcratic party for not supporting the Wisconsin 14, the 14 lone Democratic state senators in a large Republican majority congress. They were unwilling to give in and instead walked out to prevent the vote.  If you have not been following the issue you should. Rachel Maddow's coverage of this event has been informative, accurate and insightful. I download her show on MSN as a free podcast through Itunes. Do not believe that this is only about the budget, this is not about a fiscal crisis.  It is about a shift in power and money, from the working poor and middle classes to the rich.  While you're at it, look into the Koch brothersthat's enough to make even a moderate Dem sick. They're sort of like Paris Hilton, famous for being rich with money they didn't earn.  It came from daddy.
courtesy of  It's helpful to remember that the icon of the Republican party is an elephant, while the Democrats are a donkey.

This all came close on the heels of the upheaval and eventual overthrow of the government in Egypt.  I was riveted by that coverage, especially since I have Al-Jazeera in English, which probably put me on some kind of terrorist watch list since I am American.  The turn outs of 100,000 plus people to protests in the middle States of the USA is nearly as significant as the protests in Egypt, at least in my mind. (Note that link is not just protests in the US.  Look how few of those there are.) The protests there have lasted over three weeks.  People are angry and realize how unfair this is.  They aren't going home. There are petitions circulating to recall Scott Walker from office, even though that can't be done until January on his one year anniversary in office.  I hope and believe that people will be ready on that day, to walk in and drop the signature on his office, then vote his ass out of office.  When was the last time you saw people gather like that around a single issue in the US that wasn't a Lady GaGa concert? Probably to protest the Second Gulf War.  Before that?  Perhaps protests of the Vietnam War combined with the Civil Rights movements in 1967.  I've been in and seen large scale protests in both Spain and Indonesia.  I believe many Americans take their rights for granted and as a result, gather in numbers, for power and protests, much less than heaps of other citizens of other countries.
courtesy of  Outside the state capital in Wisconsin last week.
I meant to write in one blog about Wisconsin, Egypt, Bahrain, Japan and even touch on Indonesia. I will instead splinter them into separate blogs for reading ease. The theme?  Standing together.  For support - be it physical, monetary or emotional - and for much more.  In times as jarring and shocking as the ones we are living through right now,  I remind those I know, both near and far, dear to me and mere acquaintances, that I am here when you need me.  I tell those I've never met, who are struggling with political oppression, fighting to find a way to continue in the midst of chaos, or simply to continue living: I stand with you.  There are more just like me.  Those of us who can only send money to help. Who can help inform others. Who encourage you to carry on. My spirit and my hope is with you.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011


It's not exactly, not even hardly wintery today, but it is dark and the rain is looming.  I feel like hibernating not just because spring never really springs here but because I'm tired.  I wanted to blog today but couldn't come up with something on my usual fantastic witty level so I'll write a quick note about my least favorite but more present topic lately, my health.
courtesy of
My stomach is feeling a bit better today after going two days eating no veggies, only bananas for fruit, rice, bread, oatmeal and little probiotic yogurts. I'm dying for some fried rice though I haven't for weeks.  It's always when you can't have it that it sounds good. I've successfully fended headaches off the last two days.  I am still very tentative after the three successive days of migraines a week ago.  I'm also feeling achy lately, just the last two or three days really.  Whether all of this is related or not I don't know, but it all adds up to making me feel lousy.
courtesy of
I am also feeling mentally and emotionally drained lately.  There have been a couple weekend nights out that turned sour and has put me off going out, at least to that particular club.  It seems to take more and more energy to get ready and get out only to have the night flop or worse, that I don't want to rationalize it.  If I'm going to go out, I'd rather it be a good friend or two for dinner and a cocktail. 
courtesy of
Mixed signals, irritating circumstances or pending business surrounding a couple people in my life is also contributing to my recent sentiments.  There's a lot of my mind regarding things that I can't change or sort or deal with right now, not because I don't want to but because I can't yet.  They are things I can't expel from my brain and hence then sit and suck up the last drops of energy and initiative. I'm also starting to think about next year (already??) for work, where to live, etc, etc. It's making me antsy to go but I know it's not time. Well, that and the fact that I know everything could change between now and then.
I wish I could just . . .
courtesy of
On the upside, I am encouraged to keep writing, even if it's short, by the number of blog views I've had lately.  Thanks for stickin' around long enough for me to get back in the groove after the holidays.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Bus Bum

Before I launch into today's planned blog, two notes. One: I did change my blog appearance.  I just wanted something lighter.  Let me know if you have an opinion. Two: I am miserable.  Physically miserable. It's been upwards of three weeks now that my stomach has gone from trying it's hand as a trapeeze artist to feeling like it contains a heavy weight boxer throwing punches.  I have been reduced to buttered pasta, grilled cheese and white rice with plain chicken as my refuge.  Keep your fingers crossed that giving up fruits, veggies, chocolate and anything with much flavor will help.  Sprite is my new favorite drink because it seems to help settle my stomach a bit.  Stabbing pain, lots of grumbling noises, cramps and pangs of nausea are the main complaints.  If you've got suggestions on what to do or what this is, I'm all ears. Now onward to the planned bus bit.

I've recently discovered that my new apartment makes the use of public transportation in Jakarta possible if not always easy.  I live on one of the main lines, the bus stop is a mere five minute walk from my house.  That walk is along the side of a road with no sidewalk where one has to take their life in their hands, navigate puddles, mudholes, motorbikes, and folks leering and jeering along the way.  Yet only five minutes away. A one way trip, where you can transfer at a couple of stops through long over-road pedestrian walk ways that vaguely remind me of airport gangplanks, cost a measly 3,500 Rp (0.40 USD).   I do love that it's cheap but the best part is that busway has it's own lane on the road and therefore flies through the traffic in Mampang, the main obstacle between my place and down town, or really any part of town except Kemang.  Mampang is notorious for it's traffic jam.  I use a singular form of traffic jam because I think this traffic jam started eight years ago and has been there in perpetuity since.  There is a traffic jam in Mampang at two am, at two pm and every time in between.  I realize it isn't necessarily the best solution to give busway it's own lane; it contributes to the problems for the other cars.  Now that I'm on busway, I find I complain about that much less.

Compared to buses in Europe, busway is cheap, cramped and utilitarian.  I haven't always thought highly of the public transportation system in Seattle, mostly due to the lack of runs.  Once an hour is insufficient by all measures. In comparing the busway to say, buses in Madrid I'm also struck by the difference in riders. Last week, I got on the bus at about quarter to eleven am on a Sunday.  The bus was quiet and I found a seat.   I recognize that Indonesia is a conservative, Muslim country, but if you saw that what I go out for a night of dancing and drinking in is longer than what most of the Indonesian girls wear, you will soon understand why I took note on Sunday.  Mine were the only knees visible on the bus. I was wearing a dress that I wear to teach, it hits my knees.  It's sleeveless so I had a shawl on.  Yet mine were the only bare knees.  I don't know if that's why the three year old sitting across from me was staring.  I suspect the "white worship" starts early but who knows.

There's one more story of note from last weeks busing adventures. On Thursday I went in to town to finalize my new second hand blackberry purchase.  I took the bus in and was able to WALK to the mall from there.  I can't remember the last time I walked outdoors in Jakarta other than from mall Senayan City to mall Plaza Senayan which are across the street from each other.  It was a nice walk through Mega Kuningan which may be the sole location in the city with sidewalks, and spacious ones at that.  I completed my business at the mall and walked a different but still sidewalked path back to the bus.  I made the mistake of wanting to go home (a direction everyone else was going to-out of the city) at about 630 pm.  After buying my ticket, it was eight or nine buses before I got on one.  The buses were coming by every minute or two tops, but they were packed to the rafters. I finally jammed on to one, and moved away from the door up the aisle.  I don't mind standing because at least there is an AC vent blowing directly into you then. I was about three people back from the driver and definitely the only foreigner on the bus.  I had my headphones on and was trying to to count the stops until mine because it feels longer.  It must have been about seven stops after I got on that I felt a tap on my right arm.  I had been holding on with both hands to the hanging rings and kept having to lean forward, towards the seated passengers, to let people by behind me.  The tap came from a miniature woman in her mid thirties.  She was wearing causal but fashionable closes and a jilbob (Muslim head covering). She tapped me specifically to give me her seat.  I was three people to her right, the ones right in front of her were male though the two with their backs to her were female.  She was getting off and offered me her seat.  I was surprised but tired enough to jump at it.  It was mere nanoseconds later that I figured out why.  I'm fairly certain she thought I was pregnant.  Embarrassed? Check. Laying off the beer?  Check. Not too proud to take the seat in a packed bus after a loooong day?  Check.  I'd like to convince myself that she did it to further Indo-American relations, or because I looked so tired, but I am skeptical at best.

At that, maybe this stomach issue will be a parasite and I'll loose my "baby weight".  This is when I laugh to keep from crying and carry on. There will most assuredly be more bus trips in my future, and I'll make up strange stories about the other riders that I'm sure won't come close to the ones they think up about me.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

An Indonesian Convert?

Not that I am necessarily any more or less enamored with the place, I am finding it's growing on me, or maybe me into it. A list of the multiple ways I am becoming more Indonesian by the day:

  • I own more than one phone.  I own more than two phones, each with their own sim card and purpose. I have two phones at my place, one in the wall and one for magic jack computer use.  I currently have three cell phones.  I heard another teacher tell a story that her conversation class came in one day and this woman took out a small zippered pouch from her purse.  She proceeded to open it looking for something and there were six cell phones.  Each with it's own number, sim card and purpose.  I have left strict orders with Vicki that if I should ever own that many, I am to be drug out back and shot.

  • The honking and being misterbombed don't phase me any more.  Misterbombing is when the locals sit on their stools at a warung (roadside shack that serves food) or stand my their motorbike, or anywhere really, and shout "Missmissmissmiss" or "mistermistermister" at you.  If they are between the ages of say eight and forty two, they'll giggle when they do it, especially the boys.  98% of the time, if you stop and say hello or ask what they want, they are completely flabbergasted and don't know what to do.  Now I just truck on.

  • Tied into that is the fact that I no longer expect to have any personal space, or understanding thereof, be it literal space or figurative.  In the US, if I were to walk down the street with big headphones (not earbuds, the big ones that are obvious), sunglasses and a slight scowl, no one would even consider approaching me unless my pants were on fire. Here in Indonesia, I'll still be misterbombed, asked if I want to buy food, take an ojek ride or enter their shop. 

  • I take the bus and don't give a damn that I'm the only white person on it.  I did notice last week that my knees were the only visible ones on the bus, and I was wearing a teaching-elementary-school-students -appropriate dress. 

  • I'm beginning to cultivate the ability to fall asleep anywhere.  If you ask Indonesians (and this goes for the Koreans I work with too) what their hobbies are, eating and sleeping are assured to be among them. It doesn't matter how many times they are told by foreigners that sleeping, and eating for that matter, are not hobbies. I saw a guy fall asleep standing on a packed bus yesterday.  I've had my own close calls falling asleep on the back of an ojek. And yet it's the days when I am the most desperate to sleep that  I still toss and turn in my own bed.

  • I now grasp why the culture has adopted a mass theory of procrastination.  My contention with this was it stifled my ability to get things done!  Now I get the two pronged reasoning.  One: most Indonesians are lazy.  It sounds like an awful cultural stereotype, but even the Indonesians say so.  They will work very hard if required, like the ditch diggers who have been laying telephone cables along my route home.  That happens infrequently.  It can be seen in that most jobs allow for lots of hours sitting around doing little to nothing.  I thought the "manana" culture of Spain was bad. There, nothing was ever so pressing as to rush and do it today, if tomorrow would suffice.  Two:  To get something taken care of by maintenance at my apartment, it usually takes at least two trips to talk to someone to sort it out or schedule it and then supervision of said task.  I have found myself recently postponing tasks.  My television stopped working.  I thought there was a problem with the power supply/cord/source.  The little green light wasn't coming on.  Because of work obligations and timing, I couldn't get down to ask them to fix it for two days.  On that day, two days later, I asked at the front desk on my way up to my apartment.  When I got into my place, I double checked and sure enough, the tv was fine again.  Same thing happened with mysterious water on the bathroom floor.  I'm fairly certain it was leaking from between the tiles in the shower, but now that it's stopped, I don't care. 

  • I cannot respond to a simple question with just yes or no.  I repeat yes or no multiple times.  Here's an example:
Joe: Hey, how are you today?
Me: Ya, good ya, and you?
Joe: Ya good.  Are you going out to EP this weekend?
Me: Ya, ya, ya (the last one stretched out to yeaaaaa). Hope to see you there.
Joe: Do you think it will be quiet like last week?
Me: No, no.
The ya's, no's and adu's (an expression for exhaustion, frustration, incredulity and about six other emotions) have seeped deep into my vocabulary well. I also can't just nod to show I am intently listening or flowing the logic, now I have to "ya, ya, ya" my way along.

  • I slog along through the puddles just to get where I'm going.  Last night was in heels on the way to the bus stop.  The afternoon rain had ceased, but the puddles along the road would last until evening.  Also, I usually wear sandals now.  Easier for the water to go in, but also easier for it to flow back out and dry out.   Additionally, I have rain gear for the motorbike and anything less than a torrential down pour doesn't slow me down.
I'm sure I've forgotten a few. If so, they shall be added tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Riding the wave, or just attempting to hang on to the board

As much as I wish this blog post was actually about surfing, it's not.  It's a blog about a pattern in my life.  This unintentionally follows on the heels of the magnetic field hypothesis which would make sense for waves.  I wish I had planned it that way, but let's just say subconsciously I did.  A big part of me would like to assume that it's a pattern that occurs for most people, but I have no idea really.  It seems like something very Malcolm Gladwell via Blink or Tipping Point, based in sociology and psychology. If after reading this you have an opinion (to agree, disagree, alter or call me a total crack pot) I encourage you to do so.
courtesy of  See?  One right after the other! Up and down

This is a theory that has taken shape over the last couple years.  I think that my life moves in waves.  Some might say it's cyclical but I find more resonance with the idea of high and low troughs of the wave, potentially the water too though there is the water cycle. There are the high points when things are all flying along.  I can get a taxi with only a minute wait, my friends are around and available for dinners, drinks and general indulgence, I go out on a date or two, the money is if not plentiful at least sufficient.  These are the times that life is really good.  More than likely there's something coming up for me to look forward to, concerts, trips or the like.  My only slow down is myself as my social calendar is packed! This is when the life of a social butterfly is everything it's cracked up to be.
courtesy of   If this were a true representation the drink would have tequila in it.
Just as every high tide is followed by a low, and the crest of a wave has the accompanying trough, the contentment can't last forever.   The money runs short after an emergency or two, the men seem to vanish (figuratively if not literally), no one can be found for a pedicure date or even free beer night.  It's never just one event that turns a crest into a trough, a high into a low.  It's normally a mass build up of five, then eight and the twelfth "something" is what pushes me over the limit.
courtesy of   One cut isn't the problem, it was the 14 before that were.

Now that's the overarching layout. Since I began formulating, I've also noticed the waves in smaller parts of my life.  After nine weeks in a row going out every Friday with the girls, I get tired.  I need a weekend in, often on my own, to regenerate.  Maybe even two or three weeks away from the club and bar scene.  Then, I find myself rested and itching to go back, which I do. I pull away, sleep more (or enough at least), read, relax and have my time.
courtesy of   I'm not that bad, but I do drop off the social radar.
One day I have a craving for microwave popcorn following six months when it didn't even cross my mind.  I proceed to have microwave popcorn every second or third day for three weeks until I'm totally sick of it and don't want it even at the movies.
courtesy of 

I have a great group of girlfriends here, bigger and probably closer than any group of girlfriends I've had before.  Before you blast me, those of you who I am/was close to in Spain or the States, this is a small pack that's tight knit for lack of many other community options. As a group we are all close, where Spain were different factions of a group that did get along when all together but rarely were all together.  That all being laid out, for three weeks I might see one particular friend a dozen times.  We discuss certain things that they "get" more than others, we have similar available times to meet up, and just enjoy each others company.  Again, after a couple weeks, there is a burn out factor.  I just need to expand back out to a different part of the group.  I don't cut that person out of my life, but might need or want to back off from seeing them all the time.

I've just come out of a short trough, but it was a deep one.  All the waves seemed to bottom out at the same time, nothing helping keep me afloat. It was a combination of many factors, some which are still mid-resolution. I occasionally wonder if I'm bipolar, though I feel like those highs and lows would be more frequent or without external provocation.  Either way, after this most recent low I wanted to give thanks to my mom first and foremost, who is always my rock and anchors me to a truer version of reality that I sometimes create for myself. Also to all my lovely, amazing friends who have come to understand that I have ups and downs and are willing to roll with me all the same.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Do I generate my own magnetic field?

For this blog, I owe creative inspiration to my mom. It's become a long running joke between us that I ruin technology like no one else. There's been another bout of "Melissa as the technological Bermuda Triangle" over the last couple months.
couresty of  I imagine my magnetic field looks like this.

I roughly estimate that in the last six years I've gone through two laptops (I'm on the third), a hard drive (on the second), two i-pods, several cameras and more headphones than I can remember.   I believe most technology was built with planned obsolescent in mind.  Even if you buy the best digital camera available now, in two months it will quickly be on it's way to the rubbish bin.

My sister is usually quick to hop on to new technology.  She implores why I don't have a _______ yet, and ______ could be anything from a model cell phone to a computer program.  I always wait several versions, waiting for the manufacturers to realize what they screwed up and fix it in the successive models.  Great example was the i-phone that was released last year that couldn't make phone calls.  Seems like that might be a requisite for something called an i-PHONE!!!

As much as I love music,  it wasn't until generation 15 or so that I got an i-pod.  Last week I dropped my beloved 120gb classic i-pod off for a battery replacement.  In Indonesia that mean that you will actually be getting a new i-pod of the same model.  My old one went out after a power surge at the crap hole boarding house I was staying at before. That power surge also blew out my blackberry, of which all the innards have been replaced. My mother very kindly lent me her old i-pod, a skinny one that holds a whopping 125 songs.  I scoff but I would have gone crazy the last month on the back of the ojek without it.
courtesy of  The frown is how I felt. The battery went out on my so I didn't even get this icon.

Now my blackberry is going out again.  I'd been in Indonesia about three months when my first phone went missing.  I replaced it with another cheap brick phone and kept that one when I upgraded to a Blackberry last August.  The blackberry was stolen in October and I bought a used one from a friend.  This is my current phone.  It's at least three models old now,  has had the screen, battery and circuitry replaced once and spent three nights in rice drying out (dessicant is my current favorite word).  I had a leaky water bottle in my purse the first time, the second was a fall into a small amount of water that couldn't even be termed a puddle.  The third time in the rice was Sunday night.  I don't know what happened to my phone so I thought I'd stick it in rice over night anyway.  Monday I had to reinstall several programs and blackberry messenger still isn't working well.  The keys are also sticky.  I either get five i's or none.  Looks like I'll be phone shopping again shortly.
courtesy of

When I went home for the Christmas holidays the internet went out.  Actually, within 48 hours of my arrival the router went out.  Not just the internet signal, my mom had to buy a new router.  She swears I caused it.  I think it should be remembered that I was the good luck charm when we went Christmas shopping and found stellar parking spots but I'm not sure if they cancel each other out.  Printing the final copy of the new science book after returning from holidays was nearly impossible, as are many technically related tasks at work. Printing, internet and access to the server are all out of service on an at least twice weekly basis.
courtesy of  Wave of the future?

I don't think, however that I generate my own gravitational pull.  On the day I do, someone must say something!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Barbeques are not all the same

A week ago Saturday we had a housewarming.  "We" was a friend who lives in the same building and I.  She'd been in these apartments for over a year, but had recently changed to a different apartment (10th floor not 2nd).  I stayed in her old place for about five weeks before and after the holidays, but now have my own place there.

Based on the fact that neither of us could fit more than about four people in our respective apartments, we decided to use the pool area. It's a big beautiful pool, with a few chairs and tables scattered around and a tiny "grassy" patch.  Grass here isn't really grass, it's these funny individual green plants that are fairly resilient and you can walk on it. The invite said we'd be barbecuing but as we are just teachers, it was BYOB-Bring your own beverage.

The turn out was great, I think about twenty people turned up in all.  Some came late, others left early. The rest of us were there for the duration.  I'd been worried about the weather.  Jakarta has reminded us repeatedly lately that it's the wet season.  There was rain on Saturday, but it rained the best way possible; three five-minute intervals within an hour span.  It was like someone turning the faucet on and off.  Once we finally packed up and headed down to the pool, the rain stopped and didn't bother us again. It wasn't a sunny day, but it was bright and dry so I didn't complain.

We'd bought a little bbq.  This thing was about a eighteen inches high by maybe a foot across.  It was small to say the least.  I assembled it before going down to the pool.  We had briquettes and lighter fluid as well. I wasn't worried because I used to bbq in the States.  Yea, things are different in Indonesia as you can tell from just my blog alone.  It took three people an hour, multiple efforts and several strategies before we gave up and I cooked the sausages upstairs.  With paper, with cardboard, with more and then less lighter fluid, fanning the flames, briquettes stacked up and then less so. An Aussie friend assured us (two North American girls) that he could get it lit because he was Aussie and male.  Didn't happen.
courtesy of  My barbeque at home looked a bit like this and was waist high. 
courtesy of  Barbeques can also look big and fancy like this.
courtesy of  Or even mammoth like this. 
courtesy of  This is what ours looked like, standing about knee high and it was just as flimsy as it looks.
While I did have a great time, I was happy to see so many people come out, I was the host and therefore exhausted by the end.  When I host events it's about making sure the people I invite have a good time.  I cooked food, I mixed drinks, I handed out food, I cleaned up trash, etc, etc.  That was very much the case after this bbq.  I prepped food Friday night, got things packed and ready Saturday morning, shuttled everything down stair (four of us did), and then hosted.  By the time people were leaving at 8 or 830, I was pooped!

I won't go into the details, but the night ended really poorly.  I was convinced to go out to a dance club and the night went drastically downhill.  I'm not sure if I feel emboldened to have another pool party since this one was such a hit, or if I dread having another due to the work involved and the residual sour feelings this one left in my mouth.