Tuesday, July 22

A Month in Jakarta: The observations

I saw and experienced a lot in Jakarta. Of course not all of it made its way to this blog, some because I simply could not wrap my mind around them, some because I could not build a full-length post out of them. For the latter, this is their chance to come to the surface.
  • Forget football (soccer). Badminton is Indonesia's sport. Of course, football is big. There was good natured ribbing between the kids and I when FC-Bayern came to play the Indonesian national team, and there were pick-up games wherever there was an empty lot. Still, these do not compare to badminton. Rope was strung up across the fence to form a net, and when even that was not avaiable, boys and girls and parents and everyone would just hit the birdie back and forth. Badmiton's primacy became really apparent when one of the kids was actually able to name a professional badminton player.
  • In the absence of electric security systems and neighborhood watches, Indonesian homeowners take security into their own hands. They surround their homes with fences that have nasty points on top. Those looking for something sturdier or affording more privacy than bars with two inches of space between them, sunk broken glass into the setting cement. The defenses of both styles of fence could be and were bolstered by lying barbed wire atop the rest.
  • It is a gesture of respect from the young to their elders to hold their hand and briefly raise it to their forehead. Of course you will always different forms of respect in different cultures, but it freaks me out when I do not know the appropriate response or was just expecting a handshake. Should I stand up when they do this? How much attention should I pay to their hand? Can I talk to someone else while this is going on, or is that rude? Should I be doing it to the older volunteers?
  • I came to Indonesia knowing absolutely no Bahasa Indonesian except for a few greetings and "My name is ..." which a Timorese friend taught me. Most of it has slipped out of my mind by now, but that which I learned best revolved around food. It is easy since it is so nouns centric and opportunities for practice come up about three times a day. And they just kept trying to feed me. I do not think I will ever forget Saya suda mekan (I already ate).
  • Thrice the orphanage picked up a few boxes of individually plastic-wrapped pastries. Those things are the real-world Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans. Normally the sweet ones were easy enough to pick out, sometimes glazed or covered in chopped nuts. Other times it was more difficult. Thought that was frosting coming out? Wrong. It was mayo. By the end, I was afraid of accidentally taking another cold chicken pot pie.
  • It was hot in Jakarta. No joke. The men dealt with it by sometimes rolling up the bottoms of their T-shirts to just below the ribs, making the top resemble something like those half-sweaters which enjoy some popularity over here.
  • An effective means of getting kids to like you, or at least pay attention, is to juggle and then teach them the same.
  • The most difficult transition in coming to Jakarta? Getting used to the sun setting at 6 p.m. in June. I have never lived farther south than 47 degrees north. A 6 o'clock sunset for me means it is early spring or late fall.
  • Despite the early timing of the first call to prayer and scratchy speakers, waking up to the layers of calling voices from all directions was beautiful.

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