Slip sliding away

Monday, March 19, 2018

Two weeks into Jakarta life and starting to settle. I’m in my permanent apartment now which, thankfully, is a more manageable size than the temporary palace / bowling alley I told you about last time. I’ve moved some furniture around and bought a few more supplies and I can see how this can work for the next six months. Though I do find the cutlery drawer depressingly parsimonious.

Note to self: Do not invite more than one person over for food. Or if you do, tell them it’s BYOFork.

And another for the WTF Files: This is my washing machine. The first time I tried to use it I had to call for assistance because there are literally 23 choices on that dial, along with the 8 buttons and 22 indicator lights and the digital display. And no manual, of course. (And yes I did try googling it…)

So home life is calming down, but work is quite busy - more so than I’m used to this early in a gig. Prepare yourself for an even more haphazard blogging schedule than usual. Luckily, I found a bit of time before my Sunday afternoon meeting, and during my Monday evening meeting (see above comment about being busier than usual…) to tell you about my first hash run in Indonesia. (For those not familiar with the Hash House Harriers, you should really check this out.)

As is often the case in Southeast Asia, there’s more than one hash group in Jakarta. This is the part of the world where hashing started, so I guess it’s just much more established here than in other places. Jakarta seems to have about four groups, with another starting up in the coming months. I got myself onto the WhatsApp group for one of them and was offered a ride to the run on Saturday. This was crucial because whereas in London all runs start within walking distance of a train or tube station, in Jakarta it’s not that simple. The city itself is huge and the heat and pollution and traffic all mean it’s just not a great place to run. I’ve managed to devise a 5k loop that I’ve done a few times in the morning, but it’s not exactly ideal. In Baku I used to put in my headphones and set out at 6:30am for a quick trip along the pedestrianised seaside Bulvar. Easy. Here in Jakarta I leave the headphones at home because even early in the morning there’s still road and pedestrian traffic and you need all senses tuned and alert. The footing alone requires at least intermediate-level parkour skills, but I console myself with the knowledge that running on uneven surfaces is good for all those little stabiliser muscles that don’t get a workout on the tame and level towpath at home. (This will remain a consolation until the inevitable misstep that turns some of those little stabiliser muscles into mince.)

But back to the Hash. I’ve probably mentioned the traffic in Jakarta, but it’s hard to overstate how bad it is. It’s virtually impossible to accurately predict how long a journey will take. You can be optimistic about a 3km trip and end up sitting in traffic for 90 minutes. Or you can compensate and get lucky and end up arriving an hour early. So when I learned that the Hash started at 4pm, I wasn’t entirely surprised that my ride suggested I get to her place by 1:30, meaning I had to leave my apartment at 12:45. It’s a bit tedious. But that’s how I found myself in the backseat of a large black SUV in the middle of a thunderous rainstorm on a highway in Jakarta, en route to an unknown location, accompanied by two friends I’d never met before and a Siberian husky named Dennis. (Aside: I was too polite to mention it, but Siberian husky seems an odd and somewhat cruel choice of breed for life in an equatorial climate. I’m sure poor Dennis has never sniffed so much as a flake of snow, and must sometimes wonder what all that fur is for.)

Dennis, with his stunning husky eyes. But really, why?

The Jakarta Traffic Gods smiled on us even if the Rain Gods did not, so we arrived at the run site an hour early. This gave me a chance to chat with the only other westerner at the run, an ex-pat New Zealander who’s posted to Jakarta for the next 2-3 years. (He’s working on sustainable transport solutions, poor bastard!) It was nice hanging around and chatting with him, but I’d rather we could have just got going.

Here’s our starting point, complete with shelter, cooler, water, etc. Later on there were even more amenities, as we shall discover.

Hashing here is a fairly major undertaking. The people who set the trail arrive hours ahead of time and set up camp before going to mark the trail. On the sidewalks of London we make trial with chalk and occasional blobs of flour. In rainy Indonesia the trail was marked with small amounts of shredded paper (which resist strong rainfall better than flour) supplemented by white spray paint applied right onto the leaves of plants. Not terribly eco-friendly, but needs must I guess.

At some point before the official start of 4pm a large group of walkers headed out, but the small number off runners hung back so as to minimise the waiting time at the end of the trail. And what was it like when we finally set out? Astute Go Stay Work Play Live Readers who are also experienced hashers will be familiar with the term “shiggy”. It’s a used to describe muddy, mucky or otherwise wet and unpleasant trail conditions. Considering it’s rainy season and there was a significant storm just hours before the run, I shouldn’t have been surprised that the amount of shiggy on the trail was roughly equal to the amount of humidity in the air, i.e.: about 85%.

This stretch was within the first 100 yards.

It was slow, slippery, wet and muddy. For a while I found it frustrating and all I could think was, “I’m actually not really enjoying this.” That feeling persisted for the first kilometre and a half of what we were told was a 7km trail. By that time I guess I’d accepted that my shoes would never be the same, and I’d probably lose a couple of kilos of water weight, but at least I couldn’t actually get any sweatier, and there would be cold beer at the end.

Also, this was a quite family-friendly event, meaning I spent some time stuck behind a couple of little girls who were about 7 and 9 years old and who, when descending this steep, muddy slope, ended up on their butts laughing their heads off. So when a 7 year old girl can suck it up and have fun in the shiggy it’s hard to get a real sulk on.

Plus once we got through this rice paddy, there were actual paved roads! And yes, this was a real terraced rice paddy. The things that look like small white cloths hanging on strings in the air are, in fact, small white cloths hanging on strings in the air.
They’re for scaring the birds away.

By the time I got to the end of the paved road, a mere 3.6k into the run, but 45 minutes after setting out, I was feeling pretty good. Then a few us discovered that the hares who marked the trail had a lavishly overambitious notion of the length of their own run and we’d actually reached the end of the trail. So naturally we elected to do a second loop. This turned out to me a lot more fun than the first loop and was certainly the only time I’ve ever run someone else’s trail more than once. It also made me feel quite smug.

This is the second water crossing on the trail, which turned out to be useful for washing off muddy shoes. On the opposite bank in the foreground you can see a splodge of white spray paint marking the trail.

By the time my Kiwi friend and I trotted back into camp, most of the rest of the pack and been back for ages and were tucking into a generous feast of rice and tempeh and other tasty treats that I was happy to try. There was also a big cooler full of a sort of fruit juice called sirsak, which is made from the soursop fruit, one of many many new fruits in my life now. The juice is white and creamy and sweet and a bit like apple and strawberry and lemon and coconut all together. I’m also turning into a big fan of the slivers of golden fried garlic that appear frequently as a topping for basically anything.

Happy to be finished running, and happier still to be clutching a large bottle of beer.

Betawi Hash are particularly well-equipped for tropical hashing. After the run not only was there food and drink, but several people had large jugs of water to use for washing up, and there was even a pop-up shower stall tent! This was a level of luxury I’ve never seen before, and was much appreciated after that much muddy sweaty running. By the time I’d eaten, washed up, changed into dry clothes, and had a large bottle of the local lager, it was dark and things had degenerated in a friendly but typically hashy way. I was grateful to climb into the back of another air conditioned car for a companionable ride back to Jakarta.

Hashing in Jakarta is a lot different than hashing in London. Considering the travel time and the trail conditions and the heat and the half hour of post-run shoe-washing, I can tell I’m going to have to psyche myself up to make the effort each week. And I’ll probably try a few of the other local groups before I find the one I’m most comfortable with. But as usual, hashing is already providing a welcome break from work and work colleagues and the general low level of background stress that comes from living somewhere that’s not home.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go try another of the 506 combinations of variables on the washing machine.

Well this is different...

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Hello from Indonesia!

Not in Kansas anymore.

I did mention there was a new international job on the horizon, but for now let’s rewind a bit. When last we left our intrepid heroine she was tucked up in a chilly little boat on a frozen canal in London. I’ve experienced snowy weather in London before (Astute Go Stay Work Play Live Readers will recall the Great Blizzard of 2010) but it’s never been as sustained as this last bout of cold. There have been times before when I’ve woken up after a night when the temperature has dipped below zero (rare but not unheard of) and found a thin layer of ice coating the canal and a few confused moorhens walking around clearly thinking, “Whaaaaaat the...?”. But in the past the ice has always cleared away before the end of the day. This time the temperature was cold enough for long enough that the ice stayed all day and thickened up overnight and the snow fell again and accumulated on the ice and it was all kind of unusual.

Pretty, but definitely not normal. On the first morning before the ice got this heavy I watched a swan ice-breaking its way out of the marina.

Let me say right now that I understand perfectly well that objectively speaking, the weather in London was not actually cold. Those of you suffering through the Canadian winter will doubtless not be sympathetic when I gripe about overnight low temperatures of -5c. But when you live in a poorly insulated floating tin can whose water source is basically a 200 litre Tupperware bin located outside and whose heat comes from literally making fire, those temps can be a challenge. It's lovely and cozy if you’re home to keep the fire blazing all day, but on one notable evening I arrived back at the boat around 11pm, having left at 8 that morning, to find the temperature sitting at 3c in the main room and a dispiriting 1 degree in the bedroom. At times like that you just have to restart the fire, keep your toque and long underwear on, and settle in with Netflix until the fire is well-enough established that you can fill the hot water bottle and go to bed with all the extra blankets in the place wearing wool socks and a hoodie.

This is not to say that all of life in London has been all bleak and awful. There’s a certain smug friskiness that comes from running along the canal in the snow or negotiating the icy sidewalks while the rest of London gnashes its teeth and moans.

This was actually kind of nice.

I also had a real treat to see me off. I managed to get tickets to see “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”, which has been on my radar since it was announced. Happily, it turns out I have a former colleague who’s now working on the show and was able, through totally legitimate means, to get me access for a reasonable price relatively quickly. I’m not a big one for exploiting back-channels, but in this case I made an exception and I have no regrets. The show is very impressive, perhaps especially so if you understand a bit about the level of stagecraft required to achieve some of the effects, many of which are very very good.

Great show. Or shows, actually, since it’s presented in two parts over two different performances.

After the snow and the show there was the packing. Packing for a job like this is always a bit of a challenge, especially in a small space. I’m here until September, and that means taking a supply of a lot of important things like prescription medication and contact lenses and Marmite. And work stuff like steel toed boots and hard hat. And favourite kitchen knives. And many many plug adapters. And important coffee-making kit. And back-up coffee-making kit. And it means digging out my warm weather stuff and trying on shorts and flip flops while there’s snow outside (weird). Then at a certain point you just have to pile everything that's going in one place and then get on with it.

Which looks a lot like this.

And so here we are in Jakarta, new GSWPL Asian HQ. The job is the Opening and Closing Ceremonies for the 18th Asian Games, which will start in August of this year. For those who don’t know, Indonesia is pretty much on the other side of the planet from my usual stomping grounds. 7 hours ahead of London and 13 hours ahead of the middle of Canada. As you can see from the image above, the closest big place is Australia. And as any fule kno, if you’re close to Australia you’re very very far away from anywhere else.

A few fun and unexpected facts: Indonesia is a huge archipelago spanning the equator. It’s the 14th largest country in the world by land mass and is made up of more than 13,000 islands including Java, Borneo, Sumatra and Bali. It’s the 4th most populous country in the world, with the world’s largest muslim population and the world’s most populous island - Java. I’m located in Jakarta, which is the capital city and the heart of the Greater Jakarta metropolitan area, the world’s "second largest urban agglomeration” (after Tokyo). Hands up anyone who knew any of this? Yeah, me neither. The archipelago is highly tectonically unstable and is so completely littered with volcanoes I’m surprised there’s not one in the hotel parking lot. Indonesia is also home to Krakatoa, whose eruption in 1883 produced the loudest sound in recorded human history.

Jakarta. It’s big. This is the view from the office.

Getting here was a bit of a mission. I left London Sunday around 6pm, flew through Istanbul, and arrived in Jakarta Monday evening after about 15 hours of flying and a few hours is the ridiculous Turkish Airlines lounge in Istanbul. (Thank god for business class flights.) By the time I got to Jakarta it was dark and I was exhausted, jet lagged and disoriented. This made the long humid drive into the city from the airport a bit surreal. Once we got into the heart of the city the combination of tall glass towers, elevated freeways, bright lights, street hawkers, pedestrian overpasses, choking traffic and fleets of motorcycles made it all feel a bit Bladerunner.

And now I live in Jakarta. I’ve been here for about 5 days, but I’m currently in temporary accommodations because I arrived a week earlier than planned - another reason things have been a bit off-kilter. The place that was originally reserved for me is currently occupied by someone else (how rude!), so I'm in the building next door in a comically large three bedroom condo with two bathrooms, two balconies, a dining table that seats six, and a tiny, bleak and un-air-conditioned area outside the kitchen that I can only assume is quarters for a live-in maid. I estimate the square footage of just the hallways in this place is about equal to the square footage of the boat. It’s actually a bit disorienting and I'm hoping the real place will be more, ummm, modest. (Aside: Do you think anyone has ever gone to the front desk of a hotel asking for a smaller room?)

See what I mean about the hallway? Maybe I should take up bowling.

Nice views though.

I’m now settling in gradually ticking off all the little milestones that go along with living in a new country, like internalising the exchange rate. The currency here is the rupiah, which is one of those hyper-inflated ones, meaning that pocket change comes with an unlikely number of zeros attached. When I arrived Monday night a colleague loaned me some cash so I could buy coffee and breakfast things and have some walking around money without needing to track down a friendly bank machine (a milestone I only reached today). How much was the loan? One MILLION rupiah - or about £50. So when presented with prices here I drop the last four digits and then divide by two. For instance, dinner one night at Pizza Express was 160,545 rupiah, including tip. Drop the last four numbers and divide by two is a princely £8.

And so it begins. It’s all getting to feel a bit routine, this life. Pack Kraft Dinner and Marmite. Proceed to new country for new ceremonies (number 15 and 16!) in new language with new local people and same old international faces. Blog a bit. Eat weird food. Adapt. Assimilate. Go home. Repeat. As usual I’ll blog for as long as I can. And once I find my feet I’ll do some exploring and try to tell you more about the place and the people and the food. (Oh, the food. Wait until you hear about squid balls and jelly cones and chicken porridge and cheese tea and salted egg fish skins. Mark my words, there will be weird food aplenty!)

Until then I'll get on with my day, if I can find my way out of the apartment. (Note to self: next time you come in... breadcrumbs.)