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.)


Patricia said...

I'm a long-time reader and fan of your blog who rarely comments, but I'm sure there are a lot out here like me who are happily anticipating following along on your latest adventure. Can't get enough Lucky Nickel posts, by the way, so it was a pleasant surprise to read and see more about winter on a narrow boat. Just hoping you have time to post often from your new HQ!

Anonymous said...

Do you think that was the first time your hotel room has seen Kraft Dinner?

Colleen said...

Well Pam! Another grand adventure! Just because the boat was cold is no good reason to head to the other side of the world and a different hemisphere. Looking forward to hearing about your discoveries and adventures in a new country. Be well, ck

daphne said...

An exciting and exotic location. Keep up the blogging, I really enjoy your observations

Kathryn Davies said...

So jealous. Maybe not of the food though...

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