Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sampai jumpa!

My company is sending me on to my next challenge, so we're outta here in a few days. Thank you to all the regular readers of this blog, it was fun while it lasted. Before I leave Indonesia to head off to Australia, here's a few random parting thoughts about Jakarta -

I'll miss .... affordable household staff
I won't miss .... having to manage household staff

I'll miss .... having my own driver
I won't miss .... sitting in traffic for hours every day

I'll miss .... geckos in the house
I won't miss .... mosquitoes

I'll miss .... the friendly smiles of the Indonesian people
I won't miss .... being mobbed by dozens of under-employed shop assistants in shops as soon as I enter the store

I'll miss .... the variety of great food available at reasonable prices
I won't miss .... the price of wine

I'll miss .... the vast number of great, easily accessible golf courses
I won't miss .... the lack of public parklands and footpaths

I'll miss .... Sunday brunch
I won't miss .... hotel security checks

I'll miss .... drivers who brake for cats
I won't miss .... 1500 people dying on Jakarta roads every year

I'll miss .... hot and spicy food
I won't miss .... amoebiasis

I'll miss .... the entrepreneurial spirit of the locals
I won't miss .... the corruption

I'll miss .... skintight jeans in every direction you look
I won't miss .... nipple and midriff-phobia

I'll miss .... my weekend leisure time
I won't miss .... jam karet

Friday, October 06, 2006

Proof that people actually waste time reading blogs

Some unknown insomniac nominated my blog for the Asia Blog Awards. Get out of here.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

More than one way to skin a cat

One thing you learn in Jakarta is that you should never expect to travel the same route between two places on a regular basis, due to the sudden onset of roadworks, flooding, land disputes, weddings, demonstrations, truck and bus accidents, special events, or huge potholes from shoddy construction, geophysical activity or subsidence.

My daily commute to the office is around 25km, and "normally" takes around 1 hour 15 minutes, but can be as much as 3 hours due to any of the above issues. With the Governor of Jakarta pressing ahead with his misguided Busway project, several of the gridlocked city arterial roads are now missing two lanes while the dedicated Busway lanes and bus stations are constructed. Given that these lanes can't be used by any vehicles now, and won't be used by any vehicles other than TransJakarta buses once construction is completed, it's clear that the current traffic congestion is not going to be improved once the new Busway corridors are up and running.

With my daily commute bumped to 2.5 hours using any of the regular routes I've used up until now, I've had to find a new way of getting to the office, using the trial-and-error method. Fortunately I've settled on a route that gets me to the office in around the 1 hour 15 minutes that I'm used to, by following a partially completed tollroad that ends abruptly due to a long running land dispute (the tollroad was supposed to be finished in 2005). Where the tollroad turns to clay, local residents involved in the land dispute direct us to a dirt track where, for a fee of 1000 Rupiah (10 cents) we find ourselves traveling on a road parallel to the incomplete tollroad, and after a few minutes crawling through a local market and some back lanes, we arrive at my office in good time.

Having spent a week or two using the trial-and-error method of choosing a new route, it feels like somewhat of a victory to find a new route that takes less than 2 or 3 hours.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Keep Up The Great Work!

We returned to Jakarta on the weekend after a few weeks R&R in the home country, and upon our return it was wonderful to see that nothing had changed. In our absence we gave our housekeeper a list of tasks to take care of while we were away, the most important job being to ensure that the landlord arranged to have the house treated for termites (again, for the fourth time just over a year).

When we arrived home bleary eyed after a day of flying on airplanes and sitting around airports with a baby, we realized that our housekeeper managed to maintain her consistent level of performance in recent weeks –

Our floor-to-ceiling curtains, which were listed to be washed while we were away, are now somewhat-above-floor-to-ceiling curtains

With 3 weeks to organize the termite treatment, it actually took place the day before we returned, therefore a pungent cocktail of pesticide and fresh paint permeated the entire house

No dropsheets were used by the painters (or thought of by the housekeeper) who had been touching up the ceiling panels after the termite guys did their stuff, so our living room furniture is now covered in white paint splatter

I know, you're probably thinking "why don't you just get rid of her if she's that bad". Well, firstly there's no guarantee that there's anybody better out there, and secondly, her husband is our drivers, and since he's doing a great job of keeping us alive on the madhouse Jakarta roads, we'd hate to lose him.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The urinal ritual

For as long as I've been in Jakarta, this one has puzzled me, but I think I've finally cracked the mystery. When I've been draining the python at places that have Western-style individual urinals in the men's dunnies, such as hotels, shopping malls, bars and offices, I've noticed (although "noticed" is probably not the best word to use, since one does their best not to look sideways when having a squirt) that Indonesians press the flush button numerous times during the 30 seconds or so that it takes to drain the python, and this button pushing is accompanied by lots of sloshing of water with the other hand.

Female readers may prefer to hit "backspace" or click another link at this point

My initial theories were that the guys were washing their hands with the flusher before shaking hands with the wife's best friend, or flushing repeatedly to mask the sound of their own torrent or to flush away the Yellow River as quickly as possible. Without stopping to stare, or ask the question directly, I've been perplexed by this for many months.

Last week, after mulling this mystery in my head once again, the answer finally dawned on me. I believe what is actually happening is that the right hand is pressing the flush button, and the left hand is using the flowing water for personal hygiene purposes. It's really quite simple, and I have no idea why it took me so long to put two and two together.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Indonesian Jimi Hendrix

Once a week you can drop into a small, predominantly expat bar in South Jakarta, and join the other 20 or 30 people present who are enjoying listening to and watching a world class blues guitarist by the name of Gugun performing on stage with his bassist and drummer. A lifelong disciple of Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn, Gugun's setlist consists primarily of note for note versions of Jimi and SRV tunes, together with a vocal performance that is on par with the originals. An SRV-style hat and sunglasses completes the image, but this Indonesian guitarist is not a soul-less copycat trundling out benign covers of the original artists. Gugun is the real deal - a virtuoso showman who plays his ass off and never misses a beat, aided by the rest of his trio, who are also very accomplished in their respective support roles.

Gugun has played at various festivals and concerts around Indonesia, but I'm not aware if blues fans outside of Indonesia have yet had the pleasure of seeing him live. If that's the case, it's a crying shame, because Gugun would be right at home at any quality blues festival anywhere in the world. If you're ever visiting Jakarta for any length of time, I wholeheartedly recommend catching a Gugun Blues gig.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Gender inequality in Indonesia

At our company we're very fortunate to have some excellent managerial staff. They possess strength of character and common sense, are ethical, and can be relied upon to take responsibility and demonstrate leadership.

Of course, we also have managers who are at the opposite end of the leadership spectrum - lazy, lacking basic common sense, prone to fraud and corruption, have no problem solving skills, and abrogate responsibility.

The first category of manager, without exception, are female.

So, despite (or in spite of) the fact that Islamic societies appear to advantage to men over women, female managers in Indonesia have risen above that, and in this blogger's opinion (and no doubt the opinion of others) are highly preferred for senior management roles in this country.

Monday, June 19, 2006

How was your weekend?

Many of you probably watched the World Cup on TV, went shopping, played golf or spent time with family or friends. As for me, I spent much of the weekend in my office. Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not a workaholic, however I didn't leave the office for 30 hours straight, and even slept a couple of hours at my desk. I thought about going home a couple of times, but didn't get much more than ten steps out of the building before I decided to go back to my office.

Am I crazy? Not at all. My lengthy stay in the office this weekend was all because 1500 of our staff decided it would be a good idea to lock myself and a few other colleagues in the building overnight, to show their displeasure over a decision that was made earlier in the week. We even made the television news ...

Not content to occupy the property, make lots of noise, and call for the dismissal of senior managers, our striking employees brought their own padlocks to the site, and proceeded to lock all exits from the outside, just in case we were tempted to go home to our families for the weekend. Of course, our in-house security excelled in their responsibilities, with their security skills far better suited to opening doors for guests at a large hotel.

After making a few phone calls, we were eventually joined by sundry Chiefs and Deputy Chiefs of Police, several bus loads of riot police, the Indonesian Secret Service, and a team of scary "heavies" waiting in reserve if needed. Various foreign embassies also had personnel on standby. After our earlier undermanned attempts at extrication during the night, the mass of fancy third world uniforms and important looking officials was apparently sufficiently convincing enough to the demonstrators, and the Police were able to clear a path through the mob quite easily, some 30 hours after I had arrived at the office on Friday.

Today, everything is back to normal, and our staff are all back at work as if nothing had ever happened. Of course, we'll be flat out this week writing cheques to pay the Police and others who "assisted" in resolving the issue.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Medical Miracles

There are at least two amazing medical miracles relating to eating food in Indonesia - the common roadside warung, and the more "upmarket" masakan Padang genre of restaurant. Both are miracles due to the fact that people can eat there on a daily basis without dying from any number of illnesses from e.coli or salmonella.

Many warung diners take precautions by bringing their own bowl, or having their food served on a layer of paper, but that doesn't account for the thrillseekers who happily eat from the warung's crockery, which five minutes earlier was being washed in the same drain running behind the warung that several hundred children and adults have used as a call to nature during the day within a vicinity of 50 metres of the warung. Seasoned expats claim that the only way to build up resistance to these risks is to take your chances, so that if you survive your first bout of gastrointestinal troubles you'll have enough antibodies in your system that you won't get ill again. I have my doubts, but that strategy certainly appears to work for the local population.

On the other hand, masakan Padang restaurants offer a dim sum style of buffet meal featuring the cuisine of the Minangkabau people from Padang, Sumatra. It's very spicy food served at room temperature, with plates of the actual food you'll be choosing from on display all day in the front window of the non-air conditioned restaurant. I don't know about you, but I was always told that cooked food left to sit at room temperature is the most efficient way to generate nasty salmonella bacteria, so it beats me why people don't arrive home after eating at a masakan Padang restaurant and immediately drop dead.

Monday, June 12, 2006

When did the Greeks visit?

As you drive past ridiculously huge mansions in Pondok Indah, or observe construction of new office buildings progressing as you gaze out from your traffic-bound vehicle each day, have you ever wondered why Greek architecture is so popular in Jakarta? It beats the hell out of me too, since I fail to understand why a couple of Doric columns flanking your front door is equated with opulence or style by Indonesian builders. Certainly, "big is better" for wealthy Indonesians, especially in the hair department, so perhaps a 10 meter Grecian column or four in the front garden is the ultimate status symbol for the privileged elite.

Time marches on, albeit very slowly

Why do jewelry stores in Indonesia sell watches? (and why do Indonesians wear them?) Why do Indonesian cell phones, computers, cars or microwave ovens have clocks built-in? Do the guys selling fake Rolex watches outside Soekarno-Hatta airport ever find a buyer?

"Indonesian time" is quite possibly the most prominent national characteristic that distinguishes this country from others. Business meetings that should normally take an hour end up taking double that time, with the first 30 minutes spent waiting for attendees to wander in, and the last 30 minutes spent prolonging the meeting because nobody wants to be on time for their next meeting. With Jakarta traffic being as mind-numbing as it is, it's understandably nigh impossible to plan on arriving at your next destination at the appointed time, but for people who are already at the office safe from further traffic delays, it still begs belief that people can't journey 20 meters down the hallway in time for a meeting without being 30 minutes late.

One thing is for sure, if patience was not one of your strengths before coming to Indonesia, it certainly will be by the time you return home. "Indonesian time" is certainly a character building experience.

Then again, I could always rig up a 1000 watt public address system through the office, and employ someone who would be responsible for performing a "call to meeting" 30 minutes before scheduled meetings. Of course, if the meeting room TV was always on, with some fresh roti and gado gado on the conference table, the meeting room would be packed all day.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Go fly a kite

It's common for people to describe Jakarta's weather as having two seasons - the "wet" and the "dry". In reality, it can rain any time of the year, so it's difficult to define when one season ends and the next begins. However, the easiest way to define the seasons here in Jakarta is to call them the "wet" season and the "kite" season. You can tell when most of the seasonal rains have disappeared when the skies are full of homemade kites fashioned from bamboo satay skewers and any kind of paper or plastic sheeting close at hand. Some fishing line or, more often, a fragile cotton line completes the project.

On any given day during the drier season you'll see kites flying all over Jakarta, at various altitudes, and as you drive around the sprawling metropolis you can count literally hundreds (and probably thousands, if you had the inclination to continue counting) of stranded kites hanging forlornly from trees, electrical wiring, television antennas and roofs.

Each weekend I recover several kites, some of which have been lovingly decorated, from my roof, upstairs verandah, and water tank tower, for redistribution to the kids who live in the adjacent kampung. Within 5 minutes the same kites are flying once again, and usually by the end of the day a couple of the kites have been marooned once again either on, or within view, of our house.

The wet season has gone, long live the kite season!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Photos as a status symbol

Expats who have been through the Indonesian work visa process will be aware of the particular requirement that ID photos required for visas, transmigration booklets and police identity cards must have a red background. Best of luck finding a passport photo outlet in your home country that has a red background on the premises. And, you'll need to provide numerous copies of these red-background photos in three different sizes (and visit and sit around sundry government offices for a day) in order to have all your paperwork processed.

Today I encountered another photo-related quirk that gave me a chuckle. When signing up as a member at a golf club, a colleague and I were instructed by the golf club to provide a passport photo for our membership card, which, because the card is gold, must have (you guessed it) ..... a GOLD background. Heaven forbid if my gold membership card had a red-background photo on it.

I'm sure if I ask someone at the golf club, they will be able to refer me to a nearby business (presumably a relative of a senior manager at the golf club) that specializes in passport photos with gold backgrounds.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Just like family

At the golf course where I play my regular Sunday game, I've been using the same caddy for a few months now. When he's not carrying a golf bag and reading greens for expats and rich Indonesians, Ahmad is a single figure handicap golfer, so he's given me quite a few useful tips that have helped my slowly improving golf game. As a caddy, Ahmad does a pretty good job, and doesn't laugh too loudly when my wayward shots find themselves in a chocolate brown creek or in deep rough. Ahmad's one word comment, "Kalimantan", allows me to quickly ascertain my chances of finding my ball if a tee shot hooks or slices into uncharted areas away from the fairways.

Caddies at most golf courses in Jakarta don't earn much salary, with their share of the official caddy fee paid to the golf course by the player only around Rp.20,000-Rp.40,000 (US$2-$4). If they caddy six days a week they'll make less than the legislated minimum wage, so how they make a decent living is from tips they receive at the end of a round. The "recommended" tip is Rp.40,000-Rp.50,000, but many expats, including myself and other guys I know, normally tip Rp.100,000. It's not much to us, but makes a big difference to the caddy's living standards.

Given that he's caddied for me about 10 times now, Ahmad has started to try his luck financially, in the same way that household staff will hit you up for a loan or tell you tales of woe about their family in order to capture your fiscal sympathy. In recent weeks Ahmad has badgered me about his wife's hospital bills, his son's school fees, and the fact that he doesn't own a set of irons so has been renting clubs off a friend when he needs to play in competitions. I know I'm a good tipper, but this won't stop Ahmad trying this type of thing every week. One day I gave him an extra Rp.50,000 for his wife's "hospital bill", and I've also outfitted Ahmad with a new cap to replace the tattered old cap he owned when I first met him, but even though I've made it perfectly clear that I'm not going to personally sponsor his family he'll keep trying.

In a perverse way I look forward to Sunday just so I can hear Ahmad's latest financial troubles. Which, all going according to plan, he'll casually bring up in conversation while we're walking down the 18th fairway. If he weren't a golf caddy, I'm sure Ahmad could have a successful career as a civil servant, where his talent would be matched with endless financial opportunity.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

It's not all bad

Since I started my blog last year I've had a few comments from readers that suggested I don't like living in Indonesia. On the contrary, I'm very much enjoying the experience of spending a few years in the midst of a different culture. And like any place in the world, there are good and not-so-good things to experience. Hopefully, regular readers of this blog will understand the humorous and satirical side of many of the posts, and realise that I do actually feel that Jakarta can be an interesting and enjoyable place to live.

I was thinking today about some of the things that are very different to what I'm used to back home in Australia, and a couple of great examples came to mind. They're both little things, but they do leave a very good impression.

The first example is what happens when you buy an item that is bulky or difficult to carry. In the West, you'd have to struggle with the package as best you can, which could mean stopping every few meters to rest, or to renew your grip or hold on the object. Here in Indonesia, the sales staff will take a lot of time and effort to package up the item, using a combination of plastic bags, baling twine, staples and packing tape, to fashion a handle to make it dead simple to carry with one hand. To me, that's excellent customer service, and is something that is unusual to find in a Western country.

The second example of Indonesian "niceness" is work related. We have a couple of hundred people working in our office, and there are two staff who are responsible for looking after the office kitchen and providing tea, coffee and drinking water for the office. Without fail, whenever there is a gathering of three of more people in a room for a meeting or informal discussion, one of the kitchen staff appear within 5 minutes, with fresh tea, coffee or water for each person. They do this without being asked, and are able to memorise every staff member's regular beverage preference. This may seem simple and quaint, but it's a very nice touch.

These are just two examples of the type of things that help to counterbalance the pollution, traffic and corruption.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The National Pastime

Because of it's widespread popularity in the US, baseball is referred to as "America's national pastime". After living in Indonesia for almost a year now, I've finally determined that Indonesia has a national pastime as well. Surprisingly, I'm not referring to corruption, nor the tendency for simple administrative processes to be as complicated and time consuming as possible.

Yes, it's clearcut. Indonesia's national pastime is transvestism. Every local television channel features sinetron (soap operas), sitcoms and variety shows that star, or are hosted by, blokes who like to dress up as women. Channel surf at any time of day or night and you'll spot an Indonesian guy camping it up as a character who would be right at home as one of the crossdressing Monty Python team or a cast member of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. Loud makeup, garish clothing and facial hair make you wonder whether Dame Edna Everage (or Boy George) have franchised their characters in this part of the world.

Given that slapstick comedy is a popular television genre here, I see a big opportunity to resurrect The Three Stooges for a comeback on Indonesian television. In drag, of course.

Friday, March 17, 2006

It's the little things that make you smile

Last weekend I was browsing at my local pirated electronic media outlet and I laughed out loud when I spotted "Team America" sitting on a shelf right in the middle of the section for cartoon and Disney DVDs.

I'm guessing that the staff member responsible for stock display in this retail outlet had not viewed the movie (or even taken a close look at the DVD cover), since, despite being a most enjoyable movie, Team America (from the creators of South Park) may not be entirely suited to viewing by the kiddies, thanks to it's "R" rating and the accompanying warning -

"Graphic, crude and sexual humor, violent images and strong language; all involving puppets"

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Two Sides To Every Story

I was out of town recently so couldn't attend a meeting that had been arranged with Indonesian executives from an international consulting firm that provides us with information on a regular basis. We'd called the meeting to seek clarification on some of the data they supply us. Another expat and one of our local managers attended the meeting in my absence.

Upon my return I separately asked the expat and the local manager how the meeting went. The responses were as follows:

Expat - "Mate, they were unable to answer any of our questions. They had absolutely no idea how the data they give us is derived"

Local - "Pak, the meeting was very worthwhile. The consultants were able to give us a lot of useful information"

And that's the way it is.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

By my calculations, this dude should get 970 years

Most readers will be aware that an ample breasted Australian woman is imprisoned in Bali for 20 years after being convicted of attempting to smuggle 4.1kg (9lbs) of wacky weed into Indonesia. My personal view is that she is guilty, but that's not relevant to this article.

This week the Jakarta Post reported that a member of the Indonesian Marine Corps was caught red handed by Police with 199 kilograms (440 pounds) of grass in his car, close to the Marine compound at Cilandak, South Jakarta. This soldier, a native of Aceh, on the very western tip of Indonesia, on the island of Sumatra, reportedly bought the load of hooch in his hometown for Rp.300,000 per kilo (less than $1.00 an ounce), and drove for several days from Aceh to Jakarta, which also involved a boat trip from Lampung to Banten in order to cross from Sumatra to the island of Java.

One of the more ridiculous aspects of this case is the fact that the police estimate the street value of the 199 kgs of ganja to be Rp.360m, or just over $36,000. If that's the case, Schapelle's load of grass would only be worth a measly $800, which is hardly enough to risk being stood against a wall for target practice at sunrise.

So, with 199 kilos of dope in his possession, by my calculations our Marine Corp villain should be sentenced to somewhere around 970 years in prison.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Leg man or arse man?

As reported in the media and by my esteemed blogging colleagues recently, an "anti pornography" Bill that was first submitted to the House of Representatives in 1992 has been resurrected and reported to be currently under deliberation by the House.

Today's Jakarta Post discusses some of the detail of the Bill -

Article 79 of the bill mandates a Rp 200 million fine and a minimal jail
term of two years for "showing off sensual parts of the female body", which
include thighs, hips, breasts and navel.

I'm no lawyer, nor do I play one on TV, but my reading of the above suggests that arses may be exempt, which means that skin tight jeans may well remain the default attire of Jakartan women between the ages of 16 and 40.

If you live in the western suburbs of Jakarta and are a leg man or a Japanese visitor with an eye for high school girls in short skirts, you will also out of luck soon, following the Mayor of Tangerang's proposed regulation banning skirts that show knee or thigh.

And, you better stock up on porn DVDs before all the roadside sellers are locked up as well.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Jesus Christ ridiculed in Jakarta!

I wonder if there are any Jakarta-based Christian readers of this blog interested in forming a protest group to visit Mangga Dua or Ratu Plaza where Muslims are selling DVD copies of the blasphemous movie "Life of Brian", in which the Lord's son is portrayed as a potty mouthed fornicator and graffitist?

Danes and Kiwis are especially welcome to join this worthy crusade.

Friday, January 27, 2006

It happens all over the world

Last night my band shared a gig at a function with an Indonesian band, with the PA system, stage equipment and sound crew being hired by the venue. When we arrived we were impressed, as the PA was high quality Bose and Mackie gear (it's not the norm to see such good equipment here), and the backline looked promising as well, with Marshall and Ampeg guitar and bass rigs. This was our first gig with our new singer, so we were pumped to see what looked to be a kickarse setup.

The Indonesian band played first, and had a good sound happening, although the mainly bule audience was not enjoying the music. Perhaps the 8 or 9 song Bee Gees medley that formed the majority of their set had something to do with that. People in the crowd were saying to us that they hope we're gonna be better than the first band, and we knew we were, so we were itching to get on stage.

We got up on stage and played a great set, with lots of people dancing, and appreciative applause and cheers after each song, with the crowd really getting into it. We had a really good sound happening on stage, however the vocal monitors were turned right down, and our hand signals to the sound guy and verbal requests for more foldback were ignored. OK, no problem, we can hear enough of our vocals from the mains to get by reasonable well. So, we play a rocking set, the dance floor is packed, every song gets cheers and applause, and at the end of our set people can't get enough of us, shaking our hands, backslapping, people offering us gigs etc.

After our set the first band gets up again and launches into another Bee Gees medley and as I'm chatting to some people I'm told that we sounded great despite the fact that the sound guy had turned off the vocal monitors and the subs, bypassed the main EQ, and messed with the vocal mic levels. So, it seems that the sound guy pulled the old "suck button" trick so we wouldn't sound better than the other band, presumably because we're bules. Nice to know that the music business is the same anywhere in the world, although normally that type of stuff only happens with touring bands and their support acts, not among hackers playing for beer money in a bar. It was satisfying to blow the other band away despite the best efforts of their sound engineer.

Funny part is, before we played we asked the sound guy for his business card, since we'll be looking to hire a good PA like this every now and then, so he's boned himself in the arse from a business point of view. Nice work!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Pest control requiring WMD

My esteemed blogging colleague Indcoup writes today about the ease of dealing with rodents at his residence -

I have always made sure on my trips to Hero Supermarket to pick up loads of the wonderfully effective rat traps that they make here. My particular favorite is a simple wooden board that has been covered with the stickiest fucking glue that you can imagine. When the little bastards walk on this they simply have no chance.

Indcoup obviously hasn't seen the monster rat that lives in our back garden, which weighs in around the same as a well fed tom cat and is clearly the Mike Tyson of the Jakarta rodent community. I invested in a couple of the sticky glue rat traps mentioned above (these are hefty traps, around 25cm long and 10cm wide) and placed them along external walls in the garden area as recommended on the packaging (apparently, rodents have poor eyesight, so like to travel close to walls and use their whiskers for navigation).

The next morning, I checked the traps, while armed with a long blunt ended object, on the assumption that I would need to dispatch the stuck monster rat in close quarter hand to hand combat. To my amazement I found one of the traps upside down and 2 meters away from where I had placed it, with two large rat footprints embedded in the industrial strength glue. Iron Mike The Monster Rat had treated the super dooper rat trap with disdain, casting it aside like somebody kicking off their sandals at the front door.

I can see that more advanced weaponry will be required to deal with this unwanted guest. I thought about importing a good old Australian possum trap, but Indonesian Customs would probably want to charge me $500 import duty on it as a "luxury item".

Friday, January 20, 2006

I'm going to chalk this one up as a win

Recently I bought a (one, single, satu) used golf club online to complete a set of clubs I've been putting together. Given that the price of the very same item new in Jakarta golf shops is $300, I did my sums and decided that buying used for $80, adding $20 for shipping and taking into account the 50% import duty on golf equipment, for around $150 all up I'd be doing ok.

Imagine my surprise and consternation (actually, I was rather pissed off) when the customs invoice I received was for $430. Yes, import duty and taxes on a used item that cost $80 were calculated at $430. WTF?

On contacting the customs broker I was informed that when they opened the package he assessed that the golf club was in "almost new" condition, so decided to classify it as "luxury goods" and slapped an arbitrary $500 value on it (which in itself doesn't fully explain the astronomical demand for import duty, but let's not try and second guess the method of calculation, as that would be pointless).

Anyway, I contacted the customs broker, however my repeated statement that the item is not new, and besides, I can buy a new one at Plaza Senayan or Mal Pondok Indah at list price for less than the import duty they're charging, fell on deaf ears. So, I told them they can keep the golf club (I was tempted to be more direct) and do what they want with it, because I'm not paying over $500 (purchase price + duty) for a used item that I could buy new locally for $300.

If the customs guy doesn't play golf he's up excrement river without an outboard. Serves him right for trying to win the jackpot instead of settling for his normal steady percentage take from the freight company. Now that the initial frustration has worn off, I'm feeling contented with this result. It's almost worth the hundred I ate on the deal, just for the satisfaction of knowing that one corrupt government official didn't get what he wanted this time.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Wedding Economics 101

In Western countries weddings are expensive events for the happy couple and their parents, often depleting savings accounts or necessitating taking out a loan in order to pay for lavish reception venues and for feeding and watering guests, who tend to maximise their nutritional and fluid intake because it's free. Guest lists are often limited in number due to the financial constraints of budgeting for the cost of food and booze. In return, the bride and groom will acquire assorted small kitchen appliances, linen, wine glasses, serving trays and candle holders as gifts from the invited guests. In almost all cases, a wedding generates a loss on the balance sheet.

However, in Indonesia, a wedding can be a cashflow-positive project. Because venue hire and catering is very inexpensive, and most wedding guests will be non-drinking Muslims, there is no real financial limit to how many people can be invited to a wedding reception, particularly as the custom is for reception guests to come and go at any time during the reception. The clincher is that wedding gifts in Indonesia are almost always cold hard cash, which gives a handy start to married life for the newlyweds.

The key to a successful wedding in Indonesia is to use the following formula for determining how many people you invite to the reception:

Capacity of reception venue x 5

The formula ensures that the venue is packed for the duration of the reception, even if 75% of the invitees do not attend, and maximises your return on investment.

This explains why I've received wedding invitations from people I've met once or co-workers who I've spoken to for 5 minutes in 6 months. Being a bule (Caucasian) is probably another factor, since expats are considered a safe bet to be in a position to give generously to the bride and groom. And if it's an alcohol-free Muslim wedding, there's no chance for us to drink our way into the profits.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Considering coming back as a goat?

Tomorrow is a holy day for Islam (Idul Ahda, The Day of Sacrifice), where any Muslim who can afford to do so is asked to purchase a goat or cow for slaughter to provide a feast for the less fortunate. So, every blade of grass in Jakarta is currently grazing livestock that have been trucked in from out of town. Children are oohing and aahing at the cute animals, and shepherds are lovingly tending their flocks and fattening them up.

But tomorrow is a different story. From early in the morning the throat cutting and draining of blood begins. Lucky me, I live right next door to a local kampung who will be feasting on goat tomorrow.

Fortunately, it's also a holiday, and I've got an 8.00am tee time booked at the course, but nevertheless I'm bound to be awoken before sunrise by the sound of goats making a hell of a racket once the first of their buddies gets the chop.

Incidentally, the going rate for goats at this time of the year is around $80, and cows require an investment of around $600. You can even transfer cash from your bank account via an ATM to an organisation who will look after the purchase and delivery of a goat on your behalf to the poor, if you can't be arsed shopping for your own goat, trying to squeeze it into the back of your Kijang and driving around town looking for a worthy recipient.

Me, I'm coming back as a cat, thank you very much.

Update: We had an interesting start to the day. The party in the kampung next door started at sunrise, and we had booked a taxi for 6.30am to get us to the course for an 8.00am hit off. At 6.15am the taxi company phoned me to say the taxi couldn't get to my house because the road was closed (we live 100m from a big mosque). So, myself and my next door neighbour walked up the road with our golf clubs over our shoulders and weaved our way through several hundred people who had laid their prayer mats on the roads surrounding the mosque. We got some funny looks, but most people were cool about it.

Fortunately we missed the goat slaughter, but on the golf course we did hear from a nearby mosque what sounded like a microphone held up against a goat's mouth while it was getting the chop.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Praise Allah and pass the Bundy

On a recent foray downunder for the holiday season I was keen to purchase my favourite rum at the duty free price (1) to save myself a few bucks, and (2) because I've not seen Bundy for sale in Jakarta. Imagine my shock when the "duty free" price at the airport in Australia was an exorbitant US$20, whereas the little duty free shop next to the baggage collection area at Soekarno-Hatta airport in Jakarta sells the same stuff with a price tag of just US$12, which made my purchasing decision very easy.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Which would you choose?

Let's say you earn an average wage and you have some spare disposable income left over at the end of the month. The main mode of transport for you, your wife, 3 year old daughter and newborn baby is a 125cc motor cycle. You live in a city where 1500 people died in road accidents during the past year. Your choices for spending your spare cash are (1) Safety equipment for your wife and kids (sunglasses for the 3 year old who rides standing in your lap holding onto the handlebars doesn't count). A helmet or two might be a good idea. (2) Fluorescent orange (or pink) spokes for both wheels, a blue lens cover for your tail light, some stickers that say "Rocket Turbo", "Super Missile" or "Banzai Rocket", and some coloured adhesive stripes.

I know, it's a simple question. If you're Indonesian, you choose (2) every time.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Doo doo run run, doo doo run run

I've been converting food into brown liquid for a week now, but other than that I've felt ok (no fever, stomach pain or anything like that). The little lady talked me into going to the doctor yesterday in case it was something more serious, and guess what? It is.

After giving a "stool sample" (have you ever tried to fill up one of those little containers when you've got the runs?) I sat around for 40 minutes while the lab did their thing (wouldn't you love that job?), and then the doctor told me I have Amoebiasis, which is basically a bunch of parasites having a party in my intestines. I'm on a 10 day course of some high powered antibiotics, which means no beer.

I witnessed something extremely rare

Indonesians don't like to stand in line. Pushing to the front and making the most noise is the usual method here. Well, knock me down with a feather, we were at a wedding on the weekend and after the speeches 200 guests formed an orderly, quiet, patient queue to congratulate the bride and groom. Now there's a thought - perhaps the Post Office could play a little wedding music to bring the front counter rabble under control?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Lots of visitors to our house this week

The above photo is not our house, but it's fairly representative of the oversized ostentatious mansions where expats and well-off Indonesians live in Jakarta. These houses start at 3 or 4 bedrooms, and can have as many as 8 or 9. I was told by a local recently that it costs between US$7500 and $20000 to build a house like this in Jakarta. Sounds cheap, especially when they can be rented out for $1500-$5000 per month. Nice return on investment, wouldn't you say?

Well, there is a reason these houses are cheap. Labour is inexpensive, and shortcuts and shoddy workmanship abound. A few dollars worth of cement render, plaster and a coat of paint can hide a multitude of sins.

We were visited this week by a few million termites, who tunneled from their underground nest until they found the bottom edges of door architraves conveniently sitting unprotected on the soil immediately below the floor of the house. These little fellows love nothing better than to chew through soft timber like it's the last supper. (Actually, as we've since brought in the pest exterminators it probably was their last meal).

I was amazed at the initial inaction from the landlord, as we tried to explain that their "asset" was being eaten to dust right before our eyes. Our main concern was that our furniture would be on the dessert menu, however the landlord took a lot of convincing before they sent in the special forces to treat the affected areas.

When the munched architraves we removed from the door frames there was nothing between the floor and the foundations, so the termites had a plethora of entry points to unprotected timber. And they really love cheap particleboard kitchen cupboards.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Telephone conversations and flashbacks to 1978

Indonesian telephone etiquette has been written about at great length by others online, so I won't bother writing a tome here. Suffice to say, every phone conversation with an Indonesian starts off like the introduction to PIL's 1978 single "Public Image" (for those kiddies out there among you, PIL was John Lydon's [a.k.a Johhny Rotten] first band after the demise of the Sex Pistols). If you still have no idea what I'm talking about, the introduction to that song went something like this -


Perhaps SBY could issue a Presidential Decree that makes it mandatory for phone users to identify themselves or state their purpose after the other person says "hello" once? (even twice would be a huge improvement)

Monday, November 07, 2005

Don't worry, be happy

The chances of being killed by a terrorist bomb are equal anywhere in the world these days, and you've got a far greater chance of being struck by lightning, meeting your maker in a car crash (especially in Jakarta), or being taken by a Great White on a Gold Coast beach. So, there's really no reason to stop going to Bali. There are lots of beautiful places to see away from the well worn tourist tracks, and the Balinese people are peaceful and friendly. Visit, and enjoy yourself.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Go directly to jail, do not pass go, but stay on the payroll

Did you know that if you are an Indonesian in jail awaiting trial, your employer is required to continue paying your salary for 6 months, on the basis that your wife and kids need to eat somehow? That's a pretty noble concept, but what about the government officials who are behind bars on charges of embezzling billions of Rupes in government funds, as presumably their takings are safely ensconsed in a bank account in Switzerland or the Bahamas, with their family living off the proceeds.

Coincidence? Not really

On the same day that the results were released of an international survey that ranks the level of corruption in nations around the world, placing Indonesia 137th out of 158 nations (equal with Iraq), I had a friendly visit from some government officials on a fishing expedition.

Three uniformed officials from the Manpower Ministry (Dept of Labour) arrived unannounced at the office today and began by nosing around to find out the names of any expats on site. Given the amount of paperwork we expats have to fill in when we arrive here, I would have assumed that these guys would already know everything there is to know about us, and would have our birthdays on their desk calendar, but I may be wrong.

As soon as one of our staff gave them my name (the other two expats at our company were out of town today), they proceeded to make their way to my office and make themselves at home. Based on their line of questioning and the fact that all three had completely blank notebooks, but only one had a pen, I soon realised this was a pre-Lebaran (the annual festival that concludes the fasting month - an expensive holiday season for Muslims, just as Christmas is in western countries) shakedown to come up with some way to get money out of me or the company.

After writing down the names and job titles of our expats discussion turned to less formal matters, and in conversation the lead guy mentioned that his oldest child is studying in the US, and his second (of four) is studying in Australia. Given that public servants earn around $100 a month, it doesn't take a brain surgeon to work out how a guy like this manages to afford to put his kids through university overseas.

So, if you come across an Indonesian student at a university in Australia or the US, you can safely assume that one or another well known multinational company is funding that kid via an informal "scholarship".

Monday, October 17, 2005

He was only trying to help

Yesterday we played at a course that is owned by the military (*), and my caddy (males at this course, not cute young girls) seemed a little too keen for me to card a good score. I'm guessing his willingness to cheat was his way of trying to get a better than average tip out of me at the end of the round.

Even though my scorecard could have used a few less shots, I'm a bad enough golfer to realise that there's nothing to be gained by cheating, and I would have only been cheating myself if I went along with my caddy's tricks.

He tried every trick in the book -

Replacing my ball a few inches closer to the hole after marking it on the green;

Trying to convince me that I scored a 5 rather than a 6 on that hole (I had to remind him about the one shot penalty for taking a drop after ending up in a water hazard);

And, the classic "drop a new ball down the trouser leg" when looking for a lost ball in the rough. He tried hard, since a ball of the same brand and number as my wayward tee shot rolled out from his trouser cuff (I had a box of new balls in my bag all with the same number).

Whenever I pulled him up on these cheating attempts he just shrugged his shoulders and grinned.

* The military have many business activities in Indonesia, since the national budget only allocates around half the funds necessary to support the armed forces, so the top brass have to find other ways to raise money to keep the army, navy and air force in operation

Indonesians like both kinds of music

Country ...... and western

I was channel surfing after dinner one night last week and came across one of those "train wreck" programs - one that is so gruesome that you keep looking at it for longer than you should, in case you miss something.

It turns out that TVRI has a weekly country music program called "Country Road", which features line dancing, lots of Indonesians sitting around wearing cowboy hats and checked shirts drinking iced tea, and a house band whose frontman was dressed like a cross between Elvis and Neil Diamond, with Bono sunglasses thrown in for added effect. As the camera panned around the audience I also spotted the rather unusual sight of a Muslim woman wearing a stetson perched on top of her hijab (headscarf). Authenticity is maintained by the band's songs being performed with the original English lyrics.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Security beefed up in response to Bali bombings

Our small town house complex has a security crew that is arranged by the landlord, and all the tenants pay a monthly fee that covers these guys. They're a nice friendly bunch, and most of them live in the kampung next door. The landlord provides them with the standard style of security uniform that you see all over Jakarta, although I'm guessing that choice of footwear is up to the guys themselves. Most of them favour sandals or thongs (or "flip flops" for our US readers), but at least one of the guys is right into the uniform thing and has a pair of army surplus boots, which are always freshly polished.

Last week, presumably in response to the general heightened security focus in Jakarta after the Kuta and Jimbaran bombings, our landlord decided on a highly visible enhancement to the security team at our complex. The standard issue baseball caps with a "security" logo have now been replaced by a navy blue version of what looks a lot like a German SS officer's cap (but not the leather caps favoured by the Village People). I've seen the guys wearing their new caps once, but most of them are sticking with the old baseball caps.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Indonesia 1, Nigeria 0

Last week my driver fell for a clever scam that ended up costing him 4.5 million Rupiah (more than 3 months' salary).

On Friday somebody unknown phoned the driver's house claiming to be a doctor from a hospital in Jakarta, and told his son that the driver had been involved in an accident and was in hospital. The doctor advised that in order for the required emergency surgery and treatment to go ahead, the family would need to make a 2.0 million Rupiah bank transfer immediately, to pay the hospital bill. Thirty minutes later the "doctor" made a followup call requesting a further 2.5 million.

In the meantime, while these phone calls were taking place and family members were running off to the bank to transfer funds into the "hospital" bank account, my driver was either asleep in the car or gossiping with other drivers after having dropped me off at a hotel for a meeting. My driver's wife had tried to phone him to see if he was ok, but because the driver was in the underground carpark below the hotel there was no mobile phone coverage. Of course, to his wife this confirmed that something serious had happened to him, which is why the family were so willing to send their hard earned savings to the "hospital".

The hilariously incompetent Nigerian email scammers could learn a trick or two from their Indonesian colleagues.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The miracle of full employment

Back home in Australia there are throngs of unemployed who do nothing all day but watch videos, drink VB cans and tend hydroponic gardens in their roof cavity or garage. They could learn a great deal from the Indonesian system, where an entrepreneurial spirit is encouraged and self employment is widespread.

For example, in a huge urban spraw like Jakarta where there are 12 or 15 million residents (depending on which data you read) and where there seems to be more motor cycles, cars and buses than people, the most popular occupation is that of "Ground Traffic Controller". Traffic police do a great job of keeping things moving at major intersections, but it is the uniform-less civilian who owns the most important role in facilitating vehicular travel throughout Jakarta.

So, how does one go about pursuing a career as a traffic controller? Actually, it's much simpler than you would imagine, as there are no tertiary studies involved. In fact, many traffic controllers begin their on-the-job experience before they complete primary school, as they begin their career path in the transportation logistics industry. The basics are (1) find a nearby intersection, street corner, narrow laneway or driveway in front of a shop (2) act confident, as if you've been appointed by someone official to control traffic in that area (3) be brave and step into the path of oncoming traffic and raise your hand (4) hold out your other hand to any drivers that successfully enter the traffic stream during the diversion you created, to collect the optional 500 or 1000 Rupiah fee for service.

For those of you with an artistic bent (notice I didn't use the word "talent"), another option is to buy, borrow or find a guitar or ukelele. Don't be discouraged by missing strings, tone deafness or a lack of musical knowledge, thousands of your peers weren't. Sit around on a street where traffic is known to bank up (this is a given for most streets in Jakarta, so it's not that difficult to decide upon a location), strum the strings and make a noise, any noise with your mouth. When the traffic lights turn red or traffic is at a standstill (again, there are no shortages of opportunities for you to put yourself to work) approach several vehicles and display your new found musical knowledge, in the hope that an appreciative driver or passenger will reward you with some coins. Bear in mind that you will have to strum your instrument quite vigorously and may need to project your vocals somewhat in order to be heard, given that there is considerable ambient noise on the street and the vehicles will have all the windows raised, air conditioner on, and stereo operating.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Golf Jakarta style

On a hot day at the golf course it's always nice to have someone else to carry your clubs. The pro golfers on TV always have their own personal caddy, but I can't remember ever seeing any like these caddies at Cengkareng golf club in Jakarta.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Fire, water, burn

This morning we were limping along in peak hour traffic when I heard sirens approaching from behind our car. I expected to see a Police vehicle escorting a rich Indonesian in a BMW or Mercedes running late for an appointment, or an Ambulance making a futile attempt to get through traffic to treat an accident victim.

As it turned out, the sirens, and flashing lights, were on six bright red motorcycles, and on each of the bikes were two firefighters, wearing their full fire uniforms and helmets, but carrying no equipment (and certainly no water). Given that fire trucks generally make it to the scene of a fire at least an hour or so after receiving a call (because of the traffic), I'm assuming these guys are some kind of first response team who try to do what they can before the big red trucks arrive at the scene. High pressure fire hydrants and hoses are few and far between in Jakarta, so I tip my hat to the motorcycle-borne first response team, who presumably do what they can to rescue trapped people while keeping an eye out for nearby water sources that might slow the flames until the trucks arrive.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Cowhides and Colonialism

Yesterday we had brunch at the Cafe Batavia, which is a delightfully restored building that was built in the early 1800's and is located in the old Dutch quarter of Jakarta. The menu is extensive and reasonably priced, and the presentation of dishes is first class. All walls, including the rest rooms, are covered in framed photographs of celebrities, movie stars and historical figures.

As for the cowhide bar and matching waistcoats, I've got no idea what that's all about.

BB's Blues Club

We finally got around to checking out BB's Blues Club on the weekend, after hearing a lot about how good a venue it is. There's little to go by on the web in terms of information or reviews, so all I knew before I went there is that it's a three level building with a bar plus a couple of different rooms that have blues, rock and reggae bands, and various people had posted good reviews online.

As it turns out, BB's is a pretty cool venue, nice and intimate (read: small), albeit a fire trap given the narrow staircase and lack of emergency exits. Cover charge was a tiny Rp. 25,000, which included a free Bintang. On the night we turned up, there was a duo in the downstairs bar, which looked empty, and the first floor room was locked and presumably not in operation, so on the top floor was a 7 piece "classic rock" band, with two male vocalists who split the set list between them. The smoky room would probably hold no more than 50 people, and seats around half that number. On this night there were maybe 15-20 patrons. The PA sounded pretty good and wasn't too loud that you couldn't hold a conversation. A couple of the guys (drummer and lead guitarist in this case) were excellent musicians, and the rest of the band were capable. The singers struggled to find songs that suited them, and the quality of songs after the first 2 or 3 tunes dropped off quickly, which was disappointing.

I'd be keen to go to BB's again when a top-notch blues act is playing, as the venue would have great atmosphere with the right band on stage.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Another day, another dollar

It's not the best photo, but on the right of the photo is a roadside grocery stall located across the road from my office. Every day, two of the red pantech trucks like the one you can see in the photo arrive around 9.00am, and for the next 5 hours the stall owners and their family unload the trucks and arrange the stock neatly on the shelves in a very organised and colourful way. They also fill buckets with water from the open stormwater drain that runs behind the stall, and use the water to dampen the road surface immediately in front of the stall to suppress dust.

Eventually, around 2.00pm the store is ready for business, and the owners can take a little break until the the day shift employees from the surrounding factories finish work at around 3.00pm and fill the street with traffic as they head home. It seems to me that the store caters for people who want to buy a few groceries on the way home, plus passers-by who live in the area.

As roadside stores go, it's bigger than most, and has quite a lot of stock, which is unusual for this type of business, since it takes good cash flow to afford to buy stock to put on the shelves.

The store stays open until sunset, which is around 6.00pm all year round. Even though there is an electricity pole right next to the stall the owners haven't taken the initiative to splice a line from the power supply to light up their stall at night, unlike many of their peers, which is very unusual.

So, once trading ends sometime between 6.00pm and 7.00pm, all the stock has to be packed up into the trucks again, since the store has no way of being locked or secured after hours. I haven't stayed at the office to see how long it takes to pack everything up, but I'm guessing a good couple of hours. Essentially, there is around 7 hours of unpacking, setup and packing each day, for about 4 or maybe 5 hours of serving the public.

And they do this every day of the week.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Home delivery

We went to the mall and purchased a cot for the baby's room. The cot was imported and required assembly, so we were told that it would be delivered and assembled for us, which to our ears sounded like excellent customer service. We assumed that the cot would be delivered the next day, however at around 8.00pm the same night I took a call at home from the delivery guys, asking specific directions to our house, saying that they're on their way and would be there a little later. We thought that was a bit late to be delivering stuff to customers, but we figured it wouldn't take them long to assemble the cot once they arrived shortly.

At around 10.00pm we'd given up on them arriving that night, and by then we'd agreed it was too late to be disturbed so if they arrived we'd tell them to come back the next day. I was brushing my teeth at 10.30pm ready for bed when I heard a truck outside the house with its reversing alarm beeping. I peered out from the curtains and watched the delivery guys leave this expensive cot on our front doorstep, and drive off again. After they'd driven away I opened the door and brought the parcel inside the house, and figured I'd be assembling it myself the next day.

Of course, I was wrong once again, and the delivery guys duly turned up the next morning to assemble the cot. That didn't stop the store phoning twice later that day to let us know that the guys would be coming around that night to assemble the cot.

Smacking the little white ones

Today I discovered there is a golf driving range about 2 miles from our house, so a couple of other guys and I went for a hit this morning. The range is in the middle of a residential area, so they have lots of poles and nets set up, but it's still as good as any range back home. It's only 175 yards long, so no woods or long irons are allowed, but at $3 for 100 balls I'm not complaining. And, there is a bar, swimming pool and tennis courts in the same complex, so nice and handy actually. The golf coach is an Aussie too.

There are lots of good courses within 1 hour drive of Jakarta, and green fees ($20-40) include caddies, so I'm looking forward to having a hit semi-regularly.


It's Sunday night here and I'm busy replacing bodily fluids after 5 hours on the golf course (it was slow today, with an interclub competition happening on the course), so I thought I'd write about what it's like to play golf in Indonesia.

The courses are amazingly good, most are championship quality (grass grows like crazy here in the tropics, so they're easy to have looking real nice). I've played on some of the best courses in Australia, and the "average" Jakarta course I played today (owned by the Indonesian Navy) is a good as any of them. Off the members blue tees it's rated 72.8, so it's very tough.

Green fees today were $30, including a caddy. The course we played at today had male caddies, although there are a few courses in Jakarta who have female caddies. The male caddies are all very good golfers who can help your game, whereas the female caddies could tend to make you lose concentration.

My caddy was a 10 handicapper who knew the course like the back of his hand, and his club selection and putting tips were spot on for a hacker like me. I tipped him $10, which is a lot of money to a local, given that the official minimum wage is less than $80 per month.

The course was very tough, with water and sand on every hole, and some very narrow fairways that punished wayward shots off the tee. Of course, it was very hot, and my shirt and shorts were soaking wet after 3 holes. I drank 2 litres of water, 5 cans of "Pocari Sweat" (the local Gatorade) and 2 Cokes, and didn't take a piss all day.

Everywhere there is a water hazard, rough or out of bounds (you lose a lot of balls on this course), there is some guy sitting with a neatly wrapped package of 10 near new balls they will sell you for $2. So forget about buying new balls in the pro shop, since you can get 10 Titelists or Pinnacles for $2 out on the course. These guys wade through stinking leech infested chocolate brown lakes and water hazards to retrieve these balls, and that's a job I'm happy for them to do, and not me.

Today my Aussie buddy and I played with a Canuck and a Finn, as part of Sunday expat golf group called the T-Set. We just rock up at 10am on Sundays and can get a tee time without being members or booking a time. That's one of the best perks of being an expat here.

The Canuck had a set of Dunlop Loco covers on his woods, and he was telling us that last week he played at a course with female caddies, and all day the girls were pointing at his golf bag and giggling. Today he asked his male caddy if he could work out what the laughter was all about. Turns out that "loco" is a colloquial Javanese word that means "masturbate". He's now in the market for a new set of wood covers.

As we were about to hit off on the 16th tee, a security guard comes over and raises his hand to stop us, while around 30 guys (on 12 or 13 motor cycles) rode past on their way to a back gate. Turns out they were club employees (clubhouse, greens etc) on their way to afternoon prayers.

After the round, massages are available for $4-$10, and beers are $1.20. I probably lost 5lbs in perspiration on the course today, but at these prices golf is a great pastime here.

Movie time

Today (Sunday) we decided to go to the movies and had no idea what to expect. Surprisingly, the experience was almost identical to going to the movies back home, apart from the price. For $2.50 each we got to select a reserved seat in an air-conditioned 150 seat Dolby Surround cinema, to watch a new release movie (The Merchant of Venice, starring Al Pacino) in absolute comfort, with around 12 other people. Two Pepsis and popcorn cost another $2.50. I also noticed the snack bar had beer in the fridge next to the spring water and sodas. All in all, a very nice surprise. They have Gold Class cinemas here as well, so we will definitely be checking those out soon, especially at these prices.

I guess the prices have to be so low in order to entice people to venture out from their homes, given that you can buy pirated DVDs for $1. I bought the entire first 5 seasons (20 DVDs) of The Sopranos for $15, and the quality is the real deal. I suppose I should feel guilty about that.


The power to the entire city went down from 10.30am until 4.00pm. Can you imagine what kind of havoc that causes in a city of 15 million people? Most factories and large offices have backup diesel generators, but without traffic lights the gridlock is doubly worse. We managed to keep half the factory running on the generator.


We had a candlelight dinner last night because there was no power for 2 hours. Given that it was just our town house compound and the adjoining kampung (village) that was blacked out, I'm guessing someone in the kampung tried to splice a line off the mains again and blew out an insulator. Happens every few weeks or so.

Lucky for us our range and oven is gas, so we could still eat dinner.

Independence Day

Australians are pretty laid back about national holidays. Australia Day is pretty tame, probably because we didn't have to fight anybody to be an independent nation. On the other hand, I know that Independence Day is a big occasion in the US, because you guys had to kick out the Brits in order to become a nation.

Tomorrow is Indonesian Independence Day, and I must say it's a huge deal here. Indonesia was ruled by the Dutch for 500 years, so when they finally kicked them out it was a significant event. Actually, in some respects the Indonesians have to thank Japan, since Indonesia was occupied by Japan during WW2, and after Japan surrendered to the Allies in 1945, the Indonesians basically refused to let the Dutch back in. Of course, that's my simplistic version, when in reality there was long drawn out fighting between nationalist Indonesian forces and the Dutch for several years.

Anyway, it's such a big deal here that even the poorest families buy Indonesian flags at this time of the year to hang in front of their houses. The streets are full of red and white flags, banners and colored lights, and cars, buses, trucks and motor cycles also have flags attached. The flags started appearing two weeks ago, and it's quite a spectacular sight given that tomorrow is the day. A lot of small roadside vendors have made extra money this month by adding flags to their normal inventory of snack food, drinks, motor cycle parts, fruit, bumper stickers or potted plants.


I know most people realise that Indonesia is the world's most populous Islamic nation, but I'm not sure how many readers know what goes on with that religion. Actually, about 90% of the population follow Islam, with the remaining 10% being Christians, Buddhists and Hindus. I'm no expert on religion by any stretch, but here's what I know so far about Muslims in Indonesia.

In general, Indonesians don't practice the extreme forms of Islam, although there are large populations of more conservative fundamental Muslims in Aceh (north Sumatra, where the devastating tsumani was last year), Sulawesi and Solo City (down the other end of Java from Jakarta).

Therefore, it's rare to see women wearing the full black robe and headscarf here in Jakarta. Most Jakartan women dress in western style, although around 30% of them wear a fashionable headscarf with their skin tight jeans, high heels and blouse/tshirt top. That said, you don't see many short skirts, except for waitresses and girls looking for action, paid or otherwise in bars.

Muslims pray at least 5 times a day, and there are mosques and prayer rooms (mushollah) on every block in the city. Our factory has mushollah on site to facilitate the daily prayers. Only males are allowed to enter mosques, and on Fridays there is a one hour prayer session at lunch time in addition to the regular prayer times throughout the day. The Friday session is an important one for the guys, and they get changed out of their work clothes and into their "Sunday best". First prayer each day is at 4.30am, with the last prayer time being around 9.00pm. The times change from day to day based on the movement of the sun.

Pork products can't be eaten because pigs are regarded as unclean. You rarely see a dog here, and not because they're a delicacy like in Korea, but because dogs are considered unclean because they lick their asses. However, for some unexplained reason, cats are very popular here, even though they lick their asses. I don't know the reason for that.

The Muslim equivalent of Christmas festivities is Lebaran/Ramadan, which is held in October/November, and changes every year according to the lunar calendar. For an entire month, Muslims are not allowed to eat, drink or have sex during daylight hours, as a sacrifice and commitment to their faith. Every day after sunset, they woof down as much food and water as they can stuff into themselves, and presumably fornicate like rabbits until just before dawn, when they have a huge breakfast to get them through the day. At the end of the month of fasting they have a big feast with their family, a bit like what we know as Christmas.

The government legislates that all employers must pay their staff one month's salary as a bonus before the feast, to allow people to travel back to their home village and buy shitloads of food and gifts. During the Ramadan fast, alcohol cannot be on display, so the bars cover their windows and sell beer in coffee mugs. Last year some bars were raided by some zealots and gave the bar owners a hard time for selling booze. I'm told that the working girls still perform as normal during the fast, but they'll wake you up at 4.00am to order room service.

Because everyone is starving and running on zero sleep during the fast, productivity is very low. Our factory closes for 2 out of the 4 weeks of the fast, because little work gets done. We’ll be heading to Bali during that break for some R&R, since the Balinese are Hindu, so things are not affected by the Muslim fast.

When you've gotta go

Those of you who have travelled in Asia and visited toilets in any place other than good hotels will relate to this. This is the 8th week I've been working here, and during that entire time I've managed to avoid taking a dump at the office. I unload before I leave home and hope I don't eat something dodgy during the day. Indonesians have really good personal hygeine and grooming, but their plumbing systems and quality of their bathrooms stink. Literally.

The other drawback about using an unfamiliar bathroom here is that toilet paper is not always available. Many toilets are "squat" style - hang your trousers up on the hook on the wall, and put your feet in the "footprints" on either side of the hole in the ground, then let rip. If you're lucky there will be a tap with a hose attached to it that you can use as a bidet, wiping with your left hand (which is why you don't eat or hand anything to a Muslim with your left hand), or maybe there will be a tub of water that you can use to "clean up". So, always carry a few squares of toilet paper just in case.

Rock and roll

This afternoon we found a Tex-Mex bar about 2 miles from here called "Amigos". They have live bands 7 nights a week, and a Peavey house PA. All of the bands are locals, including one C&W band, and an Elvis impersonator on Sunday nights. My mission is to put together an expat band and get a residency at this place, since it's close to home, has a good atmosphere, and a house PA. With so many expats living in this part of town, I'm thinking blues or southern rock will be the format that will work for this venue. Wish me luck!


We jammed for two hours tonight at a rehearsal room cum recording studio. Nice rooms, as good as any rehearsal rooms I've played at downunder, and is only 2 or 3 miles from our house. There is a house drum kit (Pearl), no-name bass rig and a Marshall half stack. I took my rig last night, but will use the house rig next time to save lugging mine. Room rental is only $6/hour.

Everything was miked up when we got there, and the owner came and stuck a mic in front of my cab after I set up. At first I thought he was doing that for the room PA, which would have been overkill, but after we had finished and were packing up I found out what he had been up to. He'd recorded the entire session on hard disk, and he'd done a pretty good job, judging by the couple of songs he played back for us. Presumably he uses rehearsing bands as guinea pigs for him to practice his recording skills. He told us if we want to record a CD some time, the price is just $8 per hour, so we'll take him up on that offer when we're ready to record a demo CD.

Our driver is a great guy and is always keen to carry stuff for us, such as shopping bags etc, but he couldn't get my 4 unit rack case off the ground. Based on what I've seen when the removalist brought our furniture to the house and when we've had furniture stores deliver things, a bass rig would be a 4 man carry for Indonesians.

Is it safe?

There are 10 houses in our compound, and we each kick in $60 a month to employ security guards 24/7. Of course, they're unarmed and built like jockeys, so I'm not sure how effective they'd be in a clutch situation.


Today I was sitting in traffic at 7.00am on the way to the office, and when I glanced out the window the rider of the stationary motor bike immediately next to my window had a .38 revolver in an open holster on his belt. After checking the guy out for a few seconds I realised he was a cop on his way to work, because despite his 70's style tan patchwork leather jacket and 125cc Honda underneath he was wearing the smart and stylish uniform of the Jakarta police force. These guys are always turned out very sharply and definitely look the part.

What concerned me was that this guy's holster had no safety strap, so if he rode over a pothole his revolver could soon be bouncing along the road. But the really scary part is that any badass on a motor bike stuck in traffic sitting immediately behind the cop could just reach forward and grab the weapon. Hell, I could have lowered my window and grabbed it myself, since it was less than 12 inches from my left shoulder.

Slavery in the 21st century

I thought it might be interesting to talk a little about the cost of living and salaries for the locals, using our household staff as examples.

Minimum wage here is around US$70 per month.

We have a maid, who works a 40 hour week and doesn't live in, who we pay $120 a month. She gets an extra month's salary in December as a bonus, plus we pay medical expenses for her family up to $120 per annum. She gets two weeks vacation every year. Since we don't have kids (yet), the maid's job is pretty easy, and she spends most afternoons watching TV.

Our gardener/pool guy works 3 days a week, because we share him with the next door neighbour. He makes $50 a month for working a 3 day week, with the same medical, bonus and vacation entitlements as the maid.

Our drivers have base salaries of $120 per month for a 5.5 day week, but because they work a lot of overtime, they end up making probably double that each month, since overtime is $1 an hour, and they also get an extra meal allowance (80 cents) if they work more than 2 hours overtime. If they work before 5am or after 9pm they get an extra $1 for bus fares or gas for their motor cycle. Driving is a plumb job, since when they're not driving they just hang out with other drivers in parking lots, watch TV or sleep. If I'm in the office all day my driver hangs around at the factory sleeping and playing cards with the other drivers from 8am until 5pm when I'm ready to go home.

To put things in perspective, one of our drivers is the husband of our maid, so between them they make around $300-$360 a month. They've got 5 kids to support, aged from 3 months to 23 years old, so obviously food and housing doesn't cost much here.


Finding a good driver here is a real hassle. We have a great driver who is basically my partner’s driver during the day, and I've been trying to hire a driver to drive me to and from the office, to band rehearsals and (eventually) gigs. Keep in mind that drivers make twice what a factory worker makes, for doing very little. Most of the day they sleep and play cards with the other drivers while they're waiting to take you to your next destination. So, on most days this means my driver would be on the clock from 6.30am to 7.00pm and would only be actually driving for 2.5 hours.

Anyway, the first guy I tried was unfriendly and a crazy driver, presumably because he was an ex-cab driver. Yesterday I tried another guy, who is a little older (56), and drove for the Australian embassy, so I figured he might be a bit more stable. It turns out he's a nervous, leadfooted driver who can't see shit at night. I don't know how long it's been since he's driven a stick shift, but he keeps forgetting to hit the clutch when he pulls up at toll booths.

I'm not sure how long I'll put up with this guy.


I just fired my driver. After a week his driving hasn't improved. Twice on the way home from the office yesterday he decided to use the parking brake as his method of stopping in an emergency, and he's stalled the engine 6 times this week when stopping at toll booths.


Our maid has broken two things this week - nothing valuable, just a little ceramic ornament and a potted plant pot. No big deal, even though she didn't mention the breakage to either of us. You know how we found out? Both items were sitting where they are supposed to be, but are now held together with clear sticky tape (Scotch/Durex tape, depending on what part of the world you're in). Did she really think we wouldn't notice?

I've heard stories from other expats who have asked their staff about broken items, and told an evil spirit was responsible for the damage.

Extreme sports

We decided we didn't want to die in an auto accident, so we fired one of our drivers today. Generally, Jakarta drivers are assertive but courteous, but this guy was an adrenaline junkie, for sure. Road rage is very rare here, but he managed to make an enemy every 50 yards. I think the horn button is wired in parallel with the gas pedal.

I'm into my 4th week, and I spend at least two hours in traffic every day in a city of 15 million people, but today I saw my first accident, albeit a minor one. A couple of kids dumped their motor scooter in the wet on a bend in the city. Lucky for them it was 6.30am and they were riding in the opposite direction to most of the traffic flow, so all they got was a little road rash.

Given how people drive and ride here, I'm amazed it's taken more than 3 weeks for me to see an accident.


Our driver had a day off today, so I decided I needed an adrenaline rush, by driving to the supermarket. First time I've driven in Jakarta. No casualties, but a couple of near misses. Lanes? What lanes?


There are so many things that happen here to give you a daily chuckle.

For example, this month the Police are cracking down on motorcycle riders and passengers who don't wear helmets. So, this week, everybody you see on a bike is wearing a helmet (of some type - ranging from full face top dollar racing helmets - cycling hats - and what look like little league batting helmets), but the cops don't look twice at the overloaded minibuses with 10 schoolboys riding the running board or sitting on the roof.

I also like the helmet/sandals safety equipment combo. I wonder how many long time motor cyclists are missing toes.

At the office

Our company canteen is brand new and has hygiene and cleanliness standards as good as anything back home. That's all good, but the food itself is a daily adventure. The only food that doesn't burn your tongue out is the fruit. I love me some hot and spicy grub, but eating it 3 times a day is going to take a little getting used to.

You see bules (white people) in a lot of places you go to in Jakarta, such as hotels, supermarkets, shopping malls etc, but there are also lots of places where we're pretty thin on the ground. Like our factory, for instance. We employ 3300 people here, and there are only two bules - me, and another guy from Adelaide who runs the supply chain side of the business. We tend to be fairly conspicuous around the site, since we're both tall (by Indonesian standards) and have shaved heads. Of course, the locals all think we look alike because of that. He’s overseas on business this week, so I'm the only bule on site, a situation which some people might feel uncomfortable about if it were them. For example, today I walked down to the canteen, which seats 400 at a time (our day shift has 1200 people), and I'm the only westerner there. I can speak maybe 100 words of bahasa Indonesia, so it's not like I can talk about the baseball scores or current events with the people at my table. The people in general are really friendly and genuinely nice, but the Muslim women (75% of our workforce) are very shy around westerners, which means that most of the day all I hear are giggles behind my back. It's a real eye opener from a cultural point of view here, but it's also very interesting and enriching provided you approach every day with an open mind.

Before I started here, an auditor from our US head office came to Jakarta and he arrived with a bodyguard. That incident still gets a lot of laughs from the staff here. 99.9% of the people here (and, remember, there are 220 million of them) are welcoming of westerners and are peaceful friendly people. Unfortunately the media doesn't show that side of Indonesia.


I just had 40 people lined up at my office door waiting to shake my hand, armed with a chocolate cake. It was difficult to keep a straight face listening to a rendition of "Happy Birthday" from a bunch of people whose first language is not English. They did a great job!