“Car Talk” with Seth, Part II

The first post I made about transportion was left as a cliffhanger, due to my completely accurate forecast that pinning down new wheels just-ain’t-easy offshore. If you are short of time, here’s the synopsis of this post in easily palatable metaphoric form: You might not have had the full expat experience without having owned/borrowed/madesignificantuseof at least one motorbike. Yes, that’s right and I’ll stand by that overgeneralization. The motorbike is to individual transport in Asia what baked beans are to the English breakfast: absolutely required, and kinda weird for Yankees.

I’d like to present to you, the Italian word for wasp: Vespa. These wasps are post WWII designed, with over 15 million sold over 50 years, little changed over that time which makes it close in total population and flavor to the number of the old VW Beetles sold worldwide. Right? Right. And they are just not seen in America outside of hobbyists/clubs. No one north of Mexico is really looking for baked beans for breakfast. So, here’s the deal: Scooters (cause that’s what North Americans call them) are absolutely ubiquitous here. It’s the families’ 5 seater SUV, source of livelihood, farming mule, point of pride, and you most certainly need to have one. I don’t care who you are, where you come from or how much money you have. It’s just the gold standard getting around SE Asia.

Countless motorbikes roam the streets, buzzing and beeping, crawling out of every crevice and forming a line. They are completely economical, get 60mpg and simple to own. There are roadside carts that sell fuel in small increments cause you don’t need more than a liter and can avoid the lines at real gas stations. You can get your ridiculously-small flat tire fixed on the sidewalk by a guy with a vice, torch and air-compressor. It’s just the only way to get around for about 85% of the population and the place is built on this approach. As an expat, you will come to rely on, and have some intimate knowledge of at least one motorbike. Motorbikes come in all flavors; Short, long, racing inspired, automatics, workhorses, even pink for the ladies. But in the late 70’s, a company called Danmark started a joint venture with Vespa to build them here.

And I got one.

1979 model, P150X, a real-deal classic Vespa with a two stroke (sounds like a giant pop-cork popper) engine. Honestly, I kinda like it. I like that it’s a relic, a real antique. I like that it is Italian and Indonesian at the same time. I like that I can get any part for it for under $10 that day, in town. I like that I had it rebuilt for me, with a fresh coat of paint, by a family friend and it helped him out. I like that while its been recently freshened, it’s still a bit broken enough that I need to do a bit to it to make it completely roadworthy. I like the way it looks, the stink of it’s oily exhaust, the late 70’s color “Old Blue” (directly translated from Indonesian “Biru Tua”).

Did I mention that we share the same birth year? So, ya… it’s not a hog, or a crotch rocket (a Ninja is still 250cc’s around here, but highly coveted as the big boy motorcycle) but it’s got all the right moves for me starting out here. OK, so it’s not safe. Well, not any more than any other bicycle… I can’t exactly get up to any real high speeds in it. I won’t be on any freeways, and not any of the bigger roads anyway. I’d argue that it’s actually safer than tooling around on my folding bike here on the small city streets. I can at least get out of the way of traffic.

It’s the answer I am looking for right now. I can finally stop waiting on the street corner for unreliable and unscrupulous scooter taxis. I finally have a toy to tinker with. I can get better at my Indo road manners and have the range to run my errands without sweating through my shirt directly after my morning shower.

So now, heres the rub you’ve been waiting for: I get to have a cop “fix” my Indo moto-license. No one has paid the annual taxes on it for the last 7 years, and I’m not subsidizing their delinquencies (yes, it aggregates). I am not going to tag, title, or register the thing, which has completely inaccurate plates and would cost me almost 60% of what I paid for it to get it up to date with the authorities. I just have to assume that keeping an extra 50k Rupiah in the glove box, just in case, is that insurance I need. That’s $5, my friends. And all this cost me was $250.

I already feel like an expat-status achievement has been unlocked, just by having it in my driveway.

Jakarta Elections

Residents of Jakarta voted on Thursday and it was just announced that Jokowi won! This is great news, as Jokowi’s campaign focused on clean change, without corruption or entitlement. Jokowi’s successful experience of being the Mayor of Surakarta and his campaigning strategy of using social media is, what I think, gave him what he needed to win. Let’s hope he can bring the necessary change to Jakarta.

In the meantime, check out a parody his campaign supporters put together, which includes a focus on Jakarta’s issues like corruption, slum conditions, and traffic. So clever! (And I found the lyrics in English here!)

Currently, I am.

feeling:: fragmented. I am the head of the School Newspaper, Debate Team, and part of the Opening Ceremony Committee, plus teaching five different subjects full-time. My prep time has now turned into zone out time. This may or may not bite me in the ass soon.

enjoying:: the relationships I’m creating at school. I have really connected with some of the teachers and students. The boys in grade 11 said I was pretty today, and although I agree with their friends that they were sucking up, it made me feel good.

eating:: cucumbers and ranch dressing. Seth makes my lunches and they are always so tasty.

listening to::Wild Ones” featuring Sia and Flo Rida. Don’t judge. It’s so good!

reading:: god is not great by Christopher Hitchens. This book seems incredibly timely in regards to the anti-Islam video discussed last week and the French cartoons published today. The violent protests have spread like wildfire, including Indonesia. I’m not going to lie, it’s very concerning. We have had to–on more than one occasion–explain to friends, students, pembantus, and colleagues that we do not agree with or support the offensive material.

looking forward to:: my and Ellie’s birthday. Only a couple more weeks! Oh, we have so much planning to do for her birthday party at school. She has brought home some extremely extravagant gifts like huge stuffed animals and embroidered bags from classmates. The tradition here is that the birthday girl gives gifts and receives them!

missing:: Portland’s beautiful autumn weather and fashion.

loving:: the endless possibilities of what will happen next. We don’t know and it’s kind of freaking us out exciting!


After reading about the development of anti-American protests in Jakarta, we decided that it’s time to get out of dodge and head to the beach with friends. We drove three hours south to Pelabuhan Ratu Beach and stayed in a gigantic beach bungalow with our friends.

We left around 5:30am and after one stop for brunch, we arrived at the beach around 10:00am. The day unfolded beautifully. We swam in the pool several times, allowing Ellie to perfect her back float and strengthen her paddle. She’s improved a lot since we’ve been in Indonesia. She can swim about six feet unattended and without much water swallowed. She likes to use her goggles to find things at the bottom of the kiddy pool. Entertaining, yes, but great practice in holding her breath. She is a very confident swimmer, even when she’s sinking a bit.

We also swam in the bay, which was incredibly relaxing once you got past the break. The water level was just high enough to touch the floor, but still get a full body float and ride with the swells. In the evening we ordered a freshly caught seafood feast, which was prepared for us in our bungalow, including: fried calamari, barbequed fish and giant prawns, greens and rice. Once the kids went to bed around 8:00pm, we played poker. After many many many Bintangs… Someone thought of the brilliant idea to swim in the extremely dangerous rip currents around midnight; naturally teasing the lady in green, who according to Indonesian mythology, is the cause for so many deaths along the coast of Java.

The guys went out first, and immediately called us. “Put me on speaker”, said Seth. “You have to see this. This is straight out of Avatar!” So we ran to the beach to see what he was talking about and saw something a bit like this…

Not my picture, of course, as there would be no way to capture what we saw without any sort of planning. We were in pitch dark and as we walked through the ocean, blue light illuminated our movements. Seth wasn’t joking when he said it was like Avatar. It looked like blue sparks were shooting from our bodies as we moved through the ocean. All thoughts of the green lady or sharks attacking us were replaced with “this is magic!” and “nature is amazing!”

What we experienced was bioluminescence, which is essentially when an organism (like algae) produces light through a chemical reaction. Our movement triggered these reactions, which was so cool to experience. We can now cross “experience bioluminescence in the wild” off our bucket list.

I believe there is a balance to everything. My very frustrating Friday of bullshit banking rules, everything being closed on Friday afternoons, ridiculous traffic and pollution, fear of anti-American protests and any retaliation, and language barriers seemed to instantly fade away. My balance was this unpredicted bout of natural magic. You can’t buy that. You earn it. And this is why we’re here.


Back and Forth

In Indonesia, we can’t afford to do anything ourselves: It’s cheaper to buy a meal on the street than cook from scratch, to be driven by an ojek than to buy a car, to employ a maid than to spend the time cooking, cleaning and doing laundry.

In America, we can’t afford to have anything done for us. We get the control to do what we want, when we want, but we have to do everything ourselves.

The challenge is when we want a little of both.

To be honest, I can’t imagine having to do my laundry again. Having my clothes perfectly ironed and folded like the Gap, waiting for me in my bedroom each evening is a delight and I love my maid for it. But there is a lack of control with it all. Not knowing where anything is, how supplies are being used, and for god sakes, can we not eat rice tonight?!

It’s a compromise. One we are still grappling with. We miss having a car. We miss gardening. We miss walking down the street without the stares.

However, we don’t miss feeling rushed to get everything done. One of the benefits is that life slowed down just enough for us to catch our breath or to even notice.


I’m sitting in traffic on my way to the Graveyard Museum with my grade 10. We’re studying biographies and obituaries, so it’s appropriateish.

Let’s return to the issue of traffic…

There are five lines of cars in three lanes! Including a line on the right (and wrong) side of the road and another along the shoulder. LA’s got shit compared to this FUBAR system.


Trekking Indonesia

Only about 30 minutes from Bogor, lies the base of Mount Salak and a ton of beautiful waterfalls. We trekked for another 30 minutes to find this little pool and fall. The water was cold and refreshing, and the physical reaction to it was fun to experience. As soon as you’re submerged, or under the fall, your breath quickens uncontrollably. The second you step out, your breath is back to normal.

It was really nice to get out of Bogor for the day. The goal is to trek and be surrounded by nature, but in Indonesia, that means you’re also surrounded by a ton of other adventure-seekers and warungs along the path. After a while you get used to it, and maybe even succumb to the tempting fruit tea along the way.

These treks are every where and what you get to experience is so much more than a hike through Forest Park. There are trumpet flowers as big as your head, monkeys running up and down the hillside, and give it 3..2…1… you have an instant friend wanting to take your picture and contact you on Facebook.

We’re celebrities. And you can call me J-Roo. We’ve finally accepted this practice [of getting our picture taken by random people] and have begun to play with it. Some guy from Jakarta has a picture of me with a giant carrot hanging out of my mouth and my arms flexing like Popeye.

Only in Indonesia.