Ipah

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Indonesia 2005 Day 2

Filed in Indonesia (2005), TravelTags: , , , , ,

(day 2 of my short trip to Indonesia in September, 2005)

(continued from "Indonesia 2005 Day 1")

The bathroom was simple and very different to anything I'd seen before. A square room, tiled on all sides and on the floor. The front half of the small room; barely larger than a closet; was bare with buckets on the floor to one side and a drain hole on the other side. The left side of the back half of the room was the toilet, one of those squatting toilets commonly used throughout China. On the right side was a square water well, a brick and tile container of water, roughly three feet high.

There was no running water in the bathroom. Ipah purchased her water; used both for cooking and bathing; from a nearby public bathroom. Before I arrived, she had to carry the water from the bathroom to her home by bucket; two trips every day. During my stay with her, she purchased a hose and laid the hose down between her home and the public bathroom. Future refills would simply require connecting the hose to the public bathroom's water tap, filling up her well, and then paying the bathroom owner. It's entirely possible that this hose arrangement was only temporary, to be used while I and her other family guests were in town for the wedding. We'd obviously use a lot more water than just Ipah, her mother and her son.

That's not to say that I used a lot of water. On the contrary, I tried to use as little as possible within reason. The bathing ritual went something like this. Use the small bucket in the water well to gather water and douse it over yourself while squatting on the floor until every part of your body was wet (squatting so that the water doesn't splash all over the walls and the clothes hanging from them). Then use soap to wash yourself. Finally, use the bucket again to douse more water and wash the soap off. If we were to use this method here in Hong Kong in today's cold weather (it's barely 10 °C today), I'm sure I'd freeze. Fortunately, it's rarely cold in Indonesia so this wasn't a problem for them.

Food on wheels

(This photo shows significant motion blur but I wanted to show it to you anyway.)

I saw a lot of people riding bicycles with big boxes on the back of the bicycle filled with fresh vegetables. I asked our helper about them.

These energetic people get up extremely early in the morning; some as early as 2am (that's morning time? to most of us in Hong Kong, that's late evening); to go to the larger markets to purchase vegetables and other Indonesian favourite foods. They then pedal their way to specific areas and sell the food to anyone who wants to buy it. Similar to the people here in Hong Kong who walk through outer villages with a trolley announcing loudly "buy tv's, buy air conditioners", these people also announce their presence so that the locals know they're there. They typically finish work by midday.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

Ipah didn't need hot water to bathe although her mother and many of her neighbours did. There was no running water and no water heater in her home so hot water was provided by heating water on the kerosine stove. This was also true for the neighbours.

I thought this style of bathroom was only used in the country towns but soon realised my error when we visited some of Ipah's friends in Bali. Even in this comparatively modern part of the country, the bathrooms were the same although they had running water and didn't need to carry the water in from somewhere else.

Completely off subject, electric lighting in every area of Indonesia that I went to was very subdued. In most homes, light bulbs were only twenty to forty watts and very few lights were ever turned on at any one time. Electricity is not cheap so keeping the lights as dim as possible to save electricity was absolutely imperative.

Behind the canal, on the edge of town

Down near the canals, the housing was very different, but the people appeared to be just as happy and content as any other people in the town.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

Breakfast at Ipah's home introduced me to Indonesia's version of coffee. There are no coffee machines so forget about cappuccinos and the like. Indonesian ground coffee; not freeze dried like the coffee purchased in supermarkets in Hong Kong; was placed in a glass with a huge serving of sugar; at least three teaspoons. Boiling water was then poured over the coffee and the coffee was left to stand for a few minutes while the larger coffee grains sedimented to the bottom of the glass. It was definitely different to the coffee I'm accustomed to at home, but it wasn't bad although I did ask Ipah to reduce the amount of sugar used. It was far too sweet for me.

Perhaps because I was there, or perhaps because of the preparations needed for the imminent wedding, I didn't get to eat a lot of typical home cooked food. On the occasions that I did get to eat their food, it was spicy hot; which I like; and usually made with beef. We ate with our hands although forks and spoons were available if I wanted to use them. Eating was a matter of using your fingers to roll up the rice into small balls and then popping the balls into your mouth.

On the second day of my stay at Ipah's home, I was up at around 6am. Everybody else had already been up and about for at least an hour. Ipah's son was getting ready to go to school and her mother was sitting outside the front door watching the daily traffic of people walk by.

I decided to take a walk. Not long after beginning my walk, I discovered that I had an escort. Ipah's fiancé was following me, always five to seven steps behind me. It felt strange to have him walking behind me so I slowed until he caught up and we walked pretty much together for the rest of the way.

I later determined that Ipah's family was concerned for my safety in this small town. They were quite sure that a foreigner with no understanding of the local language would quickly find himself in a situation where the locals would be sandbagging or blackmailing him. I found this hard to believe but they absolutely insisted that I always had an escort whenever I went out.

Walking around before 7am, the town was already up and going. Students were going to school; many of them on bicycles, some of them in motorised taxi buses. Roughly half of the female students had head coverings. Some of the stores were already open and many people were either working or on their way to work. I repeat. This was before 7am!

Later that day, I went for another walk, this time with Ipah. We went in a different direction, walking first through an upper class part of town; just two blocks away from her home; and then through a lower class part of town down by the canals. It was a very nice walk, and it was interesting to see how the people lived. In this small town, most of the people knew each other so we constantly ran into people that knew Ipah. Interestingly, Ipah was often asked if I was her husband. I thought that was amusing but apparently, it's not unusual for the local girls to marry foreign men although judging from the number of foreigners I saw in the town; i.e., none; most of them move to another part of the country once they're married.

School's out

Children skipping home from school.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

It's a shame. In every country of the world, people; especially young people; are gravitating towards the cities where they believe that everything will be better. Life will be easier. They'll have nicer things, nicer homes, better jobs and nicer friends. It's part of today's materialistic world and a result of the commercial society's marketing campaign. You're not 'in' unless you have the latest and greatest. (Apparently, according to a recent article in the South China Morning Post, the average Hong Kong person upgrades their mobile phone every year.) With the advent of television, pushing this ideal into the countryside is unfortunately easy and most people fall prey to the lure of its false realities.

Personally, I'd prefer the simpler life.

Photo Album: Photographs from my second day in Indonesia

Indonesia 2005 Day 1

Filed in Indonesia (2005), TravelTags: , , , ,

(day 1 of my short trip to Indonesia in September, 2005)

(continued from "Home")

I woke after only a few hours sleep to the sounds of activity outside the wall of my room. I remember walking through the bamboo matrix that is this town's markets just before sleeping. Covered by a roof of galvanised iron with patches of canvas, the markets were quite large. Before coming here, Ipah had warned me about the noise of the markets, worrying that the noise would prevent me from sleeping. She had nothing to worry about. I wasn't affected by the markets at all. Nor was I affected by the sound of motorbikes driving past the front door of her small flat on their way to the markets.

I got up from my bed and inquisitively looked outside my room into the family room of the flat. Ipah's mum was already up, sitting on a wooden stool outside the door watching people come and go. Ipah was up too; probably hadn't slept at all; preparing breakfast for her son and attending to the things she needed to do every day. It was five thirty in the morning and the world was up and active.

Five thirty! Not the kind of hour that I would imagine getting up back home in Hong Kong. In fact, you'd be more likely to find me going to bed at that time after filming at TVB rather than getting up. But here in the country town of Pesanggaran, people were wide awake by five thirty and getting ready for the day ahead of them.

The Corn Forest

On the way to Lompon Beach, Neni and I drove past this forest of corn and trees. It's something I'll never see in Hong Kong and probably not in Australia either. It was definitely very singular.

I walked outside the front door. Ipah's fiancé was there and greeted me in his shy way. I noticed the markets to the right of me again and walked over to take a better look now that the sky was bright and the markets were beginning to fill with activity.

The markets were made up of rows and rows of stalls. Most of the stalls were structured from bamboo. Some were made from wood. Some had wooden cupboards which the stall owners would lock their wares in each night when they closed up shop. There were no doors and no windows. If not for the clothes hanging from bamboo stresses, you would have been able to see from one side of the markets to the other.

This was the busy centre of town. Yet to me, it didn't seem so busy. After living there for a few days, I came to realise that the cost of living here was very low and you didn't need a lot of business to make a reasonable living. A few customers each day was sufficient. This was definitely not Hong Kong and I welcomed the adventure of exploring this new world.

The half of the markets neighbouring on Ipah's flat sold clothing and household goods. The half on the other side sold food, both raw and cooked. Meat was displayed and sold without refrigeration and any visitors from outside of Indonesia would probably have been put off by the flies constantly swarming around and on the meat. The store owners did nothing to keep the flies away. As far as they were concerned, it was pointless to try. As far as the customers were concerned, the flies didn't matter. The meat was going to get cooked anyway. There wasn't a lot of meat at each store, and it was not sliced and separated the way people in other countries are used to. There are no steaks and no sausages; just chunks of meat, much of which gets cooked with curry.

After walking through the markets for a while, I suddenly realised that I had an escort, or rather a body guard. Ipah's fiancé was trailing me. I later discovered that Ipah had instructed her family to accompany me whenever I left home. If no-one was available to go out with me, I wasn't allowed out. She was concerned that with my total lack of Indonesian, I wouldn't be able to communicate with the locals and bad people in town would quickly take advantage of this with threats and blackmail. I was pretty sure that it wasn't going to be that bad, but Ipah insisted so I never left without an escort.

As luck would have it, many of Ipah's relatives were in town for her impending wedding. One of those was a niece by the name of Neni, a young girl studying university in a relatively large city called Malang. Neni was a great girl with a keen interest in all things foreign including English. She was excited at the opportunity to speak with an English-speaking foreigner and tried to be with me as much as possible. Even today, she occasionally sends me phone messages to ask how I'm going.

Like almost everybody else over the age of ten in this area, Neni had a motorbike; not one of those mopeds typically used in Taiwan but a real motorbike; and she offered to take me around on it.

I loved it, sitting on the back of the motorbike, driving through the crisp clean morning air with the smells of trees, grass and dirt. It was wonderful. The first day, Neni took me out of the town to one of the local beaches. The beach named Lampon was next to a small naval base. It was also home to many fishing families who went out to sea daily in their unique fishing boats. After walking around, enjoying the sun and the water, I watched two young boys from the local fishing village go in for a swim and decided to go in myself. Neni became rather concerned but I assured her that I was a good swimmer and went in. After swimming for a few minutes, I noted Neni becoming increasingly agitated and decided to get out of the water.

A Rocky Alcove at Lompon Beach

Where a stream enters the sea at Lompon Beach. You can see the fishing boats on the ridge in the distance. Lompon Beach is just over the other side.

I was bewildered. Why the concern? When asked, Neni explained that many people had drowned or disappeared here, approximately 190 people. I later discovered that in June of 1994, this area had experienced a tsunami, one which had travelled over the protective ridge of ground between the ocean and the village and completely demolished the village. Many people were killed. This is why Neni and other people in the town of Pesanggaran were afraid of the ocean.

In this area of Indonesia, there are coconut trees and chickens everywhere. People here don't use ladders or ropes to climb coconut trees. They chop small steps into the trunks of the coconut trees and simply climb up with no aids of any kind. I found it intriguing to watch the people climb the trees so easily and quickly without any fear. It's something they do frequently, going up the trees every couple of days to see if any of the coconuts are ready for picking. One man I watched was up and down a coconut tree in less than two minutes; very quick.

Chickens are everywhere to be seen, as are baby chicks. Everywhere we went, I saw a family of chickens walking around. The chickens were generally very fit with tight firm bodies and long legs suitable for running. These were definitely not the factory-raised fat chickens you see in today's supermarkets.

By the end of my first day in Pesanggaran, I was very tired. Like everyone else in the family, I was in bed and asleep by nine-thirty. Again, there is no way you'd find me in bed by nine-thirty back in Hong Kong but this was Pesanggaran. Somehow, it felt as if I was on the other side of the world and I was loving it, bathroom and all.

This article took me a long time to write and publish. My biggest obstacle was deciding how to publish some of the photographs that I took on that first day. My perfectionism got the best of me and this article wilted while I worked out what to do. I'm an amateur photographer but when I show my photographs, I want people to see the photographs without distraction. The problem with many of the online albums today is that they're too complex and they have too many bells and whistles distracting the viewer from the photos. In the end, I had to design and write my own photo album code: xhtml, css and javascript. I think the result is pretty good for a beginner.

The photo album was designed to fit into 800x600 screens. The photos are 630x420. If you'd like to see a larger version; eg where the photos are 900x600; please let me know.

My recommendation. After opening the photo album, resize the window so that it fills the whole screen. The photos will look even better that way.

Photo Album: Photographs from my first day in Indonesia

(continued in "Indonesia 2005 Day 2")

Home

Filed in Indonesia (2005), TravelTags: , ,

(continued from "A starry journey")

I don't know what time it is. I've been asleep for a few hours since arriving here this morning but can't be sure exactly how many hours. There's the sound of activity outside the wall that separates me from the markets next door, and there's the sound of hushed conversation outside in the living area. The family's up.

I walk out into the living area. Isah's flat is small. There are two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom and a living area all within approximately four hundred square feet. Under normal conditions, her mother sleeps in one room while Isah sleeps in the other. I'm not sure where her son sleeps.

In the living area, there's a blue fibrous carpet on the concrete floor. It's not attached to anything and can be rolled up anytime. To one side of the carpet, the concrete is bare, presenting a virtual corridor from the rarely-closed front door to the kitchen. There are shoes, sandals and thongs (known as flip flops in the U.S.A.) here and outside the door. In Indonesia, people take their shoes off when entering a house. I soon learnt that in this flat, shoes should be worn on the bare concrete and taken off and left behind before walking on the carpet or into the bedroom. The Indonesians have the wearing and removing of their thongs down to an art. For them, taking their thongs off is as easy as removing a hat. For me, it's a lot harder because it's not something I've had to do. Back at home in Hong Kong, I don't wear shoes of any kind whether in the house, out in the garden or walking around the neighbourhood.

The living area

Isah's living area. Sitting next to me is one of her nephews.

Shoes are not permitted on the carpet.

The rainbow coloured cakes; which tasted very good; on the plate in front of me were baked by one of Isah's sisters in preparation for the wedding celebration. The black fluid in the glass is Indonesian coffee. More about that later.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

There's a small worn wooden table in one corner of the living area and a similarly worn low coffee table beside it. The walls are whitish and a single light bulb hangs from the centre of the ceiling. There are two doors out of the flat, both from the living area. One opens to a passageway that runs from the main road to the markets next door, while the other opens onto a concrete porch that the family never uses. That door remained closed most of the time I was there.

The kitchen was interesting for me but embarrassing for Isah. At first, she didn't want me in the kitchen because she thought I'd be offended by it. On the contrary, I had hoped that I would be visiting an area of Indonesia that offered basic living facilities and this kitchen was a prime example of what I wanted to experience. Unfortunately, even up to the time I was preparing to leave, she would not allow me to photograph the kitchen so I can only describe it.

It was roughly square in shape, measuring six feet across. Half of the ceiling was missing allowing sight of the earthen roofing tiles above and it wasn't until later in my stay that I realised that this was intentional. It allowed the steam, oil and other elements produced by cooking to rise up and leave the kitchen. In one spot, there was a space in the tiles which coincidentally allowed the sun to shine through into the kitchen in the mornings, lighting the kitchen up and making it feel warmer. The space almost seemed planned.

On the far side of the kitchen, an unpainted wooden shelf ran across the wall approximately five feet up from the ground. Big aluminium pots were piled along this shelf. There were no more shelves below this one because the floor below it was used to wash food and dishes. The floor of the washing area was rough concrete with a small slant to persuade the water down to a drain hole in the left back corner. Small four-inch tall concrete walls surrounded the washing area on the left and front sides to keep the water from running out, while inside the washing area were two large blackened pots with slanted sides; similar to cooking woks. The left pot contained soapy water while the right pot contained clear water. I quickly understood that their practice was to wash the dishes with soap in the left pot before rinsing them with the clear water in the right pot. The washing water was rarely thrown away because there were no taps in the kitchen. Nor were there any taps in the bathroom or any other room of the flat. That was one of the aspects of this flat that made it special for me.

Alley to the markets

One of the alleys leading to the markets goes right by Isah's home. When people don't have anything to do, it's typical to see them outside their homes, sitting on benches, watching and chatting with people who pass by.

For a 750x500 version, click here.

On the right far side of the kitchen was another low bench with just enough room to place a kerosine cooker and one more large cooking pot. Below the bench close to the floor was a shelf to store more pots. On the right side of the kitchen was an aluminium and glass cupboard about waist high. The dishes and plates were all stored in this while cups and glasses were hung on slanting pegs attached to a vertical latice on the wall just above the cupboard.

In the middle of the crowded kitchen was a light blue cross-hatched plastic stool with yet another kerosine cooker on it. These were special times. With Isah getting married in a couple of days, many family members were gathering around and more food was necessary than usual, hence the need for the second kerosine cooker.

Just in front of the washing area was another pot which I had rarely seen before. It was a grinding pot made out of stone. The Indonesians use them to grind coffee, chile and other spices. Frankly, I believe that spices ground together in one of these pots would be far more delicious and flavourful than spices grinded in an electric grinder. There's something about the rough surface of the stone and the way the pedastle grinds the spices against the pot and each other than brings out the fullness of their flavour. Technology isn't always the best way to do things.

From time to time, I would stand next to the washing area out of the family's way and watch them cook. Although always busy and working hard, they were a happy family and I was glad to be there with them even if I wasn't allowed to help out most of the time.

(continued in "Indonesia 2005 Day 1")