Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Texas A&M of Indonesia

Our after lunch agenda brought us to the opposite side of Bogor, an hour long endeavor with the traffic and pothole filled roads. Our destination was the Agricultural Institute of Indonesia, the national university that specializes in subjects ranging from animal husbandry to math.

We initially met with the vice rector of the university where he discussed exciting topics such as the university's involvement in advancing agricultural research in Indonesia...I think. Our discussion was in Indonesian using a specialized area of vocabulary that we really didn't have. Lots of smiling and nodding.

After our meeting with the vice rector, we were given a tour of the campus by three students, which was a much better experience since we were able to talk one on one with them. Most Indonesian college students understand English, but they don't really feel comfortable speaking it.

Afterwards, we had to make the trek to the other side of town, which had now grown to take an hour and a half. Nothing happens quickly in Indonesia.

Eating, Sundanese Style

After our trip to the palace, we were whisked away to eat lunch at a Sundanese restaurant. With entourage in tow, we sat down for lunch and our hosts ordered a massive spread. We sat on the floor in a nice outdoor restaurant with a little pond in the middle and ate our fill of Sundanese food, since we weren't yet sick of it, having only eaten it four meals in a row at that point.

When we were finished, we asked about the bill and one of our hosts said that she had taken care of it. We thanked her for her generosity. More on this later...

Monday, March 26, 2007

Hanging out in Sukarno's digs

On our second day in Bogor, we were taken to the presidential palace that was built by the Dutch and had more recently been used as the weekend home of Sukarno, Indonesia's first president. Indonesia's meetings with President Bush during his state visit last fall were also held at the palace.

We were lucky to get a tour of the palace. I believe it's supposed to be open to public tours, but I think those tours are hard to get and limited in what you see. Because of this, I think our families and the entourage that we developed there took advantage of the opportunity.

The tour guide spoke entirely in Indonesian, but we were able to get quite a bit out of it. We were able to see the room in which Kim Jong Il slept during his state visit, as well as Sukarno's art collection full of women in various stages of undress. My favorite part of the tour was when we all took a moment at the podium to do our best Suharto impression.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Reflexology massage, aka torture

One of the great things about Indonesia is that massage is a regular part of life for most Indonesians. It is also ridiculously cheap by American standards. An hour costs anywhere from $3.50 to $10 depending on how nice of a place you go to.

On our first night in Bogor, our host dad took us to a little hole-in-the-wall massage place near their home. Hillary, our host dad, and I all got close to a two-hour massage for a little over $4. The only bad thing about this was that the massage was reflexology massage. You would never know it looking at these little Indonesians, but they pack some strength in their hands. Because reflexology is the practice of stimulating the feet to cause a beneficial effect on linked parts of the body, they focus a lot on the feet. They caused me pain in areas of my feet that I didn't realize could feel pain.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Meeting our families

One aspect of this trip that really made it an immersion was that we stayed with Indonesian families. After our meeting with the mayor, we went to one of the homes so that we could meet our families. Hillary and I stayed with the family of a retired Brigadier General with the Indonesian national police force who had a huge house in one of the nicest neighborhoods of Bogor. They were certainly rich by Indonesian standards.

One of the interesting things about Indonesia is that regardless of a family's apparent wealth, they still don't have some of the luxuries that regular American families are accustomed to, like showers, sinks, and air conditioning. The other BIG disappointment with the physical conditions of our housing in Bogor was its location. Our room was located 20 feet from a very busy road and because we didn't have air conditioning, we had to sleep with the windows open. Even with the windows open, it's still freaking hot in Indonesia. The road always had traffic, but one of the weird things about it was that every morning at 5 a.m., a steady stream of loud motorcycles would zoom by for at least a half hour. There was also the call to prayer to look forward to at 4:30 every morning. After the first night, we were given a fan, which helped some.

Even though the father of the family we stayed with had been a relatively senior official in the Indonesian government, he didn't really speak English. Even the daughters who were around our age didn't speak any English. There were definitely many times where our vocabulary failed us and we had to move on to another subject, which made for some awkward moments. They were a nice family, so we were pretty lucky.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Sink or Swim

The morning we met in Jakarta, we were told we had a meeting at noon with the mayor of Bogor, and not much time to get there. I had planned to buy a batik shirt (formal Indonesian dress for men) before our first meeting, but since this was sprung on us on very short notice, I had to borrow the shirt literally off my teacher's back.

When we arrived at the city administration building of Bogor, we were taken into the entrance hall, which had chairs arranged for approximately fifty people. Red flag #1. We were seated at the front next to the mayor's chair. A moment later, a stream of people, including the press, started flooding into the room.

After some sort of formal speeches read by one of the mayor's staff, we introduced ourselves. The mayor made a few comments that we couldn't really understand, but so far, so good. Then our teacher blindsides us with, "Do you have any questions for the mayor or the other officials?" . . . crickets chirping . . . then someone thinks to ask, "Can you tell us about the history of Bogor?" Brilliant stall question!

We were all able to ask a question or two, not that we fully understood the answers, but we survived. Apparently we were a big story in Bogor, because our visit made at least five front page stories in the local newspapers. Some of the highlights included Hillary getting a Swedish last name and being listed as the future Consul General of Surabaya, the country's second largest city.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The City of Rain

The first stop of our trip was Bogor, a city about an hour south of Jakarta that was the capital of Indonesia for much of the dutch period of rule. People in Jakarta regularly take day trips to get away from the city, so we expected a nice relaxing little town. What we got felt more like an elbow to the gut...

Bogor is a hectic, crowded, dirty, noisy city with bad roads and the traffic to match. It does have botanical gardens on the grounds of the palace, so I suppose there is more green space than in Jakarta. Our visit here was a memorable part of the trip, so I'll make several posts rather than having one long one.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Selamat Datang!

We arrived in Jakarta on Wednesday, February 21.

Those of you who visit will see how as soon as you clear customs, you're immediately assaulted by a mob of taxi cab drivers. Unfortunately for all the guys just trying to make a living, there's only one reputable cab company in Jakarta, so you just say no thanks and barrel your way through.

It's only a 45 minute cab ride from the airport to the city center on a good day. Our driver got us there in under an hour and a half. Luckily, in Indonesia a cab ride that long still only costs about $15.

We spent the night with friends in Jakarta, and other than a quick visit to the embassy, we immediately got out of town.

In to Eefrow Airport

When you're flying to the other side of the world, it doesn't matter too much which direction you take to round the globe. We decided to go East and take a pit stop in London.

One of the benefits of life in the Foreign Service is that you end up with friends spread out all over the world who have spare bedrooms. Luckily, our friend, Melissa, was assigned to London and was willing to offer her bunk beds in her spare bedroom to us for a night.

It was my first trip to London, and the only memorable events other than Hillary being able to order a "proper Guiness", was our attempt to check out Buckingham Palace.

As we approached the palace, the police started urgently ushering tourists and locals away. As we crossed the field on our way back towards the Tube, we heard a loud explosion. Apparently, the police had blown up a "suspect package" that had been left a little too close to the queen.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

First ever blog post

Hello all!

This is my first attempt at creating a blog. Initially, I want to use this to try and tell the story of our most recent trip to Indonesia. I think this will allow us to tell you what happened in a more interactive way than email, since we should be able to incorporate photos.

I imagine in the future, Hillary and I will use this to keep you updated on our life, wherever we may be.

We hope you enjoy, and please stay in touch.