Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Surfin' Safari

One of our friends recently became obsessed with surfing and he talked a group of us into making the trek down to the south side of Java for a long weekend. So after a short drive of 100 miles (5 hours), we arrived in Cimaja.

Hillary and I tried surfing once before in Bali. Let's just say that we were less than successful. But we wanted to give it another try. And even though we said we'd take lessons the next time, we decided to just wing it with our friends.

And we surfed. Really. We're not quite ready to compete if it becomes an Olympic sport, but we were able to ride some waves, which was very cool.

And then on Monday, we got to sit in traffic for 6 hours to get home. But it was a fun weekend.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

License to Drive

Jakarta traffic is chaotic to put it mildly. We've gone almost two years here without ever really needing a car. Sure, we thought, it would be nice to be able to hop in the car and drive to a store or out to eat, but the costs greatly outweighed the benefits. But recently a friend had to leave without her car because it's still awaiting a bunch of Indonesian red tape to transfer the title from when she bought it back in July. So we're holding onto it for her.

I figured I should get a license if I was going to be driving regularly, so I joined a group of people from the embassy to go to the local equivalent of the DMV. But this is Indonesia. Jakarta has one place for all 10 plus million people to get their driver licenses.

When you enter the building, there's a giant map on the wall that explains the simple 10 steps to getting your license.

Step 1: Eye exam - wait in line to pay the fee and fill out the form for the eye exam (an entrepreneurial old woman is selling pencils seeing as they're not provided). Wait in second line for actual eye exam.

Step 2: Forms - Pay second fee for obtaining the necessary forms. Fill out these forms.

Step 3: Data entry - take the forms to another room to have your information entered in the computer.

Step 4: Fee - Pay third fee (I think this was the fee for our photo and actual card).

Steps 5-8: Learn to drive - we got to skip driving school and video game driving test.

Step 9: Photo and thumbprint - we entered a small room with around 10 other people to wait to have our photos taken, thumbprints scanned and to sign the electronic reader.

Step 10: Driver License - the cards were ready after only an additional waiting time of one more hour!

So after 3 hours at the DMV in a building with no air conditioning, I'm now legally allowed to drive! Next step - mastering driving with hundreds of motorcycles darting out from every direction while people wheel food carts down the middle of major streets.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Celine Dion - leave me alone!

When John and I traveled to Sumatra, we stayed at the Sheraton hotel, which apparently is the nicest hotel in ALL of Sumatra. At breakfast we noticed they were playing 2 different Celine Dion songs over and over. I didn't think too much of it at the time. After John headed off to a couple meetings I went to swim some laps at the pool, and the outside speakers for the hotel were repeatedly playing those same 2 songs.

I joined John for some of the afternoon meetings, and later we returned to the hotel for dinner. I'm sure at this point you can guess which 2 songs were playing for the entire duration of dinner. There was a pool table out in the bar area by the pool, so we went to play a few games after dinner. I now know all the words to "Because You Loved Me" and "I'm Alive". I alternated between singing along as passionately as I could and really, really hating Celine Dion.

As we checked out the next day with Celine in the background, we wondered how much longer the hotel's employees would have to suffer.

P.S. While we realize this is sort of an inane post, it has happened to us on a few different occasions and it's just a funny example of how things can be different here in such trivial ways. While with a group of friends at an outdoor bar in Bali, they let Toto's "I'll Be Over You" play 5 times in a row before somebody got wise. By that point we had all made up a choreographed karaoke performance, and we were actually a little sad not to hear it a 6th time......

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Under the sea

So after surviving potential disaster, we did what all rational people do: got on another boat. The weather was clear and it was the only way to get to the island we were staying on.

Some people just love scuba diving. The only vacations they go on are diving vacations. One of the guys at our embassy chooses his assignments based on access to diving. Hillary and I just enjoy it. And don't get me wrong, it's cool. There's nothing else like it. Because when you're underwater, you feel like you're in a completely different world.

And the scuba diving in Bunaken Marine Reserve is really good. A coral wall drops straight down for hundreds of feet not too far from the shore. Indonesia has the most marine biodiversity of any country in the world, so the number of different types of aquatic creatures you see is really amazing.

Between the orangutans, Sumatran tigers, Komodo dragons, birds of paradise and all the things under the sea, Indonesia really is an amazing country to see in so many ways.