Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The scene above is of a street corner we pass every day on the way to work. The streets are jammed with motorcycles, buses, cars and little three-wheel taxis, not to mention food carts and other obstacles. Jakarta's crowded.

But so is the entire island of Java. You would think getting a few hours outside the city would give you some respite from the traffic and the masses. But no.

Java is the most crowded island in the world (other than places like Manhattan island, Hong Kong, etc.). There are more than 124 million people living here. It is more than three and a half times as crowded as Great Britain. Java is around the same size as the state of New York, but more than six and a half times as many people live here. The population density is more than 30 times that of the U.S. You get the point.

This really struck me when we went on a road trip to go surfing not too long ago. We drove for four hours, and the highway was lined with small shops and full of people for the entire drive. There was no break where we just saw countryside. Seeing Java, you see a lot of what makes Indonesia the country it is. Half the population lives here, so this really represents the reality of so many Indonesians. But we've found in our two years here, you really have to get further away to see all Indonesia has to offer.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Suharto's Tailor

We recently took advantage of one of the great benefits of living in a land of cheap textiles and cheap labor: custom tailoring. Much of the material used in the clothes we wear everyday comes from Indonesia, but until recently, we had never bought fabric on our own.

A couple weeks ago, we went to one of the massive fabric markets in North Jakarta with some of our friends. Indonesians of Indian heritage dominate the textile industry here and all the shops we visited sold just as much colorful material for saris as they did traditional Indonesian batik.

I bought material to have three suits made and Hill bought material for a few skirts, dresses and tops. I opted for the cheap wool, unlike one of my friends who decided to fork over the extra cash for Italian cashmere. All told, I spent about $40 per suit for the material.

We were able to take advantage of this because one of our Indonesian colleagues from the embassy recently brought his tailor to the embassy and he'd made suits for some of Hillary Clinton's staff in the short time they were here. He did a good job, so we were willing to give him a try.

The three suits he made for me all turned out great, and considering he charged around $70 per suit for the labor, I really can't complain. As we were talking before he left, he mentioned that he had made an Indonesian batik shirt for former Secretary of State Warren Christopher. You may have already figured it out by reading the title, but we soon learned how he got connected with a high-ranking U.S. official. He was the former tailor of Suharto, Indonesia's second president who ruled the country for 32 years.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009