Wednesday, October 31, 2007

What to Mention First

....the fact that I have pinkeye (?!?) and spent the morning in the clinic

....or that a co-worked walked in yesterday wearing a shirt that said "Even Fat Chicks Need Love" (a statement I wholeheartedly agree with, but perhaps not at work!?!?!?)


Sayur Asem

Ayu, our office receptionist, brought in food for everyone today at lunch. This type of soup, Sayur Asem, is a popular dish in her home town (which now, I can't remember). Since she bought it from the supermarket, the "dish" came in all sorts of little baggies that you had to combine yourself.

Basically, it's a spicey sweet and sour soup (served cold) with vegetables and fruit. Mine had papaya, apples, pears, carrots, jicima (I'm not sure but that's what it tasted like) and pineapple. Peanuts were added and a crispy ramen-type noodles. All togther, it was a not bad combination of sweet/sour/nutty and crispy.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Joys of Random Friendships

I met up with my friend Faisal and his girlfriend on Sunday night, after a long day of checking out the hotel spa and generally sleeping off the fun of Saturday night (and the reggae club from Friday).

Anyway, I hadn't seen Faisal since we met over four years ago in Geneva. There was a gang of us staying in the same old house-turned-hostel on the edge of town. Faisal is the only one whom I've kept in touch with and, as I had always said if I was ever in Jakarta that I'd look him up - I did.

It is so nice to a) know someone from the country you're in and b) be able to hang out with someone not from work. With the somewhat tenuous connection, I wasn't sure we'd hit it off, but as luck would have it - he turned out to be more awesome than I remembered - and his girlfriend was even better.

We ended up in Menteng, a hip part of town (one website called it "the Beverly Hills of Jakarta" - ha!) at a Starbucks. I had to remind myself that this, too, is Indonesia. It seems to me that Indonesia (as Fasial reminded me - all 3,650 odd islands) is full of contradictions. Jakarta is so much bigger than I imagined. There will be large, gorgeous, NEW condos, lifting 100 stories into the air - but surrounded my crumbling sidewalks and open sewers. It's like Indonesia is right a puberty - parts of it's grown up self can be seen peeking up beneath the undergrowth, but by and large it still kind of smells like BO.

Anyway, it was fun to spend time with Faisal and Nata because I got to ask them questions about things I'd noticed. For example, Indonesia was colonized by the Dutch, which is located on the continent of Europe. But continental Europeans drive their cars on the right side (as in America) and all the traffic here is on the left. Why?

We also got into a bit of American politics - did I know for example, that Barack Obama actually lived in Indonesia for four years and it's rumoured he went to a madrassa? (I argued with Faisal about this one for a long time. Turns out, it's (partially) true). There's nothing like listening to people talk about your own country's problems - so I turned the conversation to Sidoarjo mudflow, which has been spewing tons and tons of mud since last year. The Indonesian government decided the best course of action would be to DUMP CONCRETE BALLS down the pit. As if feeding a giant suckhole some concrete pills will work. Ahem, anyway...

Since I've been working 10-12 hour days (today was no exception), it has been nice to use Faisal and Nata as a grounding tool. Someone to remind me that "real" Indonesians (besides those I work with) do exist - and they aren't necessarily ojek drivers, or run the roadside rice stands. They are smart, educated (dare I say also a bit elite) and took the time to open their schedules for me. That's pretty cool.

Let's hear it for random friendships!

In other news, it looks like I'll be heading to Banda Aceh this Thursday for a week. I looked up Aceh in my Rough guide and the only thing it said was a big tsunami hit there in 2005 (um, really?) and they didn't think anyone would be going there so they didn't write a section on it. Can I get my money back?

Lastly, I just bought my tickets to Cambodia, for my vacation when all this work is done. I'll be spending my birthday in Singapore and then heading out to Siem Reap to check this out. I can't wait!

I wonder what kind of friends I'll make there?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Oh, THAT's How!

While I hesitate in sharing these, I think the expressions on my face are priceless. In true Evie Lu fashion, anyone care to venture a few captions?

P.S: Not my headdress.

What's funny about this picture is that he's really a nice guy, without the gold lame.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

How did I get...? a gay bar, dressed in a bed sheet, at 1:30 am?

Who knew Jakarta would be such a good time?

I sure didn't.

Happy Halloween!


Et Tu, Wierdo?

Lately, I’ve decided that I need a new definition of the word ‘weird.’ I’ve seen so many wacky things in my short life that can only be described as such, that I’ve come to really question my concept (and use) of it. I mean, how many times can you single something out as weird before it falls back on you? That is, perhaps it’s not those things that are weird, it’s that YOU ARE? And it’s not necessarily a derogatory word, but nonetheless, you are still definitely: WEIRD.

Case in point, I’ve been working closely with our grants accountant on a project since I arrived on Monday, and thus, he has been the nearest source of cultural “weirdness”. Two days ago, we were poring over a spreadsheet.

“Elon,” I said, “Who gave you these numbers?” I was flipping through the excel files on my computer.
“I just was been looking at this tab, here,” he states, pointing to the first workbook.
“But where did those come from? Did the operations manager give those to you?” I kept scanning.“uh-uh,” he said.
“I’m sorry, he gave them to you?” I made a point to look up.
“uh-uh,” he shook his head yes.
“Wait, is that a yes or a no?”
“uh-uh, it’s a yes.” He looked at me strangely, nodding his head up and down.
It took me a moment, but I started laughing. “Elon,” I said, “in the US, ‘uh-uh’ means ‘no’ and “uh-huh” means ‘yes!’!”
“Oh – I’m sorry!” and I swear, he turned red.
Of course, I rushed to explain – it wasn’t his fault I didn’t know this. I felt so bad for making him explain himself – and was once again reminded that I’m the “weird” one here.

Another “weird” thing is being non-Muslim in a Muslim country. When traveling in a Muslim country, I try not to do the big no-no’s, like eating with my left hand, pointing the bottoms of my feet at anyone or running around naked. One of my best friends from college (hi Anthro Girl!) is Muslim and she’s forgiven me for some of the bigger faux pas’ (like taking her to a pork tenderloin restaurant), so I’m not all caught up in the Ameri-stereotype of the crazy Arab who will bust open a can of jihad on my ass if I screw up. Still, I try to be atleast somewhat culturally sensitive.

However, that being said, I think my trip to Azerbaijan this May dropped my guard. Even though it’s a largely Muslim country, the whole darn place felt like a nightclub – even at 10am on a Wednesday. Here in Indonesia, many many women are veiled (and such pretty veils! Some are adorned with pretty embroidery, or sequins – I think I even saw one that might have been ‘bedazzled’). There’s a prayer room in our work office, in a quiet corner, with the rugs facing east (strangely enough, I even saw a rug in the stairwell). I love hearing the call to prayer from the muezzin every afternoon – it is so soothing to me.

And then sometimes, I totally forget where I am. Like when I asked the omelette guy at breakfast if I could have ham and cheese in mine. He squirmed uncomfortably until I realized what an idiot I was. Whoops.

But the weirdest is thing is something I like to call “The Conversation.” Our comptroller the other day, who is the sweetest old man, asked me if I didn’t have a hard time getting a visa to come. “Why would that be?” I asked. “Because we are so many Muslim, here” he said, “I think the US doesn’t want to travel to Indoneeeezia.”

Oh Riiiiiiight. Mortal enemies and such.

To me, this is the biggest weirdness. To have to explain, somewhat painfully, that yes, my government has declared a new Crusade on your religion, but it’s not me personally that feels that way. I’ve had this conversation with students, attorneys, customs agents, taxi drivers and now, comptrollers. It’s like the enormous pregnant elephant in the room.

To me, the strangest thing about it is that most of the people I’ve had “The Conversation” with are almost, timidly, embarrassed about it. Like, they intercepted a note in math class and found out that everyone else thinks they have bad BO and you’re the best friend they ask to find out if it’s really true. And then, you, you have to play it like you know nothing about what other people are saying about them and swear you’ll come over to play house this weekend even though you TOTALLY know that the whole school, the whole town, hell the WHOLE COUNTRY thinks that they really do smell like BO.

Aside from weird, it’s also awkward. I don’t much like being the representative of hatred (as in “why does your country hate us?”) because I don’t really know or understand or agree and yet, I’m still asked to explain.

So yeah, weird.

…And now something funny:
I was walking back to my hotel from the office the other day. There is a big gaggle of ojek (motorbike taxi) drivers that gather around the entrance of an office building next door, so of course I garner a lot of attention (blonde, tall, alone, you name it, I’ve got it). Anyway, they always call out to me, and this day, one of them came up with a good double entendre – “Hey baby, let me take you home!” Hmm…business AND pleasure! I had to laugh.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

I've Discovered.....

How I am going to die. That sounds so morbid, but it's the only thought that crossed my mind and I plunged headlong into traffic yesterday.

Most assuredly, my undoing will be done on one of the many motorcyle taxis, called "ojeks" that swarm through the city. I first noticed them from the airport, when two scooters ran into each other, right in front of us. The drivers and their passengers weren't hurt - on the contrary, they just laughed, the girl picked up one of her shoes that had fallen off, and they were all four on their merry way.

Literally, these moto drivers are EVERYWHERE, like swarms of flies. If your car stops in traffic, you are soon overtaken, surrounded, woven around (practially driven over) and swept aside by hordes of these things. It's a strange mixture of herd mentality and "all for one" thinking.

I have had friends travel throughout SE Asia and report back on this amazing and terrfying mode of transport. Never did I ever think I would ride one.

Well, as it turns out, Jakarta is a pretty poor place for public transportation. It's very spread out, the bus system is slow, the traffic jams are slower and what's a subway? In fact, my first impression of the city is that a) it's huge and b) it seems to only be housed either by very small shacks or very large, shiney skyscrapers. Also, if the path between my hotel and the office is any indication for the rest of the city, sidewalks are rocky (and half complete/under construction!) making walking just as risky (if not riskier!)

So yesterday, one of my co-workers took me out to lunch, and as there is nothing but two small diners in our office complex, we set our destination to "setiabuti" - a plaza complex just down the way. Before I could gather my things, James had hailed two "ojeks" and soon I was on the back of one, trying to find a modest place to cling to the driver. (I settled on his lovehandles, but stopped just short of hugging/clutching him outright!). Taking a taxi - aka normal traffic - would mean sitting in atleast 25 minutes of gridlock, vs the whizzing in and out of cars, sidewalks (even oncoming traffic) that the ojek drivers could accomplish.

Going slowly, it was easy to manoeuvre in and out without too much sweat, but when the road opened up, the driver pulled into the opposite lane. What about oncoming cars, you say? Oh, they kept coming. I couldn't decide whether to close my eyes or watch my death or squeeze my knees in tighter (but still decent) so as not to get hit by rear-view mirrors. I thought European roads were tight, but sweet mother, my toe grazed the passing car tire!

And I found out: a funny thing happens when you realize that this is the way you're going to die.

You keep your eyes open.

Once I stopped sucking air across my teeth (you know, the way mom's do) and accepted my fate, I relaxed. Actually, I think I started laughing (a crazy, OMGwhyonearthamIdoingthis laugh). To my surprise, I didn't get more than nicked and the whole ordeal didn't cost me more than 50cents.

Let's hope it doesn't cost me any more!

M is for moto-madness,

Monday, October 22, 2007


Have arrived in Jakarta, safe and sound, after going back to the transit hotel and mercifully finding a room.

Awoke with roaring cold. Cabin pressure + sinus pressure = blinding pain.

Am now posting, and discovered that my entire blog interface (for those of you in the know, the "dashboard") is in Bahasa. Now I'm trying to remember what the orange and he blue buttons do. Should I "mempublikasikan posting" or "simpan sekarang"?

Goodness, I need a nap.

M is for Mempublikasikan posting-

Sunday, October 21, 2007

In Transit

I am currently wasting time in Singapore Changi airport. It's 1:10 am and I have eight more hours to go until my flight leaves for Jakarta.

I found out about an hour before my flight left that the travel agent screwed up and got me a hotel in the WRONG COUNTRY for my transit stop over. I thought about all the reactions I could've had with the agent once I found this out, but ultimately decided to let it go. I mean really, I should've looked at my intinerary a little closer, say, about a week ago, instead of last night.

But, ahem, that being said: how does one book a hotel IN THE WRONG COUNTRY?? As it turns out, all of the hotels near the airport are booked, too.

So, here I am. The transit hotel in the airport is also full (come back at 2am, they say) and shops are closing down. However, Singapore being, well, Sinagpore, there's still an abundance of awesome things to do here. I remember being stuck here with Emira on our way to Bali, during the SARS epidemic. We were poorer then (ie without business expense accounts...or awesome fellowships...) so we didn't get a chance to check out the shower/spa/gym/mani/pedi places - but we did enjoy the free internet and abundant window shopping (although we missed the free movie. Too bad they are showing "Cruel Intentions: 2" tonight...)

Yes, I need a shower and yes, I am exhausted (all my efforts to get upgraded were rebuffed - apparently there's larger demand for flights to Singapore than there are to Azerbaijan!) but all in all, I'm hanging in there. I'm very zen (or zoned, however you want to think about it). Mostly, I just want to get to Jakarta and get rolling.

This is one of those situations where, yeah it kind of sucks, but its pretty much the essence of travel. I mean, think about it. Travel is all about learning new things, being flexible and keeping your sense of humor. How else would I be able to deal with getting my feet stuck in a foot massager (which they are at this moment)?

I'll get there. Frankly, it's nice to have a few spare hours to myself, after the week I've had.
Chin up, coffee out -

Friday, October 19, 2007

*pantpantpant* BREATHE *pantpantpant*

Tomorrow I leave for my long awaited work trip to Indonesia. While I'm looking forward to it, as is the normal course of events, I am more than a bit harried and exhausted with last minute errands, work and personal events. The latest adventure involved me, midnight and a "lost" passport (wasn't until morning that I found it wedged between my desk and drawers...!)


Anyway, am looking forward to heading out of the office, meeting the field staff and getting a chance to experience Jakarta. I leave tomorrow and won't be back for five weeks. I'll keep you posted!


Sunday, October 14, 2007

My Sister Just Called...

I'm going to be an aunt!!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Medical Sales

Growing up, I don't recall seeing a single ad for non-OTC medicine anywhere. Slowly, though, during my teenage years, it became more and more common to see a brand name drug touted, first on the pages of magazines, then on billboards, then radio, then TV.

Now, you can't get through the evening news without being bombarded with messages for Vitorin, Viagra, Loestrin, Lunesta, Xanax, Wellbutrin, YAZ, Seasonique (who's message goes something like this: Blah blah Seasonique! Blah Seasonique! blbabalrSeasonique! Try Seasonique! Your body is gross for having a period (gasp!) every month, banish it with Seasonique! Seasonique! I have very bright teeth and nice hair! Seasonique!)

Ahem. Anyway....

So I wasn't tooo suprised when I was at my GP today for my yearly checkup and she launched into a spiel about calicum. Like most women, I don't get my 1000mg/day of calicum and she suggested Calcetrate. Ok, fine. But then, she started talking about having a daily vitamin regimine. The conversation went like this:

(Her) "Good nutrition is important to good health; eating plenty of fresh, raw fruits and vegetables every day is critical. The American Medical Association recommends that each person get 5-11 servings of raw fruits and vegetables per day..."

(Me, eating right into her hook) "Yeah, but that's nearly impossible. I can get five, maybe, but 11? That's nuts!"

(Her) "Unfortunately, you're not alone. Most people DON'T eat nearly enough fruits and veggies, especially not every day. To do so, you should look into taking a daily vitamin supplement. Have you heard of programs such as Juice-Plus?"

(Me, still stupid) "Oh, is that like V8?"

(Her) "No, Juice plus is made from 7 different fruits. One serving contains 66% of the AMA daily recommended dose. My entire family uses it and we love it!"

This is where I start to get wise to her advertising. Also, I notice that she's rattling off information that's obviously been memorized from a brochure and looking at the wall just over my left shoulder, very rarely meeting my gaze. I nod like I'm listening, but mostly I'm wondering whose wrath she incurred/how much debt she has to have to SO OBVIOUSLY peddle this crap to her patients. Then I wonder if she'll get in trouble for not rattling this promo to me, much like when you call customer service, and you know they have a script and are being tape recorded. And, you know that the poor sap earning $8/hr with whom your chatting will get pistol whipped later if they deviate from asking you if you'd like to open 176 different credit cards, before actually assisting you with your real issue/problem.

I didn't want to get my doctor pistol whipped. We'd just met, after all. So when she asked me if I wanted a brochure, I readily agreed just to save her ass. I had to bite my tongue not to ask her why I should take the brochure if she'd already read it to me anyway.....

Other than that, the rest of the check up went ok. But I thought it was interesting. How many doctors do YOU know who are involved in pyramid schemes?


Sunday, October 07, 2007

Sea Gull Century 100k Bike Tour

It's official.

I am 100k closer to maximizing my 401(k).

On Saturday, I completed my first ever 100k cycling tour. That's 66.2 miles for the folks keeping track at home.

The tour takes place annually, starting in Salisbury, MD and runs down the length of Maryland's eastern shore. Honestly, I would've never thought I could do it, if it hadn't been for the HMF. He did it last year (in the RAIN, no less) and swore it was the best time he'd had on his bike. He brought it up to me about two weeks ago, at which time I quickly nixed that idea of 'weekend fun'.

But somewhere about Wednesday, I had a sudden change of heart. Well, actually, it was my mind. This year has been a year of me tackling athletic activities I previously told myself were out of reach. On Wednesday, I remembered the 5k. How long had I told myself I couldn't do it? And then I did it? Yeah, I was the fat, unathletic kid in grade school (raise your hand if you hated that stupid Presidential Fitness test!) who got attacked during pin battle ball and couldn't even do "the hang". But I'm not that kid anymore. I ran a 5k! Of course 66 miles was the next logical step ;) Plus, I knew the HMF would be shocked (in a good way) and pleased if I did it. We signed up Wednesday night.

Salisbury is about 120 miles away from the DC metro area. To get there by 7am, we got up at 4:30 (that was actually 30 minutes after the alarm) and left the house by 5:15. We arrived at the U of MD Salisbury campus around 7:15, but due to registration snafu (they had my number but not the HMF's), we didn't actually hit the road until 8:25am. Plus, it takes longer than you think to get your gear on, assemble your bike, fill your water bottles, etc. We lucked out with the weather, though. Instead of rain, we had cool fog until about 11:00am and a sunny - but not too hot or humid - day ahead of us. My only complaint would be the slight wind in our faces for the last 20 miles, but but that time, I was complaining of more things than just wind.

And actually, the first 17 miles were awesome. It was early, cool and there were tons of bikers on the road (that is, lots of people to chat with). Every time we got passed by a big speedy group, I squealed "it's a peloton!" and sped up to catch their draft.

You wouldn't believe how much faster one can go when in a peloton! Birds have had it right all along - traveling in a group is the way to go. This was my first experience with drafting - following a large group (or, at mile 52, one person who loves you very much) and having them cut the wind, so you go faster but with less energy. It was awesome! We averaged about 18 mph, and as such, finished the first 17.2 miles in just under an hour.

After the first break, I noticed my right knee starting to complain a bit on the up-push. I was seriously concerned for a few miles, but I stopped using my toe-harnesses, popped some ibuprofen (from a very nice kid and his mom at roadside stand) and let the adrenaline kick in.

At mile 33, I made the HMF and our friend Billy, stop just outside a celtic fair (no we didn't go in). Not only was it the halfway point of the ride, it was also a new mark for me: the longest ride I'd ever done. So, we cheered, stretched, drank a bit of water and then hopped back on the road.

Mile 42.2 was the second (and last pit stop) - down a bumpy dirt road which jarred my teeth loose and emptied out into a big park. This was about 12:30pm, so I was ready for another food break. We'd packed Clif bars and gu, but nothing beats peanut butter and bananas (which are great, but hard to carry in your pack on the road..). Myself, I was hoping for a philly cheesesteak at this point, so I was highly disappointed when all we got was....the exact same bagels and cream cheese as the first stop! Oh well, beggers (bikers?) can't be choosers. But what I was ultimately really baffled about was the pie and ice cream. Really? Pie? Can I just have some peanut butter please?

I left the second rest stop seriously displeased.

By this time, we were no longer seeing large packs of people whizzing by us, so our pace had slowed considerably. Yet, I was still feeling pretty good. We formed our own peloton and averaged about 15 mph. The next ten miles whizzed by in a blur of harvested corn fields, windy back roads and several chicken farms (who knew MD was such a hotbed for Perdu and Tyson?).

Anyway, it was at mile 52 where I bonked. Not only was my right knee killing me, my left knee had joined it. We'd asked for more ibuprofen at the rest stop, but there were OUT (I need to have a serious talk with these organizers). I made the HMF stop at another intersection, where I just panted. According to his odometer (which, by this time, we suspected of being off by a mile or two), we had about 14 miles to go. Another woman at the rest stop said it was 10. Two guys behind us (who also stopped) claimed it was also 10. I decided to go by their count.

But still, it was the longest 10 miles of my life. To his credit, my HMF stayed beside me (or within 20 feet of me) the entire time and cheered me on with promises of chocolate and massages, and how proud he was of me. Even when all I wanted to do was get off my bike and throw it at him. I distinctly remember one mile where I was shooting eye darts into the back of his helmet, or maybe I was getting ready to cry, but I was so miserable. He fell back next to me and I shot to him accusingly, "Do you love me more yet?" He laughed, and of course, said yes. "Then can I get off this bike now!?" But, deep down, I was having fun - and conquering that deep down small voice that always said, when it came to sports, "You can't."

Instead, I asked him to pull in front of me and he drafted (even though this was mile 57 or so and he was also tired). I was amazed at how much easier it was to bike when you've got a tire in front of you to focus on. I tried not to ask, but ever few minutes or so, I'd have to know how far we'd gone. Miles 52-57 were pretty much the worst, as we still had around 10 miles to go. It became a joke - how long to go? 10 miles! (Wait 10 seconds) Ok, how long now? Still 10 miles.

Really, I hope that's the closest to hell I ever come to.

When we finally pulled back in to the University grounds, there was a big finish line and lots of people cheering. I took the HMF's camera out of my pouch and snapped a shot as I reached the finish line. When I crossed the line, I went "Yesss!!" and this woman in the crowd yelled "Congratulations!"

My knees felt like bloated puppies, my arms were sunburnt in nice farmer's tan and my hands swollen - but I was barely winded. We'd done it all (with four stops) in a little less than six hours. The best part was when the HMF looked at his odometer and announced that it was actuall 3.7 miles off - something that would've been helpful to know those last ten miles!

After a quick shower in the public locker room, we shopped for cheap bike gear, mounted the bikes atop the car, and headed back to DC. I had to ride the rest of the way home with my legs straight, but it was totally worth it. We spent most of the ride talking about what kind of food we were going to eat when we got back, but I was so exhausted I couldn't think straight. I ended up falling asleep by 9:30 pm and dreamt about pancakes.

Only 301 k left to go before I can retire,

P.S. And you'll be pleased to know that the HMF stated, if it was possible, he most certainly did love me more now. :)

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

More Pirates

Last weekend, after much anticipation, the HMF and I finally went to the Piratz Tavern in Silver Spring. Unfortunately, I don't have much good news to report. The four coconut shrimp I got as an appetizer were burnt (and I mean BURNT), the curry was middling and the french fries were COLD. About the only good thing I could say about it was the grog - aka three different types of cheap rum sloshed together in a large glass. At least by the time I'd gotten through half of that the rest of the meal it didn't seem so bad.

In an effort to salvage our maritime merriment, a few days later the HMF, some friends and I went to the Royal Mile Pub in Wheaton. Why? Because it was sea chantey night, that's why!

The first tuesday of every month brings out all the sea capn's (and landlubbers) and some group called the Pirate's Den to this local pub which has been a favorite of ours since we first discovered it two years ago (and that was due to their monthly scotch tastings...yum!). At first, I wondered how people would know the words to the songs - I soon learned that it didn't matter. The person standing in the middle of the room and everyone joined in for the chorus. The choruses- more often than not - were so simple (and normally contained the word "wanker" or "jiggly" or "whale") that after a few rounds of song (and rounds of beer) anyone could sing. Ann, Angela, HMF and I stayed for over an hour, singing and laughing and watching some guy who was the spittin' image of George Lucas harmonize his lungs out.

It more than made up for the disappointing "Pye-rats Tavern" experience on Saturday night. Let's hear it for random curiousities that lead to even more random evenings!