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?