Thursday, November 29, 2007


I have arrived safely, a little worse for wear but getting better, back home. But, as my mom says, there's no rest for the wicked, because I've landed right in the middle of a huge upheaval of my own making.

I've decided to take a job back in Minnesota, starting December 27th. Which means I have three weeks to quit my job, escape from my lease, pack up my life, drive across country and move away from the single most influential person in my life for the last three years : my HMF. (Handsome Man Friend).

Honestly, I have hours where I doubt I can do this. Although I'm excited for the job (it's in my area of interest, in the field I'm already working in, more money, more responsibility, lower cost of living, closer to family, etc, etc), right now I am Terribly. Conflicted.

Sigh. I need another pepto.

Friday, November 23, 2007

The End Is Near

In the past three days I've.....

....switched hotels in Cambodia
....poked around the awesome Old Market in downtown Siem Reap a mani/pedi in the scebbiest hair salon in Cambodia, but it was done by two very fun women who promised that they could find me a nice boy here ("they no hit, but they too small" was one woman's observation, gesturing at her crotch (I am so not kidding about that either..).
....shared a cab to the airport with a nice Indian family who wanted to know if I, too, worked for Sun Microsystems (??)
...flew to Singapore and recognized most of the people on the plane as the same ones I'd flown out with
....checked back into the hotel I stayed at earlier in the week
....celebrated Thanksgiving at Clark Quay with an old high school friend
....took myself to the movies
...went to Chinatown and saw the oldest temple in Singapore
...attended (quite by accident) the noon poojah at the local Hindu temple (hey, it was 12:30!)
...ate alot of noodles, and ice cream
...managed to rip the toenail off my baby toe! now very very sleepy and ready to not be sweaty all the time
...excited and nervous about coming back to reality
...totally sold on the idea of vacationing on one's own. It rocks!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Another Great Day

The dinner (buffet) was a little disappointing last night, only in that I was so exhausted, it was tough to enjoy on any level. That, and the buffet food was cold. 'My hotel serves it better.

However, the aspara dancers were really neat! Aspara can be traced back centuries in the Khmer cultuer - they are the women you see who wear the long, pointy helmet. The type of dance is very stylized, much like Balinese dancing - the placement of the hands, arched feet and blank/serene expression are all part of the show.

This morning, I woke up to the sunshine streaming through the window onto my bed - I knew it was going to be a great day. Pool, massage, and a little bit of the town via motorcycle taxi - I was right! It also helped that is was sunny, and no rain, this afternoon. I went to the Old Market and shopped around, ate lunch a fabulous open air restaurant (I had "chicken amok"and it came served right IN the coconut!) I was even able to find eye solution (note to self: 3 0z does NOT get you through five weeks...)

I also stopped by the National Ankor Museum. It looked empty from the outside, but that's because it just opened five days ago. (It shows - some of the exhibits aren't fully up yet. Good thing they offered a 33% discount..) It was still a little expensive at 8$/person - but in my mind worth it for the air conditioning alone.

Pretty slow after yesterday, but am loving it just the same. Tomorrow I move hotels and it's my last day. As a side note, I could make one whole posting about how bad Lonely Planet makes me feel. Mostly, I think "they'd pay less" or I should know be speaking more Khmer than I am" or "they'd eat meat from the open air meat market" or "they wouldn't have changed their money there.." But at the end of the day, I am left with only me and my decisions. And quite honestly, I'm sure they do it better - but I'm not going to let some silly book make me feel bad!


Monday, November 19, 2007

Temple List

Today I.. up at 5am.
...waited for my tuk-tuk driver, Noi, in the dark for 30 minutes
...decided it wasn't so bad because due to cloud cover, there would be no sunrise anyway
...arrived at Angkor Thom by 6am so I could have it all to myself
...30 seconds after I arrived a mini-van filled with a large Chinese family showed up.
...decided that the Chinese were the loudest people I've ever met in my life! (Sorry Kang)
...stepped on something, heard a "squirrt!"" and saw that I'd stepped on the largest dead frog of my life and split open it's intestines. Grossssssssssssss...
...walked on Terrace of the Elephants
...took my picture on the Terrace of the Leper King, with this guy.
...fell in love with Ta Prohm, aka "the temple where Tomb Raider was partially filmed"
...drove 28 km in a tuk-tuk to see tiny Banteay Srei, a pink limestone temple
...saw landmines being removed from the side of the road
...drove yet another 12 km on rough roads to get to Kbal Spean, to see carvings in the riverbed extremely tuk-tuk sick stuck in the downpouring rain
...was happy to get back to the hotel and take a real shower!

It's 5pm and I'm exhausted. The last thing on my list for today is to see a traditional Khmer dance at a special Khmer dinner tonight. I had sweet potatoe curry last night off the Khmer menu - and if that's any teaser for what's ahead this evening, I am in for a good time. I hope I can stay awake for it, but something tells me that after a refresher nap, I'll be good to go. On tomorrow's agenda will be sleeping in late and exploring the town of Siem Reap.

Honestly, this is the most relaxed I've been in years. Vacationing alone has it's pros and cons, but I don't really feel alone. I am thinking of all my friends and family, especially when I come across something that makes me think of you (Garth - there are so many awesome bugs here, you'd love it!)

Mostly though, I'm just relaxed.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Today Should've Been My Birthday

...because it was terrific!

Again, I got up early (3am) to catch my flight to Siem Reap. I knew it was going to be a good trip, because we disembarked from the plane straight onto the tarmac, and you already know how I feel about that! :)

The first thing I smelled was the thick, damp, air and the heavy scent of boiled sweet corn (I have no idea where that came from). It wasn't nearly as hot as I expected it to be, as they're moving into "winter"now - the temperatures are only in the 80's.

I thought it might be a hassle to get my visa at the airport, but they were so efficient (literally, all the officials were lined up and they passed the passport down the row and you picked it up at the end) that it took no less than 10 minutes. I was glad I'd stopped in Indonesia though to get passport photos, because there wasn't a booth available - and the visa app had to have it. Phew! At least I planned something right! It was also smart to carry dollars in small denominations (thank you, experience, for teaching me that one) as the visa app was $20 US as well as the pass to get into Ankor Wat.

My hotel picked me up - and I absolutely love the place. It's outside the main drag of town, where it's not so dusty or noisy. Richard, the colleague who recommended this place to me, hit the nail on the head with this one. For $30 US/night, I get my own villa with a porch, private non-squat bath, airconditioning, cable and free internet in the lobby. Plus, the a lá carte menu at the hotel runs about $1.20 US for each item, so I'm not breaking the bank by eating here either (although I do have plans to go out and check out other places...) The only downside I can find so far is the light FM muzak they've got playing non-stop in the lobby. Um, enough with the Westlife please.

I was beat by the time I checked in at 8am, but the staff gave me breakfast and then I slept until noon. I felt a little guilty about that but hey, it's my vacation so why not? After that, I got up, had lunch by the pool and then had a facial and massage in the open air veranda behind the pool. The kicker? $9. For an hour and a half. I couldn't believe it! It was a fruit and vegetable facial, where at one point, I had tomato, some sort of ginger paste and cucumber running into my ears. Then, they wrapped a reed braided screen around me like a pig pen, put a towel over the "compound"and placed a boiling pot of water in the middle. Portable sauna! I could've done with just a hot towel o clean my face, but - when in Rome...

You have to buy a one, three or seven day pass to get into Ankor Wat and the surrounding temples, but luckily, tourists are able to purchase them after 5pm on the day before you want to go. Because it's the rainy season (read: rain all afternoon) I know that the morning will be my only chance to get some non-cloudy pictures of some of the temples, I wanted to do this today so I can get an early start tomorrow (5am - what is this, the vacation of early rising? I'm going to have to schedule some sleep time...)

So after my massage, I took a tuk-tuk over to the tourist area around 4:30, got my pass and headed to Ankor Wat before it closed at 6pm. (Special bonus about purchasing it the day before!)

Ankor Wat is amazing. Like a half sleeping giant, slowly being worn down by the elements, the once gray stones are now pitch black and green mold spotted. The artistry in the carvings is breathtaking- and is the sheer enormity of the compound.

Unfortunately, it was cloudy so there was no sunset to speak, but still. As darkness fell, I literally felt the ancient stone walls being swallowed up by the jungle. It was creepy and comforting all at the same time. I mean, this temple has been here for hundreds of years, gets swallowed up every night, and manages to come back. That's some staying power.

What I didn't know is that Ankor Wat is just one of many famous temples to visit around Siem Reap. Tomorrow, I am going to try to visit Ankor Thom, something called the King of Lepers (??) and the Elephant cascade. When it starts raining tomorrow, I might just go get another massage.

M is for More Please,

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Singapore Sling

So far, my birthday in Singapore has been great - albeit, quiet.

First of all, I went out with Faisal and his girlfriend last night and then my co-workers - who all wished me a good day. Then, when I checked out of my hotel at 4am this morning, the reception gave me a box of chocolates! Pretty unexpected at 4am...

When I arrived in Singapore and filled out my immigration card, the immigration offical glanced at it, stamped it, and wished me happy birthday too! That also made me laugh (she must have been bored, or at the very least terribly observant).

So now I'm bumming around Singapore, the cleanest, safest city I have ever been in. It helps to know that if anyone bothers/mugs/steals from you, they're going to get the death penalty, so chances are no one will bother/mug/steal from you. I never thought I'd be a fan of the militant state, but hey, things change when you get older I guess.

You know those signs at the airport that tell you what can and cannot bring into the country? Well, I was a little taken a back when I noticed CHEWING GUM on the sign (thanks, Dad, for breaking me of that habit!) Also, on the MRT (public transit system) it's a $500 fine - for drinking water! I was pretty friggin nervous...what other laws may I have inadvertantly already broken? Is there a Singapore jail cell with my name on it? I caught myself jaywalking this afternoon and felt pretty sneaky - until I saw other people doing it. Guess there is some leeway in the system...

So far, so good, though. I went to the Central Business District, the Asian History Museum (it was closed...) saw the Supreme Court building, walked across the Singapore river, went to the Raffles hotel and window shopped. The bulk of the hot, steamy, rainy afternoon I spent at the Singapore History museum, which was AWESOME. I learned so much, but also got quite burned out. They have such detailed exhibits, it took me two hours just to get through the 1600's - 1880's.

Then, I bought myself a doughnut as an impromptu birthday cake and ate it on the streetcorner. Hooray, life! I couldn't ask for a more random, peaceful and all around lazy birthday. I remember last year at this time, I'd felt like I'd been through the ringer - like I'd earned yet another year. This time, while I know that big challenges lie ahead, I finally feel for the first time that my age is catching up to how I've always felt. (I never made a very good teenager). When I think about it, I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be, and it feels good.

Tomorrow I have yet another early morning, as I leave for Siem Reap on another 6am flight. I spent another few hours this afternoon stressing about what hotel (trying to trade up from the hostel I landed in tonight) and then thinking, hey, why fight it? Now I'm just staying in the hostel when I return.

That's the news from here -

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Blogging By Proxy

I was chatting with my handsome man friend this morning and he told me an interesting story. After he finished, he actually said "If I had a blog, I'd totally blog this!" So I laughed and told him I'd blog it by proxy... (even though - AHEM - blogs are free and you could totally sign up for one yourself, you know :)

Anyway, a few weeks ago, the HMF was taking the red line home from Union Station. A gaggle of girls got on and off, and he noticed that after they'd left, one of the girls had accidentally left behind her newly purchased IPOD NANO. Like, with the sales receipt and everything.

Now, my HMF being who he is, he picked up the nano, felt bad for the girl, and tried everything he could to locate her. Thanks to the receipt, he had her name and the last four digits of her credit card. From this, he was able to track down her parents phone number in Florida. He called, left a message explaining who he was, what had happened and asked that they have their daughter contact him to get her nano back.

They never called.

Ok, well, maybe he had the wrong number or they were on vacation, or estranged from their daughter. No big deal.

So he goes back to the store and returns the nano to her credit card, seeing as he couldn't physically give it back to her, the least he could do was give the money back to her, right?

(Are you all starting to see why I date this man?)

But then, one of his more techno-savvy colleagues, who was also privvy to this adventure, says to him "Why don't you try looking her up on Facebook?"

A- HA! Yet another good use for this sight.

So he goes on Facebook, signs up, easily locates her (he's got her full name after all, and remembers what she looks like, vaguely) and writes her an email with the subject line: IPOD NANO.

"Hi. You don't know me, but I found your new ipod nano on the metro last week. I've been trying to contact you, but didn't think about facebook until it was too late. I've already returned the nano to the store and your credit card got the full refund."

It's been a few days now, and he's gotten absolutely nothing back. No confirmation, no THANK YOU FOR SAVING ME $200, NO NOTHING.

..and I mean, niceness is it's own reward, right? If you're doing something considerate just for the sake of acknowledgement, maybe your heart isn't in the right place exactly. BUT STILL - he didn't have to do any of this. He could've sold it on craigslist (in fact, he posted it in the lost and found - and even tho it wasn't anyone's there, the folks that replied to him were genuinely surprised and thankful to see such honesty).

So I don't know what to think. Maybe this girl doesn't check her facebook page all that much. Maybe $200 is nothing to her. She's German, and 18 (according to her facebook page) so maybe her English isn't all that great.

But still, if she DID get it and WAS grateful, in the age of instant communication, the least she could do is spend 30 seconds writing a "hey thanks alot; you're a decent person" email.

What do YOU think?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Everybody Wayang Chung Tonight

After a hot bath and a sorely needed change of clothes, I headed out Saturday night with two co-workers. We ate at a japanese hibatchi restaurant and hit a bowling alley, where I won two out of three games (I only lost the last one b/c I used my other hand...!) I thought we'd be done after that, but we ended up going to a fantastic dance club (which made me laugh because I haven't been dancing twice in a month for, well - ever!) I've got to say, what I've seen of the club scene here is mad fun, but nothing I want to tap into for much longer than a month. It's exhausting!

In keeping with my personal pact, though, I got up today knowing that Sunday would truly be my day of rest. So I got up today knowing I'd have the whole day to myelf and was going to do something fun.

When I first began thinking of the world, and learned about Indonesia, two things captured my imagination : 1) Komodo dragons and 2) shadow puppetry (which I recently discovered is called "wayang kulit"). I knew I'd probably only have time for one museum while here, so I picked the National Wayang Museum in north Jakarta. At first, I was really disappointed. It was in a small alleyway, looked pretty rundown and none of the signs were in English. Plus, the guy at the door made it pretty clear I couldn't take any photos of the cool puppets on the wall. Boo. (Yeah, I took 'em anyway..)

But luckily there was a performance going on, so I got to see the puppets in action. I didn't realize that each performance is done by just ONE person, handling maybe 300 puppets in the course of the show. They are backed up by a large traditional orchestra, with gongs and gamelans and lots of percussion (there's alot of fighting!). I watched from the side of the orchestra, until a young man came up to me and told me I should watch from the "shadow" side behind the screen (duh, I was essentially watching the back stage from where I was at!). Once I moved over there, the effect was mesmerizing. Each puppet is so intricate!

After the performance, the young man followed me out and introduced himself as Daniel, owner of the theatre and the museum. His card actually says " Puppeters Family" - he comes from a long line of puppet-makers. He explained to me how each puppet is handmade from buffalo skin (not the leather part, but a stiffer layer) and showed me the raw materials and the tools they use for carving all the intricate holes.

He explained that the plays vary from island to island and culture to culture, but are mostly moral fairy tales. The mainstay characters are King Rama and his wife Sita, plus various gods that come down to earth in various forms to teach sneaky lessons. Originally, the king had used this medium to share with the masses laws and other information.

Daniel took me the rest of the way through the museum and showed me puppets from all over the world (punch and judy, marionettes donated by Francois Mitterand, a unicorn puppet from Bill Clinton, Polish, Russian, Thai, Cambodian and other SE nation shadow puppets). There were even Christian shadow puppets of Adam and Eve (plus the devil, of course). As if to underscore the universality of using puppetry to spread messages, Daniel also showed me puppets he had been commissioned to make (and then travel throughout southern Africa) with, to impart tales of health, hygiene and family planning. I was so glad he was there to explain everything to me - otherwise the entire trip would've been a loss. I kindly turned down his sales pitch for hand made puppets, but was no soured by the experience. His information was truly more valuable to me!

Truly one of the highlights of my time here in Jakarta.

Rainy Days and Saturdays....

I got back from Banda Aceh Wednesday evening and have been working (only one more week to go!) to move things off my plate before next Friday. Of course, everything kind of changed mid week, when we found out the project just got extended to April, but oh well. I'm still here for close down!

Friday night I basically collapsed in my huge soft fluffy bed and, Saturday, I got up and worked in a mostly empty office until 5:30. By that time, it was pouring down rain outside (it's the beginning of the rainy season here - mornings are typically bright and sunny, cloud cover comes in early afternoon and by mid-evening there's rain...). Anyway, the hotel is only a 10 min walk from work, so I've never had to nab a taxi before. Not that I could find one at that hour anyway (or one that was empty!) so I started walking. I was carrying my work laptop (luckily, in a carrying case) which was good, because about 1/2 a block into it, I was soaked to the bone.

I don't know if I have mentioned this before, but sidewalks are virtually non-existent here, meaning that even on sunny days, you've got to walk ON the street if you are going to walk. No problem, except that during RAINY days the side of the road is flooded with foot deep puddles of murky water, draining into the nasty open sewer pits (or rather, not really draining at all). So my options were either to walk in the nasty water, or walk down the middle of the street/traffic. I tried a little of each column, but eventually safety dictated that I stay to the puddles. I kept hoping that a car would come by, just like out of the movies, a large tidal wave would over come me, mostly because I've never seen that happen and I was already wet...

I finally did manage to find a man with an umbrella and limited English, who kindly walked me the rest of way to the hotel, but honestly, it was too late for me. I walked into the five-star Four Seasons lobby looking like a drowned cat in flip flops.

And you know, normally I could play that off, because hey, I'm used to looking like an idiot. But this hotel is infested with "helpful" staff that linger at every corner. There are the five security guards at the gate (who have to sweep every car that enters the compound - they even open all the doors - check for bombs at your feet (hello? wouldn't I NOTICE if there were bombs at my feet?) and run a mirror under the car), the four individuals at the taxi stand, the two doormen, the concierge - and there's even some random guy that stands next to the elevator. He doesn't push the buttons for you or anything, he just.......well, I don't know what he does besides watch me and say "good morning/afternoon/evening" when all I want to do is get in the goddamn elevator. Oh yeah, even the elevator annoys me, because you have to swipe your room key to be able to push the button to your floor and half the time the reader doesn't read the half the time I'm stressing frantically in the elevator hoping to god the elevator man doesn't come over and check on me to see why I can't get the door to work....No one should have to stress that much about an elevator.

And,when I get up in the morning, I have to say hello to no less than five cheerful hotel staff before even getting my morning cup of coffee - and for those of you who know what I'm like in the morning, it's really a struggle for me not to punch someone, even though I'm sure they're about as enthused to be greeting me as I am to be greeted.

Right. I understand that this is a stupid complaint. One person's lingering, creepy, watchfulness
is another person's attentive, discrete and pampering premier hotel experience. I realize that I am indeed very lucky to be having this experience at all. But not when I've just waded through calf high puddles that had goodness knows what floating in it. Whatever, so you think I'm a spoiled brat, but hey, my life right now is work and hotel, so cut me a break. I've been ruminating on this for three weeks now.

I think I'm just too darned mid-westerned to really enjoy the luxury hotel experience. Aside from making my bed, I don't want to know that anyone has been in my room whilst I was gone during the day. I don't like coming back and finding my toothbrush moved to where YOU think it should be (I'm in a "GroundHog Day" type struggle with the maid service over this - every day I leave my toothbrush and paste in a cup next to the sink. Every night I come back to find the entire cup moved away from the sink, to a shelf behind me. Now why would I want my toothbrush on the shelf?). I don't need a turn down service to remove the throw pillows from my bed and turn on the shaving lamp in the bathroom. I don't shave!

I think these complaints stem from my "DIY" attitude, homegrown protestant work ethic and deep-seeded desire to do things MY way. It annoys the living daylights out of me that every night, I return to my hotel room and someone has "reset" it to some random standard. What if I DID want my panties in the middle of the floor? Who are you to tell me otherwise? Futhermore, if this truly was a full service hotel, once I expressed my desire for them to stop with the services, (turn down, not panty-pickup) - shouldn't they have stopped?

Yes, I am in a battle of wills with the hotel. Yes, I realize I am going to lose. I also realize I'm dangerously close to taking thing rant into a philsophically bend that I'm not sure I'm ready to tackle.

I think all this ranting is just a symbol of how badly I need to come home again.

M is for My Way or the (Wet) Highway,

Sunday, November 04, 2007

More Sightseeing

Today, Desy took me around to see the 'sights' of Banda Aceh. Namely, the Baturrachman Mosque, the Banda Aceh museum and a large oceanliner stranded by the tsunami in the middle of a small village, 5-6 km from shore.

Me in the Mosque compound. When we first entered, a big group of men got all mad because my hair wasn't covered (look, I was just through the gate, to the lawn I wasn't actually going to go inside the building...). Luckily, there was a little street market next door, so Desy took me shopping. I actually really like it - and it's very comfortable - especially if you're having a bad (or a string of bad) hairdays!

Part of the Banda Aceh museum - a traditional Acehnese house. I forgot to take a photo straight on, so the only one I have is this "artsy" one I took through the pillars of a bell.

The stranded ship, about 5 km in land. What do you do when a ship lands on your house? Desy made a special explanation though - the house ruins you see infront of the boat are fresh, they are not tsunami related. She thinks the owners are rebuilding.

I have to hand it to Desy - she did a great job of being my interpreter and safe-keeper today. Even with the flux of development workers around, I still felt I caused quite a stir whereever we went. Desy quietly stood her ground (especially amongst those mean men at the mosque) and worked around it. She even helped me buy some beautiful tunics by bargaining on my behalf. She said she was able to get better prices by saying "You'd better not be giving me a bule price or else she'll be mad!" Seriously, I wish I could take this woman home with me.

We also had a couple of really great discussions about being and becoming muslim, family traditions (Idul Filtri vs Christmas) and being "unclean." She told me she was exempt from praying today, as she was "carrying the woman's burden" (nicely euphamistic, isn't it? - took me a while to catch on to that one). I told her that most religions I knew of felt that away about women - but that personally, I thought it made us more godlike than dirty, as it means we can create and carry life - and who else but God can create life? Of course, that's a notion that's still pretty radical by Western standards, so I don't know how well it went over with her. As I learned in Japan, listening to what is not said is often more important - and I don't know the "unspoken" language here (let alone the spoken one!) well enough to know if I brought up an interesting notion or really deeply offended her.

Anyway, by 4 o'clock I was completely beat. I've been puttering around at the hotel since, trying to get on internet and watch a little HBO, but the electricity in this (brand new) hotel goes on and off about four times an evening, so it's been a little challenging.

Tomorrow, it's back to the office!

Saturday, November 03, 2007

More Photos - Indra Patra and Coconuts!

Indra Patra

After the wedding yesterday, Richard suggested we drive out to the beach, to a place called "Indra Patra." Right along side the beach are remains of enormous fortresses - of which there is known very little. All Richard could tell me is that the forts were probably built long before the Dutch and the British, and that they survived the tsunami with little to no damage. Even Desy, who had taken a high school class trip here, was hard pressed to give me details.

Even when I googled it, the only thing I could find in English was this:

"Indra Patra Fortress. This old fort was built during the time of Iskandar Muda. It probably functioned as a defense against invaders."

Cursory google searches have let me down. I believe that Iskandar Muda was one of the many sultans that have ruled Aceh through the ages, but that's my own best guess. Since my Rough Guide pooped out on me in terms of Aceh, I'm left to my own terrible Bahasa and my slow computer to discover things, so you'll have to bear with me.

What I do know, and am able to glean from Richard and others, is that Banda Aceh has historically been very independent. It was the first part of "Indonesia" to have been invaded by westerners - and it was the gateway of Islam into the rest of the country. And while very observant, I don't get the feeling that the brand of Islam around here is very virulent. Conservative, but there are no mullah "decency police" wandering around.

To know the root of the conflict in BA (because yes, there was major conflict here before the tsunami - and now there's a shaky peace agreement) is to try to understand the history of Indonesia. As Faisal was fond of saying last week, Indo is make up of over 3600 islands. Do you think they all wanted to be a part of this country? Heck, half of the island of Papua is part of Indonesia - but the other half got to be it's own country (Papau New Guinea). Who decided THAT?

The fact is, Indonesia today was, at one time, millions and millions of little city-states, under the rule of their own sultans. Aceh was at one time, a main trading port with the outside world. They have their own language, their own culture - and Jakarta is over 4 hours away by plane. Who's to say they should follow what Jakarta does? This is precisely (ok a bit more complicated of course but it's a small blog, ok?) what happened in East Timor as well. And, for that matter, if we're speaking simplistically, let's go with Yugoslavia too.

I forget where I'm going with this, except to say that there are layers and layers of history, culture and war here that, in one weekend, I can't even begin to fathom. In looking at the fortresses, I got that amazing feeling again - the one where you realize you would've never known this place existed if I'd never left home. There is so much to life I have no idea about, it's scary.

Anyway, it was bloody freakin' hot at the fortresses, so we hopped on over to the beach (photo in previous posting). Richard, who is this funny Australian man my company has employed in Aceh since 2005, is determined that I have a good time here, so he suggested that we all get coconuts to drink. Coconuts! Who's gonna say no to that?

But sure enough, five minutes in the car later, we pulled up to this beachside roadstop, grabbed a couple of benches and waited in the breeze while barman chopped open our coconuts. I was tempted to ask hiim to carve a face in mine, but good taste held me back :)

Anyway (and this must be the theme) it was not at all what I expected. Coconuts you normally think of from Hawai'i - or see in the grocery store - had nothing on these things. They were enormous! The barman had chopped off the bottom, to make it sit flat, and cut open a hole in the top, and served it with a spoon, a straw and either sugar or a lime. I joked that perhaps I could make a jack-o-lantern out of it when I was done.

Richard explained that different coconuts have different tastes. I was surprised to find that my coconut "milk" was a clear bitter water - not at all sweet or milk-like. It was kind of gross, actually. But Richard went on, stating that coconut "milk" is actually very good for you - life-sustaining actually - as it is full of minerals and vitimans - and a sterile, drinkable fluid in a place that doesn't have alot of that. "Nature's gatorade" is what he called it. So of course, I had to drink up (I added a lot of sugar, though).

I was also surprised by the nut flesh. I actually really love coconut - flavorings, shavings, you name it, I'll eat it. But I wasn't prepared for the soggy flesh of a coconut that still had the "milk" in it. It was white, yes, but it was slimey, squishy and soft. I scraped what I could from the side, which then landed in the "milk" which then clogged up my straw. Honestly, I was having a hard time. I finally resigned myself to sipping what I could from the hole and calling it a day.

As it turns out, it cost about $2.80 for five coconuts, a bottle of water and all the pre-packaged cookies you could shake a stick at. Not a bad haul for a Saturday afternoon!

Today I am off to see the rest of the "sights" of Banda Aceh. As it's Sunday, the day of rest, I am resigned NOT to work and to simply enjoy myself. If yesterday is any indication, I'm sure I'm in for a great time.

More later -

The Cake!

With Desy standing next to it. The "Rosettes" are in the little baggies hanging off of the "branches". Or whatever they are.

A Few Wedding Photos

Random Wedding

Today, I went along with a few of the company staff to an Acehnese wedding, held in a small village adjacent to the city of Banda Aceh. The groom was head of the community service organization that my company had helped set up in the village to help them after the tsunami. In fact, one of the grants that we gave them was for the women's association to create community wedding clothes needed for the various ceremonies - and this wedding was it's first test run.

After doing a few hours work in the decrepit office this morning, Desy (our MIS and Office Manager) arrived with her two friends to take me (and our Program Implementation Manager, Richard) to the wedding. On the way, we passed no less than five other wedding parties - either walking on the side of the road, or in a a flower-and-ribbon decorate car in traffic. I asked Desy if there has been an upsurge in weddings since the tsunami, and she said yes, most young people are trying to move on. Next week, Dwi, one of our bookkeepers, is also getting married. Like many others, it will be a second wedding for him, as he lost his first wife during the tsunami.

I really didn't know what to expect - mostly I just fretted over the long white skirt I (thankfully) remembered to pack. The practical slits (um, so I can walk) that come up only to my knees seemed awfully .... sexy, in comparison to what the other women were wearing. But oh well, I just sucked it up and hoped that my "bule" (boo-lay) -ness would give me a pass for being indiscrete.

While we didn't attend the wedding itself, the reception was held outdoors - I think at someone's house. It's hard to tell. Basically, it was a bunch of houses lumped together, with the men sitting (and eating) on one side and the women on the other. One room housed the wedding cake (I WISH I could that photo to attach - it's amazing!) and another, smaller room, swatched all in pink, was where the bride and groom sat, greeting well-wishers.

We were immediately swept into this tin 10room, which had thirty or forty dishes of food spread on the floor, along with five or six of the groom's male family members. The bride and groom sat up on a little stage, atop three steps, with a silvery curtain around them. They both wore the most elaborate costumes, decorate from head to foot in glittering gold and silver (Desy told us later that it was most assuredly not "real" gold - ha!). The bride wore an amazing delicate silvery headdress that covered her entire head and hung down the sides of her face. The best part was that, as it was STIFILING in the room, they had two little girls dressed in princess costumes fanning them.

Now, navigating squatting on the floor in a skirt is always a challenge. But try not pointing your dirty dirty feet at anyone, whilst squashing your food up in small balls with your right hand (aka non-dominant) and feeding yourself? 'Twas a challenge indeed. Luckily, I like being the center of attention, so when I saw little children pointing and laughing at me through the doorway, I just winked and laughed back at them. The dishes themselves were awesome - fried chicken (home ocoked and from KFC up the road - I'm dead serious), a beef curry, fried potatoes, watermelon, stewed pineapple, some jackfruit stew of some sort, something else spicey and meaty and little tiny dishes of water to wash your hands, both before AND after eating. I managed only to get a small dot of curry on my blouse, so I consider it an unmitigated success.

They even started taking the food away and I was STILL eating! Oh dear. It was that good.

After hanging arounda bit more (and shaking all the blood back into my legs, as I had to squat on my knees to eat) , we checked out the amazing tree-like wedding cake. It was taller that Desy, and had small intricate twigs branching out from the core. On each twig were enormous, sugarfrosted - well, for lack of a better word - rosettes. It looked awesome!

All in all, everyone was very friendly and curious. The English here is quite limited (even more so than Japan) but I find the people I'm working with and run into in daily life are so darned sweet, it doesn't matter much. Of course, it's hard being so out of place, but it was fun. And did I mention, the food was delicious?


By Popular Demand (Anthro Girl)

After 45 minutes, this is the only one I could get to upload. Me, on the beach. I've also got several of me drinking milk from a coconut, but that will have to wait until later.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Banda Aceh

After taking a four hour plane ride (1st to Medan, the third largest city in Indonesia, where I got out, mistakenly thinking I could buy some lunch in the medeval airport), I landed in Banda Aceh, land of the tsunami.

First of all, let me say that I love exiting a plane right on to the tarmac. I've met quite a few lovely countries this way, with mountain views and the country smells hitting you RIGHT AWAY - instead of being directed through a sterile maze of flourscent lights and lost baggage. So I knew, when I got off in Banda Aceh, that I was gonna love this place.

It's gorgeous. Again, I was completely taken aback - first with Jakarta and now with Banda Aceh. I didn't expect it to be so lush! I'd landed just after a heavy rainstorm, and the clouds still hung like puffy wet curtains above us, threatening to drain down. The sky was all shades of beautiful grey and dark purple. Contrasted to the greenish blue mountains in the distance (mountains! who knew?) and the humid hot-breath air - I was in love.

I thought I had been the only westerner off the plane, but at the tiny baggage claim (literally, one convator belt of about 10 feet long) I saw several more. I was even treated with a highlighter made sign at the exit with my name : USAID-Merdith.

I don't think I'll ever get used to getting into a car with a strange man who speaks no english, just by virtue of the fact that he had my name on a sheet of paper. I thought little of my precarious situation though, as there was really nothing I could do about it! (I have a mobile, but who would I call? What would I say?)

Ahem, anyway. The drive from the airport to the office, I discovered, was located just where the water ended - so no real tsunami signs remain after two years. I'm told that further down, closer to the water, there are more telling signals, but as I'm not here for the "death and destruction" tour, I doubt I will see any of it. From what I can tell, Banda Aceh is a town recovering - much poorer than Jakarta surely - but definitely survived.

That's all I have for today, as my battery is dying and I left the converter at the office. On tonight's agenda: cut my bangs, eat some seafood and correct some field reports. My hotel is brand spanking new (July 07) which seems so weird, in a tropical place where things are more likely in a state of disrepair rather than sparkling. Again, I find this development racket very ....conflicting...