Monday, January 23, 2012

Taksi Revenge

Just when I had given up on the injustices I suffered at the hands of nefarious taxi drivers, my salvation came in the form of a taxi complaint card.
 Now I just have to decide which box I should mark. Drive in lost or blackmail....

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Uberlist 2012

I work with many inspiring folk here in Indonesia. One such person is another EL Fellow named Tabitha (see Blog list "Keeping Tabs"). She recently shared on her blog about the Uberlist. The Uberlist is like a New Year's resolution on steroids. Basically, the idea is that you choose not one big thing to work on but 112 small things. This sounds ridiculous at first, but being that I am a very goal-oriented person, I wanted to give it a shot. The idea is to still think about your big goals (i.e. do a triathlon) and break it down into several smaller steps to help your reach it (i.e. swim once a week; take a spin class once a week, etc.). You can make goals in any category. I stole many of mine from Tabitha (hope you don't mind!), and at the risk of sounding narcissistic, I will share them with you now:

Jackie's Uberlist 2012:

1.       Look at prices in the grocery store and compare
2.       Track my expenditures
3.       Get a miles credit card
4.       Make and use a taxi log
5.       Find and regularly attend (twice a month at least) a church in Jakarta
6.       Tithe
7.       Keep a prayer journal
8.       Read Gospels
9.       Finish student book
10.   Finish teacher’s edition + supplements
11.   Audio CD
12.   Start pilot for advanced book
13.   Hold security force English seminar
14.   Teacher training for new teachers; prepare them for the classroom
15.   Teacher training for experienced teachers; prepare them for advanced students
16.   Set up mentoring program for Sebasa instructors
17.   Propose a better scheduling system that leads to more consistency for students
18.   Visit Access at least once a month
19.   Create an Orphanage English program with ETAs
20.   Contact Dr. Smolen for career advice
21.   Visit Dr. Smolen’s class as a guest speaker
22.   Talk to ICITAP about long-term career possibilities
23.   Tourism book
24.   Travel to do NA for Tourism
25.   BRIMOB book
26.   Dance program at @America
27.   Find NATO English exam
28.  Read ESP book from Kay
29.       Research and read Security Force English articles from British Council
30.       Read BC’s Peacekeeping English Project MA diss.
31.       Write ESP for Police article
32.       Search for degree programs in applied linguistics or TOEFL
33.       Find other police language centers
34.       Use the SMARTboard in the new classroom at Sebasa
35.       Figure out InDesign and use it for next textbook project
36.       Figure out what all the fuss is about TED
37.   Keep my gmail calendar updated and synced to phone
38.   Load Skype on my phone and figure out how to use it
39.   Figure out what a ‘Java update client checker’ is and make it stop crashing
40.   Regularly back up computer
41.   Save my contacts online
42.   Use my camera memory card instead of the cord
43.   Practice Henna designs once a month
44.   Find a place in Jakarta to paint batik
45.   Complete Bintan sprint triathlon
46.   Learn how to clip in and out of a road bike
47.   Take a spin class at least twice a month
48.   Swim with Miranda at least twice a month
49.   Do a hash run on Lombok
50.   Complete P90X
51.   Be able to do 50 push ups
52.   Be able to 100 sit ups
53.       Attend one ultimate Frisbee practice and participate (jkt)
54.       Log workouts of Daily Mile or Nike+ regularly
55.       Calibrate Nike+ watch
56.       Finish free podcasts from
57.       Download PDFs from
58.       Sign up for and actually practice word a days 
59.       Make time for tutoring twice a week
60.       Put aside self study time twice a week
61.       SMS coworkers and running pals in B.I.
62.   Learn full Arabic greeting
63.   Practice flashcards on phone
64.   Complete Wisma Bahasa book 2a
65.   Complete Wisma Bahasa book 2b
66.   Carry/Complete LP Phrase guide
67.   Start a list of wines I taste (already started!)
68.   Take a wine tour in VA with brother
69.   Catch up on must-see movie classics
70.   Go to one Jakarta night club
71.   Raise an orchid
72.   Blog twice a month
73.   Learn how to drive a scooter or motorbike
74.   Have a kabaya made
75.   Have Javanese jewelry made
76.   Watch all Monty Python movies
77.   Find perfect perfume for me (since they are so cheap here)
78. Wear heels more often

79.       Learn the birthdays of my siblings and nieces/nephews
80.       Call my brothers/sister-in-laws twice a month
81.       Email/call my father/mother twice a month
82.       Send post cards to grandparents and aunts/uncles
83.       Have Java jewelry made for each sister
84.       Send FB message to cousins
85.       Toraja
86.       1,000 islands
87.       Bromo
88.   Taman Mini
89.   Lombok
90.   Dhaka
91.   One other Asian Country
92.   Ambon
93.   Sulawesi trip
94.   At least one lindy exchange
95.   National Museum
Grow Up
96.   Make an address book 
97. Ask questions even if I’m embarrassed to not already know the answer
98.       Talk to people at church meet and greet times
99.       Actually try to pronounce intimidating words/names
100.       Keep all receipts
101.       Use rice cooker to make meals
102.       Get/use a French press
103.       Don’t buy groceries I won’t eat
104.       Make salads (as opposed to depending on pre-packaged ones)
105.       Have whiter teeth
106.       Floss once a week
107.   Detox
108.   Eat more veggies (at least one serving a day)
109.   Visit the podiatrist about chronic foot problem
110.   One a day vitamins once a day
111.   Fish oil vitamins once a day
112. Calcium chews once a day

It's been a week (I started a little late), and I've finished teacher training with the help of Lisa (other Sebasa Fellow), have salad greens in the fridge and an orchid on my TV stand. Let the crossing off begin!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


Disclaimer: I've always strive to keep a positive perspective in my blog because I love my adopted home, and I want you all to know why. So, please forgive me for the following negative-nelliness. It doesn't reflect on my views of the country or its lovely people.

In a recent conversation with a fellow Jakartan, the topic of taxis arose. This is not uncommon since traffic jams generally take the place of the weather as fodder for small talk here. Natives and bule alike bemoan commutes, public transportation, and the unpredictability of when and where the macet may strike (answer: always and everywhere). Public transport, however, has been pretty good to me. I can get a taxi any time or day or night, and if traffic is too bad, I can walk to the corner of my complex and hire an ojek (motorbike taxi) to weave and wind me to my destination. All for pennies on the dollar. I actually enjoy winding through traffic and delight in taxi drivers who know jalan tikus (mice roads) or short cuts. There are, however, dark moments. Moments that bring me to more frustration, dare I say it, than the whole laundry soap incident. I could think of only three such moments during the conversation. But today, oh today, was the straw that broke the bule's back.

I am generally non-confrontational and have a very high threshold for anger. I don't like getting angry and I detest yelling at anyone. I get visibly red in the face, shake, and immediately feel bad for person I just gave a stern talking to. However, I've discovered over the past year and a half that just the right combination of taxi drivers and traffic jams can bring me from zero to pissed off faster than you can say, mau ke mana, mister?

The first time I was 'taken for a ride' - in the idiomatic sense - was last year when I had to get to the airport for an early morning departure. This meant I had to leave my apartment at 3:30 am. This is good because there is no traffic then, but it is also bad because there are only a limited number of taxi drivers awake at that point. I had to take the first taxi that showed up. I was warned from every one and my landlord's mother (very sweet lady) to only take certain taxi companies (Bluebird), so I was very apprehensive when a little, olive colored taxi pulled up. I had to go, so I got in.

We were the slowest car on the road.

I sat in the back and watched grandmothers on bicycles pedal faster than our car. The worst part was that, much like the laundry soap incident, I didn't have the language to tell the driver to go faster at that point. Also, it was three in the morning, so calling someone seemed unreasonable. We arrived, and I offered my best angry eyes while forking over the money.

Since that moment until three weeks ago, I've had nary a taxi problem beyond an occasional argo kuda, 'race horse meter' - a meter that's been modified to, well, I think you get the idea. I usually blame myself for those incidents, though because I get impatient and take an disreputable company.

Now, rewind to three weeks ago. My mother and I had just returned from our wonderful adventure in Kalimantan. We were dirty (no showers for three days), tired, and hungry. We got in an Express taxi at the airport. I like Express. They are cheaper than Bluebirds, plentiful, clean, and generally pretty honest. Or so I thought. With the Friday, rush-hour traffic, it took us a good two hours just to get in the vicinity of my apartment. Mom and I tried to make the best of it by enjoying the skyscrapers and talking about architecture (e.g. "Look at the swoopty thing on the top of that building. Cool."). Then mom made the observation that we had passed the same building three times. I spoke up and asked the driver where he was going. He returned in rapid-fire bahasa from which I only understood "short cut." I told him that his short cut was a mistake, and that he turned too soon. Let me say now, that one wrong turn in Jakarta traffic can easily add an hour more to your trip. So, as we headed back into endless traffic, I began racking my brain for angry words. When we finally made it, and we had mom's luggage safely out of the trunk. I turn to the driver and handed him 20,000 less than the meter price. I told him, all while trying to keep the shake out of my voice, that I would only give him that much because he made a big mistake (I emphasized big with hand movements). Ok, ok...they weren't that angry, but they got the point across. He slammed the trunk and left without saying a word.

Fast forward to today. I took an ojek to the nearby grocery store. When I was finished, I tried to hail a taxi because it is actually much cheaper to take them, and I had two bags full of food. After waiting around for 10 or 15 minutes, I broke down and took some no-name taxi. The driver seemed kind enough. Besides, we only had to drive straight and make one turn. The whole trip takes less than 10 minutes. Unless you turn the wrong way. The driver turned left despite my chorus of Kenan! Kenan! Now we were dead smack in the middle of a traffic jam. I immediately told the driver exactly what his mistake was. He said he hadn't known about the route. A ten-minute drive just turned into an hour drive. He took me as far as a market place that is about two kilometers from my apartment. He suggested that it would be better for me to walk than to sit in the traffic. He was right, so I fished out my money to pay the 6,000 Rp that was on the meter. I only had a 10,000 bill, so I handed it over expecting change. He snatched up the money and then said he had no small change. So, now I have to walk with my groceries in the heat of the day for the same price that it should have taken to get me all the way to my apartment in 10 minutes! I had no time to argue because we were parked in front of an embassy, and a guard made me get out of the car so the taxi could move. I eventually made it back to my apartment. I was so boiling (literally and figuratively) at this point that I resorted to cranking up my favorite angry music, which is usually only reserved for break ups (Thank you, Ben Folds) to put my groceries away to: Gimme my money back. Gimme my money back, you b****.

And there you have it. I do get mad. Already in my mind I'm making up excuses for the driver (Mr. Folds and I both apologize for calling you names), but I had that brief moment where I was really, and truly angry. Now, I don't have any plans to increase my angry vocabulary, but I may just heed those warnings and stick with the expat-friendly taxis. I love Indonesia, aku cinta Indonesia, and it's people; there are just a few drivers out know who you are...that I'd rather not meet again.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The (Wo)men of the Forest

Hand-written boarding passes - Into the jungle we go
When it comes to the wonders of the animal kingdom, Indonesia got the lion's share (no pun intended - seriously, there aren't even any lions here). Aside from your everyday treasures like the little geckos that decorate the walls and the monkeys the street kids like to dress up with miniature guitars and creepy baby doll heads, there are also animals you only see on the likes of National Geographic, like the komodo dragons and orangutans. In honor of my momma's visit to the archipelago, we decided to kick off 2012 off with a three-day river tour through the Orangutan National Reserve in Borneo and see these 'men of the forest.' 

Our trip was totally organized through an eco-tourism company in the small fishing town of Pangkalan Bun (southwest Borneo). We arrived at the small airport and were greeted by a dozen military and police personal. Well, okay, they weren't there for us so much as the regent (something like a governor) of the area who also happened to be on the plane, but we still felt fancy. We were actually welcomed by a hand-written sign for "Mr. Jackie Gish and Mrs. Gail Bable' (That's right, I'm scowling at you, Chan). After we cleared up the gender confusion, our guide Isai drove us to the dock to board our home for the next three days: 
Ha! Just kidding. Here's where we really stayed - the one in the back. Our boat came with a four-person crew: one guide, one cook, one captain, and one all-purpose deck-hand. Since it was low season, mom and I had the whole place to ourselves, though we met plenty-a-foreigner in other boats along the river. For the next three days, we lived on that boat. The cook made our meals on board (amazing), the crew transformed the deck into sleeping quarters at night, and there were bathroom "facilities" in the back (oh why didn't we think to bring wet ones?). We roughed it, and we loved every minute of it.
She always cooked enough for four people..., we shared.
Sleeping arrangements - my first mosquito net!
Our tour guide, Isai, leading the way.
On day one, we went up the river to a small Dayak village. The Dayak are the local people of Borneo. Our guide, himself Dayak, told us that there are over 200 Dayak languages, meaning that in some places there could be two different tribes not even a kilometer apart who can't understand each other. Gila (crazy). The particular village we visited was a sleepy fishing/farming town of about 100 families. We walked along the one cobble-stone road that ran the length of the village and took in the slow and simple life-styles of the families living there.
The only school - children must move to the nearby city to attend high school.
A typical home on stilts

They had a library!
The mosque - so many bright colors
This stream irrigates their farms and doubles as a bathing and laundering spot
The clinic. The decorations of the roof are meant to mimic the hornbill bird.
This 80-something-year-old grandfather was weaving together roofs.

As the sun began to sink, we continued upstream a ways to catch the Proboscis monkeys as they made their way to the trees lining the river. The Dayak people refer to them at 'Dutch' monkeys because they have long noses. These little guys sleep in the trees by the river because their predator, the Clouded Leopard, doesn't like to go near the water. They just have to be careful not to fall out of the tree while they sleep and become a midnight snack for the river caiman (crocodile). Then we parked our boat along the side of the river, ate dinner by candle light, and crawled into our mosquito net for the night.

This little one never let go of mom
Day two we continued upstream toward an orangutan feeding station. We joined four or five other river boats full of tourists to watch the morning feeding. We all sat in front of a raised wooden platform while our respective guides called to the orangutans. The rangers showed up and upped the ante with rambutan and pineapple. We all watched as our great, orange friends shook the forest canopy and descended to the feeding platform.

We cruised up stream a bit further for the main event: Camp Leaky. This is where Julia Roberts visited after filming Eat, Pray, Love (and is rumored to have not heeded the ranger's warnings about getting too close to the animals). More importantly, this camp was founded by one Dr. Birute Mary Galdikas - the Jane Goodall of the orangutan world. This remarkable woman came in 1971 to wade through the mosquito-infested swamps of Borneo and study the wild orangutan. She founded Camp Leaky with the help of some local Dayak people. Lucky for us, Dr. Galdikas just happened to be at the camp. Eat your heart out, Julia.
We learned straight from the source about these (usually) gentle giants. The good doctor, hand-in-hand with one of her furry friends, led us around the camp. She called each orangutan by name as she told his or her life story. She also shared about the sad reality of the rapidly decreasing numbers of orangutans. The babies are taken by smugglers while thousands more die when large palm oil company clear their forest homes to plant farms. The reserves in Borneo and Sumatra are the last refuge for them. Note in the video who is in the cage this time.

The Queen of the Camp, Siswi, 35

Yeah, he can rip your face off. And that's a teenager. They live into their 50s.

Fun fact: Female orangutans are 5 times stronger than a human.

Our luck continued. Out of the forest lumbered, Tom, the King of the orangutans. When the 29-year-old giant made an appearance, everyone got out of his way. The rangers scurried to get between him and the tourists. They appeased him with buckets of milk and large pieces of fruit. We all looked on, happy to respectfully give The King his space. Our guide later told us how rare it is for Tom to come out. Isai got us close to observe his Majesty, and when he told us to move, we moved.

We reluctantly left Camp Leaky and climbed aboard. After one small snag - part of a floating island broke off and blocked the river - we headed back down stream. Isai kept us entertained with endless tales of the Dayak. He told us about their head-hunting warriors. Certain tribes require human heads to sacrifice during the funerals of their tribe members. He told us that there are still some head hunters (two fisherman from his parents' village were found headless last year!), but he promised they were way, way inland. Whew.
Navigating though the floating island
Once we ended our river tour, we had some time to kill before our plane took off. Isai offered to take us through his city. We walked through the open market and then through the houses that lined the river. He even took us into the house he shared with his two brothers and their families.

The trip was short but filled to the brim with unforgettable experiences. Mom and I returned (with our heads) to the busy streets of Jakarta, and we're now chuckling over pictures and memories while being rocked by phantom waves.