Tuesday, February 08, 2005

rambutan season

A few days ago, maybe even a week ago, I had a lovely little experience. The neighborhood that I live in now, called Kemang, has a lot of Westerners in it. It is amazing how westerners tend to find each other, and collect in certain areas. So, it is not a rare sight to see a westerner walking along the street. I even saw a couple of redheaded teenagers biking along the road. Although normal people still stare, it is not in the amused, interested, intense way that they do in other areas across Indonesia.

So, when I went to the warung, the little food stall near my house, I expected the same polite, friendly, but not overwhelmed treatment that I get in other parts of Indonesia. The warung that I went to is one of the smallest kinds. One woman (normally a grandma who can cook, but has no other way to earn money) cooks a couple of dishes and a lot of rice, and puts them in a glass case with mosquito netting to keep the flies off. The, throughout the day, people drop by, tell her which dishes they want, and eat. I was tired after work one day, and I dropped by with Lisa (a friend from the office) to get rice.

This old lady was overwhelmed. She was so happy to serve us her chicken (which was amazing) and sayur asem (Javanese vegetable dish. I don't really know what vegetables they are exactly). We sat in the small eating area while the old lady sat by us and smiled, and expressed wonder that we were able to eat Indonesian food. The next day, when I passed by her house on the way home from work again, her entire family came out to talk with me, the westerner who ate at the food stall. I guess, despite all the westerners who are in this neighborhood, no one comes to the nearby warung. It is probably considered dirty, or people do not know the etiquette. Or they are just entranced by the pizza place that is up the road.

It is amazing what a world away some expats can make themselves. It is possible to get around with only English in Jakarta (it limits you a lot, but you can), and to go from air-conditioned car to air-conditioned building. There is an American Club, and there are McDonalds and KFCs, like in most major Asian cities. While I am repulsed by this, I can see how it is easy to fall into. People come here for work, and work with people like them. People need other people to be willing to push their boundaries together, or every shared situation becomes a time when people make sure the other stays comfortable, and stuck.

The girl who I ate at the warung with is named Lisa. I suppose that she is not a girl, really. She is a 29-year-old Australian from Melbourne. When she was my age, she joined the Australian version of the Peace Corps and came to Indonesia. She was in Southern Sulawesi for two years, and then stayed on for 3 more. She married a man from the area, from Makassar, and moved back to Australia. She speaks fluent Indonesian, as she better, as that is the language she uses with her husband. She is the only other westerner (or bule as we are called in colloquial Indonesian) who I can speak to in Indonesian as easily as I can speak in English. She is also the only other bule I know (with the possible exception of my mom) who refers to other westerners as if they belonged to a category that she does not really belong to herself. We went to the offices of Save the Children- US yesterday, and both of us were in awe at the number of westerners there. The Indonesian secretary, who could hear and understand us, must have gotten a kick out the way we were talking about the office.

Anyhow, she is off to Aceh now to work as the communications officer there. She will be missed.

It is rambutan season here. Rambutans, for those who do not know, are small red fruits, maybe the size of golf balls. The have little hairs (rambut), making them look like sea creatures. You can see them everywhere. They are in the trees of people's houses, hanging over their high walls. They are in street carts all along the roads. Everyday in the office, someone brings some in.

You can peel away the red outside, and inside is a clear fruit. It looks a little like a lycee. It is sweet and tangy, and when they are very ripe, the sweet juice drips spurts out when you open it, and drips down your fingers. My fingers are rambutan sticky right now, as
I am writing this.

If I am ever homesick for America, it helps to think about eating a rambutan.

I know I wrote about food already, but there is so much to write about food. I have never been someone obsessed with food. I just barely understand the joy that some people get out of paying for a really expensive meal (not to demean the very expensive meals that some of you have shared with me). But there is very little that can beat Indonesian street food.

If you turn left after leaving the compound of my house, and walk for a couple of minutes, you reach Jln. Kemang Raya (or it might be Jln. Kemang Selatan, I am not completely sure). At the corner, there is a pizza place, called Izzi pizza. It is a fancy, air-conditioned place, a place that always has a high percentage of bules. You can get a decent pizza there for the equivalent of $4. If you look across the road, there is a Turkish place that I hear is truly amazing. A little further down the road, there is a fancy seafood place, next to an Italian place that, the guidebook says, would "make mama weep".

But these are not the places I am talking about. In between all of these restaurants are food stalls that appear in the evening. They are normally food carts with a painted sheet, telling you what food is available. There are little tables behind the sheets, where people eat. These places right in front of the fancy restaurants, so much that you have to sometimes push your way between stalls to get to the real restaurants. They pose no financial threat to the real restaurants; they generally do not attract the same crowd. Although a bit more upscale than the mom's cooking in my neighborhood, I still sometimes get a funny look when I tell people that I eat there.

But you cannot disparage the food. There is sate and soto and gado-gado, martabak (sweet and salty), and fruit stalls, all within 300ft. These are all delicious types of food. And of course, the price just cannot be compared with America. The meal at the mom's warung near my house was 40cents. A three-course meal from the stalls might be $1.50. It cannot be beat, at least in my experience.

Since Lisa left for Aceh, I have taken over her responsibilities in the office. The responsibilities are what I wrote about in the last post—meetings, writing, reports, etc. But there are also a lot of little things that people ask you to do. It is the kind of position where people drop into your office and ask advice. Or people who cannot speak Indonesian ask you to make a quick phone call for them in Bahasa. That kind of thing.

So, today, Alister, the frustrated logistician from New Zealand, came into my office and asked me if I know anything about sustainable wood certification. I know some, because of my thesis work, but not much. Really, Alister wanted to know if I knew anyone he could contact because he needs to make a huge purchase of wood, to send up to Aceh as part of the rebuilding process. He wanted the wood to be certified as sustainable, but did not know much about it.

Now, as a matter a fact, I had played Frisbee last Sunday with a guy who worked for the Rainforest Alliance as their wood certification specialist. He has told me about it over beer after the game, and I had grilled him on it as we shared a cab back to Kemang. So, I knew someone who knew something. I found this contact info, and gave it to Alister. And Alister promised to buy his massive quantity of wood from someone who was certified by the Rainforest Alliance. That felt good.


Post a Comment

<< Home