July 2010

One of the things that amazes me about this place is how international the community is. The joke about Dubai is that you will never see an Emirate. Chances are that your taxi driver is from Pakistan or India. Many of the staff in shops, restaurants, and hotels are from all over Asia and the Middle East. It has been catching a glimpse of Iran that has proven most alluring for me. I’ve met several people from there; some working here, others passing through. You can have your pick of restaurants, from upscale like the one in the Hyatt to fast food versions, to try Iranian food. I’d never thought how international their menus would be serving caviar and tikka mixed grill.

Saturday morning, I woke up still undecided about what to do. I was tempted to spend some of the time in the hotel, using the gym and the Jacuzzi. In the end, I stayed in bed like a lazy, happy vacationer before deciding to catch the free shuttle to Dubai Mall. This is the mall to end all malls, supposedly the biggest in the world. It has an underwater zoo, which I didn’t make it to, and an aquarium, part of which you can see for free as you wander around.  However, the real lure was the promise of constant AC during the main heat of the day. I shuffled around the four stories for a few hours. It has a great food court—I ate at Hatam, an Iranian restaurant. After that, I was pretty much done. Souks are one thing: interesting and alive, but malls are just blaze in my humble opinion. Having said that, I will say that the architecture for Dubai Mall was quite nice and its “Gold Souk” very exquisite.

I caught the free shuttle to Jumeirah Beach Resort because it was supposed to be a short taxi ride to the public beach. What the mall information misinformed me about was a place to change, so even though my swimsuit was in my bag, I never ended up doing more than wading. Asking at the hotel, I found out the open beach was actually a short walk, just out the hotel and the next street on my left. I walked. The gulf water was an almost emerald green like nothing I’d seen before. There were two shaded structures, so I sat under one and pulled out my book to read as I’d done so many times in Haifa. The beach was no so very crowded, but nothing about Dubai is crowded at this time of year except maybe some of the narrow roads near the souks. Looking behind me, I noticed the Jumeirah Mosque. I took time debating about walking the several blocks over to it, unsure that I’d be allowed inside. As I was pulling out my map and making up my mind to try it (after all, I’d brought an umbrella to shade me from the unrelenting sun), the call to prayer began. That would not work now, and I’d already purchased a ticket to go up the Burj K, the world’s tallest building at 7 PM, that being close to sunset and much cooler.

Examining the map more closely, I realized that the familiar looking structure to my left was actually Burj al-Arab, the famous self-proclaimed “seven star” hotel. Armed with a new plan, I packed up my belongings, pulled out my red umbrella, and headed in the correct direction. I was walking slowly and shaded but still the heat made the journey seem significant instead of a mere few blocks. I arrived at the entrance, sopping wet from the heat and covered in sand. I felt anything but elegant. Still, it was hot, and they really could not expect much else. I told the security man that I wanted to go inside for a fruit drink. I was presented with a single option of taking “tea” at a restaurant inside for a price that made my head swim. I smiled and said that would be fine, thinking of the time I had not ridden on a gondola because the price was a few Euros higher than I’d expected.

Into this palace of extravagance I went. Almost immediately on entering, I located the ladies’ room. As soon as it was empty, I unabashedly washing my feet and calves in the sink, cleaned my face, brushed my hair, and in general succeeding in making myself look like something other than a royal mess. I took some shots of the lobby and found a staff member who was kind enough to take some photos of me. Finally, I took the elevator down to the J— Room for my appointment. It was a cruel twist of fate that this would be the Asian restaurant. I was given two cocktails and a snack, but pursuing the snack list was unimpressive:  dim sum, fried prawns, etc. None of it looked out of the ordinary and all of it I’d had almost daily for the past month. I decided to try the Korean option because I’d never had it before. The mocktails were exciting because they weren’t sweet. The first was a blend of jasmine tea, banana, and kiwi. The second was watermelon juice with raspberry puree.

About halfway through my snack, a group of ladies about my age who were sitting next to me asked if I would take their picture. Soon we were talking up a storm. They were from Iran. One of them was working in Cyprus as an architect alongside her husband. They were on holiday having left their husbands behind with the children. I was sorry to have to leave them to make my appointment.

The staff called a taxi for me that reminded me of the Silver Birds in Jakarta. I arrived at the mall in style. I had just enough time to go to the entrance to the Burj in the mall’s basement. The elevator ride up 124 floors takes exactly one minute. It is so smooth that you can only tell you are moving because the pressure makes your ears pop—unbelievable. Outside on the observation desk, the view was amazing though hazy from the silicon that fills the air. Just like Israel, it’s better to visit after the first rain. When I came down, it was time for the water show outside the hotel. It was shorter than the one you can see in Las Vegas, but still very cool. I walked to the metro from the mall. It’s a very clean and new system that is very reasonably priced. I highly recommend it though I will warn that there aren’t many seats; expect to stand.

Today is my last day here, and I took today slowly. After lying in bed half the morning, I made a quick trip to the souk one last time. Partially I went there to have shwarma for lunch. (I liked this dish in Israel, but I’m still baffled by my strong attachment to everything Arab.) I worked out at the gym briefly in the afternoon. I took tea in the hotel lobby waiting for the day’s heat to dissipate somewhat. Today has been a rest day, just the perfect day for me to relax by myself. I’m a little surprised that without internet or company for the last two days that I’m anything but lonely. I’ve met a few really interesting people and have had plenty of time for me doing whatever it is I feel like. Still, I won’t be sorry to be home tomorrow.


The flight from Jakarta to Dubai on Emirates was almost empty. I had a whole row to myself, which was wonderful. Changing my ticket to arrive before midnight, instead of leaving at midnight, was a terribly brilliant move on my part. I was in my hotel room as the clock struck midnight. This has been my first solo holiday since I went out to Oregon while in grad school. And like that trip, I met up with a good friend for part of it.

Sam met me about mid-morning. I was able to sleep later than I have since I left the States: a beautiful luxury. We sat down to brunch in one of the Hyatt Regency’s restaurants and marveled that we were back in the Sandbox together. We had a hard time deciding what to do because, as with most of my good friends, our conversation constantly flew from one topic to another—trying to catch up in hours what had occurred over months.

My confidence, which had taken a vacation from me this last month, came bounding back. I was back, I belonged here—even though “here” was a place I’d never been. The level of familiarity was strange and intoxicating after Asia. Ironically though, I found a lot of my Asian mannerisms didn’t immediately fade into the background. It took me all day to be able to point things out to Sam with my index finger. After weeks of trying to say “Shookran” in Jakarta, I found “Terima Kasih” on the tip of my tongue all the time. Hardest of all was trying to figure out the UAE currency, which is a similar exchange rate to shekels. After looking at 40,000 and knowing it was about $4, it was hard to see 40 and remember it was more like $11, especially when you’ve gotten in the habit of dropping those extra zeros.

By eight in the morning the sun is high and pounding. Though not humid like the South, every time I walk out of the hotel my sunglasses fog up. Despite the heat, my “to do” list was mostly outside. We weren’t sure what the souks would be like, and Sam wanted to take me anywhere I couldn’t go on my own. Into a taxi we hopped for the short drive to the Gold Souk, which is in the Deira section of town just like my hotel. There is a 10 Dhrs minimum on taxi rides in Dubai.

Dubai is quite deserted in the summer months, so the souks had few customers. Sam and I weren’t surprised to be constantly solicited to come into stores. However, for the first time, all the men wanted to sell me knock-off designer bags. Granted, this isn’t a commodity I saw in Israel. Still, it took a while for me to realize what had happened. The bag I had bought at Tanang Abong in Jakarta turned out to be a Gucci imitation. (Yes, I honestly just thought it was a nice, simple summer bag that zipped: exactly what I’d been looking for. When I found out it was a “Gucci,” I almost didn’t buy it. Sam and Rachel laughed when I told them; it really is the type of thing only I would worry over.) So now that I had this labeled purse, all these merchants thought I was interested in that crap. It was really just funny.

The souks were covered by wooden structures providing relief from the sun if not the heat. We strolled along at a leisurely pace, and my Middle Eastern temperature kicked in. It was hot, but why would it be any other way? Even looking at the creek, it didn’t seem hot enough to need to swim. This odd mentality has never really left me since I left Israel. The heat takes away my appetite as well, but I’m careful to drink enough water and remember to eat, even when food doesn’t sound appealing.

Without a detailed map, Sam and I stumbled along the streets in search of the next interesting thing. The rows upon rows of shops with ornate gold displays were breathtaking; it’s such a nice change from the silver and white gold jewelry in the States. We stopped to ask where the Spice Souk was. Half a block later, our noses led us the rest of the way. Burlap bags of saffron, rose hips, curry, frankincense, and cardamom enticed wanderers into the small shops that had plastic curtains hanging from their doors to keep the AC inside. Some Iranian shopkeepers gave us a demonstration on how to tell good saffron from the cheap version. Throughout the day, I bought a few things, quite pleased that my bartering skills have improved so much. I also got the chance to use some of my Arabic.

Sam and I took a water taxi to the other side of Dubai Creek, where we ran into the textile souk. I found this very ironic after the weeks in Jakarta of frantically trying to find fabric for clothes—to no avail. We wandered around the Bastakiya Quarter and found the Grand Mosque. What no one seemed to be able to locate for me was a mosque created in the Iranian style with the colorful tiles visible from the exterior. This was important to me because non-Muslims are not allowed inside throughout the UAE. The one exception to this are the weekly scheduled tours of the Jumeirah Mosque in Dubai.

Circling the Grand Mosque, Sam spotted a structure resembling a fort and chose that as our next point to explore. Turns out, the fort is actually the Dubai Museum. I told Sam it was supposed to be very good and had AC. I think the latter was the selling point. The afternoon was brutal, and we’d been outside for hours. Especially for 3 Dhrs (87 cents), the museum was an impressive display of the history of the United Arab Emirates. I think what I most enjoyed was the exhibit on pearl diving, which was a main source of income here until cultured pearls became popular. A net was tied to a rope and held by men who jumped overboard on these small vessels. Diving without equipment, they would collect the oyster shells and return to the surface. It made me wonder if that would have been Andrew’s job if we lived here back then since he’s such a good swimmer. Sam was fascinated by the wind towers, the first air conditioning in the region. These towers were designed to let hot air out and circulate air back in. The tower allowed the windows of the house to remain closed, which if I had to cover in public would have been of the upmost importance to me.

We ended the afternoon at the Heritage Village. It’s very nice but still under construction in places. Sitting in a cool restaurant, we watched the barges and boats along the creek while feasting on hommous, pita, and my favorite: lemonana (lemon and mint drink). Sam had his narghella, and I had everything. After a month of working aboard, I felt like I was already home. There was water outside and Arabic style buildings, insane heat, and regional food. Not to mention a good friend who had been there then. Finally, it was time to leave.

Breakfast is not included and the hotel is located in a way that makes it difficult to walk to the local shops. After Sam left, I decided to explore to see what the hotel and Galleria had to offer. The Galleria has some shops and an ice skating rink. There is a little bakery to sells at 50% after 8 PM and a small grocery. I will be able to eat after all. Seriously, nice hotels seem to think that you should spend at least 100Dhrs on dinner. I just am less likely to splurge on a dinner when I’m alone though I may for the Iranian restaurant in the hotel.

For my last week in Jakarta, I’ve had a few small adventures I thought I’d share.

Tuesday night, Katie and I decided to get our feet chewed on by those lovable flesh-eating fish (not nearly that scary but I love how it sounds). To get to the shop in the Grand Indonesia mall, we have to walk around the Selamet Datang traffic circle. It’s about four lanes deep and of course no traffic lights around the four large, three small entrances to the circle. Katie and I have become pros at traversing the dangerous freeway: just walk out at a steady pace, hold your palm out to the car, and keep going. It’s even better if you can cross with a local next to you. They have a better sense of the traffic rhythm.

Wednesday night we were invited out to have dinner with some Americans at Face Bar, which is a restaurant just behind our hotel. Before we left the hotel though, Katie and I sat down at the piano in the lobby. We decided to do a very American selection: “Heart and Soul.” Only the staff was in the lobby. We earned a standing ovation; they loved us. Angel, one of the girls at the front desk, rushed over and made us promise to perform again before we left. Katie and I couldn’t stop laughing. Dinner was also amazing. I wish we’d been invited out more, but everyone at the mission is very busy right now.

Tonight is our last night here. All the staff can’t believe it’s been a month, and frankly, neither can I. We’re hoping to get to the gym one more time before we leave. Part of me is sad to go. Katie and I joke that we won’t be able to understand why our rooms are cleaned twice a day when we get home or how come the food won’t be prepared for us. Tonight I went for a massage on the fifth floor. It was very good; the girl made a valiant effort at the knots that are my back. Still, I found myself just wishing for the backrubs we give in my family. I’ve honestly felt that way with all three massages. Frankly, my mom trained us well. What else can I say?

We work in the morning and leave in the afternoon tomorrow. I’m off to do some last minute packing.

After many debates, Katie and I decided that for our last weekend we would do a day trip on Saturday to Bandung. Sunday would be reserved for last minute shopping in Jakarta. We knew this would be a long day, but Katie’s philosophy, “I want to wake up in my own bed,” was a familiar one to me. I grew up with Joan after all. Jakarta may be the only place I’ve ever stayed where it can often take you two hours to go 30 km (15 miles). Traffic is just that bad, and on weekends everyone is headed out of the city. Our three weeks here have also matched the three weeks of summer holiday for students. I read of all of Bogue’s Fortune and wished I’d brought a second book. Since it was dark by six in the evening, this oversight on my part didn’t matter as much.

Upon finally reaching Bandung, the group tour stopped at Jalan Cihampelas, an area famous for shopping. I’m beginning to wonder where in Indonesia is not famous for shopping. Since there were two Indian women on the tour, Katie and I bummed around pretty much just waiting to leave the moment we arrived. I got a couple of good photos but was quite bored to be honest.

We stopped somewhere at a local place to eat. The Indian women, who were Hindu and vegetarian, had a hard time explaining the idea of no meat. Patrick had had similar issues when he was here. I finally got to try some foods wrapped in banana leaves, which I must admit sounds more exciting than it tasted. There were some really cute kids playing on the playground though. It made me think of Alex, who loves going down slides.

Finally, we prepared to head towards Tangkuban Perahu Crater. I will only mention in passing that these roads were also crowded. Along the way, we passed green tea plantations, which were quite lovely to behold. Furthermore, this part of the island is mountainous, always a plus in my book. However, our clear day was turning overcast. The higher we drove up, the foggier everything became. Really, we were very lucky. Five minutes after we reached the crater, the clouds moved just enough so we could see it. It was like Brigadoon had come to Java Island. I do love mist in the mountains; I suppose it’s the romantic in me. Still, I was a bit disappointed because I could tell how spectacular the views would have been. The photographer in my was saddened. The other perk of the elevation (1830 meters) was the cool temperatures: pure bliss. Not bliss was the volcano’s potent sulfuric essence.

The last stop was to be the Ciater Hot Spring, part of a large tea estate. This was naturally everyone else’s next stop too. Really you’d think some of the tours would do the route counter clockwise to miss the crowds. I’d brought my swimsuit but no towel. The other three didn’t want to go in. I just wanted to do something; I was so tired of sitting on the bus. Then again there were almost no women in there, just men and children. The two women who were in the hot springs pool were fully clothed. Considering how uncomfortable our guide (I do believe it was unintentional) made me, I just couldn’t stomach getting stares from all the men in the pool wearing my one-piece. Never underestimate the power of visual sexual harassment. At which point, I feel like this stop, with the added no-go traffic, was a complete waste of time. I can go to the Hot Springs in Bath County the next time I’m home. Why here if I’m uncomfortable?

This meant that at almost five in the evening the only “thing” I’d managed to do all day was get out and walk around the top of a volcano for thirty minutes. Now the weather was such that I probably couldn’t have hiked up it and I would have been sad to have missed the opportunity if I’d stayed in Jakarta. I knew all that. But I also knew that I need a bit more from my days than sitting down on a bloody bus all day even if the scenery is pretty.

My moment of zen came when the guide let us stop off when passing some recently harvested rice patty fields. The road was so narrow the van went on ahead a little ways. For three wonderful minutes, I was able to look at the fields and walk on the road with the mountains in the distance. Beautiful.

As the sun set, we continued to meander through small towns. I watched locals from the window, taking in all I could. With no light to read I was grateful for this glimpse of local life. We passed a dad and three kids sitting on train tracks and talking. I saw local men sitting on rugs and studying the Quran in a building. There were scads of bikers resting on the side of the street, a lit cigarette in hand. People of all ages walking up and down the town’s streets greeting friends and enjoying the cool night. As we went away from the shops, we passed homes. One home looked like little more than a roofed shelter, not much furniture. The kids’ faces were illuminated by their TV as they sat on the concrete floor. Whether in Jakarta or in the country, the poverty is impossible to hide.

Today was a slower day. I caught up with family on Skype, did a leisurely tour of the gym, edited yesterday’s photos, etc. I can’t seem to get myself to turn on the TV to watch the video I rented from the Concierge. Joan will gladly tell you I have the same problem with our Netflix rentals. I’m equally hesitant with movies on flights. I just can’t get excited about it. I could be laying on my bed doing nothing or writing my next entry here or trying to call a friend at home.

We went shopping to a local store that a fellow shuttle rider recommended a few weeks ago. It’s in a neighborhood, not commercial, part of town. Even with the small map we gave him, our taxi driver stopped for directions three times. It reminded me of some of the shops in Ibillin, you wouldn’t know them unless a local took you. The closer we got the more narrow the streets became. Many of the young boys peered out to see who was coming. Traffic and taxis are not common here. Inside the store was beautiful, we took our time deciding what we wanted. While I was browsing upstairs, I heard a quick banging of metal on metal from the street below. “Tek, tek” it seemed to say. I was thrilled to hear the sound for the first time and know that it meant someone was coming through selling hot food.

The only other customers came in after us. It was a family with two teen-aged daughters. They were speaking French, then Arabic. I caught a couple of words of each, then I was introducing myself and asking where they were from. Turns out the father is a Tunisian diplomat. They lived in D.C. for several years. I had a really nice time talking with them. The one thing I regret with this trip is that I don’t feel I’ve met very many people. The older girl reminded me of Sawsan, Maria, and several of my other students. It was just a lovely encounter.

It’s hard to believe that this is my last week. Today, I don’t feel I’ve been gone three weeks. Not that I haven’t been homesick at points. We’ll see what adventures lay in store before I return to the States.

We are breaking from our regular broadcast about Indonesia to bring you a link to an article about head coverings. This is relevant to Indonesia as there are more Muslims in Indonesia than the Middle East.


This is a story of a typical American mom whose nine year old decides that she wants to wear a hijab, Islamic head covering. It’s well written. It’s an interesting introspection from the mother’s point of view. I still feel it misses aspects of head covering rituals I saw while living in the Middle East. In a community where many girls do not cover, I can see this act as a means of self-expression, a way of loftily ignoring popular mores. Some of us achieved the same effect by wearing hand me downs that weren’t really meant for young girls or by burying our noses in books. But Americans in general seem to have missed the boat on hijabs. Even this mother doesn’t seem to understand that it can be just as much a fashion statement as a bikini–for all the same reasons.

If I’m ever in the position of having a daughter who wants to wear a hijab, I think my answer would be the same as my mother’s when my sister begged for pierced ears, “When you’re thirteen.” Wearing a hijab signals a coming of age, that you are now a young woman. Many young women in the States signal this with an impractical string bikini. At least the hijab will ensure that your neck doesn’t get sunburned.

If you think that wearing a hijab is a purely religious act, then you should walk into a girls’ bathroom at a school with Muslim teens who cover. At Mar Elias, half the girls would be brushing their hair while those with hijabs were busy adjusting theirs to look as nice as possible. Many of the girls used pearl or sequined pins for added flair. In the markets, young girls rifled through the mountains of fabric searching for what would most accurately express their sense of fashion in the same way American teens hunt for a kick-ass pair of jeans. If you think that girls who cover aren’t concerned with their looks, then you need a course on human nature. Just look at the picture of mother and daughter from the article. Her hijab is bright and colorful; it’s an expression of herself.

Of course the other side of all of this is that both these ideas of beauty have been fed to women by a paternalistic society. How is being leered at for showing skin any different from being told that nice girls cover up? I had days in the Middle East where I wanted to put on a hijab because I hoped it would give me more protection from the visual sexual harassment that is simply a part of life in so many places, not least of which is the American high school. This of course goes back to my comment on human nature. Girls are conditioned to care about how we look. Our image is very important. Guys, and my brother might not be the best litmus test, just don’t care. That’s not what they’re told is significant. However, most teenage girls do. Now the girl in the article may be the exception (she’s also only nine) like I was. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that most girls are very conscious about how they look and what that says about them. They will compare who is stylish and who isn’t whether its about sparkling hijabs or Tiffany bracelets. There’s a lot of work to be done on the actual problems not the question of whether your daughter is covering or not.

After all, what’s more embarrassing: cute photos of you wearing colorful scarves or those shots during your Goth phase?

I rest my case. Back to our regularly scheduled program.

Food is not just something my brother worships. It’s important to everyone everywhere. While Americans have learned to love American Chinese take out and Mexican food, I haven’t seen any Indonesian restaurants dotting the Great Plains. So what makes Indonesian food different from Thai or Japanese? Oh let me count the yummy ways!

Disclaimer: There are thousands of islands in Indonesia with different culinary traditions. I’m not even scratching the surface with this entry.
The first is tempeh, a Javanese invention. Tempeh is fermented, compressed soybeans that have a firmer, denser texture than tofu, which is also popular here. The major disappointment for me has been that although tempeh originated on this island, we have been unable to find it in the restaurants we’ve tried in Jakarta. I had it in Jobja (Yogyakarta) and really liked it. Tofu is eggy, but tempeh is a bit more meatlike with better flavor.
The second is sate. Now sate is the Indonesian answer to a shish kebab sauce. It has peanuts in it and is slightly spicy. It can be a bit heavy on a hot day, but it’s nice. Kecap, where we get the name for ketchup, is the generic term for sauce. I’ve enjoyed trying to ones laying around the mess hall at work. Kecaps can be mild or spicy. The one I’ve had the most reminds me of molasses.
While our international hotel has dim sum and sushi, these dishes are not found in an authentic Indonesian restaurant. Unlike Chai da Thai in Winston, your dishes do not come with coupous amounts of veggies (and that is unfortunate in my book). Instead you will find nasi campur (mixed rice) and nasi goreng (fried rice) and maybe nasi bungkus (rice wrapped in banana leaves). Nasi, or rice, is unsurprisingly a staple here. Locals say they don’t understand how foreigners can be full without eating enough rice. It is the one thing to not leave on your plate.
Of course, noodles are an option. I won over a class of users this week by expressing my love for Mie Tek Tek, spicy street noodles. This dish got its name because of the sounds street vendors make to let people know they are selling hot food. Each vendor makes a unique sound, so his customers will know he has arrived. The banging on the wheeled carts can make a tek-tek sound, hence the name.
Ongol-Ongol is a popular sweet, that like most non-American desserts isn’t too sweet. It’s a coconut paste of almost gummy consistancy. It is a nice, light end to a spicy meal.
Below I’ve provided links to some websites on Indonesia food:
I mentioned that our hotel serves international fare, so we actually aren’t eating as much Indonesia food as I had initally expected. Considering that I don’t have to have fried eggs on my fried rice, that’s ok. Katie is in love with the bread pudding for breakfast and the egg salad at tea. As you may have guessed, I have an immense appreciation for the bakery. The breads are lovely as is the pain au chocolat. I’m also a fan of the homemade yogurt.
Indonesia being a tropical climate, I would be remise in not mentioning the fresh fruit. Mangos are not currently in season, but everyday I have a plate full of watermelon. And it gets better: there are two types red and yellow. That’s right, my friends, yellow watermelon. Now it’s not quite as sweet as red, but it is refreshing and just plain wonderful. It really is summer!

Yesterday morning I missed the shuttle. I felt like Linus Larrabee (from Sabrina) as I climbed in the backseat of a Mercedes to be driven to work. Sitting in the leather backseat, I read the International Herald Tribune, aka international New York Times as I ate a pain au chocolat from the hotel’s bakery. Looking out the car window to see families on motorcycles, what I’ve decided to refer to as the Indonesia minivan, was surreal. Then again, so was the fact I was in a Mercedes.

Lest you think that this is just too ridiculous, which I freely admit that it is, I would like to remind you that everyday I teach people how to use software. From the looks I get from the Americans in class, it’s pretty easy to presume they would be shocked to know that I’m intelligent enough to have a MS in Chemistry. Then again, you can only judge based on what you see, so I can’t blame them.

With Patrick gone, Katie and I have decided to spend most of our evenings in the hotel. Frankly, traffic never clears up and the only thing to do if we go out is shopping, which now sounds like the most arduous, masochistic chore known to humankind especially considering the time spent in a dark car. I don’t think I mentioned that the sun sets here about six in the evening. When I’m not fed up with the whole Ivory Tower thing, evenings in the hotel can be great. The gym is wonderful, and the steam room is doing wonders for my sinuses. We’ve met a few nice people during the Happy Hours (we call them dinner since we go there to eat for free) after our check in call and during afternoon tea, which we sometimes make after work. And generally, I spend my evenings on Skype talking (or trying to) cool folks back home. I have tried in an effort for those who love my TV here to watch something, but frankly, they just don’t have any channels I like. I’ve turned on the news twice.

There’s another aspect to life in Jakarta as a foreigner that I haven’t touched on yet: security. Some of you may remember my talking about having your bag checked every time you went into a train station or a mall in Israel. This is the case here, at least with malls. But the hotel security is intense. Your car pulls up. Five–count them, five–people surround the car, opening the doors, checking under the underside with special mirrors. When your car goes forward and lets you out, you and your bags still go through a metal detector like the airport. They have a good reason for this: several hotels with Americans have been bombed in the past few years. It is necessary. As John, a Brit now Aussie who has spent years in this country pointed out to us, the hotel’s to get bombed were American hotels like the Marriott, which is why he was staying at the Mandarin. It’s a Chinese chain and thus safer.

There’s one Bali story I didn’t have time to include yesterday. It’s naturally about ice cream. When Mom and Dad moved to Massachusetts for his PhD program, Dad, at least, had a bit of a culture shock. He thought the bagel was a doughnut, etc. (This was prior to the “cultural sharing” of Northern foods with states south of the Mason-Dixon Line that has happened since in the 70s.) He loved to tell us kids that those Yankees didn’t know how to make milkshakes. When he ordered one, it was just milk shaken up with flavoring. We nodded our heads, who would do such a thing?! So hours before we head to the airport and leave Bali–perhaps forever, Katie and I are sitting by the pool enjoying the sound of the artificial waterfalls and watching families in the water. The night before we’d seen milkshakes on the menu but were too full to consider it. Now, however, I’ve decided that a nice thick chocolate milkshake would be just about right. When the order came, yep, you guessed it: the Indonesians learned to make milkshakes from the Yankees. I asked the waiter for more ice cream in it, trying to explain I wanted it thicker. He gave me a funny look and eventually came back with my drink. He’d added ice. Quite depressed because chocolate milk just wasn’t at all what I wanted, I paid the full bill and upon walking over to the bar to ask them for change, I gave them my milkshake back. In a soft voice, I said, “This isn’t what I wanted. In America, it’s something different. It has ice cream in it.” Add a few minutes to get over language barriers, and they were quite sad that I didn’t like the drink. Finally, the young man offered to bring me chocolate ice cream. I said thank you. Katie and I shared a nice martini glass full of chocolate ice cream while the guys behind the bar talked about that crazy American girl in the local dialect. “Why would she order a milkshake if she wanted ice cream?” Well, Dad, maybe you can answer that one.

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