"Bits and Pieces" is our ongoing series of anecdotes and observations that don't really fit anywhere else. Hopefully, these are in a lighter vein than our usual rants. In no particular order:
Greece and France are the two places on earth with the nastiest cigarettes I've ever tried. They are also the two places with consistent riots. Connection?
Indonesian is the only language I know where you can say, "I feel delicious," and "Traffic is deliciously smooth," with a straight face. Indonesians use the word enak, or delicious as kind of a default adjective. If they can't think of a better word, then it's just 'delicious.'
Indonesian is similar to English in that it is a mish-mash of about six different languages. The basic grammar and vocabulary are Malay, seasoned with Hokkien Mandarin, Arabic, Portuguese, Dutch, and English. Unlike French, which has a government committee set up to convert foreign words to French, which is kinda silly since it's based on Latin, Indonesian imports words at a ferocious rate.
There are three common words for 'book,' buku, kitab and persan. The first is Dutch, meaning just 'book,' with no special subtext. The former is Arabic, and is used to refer to any sacred text, and the latter is Portuguese, and is used when referring to 'text' with the English kinds of connotations.
You can tell what was introduced into local culture by which group by the words associated with it. For instance, meja, gereja and sepatu (table, church, shoe) come from Portuguese. There would be no other reason to use Portuguese words unless those things were introduced here by the Portuguese.
Interesting that Chinese constitutes a great deal of the slang in Indonesian.
Jakarta traffic has gotten considerably worse just in the three years I've lived here. It is shockingly bad, and I use that term advisedly. It's so bad, that millions of people use motorcycles to get through traffic as quickly as possible. Ironically, they become a major part of the problem. They follow almost no rules of the road. At red lights (all three of them), they wend and weave their way to the front of the pack, so that by the time the light turns, it looks like a shotgun start at the Friday night moto-cross event. They usually start off about 10 seconds before green, and so make a complete hash of cross-traffic just as 30,000 cars are trying to get through.
The other night, it took us an hour to get from the house to the supermarket. We can walk there in 30 minutes. As the crow flies, it's about two kilometers, but there's no such thing as a straight line in Jakarta. The roads are completely screwball. To avoid red lights, which no one pays attention to, they have a complex system of U-turns and one way streets, which look like they were mapped out by a kid with a crayon and a Big Chief tablet. I have to go two miles west, jus tto turn around and go back east, to get to work. The office would be fifteen minutes from the house, if I could go directly to it.
In fact, the Indonesian term for 'shortcut' is jalan tikus, or rat path.
Indonesian hand-shakes are rather intricate affairs. They range from lightly brushing the fingertips with the heels of the hands held together, up to 15 minute dances that are similar to politicians posing for photographers.
Tradition says that men and women don't exchange full-on handshakes, especially among more orthodox muslims. So, they instead fold their hands together, with the fingers opened out. Then, you pass the fingertips across each other and then pull your hands back in a supplication gesture and bow slightly. One reason is that an Indonesian form of making a pass at a woman is to shake her hand while lightly rubbing the inside of her wrist with your index finger.
In polite company, men usually brush palms together and then place your hand to your heart, as if you have received a gift from him. Again, this is more common among muslims, but is generally practiced.
Children usually greet adults by taking their hand and touching it to their forehead or cheek, called salam. Children are generally very respectful of adults and pretty well mannered, especially with prodding from dad.
Never is a handshake like a Texan arm-wrestling contest.
All the cats in Indonesia have stump tails. When I first came here, I couldn't figure that out, and since my communication skills were severely hampered, I couldn't ask. So I had lots of strange visions of some kind of exotic ritual, or a special delicacy involving the use of cat tails. You can imagine what I thought when someone asked me if I wanted nasi kucing, which means 'cat rice.' Turns out nasi kucing simply means a small serving, but since dog is a delicacy in certain parts of Indonesia, why not cat tails?
In parts of Jakarta, there are streets that literally get completely remodeled every night. During the day, the street is empty, but for the usual sardine traffic. But, at around 3pm, trucks and cars and motorcycles start showing up with tents, tables and assorted stuff, and within an hour, an entire mini-city of restaurants and shops spring up, completely covering the sidewalks and spilling into the street. By nightfall, the crowds gather and literally thousands of motorcycles appear in a great pile down the center of the street. There's restaurants of all descriptions serving food of every variety. Shops sell the usual coffee and cigarettes. There's even the pedal-powered carnival rides for kids. The music blares and teenagers line the curbs primping and preening and showing off their motor bikes. By 3am, everything starts disappearing, and by dawn, it has all vanished without a trace. There's not a sign of all the action and bustling nightlife from just hours before. Then, at 3pm, they start showing up again...
I have seen some the most amazing stuff on motorcycles here. The record so far is 6 people, but that's hardly amazing compared to some of it. I've seen four live goats strapped across the back of the saddle, as well as a dozen live geese. The latter was really strange, as all the heads were pointed aft and were craning in all directions. It was a surreal sight. In the neighborhoods, there's the ubiquitous bread bikes that roll through morning and evening with boxes on the back stuffed with loaves and various pastries. The most interesting ones are the guys who have a box on the back and sell assorted meals. When you stop them and order, they pop the bike up on the stand and proceed to unfold a complete kitchen off the back of the bike. I mean complete, as in stove, cutting board, bowls and spoons, food storage. It's like Dr. Who's TARDIS, in that all that stuff can't possibly fit in the original box, but when you're done, he folds it all back into a meter cube and drives away.
There's another group of guys who sell cleaning supplies...brooms, mops, buckets, brushes, and so on. They have an impossibly large pile of stuff on the backs of their motorcycles, easily 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide. They putter through the neighborhoods, like all the other vendors, with their electronic jingles or various calls, selling spray bottles and ladles. You can't imagine how much stuff is carefully stacked and stored on the backs of those motorcycles.
I've seen two guys on a motor bike, one driving and one carrying a car windshield. Saw another guy with five 20-foot lengths of bamboo laid across the bike and resting on the handlebars.
And bicycles are just as wild. There's the guys with mini-carnival rides for kids built out of two bicycles. One pedals the whole contraption around, and when he finds a willing audience, he can fold out and merry-go-round or ferris wheel. Then he climbs on the second bicycle and pedals to make the ride go 'round. One very handy guy has a complete tailor shop on the back of his bike. He sets up shop outside your door with all your darning, repairs and tailoring, sets up his stool, and proceeds to sew up a storm right there in the alley. All pedal powered, of course.
It's kind of interesting living in one of the most volcanically active regions of the world. That's just so far out of my realm of experience. One the two clear days in Jakarta, you can see three or four volcanoes surrounding the city. Fortunately, they've all been dormant for centuries. But Tankuban Perahu is about 120 km away, and it last blew its top in 1983. Of course, Kerakatau, which changed the global climate when it last erupted, is just off the west coast between Java and Sumatera. Late last year, Merapi went off in Yogyakarta, which is a good distance from here, but still a lot closer to a live volcano than I've spent most of my life.
Shave and a haircut costs $1. For a little extra, you get a neck and shoulder massage.
In Papua, there's group of people who still live a very traditional life. They live in the jungle and wear absolutely nothing but mud to keep the sun and mosquitoes off. A French company discovered the world's largest tin deposit literally under these people's lands. The French are now in the process of destroying these good people in order to get to the tin. I hope the company chokes on it.