Little Things
on Solo Diaries (Indonesia), 26/Apr/2009 08:53, 34 days ago
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There are all kinds of quirky little things that I have noticed about Indonesia; each doesn’t necessarily deserve its own blog entry, but they are interesting enough (to me anyway) that I thought I would put a few of them together…Street Vendors– in Toronto there is a huge debate raging about what kind of food can be sold by street vendors, in the name of public health, I assume, or maybe it’s just the powerful Hot Dog Lobby that is keeping competition off the street. Well in Indonesia, they put our hot dog (or ‘street meat’ as weaffectionately call it) vendors to shame. There is at least 1 street vendor for every 2 people in Indonesia, and they don’t just set up and wait for business. No they get out there and get it. Despite the blistering heat, people push carts of food around, announcing what they have either through their voice or through recorded music, or through a unique drum or through banging a wooden stick. They have everything, fried chicken, bakso (meatballs), vegetables, fried tofu& tempe, fried rice, little deep-fried units not unlike spring rolls, boiled eggs, soup… the list goes on, and so far the only thing I haven’t seen is Hot Dogs! These people are tireless, pushing their carts around the streets, loudly and conspicuously announcing their wares day and night. I swear I heard one outside last night in the middle of the night – hey you never know when people might be hungry…Tailless cats– these were much more common in Bali, but for some reason, all the cats here have little ‘nubs’ where their tails should be. Other than that they look like completely normal cats. For some reason I am creeped out by these cats; I can’t quite put my finger on it. They are everywhere, and because of the tropical climate here, people rarely close their doors, so they have free reign to travel wherever they may. I have given up on trying to keep the many feral cats out of our office at InterAksi; they just come and go as they please. At least now I am starting to recognize a few of them.Frogs– my good friend Nicki would not be happy here, as she has a strange but powerful phobia of these little amphibians. There are frogs everywhere, some are tiny little things that could fit on the tip of your finger, and others are more of the bullfrog variety. They are frequently just hanging out outside my door at night, or along the side of the road. They are just kind of everywhere. You only see them at night. Perhaps they are technically toads, I have no idea.Sitting– easily the favourite pastime of Indonesians. People have literally built little shelters (almost gazebo-like) along roads and in seemingly random locations so people can just … sit. I have seen people, for no apparent reason, pull their motorcycles over, park (on the side of a very busy street) and just … sit. On the main street nearest to me (as usual I have no idea what it’s called) there are several locations where people have set up chairs, along the side of the road, where they can just … sit. Now I get the concept of sitting, don’t get me wrong – to quote Montgomery Burns, “who among us doesn’t like a good ‘sit?’” But usually in a logical location, like a park, or with a nice view, or beside a river, or my favourite, in front of the TV, but on a chair beside a major street, just for the heck of it? For the record, I don’t think these people are ‘waiting’ for something; I think their purpose is literally to … sit.“Hand Phones”– aka ‘HP’ (pronounced ‘hah pay’) this is what Indonesians call cellphones. Many people have 3 or even 4 of them. And they trade numbers like crazy. I have been asked for my HP number on countless occasions – from strangers. And I made the mistake, on one occasion, of giving it. I was caught off guard, and because my brain wasn’t working properly, I had forgotten my usual excuses. This was to a young man of about 21 or so named Hakim who wants to practice his English (innocent enough). I have now seen at least 15 missed calls from Hakim and received upwards of 20 text messages inthe 3 days since giving him my number. I have explained to Hakim on several occasions that I am trying to preserve my ‘pulsa’ (like prepaid points you use to make calls and send sms messages) as it’s very expensive to sms Canada. He understands completely, he writes, and then asks, for the 17th time, “how long you be in Solo?”Candy– it’s everywhere. They have as many aisles in the grocery stores dedicated to candy as we would to, well, groceries. Yet Indonesians are all thin, and they all seem to have flawless skin. And man, do they like their sugar! “Tea” here is basically hot sugar water, and iced tea is even sweeter, containing, on average, 1 billion teaspoons of sugar per millilitre of water, absolutely wretched stuff. To make things worse for me, one of my staples, Diet Coke, is barely available. I have only seen it in one place, an expat bar, and he has the nerve to charge Rp9,000 for a can, which is highway robbery. Indonesians don’t understand why anyone would want a sugar-free product so there is simply no market for it here.There are so many more of these little quirks, but I try to keep my entries to a reasonable length, so I will save them for another time. I find all of these things very interesting, and culturally very strange. Each of them makes me long for home a little bit more each day– well except for the frogs; who, besides Nicki, doesn’t love frogs?PS I would kill for street meat right now.