Saturday, January 31, 2015

1/23/15 Day 372 The Dirty Truth about Jakarta Indonesia

Duck under the tree, jump over the missing sidewalk slab, slide around the roving food cart and whatever you do, do not get run over by an ojek (motorcycle taxi) these are all things that are crashing around in my mind on a typical walk down the nonexistant sidewalks of Jakarta. The car exhaust and fumes in the city are noxious and many locals do not leave the house without a dusk mask wandering out into a cloud of black soot. We arrived safe and sound in Jakarta and pulled out a million rupiah, yes the conversion is 12,632 rupiah to 1$ (that is not going to be easy) after deplaning our AirAsia flight without incidence. We boarded the 40,000 rupiah (<4$) Damri bus straight to Jakarta's backpacker district, Jalan Jaksa. The food is cheap and we can find a room for the three of us for 100,000 rupiah a night (8$) not quite up to American 5 star standards but for a few nights it will certainly do. It is the peak month of rainy season, and as the streets begin to flood we head for a shopping mall, one of the most popular pastimes in Jakarta, shopping is practically a sport here with the modern mega malls and floor after floor of bargains to be had. I don't think we could have prepared ourselves for the 6 floors of wall to wall clothes if we had tried. Beautiful batik patterns and delicate flowing fabrics with trendy shapes all for, really cheap. Difficult to not lose yourself in a world of 3$ hippy pants and 10$ dresses with intricate patterns, but with our minds focused on our currently overweight backpacks we managed to keep it under control. Besides the shopping malls and traffic jams we have heard that Jakarta's nightlife is also renowned, curious to check it out Julie and I layered on mascara, put on our least backpacker-esque dresses and the three of us headed for the club. We were the only white people there and the music was okay but commercial as to be expected. The club had a really cool layout, and was only 150,000 rupiah with a drink, a bargain with a Bombay Sapphire cherry on the top. Meeting up with Mega the next day was a real treat, we haven't seen her since she hosted us in Italy where she was studying abroad, now we are in her turf, her home in Jakarta where she has grown up. She takes us for dinner to this awesome little row of two dozen or more local food carts, each with their own specialty dish, so many to choose from. We tried chicken satay with peanut sauce and the delectable ketoprak, a specialty originating in Jakarta, featuring two types of noodles slathered in spicy peanut sauce. The food is quite similar to what we ate in Malaysia, with a few less fishball and meatballs headlining the menus, less Indian and Chinese food and more peanut sauce, spice and goat. For dinner Mega took us to Pasar Santa, an old shopping center that was revamped 6 months ago by filling with modern food stalls such as; sloppy joes, fresh Italian pasta, fancy coffee and tea, ice cream by the gallons and ramen bunned hamburger (we had to try it), in between the gnoshing we passed by fixed gear bike shops, a tech deck fingerboard ramp company and even a Kendama retailer. This mall is a hipsters dream come true. We ended the night at one of the local parks where half of the city's youth turns out on a nightly basis to enjoy local music, street food and company of friends. Best of all we got to meet some luwaks! Historically the luwaks came into importance during Dutch colonization when local workers were not allowed to keep any of the valuable coffee for themselves. Realizing that the luwaks prefer to eat the creme de la creme of coffee beans before expelling them, the locals improvised by cleaning the indigested coffee beans and preparing their coffee from the luwak poo. It has become a huge fad throughout Indonesia and the rest of the world, especially on organized tours as a pit stop for overpriced coffee. Due to the popularity these animals are now being exploited; instead of collecting the feces of the wild animals they are caging and subjecting them to the abuses of factory farming in order to keep up with the demand. So say no to Civet/Luwak coffee, because they are cute critters! Wrapping up our time in Jakarta, it is time to head for the beach and to cough up some layers of exhaust out of my lungs. Most people travel directly through Jakarta without even stopping to try the Ketoprak. Jakarta may be busy and dirty, but for a city with 10 million people I found it quite fascinating and efficient, and the food was amazing! 


The National Monument

Local minibuses/bemos are the most common form of transport, picking up,and delivering people all over the city for approximately .25¢
A ripening jackfruit in the park
The durian, also known as the smelly fruit, a bit like honeydew melon soaked in dirty socks
Rambutan, a local fruit that is growing on trees everywhere this time of year, similar to lychees
Let the shopping extravaganza begin
Fresh, clean and folded, for only 39,000 rupiah, that's only 3$
The Welcome to Jakarta statue
Inside at Club Exodus, with a really impressive visualizer

Tuk Tuks and bemos, oh my!

Jakarta traffic jam

Typical night warung food stands
Trashy pandas

The ladies only car of the train, no men allowed

An attendant on local bemo minibuses hangs out the door coaxing people on and collecting payment

Kevin even found a Kendama stand at Pasar Santa

Of all the choices, it had to be a ramen burger, delicious 

The adorable face of an adorable coffee loving luwak

The fabulous bicycle drink stands; coffee, juice, tea, water, vitamin drink you name it

Friday, January 30, 2015

1/20/15 Day 369 A 36 Hour Stroll through Singapore

With the roar of Lamborghini engines completed by the unmistakably futuristic architecture, a guilt trip presented by Bag Down Benny (a public transportation advertisement urging passengers to be courteous) it seems we must have crossed over some sort of boundary into another space and time... but wait is that the smell of untreated sewage; ok scratch that we are still in Southeast Asia we simply crossed the city-state-country border into Singapore. This is a place known for orderliness, rules, keeping clean and green and having an eclectic variety of some of the best food in the world, oh and possibly for the prohibition of import of chewing gum to the neat-freak of a country. We spend our day wandering through China town and Little India, eating as often as our bellies have room. The curry noodle soup we had at one of the local hawker stands was one of my favorite things I have eaten in Asia, and the briyani was out of this world good. Constantly in awe of this building, or that architecture we fumble our way through the city until we finally find our way to Marina Bay Sands, the huge hotel with a pool and 360 degree viewing platform on the top to get to the famous gardens. Walking through Gardens by the Bay is unreal, only completed in 2012 all 101 hectares of this park are astounding! The signature highlight is of course the Grove of Supertrees that tower over the rest of the park, 25-50 meters above and the two domes; Flower Dome (the worlds largest column-less glasshouse) and the Cloud Forest. The "trees" are constructed of metal entwined with ferns, vines and orchids flowing up to flood lights and LEDs in every color of the light spectrum. The engineering of the structures is marvelous with a performance function to imitate the natural processes of a living breathing tree. The solar cells on top help with photosynthesis and power the lighting, rainwater is collected for fountains and irrigating/cooling the gardens and the two domes in the park. Lastly the hot air from the glasshouses is exhaled like carbon dioxide would be from a tree. For only 5 ringgits you can prance along the OCBC Tree Canopy Walkway setup between two of the larger Supertrees. Just after the sun sets we hunker ourselves down for the evenings light show, the OCBC Garden Rhapsody, a display of dazzling lights set to music. There are two fifteen minute shows a night at 7:45 & 8:45. A free show not to be missed! The show was absolutely breathtaking, a phenomenal showcase of man made light effects harmonizing with natural nature.

From Pongal in Kuala Lumpur's Little India to the festivities in the Little India of Singapore

The lights are actually Pongal pots of porridge that are boiling over and cows
Colorful colonial houses decorate the streets

The hawker stands are unbelievably amazing with hundreds of stalls of every Asian cuisine imaginable  
Local delicacies, turtle and crocodile soup
Freshly pulverized sugar cane syrup
and freshly grated coconut shavings
We saw a huge line and followed it right to the counter of Allauddin's Briyani
So delicious we couldn't take the time to capture a photo until our tender lamb briyani was devoured

Urban greenery at its best along the highway 

Gardens By The Bay from afar, the two domes and the grove of Supertrees 
The Double Helix Bridge, Marina Bay Sands Hotel and the Science Center

The water spouting fellow is the Merlion, apparently the cities mascot
A huge amount of work going into preparations for Chinese New Year
Steel welded shapes brought to life with beautiful silk fabric
Later on we saw more festive creations, it is year of the goat after all
Hundreds and hundreds of silk goats lined the streets
The Esplanade is Singapore's beautiful center for performing arts (the spiny building on the left)
Decorations inside the Esplanade

Clarke Quay, a historic riverside quay completely revamped with booming nightlife and colors galore

Beyond the decorative chimes, under the skyscrapers are solar powered fans to cool down parkgoers 
The view from the Promontory Park
Prestigious Shoppes Marina Bay Sands complete with rowboats 5 levels below the escalators

The amazing science and engineering that went into making Gardens by the Bay efficient and green
The grove of Supertrees with the Flower Dome on the left

The OCBC Tree Canopy Walkway
The Garden Rhapsody begins

Ending our evening of lights by walking home through he Double Helix Bridge