Saturday, December 16, 2006

John's Wager

For various reasons I've been thinking a lot about religion, faith and supreme beings recently and have come to something of an epiphany.

Undoubtedly, as with every other vaguely philosophical epiphany I have had in my life someone will come along soon and tell me that someone else had it long, long ago, but before that happens and while I still I have impetus, I will write about it. So here goes...

Everyone knows Pascal's wager which says that assuming you're a moral person, you're better off being religious, because then the worst that can happen is you cease to be and the best you can get is heaven. If you foolishly decide to live as a perfectly ethical atheist, then the best you can hope for is annihilation, and the worst you can hope for is hell.

God Doesn't ExistGod Exists
ReligiousTime WastedHeaven
Non ReligiousNothingHell
Note: for the sake of simplicity, lets ignore the time you waste as a religious person and say that everyone is the same if there's no god

Not many people buy this argument because the choice is not really as simple as that. You also need to take into account that you might be supporting an evil belief system and otherwise wasting your time. Intuitively, this sounds fine, but if you start thinking about things mathematically you actually run into trouble here.

God Doesn't ExistGod Exists
Non ReligiousNothing-infinity

Now, much as I would like to, I can't truly discount the possibility that I'm wrong and there is a supreme being of some description, so I will assign probability p1 to God Doesn't Exist, and p2 to God Exists; where p1, p2 < 1. Problem for me is, no matter how I assign the probabilities, the possibility of an infinitely terrible heuristic value (or an infinitely wonderful one) should always compel me to choose religion. Here is where John's Wager comes in.

I think that the values would be more appropriately assigned as follows:

No GodWhiny GodGood God
Non ReligiousNothing-infinityx
where 0 ≤ x ≤ infinity

Above, Whiny God refers to god existing as he does in Islam/Christianity/Judaism, damning people to hell for being homosexual, drinking alcohol, eating pork, not believing in him, etc. etc., and Good God refers to god existing, but having much better things to worry about; in this case you could get anything from nothing to heaven.

Unfortunately for me, there's still a non-zero probability that a Whiny God exists and will damn me to hell for not accepting Jesus Christ as my own personal saviour. But you know what? Fuck him. If he's going to be such a whiny little bitch about something as trivial as whether or not I believe in him then I'm going not going to believe in him out of spite.

If that doesn't sway you (let's be honest, it is a little childish), look at it from a moral perspective. Anyone who sets up a system for getting into heaven such that the vast majority of people have absolutely no chance of ever making it in because they were never exposed to the way, the truth or the light deserves to be protested against. I see it as my moral obligation to be an atheist for all of the children who die at birth, the people living in remote Papua who never meet the person who tells them about the right way to get into heaven (unless of course, their god is the right one, then we're all fucked), and the people who are just trying to get by and don't have time for all the praising and the self-flaggelation and whatnot.

Even if I go to hell, at least I'll know I was right...

Atheism: the only moral choice.

How do you move your live ducks?

Flash! Aaaah!

For some reason I should know from high school physics, despite the fact that I live on the 30th floor of my apartment building, I can hear every sound from the street as though it was right outside my window.

These sounds vary. Motorcycle races, nasi goreng guy banging on his wok, cats fighting, kids practicing the call to prayer over mosque's loudspeakers, sate guy yelling, the local imam telling the kids to stay away from drugs and alcohol, but tonight it's something different.

Yes, it seems as though some kindly soul decided that the whole neighbourhood needed to hear Queen's Greatest Hits on repeat.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


They taste exactly like you'd think they would...

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Klub Frisbee Jakarta

Despite all lack of life on this blog indicating the contrary, I am still alive (although my pants are falling down from losing so much weight to my damn intestinal fauna); I'm just super busy.

The thing which is taking up a lot of my free time (of which there isn't much) at the moment is Klub Frisbee Jakarta. So if you were needing a little John in your life that this blog just isn't providing you, head over there.



Wednesday, November 29, 2006


I'm so busy... I've been at work from 8am to 10pm for the last 2 days, it's going to be the same tonight (partly because I keep procrastinating by doing stupid shit like this and posting on the Klub Frisbee Jakarta blog), but I couldn't help but post about this.

I signed up to one of those statcounter websites so I could see how many people were visiting the aforementioned Klub Frisbee Jakarta blog, and added this blog on a whim. It turns out these things let you know the links that people follow to get here and even tell you their location, ip address, platform, web browser and all sorts of other cool stuff...

So, the best web search that led people to this page: "gedein kemaluan". Or, for those of you who don't speak Jakarta slang, "enlarge penis".

Also, somewhat worrying is that I'm on the top page of Google for "Indonesian Pronouns".

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

On love and suffering...

Back in Australia for just under two weeks and I have no one's phone number any more, so if any of my millions of Australian readers want to see me, email me at **myrealname** (actually my real name, not "myrealname"). I don't think Tohm even had a phone when I left, how things change.

So, on to the topic at hand. All my loser friends and little brothers from Australia seem to be in the process of painfully ending serious long-term relationships, still getting over the old breakups of years ago, or remaining painfully single even after moving countries to try and find some new poon whose friendship and intellect they don't value too much to sully by filthy, filthy sexual intercourse. But you know what? Right now, I'm super, thanks for asking! My favourite girlfriend who I haven't seen for months is arriving tomorrow morning and we're going to spend a large percentage of the next 10 days doing not much but making coochie-coo faces at each other and frolicking gaily through sun-kissed meadows of flowers. It didn't have to end up like this though...*

When I moved to Indonesia in late '04, even though in all honesty we both knew it wasn't going to work out, we decided to try the distance relationship thing. We lasted a respectable 4-5 months after which, because I was too much of a chicken to do it myself, she initiated the breakup and I agreed. The distance wasn't the hard thing, it was the open ended nature of it. I didn't know how long I would be away, I didn't make anywhere near enough money to fly home more than once a year, we're both young and it doesn't really make sense to be stuck in a relationship that didn't really seem to have a forseeable future.

We stayed in touch; in fact, I think the only difference between our "relationship" when we were together and when we were apart was that we didn't sign our emails "love you" anymore, and that we were back on the market. We still emailed and smsed about the same old inconsequential things we always did, in fact, a lot of things got more honest.

Almost exactly a year later, when we realised that in fact nothing had changed, we made the momentous decision to get back together. This, in the face of another year of distance relationship. Why? Well, it's simple really. Above all, she interests me. But enough about her, this blog is about me.

What horribly contrived-sounding cliches did I learn were true in the year we were apart?

If you were meant to be together you still would be, or at least, you will be again: This is the oldest cliche in the book, and for years I had thought it was a steaming pile of turd. It sounds like it requires a sense of fatalism that I just don't buy into, but in fact it doesn't. You've broken up, obviously this is because something is wrong, better you discover now than in 5 years. It might be able to be fixed, if both parties have the will, the best you can do (if indeed you want to reconcile) is remain open. In the meantime, though, get the fuck on with your life.

You need time apart to grow as people: This one sounded even worse than the first one. What a load of shit... I don't need to grow you condescending self-help book cliche spouting wanker. I don't know how to explain this to anyone else, but I honestly feel that I do know myself (and in fact my lovely girlfriend) better after spending 1 year and 355 days living in different countries... Go figure. I do wonder what Tohm's perspective on this is, as he went through a rather similar break-up relatively recently, he seems to be on the other side of it though... From reading his blog recently, I'm inclined to think he'd agree.

Don't expect Morley to be the better man: natch.

Damo needs to stop being a bitch: It's not a turn on for you to be worrying about the oppressive weight of the male patriarchy and it's impact on your conversation with the girl you are talking to. Ok, fine... I did that for quite a while, but I live in a country where it's much worse. You're in the first world dammit, they're just fine!

I read a quote recently by some old greek dude, probably a philosopher, playwright or something and he said: "the reward of suffering is experience". We're white (with the exception of Harvard and he's Chinese from Malaysia who are a ruling class anyway) middle-class males from first world nations, we can do with a little suffering now and then to keep us on our toes...

*Yes, I realise the potential jinx I am placing on myself, and the "not so smug now are you arsehole"s that I may attract in future by writing posts like this.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Not for the squeamish...

Well, I went to the doctor, and now, gentle reader, I have a multiple choice question for you:

John Has:

A. Worms
B. Amoeba
C. A bacterial infection
D. All of the above.

You guessed it, it's D. Apparently there's some sort of fucking zoo living in my arse. A menagerie, if you will.

The worrying thing, is how I don't feel any different to how I've felt for the last 2 years. That, and the doctor told me that these sorts of cocktails of colonic fauna are endemic in Indonesia and the only way to truly make sure you don't catch this sort of crap is to completely segregate yourself from the masyarakat. What the hell is the point of living here if I can't share a beer with homeless schizophrenic dudes down beside Kali Ciliwung now and then?

Is bleeding from your arse the price you pay for being a man of the people?

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The Shits

You know you're really at home in Indonesia when you can fart with confidence...

My little sister was up here for two weeks a little while ago and, like many travellers, she had to take a day out of her busy schedule due to an unscheduled attack of traveller's runs. One unique thing about living in Indonesia is that, for many people, it never really, truly stops.

I woke up this morning with the familiar heavy, warm feeling in the pit of my stomach. The feeling gets slowly heavier, and warmer until you realise:

"Oh shit"

and your bowels reply:


As much as an attack of amoebic dysentery can, I guess it just sneaks up on you. You get the shits when you first arrive, you get knocked flat for a day and then it starts to get better. You're so happy that you can move without it dribbling down your leg that you prematurely declare everything is fine and go back to eating street food. Next thing you know, 2 years later you find it strange that a doctor is shocked when you nonchalantly tell him that you shit at least five times a day.

I am writing this sitting at the Rumah Sakit MMC waiting for the results of my blood and stool test that I gave last night. It was kind of inefficient really, I could have given it to them in one.

I think it's time for a holiday...

Sunday, September 24, 2006


Well, I've been a little busy in the last few months in case you hadn't noticed the lack of action on this little corner of cyberspace.

In summary, in the last 7 weeks I have left my old job, interviewed for 3 jobs, picked one, had a trip to Vietnam, started the new job, moved apartments and bought a lap steel and mandolin.

My old company, a local investment bank, was very good, but you know, even with the great experience I was getting, there reaches a point where living hand-to-mouth stops making sense. I had learnt most of what I would learn and the law of diminishing returns had started to tap me on the shoulder. I was planning on going home to Australia, but I was fortunate enough to get two job offers when I announced that I was heading back to Australia; one with a rather large development organisation, and one with an Australian accounting firm.

The Australian company offered me a substantially better package, and probably a job when I return to Australia; but when I arrived here almost 2 years ago I really thought I wanted to do the development thing. So, I figured, if I'm ever going to do it, I might as well do it now. Also, even the lower salary is roughly 4.5 times my old salary, so there's not too much to worry about.

So, continuing on my streak of getting jobs I'm hopelessly unqualified for: apparently I'm an economomist for the next 6 months...

I started the old job as an intern with no job specific skills whatsoever, whereas I got this job based on experience so they're actually expecting me to know shit... Considering I'm only going to be here for 6 months or so, they sure as hell don't want to spend their time training me just to have me leave.

Sure, I speak pretty damn good Indonesian; I'm young, enthusiastic and can pick stuff up pretty quickly, but there comes a point in your life where peope stop cutting you slack for your age and expect some hard skills.

Well, here I go...

Thursday, September 14, 2006


I freely admit that I am not the most fashion savvy guy in the world. I know how to pronounce haute couture, but that's as far as it goes. Even so, I can generally make a stab at what various different parts of my own various items of clothing are meant to be used for.

I bought a pair of underwear recently, at first glance they seem normal enough...

but on closer examination, for some inexplicable reason, they seem to have a set of ribbons, one at the front, and one at the back. I have seen such ribbons before on certain delicate items of womens clothing for use in hanging said item out to dry, but these ribbons are seriously long, and it's a pair of underwear for christ's sake... They aren't going to be damaged by being hung on a line...

Can anyone offer an explanation?

Mud and Morons...

Plugging "Lapindo" into Google News will give you a taste of the recent outrageous ecological disaster foisted upon the poor downtrodden Kampung-ites by big business in Indonesia.

Since late May millions of cubic metres of 160 degree celcius poisonous mud has been gushing out of the Lapindo drilling site in East ruining farmland for generations, shutting down roads, and displacing thousands of people. Let me just repeat that this mud has been gushing SINCE MAY (!), and it is now a good chunk of the way through September.

Big business does get a bit of a bad rap in Indonesia. Periodically they slip up a little and displace a couple of thousand people here, or chop down a heritage forest there, but on the whole the economic benefits they provide are helping bring Indonesians out of poverty and into the 21st century.

The people in charge tend to be well educated too. So when things do accidentally go wrong, they tend to use the most effective means possible to put things right again.

Take for example the most recent efforts to stem the mudflow as reported in the Jakarta Post last Sunday:


The government is offering a prize of Rp. 100 million (about US$10 grand, or about 10 times the stipulated ANNUAL minimum wage) to anyone who can stop the flow by supernatural means... And, to thin down the competition (because hundreds applied) they put together the following:

In a screening process, each psychic had to pass a test: turn off a water faucet left on by the organizer with only their supernatural powers.

"With the test, many candidates had to go back home. How can they stop a mudflow if they can't even shut off a faucet," Titus (the competition organiser - john) said.

As the rest of this article talks about the efforts of some of the participants, I suppose we are to assume that some of these "Paranormals" have passed the test.

Well, if the Indonesian government is as strapped for cash as they claim to be, then pick any one of these magic men and fly them over to the US to take part in the Randi Challenge. A cool million bucks is available to anyone who can demonstrate the existence of paranormal phenomena, and turning off a running tap would be sufficient. While they're at it, they can travel around the world and pick up all of the other prizes offered by the other sceptics associations around the world...

Not a bad return on investment, even if they split it two ways with the lucky winner... It might not stop the mud, but at least it can fund some of the clean-up.

At least this is only the regional governmental body offering the prize, the central government would never do something so stupid... Like, say, having the Vice President spend tens of millions of Rupiah on hiring rainmakers to rain on the May Day parade...


Sunday, July 23, 2006

I have just spent the last 2 and a bit weeks in the good ol' USA and write this at the LA Airport as I am waiting for my flight back home to Jakarta. No doubt there will be more posts about how weird this country is soon enough, but for now, I will write about a phenomenon a good friend of mine named Damo made me aware of back when we were in high school in country Victoria, Australia: TV Land.

Raised, as we are, with probably more than a healthy serve of American pop culture there is a whole universe of cultural knowledge that we know intimately, and yet have never actually seen.

As an illustration, when someone says the words "school bus" to me, the image that pops into my head is an american style yellow school bus, complete with left hand drive. Yellow school buses probably constitute less than 1% of the school buses I have seen with my own eyes and 0% of those I have ever sat in, and yet, because of the insidious viral nature of American pop culture, it sits there in my mind.

To us, when we eventually do make it to America, everything is just like on TV. To us, America is TV land.

Most Americans that I've met in Australia and in my travels are, by definition, the worldly ones and tend to be from mid-higher socioeconomic brackets by virtue of the fact that they can afford to fly overseas. The thing which is most TV-Land-ish about the USA is everyone other than those people that I already know.

People saying "I done told you", southern accents, Cajun accents, almost complete lack of mixed race couples, guys wearing Hooters t-shirts, frat-girls with scary tans, apple pie, steaks big enough to choke a rhinosceros, buckets (no seriously... BUCKETS!) of Coke, Republicans, Creationists, singing preachers, etc. etc. etc.

This makes walking around the US endlessly amusing for people like me when they see stuff like the above. This amusement, however, does start to wane when a youngish black girl missing most of her teeth comes up to you waiting for a bus in LA asking if you need a date for the night. Only $60... No? Well, can you spare a buck then?

Just like in TV Land.

NB: Apologies to I stole their flag picture.

Asia is funny

I'm currently sitting in Taipei airport waiting for my connecting flight to LA, which will then take me on to my connecting flight to Orlando. From there, a quick couple of hours by car to Ocala, the site of my brother's impending marriage.

Being the general man-about-South-East-Asia that I like to consider myself, I didn't expect to see anything new in my very brief stopovers in Hong Kong and Taipei. I especially didn't expect to notice myself giggling at Engrish... I mean, how I'm-a-new-whitey-in-Asia is that?

But come on... Hey Song Sarsparilla? Come on... Only slightly behind is C is for Creative People Who Drink C.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Stupid Blogger

Why do none of my links work on my last two posts?

I've checked the html... It's fine. Either that, or I'm a moron.

Is this happening to anyone else?

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Indonesia 101: lesson 1

Ok, look… I’m sorry. You may have learnt Indonesian in high school, maybe even in university, maybe even had an immersion course in Jogja. Heck, maybe you’ve had all three. The fact remains, chances are there is little to no correlation between what they teach you, and what people speak day to day. Fortunately, many locals are very willing to sit and chat at a warung and are unlikely to be terribly offended if you use the wrong word, but it’s still nice to try to avoid potential social faux-pas.

One of the more common mistakes people make, that makes people uncomfortable is incorrect usage of personal pronouns. No one is going to bite your head off, but referring to a taxi driver as kamu just isn’t cool. So to assist my loyal readers in their daily travels throughout the archipelago, I present the following as a practical guide for pronoun usage in contemporary Indonesia.

Please note: All of these, if they err at all, err on the side of politeness. So once you get a feel for them strike out on your own and forget about these rules; but until then, try and stick with these.

Rule 1: First Person Pronouns

Just use Saya… Simple as that. The only time that’s even slightly inappropriate is if you are talking to close friends, in which case they’ll tell you when it’s appropriate to switch to Aku or Gue.

Rule 2: Second Person Pronouns

Never use Anda. No one uses it except for in bad sinetrons, in formal speeches, or in advertising. Back in the days of the VOC, they decided not to teach the colonials Dutch, for fear that they might start reading about human rights and such pesky botherations, so instead figured they’d pick a random local language and impose that on this random assortment of islands they had conquered. They settled on Malay, which was a sort of lingua franca, spoken by a large percentage of people anyway. Problem was, as the version that people spoke was a trading language, it wasn’t really developed enough for legal documents, newspapers, literature, and so on. They appointed a couple of Dutch linguists with overseeing the development of the language from the lingua franca it was, into the fully functioning modern language it is today. They imported a whole bunch of loan-words from Dutch, and invented a whole bunch of abstract nouns, adjectives, and whatnot, among which, if I’m not mistaken (and I very well could be) was Anda.

Originally envisioned as a status-neutral second person pronoun (rather like You in English), the Indonesians (as they were yet to be called) couldn’t quite get their minds around this and instead the word has now become the most formal second person pronoun.

Um, yeah… So… Don’t use it, it sounds weird. Use the below:

Case 1: In professional situations

This could be anyone from a taxi driver, to a bank teller or a President Director of a large company. With anyone over the age of 20 or so, stick with Bapak/Ibu for the second person pronoun. e.g. Bapak sudah berapa lama kerja disini? - How long have you (Mr) worked here?, Ini pena Ibu Yati - This is your (Mrs. Yati’s) pen.

If the person is under the age of 20, you should be fine using the person’s name. e.g. Seperti Ika katakan tadi - Like you (Ika) said, Hadi mau minum apa? - What would you (Hadi) like to drink?

Case 2: In social situations

In social situations, people tend to be a lot more relaxed, and so unless the person is on the order of 5 or so years older than you, you can stick with the person’s given name. If not, go back to Bapak/Ibu. Once you get more confident you can throw in a couple of Mas/Mbak to shake things up if the person is around your age or younger, but keep it simple for the time being.

When to ignore this advice

When a person corrects you and suggests you use something else, then do it. When enough people have corrected you, and you’ve kept your ears open enough to hear the way Indonesians use terms of address, then go for it baby.

For more information on Indonesian pronouns, check out this lesson in the Indonesian Wikibook that some thoughtful soul has put together.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Arseholes and Hippies

Do relief based NGOs profit from people’s misery?

In a word: yes.

When I arrived in Indonesia after finishing my Bachelor of Computer Science and Diploma of Modern Languages in Indonesian the NGO thing was actually what I thought I wanted to do, by some twist of fate (read: nepotism) I ended up working as a financial analyst in a local investment bank. So, the other weekend I thought I’d do my part for the recent earthquake victims and head over to Yogya to help out the relief effort and check out what I was missing along the way.

I read a book recently called Dark Star Safari by Paul Theroux. It was pretty average in a lot of ways, although it was interesting in its portrayal of relief workers and the general NGO industry. The workers themselves are variously described as self-serving, incompetent, and reliant on “hunger porn” to prove their self-worth to the rest of the world.

The most wonderful thing about game theory is its mathematical simplicity. Well, that, and the fact that it provides a basis for the analysis of pretty much every organism based interaction in the universe.

The first ever version of game theory applied (whether the organisms knew it or not) and the most instinctive version, is what is commonly referred to as evolutionary theory. It relies on one axiom: each organism must do what it can to succeed. An organism itself doesn’t necessarily know what it needs to do to succeed, and may choose any number of strategies in reaching its goal. Some of those strategies are good – eating and otherwise obtaining good nutrients – and some are bad – being eaten (unless you're a salmonella bacterium, or a fruit with very hardy seeds, or something like that). There are infinite shades of grey in inter- and intra-special conflict, but I will dub the two extremes Arseholes and Hippies. A Hippie will gather his food and eat it, if it meets another Hippie they will have themselves a little party and share their food. An Arsehole gathers no food, if it meets a hippie it will beat it up and steal its food. If an Arsehole meets an Arsehole they will beat each other up, run the risk of an injury and get no food.

While there are so many strategies and so many local environmental dynamics that there is never one optimal solution to the problem, two things are clear… In a world of Hippies, the Arsehole is King. And, in a world of Arseholes, everyone suffers, but the Hippie suffers the most*.

Politicians may go into their job thinking they will stand up for what they believe in, but they quickly find themselves championing populist policies without which they will fade into obscurity. Australian companies could pay higher wages or give longer breaks, but their Chinese counterparts aren’t imposing such “unnecessary constraints” on their quest to succeed so why would the Aussies? A political party in a newly democratised nation that chooses not to buy votes may suffer a loss on polling day to another that does. Sure, it’s mean, but sometimes it pays to be an Arsehole.

An NGO survives by getting donations from various sources, spending an amount on administration (usually between 5-15%) and using the rest to fund their various projects around the world. To succeed they need to find the worst suffering (or at least the suffering that looks the worst) and get the most money from you. For example, evolutionarily speaking, it is in their interest to give poor farmers hybrid seeds that don’t reproduce, find pockets of unaddressed suffering in disasters and not tell any other organisation about it, and so on. Fortunately, in this most Hippie-fied (although mainly on the individual level, not necessarily the organismation level) of industries, I would like to believe that no NGO genuinely seeks to prolong the suffering for their own ends, although the minor sins of sexing up photos and sensationalism are rife.

So, we’ve established that NGOs are Arseholes (at least in a limited way), so who are the Hippies being taken advantage of in this situation? Us; the donors.

Thinking about it though, you know, I’m glad it is this way. We rich country nationals should be taken advantage of a little bit, don’t do nearly enough to really combat poverty (in our own countries or abroad**). Making us the Arseholes, and the poor the Hippies (if you consider not giving them money to be equivalent to beating them up). And sure, they make a profit. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be around very long. As long as they are open with their financials and all donors are aware of how their money is being spent, then of course they should!

Like banks, which take idle capital and make it available for use by entrepreneurs, NGOs play a useful role in the global economy: they take excess capital and redistribute it to those most in need, hopefully, in the most effective way. In the emergency phase of relief, that involves handouts, in the reconstruction phase, that involves reconstruction and livelihood building.

Having recently been a normal, healthy, lefty university student, I have found myself somewhat disturbed by slightly right leaning economic theories I have found myself espousing after only 2 years in the Real World (more on that later), but I’m happy that apparently my support for the UN and pinko-do-gooder projects in the developing world is intact. I did see some frustrating bureaucracy and jaded relief workers, but I’m trying, I’m trying real hard to be the Hippie; and I think they are too.

*Depending on how you formulate the game… It should also be noted though, that everyone in a world of Hippies is better off than everyone in a world of Arseholes. This is also a simplification where Arseholes contribute nothing to the system. For a much better and wonderfully written explanation of the complexities of game theory (although written in a wonderfully uncomplex way) read the last few chapters of The Selfish Gene, by Richard Dawkins.
**The linked article is seriously awesome and everyone should read it.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Mount Merapi

As you may have heard, Mount Merapi, a volcano in Central Java here in Indonesia is looking worryingly like it's about to blow its top.

I would research this post, quote statistics of people killed over the last hundred years or so from Merapi's eruptions, location, height, and all of that stuff, but a journalist friend of mine, Chad, is out on the slopes of the volcano himself and he'll do it better than I ever could...

So check out his new experiment in blog based (and hopefully, for his sake, net funded) journalism at

This would work better if I actually had an audience...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Tahu Tempeh and Reggae in Indonesia

I was sitting at a warung on the side of a little street just off Thamrin (Blora, Purworejo, or something like that) with a friend of mine the other week and another friend of his called Ho turned up.

Ho is a skinny Indonesian guy with long dreadlocks, a beat up guitar and a harmonica. He spent quite a lot of time on the street as a kid, and now makes his living busking on buses and along the streets of Jakarta.

We spoke about life, music, politics and so on and then traded songs for a little while. I played some Johnny Cash, he played some Iwan Fals, I played some Ween, and he played this. It's a pretty simple reggae song that Ho wrote about the wonders of cheap, tasty tofu and tempeh (and, in obligatory reggae style, a random reference to marijuana).

Why reggae is so popular in Indonesia is one of life's little mysteries. Any guy on the side of the street can play you No Woman No Cry and can mumble vaguely English sounding words to just about any Bob Marley song you'd care to name.

The standard off-beat skank in reggae is a very natural rhythm, you hear it in all sorts of musics all over the world. Possibly most notably for the purposes of this post, it is also very prominent in all sorts of Indonesian music, especially Sundanese Jaipongan. You even get the reggae triplets and other rhythmic figures that people would consider idiomatic to reggae.

I guess it's a credit to Om Coxsone and his buddies way over there in Jamaica that the style of music they developed can be so universally accepted and timeless.

If you're on the lookout for good reggae in Indonesia then fear not. The two most famous reggae bands in Jakarta at the moment are Tony Q Rastafara and Steven & Coconut Treez (who I randomly met at a party last night, or at least Steven and a coconut tree). You can catch them at a bunch of different places around town, but most often BB's in Menteng, some place in Citos I've never been to, and Wapress in Blok M.

Failing that, just stop by a warteg when you see a dude with a guitar and try your luck...

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

On Homesickness...

Homesickness is a funny thing.

I was reading the blog of a friend of mine the other day who arrived in Indonesia relatively recently and she wrote recently her struggles with fitting in here and it reminded me of my own troubles finding my own little niche.

I think the reason that it hit me was precisely because I didn't expect it. I was very fortunate in that I already spoke the language pretty fluently, and had some great family friends that I could call in on and get a good meal, etc. Even so, I guess I should have expected it considering I was leaving all of my friends, a girlfriend I'd been with for 5 years, a job I quite liked, and a city and the associated lifestyle that I'd grown comfortable with...

For quite a while I think that I thought that the quantity of "friends" I had here made up for the qualities of the friends that I was missing in Melbourne. The realisation that I shouldn't give my number to anyone who asks was actually quite a revelation to me. Periodically, my policy of being passively friendly to people I had nothing in common with and had little interest in actually got me in trouble to the point where I had one bona fide stalker that took me 14 months to finally shake (well, shaken for 6 weeks and counting), and a number of borderline ones.

About 4 months after arriving here I met Stephi, the first western person within 5 years of my age I had met, and was having dinner with her and a bunch of other people at Amigos Kemang when the band started playing a cover version of UB40's cover version of Al Green's Here I Am (Come and Take Me).

I said, to no one in particular, as no one that in particular had paid attention to these little asides in the last 4 months so I was getting used to it, "Man... The Al Green version of this is so much better...".

"Yeah, I know..."

Suddenly I felt more at ease than I had in months and it struck me: even though I had been living in and around Indonesian culture for more than half of my life, and I knew how to adjust to their culture and make them feel at home, they didn't know how to do that for me; and now and then, I need it. My cultural response to so many things is a world apart from that of most Indonesians, even those who have lived in Australia, the US, or whatever.

McDonalds, littering, smoking, oral sex, drugs, George Bush, literature, politics, religion, synth keyboard sounds, 80s style fusion jazz, using cutesy alternate spelling when writing smses, cover bands, alcohol, homosexuality (or Gaydom as one friend put it), women, mobile phones, fashion, punk, romantic comedies, and innumerable other things conjure completely different images in my mind than they do for most of my friends here.

Stephi and I don't have that much in common, in fact, I don't think I've seen her more than twice in the year or so since then, but just the fact that she had heard of Al Green (a seemingly trivial fact) was like a big flashing neon sign that said My Cultural Experience Of What You're Culturally Experiencing Is Broadly In Line With Your Cultural Experience Of What You're Culturally Experiencing*.

The revelation I had over that dinner still wasn't quite enough to make me decide that, yeah, actually, I do really want to try and make it work here and I'll take these steps to do so. I didn't start really actually enjoying it until a few months later, when I had a surprise typhoid fever caused trip back home and brought over my guitars, got my own apartment, met a couple of expats a little more like the people I had been friends with in Australia and actually decided that I really did want to give it a genuine try; and here I am a year later loving it...

Homesickness and culture shock hit everyone in different ways at different points in time for different reasons. There's no one cure-all, in fact a good chunk of people don't get over it at all, probably 20% of people who come here get miserable and give up after 6 months or less, but if/when you get used to it, it's a hell of an experience...

Postscript: For no particular reason here is a song I wrote around the time I described above. I recorded it on my work computer in my kost room with my crappy travel guitar with a microphone I bought from Carrefour for Rp. 20,000 and it sounds like it... That said, it's a pretty accurate picture of how I was feeling at the time for anyone who cares, so there ya go...

*I wish I remembered enough javascript to know how to make that flash like an actual neon sign... Stupid Computer Science degree... Be More Useful!

Monday, April 24, 2006

No to Zero Culture

For those who have just joined us, a relatively small but very vocal and increasingly violent and confident minority are trying to pass an exceptionally restrictive "anti-porn" law with definitions of pornography and "pornoaksi" so vague that will serve no purpose other than legitimising the violent and illegal actions of certain extremist groups (Front Pembela Islam, and recently Forum Betawi Rempung, among others) including hassling women for walking unescorted after dark and accusing them of being prostitutes, stoning the offices of Playboy Indonesia, and generally resorting to thuggery and intimidation to get their way.

What they don't realise, or maybe they do and the conspiracy theories are true, is passing laws like this which are supposed to "protect women and children and protect the moral health of the nation" will oppress those people and effectively tear the country apart.

I'm no expert in politics or social theory but, more than anything else in the last 5 years or so, I feel that this is a watershed in Indonesia's development as a nation. Anyone with a vague knowledge of Indonesian issues knows that Indonesia is having some national cohesion problems at the moment, much of these stem from a feeling of resentment at the perceived dominance that the Javanese and increasingly, the Sumatrans have over "Indonesian Culture". Regional languages and customs are dying out, transmigrants from Java are seen as invading regional areas (sometimes with disastrous consequences, Madurese in Kalimantan, case in point), and more and more societal and moral norms decided in Java are being forced on people who could care less that the state sanctioned religions that they have to choose from don't include Wektu Telu, their particular brand of Islam, or whatever. For some bureaucrat in Jakarta to decide that from now on, a good percentage of Papuans are breaking the law by wearing what they've been wearing every day for most of their lives, can't do anything but stoke the fires of independence that they've been trying to put out for the best part of 4 decades. That's not to mention Bali, or other regions dependant on tourism for their way of life.

So yeah... In opposition to the RUU APP (R-something Undang-Undang Anti Pornografi dan Pornoaksi), a committee of concerned individuals thought they'd put on a parade to oppose it.

At first, I was a little hesitant to head down there, I mean, the FPI and other fundamentalist organisations already see the evil foreigners as paragons of sin looking to corrupt the innocent youngsters with sex, drugs and liberal thought at any opportunity. For me to be wandering around actually joining in any protesting would probably do more harm than good. Also, it's not really my fight. As much as I want to see Indonesia develop into a cohesive, successful bastion of democracy in South-East Asia, it's for the people of Indonesia to make that happen. Not me. So I went down to observe.

My limited experience with these sorts of protests in the West normally amount to mass fornication in the streets unlikely to convince anyone who wasn't a rabid supporter in the first place, and likely to alienate anyone on the borderline. As my buddy Dave put it "well, I wasn't sure about the homosexual lifestyle before, but that fat, hairy guy with the cock-ring and biker boots makes a good point".

Fortunately (with the possible exception of the dude front and center in the photo above, zoom in if you can't read what's on his t-shirt), this wasn't anything like that at all.

The theme of the parade (which I prefer to refer to it as, rather than a protest) was No to Zero Culture, and that's exactly what it was. Instead of thousands of angry young men running around trashing pot plants and causing mischief, this was a true celebration of the wonderful diversity of culture that Indonesia has to offer that will be threatened by this ridiculous law.

There were literally tens of thousands of people in attendance, from trucks full of Waria (Wanita/Pria - Woman/Man - a sort of Transexual/Transvestite catchall), to trucks full of guys from Aceh playing traditional Gayo music, to hundreds of old women wearing jilbabs, to a truck full of guys with dreadlocks smeared in paint (I don't know either).

The whole event culminated in a big gathering at the Hotel Indonesia roundabout where a stage was set up for different groups to give cultural performances. We had some dances, some music, a pretentious poet, and last, but certainly not least, Inul (the one who is most often cited as the reason the bill is needed. For more information on her check out this article from TIME magazine)..

While I was overcome with joy to finally see Inul in the flesh, it is with heavy heart that I report that I was unable to get a photo with her despite hanging around for half an hour while she was hassled by TV cameras... Very sad.

Anyway, here's to hoping that people understand what's at stake here, and get active.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Do you think?

Do you think that if you swallow a whole lot of air and stored it in your stomach, you would be able to hold your breath longer than if you hadn't?

I think there are two issues to consider here:

1) The regurgitation factor

At first thought, it might be possible to regurgitate some of the oxygen containing air out of your stomach and suck it into your lungs, but considering the fact that there's no way to create the negative pressure in the areas you require it to affect the transfer, I'd say it's impossible to play an active role in getting the oxygen containing air in your stomach to your lungs.

2) The incidental absorption of oxygen

As far as my understanding of pulmonary evolution goes, we wouldn't technically need lungs if we had a much, much larger surface area:number of cells ratio and had our capillaries much closer to the surface of our skin.

Sure, a stomach doesn't have the enormous surface area of your average lung, but surely it's better than our skin... Then again, I imagine there's some kind of mucus layer between the stomach acids and the actual stomach itself.

Maybe if you could somehow fast-track the passing of the air to the upper intestine, that would help. There are all sorts of blood vessels there.

Just wondering...

Friday, April 07, 2006

Mak Erot

I was in Pelabuhan Ratu the other weekend with the Little Lady who thought she'd spend a grand or so to come up from Australia and see me for the weekend. I guess when you live in Canberra, you'll do whatever you can to get away.

We'd just pulled into town and were meandering our way along the coast looking for somewhere to find some lunch when a guy on a speeding motorbike suddenly appeared to our right driving in the middle of the lane going the wrong way banging on our window and yelling "Maerot, Maerot".

It doesn't sound like any Indonesian word I know, so I start running through the 15 or so Sundanese words I know to try and find a match. He seemed so excited about whatever he was yelling I was beginning to get a little worried. "Bridge out ahead", "new bombing in Jakarta", who knows?

Our driver seemed unpeturbed, waved him off and we moved on. We had a bite to eat and made our way to the strangest hotel in the world.

After booking into our room, a flourescently coloured canvas dome on a 20 metre high pole out at the end of a 5 metre long, 1 metre wide bridge from what the owner claimed was the highest free standing wooden structure in Indonesia, if not the world and comforted us by assured us that "no architects or civil engineers were involved", I wander down to the car to tell the driver that he can go for a wander if he wants because we're going to be there a while.

As I get down there, he and one of the caretakers are laughing about something.

kenapa pak?

what's up

yang tadi teriak-teriak tuh, anu, teriaknya "Mak Erot". Dia mo anterin kesana

the guy that was yelling before, he was yelling "Mak Erot". He wanted to take us there.

Eh, apaan tuh

Um, what's that?

Mak Erot, orang sini. Pernah denger?

Mak Erot, she's from around here. Have you heard of her?

Oh, Mak Erot. Gah pernah, kenapa dia?

Oh, Mak (Grandmother) Erot. Never heard of her, why?

Dia bisa gedein barang

She can make things bigger

Gedein barang?

Make things bigger?

Iya, barang...

Yeah, things...



Iya, barang... Anu, barangnya laki-laki.

Yeah, things... Um, men's things

Barangnya laki-laki?

Men's things?

Iya... Anu, kemaluan. Ah...

Yeah... Um, the, uh, private parts (lit. the shame). Um...

Ah, barang... Uh, gimana ya?

Oh, things... Uh, how does this work exactly?

Ya, diurut.

Well, she massages it. (makes motions not unlike the milking of a cow)

Diurut? Sama Mak?

Massaged? By a grandmother?

Iya. Katanya laku dia.

Yeah, word is she's pretty busy.

Terus? Makin gede, barangnya?

So? It actually gets bigger?

Iya. Tapi nggak bagus tuh, nggak alami. Paling dua, tiga hari kembali lagi

Yeah, but it's not really good, not natural. After two or three days it goes back to normal.

Apa nggak sakit? Kok diurut aja bisa makin gede?

Doesn't it hurt? She just massages it and it gets bigger?

Ya, kasih minyak, trus diurut.

Well, she puts some oil on it and massages it.


I see...

Anak-anaknya banyak tuh, di Jakarta. Tapi banyak yang palsu juga. Ini yang asli

Her students (lit. children) are all over Jakarta. But lots of them are fake. This is the real one.

Well... If you're looking for something unique to do next time you're in Pelabuhan Ratu. Keep an eye out. The guy's who know the way are near the first bridge when you're driving along the beach after passing through the town.

Sunday, February 19, 2006


Now it's morning.

Oh absinthe, why have you forsaken me?

drunken ramblings

Ah, maybe this blog thing has somethinfg to it.

I',m currently checingf my email nefore I gogt to bed as I NOW Hacwe afanchy cable internet.

Hooray fir absinthe and people who make much more than I do.

I(ndoesia is a strange place. You can lketerallty buy the sanme thing for Rp 70,000 or 5,000 depending on where you buy it. I read an article recently that rated the relative expensiveness of expat style living in various cities and Jakarta was like the 60th most expensive city to live in in the world.

Depending on how you live I can understand it though.... In Australia, the most I would ever pay for a beer would be $3, maybe $6 for a stubby if I was in bennetts or Dizzy's and felt like splashing out whereas here I relatively frequently end up in places which charge the equivalent og AUD10 for a locally made beer!

Obviously I don't stay in thjose places very long, I just stick to mooching of higly paid UN frinds.