Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Shopping; Indonesia Style

Shopping in Indonesia is an endless scavenger hunt of squeezing between small stalls, laden with vegetables, and prowling the aisles of gleaming grocery stores, filled with processed products crammed into plastic wrappers. You learn to ask people not where the store is, but where you can buy a specific type of food. You begin to notice people with shopping bags, and note the direction they came from. It’s so different from shopping in Australia, or America, or Canada. There, you find the grocery store, and with it, everything you need. Here, you have to work for it. First you find the market. That can sometimes take all day, and as markets are busiest in the mornings, when you get there in the afternoon, there’s likely nothing left. So you go the next day, and haggle with cheerful women in bright headscarves that laugh at your attempt to bargain. You return home with colourful fruits and vegetables, pleased with your purchases. But wait! Fruits and vegetables, while, delicious and healthy, do not exactly a dinner make. So you go to the grocery store and find flour and canned goods and perfume and socks. You hunt through the shop, looking for the refrigerated meat in cold, misty cabinets. Consulting the cashier doesn’t help either. She will shrug helplessly and smile hopefully, putting her hands up sadly.

This is the story of our day long quest for chicken. An epic tale that will take you, the reader, from one end of Lauban Bajo to the other, while following, me, the author, and my trusty, yet simple companions. We started in a bemo, the small decorated, bejewelled mini vans that have been outfitted with long benches and pressed into service as taxi/buses/transport things. My trusty, yet simple companions and I could not sit upright in the bemo, which proudly declares that it loves Jesus and Elvis Presley. We requested to be taken to the market. We were taken to a sloping hill with a few stalls, where the market appeared to be almost finished. My trusty, yet simple companions and I leapt heroically from the bemo and dashed to buy the few green offerings. Now, unfortunately, we were stuck on a hill a ways from town while the cruel sun beat down upon us. “Why did you bring us here?” I chastised my trusty, yet simple companions. They had no answers. We hiked for a while until we found a bemo whose clearly flamboyant personality was smothered and repressed under a coat of silver paint. I sympathized.

 My trusty, yet simple companions asked to be taken to the fish market. The fish market! There was a mutiny going on here, and none but I could see it. Fish market indeed. We arrived at the fish market (I can feel my fingers shrink from the words as I labour to write them) and my trusty, yet simple companions bought plantains. An oppressive smell strangled my nose. If a grocery store smelt like this market did, it would get no customers. It smelt like a place where rats hung out. And in fact, they did. My trusty, yet simple companions led us to this hell hole. From now on, they are no longer trusty, just simple. My simple companions led me to the back of the market where they bought mangoes and bananas. Their trusty status has been resumed. However, there was no chicken or beef. Just dried fish which my trusty, yet simple companions turned up their trusty, yet simple noses at.

Our first and only chicken that we found in the market

 We then travelled to the grocery store, and searched half-heartedly for chicken or beef. But then, one of my trusty, yet simple companions found a hidden freezer, shunted to the side in shame. Inside, were large round shapes cloaked in black plastic. They were the size and shape of human heads. I declined to look inside, instead, inquiring of the cashier, what the suspicious shaped black lumps were. “Beef” she whispered in a horrified, revolted tone. We bought one lump of beef. We then continued on our hunt for the elusive chicken. First, we stopped in a European bakery where I got a fruity iced tea and a slice of the best lemon poppy-seed cake EVER, and my trusty, yet simple companions indulged in a ginger coffee. One of my trusty, yet simple companions had the bright idea to ask where we could buy chicken. The cook gestured towards a young girl who had just brought us our food. The girl drew a hand across her throat and made a gagging noise, and then clucked and flapped her arms. My trusty, yet simple companions hastily requested two dead chickens, and promised to be back at four. And there ends the heroic quest of a brave girl and her trusty, yet simple companions.

Today they lied to me and told me it was Friday when it was in fact Saturday. Evil !@#$%^&*()(*&^%$#@@@@@#$%^&*&&^%$%^&$#$%^&*^%$#$@#. I swore to my father that one day, I would smother him in his sleep. Make a note of that

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Critters of Komodo

Hello, to my mostly faithful readers! I hope you’re all doing well so that you can continue to read my blog. If you all died, no one would read it, and then I’d be sad. Any-ways, we’ve been poking around the Komodo National park, that’s made up of about four or five big islands and lots and lots of little ones. And on these islands, there are critters of various shapes and sizes. When we pulled into our anchorage yesterday, Timor deer dotted the rocks like the chocolate chips in freshly baked cookies. 

There was big deer and little deer, brown deer and tan deer, and BABY DEER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! As you no doubt have assumed from the excess of exclamation marks, this fact excited me. AND THE BABY DEER WERE SWIMMING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
 CUTENESS IN A SMALL FURRY BUNDLE. There were also wild boars. And wild BABY PIGS. This morning, I watched gleefully as a large mama pig led her two little pigs down the mountainside to the beach. She then encouraged them into the water for their morning bath, which sent my mum and me into squealing fits of joy and caused my dad to shake his head sadly at our delight. 

Of course, Komodo isn’t all small baby animals that cause you to practically wet your pants over their utter adorableness. If you talk about Komodo, you have to talk about the dragons. On Rinca, one of the islands in the park, we visited these- lizard/dragon/voldemort/Darth Vader/ things. When they get mad at each other, they swell up and sound like Darth Vader. And I swear to god, they’re secretly claiming that they’re the dark lord. They also bear a strong resemblance to Voldemort. When we arrived at the dock on Rinca, a guide leapt up to take us to the office to pay for our park pass, person pass, boat pass, hiking fee and guide fee. His name was Paul, he was shorter than me, and he looked extremely nervous. He carried a long forked stick, which he used to warn off the dragons. When we asked whether the dragons had come to recognise the stick, he snorted. “It’s not magic” he told us. “If it’s not determined to eat you, it works fine. But if they’re hungry, run, and climb a tree”. He glanced down at our sports sandals doubtfully. I then noticed that all the guides were wearing trainers. “I’ll leave you my stick” he offered, heading off to the office. When we got close, he told us that the office had been raided three times by dragons, and the in charge guy had been bitten twice. “I think the dragons know he’s corrupt” he mused thoughtfully. Once we had paid, he took us on a winding path through the ranger’s houses. My mum squeaked. I turned to look at her, and she was doing a little excited dance, and pointing under the house, where about eight large dragons rested. “That one’s smiling!” she giggled. I looked at the one in question. Its mouth was open and it was propped up on its front legs. Then, there was the Darth Vader noise. Paul gripped his stick. “Oh, shit” he muttered, as a dragon slowly heaved himself to his feet.

Later on our walk, I asked if there were many female guides. He laughed and shook his head. “No women!” he said. “I think it is too dangerous for them”. I raised an eyebrow. I was quite a bit bigger than him. When I pointed out that danger doesn’t lessen or grow depending on gender, he shrugged. “I didn’t tell my parents that I work here. They think I work in a restaurant” he told us, changing the subject hastily. After our walk was finished, we went and looked at the dragons again. These ancient animals were huge and mysterious. They were the largest lizards in the world, and on the islands, they had no predators. I was so privileged to have seen them in their natural habitat, and I know it is a memory that I will carry for the rest of my life.   

Monday, November 03, 2014

Making Friends in Maumere

In Maumere, it took two days for us to find the market. The first day, the scooter driver sent us to the right. The man selling bananas sent us left. The schoolgirls sent us to the back of town. The bemo driver took us to the park. By the end of the day, we were sure it was a plot to confuse the foreigners. Eventually, we headed home with our purchases from the supermarket that we had found. The supermarket was a large building with tidily ordered rows of teas and cookies and soap, wrapped, then double wrapped, and then triple wrapped with plastic. The only fresh food was imported apples at $7 a kilo. However, we did manage to find the lone pork chop, buried deep in the freezer and frozen rock solid. We wearily trudged home, tired of the heat and disappointed that we had been unable to find the market. We were unpacking our groceries, when we realized that we had accidently bought long-life chocolate milk. I didn’t even know that that existed!

The next day, we took off at 8am, determined, that this time, the market would not escape. We marched off, filled with new resolve. We weren’t exactly sure how we would find the market, but find it we would. We passed the park, with the large statue of Jesus smiling blindly and benevolently down on the cracked pavement and withered shrubs. Two teenage girls walked laughing, towards us. “Hello mister! How are you?” one asked, and then burst into a new fit of giggles with her friend. It appears that in Indonesia, foreigners of both genders are ‘mister’. We smiled and waved and called, ‘Selemat pagi! Di mana pasar?” (Good morning! Where is the market?) The two girls pointed different ways, had a brief argument, and then smiled, and both pointed the same way. We thanked them and walked away.

After a couple of blocks, the girls appeared again. They started to lead us to the market and it seemed as if they were our self-appointed guides. It turned out that they were in a tourism program, learning English, so that they could go to Bali and work in hotel management. They were fifteen, and living in a boarding house with several other girls while their parents worked in Bali. They got us to the market, and we bought them ice-cream as a thank you. They then marched us back to the boat, practising their English with us all the way. When we got close to the boat, we were joined by another friend of theirs, also in the tourism program. She was seventeen, and her English was quite good. We invited them back to the boat, eager to repay them for being such wonderful guides. After much giggles, they accepted. They loved Charlie and also the artwork on the walls. We exchanged phone-numbers and facebook, and promised to stay in touch. They laughed and grinned and then indicated that they must go. Wishing them luck, we waved as my dad took the back to the wharf. They were so sweet and so kind and I hope that they will succeed in whatever they do.