Sheep and Cows and Goats on Scooters…

My daily commute to work started to get quite interesting this week, as I began to notice hundreds of cows, sheep and goats lazily milling about on the side of major roads within the city. But being a newcomer to this often confusing place, I’ve learned to accept cultural puzzles such as these as part of my everyday experiences in navigating this new terrain. So random livestock popping up beside my cab while stuck in traffic on the way home from work yesterday seemed pretty par for the course. And I barely even batted an eye when motor scooters racing by me had animal passengers slung precariously over the sides like the photo above.

But it turns out that these animals crowding the roads this week are in town for a particular reason: a sacrifice, or rather, to be sacrificed.

Today is the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, or “Festival of Sacrifice”–a time in which Muslim families slaughter these animals in a ritual to commemorate the annual holiday. What’s New Jakarta has the details:

For those new to Jakarta, you may be befuddled by the increasing appearance of goats and cattle along the roadsides […]. This is a yearly sight in the lead up to the Muslim celebration of Idul Adha, also known as the ‘day of sacrifice’. Practiced throughout the Muslim world, it commemorates Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice everything for God, including the life of his son Ishmael. God apparently intervened though, and substituted Ishmael with a sheep instead. Muslims therefore commemorate this by sacrificing an animal and distributing its meat amongst family, friends and as an act of charity, to those underprivileged.  This allows many poor Indonesians the opportunity, once a year, to eat meat, a commodity they can rarely afford. Many expatriates in Jakarta also participate by buying a goat or a cow and donating it to their local mosque to be sacrificed and distributed in the local community. Goats typically are sold for between Rp 800,000 to Rp 3 million and cows Rp 6-16 million. So Selamat Iduh Adha everyone!


Islamic Fashion

I was lucky to obtain a press pass to Jakarta Fashion Week held at Pacific Place this week and headed over to check-out the creative styles of local designers such as Dian PelangiHannie Hananto and Irna Mutiara. These women specialize in “Islamic Fashion”–a genre of clothing and style I knew very little about until I moved here. The show was gorgeous and the designs more intricate, bold and overall breathtaking than I’ve ever seen at a fashion show. More to come on this unique genre.

He had us at hello…


The Rockstar


Obama’s popularity may be struggling at home, but here in Indonesia he had us at “hello.” A crowd of over 6,500 fans went wild with cheering and applause as the President opened his landmark speech with this simple statement in fluent Bahasa Indonesia:

Indonesia adalah bagian dari saya. (Indonesia is a part of me).

This article states that the atmosphere during Obama’s speech was reminiscent of a rock concert, with the excited crowd buzzing and music pulsing before the president’s address. The full speech is posted below.

He came, he spoke, he’s gone…

Obama’s recent mid-term election defeat and declining popularity polls indicate that the President has fallen a few pegs from his once lauded celebrity status back home. Media pundits paint a sombre picture of the man behind almost 2 hard years of presidency: Obama weary of holding the weight of America’s problems; Obama’s shiny “Yes We Can!”exterior showing signs of cracking under rising discontent and unrelenting political opponents; Obama with gray hairs streaking his once sleek dark hair and worry lines framing that signature smile.

But Barack’s short visit to Indonesia this week cast him in an entirely different light, giving him a particular glow that’s not been seen since perhaps the inspiring beacon of change and hope that beckoned to us during the elections of 2008: Barack Obama the rock star.

Confident, charismatic and smooth, Obama towered over Indonesian President Yudhoyono’s small stature, breaking easily into smile and peppering his statements with fluent Indonesian expressions that were hits with his audience and instant media soundbites: “Sate… bakso enak ya!” (Satay and meat balls are delicious!)

With the conclusion of his trip today, Barack delivered his much-hyped speech at the University of Indonesia, where the audience of 6,500 people continuously shouted out: “We love you Barry!”and broke into raucous applause every time the former Jakarta resident made a cultural reference, such as the “bemos” (three-wheeled cars) that once traversed the roads and the “high-rise” building of Sarinah shopping center (now considered a low-rise building by modern standards).

But beyond the sprinkling of cultural references, the President focused his speech on the subject of strengthening the ties between U.S.-Muslim relations. The President praised Indonesia for its diversity, multiculturalism and tolerant stance towards religion—all factors that have been a part of the country’s democratic reforms and are the ties that can bond the two democratic states together.

As Barack is often negatively (and wrongly) portrayed as a Muslim by some political opponents in the U.S., it was refreshing to see the President speaking so forcefully about cementing ties with the largest Muslim country in the world, and being applauded for it. The President stated:

America is not and never will be at war with Islam.

As the speech was broadcast across the country, spectators everywhere took to their Twitter feeds to express their pride and approval of the one they call Indonesia’s adoptive son. One deeply impressed woman tweeted:

desianwar:I hope our leaders could learn how to deliver a speech like @BarackObama – connected, inspiring, riveting

An hour later, the President was photographed running nimbly up the steps of Air Force One to catch his next flight to Seoul, looking cooler than ever and with some definite new pep in his step. As the President will face the plethora of issues plaguing his current leadership upon his return, let’s hope he remembers Indonesia’s warm welcome that catapulted him back to rock star status, if only for one day.

Fish & Chips the Aussie Way


Fish & Chips on the pier. Fremantle, Australia


We recently ventured down unda’ for the first time, travelling to the city of Perth on Australia’s sprawling west coast. The flight was a short 4-hour commute from Jakarta, but the difference in worlds here felt as if we were light years away.

Hello infrastructure! Is that you blue sky? Look, sidewalks! You mean we can communicate with each other using one common language? (no pointing…no signals…no drawing pictures?)

Sarcasm aside, it was great to experience 4 days basking in the glow of the developed world and the brilliant skies of Australia’s sunniest capital city.*

We took the sparkly clean and wonderfully efficient metro rail (oh, public transportation, how I’ve missed you!) over to the sea port town of Fremantle and enjoyed the day on the beach, the pier and strolling along the tiny town’s myriad of artist shops and local coffee houses. To my foreign eyes, the city oozed an eccentric mixture of New England vibes, a smaller San Francisco topography, distinctly British undertones and the general mystery of being in the land  down under (♫ where women glow and men plunder! ♫)

So when we ran into a popular eatery that touted fish & chips and local Aussie beer to be enjoyed while sitting at the New England style restaurant on the San Fran-esque looking pier by the Indian Ocean, I wasn’t in the least phased at this cultural hybrid of a situation.

But I was surprised to find that the fish & chips meal was the best I’ve ever eaten. Being once a resident of London, I can honestly say that I’ve had more than my fill of fish & chips from various pubs around the city in various life situations. When I was feeling poor (which was always) I ate fish & chips. When visitors came to town (which was frequent) we ate fish & chips. When I was drinking pints (which was also frequent) I ate fish & chips. When I was studying (which was daily) I ate fish and chips.

And honestly. This one beats them all. The fried breading was light and fluffy and falling off a juicy, fresh white snapper that had been grilled in lemon and lime. The vinegar was tangy, the chips were salty and there were no “mushy peas” to be seen. Washing it down with our Victoria Bitters made us feel truly connected to an amalgam of worlds–delightfully those of the developed variety.

* Perth enjoys 3,000 hours of sunshine a year and was voted one of the world’s most livable cities.

Everyone wants a piece of the “little Barry” story


Paintings of Obama as a child hang at the President's former elementary school


Obama arrives in Jakarta today and the excitement around the city is palpable. As local media reports have been on the “Obama beat” since last week, a deluge of sensationalized stories have popped up in which local residents lay claim to Jakarta’s one-time resident.  Here’s one of my favourite stories in which two of Obama’s “old friends” wax nostalgic about the U.S. President and his boyhood virtues. “Old friend” number one is a street parking attendant who used to work outside Obama’s elementary school and (may or may not have ever) spoke to the future president. Nonetheless, the parking attendant feels the two formed a special relationship. He says:

“I really want to see him once more. Of course I’m proud of him.”

“Old friend” number two is a local pedicab driver who claims to have given Barack and his nanny a ride home on two different occasions. Although these meetings were short and superficial, the driver could sense the six-year old’s sprightly qualities that would one day lead him to the Executive Office of the most powerful country in the world.

“Obama was just like other children, but he was agile.”

Such vivid memories these old friends have of mundane events that happened over 40 years ago!

But amongst the blitz of recent of media hype, two substantial pieces have emerged that provide a clearer picture of what life was like for little Barry; a child and new-comer living amongst impoverished Jakarta as the country stood on the brink of its New Order era. This New York Time’s article provides a snapshot of what life was like, providing insight into Barack’s Jakarta neighborhood, his family life while in Indonesia (a gay nanny? who knew!), and contextual background on the political and social environment of late 1960’s Jakarta.

Equally interesting, is the below video by Associated Press’s Charlie Dharapak. The short clip was made in 2008 and provides an interesting (and less hyped) picture of Barack’s elementary school experience.

But no matter the media story, the people interviewed as the elite “knowers-of-Obama-back-then” all seem to have shared the same inclination to ask the young boy if he’d ever like to be U.S. president one day. A question to which little Barry confidently answered to all his “friends,” yes.

Welcome Barry!

Barack and his Indonesian impersonator, Ilham Anas.

As an American citizen, I’ve heard Barack Obama called many nicknames: GoBama; Obiden; Bammy; Obama Osama; ObaMao—but I’ve never heard him referred to as “Barry.” Here in Indonesia, it’s “Barry Soetoro” to be exact.

This name connects America’s 44th President to the four years he spent in Indonesia as a child, attending elementary school in Menteng, South Jakarta under the nickname of “Barry” and surname of his Indonesian step-father, Lolo Soetoro. Consequently, Barack’s fan-base here is large, with many local residents feeling a particular kinship with the U.S. President who still speaks conversational Bahasa Indonesia and looks pretty dashing in a Batik.

This week “Barry” is on the lips of Jakarta residents everywhere as the city prepares for Obama’s first presidential visit to the country he once called home.  The President’s trip to Indonesia is of particular relevance as his last two promised visits were later cancelled, leaving the excited city greatly disappointed and the ties between Washington and Jakarta yet-to-be cemented.

But it looks like nothing can keep Barack from cancelling his commitment this time, as not even the most recent eruptions of the deadly volcano Mount Merapi have deterred the President’s plans to touch-down in Jakarta tomorrow.

The trip is part of Barack’s four-country tour of Asia focusing on boosting U.S. exports. Other stops include India, South Korea and Japan. Watch this space for updates.