A mysterious parcel

Something both bizarre and terrifying happened the other day at the office. But it only dawned on me last night.

I teach at a high profile International English school situated in an exclusive Shopping center in a posh area of Jakarta. I am one of only two foreigners working in the center—correction: in the entire mall—while all the other employees are Indonesian.

That day, I was working at my desk and I heard a commotion at the front desk, so I inquired to find out what was happening. The front desk staff were talking and debating about a mysterious lady who had just come in, her face hidden behind a full Niqab, and then left a package before leaving in a haste.

The package wasn’t addressed to anyone in particular, not even to the school, it only had the name of the Mall on it. Highly Suspicious, right?

I asked to see the parcel and felt its shape and weight in my hands. “It feels like a cellphone”, I said with a misplaced sense of confidence.

Now, I still don’t fully understand why, but I proceeded to open this dodgy parcel without thinking. I was suddenly witnessing myself doing this in a detached way, knowing something was wrong. It was much akin to an outer body experience and I felt like screaming: STOP!, but didn’t.

It was a cellphone after all.

Along with the cellphone were a handwritten note and a similar, typed one. My colleagues translated the notes and explained that the person who wrote it was saying they had previously taken a phone that did not belong to them. They were expressing remorse and asking forgiveness from both God and the phone’s owner.

I brought the cellphone and notes to the Center Director and gave her the gist of what had just transpired. According to her, no phone had ever been reported stollen in our center. Surreal.

I was not reprimanded for this. But in retrospect, this is one of the most foolish episodes of my young life. The envelope could have contained any number of perils: a bomb, a nerve agent, a chemical weapon, etc.

Before today, I had never given much thought to the fact that our company and I are a legitimate target for some deranged lunatics who are apparently on the rise in this country.

What was I thinking!?! The only foreigners in the building! An International English school!

So what was it then, that compelled me to do such a senseless thing? Was it curiosity that made me potentially risk my life and the lives of others without purpose or reason? With a pregnant wife at home, I acted in a brash and impulsive way: I deeply regret my actions. But regret is futile.

Here is a lesson I must never forget.

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October Twenty Fifteen

Writing journals has never been my strength. I’m a big flake. Too lazy. Ever since I can remember, my attempts at keeping a journal or diary have always failed miserably. 

Oh, what grandiose intentions and high hopes I had for this blog! 

It was all good and well during the first days of my travels, in awe, slowly getting past the culture shock, enjoying novelties and trivialities. Observing and commenting on curiosities around me. Light hearted fun. But then, life happened. ‘Tragedy’ would be an overstatement but it certainly felt that way when it was all happening. 

Starting in October 2014, my life became a series of grotesque occurences and absurd events. Beyond cultural discrepancies and differences. Kafkaesque. Many things went wrong, for a long time. “Destiny goes Awry.” Life was relentless in its tests. But if Indonesia has tought me one thing, it is resilience. I carried on. I had to. There was no other way. 

Like Tariq ibn Ziad, the great Berber Military Genius who took the Iberian Peninsula and made way for the Golden Age of Andalusia, I also had to burn the ships. There is no turning back, he said to his men. Tariq knew without ships to sail back to Morocco, his men would now fight to the death in order to claim that piece of European land. He knew that too many options dilute a man’s resolve. Likewise, too many comforts and privileges corrupt his nature. He becomes spoiled and ungrateful.

I had to cut the cord. I had to stop looking back. Quit tinking about what I had called home all my life. North America. The West. It’s funny when you think of it, looking to the West is a symbol of Death, they say. 

So I look to the East, and Asia is now home.

Palembang, here I come! #oldpost

I began writing what follows over one year ago. A lot has happened since and I was unable to keep up with my blog. I intend to change that now.

I’m about to embark on a sub-journey within my ‘grand voyage’ through Indonesia and South-East Asia. Tomorrow I’m flying to the city of Palembang as I finally got a full-time teaching position. Actually, this is the job I was supposed to start in September right after my stay in Aceh, but was denied due to the whole ‘suspension of work permits’ thing.

Turns out the situation has evolved slightly in the recent weeks and private language school have resumed posting job offers. I noticed new ads popping up for Indonesia on http://www.tefl.com and I found it odd, given that everything ESL related had come to brutal halt in relation to foreign teachers.

I immediately contacted Tom, the Director of Studies and he was pleased that I was still interested considering how my last application process there was cut short. I’m enthusiastic about teaching full-time in a renowned institution. Excitement is the main emotion that drives me now, and I am thrilled to leave the monstruous megalopolis that serves as Capital of the most populated island in the entire world: Java. 
Although it is not without sadness that I leave behind a person I met and who is very dear to me.

Things have changed indeed. That person is no longer in my life, but Palembang still is. I truly want to make up for lost blog time. Maybe I should start a retrospective?

Delicious Sorrel, Made in Indonesia

Sorrel, also known as Rosella Hibiscus is a beautiful, naturally tart flower filled with antioxidants and vitamins. As an infusion it is also known ar Karkady in Egypt. By adding some sugar to a sorrel infusion or concoction, it is possible to cancel out a bit of the tartness and it makes for a pleasantly spicy, delicious and refreshing drink.

Man, I love this stuff! Here is my recipe. It is not an exact science as I’ve personalized this one over the years.


Ingredients

• 2L of Spring Water (as your mix will boil and evaporate, you might need to add mote water)

• 500gr of Rosella Hibiscus

• 50gr Ginger (peeled and roughly sliced)

• 10 Cloves.

• 10 Allspice kernels or, alternatively, Black Peppercorns.

• 10 Star Anise pods.

• Sugar


Instructions

  1. Lay out the dried Hibiscus flowers on a sheet of foil or something similar to easily spot and remove all the garbage/rubbish that you will find in there. Twigs, sand, rocks, even hairs… Keep only the flowers. Dont rinse it! It will lose its “magical powers”.
  2. Boil the spices (cloves, allspice, star anise) and ginger in the fresh water for about 30min-1hr to get the flavor out. You will only add the Hibiscus/Rosella/Sorrel later, it is a delicate flower, and you dont want to scorch it by boiling too long, it might alter the taste.
  3. When your water is nice and fragrant from the ginger and spices, turn the heat down to a simmer and gently put the hibiscus into the water.
  4. Boil for another 10-20min or until the hibiscus flowers have the texture of crunchy steamed vegetables.
  5. Turn off the heat. Let it sit, covered until it’s no longer scalding.
  6. That’s when you add the sugar.
  7. After that, leave the whole mix to brew, covered, at room temperature, for at least 24hrs. But since this is ant country, I opt for the fridge these days.
  8.  When the potion has brewed long enough, filter the liquid through a funnel into a clear bottle… You can use a drip coffee filter or even “Scott” paper towels, provided they are impeccably clean.
  9. Serve chilled, with plenty of ice!

If you are adventurous, you can attempt to age/ferment this stuff. In a glass jar, (do NOT seal it so that it is airtight) store in a cool, dark place for a few days. I’ve only been able to age mine a couple of weeks successfully.

Enjoy!

WordPress, have I got a blog post for you! PART 01

I have been unusually silent for over a week and there are good reasons for this. On September 14th, I left Jakarta to visit my friend D., in Banda Aceh, and unwind on the beach side. However, what was planned as a chill, uneventfull, bule-less vacation away from the big city turned out to be a life changing journey for Yours Truly: a quixotic tale of existential self-discovery, with a magnanimous twist.

My original plan consisted in Escaping From Jakarta for about one week to relax before starting a one year teaching contract in Palembang (Sumatra). While researching possible destinations, I stumbled upon a blog page highlighting Ujung Genteng, a virtually deserted resort and sea turtle reserve in the South West of Java. I was looking forward to meeting and socializing with sea turtles, and taking a swim in a wonderful waterfall located close by. Instead, I opted for Aceh at the last minute to visit a friend and unwind oceanside, snorkel in the turquoise sea and let my skin see the sun for a bit.

Turns out September and beyond is the rainy season in a large portion of Sumatera.

The rain was pouring down heavily on the tarmac as our plane landed at Sultan Iskandar Mudah Airport. The bad weather didn’t impede my excitement, I was thrilled to be in a city fairly unsullied by urban pollution with luxuriant vegetation. My friend D. surprised me by welcoming me at the airport. It was a warm reunion—as warm as an Islamic permits—we had known each other for well over two years, but had only spoken on Skype. A nice, old taksi driver with two teeth had chatted D. up while she was waiting for me, so off I went into the tiny Toyota, as she guided us on her motorbike to Joel’s Bungalow in Lampuuk. The hour-long drive was quite emotional for me; images of the Tsunami flooded my mind as the scenery passed us by, with the driver chain-smoking cheap indo cigarettes on the front seat. The infrastructure still exhibited scars, old Tsunami battle wounds, despite massive decade-long reconstruction efforts. Often, I found tears trickling down my cheeks and the second hand smoke had nothing to do with. As I mentionned before, very few places/events have managed to elicit in me such a powerful feeling and deep connexion, without me having actually been there. First, there was Palestine-Jerusalem, then Makkah and now Aceh.

We arrived at Joel’s Bungalow, a beautiful property situated right beneath a massive rocky hill, on one of the nicest beaches I have ever visited. A virtually deserted haven, this establishment is mostly visited by Acehnese and other Indonesian tourists, although it does see its occasional bule. The wooden bungalows are simplistic in design, but possess a certain charm. Four of them were built right in the bedrock, or at the foot of the abrupt cliff.

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One of the bungalows, refered to as “AIR”, it’s pronounced Ah-year, and means ‘water’, is built on stilts in the middle of a fresh water pond, a stone’s throw from the sea. It’s a little a beauty and quite breathtaking, really.

And ‘Bungalow Air’ was to be my abode for the following 7 days.

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D. suggested we try to watch the sunset on the beach, but although the rain had stopped, the sky remained overcast. We still walked along the beach and due to my inexplicable enfatuation with the sea, I rushed in the water despite her warning that she had never seen the waves ap high… I only had time to get knee-deep into the water, and that’s when I felt the back-current exerting a tremendous force, pulling me away from the shore. I got out just in time as I had never felt the sea so powerful.

It was a taste of things to come. A monstruous storm was brewing, but I was too elated to grasp what that meant in reality. So we said goodbye for the night, D. returned to the city of Aceh on her motorbike and I retreated to my new waterborne domicile. In this idylic setting, I laid in the queen size bed, under a mosquito-net, with the door and window wide open so as to let the breeze in, and began writing what was going to be my first blog entry in Aceh. I quickly felt sleep overcome me and passed out, feeling relaxed and safe, before 11pm.

What follows is very difficult for me to talk about, let alone depict faithfully, as the flood of emotions from that night is still fresh.

As my dreams gradually faded out, a vivid sense of impending doom overcame me entirely. It was a formidable feeling of sheer panic—utter despair—that tore me away from the ‘arms of Morpheus’…

To be continued…

Coming up Next, Part 02

CGK-BTJ: Indonesian Leg Room, or absence thereof…

It is widely accepted as gospel that Economy/Coach tickets on airplanes leave the average Joe squirming for a comfortable position. Needless to say, Bule Besar such as myself find Economy seats quite impossible to rest in, let alone sleep in.

Additionally, travel options in North America are extremely limited. Indeed, with domestic flights at prohibitive prices along with slow, underdevelopped, ridiculously overpriced passenger railway systems (Amtrack & ViaRail), only last-minute deals can make it worth your while.

In an effort to cater to this kind of nonses, affordable Easyjet-type airlines have sprung up like mushrooms in Asia. The likes of AirAsia, Garuda or LionAir provide the masses with cheap short-distance air travel opportunities. And thank God for that! One hundred dollars get you to Banda Aceh (CGK-BTJ) in two hours and a half, on a one-stop flight! Not bad… Considering a flight from Montreal to Winnipeg will cost you barely less than a flight to Paris.

Hmm… Where to go: Winnipeg or Paris?

I found that amazing Aceh deal through Kayak.com and without hesitation I proceeded to purchase the ticket.

After a quick DuckDuckGo search (I never use Google products, nor should anyone who values human freedom and morals) I found an agency nearby. I dealt with Shinta from KemTravel, on Jalan Benda in Kemang. And she was such a doll too, an all around professional: helpfull, time-efficient and so friendly. She handled my request “like a boss”, I simply needed to go pay in person.

For all Im going to say next, Im still immensely thankfull for being able to go to Aceh for so little. But sometimes its necessary to air ones grievances in a comedic fashion, rather than by taking it out on some poor stewardess or by installing a “Knee Guard” like that enormous douchebag that made the news. I for one, accept that for the price I pay, leg room will be nominal.

But this!!!

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As you can see, there is no way in hell a body like mine can sit straight in Indonesian Economy seats like these! Even if I removed the magazines in front of me, my knees were firmly immobilized in their position and only by getting up, was I able to free myself from this torture device. And that was the AISLE SEAT.

I thought there was a slim chance I might be the only one seated in my row. But that was just fantasy. Oh, and did I mention how much many Indonesians simply love to talk to, or rather “be seen talking to” bule. I guess its a status thing. Anyway. I enjoy talking to strangers, even if sometimes it can be boring, but some random chats with strangers can be absolutely fascinating, eveb enlightening. But when Im scrunched in a tiny IndoCoach seat, behind my calm and friendly demeanour, Im boiling. That’s when my neighbour joyfully declared that since we were going to be so close for two hours and a half, it was well we should get to know each other. Keren lol.

So we got better acquainted. We had been chatting for 10 min when the stewardess came to offer me the emergency exit seat.

Ô Joy! Thy name is Emergency Exit Seat!

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NOTE: Foreigners in Indonesia wishing to book domestic flights online, with a credit card, might encounter a number of difficulties. I was told sometimes the online booking systems only accept Indonesian credit cards. They also mention you need to be able to present the credit card that was used to make the purchase. While that was not my problem, I couldn’t complete my transaction by credit card because the flight was less than 48 hours away. Travel agencies work great in times like these and with the added insurrance, they’re well worth it if you chose them carefully.