Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Interesting experience in Georgia

You would probably have heard it over and over again, another wonderful Christmas season (gifts, get together, etc). So here I've decided to omit it, part of it because I am not a routine blogger so I'd better utilize my blogging time.

After staying 3 days in Lake Crystal, MN, right after the Sunday church service around noon I hit the road and drove to the airport to catch my 3:45 PM flight to Georgia on the mission to help my brother move to his new house. He paid for the tickets and surely he put me to work.

On the next morning, Dec 29, we went to finalize the paper work for closing. We got together with the realtor and had breakfast at a waffle restaurant. The realtor made an extra stop to pick up rental payment from a family. He said it was a hassle to chase those low income African American families down. They often late in payment but always pay eventually. But he also felt sorry for their lives. They are often in between jobs and difficult to meet their ends. According to him dealing with real estate is complicated with segregated society. Once an African American family moves to a neighborhood it is very difficult to sell or rent a house to a Caucasian family in that area. He showed me another neighborhood where it's used to be white residents just several years ago and now all African Americans. It's something I've never heard in Minnesota. I believe the problem is more complicated than just simply blaming it on racism alone in Georgia. From what I heard you don't see it between Asian and Caucasian for example. There are deeper cultural division between black and white, frankly they can't stand each other. Obama wouldn't have been elected just because he is (half) black but because he was raised by white family. (One could argue most blacks voted for him but many people voted against him just because he is black and probably it evened out). Cultural assimilation and tolerance may be a solution.

After the house closing my brother and I went to get a Uhaul. To my surprise he said we were going to pick-up a couple able men from the street. He said it's not uncommon especially by construction companies. I wasn't sure what to think but went along with it. There were quite a number of people in some gas station looking for work. As soon as he made a signal probably 20 people rushing to get into the back of his car and he made it clear only two were needed. He said people could pay as low as $5/hour but he was generous enough to offer them $10/hour. I made a suggestion to offer them something to eat and he made a stop at a McDonalds. At least they would have energy to do all the lifting.

Even though we had big language barrier, by using gesture we manage to have them follow our instructions. As we started moving stuff out of my brother's first house, I was so impressed by how diligent those workers were. They worked so fast, running as they carried boxes and stuff. On each carry they kept asking for extra box or other stuff to save the trip. They were so efficient and working non-stop, remarkable.

We were done for the day around 8 PM and my brother offered them to go to an Indonesian restaurant. I didn't know they liked Indonesian food and thought probably we should go to a Mexican restaurant. My brother said they loved Indonesian food, Indonesian restaurants in Georgia had many hispanic customers. Then I thought about it and realized that Mexican and Indonesian food actually have many similarities.

We arranged to pick them up the next morning close to 9. After stopping by a McDonalds for breakfast, again they worked so efficiently through out the day. For lunch my brother took them to a Chinese buffet, I have to say it's a great food. We were done moving by 6 PM. My brother gave them $100 each even though they worked less than 10 hours. He pointed out that they had work very hard and probably didn't have a job the next day. We made five trips, it has been long two days !!! I have never done that much move before. After shower and dinner in Chinatown my brother dropped me off at the airport to catch my flight at 9 PM.

I was home shortly after mid night. It was snowing, a drastic change from 70s F summer-like weather in Georgia. My experience working with those hispanic workers still stick in my head for many days. For actually sitting next to them in the car and Uhaul truck, eating at the same table in restaurants, and smelling their smelly bodies gave me an up close and personal experience. I wish I could communicate with them and learn their stories.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Two Little Stinkers

Several weeks ago I was playing with my first and second daughters. At one point they were asking for something (I can't remember what it was) and I said "No". The oldest one asked the 2nd one whether she wanted it and she said yes. I said "No" again, then the oldest one said, "Well, two is stronger than one." And of course the younger one agreed with her. I couldn't help myself from laughing hard. After I settled down I said, "Democracy doesn't work here. I am the dictator in this house." They deserve the names I call them occasionally, "Stinkers" :) :)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Taking bus/train to work

Recently, starting from July 30th, I have become one of those growing number of people who commute to work using public transportation. Yes, last July 30th was my very first time. I read about the trend but the idea of doing it myself never occurred to me until I saw my coworker biked to work. It's one of those things that you know in the back of your head until something triggers it. I started with research such as using internet, went to the transportation office, my coworker, my company's resources, and analysis. Having lived in Sydney, Australia, learning about public transportation is a familiar territory to me.

The growing number of people using public transportation is the result of the rise of the gas price. Part of my research was on the cost benefit. The following is my analysis.

Driving to work cost analysis:
1. Driving to work is 26 miles (round trip) which cost about 1 gallon of gas, let's say $3.50.
2. On average the value of a car goes down between 10 to 20 cents/mile depends on the model of the car (and other factors). Newer car would be even more. Suppose we go by 10 cents/mile, let's say you drive 12000 miles a year, the value of your car would go down by about $1200. 26 miles driving to work cost me $2.6 in lost value.
3. Let's say I spend about $500/year for car maintainance and repair. $500 x 26 / 12000 = $1.08
The total cost for driving 26 miles to work is about $7.18.

Taking a bus to work cost analysis:
1. I purchase bus Super Saver from my company with pre-tax benefit. For example when I purchase $100 bus/train Super Saver, after pre-tax I end up paying only $60. When I transfer the $100 Super Saver to the bus/train card (called GoTo card), it adds 10% value to the card. Essentially I pay $60 for $110 bus/train card, only pay 55% of the nominal cost.
2. The bus ticket is $4 round trip. Since I only pay 55% of the nominal cost, essentially I pay only $4 x 55% = $2.18.
The total cost for taking public transportation is $2.18. That's a $5.00 saving for each trip to work.

Additional benefits:
1. There is a bus stop three blocks away from my house therefore it's pretty accessible.
2. There is a bus stop and train (Light Rail) just across the street from my company.
3. At least before winter hits, instead of going to the nearest bus stop, I choose to roller-blade to a bus stop more 5 miles away (10 miles round trip) to get some exercise.
4. Peace and quiet time while sitting on a bus/train. Even when I have a bad day, it allows me to calm and settle down. I often meditate spiritually including prayer and reflect my day and treasuring my past. A few weeks ago one of my best friends in elementary school (and we still kept in touch until a few weeks before his death) committed suicide. Sitting in a bus helped me to cope and treasured all of those great years with him. Sometimes your days can get very saturated. You get up in the morning and immediately hit the road and deal with traffic. Then comes a long day of work. By the end of the day you get back to the traffic, back at home and dealing with your family. The routine is just going and going. My mood has been better at home since I started taking bus/train to work. It takes 45 minutes instead of about 30 minutes driving (with moderate traffic and could be worse) but the extra time is well worth it.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Our "baby" is all grown up, hick... hick... hick....

It doesn't feel like a long time ago since she was born. Now our "baby" is in kindergarten.

She was super excited to get into the bus for the very first time. Two hours before the bus scheduled arrival she was all awake in the morning and never stopped moving around the house while constantly watching the clock.

The bus driver was kind enough to allow us the time to take pictures and video. We couldn't help ourselves from shedding tears as the bus was leaving. Our "baby" is all grown up...... Then we just realized there was a long line of cars being held up ..... ooouppps.

New Baby !!!

For our family's safety reasons the baby's name is not revealed in this blog. Nevertheless we'll say a few other things about our new addition to the family. See the picture time stamps (click those pictures to zoom in) for the dates to tell how old the baby is.

She was born on Aug 27, at 9:35 AM, weight 7 lbs 6.5 oz (and yes, every half oz counts), 20 inches for length, and 14 inches for head. She was urinating on her way out of her mommy's tummy, I suppose she already knew how to mark her territory. Thank God she and her mommy have been healthy, we couldn't feel more blessing than that.

As parents we have been adjusting during the first week. Daddy has been taking care of the older kids. Putting them to sleep by having a "sleeping party", throwing a bunch of blankets and pillows on the floor in the kid's play room. They seem to enjoy it. That way Mommy can focus on the baby at night and also get more rest, especially since she had a C-section and is a little slow moving.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Trip to Indonesia: conclusion

I thought it's about time to put behind my blog about my trip to Indonesia. Here I will try to put together my general thoughts and moments.

Even though it has been 3 months ago, images from the trip still flashing into my head frequently such as faces of people on the street and people I know, poverty, buildings, roads, and landscapes. Sometimes it felt like a dream, realities from two different worlds (Indonesia vs. United States) make it harder for the transition.

When I flew away from Indonesia, I looked down and saw houses and roads were fading away from my sight. From the distance, there were so many people down there with their own stories to tell. I am pretty sure most of them have harder times than most people in United States. Nonetheless I would not say Americans are happier. Human have great abilities to survive, from what I saw Indonesians were very resilience because they had no choice. I feel like I am a wimp. There are insurance and retirement in US because we live in the culture of independence, stability, security, and predictability. Perhaps sometimes it may drive some people into depression. In Indonesia, most people do not have many luxuries. They work one day to feed their families for another day, literally. They truly live their lives one day at a time.

Where and how you grew up define your life perspective and how content you are. Every time I made a trip to Indonesia, I came back to US with a revival. There is always a sense of betrayal but I realize life moves on. At least I am more content and it raises my awareness of what is going on outside US. I would encourage anyone in US to visit a 3rd world country and live there for awhile. I can bet any American will come back as a different person.

I don't know if I will continue to have trips to Indonesia. It has definitely not been a vacation, more like guilt trips. I hope the next one will be a vacation and I would like to explore more exotic places that I have never been to instead of visiting relatives and friends.

I used to call Indonesia home, having away so long, more than half of my life away from Indonesia has changed my perception of "home". There were many memories and people who influenced my life and I treasure them.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Hometown experience: part 3: Saksang

After going through my pictures I realized I forgot to include my hometown "trademark" food, call "Saksang", see the pictures in this page. I don't know about Americans, but Indonesians love it. The main course of the meal is pork, butchered on the same day, fresh meat indeed. The blood is carefully collected by stabbing a pig's neck during butchering, used as the main sauce, see the brown sauce in the picture. It takes a strong man to hold on to a pig alive while other person is collecting the blood. Every part of the body of a pig is prepared for food, nothing get wasted, literally nothing get wasted. The meat is marinated with blood and other seasoning then smoked. Additional vegetable and soup are served as well. Hmm... yummy......

Saksang is only available during lunch time and may not be available if you don't show up early. Since the meat has to be fresh they do not serve leftover meat. When it is gone they are not going to butcher another pig, it takes too long to prepare. They don't want to butcher too many pigs early morning either, too costly to throw away leftover meat when there is not enough customers on a given day. The idea of "business hours" doesn't mean anything to a Saksang restaurant.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Surabaya experience

On April 22nd, I arrived in Surabaya from Jakarta. It has been 12 years since the last time I saw the city and my uncle, my mom's youngest brother. Surabaya is the 2nd largest city in Indonesia, after Jakarta. Traffic-wise, Surabaya is much better, also cleaner.

Nothing was very exciting to talk about except for meeting my uncle and his family, another relative, and a highschool classmate. I brought with me many batik fabrics, sarongs, and cloths. On April 24th I left Surabaya and Indonesia.

I arrived in Minnesota on April 25th, the temperature was around 60s F (around 15 C) and I was glad to be home. Home sweet home. It felt like I went from one planet to another, almost like totally different worlds.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Maids in Indonesia.

Some of friends said Indonesia was a paradise for middle class wives. Virtually all middle class households have (house) maids, even two or three maids. How is it possible ? Well, cheap labor. Typically they are paid around $50 to $70 a month. They stay in the house, sleeping mattress is optional, and they work from 6 am until the rest of the family to go bed. They eat from leftover and being asked to do all kinds of chores around the house such as cleaning, cooking, washing cloths, and baby sitting. It is tough job yet they are like invisible, meaning people don't pay much attention.

Their duties are not limited to chores around the house, they also go to wherever they are asked to. For example, they may go out of town with the family to help out with all kind of things. I saw maids in churches too. I have never seen a sunday nursery, instead they bring their own maids. Moms with little babies carry their babies into a separate room in the sanctuary. The room is in the back of the sanctuary with big glass window and the sound is piped into the room. It allows those moms to follow the service without disturbing others with their crying babies. I often made a joke that the room looked like a Penalty Box in ice hockey.

There are countries that allow maids from Indonesia to work there such as Singapore, Malaysia, and countries in Middle East. Many of those maids have to leave their families, it is especially hard for those with children.

Unfortunately the unemployment rate in Indonesia is high, so many poor people are scrambling just to put food on the table. You feel sorry for those maids but the alternative (without a job) is gloomy. Many people are so poor beyond what Americans can fathom. When I grew up I was poor enough not being able to go to college right after high school but fortunate enough to be not as poor as those people.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Jakarta Experience, part 2

Probably on the 5th day in Jakarta my brother took me to the ocean, north of Jakarta. When we were approaching the coast, the streets were flooded but safe enough to drive through them. According to my brother the sea level has been rising and water from the river near the coast is no longer above the sea level and it gets worse during tide. Along the coast there was a lot of construction going on to raise the street level and build taller levee. There were many huge and expensive houses along the coast. I am pretty sure they get more privilege from the government while not far away streets were flooded.

Though it was a short time in Jakarta, I was glad I had time to talk quite a bit with my brother, Pauluk. It was like going back to our childhoods where we could talk freely. As usual, we often had differences and different personalities but we always found ways to work it out. My brother had hard time socializing with others since he was a kid, I understand him better than anyone else (perhaps except his wife now). However, he has an amazing ability to memorize things visually in perfect order on the first try since he was as little as 4, as far as I remember. He has an interesting logical way of thinking, which I call fuzzy logic, which gives him an advantage in what he is doing, learning and working on all kinds of programming so quickly. But it can be confusing when you communicate with him which makes him harder to socialize. He is very honest to the bone, I can't remember the last time he lied to me. You take by the face value.

On the 2nd Sunday I went to my brother's church again, this time for two services, the morning one like the week before at 8 AM (traditional) and 5 PM (contemporary). Usually my brother and his family go to the morning service. My cousins in Serpong wanted me to stay with them that weekend but my nephew, Jastin, sang in the afternoon service so I stayed in Jakarta until Jastin finished singing. I was glad to stick around to watch him singing even though I always had a blast hanging out with my cousins in Serpong. They are like my sisters and they are super fun. I really enjoyed spending time with them and we talked a lot.

After staying two fun nights in Serpong and spent time with my cousins and their parents (fun part was with my cousins), I went on to my flight to Surabaya, East of Java. It was an interesting trip in Jakarta and Serpong. So long Jakarta, a city you hate to love ...wait ... or love to hate..... I am confused now .... :) (joking).

People who were raised and born in Jakarta are like New Yorkers, they think their city is the center of the country. In many ways I would agree, Jakarta is the center of everything, from education, culture, business, international trading, arts, wealth, entertainment, government, you name it. That's why people from all over the country converge to this city. I wish the government would do a better job in managing this precious city.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Jakarta Experience, part 1

While in Jakarta I stayed at two different places, my brother's house in the center of Jakarta, and my aunt/cousin's house in Serpong, a suburb west of Jakarta. Take into account the traffic, they are far apart. I stayed in Jakarta, then Serpong, back to Jakarta and then Serpong again before flying to Surabaya, East of Java (1 hour flight).

My brother's house is small, less than 400 sq-ft. He has his wife, a son, and our mom live with him. It's typical in Jakarta, high housing cost due to high demand, and most houses have been built to maximize profit for any given lot available. Perhaps Americans, including myself, are spoiled by having big spaces. New houses have been built aggresively everywhere, just about any open lot available. As a result there is not enough land to absorb water during rainy season. Flood comes on annual basis, during rainy season. There was an article I read from a newspaper about an effort to make 10% of the land available to absorb water to ease flood season. Speaking about flood, the goverment should clean the sewers and rivers up. All open sewers I saw were clogged and hardly moved. I didn't see any cleaning effort. The rivers looked like sewers, black, filled with garbage, and unbearable smell. When flood comes (I was told) all of those nasty stuff go everywhere. I don't even want to think about it, glad didn't happen when I was there.... pheww....

Jakarta is a city that offers the best opportunity in Indonesia. It is not surprising that I have many friends and relatives live there. Even though it was virtually impossible to see them all (due to driving hassle but can be used as a good excuse) but I still had a great time with many of them.

Comparing to those four cities I visited (Siantar, Medan, Jakarta, and Surabaya), another bright side of Jakarta is the people are more racially tolerant from listening to my friends and relatives. Perhaps big influx of people coming from all over the country has made this city a melting pot. Outside Jakarta I heard a lot of comments from my friends and relatives despising indiginous people. I advised them not to think that way. When you look at them, most of them are honest, humble, and nice people who happen to be poor.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Jakarta, a city of traffic jam

Jakarta is the capital city of Indonesia. It's city where you can find just about anything in Indonesia. To many, especially the wealthy, it's a paradise. To the middle-class it's a city of opportunity. The remaining are marginalized (poor, behind) yet resilient. It's probably the last city I would ever want to live.

Everyone who live or visit the city have one thing in common, they all despice the traffic jam, perhaps one of the worst in the world. With constant heat, high humidity, air polution from vehicle and open sewer, it is almost unbearable to me. Catalytic converter is optional, another contributing factor to the air polution.

My mom took me for shopping and I had quite an adventure on April 20th. We hopped from one bus to another, most of them are mini (more like tiny) buses. We hopped into and out of moving buses, it reminded me of my childhood. It took 4 buses to get to the shopping area, called Glodok, one and an half hours each way. Inside those buses I was sweating like crazy, smelled body odor of very packed passengers (which made it even hotter) mixed with exhaust from vehicles. I don't know how much damage I had done to my lung. But when I looked at those passengers, presumably used those buses on daily basis, their faces were humble and without grudges. The next day I shared my experience with one of my highschool classmates who has been living in Jakarta since we graduated from highschool. He said that's what he and our other classmates went through while they were in college. It makes you think how much we should be content with what we have. How often we complain when we feel a little uncomfortable.

What is considered unthinkable in the United States you may be able to find it in Jakarta. It is similar to what I saw in a TV ads in US, people selling goods during rush hour. I couldn't help myself from shooting my video camera. With slow moving traffic many people are desperate to make a living by selling food, drink, newspaper, etc. They walk on a narrow shoulder (about 3-4 feet or 1m) and between lanes carrying a lot of stuff on their shoulders while inhaling vehicle exhaust smoke constantly, not to mention intense scorching heat and humidity. It was a hard for me to emphatize.

The traffic was not as bad on Sunday. Most businesses and schools open Monday to Saturday. We were cruising on a Pay-toll highway and something caught my eyes. Concrete blocks were placed on both sides of the road and the shoulder on each side was only about 3-4 feet (1 m) wide and yet I saw a car stopped on the left shoulder. Half of the car sticked out into the left lane and I thought it was dangerous especially with high speed vehicles passing by. I was even more stunt to see the driver was taking a pee on the concrete block. That was bizzare, he could be killed. It may sound funny to hear someone get killed taking a pee on a highway. What I saw was not unusual, highway exits are too far apart. Having said that, drivers in Indonesia are very alert and horn is frequently used to avoid accident.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Medan, Binjai, first few days in Jakarta

From April 9-12 I stayed in Medan and Binjai, about 3 hours drive (including traffic jam) from my hometown (Pematang Siantar). The first night was with my cousin in Medan, 2nd and 3rd nights in Binjai at my other cousin's place.

In Binjai I stayed in a rural area, about 20 minutes away from the center of the city of Binjai. He showed me around his business such as egg production and eel plants. It's pretty smelly, coming from chicken poops on the ground with tons of maggots. I walked around stepping on thick piles of overnight dried chicken poops and live maggots, some even crawled into my feets but it didn't freak me out. It was early in the morning before they cleaned the poops up. Later that day I went back to video taped the plant including the floor with some remaining poops and maggots. He has about 30 thousands chickens and producing over 20 thousands eggs daily.

On April 12 my cousin drove me up to Medan to catch my flight to Jakarta. Unfortunately I missed my flight and had to catch the next flight. This time was all my fault. I guess I don't do well with flights in this trip. My brother, his family, and my mom picked me up in Jakarta. We went out to a restaurant and had wonderful dinner (going out to eat is so routine, it may be trivial to mention it over and over again).

The next day, April 13, my brother took me to his church, Gereja Kristus Yesus (translation: Church of Jesus Christ). It was a pretty big and nice church. As a visitor I was asked to raise my hand. Someone handed me out a form to fill. All of those forms were collected and submitted to a pastor on the altar. He called up each visitor's name and invited us to stand up and so others could see and greet us after the service. I thought it was a wonderful way to show hospitality.

After the service I was asked to play guitar in a Sunday school. I was impressed by the dedication of those Sunday school teachers. There were three teachers on each classroom.

Schools in Indonesia

While in my hometown I had a chance to visit my former school from grade 1-12. There are lots changes in the buildings and curriculums. To keep up with big cities standard, they implement American, British, and Singaporean teaching methods. Starting from kindergarten three languages are taught, Indonesian, English, and Chinese. There are three different flavors of classroom : standard, standard plus, and international, and their tuition fees are not the same. Relative to standard of living (income), schools are expensive. Having children more than two is very rare these days, they all blame it to high cost of education.

I was given an honor to give speeches in two classrooms at my former high school. The idea was to motivate and inspire high schoolers. I proposed a discussion format where students were given more opportunity to ask questions. Those speeches/discussions turned out well, I think. As a gesture of appreciation I was given a souvenir and lunch together with teachers. It was a rewarding experience.

Insane Driving

Every time I visit Indonesia somehow I can never get used to how people drive. Yielding is optional and erratic driving often gives a near heart attack. The general rule is as long as you put the bumper of your vehicle in someone else's way first then he/she has to yield. Changing lane suddenly without signaling no matter how close that car is, and making a turn without yielding to incoming traffic for examples. I was asked several times if I would like to borrow and drive their cars and I firmly refused, not to mention they drive on the left side of the road. I don't want another disaster to hit me.

Road conditions are not that great either, many pot holes, driving fast is always not a good idea. In some places I was stunt to see trees in the middle of the lanes. I learned from my relatives those trees were planted by people who were so sick of the road conditions and planted trees on pot holes. It's pretty bizarre.

Air pollution is another turned off. On daily basis I have been inhaling black smoke coming out of vehicles and it makes me cough. Catalytic converter is not required for vehicle, lower quality for gasoline refinary requirement, and gasoline is not led-free are contributing to the air pollution. It's good I don't bring my little children this time. Probably another 10 years before I bring my entire family.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Hometown Experience: part 2

On the third day, I went to an outdoor swimming pool with my uncle early in the morning, around 6 AM. The water was a little cool and it was quite a crowd, mostly elderly. During the day my other uncle took me to visit many relatives, again. He went back to Jakarta in the afternoon and I have been free to go my own but still obligated to visit other relatives. I have been getting phone calls and SMS for reminders.

In the past 2 days I have been hanging out a lot with former school classmates and occasionally with relatives. On the third night one of my cousins (I have more 60 cousins that I know well, I stop counting for some aunts' and uncles' children that I barely seen in the past) took me an outdoor restaurant. It was very delicious, they specialized in freshly smoked seafood. I sat there and could see and smell the smoke. It came with smoked rice too, wrapped in banana leaf. For drink I got avocado ice cream. Yummy.

On the fourth day one of my cousins took me to an interesting social group called "Hash". There are two groups, one spun out from the original one. They are sponsored by their core members who are middle-age businessmen. Perhaps it has to do with mid-life crisis. There are also some young people, they participate for free. On weekly basis they get together on Sunday afternoon around 1:30 PM and car pool to a rain-forest. There are several rain forest locations and they rotate them weekly. Locals were paid to provide three different routes around each rain-forest using papers. There is a short route that takes about 1/2 hour, intermediate for 1 hour, and long one may be for 2 hours. It rained hard for 1/2 hour when we got there and they decided to take the intermediate route. Just because they were middle-age men didn't mean it was an easy thing to do, as a matter of fact it was pretty risky and energy consuming. Perhaps mid-life crisis drives them to taste the thrill. That day was made more difficult with an earlier rain, it was slippery and muddy. At the end of the route my legs and arms were filled with scratches from branches and leaves. There were lots of climbing involved, as steep as about 45 degree angle, going down hill, and walked around hill sides. Any misstep could lead to serious injury. We also crossed some rivers using a bamboo pole as a bridge, it took a team work to ensure no one fell into those rivers. We had to make many stops, it was pretty exhausted and I was sweating like crazy. Surrounding by thick trees and plants was like doing exercise with an oxygen tube (plant releases oxygen). It took us 1 1/2 hours due to slippery ground. The event was concluded with food and chit-chat. I had a blast and it was very refreshing.

Immediately after I arrived in my hometown my friends took me out of town to a village called Karang Sari. It's in a remote area with great food, known for BBQ and smoked seafood. We went to a restaurant, sat on a floor (traditional way of eating, no table and eat with hands) and had a great time chatting and eating.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Hometown experience, part 1

The night (almost) immediately after I arrived in my hometown I crashed into a bed (right after shower). I had a jet lag as expected, went to bed around 9 PM and woke up around 2 AM. During the day I have often been sleepy.

While awake there was a loud noise at 4 AM. I realized I was in Indonesia, a muslim country where you can find mosques just about anywhere. They put 4 big speakers facing 4 directions to ensure everyone one could hear it and they are very loud especially when a mosque is close to your house. It reminds me to my house before, a mosque was just right across the street from my house, just imagine having the Riverhills church Praise team (with bass, guitar, keyboard, and drum) playing in front of your house 5 times a day and one of them is at 4 until 5 AM every single day.

My uncle got up around 4:30 AM and we went to a school to do exercise. All of the people in the school were over 50, that made me the youngest one. It started with Tai Chi, based from an ancient chinese martial art. It's a slow and smooth motion sort of imitation the flow of air or water. Then they changed the music with higher pace and different moves. They have been doing it for many years and I was pretty impressed with how well they did it. I underestimated them but later after sweating a lot, boy, it's much harder than I thought. After an hour later I went for a walk with uncle to cool of for half an hour then went for breakfast at a restaurant.

After shower I went with bunch of relatives to our ancestors' cemetery. Worshiping ancestor has been an ancient Chinese ritual for thousands of years and integrated into Buddhistm. I was there to observe, flashback to when I was a little kid before I became a Christian.

After visiting cemetery my uncle spent the entire day taking me to countless of relatives, felt like a long day. Pretty much I was asked same questions over and over. Anyway I am back in the culture that revolves around food. All conversations begin with something like "Hi, have you eaten yet ?". One question that every single person ask as far as living in US is something like "so, do you eat bread every day, right ?" Everyone has been trying to feed, asking me out for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The good thing is all of them come with small portion, that's the way it is in Asia, half the size of typically restaurants in US. So here I keep eating out, most dishes cost less than $1.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Rough trip all the way to Indonesia ..... hm...

After 11 hours in the Singapore airport finally I departed and arrive one hour later in Medan, Sumatera island, Indonesia. I was totally exhausted and so looking forward to getting out of airport. Another obstacle was on my way, the airport custom.

I made a big mistake by speaking Indonesian with a custom officer, thinking I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible after a very long flight (I left Mar 31st and got there on April 3rd). Before I even picked up my luggage they searched my carry-on bag. Not getting anything what they would like to see they asked for my luggage. Instead of opening my luggage (it's locked) in the search area I was immediately escorted to an office, in a closed door and was faced with 3 unfriendly officers. Growing up in Indonesia I knew I was getting into, they tried to extort money or belonging. All I have to do is minimizing the damage.

After unlocking the luggage they couldn't find anything illegal. Then they picked up a bottle of calcium supplement and Omega-3. They asked for the prices and I told them they were around $25, it was a long day I didn't quite remember the exactly price plus I didn't have a receipt to prove it. Probably they were more like $30 or slightly more, bought from Sams Club and I was not far off. They said they didn't believe me, with about 15 bottles (many small bottles) they said the total would be very expensive. The limit according to the law is $500. I remember my receipt was less than $200 from Sams Club. To minimize the damage I had to find a way to negotiate. I said I would not let them take any bottle and I might report it to the US Embassy about it. They offered to pay me for those supplements for their prices, $25. I knew they could hold me for a long time. They would not let get out of the room without getting something out of me. Reluctantly I agreed just to get out of there and of course I was not happy. After carrying them for a long distance only to give them up, it's not about the money. As I packed my luggage to leave the office, two other officers said they had bone problem too and wanted to buy a couple bottles of calcium. This time with subtle and firm way said "no". My relatives told me later that they were surprised that I was paid, usually they just take them away without paying. Perhaps they wanted to protect themselves just in case I report to the US embassy, saying they paid for them. I believe they thought they could sell them for higher prices.

While I was waiting for someone to pick me up one of those officers followed me and asked for some money. He said something about being American I have a lot of money. Instead I offered to buy him a drink in a shop next to the airport. Without my permission he picked a pack of cigarette up. He asked for my address and another one later approached me to give me a ride. Again in a subtle way I turned it down. The way it works is once they know your address then you'll come later to ask for money. That's the way in Indonesia, government officers are not your friend. I grew up dealing with them and always had to spend extra cash. I should have spoken in English and refused to speak in Indonesian to make the communication difficult so they might have let me go. I was just too exhausted to realize that.

I was able to call my brother's in-law in Medan to pick me up after half an hour waiting. Then my uncle picked me up from his house and we drove straight to my hometown that day. We had dinner in a town a long the way. We arrived in my other uncle's house. After I took shower I headed straight to a bed and snoozed immediately. What a long day .......... I thank God for a safe trip.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

I am still in Singapore .... hhhhhhhh

Another bad news, another delay and I am stuck in the airport for 11 hours. It has been way too long of a trip, exhausted, not to mention jetlag ... oh well. My final flight will depart in 2 hours, hopefully no more surprise.

While online I had a chance to chat with a friend who lives in Singapore. It is interesting that the airport is so nice that Singaporeans love to hang around and shop in the airport. It's like a mall with shopping stores, food court, free internet, free electronic foot massage, and impressive gardens.

In the waiting area I saw a group immigrant workers (I guess they are on working visa) from India (I overheard the conversations). They were called by immigration officer as a group. Their ages probably are from 20s to 40s with humbling faces. Probably they have to leave behind their families to work overseas to support their families. It is probably harder for them to leave their families than I do and I believe it is for a longer period.

Stay tuned.........