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.