Saturday, September 27, 2003

Teh Susu and Kopi Tubruk

Teh Susu and Kopi Tubruk

I took a risk ordering a teh susu during lunchtime at Mie Ayam Pinangsia. In most of the warungs in Jakarta, you'll get a blank stare when you try to order tea with milk. While "teh" in Malaysia would mean tea with milk by default, in Jakarta, no one drinks tea with milk. The usual drink is teh hangat, which is local tea served without sugar. It is "free" in most nasi padang restaurants.

I miss my Malaysian teh tarik a lot, so occassionally I would try my luck here by ordering a teh susu and hope they'll come up with some drinkable substitute. And today, It came as I had expected: a cup of milk white liquid with hardly any trace of tea. After so many disastrous attempts, I have to reluctantly conclude that Jakartans do not know how to make a cup of tea with milk. Even if you order Western-style tea, they often do not provide you with milk or cream. I guess I have to stick to my kopi tubruk, which is not a bad substitute for teh tarik.

Today is Saturday, so I'm not going to be philosophical and boring. I noticed that Italian Job, starring Mark Wahlberg is showing at Theater DJakarta, near my hotel. I had watched the original Italian Job, released in 1969, starring Michael Caine when I was a small kid and I still have vague recollections of it.

Not sure if I have the time to catch a movie this weekend but I don't want to miss this remake. As usual I have to finish of some work on a Saturday night (while the rest of the world parties the night away). *Sigh*

I think I'll need a strong cup of kopi tubruk to pull me through the night and to wash away any lingering memory of that terrible cup of teh susu this afternoon...

Friday, September 26, 2003

Time to Kill

Arriving to Jakarta is always a joy--even when one is coming from Bandung on the Argo Gede train. I'm back to the grubby and seedy world of Jakarta.

My three days in Bandung has been tiring but I enjoyed the isolation. Managed to do a lot of fruitful work with the customer too. I have a lot of things planned for this weekend. Will be meeting up with my friend Setiawan tomorrow. He's also a digital photography enthusiast; we'll be checking out some photographic equipment at Glodok.

I enjoy both solitude and the company of friends. I have many friends--especially women--who cannot stand being alone. I don't have such problems because I always have something to do. The trick to not feeling lonely is to have a sense of purpose in life.

I find it perplexing when people complain that they feel bored on long weekends. And that they have to find some ways to "kill" the time. They buy a stack of bootleg DVDs and consume them continuously over the holidays. It is almost like running a "screensaver" on your mind. Killing time is like killing yourself. In the end, you yourself are "consumed".

I have better things to kill: my bad habits. One of them is eating unhealthy food such as Indomie--the Indonesian instant noodles. I know some of my colleagues eat them everyday for breakfast. And I'm also getting a bit addicted to kopi tubruk. Prior to coming to Jakarta, I was more of a tea drinker. Nowadays I cannot resist a good Cup of Java...

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Living to Learn

Sometimes I think the only valuable skill that I picked up from my university education is the ability to learn up a new subject fast. I studied at a local university where we only had to sit for one all-important exam at the end of the year.

I was never one who paid attention in class, even though I did attend most of the lectures. I would have scant lectures notes which served as rough guides to the subjects I took. I found lectures dull and tiresome. I spent most of my time exploring the library--and my alma mater has a pretty good one. The library was a vast universe of knowledge which I devoured greedily.

Like how I treat my job now, I often gave priority to the pursuit of my other interests--art, literature, philosophy, religion, poetry and science. I left the study of my compulsory subjects to the end of the year--right before my exams.

It was during those four years that I picked up the skill to learn up an entire course within one month. It was always one long suffering month--one filled with panic and anxiety bordering on the suicidal. Every minute and hour then would be spent buried in textbooks and in the frantic copying of missing lecture notes.

But over the years I had perfected the task to an art. I knew how to grasp the essentials of a subject and was able to chart a study plan which allowed me to peak just at the right time--ensuring all the relevant facts are "cached" in my memory the night before the exam.

In my present job as an IT professional, I often find myself in customer situations where I am forced to tackle subjects that I'm not familiar with. Often I have to present to tough audiences who will give me a tough grilling on the subject. But those university years of mine had trained me well; I am always prepared to tackle something new because I learnt how to learn.

There is no way that four years of university education or any amount of professional training can prepare one as a competent IT professional. Most of the things have to be learnt along the way, in a field which change is the only constant (pardon the cliche).

My fellow university mate and long-time colleague, Chua, often laments about the poor quality of engineers that we get these days. They often complain that they are not "trained" to do the tasks that they are asked to do. It is an attitude that perplexes us. How can one be "trained" for everything?

In the end, it is our ability to learn continuously that keeps us afloat. We never stop learning. There is no comfort zone where one could sink into and luxuriate for the rest of one's life. To live is to learn. And that is the only qualification that one needs in life.

Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Bandung and the Real Meaning of Life

The only thing I dislike about Bandung are the taxis--they never use the meter and they like to charge 20,000 rupiah for trips that would only cost 5,000 rupiah in Jakarta. The alternative is to use the angkut (minivan) service which charges a flat rate of 1,500 rupiah--if you can squeeze into them.

As I'm alone in Bandung on this trip, I would take the becak (trishaw) whenever I can. They still charge me an arm and a leg compared to what they would normally charge a local. But at least it is never more than 10,000 rupiah.

It is a hassle having to negotiate everytime you get into a cab or becak. It makes getting around in Bandung tiresome. Whenever I have the time, I would prefer to walk. I once walked all the way from the Savoy Homann Hotel, South of Bandung to Gedung Sate, somewhere on the north-eastern end of the town.

The Savoy Homann, among the oldest hotels in Bandung, with its Art Deco style, is my favourite. But I rarely get to stay there on business trips as it is inconveniently located further south, in the older part of Bandung city, in front of the historical Gedung Merdeka where the 1955 Asia-African Conference was held.

Whenever people talk about Bandung, they will never fail to remark about the pretty women here: long-haired, fair and slender, they are the epitome of Sundanese beauty. Is it a myth? I've made some observations of my own. But sorry guys, I'm too tired today to discuss about the famous mojang priangan. Will make an interesting subject for some future posting though. I think it will be a welcome change from my usual nerdy philosophical discussions about books, movies and the meaning of life.

Contrary to popular belief, I do know the real meaning of life :-)

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

In Search of Sukarno and Nasi Timbel

It is such a joy to be in Bandung again: I took the 12.30pm train--Argo Gede--from Jakarta; treated myself to a nasi goreng lunch on board and sank into my book Sukarno: A Political Biography by John D. Legge.

This is a business trip but as usual I have my own personal agenda: I want to investigate some the places that have played a big part in Sukarno's life before. The father of Indonesian independence and the first President of the Republic of Indonesia, Sukarno studied in Bandung as a youth and it was here that he first became politically active.

Many interesting events in Bung Karno's (Brother Karno, as he is affectionately known) life occurred in Bandung--it was here that he was first imprisoned by the Dutch and while lodging here as a student he also fell in love with his landlady, Ibu Inggit (and wife of his friend, Sanusi). Ibu Inggit was 11 years older than Sukarno at that time.

On one of my previous trips to Bandung last year, I read Sukarno's autobiography (as told to American journalist Cindy Adams, now out of print), and was fascinated by this charismatic leader. His achievements in forming a single united Indonesia out of 17,000 islands is remarkable; his equally monumental failures--which led to the tragic events culminating in the famous Year of Living Dangerously (1965)--have been analyzed and dissected by many historians since his fall from power.

The best book I've read on the subject is The End of Sukarno by John Hughes. I have so many potential blog entries that I could post based on Sukarno alone. But I won't go into them now. I want to talk about something more interesting: what I ate for dinner.

After checking into the Hyatt Regency, I walked to the nearest Sundanese restaurant--Rumah Makan Masakan Sunda, Riung Sari--for my favourite nasi timbel komplit ("complete" with fried chicken, salted fish, tempe, fresh salad) together with sayur asem.

Bandung is the center of Sundanese culture and most Sundanese are staunch Muslims. However it is not surprising to have Sundanese restaurants here serving beer. So I happily washed my meal down with a huge bottle of Anker Bir (which costs me only 13,000 rupiah).

Sundanese food consists of a lot of fresh salad (lalapan) and their cooking is generally very dry--no gravy or curry. It is almost like food one would pack to eat for lunch while working in the plantation fields--fried fish or chicken and rice wrapped in banana leaf, eaten together with sambal. All these taken together with the sourish vegetable soup, sayur asem, makes a very satisfying meal indeed.

Having thoroughly enjoyed my authentic Sundanese dinner (and feeling very relaxed after the beer), I was back in my hotel trying to remember what is it that I'm supposed to do with my customers tomorrow. As usual, I'll figure something out.

Monday, September 22, 2003

Sunday Afternoon at Mayestik

Sunday Afternoon at Mayestik

Ocassionally I would go for a Japanese lunch at Midori Restaurant at the Bersih Sehat Health Center in Mayestik, South Jakarta. This ISO9002-certified health center offers the best traditional Indonesian massage in town and is very popular among the Japanese expatriate community in Jakarta.

On weekends, the place is crowded with Japanese men who drop by after their usual morning round of golf for a relaxing two-hour massage. The Midori restaurant located within its premise serves quite good Japanese food too.

I am not a connoisseur nor a big fan of Japanese food. But I like the Midori Restaurant in Mayestik because they have a good five-piece keroncong band that plays during lunchtime. I enjoy spending long lunches there, chomping on my sushi, listening to popular keroncong tunes such as Saputangan, Jembatan Merah and Bengawan Solo.

Yesterday while I was there having my teriyaki salmon, the singer and band was delivering a popular Javanese song that I'm familiar with: Stasiun Balapan.

I've never been to Solo (or Surakarta) before but I know Stasiun Balapan is the train station located in the city. Solo and Yogjakarta--both in Central Java--are considered the centers of Javanese culture. Someone who is born and bred in Solo or Jogja are considered "authentic" Javanese.

And yesterday, at the Midori Restaurant in Mayestik, I listened to the lilting strains of Stasiun Balapan and dreamt of going to Solo someday, on a slow and leisurely train, on a long journey across Java.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Naked Came I

Naked Came I

My Singaporean colleague Alex and I would ocassionally joke about our prolonged state of bachelorhood. He is older than me, already in his forties, but has so far chosen to remain single.

He once commented that everyone would ultimately need to get married because no one wants to die alone. I replied to him: "Everyone dies alone".

When I said that I was reminded of the title of a book I had read as a teenager about the life of the French sculptor Auguste Rodin called Naked Came I. I was then crazy about painters and sculptors and perhaps even dreamt of becoming one. Rodin is most famous for his masterpiece called The Thinker.

The title, if my memory is not playing tricks on me, is taken from a line from Cervantes' Don Quixote which goes: "Naked came I into this world and naked must I go out".

That line has lingered in my mind ever since. It somehow expresses starkly the existential reality everyone has to face: Ultimately we--stripped of our material trappings, our comfortable cushion of family and friends--take responsibility for the lives we lead and would have to face the consequences of our actions alone. We all will have to face God alone.

Family and friends could be there on our deathbed; but they do not take responsibility for the decisions and actions that we have made throughout our lives. We alone, choose the path that brings us for better or for worse to that Final Confrontation with God.

I am a spiritual person as opposed to a religious one. My liberal use of the word "God" does not imply that I am affiliated to any religious persuasion. I am a student of religions and I take every opportunity to learn from friends who are more knowledgeable than me in the various faiths that they have commited themselves to.

Throughout our lives, we will always need the support of our family and friends. As the cliche goes: No one is an island. I myself will bend over backwards to help a friend in need. But I will try not to inconvenience a friend as far as possible.

To me self-reliance and independence are good virtues. I came naked into this world; I make do with whatever that is given me; I try to practise whatever talents that have been bestowed upon me and pursue them with a sincere and selfless honesty; and in the end, I will still have to leave all the material fruits of my labour behind.

One day I shall go with the peace of mind of a man who knows that he has done his best. I shall go grateful to all the people who have helped me along the way. And I shall go without any grudges or regrets.

Naked came I into this world, and naked must I go out. That is how I choose to live my life.