Archive for April, 2010


Selfish Altruism


One thing that is really missing in Jakarta are user groups and general forums devoted to technology in business.  Ive always felt they were the best method for leaning about new technologies, networking and staying excited about your job. The only one Ive found in Jakarta is a SQL Server user group and an executive council, which is sponsored by a management consulting group (its like inviting a pig to a BBQ).

So, with the encouragement of a couple of expats Ive connected with recently, Ive decided to take this on myself. Not that I really need anyones help with choosing a name, or that there are more than 5 people even reading this brog (DONT BROCK MY BROG!!!), but I wanted an excuse to use the polling feature. Also seeing as my life revolves around the visualization of data I felt this was proper use of this space.

I tried to come up with a name that had a dirty acronym but I cant think of any that have a “J” in it. Darn.

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If you make it to the end youre ready for the apocalypse.

UPDATE: 

A couple more astute notes on this:

  1. Is this kid really so insecure that he has be winning the video game at the beginning?
  2. I know Usher thinks hes the successor to Micheal Jackson but could someone please tell him he doesnt have to emulate Jacksons penchant for young boys?

So I realize that I started this blog to share my stories of Indonesia with all my friends and that, at times, Ive had difficulty staying on topic. So let me get back on track with this one inspired by  Jacksons comment about waiting for me to “learn the ropes“.

Ive dealt with the money changers here at the airport, the tourist district (Jaksa) and the big malls. Heres what Ive learned:

  • The big malls have the best rates but are so annoying to deal with. They are so strict on the condition of the bills. They treat them as an antique dealer would a possible purchase. Realize they will inspect every bill front and back. When I first got here I had $6000 in $100 bills in Bank of America bill wrappers. Granted, one of them was 20 years old, but the rest were fine, some average wear and ranged in age from 4-8 years old.  They only took about $2000 worth, citing issues such as too much wear or folds, lower serial number ranges and if there were ANY tears at all, forget about it. Today I had $600 to exchange, one of the bills had a 2mm fold in the corner but was crisp and new and they wanted to give me a lower exchange rate because of this. 
  • $100 bills have a more favorable exchange rate than the $20s by about 2%. Anything lower than that will take 5-10% hit on the rate.
  • The tourist areas changers are less anal but their rates will be 2-5% lower than the malls.  Haggling is possible here, so feel free to walk away saying youll be back after you check around.  This may get you a better rate. I havent run into it but counterfeit bills are possible so check as much as you can. The more money you change, obviously, the more likely you are to get a good rate.
  • The airport has terrible rates.  If you have to, only change enough for your cab or food. The only upside is there is little chance for counterfeit bills.
  • You can always get currency using your ATM card but remember, in addition to the $5 fee your bank will hit you with, they will also charge you a 1.5-3% fee and the exchange rate will never be in your favor.

If any of you are into foreign currency trading the Indonesian Rupiah is rated as a strong currency for 2010.  This time last year the exchange rate against the dollar was 13,500.  Its now just under 9,000 and expected do about the same this year.  The recession mostly missed the Indonesian economy and the country is listed at the top of investment lists so there is a large influx of capital.

UPDATE:
Apparently even the US government is sick of these antics. I just got back from the embassy where a sign was posted something the effect of “Effective immediately all cash payments must be made in IDR (Indonesian Rupiah) due to financial institutions reluctancy to accept US Bills with wear or certain serial number block.”

Island Hopping Part 2


Ok, so I meant to do several posts on our trip to Puala Seribu but following the trip I got a bunch of work and then the Singapore fiasco and I just forgot. 

For those of you following you’ll remember we were embarking on our first island hopping trip to the closest islands to Jakarta.  They are kind of the weekend get away for a lot of Jakartans and as such arent really geared toward the average tourists.  Only one or two of the 120 or so islands have a proper hotel and even those seem to get pretty bad reviews. Also there are no ATMs on any of the islands. 

When we left our heros they were stranded at the marina because they hadn’t planned properly and missed the boat due to not having enough cash.  After finding an ATM we spoke with a really nice guy that owned a small shop at the end of the peer.  He said there were daily ferries that left from the fishing port called Muara Angke (prounounced like one word “mor-angk-ey”).  They are much slower than the $20/person speedboats but also far cheaper at about $4/person.

 When we arrived at Muara Angke, we found it to be a picture perfect SE Asian fishing port.  Fresh fish of all kinds being sold as you drive down a narrow street, the putrid smell of dead fish every where and the fishing boats….ahhhh so classic. We found our ferry to Pramuka, which is one of the more developed islands in Puala Seribu, with dive shops and some guest houses.  We really wanted to go to Tidung but were told boats no longer went there.  What we found out later was there were no longer tour packages which is what everyone was trying to sell us. In fact there was a ferry that went there but we haddnt asked the right questions. So, thinking Pramuka was our only option we had decided to go there and see if we could get a boat to Tidung once we arrived there.

The boat ride was about 2.5 hours in very rough seas. Lida was having problems with motion sickness but was able to keep her lunch down. When we arrived in Pramuka it was a bit disappointing.  Its really amazing how little respect the people on these small islands have for their environment. Trash floats in water as you approach and the marinas look like a trash dump in places.  They have no proper waste management and each house has a garbage pit in which they throw the majority of their trash and burn it.  For the houses that are next to the beach, the popular trend seemed to be to have the trash pit closest to the water with a small seawall built up around it.

We strolled around Pramuka for a bit but decided it was too populated and we wanted something a bit more isolated.  We went back to the marina and attempted to communicate this with some of the fisherman.  They wanted $50 to take us to Tidung. After a bit of discussion we decided it was the best option and took it.  We left Pramuka right at dusk which made for an exceedingly beautiful boat right south to Tidung with the sun setting in orange and purple.  The large waves were a bit more fun since we had the boat to ourselves and we played out our own version of Titanic.  I had a strong feeling of validation for my move to Indonesia for the first time and a realization that while ive told everyone part of my move was for business reasons, the real reason was for experiences such as this.

We arrived on Tidung just as it was getting dark.  I felt bad for the fisherman whose boat we charted as it was going to be a long dark trip back.  We jumped on shore and walked into town.  Tidung is a community of 4000 whose economy is 90% fishing. There are no hotels, no formal restaurants aside from Warungs and no running water.  We just started walking through the streets looking for a home-stay.  These are people who have extra rooms and rent them out to travelers.  Typically they are very inexpensive and include breakfast.  We found one place with the help of a curious woman.  The owners, Nanana and Mus, spoke no english at all. Combined with our poor skills in Bahasa it took about 15 minutes to settle on a price.  For the first night it was $13.  The room was very comfortable, aside for the lack of air conditioning.  It was bucket showers and a stoop-and-poop toilet.  After dropping our things off we set out to find a place to eat.  We found a very kind gentleman running a food cart.  He made some amazing mie goreng, perhaps the best Ive had yet and we quickly became the center of attention.  I couldnt help but visualize kids running across the island telling people there were two “bules” on the island. We attempted communication with them and after many “terima kasih’s” (thank you) we went back to out home-stay. 

In the morning I woke up early and did the rounds on the island in an attempt to find a snorkel tour. After not finding any to join I found a guy whose friend had a boat and would charter it for the whole day for $50. At 8am we met him and his deck hand.  The boat was a classic fishing boat with a motor that sounded like it would die at any minute. They wasted no time and got us to a great dive spot with in 15 minutes. The snorkeling was average.  A lot of the coral was dead.  It was a great contrast to the Lombok Gilis where the local dive shops pay the fisherman not to fish around the islands. The result is a vibrant sea life and some of the best snorkeling Ive ever done. The best part of the trip was probably the a little sandbar in the middle of the Java Sea. Pure white sand with some staghorn coral surrounding it and starfish littering the beach. We took some great pictures that I think would make great beer or chewing gum commercials.  We went to Pramuka for lunch, bought some beer, as they didnt sell it on Tidung and headed back.

We had made plans to go scuba diving with the islands only scuba instructor the next day.  It was going to cost us about $100 for two people, 3 dives and a 1 hour tanks.  However that night we learned that we hadn’t used enough or high enough sunblock as both of us were burned.  Not terrible but enough to make scuba diving uncomfortable. The next morning we decided to head back to Jakarta and come back again another time. We took the ferry back to Muara Angke and I talked with some locals about other great remote islands in East and West Java. 

All-in-all a pretty successful trip.  Ive been telling everyone that they should come here to visit because its so cheap to travel.  One of Lidas friends is coming in July but none of my friends have really expressed interest (except Joni!).  But I want to give you an example of just how cheap it is to travel.

  • One way to Pramuka $4/person
  • Chartered boat to Tidung $50
  • home-stay $13/night
  • 1 day boat charter for snorkeling $50
  • 3 meals per day $1.50
  • Bike rental $1.50/day
  • Snorkel gear $3/day
  • Return boat to Jakarta  $4/person 

So total for two days and two people we spent $158.  If we had known better, we could have saved $50 on the boat from Pramuka to Tidung by taking the direct boat from Muara Angke to Tidung, so really youre looking at about $100 for a weekend trip. We’re already planning out next one.  Talking about camping out on the beach this time.


This is another installment of Matt-Tells-You-Something-Common-But-Makes-It-Seem-Profound series.  Its a working title. 

Todays topic, the Nap. 

I think the importance of the nap is not understated or underutilized, but certainly its misused and poorly executed.  The common person views the nap as a leisurely activity. Something to do when bored or on the weekends or for after work.  If you have the ability and privacy you can incorporate it into every day life. 

I’ve mastered the power nap and its effectiveness over the past 3 years. I find one after breakfast or lunch and perhaps one in the late afternoon helps me to get 12-16 hours of productivity out of a day as well as make fewer mistakes in my work. Unfortunately work places havent embarrassed this but when I have my company with an office the first investment will be into a EnergyPod and institute mandatory naps. 

Napping in the lap(ping?) of Luxury

 

So here are my tips for a successful power nap routine: 

  1. Pick some place comfortable but not too comfortable. A couch or a lazyboy would be ideal.  If you’re going to use the bed by no means get under the blankets!
  2. Leave your cloths on, even your shoes if you’re not the type that takes them off at the door.  The more comfortable you are the more likely you are to over sleep.
  3. Waking yourself up is the hardest, if you aren’t disciplined enough to pull yourself out of Stage 1 or Stage 2 NREM sleep naturally then set your phone alarm and put it on your chest or stomach. 15 minutes is enough, 45 at the very most.  Anymore and you’ll be bumping up against REM sleep. That will mess up your entire day as well as that nights sleep which means the following day will be shot too.
  4. At the first twinge of waking up, don’t hesitate, don’t look to see what time it is, just snap right up.  The longer you linger the harder its gunna be to wake up and more likely you’re going to go through a full cycle (90-120 minutes).

 Using these easy to follow instructions you too could be like me, living in a third world country with no job, no possessions and living like a slack-ass teenager.


So, we woke up and realized that what we had slept on was actually the mat for the diaper changing station. Lovely.   

Lida barely slept all night, freaking out about the cost of a ticket to Russia and if she would even be allowed to come back. She finally fell asleep around 5am. At 8am the “guard” (I use quotes here because the only thing he was guarding was his own lack of purpose, achievement and personality) decided his prisoners (we were accompanied by an extremely nice guy from the Punjab providence) had slept long enough, turned on the light and sat down on the couch, casting creepy glances at Lida every few minutes. Of course the Great White Russian Bear (and I mean that in the most effeminate way) was unphased by any of it and slept through it all.      

She may ride forever above the streets of Jakarta shes the girl who never returned

 

The previous night Lida had gotten the number for the Russian consulate. Being the ultimate skeptic of government and its actual effectiveness in my daily life, I thought nothing of it. She called them, and after a brief conversation, hung up the phone and to my surprise said the vice-consul would be calling her back in 15 minutes. They apologised for the wait but there was an emergency on an island with a group of Russians.    

The first image that popped into my head was a bunch of Russians sun bathing in the nude on a Muslim island and trying to get Komodo Dragons to drink vodka. Then I realized how ridiculous that notion was…there’s no Muslims on Komodo Island [insert rim shot].    

The vice-consul called back and asked her to call his assistant who speaks fluent Bahasa and have him speak to an agent to see if there was anything that could be done over the phone. The guy pretending he had authority over us was very reluctant to go to the immigration office. I suspect this is because he always gets beat up or practical jokes played on him because he’s a grade A douche and really just a step below a mall cop (at least they get pepper spray and a baton). After much pleading he finally disappeared. He returned with representatives from the airline, which until this point, we thought were part of the immigration office. We later learn that the reason for this was they had made a mistake by allowing Lida to get on the plane to Singapore in the first place. Its their responsibility to stop people with invalid paperwork. For each person that they let through that shouldn’t be, they are fined $5000. They were attempting to shirk responsibility.     

 The phone call was unsuccessful and the vice-consul was not pleased about it. He was scheduled to be at the airport later that night but decided to head over early to help sort the mess out, although Lida said he was far less eloquent with his vocabulary. As the day wore on, it became apparent that the people charged with the outcome of our situation would have to put in a full days work rather than their normal half-day.  As a result, they became exceedingly impatient and rude, directing Lida and I like children and insisting we call the vice-consul repeatedly to find out how far away he was, as well as the cold stares they threw at us as they hunched in the corner smoking their cigarettes in front of a no smoking sign.  These guys make the French look motivated.  

In the 2 hours it took the vice-consul to get there, I had conjured up visions of a Oligarkian character who spoke softly but with a very threatening tone, stout in stature and a presence that was anything but subtle. All this was true save for his dress. And to top it off, he was extremely nice to Lida AND ME! Lida beamed with pride while walking through the terminal with him, the way a girl would if her superhero father, that all her peers denied existed, came to visit her at school to vindicate her years of ridicule. Once at the immigration office, the usual barrage of ineffective and pompous low-lever officers tried to stymie the consuls attempts to gain her entrance as well as saying his boss was in a meeting (not the most creative bunch). He finally grew tired of it and said, “Ok, let me just call the ambassador and see if he has any ideas”.  He was in the boss’ office under a minute. When he came out we unfortunately didnt the result we had hoped for, Lida being allowed to enter Indonesia, however it wasnt the worst either as they did agree to let her go to Kuala Lumpur instead of Russia.  Just to ensure her seemless transit, he had them sign a contract of agreement that said she would be allowed to go to KP and return to Indonesia without any further hindrances.  Im not too sure how much legal clout that carries but it exhilarating, after sitting in an airport for 20 hours with people who couldnt care less if you live or die and for Lida, 48 hours at that, to finally have someone who not only cared but had the foresight anda bility to anticipate future issues.  In addition, he said hes ready tomorrow morning when she returns from KP to help with anything that might happen upon reentry and to call him if anything comes up. It’s really inspiring to see this and helps you understand the worth of your government.   

So here we are again. Im sitting in luxury at home and my girlfriend is stuck in an airport by herself.  Its the first time in the nearly 2 years we’ve been traveling together that shes getting a stamp in her passport that doesnt match mine, and its kinda depressing. By the time she gets home it will have been 3 days with no shower or real bed. I know what youre saying, Im the worst boyfriend ever. I wanted to go with her but she insisted it was a waste of money for me to go. Shes even refusing to stay at a hotel. While I appreciate her self sacrifice, its doing a number on my Christian guilt.


They put Lida on the 7pm flight out of Singapore and I changed my flight to that as well. It was great to finally see her. She told me about the night and what happened and we enjoyed a few beers looking forward to a real nights sleep in our bed.

When we arrived in Jakarta we were taken to the immigration office to be interviewed. After about an hour of waiting they informed us that because Lida was deported from Singapore she couldn’t enter Indonesia until she went back to Russia first.

Of coarse there were no more flights out the rest of the night, so she would have to spend the night in a holding area again. Luckily they allowed me to stay with her this time. Unfortunately, unlike Singapore, there were no beds. Just a dirty room with one chair.

We spent the night trying to sleep on a 3 by 2 foot mat and figure out what to do. The immigration officers say there will be no problem for her to come back right after she returns to Russia. It means that by the time she gets back here on Tuesday or Wednesday, provided there are no problems in Russia and the Indonesian Immigration officers were right that there will be no problems, she will have spent 6 straight days in airports across SE Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

Shanghai’d in Singapore


Lida and I came to Singapore last night to complete the process of getting a Social/Cultural visa, which will make renewal much easier. We did all our home work before hand.  She could visit with no visa for 96 hours, we had out paperwork and used the last of my hotel points to stay at a minimum cost.

We got to Singapore and I cleared customs and waited while they cleared her.  They took her to a back room.  She made some sign to indicate all was not well.  After 15 or 30 minutes the woman came out to explain that Russians can only visit without a visa if they are arriving for continuing to Russia.  Since we were arriving and returning to Indonesia she was not allowed in the country. The woman refused to let me talk to her to figure out what we would do.  She said they were sending her back but wouldnt tell me when. She wouldnt even give her a bag with her things in it since I knew shed be stuck in the airport no less than 8 hours. We had no cash cause I was planning on getting Singapore dollars out of the ATM when we got there.

I was able to talk to her for a while last night via her cell phone but she wasnt supposed to be using it and I havent heard from here in almost 12 hours so Im afraid they took it from her.  They had her sitting in a room and werent telling her anything.

So here I am sitting in a comfortable hotel room with food and drink and I have no idea where she is, if shes had anything eat, slept or if shes even in Singapore. I assume she is because shes logged into Yahoo IM on her phone, but Im not getting any responses.

Its a terrible helpless feeling.

Island Hopping Part 1


So we are finally taking our first trip out of Jakarta to Kepulauan Seribu (Thousand Islands). Its an island chain that stretches from Jakarta Bay into the Java Sea. There are about 120 islands with few facilities save for a handful of islands. I guess they started counting the islands and got to 100 or so and said “ahh screw it, just call it one thousand. We’ve already got the dressing named after it anyway.”

The plan was to go to an island call Tidung. Its remote enough but has basic services. We got to the marina to find the boat to Tidung was cancelled a few years ago and you canb only charter a boat for about $600.

The next option was Pramuka. Not too sure about it but its definately one of the more populated islands. We missed the speed boat because we only had about $100 in cash and there’s no ATMs on the islands. Now we are waiting until 1pm to take public prama there. It will be 3 times as slow as the morning boat but its 10 time cheeper so I guess that’s ok.

Ill post more later, hoping to go diving or snorkling at the least.


 

So Imogen Heap added a Jakarta show to her schedule a few months ago. I wasnt going to go because it was pretty expensive ($50), apparently this is normal because of the cost of bringing an artist here. Lida convinced me to go. I was a bit reluctant but am really glad I went.

The show opened with Back Ted N Ted.  He was kind of an eclectic guitar based pop with liberal usage of looping, vocoder and pedal effects.  His composition was good but it was too much like a male version of Imogen for an opening act but with poor lyrical content.  The second guy was Tim Exile.  He did improvisational dance music using samples of his voice , the audience and a drum machine.  He had a flight simulator video game controller that he had programmed to add loops, pitch shift and tweak sounds that made for a really cool interactive experience.  But I thought his original, non-improvised songs were pretty painful.

Imogen had an amazing set up, including a plexiglass grand piano, wireless microphones on to her wrists to mic all her percussion instruments as she played and her signature array mbira.  She did a great combination of old and new.  Shes a great performer because she does very original music but combines it with an amazing singing voice on the level of pop artists like Alicia Keys and Beyonce Knowles.

The most amazing thing though, was the crowd.  There were about 1000 people in the seated section and an additional 3000-5000 in general admission and surprisingly, almost all of them were intimately familiar with her music. They knew the songs as soon as they started and many were singing along with and knew all the words.  She said she had no idea until 2 months ago that she had so many fans here. I couldn’t help but think that what she really wanted to say was “All you buy is pirated music so how the hell am I supposed to know I had fans here.”