Bule stories

‘Halo Mister.. how are you.. Mister.. Ojek?..Mister, darimana..?’

Westerners who live in Indonesia got already used to these words. It seems local are not that used to foreigners. I live 500 meters from my workplace, and the same bunch of people every single morning greets me and tries to catch my attention.

The keyword to describe us is bule. Often, as I’m walking people warn each other about my presence screaming this word. A bule never goes unobserved, unless in the very central business districts of Jakarta. It’s like being a VIP. We don’t discriminate people by nationality, but here they really treat us differently. Prejudices say that we have an huge amount of money and we are definitively willing to waste it on that fake Gucci bag. They get surprised every time I take a normal public transportation instead of a taxi.

It’s difficult to explain it to those who never left Europe, but I assure it’s not the same as visiting Germany. Here I sometimes feel like a zoo animal or a famous actor =D I’ll give you some examples: these are only few of the many people who asked me to take a picture with them.

Being used to travelling, it’s difficult to get into their shoes. Only a tiny fraction of world population can afford tourism, and many Indonesians will never have the opportunity to travel abroad. That’s maybe why they are so curious, apart from those that want to sell us something. Also, it’s great for them to be able to speak fluent english, so the less shy of them will always try to say a few words.

Another thing that can happen is you run over girls looking for a rich bule to marry. I didn’t have much contact with them, but some try this in order to fastly improve their socio-economic status. Children, on the other hand, are very funny. They come close, but when we’re hissing at them or trying to take a photo they run away.

The average indonesian is, in my opinion, much less self assured than the average european. Sometimes, we even feel they worship bules, as they are so humble and kind. Historically, this doesn’t make that much sense, given the over three century dominance from The Netherlands, but that’s what I can observe. For sure, we spolied europeans can learn how to be humble and helpful from them. In some occasions too shy, maybe, they hardly express their feelings. But here, everybody is so kind and gentle, and never get angry or fight with each other. I will surely miss it when I’ll be back 🙂

Pubblicato in trying to describe indonesia | Lascia un commento

Worklife in Indonesia

I always tought work philosophy is very important for companies, since spending 8 hours a day in a place where you don’t feel confortable is something you wouldn’t wish to anyone.

Italian companies rarely pay attention to this detail. In less developed countries, instead, people care much more about personal relationships. Especially in Indonesia, where there is no habit of hanging out in the night, workplace is also a way to develop friendships.

One example is the sport tournament my company organized last month, we were divided in 8 divisions and competed in 6 sports – badminton, basket, volley, chess, futsal and table tennis. It’s also nice because during the day employees speak less about job and more about tactics for the evening game =O

My team lost in quarterfinals in almost all disciplines, but we won the futsal tournament ehhe =) we were even given a small economical prize. But most important, the mood in all the company was greatly warmer and amusing during this month.

Another good thing is weekend trips. In some companies, people not even know about each other’s private life, let alone hanging out together after work. Here, my colleagues organized a kind of ‘team days’ and the thirty of us jumped to our motorcycles and rode to a mountain 3 hours south from Jakarta, where we had rented an house with 6 beds – too kind, they insisted to have me sleeping in one of them, I couldn’t refuse 🙂 the rest just slept over carpets on the floor.

In the daytime we visited some nice waterfalls and we were even able to swim in one of them 😉

Maybe sometimes indonesians focus too much on the ‘social’ side of the job, but definitively the other opposite – where people hate their workplace – is far from the ideal situation. Having fun at work is something italian companies rarely consider, but it’s not really that difficult.

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No, thanks, today I’m fasting…

July 2010, fireworks outside my place: I was still in Brazil, and that meant the beginning of the world cup. Something that would keep busy the day of cariocas for a whole month.

Ironically, fireworks are also used to celebrate, in Indonesia, the beginning of Ramadan. So on Sunday 31st july, sunset, people gather in the closest mosque so pray. There are hundreds of them. I walked to the mosque down my street to see how the thing works. Men are praying inside the Mosque, while women outside. They all wear typical dresses, and left their children to play outside. Funny detail, as I got there they surrounded me asking me where I was from, what I was doing there at cetera, they were so many since so many were their parents praying in that moment.

The following day, I went to work as usual, but decided not to start my fasting as I had been sick recently. Not to offend anyone, I sneaked into the kitchen to hide and have breakfast, altought I was later told it’s allowed to eat in front of people.

Being used to hundreds of people wandering around street vendors for food, it took me some time to get used to such an empty atmosphere. Only 2 restaurants in my area are open, so me and my christian friends didn’t have a lot of choiche about were to eat. Supply and demand law made an exception, since it was all full.

On tuesday, I finally tried fasting. Alarm at 3, I had my first meal at 3.30 then a second at 4am. I could resist until 14h without even being hungry, but thirst and lack of sleep were difficult to deal with. All my coworkers, by the way, cheered me up until ramadan opening, which was a great relieve to me even if it only consisted of chiken and tea. They were so happy a foreigner wanted to join them.

My second day of fasting was much easier, since I had somehow gotten used from the first. The only difficult to cope with was devilish non muslim colleagues tempting me with coffee ehhe. Also in this occasion, the best part was opening fast together, as a kind of ceremonial. Wherever people find themselves at 17.57 they stop and eat together 🙂 it’s definitively a good thing about religion it creates a sense of community.

My fast didn’t get past the third day, because I only intended to try it not to implement as an habit. People here told me fasting is healthy, personally I’m not sure denying water to your organism is a nice thing to do, but it’s just my opinion not a matter of fact. What is sure is that there are so many rules in islam one needs a guide not to get lost. Here an example: a calendar of praying time for the month of August, according to sunset forecast time.

It was a bit hard at the beginning, but still I advise to try I, even if only for one day. Whatever you break your fasting with, it will be the best meal of your life. And again, it’s nice to try to put yourself in other people’s shoes and avoid earthly pleasures for a while 🙂

Pubblicato in ramadan | Lascia un commento

Creative occupations

In the last days, I reconsidered the meaning of the word ‘job’. I grew up thinking that basically having a job means spending 8 hours a day in front of a computer, and being employed by a company.

Again, something that I consider normal for others is the other way round. That’s the best thing when living in another continent, getting to know people whose idea of ‘normal’ is opposite to yours. Till today I had plenty of shocks already, ranging from burping in the office to spending evenings praying, from avoiding any alcoholic drink to having coakroaches in houses, from eating with hands to spending one hour in the traffic to drink a beer in the nearest bar.

Few people do work in companies, but the majority of them has a little commercial activity. As someone said, creativity comes from lack of resources. And many of them literally invent their occupation, filling a gap in the less structured economy. Main reasons are, I guess, the absence of tax control for many activities and extremely cheap price of labor. And well, things are simpler, without laws over laws like in Italy.

The worktime is also not fixed, so as weekend closing time. The result is that sundays are normal days, where all shops are open. Especially shopping malls, where locals like to spend most of their free time.

But as usual, pictures always describe things better than words. Here I tried to shoot ten jobs you probably won’t find in Europe. A popular occupation is surely street vendor. Roads are overcrowded with them, they provide cheap and good food. Let’s say 90% of my calories 😉

Second, already talked about in previous blog entry. The Ojek . They are so efficient compared to rest of transportation means, as easy is to find one =)

Parking man generally are no use at all, but every single parking spot is somehow ‘taken’ by one of them, which asks his 2,000 Rupiah fee – 1,000 for motorcycles.

Traffic is a disaster in Jakarta, so why not making money out of it? Many people reinvent themselves as ‘traffic auxiliary’, directing traffic flows from a crossroads. And cars actually thank them giving them a small money.

Another group of people that take advantage of traffic is the beggars. In the proximities of big traffic junctions, they jump in and out of buses, spending maybe 3 minutes in each and asking each passenger for charity.

Housemaids are also very popular, given the low cost for hiring. Their job is very useful, since they provide cleaning, cooking, clothes washing and ironing.

In the center, in peak hours only cars with at least three people car drive. No surprise people offer themselves as passengers.

Never seen before, some people wander around in the neighbourhood with a sewing machine repairing clothes.

Tropical rain is also an occasion to make money, since it comes suddenly and lasts for less than 1 hour. These people carry around passengers under their umbrellas.

But the most popular job ever in Indonesia is surely the Singer. Everybody here can play a guitar, and groups just go back and forth playing indonesian love songs and asking for money.

Jakarta is nice in these days, and we interns are enjoying our last parties before Ramadan starts and clubs will close. Great changes are expected, and I’m very curious to see what will happen =)

Pubblicato in trying to describe indonesia | Lascia un commento

Ramadan time!

Whenever you sight the new moon (of the month of Ramadan) observe fast, and when you sight it (the new moon of Shawwal) break it, and if the sky is cloudy for you, then observe fast for thirty days.

These are the words spoken by Allah some thousands years ago. Some billions people are following them, and as Indonesia is the biggest muslim country in the world, many changes happen during these 30 days. Besides, fasting is a form of solidaraity to the poorest.

In these months I’ve learnt how to get used to very different cultural habits, I’ve always seen muslim people in Italy but never got close friendships with them. Now I’m lucky I can talk to so many people and learn their point of view; it’s surely a different way of travelling, and much better then taking pictures to statues.

Fasting starts in different dates in different countries, and every year it shifts some days backwards, because it depends on moon observation. In 2011 it will start on 1st august in Indonesia.

This is a summary of the rules to follow, taken from a conversation in a bar with some friends.

Locals are fasting and are perfectly healthy, so I decided to try joining them, althought surely I won’t last for a month.


Pubblicato in ramadan | 1 commento

Ciuf ciuf..

‘Traffic’ is the very first word that comes in asians’ mind when they think about Jakarta. A lot of words have already been spent to describe it, but I guess my European friends know nothing about.

10 millions inhabitants, several millions of cars, even more millions of motorcycles. Poor infrastructure: there isn’t any subway, trains are massively full and can only connect suburbs with center. Buses are divided into two categories: the first is Metro Mini, some very old buses with tiny seats and without any door, they don’t have stops. To get off you have to tap the roof twice. Cost, 16 euro cent per ride, including music entertainment provided by beggars playing guitar or everything else that can produce a sound.

The second type of bus was thought to replace a subway service: Transjakarta has his own lane, and the lines connect with one another. What are the differences with a proper subway then? Well, they stop at traffic lights, the coaches frequency is never enough, and nobody ever fines private cars who drive in Transjakarta lane.

About the taxi infrastructure, by the way, I cannot have any complaint. You never wait more than 3 minutes to find one, and they are, compared to other countries, extremely cheap. For instance, a thirty minute ride can cost you the equivalent of 3 or 4 euros.

But where public infrastructure lacks, creativity from individuals often supplies. Here comes the Ojek . Ojeks are nothing more than private motorcycles whose owner stands on a bench waiting for costumers to carry around. They allow us to save a huge amount of time and they are not expensive either, you can always bargain. My negotiating skills are getting better and better: last week after getting lost very far from home I could bring the price from 5 down to 2 euros for a 25 minute ride.

As you can guess, transportation problems strongly influence life habits. People need to live close to their workplace not to waste hours in the traffic. On weekdays, you most likely hang out with coworkers right after 17.30, or spend the evening chatting with your blackberry. On weekends, the time spent travelling from one place to another will be probably more than the time actually spent in your chosen destination. And several times you just do less things or don’t go out at all because it will take too long to get there.

Of course, also us poor AIESEC interns suffer from traffic problems. When it comes to gather many people or go to different places in the same day, it’s a disaster. One group will maybe arrive one hour later, people will need to sleep over at someone else’s or stay out all day because it takes too long to get home and back. I think I will remember this when I complain about trenitalia or ACTV =)

Apart from this, I’m enjoying Jakarta. Many new interns have just arrived and i always adore hanging out with international people. They’re always enthusiastic to do things and it’s never boring even if you do nothing special. Also, it’s good from a cultural point of view: we showed to a chinese girl videos from Tiananmen Square, she knew nothing about it. I hope she was joking, but she said she won’t show it to others for fear of disappearing :O

However, process of adaptation is still ongoing. My indonesian is still poor and not improving, and my stomach hasn’t gotten used to spicy food either. But I must say I appreciate indonesian people, they’re probably the humblest and most helpful people in the world. They work so hard and are always ready to sacrifice. An example is the lady in picture below. She walks with her cart every morning down my road to find a corner and sell groceries. The other man is selling ice cubes to restaurants.

Pubblicato in trying to describe indonesia | 1 commento

Down and out in central Java

“Let’s go to Central Java, you and your friends can stay at my uncle’s”. In couple of hours, we already were all ready to go and finding train and bus tickets on internet.

That’s where suprise came: there is no internet website whatsoever for buses, and train tickets are fully booked two weeks before. Medium distance transportation infrastructure is based on tiny bus companies, who as I understood own maybe two or three buses each. There is no information on what time these buses will go, only word-of-mouth exchange of their phone numbers. Luckily, my friend Dwi has an acquaintance who knows the driver so we can find a seat.

But well, weren’t we here for adventure..?

Apparently, all buses to Magalang leave at 17h in the afternoon. So, we book tickets and we agree to meet at four at the bus terminal. Some of us are late, and here comes the second surprise: the bus driver wants to leave earlier . How come, isn’t there a fixed time, our tickets are booked.. we resolve engaging him into small talk about european football – here everybody is a football fan – and convince him to wait until everybody is here.

The family in whose house we stayed was super nice and welcoming, they gave us lots of food and were happy to host us. The village is rural, they grow catfish, chicken and ducks.

Apart from the logistic problems to get there, central java is super nice. First visit we paid was to Prabaman – 10th century hindu temple, one of the best views in Indonesia. It’s currently under restauration after an earthquake stoke it in 2006, and you can notice that most of the complex is actually ruins.

The day after I experienced my first visit to an active volcano. Mount Merapi – literally, fire mountain – had is last eruption in november 2010, being responsible for the death of 353 people. Being there feels like witnessing a recent tragedy. Everything is grey and ash, walls from broken houses and dead trees. Even thought some people still live there today. The locals show us a lot of respect for the volcano and tell us a legend about the former guardian, who didn’t want to leave his house and died in the last eruption.

Afterwards, we went shopping and sightseeing in Yogjakarta, another city close to there. These are the five of us (Martijn, Maxine, Kim, me and Dwi) in a beautiful rice field on the way. The last is one of the thousands pictures that the locals took us in Malagang. In these villages it’s quite rare to meet one of us white giants, let alone four together. The children were super shy when it came to approach us, but finally they found the courage to ask us to take a picture together before we left.

Finding transportation to come back to Jakarta was another adventure; Dwi was super nice and patient and called maybe ten bus companies, to find which solution was the best. Covering the 800 kms of road costed us, due to traffic and underdeveloped road system took us around 18 hours, but we arrived safe and sound to destination, ready to start the work week =)

Pubblicato in weekend trips | Lascia un commento

Ayam dan nasi..

Elizabeth Gilbert, nel suo ‘Eat, pray, love’, descrive gli italiani come popolo che sa godersi i piaceri della vita ed il “dolce far niente”, e dove uno dei principali piaceri della vita è il cibo..

Soprendentemente, però, gli indonesiani non son da meno. Anch’essi ricavano piacere dal cibo, solo in maniera diversa, scordatevi le pastasciutte, formaggi e salumi. Per cominciare, avete presente le costicine, di cui ci si ingozza con le mani? Ecco, declinate per tutte le portate.

All’inizio ero grandemente stupito dall’avversione dei locali per le posate. Poi, interrogatoli, mi è stato spiegato che mangiano con le mani per ‘sentire’ meglio il cibo. Si inzaccherano proprio, è addirittura divertente vederli. A proposito delle posate, qua il trittico “coltello-forchetta-cucchiaio” è ridotto a solo due esemplari. Costa un sacco di fatica trovare un coltello, e quando c’è da tagliare qualcosa ci si affanna con forchetta e cucchiaio..

Altri oggetti cui gli indonesiani sono avversi, tavoli e sedie. Anche se sta piano piano scomparendo, permane l’abitudine di mangiare seduti per terra a gambe incrociate, e pare che a nessuno dolgano le ginocchia. Non è male come pensavo, comunque, e deve anche in questo caso esserci qualche metafora collegata.

L’altra differenza enorme con l’europa è che qua si mangia sempre, e le strade brulicano di posti di ristoro. In un mese di soggiorno, non ho mai cucinato una volta, perché è addirittura più economico mangiare fuori. Per un paio di euri si può gustare un pollo arrosto col riso e bere un té freddo, bevanda nazionale, o apprezzare cibi più complicati come riso fritto o spiedini di capra. Non metto la mano sul fuoco per quanto riguarda l’igiene – altri amici occidentali hanno occasionalmente trovato a volte indigesto il cibo – ma senz’altro è buono.

I locali amano passare le proprie giornate nei centri commerciali, forse attirati dal fresco dell’aria condizionata. Ciascuno di questi shopping mall è dotato di un food court, dove tanti ristorantini condividono le tavolate. E’ forse la migliore alternativa al cibo di strada, visto che i ristoranti veri e propri tendono ad avere prezzi europei.

Dopo aver descritto il come e dove, non ci resta altro che descrivere il cosa riempie le pancie di questi asiatici. Meglio farlo con delle immagini: https://picasaweb.google.com/emanuele.aiesecso/WhatDoIndonesiansEat?authkey=Gv1sRgCNONgdi-hdLT1wE

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Sumatra Dolphins

6am local time, sunday morning, partly cloudy sky, fresh breeze. Noodles instead of croissant – here they hardly distinguish between breakfast and the other meals. Probably, in this same moment, my friends in Italy are out at some club, catalans are invading the ramblas to celebrate victory against Manchester, and brazilians are dressing up to go out for their first beer.

I will write this post and probably the following in english, due to few requests i received. Since the author is me, language won’t be difficult and I assume no italian would have troubles in understanding. Should there be any problem, you can always ask one of my best friends, google translator =)

From chaotic Jakarta, sometimes you can’t sense you are in such a beautiful country. I’ve always seen postcards showing huts over the water (altought, okay, many are from Thailand), but only now I can really breath their atmosphere. To tell the truth, the beginning of the trip was not so good: try to think how many people can fit in a small bus, and multiply by two. Here is the result:

Given that the whole trip (taxi + tiny bus + ferry + same tiny bus + SUV + boat on the following picture) took around 16 hours, must admit we were quite tired. You might argue if it was worth to travel 16+16 hours to spend 24 in a deserted island, the question makes sense. But then, this is the landscape that welcomed us.

This island is deserted apart from one only house, where supposedly one family lives, at the bottom floor, while the upper is temporarily rented for us. The water is taken from a well, and we ate fish that they caught the same day. I’m not going to speak about facilities like furniture or showers, I might sound like a complaining european, but it was a good experience. It just feels so nice to completely merge with nature, waking up and going to bed at the pace of sun. Just, sometimes I miss separation between place where you eat, and place where you walk 😛

Vegetation is huge, composed by cocoa, coconut, durian and banana trees. Given my addiction to chocolate, I find it funny to finally get thankfully in touch with trees that produce this delightful fruit.

Back to our 6am sunday alarm clock, today we are going to see dolphins. I never saw one outside a zoo, it was quite a beautiful experience to be surrounded by flocks and flocks of them. Below, a funny pic of me underwater – the group was from a diving school, so they had plenty of good underwater cameras.

More pictures on the following link https://picasaweb.google.com/emanuele.aiesecso/081105SumatraDolphinTrip#

Pubblicato in weekend trips | 1 commento

Pertama bulan

Tra una cosa e l’altra, è già passato un mese. Le cose van migliorando: prima di tutto, ho cambiato casa. Per una differenza di poche centinaia di migliaia di rupie – vi risparmio di aprire yahoofinance, sono banconote da otto euri – ora vivo davanti accanto al lavoro, con aria condizionata, frigorifero, TV, biancheria lavata e stirata e senza alcun roditore =)

Nel mio Kos – dormitorio – alloggiano altri 15 indonesiani, molti dei quali, però, non so nemmeno come si chiamino. Altri, ammetto, si sono presentati ma avevano dei nomi troppo difficili 😉 Nei Kos vivono perlopiù lavoratori fuori sede ed è abitudine ben consolidata, purtroppo, chiudersi in camera senza dedicare alcun tempo a conoscere i propri coinquilini. Magari preferiscono il blackberry. L’altra sera però, forse incuriositi dal vedere un europeo ciondolare per casa loro, 3 ragazzi mi hanno avvicinato e mi hanno addirittura invitato a bere una birra con loro, cosa che a queste latitudini può dirsi ben rara.

Come raccontavo infatti, permane la sensazione di sentirsi un animale dello zoo. Questo weekend ben tre gruppi mi han fermato per farsi le foto con me 😀

Il salotto del Kos

Ho conosciuto Jeany, una ragazza indonesiana, lo scorso febbraio, quando con un programma di stage AIESEC ho ospitato lei e una buffa ragazza cinese. Non avevo idea che sarei finito proprio in Indonesia, ma è stato un piacere rivederla. Mi ha portato a una mostra di arte macabra e una di aquiloni, e ammetto che qualche minuto è stato dedicato al gossip. Affamato, mi sono poi convinto a provare una conopizza 😉

ps non esprimerò giudizi sulla conopizza. Sappiate solo che non mi ha tolto la nostalgia di una pizza italiana =)

Batik è il nome della tecnica tradizionale per tingere i vestiti, consiste nel coprire con uno speciale inchiostro le zone che non si vogliono tinte. E’ caratterizzata dalla presenza di motivi floreali o geometrici. Sia chiaro, sono stati i malesi a copiare gli indonesiani, e non viceversa.

Tuttora le camicie batik sono in voga, non foss’altro che il governo ne fomenta l’uso. Nella mia azienda, per esempio, oltre al casual friday c’è il batik thursday. Io ovviamente partecipo, con la camicia che avete visto nei post precedenti 🙂

Nei musei avvegono ancora dimostrazioni della tecnica tradizionale. Grazie ad una collega ho avuto la fortuna di partecipare ad un workshop.. molto divertente anche se devo ammettere che sono un po’ una schiappa quando si tratta di pittura..

Pubblicato in personal updates | Lascia un commento