Monthly Archives:March 2011

The Other White Meat

24 Mar 11
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One of the great things about living overseas is the opportunity to try new foods.

While just about every type of food can be found in the U.S., from Mongolian to Ethiopian and even Indonesian, it’s simply not the same as enjoying that country’s food while staying there. The spices are just a little different, the ingredients mixed in slightly different ways.

So we were excited when we first arrived in Indonesia and thought about all the possibilities.

After moving into our home, we hired a part-time pembantu, which is someone who cooks and cleans for you. Sort of like a wife without benefits. (Yes, I’ll be in big trouble at home for that comment)

Ibu Siti is great – a small ball of energy who cleans the whole house while cooking two perfect meals, and gets it all done in less than six hours so she can spend time with her teenage daughters and three year old son. She works just three days a week (she works for another family two other days), but generally prepares food for all seven days.

Ibu Siti is a wonderful cook, and quite versatile. In addition to traditional Indonesian fare, she sometimes makes mashed potatoes, a killer spaghetti sauce, and every once in a while a mean pork and sauerkraut dish. That’s an impressive offering in a Muslim country. It turns out she’s worked for German families for years.

I suspect past employers insisted she cook more European-style dishes, so it’s a struggle at times to make her understand that we would prefer Indonesian. She also has a deaf ear every time I tell her we would like less meat, so we still eat meat perhaps five dinners a week. But she is a great cook, and I’m grateful to have her working for us.

Home though is of course not the only place to eat. We have our favorite Indian restaurant, Gambrinus, conveniently located next to the kids’ school. But one of the best parts about eating overseas is the food stalls.

Now this presents particular problems for me, because I have Crohn’s Disease. This is an immune disorder – basically it’s an overactive immune system. Crohn’s can make me a bit more susceptible to stomach problems, from tainted food or bad water. It makes me more cautious, but I still try some of the food from street vendors.

Here, as in many developing countries, the vendors often make the food in front of you. Chicken is fried in a pot of grease on the side of a cart and served to you hot. The mie goreng (fried noodles) is stir-fried in a wok balanced on a rock along the edge of the road, along with the fried rice, or nasi goreng. Some guy passes by the house every day with two metal boxes suspended from either end of a pole that is balanced on his shoulders while he rings a bell, calling people to his baso, or meatballs. Even Sate is prepared street-side over a small hibachi, the vendor expertly fanning the flames with a folded newspaper or flapping towel.

We have already tried, or hope to take a run at just about all of the offerings before we leave. The kids particularly loved the pad Thai from street vendors in Bangkok. But the kids are refusing one particular dish called Sate Kelinci.

Its name rolls off the tongue sounding like a special cut of German meat. North of Bandung, along the road to the volcano I have written about in the past, Sate kelinci stands are everywhere. I first assumed it was a Bandung specialty of some sort, perhaps a chicken dish.

But on the way up, we also saw the cages.

We assumed they were pets. Cage upon cage, store after store, offering them up for sale. Soft, fluffy, bunnies. But rather than Easter gifts for the kids, these cages provide feeder stock for the kelinci industry just up the hill.

That’s right – “Bunnies – the other white meat.” Or perhaps, “Thumper – he’s what’s for dinner.”

We learned a valuable lesson that day – never eat until you check the translation. A timely lesson too. Not long after learning the dark truth about kelinci, we stumbled upon a restaurant serving Sate Kuta. I love Sate, but I decided to take a pass on this one as well. As Mister Ed might say, “A kuta is just a horse. Of course.”

I always wondered what happened to Ed after the show hit reruns.



Bunnies are not just for dinner here. They are also used as an art form. This sign publicizes an artist who carves bunnies out of wood

The Day The Earth Shook

14 Mar 11
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We love the kids’ school. Among other things, even their field trips are about learning. Back in the U.S. the 5th grade class gets an afternoon field trip to an amusement park. Elana’s 5th grade class here and their teachers spent three days by themselves living in a village where they planted rice, made straw hats and washed a water buffalo.

At the Bandung International School, all students from grades 6 through 11 must participate in the school’s outreach program. This program teaches independence, along with various life skills depending on the trip – kids going to the southern coast of Java learn first aid and water safety, while another trip introduces students to community service. Adam had to go on one of the trips, so he chose traveling to the Gili Islands off the coast of Lombok to become certified as a scuba diver.

At the time it seemed like a good idea. He gains independence and self-confidence while learning a sport that will stay with him the rest of his life. But then the Japanese Earthquake hit on Friday, March 11th, his last day of diving, triggering a massive tsunami that has killed thousands in coastal Japan. Suddenly, having our son on a small, remote island with no high ground to run to struck me as foolish.

In the end he was fine. While the quake registered at 6.2 on the Gilis, some 3665 miles from Tokyo, two major islands lie between the Gilis and the earthquake’s epicenter, preventing the waves from reaching them. In fact, the teachers accompanying the students on the trip seemed a little disappointed that the tsunami at most increased wave action by a few centimeters. But we had a few tense hours before we were certain that things were going to be okay.

Not so, of course, for the people of Japan.

The quake was the most powerful temblor to hit that country since they first began to keep such records in the early 1800s. The epicenter was located some 15 miles beneath the sea floor (making it a shallow quake, which is more destructive) some 76 miles east of Japan’s Honshu Island and the city of Sandei.

This entire region has a difficult relationship with the earth. The very same process that brought such devastation, as understood through plate tectonics, also helped to create the islands that make up Japan, Indonesia, and many other countries here.

The epicenter was also 165 miles west of the Japan Trench. This trench is the boundary between the heavy Pacific Plate and the lighter (in relative terms of course) Eurasian Plate.

Because the Pacific Plate is heavier, it slides under the Eurasian plate. But this is not a smooth process. Imagine two pieces of felt sliding next to each other. The movement will be jerky as parts of the felt stick to each other. Well, it’s a similar process for the plates. They catch on each other, stopping for a moment the plate’s movement. But the energy pushing them to move continues, eventually forcing the plate to slip. It could take many years for this to happen, but eventually it will. It is this “slippage” and release of the built-up energy that led to the Japanese earthquake.

This same slippage also displaces water. This is what caused the tsunami.

Quakes here are often powerful because of the wide area over which the plates can stick. The greater the area that is stuck, the greater the level of energy that is built up, so the larger the earthquake when that energy is eventually released.

The science lesson of tectonics has always fascinated me, but it means a lot more when your child’s future rests on a slip of plates and a fortunate line of geography.


Adam with a very mellow cuttlefish

Up From the Streets – Part 5

04 Mar 11
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Before Bluetooth headsets, crafty entrepreneurs in the U.S. tried to find any number of ways to make cellphones hands-free. But as Ockham’s Razor tells us, it’s usually the simplest conclusion that provides the best answer (okay, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch – but you get the idea). And so it is for hands-free cellphone use in Indonesia.

It’s really hard to argue with this – it works! I watched as she had a long conversation with someone.