Sunday from Jakarta Hilton

Today is Sunday — the day of the wedding. Yesterday my brother Mike rented a van to take us around for the whole day. He thought we should experience the world-famous Javanese style massage at one of the more highly-regarded parlours. So we did. It’s about $10 for an hour-long massage, more for longer. I had something called Lulor, which is where they massage you with exfoliating cream as well. I’m not sure I would have thought previously “You know what would feel really good to somebody with eczema? A massage with sand!” but it seemed like the right thing at the time. The masseuses were all tiny women in crisp white uniforms and soft shoes that made them look like nurses. They had a surprising amount of hand strength.

We spent the rest of the day hanging out with Madrim’s family. Her mother is a dermatologist and runs a clinic here. Actually several clinics. They’re a pretty wealthy family I guess. So we got served Indonesian coffee and weird fish crackers and these chocolate banana things that everybody really liked. Another walk as Madrim escorted us to a huge outlet store. This city is really not built for safe walking. Very indifferent sidewalks that appear and disappear randomly. Like some of the pedestrian-hostile shopping malls I’ve been in, except muddier. The soil here is an intense red. While we were walking on one of the rare sidewalked stretches, there were trees overhead and I thought of a story Paul’s mom tells about growing up in Panama: the Europeans built sidewalks with overhanging trees, but everybody walked down the middle of the street because snakes would hang from the trees. I asked Madrim, “Do snakes ever hang from the trees?” She said, “Sometimes. But not the cobras.” She said there are cobras out near the airport, which is a swampy area with rice paddies. And there are also apparently feral goats that wander around freely through the fields.

I did not see any snakes hanging from the trees, but I looked. We did pass a walled cemetery, but we didn’t stop to go in.

An interesting effect of what I assume to be cheap labor here: everywhere you go there is a squadron of neat and attentive staff members ready to serve you. Even a discount store (where they sell the brand name stuff that is made around here, Ann Tylor and Old Navy and Calvin Klein, and what I could only assume were designer knockoffs — the kind where people come here and buy a dozen watches that say “Rolex” on them and then go sell them at a huge markup on the streets of New York or London.) there were dozens of people just waiting to pick up the t-shirt that you looked at and set down, and fold it back precisely and straighten the stack.

We went to dinner at the top of a downtown tower: 46th floor. The restaurant was called Cilantro and I think it was kind of — I don’t know, Asian fusion? On the way up there I noticed a Chinese restaurant with the usual platoon of staff members standing at attention, all of them wearing santa hats. It was completely empty. On the way back down it was still empty. I felt very sad for them.

For those of you who have ever purchased clove cigarettes, you might recall that they come from Jakarta. And people do smoke them here. It’s the only place other than a goth club where people smoke more clove than regular cigarettes. Djarum (a brand of clove cigs) is sponsoring some kind of international badminton championship which is in town right now. I guess a lot of the players are staying here. I had a porter ask me if I was a badminton player.

Last night in the bar there was live music. Four or five singers and a piano player. Their last song of the evening was a very Andrews-sisters version of “Route 66.” I was listening to the song — it talks about St. Louis and San Bernadino and I wondered, “Do those places sound as exotic here as ‘Bali’ and ‘Jakarta’ sound there? Do people hear a song about California and dream of visiting?”

A lot of Christmas music sounds even sillier here than in Southern California. Like, “Let it Snow.” It doesn’t snow in Los Angeles, but Los Angeles is surrounded by mountains where it snows sometimes. Here, I don’t think it’s snowed since, roughly, the beginning of time. But maybe that’s what people like, that sense of the foreign and the exotic. Snow! Wow!

Actually, I don’t really know what people think of Christmas here. Since only about 20 percent of the population is Christian, and I don’t know if that means primarily ethnic or religious, it’s hard to get a sense for what Christmas SEEMS like.