Tuesday 21 February 2012

Atlas Shrugged

Im not refering to the work of my favourite author Ayn Rand (actually my favourite all time book is her novel, The Fountainhead) but rather to a euphamism for an earthquake. One week after the last earthquake and luckily no second earthquake. Atlas hasn't shrugged even though Atlas wasn't actually carrying the world on his shoulders but the Heavens. Zeus condemmed Atlas to carry the heavens on his shoulders after the Titans revolted against the Olympians. The Flemish cartographer Mercator famously showed an illustration of Atlas holding up what looked like the globe of the earth on the cover of collection of maps he published, but this was in fact a globe of the heavens. Mercator had actually named his collection of maps after the mythical King Atlas of Mauretania (after whom the Atlas mountains are named) who was said to have produced the first celestial globe (as opposed to terrestrial globe). The collection became known as Mercator's Atlas and after that any collection of maps was known as an atlas. Mercator was the most influential Belgium of all time, his projection of 1592 of the world being the first to show accurate latitude and longitude lines enabling accurate navigation for the first time. In 1989 US cartographic societies called for Mercator's projection to be eliminated because of its distortions and now it hardly gets usedat all. This didn't however stop NASA using it  to map that butterscotch coloured planet, Mars! Yes I know, I know! Mars looks red to us when we look at in the night sky but this is because of the red dust in the atmosphere of Mars, which is not the color of the surface. The pictures that were taken in 1976 by the cameras on board the two Viking rovers that reached Mars were actually in grey-scale. This then got put thru three colour filters and adjusted according to the artistc preference of the operators. It turns out these were slightly over-pinked and the real colour is probs closer to butterscotch. Actually the most recent photos that have been taken in situ in colour show a greeny-brown landscape interspersed with a salmon -coloured sand strewn with grey-blue rocks. As a matter of fact I been to Mars, not the planet though, but that infamous city called Cairo, which is in fact Arabic (al-Qāhirah) for Mars! Actually, getting back to Atlas shrugging, it was only because of that famous earthquake with its resulting Tsunami back in 2004 that we were able to visit my mother here in Aceh in 2007! Although she had been living here since 1998, R wouldn't let us stage an expedition to visit her due to the civil war. Aceh as a Provence wanted independence from the rest of Indonesia. It an area completely Muslim and rich in both gold and oil. Most if it's resources gets rerouted to Jakarta (Indonesia's capital) and after redistribution approximately 1% of the income generated from the region is returned to it. A heavy military presence in Aceh saw frequent fighting between the Indonesian army and GAM (pronounced GUM) the Acehnese freedom fighters. Tanks would regularly roll down the main highway in front of Lise's house and soldiers would often call sin for a coffee and to watch some television, depositing their rifles by the front door. Faridah and Lise would stand on the balcony and wave to the passing tanks, best to appear friendly to everyone, but once the soldiers began firing at the house, thinking resistance fighters were hiding in it. Lise has footage of shooting as she is running into the bathroom, the only room in the house which is concrete and therefore slightly more bullet-proof than the timber structure of the rest of the house. When she emerged after the shooting stopped she shows where the bullets have pierced the walls and ceiling. Despite being the only white woman allowed to stay in the area during the conflict, her and Faridah did go for one year when the fighting got particularly hairy and live in Lake Toba, North Sumatra.  Once the tsunami happened GAM wanted to come down (out of its mountain hiding caches) and help its people in the cleanup, so they initiated a truce with the Indonesian military in which there was to be no reprisals. The peace that ensued meant that R then allowed us to visit my mother for the first time. Lucky for her, Lise had chosen the place to build her house with Faridah well. Air Dingin sits at 3.21N & 97.07E. As it I turned out it was completely unaffected by the tsunami! The towns to both the north and south of Air Dingin had been wiped out but due to a very deep trench out in the ocean which had absorbed most of the wave from the tsunami, Air Dingin was unaffected. They did experience an unusually low and high tide with fish left on the shore, but apart from that nothing! It was three days before they had the first inkling something was amiss. As there is only one road running along the west coast of Aceh, trucks carrying supplies and goods are a daily occurrence. For three days there had been a notable absence of trucks. Finally someone got through on a mobile phone and they heard of the destruction caused by the tsunami to the north and south of them! Faridah had family up in the capital of Aceh, Bandar Aceh, so she chartered a fishing boat with some other people up the coast to see if she could find them. The road up the coast to Bandar Aceh was impassable, having been too badly damaged in many places. As the boat pulled into the Harbour of Bandar Aceh, it had to dock, the river being completely impassable due to the fact that it was choked full of bloated dead bodies. Faridah and the other passengers on the fishing boats used bra cups as masks for the intolerable stench. Most of the bodies were for some strange reason naked. The water that had surged in from the tsunami had been black and boiling, cooking the bodies! Sadly Faridahs brother and his family had been killed. Later one son, Romy, was actually found and taken back to Air Dingin to live with his grandmother, Faridahs mother. There was hardly a family in Aceh that hadn't suffered the loss of family members.

Sunday 19 February 2012

Cloud Nine Chocolate Lava Cake

Every morning in Air Dingin (which means cold water and is named this because of the waterfall that runs nearby to my mothers house) Faridah serves a selection of fresh fruits, usually papaya and pineapple, and her famous Cloud Nine Chocolate Lava Cake. I call it this because when you eat it's like being on the proverbial cloud nine. In actual fact cloud nine is, according to the International Cloud Atlas scale, the cumulonimbus - that big, heavy grey thunder cloud. Cloud 0 is actually the highest cloud being the cirrus cloud. Now interestingly the cirrus cloud is the only cloud formed entirely of ice and is often formed from  the condensation stream of jet planes. These cirrus clouds help to regulate the earths temperature. When air traffic was suspended after 9/11 daily temperature variations across the US rose by 3 degrees for 48hrs as the cirrus protection shrank, letting more sunlight in by day and more heat out by night. (Lloyd,J. Mitchinson,J.2009. QI Book Of General Ignorance). Now this is where I get to link Cloud Nine to Champagne. I'm not the only one who holds Champagne in high esteem - my dear friend Therese Glasgow and her husband Scott will only drink French Champagne, Chekov's last words were 'I havent had champagne for a long time' . German medical etiquette at the same time held that when there was no hope, the doctor would offer the patient a glass of Champagne. Coco Chanel famously mouthed her last words as 'My only regret is that I didnt drink enough Champagne'. Anyways back to clouds. These are formed by small droplets of water droplets or ice crystals formed by condensate around even particles like smoke or salt called condensation particles. Now what makes Champagne fizz is not CO2 (carbon dioxide) but microscopic particles of dust/dirt/lint in the glass - technically speaking these are condensation nuclei for the carbon dioxide similar to the process involved in cloud formation! Back to Faridahs Cloud Nine Chocolate Lava Cake - the wonderful thing about the chocolate in this is that cocoa fruit has been picked off the tree here in Aceh, the seed pulled out and fermented for a few days, dried then and roasted in the wok, just like the coffee seed. Sometimes Faridah roasts the coffee overly much and then it's like drinking charcoal. Anyways, when she prepares the chocolate, because the cocoa butter isn't extracted from the seed (or bean as we erroneously call it) the finished product is not the powdery cocoa powder we ar used to in the west, but a slightly moist dark mass that looks somewhat like moist soil. Now here is the recipe for Faridahs Cloud Nine Chocolate Lava Cake made with this chocolate: 6 tablespoons of flour 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda 1 cup raw sugar 1 cup palm oil 2 cups chocolate 6 eggs 1 tsp vanilla essence natural Beat the eggs, add the sugar and beat well, add in the chocolate, stir in the flour to which the bicarbonate of soda has been added and the oil then bake in a moderate oven (here it is cooked in a bundt cakepan set into a wok covered with a lid, ontop of the small portable gas cooker) but leave it slightly runny-moist in the centre to give it a lava like consistency. (I'm guessing about 35 minutes in an oven set at 175C but I have to test this when I get back to Australia. To get the chocolate a similar consistency in the west I would experiment with 1 cup of cocoa powder, 250gms of dark cooking chocolate and half a cup of raw sugar, scrapping the addition of the cup of raw sugar). Should this recipe actually turn out with our over processed chocolate and electric ovens back in the West, I would recommend you celebrate with a glass of French Champagne!  Actually, even though the grapes-wine for the original Champagne came from the Provence of Champagne in France back in the 1600's, it was actually the English who developed it into the sparkling brew we refer to as Champagne! They imported the green, flat wine from Champagne in barrels, added sugar and molasses to start it fermenting and also developed the strong coal-fired glass bottles and corks to contain it. Méthode Champenoise was first recorded in England in 1662. It was not invented by the Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon (1638-1715) who actually spent most of his time trying to remove the bubbles! He did however leave a legacy of skillfully blending grape varieties from different vineyards  and he invented the wire or hempen cage for the cork. In 1876 the French finally Champagne its finesse by perfecting the modern Brut (dry) style and began seriously marketing it (mainly for the English market though).

Friday 17 February 2012

A Rather Large Octopus

Kiria is a village girl whom Faridah employs to help out with the food preparation and cleaning. One afternoon she pointed to a large basin on the kitchen floor and said 'mangsi'. I peered in at a slimy grey, pink and white mass of tentacles and suckers - it was one rather large octopus destined for dinner. Kira held it up by the head above her shoulders and let the dangle almost to floor to show me how big it was. She then washed all the sand out of it thoroughly and proceeded to chop the tentacles into small pieces.  These were then fried in a tomatoey sambal that was delicious, served with rice and chopped cucumbers. Staying for several weeks in Air Dingin necessitates registering with the local police rather like we had to do in the old East Germany when I would travel there with my parents to visit my aunt who lived just outside of East Berlin. Faridah took me on the back of her motorbike into the nearest 'big town' Tapak Tuan', a fifteen minute ride away, to visit our police friend, Isnadih, and present copies of our passports along with passport photos of each of us for their records. Isnadih had called ahead and warned Faridah that we needed three photos each, not the usual two due to the fact that a person in the north of Aceh had been shot and Aceh had now been declared a state of unrest and emergency requiring extreme precaution! After we finished at the police office we went to visit the family running the café Faridah had built 3kms from the house. It is situated on the beach adjacent to a new Harbour being built where they plan to bring in fish to transport on for the Medan market. Next we went into the pasar, or market in Tapak Tuan to shop for fruit and vegetables. There were many things I was unfamiliar with, particularly the different types of leaves that can be stir-fried in a similar way to my favourite kankung. I did recognize the delicious fern shoots though because we can also by them at Rusty's market in Cairns. Later on I watched Faridah cooking them and I attach the recipe below. Everybody wanted to chat and have their photo taken. Luckily my Bahasa Indonesian is improving enough to hold a simple conversation. Of course if they speak the Acehnese it's completely impossible to make out even one word. I had commented to my mother that it sounded like Cambodian and she affirmed that the Acehnese had indeed come in several migratory waves down from Cambodia. Across the road from the market we walked passed a couple of head butting goats to visit our friend Am who has a small clothing stall. Faridah couldn't resist a peach coloured pant and top outfit with a peterpan collar and I snaffled up transparent red (surprise, surprise I know) slendang or scarf, whilst sitting on low stools chatting with Am and her new husband, who looked to be about half her age. Faridah is also engaged to someone 19 years her junior - its considered perfectly normal here to marry a much younger man. Faridahs fiancé is not from Aceh so he doesn't speak Acehnese. He is in fact from further down south and a muslim Batak. They have to speak Bahasa Indonesian together. They met by mobile phone when Faridah dialed the wrong number and got him and they got to chatting. He has been up to visit for a few days and he stayed in the house. The village chief had to be notified because they have rather strict muslim laws about single men staying with single women.  In fact one of the village chiefs was himself caught visiting a divorcee and they were made to sit all day in just their underpants in the river for everyone to see as punishment. How To Cook Delicious Fern Shoots Place a small piece of fresh galangal, ginger, garlic and chili into a blender and mash to a paste with some salt. Wash a nd chop the fern shoots into 1" pieces and place into a hot wok with some coconut oil. Pour the paste ontop. Add a couple of bases of lemon grass and stir round for a while. Mix in a cup of santan (preferably freshly shredded (coconut) and add some water to make a small amount of sauce. Cook for a while longer until you're sure the shoots are tender and serve - yum!

Wednesday 15 February 2012

Roosters and Scorpions

The sound of waves lapping gently on the shore lulled us to sleep. The pleasure of smelling the salty perfume of the ocean in that deep dream state one only achieves in the early morning hours was rudely and sharply overridden by that f*****g rooster! It had chosen to stand directly under my window and proceeded to kykeli ky for the next three hours! Having only had a few hours sleep when it started crowing it was rapidly becoming in danger of being that evenings dinner. After a few hours of trying to ignore the bugger I decided it was pointless and got up to scoop the refreshingly cold water of the mandi over my face and body. As I stood on the concrete bathroom floor lathering the soap onto my skin a small scorpion ran across the floor. I grabbed a scoop full of water and flushed it down the drain and resolved not to mention it to the kids, I did want them to bathe in the near future. Later that day India found two more scorpions near her suitcase that required removal. A few days later everybody was in favor of eating the rooster, even India and she's vegetarian! Opening up the wooden louvred windows that faced the ocean I was greeted to the sight of three chickens roosting in the small tree outside. Stepping outside and rounding the corner of the house I came across a mother hen sitting with eight two day old chicks tucked under her wings. Mother and chicks were all a-flutter as I walked past. Later in the day that bloody rooster just wandered merrily into the kitchen looking for somewhere nice to sit and Torsten had to chase him out. Apparently when they're about to lay their eggs the rooster and hen will walks round like a young married couple trying to find a spot that looks good to nest in. Quite frequently this turns out to be the top of the fridge or Lises armchair and they have to be unceremoniously evicted. Regarding the rooster, Lise explained that he crows at first light ( it's still bloody dark as far as I'm concerned!), and to announce both high tide and low tide, and also to chat to the other rooster across the road. My mother had acquired at great expense to the management ($100 for a small bag) some Kopi Luar for me, the civet cat poo coffee I spoke about in my my post titled 'Cat Poo Coffee' for anyone interested in the process. Faridah made me a cup of kopi biasa (normal coffee - which is coffee grinds that they have grown, harvested and roasted themselves) which I started to drink and found quite nice. Then she brought me a cup of the Kopi Luar and after tasting it's velvety smoothness the normal coffee tasted incredibly bitter. Morning coffee was accompanied with persimmons, sau (a fruit with a pear-like texture) and papaya. Every time I eat papaya it reminds me of our friend in Perth Loren Adams. Loren had been in the SAS and during his interrogation resistance training he had been blindfolded for days sitting on a hard concrete floor and been forced to eat mashed up papaya whilst being told it was someone else's vomit. After that he couldn't even get close to the smell of a papaya without gagging. Over a lunch of grilled snapper, rice and pumpkin shoot leaves we listened to the Arab news, the Russian news and the Japanese news. Being almost on the equator here, the huge satellite dishes on the houses here point almost straight up to receive signals from the satellites orbiting the globe. They pick up some 600 plus chanels, our favorite usually being the French film that's on at eight o'clock in the evening.

Monday 13 February 2012

Magic Man of Sama Dua

Due to the fact that there are no proper steps going up the incredibly steep hill to Lise and Faridahs house and one has to almost claw ones way up the sliding dirt, scarbbling for a foothold (I have no idea how the kids managed all on their own to get the the suitcases up it), Faridahs motorbike is kept outside the café down below and the helmets kept on top of the glass food display cabinet, these of course being merely a suggestion. Although it is the law to wear a helmet hardly anyone does. I impressed upon the kids that they must wear a helmet when they go on the back of Faridahs bike and regaled them with the story that occured a few weeks ago of two twelve year olds who were riding down the road outside Lise's place and got squashed between a truck and a car - it was said that their eyes had popped out when their skulls had been crushed. This proved to be enough to put the wind up the kids. Doning said optional helmet, I slipped behind the helmetless Faridah and we rode off to Samadua, Faridah honking her horn every two seconds, not to warn people on the road of our approach behind them, but rather to gather an audience of interested onlookers from the houses lining the road to witness her passing with a white person on board. The fact that Lise's family has come to visit considerably elevates both Faridahs and Lise's status in the community, so conscious of this I'm careful to smile at everyone, even a becak tray full of kids who call out 'Bulai' meaning 'albino' a derogatory term for white people that I had so far not heard in Aceh but had heard plenty of in North Sumatra. I let them know from my facial expression that I've understood what they've said and they immediately look contrite. Riding up a back street, a novelty because most houses are along the roadside so people can set up little stalls in their houses to make some extra money, and also see what's going on in the neighborhood better, we came to a stop at the magic or psychic mans house. The elderly Bapak wearing a sarong and peci (the traditional Indonesian hat) took us outside to a raised, white pavilion. The magic mans daughter brought bettle nuts, Siri (the special green leaves accompanying the chewing of the beetle nuts) and lime, which made the inside of Faridahs mouth a brilliant scarlet color once she'd finished chewing. The magic man listened to his packet of cigarettes (I'm not joking) then asked Faridah to purchase two bottles of water that he blessed. One was for Torsten who had diarrhea (we had forgotten to take our Betaine Hydrochloride tablets, increasing our stomach acid levels to kill any bugs with each meal) and the other was for me and R so we wouldn't have confusing thoughts. Although I hadnt asked anything of him, this was ostensibly Faridahs visit, he then asked for me to take the sapphire off my finger and mumbled a blessing into and told me to wear it always so R would remember he had a wife and wouldn't be tempted to look at other women! Although this all sounds bizarre, the whole village holds him in great esteem and everything he has has ever said has been accurate. On the way home we rode a back road through the  hills and forest before emerging back onto the main road. Small huts on stilts sat in the middle of rice padis and Faridah pointed out where her buffalo were kept. The more buffalo one has the wealthier one is.  Female buffalo are more valuable because they can of course give birth to more buffalo thereby increasing ones stock. Faridah and Lise have four buffalo, three females and one male. The males are generally sold or kept for ceremonial occasions, to be sacrificially slaughtered. Last time we were here in 2007 there had been an old buffalo grandmother, an old lady who looked after three buffalo. Every afternoon we would see her walking her buffalo from where they'd been grazing during the day across the beach and home. Lise had done a semi-cubist painting of her tending her buffalos that had been exhibited in Melbourne for an International Women's Art Exhibition (Her Presence in Colours) showcasing art work from women of 40 different countries - Lise was representing Indonesia. We were sad to here that though old grandmother buffalo still lived, two of her buffalos had been stolen (probably by non-muslim people from Medan with trucks in the night) andthe third one had been killed and partially eaten by a tiger ( the endangered Sumatran tiger they have here).

Saturday 11 February 2012

Volcanoes in the Mist

The sound of the muezzin calling the faithful to second prayer from the nearest mosque saw us eating banana pancakes, a staple breakfast served to backpackers all throughout Asia. We had intended to climb the nearest volcano which sat at some 2040ft but rain and a pervading mist made it unsafe to do so. We decided instead to hail a minibus to the hot springs and soaked ourselves in the milky, sulphur laden hot water for nearly an hour, watching vents of steam erupt from the nearby hillside. I had left my silver necklace on that my girlfriend Therese Glasgow had given me for my previous birthday and as I emerged from the hot spring there was a collective gasp from the kids. 'Your necklace is black, mum!' - oh dear! Hopefully it polishes up again or I'll be in big trouble with the practicle Therese for being so absent minded! We had also watched as India's nose ring morphed fascinatingly from silver to purple to blue! My gold belly ring remained gold, the alloy being minuscule enough not to precipitate in a light coating with the sulphur. We were red like lobsters which inurred us to the chilly temperature and arctic winds howling around us. Faridah and Lise (mother) hadn't come into the hot spring because they we afraid they'd be too cold when they came out, but luckily this wasn't the case. Back at the guesthouse the car that Faridah had called to come from Medan (two hours drive away) hadn't yet turned up. She called the driver while we were packing and all of a sudden there was a great yelling down the hallway - we thought someone was being murdered but it turned out to be a ropable Faridahin full swing! Some idiot white person had chartered the car in the meantime for more than what Faridah had negotiated and the driver didn't even bother to call her and let her know. Several phone calls later she finally managed to summon another vehicle to take us on into Aceh. By mid afternoon the car still hadn't turned up, it was stuck in traffic with all the holiday goers - it was a Sunday - trying to get back home. Finally, late in the afternoon our car arrived for the 10 hour journey home to Lise's house in Air Dingin, west Sumatra! As we drove through the last bit of the Provence of North Sumatra and approached the border of Aceh there was an increasing number of Christian churches as if in defiance of the approaching fatwah on Christian churches. The churches were all labelled either GBKK (Gereja Batak Christian Catholic) or GKBP (Gereja Batak Christian Protestant) and interspersed with them were mosques. As we passed thru the elephant statue at the border into Aceh there were noticeably more coffee bushes planted out. Passing thru Sibulasalam (meaning nice place to live) we looked for a roadside restaurant. Our Acehnese driver took to us to one he was familiar with and stood outside looking at the glass window full of food. We went inside and sat down then Lise said 'Well you know normally one goes up and helps oneself to whatever one wants in these Acehnese  places you know'. 'Oh!' I replied 'Buffet style, why didn't you say so!' I replied and we all stood up and filed over to the food much to the drivers relief. He thought we had sat down at the table because we didn't want to eat the food. There was selection of various fishes, kankung, rice in a gigantic rice cooker and various fried eggs, omeletes and other goodies. The food was delicious, the restaurant full of mainly men watching how us curiously. Back on the road I thought 'Gee, we seem to be racing along here!' I glanced at the speedo. It sat on 200km/hr! Holy f***! I felt like vomiting as we veered past chickens, goats and dogs, motorbikes and other cars. Later on Lise put her GPS on and measured the speed we were doing and we discovered the speedo was in fact faulty and we were only doing half the indicated speed. 'Does that make you feel better?' she asked. 'Oh yeah!' I replied, 'Just great!'. We finally made it to Lise and Faridahs house just after midnight.