(continued from "A starry journey")
I don't know what time it is. I've been asleep for a few hours since arriving here this morning but can't be sure exactly how many hours. There's the sound of activity outside the wall that separates me from the markets next door, and there's the sound of hushed conversation outside in the living area. The family's up.
I walk out into the living area. Isah's flat is small. There are two bedrooms, a kitchen, a bathroom and a living area all within approximately four hundred square feet. Under normal conditions, her mother sleeps in one room while Isah sleeps in the other. I'm not sure where her son sleeps.
In the living area, there's a blue fibrous carpet on the concrete floor. It's not attached to anything and can be rolled up anytime. To one side of the carpet, the concrete is bare, presenting a virtual corridor from the rarely-closed front door to the kitchen. There are shoes, sandals and thongs (known as flip flops in the U.S.A.) here and outside the door. In Indonesia, people take their shoes off when entering a house. I soon learnt that in this flat, shoes should be worn on the bare concrete and taken off and left behind before walking on the carpet or into the bedroom. The Indonesians have the wearing and removing of their thongs down to an art. For them, taking their thongs off is as easy as removing a hat. For me, it's a lot harder because it's not something I've had to do. Back at home in Hong Kong, I don't wear shoes of any kind whether in the house, out in the garden or walking around the neighbourhood.
Isah's living area. Sitting next to me is one of her nephews.
Shoes are not permitted on the carpet.
The rainbow coloured cakes; which tasted very good; on the plate in front of me were baked by one of Isah's sisters in preparation for the wedding celebration. The black fluid in the glass is Indonesian coffee. More about that later.
For a 750x500 version, click .
There's a small worn wooden table in one corner of the living area and a similarly worn low coffee table beside it. The walls are whitish and a single light bulb hangs from the centre of the ceiling. There are two doors out of the flat, both from the living area. One opens to a passageway that runs from the main road to the markets next door, while the other opens onto a concrete porch that the family never uses. That door remained closed most of the time I was there.
The kitchen was interesting for me but embarrassing for Isah. At first, she didn't want me in the kitchen because she thought I'd be offended by it. On the contrary, I had hoped that I would be visiting an area of Indonesia that offered basic living facilities and this kitchen was a prime example of what I wanted to experience. Unfortunately, even up to the time I was preparing to leave, she would not allow me to photograph the kitchen so I can only describe it.
It was roughly square in shape, measuring six feet across. Half of the ceiling was missing allowing sight of the earthen roofing tiles above and it wasn't until later in my stay that I realised that this was intentional. It allowed the steam, oil and other elements produced by cooking to rise up and leave the kitchen. In one spot, there was a space in the tiles which coincidentally allowed the sun to shine through into the kitchen in the mornings, lighting the kitchen up and making it feel warmer. The space almost seemed planned.
On the far side of the kitchen, an unpainted wooden shelf ran across the wall approximately five feet up from the ground. Big aluminium pots were piled along this shelf. There were no more shelves below this one because the floor below it was used to wash food and dishes. The floor of the washing area was rough concrete with a small slant to persuade the water down to a drain hole in the left back corner. Small four-inch tall concrete walls surrounded the washing area on the left and front sides to keep the water from running out, while inside the washing area were two large blackened pots with slanted sides; similar to cooking woks. The left pot contained soapy water while the right pot contained clear water. I quickly understood that their practice was to wash the dishes with soap in the left pot before rinsing them with the clear water in the right pot. The washing water was rarely thrown away because there were no taps in the kitchen. Nor were there any taps in the bathroom or any other room of the flat. That was one of the aspects of this flat that made it special for me.
One of the alleys leading to the markets goes right by Isah's home. When people don't have anything to do, it's typical to see them outside their homes, sitting on benches, watching and chatting with people who pass by.
For a 750x500 version, click .
On the right far side of the kitchen was another low bench with just enough room to place a kerosine cooker and one more large cooking pot. Below the bench close to the floor was a shelf to store more pots. On the right side of the kitchen was an aluminium and glass cupboard about waist high. The dishes and plates were all stored in this while cups and glasses were hung on slanting pegs attached to a vertical latice on the wall just above the cupboard.
In the middle of the crowded kitchen was a light blue cross-hatched plastic stool with yet another kerosine cooker on it. These were special times. With Isah getting married in a couple of days, many family members were gathering around and more food was necessary than usual, hence the need for the second kerosine cooker.
Just in front of the washing area was another pot which I had rarely seen before. It was a grinding pot made out of stone. The Indonesians use them to grind coffee, chile and other spices. Frankly, I believe that spices ground together in one of these pots would be far more delicious and flavourful than spices grinded in an electric grinder. There's something about the rough surface of the stone and the way the pedastle grinds the spices against the pot and each other than brings out the fullness of their flavour. Technology isn't always the best way to do things.
From time to time, I would stand next to the washing area out of the family's way and watch them cook. Although always busy and working hard, they were a happy family and I was glad to be there with them even if I wasn't allowed to help out most of the time.
(continued in "Indonesia 2005 Day 1")