Trying out a new warung

I’ve mentioned once or twice about how they are renovating the square (actually a triangle) in front of my apartment. Several new food stalls (warungs) are part of the renovation. One of the stalls is actually more of a cart, selling turkey wraps, or geros. I tried one once, and while it was tasty, I couldn’t finish it because it was too spicy for me.

There is a warung facing my apartment that was fascinating me as it developed. It ended up taking the whole side of the park with four different glass shelf displays, plus the open area where a young woman, presumably the wife of the owner, cooks. I can see her nightly from my perch three stories above as she cooks various meals in her wok. It’s really quite entertaining.

I really wanted to try the food, but I think I was hesitating because it would be entering a different world, having to deal with the language problem, understanding whether what I ordered would be edible for me, eating dinner in a small park occupied by only locals. Basically, I was afraid to explore.

Shame on me.

Tonight, I blustered up the courage, poured myself a good-sized drink, and ventured down to this no-name dining establishment. As I asked for a menu (knowing I wouldn’t know what I was ordering), I looked around at all the Indonesian faces, many of them looking at me as if to say, “What are you doing here?”

Then a chunky man, sitting right next to me, pulled out one of the chairs at the closest table and asked me to join him and his friend. Surprisingly, I accepted. What ensued was a constant back and forth while I waited for my order and while I ate. Aria (spelling ?) spoke some English and had been a sailor in the past, once docking in San Francisco.

He asked me where I was from and I told him the U.S., and he wanted to know where in the U.S., so I told him Florida. And he said, “Yes, San Francisco.” Apparently, his main geographic reference point for the U.S. is San Francisco.

I ordered the Nasi goreng ayam special (rice with chicken in a special seasoning) because it was the only item I saw on the menu with ayam (chicken). I wanted some meat with my rice or noodles.

The chicken was delicious, but like all the chicken here the meat was scarce. The rice was delicious also, but it was too spicy for me to eat it all, although I did do a pretty good job on a big plate of food. Sorry, no photos, but I plan to bring the camera next time to feature the warung on my blogs. I was full, nonetheless.

The tab: Rp2,500 ($2.25) plus a 45-cent tip.

I may have to start rethinking my strategy of buying groceries and cooking my own meals, at least for one meal a day. It might actually me cheaper to eat out than in.

A little Christmas charity

Every year, when I can,I have made an effort to give to those more in need than most. In Costa Rica, Jack and I donned Santa hats and gave our toys to children in a very poor neighborhood. In Batam, I’ve given out toys and money. This year, I had a specific target for doing some good – the women and children who I pass every time I walk to the mall to shop. One of the children, a little girl maybe 4-5 years old, recognizes me and runs and clamps down on one of my hands and won’t let me go until I give her some money, which is usually maybe 40 cents. She will cling to my hand for two blocks if necessary.

Anyway, I thought that instead of giving them a little money (and I almost always only give to one of the four groups I pass) that I would go to a nearby restaurant and buy them a Christmas meal. Not exactly Christmas food – ayam goreng, which is fried chicken, rice and fried tofu. I bought four to take away. And it wasn’t like it broke the bank – less than $2 a meal.

By the time I returned, there were only three women but it looked like just as many kids, who flocked around me and tried to assault the two bags of food I was carrying. Of course, they also had their hands out for money. Somehow, I managed to give one pack of rice and one ayam goreng to each woman, and then I looked around for the fourth, figuring I would just have to let the others share the fourth meal. Then, one of the women motioned that the fourth was across the street and indicated she was coming back. I think she understood me when I suggested (in motions really) that the last meal was for the missing woman and would she give it to her when she returned. A nod of a head and I gave her the final meal. I walked back home feeling a little guilty.

On the way back, two young women on a motorbike stopped me and asked if they could ask me some questions. Turned out they were lecturers from a local university and had a five-page survey they wanted me to fill out about my experiences on Batam, particularly related to business. We sat down at a nearby warung and had a short chat while I filled out the questionnaire. And took a couple of photos.

Next up: Christmas dinner at Goodies Restaurant, where Santa will be giving out gifts and treats to all the local kids at Smiling Hill. A great scene.

I didn’t take any photos of the people receiving the food, but I did take a few of the food being prepared:

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A friend leaves Paradise (aka Costa Rica)

The person who I am about to write about reads this blog, so let’s hope I don’t tick him off.

Shortly after I moved to Jaco from Quepos in Costa Rica, I met American Jack Ettinger

Jack and Ken have lunch

Jack and Ken have lunch – and a brew – in Nicaragua

playing pool We became good friends and I owe a lot of my Costa Rican (and Nicaraguan) experiences to Jack. He was such a good friend that he drove me the hour and a half to San Jose to catch my flight back to the States in August 2011, much like my friend Curtis did for me when I left the U.S. 14 months before that.

Those of you who have followed this blog since those Costa Rica days have heard about Jack and his mountaintop restaurant, Adventure Dining. What a great concept he had with that place, perched on the

Adventure Dining

Adventure Dining

side of a mountaintop, a waterfall gushing below on one side and the Pacific Coast stretching endlessly on the other, the occasional pair of red macaws floating by. I helped him with repairs and had two great surf and turf dinners there.

Jack lived in Costa Rica for about eight years and had a pretty good living there, with a nice apartment, a vehicle, a great dog and ample female companionship. Jack liked the women. But I think he became bored, even though he only had the restaurant open for 7-8 months and had the rest of the time mostly free to do what he wished.

I cannot fathom why Jack made this move. Maybe the grind with constantly trying to drum up business, which he was excellent at,

Jack and his SUV

Jack and his SUV

became too much trouble. Maybe, as he tells me, he needed a new challenge. Maybe, as he says, it was time for him to contribute something to society in his senior years. I truly hope the reason he abandoned what some consider Paradise was not because of failing health.

Last month, Jack returned to the U.S. He is now living on one of those jagged Arizona mountaintops you might see in photos. He lives rent free in a relative’s empty house, with barely an Internet connection, much less the senoritas he was so enamored with and addicted to.

Jack has decided his next challenge is to help troubled teenage boys straighten out their

Jack helps unload my bags at the airport

Jack helps unload my bags at the airport

lives before it is too late. He is establishing a 501 something or other for funding. He wants to help the kids at the worst age for behavior change to change their behavior. He asked me to serve on his board of advisors, and I, of course, said yes.

Jack is the kind of friend all of us would like to have – someone who will do whatever he can for a friend. I have missed him since I left Costa Rica and have not found a replacement in the two years since. Would be nice to have a Jack here in Batam.

We have promised to visit each other each year. Next year is supposed to be in the Philippines or Thailand. Then, in 2015, I’m to visit him on the mountaintop in Arizona, where many of the crazy right wingers are. Real friends are so hard to come by.

I have wished Jack well in his new venture, his new life, but I tilt my head in wonder as to why he would leave what he had for a new beginning. Sort of like what a lot of people might say about me, I guess.