Shower power and the Jakarta jam

It’s said Jakarta’s traffic is some of the worst in the world – which is a big call when you’re considering Manila, Bangkok and lovely Cairo. If this sweeping statement wasn’t true, I’d be able to tell you more about Jakarta – the shops, the cafes, etc etc. But much of the afternoon of planned sightseeing was spent encased in a mostly-stationary mini-van, looking at spectacular buildings, but unable to find out what they were and who designed them.

We did, however, see the school that little Barry went to (yeah, that’s Barak Obama to everyone else in the world), and Sukharno’s last erection, as the locals refer to the National Monument. The 137 metre column was the site of an anti-drugs demonstration, the friendly coppers told us. With its young guys in polyester tracksuits waving their arms in time to some fairly miliaristic music, it looked more like a North Korean mass jazzercise program.

Friendly’s the key word here: Jakarta is far less conservative than the international press would have it. Visions of veiled women and mass religion seems far from the truth: we are constantly waved at by smiling kids and adults alike and the city is a mixed bag of morals from headscarves to shorts on girls, and from my limited experience in bars (ok, so I’ve been to only one to date) accommodating to the extreme.

However, who needs bars and nightclubs when you have a shower like I’ve got a shower? The Italian cubicle is a standalone affair in my hotel bathroom that requires some serious thought, otherwise you’d end up leaping in there at 8am, hitting every button, which includes aircon, radio, sauna and water. And it all comes hitting you at once. Steamy, loud and sweaty, I could have been in a nightclub. Now if I could just program the world’s first free-thinking toilet to bring me a drink…

Flushed with success in Jakarta

So a group of us go into this amazing five-star hotel in Jakarta and we’ve all got massive suites that are twice the size of my Melbourne apartment. The food is fabulous, the company gorgeous, but the conversation? Well, it comes about as we all check in, then dash upstairs to refresh before dinner and all we can talk about as we assemble in the lobby? The toilet.

Friends, this is not any toilet. This is, to grab that exhausted cliche, state of the art. From the toilet meisters, Japan. I’m so impressed, I’m going to show you the control panel. Take a look at that puppy. Yes, it has rear cleansing (soft and hard), front cleansing, options for pulsating or osicillating water and… a dryer. The seat is pre-heated to a toasty warmth and the lid welcomes you by opening itself. Hours of entertainment, people. And after that, there’s the European shower, a cabinet that includes a light overhead, radio and lots of other buttons. I’ll report back…

World Cup fever diluted to a sniffle in Oz…

Some may thing we Aussies don’t do football. Maybe because sports commentators continue to refer to it as ‘the round-ball game’, not to get mixed up with rugby and Australia’s own Aussie Rules, both played with the pointy-end ball.

But there are those who are putting in the hard yards during the World Cup, no matter that matches are broadcast at either 9.30pm, midnight, or 4.30am.

A few pubs around the inner city are open all night and offering free coffee to viewers (“to keep you awake in case you miss an Aussie goal!” hahaha) and even on the too-cool-to-wear-anything-but-black Smith St, there were signs out the front of cafes supporting the Socceroos. Now you’d NEVER see that for a rugby or cricket team…

I’ve gone back to an old friend, the Guardian, which does a live text commentary on its website. It’s compared by a journalist and anyone who feels like it drops a line in that may or may not be included. I like this comment from the other night’s Argentina v South Korea match:

41 min: Messi wins the ball deep in his own half and skitters all the way down the left wing before feeding Tevez. The perfect counter-attack is foiled, however, when Tevez tries to take on a defender too many, rather than pass right to the unmarked Higuain. “German TV have just trotted out a stat that the Korean players are on average ten centimetres shorter than their opponents,” blabs Iain Copestake. “However, they have failed to mention the drag coefficients cause by Argentina having far more hair.”

My other fave comment comes at the point of a goal against South Korea.

GOAL! Argentina 2-0 South Korea (Higuain 32′) Tevez deserves high praise here. He pursued two Koreans into the corner and then robbed them. They responded by kicking him to the ground and conceding a freekick.

Don’t worry, I’m not turning into a football freak, though it was funny to see Argentina’s coach, Diego Maradona, parading around like a midget opera singer. You know how it is – not a gambler on the horses except for the Melbourne Cup, never watch athletics except in the Olympics and Commonwealth Games…why break with tradition?

Making sense of Marrakech

If you love nothing more than to be lost in an open-air market for days at a time, then Marrakech is your soul town. Markets aside, there’s also fabulous food, tiny riads (hotels) and – importantly if you happen to be in Melbourne at the moment – balmy temps. Which can only mean no need for saggy grey trakkies and thick, knobbly socks.

It’s the world’s ultimate market: Djemaa al-Fna pumps from morning to night, with snake charmers, fortune tellers, monkey pimps and men dressed like female belly dancers, with scarves across their stubbled faces, shimmying to a crazy band, money in the tambourine, please.

On sale is everything from fake sunglasses to spices: rule of thumb is the closer to the main square, the higher the prices. Light, brightly coloured throws of fabric woven from aloe vera are a good buy but beware, most tagines are either sealed with a lead glaze or unsealed, so they leak.

The Sex in the City girls were mooching around there at the same time as I was doing the research, apparently banned from filming in their preferred location, Dubai, for being too raunchy. Dirty bints. more

The spice of life…from Canada (yes, Canada)

The worst thing about writing shopping stories while travelling is constantly finding things you MUST MUST have. Which then leads to such scenarios as storage units full of stuff and no house to put any of it into. Yes, that’ll be the box with the divine Egyptian light fittings. And the roll of Moroccan carpets. The Chinese tea pot and the Turkish cushions. And oh, my new love?

How fabulous are these puppies? By Vancouver designers Fox & Fluevog.

So ok, I know this entry has nothing to do with opening the Rafa border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, and even less to do with climate change (though they are hand-made). But sometimes, you just need a little positive orange in your life. A gazillion Hindus can’t be wrong.

Hot to shop: Hong Kong

See the pros in action in one of the world’s greatest retail meccas, Hong Kong.

How to compress shopping in Hong Kong into 600 words? Physically impossible. But you’ve got to have a go… You can see the story here.

Speaking of shopping, I came across an article recently which found that in a round-up of 14 cities across the globe, Australia is the most expensive destination for electronics and camera shopping. Not that we didn’t know that already.

Surprisingly, Manila came in second most expensive, while Shanghai and Jakarta were in the cheap end of town, the example of a Canon EOS 550 DSL being US$570 more expensive in Sydney than Shanghai. Shame, Australia.

Pic credit: Sun-Herald

Egypt smokes 19 billion cigarettes: maybe it’s time to quit?

It’s been a long time between drinks, as we say, and life has overtaken the blog. But I was awoken from my somnambulant state by a link to a BBC story that Adam sent me.

In it, the story claims Egyptians smoke 19 billion cigarettes each year. And that doesn’t include shisha smoking. It also says people light up in the oddest places, including hospitals.

I checked this bizarre statement with my Egyptian doctor connections, who just nodded, said, “Of course we smoke in the hospitals,” and kept doing what they were doing before I put that ridiculous question to them.