Category Archives: RIOs

R.I.O. – Our Car

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Thanks to a generous gift from some friends back home, we’ve had this beast (and I mean that affectionately) of a 4×4 for almost 2 years now.  It’s not the prettiest car you’ve ever seen, but now that  we have all the important mechanical stuff fixed underneath we can take it anywhere we want to go.  The only thing I haven’t done yet is add a snorkel, but so far we haven’t needed to cross any deep rivers so it hasn’t been necessary. 

It’s a 1993 Daihatsu Hiline 4×4 with a 2.8 liter diesel engine.  The reason we went for this car is that it is a 4 door instead of a 2 door jeep-style vehicle which would be a bit cramped for our family.  With the extra benches in the back we can seat up to 12 people Indonesian-style, or 9 people American-style.

This workhorse has done about 225,000 miles, and it’s still running strong.  When we bought it, it had aged to the point that lots of things start wearing out all at the same time.  We’re still fixing little things here and there like broken door handles, A/C, small leaks, and some rattles but nothing major. 

The other thing I like is that it also has a low-range gearbox, so we can climb or tow pretty much anything.2012-05-23 12.51.20

You can see in the pictures that the back bumper is missing.  I had to take it off since the spare tire won’t fit on with the bumper in place, and given some of the places we go I’d rather have the spare tire.  Sometime soon I’m going to take it into a welding shop and have the bumper modified so it will fit. 2012-05-23 12.51.46

I was going to wash the car before I took pictures, but since it’s usually pretty dirty I decided to leave it in its natural state. 



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R.I.O.–My Motorbike

One of the things I love most about living here is that one of the easiest ways to get around is to take a motorbike.  I really enjoy riding, especially since I don’t know that I’ll ever go near a motorcycle in the US.  The biggest difference is the speed: here, you are usually going somewhere around 20-30 mph, and there’s no freeways.  Although accidents happen all the time and people do get seriously injured, it is usually because they weren’t wearing a helmet.  Needless to say, I always wear mine (I have  wife and 2 kids; no way I’m going to ride around without one!).

Bikes are a lot smaller here than in the US.  The biggest you ever see on the road is 250cc (cubic centimeters), and that’s rare.  Most bikes here are 110cc-125cc, and there’s another slightly bigger class of bike that’s usually 150cc-160cc.  That sounds tiny, but considering the driving style, the road conditions, and the speeds it’s more than enough.  Here’s my bike:

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It’s a 2009 Honda SupraX, with a 125cc engine and a centrifugal clutch.  It does everything I could want it to: it’s quick around town and for weaving in and out of traffic jams, and it can go plenty fast when I get out on the open road on the way to the village.  There I can usually go somewhere around 75-85kph (47-53mph).  The bike maxes out around 110kph (68mph) but I rarely go that fast here.  Gas mileage is around 90-100mpg, so no complaints there!

Of course, I’m always dreaming and I’d love to have an older bike to work on and restore.  I saw this one yesterday and loved it (the photo has been Instagrammed):2012-05-07 10.32.20

It’s a Honda Win, 100cc.  Older bike, but classic style, reliable, and literally able to go anywhere here since it’s so light.  But that’s for me to dream about…

One more shot of my bike:

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  One of my favorite things to look for is some of the crazy things people put on the backs of their bikes here. You’ll see families of 5 (even 6!) all on one bike, a huge pile of wood on the back, things for sale, 10 foot bamboo poles, and all kinds of other crazy stuff. Next time we get some good pictures we’ll post them here.  One of the other things on the to-do list is to get some video while riding the bike to give you a taste of traffic here.  Coming soon…

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Disclaimer: This post might get a little nerdy about electricity and such.  Also, I am not an electrical engineer so I make no claims as to the accuracy of any statement in this post!

If you were reading our blog about 2 years ago when we first got to Indonesia, I did a short series of posts that I called RIOs – Random Indonesian Objects.  Now that we’ve been here a while longer it seems like there’s many more items I could add to the list, so we’ll start with this one:


The Stavol is the white box on the bottom; the blue thing on top is our WiFi router.  I don’t know where the name “stavol” came from, but it probably is a shortened version of “voltage stabilizer” in reverse.  And that’s exactly what it does – stabilize the voltage.  In the US, this really isn’t an issue at all.  The outlets in our homes always put out 120V, and we don’t really ever have to think about it.  Here in Indonesia, there’s 2 reasons to use one of these things:

1. It converts between 120V and 240V.  Any of you who have ever travelled outside the US have probably run into the 120/240 issue, and have maybe had to bring along not just plug adapters, but also a little transformer box so you could charge your phone, run your hairdryer, etc. because it only ran on 120V.  The Stavol lets me run any of our American gadgets that won’t run on 240V, which is what we have in Indonesia.

2. This one is more important: our house never actually gets 240V like it’s supposed to.  I’m looking at my voltage gauge right now and it says 170V:


That’s pretty bad, and although most appliances here will run fine on low voltage, that’s pushing it a bit.  So, I use these Stavols to raise the voltage back up to 240V on anything we care about to make sure that it doesn’t break.

I’m not an electrician so I don’t want to try to explain how it raises the voltage like that, so I’ll let one of you electrical engineers explain it in the comments if you care to.  The Stavol pictured at the top is in my office, where it runs the laptop, printer, monitor, WiFi router, and some external hard disks.

This one is running our TV and entertainment stuff:


So that’s what a Stavol is!  This probably isn’t the most exciting blog post you ever read, but hopefully it gives you a bit more insight into our lives here.

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RIO#8- Rice

Rice is huge in Asia.  Its a staple of the diet, and they treat it a lot like we treat bread in America: the meal just doesn’t seem complete without it!  No matter what else they may eat, its hard for Indonesians to feel full without having some rice.

In English, we have one word: rice.  I think some measure of the importance of rice in Indonesia is  the number of words used to describe it in its various stages.

sawah  wet rice field


bibit – this is the seedling that is planted in the sawah to start the new crop

padi   this is the rice plant as it is growing in the field


gabah  this is the rice after it is harvested and separated from the plant, but still has the hull on it


berasdry, ready-to-cook rice grains, the stuff you buy in the US

nasi –  cooked rice, the stuff we eat in the US

bubur – rice porridge, made by overcooking rice with extra water added

Hopefully all these different terms in Indonesian give you an idea of just how important rice is here!

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RIO #7: Grilled Shrimp Pringles


This just needed to be posted.  Not much to say about it – I think it speaks for itself.

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RIO #6

Ok, this might be more like RIO #5.5, because it is related to electricity.  The photos below are of power line poles here.  I have no idea how the electric company figures out what is going on, but everything works! 

Though it looks just like a big bird’s nest of wires, I am sympathetic to the electric company’s plight.  If you were to walk around our kampung (dense neighborhood) you would see that there are little streets and alleys going everywhere, and there’s absolutely no way of doing nice big poles down the side of the street with a neat little wire going to each house. 


We were walking around the other day when we saw these and realized that we had to share this.  Sometimes we get so used to things here we forget just how different they can be!


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RIO #5


RIO #5 is the light bulb.  Here, everyone uses CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Bulbs) for everything. As before, the reason is efficiency – a 23W CFL bulb puts out around the same amount of light as a 100W incandescent bulb.  When you think about it, when the amount of power your home has is measured in hundreds of watts, using CFLs starts making more sense!  The economics of using an efficient light bulb are the most important thing here. 

When I think about our house, if we used standard incandescent light bulbs, about 50% of our home’s power would run just the lights.  That leaves only half to power all the big stuff like the fridge and microwave!  By using CFLs, we use only 15% of our home’s power for lights. 

While they do look a little different than the warm, rich glow of the incandescent bulb, we’ve gotten used to them.  Though they do make a yellow, “natural” colored CFL, it’s not quite the same and doesn’t have the warmth of a good old power-hogging incandescent one!


On a random note, here’s some interesting things I found in a store here a few days ago. No idea how they got here!  Maybe manufactured somewhere around here? 

(sorry for the low quality -  taken from my phone)




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R.I.O. #4

Here’s the next Random Indonesian Object – the power strip.  Homes here have about 1/3 as many outlets as American homes, so that leads to some creative solutions to getting power around the house.  Just to give you an idea, we have 9 outlets in our house, and each outlet is only for 1 plug.  Of those outlets, exactly ZERO are in the living room.  So that means lots of extension cables running all over the place.  The is a normal situation here: the most common type of power strip you can buy is a circular type with four outlets and a 10-15 meter cord (pictured below). 


This particular power strip is from an outlet in Elizabeth’s bedroom, and the cord runs around the corner and into our living room so we can power our DSL modem and WiFi router, since that’s where the telephone cable is. 

Here’s a few pictures of the power strip on my desk:



And yes, if you are wondering, that half plugged-in plug is that way on purpose so that it gets a good connection. 

Electricity is very different here, and there’s not nearly as much of it.  For instance, our entire house runs on 2200 Watts, coming from ONE breaker.  This is the breaker box for our house:IMG_3070The average American home probably has at least 10-15 breakers in that big, grey breaker box.  I will freely admit that I am not an engineer like most of the other members of my family, but just to give you an idea, here’s a chart of some example appliances and their approximate wattages that I found online:

Appliance Watts
hair dryer 2000W
microwave 1300W
convection oven 2000W
central A/C (2.5 ton) 3000W
coffee maker 900W

Our fridge, computers, TV, lights, fans, microwave, etc. all run on just 2200 Watts.  We have to think about what we’re running at the same time, and it’s pretty routine to trip that breaker.  So, energy efficiency is a priority here, but for economic and practical reasons.

We have learned to check the wattage of every appliance before we buy it, especially since Kara wanted to get a nice iron and bought one without looking at the watts first. It was 2100 Watts and worked for 2 minutes with everything else in the house off before blowing the breaker. Needless to say, we are MUCH more aware of how much energy everything takes and sort of marvel at how much electricity a single house has in America! Most appliances here are made to be low-wattage since houses don’t have much electricity to work with, and most of them run very efficiently. This has definitely shown us how we can live on a lot less electricity if we need to!

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RIO – trucks

Another Random Indonesian Object today: the typical truck.  I took this picture from our front porch.  There’s a recycling business of sorts right across the street, and this is their truck being loaded up to cart all of the stuff away.  Almost everything about this is different from America!  Here’s just some of the differences:

  • Size of the engine/truck: here, a 1.5 liter 4-cylinder engine is plenty for a work truck (in America it’s at least a V-8, usually over 4 liters, if not a big diesel engine!).  This truck does the work of the typical F-150 in the US.
  • How to load: pile on as much as possible
  • Maintenance: if the truck doesn’t start, try, try again!  If you can’t start it at all, it might be time to see a mechanic.  Don’t fix it unless it is totally and utterly dead.


This is completely typical here.  The object is always to be as efficient as possible – how much can you fit on one truck/motorbike/cart?  And generally, this works pretty well.  This is just a completely opposite mindset from the one we have in America.  Oftentimes, we use a big V-8 powered F-150 to lug a few bags of mulch, but here they will absolutely maximize the load whenever possible.  Trucks like this one are the workhorse of the country. We enjoy watching this unique type of efficiency!

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R. I. O. – Random Indonesian Objects

I (Matt) have decided to start posting some RIOs.  I’ll try to throw a new one here and there for an interesting taste of life here.  We quickly become used to things here, but so much is very different!  Even when we have an equivalent item in America, it can look very different here. 


This is our oven.  While we can get a more traditional 4-burner stove and oven here, we are waiting until next year because our home right now doesn’t have room in the kitchen.  These are by far more common here, since they are so inexpensive.  Made out of aluminum, you just set it on top of a gas burner.  They are surprisingly effective and easy to use, though the entire room gets pretty hot.  So far we’ve made a cake, roasted vegetables, and this week we’ll be making a pecan pie (thanks for the pecans, Grandma and Grandpa!) and some muffins.  I’ll let you know how they turn out!

They do need to be baby-sat more than our oven back in the US, since the temperature can vary and food cooks a little differently in it.  Also, they are small, so we’ll be making 6 muffins at a time, not 12.  And our casserole dish is about half-size. 

Because this is the first in my very long and extensive series of lectures on RIOs, here’s a second object:


The are our LPG (Liquid Propane Gas, or in Indonesian, elpiji) tanks, which power our water heater and stove.  LPG is hugely popular here, and we’re thrilled because it is cheap and clean-burning (fewer wood fires smoking up the neighborhood).  LPG is sold on an exchange system here, very similar to the ones in the US for your tank you use on your grill. 

The big blue ones are 15 kg (33 lbs) and the small green one is 3 kg (6.6 lbs) of LPG.  We normally use the two large blue tanks and keep the small green one as a spare.  Our pembantu (house helper) told us that LPG is a relatively new development here that was encouraged by the current President, now in his second term.  Before that she says she burned oil for cooking, but it made a lot more smoke.  The prices of LPG, gasoline, rice, and other basic staples here are regulated by the government to keep the price affordable for everyone.

Hope you enjoyed the first of many RIOs!

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