New Year’s In Manado
Manado, NorthSulawesi Indonesia
New Year’s, beinga secular celebration, is more my style than Christmas, a holiday with which Ihave certain difficulties. I like the blowing off of steam that comes after months of syrupy sanctimony mixed with crass greed and acquisitiveness as people celebrate the retail sales festival of the year. Nevertheless, in Canada, I tend to adhere to W.C. Fields’ policy of avoiding drinking establishments on New Year’s Eve, “because all the amateurs are out”, but here, where boozing plays a negligible role in the celebrations, I am a more reliable participant.
Once again, it seemed to be incumbent on us to host an open house, but for the number of likely attendees, my oil drum barbeque would be inadequate to the task. Accordingly, a few days ahead of time, Yolanda ordered a few roast young pigs from a babi guling roast house in Manado. Although Bali is best known for that Indonesian delicacy, roast pig prepared inthe traditional style and with a version of that recipe is indigenous to most of the eastern islands in the archipelago; Manado’s babi guling, in my opinion and that of many aficionados, is second to none.
Yolanda’s Dad and Mom and I drove into the city late in theafternoon on the 31st to collect the finished product. That drive itself is worthy of an entire article, but suffice it to say that we arrived near the centre of town just as the sun was setting and parked as close as we could get to the gridlock that made up downtown Manado on New Year’s Eve.
Leaving Yolanda’s Mom, Ana in the car, Alex and I waded into the crowd. The human crush was typical Indonesian pandemonium, only more so; on New Year’s the usual shoving and elbowing had become more like a vast half million-participant game of sardines. The brute force of the crowd was daunting enough but that night it was compounded by the addition of incendiary devices; there was a virtually constant barrage of fireworks being ignited right in the middle of the mob. Bangs, pops, screams, and whistles,punctuated by the occasional machine-gun string of rapid-fire explosions; roman candles, fiery overhead colours; and a pall of eye-stinging, acrid smoke blanketing the town square made the expedition reminiscent of a quest up a Cambodian river to terminate Kurtz’s command.
We fought our way to the entrance of an alley off the squareand down a damp, claustrophobic passage between buildings, picking our way insandals through malodourous ankle deep slimy water, rats scattering at ourapproach. At the end of the alleyway we emerged in a small dimly lit courtyard;the only light was flickering from the doorway to a large room where thebarbeques were located. Inside the room was a concrete structure shaped like a 10 inch deep swimming pool. Inside the structure was a row of about a dozen fires, the fuel, consisting of scrap wood and coconut husks, arranged in outlines of rectangles, each about the size of a single bed; over these were pigs on spits. The pigs were at various stages of doneness and ranging from little suckling ones to bigger ones of a couple of hundred pounds or more. Each pig had a guy hunkered down on his haunches in that uniquely Asian manner, smoking a cigarette and turning the bamboo spit.
Another guy, toting a large bucket, walked up and down the room anointing the pigs by use of the long-handled paintbrush with which he slathered the contents of the bucket. The room was so unimaginably hot that I’mconvinced that I could have cooked a small roast just by leaving it in the room for a few hours. The heat seemed not to bother the cooks unduly however; occasionally the bucket guy would put down his tools and grab the end of a spitwhile the other guy stood up. Together they’d carry the pig into the courtyardwhere they’d stand one end of the spit on a pile of old newspapers and disengage the pig from the spit by sliding it onto the paper. They’d then wrap several layers of newsprint around the sizzling pig, bind it like a mummy with raffia, and presto….one to go!
We gave the overseer of this operation our receipt for the pigs we had ordered and he called four guys over; each hoisted a medium sized swine mummy onto his shoulder and we were off into the crowd again. This time I led the dog-trotting pig-schleppers while Alex went off on his own mission. Back at the car, the porters arranged the pigs in the back and I gave them each a tip amounting to a little over a dollar apiece, something which was clearly a completely alien experience for them, judging by the astonished gratitude theydisplayed.
Yolanda’s Mom and I sat in the car, me having a beer (myrule here…always have a full beer cooler in the car before leaving. It makes the endemic gridlock more bearable. I used to make that a thermos of martinis but that got to be too liver punishing), while Ana just enjoyed the smell of babi guling that we were now steeping in. Alex got back with a guy carrying an armload of incendiaries and we weresoon headed back home. I looked through the ordnance he had acquired and itseemed to me that there was a collection there that would have caused Timothy McVeigh to gnash his teeth in envy; nevertheless we had bought all these Chinese pyrotechnics for just a few dollars on the street. We had enough explosives to lay siege to a city.
Thus supplied, we made our way back to the outskirts oftown; a much easier drive as we were going against the traffic that was still pouring into Manado.
Back in the ‘hood it was party time.
Trestle tables were set up on the street in front of the house, in the house and in the neighbours’ houses, and every neighbour had contributed something; there were enormous vats of fruit salad, fruit in agar jelly, rice – lots of rice –, stews of goat, chicken, beef, pork, bat and don’t ask, huge pots of cap cai, bakso soup, platters of mie goreng and nasi goreng. There was beer in bottles along with soft drinks and bottled sweet tea.
|Just the part of the celebration that was inside the house|
As the night wore on and we began to run out of fireworks,the poorer neighbours were helped to package up leftovers; the remnants of this opulence would feed their families for a week. The smoke was clearing and itwas getting slightly lighter towards the east when we finally called it a night.
New Year’s Day: Ears ringing, but not due to a hangover.