Saturday, January 30, 2010

Rude kids and games

Not a whole lot of news from here, but I thought I would send out an update to people, and probably go off on some random tangents.
For the most part I’m just killing time here. I’ve become much more comfortable in Indo, but also much more comfortable not being a busybody (an impressive accomplishment for those that know me well). I’m also starting to think that ‘not being a busy body’ may just be a euphemism for ‘I’ve become lazy’, oh well!
Now that the power outages are at most once a day for a few hours and even that seems to be rare (though the power will still inexplicably flick off for a few minutes, though I have a sneaking suspicion that the fact that the power poles for the pesantren are pieces of bamboo not even buried in the ground MIGHT have something to do with that!), killing time has become much easier: lots of reading, watching some TV (either ESPN, Discovery, National Geo, or the occasional movie), playing games with the students (Parcheesi and chess), or going over to Imran’s to use the internet. A note on the internet, my great idea to string a cable to my room is not happening (yet). The cable I bought isn’t working and I don’t think I care enough to endure 9 hours of driving to get a new one. Nonetheless my latest internet-ing has been planning travels (gonna try for 1 flight a month for the next 4 months) or looking at grad schools. The school list is falling in line pretty nicely, and my goal is to have that all decided (i.e. where I’m going to apply, what I need to apply, etc.) before I leave (I’ve got plenty of time now, something that will be a valuable commodity until at least mid-September.
Here’s a tangent related to the games, which will lead to more tangents. First, the Parcheesi game mom sent me has been HUGELY popular. It took me a while to introduce the game, but since I have, it has been played every day. While I’m certainly happy the kids love it, it is a little annoying to have them always knocking on my door to borrow it. You may think chill out Aaron it can’t happen that much, and you’d be right, but I should also mention that some of those books people have been kind enough to send me have been used to start an English library here. Again this is FANTASTIC, the kids are using it a fair amount (even though it’s not completely finished) and I think people are excited about it (though I’m not sure how much actual reading gets done). The down side is that because the school office and library is being renovated there is only one place to keep the books: Mr. Aaron’s room. Which means that kids come knocking to read the books (again great, but I really do NEED some alone time).
Now when I say kids, I should specify, I mean middle school age boys. As I think about it, I don’t think any of the other students are brave enough. In general, the other students tend to be very shy and timid, frustratingly so when I want them to answer in class. But don’t worry, the younger boys more than make up for this. Now I know there are many cultural differences, but am I so wrong to think that there is a baseline politeness that all people know about? I think so. I’ve had several boys open the door since I didn’t get there soon enough (literally less than 30seconds), but more than that they’re just very forward/pushy.
“Mr. (notice the lack of a name), give me a book”
“Yang mana buku, anda mau?” (which book do you want)
“(giggle, giggle), [blank stare]”
“Di sini, memili sebuah buku dari daftar ini” (here, choose a book from this list)
They then barge in my room at this point and start tearing through the books until they pick one out. Usually I’m able to get them to write their name down before they take off.

As I write this I realize it’s not really that bad, but it ties in with the lack of discipline I’ve noticed in this country for younger kids. It really kind of drives me crazy. It’s not actually funny that your 7 year old still runs around the airport screaming at the top of his lungs or that your 3 year old thinks it’s ok to take a cookie, taste it (not bite it, basically just mouth it) then put it back in the communal jar. Now I know I’m not the most patient with little kids, but come on, you must discipline your kids at least a little!
Ok vent over, I feel better now. And in my defense, after talking with other ETAs, I’m not the only one who has noticed this and felt this way, and there are numerous other examples I could think of (the contstant 'bule' calls, having things thrown at me because I didn't give the kids money, demands [and I do mean DEMANDS] to see my pictures from traveling, etc). It’s really too bad because little kids here are incredibly cute and adorable (again, that’s saying something since it’s coming from me!).
Oh yeah I was supposed to be going off on a tangent about chess. Ok back to the 1st degree tangent; chess is, to me, unusually popular here. Not exactly sure how that started, but from when they’re young people, mostly men (I’ll avoid the sexism tangent for now), play chess a lot. Not much of a tangent here I guess, just an observation, and to mention that there is a 15 year old boy here that I play the most (because he’s the best) and at this point I think the record between us is about 12-2-1…I don’t have the 12. I think I must be getting better or used to him or something, but at first the kid just kicked the crap out of me.
Ok those are enough tangents for now; I may start doing this tangent posting more often. Probably depends on what people think of this one…
Hope everyone is doing well back home (official count down until I finish with my contract has started: T-minus 17 weeks)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A better feel for where I am

I thought everyone might appreciate this map I found and altered for my students.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

More videos

Here are some more videos, and I've started putting comments on the pictures.
Life is going pretty well back in the Pesantren. I'm certainly in a much better mind set now that I'm healthy, and just much more confortable in Indonesia. Somethings have just become normal now. I think this next 4 months will, first, fly by, but more imoprtantly, be much more comfortable. To help that, I bought myself some birthday presents: a bicycle so I have some freedom to get out of the pesantren, some foods and cooking gas so I can do my own cooking, and enough internet cable to run to my room (the cable isn't working...yet, but I'm still hopeful).
Speaking of the birthday, I had a great weekend down in Makassar with all of the other ETAs for our mid-year meeting. Of course there wasn't enough time to get caught up from 4 months, but it was still a great birthday present. And then when I returned to the pesantren I was surprised by a birthday cake and a small gift from my teacher (Daya).
Things are definitely looking up, if I could only get that internet in my room, it might be perfect!

Enjoy the pictures and videos...a little glimpse into my experiences

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Friday, January 8, 2010

Crusing the rivers of Borneo

Here are some quick notes about my trip to Kalimantan:
The trip got off to a rough start when our flight was delayed a whole day (which we didn't find out until we got to the airport in Semarang), but even that worked out ok because they put us up in a nice hotel and all the transport was comp'd. The result was I finally got a full night's sleep which was vital because I was feeling a cold coming on and it disappeared shortly after. We eventually got to Kalimantan and spent the rest of that day getting things set up to go on our river cruise. I'm sure we paid too much, but it was better than we had been expecting price wise. So we (Ashley, Nicole and I) left the next morning on our home for the next 3 days. We slept, ate, and saw lots of jungle on the boat (2m across, 15-20m long and two levels). The boat was ok, the crew was good, the food was FANTASTIC and the overall experience was extraordinary. I'd say those 3 days were my favorite things in Indo so far. We saw tons of Orangutans, some wild, but mostly rehab and even got to feed some. I have tons of pics and videos. We also saw some other birds and animals (hornbills, probiscus monkeys (including some that jumped in the water from a tree above us, impressing even the crew), gibbons, macacas, boars, killer ants, and more I'm sure I'm forgetting now), did a night trek (glow in the dark mushrooms, orangutan calls, and the fact we were hiking in the dark in freaking Borneo!), a three hour trek through the forest (eating forest fruit, seeing pitcher plants, seeing huge trees) and simply just soaked up the experience of living on the river, oh and we ended with tons of fireflies on the trees as we cruised back, it literally looked like Christmas trees; so much cooler than I expected.
I should also mention the delicious food (easily the best three days of eating I've had in Indo).
It was just nice for me to get back to nature a little bit, hiking out in the jungle felt great and really got my head back a bit. At times it did feel a little touristy, but if it had been any less so, it would have been uncomfortable and we wouldn't have seen much of anything.
After the three days on the boat, we spent new years night in Pangkalan Bun! Big timing, I know! We went to at least a dozen hotels/losmens/homeless shelters/etc before we found a place (of course the most expensive). Then we headed out to the city and just wandered around finding all kinds of trouble. Let's just say the night got a little hazy for me, but I remeber ending up at some rich guys party where we decided we were Australian. After that I ended up having to head home...let's just say the next day was painful, but it still didn't detract from an awesome experience!

Back to my (completely bizarre, unreal) reality

First I should explain the title: I've lately had a couple conversations with other ETAs about how completely ridiculous our lives are right now. I just graduated university and have not had any formal English training for years, yet here I am half way across the world teaching English and being treated like a celebrity for no reason other than I happened to be born in an English speaking country. I could go on about how bizarre our situations are here, but the point is that the life I live here is so far removed from what anyone (in the US) would call a normal reality it's actually pretty comical.
That being said I am headed back to reality in the form that I start teaching again next Monday. With testing and semester break it will be exactly a month between classes! And what a month is has been! I've already mentioned some things about Sumba and Kalimantan (though there is a lot more I could say about both) so I'll limit myself to the travel I've done in Central Java:
I first went to Solo, which was surprisingly nice. Probably my favorite big city in Indo (though Yogya is a close 2nd, and Salatiga is my favorite city overall). I did a lot of walking around, and amazingly was not 'hello mister'd all the time, and unlike Yogya not bombarded with hawkers (side note: Yogya is really touristy (granted I was in the tourist quarter the whole time)).
I went from not having seen any temples to 'templed out' I started near Solo up in the mountains. The temples were baik-baik saja, but to get there I ended up riding an ojek through tea plantations with clouds literally pouring over them, women in the in the traditional conical rice hat picking tea leaves, and gorgeous views behind me on my way to a Buddhist temple...more than a little surreal! The temples themselves were nice, but of course paled in comparison to Prambadan and Borbudur (if you haven't heard of the latter, google it; it was nearly voted one of the wonders of the world). Prambadan was nice, but it was a little hectic as I had so many people coming to talk to me, and I was pushing it a little hard trying to see too many things. Borbudur is stunningly huge and detailed. Quite an amazing place, but I didn't really get much of a feel from either of the places. I think a big part of that was that there were a bunch of inconsiderate loud tourists (one of my biggest pet peeves) at both places; they were mostly Indonesian.
In Solo, and Yogya, I also got a glimpse of the royal life in Java. That was kind of different for me because I've aways associated royalty with castles and Europe, but obviously that's only one type. It was interesting to see it here because much of what was documented came well after European contact so there was an interesting mixture of traditional and European royal life. Interesting to see for sure (the small palace in Solo was probably the most interesting for anyone intending to check it out themselves).
A big highlight from Solo was also going on a tour around the city and being shown how things were made. Maybe not too surprisingly considering how communal Indo is, we would go from village to village (maybe not a village like you're thinking, but with a little neighborhood mixed in) and each place would have their own speciality. I saw how the following things were made/produced: cassava crackers, rice crackers, skin crackers, tofu, tempe, bakso, skin puppets, gamelon, roof tiles, batik, Indonesian bakery goods, rice farming, and I'm sure many more, but that's what my tired brain remembers. It was a really fun way to see some places and I learned a ton, I just hope I can remember some of it when I look back at the pictures. Suffice to say that most of the food producing places would NOT pass health standards in the US, but this isn't the US! My guide Yant was great provided a ton of info for me. For someone like me who likes to know how things work, it was a really fascinating long morning.
Yant also took me on another adventure: cobra! I'm gonna have to put up the videos because this was an experience that should be seen. The short story is that we literally went to a park in Solo where there was a tarp up against a wall. And this snake master would pull black cobras out of a bag and play with them to entertain everyone (they would be striking as he taunted them), then he would grab them (with his bare fingers), behead, skin and gut them before they were served up either as a sate or fried (I went for both). Oh and I can't neglect to mention my appetizer: red bull mixed with cobra blood, as well as the whole spinal cord and the heart of the recently deceased cobra, all down in one gulp! Supposedly that's quite good for a man's, ahem, 'strength'! Just tasted like red bull to me! The sate was definitely the highlight flavor-wise. And for the record cobra doesn't really have too strong of a flavor and is a bit chewy of a white meat.
Another random highlight was that I literally ran into (tall) Sarah in Yogya. I was walking down a side street looking for some food when I all of sudden recognized one of the bule faces walking by. What a great surprise! I ended up going to dinner with her parents who were visiting her with her boyfriend. It was really nice to be with an American family, even for a short while. It also gave me a chance to unload some of my back logged stories on someone!
After Yogya I headed up to Sarah Mac's (another ETA) in Magelang so I could get out to Borbodur. Originally I had planned to spend today seeing the Dieng plateau, but it turned out to be further than I thought so instead I ended up spending quite a bit of time just chilling with Sarah. It was fun to catch up with her after her and a few others travels around; lots of story swapping! And it was a good choice because I had been pushing pretty hard since I started traveling solo in Cent Java.
Talking with Sarah was also a fun tease because while I'm returning to Sidrap tomorrow, I'll be there for only a couple days before I have to return to Makassar for the AMINEF mid-year meeting. The meeting itself will not be much fun, but I'm REALLY excited to see everyone, and this way I get to spend my birthday with a bunch of young Americans. What a great gift!

I still can't believe I'll be returning to my (un)reality so shortly. As much traveling as I've done, I've never done anything like this before. And this past month has seen me really embrace Indo a lot more, I now have such a better hold on how things work here; my bahasa is actually pretty functional now, and I definitely like this country a lot better when I get to be a tourist than when I'm a teacher (wow Aaron you mean you like being on vacation more than working, that's so unusual!).
Ok I'm talking to myself in my blog, that's a sign that I need to cut this off, ASAP. Eventually a ton of pics and videos will get put up, but it honestly could take months.

Hope everyone is doing well in the new year!