Saturday, May 29, 2010

Good Morning from another world

I had a minute this morning with fast internet and waiting for my friends to wake up (not everyone is on pesantren time!).

Since I last blogged, I've had my going away party from the school which was surprisingly emotional and certainly heartfelt (if a little corny at times). I was a little surprised at how attached I felt there, but the excitement of beginning these travels over took those. As I was leaving at midnight though, at least half of my students walked me to the pesantren gate, it was a very cool moment.
From there it was a bus and two planes and next thing I knew I was in Singapore!
Talk about a scene change. I came through Singapore on my way in, but I certainly did not appreciate it like I do now. It's...western...clean...organized... in other words, completely un-Indonesian! The prices are also un-Indonesian, but I'm dealing!

Dani, John and I spent last night in a hostel a ways out of the city so that Dani and I could take advantage of the free bag storage. Hostel166 is an interesting place, but the owner is certainly a very friendly guy, and I've stayed in much worse places.
John came with us because he flew with us and had no where else to go after he was detained by the police! Ok that was just meant to sound good, but he really was. He had a traditional sword from Indonesia with him and just about anything dangerous or pretend-dangerous is outlawed in Singapore. But as John said 'that was the friendliest arrest you could ever have!'

No real stories here just and update to say that I've made it this short distance, but feel like I've stepped into a completely different world!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Last couple things

This posting is a handful of things I meant to blog before, but I never found a place to fit them in:
• Without prevalent AC and really hot and humid temperatures, I definitely appreciate that people seem to bathe at least 2 or 3 times a day, but I still find it weird that the standard here is to bathe with clothes on. And that isn’t exclusive to the pesantren as I have seen others in the area doing the same thing as well as other islands. That brings up why they bathe in clothes: they’re ‘mandi’ing in full view of everyone at a public or family well. In some cases this is right next to the road (interesting location selection). The result is that people usually clean up in fairly conservative swimming clothes. I guess it works, but yet another oddity of Indo I don’t completely understand. I suppose it has to do with availability of a closed kamar mandi but also the decency standards of Islam too.
• I had an interesting conversation about religion with Daya. I’ll spare the details, but what I found interesting was that we were able to have a lengthy discussion about it; that showed just how far I have come here and the friendship we have formed, as well as debunked some of those myths about Islam being so strict. The conversation ended up coming down to that we had fundamentally different views, but we were able to agree on that and move on; similar to my arrangement with religious friends back home. It was a pretty cool experience.
• During a lot of my previous travels I always came away noticing the positive things of the country I was in. Even more though I usually noticed where they were superior to the US, thus highlighting the shortcomings of the US. This time I’m coming back realizing just how damn good we have it. I cannot wait to back to the Western world!

No longer a guru, and never again Mr. Aaron

Ok so this is it from the Pesantren, I had my last class yesterday and now it's just saying goodbye and wrapping things up. This is the last post from here and the next one will be sent from elsewhere; wow where has the time gone?!

This last week has been spent mostly getting ready, packing things up, giving things away, trying not to be too bored. And also dealing with crying high school girls…

I am really surprised at how hard some of the people here are taking my leaving. I expected Daya to tear up a little bit, but she’s been sobbing at times and many of the students are sad too. I don’t feel I’ve been that close with anyone here, but they seem to feel otherwise! Part of it is certainly culture. People aren’t individuals here, they are part of a collective and people rarely leave (not sure if that is a cause or an effect). The result is that they almost feel like part of them is leaving. Thus, they get pretty upset. This is the opposite of me; I’m excited to leave because I’m looking forward traveling, but also because I have not felt as close to them as they apparently felt to me. That sounds really sad, but I must be honest there just isn’t that connection here. The culture is just a little too different; I have been unable to completely act how I normally would. So maybe that’s why they’re upset, they’ve only seen my ‘nice’ side : )

Also contributing to them being sad at my leaving is the status at which they place me. This is something I really don’t understand. I think it must be a cultural thing, but I cannot fathom why almost all Indonesians get so excited when they see a bule (as evidence: the number of ‘hello misters’). Compare this to the US: do we get excited when we see a foreigner? Hardly! Simply because I can speak English I am treated like a rock star here. Why is that? I really don’t know, but to me it’s stunningly weird. I don’t deserve (or particularly want) all this attention and adoration. And I really don’t want (and haven’t really taken) the responsibility that comes with it.

All of this attention has made it readily apparent, that despite my self-centeredness, it isn’t all about me! In fact my time here really has been about the people I interact with and encounter. But this also brings up another point of my experience here. At times I have felt quite hypocritical because while I realize it’s not all about me, I seem to be babying myself quite a bit, doing whatever I feel like doing, rather than forcing myself to do something that might be more beneficial for those around me. In addition, I’ve found out how important being social is to me, yet I hide in my room and don’t communicate with people a lot (again babying myself/being lazy). It’s kind of a weird situation and I’ve been writing off most of my actions as being in such an unreal situation. I guess I’ll find out if that is true or not pretty soon when I leave here.

Speaking of leaving, here is the itinerary for the next 3 months. I leave the pesantren on the 29th, head directly to the Makassar airport, fly to Jakarta and then on to Singapore. I’ll spend 2 nights in Singapore before flying to Manila, Philippines. There, I’ll meet Steph and we’ll first travel up north to the 2,000 year old rice terraces and surrounding beauty of the Cordilleras. After that, we’ll jet down south to a supposedly pretty remote tropical paradise (ok maybe that’s a bit hyperbole) called Palawan. We’ll eventually be flying out to Singapore where we will take a night in the airport before going on to Phuket, Thailand. We’ll chill in the south for a week before heading up to Steph’s new/temporary home in the northeast of Thailand. After helping her get settled, I’m going to go explore Laos for a week and half or so before flying down to Kuala Lumpur to meet mom on July 14. Mom and I will then check out Cambodia for 5 days and return to see Borneo and Peninsula Malaysia until August 16 when mom will return to the States. At that point I’ll go….somewhere. I’m leaving this open; I’ll find something to do I’m sure! I’ll eventually get back to the US on the 28th of August after 3 months of backpacking!

I’m really looking forward to exploring SE Asia and comparing the different countries to Indonesia. I am particularly interested to see the area not through the prism of Islam. As I think about it, the influence of Islam hasn’t been as strong when I’ve travelled Indonesia as it has in my day-to-day life here in an Islamic boarding school (surprise!). Now, I straight away plan things around prayer times, and taking off my shoes is 2nd nature, as is not eating pork or drinking (oh how I’ve missed you beer and bacon!). It will be nice to be out of here in some ways. As another ETA described it: Indonesian culture is constantly draped over you like a heavy blanket. There’s never anything blatantly said or forced upon you, but after a full day, or 8 months, you find yourself tired and hunched over from its weight. Unless you’ve been here it’s hard to understand.

It’s a little sad to think all of this is coming to an end, but every time I start feeling sad the power goes out or there is a call to prayer overpowering my music or someone screams ‘hello mister’ and I realize that, as is the norm for me, it’s time to move on…

Saturday, May 15, 2010

News updates from SE Asia

I don’t know how much of this makes it back to the other side of the globe, but there has been quite a bit of, on the face of it, unsettling news coming from the places I am staying, or will be traveling to shortly.
The biggest one would be all the unrest in Thailand. I honestly expected that to settle down quite a while ago, but obviously it’s still continuing and perhaps even worsening. The good news, with respect to me, is that it’s confined to places that I am not planning to go with Steph. I would really like to get to Bangkok, but wasn’t going to do that until after mom left, so there’s plenty of time for Thailand to get things sorted out! For you worriers out there, I’ve already registered my trip with the US State Dept so I get all of the Embassy warnings and such.
There is also news coming out of the Philippines following their election on Monday, but to be honest I actually expected worse news. There were some killings, but the presidential win was such a landslide that there weren’t too many complaints. Also, the places I’m headed (Northern Luzon and Palawan) are very calm, with most of the unrest coming in the south east portion of the country (Luzon is the northernmost main island and Palawan the westernmost).
The last bit of news is from Indonesia where there has been a lot of chatter about arresting and killing terrorists. First, where I am in SulSel, terrorism is not even an afterthought; most of the news is from Java. I think that the government really is busting-up terrorist groups, but the interesting part is the timing. The latest case is the most obvious example of what I mean:
One night watching the news I saw that the head corruption investigator in Indonesia had been, surprise surprise, accused of corruption. This was obviously pretty big and very crummy news for a country that is literally crippled by corruption. But I’m guessing you never heard about this little bit of news because literally the next morning the only news coming out of Indo or about Indo was the bust netting terrorists. I honestly never thought anything of it, but when I talked to Imran he seemed pretty convinced that the timing was more than coincidence. Apparently this is routine here, some bad publicity about the government comes out and the next day some terrorists are arrested or more likely, shot. As I think back that has happened at least 2 other times while I’ve been here. I’m not saying they made up the terrorists, just that the timing is…convenient.

Anyways, that’s the news from here with my own personal views on it. I don’t think any of it is worth worrying about, though I am keeping close tabs on Thailand.

Less than 2 weeks now!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Bisa atau tidak bisa

I’m down to 2 weeks now! Wow, where has the time gone? I knew it would go fast, but the last 2 months has really just disappeared. Lately I’ve finished up my travel plans which has left me some time to think about the fact that I’m finishing up here. I can happily say that I have definitely made a difference here, and hey some of it has even been positive!
While I’m just starting to get sad, apparently Daya has been getting that way for a while now. Largely because of that she has been trotting me out, taking me all over the place. For instance, the other day she took me to her family’s ‘garden’ (not what you’re thinking, but not a farm either). I even helped them plant some corn (rather than plowing up a whole field they just use a stick to pound a hole). Then today I went to some more of her family’s as there was a holiday (as per usual, no one had any idea what it was for).

As I near the end of my time in Indo, I’ve been making 2 lists, one of things I CAN do in the US and one of things I CAN’T do in the US. (the title of this blog translates as ‘can or can’t’)

•Unabashedly stare at people
•Considering buying water the activity for the afternoon
•Wear a striped red shirt and green shorts and be told I’m handsome
•Pay $2 for a meal and feel I paid too much
•Be tall
•Live for the price of a water jug (<$0.60) every 2 weeks
•Walk into the room and instantly be the most popular person there
•Be a comedian (people laugh at EVERYTHING here)
•Smell my tap water

•Lie out in the sun without being told that it’s too hot
•Swerve inside a road lane… there are lanes, they’re bug enough to swerve & people stay in them
•Be sound asleep at 5am
•Use my shower to get completely clean
•Cuss (with people actually knowing what I’m saying)
•Not REQUIRE air-con
•Eat bacon
•Drinking fountains!
•Gorge on fresh vegetables and berries
•Eavesdrop without concentrating
•American Football!
•Actually surf the internet
•Say my name normally
•Move heavy objects with no intent to accomplish something
•Drive a car
•Talk about sports I actually care about
•Eat a meal and be able to identify every piece of food
•Pet a dog without needing to sterilize my hand with a blowtorch
•See a woman’s hair
•Pay a set price for something…anything
•Not want to sing, and be normal because of that
•Not have a religion
•Not fake smile all day
•Develop a friendship
This last one seems a little odd I realize, but another ETA made a good point, with the standard/stereotypical Indonesian they ask you ridiculous questions as soon as they meet you, but that’s about it. The result is that you know a person in 10 minutes as well as you do in 10 months. Obviously this is a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s surprisingly and a bit scarily accurate.

That’s all for now

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Visiting friends

It’s been a while since my last blog, largely because my internet was out for a while, along with the power. Now however, things seem to have returned to normal so here’s an update.
The first weekend in May was spent in ParePare. I went to say goodbye to the older couple I had met there, Justin and Diane because they left for a month in Lombok this week. While I was there besides eating lots of Diane’s delicious cooking I met yet another bule; he was from Brisbane. He’s married to a local and bases his international business out of Pare. Talking with/about him, divorces also came up, and I found out that divorces are fairly common here. It seems people can’t say no to organized or pressured marriages, but they can annul them in a few months. That makes sense!
Justin and Diane are always good for some interesting conversations about trying to help in various locations (they’ve been all over including Africa some 30 years ago; now that’s an adventure!). A far amount of our conversations were spent talking about positive and negative aspects of some cultures. On that front I have long been pretty liberal; thinking that cultures are different not better or worse, but as I’ve spent more time here it’s become pretty obvious that there are some cultures which are better than others at accomplishing certain things that we currently value in this world (I had to soften it with that last bit).

The Monday after I returned from Pare there was no class because there was a celebration for the 3rd classes in the middle and high schools finishing. To the boredom of a normal graduation (hot, uncomfortable chairs, long speeches, etc) now add being able to understand about 1/3 of the words, if you really concentrate. It wasn’t horrible, but pretty bad. I played on my cell phone the whole time. After it was over I was of course in a TON of pictures. Then they took down the metal tent in a serious lightning storm; not kidding.

The graduation party also included some celebration for the Prophet’s Birthday. Those Islam-savvy out there will not that was OVER 2 MONTHS AGO! Despite that, this was the second celebration I had been to for the Prophet’s B-day. The first was in a student’s home and Easter had invited me. It was somewhat interesting, but not my favorite thing considering I got to sit and listen to 3 guys read the Koran for an hour while I sweated away. One thing I liked about the celebrations is the banana Christmas Easter Tree! They take a banana tree trunk and jab lots of sticks into it, forming roughly a Christmas tree shape. Each stick is decorated and on the end of it is a hardboiled egg (hence the Easter part of the tree). What I didn’t see coming was at the student’s house when, as soon as the Koran reading was over, everyone (grandma included!) made a mad rush at the tree to pull out a stick and egg!

Then this past weekend I headed to Makassar to celebrate Jimmie’s birthday. We didn’t really do much of anything, but it was good to catch up, and especially get to a gym! I can still hardly move my arms!
The time in Makassar made it very obvious that I know longer need an itinerary to have a very good time, just sitting talking, zoning out, playing on the internet or simply walking around is an activity now…I’ve definitely lost my American ‘everything must be scheduled’ urge; I don’t miss it very much!
We did manage to get motivated enough to see a CLASSY Indo movie and even listened to some music at a concert. Both confirmed that Indo’s are not very good at trying Western media!

So as you can see, not much has been going on here lately, but the time is winding down in a hurry. I will leave the pesantren late night May 28 which means I have 2.5 weeks left!